One Year Of Service – Chairman Byrd
In 2020, Quapaw Nation decided through a vote of the people, it was time for a change in leadership by electing two young men with deep roots in the tribe. Although neither had experience governing a tribe, they both relied heavily on their culture and education as strong foundations to help guide their decisions and advance the interests of the Quapaw Nation. The Quapaw Post had the opportunity to sit down with Chairman Byrd as he reflected on his one year of service.
What do you wish you would have known before entering office?
I wish I had known how dangerously close to dying our language is. I wish I could have been fluent in Quapaw. A chief should always be able to speak to his people in their language, and they should also be able to know what he is telling them. I am not a Chief, of course, but you get the idea. Our culture is intrinsically tied to our language. There are certain feelings and thoughts that are only contained in our native languages, and those are facing extinction. What remaining culture we have held onto will be devastated once our language dies. I have been working with the rest of the Business Committee and recognize the potential danger of losing our language, which is why we are investing $1 million into the preservation and revitalization of our Quapaw language and culture.
What have been your most significant accomplishments thus far?
My single greatest accomplishment was getting elected because it changed the entire Quapaw Nation and the way we do business. For instance, the position of Chairman comes with a large degree of authority. One of my first acts was to take that power and delegate much of the authority to the rest of the Business Committee. Never before had the Business Committee been allowed to receive the level of information about our gaming operations that they do now. This change also required more time and effort from each individual Business Committee member and has become a full-time job as opposed to showing up a couple of times a month for meetings. We have made a conscious effort to act as an actual board of directors, which means we do not meddle in the daily managerial decisions. Instead, we try to focus on the long-term strategic decisions to meet the ongoing challenges that face our tribe and our business enterprises. I believe this philosophy has resulted in a better workplace environment, free from intimidation and nepotism. Because our employees are no longer forced to make poor business decisions out of fear or pressure from the board, our gaming entities will record the single highest financial performance in the tribe’s history this fiscal year.
This historic performance has led to credit rating upgrades for both Downstream Casino Resort and Saracen Casino Resort, which only strengthens our chances of achieving the best deal when refinancing our debt. These deals will be game-changing for the tribe and will allow the tribe to pump more gaming revenue into our programs and services for tribal members, which is the entire purpose of Indian Gaming. Because of this record-breaking performance, the tribe has the ability to increase funding for elders assistance, utility assistance, and education for FY2022.
My goals are still the same. Do the best I can to serve our people, with what I have, for as long as I can, until I can no longer.
What have been your most significant challenges so far?
Covid has been the single greatest challenge because it has impacted our tribe on so many different levels. From our tribal offices to all our business enterprises, we have had to shift the way Quapaw Nation operates. Our employees, along with our tribal members, have had to endure the loss of loved ones. The virus has affected everyone in one way or another. As an elected official, I am tasked with conducting business on behalf of the tribe and meeting with federal and state agencies, constantly bringing me into contact with numerous people. Sometimes, it can all feel a bit overwhelming, but I try to keep a positive outlook and take every precaution. Technology has allowed us to meet some of these challenges by eliminating the need for in-person meetings. We also worked with the Northeast Tribal Health System to develop and offer a vaccination fair at our gaming facilities for all our employees and their spouse, both tribal and non-tribal. Covid impacted the entire world, and I am pleased with how the Quapaw Nation responded to this incredible challenge.
What are your/the BC’s top priorities as you move through the second half of your term?
In no particular order, the successful refinancing of our Downstream and Saracen debt is crucial because it impacts the tribe’s ability to pay off its debt and start making the necessary moves to increase the services provided to our citizens. Revitalizing our language is a top priority that I will continue to push in this next half of my term. The powwow ground renovation has needed to happen for several years, and I hope that it will be a successful project as we begin to close in on the 150th Quapaw Powwow. Of course, I would like to see the Bear settlement fund disbursement from the federal government sooner rather than later. It is difficult to gauge when the Bear disbursement will occur, especially with everything going on globally and throughout our country. I will continue to advocate on behalf of Quapaw Nation. Reconstituting our tribal government also remains a priority through my second term, and I look forward to continued dialogue with the Constitution Committee.