traditional knowledge

Indigenous Governance Speaker Series: How to Build a Nation with Susan Masten (Yurok)

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year
Susan Masten (Yurok), former Chairwoman and valuable leader of the Yurok Tribe, joins the Native Nations Institute's Executive Director, Joan Timeche (Hopi), for an engaging discussion on Native nation building, specifically, how she actually helped build the nation. She was critical to the fulfillment of the requirements of the Hoopa-Yurok Settlement Act, including developing the criteria for the first base roll and a tribal council. Susan shares her insight on how the tribe developed their own tribal constitution, which included an attempt to ensure everyone was equally represented with the formulation of districts where the villages were located. Another struggle she faced in the building of the nation was clearly defining the powers of the government. She speaks on how cultural values inform how decisions are made at a governance level and the value of keeping the branches of the government separate from council. Her definition of good governance includes transparency and ensuring the peoples' buy-in and confidence in government. Other tidbits of wisdom:
  • How to learn from the successes of other tribes
  • The value of developing policies and ordinances and who should write this legislation
  • How to prepare leaders for their role in the tribe
  • Governance challenges and accomplishments of the Yurok tribe
She ends the discussion with her reflections on leadership and developing strong leadership skills, especially the value of focusing on individuals and holding yourself to a higher standard. In her experience, there are still disparities between how people treat women in leadership roles vs. males and she shares how she has attempted to change the status-quo. Her final message includes the importance of traditional knowledge and how it guides the process of nation building.
 
Currently, Susan is the co-president of Women Empowering Women for Indian Nations (WEWIN), an organization she co-founded in 2004.
Native Nations
Resource Type
Topics
Citation

Native Nations Institute. "Indigenous Governance Speaker Series: How to Build a Nation with Susan Masten (Yurok)". Native Nations Instititue, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. February 24, 2022.

Transcript available upon request. Please email us: nni@arizona.edu.

The Ya Ne Dah Ah School (Chickaloon): Melding Traditional Teachings with Modern Curricula

Year

For many generations, education in American Indian/Alaskan Native (AI/AN) communities has been controlled by sources external to the communities and the people themselves. Large bureaucratic agencies, such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) or public school systems overseen by state governments, decided on policies and practices for educating Indian children, mainly without regard for the concerns and priorities of Native communities. The cumulative effect of this disconnect is a long-standing legacy of low academic achievement, high drop out rates, and limited options for AI/AN students in school systems across the United States. In addition, the imposition of assimilationist educational policies resulted in ever-dwindling numbers of tribal and village members who are fluent in traditional languages and cultural practices. As tribal nations across the country assert their sovereign right to self-determination, they frequently look first to seizing control of the education of their youth. Such control allows tribal nations to create policies and implement practices grounded in shared tribal values and traditions, thereby allowing tribes to begin to reverse the devastating effects of cultural and academic erosion associated with non-tribal control. The story of how Chickaloon Village, an Ahtna Athabascan Indian community near Anchorage Alaska, reclaimed control of its children’s education, incorporated modern skills with traditional knowledge, and exceeded state and national standards stands as a proactive model of tribal self-determination, Native sovereignty, and community resourcefulness in creating a school of its own.

Citation

"The Ya Ne Dah Ah School: Melding Traditional Teachings with Modern Curricula". Honoring Nations. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. March 2005. Case Study. 

Permissions

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

Puyallup's Institutionalized Quality Improvement Program

Year

Following a major tribally-initiated restructuring in the early 1980s that created a quality improvement committee and a flatter organizational structure, the PTHA has increased patient access for urgent care visits, reduced "no show" rates, created clinical objectives, increased dental treatments, and incorporated the use of traditional healers into health care delivery. The Puyallup Tribe's Quality Improvement Program has enabled the PTHA to effectively address many of the health care needs of the community that were previously unmet under the Indian Health Service's management. With six full time physicians and a staff of 210, the PTHA has become a model for other Indian nations seeking to create and sustain health systems that meet the highest standard of excellence.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

 "Institutionalized Quality Improvement Program". Honoring Nations: 1999 Honoree. The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 2000. 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. 

Archie Hendricks, Sr. Skilled Nursing Facility and Tohono O'odham Hospice

Year

For decades Tohono O’odham elders in need of skilled nursing had to move far away from family and friends to receive care, or stay home and forgo long-term care services. However, with the opening of the Archie Hendricks, Sr. Skilled Nursing Facility, O’odham elders can now remain in the community. Combining today’s latest technologies and world-class clinical care with traditional values, the nursing home has become one of the finest elder care facilities anywhere in the United States.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

"Archie Hendrick, Sr. Skilled Nursing Facility and Tohono O'odham Hospice." Honoring Nations: 2008 Honoree. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 2009. 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. 

Wilma Mankiller: What it Means to be an Indigenous Person in the 21st Century: A Cherokee Woman's Perspective

Producer
Indigenous Scholars Lecture Series
Year

Former Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation Wilma Mankiller discusses the common misperceptions that people have about Indigenous people in the 21st century, and the efforts of Indigenous peoples to maintain their identity, cultures, values, and ways of life.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Mankiller, Wilma. "What it Means to be an Indigenous Person in the 21st Century: A Cherokee Woman's Perspective." Vine Deloria, Jr. Indigenous Scholars Lecture Series, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. September 30, 2008. Presentation.

Thank you very much Tsianina [Lomawaima] for inviting me and for working on all the details to get me here. And I also want to thank Teresa wherever Teresa is who’s been in charge of taking care of a lot of logistics and has done a great job. And how I came to be here is that I mentioned to Tom [Holm] one time -- we’re both on this commission that he mentioned -- and I mentioned to him how much I love Arizona. And I told him. ‘If I ever had to live any place other than my home and the Cherokee Nation, I’d live in Arizona.’ And he said, ‘Well, we need to get you to Arizona then.’ And so I also wanted to thank Tom for the invitation to come here today and be with all of you. And I want to thank you. I was just mentioning to Tom how honored I am always when I do public speaking that people would leave their home and their family and their other activities and come to spend an evening just so we can have dialogue together and get to know one another, and I really appreciate that very much and want to express that appreciation to you.

For me it’s an incredible honor to offer remarks about what it means to be an Indigenous person in the 21st century as a part of the Vine Deloria series of events that are occurring here on campus. Many of us who had the privilege of knowing Vine are still trying to figure out how to live in a world without his physical presence and I believe that we can best honor him by doing exactly what this university is doing and that’s continuing to challenge the stereotypes and the misperceptions about Native people that still exist in this country. I also think that we can honor him by getting up every morning and making sure that we stand for something larger than ourselves. I think that’s a way of honoring Vine. And I also think that we can honor him by continuing the fight, his fight, our fight for treaty rights and for tribal sovereignty and also continuing the fight for our cultural survival.

So let me begin by saying that I don’t speak for all Indigenous people or even for all Cherokee people. The thoughts that I share with you tonight are derived entirely from my own experience. And most of my remarks tonight will concern Indigenous people of this country, but I have visited Indigenous people in lots of other places including China. There are very distinct ethnic communities in China, in Ecuador, in South Africa, in New Zealand and in Brazil. There are over 300 million Indigenous people in virtually every region of the world including the Sami peoples of Scandinavia, the Maya of Guatemala, numerous tribal groups in the Amazonian rainforest, the Dalits in the mountains of southern India, the San and Qua in southern Africa, aboriginal people in Australia and of course the hundreds and hundreds of Indigenous people in Mexico, Central and South America as well as here in this land that is now called America. There is enormous diversity among communities of Indigenous people, each of which has its own culture, language, history and unique way of life. Indigenous people across the globe share some common values derived from an understanding that their lives are part of and inseparable from the natural world around them.

Onondaga faith keeper Oren Lyons who spoke here recently once said, ‘Our knowledge is profound and comes from living in one place for untold generations. Our knowledge comes from watching the sun rise in the east and set in the west from the same place over great sections of time. We are as familiar with the land, river and great seas that surround us as we are with the faces of our mothers. Indeed we call the earth [Native language], Our Mother, from which all life springs. This deeply felt sense of interdependence with all other living things fuels a duty and a responsibility to conserve and protect the natural world that is a sacred provider of food, of medicine and spiritual sustenance. Hundreds of seasonal ceremonies are regularly conducted by Indigenous people to express thanksgiving for the gifts of nature and to acknowledge the seasonal changes and to remind people of their obligations to each other and to the earth.’

And the stories continue. In many Indigenous communities around the world, traditional stories embody the collective memory of the people. These stories often describe how things were in the distant past, what happened to cause the world to be as it is today and some stories project far into the future. The prophecies of a number of Indigenous groups predict that the world will end when people are no long capable of protecting nature or restoring its balance. Two of the most widely quoted prophecies are those of the Hopi and the Iroquois, both of which have long predicted that the world will end if human beings forget their responsibilities to the natural world. These prophecies seem particularly important in this era of increasing alarm about the catastrophic effects of climate change and questions, even questions about the long-term survival of humankind. Indigenous people are not the only people on earth who understand that they’re interconnected with all living things. Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore said, ‘At some point during this journey, we lost our feeling of connectedness to the rest of nature. We now dare to wonder, ‘Are we so unique and powerful as to be essentially separate from the earth?’’

There are many thousands of people from different ethnic groups who care deeply about the environment and fight every day to protect the earth. The difference between non-Indigenous environmentalists and Indigenous people who live close to the land is that Indigenous people have the benefit, the unique benefit of having ceremonies that regularly remind them of their responsibilities to each other and their responsibilities to the land. So they remain close to the land not only in the way they live but in their hearts and in the way they view the world.

To me, sometimes when I talk to mainstream environmentalists it’s almost like environmentalism is an intellectual exercise. The difference when you talk to people who, traditional Indigenous people who live close to the land is that they feel that the connection to the land and their responsibility to take care of it is a sacred duty, it’s not an intellectual exercise. When women like Pauline Whitesinger, an elder at Black Mountain or at Big Mountain, and Carrie Dann, a Western Shoshone land rights activist speak of preserving the land for future generations, they’re not talking about just future generations of humans, they are talking literally about future generations of all living things. That’s a profound difference. Pauline and Carrie live with the land and they understand the relative insignificance of human beings in the totality of the universe.

When all human beings, Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people lived closer to the land, there was a greater understanding of the interdependence between humans and the land. Author and feminist Gloria Steinem observes that ‘Once, indeed nearly for all the time that human beings have walked this earth, you and I would have been living very differently in small bands, raising our children together as if each child were our own and migrating with the seasons. There were no nations, no lines drawn in the sand. Instead there were migratory paths and watering places with trade and culture blossoming wherever the paths came together in patterns that spread over the continents like lace.’

So what’s happened in the non-Native world is that there’s an absence of the stories and the ceremonies to remind them, and so they have no memory of that time when they lived very close to the land and were responsible for one another and for the land. They’re not only distant from the land and from themselves, they have little understanding of their place in the world.

I remember one time being, I live in a very rural area at the end of a dirt road within the Cherokee Nation and so very conscious of seasonal changes and of things that are going on in the natural world. And I remember once being in New York City at the magical time of dusk and watching the people. Not a single person on a crowded street in New York City looked at or acknowledged the sunset over the Hudson River or even, I imagine, thought about the gift of another day. It made me wonder how many urban dwellers, millions of urban dwellers go about their lives without ever really seeing or thinking about the miracle of the sun rising in the morning and setting again in the evening.

Aside from a different view of their relationship to the natural world, many of the world’s Indigenous people also share a sometimes fragmented but still very present sense of responsibility for one another. Cooperation has always been necessary for the survival of tribal people and even today in the more traditional communities cooperation takes precedence over competition. It’s really quite miraculous that a sense of sharing and reciprocity continues into the 21st century given the staggering amount of adversity Indigenous people have faced. Within many communities at home and I think in tribal communities around the country the greatest respect, the most respected people are not those who have amassed great material wealth or achieved great personal success. The greatest respect is reserved for those people who help other people, people who understand that as Indigenous people we’re born into a community, a specific tribal group and that our entire lives play themselves out within a set of reciprocal relationships. The people that understand that are the most respected people.

There’s evidence of this sense of reciprocity in some Cherokee traditional communities. My husband Charlie Soap leads a widespread self-help movement among the Cherokee in which low-income volunteers work to build walking trails, community centers, sports complexes, water lines and even houses. This self-help movement, in which everybody gets together and helps each other, taps into the traditional value of cooperation for the sake of the common good.

Besides a connection to the land and this sense of reciprocity, the world’s Indigenous people are also bound by the common experience of being ‘discovered’ and subjected to colonial expansion into their territories that led to the loss of an incalculable number of lives and millions and millions of acres of land and resources. The most basic rights of Indigenous people were disregarded and they were subjected to a series of policies that were designed to assimilate them into colonial society and culture. Too often, the policies resulted in poverty, high infant mortality, rampant unemployment, substance abuse and all its attendant problems.

The stories are shockingly similar all over the world. When I first read Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, which chronicled the systematic destruction of an African tribe’s social, cultural and economic structure, it sounded all too familiar. Take the land, discredit the leaders, ridicule the traditional healers, send the children off to distant boarding schools; very familiar story. And then I read a report called The Stolen Generation about aboriginal children in Australia who were forcibly removed from their families and placed in boarding schools.

My own father and my Aunt Sally were taken from my grandfather by the U.S. government and placed in a government boarding school when they were very small, very young. So that story is very familiar to Cherokee people and to tribal people all over the world. Indigenous people everywhere on the planet are connected both by our values and by our oppression.

When contemplating the contemporary challenges and problems faced by Indigenous people worldwide, it’s important to remember that the roots of many contemporary social, economic and political problems can be found in colonial policies and those policies continue today across the globe. In the Amazonian rainforest, Indigenous people are continually battling large scale destruction of their traditional homes in the forest by multi-national mining, oil and timber companies. Some small Amazonian Indigenous communities are on the verge of extinction as the result of the murder of their leaders and the forced dispersal of their members. And to make matters worse, some well-meaning environmentalists who should be natural allies focus almost exclusively on the land and appear not to see or hear the people at all.

When I was in Brazil, one of the people there was quite humorous and he said, ‘There was a time when a lot of famous musicians, American and English musicians, would wear T-shirts that said 'Save the Rainforest.'‘ And he said, ‘You never once saw a T-shirt that said 'Save the People of the Rainforest.'‘ Though the people of the forest, the people who live in the forest and have lived there for thousands of years possess the best knowledge about how to live with and sustain the forest.

When you think about it, of the fact that folks focus on the land and not the people, it’s not surprising really because Indigenous people are not in the consciousness of many, of the people in the larger society. There’s too little accurate information available about us, available in educational institutions, in literature, in films or in the popular culture. I believe that the battle to protect the human and land rights of Indigenous people is made immeasurably more difficult by the fact that so few people know much about either the history or contemporary lives of our people and without any kind of history or cultural context, it’s almost impossible for outsiders to understand Indigenous issues. And the information that is available is often produced by non-Native people; some of which is enormously helpful. Some of the anthropological work has helped tribes restore, some tribal people restore their languages and that sort of thing. So some of the non-Native literature is enormously helpful, but too much of it is written by people who spend 15 minutes in a tribal community, become an expert, and then go out and write a book or produce a film.

So there’s a lot of inaccurate information out there. And the lack of accurate information creates a void, which is often filled with nonsensical stereotypes, which either vilify Indigenous people as troubled descendants of savage peoples on the one hand or they romanticize them as innocent children of nature, spiritual but incapable of higher thought on the other hand. Whether the stereotype romanticizes or vilifies people, it’s still very harmful I believe.

Then the stereotypes about Indigenous women are particularly appalling. While the role of Indigenous women in the family and the community, now and in the past, differs from community to community, women have always played very significant roles in most tribal societies. Yet in the media and in the larger society the power, the strength, the complexity of Indigenous women is rarely acknowledged or rarely recognized.

I believe that these public perceptions of tribal people will change in the future because Indigenous leaders now understand that there is a direct link between public perception and public policy and they understand that they must frame the issues for themselves. If Indigenous people don’t frame the issues for themselves, their opponents most certainly will. In the future, as more Indigenous people become filmmakers, writers, historians, museum curators and journalists, they’ll be able to use a dazzling array of technological tools to tell their own stories in their own voice in their own way.

Once a journalist asked me whether people in the U.S. had trouble accepting the government of the Cherokee Nation during my tenure as principal chief. I was a little surprised by the question. The government of the Cherokee Nation predated the government of the United States and the Cherokee Nation had treaties with other countries before it executed a treaty with one of the first U.S. colonies. So that question really surprised me.

During the colonial era and before, many tribal leaders sent delegations to meet with the Spanish, with the English and French in an effort to protect their lands and rights. And these tribal leaders, they would travel to foreign lands with a trusted interpreter and they took maps that had been painstakingly drawn by hand to show their lands to other heads of state. They also took along gifts, letters and proclamations. And what’s very painful now is to look back in history and see that though the tribal leaders themselves, when they traveled to these other places, thought they were being dealt with as heads of state and as equals, historical records indicate that they were sometimes viewed as objects of curiosity and sometimes a great deal of disdain though they themselves, the tribal leaders, were very earnest.

The journalist with the question about Cherokee government needn’t apologize for her lack of knowledge about tribal governments in the U.S. Many people in the U.S. know very little about us though they’ve been living in our former towns and villages now for hundreds of years.

Again, it’s impossible to even contemplate the contemporary lives or future of Indigenous people without some basic knowledge of tribal history. [I’m going to skip some of this history because you probably know all of this.] Tribal governments in the U.S. exercise their range of sovereign rights and it’s interesting because one of the most common misperceptions in the larger culture is that all tribal governments are the same or even worse that all Indian people are the same or that we speak some kind of common ‘Indian’ language. And so one of the tasks I think we have is to remind people that each tribal government is unique and that different tribal governments exercise their sovereign rights in different ways. And some tribal governments have gaming facilities, some have a number of cooperative agreements with the state governments, other tribal governments believe that we are giving up sovereignty to execute any kind of government with a statement government so they don’t engage in those governments. And there are some governments like the Onondaga that have, do not do any kind of gaming, don’t believe in gaming, and they don’t receive any kind of federal funding at all, none. And so they, and they have their traditional government that they’ve had since the beginning of time. But by and large there are many tribal governments in this country now that have their own judicial systems -- most do -- operate their own police force, they run their own schools, they administer their own clinics and hospitals and operate a wide range of business enterprises and there are now more than two dozen tribally controlled community colleges. And the interesting thing is that all these advancements that tribes have made benefit everybody in the community not just tribal people. And the history and contemporary lives and future of tribal governments is intertwined with that of their neighbors.

And even within there’s a lot of difference between various tribal groups, each of which is very distinct, has its own culture, language and history but even within tribal groups there’s a great deal of diversity. And in our tribe, members of our tribe, the Cherokee tribe, are very stratified socially, economically and culturally. There are several thousand Cherokee people that continue to speak the Cherokee language and live in Cherokee communities in rural northeastern Oklahoma. On the other end of the spectrum, there are enrolled members of the Cherokee Nation who’ve never even visited the Cherokee Nation and so there’s a great deal of stratification in our tribe and I believe in other tribes as well.

Each Indigenous community is unique just as each community in the larger society is unique. Outside our communities, I think too many people view Indigenous people through a very narrow, one-dimensional lens and really we’re very interesting and very complex and we’re certainly multi-dimensional human beings that rarely do people outside of our communities see us in that way.

So what does the future hold for Indigenous people across the globe and what challenges will they face moving further into the 21st century? I think that to see the future of Indigenous people one needs only to look at the past. If we as a people have been able to survive such a staggering loss of land, of rights, of resources and lives, how can I not be optimistic that we will survive whatever challenges lie ahead in the next 100 or even 500 years and that we can project far into the future and still have viable Indigenous communities. If we’ve survived what we’ve survived so far, I’m confident we can survive whatever lies ahead. Without question, the combined efforts of government and various religious groups to eradicate traditional knowledge system has had a profoundly negative impact on the culture as well as the social and economic systems of Indigenous people. But again, if we’ve been able to hold onto our sense of community, our sense of interdependence, our generosity of spirit, our languages, our culture, our ceremonies, our medicine, despite everything, how can I not be optimistic about the future? And though some of the original languages, ceremonies and medicine has been irretrievably lost, the ceremonial fires of many Indigenous people across the globe have survived all the upheaval. Sometimes Indigenous communities after major upheaval and removal have almost had to reinvent themselves as a people but they’ve never given up their sense of responsibility to one another and to the land. It is this sense of interdependence I believe that has sustained tribal people thus far and I believe it will sustain them well into the future.

The world’s changing, but we can adapt to change. Indigenous people know about change and have proven time and time again they can adapt to change. No matter where Native people go in the world, they take with them a strong sense of values, a strong sense of who they are and so they can fully interact with the larger society and participate in the larger society around them but still have a sense of themselves. If you look at some of the people like Vine Deloria, or [N.] Scott Momaday, who won a Pulitzer Prize, or the Chickasaw gentleman, who was an astronaut, or the women who, including Maria Tall Chief, who became prima ballerinas, no matter where those people went they took with them a strong sense of who they are.

One of the things that I remember interviewing for my book LaDonna Harris and one of the things that she said strike me. She said, ‘You know, when I was living in Washington as a Senator’s wife, I did the same thing as other Senate wives did.’ But she said -- it didn’t matter who all was talking to her or what situation she was in -- 'I was Comanche and when, whatever was going on around me, I filtered that through my Comanche values and my sense of who I was. I could live in Washington in a similar house as the other Senate wives and do similar things but I never lost my sense of who I was as a Comanche woman.’ She said, ‘I’ve always hated that term that we live in two worlds.’ She said, ‘My world is that I’m a Comanche woman.’ So it was very interesting and I think a lot of people do that. And for the young people here today that are contemplating careers, it doesn’t matter whether you become a physician or a professor or a lawyer or if you live away from your homelands and can’t participate regularly in ceremonies. You can take with you the knowledge and the values wherever you go.

I believe that one of the great challenges for Indigenous people globally and particularly here in the U.S. will be in the future and now will be to develop practical models to capture, maintain and pass on traditional knowledge system to future generations. When we all lived close to one another, it was easy to pass on the knowledge. Many tribal groups even had people who were designated to remember things. It was their job to remember things and pass them on. But since people are very mobile and the world’s changed so much, we have to come up with new models to capture and maintain the knowledge and pass it on to future generations. There’s nothing in the world, nothing that we can learn anywhere that can replace that solid sense of continuity and knowing that a genuine understanding of traditional knowledge brings. We have to preserve that and we have to pass that on to future generations. There are many communities that are working on discreet aspects of culture such as language or medicine, but in my view it’s the entire system of knowledge that needs to be maintained and not just for Indigenous people but for the world at large.

Perhaps in the future Indigenous people who have an abiding and deeply held belief that all living things are related and interdependent can help policymakers understand how completely irrational it is to destroy the very natural world that sustains all life. Regrettably, in the future the battle for human and land rights will continue but the future does look somewhat better. Last year, after 30 years of advocacy by Indigenous people, the United Nations finally passed a resolution supporting the basic inherent rights of Indigenous people. The resolution by the way was passed over the objections of the United States government. The challenge I think for people working in international work now will be to make sure the provisions of the resolution are honored and the rights of Indigenous people all over the world are indeed protected. And the efforts of tribal governments in this country to take full advantage of the self-governance and self-determination policies of the U.S. government are once again a testament to the fact that Indigenous people simply do better when they have control of their own lives.

In the case of my own people, we’re an example of what happens when you have control and then when you lose control. In the case of the Cherokees, after we were forcibly removed by the United States military from the southeast to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma, we picked ourselves up and rebuilt our nations. We started some of the first schools west of the Mississippi, Indian or non-Indian, and built schools for the higher education of women. We printed our own newspapers in Cherokee and English and were at that time more literate than our neighbors in Texas and Arkansas and actually I think we probably still are. Then in the early 20th century, the federal government tried to abolish the Cherokee Nation and within two decades -- when we didn’t have a functioning central tribal government -- we went from being one of the most literate groups of people to having one of the lowest educational attainment levels of any group in eastern Oklahoma. And so that’s a direct testament to what happens when we have control and when we don’t have control.

For the past 35 years, we’ve been in an effort to revitalize the Cherokee Nation and now we once again run our own school and have an extensive array of successful education programs. The youth at our Indian school, the Sequoyah High School, recently won the state, the team, a student won the state trigonometry contest and several are Gates Millennium Scholars. Again, we do better when we have control over our own destiny. And a couple of years ago Harvard University completed over a decade of comprehensive research, which was published in a guardedly hopeful book entitled The State of Native Nations. The research indicates that most of the social and economic indicators are moving in a positive direction. Many tribal governments are strong, educational attainment levels are improving, and there is a cultural renaissance occurring in many tribal communities.

Within some Indigenous communities, there are conversations about what it means to be a traditional Indigenous person now and what it will mean in the future. I am an Indigenous woman of the 21st century, and I’m so glad I was born Cherokee and that my life has indeed played itself out within a set of reciprocal relationships in my family and community.

To me, being an Indigenous person in the 21st century means being part of a group of people with the most valuable and ancient knowledge on the planet, a people who still have a direct relationship with and sense of responsibility to the land and to other people.

To me, being an Indigenous person of the 21st century means being part of a community that faces a daunting set of challenges and problems and oppression and yet the communities, our communities find so many moments of grace and comfort and joy in traditional stories, in the language and in ceremonies.

I think, to me, being an Indigenous person of the 21st century, all these young smart people getting an education here at the University of Arizona, being an Indigenous person of the 21st century means trusting our own thinking again and not only articulating our own vision of the future clearly, but having within our communities and our people the skill set and the leadership ability to make those visions a reality.

Being an Indigenous person in the 21st century means -- despite everything -- still being able to dream of a future in which all people will support the human rights and self-determination of Indigenous people. We still have that dream and we still have that hope. Land can be colonized and resources can be colonized but dreams can never be colonized. I always think about the time of my grandfather and the early part of the 20th century, during that bad time when our central government was in disarray, and these people never gave up the dream of having a strong central tribal government and a strong community and they would ride horses to each other’s houses throughout the Cherokee Nation and collect money in a mason jar to send a delegate to Washington to remind the leaders in Washington of their obligation, their treaty obligations to Cherokee people. So our people never gave up their dream and will never give up their dream.

Being an Indigenous person in the 21st century means sharing traditional knowledge and best practices with Indigenous communities all over the world using the iPhone, the Blackberry, MySpace, YouTube and every other technological tool that becomes available to us.

Being an Indigenous person in the 21st century means becoming a physician or a scientist or even an astronaut who will leave her footprints on the moon and then return home to participate in ceremonies her people have had since the beginning of time. That’s what it means to be an Indigenous person in the 21st century.

And finally, to be an Indigenous person of the 21st century means to forego the feeling of going around with anger in our hearts over past injustices and it means not becoming paralyzed by the inaction we see around us or the totality of problems we face in our communities. We can’t be paralyzed by that and we can’t be angry over past injustice. I think it’s important for us to keep our view just as our ancestors did. We’re here because our ancestors thought about us and cared about us and fought for us. So it’s our job now to keep our vision fixed on the future. That’s what we need to do.

I really love my favorite proverb, which I’ll leave you with is a Mohawk proverb and because they teach their young people not to always be angry and focus on injustice or not be paralyzed by what’s going on around them, the problems they now face. So what they tell their young people is that you need to be thinking about the future and ‘it’s hard to see the future with tears in your eyes.’ I love that proverb. So I’ll leave you with that proverb, ‘ It’s hard to see the future with tears in your eyes.’ And thank you again for being here and open it up for some time for questions and answers. Thank you.

 

Great Tribal Leaders of Modern Times: Edward T. Begay

Producer
Institute for Tribal Government
Year

Produced by the Institute for Tribal Government at Portland State University in 2004, the landmark “Great Tribal Leaders of Modern Times” interview series presents the oral histories of contemporary leaders who have played instrumental roles in Native nations' struggles for sovereignty, self-determination, and treaty rights. The leadership themes presented in these unique videos provide a rich resource that can be used by present and future generations of Native nations, students in Native American studies programs, and other interested groups.

In this interview conducted in November 2001, former Vice Chairman and Speaker of the Navajo Nation Council Edward T. Begay talks about his long and distinguished career with the Navajo Nation, as well as his commitment to preserving Navajo traditions and creating a sustainable, culturally appropriate economy for his people.

This video resource is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of the Institute for Tribal Government.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Begay, Edward T. "Great Tribal Leaders of Modern Times" (interview series). Institute for Tribal Government, Portland State University. Window Rock, Arizona. November 2001. Interview.

Kathryn Harrison:

"Hello. My name is Kathryn Harrison. I am presently the Chairperson of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon. I have served on my council for 21 years. Tribal leaders have influenced the history of this country since time immemorial. Their stories have been handed down from generation to generation. Their teaching is alive today in our great contemporary tribal leaders whose stories told in this series are an inspiration to all Americans both tribal and non-tribal. In particular it is my hope that Indian youth everywhere will recognize the contributions and sacrifices made by these great tribal leaders."

[Native music]

Narrator:

"Edward T. Begay, a citizen of the Navajo Nation, was born in the Church Rock Community of New Mexico about six miles east of the City of Gallup. The boundaries of the Navajo Reservation extend from northwestern New Mexico into northeastern Arizona and southeastern Utah. The reservation is larger than many states and the Navajo Nation is recognized as the largest Indian tribe in the United States. Ed T. Begay's grandparents encouraged him to get an education in the dominant culture. They sent him to Rehoboth Mission High School rather than a Bureau of Indian Affairs school. He then attended Calvin College and received his degree from Southwest Business College. He was later awarded an honorary doctorate from College of Ganado. After service in the U.S. Army from 1959 to 1960 he came to Window Rock and served as head of the Data Processing Unit for the Navajo Nation. During this time he saw issues that needed to be addressed and thereafter began a long public service career with the Navajo Nation. The structure of the Navajo Nation government has changed over time as the people have taken greater control over their affairs. In the 1860s tensions grew between the Navajo, the U.S. Army and non-Indian ranchers who had settled in the area. Although many Navajos resisted, Kit Carson rounded up approximately 8,000 and force-marched them to Fort Sumner. Several thousands died on the march, the four-year imprisonment and the march home. This episode of misery but also survival is known as the Long Walk. The Peace Commission and the Treaty of 1868 allowed the Navajo survivors to return. The treaty set aside a reservation, a fraction of the original homeland. And in exchange for peace the U.S. Government promised basic services to the Navajo. The tenacious Navajo people built their lives and communities again. In the 1920s a Navajo Nation Business Council was established by the U.S. Government to deal with oil companies that were seeking leases on Navajo lands. Then in the 1930s the first Navajo tribal council was organized. In 1989 the National Council was again restructured. A legislative branch was created and an Office of the Speaker established. The 88 members of the council are elected based on the population of 110 chapters. The Speaker is the CEO of the legislative branch. Ed T. Begay was elected to two terms to the Office of the Speaker, first in 1999 becoming the third Speaker of the Navajo Nation council. Before his terms as speaker he had already built a distinguished career in service of the Nation serving as a council delegate for the Church Rock and Bread Springs chapters for more than 30 years. He proudly served on several committees including Education and Economic Development and Planning. From 1983 to 1987 he served the Navajo Nation as Vice Chairman with then Chairman Peterson Zah. Ed T. Begay is committed to the project of developing the economic self sufficiency of the Navajo people. Government work on many levels fascinates him. Today he serves as a Highway Commissioner for the State of New Mexico. He is also engaged in an initiative that will document Navajo traditions and culture. He has two daughters, Charlene Begay Platero and Sandra Begay Campbell. He is the grandfather of twin toddlers whom he says, ‘really like to use their voices.' The Institute for Tribal Government interviewed Edward T. Begay in November, 2001 in Window Rock, Arizona."

The Navajo Long Walk of the 1860s, Kit Carson and the peoples' four-year imprisonment at Fort Sumner

Edward Begay:

"Through my grandfather Jesus his grandfather was the official, he was a Spanish man and he was the official interpreter for the Navajos in Fort Sumner. So by virtue of that my grandfather's grandfathers and mothers they were part of that Long Walk. Well, I guess by reading about them later on in life sometimes it's irritating from a standpoint that there was no human rights in those days. I guess there was but nobody emphasized that so it was more or less on the plunder and conquer approach. Sometimes a bit of resentment but then you have to take it into perspective in terms of history and what was taking place and try to work with the attitude that's in place."

As a child, Ed Begay learned about leadership and the rules of the Bureau of Indian Affairs from his family members

Edward Begay:

"My sisters and I were raised by my grandparents and my dad eventually he moved back to Tohatchi where his family, his mom and dad were. But as...I don't know, about five or six years old my grandfather always talked about different policies that are being placed upon Navajos by Bureau of Indian Affairs. Why he is so astute to that is him being the chief rancher and cattle rancher and raised horses so they always talk about grazing areas and units of sheep and how many you're supposed to be limited to such and such numbers in order to fit the pasture. So as small as I was just listening to the elderly people discuss I became very keen aware that there is an ongoing struggle in terms of federal government's rules that are placed upon Indian people, in our case Navajo people. And my grandfather Tom Jesus was very involved in leadership role. He was...I guess some people nowadays would say he was a headsman of a group in a community. And from there on it stemmed into Navajo chapter government so he was chapter president for I don't know how long. But from the meetings he would always bring back what the government policies are and the programs that they want to undertake -- they, meaning the Bureau of Indian Affairs representatives."

Learning the dominant culture at a Christian boarding school and at home the teachings of grandparents

Edward Begay:

"As I was growing up my grandmother and grandfather they wanted me to get educated in a dominant society. So rather than that they placing me what the Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school they put me in private school. It was an interesting experience. Not knowing a word of English and I thought to myself, ‘Let's see how would I do best in learning other language and who would speak to me so that I would readily understand and also be able to maintain it and also practice it?' But I wasn't the only one, there was...at the whole class, the first students in my age group, we were all similar. There was one or two that understood the English language. Of course in those days they taught from the simplest book in pictures. So in that way I can readily relate what they're trying to describe and name names and the action that they produce to get your verbs and so forth. But once in awhile when we would play by ourselves, we would talk Navajo and we were punished, I guess we were disciplined for doing so because the teachers and the people that were advising us, they wanted us to learn and speak fluent English and understand the printed page and so forth. It was interesting. But we paid attention to the discipline that was involved and oh, discipline meaning along the lines of military type of discipline where we'd go to...time to go eat breakfast and lunch and dinner we would all get lined up according to size and we would march not so in military steps but we'd march and go in groups and then we would sit in the dining room. We learned etiquettes of the world. Then also in terms of play you've got to give a fair consideration for the other person. That's a key in terms of getting along with people and in terms of you had to share responsibilities in different areas, in classrooms, keeping the classrooms tidy and not only that but also in the dormitory situation and also in terms of studies and all different subjects. To me ... and learned was that it meant something as a tool, as a tool that you could use in life. It wasn't just something like the temporary stuff. These are the things that one would learn and keep and maintain because I keep going back to grandparents. If you learn something, if they teach you something, you better pay attention and understand and be able to apply it because their teaching was, ‘If you can learn well, then you will be positioned to teach your children later on when you get married and have your own children. And if you don't know, then it will get chaotic.' That was the teachings of our grandparents.

The need for flexibility when operating in two cultures

Edward Begay:

"Learn the phrase, when you're in Rome do as the Romans do and that goes a long ways. I tell you it can even work today. It's just like yesterday I was attending the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission which is to redraw the state legislature boundaries and also congressional down in Arizona, been following it real close. So we had to play their game. That's what it means. You have to speak the language that they use that they can understand and that they pay attention and that's the phrase that it'll go a long ways for. Many people if they could understand that rather than saying, ‘I'm Navajo therefore I can't be open to what the discussion is about or the subject matter that's being discussed.' If you do that then they leave you behind so you've got to keep up with it. There's a constant awareness that one must be aware of."

Learning and teaching discipline in the military

Edward Begay:

"Then I got my assignment in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. I used to train troops for 18 months. The people that, the majority that came through that army camp was Puerto Ricans and they thought that they could just run over me by being stubborn and all that. So I said, ‘Okay, if that's what you want to do, I've got the patience and I'm in shape and we could run and run and run.' That's how I got my point across. They don't want to run, ‘Okay, you pay attention to what I'm teaching.' So as long as I'm on the platform I'm in charge, you do as I say because I know what I'm talking about because these are the things that I got taught and therefore you have to learn the discipline. About the third day I was understood pretty well. They know who's in charge and why. One of them asked, they said, ‘Why?' I said, ‘If you don't learn discipline here, when you get into actual combat you'll be the first casualty.' I said, ‘That's why I'm teaching you discipline to pay attention and understand the commands that are given. When I say hit the dirt you say how hard. That's for your safety. No other reason just for your safety.' Once you put that thought across then it goes a long ways for being understood and provide timely leadership and also surprisingly by the time they finished four weeks or eight weeks, they come and thank you for all the lessons that you taught them. That's gratifying."

Ed Begay began his service with the Navajo Nation in data processing

Edward Begay:

"They thought I was a computer whiz then but then the community that I come from, Church Rock, they have this chapter, local government of the Navajos. I would go to these meetings and I would just sit in the audience and there were some things that I thought they were overlooking, I thought they were elementary so I would address that in a timely manner. So one day they said, ‘Young man,' they said, ‘if you think you're so smart, we're going to put you in as chapter president. What would you say then?' I responded to the gentleman and I said, ‘If that's a challenge, as soon as you vote me in I would provide leadership for you, the community.' I said, ‘Leadership means that I have to tell you what to do, when to do it and how to do it. And then you have to pay attention.' I said, ‘That's what you're asking of me to do, then you vote for me.' So that's how I got elected chapter president and I served, didn't finished my term, three years or so then I got nominated to serve on the...to be candidate for Navajo Nation council delegate."

He was in the forefront of forming the Navajo Area School Board Association

Edward Begay:

"So we got organized and from all over the reservation and they said, ‘We want to get in that circle where the decision is made, approving budgets, hiring personnel and program changes.' So I was one of the organizers for federal legislation where the Bureau has to recognize a school board membership where they would be responsible for Bureau of Indian Affairs school. So I got elected from my chapter to Fort Wingate High School Board, one of the original and served there and by virtue of that there was at that time 67 schools on Navajo, Bureau operated, funded. Then each of these all had school board members eventually. When the federal legislation came through, we got organized so that we have an area association that oversees these school operations. A lot of work but we got it done, it's in place, it's working."

Meeting resistance to reform

Edward Begay:

"Some people naturally in any society there's always resistance but that just adds a lot of energy that you want to do better and you want to convince them and that's the approach that I took, especially with the people that understood what the agenda was, which was to be properly authorized so that could be in charge of these schools as a school board elected by the community that we come from where we send our children."

The influence of the 1960s on the Navajo people, using their voices

Edward Begay:

"Being out there in various communities, working and also being part of communities in different places, yes, I think Navajo people got swept into those movements and I guess in that way they realized, Indian people realized that, hey, you could be outspoken and be heard and you could write your opinions and like writing to the editor in news media or get interviewed and get your thoughts across. A lot of people would pay attention to what you have to say if you take it a positive way with the human interest in it, yeah, people will pay attention."

He has devoted 35 years to the service of the Navajo Nation

Edward Begay:

"I've been reelected since 1970 up to 1982; '82 I guess I could have continued but at that time, 1982 I was asked by Peterson Zah that he was running for chairman of the council and he asked me if I would consider being his running mate as the vice chairman of the council. So I resigned from my candidacy as a council and came up with the Peterson Zah to seek the nomination and election for primary and general, which we did. So I served as vice chairman of the council from 1982 to 1987. For reelection we lost reelection by 750 votes."

Restructuring the Navajo government following the years of Peter McDonald

Edward Begay:

"I was out of office that period of time. However, as all politicians do that you work behind the scenes to get your ideas and programs in place. So I worked a lot in that period of time in that fashion. And some of the sitting council friends and relatives they were active participants in that. I think they're just...I knew being on the council prior I knew that this was going to come about sometimes. By that I mean that the Navajo Nation council is the governing body and whoever's chairman or president, if they want additional powers to do certain things, they have to go back to the council to receive that authority. During Peter McDonald's term in '87, '88, '89 at that time quite a bit of or most of the power was delegated to the chairman then. So when Peter McDonald came back to regain his seat he knew he had all the delegated authority so he didn't pay attention to what was being advised by the council. He said, ‘I'm duly authorized, therefore you have no say.' So the council said, ‘Okay, we'll test this.' So they stripped him of all the delegated powers and reserved unto themselves. They brought everything back only the position of the chairman and the vice chairman. It came down to they tell him when to come to work and when to quit and what he can do and what he can't do. That's where all the eruption that the council did wrong and that they were abusing their power at allegation and so forth. But that's, to me that's the bottom line. So he had to pay attention to the council. So by virtue of the restructuring, all the powers that were delegated to the chairman then was given...the council took it all back and they did distribute that power to the standing committee of the council. That's the way it is now, which is Title II as amended. And then by virtue of that they created the office of the president and vice president, they created office of the speaker for legislative branch to preside over the council and also oversee the day to day activity of legislative branch. And then of course we have the judicial branch, which is headed by chief justice to do all the activities. So they worked those things out and that's what we have in place now."

The Nation has turned down gaming

Edward Begay:

"I think in the area of authorizing legalized gaming on Navajo I think it's a mix. The elderly people, those that pay close attention to culture, say that it's not the proper thing for the Navajos to establish because it creates a lot of disruption in the family, disruption in the spending pattern and then also disruption of marriages and all the related vices that goes with outright gaming if one does not closely control and monitor. I think that's one of the basic reasons why they kind of, the Navajo people kind of says, ‘Slow down a minute.' And then there's some other segment of Navajo population they like to establish gaming so that we could capture all the monies from other people rather than from the Navajo people themselves. But in order to do that I think education is the key to that."

The place of traditional wisdom in the everyday decisions of life

Edward Begay:

"In my personal life in the early years I was brought up as believing in the practice of Navajo beliefs meaning Navajo prayers, meaning Navajo songs and certain things of doing. People call it rituals but it's just the way Navajo practice their beliefs and practice through the ceremony, that's how I was brought up. But when I got into a Christian school then I was taught about the discipline of Christian practice and to me they are very strict. It's not just hearsay. By that I mean they're in thick books, they're all spelled out and you could, if there's a certain subject matter you wanted to address or find out why they are written you go to those source and they'll explain it to you, detail. Before I lose my train of thought, that's where I would like as a speaker to council now before my term is up I'd like to get those, some of those principles in Navajo practice to print and into maybe a law but the people tend to say you shouldn't do that. But I myself believe it should be written down, you should have books on it so my grandkids that follows me would know what I was talking about, they could go to that reference. The way it is now you have to find some elderly folks to be your reference on those songs or prayers and practice. On the other side, in the Christian faith it's all written down so that there's no room to wiggle ‘cause it's there. But for myself, if you just pay attention to those principles that are written down and then also the principle of Navajo that are handed down verbally we understand I can almost put it together just from my own belief and there's some variations but very little if you pay attention to those fine print. I think that that helped me in life to have a strong faith in myself and also the good Lord above that guides me and provides me wisdom to make all these supposedly hard decisions, tough decisions. But if you have those things in place those are just day to day decisions one makes to survive in life."

The need for real commitment to the task of developing economic self-sufficiency

Edward Begay:

"At the same time we have to pay attention to orderly development in all these different areas because there's so much regulation, environmental protection laws. We have our own environmental protection laws in place now. If one could pay attention to all those I think there's a business opportunity for an entity. The Navajo Nation talks about developing Navajo entrepreneurship but they just say it in words, they need to put it in practice. But at the same time the people, the Navajo people, business people need to have a personal initiative, drive, which means you have to sacrifice to achieve what you're after because nobody's going to give it to you. If you wait for that, there's a long list for handout. The handout just lasts a little bit but if you're in private business I think you have unlimited opportunity that I think which we Navajo individuals yet to grasp fully so I think that's a challenge for not only Navajos but I think it's for Indian communities."

On whether the tribal council shares his views on economic development

Edward Begay:

"I wish 87 other members did, they would be a very dangerous council to work with meaning that they would just blow up the opportunity, that's what I mean. But they express it but when it comes to financing then everybody starts hedging back. Let me just use the word loosely or even the full meaning, they hate to take risk. I feel if anything you want to do worthwhile for yourself or for your family or for your neighbors and your kin folks, you have to take some risk. But you've got to know the risk that you're taking up front rather than just surprise type of thing. I think that's a virtue that people have yet to fully learn."

The Navajo Nation and the U.S. Congress

Edward Begay:

"This might surprise you but the strongest advocate that the Navajo has is a Hawaii senator, Senator Dan Inouye. He's very interested in Navajo language, he's very interested in culture and very interested how we do things. I guess...he says it intrigues him and it also challenges him. Secondly is from New Mexico, Senator Pete Domenici. Sometimes he gets upset with us but I always tell him, ‘Senator, you have nowhere to go. We're here to stay.' So he's very helpful. Senator Jeff Bingaman although he doesn't take our advice at times, but then he too has to pay attention to Navajo. Then you get to the Arizona side it's a different story. By that I mean they tend to take care of the dominant society's interests first, then if there's some left over they might share it with you or support you, DeConcini, Kyl. Then to Utah the Mormons have all these wonderful things for me the people should do but when the pressure is applied they have a tendency to shy away. There again, they take care of their own first and if there's some left over we'll share with the Native Americans. This is in terms of proper funding from the federal government. That's what I'm alluding to and also for ongoing support for economic development. By that I mean if United States government can at the twinkling of an eye can appropriate $40 billion, no argument for some other places they can't even take care of their own here. This is sad. But that's in the real world."

Asserting Navajo sovereignty on every level

Edward Begay:

"That doesn't mean we have to sit down and say, ‘We're going to give up.' No, that just adds fuel to our work and for myself, I get involved in the state legislature, county government, chapter government, United States government and international. Last fall three of the council members we were delegates to United Nation in Geneva, Switzerland. They meet for two weeks. Anyway I was there for one week and then my counterpart Chief Justice Yazzie took care of...sat in the second week so we had full coverage. So that's where in that forum as a government, you have to go there as a government to be effective I learned. But when I gave my statement on some issues all those people turned around and faced the Navajo delegation when we made a presentation because we were there as the Navajo government. Interesting, it was very interesting. And they pay attention to what you have to say and they said they value the recommendation that you present to them. That's a very rich experience in terms of worldwide governance I call it. That's where each Indian Nations of the United States and Canada should be. Hopefully Navajo Nation will get a seat one of these days."

The most important quality in leadership

Edward Begay:

"The key things is your upbringing, putting it to use at the higher level, higher level meaning in the government with the mass, let me just say the mass population of your group. You have to be dedicated. I guess some leaders they want to go for individual achievements. It could be done but they come and go to me. But if you're serious in being dedicated to impact and also improve the livelihood of your people you have to be honest with them. I think a lot of leaders come and go because that's where they fall. They're not honest, the true sense of the word honest with their people. I like to pride myself in being honest and level with the people that I represent meaning that I just tell them just the way things are at and also give them the consequences that might be involved if you continue to...sometimes it's not a pleasant thing to do. To achieve that you have to be honest with yourself in order to be honest with your fellow man."

Edward Begay's family

Edward Begay:

"Right now I'm a widow. I lost my wife 10 ½ years ago. She was Cecilia Damon Begay was her name. She was very supportive. I think one of the reasons is her upbringing and also the educational background that she had. She was a graduate of UNM in health science and she was a registered nurse. We have two daughters, Charlene Begay Platero, a son-in-law John Platero. Two weeks ago they adopted twin babies, a boy and a girl so they are proud parents as I speak. My daughter's a UNM graduate and she has her discipline in marketing. She works for Navajo Nation Economic Development in the area of all these activities marketing. She's an outspoken lady. She's a Rehoboth school board president until she resigned last week ‘cause she has two babies to tend to. She works really well with the state legislature and the State Department, New Mexico and working her way into the Arizona portion, coordinating in the area of economic development and ongoing things. And my son-in-law works, he's a foreman with the giant refinery just out of Gallup so they live in Gallup. My younger daughter Sandra Begay Campbell, she's a structural engineer for Sandia Laboratories in Albuquerque and her husband is a mechanical engineer. Yeah, my daughter Sandra got her master's degree out of Stanford University and presently she just last January she was appointed to the University of New Mexico Board of Regents, appointed by the governor and confirmed by the New Mexico Senate."

His daughters did not speak the Navajo language in the home but many years later Speaker Begay and other leaders agreed to utilize it in government activities

Edward Begay:

"Surprisingly they understand but they can't talk fluently back to me. But that was my own fault, my wife and I's own fault. We consciously made a decision early on since both of us did not understand English, speak English when we went to school, as we went through school we had a tough time, at least I did, I had a tough time doing English composition. I always switch words around and I was thinking Navajo instead of English language and so we made a conscious decision that we would talk English to our daughters and that way they could excel. And they did I think, in my mind they did but then they had to go back and pick up learning Navajo and I think they can do that. They understand but it's just a matter of practicing speaking, a conversation with their aunts and so forth. But other than that I think in some cases Navajo families we speak mixed language, Navajo and English, we intermingle then that way you would understand me fully if I spoke to you in that way or the same way with the Navajo. If I spoke to them in Navajo and English to them they would lose the true meaning of my conversation or the idea I'm trying to convey to them. Knowing that, President Begay and I and Chief Justice Robert Yazzie, we said during our term or at least my term be supportive of them and they supported me is that they would preserve Navajo language and culture in all aspects of our governmental activities. That's what we're going with. It's a struggle. They say, ‘What are you saying?'"

Achievements and disappointments

Edward Begay:

"I guess there's several but just achieving the goal of getting educated and also provide leadership to Navajo people, not only the Navajo people but provide leadership to the county. I was a county commissioner for two terms in McKinley County and right now I'm serving as a highway commissioner for the State of New Mexico serving second term, the only individual that was appointed twice. So if I complete my term I will have served the State of New Mexico in that capacity for 12 years. And in that earlier statement I made was that when you're in Rome do as the Romans do and that's what I do best in those settings is provide leadership in that commission in terms of budgeting. But if I could only have that opportunity on the Navajo council it would have been wonderful but on the commission side I just deal with five versus I have to deal with 87 on the council side, that's the difference. I think the other one is achieving to be the Speaker of the Navajo Nation council elected twice, the second term being elected by a commission. So I'm the third Speaker of the Council, which is I think an achievement in terms of it's a new concept and being able to come and being the third one that in itself to me is a special achievement."

The legacy he would like to leave

Edward Begay:

"One of them probably be is just being fair and being honest and always promoting Navajo interests. Then also too is that I've been able to work with any government meaning that I said before that I'm electable in Navajo setting and also getting appointed to a state commission position and do an excellent job for them. That way they reap the benefit of the achievements that I made in those areas."

The dream of documenting Navajo traditions in a lasting piece of work

Edward Begay:

"Under my current term one of my plans was that I'm going to put Navajo Common Law to writing. As we speak one of my staff members is...I just gave them outline and I said, ‘Now you fill in the blanks.' In there it would be a guide, a guide and also a constant reminder for whoever reads this that these are the concepts and the practice that were used by our ancestors and this. But if they do it proper in reverent manner they could never go wrong so we'll have a book on it I hope."

The Great Tribal Leaders of Modern Times series and accompanying curricula are for the educational programs of tribes, schools and colleges. For usage authorization, to place an order or for further information, call or write Institute for Tribal Government – PA, Portland State University, P.O. Box 751, Portland, Oregon, 97207-0751. Telephone: 503-725-9000. Email: tribalgov@pdx.edu.

[Native music]

Videotaping and Video Assistance
Chuck Hudson, Jeremy Fivecrows and John Platt of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission

Editing
Green Fire Productions

Photo credit:
Navajo Nation
Edward T. Begay

Great Tribal Leaders of Modern Times is also supported by the non-profit Tribal Leadership Forum, and by grants from:
Spirit Mountain Community Fund
Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs
Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, Chickasaw Nation
Coeur d'Alene Tribe
Delaware Nation of Oklahoma
Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe
Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians
Jayne Fawcett, Ambassador
Mohegan Tribal Council
And other tribal governments

Support has also been received from
Portland State University
Qwest Foundation
Pendleton Woolen Mills
The U.S. Dept. of Education
The Administration for Native Americans
Bonneville Power Administration
And the U.S. Dept. of Defense

This program is not to be reproduced without the express written permission of the Institute for Tribal Government

© 2004 The Institute for Tribal Governmen

 

Frances Stout: Archie Hendricks, Sr. Skilled Nursing Facility and Tohono O'odham Hospice

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

In this interview with the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development's Joseph P. Kalt, Frances Stout of the Tohono O'odham Nursing Care Authority discusses what led the Tohono O'odham Nation to establish the Archie Hendricks, Sr. Skilled Nursing Facility and Tohono O'odham Hospice, and the positive differences the facilities have made for the nation and its citizens.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Stout, Frances. "Archie Hendricks, Sr. Skilled Nursing Facility and Tohono O'odham Hospice." Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. March 18, 2011. Interview.

Joseph Kalt:

Hi. I’m here with Frances Stout. Frances is chair of the board of the Tohono O’odham Nation’s Nursing Care Authority, which governs an award-winning program, a nursing home called the Archie Hendricks, Sr. Skilled Nursing Facility. And Frances, welcome. Thank you for joining us. Let me first ask you just to describe this...I’ve been there, I’ve seen your nursing home operations. It’s state of the art; it’s truly fascinating what you’ve accomplished. Describe what the Archie Hendricks Sr. Nursing Care Facility does, the kind of services you provide, and what you’re trying to do with it.

Frances Stout:

Well, Archie started because of our elders were far away from their home and we really needed to bring them back. They were lonely, they were...it was just painful for everybody, families. And so when Archie opened, we immediately had many elders come in and mainly because they were frail and families couldn’t take care of them. So one of the things I think we did right in the beginning was to provide comfort and food that they could eat, plus they had people who spoke to them in their own language. And they also had family visiting. This was a biggie. But I think the main thing that really, I would say, made a difference was in the ability of the elder to relax or to feel the comfort. And that took a while. As you know, when you move elders from one facility to another, it’s very painful and it’s a big adjustment. So when they came from the Tucson homes into our facility, there was an adjustment and you really could see it, and it took a while for them to say, ‘Am I really here?’ So the hospice program is new and right now we have...and it’s actually a new concept for our people, too. We don’t normally talk about death, we don’t normally talk about, ‘When I get to that point, do this for me.’ Those are things you never talk about. So it’s been new and we’ve...although we have a program where they...it’s called 'Pathways.' We have a program now where our people go into the home and talk with them about medications they’re taking, the type of treatment they’re getting and maybe getting them to the point where they feel or they can comfortably say, ‘I don’t think I want to go back for any more treatment. I don’t want any more procedures done on me. I would like to just pass comfortably.’ So this is what Pathways does and they may either stay in their home or they may come to the facility.

Joseph Kalt:

When we go around Indian Country, tribe after tribe is struggling with the same issue you faced of the elderly essentially having to leave home at a critical time in their lives when they’d like to be with their families. And tribe after tribe asks us, ‘How did Tohono O’odham do that?’ How did you do it? This is a world-class facility at Tohono O’odham Nation. What was the impetus and what was the drive behind this that allowed it to happen and now to be sustained is this premier operation in the United States?

Frances Stout:

Well, as you know, most Natives have always cared for their people from birth to death, but with all the lifestyle changes and all the things that have entered into our lives, we no longer can do that. And there are families that still make an effort. In fact, we’ve had people say, ‘I have to quit work now because I’m going to start taking care of my grandmother.’ But that’s a small number, very small number who can do that. The majority of them just finally say, ‘It’s too much. We have to take you away or put you somewhere.’ So the people...I think there was a small group who really felt badly and felt like we really needed to work towards getting a home on our reservation and that little task force -- which was I believe all women at first -- would come to the administrator’s office or our chair, the chair of our nation’s office and ask were there monies? And no, there weren’t any monies. But they were persistent and after a while, when money was available, the chair did call them and say, ‘Here’s the money. Now who’s going to stand up and work towards bringing the home here?’ And then there was silence in the council and finally two of the women stood up and said, ‘We’ll do it.’

So they again set up what they called an advisory group and this is when I came in. And they worked very hard. They...and I think they spent their money wisely. They got an excellent consulting service who had done nursing homes in the past and they were wonderful. They helped us put together a plan, a business plan, a fantastic business plan. In fact, every once in awhile even now we look at it because whoever wrote it was very future-oriented and that’s what you need. We are not...most Natives are not future-oriented. We live...we’ve had to live from day to day, so it’s difficult to plan sometimes.

But I think the board, when they finally got to the point where the board members were appointed, that was when I think we decided, ‘How are we going to do this? We’ve got the money, we’ve got the architect, we’ve got the plans and we’re ready for construction.’ And as soon as construction started, it was difficult to really realize this was happening. But the board I think was very...I wasn’t on the first board. It was the second...a position opened up and then I joined the board and I’ve been on it ever since. The board that I work with now is fantastic. They are very passionate. They’re very, as I said, strategic in their thinking and every once in a while...in the past...the past board I think, every once in a while somebody got a wild hair and off they went in a different direction. So we try to stay focused and it has worked for us.

Joseph Kalt:

The facility and the programs are simply world-class because you have world-class care being provided to people as you say in their own language, with their own families around and you keep winning awards and rightly so. I know that the Archie Hendricks Sr. Nursing Facility has won one of the Honoring Nations awards from the Harvard Project. Our role of course is to take your wonderful stories and try to document them so other tribes can learn from them. From your perspective, things like the Honoring Nations award, have you found that that helps you? Have other tribes sought information from you directly? What role has it played in your work?

Frances Stout:

I think the main thing it did for us, at least for the board, was it validated the fact that we were going in the right direction. It really made a difference. After we won that award, we thought, ‘We are...we must be doing something right.’ And I think that just motivated us to work even harder. Yes, we’ve had some tribes come down, take a look, and one of the biggies that seems to be a big obstacle is money. The nation has to buy into it and then they have to get the money somewhere. We’re very fortunate to have gaming and we’re very fortunate that they have it set aside and...

Joseph Kalt:

For the facility?

Frances Stout:

And they are willing to, as I said, give us subsidy. We just went for our second, oh no, our...is it our third or our second request and we got that without...

Joseph Kalt:

From the council?

Frances Stout:

From the council. Well, we first have to go to the districts and let them know that we...and have their approval. That’s always I think a good way to find out what the people are thinking about your facility, what’s going on there.

Joseph Kalt:

Well, I can say you certainly are on the right track and we thank you for participating with us and allowing us to tell your story across Indian Country 'cause as I said earlier, tribe after tribe is struggling with this issue and your leadership has really been phenomenally important to all of Indian Country so thank you very much. Thank you.

Frances Stout:

Thank you for letting me tell the story.

Joseph Kalt:

Great.

Idle No More: Decolonizing Water, Food and Natural Resources With TEK

Producer
Indian Country Today
Year

Watersheds and Indigenous Peoples know no borders. Canada’s watershed management affects America’s watersheds, and vice versa. As Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper launches significant First Nations termination contrivance he negotiates legitimizing Canada’s settler colonialism under the guise of “progress.” Progress, through Harper’s political illusion, provides inadequate allocation of money for water and wastewater systems on Canada’s reservations. Almost every natural resource development currently operating or planned is within 200 kilometers of a First Nation community and on its traditional lands. Harper has laid off public natural resource managers and environmental protection personnel and has weakened policies for conservation, again in the name of progress. Idle No More is about many things, but first and foremost it represents a unified effort to protect Mother Earth. We will talk about the evidence of watershed degradation due to American progress too…. But first let’s talk about watersheds...

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Goodness, Valerie. "Idle No More: Decolonizing Water, Food and Natural Resources With TEK." Indian Country Today. January 30, 2015. Article. (https://ictnews.org/archive/idle-no-more-decolonizing-water-food-and-natural-resources-with-tek, accessed July 21, 2023)

People Belong to the Land; Land Doesn't Belong to the People

Year

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) does not recognize the right of indigenous nations to own land outside the laws and rules of national governments. According to international historical doctrines of discovery, Indigenous Peoples, non-Christian nations, cannot own land over the rights of Christian kings or governments...

Resource Type
Citation

Champagne, Duane. "People Belong to the Land; Land Doesn’t Belong to the People." Indian Country Today Media Network. January 19, 2015. Article. (https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/news/politics/people-belong-to-the-land..., accessed January 20, 2015)

Traditional Knowledge Fuels Yurok and Karuk Habitat Restoration Project With USDA

Author
Year

Fighting fire-ravaged habitat destruction with … fire?

It may sound counterintuitive, but the Yurok and Karuk tribes, experts at managing watersheds and ecosystems, are working with several agencies in California to manage forests in their traditional territories and thus restore habitat that supports Native plants and wildlife...

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

ICTMN Staff. "Traditional Knowledge Fuels Yurok and Karuk Habitat Restoration Project With USDA." Indian Country Today Media Network. December 2, 2014. Article. (https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/news/environment/traditional..., accessed December 5, 2014)