Jill Peters: Fostering Productive Intergovernmental Relations

Native Nations Institute

TGen Director for Legislative Affairs and Community Outreach Jill Peters explains what is necessary to foster productive intergovernmental relations at the local, state, and federal levels, and why it is important for nations to build their capacity to advance their priorities in this area.

Native Nations
Resource Type

Peters, Jill. "Fostering Productive Intergovernmental Relations." Emerging Leaders Seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. March 26, 2008. Presentation.

"I want to thank Dr. Begay and the [Native Nations] Institute for inviting me here today. It's really a pleasure to be here and really wanted to congratulate you on, those of you who are elected to take on a position to represent your tribal communities. I am actually really happy to be here because this is the first time I've really had a chance to interact with the Institute. And when I was a member of Senator [John] McCain's legislative staff in Washington, one of the things that I worked on was the establishment of the Native Nations Institute and the enabling legislation that set this up. And really this is one of the needs that was recognized as, that could be a real resource to tribal governments with this type of training. So it's great to see that it's coming into action, and I hope that the information that's provided to you will help you. We know that the issues facing Indian Country are complicated and complex and hopefully again that we can be a resource for you and the Institute will continue to be a resource for you as well.

I was asked to come here today and talk about intergovernmental relations. Before I get into that, I wanted to just briefly talk about where I've been and kind of how I got to where I am right now. I am a member of the Navajo Nation. I was born here in Arizona and I started my career a long time ago it seems like, but my first job was really working at the Navajo Nation Washington Office in Washington, D.C. And at the time when I started there, it was actually one of...I think at the time it was the only tribal government, federal, and legislative office that was set up in Washington. So it was really kind of a unique thing at the time. Most tribes at that time had hired law firms or other type of lobbying groups, and the Navajo Nation really, again, stood out as a model to set up their own legislative shop. So I was there and I worked for President Peterson Zah and we went to and we represented the Navajo Nation before Congress and we helped the Navajo Nation president and council in drafting testimony, preparing statements, and we also had meetings that we set up for our leaders. So it became a really important resource and many other tribes have since followed suit and started setting up their own offices in Washington.

I also spent some time working for tribal governments in other ways as well. And one of the areas of focus I worked on is in environmental and resource management issues. And I did that through the National Tribal Environmental Council, which is based in Albuquerque. And it's a tribal member organization and it's intended again to be, to serve as a resource for tribes who are facing complicated environmental regulatory issues and provides information sort of as a clearinghouse for them. And I also worked on the federal agency side with the Environmental Protection Agency in Region 9. And the Region 9 office interacted with tribes in California, Arizona and Nevada.

For most of my career though I've spent on Capitol Hill in Washington and I started working for Senator McCain when he first became chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. This was back in the 104th Congress, and subsequently [I] went back to work for him in his personal office. So I was on his personal committee staff and in that capacity I handled all his environmental, energy, agriculture; also he served his responsibilities on the Committee on Indian Affairs as well. And about five years ago I decided I had enough of Washington and wanted to move back to Arizona.

So I took a job with the Translational Genomics Research Institute, or TGEN. And this was a bit of a departure for me, but TGEN -- I don't know if many of you are familiar with TGEN -- but we're based in Phoenix and it's a biomedical research institute, so we focus on health research on human diseases. And we have a number of unique partnerships with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, the Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona, the Phoenix Indian Medical Center, and the Phoenix area IHS [Indian Health Services]. So that is what I do right now. And one of the things that I do for TGEN is I do our governmental relations. We're not a government, we're a non-profit, but we have important stakeholders and those stakeholders include the local, state, federal governments and they, in some way, provide assistance and funding to TGEN. So it's my job to help our organization manage our relationships with these entities. So that generally means I serve as the face for TGEN when we have to interact with the legislature, when we have to interact with the agencies, and also with tribal communities. And so there's different protocols that are involved here. So I just want to, I make sure that our leadership at TGEN needs to address the issues when they're important, that we're interacting with key members of the legislature, and also that, with the tribal community, that we abide by their protocols as well.

The intergovernmental relations -- and I'm sure many of you are familiar with this -- but essentially deals with how different governments in their roles and capacities deal with each other and how they attempt to influence each other. Essentially you, when you work with other governments, what you're trying to do is you're protecting the interests that are important to you, you're trying to exert influence over different other governments to accommodate your interests, and you're also trying to take in the interests of the other governments as well. I'm going to approach this topic from an issue or a perspective of partnership and cooperation, and I know that it's not always easy and there's always, there tends to be a lot of conflict when you're working with other governments, but what I'd like to focus on really is more of what are some of the models of cooperation. What are some of the considerations when tribes look to develop agreements or other types of partnerships with different governments? And of course there are benefits and then there are also drawbacks that have to be considered. And then I would like to just briefly go through some of the case examples. I have, all of these, most of these slides are in your packets. I'll try to go through them quickly because I know that I'm the only thing between you and lunch now. So I'll try to be quick.

As we know, the federal government system is a federalist system of government. And generally what that means is that the power of these governments is constitutionally apportioned between a federal government and regional governments. And generally this is recognized, the regional governments, as states. But this system also includes tribal governments. Tribal governments are self-governing, sovereign entities as well. And local governments do not have the same type of constitutional authority that states and tribes have, but they are still empowered through the states to serve their citizens of their local communities. If we look at this from a really simple point of view and why intergovernmental relations is important, what it comes down to is money and resources. Federal government has money; tribal, state and local governments need money. Federal government needs resources to carry out and make sure that its responsibilities are conducted to all citizens. And state, local and tribal governments are generally the conduit for the federal government to do this.

So what does this mean? Well, it's really not that simple of a system. It actually creates a really complex structure of interdependence. Other governments have to work together, rely on other in some ways. It's complex because each level of government has its own processes, has its own policies, has its own system that when you're trying to interact together, sometimes that works and sometimes it takes a lot of time to educate each other first. This type of system creates conflict. Obviously when you create political boundaries, there's a lot of issues that don't necessarily abide by those political boundaries. So what happens is you have a lot of overlapping issues and you have really complicated regulatory structures and this doesn't always abide again by a very nice little boundary. That creates unintended consequences when you have conflict, especially extended conflict, legal issues that, litigation that carries on for years really, the unintended consequence is that the people on the ground, the grassroots communities, the people are left unserved. So in a way, while governments are sort of trying to work out their differences, there still is sort of a gap on the other side where tribal people may not be getting the services that they would like. So again, as I mentioned, this is an interdependent system and really what is encouraged [is] to try to get these different units of governments to work together to try to make the system more efficient and effective. As a result of that, really intergovernmental relations is a necessity of governance and public policy.

So what do we do then? And probably most of your tribal governments right now do have resources, do have an office, do have a staff that assists you at the tribal leadership and intergovernmental relations in one way or another. And this generally means priority setting, how you manage issues, maybe working with the press, grant seeking and working with other governments, how you interface with Congress. And as Sheila [Morago] talked about different lobbying activities and how do you go about representing the tribal community at those different levels. Intergovernmental relations sometimes means just reaching out to the general community. When you represent a particular issue, you'd like to be able to say that you've had community input, that the community supports this. So oftentimes that may include just going on the ground and getting input and talking to different communities and going to different forums. And really again, the importance of establishing and maintaining relationships, being open to communication and -- as Sheila mentioned -- being a resource so that your issues and your needs are communicated. So just looking at a few of the basics. These are, again -- Sheila went through some of these. These may sound really common sensical, but they're really, really important. One is just to have knowledge -- and this may be whoever is in charge of the intergovernmental relations for your community -- to have the knowledge of budget and legislative processes at the tribal and state and federal level. And there are resources for this. There are organizations, like the Institute for Tribal Government, that offer this type of training for tribal leaders and it's sort of an expanded version of what Sheila offered to you: really going in depth about this is how the appropriations process works, this is how the budget process works, these are the timelines that you need to be aware of, and this is how you may want to package your issue when you're presenting it to different members of Congress. So this is very critical, and I really would recommend that if you have new staff coming on board that they become knowledgeable, and even you as tribal leaders, to take this training.

Protocols: obviously, tribal leaders and tribal governments have their own protocols. So do state governments and local governments and the federal government as well. So it's important to know how to address different political leaders. You want to be respected in the same way and I think you want to understand how to address other leaders as well. And again, just being well-informed of the issues that you're talking about, and it's really important not only to represent your own issues but to have an understanding of sort of the interplay of issues that you're dealing with. You as members of your tribal community, you know what your issues are, and you know how you want to represent them, and you want to communicate them, but you also want to have an understanding of some of the larger general issues that are affecting tribes in general. So whoever is responsible for this has to balance out dealing with the tribal communities that are affecting your community in particular, but they also want to understand how the Energy Act, the Energy Policy Act or the Welfare Reform Act or something else is going to affect your tribal community. So they need to have a bigger, broad-based knowledge of what's happening at the larger level.

It takes a great amount of skill, as some of you may know, to really try to keep things simple. And when you're working with different leaders at the congressional level or other levels, you really want to have a really well-articulated position, and you want to provide thorough background, and you want to provide a recommended action. So these are things, when you're representing your issue, you want to be able not only to be able to articulate it very well, you want to be able to provide enough background to it -- history. But then you also want to say, ‘Well, this is what we would recommend and this is how we would go about to change this particular issue.' Some of these I'll go through pretty quickly.

As we know, the different levels of government often work together for different reasons. States and local governments work together. The federal government obviously works with all three of these. Tribal government and local governments have different ways to work together. This may mean working with different cities or working with counties, generally [on] issues like emergency response, resource management, rights of way, roads, infrastructure -- those type of issues. Governments are often compelled to work together to address these type of issues. Tribes and state governments, they work together in various ways as well, most notably through gaming compacts, child welfare issues, taxation, environmental management and cleanup issues. None of these issues are easy, so it's just an example of some ways of how you work together. And why you work together is obviously you have, generally when you're dealing with an issue you know there's more than one part that has an interest in this issue, and that may include land management, resource management, water issues, rights of way, law enforcement. All of these cross boundaries. Sometimes governments are compelled to work together. The court, if you've been litigating in court for years and you have no resolution, generally courts will try to compel these different units of government to work together. Sometimes there's incentives. You work for, you apply for grants, different type of resources; it makes your case that much more compelling if you have different entities who are working cooperatively together. In a cooperative model, you have common goals. If you can recognize as one entity with your neighboring jurisdiction that you have common problems obviously, that you want to work to solve those problems, you'd like to be able to combine your resources and leverage those and utilize your resources more efficiently, and be involved in decision making that affects the different communities. Benefits?Well, obviously you get more resources. If you combine your resources together, you can increase what is available to you. You can access other information and technology. They may have access to resources that you don't have and they can bring that to the table.

Political and social support: working for a member of Congress and working at the D.C. level, I can tell you that when cases came to us where states and tribes or local governments and tribes were working together and really came together and sat at the same table and told us their story, it was very compelling. And I think it really encouraged a lot of political officials that this was happening in their communities and they like to be able to highlight it. They like to be able to say, ‘Well, this county and this tribe is working together to address these common issues.' And they go out of their way to try to help you. So there is a political benefit from that. You can accelerate your timeline in trying to address some of these issues. So there's a lot of different benefits. For tribes some of these obviously mean if you've been fighting about some of these issues for a number of years, you can resolve some of these disputes through negotiation, additional funding, and for like regulatory purposes, you can deal with some of these cross-boundary issues.

Sometimes there are drawbacks obviously and when you're in a negotiation process there's always the feeling of compromise -- that somewhere someone has to give and who's going to be the one to give. Obviously it's up to the tribal community to determine at what level they decide where they're going to compromise, or if not, how you sort of meet in the middle. When working with the federal government, when you negotiate agreements, obviously you have to be very careful that you don't affect the fiduciary trust responsibilities that tribes and the federal government that the relationship that is shared there -- setting a standard that may affect other governments. Sometimes if you develop an agreement, for better or for worse, sometimes that becomes the standard and other communities are held to that same standard. So in a way you may want to take an interest in what's happening with other tribes because if you're facing that same issue, those same terms may be subject to your same issue. Maybe. I'm not saying it will but sometimes that's happens. Like in water rights issues you set one standard in a water settlement, others following behind you may have to follow that same standard. So you have to really deal with those very delicately. For local issues you really have to, you want to make sure that you have good lawyers, obviously. You want to make sure that you're balancing everybody's interests. Sometimes what works with one state or one community may not work with another. For example, Navajo has to operate and work within three states. So the may be able to work well with Arizona, but that same type of agreement may not carry over with New Mexico. So it can be a delicate balance.

I know I'm running out of time here, so I'm going to go ahead and just kind of skip ahead here. These are some of the examples that I put into your packet so you can look at some of those. Tribes working with states, tribes working with counties, so I won't go through most of those and I'll just say that there are resources out there where you can look at model agreements. There's recommendations out there. There's policy, law policy centers. Obviously there's the internet. So if you're looking for a particular type of agreement to deal with, for example, child welfare agreements, those are out there. If you're looking for agreements that deal with law enforcement issues, those are out there as well. So I would encourage you to take a look at those if those are an interest for you. And I'm going to skip ahead on this as well. So really again we're dealing in a very difficult time and this is really -- we can push as much as we want the things we want for our tribal communities, but when we go to Congress or we go to different federal agencies and say, ‘Well, this is what we want.' Well, they're going to say, ‘Sorry, we're out of money or we don't have enough resources to deal with some of these issues.' So that's where it may, you may be compelled to work with another entity to help share those responsibilities and share the costs. And really with the economy the way it is, that situation is likely to be the case for the next few years. The courts, the court system, if you want to litigate that certainly, as a tribal entity, that's your sovereign right to do so, but then again you have to consider the makeup of the courts and whether or not down the road that claim may be successful.

Well, and again, I'm just going to end here. Obviously, not everything is going to work for everybody. You as different tribes face their own situations. They have their own unique population, land issues. And so we just, whatever, I think, what I wanted to leave you with is just obviously it's up to you to determine what's in your best interest. You'd like to make sure that whatever you're putting forward in your tribal government, that you have a strong system. I hope you have a strong legal system, a strong judicial system, you have knowledgeable and informed staff and that they can best represent you when going to the negotiating table. So, that's it. Thank you very much."

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