Jamie Fullmer: Taking a Strategic Approach at Yavapai-Apache Nation

Native Nations Institute

Jamie Fullmer, former chairman of the Yavapai-Apache Nation, discusses how his nation developed a strategic approach to tackling its nation-building challenges during his time in office. He stresses the importance of Native nations and leaders conducting comprehensive of the state of their communities and people in order to engage in informed, effective decision making that yields positive, lasting results.

Native Nations
Resource Type

Fullmer, Jamie. "Taking a Strategic Approach at Yavapai-Apache Nation." Emerging Leaders seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona. April 12, 2007. Presentation.

"My name is Jamie Fullmer. I'm Chairman of Yavapai-Apache Nation. I'm President of Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona and this is my second term in office.

As the Chairman of Yavapai-Apache Nation, I understand what all of you as tribal leaders are going through. We go through some strange and unique times because we come in with dreams and goals and commitment to doing great things and then we get hit by the reality of what goes on in our communities.

I had been graced with the idea and the fortunateness of working with my tribe as the Health and Human Services Director and I got to see what was really going on. I know about the drug problems in our communities. I know about the young people having babies in our communities. I know about the hard fact that some of our people don't have education. I know about the reality of the difficulty of finding jobs. And I think one of those things that...all of these things really connected to me and it helped me as coming into the chairmanship that I needed to do some things that were very important, but I also needed to be realistic. And I think that's the one thing that I'm very grateful for today is that my experience in social work and working with people helped me to be realistic.

It doesn't mean that we can't have dreams and hopes. It means, though, that as tribal leaders and as people working for our tribal governments that you take an honest look at what's going on in the community. I heard one time a tribal leader that said something that hit me home because I didn't agree with it, but out of respect I listened. He said, ‘I like to think that we don't have any problems in our communities,' when I was the Director of Health and Human Services and I knew full well what the problems were in our community. But I think that the important part of what we're learning in these sessions and what we're learning through NNI is that we have to be reality-based and we also have to be based in understanding or learning to understand what is it that we have.

And I guess the challenge for us all is to take a look and do a survey. In my community, I do an annual survey on a couple of different areas. And before I get to that though, Manley [Begay] had represented the idea that when I got into office I knew that I needed some help. I knew that I needed some ideas. I knew that I needed expertise. I knew what we had internally and I knew we needed more, because sometimes the outside words of wisdom are listened to a little more clearly than the inside words. And I think we all face that in our own lives and in our leadership roles. So I reached out to the group down here, NNI, Native Nations Institute and I was pleasantly surprised and I'm very appreciative.

And we did...originally we had worked out a 30-year comprehensive plan. And when I got into leadership I thought that 30 years is a long time. In this pace of reality, 30 months is a long time. Things change so fast and so I asked that they come back and we did another work session where we narrowed our 30-year vision down into a three to five-year increment because I felt like that's manageable, that's something that all of us can feel. I can say, ‘We can accomplish this in 30 days, in 90 days, in one year and we can put actions behind the words.'

When I got into the office I got into a very...somebody was talking about a corner office. I have a corner office. But when I walked into that office there was a bookshelf and it was full of books and every one of those books was a master plan. And these were plans from 1975, 1985, 1992, 1994 and believe it or not I read through them all. But I understood why the leaders couldn't accomplish what was in those plans. Because they weren't realistic and they weren't...I heard the word earlier...they weren't culturally matching to our community.

So when I challenge people to do a survey of your community, I'm not only asking how many people do you have? I know in Yavapai Apache Nation we have 2,020 tribal members. We just enrolled a handful more and we're growing and we're proud of that. I know that half of them live in the community and half of them live off the community. I know that of that half that live off the community, a majority of them live in Phoenix. I know those things about our community based on our demographics. I know that we have a young people, that 1,000 of our people are 18 and under. I know that we have only 60 of our very important and critical resources, which is our elders over 60 years old. I know these things and because I know these things, we plan around that. How do we utilize our human resources? And I'm not talking about human resource...some of you are probably human resource for employees, but as a leader we need to look at what are our human resources in our community.

I'm very proud to say our people today, we have 240 tribal members in a college or higher education. I'm very proud of that. But then the next step of that is how do we get them to come back into our community? It was talked about earlier, brain drain. What is it that we can provide for our community that will give them a commitment level to want to come back? In my case in coming back it was more of a spiritual thing and I know that not everybody is driven by the spirit in their young lives but they become more driven by the spirit as they grow older. But how do we get people to connect to the important part of our culture, which is spirit. I think those are the challenges that every one of you as well as myself face in our leadership roles and in our management roles.

Because one of the things we heard earlier was colonialism. I've heard that a lot over...I guess I'm still young. Some people say I'm not a spring chicken anymore. This colonial ideal: how do we as traditional people living in traditional ways move forward with this colonial system? We adopt constitutions; that's not our way. We adopt European laws; that's not our way. And then we have to put inside of that the parts of our culture that maybe sometimes don't fit. So at times in our modern-day systems, we have pieces that don't naturally fit. What is it that leaders need to do to be able to mend that or create that weaving or that tapestry that will connect those pieces? Those are the questions that every one of you are asking or you wouldn't be here for the last two days. Those are the questions that we need answers to that we can pass along to our people.

Because I'm proud of my people, but my people challenge me. They challenge me all the time. And as a tribal leader, you may be thinking about a big decision, ‘We need to create policies for commerce and economy, we need to create laws that will govern the future of our people,' and still you'll have an elder come in and say, ‘My transmission's broken and you need to fix it.' And I'm going to tell you what, if you don't treat those two on equal grounds, you're not going to be in the seat very long as a leader because they are just as important to our people. Or when a young person dies in the community and yet you're considering and you're thinking, ‘I'm developing an economy for the future. I'm developing things for the future.' All of you as leaders know that in your heart you're crying about the young person who's died in the community and yet you have to be the one to stand strong so that your people can rely on your strength. I think those are the critical pieces that we face in the modern world as tribal leaders.

I'm fortunate to live in a time as we move into the 21st century, well into it now, as we move into it, we are in a time where we have the most...from the 20th century to now we have the most political freedom that we've ever had. Believe that or not. We're still oppressed, but we have the most freedom that we've ever had. And how do you exercise that? How do you exercise sovereignty in this world? Some people would argue, ‘Well, when you waive limited sovereign immunity you're giving up something.' But you know what, if you don't, if you don't acknowledge that you have something, how can you give it up? You have to acknowledge that you have something. That's what sovereignty is, in my humble opinion. There are challenges to that and I respect those challenges. Every community is different and every one of you have different priorities in your community. I respect that.

I think that one of the biggest pieces that I see now as we move into things is that as we're all here trying to figure out how to govern our societies, how to create economy, how to do important things for the people, and yet at the same time still be close to the heart, still be close to the earth, still be honest about the social problems, because we can have giant dreams but if people don't buy into the dreams, it doesn't go anywhere. I think that that's probably the biggest challenge for leaders, for those of you working for tribes. The leaders care deeply about their people. They wouldn't sacrifice their personal lives to lead if they didn't care deeply about their people. But yet your job as management is to understand their vision, learn from them, and use your skills to help move the system forward. These are the challenges that all of us face and I know that and I respect you for facing that.

As we...as I talk a little bit I'm going to go over just a few areas and then I know it's time for dessert so you'll be ready for some carrot cake or...Torry, did you cook dessert, too? We move forward and we have to look at the reality of it is that everything we do in this modern world that strengthens our government or strengthens our society is in some strange way connected to our financial resources. And this is a hard thing for us. We saw earlier the very powerful speaker, Professor [Robert] Williams. We heard about him and how the trade was governed differently, how the thoughts were governed differently. But I know very well in our community, and I pray about it -- I'm a prayerful man, I live in that world -- and the answer always comes back that if you have strong ties to culture, if you have strong ties to spirit, and you can learn to respect and understand finances, you will be successful and last a long time as people. Those things are critical. Even though I'm not a man that's tied to finances in my own thinking, I understand that you have to respect it in order to strengthen it. Just like with everything. You have to respect yourself to strengthen yourself. You have to respect your people to strengthen your community. Those things go together.

And so as I look at this, I think there's some important things and you're taking part in one of them and that is council training and learning how to teach one another to be a team. The one thing about council is that we are in...as leaders we're in oppositional seats at times because we have to fight one another to get where we're at. That's part of the politics. But when that's over and the battle's over and that's won and you've organized your group, it's in the best interest of the people to learn how to work as a team. That doesn't mean you shouldn't have your opinions, that doesn't mean you shouldn't debate, because I also believe that strong and powerful debate makes for strong and powerful decisions. So you should debate, you should argue, you should do all those things on behalf of your people but at some point you have to say, ‘This is where we need to stop the debate and move forward with action.' And so I think that's a critical link.

The other thing as a tribal leader and as the head of my executive branch -- many governments are defined differently -- but one of the things that I look at is the organizational structure. The organizational structure has to do a couple of things: it has to help you as leaders and managers govern your programming and it also has to help the people that work for our nation, that work for our community, understand and learn to respect our system and if the system is, what's the word they used to use in that political or flip-flop or wishy-washy, 'some way' is the word we use. If it's 'some way,' if it's not consistent, then you don't get good quality movement from your people, from your staff. And so I think one of the critical things that I've noticed in my government is make the policies, and this was brought up earlier, make the policies and stick to them.

I've taken a lot of criticism for that. ‘You're doing things the white way.' And I'm like, ‘Business isn't a white concept.' Business is a worldwide concept. Discipline is a very important concept to my people traditionally, very strict discipline. We live very disciplined lives, so if they say that's not an Apache concept, they're completely off the track 'cause we did live very disciplined lives. So if we can keep that as a cultural thing and say, ‘This isn't a white concept or a non-Indian concept, this is a concept that we embrace.' That's how the organizational structure should work.

The other thing I'd like to point out is that there needs to be...when you create your chain of command, it needs to be an honest chain of command, because again people will try to go around the structure and the structure is what creates the strength. If you're like a jellyfish...relatives from right off the coast here. If you're like a jellyfish, you go like this. You kind of float around, you don't have the backbone. For us that live on the ground, we need a backbone to move forward.

The other thing is, I think this is critical and I know it's been brought up a little bit, but you have to have your financial house in order. You have...you don't necessarily have to be an accountant or finance wizard or anything like that, but you better have people in those positions that you trust. You also better get...we focus on ours, we created an internal audit so that if our leaders have question or our people have question we can go audit ourselves and take a look at it and give a response to them. That way it's dealt with and if they don't believe that then they can wait until our annual audit comes up by the outside auditors. But I guess what I'm saying is that for this to work, in my opinion, this is only my opinion, but you have to have the financial house in order and you always have to keep your eye on the money. Not to say that you have to be so scrutinable that you forget everything else but know your financial position, know what needs to be in place. These are things that are challenges for us, because not a lot of us are financial wizards. I trust the people that work for me and if I don't, then I can't rely on them to do the things that the tribe wants us to do.

Finally, I think as we get ...am I okay on time? Is everybody okay, you want me to shut up and get down? Sit down, shut up and get out. Finding a balance in the priorities as leaders and as managers and I think...I'm going to talk a little bit for you tribal leaders because again, this is only coming from me and what I've seen, but I've been fortunate in my I guess middle-aged life now to see a little bit in Indian Country and I think that we're pretty consistent in that we've all faced the same struggles. No matter where I go I'm like, ‘Wow, that sounds just like home.' I'm like, ‘That is so strange that coast to coast we're so similar and yet we have so much difference,' and I respect the difference, but I also think that we have to appreciate the similarity in our worlds. We've seen the historical perspective. We've all faced oppression for hundreds of years. So right now when we have political freedom, when we have a way to express our sovereignty, we need to look at a couple of things as leaders. We need to look at and set priorities to our legal...we heard earlier, what codes do you have in place? What guides do you have in place? What policies and procedures do you have in place to govern, which in my mind is leadership, governing? Those are critical things to work on.

Right now in our community, we're definitely not where we need to be, but we're very aware of what we have gaps in and so we're working on it. It takes a long time to put in a judicial code because it impacts all of your kids, or excuse me, a juvenile code. It impacts all your kids. It takes a long time to put in a commercial code, because you're not only considering yourself, you've got to look, what's it going to look like 50 years down the road. These are big decisions and so leaders who take your time, I appreciate that, but at some point you have to get through the discussion and make it a law and live with it. I think that's the big part about the legal piece that comes into play because I know we can debate, we're good debaters. In the Yavapai-Apache Nation, we like to debate. But you can debate so long and then at some point you have to just draw the line and say, ‘This is where we need to stop and if the future leaders want to change it, they have that right but at least they have a baseline, at least they have ground to walk on.'

The other is the social issues. I always look at that. I'm very proud of our people who are getting educated. I'm very proud that we have been able to get resources through our gaming to begin to expand our economy, but there's still social problems. This crystal meth in our communities -- and I don't know how many of you are afflicted by this plague -- but it's terrible and I don't know the answer. We've made our laws stronger, we've increased our police force, we've increased our treatment services, we've done educational, and the only thing you can do is keep doing more so that you never give up on your people. And I guess that's the big thing about social programming is that you have to keep doing more and never give up on your people.

Cultural: this is one unique area for our tribe because we have the Yavapais and we have Dil zhę̨̨́é and we have Apaches in our community and each of them over time we've grown together and we call ourselves one nation 'cause we live together, but we have distinct differences in our historical culture. So how do we embrace that, what I'll call 'ancient history' with our more recent history in that we've been a nation together for 100 years? How do you make that bridge in a helpful way or a healing way and some of you may have those issues with traditional and non-traditional, people who live in the old way and practice our traditional value system and people who have adopted the Christian viewpoint or whatever other viewpoint out there. How can we embrace that and still be one people? It can be done, but it takes a mature...it takes mature leaders to teach people to be mature about how we can be separate but equal.

Economic, very proudly...we were one of the poorest tribes in America before we got our gaming. Gaming has changed us in that we have been able to begin to create economy, but you also have to look at your economy as what are you doing? We talked about that this morning. What are you serving, what purpose is it serving? So there needs to be some evaluation in that is our economy just to create money or should it create jobs or can we do both. Is it on reservation, off reservation, in Arizona, out of Arizona, in America, out of America? The world is our playground now so we may as well use that.

Sovereignty is an important thing. We're very proud at Yavapai Apache Nation because we appreciate partnering with other tribes and expressing our sovereignty through tribe-to-tribe relations. We've helped four other tribes build casinos and we have a partnership with an Alaskan Inupiat company for constructing buildings. And we've also...right now we're in a partnership...

And believe me, I'm not saying this as a bragging thing. I just think it's an important thing to express that I don't just say this before you and walk out of here...'I really pulled the wool over their faces,' but it's not that way. We do...we say it and we do it and we do it and we say it. We're proud of what we do...what we do, what we say we're going to do. That's cultural. I'm sure every one of you are that same way in your cultures, but some of these things are important because we've got to bridge a gap that was created between us as Indian people. This whole federal government got in the way and said, ‘You guys can't do anything on your own. We've got to be your big brother.' We seen earlier the river, the wampum belt with the river. That's how it has to be. It's not...we don't need a big brother. We need partners, we need relatives, we need friends, we need things that are going to go a long way together. We don't need a big brother anymore. We're all grown up. We never did need a big brother.

So I think those are important things, but we also have to respect that there's that mindset there. We have to be honest and I think that's the important thing is be realistic and that's a difficult one because I would like to...I'd be like that one that said, ‘I'd like to think that the federal government, the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] and IHS [Indian Health Service] and all those are out to help us.' I'd like to think that but my eyes that don't deceive me, they tell me the truth. So if that's the case and I hear them saying, ‘Oh, we're giving all the help that is humanly possible,' but my eyes see that we still struggle because there isn't that help. What can we do? How do we embrace it? And I think that's where we're at in the modern sense is we're in that place of questioning. We're in the place where we have to be careful about the challenges. Because as was brought up earlier, the swipe of a pen in 1875 we had a...Yavapai-Apache Nation in Camp Verde was 800 miles, was the original reservation, and with the swipe of a pen Ulysses S. Grant completely wiped it off the face of the earth. So it can be done with the swipe of a pen today and so we have to be careful about that but we have to be strong in our assertions.

We also have to be science-minded in a sense. We have to...brought up earlier, demographics. Understand your needs, understand your community, understand your natural resources and your cultural resources and how to protect the integrity of your society. I think that's a critical piece to it. What are the faux pas and the 'no nos' and the 'yes yes' and everything else? Feasibility and market studies; get your experts to analyze things. To me, I think it's worth paying the $30,000 to prevent a $5 million loss even though we can debate all day long to say, ‘Why do we need that feasibility study and why do we need to study this, we already know it's going to work.' But if it doesn't work, would your people be more angry at the $30,000 expense for the study or the $5 million loss because of a bad investment. I'll take the heat for $30,000. I'm not going to take the heat for $5 million. So that's important too as leaders and as managers: realize that you have a fiduciary responsibility of your people's financial dealings. I think that's an important part of this. Put yourself in the same boots because you're walking for your people when you're out there. You're walking and talking for your people.

Also I think...I brought this up just a touch, but I'll get into it a little bit about the political landscape. Right now in Indian Country, we're in a difficult political landscape around us. We've had some negative vibrations come to us. And so how do we as people need to be...how can we be public and create relations with our local communities around us so that it isn't so bad of a taste? You go to the east over there and they're all crazy right now. This, that and the other, we need to change all the laws against gaming and it's kind of mind boggling in a sense but then you have to go home and say, ‘How do we keep ourselves stable at home? How do we protect home?'

And then not only your external landscape, but your internal landscape. Are you in an oppositional system or do you guys fight a lot and is that your customs? That's fine, but can you get agreement on some things so that at least something comes out of it? All of us that have term limits have a limited time to get things done. And I think that's the important thing too as leaders of things. What kind of compromises can you make and what ones do you need to stand by? And I think that's an important thing, at least for me. There are things that I'm willing to compromise to make the bigger picture work. There are things that I won't because it's in my heart not to and I think as people we need to take personal integrity inventories to decide...I guess it's an internal code of ethics. What drives you and how...what drives your other fellow leaders and how can you work together?

And I think one of the discussions that was brought up, Joan [Timeche] you brought this up, and it's about the community readiness. One of the things that we really have to understand is what is our community ready for. My Indian name is [Apache language], which is 'Jumping Lizard,' because my people say I'm always jumping around. And I think that's the biggest thing that you have to look at is what is the community ready for? Because some things get exciting and then some things get scary and then some things feel overwhelming. I think that's one of the important facets to this and that's. What these sessions help with is taking little bites out. We're all going to hopefully eat this carrot cake when it comes but can we...some of us, like me, we'll put it all in and eat it and some of us got to take it one bite at a time. And I think that's an important thing that...I know that I've been...one of my challenges is being able to see and instead of asking, ‘Why aren't you ready?' asking, ‘What can I do to help you be ready?' And it's a simple question of change, but it's a hard one for someone who says, ‘Everybody should know why we should be able to build more, bigger, better, faster-moving machine.' But not everybody feels that way. Some people like to go slow. Some people like to think through things and I respect that.

Just in closing, I really appreciate the concepts that have been brought out because this is really what we need. We need to have leaders coming together because again today I hear all of these important questions coming out of you obviously important people and they're the same questions that I'm asking at home and I'm like, ‘Gosh, this is a good day and age because we're growing, we're doing important things,' but now we've got to have a change of thinking. We can't think about what is the world around us going to give us. We have to think about what in the world can we give ourselves and can we give that to others as well. And it's our time. I really believe that it's our time, that we can do good things with one another like's being done today by learning together. We can do good things with one another by teaching together. We can do good things with one another by creating fantastic, amazing businesses together and we can do a very important thing which is, as was brought up earlier, about teaching Americans, teaching the Indians how to be Americans. We can teach the rest of the world how we are and they can learn to respect us as we learn to respect ourselves. And so I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you all today. It's an honor and it's a privilege and thank you, [Apache language]."

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