'Tribe always comes first'

By Diane Strand She sat back in her chair, a striking woman of considerable stature. Her short black hair framed a broad, rosy face which was blank for just a second. She had been asked if she had a family of her own. ‘I haven't had time!” said Tracy Stanhoff, tribal chair of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. She sat at a table which had become her desk in the house bought by the tribe not far from downtown Shabbona. Several other members of the now familiar tribal council walked by and nodded hello. Stanhoff was at times cautious, at times spontaneous with a broad smile. She was asked about her childhood. Her parents grew up on a Navaho Reservation and attended Haskell Indian Nations University. Because it was during the depression, there were no jobs on the reservation so her family moved to Los Angeles, and Tracy grew up a city girl. &#8220But I was always in an Indian home in an Indian family,” she stressed. In fact, she stressed the tribe often. She is of Choctaw lineage and an enrolled member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi. In the summer, she always looked forward to visiting the reservation and spending time with her grandparents. Stanhoff is a graduate of the California State University - Long Beach, where she majored in journalism and had strong interests in business and economics. &#8220I had an athletic scholarship-I was a swimmer,” she said, adding that she still enjoys swimming and golf. After graduation she worked for an advertising agency doing copywriting and design. After three years with the firm, when she was 26, a few of her clients suggested she start a business of her own and they would follow her. So she did, and they did. &#8220It was interesting,” Stanhoff recalled. &#8220I had only $1,500 and borrowed a computer. I set up shop in my house” and later moved to her own building. &#8220I am very happy to say the business has been growing ever since.” Yes, it has. She has a 12-person staff and their clients include Boeing, American Honda, Southern California Edison, the Southern California Gas Company and the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. Her Indian sense of self-reliance served her well. She still heads the company, AdPro, &#8220but the tribe always comes first,” Stanhoff said again. The wonders of email and the Internet enable her to review bids, business decisions and graphic work by company staff in the evenings. Stanhoff has said graphic design &#8220is in my blood” and she loves art, but she also understands the importance the printed word. The Potawatomi leader said she hasn't experienced discrimination as an Indian woman-”there have been several tribal leaders who are women”-or as a business woman. &#8220However, in my business, youth was a hindrance,” she remembered. &#8220I looked too young, and experience counts. You have to prove yourself all the time.” Stanhoff has headed the Prairie Band about a year. As of July 1, the Potawatomi will completely take over their Jackson County, Kansas gaming operation. Up to now it has been run by Harrah's. &#8220We are in transition now,” she said. Asked her reaction to the tribe's arrival in Shabbona, Stanhoff said, &#8220The majority of people are really welcoming, but there is a very vocal minority who aren't welcoming even though they extend their hand.” She said a few of the comments have been racially offensive. &#8220We're in a very historic and unique situation. It was a reservation and we were lucky enough to have the resources to be able to pursue our rights on this land.” A number of local people in Shabbona and beyond are not happy, however, and the DeKalb County Board has said it will schedule an open hearing in Shabbona within a few weeks. Some residents are afraid of losing their small-town, country atmosphere to buses and traffic and congestion that a gaming operation almost always brings with it. Even the agreement to simply talk with the Potawatomi passed by the narrowest of margins on the county board. However, Stanhoff is proud to show off the improvements they've brought to their Jackson County, Kansas community, which not long ago had only unpaved roads. It's a 77,000-acre reservation, she explained. &#8220We have a great health care facility, a senior citizens center and a village of senior housing around it. &#8220We have a great boys and girls club, an awesome fire department and an active American Legion Post. We also have a Head Start program” that helps prepare their children to do well in high school. Stanhoff was also impressed by some of DeKalb County's accomplishments, including the new drug court which helps offenders deal with their addictions and regain their lives. Addiction has long been a problem on some Indian reservations. According to a profile on Stanhoff by free-lancer Judy Asman writing for OC METRO, it was the young woman's grandfather, a Choctaw, who &#8220encouraged her to become an entrepreneur, always impressing upon her the importance of empowerment....He passed this determination on to his granddaughter, recognizing and encouraging Stanhoff's artistic gift from an early age because she was always drawing as a child.” She has served as president of the American Indian Chamber of Commerce of California which provides networking opportunities, and the Southern California Indian Center, Inc.-the largest organization in the United States for urban Indians.

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