Brian Cladoosby: The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community's Approach to Governance and Intergovernmental Relations

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Native Nations Institute
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In this wide-ranging interview with NNI's Ian Record, Chairman Brian Cladoosby of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community discusses Swinomish's unique governance system, its approach to building relationships with other governments to achieve its strategic priorities, and what he feels are the qualities that leaders need to demonstrate in order to lead effectively.

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Cladoosby, Brian. "The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community's Approach to Governance and Intergovernmental Relations." Leading Native Nations interview series. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, The University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. March 24, 2010. Interview.

Ian Record:

“Welcome to Leading Native Nations. I’m your host, Ian Record. On today’s program we’re very honored to have with us Brian Cladoosby, who’s chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community. Brian has served as an elected leader of his nation for the past 25 years, the past 13 years as chair and he’s also on the executive board of the National Congress of American Indians. Brian, welcome.”

Brian Cladoosby:

“Thank you.”

Ian Record:

“I’d like to start by asking the first question I ask virtually everyone I sit down with and that is, how would you define Native nation building and what does it entail specifically for your nation?”

Brian Cladoosby:

“Native nation building is nothing new. It has been here since time immemorial and people think that with the advent of the Indian Reorganization Act that Indians finally got their act together, but we have been nation building since time immemorial. It is just a process that goes through different iterations. And so right now, we have the opportunity to be in the advent of...I guess under the policies that have been implemented in the last 20 or 30 years, but as far as nation building, tribes have always been building nations.”

Ian Record:

“Dr. Stephen Cornell of the Native Nations Institute and Harvard Project refers to governing systems as fundamentally tools for creating the future that Native nations want. How so?”

Brian Cladoosby:

“Well, governing systems are things that have always been a part of your community, and every once in a while there’s new innovations that occur that help get your tribe not to its ultimate goal, but maybe to the next step of where it wants to go as far as governance I guess in the 21st century.”

Ian Record:

“I’d like to ask you a question now about Native nation governments and this issue of legitimacy, which is a common subject of debate, particularly among tribes in the 21st century as they look to take full advantage of Indian self-determination policies and self-governance. The NNI and Harvard Project research finds that for Native nation governments to be viewed as legitimate by the people that they serve that they must be both culturally appropriate and also effective. How do you view this finding, based on your experience?”

Brian Cladoosby:

“Well, it’s kind of sad that in the 21st century we still have to define ourselves as legitimate as opposed to illegitimate, and we all know what the term 'illegitimate' means. So it is something that we as tribes continually have to strive to show that we are governments that provide essential governmental services to our people through a varied host of programs that we have within our reservation boundaries and off reservation.”

Ian Record:

“How about internally in terms of the people that the nation represents, the citizens of the nation? We often hear for instance that Indian Reorganization Act governments for many tribes are viewed by their people for a variety of reasons as not legitimate because they don’t necessarily sync up with their own culture and what they feel [are] the appropriate ways to organize and exercise authority.”

Brian Cladoosby:

“I guess you have your internal and external individuals who do not view our governments as legitimate. From an internal perspective and from the Swinomish perspective, we don’t see that. Our citizens recognize that we operate under a constitution that was created by our elders that was basically a cookie cutter from the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] in the 1930s, but it has worked at Swinomish over the years. And so from the internal perspective of our Swinomish members, they view our government as legitimate and they view that the constitution and bylaws that we follow as a legitimate piece of paper that we follow.”

Ian Record:

“And is the legitimacy that they hold for the government, is it in the fact that you do follow the constitution?”

Brian Cladoosby:

“Yes, yes.”

Ian Record:

“Isn’t that a critical piece of it?”

Brian Cladoosby:

“That is a critical piece, because if you are not governing by what your constitution says, then you are basically breaking the law and that is not good.”

Ian Record:

“Right. So how do…you touched just briefly a few minutes ago on this issue of outside perceptions of governmental legitimacy by Native nations of governmental effectiveness. Not making any judgment on your tribe -- from what I know of your tribe you do govern very effectively -- but when tribes govern ineffectively, how can that…how can outside perceptions of that governmental ineffectiveness undermine the defense of sovereignty?”

Brian Cladoosby:

“Well, I guess it’s like a situation where in any organization or any group of people where someone breaks the law or gets in trouble, you are basically guilty by association where if Tribe A is doing it, Tribe B must be doing it took because they’re all the same. And so when Tribe A gets in trouble and it hits the headlines, Joe Citizen who does not know very much about Indian tribes just decides, ‘Well, all the tribes must be like that.’ And so when that happens, and you see the local letters to the editor or the reports on TV, you have to respond to that to let them know that, ‘Look, we don’t condone what they have done and we’ll be praying for them, but that’s not Swinomish.’”

Ian Record:

“This issue, you kind of touched on this issue of education, of a need to educate the general public. It’s not…it almost seems like for most tribes it’s not enough just to govern effectively, but you also have to spread the word about how you are governing effectively because you do have these stereotypes to overcome, like the stereotype that all Indians are the same or they all do things the same way. Is that something you guys tend to in your nation, this need to educate the general public?”

Brian Cladoosby:

“Yes, because we…I have heard growing up that tribal members are nothing but welfare recipients from cradle to grave, and that was a perception that was out there that all we do is just live off government money, we get free housing, everything given to us. And so when you have that perception out there, you have to work really hard to educate the citizens, especially in your own area. They don’t know that some tribes in my state are the largest employers in their county. They don’t realize that the Swinomish is one of the largest employees in Skagit County. We employ more non-Indians, sadly, than Indians in our casino and they come from the cities within our county. And so from that standpoint in providing healthcare and good wages, we have to let them know that we are a big part of the community and that we are contributing to the economy. I like to use the analogy of military bases. Military bases bring in millions and millions and millions of dollars to the local economy. And in the last decade when they started going through the base closures, people were up in arms. Well, people don’t realize that if a tribe went away that would really cut out a big part of their economy, but still people perceive us as not being productive people to society. And so it is really tough to be out there to let them know that we do a lot of good things in our communities.”

Ian Record:

“You touched briefly already on the fact that your nation is an IRA, what’s called commonly an IRA tribe. And you adopted in 1936 your nation an Indian Reorganization Act system of government. I believe it was reformed in the 1960s. What is the contemporary legacy of the IRA for your tribe in terms of its governance? Where does the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community stand when it comes to IRA governance?”

Brian Cladoosby:

“Well, just like all tribes that adopted the IRA constitutions that were boilerplate BIA constitutions, if you look over the history, you’ll see that a lot of them in Washington State were pretty much identical. So we are still struggling today to try to crawl underneath that basically thumbprint or whatever that the government had put on us through IRA. There are still some things in the constitution that we today need to do to alleviate ourselves from some of the things that we have to do to report back to the BIA. And so we’re still trying to create the constitution that really fits Swinomish and Swinomish’s needs.”

Ian Record:

“So it’s very hard, you would say, it’s probably difficult to summarize, cast a summary judgment on whether IRA is good or bad, that there are some parts of the IRA that work for you and other parts that need improvement?”

Brian Cladoosby:

“Yes, definitely. Definitely there are a lot of parts that work for us that have worked for us effectively since 1936, but there are other parts where we definitely need to make changes to make our governing more effective for Swinomish.”

Ian Record:

“One of the things we hear from leaders of other Native nations who are IRA tribes is the fact that aside from this issue of cultural match, did the people at the time have an active role in the formation of that IRA government? Did that IRA government, whatever system they adopted, did it mesh with what they felt was appropriate? There’s also this question of can it meet the 21st-century challenges and the increasingly complex governance challenges that tribes face? Is that something that you’re wrestling with, realizing is this system adequate to the 21st-century challenges we face?”

Brian Cladoosby:

“Well, one thing that I have to give the original framers of our constitution because there are certain parts in that that made Swinomish a stable government, having five-year terms underneath that IRA constitution really created stability at Swinomish. And so from that standpoint it really created a good structure where we don’t have large turnovers on our council. So from that perspective, it’s been good. On the other side of it, we still have to get a lot of our approvals from the BIA for leasing and things like that, so those things are antiquated that need to be changed to get us into the 21st century.”

Ian Record:

“I want to switch gears a bit now and talk about intergovernmental relations, which you have vast experience with. Your nation is engaged in a number of fronts in the intergovernmental arena. As you know, since the 1980s, there’s been incredible growth in this area of intergovernmental relations between native nations and various other governments, not just the federal government. What in your opinion is driving this growth?”

Brian Cladoosby:

“Well, we've come to realize that we are not an island, even though we live on an island, that the things that happen off the reservation or on the reservation by tribal and non-tribal [entities] impact our government. And so a classic case that you see across Indian Country is checkerboard reservations and we were one of those checkerboard reservations. And when the Dawes Act was passed, and when it was finally I guess repealed or whatever in the 1930s, we fell right in line with the rest of the United States as far as losing 50 percent of our land into fee. And so we had to create a system. We had to quit fighting with the county and create a system where we could get together on land use planning and we created a model for Indian Country I believe to work under.”

Ian Record:

“So a number of leaders, that we’ve talked about, view intergovernmental agreements as critical nation-building tools. Do you share their sentiment?”

Brian Cladoosby:

“We’ve been creating intergovernmental agreements since 1855 at Swinomish when my grandfather’s grandfather Kel-kahl-tsoot signed the treaty with the U.S. government ceding vast acres of land to the U.S. government in exchange for some reserved rights and some promises that were put down on paper. So we have been…we are a government and we have to be viewed as a government and we have to look at other governments and when we need to make agreements with them that benefit us and them, we have to do it. I don’t see it as something that gets in our way of our sovereignty. If it diminishes our sovereignty, that would be a problem, but many of our agreements I think are of where we’re not coerced into signing something we don’t want to sign. So I don’t see a problem with tribes exercising their right to sign agreements with other governments. It’s just something that we have to do and that we’ve always done.”

Ian Record:

“As long as it’s on your terms?”

Brian Cladoosby:

“Yes, as long as we’re not being negatively impacted.”

Ian Record:

“Jaime Pinkham, who you know, former treasurer of the Nez Perce Tribe and formerly with the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission, is quoted as saying that entering into these kinds of relationships and agreements does not represent a compromise or loss of sovereignty as you mentioned, but in fact the exact opposite -- it’s an exercise or flexing of that sovereignty. Can you expand a bit on how these agreements, these relationships advance a nation’s sovereignty and maybe talk a little bit more about the specific ways it’s done so at Swinomish?”

Brian Cladoosby:

“Well, the land use-planning agreement that we signed with Skagit County is a classic example of how two governments have both indicated or flexed their muscle when it comes to having jurisdiction within the boundaries of an Indian reservation. And so we had fought for years with the county saying that, ‘Look, this is our land. These people might own this land, it might be in fee, but we still retain control over that.’ And of course they’re saying, ‘No, you don’t. These people pay taxes to us. We’re going to retain control.’ And so what we did was we came up with an innovative approach where we sat down with the county and zoning the reservation was very important to us, controlling the utilities was very important to us. So we recognized that to get them on board with the program we wanted to put into place, we created a system where we encourage the county that they would zone the Swinomish Reservation identical to what we had it zoned and they bought into that concept. And so what we have now is a situation where there is no differences of opinion on what the land is going to be zoned. We also came up with an approach where, if you as a non-Indian owned fee land wanted to get a permit from the Swinomish Tribe, you could. We took our ordinances and we mirrored them so all permit fees, ordinances, everything were identical to the counties, and so you could as a non-Indian fee land owner could come to the tribe to get a permit. We would send that to the county and they would check to make sure that it abided by the zoning rules that we put into place or vice versa. If you went to the county and got a permit, they would send it to us for our review to make sure it wasn’t going against what we had the land zoned for and if there was any conflict, we created a five-person board; two appointed by the tribe, two appointed by the county and an independent person that we both agreed to. And since this has been put into place, we’ve never had to use that board so it has worked.”

Ian Record:

“Do you think you would have ever arrived at that position had you taken a different track, say litigation, to try to resolve this dispute?”

Brian Cladoosby:

“Maybe at the end of the day, there’s always an end to litigation somewhere either by a judge ruling or the parties coming to an agreement before the litigation was over, but if forced to go down that road we will. We’ve had to do that in the past with our water agreement and that’s another good example of seven government agencies getting together to create a document that was supposed to last 50 years, and water is for fighting and whiskey’s for drinking, the old saying goes. And so we created a, in the ‘90s, an MOU with seven governments, three tribes, with the county, with the city of Anacortes, with the Department of Ecology and actually, the Skagit PUD, which is another government. They operate the water system in Skagit County. So we created a 50-year agreement and this was also a very historic nationwide agreement that was, people probably don’t know too much about it, but we set aside our senior water rights for 50 years. And you’ll never hear a tribe say they set their senior water rights aside for 50 years to have peace in the valley, to make sure that there was water left in the river. Out of that deal came an in-stream flow agreement that was put into place and it was the first in-stream flow set in Washington State in three decades and it was on the Skagit River. And so we were very happy that we created this document. After the 2001 in-stream flow rule was put into place, within two years the county basically did not like some aspects of that and so they sued [the Department of] Ecology for that in-stream flow rule. And so in 2006…that was supposed to be a 50-year agreement, it didn’t even last 10. And so in 2006, the seven parties, the county took [the Department of] Ecology to court. There were seven parties involved, including three tribes. The county and [the Department of] Ecology came to an agreement on the in-stream flow rule that they wanted amended. And so the county and [the Department of] Ecology in Thurston County in Washington State went to a judge that was not hearing the case, didn’t tell the judge there were five other parties, told them they came to an agreement. So the judge that was not hearing the case dismissed the case. And so now, unfortunately, we are now suing [the Department of] Ecology because they amended an in-stream flow rule for the first time in their history on the Skagit. And so what started out as a wonderful process is now going to go down that road of probably years of litigation over water. And as you know, water litigation can go on for two or three generations or longer.”

Ian Record:

“So, yeah, it sounds like just because you enter in an agreement doesn’t mean it’s going to turn out good. As Jaime has mentioned, it does take I think some due diligence to constantly maintain that relationship and make sure when, for instance, with the other entities they have turnover in leadership and turnover in terms of institutional memory and what people understand to be the spirit of the agreement if you will. That’s a constant struggle you face, isn’t it?”

Brian Cladoosby:

“Yes, it is. Another thing that we did at Swinomish was we’re the first tribe in the state to have an MOU with our county sheriff where we were cross-deputized and that’s been, that’s going on 20 years now where our officers have been cross-deputized and it just takes good leadership on the sheriff’s level to recognize that our officers are just as effective and trained not only at the state academy, but the BIA academy also. And so that has worked out wonderfully and the sheriff has recognized that, ‘Hey, I’ve got 17 more officers out there patrolling Skagit County,’ and the response time to the Swinomish Reservation could be anywhere from 10 to 40 minutes depending on where a county sheriff is and now the response time is just minutes. Having a good working relationship there and having an agreement with the sheriff is pretty good and that’s worked.”

Ian Record:

“This specific agreement you mentioned where, and we’ve seen a lot of tribes do this, Gila River being one of them, where you take this action of either taking over a service or coming to an agreement with another jurisdiction to jointly provide a service like law enforcement and you have these very dramatic improvements in things like response time. And that improves the overall quality of life for your people, does it not?”

Brian Cladoosby:

“Well, when they did a study, a county-wide study here a couple years ago of the crime rate in Skagit County and the safest place to live, the story started out in our paper by saying, ‘The safest place to live in Skagit County is on the Swinomish Indian Reservation.’ That’s pretty cool where you associate a lot of stereotypical attitudes towards Natives for high crime rate or high alcoholism, high drug use and there must be a lot of crime, but that was not the case when the study came out. So we were pretty happy to read that.”

Ian Record:

“So what, based on your experience, are some of the typical benefits that nations gain by forging these sorts of long-term sustainable relationships, either with other non-Native governments or with other tribes?”

Brian Cladoosby:

“Well, every generation wants to create something of a foundation for the next generation to build upon and it’s important that we try not to leave too much of a mess for the next generation to deal with. So relationship building is key. Everything in life is based on a relationship, everything. I don’t care what it is, with your wife, with your children, with your siblings, with your mom and dad, grandpa, uncle, aunt, coworkers, friends. Everything in life is a relationship and it takes trust and commitment to build those relationships and that’s what we have been doing with our neighbors at the local level, the county level, the state level and the federal level. And as you said earlier, these politicians change and so that educating usually starts over when the next elected official comes in or the next sheriff comes in or the next governor. But when you have long-term agreements that someone can walk into and you can set it on their desk and say, ‘Look, this is what we’re about. This has worked in the past and there’s no reason why it can’t work in the future.’”

Ian Record:

“So what advice would you give to other Native nations, your fellow Native leaders, for how to build these effective and sustainable relationships?”

Brian Cladoosby:

“Well, if I was an advisor and a consultant and making these big bucks advising these tribes and these other councils, I would just say that, sit down, and it’s more important to sit down with your enemies than your friends. A good case in point, we had what we called our Indian fighter in Skagit county, a county commissioner that was there for 12 years, and it was under his administration that the water, 50-year water agreement was turned upside down. And so it got to the point where I was tired of negotiating with the other two county commissioners who were friends because it would take two of the three to get anything passed. And so finally at the end I says, ‘I’m not going to negotiate with anyone except you,’ the person that was, who we perceived as the Indian fighter. I says, ‘You need to be at the table. You need to be sitting there. I’m tired of the others negotiating then bringing back agreements and you voting against it. I want you to be at the table.’ So when you have a perceived enemy out there who is just fighting tribes, that’s the nut that you have to crack and that’s the person that needs to be at the table with you. So my advice is to create relationships. Work harder on those that don’t agree with you because it’s not hard to convince your friends, it’s really hard to convince those that you perceive as your enemies.”

Ian Record:

“And isn’t it…doesn’t the building and sustaining of these kinds of relationships entail an education effort that goes just beyond those key decision-makers in the other governments, whether a county commissioner or a state elected official? Doesn’t it involve kind of this ongoing educational effort of the citizenry of both your tribe and also the larger public that’s going to be affected by the agreement at hand?”

Brian Cladoosby:

“Right because there’s a lot of perception out there… For example, right now the tribe is engaged in a lot of issues surrounding protecting critical areas on the Skagit River. The Skagit River has all species of wild salmon still spawning in its tributaries. So I take that very, very important to be able to protect that natural resource for future generations, the salmon in the water. And so with that comes bumping of heads with different industries: the building industry, the dam operators, forestry, agriculture. And so when you have all these groups impacting the resource, sometimes even though you’re getting along with the electeds, you have these other groups that might not be elected officials that you also have to deal with. And so even though you’re getting along with the elected officials, there’s still these other groups that are not elected that you have to deal with. And there’s a perception out there that we don’t get along with the farmers or we don’t get along with the developers because we’re too radical on protecting the water and the salmon. And so yes, that is, even though you have a relationship with these [elected officials], you still have to deal with the general public who are out there impacting our resources.”

Ian Record:

“Because ultimately it’s that general public that’s going to apply pressure, good or bad, on those elected officials that represent them, right?”

Brian Cladoosby:

“Exactly, and when you have like for example the egg industry who has a very, very strong lobby and you’re trying to get them to protect the critical areas on their land, they’re like, ‘I’m not giving up any land. I’m not putting any buffers between my farmland and where the salmon spawn. That’s not the American way. I own this land, I can do whatever I want with it.’ And right now they’re using three chemicals on their fields that cause cancer, they’re known cancer-causing agents and their employees have to wear these alien suits to apply these chemicals. So a situation like that, an example like that where we’re saying, ‘Look, try to keep as much of that out of the water as possible.’ And their answer is, ‘Don’t have to.’ The county commissioners and the state has said that, ‘I can spray on all my land all the way up to these critical areas.’ So that’s an example there where you have to fight to protect what you, what has been given to you.”

Ian Record:

“I want to switch gears now and talk a little bit about leadership. You earlier today recited a story, a personal experience that you had involving your own father and your own sister. And it really speaks to me to the challenges, the very tough inherent challenges of being a tribal leader. Can you I guess relate that story and talk about how important it was that you responded to your father’s plea in the way you did and how… I guess what message that sends to not only your family, but your entire nation about how decisions are going to be made.”

Brian Cladoosby:

“In life you’re going to make decisions every day, whether you’re a leader or whether you’re just average Joe Citizen and those decisions are going to impact you and there’s only going to be two outcomes from a decision you’re going to make: they’re going to bring you pain or they’re going to bring you pleasure. And so as a leader you have to…you have to rely on God and you have to have high standard of morals to be a good leader. And when you have to make decisions, you can’t base your decisions on what’s best for me or what’s best for my family or how am I going to profit or gain off this decision. And so when my dad calls me and he wants me to call the housing director to tell him to give my sister a job, that was really hard for me to say no to him, but I had to because the relationship with my director would have been totally different. Because if my sister messed up on the job and he wanted to fire her but couldn’t because he was looking over my shoulder because I told him to hire her, our relationship would have been totally different. I’ve got to give my directors the ability to make the choice and it’s just the way our Creator is, he gives us the ability to make a choice without putting any undue pressure on us and I felt I owed it to my director to give him that same opportunity. And so I don’t think a lot of my people know about that, that I had to do that. I never told very many people about that, having to make that decision. I didn’t advertise it, but I think it’s just important that as a leader you have to make the decision based on what’s right, not what’s best for you or your family.”

Ian Record:

“And whether you like it or not, you’re setting an example, aren’t you? You mentioned your housing director and this is a good segue into my next question and I’m going to pull a direct quote of yours here from a presentation you recently made where you said, ‘I have two Ph.D.s and they both work in my planning department.’ What do you mean by that statement and why do you choose to include it in your remarks?”

Brian Cladoosby:

“It is just a way to lighten up the crowd that I’m speaking to and just to say, ‘I’ve got two Ph.D.s,’ people think, 'Wow!' And then I say, ‘Yeah, they’re working in my planning department.’ My point there is to the fact that we’ve assembled some of the best and brightest minds in Indian Country and to be able to say that you have two Ph.D.s working on toxins in our shellfish and working on climate change and working on air quality is just an outstanding statement. I’ve got some of the best fish biologists in my organization, I’ve got attorneys, I’ve got accountants, I’ve got police, I’ve got medical doctors, I’ve got dentists. For a small tribe, I’m very proud of the infrastructure that we’ve been able to create. We’re not a big tribe and we’re not a big gaming tribe compared to some of those, but we put our money back into our resources, into people to help our community grow. And so to have quality employees like that makes my job a lot easier.”

Ian Record:

“I bet, and doesn’t it…isn’t that a necessity in this day and age, in the Indian Self-determination era, or as someone now called it, the 'Nation Rebuilding' era, when so many Native nations are setting very lofty goals for what they want for their present, what they want for their future? Doesn’t it necessitate building essentially these unrivaled infrastructures and bringing in talented people, cultivating talented people to make sure they can get the job done?”

Brian Cladoosby:

“It not only sends a strong message out there to the non-Indian community, it sends a strong message to Indian Country. And so the long-term goal is to be able to take and say, ‘I’ve got two Ph.D.s and they’re tribal members,’ that’s the ultimate goal. But yeah, it’s important to show those outside of Swinomish what we’ve been able to create and that it only makes us stronger heading into the future.”

Ian Record:

“You mentioned the fact that Swinomish has five-year terms. I was wondering if you’d give us a brief snapshot for those that don’t know much about Swinomish government about how exactly Swinomish government is set up. How are leaders elected? How did you rise to the position of chair? Just kind of the general snapshot of that because it does differ in fundamental ways from a lot of other IRA tribes.”

Brian Cladoosby:

“It’s amazing that in 1936 when we passed our constitution we probably had less than 200 members back then, that the council [saw] fit to have 11 members serving on the council, and you’ll see a lot of other tribes that have five, seven or nine and some of the very, very large ones that have 12 or 14. But I think it was important that they create 11 members to represent a lot of the people at Swinomish and to have five-year terms is unheard of in Indian Country. I’m yet to find another tribe across the nation that has five-year terms. And we have 150 years of council experience at the table and you cannot understate how important that is to have that continuity. And so I’m very proud that our elders did put that in place. We are elected. We have elections every year and we have two people up every year except the fifth year we have three people up. So it’s two, two, two, two, three, and so there’s not a large turnover ever on the council so it creates stability. And so we have elections once a year and after the elections we...the month following the general council meeting and the elections, the 11-member body elects the executive members of the council, so the chairman, vice chairman, secretary and treasurer. And so when I first got on council 25 years ago, I told my friend that, ‘One day I’m going to be chairman,’ and he laughed at me. When it did happen, we had a good laugh about that and so it’s just a lot of patience. I waited 12 years. That’s a long time on tribal council to rise to the top. On the 11th year I was the vice chair, then the 12th year the chair, but it’s the council that elects the members.”

Ian Record:

“I want to move…you’ve already addressed this 'nation is an island' issue, which was one of my follow-up questions, but I was wondering if you…you’ve been leading your nation since essentially the mid-1980s in an elected capacity. So that mid-1980s mark, that’s not long after the passage of the Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act. So you’ve been at the helm of your tribe for the better part of the Indian Self-Determination era and I was wondering if you could talk briefly about what that act has meant for Native nations. What did it do? How have some Native nations including Swinomish really taken the ball and run with it so to speak?”

Brian Cladoosby:

“Well, the key to any effective government, no matter what it is, is to have good strong leadership, and as I said we have a good strong leadership base at Swinomish. And so when this piece of legislation was passed, we were still struggling financially. We were debt managers basically at the tribal level and your typical BIA ready to come in and take over the tribe because our finances were all out of shape and we just cut back staff, cutting back hours, cutting back benefits. And so it…even though once that act was passed, there was no magic wand that came with it that made us this successful overnight. Just like anything else, it took time to be able to see some of the fruits of that, but slowly I think tribes across the nation are being able to -- through strong leadership, effective leadership -- being able to see the fruits of that legislation.”

Ian Record:

“What do you see as the future for Swinomish and for tribes across Indian Country, perhaps the big challenges on the horizon, maybe the resourcefulness that tribes can apply to overcome those challenges?”

Brian Cladoosby:

“Well, we’ve gone through the last 100 years of various different policies that have been basically implemented to try to 'benefit' our people, from the assimilation policy, which was very, very detrimental to our people where it basically took our children out of their homes and the government tried to create basically non-Indians or White men out of them and that was very detrimental. And so along with that came poverty. We were always a strong, sustained people at Swinomish where we never had to worry about anything. All of our natural resources were at our front door, there was no classes. Everybody’s wellbeing was taken care of and that assimilation policy brought unfortunately drugs, alcohol, poverty, unemployment. And so then with the advent of welfare, which created a...people, encouraged them to have a lot of babies. The more babies you had the bigger your welfare check. And I grew up in a welfare home waiting for the first of the month. And at Swinomish, it was jokingly referred to as Mother’s Day. Going forward you have to break those cycles. You have to break the cycle of alcoholism, you have to break the cycle of education, you have to break the cycle of being dependent on the government and getting back to being self-sustaining. And so they say it takes two generations to break the cycle, and the government was just about there in breaking our culture, two generations to break a cycle. So what we have to do going forward is to create an atmosphere where we want our kids to know how important education is. My grandfather went to boarding school. That was a very, very bad memory for him, just the abuses there were just terrible. So he did not encourage my mom to go to the White man’s school because of what he remembered. And so my mom’s generation didn’t put a high emphasis on education to the next generation, my generation. And so what we need to do is break that cycle and we’re seeing that in Indian Country now where we are recognizing that education is important. Alcoholism: I’m very proud that my granddaughter, for the first time in our family in 100 years, will be raised in a home without drugs or alcohol. That is awesome! And so we have to break the cycle of addiction. And so we have to create an atmosphere where our people want to work again and we have to have a homeland that they’ll have a place to live. So going forward, it’s just making sure that we have jobs, making sure we have housing, encourage education, and try to get our dependency away from drugs and alcohol, eliminate it as much as possible.”

Ian Record:

“Well, great, Brian. Really appreciate your time and your perspectives on all these critical governance issues and thank you.”

Brian Cladoosby:

“Thank you.”

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