President Terri Parton, Wichita and Affiliated Tribes. Anadarko, Oklahoma.

Terri Parton: NMAI’s Meet Native America Series

Dennis Zotigh

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native peoples today.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

My name is Terri Parton. I am the president of the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes and an enrolled member. I am also of Caddo descent. I have a 23-year-old son, Jacob, and a 10-year-old nephew, Joshua.

Can you share your Native name and its English translation, or your nickname?

My maiden name is Terri Ann Brown. I do not have a Native name.

Where is your tribal community located?

The Wichita and Affiliated Tribes is located in Anadarko, Oklahoma. Our former reservation boundaries include the northern half of Caddo County, Oklahoma. Parts of Grady, Canadian, Blaine, Custer, and Washita counties are also included in the former reservation boundaries.

Where is your tribe originally from?

The Wichita and Affiliated Tribes consists of the Wichita proper, Waco, Keechi, and Tawakoni bands. Our tribe is indigenous to Oklahoma, south central Kansas, and most of Texas. Our tribe is the only tribe aboriginal to Oklahoma.

What is a significant point in history from your tribes that you would like to share?

The Wichita people once lived in the areas from around Wichita, Kansas, all through Oklahoma and down to Waco, Texas. We were once called the Quivira. We now sit on a former reservation area that we were forced to share with two other tribes. Much of that land no longer belongs to us. The most significant point in our history is when the Wichita, Waco, Keechi, and Tawakoni people were forced to give up our land.

How is your tribal government set up?

The supreme governing body is all tribal members 18 years and older—our General Council. Our tribe elected to be governed by a Governing Resolution instead of by a constitution. The Governing Resolution passed by the General Council delegates authority to a seven-member Executive Committee. The Executive Committee is composed of a president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, and three committee members.

Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?

We have traditional leadership that mostly focuses on the Wichita–Pawnee Visitation that has gone on for centuries. While we do our best to promote culture and our traditional ways, this is not integrated into the politics of the government.

How often are elected leaders chosen?

The Wichita and Affiliated Tribes hold elections for all seven members of the Executive Committee every four years. Elections are held the third Saturday in July. The next elections will be held this month. A candidate must receive the majority vote of those voting to be elected.

How often does your council meet?

The Governing Resolution of the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes calls for an annual General Council Meeting to be held on the third Saturday in July of each year. Occasionally, other meetings of the General Council are called by the president.

How did your life experiences prepare you to lead your tribe?

My life experiences help guide me in everything I do. Every time someone comes in and needs help, I can usually relate in some way to what they’re going through. My life has not been perfect at all. I have lived. I have had bad times, bad experiences, and dealt with the things that many of our people go through in some shape or form. I’ve chosen to never let those experiences keep me down, though. I learned from them and let those lessons be my guide when helping others.

I have had help along the way when I thought no one could help me, and so I know the importance of being able to help someone when they think there is no hope or help. Helping my people in those instances is the most rewarding thing about my job.

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?

While there are certain things in our Governing Resolution that are duties of the president, such as presiding over meetings and having supervision of the business of the General Council and the Executive Committee, there is a much deeper sense of responsibility that comes with the position for me.

My responsibility lies in caring for my people. This is carried out in a variety of ways. I represent my people to the best of my ability. I work to do my best to make things move in a positive direction for our tribe. I try to filter out negativity and stay focused on the positive side to move our tribe forward.

It is my responsibility to do my best to get to know my people and who they are. I try to be there when needed or asked, at least to do the best I can. There are times I have to take a break, too, though.

Most importantly I am responsible for making sure that our tribe has a future and to keep the best interest of the tribe at heart. I focus a lot on our children, but not forgetting to take care of our elders. I want to know that as I grow older and become an elder, I will feel confident in stepping aside and letting our younger generation lead, while still maintaining a connection to be a mentor. It is my responsibility to share my knowledge to ensure our future.

To read the full interview, visit the NMAI series here.

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