In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native peoples today.
Please introduce yourself with your name and title.
Gary Pratt, chairman of the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma.
Can you share your Native name with us?
I am extremely honored to have been given my great-grandfather Blaine Kent’s name of Ahu Thaway (Black Wing). I am the great-great grandson of Frank and Emma Kent.
Where is the Iowa Tribe located?
The offices of the Iowa Tribe are located three miles south of Perkins, Oklahoma. Our jurisdiction covers four counties—Lincoln, Logan, Oklahoma, and Payne.
Where was the Iowa Tribe originally from?
History of the tribe dates us back to the 1600s when we were present in the Red Pipestone Quarry region in Minnesota. The Iowa people lived the majority of our recorded history in what is now the northern region of Iowa. The state of Iowa takes its name from the Iowa Tribe.
How is your tribal community set up?
We are organized under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act with a constitution last amended in 2008. We are a self-governance operating under Public Law 638, which enables us to carry on a positive relationship with the federal government. We have a Business Committee that is made up of five elected positions—chairman, vice-chairman, treasurer, secretary, and council person. All serve two-year terms. We meet twice a month as a committee.
Approximately how many members are in your tribe?
We are a small tribe with a current enrollment of 815 citizens. To become a citizen, you must have a parent on the roll and possess a minimum of 1/16 Ioway blood quantum.
Is your language still spoken in your homelands?
One of the disadvantages of being a small tribe is that we are running out of members who are fluent in the Iowa language. We are currently working to preserve what we have and make it available to our youth and all others.
I believe tribes everywhere are beginning to understand what an amazing generation we just lost and continue to lose, and the impact they had on our survival as a tribe today. For example, last year at the Presidential Summit in Washington, D.C., I shook the hands of five Code Talkers. This year there were only two in attendance.
What economic enterprises does your tribal community own?
We currently operate two casinos—Cimarron and Ioway—and just recently opened a new travel plaza. We also operate a medical/dental clinic that provides healthcare services to Native Americans as well as the general public. Other operations include a gallery, smoke shop, and RV park. With casinos and tribal operations, we employ over 300 people and are making a positive economic impact in the area.
What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?
My role as chairman of the Iowa Tribe is to uphold the Constitution of the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma, to seek out opportunities that lie ahead, and to understand the options when dealing with the federal and state government on the issues of sovereignty, healthcare, and gaming. The decisions are always made in the best interest of the people.
To read the full interview, visit the NMAI series here.