Honoring Nations: Floyd "Buck" Jourdain: Sovereignty Today

Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

Red Lake Band of Chippewa Former Chairman Floyd "Buck" Jourdain defines sovereignty as the aggressive and proactive exercise of a nation's sovereign powers, and illustrates how his nation takes this approach in advancing its own priorities and dealing with other sovereign governments.

Resource Type

Jourdain, Floyd "Buck." "Sovereignty Today." Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development. John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. September 27-28, 2007. Presentation.

Megan Hill:

"I'd like to introduce next, Chairman Floyd Jourdain from the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians. The Red Lake Walleye Recovery Program is a 2006 honoree, and we heard from them earlier today. Chairman Jourdain.

Chairman Floyd Jourdain:

"Boozhoo. I hope I don't talk too loud in this. I'm a really loud person. I wrote a speech in the last two minutes -- he inspired me. He's really good. I like him.

[Anishinaabe introduction]

This is why I'm so mixed up because one, [Anishinaabe], that means 'lead runner,' a person who is leading all the people running, and [Anishinaabe], means 'there is a man standing there,' that's why I'm so mixed up, I'm standing around and I'm supposed to be running! I need someone to come slap me upside the head every now and then, 'Lead us!' you know?

I'm honored to be here, on behalf of everybody back home. This is a pretty big deal for us, and Alan [Pemberton] did a nice job this morning. Our tribal treasurer, Darrell Seki, is seated over here. He is here also representing our tribe. And Alan's mother is here, his beautiful mom is here taking pictures for us. So, it's good to see her.

We've talked about a lot of sovereignty issues. Red Lake is a huge reservation, there are 10,000 members, we have about three-quarters of a million acres of pristine woodlands, lakes, lands, resources, and it's something that I was able to -- honored to be able to serve as the chairman there. We've been around a long, long time. There's a lot of Ojibwe nations. In Minnesota, there's a thing called the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, where all of the Chippewa tribes are like a conglomerate, joined together. Red Lake is not a part of that structure, and that goes back historically to our chiefs. We came from a system of chiefs and hereditary chiefs that govern by consensus. We moved into the agreement era, and from there we moved into where we had a chief executive, and surrounded by chiefs. At one point there was like 45 people on the tribal council. In 1959, we went to an elected form of government. Now we have four districts, two [representatives from each district], and three executive officers: the treasurer, the secretary, and the tribal chairman, who some also, a lot of the older people, still consider to be the chief of the tribe, the principal chief. So it's a position that is very complex, there's a lot to know.

And one of the things that I'd like to talk about today, which Mr. [Michael] Thomas touched on, is the education of the next generation, the next wave of people who will protect and defend our tribal sovereignty. And we just think of it as something we've always done. Red Lake did not want to be a part of the other tribes because we respected the other tribes. We knew what was going on in the 1800s with the massacres and those types of things. We knew that the government that was overseeing this country was very serious, with a very serious and dangerous agenda, so we made sure that we were very well prepared, and we consulted with our people, we consulted with our ceremonies, and we tried to do the best that we could to retain what we had as Indian people. As a result of that, we, like Alan said today, we hold in common all of our land. There are no landowners -- one hundred percent owners [are] 10,000 people. Imagine owning every tree, every fish, every aspect of the tribe. So everybody is watching everybody all the time. They are watching us right now. But we were the first in the nation. We like to see our sovereignty as a proactive use of it. We were the first tribe in the nation to have tribal license plates. We wanted to license ourselves, to have our own [Motor Vehicle] registration department, and we did that. Of course the state objected, we fought in court, we won that [case], and we set the precedent for the tribes in the United States with the license plates. We're very proud of that. We've battled in the courtrooms, Supreme Court, major cases involving members taking eagle feathers for ceremonial purposes. We've gone to war in court and we won those battles, because that was never taken from Indian people, we never gave that way -- our right to hunt and fish on our lands.

Now, we're trying to educate a whole new generation of people on the complexities of this modern era. We're in a very dangerous and volatile position right now as tribes. So rather than getting on the tribal council and saying, 'I'm going to bring home the pork for my district and I'm going to fix a road, or I'm going to build houses, and do those types of things,' we also -- because we are not subject to the laws of the State of Minnesota, we have to watch the State of Minnesota and interact with them while at the same time they are attempting to erode our tribal sovereignty and access our lands and impose their laws over us. The national government, [we're] very astute -- we're professional, we have law firms in Albuquerque, D.C., lobbyists there that work, and we have tribal members who are constantly feeding us information on Supreme Court appointments, legislation that's passed through, and so we work closely with a lot of people who are a lot smarter than us to let us know what's going on, because all the tribes are joined by the hip.

And we're -- it's funny, I went up to the grocery store today, and I saw this little clock, and I said, 'What is that little clock for?' And it said 'George Bush Countdown.' And the seconds are going, you know, and it was counting backwards -- I'm going to get one of those before I leave and it put it on my desk when I get back to the office.

But a good example of us proactive with our sovereignty is the fisheries, interacting with the State of Minnesota, the federal government, and the fishermen on our reservation. And we said, "Well, we're not going to sit around and wait for something bad to happen to us. We're going to initiate this ourselves. We don't need to be told to save our walleye. We don't need to be told to try to put businesses together. We don't need to be told to educate ourselves on how to run business. We're going to do those things ourselves.' So, I think it's a good way to go. And I really like what the Harvard Project is doing. I've been going to the website for several years now. Before I was chairman, I was reading some of the stuff when I was taking classes. It's really good that someone out there is trying to make sense of all of this. It's pretty complex.

So another example was on March 21, 2005. Some of you may recall that we had a horrible tragedy on our reservation, where we had a school shooting there. Several people lost their lives. And being a community [where you hardly ever] see white people -- they come, they work at the hospitals, some of them are teachers. We're one hundred percent Indian people. So when you see an army of news trucks and people coming on to your reservation who want access and feel that they should have access, and they say, 'How dare you restrict us from your tribal lands?' Again, we didn't wait around. We called the best resources that we have and said, We have to have a protocol. How are we going to handle this monumental tragedy? What's our plan? How are we going to do that?' And when people came to the reservation, sure enough, it happened that way. They got there, they wanted to run around the reservation and see blood, guts, gore and all this stuff. And we said, 'Well, absolutely not. We have a media pool, We have a place where we're doing press conferences. We have a designated area for you there. We'll be more than happy to help you out and accommodate you in any way.' They said, 'No!' They despised the fact that Indian people had a structure, were educated, had laws, and they had to abide by them. They said, 'That's ridiculous! This is the United States of America. Who the hell do you think you are?' So [we said], 'We're the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, and you are on Indian land, and you follow our laws.'

So we do take the boats and the planes and those kinds of things, like Alan talked about, and even though there's laws out there and there's Congressional acts that say we can't do those type of things, we beg to differ. We test that. We've always been cutting edge. And if someone enters into our tribal lands and if they do not act accordingly, we do reserve the right to kick them the hell out. We've always done that. In fact, under the former Tribal Chairman Roger Jourdain, there was a passport system that was implemented through the Red Lake Band. He said, 'Well, if we can't exercise our laws on these people, then we're going to, ourselves, tailor a passport system and a protocol where they will have to report to the tribal government center, declare their intention here, let us know who they are, and they will have to have permission to go around our Indian lands. If they do not have this passport, there's the line, we'll help you across it.' So that's one of the things that we've used our sovereignty in a good way, and the State of Minnesota really has a lot of issues with that because, when we had this stuff going on -- I use the example, I think, of Canada. When you cross into Canada, near the Minnesota border there, you have to go to customs. They ask you, 'Do you have weapons? Do you have alcohol? Do you have anything to declare? Do you understand that if you come into Canada and you break any rules, that there will be consequences to pay?' And you say, 'Yes, understood, we'll abide by the laws of Canada.' Fine, they let you go. But if you raise heck up there, they're real tough on people with DUIs and that kind stuff. They won't even let the Indians in there, now we have to swim across on our own land. But you have a price to pay.

So I think, from the tribal leader perspective, when we come to D.C., we expect to be treated as such, because our forefathers respected each other that way. They saw each individual Indian nation like these leaders who are here today, these men out here today. I went out and I greeted these tribal leaders that are in the room, at least the ones that I knew. (I'm sorry, this is the first time I've met you, I've always wanted to meet you, and it's good to finally see you my brother.) So that's the respect, and that's the way we also think as Indian people. We are a government. We are a sovereign. We're not a municipality, we're not a corporation, we're not a township. We are Indian people, each and every one of us. And it has to be respected and used in a good way. Thank you very much."

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