communication

Indigenized Communication During COVID-19

Producer
Native Governance Center
Year

During times of crisis, the messages we send to our stakeholders matter more than ever. Tribal governments and Native organizations are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic and are making important decisions to protect the health and safety of their people. 

As Indigenous people, we believe that our methods and modes of communication should reflect our values. We’ve put together a list of some of the values that guide our approach to nation building and corresponding tips for Indigenized communication during COVID-19. We designed these tips first and foremost for Tribal leaders; we hope that others working to communicate thoughtfully about COVID-19 will find them useful as well. 

The COVID-19 pandemic presents a challenge for all of us. While the situation has already tested our strength and resiliency, it’s also a major opportunity for our communities. We have the chance to come together and build the Indigenized future we want to see. The strategies we use to communicate about our goals and visions during this time are just the beginning.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Native Governance Center. 2020. "Indigenized Communication During COVID-19." Webinar. (https://nativegov.org/resources/indigenized-communication-during-covid-19/, accessed on July 24, 2023)

Broadband in Libraries

Producer
C-SPAN
Year

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) held a public hearing to examine the need for high-speed broadband in the nation’s libraries. Former FCC Chair Reed Hundt told the audience that there was “no Washington consensus” around the issue of broadband in libraries, and urged the librarian community to become more engaged on the issue. Other speakers included Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chair Tom Wheeler and IMLS Director Susan Hildreth.“ Libraries and Broadband: Urgency and Impact,” was held at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Topics
Citation

"Institute of Museum and Library Services: Broadbands in Libraries." C-SPAN, April 17, 2014, https://www.c-span.org/video/?318935-1/broadband-libraries.

Residence, Community Engagement, and Citizenship: How do non-resident tribal citizens connect with Native nations?

Year

The research draws from an online survey targeted primarily at younger tribal citizens living away from tribal lands; this project provides preliminary insight into 1) non-resident citizens' engagement with their tribes, and 2) the ways tribes might connect more effectively with non-resident citizens, should they choose to do so.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Schultz, Jennifer Lee, Stephanie Carroll Rainie, and Rachel Rose Starks. Residence, Community Engagement, and Citizenship: How do non-resident tribal citizens connect with Native nations? Connecting Across Distance & Difference: Tribal Citizenship in a New Era. The NCAI Policy Research Center Tribal Leader/Scholar Forum. National Congress of American Indians Mid Year Conference. St. Paul, Minnesota. June 30, 2015. Paper.

Enhancing Government-to-Government Relationships (Grand Ronde)

Year

The Intergovernmental Affairs Department has achieved positive intergovernmental relationships with federal, state, and local governments by pursuing a five-pronged strategy of communication, education, cooperation, contributions, and presence. Since the Department’s creation, the Tribe has raised public awareness, built coalitions, and forged partnerships with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and the US Forest Service. By establishing a strong presence at the state capital, forming a skilled team of tribal advocates, and developing a legislative tracking system that informs the Tribal Council of important bills and initiatives, the Department is now in a position to take a proactive role in state and federal Indian affairs and to earn credibility and respect for the Tribe amongst all governments.

Resource Type
Citation

"Enhancing Government-to-Government Relationships". Honoring Nations: 2000 Honoree. The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 2001. Report.

Permissions

This Honoring Nations report is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development. 

Akimel O'odham/Pee-Posh Youth Council

Year

Recognizing that their youth possess critical insight on a full range of governing issues, tribal leaders chartered the Akimel O’odham/Pee-Posh Youth Council in 1988 to give youth a formal voice within the tribal government. The Council is comprised of 20 youth between the ages of 14-21, who are elected by their peers to serve two-year (staggered) terms. After receiving training in communication, team building, ethics, conflict resolution, and parliamentary procedures, Youth Council members present youth issues to the tribal government, oversee various community projects, and attend local, state, and national meetings. Youth Council members have testified before the US Senate on numerous occasions, and the Council produces a continual stream of community and national leaders. 

Resource Type
Citation

"Akimel O'odham/Pee-Posh Youth Council." Honoring Nations: 2002 Honoree. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 2003. Report.

Permissions

This Honoring Nations report is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development. 

Patricia Riggs: The Role of Citizen Engagement in Nation Building: The Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Story

Producer
National Congress of American Indians
Year

Patricia Riggs, Director of Economic Development for Ysleta del Sur Pueblo (YDSP), discusses how YDSP has spent the past decade developing and fine-tuning its comprehensive approach to engaging its citizens in order to identify and then achieve its nation-building priorities.

This video resource is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of the National Congress of American IndiansThe "Rebuilding the Tigua Nation" film shown in this video resource is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of Ysleta del Sur Pueblo.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Riggs, Patricia. "The Role of Citizen Engagement in Nation Building: The Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Story." 70th Annual Convention & Marketplace, National Congress of American Indians. Tulsa, Oklahoma. October 15, 2013. Presentation.

Ian Record:

"So I'll turn the floor over to Patricia Riggs. Again, she's the economic development director with the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and as she told me today, she's sort of their de facto chief of citizen engagement for their pueblo. Anytime they face a challenge in this arena, they tend to turn to her because she's done so much wonderful work in this area. Did you want to start with the video or with your presentation?"

Patricia Riggs:

"It's a little long. If you want to start it and then kind of go through middle and then restart it again."

Ian Record:

"So again, this is a video that Pat was involved with putting together. It's called 'Rebuilding the Tigua Nation.' Tigua is another name that refers to her nation and this again I think...think of this not just in terms of what it shares with you, but think of this as a viable tool of citizen education and engagement. We're seeing more and more nations do things like this. These videos that instruct not just their own citizens, but outsiders about who the nation is and what they're doing and why."

[VIDEO]

Patricia Riggs:

"Good afternoon, everyone. Hello. As Ian stated, my name is Pat Riggs and I'm the Director of Economic Development at Ysleta del Sur [Pueblo]. We started community engagement back in 2006. Of course at the Pueblo, there's always been some form of community engagement, but we had a very significant event that took place. If you paid attention closely to the film, we talked about the casino being closed down. In 1987, we were federally restored and there was one little clause in our restoration act that said, "˜The tribe shall not have gaming that is illegal in Texas.' So when the State of Texas started bingo and lottery, we decided that there was gaming in Texas so we opened our casino and they sued us and the courts held that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act didn't apply to the tribe, that the language in our restoration act superseded that. So we operated gaming from around 1992 to 2002. It was open for about 10 years and it first started as a bingo hall and then later on to Class 2 gaming. So when the casino actually did end up closed, we had invested quite a bit in infrastructure and the tribe had done a lot of good things with our funding or our revenues that we got for the tribe, but we were basically at a...we were in shock. There was this economic turmoil that was taking place that we didn't realize was actually going to take place. We thought that there was no way that we would lose the case, but we ended up losing the case.

So citizen engagement started out of the need to really find out what the community needed. What we started doing is really looking at different groups and seeing what their needs are and really trying to identify with the tribe and what they needed. This is just a picture of what we call "˜listening to our ancestors,' because everything that we do really does come from our history and who we are as a people and where we've been so just the fact that in spite of everything that's happened to us, it seems like...sometimes they call us the 'Bad Luck Tribe' because if something can go wrong, it happens to us. We got left out of the Treaty of Guadalupe in 1861 so we weren't recognized with the other pueblos. We ended up on the Confederate side of the line. Just things throughout history ended up happening.

Really a lot what was happening, too, was our own mindset and the way we thought as a community, so when the casino was closed we kind of stood at a standstill, we didn't know what to do, we were in shock. And I had been working at another location. I'd been working in the City of El Paso and the tribe asked me to come back and I was like, "˜Economic Development, hmm.' So I really didn't know anything about economic development, but I said, "˜I'll give it a try.' But when I came back, one of the things that I started doing is really listening and trying to figure out what was happening in the community. And so I heard in the video that Ian played before from Native Nations Institute, someone said that some of the challenges or the biggest challenges for the tribe come from within. So I'm really about training and trying to figure out what the community wants and so they started asking me to train different departments. And so I started paying attention to what the community was actually saying and to what some of our employees were saying and these are actual...their quotes, their statements that were actually said and they're things like, "˜Tiguas don't want to learn.' Everything was always blamed on tribal council and we all know that there's problems with councils sometimes, but sometimes I think we exaggerate those things because we don't want to move forward or we don't...we try to rationalize what we are or what we're not doing in our departments. So it was always about, "˜We can't do that because tribal council won't allow it,' "˜It doesn't matter.' Some of our non-tribal employees were saying that we couldn't do particular, they wouldn't do particular things because the tribal members would go tell council what they were doing and it was just, it was ridiculous, really. When you really sat down and listened to it and you put all the statements together, it was ridiculous.

So basically...so what we determined that we needed to do is really engage our community in education and try to really figure out who the community was because we know who we are as a people, we know our culture, we knew traditions, but we don't really know the community in terms of what needs do they...are out there, what are the poverty levels, what are the education levels, who's employed, who's not employed, what kind of skills do they have? And as far as doing a needs assessment we needed that, but we also needed to take an inventory of what we have or had in order to move forward. So we started doing different things to try and get the community engaged. And so this is what it looks like if you do the 'flyer method' and it just doesn't work. You send all these beautiful flyers out there and just get ready for everybody to come and they don't show up. So it was like, "˜Well, what am I doing wrong here?' And we were actually, at one point we even brought Native Nations Institute and we had a very small crowd there. So we thought about what we could actually do to get the community more involved.

So what we found is actually working with groups and even within the reservation there are special interest groups. We all have little things that...or subjects that we're interested in and what we found is to look for those core champions in your communities. And there's people who are really just very traditional and that's what they want to discuss and that's what they want to do in terms of who they are so we asked them, "˜Okay, how do you think that we can infuse tradition into the things that we're doing?' We also started working with youth. The thing about youth is if you work with youth and you train them and you honor them and you show their parents what they're doing, then the parents come, too. So we started figuring out how to get parents engaged as well. And then we did different things with leadership, with elders. One of the things that we did learn is that we really need to figure out how to work with each group and how to...and so through the little groups we got the whole.

The big thing here is you can't expect people to just come to you. As I showed the meetings with the flyers, it just didn't work. We had to find different ways to actually go out into community and to seek input. So we went to the elders. And I mentioned earlier that our casino had closed, but it's actually operating now as a sweepstakes center. So it's kind of we have... they look like terminals, but they're actually all hooked up into one network. So there are signs all over the place that say you're donating to the tribe and you're donating to our health, to our education. So we just got creative on ways to do things. It's not quite as revenue generating as it was before, but there's still funding coming in. One of the times I went to the elders and I wanted to do a survey with them and so they said, "˜Oh, no, we don't have time for your survey.' And I'm like, "˜But I have 'Free Play'.' And they, "˜Oh, Free Play, okay. Sit down.' So we started talking to them and then they found out some of the things that we're doing and they were engaged in that, actually came to where they actually wanted to participate in some of the events that we were having. And so they started making the food and sometimes we could pay them and sometimes we couldn't, but they were okay with that and they started assisting us in our events.

So then we also, one of the things that we did is in order to engage the community...there is no greater engagement than actually serving the community, so we started an AmeriCorp program and the AmeriCorp program, they work with the elders, they work in the cultural center, they work in emergency management, in environmental. So they're kind of our ambassadors for community engagement in different areas. The other thing is we do a lot of data collection and we do a lot of surveys, but when we do it we work with focus groups or we work with all the other little core groups and we educate them about why we're trying to collect the information. So we educate them first and then they are kind of our core champions or leaders so they go out into their groups and they tell either the other elders or youth or whoever it is that we're working with why it is important. So we educate them on how to educate the community on getting that information and we've been very successful in gathering information for our tribe in order to determine what it is that we're going to focus on, whether it's health or whether it's economic development. I'll show you a little bit more in a minute about the successes with data collection and also the projects that we're working on.

I know that one of the first times that Joe Kalt went to Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, I had been working in writing grants not just for the tribe, but also for the City of El Paso and I wanted a model, I wanted a matrix and I was like, "˜Well, do you have a matrix?' and it's like, "˜No.' So I realized, I think I really like to visualize what it is that we're trying to accomplish, but I kind of think very methodical. So I have to figure out what exactly it is that we're going to tackle, but I also realize that those kind of models and theories, they're for other communities, they're not really for us. We can't take somebody's methodology and use it at our tribe. So I started to look back and thinking like what is it exactly that we're doing, and this is what I came up with.

Well, one of the things is we have a purpose. No matter what it is that we're trying to tackle, whether it's constitutional reform or building entrepreneurs, there's a purpose there. So you find that purpose and there's also...but with that purpose, there's always passion and I'm so passionate about what I do. That's all I do. I have to have people drag me away from it sometimes, but there's other people in your communities with that passion. So look for the passionate people and then harvest the information. You really do have to harvest information and gather that input from your community, because that's who you're working for and that's who really is driving you to do what it is that you do.

The other thing is...so you visualize and then you assess and you plan. And I know it's kind of theory-like, but when it comes to your community, what is it that you're visualizing? Like for us, one of the things that we're working on is a land use plan and land acquisition. So when we're visualizing, I'm not doing this theory of visualizing, we're actually looking at the community and thinking about the things that we lost and the things that we need for ceremony and where...the places that it's going to come from, from the land and how are we going to be able to redevelop our lands and preserve our lands as they once were and then also rebuild our community as a village because we're used to living as a village and that was taken away from us. So when we're visualizing, that's...we're visualizing how we want to live. It's about how the entire...what the entire community sees. So then of course we can work, work, work, work, but at the end of the day we really do have to have something to show for it. So you do have to measure those impacts and the outcomes of what it is that you're doing because...and then you take it back to the community and show your successes and so you report the results.

And then here's basically the same thing with a little bigger snapshot, but in the end it really is about community, whether you're trying to figure out what the community wants, you start at the community; whether you're trying to figure out the data, you're getting it from community, you're trying to draw a picture of what your community really is, and then in the end you report those results back to the community and then you also try to determine what is driving the community and those are things such as the ceremonies and traditions and culture and just living together as a Tigua society for us. So we look at the core values and we reaffirm them by asking different people in the community and also about what is the best way to apply the things in a manner that...that will work in a manner that is fair to the entire tribe and to every sector of the tribal population.

So this is a little bit of our timeline and as far as our economy is concerned...so really what was happening to us, we had basically lost all our lands. We were living in a small part of El Paso in a little, basically it was a neighborhood. It really wasn't a reservation and we had, there were small adobe houses, most of them were one room. It was during the termination policy, so we really didn't have any hope of having a better life. We were just happy to be able to still be there and still be living as a community and still, even though we weren't federally recognized, we still held tribal elections, we still had our ceremonies every year, we still had people in charge of dong the things that...the doings that needed to be done for us to continue to survive as a Pueblo the best that we could. So of course the civil rights movement took place later and that's when people started to gain more confidence and to start asserting their rights.

So what happened in the 1960s is we were basically losing our few homes that we had left to tax foreclosure because it was the City of El Paso now and throughout there's a couple pictures that you'll see the entire, what our Pueblo used to look like, and because we weren't on federal trust land. And one of the important reasons that we start that film where we're crossing the highway and the tribal police are directing traffic for us is because that one spot is where our Pueblo used to be and we had stacked adobe homes. And the City of El Paso -- because we weren't federally recognized or had trust status -- they decided to have condemnation proceedings against our Pueblo because they needed that one spot that's a highway and they needed it to extend the highway. So they had condemnation proceedings and they condemned the Pueblo basically. So that is the center of our tribe and that's why we decided to start the film there.

So land acquisition and development and regaining and putting land into trust is very important for us so basically there was a lawyer by the name of Tom Diamond that helped us to get federally restored or federally recognized in 1969, but we were basically terminated on the same day because the State of Texas had a Texas Indian Commission, so they turned over the trust responsibility to the Texas Indian Commission. Well, there were some good things that happened out of that. We did get some new housing out of it and there was a few more jobs and some economic development took place. So in the "˜60s, basically our unemployment rate was 75 percent. By the "˜70s it went to about 50 percent and we went from a fifth-grade education to about a 10th-grade education. So then in '87 we were federally restored and the casino was thriving and our unemployment rate basically went down to three percent. We went from 68 acres of land that were transferred over during the time of restoration to 75,000 acres of land that we invested in with our casino revenues and then we also built a lot more housing. I think you saw in the film where the housing was. And then we...but then the casino closed because we were sued. So basically, we were really at odds, we didn't know what we were going to do.

So we started off by doing projections on our funding and what we had in reserves and we determined was that if we continued to operate in the same manner we would run out of money in seven years. So we had to decide what it is that we were going to do, so that's when we started this nation-building process and we started investing money in a development corporation, which is now doing federal contracting and we're located in probably at least five places throughout the country: Washington D.C., Virginia, California, Colorado Springs. And that also took forming a board and separation of business and politics and having a committee that turned into...later to the board. And so this education process, we're educating different people in the community.

One of the things we did is we educated the board on how to operate as a board, which started as an economic development committee and then they ended up the board. So now this... we reassigned the economic development committee and now they're being trained as how to operate as a nonprofit board so then we're going to replace them and they're going to become probably another board. So we just keep getting small groups and keep educating so that they can build the capacity to do other things. But in order to do this we really, really needed to know what our state was as far as a community is concerned. So we were able to really determine what our... who we were, where our people were located at, what the rates of unemployment were and poverty levels, household levels, individual household levels.

The other thing that happened to us in our restoration act is that the language in there said that the tribe shall consist of membership that is on the base roll and people descending from that base roll up to one-eighth blood quantum. They said that in 1987. So we quickly realized that in a few years we'd no longer exist as a tribe because we would lose that blood quantum. So the tribe decided that they were going...we went to Congress and it took us 10 years of introducing different bills, but we ended up just recently having the blood quantum bill passed. So in order to do this, we really needed to figure out who we were as a people because we needed to take that information to Congress. So this is what our community looks like now and we also studied the people that live outside the service area, our tribal members that live outside the service area as well, and what we're finding is really they left before economic opportunity because they're a little bit better off in terms of education and household income.

I talked a little bit about cooperative education and so what we're also doing in order to engage our citizens and get this information -- because we collect that information every single year from tribal members and we've been successful as far as getting the information -- but we also make sure that we give it back to them and that when we compile any sort of information that we give them the reports back, like whether it's health and if there's a diabetes report or whatever it is. But the other thing is we all come to these conferences because we work as professionals, but your average tribal citizen doesn't have that opportunity to learn the things like we're learning today, what's happening in the federal courts and what's happening as far as policy is concerned and even what happened with the Indian Child Welfare Act, and so we take that education to them. We make sure that there's money in the budget to educate our tribal members and we do everything from Indian law to nation building to...we have other people even come and do community engagement to let them know how important it is. We have financial literacy training, but we also do like board training. And so if there's a subject that we think is important for us to learn and what's on the agenda here and at other conferences, we make sure that we find a way to take it back to the community and to be able to train them so that they know. And even when we work with our departments who of course...there has to be some professional training there, a lot of times some of our tribal members don't have the capacity to be in those higher positions of directors, so we tell our directors, "˜We're going to put this training out for you, but you need to pick a tribal member and it doesn't matter if it's a secretary or a maintenance person or whatever it is, you need to bring them to this training also and you need to figure out how you're going to get that information back to your department as well.'

As far as community engagement and what it's done for us as far as impacts are concerned, these are some of the projects that we've worked on that have really made an impact in our community. One of the things is we did this huge comprehensive strategy and that's where we determined that we were going to do things like the Tigua, Inc. Development Corporation, we were going to do workforce development, land use plan, land acquisition plan. All those things were outlined in this strategy and there was focus groups and surveys that were on our website. And if you actually look at our website all the reports are on there as far as the information that the community provided to us and what we compiled and gave back to the community. So this comprehensive strategy, a lot of strategies and plans just end up on the bookshelf, but as you can see it didn't. We like to say that you need to plan your work and you need to work your plan.

The other thing is Tigua, Inc., the tribe provided the seed money for that and now they have really just taken off over the last couple years and getting significant contracts and they're doing a lot of building maintenance all over the country. They just recently got awarded the Wyler Building in California, which is the second largest government facility in the country to do maintenance. This is the Tigua Business Center that we just recently moved into about a year and a half ago and it also incubates Tigua, Inc., but it also serves as headquarters for our department, Economic Development, and we're also just now building another extension to it, which is going to be to incubate tribal member businesses, and we also have, because we really truly believe in educating the tribe and we're not quite there yet as far as having a college. We're building the Tigua Technology Center there, which is also going to help to provide the software that some of our tribal members need to get their business done like the costing and pricing for construction companies and for auto mechanics and CAD and those things that are really expensive that they can't afford as far as software is concerned.

And then also our tax code, this was one of the things that also came out of the comprehensive economic development strategy. For some reason, the tribe had decided that it was going to adopt the State of Texas tax code, which made no sense whatsoever. It was 200 pages long and we couldn't enforce it. And so what we did is we took a look at what would best serve our needs and we went from 200 pages to 20 pages and in less than a year we went from $58,000 a year to $1.2 million in tax collections. The allocation also is divided up for different programming. But I'm able to support our department because we get 30 percent of tax allocation and that's how I am able to turn that into some of the programming that we're doing.

Here's the feedback and it's really a snapshot of the feedback that we got back from the community and the things that they were concerned with in land use. So they were, the community of course was concerned with things like cultural preservation and being able to maintain our traditional practices, having land for residential use, commercial needs and agriculture, as well as transportation. So we determined what the best use of lands would be and through community engagement we also took an inventory of our lands and created a database that had all the criteria of our lands, as well as GIS mapping, whatever, if there were environmental assessments. And so we have a really defined database of all our lands and then we created a master plan and an acquisition plan. The acquisition plan isn't quite finished yet, but this timeline that we looked at started with the need to preserve our lands and we have these milestones where we want to have our master plan and do energy development and make sure that everybody has housing and those things. But then at the end it ends with cultural preservation, too, because it demonstrates 100 years from now that we're still here and our land is preserved.

And then also on one side we have all the modern and things we need to survive today, but we also have all the things that are important to us historically and culturally. When we started writing a master plan through community engagement, we had these and we had these maps of the land...of our land in big sheets and we had the community write what certain places of what they wanted the land to look like.

And also they put places like by the river, like for example, that is still important to us today but that...we have ceremonies at the river that we can't just go to the river anymore. We border Mexico, so everybody knows about the big fence at the river. So we actually have to go ask the Border Patrol to let us go to the river to do our ceremonies. So part of our master planning is to take over the acequias or the irrigation system or the canal system that we actually created 300 years ago. So we created this cultural life cycle that we would incorporate into our land use and master plan and it talks about where we are at birth and how we're being nurtured and the lessons we're learning and how we learn about our culture and then how as elders our roles change and that then we become teachers and we pass on this tradition and culture. So in our land use plan we...that bar that intersects across there talks about the different places that we're going to create to make sure those things happen. So we have things like a nation-building hub and also an elder center and places for teens to meet as well.

So these are...see those are pictures of maps that we used where the community actually drew what they wanted the community to look like, and these are statements that the community provided back. And then we also had different criteria as far as what the community wanted to see and graphed and charted what the community best wanted for our lands. So these are also places that we don't own yet, but they're what we used to own. And so in our land acquisition process, we want to buy these locations back and this is what we could do with them as far as economic development is concerned. And it seems like way out there, but in reality it really isn't. When you think about we just had 68 acres in 1987 and we have 75,000 acres now, it's attainable. And then so this is what our acquisition process is going to look like and how we mapped it. Everything that is in yellow is what we own and what's in the darker colors is our long-term acquisition. We know that we can't buy everything, but we do...those are the gaps that we want to fill in. I talked a little bit about our enrollment ordinance. Well, we're working on an enrollment ordinance, a new citizen engagement [process] because of the blood quantum bill that just passed last year. So I had thought that that was going to go to somebody else, but I just was told last week that that citizen engagement process would actually come to our department so that's something that we're working on now. This was just a little conversation that the team had last week and these are questions that we're really thinking about what we need to ask the community. It'll be much more comprehensive, but just basic things like what does citizenship mean to you and how did you learn how to be a good citizen from your parents and your community, and so that's the way we usually start with just the basic questions and then we move into real comprehensive model.

These are just a couple, I guess, pointers to just make sure that you try to identify what your tribe needs and also...and then as far as when you're working within your community just know that everything that you're doing is either going to impact your tribe either positively or negatively. And what the work [is] that you're doing, how is that going to actually help your tribe or not help your tribe because sometimes we're afraid to move forward and to change, but in order to change you really need to know what it is that your community wants and to respect what their thoughts are and what they want for the future. Thank you."

Paulette Jordan: Engaging the Nation's Citizens and Effecting Change: The Coeur d'Alene Story

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Paulette Jordan, citizen and council member of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe in Idaho, discusses the importance of Native nation leaders being grounded in their culture and consulting the keepers of the culture (their elders) so that they approach the leadership challenges they face with the proper mindset and tools. She also shares a story about she helped to mobilize tribal citizens and non-Indians in her community to support a tax levy in order to preserve adequate funding for local public education.

Resource Type
Citation

Jordan, Paulette. "Engaging the Nation's Citizens and Effecting Change: The Coeur d'Alene Story." Emerging Leaders seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. November 7, 2013. Presentation.

Herminia Frias:

"Our next presenter is Paulette Jordan and she is a tribal council member from Coeur d'Alene Tribe and she is going to be presenting her experience in citizen engagement and effecting change."

Paulette Jordan:

"Well, good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for having me. I really appreciate this opportunity. It feels like a homecoming because I was here back in 2009, right Renee [Goldtooth]? And so it feels like home, and I really do appreciate the hospitality and the good nature that I've always been given. I started out here for the Emerging Tribal Leaders Seminar just when I was just elected on to the tribal council. And so it's always a learning process, but you just have to run and go. There is no college or any type of education that you can go through really to really prepare you for tribal leadership. It's one of a kind, it's all on its own. You can go and get any specific degree and your MBA, your doctorate, whatever, your law degree, but none of that really prepares you for the challenges of what you're about to face when it comes to the people with domestic violence issues or meth issues -- as we heard here -- and housing issues. There's always a concern and how you manage that with your own people really is based on how you base your culture within your own heart and your empathy to understand your people and not judge them.

And so that's always been my big learning curve...is thankfully being raised by the elders, they've always said, "˜As long as you hold your heart out in your hand, that is how you approach your people,' and so that's always been my strategy is just to listen first and foremost and so that's why I come here to you all and offer myself just more so as a student. So whenever someone tries to put me up on any pulpit or anything like that I just say, "˜I'm just a humble person. I was just someone who was just raised on the reservation who just wants to come back and help make my community a better place.' And so whatever title or whatever someone wants to put on you, you just have to remind yourself where you come from and that's one thing my [Coeur d'Alene language] always said. So all the challenges that I've faced, even the ones that I'm going to be facing tomorrow and the next day and the next day after that, I have to remember my grandmothers and they always said to never forget where you came from.

And I mention that because I've pretty much learned over the years where the necessary places for us as tribal peoples. Now how many in here are tribal leaders, sit on your tribal councils, your tribal government? We've got some good representation here. As tribal leaders, what I've learned is we face a lot of conflicts, a lot of challenges, and in those approaches we have to build relationships. It's your job and your duty and your responsibility not only to build a relationship with your people but those surrounding communities, whether you live within a certain county, within a certain state and just being in the U.S. You have to go and meet with the President, with the Congress, with your city council, with your county commissioners, etc. and you have to develop those positive relationships for your people. So you have to be able to communicate to express the nature and the value of your citizens. And so for me, coming in as a young tribal leader learning that we had to promote our own people, promote our own issues, they're all unique, but to me as a Coeur d'Alene woman coming in, the vested interest in me was that we had to tell our story so that our concerns would be addressed at home and that meant building these relationships with the non-tribal community. And so that's what I've been doing and that's been my goal. That's also the reason why I ran for a state representative position in the State of Idaho as a Democrat in a very Republican state. But the point of doing that was in a very racist state, we live 30 miles south of a KKK [Ku Klux Klan] compound. So Idaho is a very not only Republican state, but very white supremacist-natured state, so we have to deal with these issues. But it's...everyone, every state has their issues so no one's better, no one's perfect, no one's more challenged than the other. But that's something I raise today because that also helps to build up [to] what I'm about to get to.

And so I talk about how the white supremacy group comes in and why it is that I decided to step up to some of these challenges, because each and every day I've learned -- whether I worked in D.C. or came back home and worked or even sitting on the tribal council -- that it always comes down to not just telling your story, but being those rooms, the meetings, doing the work, getting there to tell the people, the non-tribal people that this is what you're about, that you're not here to be an enemy, but more so a friend and how you can work together, how you can build those partnerships. Not just for you and that other person in the room that you're sitting across the table from, but for your communities at large and how that's going to benefit both the tribal and the non-tribal aspects.

So that was one of the first challenges that I've faced being on the tribal council and I just wanted to reflect that, because to me for us to get better as communities we have to look at who our friends are and that has to be everybody. We can't just think, "˜Oh, we're sovereign nations, we're going to move forward on our own.' That's not going to happen and that's really more of a pie-in-the-sky and wishful thinking but in all reality, yes, that's great, we're sovereign nations and let's act as such. Let's practice our traditional ways, let's continue to get out there and dig our roots and gather our berries and hunt our game and our wildlife, but yet still we have to know that we are one aspect in the larger picture and we are a small function in the greater world. But as my uncle always says, "˜We could still be a leader in this world based on how we walk our talk even as small nations.' Something I wanted to share, he's one of my greatest mentors, I probably should [have] mentioned this before, but I wanted to share that, how he has always stated to me that "˜the dollar is not the Almighty.' And again I'll say that, "˜The dollar is not the Almighty.' '...And that we must always remember to be humble before the Almighty God, to take care of our children, our elders, our people, our employees and our communities, to walk our talk and lead by example and in doing so,' he said, "˜we can improve our societies and show the world who we truly are as a nation. Our humanity is all that matters at the end of the day and how we look upon one another as relatives.' And he stated, "˜Once we can understand why and what it is we hold sacred, we can truly move mountains.' And so that is a quote that I wanted to share with you from my own uncle, who really helped advise me to the business woman, the leader that I am today.

Still, I just consider myself again a student, so I'm constantly learning from my elders. But it's always stated that you have to talk to your children. Arlene [Templer], she mentioned how you have to mentor each other, you have to mentor your children into these stages. Consult with your elders, your statesmen, your tribal leaders to build this historical knowledge to help prevent you from making the same mistakes that they made and then learn from their experiences because they all have great ideas, but people tend to write them off and want to move them into elders' homes when that should never be the case, that yes, they're in their golden years, but it's golden years for a reason. They're these treasures within our society that are the greatest resource that we have and I've seen within every tribal community that people tend to think more so towards and lean more so towards the western society and less to a cultural education. And so the problem with that to me is when we go all the way back to the United Nations, we talk about the Indigenous rights and the whole purpose of us fighting for that is basically to keep ourselves as a unique society within the world, to have this general understanding that yes we exist and we have these rights as Indigenous peoples, but to have those rights you have to practice those rights. And so that's the whole point is if you're going to practice it, then really walk your talk and go out and do those things of your people, your traditions and then teach your children.

And so with that being said, we have to be the change that we want to see. So I have a story to share and I know I was asked to come in and share some of my stories and I said, "˜Well, there is one recent one that really kind of strikes me that I think would be good for people to know,' because I've kind of been sharing this up in the northwest quite a bit. People ask me, "˜Well, geez, Idaho...' for example, is 47th in the nation when it comes to education, we're 49th in overall ranking. We're just poor as it can be, but again it's a Republican state. We have so many challenges to deal with, but one is education, but to our tribe, to the Coeur d'Alene tribe, we value education as the utmost priority. So to me, it became a problem when the school district within our reservation cut funding and then they were going to close that school when that school teaches around 70 to 80 percent of our students who are tribal students. So just to give an example of how we can engage our citizens and how we can unite with one another for the common good is what I'm getting to here.

It started with a levy, and I'll try to do my best to keep the story short because it's a long one, but it started with a levy. And basically the state said, "˜We're going to cut funding to the school and most of the schools throughout the state,' but our school was the only one who failed the increased funding basically to keep the school open. So it was going to lose its accreditation, lose its sporting programs, lose kindergarten, preschool programs, cut teachers and even good, great teachers, ones who were dealing with math or language arts, music, primary functions I would think for young development. And when that was going on, the tribe wanted to play a role, but the tribe played a role in more of a political sense. For me, I was just coming off of my own state campaign and I felt really worn out because to me it was a challenge about...it's more about educating people to again, telling our story, what tribes really are, how we impact our local economy, socially and economically. And again, we're the number-one employer in the region, so we do quite well, but we don't brag or boast about it -- that's just not our way -- but we like to have other people tell that story. So again, the whole past six months of my life was spent trying to tell our story and educate people about the good that we do and how we want to work together to provide better resources to grow the economy, to create more jobs, to better the educational system, and to help those within even our smaller rural communities.

So after all this was going down and then the levy comes up, we thought, "˜Okay, everyone will vote for the levy. Why not, it's supporting our children, supporting education?' But then that failed and it failed miserably and the tribe became frustrated, the local non-tribal community was extremely frustrated, and sadly people were just ready to give up: the teachers, the students, everybody. So people were thinking, "˜Okay, where do we go next? Where do we go from here?' In a small community where that's checkerboarded [land] tribal and non-tribal, you get a lot of people thinking about their lives. What are they going to do next, where do we go, do we move, do we find a better school system? And this is a reservation and us Indian people, we don't just up and move to where we find a better life. This is our land; we have a sacred relationship with our land. So we don't just call it quits and move on and pack our trailer and go. We have to find a way to make it work. So a lot of the non-tribal people, they knew my plight and what I was trying to do and so they had approached me, the superintendent, the principal, and a lot of the teachers and I was kind of shocked by that, but they came to me and asked me...again, I'm just a tribal citizen in the community and they said, "˜Help us. We need your help. You know how to get out to the people and we think you can unite because we're going to need tribal and non-tribal votes to get this levy passed.' So you can imagine I was burned out and I really don't like politics. I really don't. I didn't like those forums and debates or really getting into the issues, but I do love helping the people and if I know that it's going to better the people overall, that makes me feel good about things.

So when I said to that superintendent of the district, I said, "˜Well, give me a week. I'm going to be here and there, but I need some time to think about it because I'm also a mother, too, and I know this is going to be another commitment and I already have a full plate.' So it came down to basically me seeing the school board panic. They panicked and then they had to cut everything and I felt bad for that school board and a few of them were tribal and I thought, "˜This is what they have to deal with. They have to deal with the state legislature who cut educational funding and it's trickling down to the people.' And so the rural county, the rural society, they're having to put the economy on their shoulders. So these are people just like you and I who have bills and families to feed and they...everyone has issues, they have a real...reality, basically to deal with. And so whatever that was, I thought, even my neighbors. I looked at their struggles and I thought, "˜It's just tragedy overall if we do nothing about it.' So this is what it comes down to, how do we engage our citizens?

So what I did was talked with all of our local folks. We had our education director, talked with our chairman. Basically I had to make this a grassroots effort and turn it into a community-wide, strong movement because they all had to come together. I said, "˜Even our students are willing to help and our teachers are willing to help, our elders, our tribal leaders, anyone and everyone needs to get out and vote.' But they're not only just responsible to vote. They have to get up and show up to these meetings and keep everyone educated because that was the reason why the levy lost in the first place. It always comes down to how you educate, how you tell your story and the people said, "˜Well, I don't really want to go door knocking. I don't really want to have public meetings. Why should we do this?' And I said, "˜Well, let's talk about John Deer, for example, who is a local business owner. He voted 'no' because he thinks that you want to basically bear this burden on his back as a local property owner. You're going to increase his taxes. Whether that's a minimal tax or a large tax, it's a tax and a local business owner does not want to be taxed any further than they already are.' But how do you tell that story? I says, "˜Well, speak from your heart. I'm teaching these young students here to tell their story and how it applies to their neighbors in that community.' I said, "˜And I learned going door...' It's really humbling to go door knocking, by the way, if anyone's done that or not. But I learned that if you want to win these elections and tell your story or have a vote in the broader forums, you have to get out there and tell people who you are and why you're running or what you're there for and how you can help them. And so I said to these students, "˜You're not here for yourself, you're here for your neighbor and you're here for their future because you are their vested interest. They're investing in you and you are the future.' I said, "˜When I went to school, my elders...' as much as I wanted to go back home to the reservation, I stayed in private school, but I said, "˜Only because I knew that my elders would always be with me,' and I knew that when they said, "˜Your education belongs to us. Your dedication, everything that you do belongs to the tribe,' I wholly believed in that. "˜So what you're doing today, this belongs to your community and you're bringing that back to invest a greater interest.'

And so that's what the youth said. They understood that. They said, "˜Yeah, we know, we get that.' And then they told their stories from their heart and that's what it came down to and that's, I think, how we won because this is a happy ending because people were ready to give up and call it good and throw in the towel and move on. And then of course the tribe is stuck footing the bill because people thought, "˜Well, the tribe obviously should be expected to pay this bill. We should be able to hold up that fourth leg to keep it standing.' But it's not the tribe's responsibility. We don't have a leadership arm in the school district. It's the state and it's a state-funded school, but the state was not doing its job and it was withholding money from local communities. So to me that's a travesty, but also it's against the law because they were not upholding an Idaho State Supreme Court decision and it's a law that every child in the State of Idaho is guaranteed a free and good public education. So they weren't upholding the needs of the people and again, it's not the tribe's responsibility, but the tribe was willing to do whatever was necessary. But I said, "˜Wait a minute. This is not the tribe's responsibility, but we're all about community here. We want to build up our community just as the next person.' And so a grassroots effort -- you have to really get out there and tell your story if you want to make change. And so being the change you want to see is about walking your talk, sharing your message, being that voice. Each and every one of us has a vision and we are blessed to have those visions because not everybody is granted that ability.

You're here again for a reason, so you just didn't stumble through that door and decide, "˜I'm going to listen in on Paulette and Arlene here.' You have a good reason to be here. So I'm hoping this story is helpful because to me that really opened my eyes, because when I was in that room I was directing the command center at the last day on voting day and I didn't have the tribal council or the chairman, I was...I said, "˜You know what, this is best left aside from all politics. This is about the children.' So I put the children at the helm and I said, "˜This is their doing. They're the ones who got out and educated the community. They went door to door,' as shy as they are, some of them are the most shy people, but I think after that experience it's going to turn them into strong nationwide leaders because they are young warriors. And I said, "˜You have just been inducted into basically what is kind of like our Indian Way Leadership Academy. You have stood up and counted coup against this levy.'

And so that day was neat because in our tribal headquarters we had all of our youth, we had a lot of our tribal citizens, we had non-tribal people and the most amazing point of the day to me was when we had some non-tribal ladies joking with our tribal people and they were joking like we were all relatives and I've never seen that before. I've never seen tribal and non-tribal and again, we still have a lot of race issues, we still have that line there that we need to get rid of, but I think that line is not as bold as it used to be after that moment. And so for those race relationships we really helped one another, and I think that people will remember that day and they'll see that we came together for each other's children. And so people are starting to see that tribes are not enemies but we're friends and we want to be good relatives and good neighbors to one another and so we showed that by example. And so again, we walked our talk that day.

That was the story I was asked to share and I wanted to come down and express that much to you and I do hope you take something from that. But again, it is...engaging your citizenry is about being humble and having that vision and really I think having diligence and just being honest with your people about what the issues are and what the concerns are. Really tell them, if there's a problem, you have to tell your elders and your people and not be afraid of that backlash because, yeah, they're going to criticize you and I know it's hard to take, but just realize it's constructive criticism that will help you in the long run. I know I would, as the youngest person of the council, I used to develop and hold elders' meetings and I was the elders' liaison and the elders were considered the tough ones of all the bunch in our community. And so they said, "˜Oh, put Paulette over there, she can talk to the elders.' And they thought they were setting me up good "˜cause I was the young one and I got vetted for that job. And I said, "˜Well, I see that as an honor and a privilege. Thank you.' And all the elders of the council, they're all in their 60s, 70s, and so here I was at 28 and so I really seen that as an honor, but my first step was to engage them wholly and we had an elders' listening session and yes, that first session was great. All they wanted to know is that they were being listened to and that you were going to do what they said and not just throw it into the wind. So I followed up after those listening sessions and we had them yearly and so they became very productive. And I thought, "˜I wish we did this more often.' But I would have them once yearly and so trying to keep that tradition going. But that's all it's about is talking to your people and not being afraid to be disciplined and you know how that finger may be waved in your face or challenged in some way or form. So thank you. I appreciate this time again and I appreciate all of you having me and listening to me, especially after that good lunch we had. [Coeur d'Alene language]."

Paulette Jordan and Arlene Templer: Engaging the Nation's Citizens and Effecting Change (Q&A)

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Paulette Jordan and Arlene Templer field questions from the audience, offering more details about how they mobilized their fellow tribal citizens to buy into the community development initiatives they were advancing. 

Resource Type
Citation

Jordan, Paulette. "Engaging the Nation's Citizens and Effecting Change (Q&A)." Emerging Leaders seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. November 7, 2013. Q&A session.

Templer, Arlene. "Engaging the Nation's Citizens and Effecting Change (Q&A)." Emerging Leaders seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. November 7, 2013. Q&A session.

Herminia Frias:

"Well, thank you, Paulette and Arlene. We're going to open it up for questions, but I just wanted to make a comment from both of these stories is that these are really good stories about engaging the community and the citizenship about their responsibilities and the whole effective change and the process that it takes. None of this stuff happened overnight and what they did require that vision, that vision and that communication and going back and just keep on moving one at a time. And a lot of times when we work with tribal leaders it just seems like everything is so urgent and everything is so crisis-driven that sometimes it helps to take a step back and see how other tribes have done things and that it didn't happen overnight and as long as you continue to focus on that vision, you'll get there, just like they did. You'll get there and when you look back, you'll look at the process and think, "˜Wow, we did a lot.' And again, nations are not always good at giving themselves credit for the wonderful work that you do and that's one of the neat things that we get to do in our role is to be able to identify and look at that and meet people like Paulette and Arlene and say, "˜You've got to share your story because more people need to know about the process that you went through so that it inspires them to say we can do it, too.' So questions?"

Ian Record:

"Minnie, if you wouldn't mind, I'm going to actually ask the first question of Arlene. I've actually been very fortunate in sitting down with her and chewing the fat with her about the work that her department has done. And actually we recorded an interview with her that at some point it's going to be on the [Indigenous Governance] Database website...which I'll share a little bit more with you about later. Arlene, I was wondering if you could speak a little bit more about the messages that you were conveying to your citizens as you transformed the way that you delivered social services to them and the incentives that -- and disincentives -- the new sets of kind of incentives and disincentives that you, that were laid in that new approach. And also how important it was for you to know that, 'I've got the tribal leadership at my back, they fully support this new approach we're taking where we're really about self-sufficiency and everything we do is geared towards enhancing the self-sufficiency of our people.'"

Arlene Templer:

"It was hard at first. Like I said, we had that entitlement mentality; people wanted to sit back and just draw the government jack or just draw GA [General Assistance] or TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] [money]. And what we got them to see is that when we set up these work placements, when they went out there and actually did that, they seen how it changed family stability. They had checks coming in, they felt better about themselves, the domestic violence dropped, the alcoholism took a backseat, and people began to change. The entire system -- all the employees, all of the people -- all of a sudden you were on the outside. You weren't looking at the jobs or being part of the movement that was happening and the work experience, and it wouldn't have happened if it didn't come from the tribal council, because the council had to say, "˜Enough of the turf, all your programs are going together and you have one goal.' And they gave us just that much of a light and then we took it from there and developed how we would do that. A lot of people said, "˜Well, you're too hard on the people. You're doing this pushing of driver's licenses and drug tests and making their kids go to school.' When they got to a place that they had that first job or they had that driver's license, just the change and the light went on. I don't have to drag them along anymore, they're dragging the others. So it changed, they changed themselves for that. You just open the door, you just give them the hand and it works."

Herminia Frias:

"We have Renee and Ian back there with the microphones. Anyone else? I'll ask a question while you're thinking about it and this is to Paulette. Paulette, what process did you go through to mobilize and create that momentum to get those people behind you and start moving on this and get people to care?"

Paulette Jordan:

"I think easier said than done, but like you said before, it takes credibility. Over the years, especially after the last election it just seems like it...you can't just be someone out of the blue and decide to do this. I think I've always been the outspoken one and said...and I really don't waste myself about issues. I don't just get out there and I guess jump behind every single project that there is. If there's something like a great cause that I know would benefit everybody, you'll see me part of it and wanting to help benefit or lead in some way. So at this point with this particular function, for me to get people rolling with that, I guess I was really heated in the beginning. I was really upset and I don't show emotion. I'm not an emotional person, but to me, being upset is speaking with direct conviction and telling people, "˜You need to be involved.' We had very few tribal people in the beginning who wanted to be involved. There was a lot of non-tribal, mostly teachers, and then the superintendent and so I said, "˜Hey, wait a minute. This is not just your issue, this is all of our issue.' So I started trying to recruit Native people who I felt would work with me and then follow through and show up to these meetings or who were also good at communicating and then getting out there to push this message. So it's...you know, you really have to know your community. I couldn't do this if I were in just any other...in another random community. I think I'd really have to know the people. You have to know who you can work with, who you can trust, who will listen to you and respect you in some way or form because you have to...to be in a leadership position, people have to be able to trust you so you have to have that credibility is what I'm saying. But that's really what I think helped move folks to be involved. And then the students, the students were easy. They were just...students are always willing to learn and they always want to be part of something fun and great so they were just like, "˜Okay, great, let's do this. What do I need to do?' And so for three months straight they just were always at my doorstop just saying, "˜Okay, what do we need to do next. What do we got to do?' And so it was really fun just to work with them. But it wasn't just about being upset and mad. It was just about saying, "˜We need to make a difference,' and I think that goes with anything we have within our tribes, whether it's a drug issue...like right now we were facing a big drug issue so we were just saying, "˜Okay, let's get our community rallied together,' and sometimes that takes food, sometimes that takes the proper people. You would never want someone who was or is a drug dealer or using drugs to be leading that group discussion. You want someone who's credible and who you can trust and rely upon. So you need those qualities and I'm sure all of you have those here. So just get out and do it. "˜Just do it,' as they say."

Herminia Frias:

"Any other questions? Yes."

Steve Zawoysky:

"So I have a question for Paulette mainly about partnerships. Partnerships are like the preferable form of business or governmental relationships. But if you lived in a...or if you were in an environment where potential partner is not necessarily cooperative or don't have a lot in common, it can be challenging. So I'm curious, two questions, one after you got together and did the school thing, did you have better relations then with your non-Native neighbors who were affected by that decision?"

Paulette Jordan:

"Yeah, I'm one of the rare property owners that would be affected by that levy, but I think again it's always about pushing the envelope. And then being a local property owner myself and other property owners having issues in voting no against the levy, I said to them, "˜Well, someone at some point paid for your public education at one point of time.' I never went to the public school system. I was always tribal and then private school. So I've always paid for my own way.' But I said, "˜You on the other hand, you went through the public school system. The state paid for it.' meaning your neighbors and your community. So once people think about it that way, they go, "˜Oh, well, yeah, okay. I need to pay it forward as we say,' then the heart opened up a little bit. But building relationships, partnerships...people afterwards, after the levy passed, people were more happy and thankful about it passing. Really what we found out was the people who were voting 'no' and who kept winning that levy were people who were moving in or retired folks in the northern county who don't have children and just were worried about losing property value. And so it was always a selfish, I hate to say that word, but it's more of a selfish-based reason why they voted 'no.' So to me overall, though, it builds relationships with everybody, and to me it always comes down to race relations and how we can better understand one another because that's really what prevents us from developing businesses together or developing schools together or how we look at each other. I want people to smile at my children everyday and not look at them, or look down upon him because he's Indian and I want them to trust him at some point because maybe he'll run for president 30 years from now. We want people to trust us for the right reasons. Not because we can give them money because we have gaming and other enterprises, but because we are good, humble people, because again like my good mentors say, it's all about humanity and how we look at one another. So I think that this really helped us look at each other more as relatives rather than just next door neighbors."

Herminia Frias:

"Any other questions? All right. I'd like to thank both of the presenters. Thank you so much for sharing your stories." 

Angela Wesley: Huu-ay-aht First Nations' Forging of a New Governance System

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Angela Wesley, Chair of Huu-ay-aht Constitution Committee, discusses the painstaking effort the Huu-ay-aht First Nations undertook to develop a new constitution and system of governance, and how they continue to work to turn the promise of self-governance embodied in their new constitution into governance practice.

People
Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Wesley, Angela. "Huu-ay-aht First Nations' Forging of a New Governance System." Leading Native Nations interview series. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 4, 2013. Interview.

Ian Record:

Welcome to Leading Native Nations. I’m your host Ian Record. On today’s program we are honored to have with us Angela Wesley. Angela is a proud member of the Huu-ay-aht First Nation and has worked since 1980 with First Nations communities throughout British Columbia. Since 1992, she has been providing advisory and facilitation services in the areas of strategic planning, community development, communications and community engagement as well as governance capacity building. In recent years, her focus has been on providing assistance to her own nation as well as the other four First Nations that are signatory to the Maa-nulth Treaty. As Chair of the Huu-ay-aht Constitution Committee and member of the Huu-ay-aht Treaty Governance and Lands Resources Committees, she was instrumental in the development and community ratification of the treaty, the Huu-ay-aht First Nations Constitution and a suite of foundational laws that set the stage for her nation’s return to self governance as of April 1st, 2011. Angela, welcome and good to have you with us today.

Angela Wesley:

Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Ian Record:

So I went through your rather voluminous bio and shared some of the highlights, but why don’t you start off by telling us a little bit more about yourself. What did I leave out?

Angela Wesley:

I think you pretty much covered it. Some of the things that I’ve done more recently, or that I’m involved in more recently, involve being involved on some boards. And one of the things that I’m really liking doing right now is venturing into the academic world a little bit and I’m chair of the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology as well, which is a public post-secondary institute in British Columbia that was founded by First Nations in the interior of BC [British Columbia]. So I’m really starting to see my abilities to cross over and start sharing information on governance through that field as well, so really an exciting new eye opener for me and a new venture for me.

Ian Record:

So we’re here to talk about governance reform, constitutional reform and specifically the work that your nation has been involved in in arriving to the point it’s at today. And I’m curious -- let’s start at the beginning -- what prompted your nation to consider going down the reform road to begin with?

Angela Wesley:

Well, I think it’s a bit different in Canada than it is in the [United] States, where we didn’t have constitutions as I understand tribal governments in the States do. Really we were embarking on nation rebuilding. The constitution was one piece of what we were doing in rebuilding our nation. Our nation was involved in treaty negotiations and has been involved in the BC Treaty Commission process since about the early 1990s. So in thinking about where we wanted to go and really thinking about the vision for our nation, that’s what sort of prompted us to look overall at our nation and what needed to change. As we got deeper into our treaty negotiation process, we realized that we really needed to reform our government and start to rebuild our nation into something that meets the vision of our community. We started off I think back in the 1990s -- and not to say we didn’t always have a vision -- but we started to try to articulate that and bring that to our people and to say, ‘Where is it that we want to go as a nation? Clearly we have some healing that we need to do. We need to change the way we do business.’ So we really spent a lot of time talking to our people about what we wanted for the future, and our vision statement is not dissimilar to almost any First Nations’ vision statement, where we want a healthy community, we want to be able to govern ourselves, we want to make our own decisions, we want to set our own priorities, we want to revive and strengthen our language and our culture and we want opportunities for our people for the future. And that really set the tone for an entire nation rebuilding process I think.

Ian Record:

So it became obvious very early on that, 'If we’re going to fully engage in the treaty process and take advantage of that opportunity, we need to jettison the Indian Act system altogether and develop one that reflects who we are and where we want to head.'

Angela Wesley:

Absolutely. One of the biggest pieces that we were looking at or one of the bigger pieces we were looking at in treaty is the ability to have self government. We struggled originally in our treaty negotiations. We were being told by Canada that they wanted to keep self government outside of the treaty and that was a show stopper for us. Unless self government was included in the treaty and protected by the Constitution of Canada, we weren’t going to have a treaty. So on the basis that that was something that was so important to us we realized that we needed to start building our constitution and talking about what we wanted from our government in the future.

Ian Record:

We’re talking a lot at this seminar that the Native Nations Institute is holding on constitutions and the importance of process, that often for many Native nations, whether in U.S. or Canada or elsewhere, that there’s a broad recognition among people in the community that our current system is not working for us, it’s not going to get us where we need to head, but then a lot of folks have difficulty getting from that point to the point of a new system. Can you talk about the process that your nation devised to develop this new constitution, to engage in this nation rebuilding effort?

Angela Wesley:

Sure. I just want to start by talking about maybe there wasn’t such a broad recognition by our citizens of the situation that we were in and I think that sort of formed the basis of how we approached communication with our citizens as well. We started off, we have a general, what we called a 'band meeting' at the time, and I give a lot of credit to our leadership at the time and our former chief counselor Robert Dennis, Sr. was very instrumental in putting a process in place that the people would feel comfortable with. So it was opened up to the floor and it was the citizens that appointed the committee that was going to look at the constitution and we were told to go and find out what people wanted. So we were given a lot of flexibility and latitude in terms of how we approached things. So we really sat down, we talked as a committee about what it was that we wanted to achieve. We talked about our vision, the need to really get people to understand that that was the basis of moving forward was that we all had this collective vision and it was a vision of the people, it wasn’t a vision of a specific government or a specific council and I think that’s how we started. We did a lot of research, we looked at constitutions of other nations, we talked about other peoples’ experiences, and really what we started with was a questionnaire process. Once we had talked we went and did a little bit of interviewing and speaking with our people about the vision and is that in fact what we wanted. I don’t think anybody could argue with that’s what we wanted, we want to change our world, we want a better place for future generations. And everybody agreed with that.

So having said that, then we started to probe a little bit further, what people wanted from their government. So we started with a very intensive questionnaire process, and I always give credit to a young woman in our tribe, Trudy Warner. She was in her 20s at the time and very enthusiastic. She was working with us and she was assigned to the committee to be our administrative support. She ended up taking a questionnaire around, and I don’t think it was so important what was in the questionnaire as the fact that we went out and talked to people about it. So we devised some questions, some of them were good, some of them not so good, but it opened up the doors for people to start to tell us what it was that they wanted. We asked about terms of council, we asked about what kind of ethical behavior we expected of council, we asked about what kind of terms we thought would be appropriate, we asked about how disputes might be resolved, we asked about how to incorporate our traditional hereditary system into our government, which was huge for us. That was one of the things we really wanted to do. So we engaged in a process of communicating with our numbers over a long period of time. We probably did this over five to seven years on and off; it wasn’t consistent. We were a committee and we were limited by finances and what we could do; it was very expensive. We have probably 80 to 85 percent of our people living away from home, so it involved going out and going to the people or bringing them in, which was very, very expensive as well. But we really, we talked a lot to our people, we talked we brought that back and we talked as a committee about what that meant and what did our people really want. I think that some of what we found was that what I started with is that people didn’t really understand the system that we were under. We’re so used to blaming our band councils for things that go wrong without understanding that the Indian Act is behind all of that and that our councils really are structured under an Indian Act system that so clearly does not work for us, that oppressed us for so many years. And that’s what our people grew up with. So a lot of people didn’t know about our traditional systems, they didn’t know how we used to govern ourselves. All they knew was this oppressive system that we’d lived under that had hurt them in huge ways.

So sort of interesting, maybe to back up a little bit to the questionnaire process, our young citizen went out door to door, bless her heart, by herself and knocked on people’s doors and said, ‘I have this questionnaire and it’s my job to come and talk to our citizens about what it is you’d like to see in government.’ And she heard a lot of venting. So we tried to give her a lot of support and told her to not to react, don’t get defensive, don’t feel like you have to defend the council for things that happened 30 years ago, but listen, allow people to say what’s on their mind and bring that back to us, because that’s all relevant to what we need to change in the future.' Along with that commitment from the committee, she also had a commitment from our chief councilor at the time, who said that, ‘If somebody needs to talk to me, come back and tell me. Don’t take it on for me, but I will go.’ And he made that commitment and he did go and follow up with people, which was huge. So once people had a chance to get some of that stuff out that they had been holding on to a lot of times for 30, 40 years -- people had gone been taken out of our community, they’d gone to residential school, they’d seen what had happened to their parents and grandparents in the community and they’d gone from there and never come home. So these are people who have memories from the past that aren’t good memories in a lot of cases. So we were able to get through a lot of that. When people had the chance to just say that and get it off their chest with nobody trying to defend how they feel, then they kind of went, ‘Oh, okay.’ And they would say to Trudy, ‘Well, what are you here for?’ She’d say, ‘Well, I have this questionnaire.’ And they’d say, ‘Oh, come in. Who are you and what family are you from?’ And there was this warmth all of a sudden that, ‘Come and have a cup of coffee and do what we do traditionally,’ is share information. So she was able to, I think, with her personality, with her youth, with her enthusiasm and with the commitments and backing that she had from the committee and from our leadership was able to break through in a lot of cases and make people feel Huu-ay-aht again. We actually had people say, ‘I didn’t think I was Huu-ay-aht anymore, I didn’t think anybody cared about me. But I was important enough, somebody came to my house and talked to me about these things.’ It was a huge breakthrough for us.

Ian Record:

It’s interesting you bring up this thing about recognition. My experience in the many nations I’ve worked with on constitutional reform -- primarily in the United States -- has been that people in the community fixate on the symptoms of dysfunction, which typically means they focus on the council, ‘Everything that’s wrong with us is because of the council,’ when they don’t it’s very difficult for them to draw that connection back to the roots of the dysfunction, which in many cases are an imposed system of governance. How important was it for you guys to shift that focus in your community to show people that, ‘Look, at the root of what ails us, what’s holding us back,’ if you will, ‘from rebuilding our community into something that we think is important and is culturally relevant is this system that is not of our own design.’

Angela Wesley:

It was the foundation of our communications, both in our constitutional communications as well as in our treaty negotiations. We just felt that it was so important for us to realize that there was no way out of that system unless we created something ourselves, and that’s what we were trying to do through treaty negotiations, to be able to get governance tools, access to lands and resources, additional financial boosts that could help us to move forward and to create that economy for our people. So in order to do that, we had to show that there was nothing in the current system that we could see that was going to allow us to dig ourselves out and to be able to change our world. We needed something else to add to it and having governance, having good governance in place through our constitution together with having some extra tools, access to lands and resources, recognition of our rights, the ability to build the economy was what was going to change our situation. And like I said, so many of our people just had no idea what the problems were and when we started to talk about that I think it really opened eyes and gained a lot of support. And the support wasn’t 100 percent. A lot of people were taking a leap of faith. We were creating trust through doing this kind of communications with our people and saying, ‘Can you give us a chance? This is what we think is going to help us to change our world. Let’s do all of this together.’ So that was it was really the root of what we were communicating to our people is that how else are we going to change, how else are we going to change our social situation because it’s not good the way it is right now.

Ian Record:

I wanted to back up to something you said earlier about the importance for Huu-ay-aht of having this new governance system that you were creating be an expression of the people’s will and not necessarily an expression of political will, meaning you wanted to ensure that it was the product of the people as a whole versus the product of a particular council or particular elected official or someone else. And we’ve seen where other nations have succeeded with constitutional development or reform, that recognition going into the process, that we’re going to sabotage our own effort if this either becomes politicized or becomes viewed as a politicized process at the very beginning. Can you speak a little bit more about why that is so critical to sort of make sure that the process itself is an apolitical process in how you guys ensured that you insulated it from sort of the political impulses along the way?

Angela Wesley:

Yeah, it probably was a key to our success in terms of the communication or in terms of the approval and ratification of the constitution. I can’t give enough credit I think to our leadership to be able to have stood back not only from the process of building a constitution, but also recognizing that we were trying to incorporate in some fashion our hereditary system back into our government or at least the ability to do that as time went on into the future. And again our chief councilor at the time is a very traditional individual as well. He’s a historian for our tribe and I think that really helped to show people that we were really trying to do what was best for the nation. So there wasn’t political interference, but there was huge political support for developing that system and I think that the leadership showed that they weren’t afraid, that they weren’t afraid of the changes that were coming up because this was what was the best for the nation. So the separation is good, but the leadership was such a critical element of it as well to be able to stand up and really support what we were doing.

Ian Record:

It’s interesting you keep using the word 'support,' because where we see tribes succeed is where the elected leadership plays a supportive role, not a directive role. Where we see tribes struggle is where the reform process is quickly viewed by people in the community as just another initiative by the current leadership that’s in charge. Do you see that as crucial where do you see that as maybe sending a message to the people in terms of, ‘This is something that’s so critical that it’s got to be bigger than us as a group of leaders, it’s got to be about the nation as a whole?’ Did people kind of stand back and say, ‘Wait a minute. This is a real opportunity for us to re-engage, to have our voices heard,' as you mentioned? You mentioned the one person saying, ‘Wow, my government’s never asked me for my opinion on anything before,’ to say it’s not just a command and control decision anymore, this is going to happen from the ground up.

Angela Wesley:

We really it is critical. We really emphasized that with our people as well to say when and who have you ever seen that’s had the opportunity to say how it is that we want to be governed as a nation. To take advantage, we encouraged people to take advantage of that possibility; we encouraged people to use their voices in a positive way. The system that we were in, I think, really led people to be complaining about things all the time. There was no way out, there was no way to resolve disputes, they just went on and on and on. And to have us going out into our community and talking to people about solutions and to have them feeding into, ‘Okay, if that didn’t work, what can work and how can it work better for us, how can we take how we used to govern because it sustained us for thousands of years, how can we take those principles and those values and move them into our government of today so that we can do things better?’ And I think people understood that and it didn’t even really become a visible issue of, ‘Oh, it’s not the politicians that are involved in this?’ People just started to engage because they liked the conversation. So I don’t think it was so much a factor that people hung anything on the process and said, ‘Well, the politics aren’t involved.’ I think they just started liking having the conversation and started feeling more and more comfortable with it. Probably one of the earliest things that people really responded to was the chapter in our constitution that talks about individual rights, to actually see in black and white that people would be treated equally, that they would have equal opportunities within the nation as citizens of the nation; that really sparked something. So starting there, having that conversation as a basis for our communication on the constitution was really, I think, winning as well.

I think people really felt that it was something that was going to reflect what it is they wanted. Because when you go out we often talk about how you explain such complex matters to people who are just trying to get by in their lives and we really chose to try to make our communications really relevant as opposed to saying, ‘This is what provision 16 is going to say in legal language.’ We tried to keep our constitution as plain language as possible and to make it relevant to people because that’s their question, ‘What does this mean to me and my family? How is this going to change the world? How is this going to protect the assets of our nation for future generations, for those who aren’t born yet?’ Those are the kind of things that were on people’s minds. So having the conversation around those kind of things as opposed to around what the provision is going to say, we tried to capture what people were saying and put it into the language.

Ian Record:

It’s interesting you bring that up because often the refrain that we hear in many Native communities -- particularly those that are struggling with reform -- is a sense among many in the community that they simply don’t understand why they should even care about the constitution. They have no sense of how it impacts their daily life, the current constitution and how a new constitution could improve their daily life, and so forth. And it sounds like that was at the forefront of your mind as you went into this process, is to educate people about and making sure that the deliberations were accessible so they could understand, ‘This is how this new system will improve your situation individually, your family’s situation, and the nation’s situation as a whole.’

Angela Wesley:

I think so, and I think that people saw that this was a way of helping to make our governments, future governments and present governments, more accountable to the people. The way the Indian Act is set up right now, your funding flows from the federal government to the council. So the accountability of councils in a legal sense is right back to the Ministry of Indian Affairs, and there’s really not a whole lot of concern on the part of the department as to whether you are accountable back to your citizens. It’s becoming more and more prominent now, but and it’s also becoming more and more of a practice among First Nations to be accountable to their people. So despite the fact that it’s not really a requirement -- although Canada has paid a lot of attention to that in recent years -- nations are becoming more accountable to their citizens and citizens are demanding that accountability. And I think the constitution strengthens that and allows us to do it  to have councils be accountable in a way that is acceptable to the people. What are you going to report to us, when you are going to report to us, to see that these things have to happen? They have to happen according to our own laws, not according to the Indian Act or Ministry of Indian Affairs. It’s because this is what our people want.

Ian Record:

It sounds like things have gone well with your nation in terms of governance reform, really governance rebirth, if you will. But I’m sure at some point you encountered some challenges.

Angela Wesley:

Oh, absolutely.

Ian Record:

And given that it took you seven years, I’m sure there were lots of challenges, a lot of bumps in the road along the way. Can you talk about some of the biggest challenges that you faced in the reform process and how you worked to overcome those?

Angela Wesley:

Well, I think the whole...in terms of our community, I think what I’ve just been talking about in terms of the understanding or lack of understanding of the reality of our situation was probably the biggest hurdle that we had to overcome in the development process. We did end up with a high approval rate of our constitution and of our treaty, and I think it was just our people agreeing that we needed to take this leap of faith, that this was our chance to try to do something for ourselves and to do it our way. So I think that that was a big leap of faith.

Ian Record:

That sounds to me like that was an initial challenge of getting the people to recognize the reality of their situation, of just how pervasive the Indian Act how it affected them in so many ways that they may not have been aware of. But how about when you got really into the process full-bore, you got beyond that initial education, were there some other obstacles you encountered, external factors, internal factors that threatened to derail the process?

Angela Wesley:

You know, politics will always sort of pop up and matters become more urgent as time goes on, but I think that by and large, given the process that we went through, I think we were able to overcome any kind of hurdles. I think that the committee that was put in place and the leadership that we had in place was able to work together to understand that we were there to support each other and that made a lot of difference, I think, to how we approached when we were getting towards the end when it’s sort of crunch time and you’re going to start looking at going into a vote. There was some apprehension on the part of our leadership and our council maybe that, ‘Where is this going to go?’ They were sort of feeling like any arrows that were going to come were going to come towards them and we said to them, ‘Well, we’re the ones as a committee that should be taking some responsibility, and feel comfort in the fact that we’re happy to stand up in front of our people and explain why the constitution is the way it is,’ and it is entirely because of what it was that people wanted in our government in the future together with trying to build a system of good governance. So I think we overcame those.

The challenges I guess that we’re looking at now, we’re two years into being self-government or self-governing and it’s hard. We didn’t expect it was going to be easy. This I think now is when we’re starting to face the challenges, when we realize what it means to be fair, to treat people equally. When those things that our people told us that they wanted, it now takes much longer to make a decision because you have to go through, you have to be transparent, you have to treat people equally. There aren’t exceptions. If there’s an exception for one [person], you’ve got to think of how that’s going to happen and play out for the rest of the citizens as well. So what all sounds really good and is really good takes a different process and takes a different way to be able to move forward. So I think we’re having those kind of challenges right now.

I’m seeing I’m not working directly in my nation right now, but I’m still always very connected. I’m working with our economic development side now actually, so sort of shifted over into that. But you see our leadership struggling. They want to do things right. They want to follow our laws. And I think if there’s things that can be learned, it’s to really think about what this is going to mean as you’re drafting your laws, because I think in some places we found that we’re almost overly accountable and what we don’t want to do is to constrain ourselves with our own laws. But the beauty of being self-governing is that we can change those things if and when we need to. And recognizing that I think is a big part of our learning curve.

So being self-governing doesn’t mean that everything is working perfectly for us right now -- far from it -- and when will we ever be doing things perfectly? No government ever runs perfectly. But we certainly feel better, I don’t think that there’s a person in our nation that thinks that we made the wrong decision in taking on self-government and doing it for ourselves. It’s hard, it’s going to be difficult for us as we continue to move on but we’re getting better at it every day.

Ian Record:

So it sounds to me given that you’re just about two years now into your new governance reality, if you will, that your nation is still working to grow into its new constitutional skin, its new governance skin, it’s going through those growing pains of actually transforming that document on paper into practice.

Angela Wesley:

Oh, definitely.

Ian Record:

And this is something we hear from a lot of other folks, we’ve worked with a number of tribes who are now three, six, ten years into their new constitution and system of governance and they describe this same sort of dynamic taking place, where it’s one thing to have a new constitution and it’s quite another to actually live that in practice. And I would imagine for you as with other some of these other nations, you’re really the larger task really is to transform the political culture that has been in place in your community for so long, the Indian Act culture. In the U.S., for many tribes it’s the Indian Reorganization Act political culture, where suddenly you can no longer go to the council for absolutely everything that ails you, every problem you have. Now there’s processes in place that you have to follow. Can you maybe shed a little more insight into how that’s unfolding in your community, and I would imagine it entails an ongoing education challenge does it not?

Angela Wesley:

It is. It’s definitely a learning curve. Under the Indian Act, as we’re hearing in the courses through NNI and the kind of sessions that we’re in today, you need to put up the mirror sometimes and see how it is that you’re operating. Councils are expected to do everything. That’s the history of most First Nations in Canada and I assume in the U.S., and transforming at the leadership level into being visionaries and creating the environment to succeed is a really difficult thing to do, because citizens still expect you to go and take care of everything, all of the things that are going on in the community. So it’s difficult for citizens because they can’t do that anymore, and it’s difficult for leadership to try to let that go and to put the administrative systems in place that allow the questions to be answered and that allow give citizens a place to go to get their questions answered instead of to the political side. So it is, it’s a transition; it’s a huge transformation. It’s a new way of doing business and operating our government. So it’s I give a lot of credit to our leadership in trying to get through that and trying to remind themselves every day that they need to show citizens where they need to go to get their questions answered as opposed to coming to them, because that’s the critical part is that you can’t leave our citizens hanging, they’ve got to have somewhere that they can go and that’s the council’s role.

Ian Record:

And I would imagine this clarification, redefinition and then ongoing clarification of the new roles within your new system is absolutely critical, because as you’ve laid out, your governance, your new governance system is expected to achieve far more ambitious things than the previous system was under the Indian Act. You’re tasking your governance system and the leaders who lead that system with creating this brighter future of your own design. And so I think this point that you brought up is absolutely crucial, where you’ve got to make sure that you create the space for your leadership to be visionary and to actually figure out, how do we implement the vision that we’ve created for ourselves for our own future?

Angela Wesley:

Yes, definitely. And being able to feel comfort in the organization that we set up is the other big part of it as well. You can put your constitution in place, but unless you’ve got an effective administration as well to be able to take care of that we had to do a lot of reorganizing at our administrative level as well. We had a typical First Nation operation or band council operation or band administration, where we had our band manager who had everybody in the organization reporting to them. So that person as well needed to be able to focus on making sure that the council’s wishes and directions are undertaken and that’s what their role is as well. So there’s a shift in roles all throughout the organization. People have to learn new things. People who are really good at managing resources now also have to learn how to manage people. So it’s a shift at all levels within the government and that’s going to take time, and I think we need to go easy on ourselves a little bit in these early years and just realize that we need to relearn a lot of things and we need to learn how to do business effectively and efficiently for the benefit of our citizens.

Ian Record:

So a couple things out of that. One is that I think what you’re referring to is what we’ve heard from other folks from Native nations who’ve been involved in reform efforts is you’ve got to in many instances dial back expectations, that just because you have a new constitution doesn’t mean everyone’s problems are going to be solved overnight. There is going to be a learning curve, we’re going to make some false steps, we’re going to do two steps forward, one step back kind of thing, but the idea is that we’re in charge now and if we find that something in the new constitution isn’t working, as you mentioned, that we have the power to change it.

Angela Wesley:

And it’s not  in our case it’s not only the constitution, it’s the treaty as well, which both came in place at the same time. Probably one of the biggest lessons learned is to have not only that reorganizational plan in place to get your government ready, but also to start getting the economic side and getting that plan in place as well and start to make sure that there’s even small steps towards making changes that people will see some of the early things that we’re able to change that made a difference to our people. As we changed things like our education policies, we weren’t able to fund trades before and now we have the flexibility to be able to do that. So we’ve made little changes like that that make a difference to the people and to plan to do things like that to start to address some things that you can point to to say to your people, ‘Yes, things are working differently now. We are making small steps and hopefully as we continue to grow and build our economy, we’ll have lots of successes that we can look at and that’s going to happen over time.’

Ian Record:

The other thing I wanted to bring up from your previous response is you mentioned that the band manager, their reality has changed because of this new governance system, and I think that that’s often lost on folks is that this new constitution, this new system of government, it will definitely change the role of leadership or clarify perhaps the role of leaders and it will transform it will necessarily transform the expectations citizens need to have of their government, but really what you’re saying is that it’s going to change reality for everyone that is either part of the nation, works for the nation, or interacts with the nation. And can you talk a little bit about how I guess compare and contrast the new governance reality at Huu-ay-aht with the old governance reality? Say I came and visited the community under the Indian Act system and I had to work with the band government on something and now I’m getting ready to come back, I call you on the phone and say, ‘What should I expect, how are things going to be different for me if I have to come and work with the nation on this particular issue?’

Angela Wesley:

I think there’s a lot of fundamental differences, and we’re getting used to working within a new system as well. Having a treaty, having the constitution to go along with it and having a whole new set of laws, things have to be done differently. It’s not as easy now as going up and calling all the council members together and sit down and, ‘We have this new initiative we want you to look at.’ There’s a lot of things that need to go into it before it gets to that council level so the way of doing business. Do you need a permit to be able to go out and do certain things on the land? Do you need to be talking with our manager of natural resources to get all of those kind of things in place? Nothing goes before our council now without a full briefing note and some options that are provided to them so that they’re making decisions based on full information. One of the things that’s in our Government Act is a requirement for the way decisions are made and it’s actually written into our legislation of what needs to be considered at the council level in making a decision particular, well about anything, but particularly in relation to things that require money. Have you got all of the information that you need in order to make the decision? Have you looked at what the impact is on other programs? Where is the funding going to come from? Are there other options here? Is there a need to consult the community on this? What kind of impacts there’s a whole list of those things that are in the laws. So it’s our law that requires those things get done and that means a much more thorough process is required. So things are different, things take longer and hopefully we can refine that as things go along, but it’s probably better to walk on the side of caution a little bit first, at the same time being able to move forward economically and be able to make those changes in our nation.

Ian Record:

So I mentioned in the introduction that you have been intricately involved in your nation’s development of a whole new suite of foundational laws. You get the new treaty in place; you get the new constitution in place. Where did you guys focus your lawmaking energy at the beginning? What to you was, ‘We’ve got to address these issues right now. There’s nothing on the books that helps us deal with X, Y and Z.'

Angela Wesley:

What we did in approaching our lawmaking was to look at the real critical areas. We had gone through a process that I described of creating trust in from our citizens that we were going to do things right. So the first laws that we put in place were, we called them 'laws that govern our government,' because people were a little afraid. What are these new laws going to be and are we going to be expected to have all these new laws in place that we need to know. We thought it was really important that we put in place laws that show our people that our government needs to be accountable. So we have things like a Government Act, a Code of Conduct and Conflict of Interest, Election Act, Citizenship Act, all of those kind of really foundational pieces. We didn’t start touching the bigger areas that we now have lawmaking authorities under like adoption, child welfare, education, culture and language. We’ve got lawmaking in a lot of areas, but we decided first that we need to continue to build the trust of our government and allow our government some time to settle in to governing well. So we really put laws, a lot of laws in place that talk about how our government operates and how they’re to be accountable back to the people.

Ian Record:

So basically what it sounds like you’re saying is you worked to enhance the lawmaking engine to then make laws in the areas where you had newfound or newly affirmed powers.

Angela Wesley:

Yes. Yes. Yes and to make sure that there were ways in place that citizens could have an input, that they would be able to always have a say in government, making sure that our Government Act specified for example what the rules were around having people’s assemblies where people would have their voice, what the rules would be around providing financial accountability back to the people. So these were our laws that we promised people when they said, ‘How can we be sure council isn’t going to run off with all the money that we get under treaty?’ Because the constitution says they can’t and because there’s a law that says what they need to do and how they need to report back to the people. So we’re making sure that those checks and balances were really firmly in place before we start venturing off into other areas. Other areas that were really important to us in lawmaking was protection of our lands. So we have a few laws that deal with lands and resources. Areas that still allow our people to exercise our rights, harvesting rights and that kind of thing, so we made sure laws and permitting process and that were in place so that on effective date people wouldn’t say, ‘Well, how am I going to go and hunt now? Where does all of this happen?’ So we worked really hard to make sure there was no disruption in those kind of activities as well.

Ian Record:

So I have a final wrap-up question for you and that deals with lessons. You guys were involved in a process that lasted several years, you’ve managed to come through the light at the end of the tunnel and you have a new governance system in place. What do you feel that other First Nations in Canada, other Native nations in the United States can learn from the Huu-ay-aht experience?

Angela Wesley:

Well, that’s kind of difficult to say. You never really want to say what we’ve done that other people should do. We’ve done what we think is best for us. We’re happy to share our story and to see if what we’re doing can be of any assistance to others. We are grateful to those who came before us as well, there’s now 10 First Nations in British Columbia that are no longer subject to the Indian Act. We learned from them. We learned from the Nisga’a, we learned from Tsawwassen, we learned from other nations that are self-governing under self-government agreements as opposed to treaties. So I don’t know how to answer that except for to say it’s really important to bring the people along because if they don’t understand the change that’s coming up, nothing really changes for them. It’s just a shift in power from one to another and they won’t see the difference unless they’re involved in that. So I think that’s probably the biggest thing that I feel proud of that we did in our nation is we really did our best to bring the people along.

Ian Record:

Make sure they’re on board the nation rebuilding train before it leaves the station.

Angela Wesley:

Absolutely. Absolutely, yeah. So it was a healthy experience for us. We’ll talk to a lot of our citizens who aren’t happy with the way things are going, I’m positive of it, but that will never go away either. But I think what we’ve learned through the process and what our citizens have learned is to use our voices and to try to be positive in terms of saying how things can be better. If it’s not working, let’s not just complain about it, because we can fix this if we want to. So I think that’s something that we’ve learned and that we’ll continue to learn as we become more comfortable in governing ourselves once again.

Ian Record:

Well, Angela, I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts, experiences and wisdom with us and good luck to you and your nation on your new governance journey.

Angela Wesley:

Thank you.

Ian Record:

That’s all the time we have on today’s program of Leading Native Nations. To learn more about Leading Native Nations and the Native Nations Institute, please visit the Native Nations Institute’s website at nni.arizona.edu. Thank you for joining us. Copyright 2013. Arizona Board of Regents.

Ned Norris, Jr.: Strengthening Governance at Tohono O'odham

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Tohono O'odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris, Jr. discusses how his nation has systematically worked to strengthen its system of governance, from creating an independent, effective judiciary to developing an innovative, culturally appropriate approach to caring for the nation's elders.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Norris, Jr., Ned. "Strengthening Governance at Tohono O'odham." Leading Native Nations interview series. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, The University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. February 16, 2012. Interview.

Ian Record:

“Welcome to Leading Native Nations. I’m your host, Ian Record. On today’s program we are honored to have with us Ned Norris, Jr. Since 2007, Ned has served as chairman of his nation, the Tohono O’odham Nation, winning re-election to a second four-year term in 2011. He has worked for his nation for the past 35 years, serving in a variety of capacities, from Vice Chairman of his nation to Director of Tribal Governmental Operations to Chief Judge of the Tohono O’odham Judicial Branch. Chairman, welcome, good to have you with us today.”

Ned Norris:

“Thank you very much. It’s good to be here.”

Ian Record:

“I’ve shared a few highlights of your very impressive personal biography, but why don’t you start by telling us a little bit more about yourself?”

Ned Norris:

“Well, I’ve… born and raised here in Tucson, born at San Xavier when it was a hospital in 1955, and pretty much grew up here and spent all of my life here in Tucson, and got married to my wife Janice in 1973. And actually Friday, February 17th will be 39 years that she’s put up with me.”

Ian Record:

“Congratulations.”

Ned Norris:

“So I really appreciate that. We have children, we have grandchildren, and it’s great seeing them, and seeing how our kids have developed over the years and seeing how our grandchildren are coming along.”

Ian Record:

“Well, we’re here today to tap into your knowledge, your wisdom and experience regarding a wide range of critical Native nation building and governance topics and I’d like to start with tribal justice systems. You’ve taken on many different roles in your nation’s justice system including court advocate, child welfare specialist, and judge. And so I’m curious, generally speaking from your experience and your perspective, what role do tribal justice systems play in the exercise of tribal sovereignty?”

Ned Norris:

“As I was thinking about this, I was thinking about where we were as early as the late 1970s. For some people that’s not early, for some people that’s a long time, but when we think about where our tribal system, judicial system has developed since ’79 and forward, we have really come a long way in realizing that the court system itself plays a significant role in ensuring or demonstrating our ability to be a sovereign tribal entity. Obviously the tribal legislature’s going to make the laws and the executive side of the tribal government is going to implement those laws, but the court system really has a key, significant role in determining, in how those laws are going to be interpreted and how those laws are going to be applied. And for me that’s really a significant role in the tribal judicial system ensuring that whatever we’re doing internally with regards to applying the law as it is written by the legislature and implemented by the executive branch that it is ensuring that sovereignty is intact, that it’s ensuring that we have the capabilities of making the decisions that we need to make in order to govern our nation.”

Ian Record:

“A law professor here at the University of Arizona who you know very well, Robert Williams, who serves as a pro tem judge for your nation’s judicial branch describes this systematic effort your nation has engaged in over the past three decades or so to build an effective, efficient, tribal justice system from the ground up. Why has the nation engaged in that effort and why is that important?”

Ned Norris:

“I think that it has a lot to do with the fact that we’ve got tribal legislators over the years that have really began to take a holistic look at the tribal government as a whole and realizing that for the most part as late as the 1970s, early 1970s, our tribal judicial system was really what I would refer to as a BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs]-type system. Tribal codes were developed, but they were really taken off of boilerplates of BIA codes and so on and so forth. So I think that our leadership, our tribal council began to realize that these laws don’t always have the kind of impact that we would like them to have. And so in order for us to be able to govern ourselves and to determine our own destiny as it relates to [the] tribal court system, we’ve got to begin the process of changing the system and bringing it more up to speed, so to speak.”

Ian Record:

“And part of that I guess, regaining control of the justice function of the nation, things like making sure that you are charge of law and order, that you’re in charge of dispute resolution, that when you have a young person who has a substance abuse problem that they’re being taken care of, that issue is being taken care of internally versus them being shipped off the reservation, making the system more culturally appropriate, where the people in the community feel like this makes sense to us. Can you talk about that dynamic in the work that the nation has been doing in that regard to, I guess, make the justice system their own?”

Ned Norris:

“Well historically, I think it’s unfortunate that back then, and even to some extent even today, tribes do not have the level of resources available to address the more intricate needs of a substance abuser, an alcoholic, whatever the case may be, and so even today there are needs. There is a need to identify resources, whether it’s on or off the reservation to address that, but I think most importantly is the idea that we would be able to create the kinds of services that we’re using off reservation and bringing those services on the reservation where we’re playing a more direct role in that person’s treatment, in their rehabilitation and really looking at it like…from the perspective that this is family, this is part of our family. This individual isn’t just a member or a citizen of our nation, they are a citizen of our nation that we should take more of a responsibility to try and help within the confines of our own tribal nation, our people. And so I think when we think about it from that perspective, we begin to realize that maybe the services that we have are not as adequate or not as resourceful as we would like them to be. So we’ve got to be able to identify that and be able to identify where those voids are and bring those services into that program or create the program that…where those voids exist.”

Ian Record:

“It really boils down to the nation itself best knowing its own needs, its own challenges versus somebody from the outside that is simply just bringing in something from the outside that may not…”

Ned Norris:

“Not only that, Ian, I think that in addition to understanding that we have…we as the nation membership have a good understanding of what those needs are and what those resources are or aren’t, but also really realizing that if we’re going to bring or utilize outside resources to do this, those resources aren’t always going to be there. We’re going to be there, we’re going to continue to be there, our members are going to continue to be there and what makes more sense to us is to be able to take control and bring those services, develop those services where they lack and provide the services more directly by the nation’s leadership itself.”

Ian Record:

“One of the things that Professor Williams points to in this effort that the nation’s been engaged in around the justice system for the past 30 years is how the nation has invested in its own people, how it’s worked to build the capacity, internal capacity of its own people to provide justice to the community. Can you talk a little bit more about that? You’re a byproduct of that effort.”

Ned Norris:

“Well, I think that when we talk about investing in our own people, over the years in a more significant sense we’re…we’ve been able to establish our gaming operation. That operation has played a significant role in our ability to bring the kinds of services that aren’t there, that haven’t been there, or those kinds of services that we would for many years just dream about having and even to the extent that we’re developing our tribal members. I think, just to give you an example, pre-gaming we probably had less than 500, 600 employees that worked with the tribe and now we’ve got well over, I think it’s about 1,400 tribal employees and we’ve got a varied amount of programs that have been developed that are really beginning to address a lot of the needs that we’ve been having over the years. And not even that, the ability to develop our own tribal citizens in providing them an opportunity to train academically, whether it’s a vocational program, whether it’s a two-year or four-year college, whether it’s earning a bachelor’s degrees, master’s degree, doctorate degree, whatever the case may be. We’ve been able to provide that kind of an opportunity for our members to be able to acquire the kinds of skills that they lack academically and bring those skills back to the nation and apply those skills.”

Ian Record:

“Yeah, and I think what you’ve addressed is there’s a major obstacle for many tribes in that they’ll invest in their people, they’ll send them off to get a good education, but then it’s really critical that there’s a welcoming environment for those college graduates to say, ‘We’re sending you off to get a skill to come back and apply that skill here on behalf of the nation.’”

Ned Norris:

“Exactly, and part of our challenge as tribal leaders is making sure that we create the ability for those members to be able to come back. Too many times I’ve shared with different audiences over the years that we’re graduating more O’odham with bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees than in the history of the whole tribe, however, where we may lack in the ability to create the kinds of jobs that those individuals trained for. And so we need to prepare ourselves to be able to receive those tribal members back and provide them the kinds of job opportunities that they’ve spent four, six year, eight years in college acquiring, but also not only be able to do that, but to be able to pay a comparable salary for the kinds of positions that they’ve trained for.”

Ian Record:

“I’d like you, if you wouldn’t mind, to paint a picture. Before we went on air you were describing a little bit about what the nation’s justice system looked like when you came on board and started working within that system. Can you compare and contrast what the justice system and what the justice function looked like back in the early 1970s or mid 1970s, to what it looks like now?”

Ned Norris:

“Wow. It’s a night-and-day comparison really, because just physically we didn’t have the kinds of facilities necessary to really do… provide the kinds of justice services that our people should be afforded and we…when we talk about facilities, we talk about staffing, we talk about laws in themselves or codes, back in the late ‘70s, the early ‘80s, there was a time there that our law and order code was a boilerplate from the BIA code and I think that it took some years and some education and some effort to begin the process of understanding that this boilerplate code is obsolete in our mind and we need to begin the process of developing our own tribal codes. And so we began that process in writing our own tribal code, our law and order code, our criminal code, our civil codes and other codes and that took a process, but once we’ve done that and the tribal council adopted those codes, we started to apply them in the tribal judicial system. And so I think that when we compare where we were in the late 1970s to where we are now, the only… the concern that I have is, being a former judge -- I spent 14 years as one of our tribal judges and from ’79 to ’93 --and I’ve seen the court system develop over those years and seen how obsolete the laws were back in the late 1970s to where we were able to develop those laws. But also realize that back then in the early 1990s, I began to think about realizing the time that the court system is no longer processing and dealing with human beings, but they’re dealing with numbers. You become a number at some point, a case number or whatever because early on we came into this with the perspective that we’ve got this tribal member that is maybe committing crime, but there are a lot of factors that are contributing to why that tribal member has committed that particular crime and that we, the court system, although it has the law before it and the law may provide a jail sentence and/or a fine, the idea wasn’t always to throw this person in jail because of the crime they did, but to try and dig a little deeper into what’s really going on within that individual’s situation. Is it the home situation? Is it…was the person an abused person over a time of their life, was that person a victim of incest that just was never dealt with? And so we came to this with the perspective that the court system enforces the laws, applies the law and issues sentences, but some of that sentence has to take into consideration how can we help, how can we help this individual, how can we help the family address those issues that are impacting or having an influence in them committing the crimes that they’re committing?”

Ian Record:

“You mentioned that for several years you were a judge and so you’ve seen firsthand how the court system works and you’ve been a part of that court system. There’s an issue…there’s a major infrastructure challenge for a lot of justice systems across Indian Country. Can you talk a bit about what Native nation governments can do to ensure that their justice systems have the support they need to administer justice effectively?”

Ned Norris:

“One is, there was a period of time where the tribal legislature was what I refer to as the supreme authority on the O’odham Nation, at that time the Papago Tribe of Arizona. And as that supreme authority, there was really not a separation of powers between a three-branch system. And so, over the course of those years, early on the tribal supreme authority, the legislative authority really infringed on or encroached on what should have been an independent judicial system. And so I think, in answer to your question, tribal governments, tribal leadership should realize that it is imperative to the success of a tribal governmental entity that an independent system of judicial…a system to dispense justice is not having the kinds of influence by the other two branches of government that would impede its ability to deliver that justice. And I think that once we begin to understand that and realize that and realize that that not only does that involve the legislature not meddling into the judicial process, but it also has to involve an understanding that because in many tribal governmental entities the tribal legislator controls the purse, controls the funding, that they not use that as a basis to not fund the needs of the tribal judiciary. And I think that because the council has the authority to disperse funding resources that the courts still have to go to the council and ask and present their budget and ask for funding for infrastructure, for whatever the case may be. That there still has to be a relationship there, but I think that the tribal legislature needs to understand too that they shouldn’t use their role as a tribal legislator to deny the kinds of resources that the court system needs.”

Ian Record:

“You mentioned this issue of political interference and this is something that comes up in virtually every interview I do with folks on this topic of tribal justice systems and they all…almost all of them mention this issue of funding and how that can be rather than direct interference in a particular court case, but this kind of more subtle, insidious process of denying funding or reducing funding or holding funding hostage to…in exchange for certain considerations -- that that sends real messages and others have talked about how this issue of political interference can be a very slippery slope. That if a chair or a legislator, once they do it once for one person, word’s going to get around that, ‘You just need to go to this council person and they’ll get involved with the court case on your behalf.’ And in many respects doesn’t that distract the executive…the chief executive of the nation, the legislators from focusing on what they really should be focusing on?”

Ned Norris:

“Yeah, if we’re taking so much of our time and energy dealing with a relative’s court case and not allowing the court to apply justice to that situation, then obviously it’s taking us away from our real role, which is to provide the kinds of leadership and direction that we need to provide to run our government. So yeah, political influence, I think early on was an issue. Now, I think it’s rare. I think that we’ve educated our leadership to the extent that they understand the concept of separation of powers, that they understand that they shouldn’t use their position to try and influence a decision that the court is going to make. We’re not 100 percent, but we’re far less than what we were in the late 1970s and I think that that whole process just took a series of education and in fact, in some cases, some case law that’s already been established where the legislative branch was trying to encroach on the powers of the executive branch, we’ve had those cases in our tribal court system and those decisions are the law at this point.”

Ian Record:

“This wasn’t originally in my list of questions, but since you brought it up, I’d like to talk about the role of justice systems and the judicial branch, particularly your nation, in essentially being a fair umpire when there are conflicts between the executive function -- whether it’s a separate branch or not -- but the executive function of the nation and the legislative function. How important is it to have somebody, whether it’s your courts or an elders body or somebody, some entity that can, when there is conflict between those two functions to say, ‘Okay, let’s take a look at this and let’s be the fair arbiter here.’?”

Ned Norris:

“I think that it’s critical. I think it’s critical to be able to understand at some point in that particular dispute process that we’ve got to sit back and we’ve got to realize that as the two branches that are in dispute, is this an issue that we really want the courts to have a major role in deciding or do we want to come to terms or come to some level of understanding, try and resolve the matter before it ends up in court? I think that we should look at those kinds of issues from that perspective because once you get the court involved, the court is going to make its decisions based on the law, and the law is not necessarily always going to be the way to resolve or the way that you may… either side may want this particular issue resolved, and I think for the most part too, the court itself should realize if there’s an opportunity to resolve the dispute outside of the court, laying down the gavel and saying, ‘I hereby order…,’ that giving the parties an opportunity to resolve this dispute, whether it’s an encroachment by either branch, executive to legislative or vice versa, that we always have the opportunity to try and come to terms on resolution even if it means calling, I don’t know, I don’t want…I guess we could call him an arbitrator or mediator or a council of elders, to come in and provide some level of traditional means of resolving the dispute. I think that that’s important, but it’s important for the parties to make that decision. I’m not always open to the idea that court systems will order you to call in a council of elders or a medicine person to come help resolve this issue. I really think that that’s got to be the tribe themselves to make that decision. Over the years, the court has issued those kinds of orders and I think that they’ve worked, but for the most part I think that it’s the parties themselves need to make that determination and that decision.”

Ian Record:

“I would like to jump forward basically because of what we’ve been discussing and talk about the fact that virtually every tribe that I've worked with there’s always going to be some level of friction between the nation’s executive function and the legislative function. It’s just the nature of politics; it’s the nature of governance. And you being in that role of chairman now for multiple terms, I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about that despite your best efforts, there are times when you come to an impasse or there’s a conflict that emerges. Can you talk about how do you build constructive working relationships -- as a chair -- with the legislative branch, the legislative function of government to try to make that relationship as productive and as seamless as possible?”

Ned Norris:

“Well, I have to say that I’m proud of what my first four years of leadership has done to do exactly what you’re asking because I felt and I sensed and I heard from many council members that there was really a breakdown in the relationship between the branches. And we knew then, Vice Chairman Isidro Lopez and I, and now even Vice Chairwoman Wavalene Romero and I realize, that it’s got to be a continuous effort to build that relationship, still maintain and understand there are certain constitutional authorities and powers that each individual branch has, that we need to understand what those constitutional powers are and that we don’t encroach our authority and violate what those powers are, because once you start doing that then you begin the resistance between the two and it doesn’t make for a good working relationship. We knew coming into office four years ago, and even continuing in my second term, that we’re going to need to continue to develop that relationship and I’m comfortable that where we’re at some, almost six years, five years later that we’ve been able to have a level of understanding that decisions are going to need to be made, that decisions that even though I have authority to veto decisions of our legislature, it’s been...in four years I think I’ve exercised that power twice and -- actually three times and -- both of those times those issues have been resolved. One issue is still pending in court, but I think that in itself speaks for the fact that we have a very understanding working relationship between the executive branch and the legislature and it’s really a continuous level of communication, it’s a continuous level to understand where they’re coming from on that particular issue, where you think you’re coming from and how do you work together to resolve your differences and how and at what point do you want to compromise in order to be able to accomplish what it is you want to accomplish. I think for the most part all of us want what’s best for the people of our nation. How do we get there from here to there, we may have some differences. And it’s discussing, resolving those differences to hopefully come to a positive outcome for providing the leadership that our people need.”

Ian Record:

“I’d like to switch gears now and talk about tribal bureaucracies. In addition to serving as your nation’s Director of Tribal Governmental Operations -- as I mentioned at the beginning -- you also have served as its Assistant Director of Tribal Social Services and as a former Commissioner for its Tribal Employment Rights Office, its TERO office. What do you feel from your diverse array of experiences, what do you feel tribal bureaucracies need to be effective?”

Ned Norris:

“Well one, I think clearly the individual that has a level of authority in that bureaucracy needs to understand themselves what…where do their powers derive from and to what extent do I have any power at all? And I think the individual then taking that in the whole from let’s say the tribal legislature or… I’m constantly having to make the kinds of decisions, leadership decisions that I need to make, but I’m constantly asking myself in my own mind, ‘Do I have the authority to do this?’ And I think that that’s the kind of understanding in our own minds that we need to continue to ask ourselves, ‘Do we have the authority to do this? What does the constitution say on this particular issue? What have the courts said on this particular issue? What has tradition said on this particular issue?’ And being able to understand that in all those perspectives I think is really where we need to…it’s going to help in the bureaucracy that’s created, because to me 'bureaucracy' isn’t a positive word in my opinion.”

Ian Record:

“Tribal administration.”

Ned Norris:

“Tribal administration, there you go. The Bureau [of Indian Affairs]’s a bureaucracy, but in tribal administration, I think that if we’re going to be able to…the end result is how do we get to be able to provide the kinds of needs that our people deserve and are entitled to? And are we going to create the kinds of roadblocks…and if there are roadblocks, then how do we break down those barriers, how do we break down those roadblocks, how do we begin to sit at the table with each other? I’ll tell you, there was a point in time where -- and I think it’s with any government -- but there’s mistrust, there’s a certain level of mistrust between the tribal branches or the governmental branches and it’s needing to understand that regardless of what I do there’s still going to be some level of trust. I’ve got 22 tribal council members. I still have to accept the fact that I know there’s at least one, maybe more, of those 22 council members that don’t want to see me where I’m at today and accept that. I accept that, but that doesn’t mean that I not continue to do what I think I need to do in working with my supporters and my non-supporters. They’re still a council member, I still have to work with them, I still need a majority of council to get the kinds of approvals or decisions to do things that I need. We need each other. The council needs the executive branch and the executive branch needs the council.”

Ian Record:

“You mentioned at the beginning of your response about the importance of every individual that works within the nation and for the nation understanding what their role is and what their authority is. Isn’t that absolutely critical when you talk about say, for instance, the nation’s elected leadership versus say your department heads, your program managers and things like that? That there’s a common understanding of, ‘Okay, when it comes to the day-to-day management,’ for instance, ‘of this program, that’s not my job as an elected official. That’s the job of the department head and the staff below them.' Because that’s a major issue that we’ve encountered across Indian Country, where there’s this constant overlapping of role boundaries if you will.”

Ned Norris:

“Micromanaging.”

Ian Record:

“Yes, that’s another way of putting it.”

Ned Norris:

“Yeah, micromanagement. I think for the idea or the idea of overstepping one’s authority where it appears, or at least you’re experiencing micromanagement, I think that for some time there was even a certain level of micromanaging that was going on and attempted to be going on from tribal council members or council committees on executive branch programs and we even see a certain level of that even today, this many years later. But I think how we handled those situations really has an impact, because I think for some time, we’ve got to realize that I’m not going to disallow my department directors, my department heads or anybody in those departments to not take a meeting with the tribal council committee if the council committee wants them to be there. That wasn’t always the situation in previous administrations, but for me, the council needs to be as informed on those issues in their role as a tribal council member. I think that when we think about micromanaging, again I think that it’s really a level of communication as to how you’re going to deliver. I’m not going to sit there and say, ‘Council member, you’re micromanaging my programs and that’s…I have an issue with that.’ I think that how we explain to them that we’re going to provide you the kinds of information that you need, but as the Chief Executive Officer under the constitution I have a certain level of responsibility to make sure that these programs are doing what they’re intended to do and I will assume that [responsibility]…I will exercise that responsibility, but we’re going to keep you informed, we’re going to keep…and if it’s personnel issues, that’s a different story. That’s clearly…we’ve got to protect the employee and the employer, but I think that for the most part we…how you communicate -- I’m trying to explain this. I’m not sure I’m doing a good job of it -- but how you explain without offending is critical to the outcome. And I don’t want our council to think that I’m prohibiting our departments to communicate issues with the council, because once we start doing that then you start to create barriers there and I don’t want those barriers, but at the same time the council needs to understand that if it’s an administrative issue that is clearly within my authority as the Chief Executive Officer for my nation. I have directors, I have people that are…that I hold accountable to make sure that those issues are addressed.”

Ian Record:

“You mentioned a term that I think is really interesting, I’d like to get you to talk a bit more about it. You said, ‘It’s critical to explain without offending.’ And we’ve heard other tribal leaders and people that work within tribal government talk about the fact that the impulse to micromanage, the impulse to, for instance, interfere, for an elected official to interfere on behalf of a constituent, for instance -- it’s always going to be there. The question’s how do you explain to that person that wants to interfere, that wants to micromanage, that this is not the way we do things because we have processes in place, we have policies in place that prohibit me from doing that? That’s not to say, as you said, that we can’t have a communication, that you can’t understand what’s going on and why, or why a certain decision’s been made the way it’s been made, but we have processes in place. How critical is that to have that…I guess to have that basis upon which you can explain without offending? That there’s these processes in place that are critical to the nation functioning well?”

Ned Norris:

“Sure. I think that it’s extremely critical to be able to have a level of understanding, but a certain level of trust. I think follow-up is key. I think if you’re going to have a council member or a council committee that is raising issues that are clearly an administrative function of one of my departments, then I’m not going to leave them out of that issue because they have a reason, they have an importance, they have a constituent out there that brought the issue before them. They need to know, they need to understand and so I’m going to make…I’m going to give them the assurance that as the chief administrator, I’m going to make sure that my people are going to follow up on that issue, but I’m also going to make sure you know what we’ve done. Not necessarily what disciplinary actions might have been imposed, but how are we going to address that issue? And make sure that I get back to them and tell them, ‘Here’s where we’re at with this issue, here’s what we’ve done. I want the program director to come and explain to you where we’re at on this as well.’”

Ian Record:

“You mentioned this issue of personnel issues, which are inevitable. They always arise -- whether it’s a hiring and firing dispute, whatever it might be -- and you mentioned it’s a whole different ballgame, that that really is critical that that’s insulated from any sort of political influence whatsoever. And we’ve heard others talk about how important that is to achieving fairness within the tribal administration, achieving fairness within how the nation operates, how it delivers programs and services. Can you talk a little bit about how your nation has addressed this issue of personnel disputes?”

Ned Norris:

“Well, I have to say that I…we have a lot yet to develop. We have a system to grieve, there’s a policy, personnel policies are in place, there’s the policies outline as to how individuals grieve an employee-employer situation. And I’m not…I haven’t always been 100 percent satisfied with the system itself. And so we’re currently going through a rewrite or a restructuring of what that system should be and really all in the interest of facilitating the process in making sure the process is more friendly to both sides, the grievant and the grievee and so on and so forth, because I think that our process involves a panel of individuals that may not necessarily have the level of training or understanding of what their duty and responsibility is as a panel member hearing that grievance. And so we have a panel and an individual or individuals on that panel that may think their authority is much bigger than what is really outlined or that they may need to make decisions that aren’t necessarily related to the grievance itself and those kinds of decisions have come out and our current policy provides that as chair of the nation, the chair has the final decision over a grievance that hasn’t been resolved at any one of the lower levels. And it’s by that experience that I realize we’ve got to change the process; the process needs to be more equitable I think to not only the process, but to the grievant, the person grieving it themselves. So I think that you want to make sure, you’ve got to make sure…you’ve got to ensure to your employees that we have a system to grieve that is fair, that they have confidence in, that they have the comfort that they’re going to…they know that when they get to the process, that that process is going to move along as fast as possible, but that their issue is going to be resolved. And I think too many times we don’t get to that point, but I think it’s the process itself that needs to be looked at, but we need to develop a process that is fair.”

Ian Record:

“I’d like to talk now about a symbol of pride for your nation, and that’s the Archie Hendricks Sr. Skilled Nursing Facility and Tohono O’odham Hospice. What prompted the nation to develop this amazing, what’s turned out to be this amazing success story and what has it meant for the Tohono O’odham people and in particular, its elders?”

Ned Norris:

“Archie Hendricks Nursing Care facility was a dream for many years. I was in tribal social services when, not long after the tribe contracted [Public Law 93-] 638, those social services from the Bureau. And it was really unfortunate that too many times when our elders needed nursing care that those elders were, as a figure of speech, shipped to some nursing facility in Casa Grande, in Phoenix, in other areas of the state and literally taken away from their home, taken away from their family. And too many times, the only time that those elders came back was in a box, when they’d deceased at that facility. And too many times having our elders placed in off-reservation facilities limited or to some…and in some cases prohibited family members to participate in their care in that off-reservation facility. And it just made sense that we begin the process of creating a facility on the nation where our elders can stay home at a location that we think is kind of central to where members, family members can commute, have more easily the ability to commute to that facility and visit. Too many times…a lot of our folks don’t have vehicles. A lot of our folks pay somebody else who has a vehicle to take them to the post office, take them to Basha’s or take them to somewhere, in a lot of cases drive them to Phoenix to visit their elder in the nursing home. And even though that still is the situation today with many of our members, the drive is a lot shorter than it is just to go to the Archie Hendricks facility. But also not only to be able to bring our elders home and have that service here on the nation, but also to…it’s an opportunity to instill tradition and instill who we are as O’odham into the care of our elders and in doing that, also having the opportunity to train tribal members in that particular service. We have a number of tribal members that have gone on to earn academic programs that are now applying those skills in the nursing home. So it had a win-win situation all the way around, not only bringing our elders, but a job opportunity; an opportunity to create a program that wasn’t there.”

Ian Record:

“Obviously that success story has addressed a particular need and as you’ve shared, a very dire need. But I guess on a larger overall level, doesn’t it send a very powerful message to your nation’s citizens that if we have a challenge, if we have a need, we can do this ourselves?”

Ned Norris:

“Oh, I think that’s true. I think that that’s maybe one of the bigger messages that we’re demonstrating because even today we think about…in fact, I had some, a family member come into my office that were concerned about their child or their nephew that was in an off-reservation youth home placement and that individual turned 18 years of age and was released from the facility. Well, the concern was there was really no services that was provided to him while in that facility and so in their own words they says, ‘Why can’t we build the kinds of facilities that we did for our elders for our youth? Why can’t we bring our youth home into a facility that can provide the kinds of services that they need?’ And why can’t we? We should. We should move in that direction. There was a time when the nation operated a couple of youth homes, a girl’s home and a boy’s home. I’m not sure right now what the history is as to why that doesn’t happen anymore, but I think the bureaucracy is what I remember, was the bureaucracy got hold of the situation. It was probably a licensing issue that the Bureau required that we weren’t able to comply with and so on and so forth, but I’m not suggesting we want to run off, run facilities without being accredited in some way or certified or licensed in some way, but I think that we need to understand that if we’re going to move in that direction…and I totally agree that we need to begin developing those kinds of services on the nation, but we also have to realize do we have the capability to do that? Do we have…? We can build a house, we can build the home, we can build the facility, but do we have the resources to run the kinds of programs that it’s going to require, do we have the trained personnel, do we have the…all the requirements that you need in order to run a sound helpful service to these youth -- can we do that? I think we need to do an assessment ourselves and if we feel we’re ready to make that move, then by all means let’s start putting the…making those facilities available.”

Ian Record:

“It’s interesting you mentioned that your citizens are now thinking, ‘Why can’t we?’ and that’s a very important shift in mindset, is it not? To where…from where in many Native communities 20-30 years ago, it was always, ‘Let the Bureau take care of it. We don’t need to deal with it.’ To now, ‘Why can’t we do it ourselves?’ That speaks to this larger shift that we’re talking about, the message that it sends to the people, does it not?”

Ned Norris:

“Well, it’s…I think about former leadership and I think about leaders that have had an impact in my life and I always share this story about…you remember the TV commercial, ‘Be like Mike,’ Jordan’s Shoes, ‘Be like Mike, play the game like Mike’ and all this and that? And I have my own ‘Be like Mike’ people out there myself. I think about the late Josiah Moore, an educator, a leader, a tribal chairman, former tribal chairman of our nation. I think about a Mescalero Apache leader by the name of Wendell Chino and think about other leaders that have gone on, but have demonstrated their leadership over the years. And I think to myself that those are the kinds of leaders that have vision, those are the kinds of leaders that have fought for sovereignty, that have fought for rights of tribal governments and those are the kinds of values as a leader that I think we need to bring to our leadership. Is, how do we protect the sovereignty of our sovereign nations? And it’s really unfortunate because somebody asked me, ‘Well, what is tribal sovereignty?’ And I says, ‘Well, I don’t agree with this, but too many times, tribal sovereignty is what the United States Supreme Court decides it’s going to be in a case or the federal government,’ and we can’t accept that. We shouldn’t accept that. We don’t want to accept that. We may not be a true sovereign, but we have certain sovereign authorities that we need to protect and we need to continuously exercise and whatever rights we have as a people, we need to exercise those rights, we need to understand what those rights are, we need to protect those rights just as well as protecting our tribal sovereignty.”

Ian Record:

“Isn’t part of that process… and you’ve mentioned this term a lot, assessing, assessing, assessing, assessing. Isn’t part of that process assessing where your nation could be exercising sovereignty or where it needs to exercise sovereignty, but currently isn’t and saying, ‘Let’s push the envelope here?’”

Ned Norris:

“Sure. I think that is. I think that…I like to do assessments, I like to do that mainly because you think you might understand what the situation is and you think you might have the right answer as to how you’re going to attack that situation or address that situation, but too many times we go into a situation not realizing what the impacts of your addressing that issue is going to be and so for me, I like to, ‘Okay, I agree with you, let’s address that issue, but let’s make sure we understand what it is we’re dealing with and whether or not we have the ability to address that issue,’ because to me to do something with half of an understanding really creates, to some extent, false hope because people are going to see that you’re moving in that direction. And if you’re not able to fulfill that movement, you’re going to stop and people may have liked to have seen what you were moving on, but don’t understand, ‘Why did you stop? We had hope in that. We thought you were going to address that issue.’ ‘Well, you know what, we didn’t do our homework and we couldn’t move it any further. That’s why.’ I think that we need to be, if we’re going to make a decision as a tribal leader, we need to fully understand the ramifications of what that decision is and to the best of our ability make informed decisions about the decisions we need to make and then move forward.”

Ian Record:

“I’d like to wrap up with…I’d like to wrap up on a final topic of constitutional reform. And as you well know, there’s been a groundswell of constitutional reform activity taking place across Indian Country over the past 30 years, in particular in the wake of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975. And back in the mid-1980s, your nation, the Tohono O’odham Nation, completely overhauled its constitution and system of government. And I’m curious to learn from you, what did the nation change and why and what did it create and why?”

Ned Norris:

“Well, I had the experience of being involved in my tribal government under the old 1937 constitution and then the new 1986 constitution, and although I wasn’t as involved in the development of the 1986 constitution, I understand some of the history and that it took, and as I understand it, that whole process took some 10 years to accomplish, to be able to…there were several drafts of our 1986 constitution. The constitution committee had understandings and misunderstandings and decisions that they couldn’t come to terms on amongst themselves. So it was just a long, drawn-out process, but I think a 10-year process that was well worth it. And I say that mainly because I saw the government under the old constitution and I see it now under the ’86 and realize that even under the ’86 I don’t think that we fulfilled the possibilities under the current 1986 constitution. Going back to what I said earlier about that supreme authority under the old constitution, in many ways the council was the legislature, the executive and the judicial. And for me, you had that supreme authority under the constitution in 22 members of their tribal council. And so there were…because of that I think there were times as tribal judges or as…well, yeah, as tribal judges where we may have sat back and thought to ourselves, ‘Oh, I’ve got council person’s son or daughter in front of me in this courtroom, I better be careful on what I decide here.’ That consciousness or sub-consciousness about the fact that you’ve got a council member’s relative in front of you that you’re either going to throw in jail or you’re not going to throw in jail: ‘If I throw them in jail, then the council member’s going to come after me.’ I think there were those kinds of influences that the old 1937 constitution brought about and in different ways. That was just an example, but in different ways. And so when we…when the development of the 1986 constitution really brought on the whole concept of a government that is separated by three branches and three branches that are equal in power and authority and three branches that are clearly defined as to what that power and authority is in the constitution itself. I support that and I continue to support that. We’re going through a process now because over the last…since ’86 there have been some things that different districts and different and even I think need to be changed in the constitution. Literally, just take a look at our 1986, our current constitution and you’ve got more pages that cover the powers and authorities of the legislature than you do four or five pages under the executive branch. And so even on paper, is that truly a system that affords the level of powers and authorities that should be granted to each branch respectively. And so I think that constitution reform is good. I think that though there are still things in the constitution today that we don’t understand, that may not have been fully implemented or implemented at all, but I think that…and even educating our members on the constitution, I think, hasn’t been as adequate as it should have been. Because you look at the constitution, the constitution, the powers and authorities of the constitution is derived by the people. The people themselves need to understand the enormous power and authority they have under the constitution and they, under that power and authority, need to hold us leaders accountable for ensuring that we’re protecting not only the provisions of the constitution but protecting them as well.”

Ian Record:

“It’s interesting you bring this up. We’ve heard so many other leaders of other nations whose nations have engaged in reform, either successfully or unsuccessfully, and particularly among those who’ve engaged in reform successfully, in that they’ve implemented certain changes, they’ve had the citizen referendum and it’s passed and all that sort of thing, they’ve all discussed this sort of critical moment where you overhaul your constitution, it becomes law and everyone kind of sits back and goes, ‘Whew, that’s done.’ But it’s really not done because you’ve eluded to this challenge of not just changing what’s on paper, but changing the political culture, changing citizen’s expectations of their government, educating the people about, ‘This constitution has a very direct impact on your daily life and here’s how.’ Is that something that… a dynamic that you’ve seen in your nation in terms of the challenge that it continues to face?”

Ned Norris:

“I think that everything that you’ve just mentioned as a leader whether you’re chair, vice chair, council, whatever the case may be, we need to understand that. We need to understand that simply amending, changing, instituting a brand-new constitution on paper doesn’t solve the problem, doesn’t resolve whatever issues. Yes, it may be a better constitution in your opinion or a group of people’s opinion, but how we apply that, how we interpret that, how we educate the authorities to the people that the constitution is going to impact is a whole new process. And it’s a responsibility that we should take on as leaders to make sure that our people are… have at least an understanding of the constitution, but and I think to some extent have a working knowledge of what that constitution has to offer.”

Ian Record:

“You’ve mentioned vision and the importance of leaders having vision and you mentioned Wendell Chino and Josiah Moore. What’s your vision? What’s your personal vision for the future of your nation? And how are you working to make that vision a reality?”

Ned Norris:

“Vision, you’ve got to have visions in all aspects of leadership. What is the vision for the health area? What is your vision for the continuation of your economic development? What is your vision for the services that are delivered or that lack or that you dream about? What is your vision? And I think that one, the vision really has to take into consideration, where do you want to see your people, where are your people at now, where do you want to see your people five years from now, where do you want to see them 10 years from now? And we want to continue to educate, we want to continue to develop, we want to continue to be able to address the kinds of issues that are impacting, whether it’s a positive or negative impact on our people. We want to be able to identify a continuous identification of needs that our people have and how do we begin the process of addressing those issues, those needs, those whatever the case may be. I think that vision involves all of that and it’s not simply saying, ‘Well, my vision is that we’re going to rid the Tohono O’odham Nation of unemployment.’ That is a vision, but how do you get there? What do you…you have to…in order to have vision, you’ve got to be able to understand that there are things that are going on now that are going to impact your ability to apply that vision; and unless you understand what those issues are here, your vision isn’t going to mean anything. And so the vision might be big and it might have a bigger perspective, you want to address the health needs of…our vision is to eliminate diabetes amongst the O’odham. Great! I think all of us that have those kinds of problems on our nation want that as a vision, but how do you get there? What do you have to do now in order to address those issues? I want our kids to be positive, productive citizens of not only themselves and their families and their extended family and their communities and their nation, but I also want…I realize that there are things that are impacting our kids now that are going to have an impact on whether or not they’re going to be a productive individual. Too many times we take, we accept things, we accept things as the norm. Too many times, we accept alcoholism as the norm. Too many times, we accept drug trafficking or human cargo trafficking as the norm. That is not who we are. That is not the norm, and we need to impress on our people that those things are having negative impacts on us as a people as a whole and those things are going to have those negative impacts and are impacting our future, are impacting our ability to be the people who we are. And so the vision is being able to realize and understand those issues and make the kinds of changes in order to have a productive nation.”

Ian Record:

“Well, Chairman Norris, I really appreciate your thoughts and wisdom and sharing that with us. Unfortunately we’re out of time. There’s a lot more I’d like to talk about and I think we’ve just scratched the surface here, but I really appreciate you spending the time with us today.”

Ned Norris:

“I really appreciate the opportunity. Thank you.”

Ian Record:

“Well, that’s all the time we have on today’s program of Leading Native Nations. To learn more about Leading Native Nations, please visit the Native Nations Institute’s website at www.nni.arizona.edu. Thank you for joining us. Copyright 2012 Arizona Board of Regents.”