By Kathleen Swift
Glenna Wallace was elected chief of the Eastern Shawnee in 2006. She is the first woman to serve as chief of the 3,600 enrolled citizens whose nation sits in eastern Oklahoma.
The Eastern Shawnee arrived in Indian Territory in 1832. Oklahoma didn’t become a state until 1907. They, along with the Seneca Cayuga, were the first tribe forcibly removed from their homeland in Ohio under the Indian Removal Act of 1830.
“Our ancestors walked the entire way,” recalled Chief Glenna, “and arrived in December. Many people died, and by the late 1890s there were only 69 members remaining.”
Over the ensuing years, the Eastern Shawnee have increased their numbers and have built a caring, active community.
“It’s almost impossible to describe my job. I supervise tribal administration where we have about 200 employees. I interact with federal, governmental, tribal, state, community and individual entities. One day, I might be meeting with the governor of Oklahoma, the next delivering a speech in Ohio, the next attending to details regarding our many grants, and the next preparing for our children’s Christmas party or hosting a cancer gala, a mammogram clinic, a blood drive or trying to solve a tribal member’s need. We have a business committee responsible for the business of the tribe.” Chief Glenna is a servant leader to the tribe and to the community.
The service area for the Eastern Shawnee is a 50-mile radius from Seneca, Missouri, although tribal members live in all 50 states.
“We are an Oklahoma tribe. In serving our citizens, we have to follow federal and Oklahoma laws, and it can get complicated being so close to other states,” said Chief Glenna.
“We are co-owners of the Bearskin Clinic with the Wyandotte nation and serve 14 counties in Oklahoma. The rules allow our citizens living in other states to receive some but not all medical services at the Bearskin Clinic. If they have to go to the hospital, a new set of rules apply.
“We serve as much of the community as we can. Our service area, which includes the Seneca area, had a great need for childcare, and we opened our childcare facility for children ages six weeks to five years of age. Three years ago, we had 20 children enrolled; now we have 70. We also started an after-school program and a summer program for children ages six to 12. The program is open to everybody, native or non-native. It’s one of the ways we try to serve the entire community.”
One of Chief Glenna’s greatest joys is the Eastern Shawnee’s emphasis on education. An educator herself who taught at Crowder College for 38 and a half years, the initiative is close to her heart.
“Native Americans of all tribes face challenges,” said Chief Glenna. “We have one of the highest high school drop-out rates and one of the lowest rates of students entering and completing college. To address this issue, we wanted to support our students in educational pursuits.
“When I was in high school, I had one feed-sack blouse and two feed-sack skirts. I couldn’t go to prom because I didn’t have a dress to wear. I never had a class ring or was able to have the other things that go along with being in high school. We don’t want our children to experience that. Every tribal member has up to $6,000 a semester to attend the college or technical school of their choice. There is no grade requirement to receive the scholarship initially, but they must meet their institution’s grade requirements and standards to retain the scholarship.
“We provide monetary incentives for good grades beginning in grade six to encourage students to achieve and excel. All students receive $750 each year for clothing and another $750 is available to juniors and seniors to use on expenses such as a prom dress, a computer, their class ring, the fees to take the ACT exam, senior pictures or whatever they choose.
“All of this supports their desire to graduate and gives them the opportunity to get an education. It is satisfying to see people succeed when given the support they need.”
The Eastern Shawnee tribe continues to honor their heritage. Chief Glenna said, “Currently, we are working to get the more than 100,000 human remains of our ancestors in Ohio buried. These remains and funerary items now sit in museums, boxes and basements. We are working with the state of Ohio to get the reburial through NAGRPA, Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which was enacted in 1990.
“We are also working to get four mounds in Ohio recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. These are places recognized by the United Nations for their education, scientific or cultural significance. There are 1,121 such sites in the world, but only 24 in the United States.”
The Eastern Shawnee Tribe is co-owner of the Peoples Bank of Seneca with branches located in Seneca and Joplin and is a community-oriented bank that helps local schools.
“We are a caring tribe,” said Chief Glenna. “We have our faults and our successes like anyone else. We are a work in progress and will continue to support our citizens and our community.”