Payday loan companies owned by the tribe, Great Plains Lending, LLC and Clear Creek Lending, were fined a combined $800,000, and tribal chairman John Shotton was also fined $700,000, for allegedly violating a Connecticut state cap on loan interest rates.
RED ROCK, Okla. - A group of Otoe-Missouria tribal members gather to face the heat together. Every stride they take in a march around their tribal complex grounds is a motion of support for their tribal people, leadership and sovereignty.
The march is part of a Sovereignty Rally to boost confidence, communication and community as the tribe faces pending litigation regarding their payday lending companies.
“The state of Connecticut has decided they are going to attack our sovereignty,” Wilson Pipestem said. “They’re going to try to pierce the veil, pierce the protective layer that we have of our sovereign rights. So today I am just here to say that is our enemy … those who would go after the rights that we have, that our leadership has protected for many, many years.”
The support rally was held July 16, in the Old Agency/Council Building parking lot in Red Rock. Tribal citizens of all ages wore red t-shirts that celebrated their heritage and reminded people their lives matter.
“Sovereignty isn’t the right to have the casino. Sometimes we get confused about that,” Pipestem continued. “Sovereignty is the right to be a separate people, protect the ways that we have, that are separate from any other place or people in the world, and that’s who we are today. We have a unique history, a unique culture, unique people, unique ways that nobody else has. So we are fortunate that our leadership, over time, has fought to protect that.”
The payday loan companies owned by the tribe, Great Plains Lending, LLC and Clear Creek Lending, were fined a combined $800,000, and tribal chairman John Shotton was also fined $700,000, for allegedly violating a Connecticut state cap on loan interest rates. The Connecticut Department of Banking issued the fines in January, and in March Shotton filed a federal civil rights lawsuit claiming he was fined without due process and the opportunity to defend himself. In addition, Shotton claims the sovereign protections granted by the U.S. Constitution and U.S. Civil Code were not considered.
Shotton’s lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma against former Connecticut Banking Commissioner Howard Pitkin and Acting Commissioner Bruce Adams. The litigation began to take its toll not only on tribal leadership, but also on tribal members, which is why tribal citizen and Native American Church member Randall Whitehorn wanted to bring prayer and unity to his people. He and a handful of other tribal members organized the rally.
“What’s going on now, the critics, the words about our people; it’s not deserving,” Whitehorn said, adding that it is a misunderstanding and made them feel bad. “Whatever the odds we’re up against … we’re going to overcome it ... we are going to survive and we’re going to prosper.”
Shotton and the other tribal council members led the march, and afterwards Shotton expressed his appreciation for all the support.
“I just want to say, especially right now, I’m very proud to be an Otoe-Missouria Indian,” Shotton said as his emotions shook his voice. “I’m very proud … (and) can’t think of any other place I’d rather be.”
He said he is not worried for himself, but for the people. He worries about “real deal things that are life affective,” such as increasing services to elders and education. He also commended the tribal council for their deep commitment and caring for the people, regardless if they don’t always agree. He said, “We didn’t always get everything right, we didn’t always succeed,” but they have taken risks and look forward to opening a new casino.
“All I know is I am Otoe-Missouria Indian from Red Rock, Oklahoma, and they’re not going to intimidate me,” he said. “Thank you all for all your support. I grew up here, I know our mentality. You can say what you want to me, call me what you want, whatever, but you’re not going to pick on my people. I’m going to stand up for you.”
Shotton said the Otoe-Missouria are a cultural people before they’re a business, and when faced with adversity, they come together. He ended his speech by reminding everyone the threat against their sovereignty is real.
“We’re at a crucial time and we need to look around and see where we’re at. We need to pay attention to what’s going on, (and) stay together so nothing will break us apart,” Whitehorn said. “Stand behind our leaders … give them everything; prayer, support, thoughts.”
Pipestem said he is thankful for the tribe’s leadership and is proud how they work together. “We need to stand behind our leaders as they go through this trying time, because they are working to innovate on our behalf,” he said.