The Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma (or Absentee Shawnee) is one of three federally recognized tribes of Shawnee people. Historically residing in the Eastern United States, the original Shawnees lived in areas known as Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and other neighboring states. It is documented their people occupied and traveled through lands which spanned from Canada to Florida, from the Mississippi River to the eastern continental coast. In contemporary times, the Absentee Shawnee Tribe headquarters in Shawnee, Oklahoma; with its tribal jurisdiction area including land properties in both Cleveland County and Pottawatomie County.
There are approximately 3,050 enrolled Absentee Shawnee tribal members with 2,315 living in the state of Oklahoma. Tribal membership follows blood-quantum criteria, with applicants requiring a minimum of ¼ documented Absentee-Shawnee blood to be placed on its membership rolls, as set forth by the tribal constitution. Though not a formal division, there is a social separation within its current tribal membership between the traditionalist Big Jim Band (whom kept their cultural traditions and ceremonies with its primary populace in the Little Axe, Norman area) and the assimilationist White Turkey Band (whom adopted the societal ways of the European majority with much of these families based in the Shawnee area.) Regardless of historical viewpoints, both Bands are cooperative together for the holistic future of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe.
The tribe operates its own housing authority and issues tribal vehicle tags. They own a gas station, two smoke shops, two casinos, and the AST Health Center and Plus Care, located in Norman, Oklahoma or Shawnee, Oklahoma. Their casinos, both called Thunderbird Casino, are located east of Norman, Oklahoma and near their tribal headquarters in Shawnee, Oklahoma. Their estimated annual economic impact is $6,353,722.
The Absentee Shawnee Tribe possesses all the inherent powers of sovereignty held prior to the Constitution of the United States. Some of these powers include the following: to adopt and operate a form of government of their choosing; to define the conditions of tribal membership; to regulate domestic relations of its members; to levy taxes; to regulate property within the jurisdiction of the Tribe; and to control the conduct of membership by legislation and to administer justice.
Their chosen form of government evolved over the first half of the 20th Century-- which began in 1938 when the current government was formalized under a constitution written to provide statutory authority. The current constitution was ratified December 5, 1938, and was last amended on August 13, 1988.
The tribal government is composed of two separate branches: the Judicial Branch and the Legislative/Executive Branch (also referred to as Executive Committee.) In addition, an independent body called the 'Election Committee' whom are charged with the responsibility of conducting annual elections. The Legislative/Executive Branch consists of five members: Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary, Treasurer, and Representative. All five of these are elected through referendum elections, with Executive Committee members serving two-year terms. It is the responsibility of the Executive Committee to meet on month-annual basis to set policy, administer government programs and execute the will of the overall tribal membership.
The current administration includes the following:
Governor: Edwina Butler-Wolfe
Lieutenant Governor: Isaac Gibson
Secretary: John Raymond Johnson
Treasurer: Leah Bates
Representative: Anthony "Tadpole" Johnson
The Shawnee are an Algonquian-speaking people whom, at the time of European encounter, had bands living in present-day Eastern United States and other areas of the Southeastern United States.
During the American Revolutionary War, many Shawnee moved from Ohio to Cape Girardeau, Missouri, then some into Spanish Louisiana. These bands were later joined by other Shawnee groups from Alabama; and some relocated southward into Arkansas Territory, Spanish Texas, and French Louisiana. After the 1803 Louisiana Purchase by the United States, encroaching colonial settlement persuaded the Shawnee to negotiate an 1825 treaty ceding their Missouri lands for reservation lands in Kansas.
However, prior to this treaty, a group of Shawnees (later known as the Big Jim band) had already left this region on a journey towards Texas Territory which was under the control of Spain. Collectively, this group would be become known as Absentee Shawnee, as their band was deemed the 'absent Shawnees' in the provisional clause in an 1854 treaty regarding Kansas reservation lands. Later, the Texas-Mexico War compelled numerous Absentee Shawnees to leave Texas Territory and relocate into Indian Territory of Oklahoma. However, it is estimated previous Shawnee bands from Kansas had already resettled in Oklahoma beginning around 1839.
In the late 1800s, an Indian Agent of the US government brought soldiers from Fort Reno, Oklahoma to force the traditionalist Big Jim band of Absentee Shawnees out of Deep Fork River area southward to Hog Creek and Little River area near present-day Lake Thunderbird, Norman, Oklahoma. Here, in a community now called Little Axe, Oklahoma and in Shawnee, Oklahoma, the modern Absentee Shawnee people still continue to live.
In 1872, US Congress gave the Absentee Shawnee title to shared lands occupied on the Citizen Potawatomi Nation-Absentee Shawnee Oklahoma Tribal Statistical Area (OTSA). In 1936, the tribe reorganized and gained federal recognition under the new Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act with their current constitution ratified on December 5, 1938.
The tribe created the Cultural Preservation Department to support cultural and language preservation. They offer a Shawnee language class. According to the Intertribal Wordpath Society, 200 to 800 people still spoke the Shawnee language in Oklahoma as of 2006. Pauline Wahpepah, a fluent native speaker, teaches Shawnee for the tribe.
The official emblem was designed by Leroy White (1926 - 2009), a great-grandson of Big Jim and direct descendant of Chief Tecumseh, whom was born and raised in Little Axe, Oklahoma on the Indian allotment forced upon his family in 1886. From birth, Shawnee language and tradition was a part of his daily life. he was selected to succeed his uncle, Webster Little Jim, in 1976 as the traditional chief of the Big Jim band of Absentee Shawnee Tribe. He was a man of many interests, including painting. In 1974, with the encouragement of his family, Leroy, a talented but modest artist, entered the contest sponsored by the Absentee Shawnee Tribe for a design of a tribal logo. In constructing his design, he made a point to include features that would have the most meaning to the Absentee Shawnee people. Leroy won the contest and his design is presently recognized as the official emblem of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe.
Information about the emblem is below:
The yellow moon in the background represents one of God's many creations, which were always admired by Indian people.
The two feathers symbolize two significant leaders of Shawnee people, Tecumseh and his brother, Tenskwatawa, the Prophet.
The facial profile represents Tecumseh, a Shawnee leader revered for his strength of character and military accomplishments. Much of his adult life was dedicated to uniting all of the eastern tribes into a vast Indian confederacy for the purpose of asserting and defending their right to live in their native lands under their own laws and leaders. His dream of a confederacy was not realized but unto his death his spirit was not broken.
The two stars denote the rank of Brigadier General held by Tecumseh in the British Army. He died in action at the Battle of Thames in 1813.
Lastly, 'Li Si Wi Nwi' was the chosen name of the Little Axe community of Absentee Shawnees, and its English translation is 'Among the Shawnee.'
Benjamin Harjo, Jr., painter and printmaker
Ernest Spybuck (1883–1949), artist and autoethnographer