QUANTICO, Va. — Pride is an innate trait woven into the fabric of Phyllis Hurlock’s life. As a civilian program analyst working for Marine Corps Systems Command (MCSC) at Quantico, Hurlock takes pride in her job. She is also a proud member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, a federally recognized tribe of Potawatomi people headquartered in Shawnee, Okla.
By Barbara Hamby, MCSC Corporate Communications -- If asked, she will answer to Wabnokwe, which is Potawatomi for Eastern Light Woman. Such entreaties are more common in November during National Native American Heritage Month, a time when the nation collectively recognizes the achievements, contributions and rich culture of the First Nations.
“The Potawatomi are traditionally an Algonquian-speaking Eastern Woodlands tribe,” Hurlock said. “We have 30,000 enrolled tribal members, of which one-third live in Oklahoma.”
Today, the tribe has flourished in stature and has an estimated net worth of $400 million. Yet, the path for the Citizen Potawatomi Nation hasn’t always been easy, Hurlock said.
An 1861 treaty with the U.S. government set up one of the earliest efforts in allotting tribal land to individual tribal members and included a path to U.S. citizenship. The treaty marked the official separation of the Potawatomi people into the Citizen Band, who sought to own the land in severalty, and the Prairie Band, who wanted to continue to live on land held by the band in common.
The Citizen Band Potawatomi later endured a decade-long period in which the U.S. government viewed them not as an Indian tribe but as individual citizens with dual Indian and U.S. status. According to Hurlock, it was “the tribal leaders' perseverance and ability to interpret and argue the details of their treaty” which helped them regain tribal government status. Along with passage of the Dawes Act of 1887, the efforts also enhanced tribal members' allotment sizes and locations once significant numbers of Citizen Potawatomi members had moved to Indian Territory.
“My great-great-grandparents were individually granted land allotments as they were members of one of the original families,” Hurlock said.
She speaks with pride about Tribal Chairman, John ‘Rocky’ Barrett. “He is, by trade, a cattleman and banker who brought the tribe, small gains at a time, from obscurity in the 1970s to a nation with significant enterprises and stature today. I first heard from Rocky Barrett at one of our regional meetings that the only humans who are asked what degree of blood in a tribe they possess are Native Americans.”
The “degree of blood,” a measurement created by bureaucracy, is a sensitive subject for Hurlock and other Native Americans.
“We are Native Americans because we descend from Native American ancestors,” she said. “The practice of ‘degree of blood estimation’ began with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Their aim was to weed out as many tribal members by weakening their claim of being Native Americans and thereby eliminating their tribal affiliation. Our nation, like many other tribal nations today, does not put significance in blood degree but recognize membership by blood line – descended from a member on early Tribal rolls.”
Hurlock recalled a picture of the tribal headquarters building in 1971. It was an old trailer with three vehicles parked out front: a Gremlin, Pinto and AMC Pacer. There have been many changes for the better since then, she said.
“Rocky has restored the pride tribal members have and has been instrumental in creating our governing Constitution, the national legislature and its accompanying regional representation we now enjoy,” Hurlock said. “The Nation’s District 2 Representative in Washington, D.C., provides us with valuable information about government matters affecting the tribe and conducts events and meetings to ensure we retain our sense of family.”
Having worked 20 years for the Marine Corps, Hurlock feels a sense of pride knowing that what she and her MCSC colleagues do makes a difference to the Marines in the fleet. It’s the same kind of pride and fondness that Hurlock, the woman known as ‘Eastern Light Woman,’ takes in her vast extended family and rich tribal heritage.