Poarch Band of Creek Indians

Poarch Band of Creek Indians Constitution

Year

Location: Alabama 

Population: 2300 

Date of Constitution: 1985, as amended 1997, 2001, 2003, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 

Topics
Citation

Poarch Band of Creek Indians. 1985. "Tribal Constitution." Atmore, AL.

Poarch Band of Creek Indians: Preamble Excerpt

Year

PREAMBLE

We, the members of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, acknowledging the powers of inherent and aboriginal tribal sovereignty, and exercising the right to self-determination, and with the desire to organize pursuant to 25 U.S.C. 476 and the Act of June 18, 1934 (48 Stat., 984), hereby adopt this Constitution and our Tribal Government in order to:
(1) Continue forever, with the help of God our Creator, our unique identity as members of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and to protect that identity from forces that threaten to diminish it;
(2) Protect our inherent rights as members of a sovereign American Indian tribe;
(3) Promote our cultural and religious beliefs and to pass them in our own way to our children, grandchildren, and grandchildren's children forever;
(4) Help our members achieve their highest potential in education, physical and mental health, and economic development;
(5) Maintain good relations with other Indian tribes, the United States, the State of Alabama and local governments;
(6) Support the Government of the United States and encourage our members to be loyal citizens;
(7)Acquire, develop, and conserve resources to achieve economic and social self-sufficiency for our tribe; and
(8) Ensure that our people shall live in peace and harmony among ourselves and with all other people.

Catalina Alvarez and Robert McGhee: What I Wish I Knew Before I Took Office (Q&A)

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Tribal leaders Catalina Alvarez (Pascua Yaqui Tribe) and Robert McGhee (Poarch Band of Creek Indians) field questions from seminar participants on an array of topics ranging from codes of ethics to creating mechanisms for transparent governance.

Resource Type
Citation

Alvarez, Catalina. "What I Wish I Knew Before I Took Office (Q&A)." Emerging Leaders seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. October 10, 2012. Q&A session.

McGhee, Robert. "What I Wish I Knew Before I Took Office (Q&A)." Emerging Leaders seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. October 10, 2012. Q&A session.

Audience member:

"Robert, coming from a similar small tribe and situations I can relate a lot to what you brought up as far as what you're dealing with. I just had a question as far as the transparency. I agree with that and I know that it's...I'm sure it's a work in progress. What has worked and what hasn't as far as are there limitations as far as how transparent each governmental entity is for tribal members and do you get a lot of backlash when they ask for a document or want to see something that they're just not entitled to?"

Robert McGhee:

"They're entitled to every document that we have, able to see [them] as long as it's not employee related, if it's not involving certain employees or certain individual members themselves. What we do is...and one of the things, we do an annual report. We put money aside every year, we publish a book and the book goes out to every tribal member, it's talking about our current financial status and we put a letter in there asking them to keep it amongst themselves and this is for you and your household. And then two days before it goes out, well, about a week before it goes out we actually have a large community meeting that goes over the annual report and explains it page by page. So we go through all the funding issues, we go through ‘this is where all the money went, this is what's left, this is what we're we agree...' We'll tell them, ‘We wanted to build a capital reserve account to protect future assets and this is how much we're putting in there.' So that's the best way we handle it and if we have any documents that we're concerned, because we do have council members who do like to talk and they're social people. We have one council member, all he does, and this is not to be disrespectful but he's always at the funerals and someone who's going into the hospital, which I respect. But we tell him and it's like, ‘You need to tell them that you're coming on behalf of all of us because we can't all go to...' But he loves to talk and I don't think he means it disrespectfully, I really don't, but he just loves...so now we take any information that is valuable at the council meeting, if we want to have a private discussion, I actually take it back up from all the...they'll agree to me, 'You can have...I don't want mine.' Because if they have it in their hand they're more apt to share it and give it away and we'll be the first ones to say, ‘I don't want mine, you take mine back,' ‘cause then we'll just collect all the information from the tribal council, we'll have it destroyed and it's easier that way on some regards because it can be sensitive topics that they really shouldn't be discussing so we do take up some of those things. But the transparency is, it's difficult but it's a double-edged sword."

Audience member:

"But more positive than negative as far as being open to the community and there's no...because leaving that expectation or leaving people to their own ideas or what's going on behind closed doors. You're kind of alleviating that to an extent?"

Robert McGhee:

"I think so. They have the opportunity...every council member, we have...every council meeting, we have two a month, what we've done now though is our first council meeting is actually business and the second council meeting we have every director rotate in every entity come in and give financial updates and updates of who's been hired, who's been...like how many employees we have and things like that so that helps a little bit. If we can alleviate where they don't have to ask us a question or they don't have to...then we'll try to do it."

Audience member:

"Thank you. And just a final question for the two of you, as far as going forward as far as governance, economic development, sitting, being chairs and different committees, how important is it for leaders to be educated and be able to provide that additional information that if you just...all you know is the rez, all you know is that immediate community, you haven't lived off, you haven't experienced any other let's say tribal entities or network, how important is that to be able to move forward for the futures to come?"

Catalina Alvarez:

"Yeah, I think that's a...you have to be...where nowadays, we're not this small reservation, we're not this small tribe. We're running with a lot of and dealing with a lot of millions of dollars and you need educated people that are going to be making those right decisions for the tribe. A lot of times we would have...you still have those mindsets of the older generation that feel that they don't need those kind of people or sometimes they're like in his case as well -- I'm going to pick on Marcelino [Flores] over there -- we have some people that are very educated and that know a whole lot and we have a tendency not to...I think we have to have a balance of where we get the educated people but also having the previous council, the old founders of the tribe also respect and embrace the knowledge that he does bring because I know that a lot of times like I've talked to Herminia [Frias], at least have the sense that if you don't know where you're at as a council to know and to ask that you need to find the right people for those positions because otherwise, like with us, I know I've told some of the council, we are still in the process of trying to get back the gaming board, because a lot of us feel we are not capable of running a gaming institution by any means and that's where it becomes difficult, that you have a council that still wants to be in charge of everything. And is it beneficial for us? Maybe it was and maybe it wasn't. We were burned also with the gaming board and finding the right people because sometimes you get burned by those same individuals on the gaming board. There's a balance that you have to find educated people, also people that are practical in knowing what needs to be done."

Robert McGhee:

"I think the key is if you're not...if they don't have the say...we educate as much as we can across all areas. It doesn't necessarily have to be college educated. It could be business education, tribal law, business literacy. We've actually had people just come in even to the council and teach debits and credits so they can have a better understanding if tribal gaming...because there was a distrust issue too amongst...you have a board over here and we have a top management staff and they're presenting this and it's overwhelming what they're presenting to you. And now though they have to go through it step by step by step and it's an easier process but I encourage if you can put any type of, in place, training and education at your council level, please do, I would recommend that you do it. But also do it for...what we've just started doing for all of our directors and program directors and executive directors is we have sent them through intensive leadership training and they have really...they said that was the best thing that the council has ever done. We felt that they were a part of the organization, that we were listening to them and now they're going to offer it, we're going to offer it to even all the employees because it wasn't fair we felt when I said, ‘we went through this,' and let... It's called 'Lead by Greatness.' We went through this training and it wasn't really fair for us to have the training and not the people who run our programs. And so we've actually...that just started this past year and they're enjoying it and now it's getting down to all the employees. And all the boards and committees like I pointed out before, they're all...all tribal members have the opportunity to serve on those but they have to submit an application and the application actually has to say, ‘Why do you want to serve on this board?' If it's the Cultural Authority, ‘Why do you want to serve here? Is it because you have something to give or do you just want to learn more? Why do you want to serve on PCI Gaming?' Because we realize, like she said, we don't have the expertise to run all of these economic development properties that we have. But you've got to make sure that your job descriptions and you've got to make sure that your...are strong job descriptions and things that get people in the right places to do that for you. We have mentoring programs for our tribal members so they can serve under leadership positions, to learn that way."

Audience member:

"This is in regards to how you deal with or listen to tribal members. There's kind of a two-part question that I heard and I don't know what your responses are, maybe your suggestions on how. The first thing here is congratulations and I think we all know it's a blessing in disguise to be an elected official. So how do you kind of keep a happy about hearing that, ‘Congratulations, you're on council.' And then the second part seems to be, ‘Well, I think you guys should be doing this or you need to do that and I voted you in.' And how do you listen to the community, how do you respond to those questions?"

Catalina Alvarez:

"I'm not sure, like, how do you...the first one that you said, that people just congratulate you and still smile after you know what you got yourself into? Yeah. You have to at least...you're always going to be in that position I think either way, no matter where you're at. We all put up a front even though we're not...maybe we're not happy inside but at least we...we'll just...we portray a different image by saying we're fine and we're good and everything, but I think when tribal members come and expect things of you and are asking you to do things differently, usually when I get asked a lot of things and mostly complaints of things are not doing or I was left out of the process, before I would normally, being a first-year council [member] I would automatically just get it and run with it and not really hear the other side of the story. Now, usually I would ask them, ‘Well, what would you do in these positions? Give me some feedback on what it is that you want accomplished and we'll see what we can do,' but I'm not going to...I always tell them, ‘I'm not going to promise you that it can be done because of course I'm only one voice of other 11.' So it's very important for the community to know that it might not happen and it's okay to tell a community member no. But you've got to watch out that you don't say 'no' too close to elections! [Laughter]"

Robert McGhee:

"One thing she did say was right on that it is okay to tell a community member 'no.' But what happened is that I think the way I handle it is...I wanted to serve. I've wanted to serve as a council member since I was a child. That was...I wanted to come back and do that. I think now though it's when...when someone looks at you, ‘Well, I want this,' I'm like, ‘Well, you tell...why, why do you want that? Does it benefit just you, is it benefiting the family or does it benefit all of us as a whole?' Because I'll let them know in a heartbeat that if that program costs $2 million to fix or a million dollars to fix, you're taking away $2 million or something from another program that we need to look at. So it's almost, you provide me the solution. If that's a problem then, okay, how do we fix it? I think if you throw it back on them that way, because sometimes they have a tendency to put you here and they remind you that, ‘Oh, you think you're up here?' Well, I throw it back down on them and it's like, ‘No, I'm here with you and I do not know how to fix that problem. So how do we fix that problem together? Or why don't you come to a meeting and present solutions.' And they actually...some of them like that because then it gives them...they're involved again and they can make those...be a part of the decision-making process or at least come up with some great ideas that we actually have considered and moved forward with. I'm with nine people but you have 3,000 other people out there, they have some great ideas and I think if you take the opportunity just to challenge them though to say, ‘Well, why do you want that and does it benefit everybody? Because our job as nine is to benefit everyone and it takes a majority first to support it. And have you talked to the other nine? And if the other nine believe in it then that's actually something we could probably do.'"

Audience member:

"My question or thing is when I got in office I ran for chairwoman last term and I didn't make it but I had all these ideas and now that I'm here, how...because a lot of people aren't educated as...when they get on council. They finished high school but they did other things and there was no really like ethical issues that occur, understanding and following policy and procedure within the business frame and then the constitutional issues. How do we follow our constitution yet do our ordinances and all those? But my main thing, my main question is -- and you said you go to, you have training and stuff like that -- is the ethical issue is that when we know there's a relative, a friend, somebody that we have a conflict with we're not really up front to say, ‘I'm not going to be in this discussion, I'm going to step away.' How do you get those values across to your council members so that there is transparency, because the people out there know who's related to who and who's friends with who and all that stuff."

Robert McGhee:

"I know that sometimes what we have to do is you have to remind council members that there is actually a possible conflict and impropriety, there's a...what's the terms that actually gets...an appearance of an impropriety. So as long as we feel that there's an appearance, we will actually let the other council member know. We challenge, it's like, ‘I don't know if you should really be involved in this. You may not know this but this actually impacts so and so,' and we provide them the relation. We tell them the relationship. So maybe some of them do know it but they just needed someone to challenge them to say, ‘I think it's best that you step out, do we all agree that so and so needs to step out,' and they do. What happens is the majority of them will do, once you've just shown where the relationship is and usually you're doing it because of...and don't do it attack-tive. You do it, say, ‘I think...isn't so-and-so in that program or isn't...did so-and-so apply for that job, isn't that your sister-in-law...,' because you are related but there are so many things sometimes you do get confused on even what is a nepotism. Is sister-in-law, is my aunt, is my sister? We know some of them are but then you have, well, your grandparents but they take care of that child. So there could be the possibility of that. So I think if you point it out, we've done that in the past, we just did it or you have your legal department if they're in the room, too. Our legal department's always with us. We'll lean over and say, ‘I think there's a...' and we'll, ‘Hey, that's why that person gets paid the big bucks, you need to go tell that there's an appearance here and maybe it's best to not be...you can be here and maybe just not be a part of the decision.'"

Catalina Alvarez:

"For us, I think the first time that I got into council we actually passed an ethical ordinance and I believe with the new council you're given all the ordinances that have like a fiscal ordinance and the ethical ordinance so you can go back and read them. And it's a way also to challenge, for council to hold each other accountable. That's kind of worked a little bit. I laugh because Herminia used to be our chairwoman the first time that I got into council and of course there was a...it was used against her. She brought the issue into us as ethical ordinance and it's just...the council saw it as a way, ‘Okay, this is how we're going to use it against her now.' But it in essence the...why we decided to do an ethical ordinance was really just to hold each other accountable and making sure that the community knows that we are not going to be in those situations where nepotism does occur and that we're all on the same playing field."

Audience member:

"This question kind of piggy backs off of the last question, but as elected officials and members of council how are you able to effective work against factionalism in council? I think that in a lot of tribal communities relationships ties, family ties run really deep. And so in spite of council and elected officials assuming integrity in their positions, they're always subject to sway. And I think that you see that in a lot of council where many times members will kind of group together on certain decisions and push legislation, ordinance or policy a certain direction when maybe it's kind of not based on the content but more on maybe who they're talking to and who they're being influenced by. As leaders, how are you able to combat that or at least address it within your councils and your communities?"

Robert McGhee:

"I've pictured...I've painted this like perfect council up here and we are not...by no means perfect. We do have our issues but with 3,000 there's definitely a difference between 3,000 members and say a 10,000 member tribe where factions can change elections. There's no doubt. One of the things that we have done is...it's funny, when we know certain people are getting together on a vote, we'll be like, ‘Well, I really don't care.' We won't be a part of it because it depends on what the issue is. If it's something about, oh, we're going to...it's like if we want to spend money here for this program, well, if I don't have a say or a personal attachment to it or something like that, we'll be like...but they've worked up this whole, us five support it or...’Well, have at it and if it works that's great and if it fails, I'll be the first one to let you know that failed,' but I won't be...but we won't do it...we don't air it to the rest of them. I think that if it comes to stuff that is...we have a strong and hopefully a lot of you do have an ethics code and the ethics code was the hardest thing to get passed. That was the hardest. It went to a vote five different times over a year because...and we kept...when we would challenge our tribal council members at the table, ‘Why are you not supporting the ethics code? Are you unethical?' But what happened was even our general council members who are looking, who are at these meetings and seeing so and so quit, he's not or she's not supporting the ethics code, not supporting the ethics code. It all came about though, the reason that individual was not supporting because the appearance of the impropriety. He was so scared of that word because of like you said factions or your council member's brother on another side of the family would be like, ‘Well, hey, he was a part of that decision that...' And so there's an appearance there and he was terrified of that ‘cause he was involved in business himself. And so we were like...so we made it stronger where the appearance, we gave it a little bit more teeth into that document to help him support it. But I think when it just comes to the factions I would...we don't have strong factions, we know that board and committee...it's funny it's only on board and committee appointments because they want Johnny in that position and they'll go meet and we'll say, ‘Well, which ones did you guys...who do you think you're going to choose today.' ‘No, we didn't do that yet.' Call them out on it. We do. But we've got a pretty good close relationship because we've spent so much time together in retreats and workshops and I do not...we do not have a problem calling each other out and one of the things that we had learned from one of these retreats that we went to, they pretty much told us, ‘Call them out. If they are not being the leader that they're supposed to be or if they're not supporting something...say it. Why are you not supporting this initiative? I need an answer.' And we couldn't have them flip-flop anymore either, that was the other thing too. We'd be in a workshop and we'd go around and just do a roll call. It was like, ‘You support it, you support it, you...' and then we'd get to a meeting and, ‘I don't support that.' Made us look like...that only happened a few times. So then we had another leadership, together, Kumbaya saying, ‘I get angry when you do that.' It was almost like a social therapy session. ‘I get angry when you do this. That's not appropriate ‘cause you're giving me your word and all that I feel that you have is your word. That's what makes you a credible person to me is your word and your actions and your actions are going against your words.' So now they actually will tell us, ‘Okay, I'm just going to be honest. I'm not supporting that.' Or if they're about to flip, because they've done it, we'll have another workshop, ‘I want to change my vote.' ‘What? Why?' And then I said, ‘Well, you told us before that from now on you're going to stick to your vote or stick to your decision,' and I called him out. He's like, ‘Yes, but I did tell you that if I changed I would let you know beforehand.' I'm like, ‘You've got me, you're right.' And he changed. He went in that council meeting and his vote changed and I'm like, ‘Well, at least you let me know beforehand.' I was leaning over to another council member, it was like, ‘We lost that one.'"

Catalina Alvarez:

"I think we're still trying to figure that out. You're always going to have I think, at least since I've been in council we have not had like this kind of council that can just sit down and talk, but we always had those kind of factions and we know that they're, sometimes they're influenced. The last...we haven't, this council since it's barely starting, we haven't gotten to that point but the previous council, we knew something was up and the committee knew what was going on and council members would pull in of course all their family so you were kind of pressured to vote in that direction. One of the things that took years and it still has been an issue was like that in the [Adam] Walsh Act, I couldn't believe how difficult it was for council to say that we want to first have the same kind of stuff...that we were going to opt into it and then where we were going to put our note...to notify the community, in which methods. It became so...I'm not even sure, well, I'm assuming that a lot of...in council you would have a sexual pedophile as a family member, that's the only reason why I thought that they could...they thought that I thought that they would be so hesitant in securing our community, but not until we actually had a switch in council that that...we were able to figure out where we were going to post the sexual pedophiles and what kind of notice was going to be given out to the community. But I think a lot of times that [faction], it's always going to exist because we're a tribe of 16,000 or 17,000 and we're always going to have that [faction]. We have council members that are related to each other and you know that they're going to pass ordinances and policies that are going to benefit their families or friends and it's very difficult to find out, at least for us right now. We're still....we're in the stage of trying to figure out how we can...how to resolve that."

Audience member:

"Just a couple of questions here. I'm busy scribbling things down. In today's world of course we live...we all live in two worlds and that is we live in America but at the same time we live within our tribal nations. And quite often, we have a clash in cultures and cultural values and we need somewhat to reconcile some of the things that we do. And was mentioned earlier the idea of nepotism. In the white world of course, that's a no-no. You don't do that, that's unethical behavior. At the same time, as a tribal member, we're taught form a very early age that our responsibility is to our family. Our responsibility is to our relatives, our responsibility is to our community. That's where our citizenship is, that's where our allegiance and where we should be focused. And we also understand that when someone close to you, a relative or whatever, comes for your assistance, you are not supposed to refuse because they're the ones who are going to support you when the chips are down, when you have a tragedy, when you have a sorrow, when you have a great need, you depend upon your family, yet and this job as tribal council is going to be gone in four years, but you still have to face that family member. And that's a difficult thing because you want the betterment of your nation, but at the same time when you're close relatives or clan members, clan fathers, whatever it is comes to you and needs something, how do you reconcile that? I know that's a challenge, ‘cause we have to keep our cultural values alive but we still have to work and thrive in the modern day era. So that's one of the things I think that has to be reconciled.

Another is with our traditional ways as you've mentioned earlier, to call them out. I think from a traditional mindset we're taught not to do that ‘cause we choose avoidance over confrontation whenever we can. And when we have a conflict with somebody, that's when we give direct eye contact, that's when we have that confrontation with them and we go full force. But we don't like to do that but rather we avoid confrontation whenever we can. If that means going on the other side of the street or not returning a phone call or not showing up for a meeting, for many of us, that's the proper thing to do rather than call them out. That's more of a modern day, white man kind of a thinking, at least I think. Utilizing our elders is another traditional way where we as tribal leaders or whatever we are think we're all it and leave out that segment of decision making or reliance upon our tribal elders to utilize them.

And I think what I'm gathering as part of what's happening here is to rebuilding nations is really about going back, going back. It's not building the tribal nation, it's rebuilding and it's remembrance and keeping a lot of our cultural values alive, of the form of governance that was thrust upon us. And if we look at those things, I do have a question specifically for you guys or anyone can answer this and that is, what would happen if salaries were not paid to elected council members and only expenses were paid, what kind of people would we have in there? What would we gain, what would we lose, what would it look like if we went back to that traditional sense of governance where these were not paid positions? Looking forward to your responses."

Robert McGhee:

"Just want to touch on a couple things there that you stated before. Yes, I have an allegiance to my family but I was raised to have, mostly from my mother, my father was a military man and things, but my mom, there was something about honesty, there was something about humility. And what bothers me is say when I have a larger family, not the nucleus but the extended family come up and ask me to do something that is inappropriate. I don't have a problem asking them, ‘Why are you asking me to do this? This is not...' because right now when you sign, when you run for council it's no longer mom, dad and my brother and my nephews and my grandparents, it's my...it's the 3,000 other members. Now every council member in here may have a different idea of that. That's mine. I represent all of them, the ones that you don't want to represent, the ones that still will call you by not your real name, any other name, the ones that still have some varied problems that we need to address. So I always know that I can go back to my family once I'm done serving my terms if I choose not to get elected because my dad doesn't allow us to speak tribal politics in our house either whenever we have an event or anything like that because he used to serve there. So he's like, ‘No one's allowed to come up to each other and talk to me about this or that or why did you do that?' He posted it on...he actually has a sign, he writes and he puts it on the door, ‘No politics are going to be discussed today,' which is helpful because sometimes you do...all of us here, you do get tired of going to certain events because you know someone's going to come up and ask a question or question you about this so at least I know it's...in the house, dad's house, it's off limits even at my brother's house ‘cause he served too. So he's like, ‘We don't talk about that.' To get back to your calling out question, I think I put that, yes, when I said calling out but keep in mind that we do it respectfully. It's one of those things of when I know...I don't necessarily have to call you always out in front. If I know you're upset, what I'm going to do though is have a conversation with you somewhere to ask why because I don't think me personally that we can move forward until I know what your issues are.

The full-time council...I agree with you on the...our part-time members...about four years ago we only got paid a stipend of $50 a meeting, five years ago. However, though, I would say the difference between that was there was also a different leadership at that time, too, so the council wasn't involved...a lot of them were involved but they just didn't feel that they had the time because there were some things going on where, ‘We're going to have a meeting today at 10:00.' ‘Well, I can't make a meeting today at 10:00. I'm working.' And until you got this...until you can change where you know that the leadership or whoever, the chairman, is going to respect if it's either a part-time council or a full-time one to know that we'll work around various schedules. I meant they do it for us now. We ask them, because like I said, two of us are part-time so we only have workshops on one day a month, all day. I actually use vacation time to do that. But the rest, they're welcome to attend their committee meetings. The committee meetings that I serve on, I'm allowed to determine when those meetings are so I think it could work as a part-time, but I don't think you would have the problems that you do. But keep in mind when you're full-time too, I think there are added pressures where a lot of the general council members now are looking at qualifications of putting somebody in office because they're paying them this much money. So that's actually a good, I would say a good side to it. Now, individuals are having to run on their qualifications because they're making salaries that are...that the program director or so and so, I make this and I have to have a master's in this or I make... So what are you bringing to the table as a council member that you're worth that much money? And so I think that's a good thing to it. It's stepping up to get other individuals involved that have qualifications or whatever those qualifications are it just could be not necessarily educational, it just could be serving on various committees or boards or things like that. And we have a cell center, just so you know, and that's where all our seniors hang out, all our elders hang out and I'm there probably...I eat lunch with them once a week to twice...to hear what they have to say. And we play bingo with them in the area and that's the best time to do it is when they're all gathered and just, ‘Well, what do you guys want us to see or where did I screw up today,' and they'll let you know quickly where."

Catalina Alvarez:

"I think as...and you're right, as individuals we're taught from the beginning our roles, our female roles and male roles and where you stand and even how we should address our elders. I think one of the things with the previous councils and when I first came on to council is we have our cultural leave availability for employees to do their cultural participants and participate in their culture activities. And I think as I talk to elders as a council, when we would get into discussions and I had one of the councilmen go, ‘You're supposed to respect your elders all the time.' It's true, but as a council, you guys are all equal, we are all equal at least my response to them because you were all elected by the people and they expect you to have a voice like any other individual on council. That was my response to him. And I think that more and more the council understands that we all should have a voice in how we do things and even elders in our council, they're always constantly...and I point out to Mary Jane [Buenamea], ‘They'll keep us in line as well,' but I think they're open to know that we all can share our own ideas and still try to move forward on some of our activities. I know that the last council since I was the only female, they would not include me in some of the discussions on cultural and even like on stipends that we give for our festivities, which I would get upset because I'm like, ‘as a council, male, female, I'm here as a voice to the people that voted me in. So you can't hold that against me that I can't give my input on what's going on.' But I think as we move into a full-time council I think if they weren't...if we wouldn't receive a stipend, it would be very difficult to move as fast as we have I think. As a council it allowed us to pass a lot of and meet more frequently to get things done within the tribe."

Audience member:

"I had my question for Robert and I wanted to know...you talked about the three sides that have to be heard. Could you just tell us very quickly what those three sides of any issue?"

Robert McGhee:

"Your side, the other side and the opinion. There's always this side, this side, but then there's also just what's the opinion out there of this problem. There's a lot more of those than there are the opinions themselves.

Robert McGhee: What I Wish I Knew Before I Took Office

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Treasurer of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians Robert McGhee shares some of the things that he wished he knew before he first took office. He also discusses how he and his elected leader colleagues have built a team approach to making informed decisions on behalf of their constituents.

People
Resource Type
Citation

McGhee, Robert. "What I Wish I Knew Before I Took Office." Emerging Leaders seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. October 10, 2012. Presentation.

Robert McGhee:

"Once again, thank you to the Native Nations Institute and to the tribe allowing us to be here this afternoon and to go through this, I think a very interesting subject. As she was speaking, I can hit on a lot of those and say, ‘Okay, I had that written down. I had that written down,' so at least to show we're somehow consistent from tribe to tribe. We are located in a small town. We're the only tribe in the state of...federally recognized tribe in the State of Alabama. We have several other state-recognized tribes in the state that we have a pretty good working relationship with. However, we are a council of nine. Just some background; we are [on] staggered terms. So the good thing and one of the best things I can say about our tribe is that we're staggered and we have the continuity instead of being all elected at once, ours is three people every year come up. So at least we're only, if we're replacing somebody, we're replacing one to three people. We have never once actually even replaced entirely three people during the time that I've been on. I'm on my second term...third term and will be up next June for my [fourth] term.

We're structured as we have a separate economic development authority who, we have Creek Indian Enterprises that takes care of all of our economic development authorities, all of our businesses. And then we have a PCI Gaming authority, which takes care of all of our gaming ventures, and we have them throughout the state and in Florida and working in California and some other places too. We do have one council member who serves on each of those, which it helps so we can know that...you were coming to that trust issue and just saying what is being done at those board levels. Each council member actually serves on one of those entities and we rotate every year. So what it is, is we want to learn about...we don't want to give somebody too much autonomous and too much power where I'm serving on PCI gaming for three years, I'm the only one that really knows what's going on. We ask that everybody rotate a year. So this year I get to be involved in those decisions. Next year it's going to be Catalina [Alvarez] that gets to be involved in those decisions. So it helps us to get a better understanding of what is out there because we did not have that.

So to get back to the things that...when I first got started on council, it was...I worked for the tribe a number of years ago as a social worker out of undergrad. My father served on council, my brother served on council, my great-grandfather was the chief and so I always had an identity that one day I would come back home and serve on the council. However, I went off to graduate school and went and worked in Washington, D.C. and worked for the United States Senate Committee [on Indian Affairs] and worked for the federal government. So I had an understanding of the way D.C. government impacted the tribal governments, but I really did not have an understanding of how local politics impacted our tribal government. And not even...when I say local politics, county commissions and cities, but also just the tribal members themselves. So the hardest part for me was coming back. And I got elected. I worked for a year and I got elected. And we have, we are part-time council members and full-time council members. What I mean is, you have the opportunity to choose if you will be a full-time council member or a part-time council member. There's two of us that are part-time council members. That's me along with actually our general manager of our casino is also a council member and then the other seven are full-time council members. I also handle the government relations part of the tribe.

But the hardest thing was when I came back home and you got elected was the fact that it's really difficult working for your family. You are working...we have 3,000 members and the amount of...you go into these meetings and you're sitting there and you're thinking you're making the best decisions for the tribe and then you have your own cousins and things like say, ‘Well, why did he make...Robbie just stood up and made that decision and he...' without them knowing the facts that were presented. As a social worker, and I got my degree as a master's in social worker, and it was like I always know to look at there's three sides to every story. And the sad part is the general council, and that's to our own fault, sometimes they're not aware of all the sides to the decision that's being made. They only see the one side that's being presented, they don't take the opportunity or we're not providing them the opportunity to learn all of the different discussions that took place.

When we first moved back, we were, I would say probably 10 years ago, 'Type A' development that was up there. We were, I wouldn't call us -- you may know some of our past tribal leaders so I'm not going to -- we were just in a different direction. We had strong leadership; the other council members at that time necessarily did not have a voice. What happened was, when I came back on after working in D.C. and then we encouraged a couple other younger individuals to run for council, that we started not necessarily challenging but we started just saying, ‘Why was that decision made or why are we going this route?' That's not necessarily the way I perceive the law. Because we had...our general council, we set up education funds and we educated our youth and we educate. So they went off and got the education, now they want to come back and serve and there was a gap there. It was a gap between the elders who served on the council and then you had these young bucks and the McGhee boys who were coming back and they were trying to run the tribe and that wasn't true. It was just one of those things of -- as I said before -- you do not know the history that has taken place under your tribal leadership for hundreds of years. You'll never know. The sad part is you will never know. You can sit there and study, you can sit there and look and you can sit there and research. I do not know why that decision was made 10 years ago or 15 years ago, but that was the hardest part. Why did you make that decision 15 years ago? Why did you make that decision 20 years ago? And to get them to answer those when you're coming into new directions. Sometimes those questions are hard to get answered because it's maybe it's one of those things that it was pride, it was we had...you had to get reelected, you had to...to get progress done you had to make certain sacrifices.

But I think as we've gotten, as we've moved forward, I would say that the hardest thing that, I would say a key attribute that I think every council member should have is just humility. I think they should have humility, I think they should have generosity and I think they should have authenticity. I think it's one of...because as you're moving forward to make a decision you have to be authentic, but I think if you can recognize...if you're authentic, then you can recognize someone else's generosity. You can sit around a table now of our nine, and we have leaders who have been on council now for 25 years, there's two of those. The rest of us have been on, I'm the next at nine years and then after that it's six and three. And I think it's taken...what we had to do was come together as a group. We weren't as a group when I first got elected. You still had this...our elders who are on the council who are very strong and very opinionated and they had the right to be. They have already lived this and we were coming in and challenging their decisions, which was not very respectful at that time when I look back. But we were coming in and challenging them and saying, ‘Well, that's not necessarily true,' or ‘I've worked here and I see a different approach,' and that really did separate us a lot when you had these newer people coming onboard against the elders.

But it was one of those things of, ‘Well, how can we work together?' So what we did, after the second year of my serving on council, I asked that, ‘How about we just take a retreat? How about all of us go somewhere? Not at the local, at the casino hotel because that's not getting away. Let's go somewhere else.' And so we went to...the good thing is where we live, we live on the coast so between two beaches an hour away. So we took the council away to the beach for the weekend and we asked...and I asked another thing. I said...because I'm a very, at that time, I was a very challenging individual; passionate is what my tribal leaders called me. So that was the term that was labeled actually at the retreat about Robbie, ‘He is passionate.' So I asked then, I said, ‘Well, for all of us to have a voice at this retreat, we need to bring in somebody from the outside who does not know anything about us. Can we bring in a moderator?' So it's not Robbie taking over a conversation, it's not our elder, the past chairman for 25 years taking over the conversation, who at this time is no longer the chairman but he still had a strong voice or others. And so that was where we started shifting in the right, not in the right direction, but in a new direction.

We sat there, we went through that weekend, we challenged each other, we were able to speak freely to each other about how I feel threatened by you or how you feel threatened by me and we also talked about the micromanaging and how things needed to change. Because at that time we were...the council not...in the past was going in and pretty much just telling directors what to do and that is not the way this government was set up. This government was set up of, ‘We have hired competent people in place as our program directors and we need them to do their jobs.' So we figured, ‘Well, how can we get the full-time council more, not work, but where they feel more involved in the process but yet not going in and micromanaging every department?' So we set up legislative committees. So every council member now, by law, had to, we passed an ordinance that you had, to be a full-time council member, we created several legislative committees and you had to serve on two or more. And then those legislative committees were the ones who actually would work with the administrator or if there were laws that had to be changed or any policies that had to be changed or resolutions that had to be amended, they would go and meet with the directors and of course not just directly to the director.

We made it...we had a plan that you had to go through the administrator or even the chairman's office out of respect to arrange these meetings and that actually was a great move for the tribal council because it...no longer did they feel the need to call up so-and-so in social services, ‘why didn't...why did you turn down the...application?' Because like I said before, there's always two to three sides to every story and when you have a general council member going to a council member, you're only getting one side. And that's the hardest thing for the council member themselves to realize. When a general council member comes to you, you are only hearing one side and the sad part is sometimes you're hearing a truth that may be sometimes flawed. And so what we had to encourage the tribal council members to do was we need to meet with every, get all the parties in a room or ‘Hey, call this...you got this side of the story, now call the director and get their side of the story and let's move forward from there.' I think that as we've done this it's been one of those growing challenges because you still will have individuals who talk in the community. I always think that's amazing but now we've empowered each of our council members through these leadership retreats and through events such as this to also challenge each other but also to challenge a general council member. Meaning if so-and-so is saying so-and-so about another council member, now we stand up for each other. Now we say, ‘Well, why do you think so-and-so made that decision? Well, I know why he's made that decision or why she's made that decision but you're more than welcome to call them to address it.'

We have a lot of open...in the past we didn't have transparency of government. What we did was we decided that from now on everything would be open. You can come in and you can look at financials, you can come in and you can look at every document that you need to look in. However, you can't leave with the documents but you can come in. That's still not perfect. They still want to take the documents but we say, ‘No, you can come in and look at everything.' We have community meetings. We don't have...in our community meetings, if there are any topics that are bothering the tribe, we open it up. We have to sit up there, all nine of us and we have to take hit after hit after hit. We only have one speaker. We don't ask everybody to speak, only if there's a question that's directed to them. I usually draw the short end of the stick because I'm the government relations person so I'm the one that takes a lot of the hits. But it's...you stand up there and you give every council member the voice because that's all they want. Our general council just wants a voice and they want to be heard and that's one of the hardest things was trying to get evolved to the rest of the council, is just taking the opportunity to listen to the general council and be honest with them.

I think the other key is just you tell them, ‘No, we cannot do that. I cannot do that for this family over here because...and this family actually does not represent the 3,000 other members that are here.' Even in a community meeting when I have 10 people speaking to an issue or the council has 10 people speaking to an issue, we let them know at that community meeting that, ‘Okay, there's only 300 people here. There's 3,000 members. So please know that we cannot leave this meeting making a change or an ordinance based upon the 100 that spoke out of the 300 that do not represent the 3,000.' But we will let them know in the newsletter that, ‘Hey, these 100 spoke to this and if you have a different agenda, then you need to contact us. You need to let...because if not, we will be going in this direction.' And that's when you get everybody then speaking. It's like, ‘Well, I wasn't at the meeting.' ‘Well, that's not our fault.' We make sure that we give a pretty amount...a lot of time and effort to go there.

Another thing that the...when you come into it with just the challenge of recognizing political agendas of each one. They have them. We did have several members that used to be employees who were upset. So they ran for council and they got elected. And they did make some changes, which was quite fun. But after you started working with each other and you understand just the political agendas of each one of them, you ask and it's like, ‘Well, that's actually not a bad political agenda. How can we do that together but I need you to support mine.' I didn't know the difficulty would be...it's like I was a politician per se, I was a lobbyist in D.C. also, too, and worked in government there but then moving back, that was a harder political game to play at the local level amongst tribal council members. But one of the things that we started to do was actually ask them at our meetings, private meetings, ‘What are your top 10? What are your top five?' or ‘What did you want to see done in your term?' And if they're not completely truthful, you can look at the newsletter when they wrote their platform for being elected, they're right there. So we can say, ‘Well, you said this, you're going to build an education institution and you do know an education institution costs $2 million. So how do we get that done?' I go, ‘I want to build a new health care facility, that's going to cost $10 million. So how do I get that done?' And it takes the time that we had to prioritize and to go through and say because...and we published these things and the good thing about it is it publishes all of the political agendas. But if they're little things, I encourage you to call. I encourage you to talk to your other council members prior to council meetings. Explain to them what's going on. We don't like anything presented without being discussed. We get very upset if you just throw something on the table. We will not support it. We've been very good about standing strong as a majority to say, ‘We can't support that. This is the first time you've ever talked to us about that and that's not necessarily something that's good for everybody.'

The last thing that we had done that I thought was...and it took...we went on a leadership retreat actually here in Tucson at Miraval. I don't know if you've ever heard of that. And we went away and we did all these team-building exercises. And we developed a goal and a purpose and we set a value statement. And we got to understand how each person on the council was. When we went to the core, we had emotional environments and we went to the core to each of us as individuals. And we realized that you make all the...so-and-so makes all his decisions based upon family, that was the core. So we knew if he made a decision, we're like, ‘Why did he make that decision?' and if we could relate it to his family, we knew why he related it. And he was honest about it and that was the best thing. At least I knew where you stood, you were always about, ‘I'm focused on my nuclear family, then my larger family,' which is the tribe. But at least we knew where so-and-so was coming from every time he made a decision and that's what helped us. And after that we developed a value statement for the council. And we actually wanted it to be a part of our constitution so we put it on the public. We put it on as a constitutional amendment; it was voted on. And we let the people know that every council member who runs in the future must support this purpose and this value statement for our tribe. And the people supported it; it passed overwhelmingly. And so now, over the last two years, when you have people running for council, we challenge them to say, ‘tell us how you support the purpose of this tribe and do you have the same value statements that we said we would all support?'

It's been an interesting road. I'm up next year. So far no one's come out against me. The sad...I would say one thing that I think every council member needs to be aware of is the role now that social media is though is playing in our lives and how it's becoming very difficult to get a message across that is accurate when you have social media taking over. If you can have one tribal council member who's not happy, you've provided now that individual a voice and you will spend a lot of your time engaging. And it's been a difficult thing to figure out how we can go around this with social media and the Facebook. That's been the difficult task because they're not...they're not getting the whole story. They're airing business that should not be aired and we try to...this is not...the nation sees that now. Not the tribal nation, the nation. And you can never take it back. So now we're trying to have community meetings on explaining the impact of social media. So if you're just now getting elected or anything like that, I would try to start addressing that very quickly because it can be a dangerous avenue. We're in a fight with the county and the county knows more stuff about us because they can...friends of friends and friends of friends and they see the arguments that are taking place and it's very difficult. So I would encourage all of you, if you can figure the best way, if anybody can come up with a model on how to put that genie back in the bottle or to at least use it as a more social activism for the tribe and not against the tribe. Thank you."

Great Tribal Leaders of Modern Times: Eddie Tullis

Author
Producer
Institute for Tribal Government
Year

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.

Resource Type
Citation

Tullis, Eddie. "Great Tribal Leaders of Modern Times." (interview series). Institute for Tribal Government, Portland State University. Atmore, Alabama. April 2002. Interview.

Kathryn Harrison:

"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."

[Native music]

Narrator:

"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.

Eddie Tullis:

"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

Eddie Tullis:

"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

Eddie Tullis:

"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

Eddie Tullis:

"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

Eddie Tullis:

"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

Eddie Tullis:

"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

Eddie Tullis:

"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

Eddie Tullis:

"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

Eddie Tullis:

"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

Eddie Tullis:

"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

Eddie Tullis:

"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

Eddie Tullis:

"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

Eddie Tullis:

"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

Eddie Tullis:

"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

Eddie Tullis:

"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

Eddie Tullis:

"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

Eddie Tullis:

"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

Eddie Tullis:

"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

Eddie Tullis:

"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

Eddie Tullis:

"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

Eddie Tullis:

"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

Eddie Tullis:

"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

Eddie Tullis:

"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: tribalgov@pdx.edu.

[Native music]

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

Editing
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:
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Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, Chickasaw Nation
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Delaware Nation of Oklahoma
Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe
Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians
Jayne Fawcett, Ambassador
Mohegan Tribal Council
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Pendleton Woolen Mills
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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

A Place Called Poarch PCI: all about diversifying

Author
Year

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians didn’t coin the phrase “economic development,” but they are certainly taking it to new heights. With revenue from successful gaming venues in the state and the drive to diversify their economic interests, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians is working on several projects around the state and into Florida...

Resource Type
Citation

Digmon, Sherry. "‘A Place Called Poarch’ — PCI: all about diversifying." AtmoreNews.com, October 24, 2012. Article. (http://www.atmorenews.com/2012/10/24/a-place-called-poarch-pci-all-about..., accessed October 29, 2012)