Larry Wright Jr.
Larry Wright Jr. served as chairman of the Ponca Tribe for more than a decade. He is seen here speaking at the grand opening of the tribe’s new clinic in Lincoln, Nebraska, on October 30, 2021. Photo by Kevin Abourezk
Longtime leader of Ponca Tribe resigns post amid conflicts with council
Wednesday, November 3, 2021
Indianz.Com

Larry Wright Jr. -– a fixture in Indian Country politics for more than a decade –- resigned his position as chairman of the Ponca Tribe on Tuesday after accepting a job offer with a new unnamed employer, he told Indianz.Com on Wednesday.

“I’m looking at this as an opportunity for growth for me,” he said. “It was an opportunity that I felt was too good to pass up. At the end of the day, I still want what’s best for our Ponca people.”

Wright has served as his tribe’s chairman since being re-elected to the position in 2014. He had earlier served as chairman from 2006 to 2010. His most recent term was scheduled to end in 2023.

He said he doesn’t know what the tribal council will do to replace him, though he said he expects Vice Chairwoman Rebecca Sullivan will replace him until the end of next year.

Wright cited conflicts with members of the current tribal council, though he didn’t specify what those conflicts were.

“I want to do what’s best for our people, but it’s just clear the majority of this council and I have different ideas,” he said.

A Message from Tribal Council: On Tuesday, November second, Larry Wright Jr. officially stepped down as Chairman of the…

Posted by Ponca Tribe of Nebraska on Wednesday, November 3, 2021

The tribal council issued a statement Wednesday noting Wright’s resignation:

“The Ponca Tribe of Nebraska wishes him the best in his future endeavors, and thanks him for his leadership these past several years. Tribal Council remains dedicated to tribal growth. We continue to focus on projects that will strengthen the Tribe, including the Joint Venture health center project in Ralston, expansion of the Prairie Flower Casino, and improvement of our office sites and services.”

On Saturday, the tribe officially opened a new 25,000-square-foot pharmacy and clinic in Lincoln after purchasing the former headquarters for a local gas company for $4 million and spending another $4 million to renovate the building.

The clinic will offer dental, medical and behavioral health services, and also will provide administrative offices for the tribe, which will move most of its offices out of its longtime office near downtown Lincoln.

Wright said he is proud to have served during a period of significant growth for his tribe, citing the impending expansion of the Ponca Tribe’s Fred LeRoy Health and Wellness in Omaha and the construction of the Prairie Flower Casino. The tribe plans to open a 120,000-square-foot expanded clinic in nearby Ralston, Nebraska, once the Indian Health Service approves an agreement for funding of the clinic, Wright said.

He said the process of working out agreement details with IHS has been difficult.

“It’s really been a process that has been frustrating, but it’s also created a potential amount of growth for us,” he said.

The tribe’s casino in Carter Lake recently celebrated its three-year anniversary and has created nearly 100 jobs and contributed $28 million to support tribal services, such as healthcare, job training, cultural preservation and social services.

Wright said the tribe is planning to expand Prairie Flower, which now offers 200 slot machines, to include 2,000 gaming machines and 50 live table games. The tribe fought a legal battle for 15 years against the states of Iowa and Nebraska to open the casino.

“It’s exciting for the tribe as a whole to know that it’s doing everything we thought it could do for us,” he said.

The tribe also celebrated its 31st year since regaining federal recognition on Sunday. The Poncas were terminated as a tribe in 1966 and regained recognition in 1990.

One of its most notable figures, Chief Standing Bear, is considered an early civil rights advocate having won a landmark court decision in 1879 that led to him becoming the first Native to be legally recognized as a person. A statue of Standing Bear was placed in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol two years ago.

Wright delivered the invocation at the dedication for the statue on September 18, 2019.

He said Wednesday that he plans to continue to serve Native people in his new position, though he declined to say what he would be doing.

“I’m excited about it,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.”

Wright also had served as the Great Plains vice president for the National Congress of American Indians, but decided not to run for that position again following the end of his term two weeks ago, he said. He said he knew he wouldn’t be continuing in his position as Ponca chairman and so it didn’t make sense to run for the NCAI board again.

On Wednesday, he thanked the tribe’s employees for their hard work.

“We had great, great employees, people who truly care about what we do as a tribe as a whole,” he said. “I think we did some amazing things.”