House Mother Margaret Zientek dances with the PLP at the 2016
Family Reunion Festival.
By August 1, the Potawatomi Leadership Program students will
be packing their bags and heading back to their hometowns after
a six-week internship that taught them the ins and outs of the Citizen
Potawatomi Nation. The award-winning program brings a group of 10
young tribal members from around the country to Shawnee, Oklahoma
to learn about the government, culture, and economic development
This year the participants came from North Carolina, Virginia,
Oregon, Kansas, Arizona, Vermont, California and Oklahoma. The PLP
arrived on June 17 and dove right into tours, introductions and
the Family Reunion Festival.
At its core, the PLP strives to give young tribal members an
accurate perception of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation as a whole
and cultivate talent from within to ensure that younger generations
are prepared for a role in the future governance of their tribe.
The PLP has a sponsor each year who has been through the program
in the past. Isaac Morris a 2014 PLP participant filled
this role for a second year. His duties included creating a schedule
for the PLP, taking them to all of their activities and living in
the Sharp House with the group. He explained that these 10 students
were unified, engaged and asked an abundance of questions.
They are great leaders. I think they will be sitting in
those legislator chairs in the near future and bringing about change
in their communities back home, Morris said.
His advice to incoming participants was to keep an open mind
and be ready to learn, urging them that the experience is what they
make it. Even though the typical weekday for the students is 8 a.m.
to 5 p.m., meeting with different departments at CPN, the students
also had time to rest and explore the area.
There was always so much laughter and smiling in the [Sharp]
house, Morris said. They had a great time!
Margaret Zientek worked as the PLP house mom during the summer.
She moved into the Sharp House, which boasts two flat screen TVs,
a pool table and an outdoor pool, and acts as a listening ear, protector
and regalia maker. She said she believes that what the students
learn as they complete the program is much more than the teachings
and events. They build lifelong friendships and share responsibilities
while living together.
The 10 participants are responsible for all of the cleaning,
cooking, laundry and maintenance of the house. Each must share a
room and bathroom with at least one other person. This teaches them
to adjust to other peoples preferences and schedules while
being accommodating and sensitive to others.
CPN provides each participant with a piece of regalia, which
Zientek sews for them. Men receive a ribbon shirt and women get
a shawl and one other item their choice of a skirt or blouse.
There is a regalia questionnaire in the PLP application and Zientek
expressed that she learns a lot about the students as she builds
It amazes me how every year the regalia comes together
and each piece matches its owner perfectly, Zientek said.
She also explains that this years group has bonded very
well. Their age differences span only eight months, but their interests
and backgrounds are very broad.
Thomas Brunt a Tescier family member is studying
environmental science at the University of Pittsburgh and hopes
to work for CPN in the future.
During this experience I expected to make good friends,
learn a lot and hopefully secure an internship, Brunt said.
I really enjoyed going around to all of the departments, especially
the environmental department.
Matthew Clift, who is a member of both the Ogee and Weld families,
had the shortest distance to travel to experience the PLP. His hometown
is Cushing, Oklahoma, but he is currently studying history education
at East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma. Clifts favorite
experience from the PLP was the dancing at Family Reunion Festival.
I wanted to attend the PLP because I wanted to learn more
about my tribe and be a part of it, Clift said. I hope
to make lifelong connections and be influential for my tribe.
Anderson family member Katherine Smith attends Moorpark College
and hopes to become a veterinarian or exotic animal trainer in the
future. Following in the footsteps of her brother Nick from Simi
Valley, California, Smith wanted to gain appreciation for the tribe
that her older brother learned from the program.
I really enjoyed the eagle aviary; the eagles are amazing
and the women who work there are really kind and know so much,
Smith said. All of the spiritual aspects of the tribe have
been great to learn too.
Alyssa Frey, who has roots in the Denton and Boursaw families,
hails from Manhattan, Kansas and attends Kansas State University.
Frey is studying social work, theatre and leadership and hopes to
become a drama therapist. She sees the PLP as a good networking
opportunity to learn about culture and who she is.
I wanted to come to the PLP because before I got here
I didnt know anything about my Potawatomi culture and heritage.
Its been amazing to learn about it and meet all these cool
people, Frey said. My favorite part has been learning
about the history of our tribe and the language.
Boursaw family member Sage Hanson is studying supply chain management
and sustainability at Arizona State University. His future plans
are to assist companies to purchase supplies that are less harmful
to the environment. Hanson expected to gain leadership skills and
connections with the people in the program with him during his summer
I chose to attend the PLP because I was looking for a
way to gain leadership experience as well as get in touch with my
heritage, Hanson said. My favorite part has been the
people; I think Ill be able to keep in contact with a lot
of them afterwards.
Oregon State University business student Aden Eilers is a member
of the Anderson family. He made the furthest trip to the PLP from
Lake Oswego, Oregon. Eilers sees the PLP as a good opportunity that
has impacted his future more than other summer internships or jobs
We went to the police station and met all of the officers,
Eilers said after being asked what his favorite part of the experience
has been. We also met with Iron Horse Industrial Group; I
never knew that the tribe did any international business so that
Bergeron family member Randy Bazhaw studies civil engineering
at North Carolina State University. After his grandfather Ralph
introduced him to the PLP, Bazhaw saw that it was a once-in-a-lifetime
opportunity to learn about his culture and heritage. He describes
the friendships he has built with the other participants as a family.
I have enjoyed the cultural teaching and learning the
language because it makes me feel like Im connected to my
heritage, Bazhaw said. I expect to get a deeper understanding
of who I am and what it means for me to be Native American. I also
want to learn how I can help the Citizen Potawatomi Nation in the
Aaron Stevenson a Yott family member is from Tahlequah,
Oklahoma. He studies computer engineering at Oklahoma State University
and his favorite part of the experience was learning about the Iron
Horse Industrial Park.
I wanted to attend the PLP because I wanted to learn more
about the history and culture of the Potawatomi, Stevenson
said. I wanted to gain an increased appreciation of the tribe
as a whole.
Frigon family member Susannah Howard is from North Thetford,
Vermont. She attends Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts,
where she majors in geosciences, landscape studies and Native American
studies. Howard hopes to work for CPN one day and used this experience
to get more familiar with the opportunities available.
My favorite experience has been making connections with
the legislators, directors and fellow PLPs, Howard said. I
hope to find out how being a Native American in the 21st Century
will impact my life.
Zoe Gustason, who is a Rhodd family descendant, is studying
psychology at Sierra Vista Community College and hopes to work with
children who have endured traumatic events. She describes her experience
living with the PLPs in the Sharp House as a family.
I wanted to attend the PLP because even though I am Native
American, I didnt know much about my heritage, said
Gustason. I hope to use what I have learned to share with
others when I go back home.
To learn more about the PLP, please visit plp.potawatomi.org.
The six-week Potawatomi Leadership Program brings a group of 8-10
promising young tribal members from around the world to Shawnee,
Oklahoma to learn about the government, culture, and economic development
of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. At its core, the Potawatomi Leadership
Program strives to give interns an accurate perception of the Citizen
Potawatomi Nation as a whole and cultivate talent from within to
ensure that younger generations are prepared for a role in the future
governance of their tribe.