MARKSVILLE, La. (AP) – The chairman of the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe said he learned he could make a difference to his people when he was 18 and convinced tribal elders not to let the city use reservation land as a dump.
A decade later, Earl Barbry ran for tribal chairman – a position he’s held for 20 years. Tribal leaders say that’s the longest consecutive tenure of any tribal chairman in the nation.
“I’ve never given much thought to that,” said Barbry, 56. “I’m sure others have served as long, just not consecutively.
During a packed luncheon at the Paragon Casino and Resort’s Hall of Chiefs to celebrate his longevity as chairman, Barbry stepped to the podium, looked around and said, “It’s good to see the young guys here, because in another 20 years, I’ll retire.”
He said the city dump proposal, being considered when he attended his first tribal meeting, would have paid the tribe $50 a month. After that meeting, he said, he told a friend there was no way this could happen.
After he talked about it with the elders, he said, they turned down the proposal unanimously.
He said the casino is important, but his proudest accomplishments have been helping get the tribe federally recognized and recovering the Tunica Treasure – 2-1/2 tons of tribal artifacts unearthed by a Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola guard on state property near the prison.
The most important issues now facing the tribe are keeping its sovereignty, “because it’s always under attack”; keeping the tribe unified; and finding means outside the casino of keeping the tribe financially stable, he said.
He wouldn’t say how he plans to do that. The casino is growing – an upcoming expansion will double its size.
Barbry said his son, Earl Jr., oversees a $10 million cultural center whose construction will begin in two to three months.
Another son, Joey Paul Barbry, reflected on his father’s legacy and his own recent election to a first council term. “For 28 years, I’ve seen how my father’s conducted business,” he said. “I hope I can be half as good as he is.”
The chairman also said the tribe will continue to make aiding the surrounding community socially and financially a priority.
“We’re all neighbors,” he said. “We can’t dwell on injustices of the past. We’re all working toward the future. We’re all striving for something here.”
Barbry told the gathering his secret to such a long period of success is simple.
“When I go to Washington, D.C., or to Baton Rouge, they like to say ‘No’ or ‘You can’t do that.’ Well, I haven’t taken ‘no’ for an answer. We’ve shown we’ll get the job done, and we’ll do it our way.”