Absentee-Shawnee Tribe of Indians
official tribal flag
|Regions with significant populations|
|United States ( Oklahoma)|
|Shawnee, English, Yuchi|
|Christianity, Native American Church,
traditional tribal religion
|Related ethnic groups|
|Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, Shawnee Tribe, and Sac and Fox|
The Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma (or Absentee Shawnee) is one of three federally recognized tribes of Shawnee people. Historically residing in the Eastern United States, the original Shawnee lived in the areas that are now Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and other neighboring states. It is documented that they occupied and traveled through lands from Canada to Florida, from the Mississippi River to the eastern continental coast. In contemporary times, the Absentee Shawnee Tribe headquarters in Shawnee, Oklahoma; its tribal jurisdiction area includes land properties in Oklahoma in both Cleveland County and Pottawatomie County.
There are approximately 3,050 enrolled Absentee Shawnee tribal members, 2,315 of whom live in Oklahoma. Tribal membership follows blood quantum criteria, with applicants requiring a minimum of a quarter documented Absentee-Shawnee blood to be placed on its membership rolls, as set forth by the tribal constitution. Though it is not a formal division, there is a social separation within its current tribal membership between the traditionalist Big Jim Band, which kept cultural traditions and ceremonies and has its primary populace in the Little Axe, Norman area, and the assimilationist White Turkey Band, which adopted European ways of the European majority, with many families based in the Shawnee area. Regardless of historical viewpoints, the bands co-operative for the future of the tribe.
Locations and properties
The tribe operates its own housing authority and issues tribal vehicle tags. It owns a gas station, two smoke shops, two casinos, and the AST Health Center and Plus Care, in Norman or Shawnee, Oklahoma. Its casinos, both called Thunderbird Casino, are east of Norman, near the tribal headquarters in Shawnee. The tribe's estimated annual economic impact is $6,353,722.
The Absentee Shawnee Tribe has all the inherent powers of sovereignty held prior to the Constitution of the United States. Some of the powers include adopting and operating a form of government of its choosing, defining the conditions of its tribal membership, regulating domestic relations of its members, levying taxes, regulating property within its jurisdiction, and controlling the conduct of membership by legislation and justice.
Its chosen form of government evolved over the first half of the 20th century]]; in 1938, the current government was formalized under a constitution written to provide statutory authority. The current constitution was ratified on December 5, 1938, and it was last amended on August 13, 1988.
The tribal government is composed of two separate branches: the judicial branch and the legislative/executive branch (also referred to as Executive Committee). In addition, an independent body, the 'Election Committee,' conducts annual elections. The legislative/executive branch has five members, all elected: Governor, Lieutenant, Secretary, Treasurer, and Representative. Terms are two years. It is the responsibility of the Executive Committee to set policy, administer government programs, and execute the will of the tribal membership.
The current administration includes the following:
- Governor: Edwina Butler-Wolfe
- Lieutenant Governor: Isaac Gibson
- Secretary: John Raymond Johnson
- Treasurer: Leah Bates
- Representative: Anthony "Tadpole" Johnson
During the American Revolutionary War, many Shawnee moved from the Northwest Territory to Cape Girardeau, Missouri; some later moved into Spanish Louisiana. The bands were later joined by other Shawnee groups from Alabama; and some relocated southward into Arkansas Territory, Spanish Texas, and French Louisiana. After the 1803 Louisiana Purchase by the United States. Encroaching colonial settlement persuaded the Shawnee to negotiate an 1825 treaty, ceding their Missouri lands for reservation lands in Kansas.
However, prior to the treaty, a group of Shawnees (later known as the Big Jim band) had already left the region on a journey towards Texas Territory, then controlled by Spain. Collectively, it would be become known as Absentee Shawnee, as the band was deemed the 'absent Shawnees' in the provisional clause in an 1854 treaty regarding Kansas reservation lands.  Later, the Texas-Mexico War compelled numerous Absentee Shawnees to leave Texas Territory and to relocate into Indian Territory of Oklahoma. However, it is believed that previous Shawnee bands from Kansas had already resettled in Oklahoma beginning around 1839.
In the late 1800s, an Indian Agent of the US government brought soldiers from Fort Reno, Oklahoma to force the traditionalist Big Jim band of Absentee Shawnees out of the Deep Fork River area, southward to Hog Creek and Little River area near present-day Lake Thunderbird, Norman. Here, in a community, now called Little Axe, Oklahoma, and in Shawnee, the modern Absentee Shawnee people still continue to live.
In 1872, the US Congress gave the Absentee Shawnee title to shared lands occupied on the Citizen Potawatomi Nation-Absentee Shawnee Oklahoma Tribal Statistical Area (OTSA). In 1936, the tribe reorganized and gained federal recognition under the new Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act, with the current constitution ratified on December 5, 1938.
The tribe created the Cultural Preservation Department to support cultural and language preservation. They offer a Shawnee language class. According to the Intertribal Wordpath Society, 200 to 800 people still spoke the Shawnee language in Oklahoma as of 2006. Pauline Wahpepah, a fluent native speaker, teaches Shawnee for the tribe.
Flag and emblem
The official emblem was designed by Leroy White (1926 - 2009), a great-grandson of Big Jim and direct descendant of Chief Tecumseh, who was born and raised in Little Axe, Oklahoma, on the Indian allotment forced upon his family in 1886. From birth, the Shawnee language and traditions were a part of his daily life. He was selected to succeed his uncle, Webster Little Jim, in 1976, as the traditional chief of the Big Jim band of Absentee Shawnee Tribe. He was a man of many interests, including painting. In 1974, with the encouragement of his family, Leroy, a talented but modest artist, entered the contest sponsored by the Absentee Shawnee Tribe for a design of a tribal logo. He made a point to include the most meaningful features to the Absentee Shawnee people. Leroy won the contest, and his design is recognized as the official emblem of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe.
- The yellow moon in the background represents one of God's many creations, which were always admired by Indian people.
- The two feathers symbolize two significant leaders of Shawnee people, Tecumseh and his brother, Tenskwatawa, the Prophet.
- The facial profile represents Tecumseh, a Shawnee leader revered for his strength of character and military accomplishments. Much of his adult life was dedicated to uniting all of the eastern tribes into a vast Indian confederacy for the purpose of asserting and defending their right to live in their native lands under their own laws and leaders. His dream of a confederacy was not realized but unto his death his spirit was not broken.
- The two stars denote the rank of brigadier general held by Tecumseh in the British Army. He died in action at the Battle of Thames in 1813.
- Lastly, 'Li Si Wi Nwi' was the chosen name of the Little Axe community of Absentee Shawnees, and its English translation is 'Among the Shawnee.'
Notable Absentee Shawnee
|Absentee Shawnee Tribal Governor
- 2011 Oklahoma Indian Nations Pocket Pictorial Directory. Archived 2012-05-12 at the Wayback Machine. Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission. 2011: 3. Retrieved 2 Jan 2012.
- Article I of the Constitution of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma (retrieved 20 Feb 2010) states, "The name of this federally recognized Indian tribe shall be the Absentee-Shawnee Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma," but the rest of the document (including its title) uses "Absentee Shawnee."
- "Contact Us." Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma. Retrieved 31 Dec 2009.
- Thunderbird Casino. 500 Nations. 2009 (retrieved 10 Mar 2009)
- "Executive Committee." Absentee Shawnee Tribe, (retrieved 6 Dec 2013)
- Smith, Pamela A. "Shawnee, Absentee." Oklahoma Historical Society's Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. (retrieved 31 Dec 2009)
- Marilyn K. Nicely, Law/Tech Librarian (1999). "The Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma - Legal Codes". University of Oklahoma Law Center. Archived from the original on 6 November 2007. Retrieved October 8, 2007.
- "Constitution and By-Laws of the Absentee-Shawnee Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma." University of Oklahoma Law Center. (retrieved 31 Dec 2009)
- "Cultural Preservation." Absentee Shawnee Tribe. (retrieved 31 Dec 2009)
- Anderton, Dr. Alice. "Status of Indian Languages in Oklahoma." Intertribal Wordpath Society. (retrieved 31 Dec 2009)
- "Board of Directors." Intertribal Wordpath Society. (retrieved 31 Dec 2009)