Ruben Santiesteban and Joni Theobald: Choosing Our Leaders and Maintain Quality Leadership: The Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians

Native Nations Institute

Ruben Santiesteban and Joni Theobald of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians provide an overview of how Lac du Flambeau developed a new approach to cultivating and then selecting quality leaders to lead the Band to a brighter future.

Resource Type

Santiesteban, Ruben and Joni Theobald. "How Do We Choose Our Leaders and Maintain Quality Leadership?: Lac du Flambeau." Tribal Constitutions seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 4, 2013. Presentation.

Joni Theobald:

"Again, my name's Joni Theobald. I'm the Education [Lac du Flambeau language] and Workforce Development Director. Part of my work with the tribe and with the constitution started about three years ago, actually a little longer than that, but really more intensely with...a lot with our tribe and my role...I guess I'm pretty direct, I'm pretty...for me, it's all about process and that's kind of my fit with the constitution, the policy, and the tribal council. So with the Education and Workforce Development, our goal, our mission, one of the first things that...I brought my slides and I'm going to probably jump around a little bit just to kind of give you an idea of the background, but also what is the process and how we came about where we are today.

When I came home maybe a couple years ago, actually I had grew up in Lac du Flambeau, went off to college, spent some time in different capacities, work capacities before coming back. Our tribe was going through a lot of difficult time and it was kind of a synchronized I guess of what had happened. There was an opening, the Education Director. There was a takeover within our tribe. There was a lot of turmoil, but it was kind of a new term for the tribe where I moved in the director, new council members came on board, and it was still some existing council members as well, but what we came into is...along with interestingly enough was the Native Nations Institute kind of was a couple of years ago coming around, they were in Lac du Flambeau. So again all these synchronized things happening with our tribe. We brought into the light for us the constitutional reform and someone again, in some of the tribes I know we all face is communication, transparency and just basically engaging and looking for solution-based...

So back to my real direct and one of the main things that I was brought in to along with and asked to help was just kind of organizing and creating a process for change. Change in a sense that was very task- and action-oriented, I guess you would say. Again, my background is when I look at trying to take a lot of what was going on and how do we look at communication, how do we look at making informed decisions, this kind of led to the path of where we started creating a process, whether it was developing and maintaining our leaders through education or it was developing and trying to make change in mindset or if it was a change in our constitution, it really followed what I say and some of the documents I put in here kind of represent that change and that's where I wanted to kind of focus my...what I would talk about today.

So I'm just going to go through. One of the things that...well, just to back up a little bit. One of the main things when I started...I have family on the council, many of us do, started getting calls about how do we create change and how can we bring an educational piece? My background also was that as Director of Indian [Education] on Madison, Wisconsin before moving home for a while. And so there was...just coming back and forth some of my family members and some council are reaching out and talking to me about, "˜What can we do to bring this type of training and understanding as we go throughout reform? We've got to make sure we bring along our tribal members in understanding preamble all the way to the different options for membership.' So one of the things we talked about was, how do we communicate, how do we create [a] classroom situation, but how do we look at what do we look like today and then where are we trying to go? One of the things that our tribe maybe some that we weren't doing and some of you may be already involved in it is looking and collecting data, really looking at, 'What do we look like?' And then from there, really having really great discussions about who do we want to be and then how do we get there.

So one of the things we decided...we're in a...we're a per cap tribe, but one of the things we haven't done was on per cap we really haven't had a way of collecting data or opinions or what are some of the ideas of what our tribal membership was thinking about. But as a baseline, one of the first things, I was moving home and it happened to be the Education Director job opened up in our community, was to take a look at who are our tribal members, who were they, how old were they? And so I'm not going to go and talk through all the tribes, but I just wanted to give an idea because I think really giving the council a good understanding of who we are and what were our ages and what we represent was the first for us. We do have the census, but again it wasn' wasn't -- sometimes it's skewed. It really didn't break apart some of the off rez/on rez of what we were looking at. So housing again I know with a lot of tribes is generates a lot of discussion and interest. One of the unique things about having our survey, it was...we also -- which Ruben will talk about a little later -- is we created a youth council. We strategically set that up because what we're doing, we thought about our youth in about 10 years according to our criteria could run for council. We have a large learning curve and there's so many things you need to know. Let's start, let's create a council that looks at tribal governance but also is uniquely involved in this process of informed decisions and looking for solutions to different issues that we have. So they were instrumental in the data collection, the formulation of questions, what's a valid question, and it was just a learning process for all of us. So I'm just going to go through a few of the slides that we created.

So we looked at employment and I'm just going to...and mainly for me coming as education [director], there really wasn't a strategic purpose to our department. It was all about give out the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] grants. So we really expanded, worked on a strategic plan of our department of what was the purpose of our education and workforce? Workforce came about six months later underneath the education department along with Head Start. So I have the full gambit from the pre-K to senior college that we have in place. So it was really neat to see the patterns and to watch as we develop and leaders as we started our pre-K was does a leader look like, what does it want...where do we...what do want our leaders to be, what are the characteristics and what do we have in place in our systems, whether it's governance, whether it's schools, whether it's just ethics? So again back to our survey, it's looking at our educational levels.

One of the triggers as well, we the same time that I was moved into our Education Director position our tribal administration position was up as we...I don't recall, but we were looking for a replacement and it was vacant. We had three tribal members apply for tribal administrator and one of the policies that we have is a tribal member needs to be the tribal administrator. Well, we had three candidates, but only one candidate had the educational criteria to take the job and at the time the candidate wasn't the preferred choice given our turmoil, things going on. So that kind of also...we looked at...again, but the education, what we found out of our 4,000-member tribe, we had about 60 tribal members with bachelor's degrees, maybe I think 30 with master's, and about seven with a Ph.D. Of those, as many of you may have experienced, is most of them didn't live on the reservation, kind of had a disconnect and weren't home and again, strategically with our department we were looking to groom and develop leaders who were going to stay home and help us in the trenches. You can feel free to...I think they have these all on...if you would like to take these. I know some of your copies are hard to read.

Again, one of the key things that we looked at is, as we think about developing leaders we think about someone, we think about culture and languages always out on our strategic plan that we started implementing as language revitalization was key and very important to a leader. So having this data and having these, so council can make informed decisions on budget and on programs, was real critical. This wasn't a process that was in place, looking and collecting data. Internet access, I think...we talk about...this is looking at our distance learning, bringing college to the reservation. That was really important as well. Again, we broke it off to on- and off-reservation. But again, that was kind of our key, our start, and later on I can talk more about our candidate and our training and educational programming. As you look in your binder, we started creating and prioritizing what were key topical areas, areas of need in tribal governance and in employment that we were looking to train and develop leaders, managers for our projects. So that led into more of our really formalizing and structuring the educational programs that met the needs, what we looked for, addressing barriers of place-based education as free as possible. I pitched that to many colleges, they didn't buy it, but they at least gave us a discount and we had collective contracted classes.

One of the main things is though is the mindset of the council and the newly formed was really education always was critical in importance and so they supported and backed and invested in developing our capacity. That was instrumental in getting off the ground and moving this into a real formalized educational process. One of the documents we have is the resolution for council and that was a key of making college in the workday for all tribal members' employment. We are the largest employers in our region and the tribe employs...almost half of our employees or actually 60 percent are tribal members, so we created college in the workplace where it reduced travel, the barrier. Our closest college was an hour away. We developed our broadband fiber system so we could have distance learning in real time, kind of what we are watching here today. We had the same issues with the real time. And also the cost factor -- so we wanted to make it very affordable because one thing we talked about is many of our tribal members are very knowledgeable. Had they had the opportunity to build college within and make it applicable to work they could have easily in 30 years had their master's or doctorate degree and we wanted to find a way and create that opportunity at home. I'm sure we'll have questions about it, but I'm going to give some time to Ruben. Again, this is...he's going to speak about how this transition, how we strategically pulled in the youth in this process as well."

Ruben Santiesteban:

"Thank you. I just want to thank everybody. [Lac du Flambeau language]. My English name is Ruben Santiesteban and my Indian name is '[Lac du Flambeau language].' It means 'King Bird' and '[Lac du Flambeau language]' is 'Lac du Flambeau.' I just want to say [Lac du Flambeau language] to all our veterans and elders here and I'm just really thankful and grateful to be speaking to you today.

How do we choose our leaders and maintain quality leadership? What an excellent session to be a part of. Our constitution criteria, blood quantum if you have the IRA [Indian Reorganization Act] constitution, you have to be at least 25 years of age, quarter blood, 25 signatures from the community, and at least living on the reservation for one year. There really isn't a lot of criteria there, but it's what we have. You can change some of those things through your election code, just to give you an idea of where you can kind of make those changes. Now in Indian Country, what we see that's trending always and you all know this, last names in family members. When it comes time to vote, who do you vote for? Well, if you don't know who you're voting for, who do you vote for? We don't have many voters out there, but we do have some and when they do go to the polls, if they don't know anything about anybody, who do they vote for? You can assume that they'll vote for a cousin, uncle, auntie, grandpa, grandmother. That's the way it goes in any country. That's just the way it is. I wanted to speak about that because one of the greatest things about being a leader in any country on your reservation is that we all have the same issues, we all are facing the same things on each reservation with our people.

I'm one of the youngest leaders ever voted to council and I had the highest vote count in Lac du Flambeau history and part of that was from the candidate endorsement training. That training gave candidates the opportunity to state their positions in current affairs and what they hoped to accomplish in their term in office. And we don't get to see that in Indian Country. We need to do that. How do you know who you're voting for? I'm Ruben Santiesteban, definitely don't have the strong name on our reservation, but through the candidate endorsement training [it] really gave me an opportunity to state who I am, where my family comes from. So it was...if you have any questions about that, we'll be available to you. You should do that, implement that on your reservation if you have a constitution and you choose your leaders the same way in which we do in Lac du Flambeau.

Now to move on to talk about the Waswagoning Youth Council is also part of UNITY. This young group of leaders has been such a positive force in our community. They have a unique understanding of treaty rights and tribal governance. The youth council travels state and nationwide networking with new youth groups and tribal leaders in Indian Country to help rebuild Native communities. This leadership team consists of youth between the ages of 12 and 24, because at 25 you can run for council. They attack issues like youth engagement, teen suicide, and substance abuse among teens and I'm truly honored to be mentoring our future-generation leaders. If you want to make change in your community, start promoting things like youth councils, immersion, community events, after school programs, leadership conferences, cultural activities we do need to promote in our communities. It's vital to our family asset building and I hope all of you are doing that and if you're not get to it.

I want to talk about the Expo, it's in your binder there and the [Lac du Flambeau language], which stands for "˜We Are All Doing This Together.' It was named by one of our spiritual leaders in the reservation that gave us [Lac du Flambeau language] to help me build this Expo. Now the parents knew the Connections Expo was an opportunity for our community to meet and greet with their tribal service providers, local area service providers and potential employers, college and recreational opportunities. This Expo also gives our tribal service providers a chance to build their brand awareness. We all know that we need that in our community. We know that we have the resources and the tools, but we need to get together. Most importantly these opportunities allow program managers and team members to network with each other and possibly collaborate on future projects. What do we know in Indian Country? We use our resources up all the time. Some of us have a lot of programs. In our case we have over 91 programs, and of those 91 programs I can tell you right now that a lot of them have the same goals, to make Waswagoning a better place. So to get together and collaborate and pull those resources together can be very beneficial to your change. There's some key components to the Expo and one of them was community development, building program awareness, networking, and also building capacity in the community. The Expo, in its second year this year, had the most families together in our history. That's important to me.

They had asked me to kind of talk about my story a little bit and I didn't kind of want to do that, but to talk about my upbringing. I grew up in both Lac du Flambeau and Milwaukee and it gave me a unique insight on small-town and big-city communities. My childhood was full of adventure and ups and downs, but encouragement to succeed from family members was everlasting on me. I'm sitting here in front of you and I'm going to tell you that I was an at-risk youth and I was going to be a nobody. I was told I wasn't going to make it, told I wasn't going to be able to make any change in my community, I was going to be in jail for the rest of my life, and really had no direction. And I persevered, just like Indian people have for the last 10,000 years. I was not going to put up with that and I created a new chapter in my career and it has been nothing short of the greatest moments of my life and I get to do things like this and speak in front of you, in front of tribal leaders, and I just really appreciate that. My whole life I've been a dreamer, but this time where I sit before you today, I get to live this dream.

To move on and try to move through quickly, I wanted to talk to you about personal branding and what that means. We all have a brand. People are making assumptions and perceptions of who we are and today it's going to be about your tribe, your reputation and actions that you take in your community. That's your brand, that's who you represent. My personal brand and how I carry myself, and hopefully I've left an everlasting impression on you today. I'm going to say a quote from someone who's been a real good mentor to me. His name is Brian Jackson. He's the President of the Wisconsin Indian Education Association: "˜What is good education? Is getting a good education mean getting good grades, or is it making sure students are motivated to learn? Education comes in all forms. We just have to learn to achieve the goals and help students be motivated for higher education after high school.' I think about that all the time and I think it's just positive and being where I come from and the upbringing and the struggles that I've had to face -- just like many of you have -- that it feels good to have words like that to be told to me.

I will speak a little bit on leadership. Communication, the fight against the silo biggest fear, we talked about this yesterday is we have council sometimes that rescind the things that we've done. That's a fear of mine. The work that you're doing, will it matter if we don't communicate better with each other when new councils come in, will they change what you've done? And will 10, 15 years later your great idea that you had will come back again and it'll seem new and maybe it'll work, maybe it won't, but we need to get out of that silo effect and that's part of leadership. When it comes to leadership we have to challenge the myth that it's about position and power. The truth is leadership is an observable set of skills and abilities. Leadership is learned. We don't just get to wake up one day and become the greatest leaders in the world or the greatest leaders in Indian Country. Learning to lead is about discovering what you care about and value, the kind of things we talked about. In Ojibwe country, we have the seven grandfather teachings and we have the clan systems, which we abide by. Those are the governing systems that we used before the 1934 constitution came and that's who we are. And as we become leaders, we're faced with some difficult questions and the one that I ask myself all the time is, 'Am I the right person to lead at this very moment, is it me, and why?' You have to remember, you can't lead others until you've first led yourself through struggle and opposing values. And I'm definitely not telling you anything that's new, but I will sit here and remind you of why you're here, of who you are, the choices that you make that represent your nation and your people. The most critical knowledge for all of us and for leaders especially turns out to be self-knowledge or personal brand and the most powerful leaders encourage others to lead. As we encourage youth to come and come lead our nation, are we going to be ready to hand off those leadership roles to them? Because that's exactly...the hardest thing we have to do is being able to let others lead.

Now I have a minute left. I want to make sure that we...I give a shout out to the Native Nations Institute and [the] Continuing Education and Certificate in Indigenous Governance. I was a part of that and I think it was fantastic. And I just want to say in Lac du Flambeau, the actions that we take today isn't just for tomorrow, it's for the next 30 years and that we are...we do have a sovereign attitude and we also are building education for capable institutions in our cultural match and using our seven grandfather teachings and instilling that culture into our people. I would like to end today by saying that leadership is in the moment and after speaking with Steve Cornell yesterday, I have a quote or a statement for you that I want you to remember: "˜Successful nation building starts with our greatest asset: our children, the youth. What are we doing to protect what we have built? Education and language revitalization are key components to the foundation of the survival of our community in improving the lives of our people.' With that being said, I just want to say miigwetch and hope I have a chance to speak with you more after we're done."

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