Colorado Environmental Law Journal > Printed > Volume 34 > Special Issue > The Intersection of Language, Law, and Sovereignty: a Shawnee Perspective

The Intersection of Language, Law, and Sovereignty: a Shawnee Perspective

NOTE: what follows is a lightly-edited transcript of the keynote address held as part of the 54th Algonquian Conference, University of Colorado Boulder, October 21, 2022.

Part 1: Keynote Address

Kristen Carpenter:

Greetings from the American Indian Law Program here at the University of Colorado. I am pleased to have this opportunity to co-chair this conference with my colleagues in the Linguistics Department, Andy Cowell and Alexis Palmer.

Today, it’s my honor to introduce my friend, the Chief of the Shawnee Tribe, Ben Barnes. Chief Barnes is a member of the White Oak ceremonial grounds and from this frame of reference he has long recognized the importance of preserving the culture, language and religion of the Shawnee. Before his political life, Barnes previously worked as a Shawnee language volunteer alongside his brother, in hopes of reviving the Shawnee language. Thus he brings the perspective of a community language worker and cultural practitioner to tribal leadership. Because there were only a small number of fluent Shawnee speakers when he took office, Chief Barnes declared a state of emergency for the Shawnee language, devoting resources and attention to the urgent need to revitalize the languages, Then the tribe declared the Decade of Shawnee Language from 2021 to 2030 to coincide with the International Decade of Indigenous Languages to bring awareness and attention and resources to the Shawnee language

Chief Barnes is part of a growing group of Tribal leaders in the United States who are taking advantage of international forums to complement what they’re doing at home and in national advocacy. He’s an ad hoc member of the Global Task Force on the International Decade of Indigenous Languages and has participated in our national and regional meetings as well as the international ones around the decade. Last April, he attended the United Nations (“UN”) Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York, making an important statement on the federal Indian boarding schools, emphasizing the both the historic role of nation states, including the United States, in eradicating Indigenous languages and their contemporary obligations to restore these languages.

In addition to his work as Tribal leader, ceremonial grounds member, and diplomat, Chief Barnes is also a scholar. Most recently, he’s co-editor of Replanting Cultures Community Engaged Scholarship in Indian Country, which advances innovative models for research. It came out earlier this year from Suny Press.

Chief Barnes joins us in Colorado with a delegation from the Shawnee Tribe, and we’re really pleased to have all of you here. With that I would like to pass the floor to Chief Barnes.

Chief Ben Barnes:

Hatito My name is Ben Barnes, I am Chief of the Shawnee Tribe. As Kristen said, I am a member of our White Oak Ceremonial Grounds. That is the center of who I am as a person–a member of my traditional community. In the ways that we approach language, in the ways we approach international policy, and the ways it interacts with our Nation, it has always been from that understanding, of who we’ve been for the past thousand, two thousand, ten thousand years. This is my relationship with you, my brothers and sisters that speak Algonquian languages, it’s a privilege and honor to be amongst you today.

For me and my brother Joel, our language preservation director, I think our journey into language–I don’t want to say it was selfish, but it was certainly serving our self-interests–is that we always thought we would have people that would speak our language, that would speak Shawnee. Whenever it came time to celebrate the birth of a child, to give that child a Shawnee name and put that child in a clan, so that they could worship with us in our traditional place. Or when it came to put someone away, and to send them home, we always thought there would be old folks around. And so, we came to a certain age about twelve, perhaps 15 years ago and realized that there were no old folks, that perhaps we might be the old folks people we were waiting on.

My wife, I will say she is wiser than I am, she once said something that stood out. She said ‘People wait around for somebody to do something, forgetting that they are somebody.’ So with that, Joel and I realized we were the ‘somebody’ that we were waiting for. We just needed to do something about it. So we started going to elders, collecting their materials, collecting their language, collecting things that we wanted us to learn how to speak. We would learn how to speak, so that we could bury the dead, so that we could name babies, so that we could give that Thanksgiving address when Shawnees come together to celebrate and worship. We needed that, but we also needed to give that to some younger people, so that we would not be in the same situation later. It is from that perspective as a Shawnee person, one that I never really imagined as being an elected official of our Nation. It is from that perspective of working in language and in policy craft that supports language, that I will offer comments today.

Professor Andy Cowell mentioned a comment yesterday about this curious intersection of law and language. For some folks, maybe linguists and maybe for lawyers, it is like ‘why is language in the law school?’ For me, it makes total and absolute sense that language and law intersect. Whenever we were having conversations at the Tribe about the importance of language, about the inherent rights that our people have to language, a lot of the times we would be sitting in traditional settings. We would be at ceremony, in a lawn chair with a cup of black coffee, visiting with other friends–Yuchi friends, Muskogee friends, Cherokee friends–that are having the same problems all of us are having about how to address this. There is not enough attention being paid at a national level, not even enough attention being paid sometimes at local levels, that we need to find a way to lift up and magnify the voices of traditional communities that are experiencing language loss, language atrophy. My reflections are also being shaped upon that we Shawnee’s have just returned from ceremony. Just two weeks ago, we gathered together for one of the first times in the past few years, because of Covid-19. It is during that religious cycle that it’s an honor and privilege to be a member of that community. I am extremely proud of the work my brother has done in the language, because now he is the speaker of the grounds at our Ceremonial Grounds. When he stands up at the end of ceremony, he makes this talk that explains the relationship of us–the human beings that have to live in this world with our brothers and sisters: the wind, the animals, the water, the land. We ask for that continuance of our relationship, and also the continuance of all life. Hearing those words being spoken by us, for us, that feeling that comes over us-–that is what I want for my community. The things we talk about today, as we talk about the intersection of language and legalisms and the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (“IDIL”)–these are all tools.

Also yesterday, during the earlier part of our meeting, I heard some comments that people had perhaps an imperfect understanding of what IDIL is, an imperfect understanding of what United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (“UNESCO”), the United Nations Permanent Forum, and even United Nations Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples (“UNDRIP”) is. In our languages–and linguists, correct me if I am wrong–the verb is the center of our universe. In English, we walk through this world with this subject predicate relationship, and it is always that noun that has primacy, especially that proper noun. We put the capital letter on it. Not so for us. So here, within legalisms, where we understand these legal constructs where the verb has primacy, what does that mean for the canons of construction? What does that mean for the way we interpret treaties, on how the people that signed these treaties understood them? What does this mean for environmental law, If the water and the land are my brothers and sisters? What does that mean for our grandparents? The trees and the animals, if they have the same rights? We are not anthropomorphizing, there are our people. Those types of understandings are where language and law meet. These conversations are occurring all over Indian Country. In my own corner of Indian Country within Oklahoma, Judge Gregory H. Bigler, he’s an Yuchi attorney, and he also represents the Shawnee Tribe, we have these conversations about how we don’t just want a copy of their court and their laws. We want to codify our own laws, our Shawnee laws. I am not here to decolonize the world, or Denver or Boulder, or even Oklahoma. I am here to Shawnee-ize it. That is what I want to do. I want to shape the world in a Shawnee perspective, so when you enter our court systems the values that we have as a community are reflected. Whether it is in a family court or whenever other Nations or jurisdictions are hearing criminal cases, we need to find Indigenous ways, our own ways of doing these things. Because if we just want a court, why don’t we just use theirs? It needs to reflect our own values.

From these conversations with our brothers and sisters in Oklahoma, we talk about the inherent human rights of Indigenous Peoples. We’ve seen that play out with the Murphy and McGirt cases and what courts those people should be tried in. We’ve also seen Indian child welfare issues arise and go to the Supreme Court. The rights of nature are being discussed by municipalities. Just recently the city of Miami, Oklahoma launched a citizen’s petition to give rights to nature to one of the United States’ most polluted creeks, Tar Creek. It tried to give the rights of nature to the community so that individual community members could sue on behalf of the creek to guarantee that it was clean and that we all had access to a clean creek. One of the more intriguing things that we have encountered in this pandemic is what inherent human rights do the dead have. If we fail to come together as a community and we fail to meet our obligations via ceremony, are we neglecting the inherent rights of our dead loved ones to be at that ceremony, which is why we hold it? These conversations are going on in our corner of Indian Country. These are important conversations, and they all revolve around law and language.

But as one might imagine, these are not the kind of conversations that non-natives in political leadership positions welcome. Whether it’s at the state, provincial or national levels, they’re not eager to speak about these issues. The United States cannot even imagine engaging in a conversation about its own legacy with slavery, let alone discuss its original sin. That original sin being the genocide, the pogroms, and the land theft committed against Indigenous People. As I’ve been working on this boarding school issue for the past couple of years, I’ve been insisting that a metric be made of full accountability. Let’s weigh the costs, the efforts to destroy our language and our language-speaking ability, the way that they have tried to extinguish our communities and extinguish us as a people. There needs to be a full accounting. The 20 million or so dollars allocated for ANA language grants is not enough. It’s insufficient. These are not popular opinions with non-Native political leaders. We also have active animosity against our legal and language rights. We have DC politicians implying that Tribal Nation is just a racial status. The suggestion that if Tribal Nations are truly sovereign, they must have some foundational elements of language and culture. They must be different enough from the dominant society. These are the things that are being said in those places when we’re not present. Sovereignty is in jeopardy. In short, what they’re saying is if you do not have a language, you don’t have your culture, or you don’t have your religion that marks you as a distinct, discrete entity that’s engaged in a sustained relationship with the United States, you shouldn’t be a Tribe. These notions, these wrongheaded notions, these backwards, dangerous notions are what leads to attacks on our sovereignty. It’s been accelerated at local, state, federal and even international levels.

Every year we hold our breath as new cases go before the Supreme Court brought forth by challengers to our sovereignty. Whether that is reservation boundaries in McGirt and Murphy, Indian child welfare or the scope of Tribes’ law enforcement, our capabilities. These are just a few of the cases that Supreme Court hears that try to undermine our sovereignty. And this is where the law and language truly intersect.

Language is the foundation of who we are. We are a civilization. The Shawnee are a civilization that predates this country, predates Europeans. We were the lingua franca in the eastern United States. Just in the historic era alone, we lived in more than 20 states. You can travel to the United States and find places named after us everywhere if you just pay attention. But these threats, they’re existential and we have to address them. And that’s why language and the IDIL become key to that.

Just this past week, our governor–I won’t even say his name–our governor summoned the Tribal leaders to his governor’s mansion to engage in new conversations with them. Summoned us, as if somehow, we’re subservient to the governor of Oklahoma. The Shawnee are not an Oklahoma Tribe. We’re the Shawnee of everywhere. We’re a people of treaties. We have treaties with England, France, Spain, Mexico, United States, Republic of Texas.

The governor of Oklahoma thinks he can summon us and summon the rest of Oklahoma’s Tribes to visit with him about his wrongdoings. And just last week, as reported in the Tribal Gaming News Organization, CDC gaming reports, they reported that hostile government officials from various states are alleging that Tribes are mere racial fabrications.

There’s a federal lawsuit that’s targeting Washington States’ gaming Tribes. The California Tribes that have gaming saw a PR campaign this year where those PR companies attack the Tribes and attack those Tribal leaders on a personal basis to try to undermine their efforts for expanded gaming in their state.

But it’s not just gaming, it is also Indian child welfare. The same group that’s organizing the attacks in Washington State against the gaming tribes are the same ones that are organizing attacks against Indian child welfare. This is not just recent news. This attitude’s long been held incorrectly by federal officials. I would even argue that the way the United States interprets federal recognition, the way they think that it is something that they confer upon us, is wrongheaded and backwards. Federal recognition is them recognizing that they have an obligation. They have an obligation to recognize that they have to engage with us because we are the civilizations that pre-existed the United States.

I have a story that illustrates this condescension. My nephew works for a Tribe that lives right next to us in my little corner of Oklahoma. He was meeting with Bureau of Indian Affairs (“BIA”) officials. As the conversation about that Tribe’s land got contentious, that BIA official told him he needed to remember his place because after all, they were the ones wearing “the blue coats.” These attitudes are at the root of the ongoing attacks against our sovereignty.

I bring these examples for us to reflect upon as we return back to the subject of the intersection of law and language. From the canons of construction, the subject predicate versus our verb-centric paradigm. What does that mean for the future? We need to reexamine our relationship with the United States and also our language understands what beings have inherit animacy. What does that mean as we understand it? How do we interpret our relationship when we talk about energy policy, environmental policy? What does it mean here at the Algonquin conference?

I would challenge the Algonquin Conference, while it’s not as formal of an academic society as some disciplines, to continue allowing Tribal and First Nations to shape the dialogue and conference proceedings. It is so encouraging to me to see the level of community engagement and collaboration that’s been going on naturally and organically within this organization. I hope that continues, as someone that likes to preach about community-based scholarship and about collaborative practices. The research outcomes are improved. I’m not arguing that single authored scholarship needs to go away. That is not what I’m stating. I am saying it has its place, but I’m saying that there are better research outcomes when a community is involved at the outset in research design, You have better research outcomes. You know that your work is going to enhance a community, and that you’re addressing a problem in that community–that you can talk to them about the things they’re interested in, language rights, pedagogy, how to disseminate information, how to engage into intellectual property rights to protect the work that you’ve created. I’m excited to see the level of collaboration, of Community engaged partnerships here in the Algonquin Conference.

I hope that continues to be fostered and grows within the organization and become more and more formalized, so it’s not just a relationship of individuals with individual parties having relationships with each other. I’d rather see formal relationships between Tribes and universities or Tribes and institutions. While CES, Community engaged scholarship, is challenging, and it does require more work from the university and the academic practitioners, it becomes readily apparent in those research designs that you directly benefit people. Their lives become better from community engaged projects and they have real world impacts for us. This is where the International Decade of Indigenous Language really becomes a magnifier on these efforts.

My own brother, he said to me–I promised I wouldn’t call you out, Joel, and here I am doing it–”the International Decade of Indigenous Language, what good is that going to do us?” And, you know, I hadn’t thought of it that way. What good is it going to do us? It’s only as good as what we make of it. And for us, what we did is we used it as a launchpad, as a vehicle. We didn’t want it to be a noun. We wanted it to be a verb. So we made it a verb. It became a tool in our hands. We took that international decade and we Shawnee-ized it. We made the Shawnee decade of language, which allowed Joel and his team to fabricate a ten-year plan to revivify our language, to make fluent speakers from the youngest of our citizens, to reach out to them. And then we had this accident of COVID, which took Joel out of the classroom and allowed him to develop a curriculum and disseminate it digitally. And akknd disseminate it digitally.
So in that way, the pandemic has been a bit of a blessing. Now we have ten to twelve classes a week, in four or five time zones across the country, that you can attend and learn Shawnee Language whenever. If you want it, you can have it. We offer it to citizens of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma citizens, Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma citizens, and of course, our own Shawnee Tribal citizens can all attend those. We don’t close our doors. If you’re Shawnee, you can attend our classes.

Furthermore, that international decade, as Chief of the Tribe, adopting it was one thing but getting it passed as a resolution was another, and allowed them to have some surety of budget so that they knew they would have support for at least a decade. Because those of you that are fixing to graduate want to know that you have some career sustainability, because how likely are you to take a job that is based on a two- or three-year grant cycle? Having a decade, knowing that you can call the Shawnee Tribe your professional home for a decade, gives us the ability to recruit and retain quality candidates so that we can then use their abilities to help us deliver language products into our homes and communities. Institutions got wind that Shawnee Tribe had made a state of emergency declaration about language and that we also adopted the IDIL, and they started contacting us, the Tribe, and said “hey, we have an archive that has a Shawnee Language material that you may or may not know about, but we want to work with you and get you this information.”

So that was one of the policy outputs, the unexpected side effects of declaring the IDIL, the Shawnee Decade, as well. In conclusion, I would offer that the International Year, the International Decade, these are just toolboxes. You have to take them as an idea. Take them and think of them as a garden of ideas, a place where you go and harvest those ideas. Not all ideas are going to fit in your community, but some you can share with your brothers and sisters, your other Algonquian speaking language Tribes. We have a relationship with the Miami Tribe. The progress they’ve made on their personal journey this last generation, we’ve been able to benefit from the hard work they’ve done. So we, as an Algonquian speaking community, can lean on each other and share with one another.

This is what I hope my team gets to participate in this week. I’m very proud of this team. This team is presenting its first academic paper. This team is presenting the first academic paper the Shawnee Tribe has ever authored. While this society has been here for fifty four years, it took us until the year 2022, to come to the Algonquin Society, the Algonquin Conference. I’m very proud of that work, and I hope this is the first of many papers that my team authors.

That’s another one of the unexpected outputs of the IDIL, of engaging in international discussions about the importance of language. Participation in these international bodies might at first to not seem to have those direct impacts upon our Indigenous governments, but it is in fact our very ability to participate in these discussions of the International Year and the International Decade that points out the libel, the lie, that the United States has about us being race-based constructs. We are international in nature. Wherever you look, you’ll find a treaty. You’ll find us. You’ll find Miami’s. You’ll find Pottawattamie’s. You will find us. So we truly are not what they say we are. We are nations of people. We are civilizations, and our languages are the foundational bedrock of our communities. Our civilizations, and our corresponding governments, is what defines us, it is what makes us the nations that we are. It is my hope that our language, and the way we incorporate it into our government, the way we try to disseminate it into our children, that for the far, far future, we will be successful in that.

I have one last anecdote about my brother. I told him how proud I was of the work that he has done personally. I said, ‘Joel, you know, we’ve kicked the can down the road. This now lives in the land of the next generation’s problem. It’s better than we found it. We know that we’re safe for a generation.’

And he said, ‘Yeah, but I’m not done yet.’ So we have a lot of work ahead of us. We know that.

Where we’re at now, the work we’ve done this past January, which amounted to four percent of the Tribe’s population enrolled in the language program, we’re well on our way to it. Niyaawe.

Part 2: Question and Answer

Andy Cowell: “I’d really like to thank you. I think we just saw part of the value of the conference, because as a linguist this morning was talking about, we need to protect that bottleneck generation of younger learners. Sometimes having them try to teach the whole Tribe puts too much pressure on them, but your talk today, coming from a different perspective, is making me rethink what I was saying in a way, because, if Tribal sovereignty, as we call it in the U.S. is reliant on civilization, then there is a very strong imperative to teach as many people as possible, as much of the language as possible. So, I just want to acknowledge that you’re making me change my mind possibly, or at least think harder about what I said this morning. And then the other thing, it’s kind of a remark, but I’m interested in your thoughts. The land acknowledgment movement is happening in the United States. CU, for example, has just done a land acknowledgment. And key to that is the idea that there’s obligations on the part of universities. So, I would suggest to you that one thing that the Shawnee in Oklahoma, or certainly the Cheyenne and Arapaho related to Colorado, could do would be to demand, as part of those land acknowledgments, that one of the key things that universities must do is support the Tribal languages of their region or their state. Certainly, we in the linguistics department have argued those kinds of things, and having Tribal demands to the University of Colorado, Boulder, directly to the chancellor, would be really huge for leveraging more support from the universities. And I think that’s probably true elsewhere as well. But I don’t know about Oklahoma.”

Barnes: I am extremely jealous of what CU has done for its Indigenous Peoples. You have forty eight peoples, descendant communities, that are the federal Nations of those historic Tribes of Colorado. We are laboring to try to get largely the same recognition in the Big Ten for the Shawnee people and Miami people, because these were our homelands: West Virginia, Kentucky, the entirety of the Ohio River Valley and bordering states. They don’t allow us in-state tuition in those Big Ten schools, even though we were forcibly removed. They took our kids to boarding schools and they don’t allow us to attend the universities. This is particularly more complicated by land grants. Universities have received Tribal lands for their university settings, and I would argue that the anthropology and archeology departments are built upon the bones and blood of our ancestors. How many graduates of PhDs were created in those programs? Do you not owe it to Indigenous Peoples to come to your universities as some sort of recognition of that contribution to that university? So I am very happy that Colorado offers in-state tuition to those 48 Tribes. And the labor that we’re doing in Penn State, at Indiana University and elsewhere in our old homeland regions, is just trying to catch up to Colorado University.

Question: “I actually was very keen on hearing about your using the decade of the Shawnee language in sort of creating this long term stability and investment and creating careers in language. I think, interestingly, I’ve heard similar things happening for the Sami language and the Indigenous languages of Northern Europe. it’s not sufficient that you just train linguists, but you actually show them that they can actually get the living on a long term from language work and not just being as a linguist, let’s say, working for a newspaper or in other capacities. Could you say a bit more like what types of language based activities have you been investing in?”

Barnes: We are a small Tribe and I’m an elected official, and I know my cycle is a four year cycle and at some point I’m no longer going to be the Chief of the Tribe. But what I need is that language to survive. Having a ten year plan allows survivorship past me. So the relationship the Tribe has with language is not based on a personality. It’s not based on my personality, it will outlive me. So that’s what I hope for between Tribes and institutions.

I don’t want to use my tribe as an example because we’re small. We have a small team of 5 people, with 12 community volunteers that receive stipends and also logistical support. I don’t want to underplay the effort that it takes, but I want to point out some of the good works Chief Hoskin of the Cherokee Nation has done. Specifically in creating language nests, by building these communities and actually physically building houses and communities for people, where the language speakers live so that they can communicate the language to the youngest generation. They’re also creating language jobs for Cherokee citizens to keep them inside the Cherokee Nation’s 14 county jurisdictional area.So I would point you in that direction. Look at the Cherokee Nation for some of those examples of job creation.

Kristen Carpenter: “Chief, my question has to do with funding and Administration for Native American (“ANA”) grants. I know that you and others, I think I’ve heard Justin talk about this at Chickasaw Nation, have talked about the two or three year funding cycle. First of all, we all know that the money is inadequate, as you said.

And secondly, that the cycle of grant application, receipt reporting, and so on isn’t really conducive to using that money in a good way. If we were making recommendations to the federal government about how to change that, what might you suggest either generally or specifically?”

Barnes: I’ve talked to some other leaders in language and I’m not going to name names, but who have done quite a bit of work. Here are my own thoughts on the ANA system: We’re done with the framework of having to compete against 501c3’s. That’s anathema. We are a Nation, we preexist the United States. Why am I competing with the 501c3 construct? Why are they in the same pools as us? Is their 501c3 in danger of losing their people’s language? I find that offensive, first of all.

Also it’s so small, such a small pittance compared to the efforts that were taken to destroy our language. I’ll give you just the most recent newsworthy examples: it is the Shawnee Tribe’s efforts at the Shawnee Indian Manual Labor School in Kansas City, Kansas. There were three boarding schools there: the Shawnee Quaker Mission, the Shawnee Baptist Mission, and the Shawnee Methodist Mission. Three different boarding schools aimed to stamp out our language, just in one town. For example, the Shawnee Indian Manual Labor School, they took 2000 acres of our land. The Indian agent took 2000 acres of our land to create a boarding school. I want to know the expense on that. I want to know how much money that was. This is where full accounting has to be done federally. A full accounting needs to be done on what was spent to destroy our languages. And furthermore, Indigenous People need to be in charge of the design on how we support language. Because doling out six digits, seven digits every now and again is not going to save the language. We need shared community resources, where we all go to the same well and dip from the same pool. Not one bowl, one spoon, but one bowl, many spoons. We need to be able to share that together. I think there’s better ways that we can come together, like we’ve done organically between us and the Miami’s or us and the Delaware Tribe, us and our neighbors, us and the Eastern Shawnees, us and our institutions.

We can replicate that on national levels and also segment it out so that the Algonquian speaking group can have a focus. And we can say, this is what we need, We need to come together more often. We need shared resources for pedagogy specialists, curriculum development specialists. We need some I.T. support because we don’t know how to launch a platform online to disseminate our coursework to our citizens. So I think these are what can be re-envisioned. I think we have to rebuild it. I don’t think the ANA system is sustainable.

Question: “Would you like to say anything about the Tribe’s intellectual property concerns around language materials, and what are those issues and what might we be thinking about them?”

Barnes: I think one of the things that we’ve seen this past year on social media with certain Lakota language activists is the stealing of Lakota language, and then selling it back to Lakota people by groups, Lakota Language Conservancy for example.

We have it right now going on with our people. They’re stealing the language material Joel and his team built, and they’re profiting in trying to sell it back to people, selling it back to people that are just curious about the language.

We’ve also seen it internationally, where Maori radio stations use a community engaged process to collect as many metaphors and as many colloquial sayings in Maori as possible, with hundreds of hours of recordings, only to see that stolen by big data.

There are no protections for us in the United States, and there’s no protections for a good many Indigenous Peoples around the world. I think this is one of the places that Tribal Nations can really dig in, in international aspects whether it’s World Intellectual Property Organization or at the Permanent Forum or in other venues.

  1. * Ben Barnes is Chief of the Shawnee Tribe. The Shawnee Tribe has headquarters in Miami, OK with more than twenty states of historical interest. Prior to the global pandemic, the Shawnee Tribe adopted UNESCO’s International Decade of Indigenous Language as well as declared a State of Emergency for the Shawnee Language.