Delaware Chief Paula Pechonik is the first female elected to the post. Prior to her election, she sat on the tribal council for 15 years and the trust board and elder committee for eight years. She also fulfilled a four-year term as a judge with the tribal court, has spent two decades working on the Delawares’ Cultural Preservation Committee and has been a member of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act Committee. She is also a renowned moccasin maker.
I grew up on my grandmother’s allotment north of Dewey. We would fish, gather plants and play on the creek. I always knew I was a Delaware, but when you grow up immersed in a certain culture, you don’t think about the cultural differences between you and others. It was just a way of life.
When we’d go to a powwow, I would watch my aunt make moccasins. One year when I was a young mother, I made moccasins for my children, and I brought them to my aunt so she could critique me and offer tips. I seemed to have a talent for moccasin making. Making moccasins and doing ribbon work is a tradition for the females in my family. I can count seven generations of moccasin makers in my family. I make moccasins for my family, but I’ve also made a pair for display at the New Jersey State Museum and for the Connor Prairie Museum in Indiana.
I moved to Kansas when I was a young mother but had a desire to move back to Bartlesville to become part of the Bartlesville Indian Women’s Club. Three generations of my family were in the club at the time. I started volunteering my time, going to meetings. I sat in those meetings for eight years before I ever took an office. I learned a lot about the tribe and workings of the government. You need to have that knowledge of the workings in order to go forward and work within the tribe. I had no aspirations to be chief at the time, but our government was in disrepair. I decided I needed to run and never looked back.
I’d like for people to know that the Delaware Nation is alive and well in Bartlesville. We have several projects underway in the branch of our economic development called the Delaware Enterprise Authority. We also have short-term goals we have reached, like flying our flags in front of the community center and publishing our quarterly newspaper on a daily basis. We are here trying to work for our people.