Honoring Nations: Joseph P. Kalt: Rebuilding Healthy Nations

Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

Harvard Project Co-Director Joseph P. Kalt provides a general overview of the Honoring Nations program and illustrates how people all over the world are learning from the nation-building examples set and the lessons offered by Native nations in the United States.

Native Nations
Resource Type

Kalt, Joseph P. "Rebuilding Healthy Nations." 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.

Amy Besaw Medford:

"It's my pleasure to introduce to you all Professor Joseph P. Kalt, who is the co-director of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development. Over the past 20 years, he's been dedicating his life to serving Indian Country and telling stories and fleshing out nation-building themes, and I'm grateful to be able to work underneath him and to learn from him and to have him influence my thinking and my life. Thank you. Joe Kalt."

Joe Kalt:

"Amy always talks about working for me -- I'm her ‘boss.' I want you all to watch over the next couple days how the staff treats me. ‘Joe, go here. Joe, go there. Joe, sit down. Joe, stand up.' Who's the boss? Today's session is all about, as Oren [Lyons] said, sharing, learning from each other. And as Oren says and as Amy says, the impact that your programs are having, as other tribes learn from what you're doing, is absolutely phenomenal. These two books that we're pumping -- which we don't make any money on, we're just trying to get the information out there -- are just full of your stories, so that other tribes can learn from you. But rather than focusing on that, I thought I'd talk about another theme, that Oren just put on the table, in the international arena and the impact that you all are having. Sometimes you sit at your desks, right, and you're working real hard and you feel like no one's noticing and you're too tired at night and you've got to go to sleep. Well, people are noticing. Let me give you some examples. Every one of these is absolutely true. I started making a list of these kinds of examples, and I'd be up here for five hours if I did it all.

A couple months ago, I had a very interesting experience. I have a former student of mine who is a lieutenant colonel in the United States Army and teaches at the Marine Corps University. The phone rings and he calls me. I haven't heard from him for 20 years. He says, ‘Joe, how you doing?' He says, ‘I'm part of the kitchen cabinet for the on-the-ground military leader in Afghanistan.' And apparently, he's now been replaced, but apparently the on-the-ground military leader has a kitchen cabinet, and at night he emails and they all have an email conversation about the current problems of the day. And he sends an email out to these colonels and teachers around the Marines and Army and so forth. And essentially the email says, ‘Help! They're telling me I need to build a nation, but all they ever taught me to do was shoot guns.' They Google on the phrase ‘nation building' and they come up with Honoring Nations. ‘We've got to talk to those people!' [Because] as Oren says, the whole world is paying attention now.

What do they want to know? Well, in Afghanistan, why did they want to talk to the Honoring Nations program? Because they want to know, for example, how did the San Carlos Apache Elders Council help stabilize a nation that was rocky? They want to know, how did the Hopi Two Plus Two Plus Two High School program get its act together and rebuild education at Hopi? They want to know, how did the Lummi Nation build the best sewer system -- not the best Indian sewer system, the best sewer system in North America? Because they're doing all of those things in Afghanistan.

I've got a former student who -- we teach a course here at Harvard called 'Nation Building, Native America at the New Millennium.' I see some former students here, a number of them here. A former student calls me the other day. He's in Washington, DC on business. He'd been a student five or six years ago. He's a Masai warrior from Kenya. He's now a member of the Kenyan Parliament. What does he want to know? He wants to know -- Think of Kenya in Africa. ‘Joe, could you remind me of that information about how Jicarilla and White Mountain Apache managed their wildlife. I read about that in that Honoring Nations program. Could you tell me how Fond du Lac set up that foster care program? We've got a lot of foster kids, essentially, in Kenya.' And on and on.

Poland in Central Europe. They were recently decolonized, too. The Soviet Union went away. What did they do? They did the same thing many Indian tribes did. They pulled the constitution off the shelf. It wasn't called the IRA [Indian Reorganization Act] constitution. It was some British parliamentary system. It didn't fit them. They wanted to know about Navajo and Choctaw courts. We have people here today from the State of New Hampshire. Who's here from New Hampshire? Rural economic development -- I've been doing work in Wyoming, Arizona. People from New Hampshire here today, what do they want to know about? They want to know about Kayenta Township. How did that place take off? They want to know [about] Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Fund. How'd you get all those small businesses going? They want to know about ONABEN and the business development efforts there.

Another story -- this goes on and on. I was supposed to go to North Korea this summer. It got cancelled at the last minute, delayed actually, we'll eventually go, because North Korea fired a couple of test missiles toward Tokyo, splashed in the water without nuclear warheads on them. Sort of put a damper on our trip. Why did the Russians, the U.S., South Korea and Japan -- who are trying to calm down a rather crazy individual with missiles in North Korea -- why did they want to talk to us? Because they want to understand how in the world you take a country where people are dying daily of starvation, absolute starvation, and turn it around. They want to know, how did Oneida Farms do what it did, Honoring Nations award-winner. They want to know, how did Ho Chunk, Inc. take unemployment from 70 percent to 7 percent in about five years.

The Maori of New Zealand visited us this summer. They want to copy the Honoring Nations program. The Maori, a fishing people, they want to know about Red Lake Walleye Recovery and they want to know about Lac Courte Oreilles and the Chippewa Flowage Management Plan. The Aboriginal people of Australia have already copied Honoring Nations. Did you know that, by the way? You are being duplicated, almost everything about it. Even some of the signs and so forth has this feel, although it's very Australian flavor. Why are the Aboriginal people working on this? They don't have even rights of self-determination in the smallest form, but they're trying to run their communities. They want to know how Flandreau Santee Sioux set up that police department. They want to know how Miccosukee and Swinomish and Umatilla were able to solve so many land-use problems.

We're talking to Canada, trying to duplicate the Honoring Nations program. The World Bank now chasing this information from you, what you're doing. They want to know about the Winnebago Community Development Fund. They want to know about the Sisseton-Wahpeton Professional Empowerment Program, because all around the world the World Bank runs into this problem of, how do you take people who've never had work experience and break [them] into the job market?

The little country of Suriname in South America writes us a touching email. They're looking at the Honoring Nations program, they go on the website, and this email basically says, ‘Thank you for showing us you can turn a place around through your own efforts, Indigenous efforts coming right out of the community.' And the phrase was, ‘You have revitalized us, you have given us hope.'

Well, just two more. We teach this course, as I mentioned, here at Harvard called 'Nation Building.' About half the students in the course are from non-U.S., non-Canada [nations/countries]. I always get a slug of students from Israel, for example. Why Israel? Because they have a sizeable population of Palestinian Israelis -- mostly Christian -- living in a Jewish country, and they're trying to figure out how not to do to them what was done to Native Americans.

I also have a slug of students from China, from China. Why China? Because they're trying not to have happen to them what happened to the Soviet Union. They've got a billion people out there, communities spread across thousands and thousands of miles. They want to know about the Northwest Intertribal Court System, 'cause they've got to try to set up a system of a rule of raw, not a rule of the Communist Party. They want to know about the Siyeh Corporation of Blackfeet. How could we get some small [corporations] -- everyone's reading, in China, about the big corporations -- all these little towns need some help.

So all around the world, what you're doing is more and more being noticed, more and more being the source of information for change, information for rebuilding communities. So when you're sitting in your office and you're frustrated, just think of it, the whole world is riding on your shoulders.

Why this attention right now? Let me just say a few words about this. Well, the times are changing. That book right there, there's a section in there, basically it's entitled, 'Still Here.' The winds of oppression have blown over Native peoples in North America as fiercely as anywhere in the world, yet [you are] still here, still running things, still trying to take control of the communities and doing it. Economically, the data say Indian Country, gaming tribes, are growing three times more rapidly than the U.S. economy. The same data tell us that non-gaming tribes are growing three times more rapidly than the U.S. economy. There's a revolution going on out there, and it's not just the economics of course. It's what you do with those economics. It's Citizen Pottawatomi saying, ‘Yeah, we pay per caps [per capita distributions]. That ballpark, it's your per cap. That dental clinic, that's your per cap. That new house, that's your per cap. You get to use them as a person, you're a per cap. We're rebuilding these communities.' Why? What is the secret or what seems to stand out? What's working out there? You guys live these things every day. Well, in a short talk you're not going to explain everything about how a nation turns itself around and rebuilds itself, but there is a pattern out there and that pattern's pretty common.

First, what we see in programs that work, and communities that work, and nations that work, is an attitude and a practice of sovereignty. Oren has on the Nike© shoes. We sometimes call this the Nike© strategy. What's the Nike© motto? ‘Just Do It.' Well, every one of you here just does it, in a sense. Lots of times, the laws around you, the federal law may not exactly say you can do [it]. You just do it, and that attitude of -- an attitude of sovereignty and self-determination, and then putting it into action, marks those communities, those programs, those Indian nations that are turning themselves around.

The second thing that we find, in addition to that Nike© strategy, that Nike© attitude of ‘Just Do It,' is that you back up the attitude with the ability to do it, and by that I mean, you build good systems. You use the tools of -- some of it's boring. It's this public administration we teach in this school right here. It's boring. 'You set up a good personnel grievance system.' 'We have a good accountant and good computers.' But also, it's more fundamental than that. It's finding the cultural roots of your own government. Every government in the world, every government in the world ultimately only stands on its culture.

I tell this story: some of you have probably heard me give speeches about this in various places. I come from the White Yuppie tribe. I like the 'Y' in yuppie, okay. I'm hanging onto that. This elder thing isn't too comfortable for me. In my tribe a couple years ago, we had two guys who both claimed to be duly elected tribal chairs. This guy named Bush and this guy named Gore -- you remember those two guys? If you look at world history, of what usually happens in that situation -- and I'm trained as an econometrician, a statistician -- what would you predict would happen? What you would predict would happen is that Al Gore would lose at the Supreme Court and then go get some tanks and Army generals and come up Pennsylvania Avenue and give it a shot, see if he can take over. That's what happens in the world. Now I'll ask you a question. Why didn't it happen? Why didn't it happen? And I can guarantee you two thoughts just ran through your mind. One thought was the institutions. You've got the constitution, the courts, and all that stuff. Another thought that ran through your mind was a feeling. It's like, 'Well, we just don't do it that way. Al, don't do that. We just don't do it that way.' And only the second answer is accurate. It's only the culture that glues us together.

The night that guy who wanted to be tribal chair stepped down very graciously on national television -- the United States constitution was sitting in a little box at the National Archives. [It] couldn't have gotten out of its box and run over on its little legs and stopped a tank or anything. It's only culture that holds all of us together in our societies, but that's our own cultures. This is why the world is watching what's happening in Indian Country is because what you're doing, the programs you run, the systems you run under, are increasingly of your own making. Indeed, if you think about what you're doing, think about the old days when everything was a federal program. Do you think you'd be seeing this success? Do you really think you'd see hundreds and hundreds of homes being built around Indian Country, for example? Honoring Nations award-winners? The Chickasaw, and so forth? Does anyone think it would happen that way? No. It's really founding everything for each of us in our respective cultures -- even the White Yuppie guys -- on the culture, because it's ultimately only us human beings, and the institutions aren't really there. They're just ways we use to talk to each other, and you've got to find your own ways. And that's what the successful tribes are doing and it's the third key. We call it cultural match: finding systems, the big governmental structures, the small program structures, the linkages to the community, to the elders, to the civic leaders, to the religious leaders. Finding things that are legitimate and work within your own culture. So this sovereignty attitude, the Nike© strategy, backed up by the ability to run things and founding that ability on your own values, your own core values, your own community values. Those are the keys.

There's one more thing, and it's leadership. When we say that, we don't mean necessarily leadership as decision-maker, we mean leader as educator. Someone carries into any community the ideas, the ways of doing things, the new ways of doing things, the old ways of doing things. And it's leaders that do that. Not just elected and appointed officials, but all the dimensions of leadership. And the challenge that you face -- you all are leaders. You got out of bed this morning, or yesterday you flew here. You're not here because you're crawling under a rock and hiding. You're here [because] you're leaders, and the challenge is to carry these messages of effective nation building into communities. And the more you do that, what we find, the more successful the leadership of a community is in getting on the same page and talking about the fundamental nature of these needs for running things ourselves, founding them on our own institutions that are culturally legitimate. Then suddenly, the community starts to stand behind you and then you get stability and then you build a community and then the kids stay home instead of moving away and you've rebuilt a nation.

So we thank you because -- and the whole world is starting to thank you, sincerely -- because these lessons are critical for all of mankind. Thank you."

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