Produced by the Institute for Tribal Government at Portland State University in 2004, the landmark “Great Tribal Leaders of Modern Times” interview series presents the oral histories of contemporary leaders who have played instrumental roles in Native nations' struggles for sovereignty, self-determination, and treaty rights. The leadership themes presented in these unique videos provide a rich resource that can be used by present and future generations of Native nations, students in Native American studies programs, and other interested groups.
In this interview conducted in April 2002, Eddie Tullis, former longtime Chairman of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, discusses his tribe's struggle to achieve federal recognition. Today, Tullis remains deeply committed to economic development initiatives that will provide quality education, housing and health care for his people.
This video resource is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of the Institute for Tribal Government.
Tullis, Eddie. "Great Tribal Leaders of Modern Times." (interview series). Institute for Tribal Government, Portland State University. Atmore, Alabama. April 2002. Interview.
"Hello. My name is Kathryn Harrison. I am presently the Chairperson of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon. I have served on my council for 21 years. Tribal leaders have influenced the history of this country since time immemorial. Their stories have been handed down from generation to generation. Their teaching is alive today in our great contemporary tribal leaders whose stories told in this series are an inspiration to all Americans both tribal and non-tribal. In particular it is my hope that Indian youth everywhere will recognize the contributions and sacrifices made by these great tribal leaders."
"Eddie L. Tullis has been chairman of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians for 25 years. The Poarch Band is a portion of the original Creek Nation that occupied most of what is now Georgia and Alabama. When General Andrew Jackson was elected president, the removal of southeastern tribes to the west became established as a national policy. The brutal walks made by tribes became known as the Trail of Tears. Some Creeks were able to remain in their homeland in southwestern Alabama. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians has kept its Indian identity intact for more than 150 years in spite of decades of discrimination and the lack of federal recognition. It is now the only federally recognized Indian tribe in Alabama. Beginning in the 1940s the Poarch Creek Band made important educational and legal gains led by Calvin W. McGee. Eddie Tullis was growing up when McGee's work was in full force. From his early childhood to the present Tullis has always known what it is to be a community person. He grew up on a farm in a close family. His mother, a midwife, delivered many of the children in the area. After graduating from high school Tullis had a stint in the Navy but had to return home and work after his father's death. He began organizing with the tribe when he was still a young man. Tullis led the long effort to get the U.S. government go recognize the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. Working with other tribal members, Alabama politicians and Washington, DC, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians was declared a federally recognized tribe in 1984 and in 1985 a reservation was established. The tribe today has approximately 2300 members and almost 1500 live in the vicinity of the Poarch Reservation near Atmore, Alabama, in rural Escambia County. Programs of the Poarch Creek are thriving with a community center, senior housing, a volunteer fire department, also youth leadership activities, a sports center, scholarships, tribal police and a recycling center. The tribe sponsors many festivities including the Thanksgiving Day Powwow, one of the top tourist attractions in the southeast. Chairman Tullis heads the Board of Creek Indian Enterprises overseeing the tribe's diverse and growing economic activities from the Perdido River Farm to Bingo halls and restaurants. Chairman Tullis is a model of both a local and a national leader. He maintains strong alliances with other leaders such as Chief Philip Martin of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw and serves as Vice President of the United South and Eastern Tribes. He is on the advisory councils of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail and the Tribal Lands Program of the Trust for Public Lands. He currently serves as area Vice President of the National Congress of American Indians. Past appointments have included the White House Conference on Indian Education and the Native American Rights Fund. Close to home, he is on the Board of Leadership Alabama. While Chairman Tullis is not building community services or new sources of revenue for his people, he might be found at his hobby, building engines. Though he doesn't get out and race himself, he loves car, old cars, racecars. Young people can often be found using his shop. Eddie Tullis has been married for 46 years. He has four daughters and several grandchildren, a family of which he is proud and that has nurtured him through many political struggles. The Institute for Tribal Government interviewed Eddie Tullis is April, 2002."
By 1838 most Indian tribes had been moved westward out of Alabama. The Poarch Band today includes families that were both Upper and Lower Creek during the Creek Wars of the early 1800s.
"The primary reason that the Porch Band of Creeks were able to in lieu of a better word survive in Alabama is we were the closest Band of the Creek Nation to the port at Mobile and the port at Pensacola, realized that Mobile and Pensacola were two of the first settlements along the Gulf Coast and as early as the 1700s we have found records where our people were trading with the Spanish and with the French and everybody else as they came into the Port of Mobile and the Port of Pensacola. So the trade, the commercial activities between our people and the first settlers is a factor that is more determined about the fact that our people were able to exist in their aboriginal homeland."
The work continues to establish the history of the Porch Band of Creek
"The history of my people is just now really beginning to come together because we're beginning to find that there's a lot more information in Spain and France and everywhere else about the Creeks of South Alabama. The one big factor that contributed more than anything else about the history of our people for the last hundred years has been the Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church established a mission in our community in about 1895 and the Episcopals were good at keeping records. And not only has that church been there continuously since then but the Episcopal Church actually bought property in the community to establish a church home and then negotiated with the State of Alabama to provide an educational institute for our people."
Parents and childhood
"My mother was a full blood, my father was a non-Indian and my father had came from central Alabama to northwest Florida to work there and my mother's family had always worked in the woods. They were always either loggers or particularly for a number of years had cut cross ties for the railroad people. I grew up on a farm, had to walk about three miles to school the first five years of my education and then the next seven years of my education I still walked that three miles but I caught a school bus then and rode a school bus 13 miles. My senior year in high school was the first year that my family owned a tractor to farm with and the first year that my family actually had an electric pump to pump water. Probably my most consistent memories of childhood is my father had a large cow herd and at that time we didn't have stock laws in Florida, you could run your cows, had free roam on your cows. But my father was a firm believer that he wanted to see his cows every week so just a number of Saturdays and Sundays of my life was spent hunting cows and make sure they come home on the weekend. We had our own farm, lived in one of those communities that could really be called a community. It was a community where a majority of the landowners were non-Indians but a majority of the people who worked the land and who worked the timber and all were Indians. I lost my mother November it'll be three years ago at 97 years old so she had been around for a long time and had always been very active in the community, served as a midwife for about 40 years and a lot of people around my age was delivered by my mother. I had a father who had a real what I said was a real trying philosophy about education. My father did not...I could stay out of school anytime I wanted to but my father believed very firmly that if you was not in school you were supposed to be working. I got involved in probably what I consider my first endeavor into politics was the Future Farmers of America. I had neighbors who had tractors and I worked a lot for neighbors when I had spare time and we'd catch up with the crops at home and so I got pretty good at driving tractors. As a matter of fact in 1955 I was the National Future Farmer of America tractor driving champion which used to be a national contest and everything."
The tribe began actively organizing after the passage of the Indian Claims Commission Act of 1946
"There was actually no tribal operations that went on until about, "˜til I was well up in my teens, "˜til about 1948 I think was the first time that there was really organized activity amongst our people. As you know, Congress passed the Indian Claims Commission and this little school had been built and as they were organizing that school and getting the teachers assigned and all, one of those school teachers brought up the subject that there was a new law out about Indians and that they were going to pay Indians for land and everybody was aware that it had not been but a few years that Indians owned an awful lot of land in that area that they no longer possessed and all. And so it generated an awful lot of activity from 1948 to about 1950 about land claims cases and all."
The Indian Claims Commission Act allowed some tribes to seek compensation from the United States for the value of land given by treaty that the government later took back through force, fraud or mistake
"It was not a real financial bonanza for us as we come to realize but it was a rallying point for the Creek Indians to begin to reorganize themselves, begin to realize that we were a distinct community that needed to be represented. Another one of those things that I tell people that I've come to realize in Indian Country is you have to be careful because if you don't participate sometimes you get left out but there are times if you don't participate you get elected too. An individual by the name of Calvin McGhee who was one of the more successful Indian farmers in the area served about 20 years as chairman of the tribe and pursued the land claim cases and all without even being there when he was elected and served as a nucleus for reorganizing the tribe there around the community."
In a state that had been Democrat since reconstruction Tullis made a practical, political decision
"I went down and registered as a Republican and become the first Republican in my precinct. My wife's been a poll worker for the state until we moved out of the state of Florida and has been involved in politics and so we grew up and it's one of the things that I'm proud of my family. I have four daughters. One of them lives in California, one of them in Jacksonville, Florida, one of them in Iowa and one of them at home or close to home but I would not be afraid to bet you that they can tell you who the political system is in their area because they have realized that we consider it as part of their responsibility as a citizen and they're really involved. I tell people sometimes, "˜I have to be careful when I have a family reunion or something because I have a daughter who is a very liberal Democrat and I have a daughter who is a very conservative Republican and so we have some real good political discussions around our house sometimes.'
Planned and unplanned turns in Tullis' unfolding career
"I had fully intended to make a career out of the Navy. It was one of the kind of unique things about my father that he had tried to volunteer during World War II and had been rejected because of his size. So I grew up knowing that I could make my father real happy if I was military and so I joined the Navy, went off and became an aircraft mechanic, had actually made a decision that I wanted to fly airplanes and had went and took all the tests and had qualified to come back to Pensacola, Florida, to go to flight school in the Navy when my father passed away. I was the oldest son, I still had a brother and a sister in school, my mother had never held a job so therefore I woke up one Monday morning thought I was coming to Pensacola in a week or two and they gave me a hardship discharge and sent me home and told me I had a family to take care of. But it worked out. I went to work for the Monsanto Corporation at the big nylon plant at Pensacola. Monsanto proved to be very involved in the local community, was very supportive of employees being involved in the political process so much so that in 1976 they actually gave me a leave of absence to go to Washington, D.C. I had been involved in an organization that had tried to organize some of the tribes along the east coast and they actually gave me a leave of absence, paid me my full salary and let me go to D.C. Another one of my firm beliefs, I think everybody should work in D.C. for a while. We have always made a point of carrying our children to D.C. I now insist on my grandkids going to D.C. because I think it's the most educational town in the world. I think that everybody ought to go and everybody ought to work there long enough to understand how our system works. But that was a great experience for me, heightened my real awareness of politics and created the awareness on my part that those people who make the laws are just like people that are out there doing the work every day and that we need to communicate with them. They don't know everything. They have to act like they know everything sometimes to satisfy the voters but I come to realize that it's an honorable calling. I have over my career seen the caliber of public servants deteriorate a lot I think. I have real mixed emotions about people who buy political office but I have to temper that with the statement that I've kind of seen both ways. I've seen some really good individuals that got involved whenever they almost bought a position but turned out good and I've seen some that bought them just for their own self gratification and did not become public servants. They become politicians and so I have some real mixed emotions. That time in Washington, D.C. gave me some real insight and gave me some real motivation to continue to be involved in politics. By that time I had became involved in the council or in operation of the tribe. One of the individuals that was a member of that council had got well along in age and was ornery enough he didn't want to step down and they didn't want to replace him and all. He started asking me to go with him and to particularly to explain things to him. My first eight or 10 council meetings I ever attended was just as his assistant or just a volunteer to go help him understand what was going on. He passed away and I was offered that opportunity to serve on the council. I had a first cousin named Buford Roland who had volunteered almost like I had with another member of the council but had been elected about a year before I was. Buford and I became the new generation on that council and so my beginning as a tribal official was first as an advisor to a council member and then a member of that council and treasurer and then was elected chairman of the council."
The Poarch Band of Creek Indians achieve federal recognition in 1984 and a reservation in 1985
"When Calvin McGhee was pursuing this land claims case, a lot of the information that the attorneys kept bringing up and all especially after Buford and I got involved. We'd come to realize that there had never been an official termination of our tribe. Our tribe had never been terminated. Our tribe and what happened was that in about 1918 the timber companies started coming to South Alabama. Major timber companies moved into South Alabama cause there's a lot of virgin pine timber and all there and they started encroaching onto the Indian land, the grant land that had been issued to our people in the 1830s and all. But Indians had no status in Alabama and so in 1920 a group of our people went to Washington D.C. to try to get something done about that, actually wound up in the United States Court of Claims with a lawsuit against those timber companies, got a judgment against those timber companies but never were able to collect that money because the president of the timber company got appointed to the United States Senate and one of his law school classmates got appointed as Secretary of the Interior and two weeks after he was appointed Secretary of the Interior he issued fee patents on all the Indian land in Alabama. And so they won a lawsuit but they lost the war per se. But that stuff was on record in Washington, D.C. and once we became aware of that and all Buford and I and a few other people, in particular some of the attorneys, said, "˜Well, this tribe should never have been terminated. This was an administrative decision that carries no force of law. The Secretary of the Interior does not have the authority to terminate a tribe.' He hadn't ever uttered the word termination, he just give all our land away. So we went to pursue a case against the Bureau of Indian Affairs for that administrative decision that was done wrong."
The great advantage of working both political parties
"Buford and I both had become politically active pretty well. Me in the Republican party, Buford in the Democratic party because there were so many Democrats we knew we had to cover both sides of it. And so we begin to find some allies, George Wallace became a real ally of ours. George Wallace actually went on record saying, "˜These people were done wrong,' and that there was no justification for this and actually went so far as to say, "˜This tribe needs to be recognized and their reservation needs to be a reestablished,' and actually offered some state property to accomplish that. We were lucky in 1984 as you know was the Goldwater era. Goldwater swept Alabama and we had four Republican congressmen elected and we had a Republican Senator elected. So almost overnight from a one party system we become a two party system. And so it brought some political clout to our argument that the Bureau should not have terminated or should not have ceased to provide services is what actually happened. And once we got that started and then we formed the organization The Coalition of Eastern Native Americans we begin to have some real discussions about why the Indian Claim Commission didn't do a lot more than just think about the land that had been done and everything. My tribe had great support in Congress. At one time we had all 10 members of the Alabama delegation which was actually split five and five to sign onto a letter along with George Wallace supporting us them reestablishing us as a tribe. But we took the position that we would go through the process if the Bureau would do it because we felt there was others out there that needed to go through the process. So when the Bureau adopted a new process and all we immediately filed a suit or case to go through that process. I think we were the number six tribe to go through that process. It's kind of a good story for us is that they reestablished the tribe in 1984 but they did not at that time reestablish the reservation."
With the assistance of Governor Wallace and the Episcopal Church, the Poarch Creek made another effort to establish a reservation
"We found that one of the things that kept us from being readily accepted by other Indians was the fact that we didn't speak our language too many of us didn't anymore plus we were not land based Indians. They said, "˜You're just a group of people. Where's your reservation?' So we realized that we had to go back and make a real second effort to establish the reservation. Again we went back to George Wallace and George Wallace said, "˜Well, look, I done told them I'd give...' We had this 17 acres of land right in the middle of the community which as land that the Episcopal Church had bought one time and entered into this agreement with the State of Alabama that is the agreement said, "˜The State of Alabama could maintain possession of this land as long as it had an educational facility there for Indians.' If it did not do that, it reverted back to the Episcopal Church. Well, we got the Bishop at the Episcopal Church saying the Episcopal Church would donate the land to the tribe if the State of Alabama gave up its...went ahead and let it be converted back and everything. So, what I think is one of my political strokes of good luck was that we negotiated with the Bureau and the Bureau says, "˜Yeah, we will create that reservation. We need to get this deed all squared away from the state, it'll be a good nucleus.'"
Relationships with other southeastern tribes
"Now we had good acceptance out of Mississippi Choctaw because as long as I can remember the people in Mississippi, the Choctaws of Mississippi done the same kind of work that most of my people done, either migrant farm work or they worked in the woods. A lot of our people worked with their people and we now know that for the last 70 or 80 years we've had visits back and forth from the communities playing softball and stickball and everything else, same way with the Eastern Band of Cherokees. We had a lot of people that migrated back and forth from Cherokee back into the community and all. So we had good acceptance out of those tribes that had some influence and those tribes that were recognized, that were on reservations. They knew that we were an Indian community."
How the tribe has benefited from federal recognition and a reservation
"There's been a lot of tangible benefits but there's been some real intangible benefits too. I can tell you that for a long period of time and my mother used to tell me that when she was growing up there was a real effort to assimilate into the general community. The families encouraged their children to marry non-Indians and to go find jobs outside the community. Once we reestablished the reservation, there's been a total reversal of that now. There is a real pride about the fact that they're Indian, has brought about a lot of that intangible benefit. Probably the most beneficial thing I think and it's probably been more beneficial to us both tangible and intangible has been housing for our people. Realize that a lot of our people were sharecroppers so they didn't own their own homes. Then whenever they did get into an economic situation where they got a job or something they didn't have land so they went and bought house trailers and stuff like that. And you also have to realize too that our people done a lot of migrant farm work. It was a good way to make a living. Our people used to leave every year and they'd go to Florida and do oranges and they'd go up to South Carolina and do tobacco, they'd go to Virginia and do tomatoes and go to New York and do apples and go to Wisconsin and do potatoes and back to Alabama and do potatoes. You can actually find some Porch Creek Indians in all of those places if you go now. There's still a few of them there but they're beginning to come home at a much rapider rate now. But the hazard to it is that when you do out work like that you leave the two most in need group of people. You leave the kids at home plus you leave the senior citizens at home and so we found, and one of the real problems that we were conscious of, that we had a lot of extended families. We had house trailers with three generations of family in them. And so one of the biggest benefits that we've been able to address at Porch Creek has been housing. Indian housing has been a real godsend for us. We took it very serious. We started building houses. We built...our first housing project was a project that was exclusively for our senior citizens because a lot of...an overwhelming majority of our senior citizens was having to live with family members that had more than one generation. We built a community of senior citizens. We then started building single family units on the reservation so that that family had a place that each generation could be there. We didn't have to have those extended families together now. Our people are very rural people. Our people were very isolated and therefore did not have access to good medical care. We've built a health clinic and did not depend on the Indian Health Service to build it. We built the clinic ourselves. Housing has created an opportunity for us to improve the quality of life for our people but it has also created a lot of social problems. We've got a lot of people who borned and raised outside the community and never lived communal like they do not and when we started building houses, so some of them could come back and stay at the reservation, they brought all those social ills with them. They'd been living in the big cities and everything else so they brought a lot of those social problems back with it and it's one of those things that I try to tell tribal people about all the time. "˜You've got to realize that you're changing not only the quality of life but you're changing the whole lifestyle of some of those people when you bring them back to the reservation.' It's one of the things we see happening right now with some of the tribes that's been successful with casinos that are expanding reservations and creating houses and all. Those people that come back have not had to respect the sovereignty or the jurisdiction of the tribes and all so it's a two-edged sword. It also creates the real need for tribal leaders to look at what you're going to do with those people once you get them back. If you bring them back, just providing housing is not enough. You need to create the economics of the community so that you've got a place for those people to work. It's kind of one of the things that we at Porch Creek are real strict about and it's one of the things that I'm real proud of is that I was able to get my tribal officials to have some serious discussions before some of these things happened. We have a tribal code that if you live in a tribal house at Porch Creek and you don't work, you do not live in that house. Now we have went one step further and said, "˜It is our responsible to try to help you find a job,' or we try to create an atmosphere where there's jobs available. And if we offer you a job and you don't take that job, you do not continue to live in that house because our philosophy is we do not run a welfare agency, we run a self help agency and it has worked real good for us. Meetings of Indian leaders I'm constantly saying that we're facing a crisis in Indian Country in the fact that we are now getting so much resources back into Indian Country that we've got to be careful that we don't let our people again slide into that dependency mode again because there are some of the tribes now that are financially stable and all but we don't know what's going to happen next year. And you can't reverse that philosophy of the people as quick as the economic situation can collapse on us. So I continuously tell leaders, "˜don't let yourself get into that philosophy, it may come back to haunt you.'"
A core commitment of the tribe is to its youth
"Education is a real priority at Poarch Creek. We realized a number of years ago that Alabama had not done a good job, Alabama still does not do a good job, of educating its children. We did not have resources to start our own school and everything else so we send our kids into the public schools. But we've put an awful lot of emphasis on the family participating in that education process and we constantly encourage our not only our parents and all and not only our young people but the parents that education is a self perpetuating thing. I'm a firm believer that if you can get one generation to finish high school it greatly enhances the next generation finishing high school or going to college and all. We run a full time tutoring program. We have after school programs for our kids. We joined with the county system. We have a grammar school where about 60 percent of the kids in that grammar school are tribal kids. We have adopted that school in a partnership arrangement where we not only do a lot of things for the tribal kids but we do a lot of things for all the kids in that grammar school so that they realize that we're concerned about the education, not just the Indian kid. We actually have more kids in college today than we had in high school 12 years ago. I think for three out of the last five years we've had at least one valedictorian in the county we're at, at least one of the high school valedictorians has been an Indian and so we now have kids graduated from college. Just a few years ago we didn't have a single attorney at the tribe. We now have six attorneys that are tribal members. We didn't have a single doctor that was a tribal member a few years ago. Now we have doctors that are there. So the educational level is ramping up very rapidly but there is again a real emphasis on us trying to generate that revenue to provide for those kids to go. And what we're trying to do is trying to create a challenge for those young people. We are very conscious of the fact that we're talking about community development, not just economic development. Economic development is just one facet of community development and it's a very critically important one but you've got to keep it into perspective and you've got to be sure that you're creating those challenges for those young kids. If you tell them to, "˜go get you a degree,' you've got to have some way for that child to come back to the reservation and provide some service to the people.
Economic programs, gaming and Alabama politicians
"Now Alabama gambles on two totally different planes. You've got your more affluent people in Alabama who can gamble all they want to at their country club. You can go to any country club in Alabama on Saturday night and find unlimited stakes poker games or you can go to the football game next Saturday or to the car races where I went this past weekend where there's 189,000 people there and you can see money changing hands at every time...sometimes every time the cars go around the track you see money changing hands. But you also can go to the churches and see games going on and you can go to the fire halls at night or to the VFW and you can see Bingo games going on. But you let the Indians do it and they perceive that Indians and money are incompatible and the politicians use that perception. Now we're changing a lot of that. We're changing a lot of the perception. The Alabama Constitution only says one thing about gambling. It says, "˜There shall not be a state sponsored, state operated lottery.' It doesn't say anything else. I think that those politicians then just realized that if the politicians or the state was running a lottery that it would be such a corrupt thing that we wouldn't want it. So there's a lot of hypocrisy in the Alabama politicians. It's ironic how many of us have asked us for donations and we do not look at Bingo or at the gaming issue in any light other than economic development. It creates jobs for our people and it gives the tribe resources to address the other issues. Now I challenge anybody to come to a Porch Creek establishment and find where we do not maintain adequate control. It is the most regulated gaming you will find anywhere."
Dealing with adversaries and prejudice
"You have so few people in the State of Alabama that realizes the enormous contribution that Indians made to this state and you have so few people that understand just the sheer number of Indian people who were in Alabama that you have to really educate them from a real elementary level. I have spoken to Kiwanas Clubs and to Rotary Clubs and all and I have actually had people stand up and say, "˜We ought to go back to the 1924 Act, Indians shouldn't be citizens.' We should go back to the 1909 Act in Alabama that said if you caught an Indian off the reservation you could shoot him. We've got people who will start from that mentality. I always ask Alabama politicians anytime I get an opportunity if they support the Constitution. Do they support the Constitution of the United States or are they totally committed to the Constitution of Alabama. The Alabama Constitution has some terrible, terrible things in it about minority people. But if I can get an Alabama politician to say he supports the United States Constitution, then I ask him if he's ever read the Constitution. And I find that it's just overwhelming that most of them have never took and read it. They think they've read parts of it or they read excerpts from it but they never read it and they don't realize how many times Indians are mentioned in the Constitution. So while it's really challenging sometimes, it is real satisfying sometimes to be able to force people to become aware of things that they should have known before they started the discussion."
Mentors and friends play a crucial role
"I have had some great mentors, people like Roger Jordain and Joe De la Cruz who have faced some real trying times that a lot of people didn't understand why they were doing what they were doing. To me I think that's a true mark of leadership that people who are willing to do what it takes to have a positive impact on other people's lives without looking at the consequences for themselves. And I tell young people all the time, especially people who want to run for the council and all, "˜we don't have any problems now cause we don't have enough money to argue about.' The problems increase directly in proportion to the disposable resources you have."
Challenges for the Creek Enterprises in creating new jobs
"We've had to face that dilemma for a number of years now that when we talk about creating jobs we had to ask the first preliminary question, do you try to create a lot of entry level jobs so you can get more people to work or do you try to create good jobs so you can have higher paying jobs and you can get the more skilled people back and everything else. We're getting to the point where we can answer that question now and we're getting to the point where we can say the jobs that we need to be creating are the jobs that address both of those issues. I'm real concerned about the female head of household that we've got. Our family structure has not held together as well as I would have loved to have seen it held together. We've got a lot of female head of household. I've got to create some jobs for some of those females so that I can...but I've got to be sure that I provide some day care facilities. We just don't want some place for their kids to be kept, we want to teach those children while those mothers are working."
Environmental integrity is a major concern
"Being at the head of the river, water quality has become something that our river's not polluted yet because we've got the springs right there but the more we develop and the more asphalt we put down and all the more trouble it is to keep those springs clear and to keep them there. And I don't want my people to be responsible for doing that. I want them to do some planning so that years from now they can still have those springs there and they can still have those lakes there and still make a good living and let those natural resources that we have be a contribution to the quality of life rather than just providing other resources for the quality of life. And it's probably my biggest activity right now. I'm doing more work with the Trust for Public Lands. I'm doing more work with people who want to do things that a lot of people consider small things. We're starting to build trails from our health clinic to our senior's gathering place and we've got some kids that are in our after school program that they know the schedule and they are responsible for showing up at a certain time to walk with those seniors to the health clinic. And it's working good. It gives both of them some real involvement and all."
Setting priorities as a local and national tribal leader
"It gets to be a real problem setting priorities sometimes but I've been blessed with a whole multitude of good help. I've been blessed with being able to generate some interest on other people's part but I'm a firm believer that I have to set an example. I have to be willing to go those extra miles; I have to be willing to give up some of that time. It's a thing that a lot of people don't realize but I have an awesome appreciation for my wife and my family. Monday was my 45th wedding anniversary. My wife has done an outstanding job of raising four daughters while I've been on the road doing some of these other things. And I had great mentors and I had great examples. Calvin McGhee, he devoted his whole farm and his whole livelihood to the tribe and to the pursuit of the land claim cases and everything."
Issues and problems for tribal governments
"I think the single biggest problem for tribal governments today is the instability of tribal governments, our internal instability in the fact that we've got so many tribes that change leadership every year. We put such a heavy burden on our leaders that we burn them out and so therefore somebody new has to come in and they don't understand the complexity of it now. But we're getting better now because we've got people who understand the instability and the level of sophistication of tribal leadership needs attention. We've got leadership programs going on now that realize that we can have some real impact if we can find those young people that are capable and we give them both the opportunities and the responsibilities of providing leadership. There's a lot of tribes out there that do not yet have the resources that some of the gaming tribes have so the enemies are hurting all of us. So those people with gaming revenue needs to be fighting the good fight to protect all of the tribes."
In retrospect, the great satisfaction
"I was in about the eighth grade in school one time, it was assigned to write a report and had an opportunity to write to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and got a letter back from the Bureau of Indian Affairs that said there was no Indians in Alabama, that they had moved all the Indians to Oklahoma. And I'll guarantee you if you go to the Bureau of Indian Affairs now, they know that the Poarch Creek Indians are in Alabama and that has an awesome level of satisfaction for me is that I have had enough impact that not only do my people know we exist as an Indian people now but other Indians and the community know that we exist as Indian people. We have a problem of education again because the President come from a place that did not...that is not noted for its treatment of Indians. Again, it's like Alabama, it does not realize that it has Indian citizens there. It does not do a good job of dealing with the tribes in Texas. Politicians use the tribe in Texas for whipping boys, put their own self interests above the interest of the good of the community and that really bothers me and I think we've got an awesome responsibility to make sure our friends continue to stand by us and continue to use their influence to educate those people who are opposed to us. And the other real positive that I see in Indian Country is that we've got a crop of young Indian leaders coming on now. We've got the most educated, the most committed, the most involved young group of leaders that I've seen in a long time."
In retrospect, what might have been different
"Kind of one of those two-edged swords. I wish I had got more education. I have a terrible...I'm a really poor writer. I cannot write. I can talk. I'll sit here and talk to you all day but when I try to put something down in writing I am terribly deficient in that area. I wish that I had went ahead and got more education but I know that if I had went ahead to school I would not have been involved in the level I was as it has turned out. I have taken as a personal responsibility to say that if my child or my grandchild has a desire and a capacity, the capability to go to college, that I will never let finances be a hindrance to them. And so it's a major accomplishment for me. I worked all my life, worked two jobs a lot. My wife worked all her life. We are now...we're not rich but we can send our kids to college and we can make sure our grandkids have the opportunity to go to college. So real personal satisfaction but a real awareness on my part that if I'd went on to school I might have been able to articulate some of the things that I can't do in writing now. I love a person that can articulate on paper what they believe and what they see and all."
The legacy Tullis would leave
"I want them to know that people who face adversaries can still accomplish great things. I know that there's no doubt in my mind that I have improved the quality of life of a number of people beyond just myself and I'm thoroughly convinced that the happiest people in the world are the people who can do that. I'm very conscious of the fact that we have the most educated group of young leaders coming on we've ever had. Education does not solve all the problems. Education to me is the ability to use all your God-given talents for the benefit of the people. And so leaders today have got to realize that we've got to accept the fact that the new crop of leaders coming on are educated and much more capable of doing and meeting the challenges that are coming our way. But we've also got to instill into those young people a commitment to do what's right for the majority of the people."
The Great Tribal Leaders of Modern Times series and accompanying curricula are for the educational programs of tribes, schools and colleges. For usage authorization, to place an order or for further information, call or write Institute for Tribal Government – PA, Portland State University, P.O. Box 751, Portland, Oregon, 97207-0751. Telephone: 503-725-9000. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Institute for Tribal Government is directed by a Policy Board of 23 tribal leaders,
Hon. Kathryn Harrison (Grand Ronde) leads the Great Tribal Leaders project and is assisted by former Congresswoman Elizabeth Furse, Director and Kay Reid, Oral Historian
Videotaping and Video Assistance
Chuck Hudson, Jeremy Fivecrows and John Platt of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission
Green Fire Productions
Photo credit: Mr. and Mrs. Tullis and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians
Great Tribal Leaders of Modern Times is also supported by the non-profit Tribal Leadership Forum, and by grants from:
Spirit Mountain Community Fund
Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs
Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, Chickasaw Nation
Coeur d'Alene Tribe
Delaware Nation of Oklahoma
Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe
Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians
Jayne Fawcett, Ambassador
Mohegan Tribal Council
And other tribal governments
Support has also been received from
Portland State University
Pendleton Woolen Mills
The U.S. Dept. of Education
The Administration for Native Americans
Bonneville Power Administration
And the U.S. Dept. of Defense
This program is not to be reproduced without the express written permission of the Institute for Tribal Government
© 2004 The Institute for Tribal Government