Richard Jack: Engaging the Nation's Citizens and Effecting Change: The Lac du Flambeau Story

Native Nations Institute

Richard Jack, Chairman of the Constitution Committee of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, discusses some of the struggles that he and his fellow committee members have encountered as they engage the Lac du Flambeau people on the topic of constitutional reform and the need to regain true ownership of the nation's governance.

Resource Type

Jack, Richard. "Engaging the Nation's Citizens and Effecting Change: The Lac du Flambeau Story." Emerging Leaders seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. October 11, 2012. Presentation.

Richard Jack:

"It's been really engaging for me to be part of a process that's so dynamic and so exciting. We did a lot of research on where we needed to go as a nation. We did a lot of research on the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Ho-Chunk Inc., a whole slug of models that were actually introduced by the Native Nations people and so we began this whole process of adopting and adapting. When we first started engaging, we got into a whole series of bad investments that pretty much bankrupted our tribe and there were some...people wanted accountability, they wanted retribution is what they wanted because things got bad. But we're here now and so we had to take a real hard look at what got us there and start exploring some ideas on where we were going to head as a nation. Well, we needed constitutional reform in the worst way because there was a lot of gray areas and things that weren't addressed. Our tribal council still today has not adopted any formal rules of procedure but we have a stable government. That is critical to moving the conversation forward and that was a process. It was a very challenging process and it took a lot of community activism to get it rolling. People were very concerned about our children, our future and 'How are we going to pay for it all? All our money's gone.'

Some of our tribal leaders wanted to hire out the process of reform to some lawyers and we as the constitution committee took offense to that. We needed to be the owners of our future. We needed to be the owners of our destiny. So when we took a hard look at sovereignty and...these guys were pricey, too. They don't come cheap. And they told us straight up to our face, with the council in attendance, that, 'We'll write the document for you and if you want to do community education that's fine, but essentially we'll just do it for you and we'll go on and we'll figure out some other ways that you can pay us to develop your judicial system and your legislative system.' And so they were kind of happy with kind of the way things were moving. And then some other things had hit the scene and we stepped back and we started engaging our council in some real engaging conversations about just taking that ownership. So we were granted leave to conduct a series of educational forums at our convention center twice a month, three to four hours long. And like many processes, how do you encourage that? So we got kind of a little creative and so we said, 'Well, we're going to do a little free play along with the whole scenario but you won't be able to utilize that until after a three- or four-hour session.' So that was real successful. So we began.

And one of the things that had happened, over time when we actually got through actually the fourth article of our constitution, and some other things that occurred in between, some more crises were developing within the tribe. So we had to spend a couple sessions educating the community. By our own law we had...our kids were being shipped all over the country, dysfunctional family systems, a whole series of things that we're all aware of as Native people -- drugs, alcohol. They have an impact on our community. So we had this educational process and by our own law we had to adjust our ordinances so that ICW [Act, Indian Child Welfare Act] could...but we had to educate a whole lot of people. We had to educate our council on all the processes that were involved and it was pretty successful. So we developed an ordinance that now ensures that our descendents will be taken care of. We will assume jurisdiction over them as a nation, as a people.

So that started a whole new discussion when we got back to the work of constitutional reform. We were about five months into the process and my uncle, he passed on, and he was...he just kind of absent-mindedly wanted to question -- because we have all these strategy sessions and we have all these think-tank sessions discussing this, that and the other thing on how best to proceed. And he asked the question of the audience and there were three council members in attendance at the time. And the question was, 'How many of you believe you are wards of the government?' And we had a couple hundred people in attendance at that particular session. And over 300...over three-quarters of the audience raised their hand, all three council members also. So we just kind of looked at each other and, 'Where do we go from here?' So we kind of continued on with our discussion about one function of the government or another and continued that process. But we had to go back to the drawing board. We had to start with the fundamentals all over again and how do we do that. So those are some of the things that I kind of mentioned yesterday about the paradigms that we have to challenge, entitlement, the victim, the ward and what are the good ways to do that.

At the same time that we were going through this economic turmoil, we also had a rise in gang issues in the community and so the discussion now moved to, 'What are we going to do about the youth?' I see one of our young people here from Red Cliff who's deeply engaged. This is kind of what we did. We combined it with that purpose for 'why do we have government?' and we encouraged that discussion of a thought process that extends far beyond our lifetime and the foundations that we need to ensure them a future. So aside from the economic discussion, now we were entering into coalitions that were so meaningful. I didn't realize it. A gentleman had approached me a year ago to be part of our Tribal AmeriCorp program and I got interviewed for like two days. And I was saying, 'I'm up to my ears in what I'm doing right now. How am I going to do what you want me to do?' He said, 'You're pretty much doing whatever this job requires and our focus is prevention.' And I have a document back here, been worked on for about a year now through the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council and it's about prevention. And one of the things that's encouraged in this book is culture. It's essential to what nation rebuilding is all about. And that whole document, it centers on culture. Culture is prevention. That's where that's at and the tribe, we got the tribe to buy a facility, an eight-bedroom facility and also another facility to start an elder-guided youth camp all summer long. We're just on the threshold of this. But it took a long time to convince it because we were losing a lot of kids. There were emergency meetings in our communities, death, a lot of deaths, wrongful deaths. So it kind of moved things along and in terms of reform. A lot of community involvement. We had to outsource to a specialist to help come and guide us.

So it began a whole new look at how we approach community development. And one of the things that really came to light was the two approaches that one's working and one doesn't, kind of like the format Stephen uses. And one was called the needs-based approach and one was called the asset-based approach. And when we took a look at it, a hard look and looked at the economics of our local community we found that we had at that time about $20 million that were flowing through our community dealing with people's deficiencies. Now some of our analysis of our community, we had a community that already has about $300 million that flows through it and I mean flows through it -- it doesn't stay. So when we were taking a look at that whole picture, I said, 'What's wrong with this? We've almost got 50 percent people that still are living under endemic poverty. This is a seriously bad-looking picture.' So we had to start taking that picture apart. We have a school budget that's about $120 million. Our planning department that works for three tribes pulls in another $120 million. Our tribal casino and tribal operations and the grant sources about another $80 million. But none of our people were qualified. We have an unskilled job force. We have to outsource all our upper management people. It was pretty discouraging when we started to take a hard look at the picture.

So we had a referendum vote, we had a new council come into office, every two years we have a turnover in our council. So they forced a referendum on us to see whether or not we want to go ahead and go forth with the constitutional restructuring. They had it on a Sunday. There were no public hearings, there were no mailings like we were promised to get all this good stuff out, so it took us...and it made us think, 'What are some of the things that we could do immediately to help our government meet the needs of its people.' So where we encouraged take a hard look at policy and procedure and possibly looking at enacting it into some kind of legislative process. We don't have yet an independent judiciary so we're looking at that whole process on how that could be set up. Our current thing is we got in touch with the Bureau [of Indian Affairs], they have to operate under a whole new set of [regulations] now and they have to render technical assistance to you. So we found a one-time funding opportunity through [Public Law 93-] 638 dollars that allows us to have a constitutional analysis done and I really like the use of lawyers. They seem to have a profound effect on councils and's like their word is 'God's law' and it we educate the lawyers and they come...they go in there and tell them exactly what they hear from us. But it's magic, it works. So we use them to the best of our ability.

There was one other anomaly that we kind of looked at and I know you all experienced this at some point in your career in Indian Country and this happened not too long ago, maybe eight, nine years ago. We had a young gentleman who worked for the tribe most of his life but he was running the roads department. He needed some vehicles so he got the three estimates that he needed, got himself on the agenda, went to the tribal council and was turned down flat. But he's been a longtime guy and he lived in the community a long time. He's a great observer. So he goes back to work, gets this white guy that works for him, dresses him in a suit and tie, gives him the very same three estimates, gets back on the agenda. Not only did he get the two vehicles, they wanted to know what more they could do for his program. We have a lot of discussions. I talk to a lot of educators, psychologists and anybody I can to help me with this whole process, to understand human behavior, to understand a lot of things and as a strategist I suppose I said, 'Well, how do we use this to our advantage? It's important that these things get accomplished and do the ends justify the means?' So I took it upon myself to encourage my committee to...'Well, let's get a white guy to be the head of our community economic development department and begin the discussion. We'll feed him all the information, he'll feed it to the council.' And by god, it happened. It happened exactly that way.

So these are some of the things that we need to challenge as Native people and it has to happen through an education process. We have to understand terms like "internalized superiority," "internalized oppression," those things we use on our own people that we've learned from a colonial presence here. These things impact us in ways we are beginning to understand. They impact our children. We were talking the other night about, 'We don't really have history in our public schools.' What we are engaged in as a community, and it takes a lot of people, is we now have maybe nine teaching lodges, seven sweat lodges; we have fasting camps. So the rebirth, it's not rebirth because people have been doing this all along and now we're trying to bring them together to have more of an impact on our youth. As Mr. [John] Barrett was sharing some of the ancient history of our people, we tried to bring those people here to share with our youth. Much of our culture came from, the dreams of what we practice in our culture, came from the dreams of children and that's interesting. So when we were looking at the neuroscience of human biology, we find that children have these extraordinary number of neurons in their brain and the more connections that you make with them at an early age, the more that sticks with them. This is an extraordinary thing.

We had a new person in our education director, our education over...since we began this whole reform thing has like expanded exponentially into a crazy, crazy, crazy thing. So we're...we've got a workforce development now. I think we have 120 students. It just...we have the first time in three years we passed a budget and this goes back to the accountability thing. After people started waking up to the fact that they really do have some power over their people that they put in there to represent the community's interest, a lot of accountability things. We've had record numbers of people that are running for council. We've had extraordinary participation in council meetings reminding our people why they were put there and why we need them to be stronger and more focused on what our Nation needs. So we're exploring.

Now the latest development and it's probably the most exciting thing is we separated business from politics. We copied the Citizen [Potawatomi] people. We adopted and we adapted a successful model and we're moving forward with that. We've got an all Indian board but now we're utilizing real world people like J.P. Morgan, like anybody else who can come in and educate our people on how to do these things with best practices. And the model is, once we're successful, all this money's going to go back to fund your 501(c) 3's, your community things, all these things that your community needs to move forward, the educational processes. It's just exciting.

I want to thank the Native Nations people because it gave for me a road map putting this together. It gave me a way to understand without all the emotion and without all the anger to look at a real solid way of proceeding. And it doesn't have to be all done that way. What I've learned is that education has to go in hand, tandem with whatever changes that you want to move forward on. These are the things that I encourage and it's not easy for me because I want things to happen quickly. It can't happen fast enough. But I'm more accepting of the process that education needs to have its flow, the way it needs to flow out and creating the environments for our youth to experience a meaningful dialogue, a meaningful experience in how we're going to look forward and make these things happen for our people. So I guess I got the sign. But I want to thank the Native Nations Institute for allowing me to be part of this and I...they do so much and we...Stephen [Cornell] invited us down to some of the constitutional things and it's had an extraordinary impact. People know now that these are some solid things that we can move on. Let's do it. [Anishinaabe language]. That's the word we use, let's do this. [Anishinaabe language]."

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