Chief Benjamin Barnes of the Shawnee Tribe was elected to his position in 2019. Prior to that,
he served the Shawnee Tribe as Second Chief for seven years and was a leader in the tribal
gaming industry for 20 years. The roots of Chief Barnes’ service go back to his volunteer efforts
to revive the Shawnee language. Upon taking office with only a few fluent Shawnee speakers
remaining, Barnes declared 2021-2030 the Decade of the Shawnee Language.
Barnes previously founded an interdisciplinary research group called the Ancestral Pottery
Traditions of the Shawnee Project, an initiative to reclaim traditional Shawnee ceramic practices.
He has worked closely with tribal scholars, artisans, archaeologists, and historians to learn more
about ancient ceramic technologies. From this knowledge, he and other tribal citizens have
worked toward reviving and recreating their ancestral arts.
Chief Barnes passionately advocates for truth, accountability, reconciliation, justice, education,
and human rights. His work, however, extends beyond service to his nation, bringing together
truths and traditions in framing and crafting tribal policy and law. Most recently, Barnes co-edited
the book Replanting Cultures: Community-Engaged Scholarship in Indian Country.
Being a member of his people’s traditional religious community at White Oak, OK, has framed
Chief Barnes’ efforts to find redress to the harm traditional communities suffered from Indian
boarding schools and reeducation centers. Looking through this lens has shaped Chief Barnes’
and the Shawnee Tribe’s efforts to find legislative activism at local, state and national levels, as
well as a voice for Indigenous peoples at the United Nations.