Jamie Stuck says “right now is a good time for us.” By “us,” he means indigenous people of the United States. In recent years, Native Americans have been appointed or elected to high-level government positions, including U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and U.S. Reps. Sharice Davids (Kansas) and Mary Petola (Alaska). In December, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointed the first Native American, Judge Allie Greenleaf Maldonado, to the Court of Appeals, the state’s second highest court.
“After thousands of years we are finally getting acknowledgment and forming government-to-government relationships that allow people to see who we really are in an accurate perspective,” Stuck says.
Stuck was elected to the tribal council of the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi (NHBP) in 2006 at age 30 and became its chairman, a full-time job, in 2016. In November, he was elected president of the United Tribes of Michigan, a coalition of the state’s 12 sovereign tribes. Stuck says much of the progress realized by indigenous people has come from their hard work to assert their own voices.
“All too often in the past, tribes were told, ‘You’re going to do this. This is what we’ve decided for you,'”
Stuck says. “It’s important for us to be at the table. If you’re not at the table, you don’t get to be a part of the solutions and decision making. Economic development has benefited us in a way where we do have more of a voice and influence because of what we’re providing the local areas and the state in terms of job opportunities, tax revenue, contributions, and supporting social issues. We’re making really good leaps and bounds.”
What do you do as tribal chairperson?
I wear a lot of different hats. I chair the legislative body of the tribe, sit as chairperson of the FireKeepers Development Authority Board, which is the board that owns, operates and manages FireKeepers Casino Hotel, and sit on the board for Waséyabek Development Co., the tribe’s economic development arm. I chair our Education Committee, Journey to Wellness Committee and our Health Compliance Board and the Michigan Native American Heritage Fund.
What is the Michigan Native American Heritage Fund?
It’s an initiative that we established in 2016. Up to $500,000 of NHBP’s state revenue-sharing payments go into the fund to help create cooperative and respectful relationships between indigenous communities and non-indigenous comm-unities. It supports all 12 sovereign nations within the state and is a really good opportunity for us to be part of the solution.
We work with universities and schools to try to enhance the correct teaching of our history, language and culture and assist schools with mascot or imagery revisions. Since 2018, we’ve either helped retire or rebrand 12 different school districts’ mascots and imagery. There are now only two in the state that still could change. Along those same lines, we worked with the city of Battle Creek to fund the removal and replacement of the stained-glass city seal in City Hall that depicted a white settler clubbing one of our ancestors. We also worked with the city of Kalamazoo to help pay for the removal of the “Fountain of the Pioneers” statue in Bronson Park.
What issues are the United Tribes of Michigan working on?
We are really making sure that we bring awareness of missing and murdered indigenous people, especially indigenous women. When our people come missing, or if they’re murdered, little attention is paid to them. No disrespect to the families dealing with the tragedy in Moscow (Idaho), but you can’t go through a day without hearing about the four college students murdered there. Why isn’t that attention being put on indigenous people? At the same time, we have had our ability to prosecute non-natives that commit these crimes on our tribal lands taken away.
We also are very adamant about making sure that the Indian Child Welfare Act is adhered to (the act seeks to ensure that Indian children removed from their homes are placed with Indian families) and making sure the Michigan Indian Tuition Waiver (which waives tuition costs for eligible Native Americans in public community colleges or universities in Michigan) continues. Past governors have wanted to get rid of it, but it’s a testament to the state’s Civil Rights Department that it is still here.
We’d also like to get a seat at the state-government level. There are liaisons for each department, but we don’t have that one go-to, full-time person who just focuses on Native American issues. Having an indigenous Cabinet member at the state level would be very helpful for the 12 tribes, especially in terms of policy.
What is the most gratifying part of your job?
I always think of my ancestors and my relatives that are no longer here, who paved the way for me. They sacrificed so much for us to be where we are and to be in the position to help continue their work. We plan for seven generations ahead. I’m somebody’s seventh generation, and there’s going to be a seventh generation for me, and what I do right now impacts them.
That’s my job, to be the voice for those that didn’t have it in the past, that may not have it now, and that don’t exist yet. I’m making good on what my ancestors started, and I’m creating a better environment and a better community for the generations that come after me.
— Interview by Marie Lee, edited for length and clarity