The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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November 18, 2013

First Sonic owned by Native American tribe opens in Seneca

SENECA, Mo. — The grand opening Monday of Seneca’s new Sonic Drive-In had the traditional red ribbon and giant scissors.

It also had a smoke ceremony by an American Indian chief.

It is the first Sonic owned by a Native American tribe.

Billy Friend, chief of the Wyandotte Nation, who conducted the traditional smoke ceremony to bless the restaurant, said the acquisition is part of the tribe’s effort to diversify its economic holdings.

Since 2011, the Wyandotte also have opened Wyandotte Precision Products at the Joplin Regional Airport and Lost Creek Recycling Center in Wyandotte, Okla., adding to the tribe’s holdings in telecommunications, information technology, food service and entertainment.

Wyandotte Tribe of Oklahoma CEO Kelly Carpino said the tribe had been exploring franchise opportunities to continue to grow its business interests.

“It creates another direction, another diversified enterprise for the Wyandotte Nation,” Carpino said. “We’re excited about that. It gives us a lot of growth opportunity to potentially develop additional restaurants in the future.”

Seneca residents, too, are excited.

“I think it’s great,” said Lesa Boyer, who was among several dozen people to turn out for the ribbon-cutting. “It’s wonderful to bring another business to town. I think it will bring a lot of activity to this area and will give us some variety.”

General manager Jenny Webber said the Sonic opening created 60 part-time jobs, including about 20 for high schoolers who have few employment options in this town of slightly more than 2,000 people.

“I’m ecstatic,” Webber said. “I know how crucial it is for jobs, and for more places to eat. My own two kids struggled to find jobs in high school, so this is tremendous.”

She said she still is looking for employees to fill spots on the payroll.

And she’s looking forward to a busy first weekend in business: On Saturday, the Seneca High School Indians play host to the John Burroughs Bombers in the state football semifinals.

“We are so thankful,” said Chamber of Commerce President Josh Dodson, noting that the chamber and the city have been wanting another fast-food option for some time.

“We know this will be a great asset to the community,” he said.

The restaurant is located on Missouri Highway 43, just off U.S. Highway 60.

The tribe will use the profits from the business for tribal scholarships, of which about $500,000 are distributed annually, as well as health care, housing, elderly services and other social services for tribal members, Friend said.

There are about 5,500 citizens of the Wyandotte Nation; about 750 to 1,000 live within a 200-mile radius of Wyandotte, while the remainder are scattered across the U.S.

Last year for the first time, the tribe instituted national health care benefits, giving each citizen a $1,000 flex spending card.

Friend said the Wyandotte people have long been entrepreneurial. The tribe formed in the mid-1600s, composed of remnants of the Tionontati, Attignawantan and Wenrohronon who united after a defeat by the Iroquois Confederacy.

After being discovered by a French Jesuit priest, the Wyandotte were driven north to the Detroit, Mich., area, where they were instrumental in establishing that area. After the War of 1812, they were driven to the Ohio area, where they settled on 5 million acres along the upper Sandusky River for 150 years, Friend said.

From Ohio, they were relocated to northern Kansas, where they helped to establish the Kansas City, Kan., area. In 1855, the federal government offered U.S. citizenship to those who wanted it. Friend said all but 220 of the Wyandotte accepted the offer so that they could own land.

Treaty of 1867

MEMBERS OF THE WYANDOTTE TRIBE settled in Northeast Oklahoma after signing a final treaty with the U.S. government in 1867. Of the 566 tribes that have received federal recognition in the United States, the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma is the only federally recognized band of Wyandotte.

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