Constitutions and Constitutional Reform - Day 2 (Q&A)

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Native Nations Institute
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Presenters from the second day of NNI's "Tribal Constitutions" seminar gather to field questions from seminar participants on a variety of topics ranging from citizen education and engagement to the role off-reservation citizens can and should play in a Native nation's present and future.

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Hill, Anthony, Ruben Santiestaban, Melissa Tatum, Joni Theobald, and Angela Wesley. "Constitutions and Constitutional Reform - Day 2 (Q&A)." Tribal Constitutions seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 4, 2013. Q&A session.

Audience member:

"I have a question for Ruben [Santiesteban]. When you were doing your process to teach your young people, did you have any opposition from anybody from your sitting council or from your community?"

Ruben Santiesteban:

"No, actually I didn't. The youth council had been around before; it just didn't have a facilitator. And so Joni [Theobald] in the Education Department, I was doing the Tribal AmeriCorps Program at the time and with the Education Department, and so during my volunteer hours, that was kind of my task to kind of bring some youth together. And the only...I'll tell you things I seen was, and you can probably...you guys know this, but some of the problems or issues that we face in Indian Country, what I seen was mostly with the parents. The parents, if I had anyone objecting, it was kind of them. Like, am I picking the right kids? It was open to everyone. I think you always get that. Are they the right ones? Are these the next leaders? What are they doing? What are their grades like? And I think it went way beyond that in the teachings that we were doing for them. And with the parents, what I got to see was that the generations that have come before us, especially my parents and their parents before, haven't had a chance to lead, haven't had a chance to make decisions of their own. And those are the bigger issues I guess I faced with working with the kids."

Joni Theobald:

"Sure. I think what we find in our community, and I'm sure in some of the others is when you have the youth moderating or leading or kind of taking charge, it neutralizes a lot of the, I guess, the turmoil or whatever, the disagreements. Even though you want positive, I guess, disagreement and discussion, it was a way for...you're on a certain type of behavior. With the youth council we also had expectations. In the beginning, when we first had the first year, some of that expectations went into strategically having them present in dress. We have a workforce investment and a youth component and some of you may have that WIA [Workforce Investment Act] program, but within mind with that we talked about what is professionalism? So our youth council would come to tribal council meetings or whenever they conducted business or came together, even during their meetings, they dressed what we call dressed appropriate, which with guidance we kind of...they all had their suits. We also financial supported that so whenever they present, they're dressed professionally. And I think when they're approaching council we have the council that...which it's not right or wrong, but have the plaid and have the t-shirts and I think they kind of almost...it gave them...the way they perceived and looked to our youth who were coming and presenting who were dressed up. So there were many things that I think even in presence and presentation that the youth council brought to the council and even the community."

Stephen Cornell:

"Other questions or comments?"

Joan Timeche:

"I have a question and this is to any of the presenters who, particularly the tribal representatives. You had to do a lot of one-on-one contact with the community and we know that it's not always in a positive environment. So did those people that were going out and doing the one-on-one contact or doing the public education with the citizens, did you have to go through any kind of training about how to handle...? There's always going to be that person out there who's going to yell at you and how to deal with that kind of stuff or how you talk to someone who just doesn't want to listen or pushes you off? I'm interested in what kind of skills and prep you had... people had to have before they went out and engaged with community."

Ruben Santiesteban:

"Okay, I'll take it. What I found out in Indian Country, especially on our reservation in Lac du Flambeau, it actually was good. I think when I campaigned I probably knocked about 700 doors and I felt that was the best way to go right in people's homes and talk about my different concerns and what I could do for the community and get their perspective. And it went really well for the ones...I think we just have to remember is people who generally don't like you just aren't going to like you anyway, but they listen anyway because they don't really talk until you're gone anyway -- that's usually the way it goes -- but they listened. And I think I turned a lot of minds because, unfortunately, in Indian Country we have the rumor mill and if you don't get out there, the perceptions of what someone may have told someone about you is all they're left with. So I do encourage you to get out there and talk to your community so that you can stamp out any of those things and represent yourself well. What helped me get through that kind of stuff was, I was a Kirby man so I sold Kirby vacuum cleaners and I knocked on a lot of doors; being in sales and marketing for a long time really helped me build that thick skin, but in Indian Country it actually goes pretty well. They actually do listen and welcome you into the home."

Angela Wesley:

"That's a great question, Joan. I think that in our community we didn't do that at first when we started with our constitution. When we got into our discussions around treaty because of what we did learn, we did make sure that we had some communication, specific communications training in a lot of areas for our team that went out there. I'd certainly recommend it to anybody who's going to do that just to give some safety and security to the people who are going to be going out and doing it. Another thing after this wonderful young woman that I talked to you about, one of the things I would never do again is send somebody out by themselves, if only just to be able to support each other and to be able to sort of verify information that's gone out and that kind of thing. People respond in different ways better to some people than they do to others. So I've seen other nations, and it's something that we've encouraged other nations to do as well, and they have brought in professionals to come in and talk about...do a little bit more of the formal kind of training. We didn't have the time or the resources at the time we were doing it and I think we just didn't really think about what we were getting into. It would have been very beneficial to have had that kind of training, especially for our younger people."

Anthony Hill:

"One of the important things is that all...you need to make sure all your task force members are on the same page because when they go out, you don't want one segment not getting the information that the other segment is getting. What we did in our group is before we went out for each public round of meetings or door-to-door sessions is we actually practiced in our committee meeting and we would have talking points. "˜These are the points that you want to hit when you go out in the community.' So that was really important. And when they reported, we had standardized reports for all the committee members to report the same information to different audiences so that no one is left out. I think that's really important."

Stephen Cornell (moderator):

"We've got a question here."

Audience member:

"Just kind of an expansion on some of those thoughts. Is there a role for like a campaign manager or lobbyist in the process of looking at, especially where your laws come from? We have off-reservation members and so the jurisdictions that they're in have different requirements; there's different people in offices that have their history. So I'm wondering is there an appropriate role for someone to help guide you in what their backgrounds are, their histories and really, who...partners exist out there? And then as far as like citizen participation, again, is there a role for expertise in marketing? It may sound like it's counter-intuitive, but we've really got to market to the citizens. Is there a role for professionals in marketing?

Stephen Cornell:

"Anyone? He wants to know if you're looking for a job."

Anthony Hill:

"If you'll recall, part of the action plan was to take us through the election itself. And so what was going to happen and our plan was once we turned over the document, we would switch into basically campaign mode -- yes, mode -- and that it would be our responsibility to go back out, let the community know the merits of this new constitution and urge them to support it. And that was...essentially that was going to be our job. Unfortunately, we never got around to doing it, but that was what we were planning on doing. So whether...it's questionable whether or not you want your committee or commission to undertake that effort because some people thought, "˜Well, you did your job in writing or drafting the new constitution, step back and let the people themselves decide for it,' but that was what our plan said. We never got to implement it. And we always had help from...we have a communications office with the community and they were always helping us put together our posters, our flyers, our newspaper inserts, things like that. So we were lucky we had those resources."

Stephen Cornell:

"Question here."

Mohammed Fardous:

"Hello. My name is Mohammad Ferdoz and my question goes to Mr. Anthony [Hill]. You mentioned a good point before in your speech that I was real attracted [to]. The question is here that how did you get the people involved with the government and constitution who are not on the reservation? And you said that you had a meeting with tribal members in Los Angeles and how did it help to have the people work on the reservation or to be involved with government institutions and government all?"

Anthony Hill:

"That's a good question. I'm going to get off this thing because it has...I'm sitting on springs. It's just my weight. It's really important to make sure you get those who don't live on your community involved and like I said, the way we did it, we did it in a number of ways. The eighth person that was on our task force was from the Phoenix area and we have a large presence in Phoenix. We reached out to our members in other areas across the country because our enrollment office let us use the addresses for all our enrolled community members so we got their addresses. And the only reason that we knew they were updated was because it's the same address you get your per capita check at so everyone knows, everyone updated their addresses so we knew they were right and we sent flyers out to them. We went to Los Angeles and San Francisco about three times during the course of this exercise. The first time was to acquaint them with the project, the second time was to get their input on a draft, then the third time was to present the final draft. The way we enticed people in the non-reservation areas was we brought along other tribal departments. We brought along the enrollment department and they brought their portable ID-making equipment. So those who needed a tribal ID but who couldn't physically come to Phoenix to get one, they came and they were able to get one. We brought along our elections department. If you wanted to update your elections file and your registration, you could do that there. So literally it was this bandwagon of people going from L.A. and going to San Francisco and it was like a circus. Somebody from another department ran into a bicyclist in San Francisco and the police got involved and we were, "˜I don't know those Indians over there.' So that's what we did. And we also kept in contact with them through the internet. We had a web page that we utilized and they were able to check back for updates. So that's the way we kept our tribal members informed off the reservation."

Mohammed Fardous:

"How could they help the government and was the [unintelligible] for people on the reservation because this is unfortunately a challenge for most of the tribes today because the tribal members just maybe immigrate or go to other places and maybe they don't have enough human resources or [unintelligible]. So how could this plan help the government?"

Anthony Hill:

"You mean the revised constitution, how would it help the government?"

Stephen Cornell:

"I think the question is how can those people who live off the rez help the government on the rez? How can they be beneficial to you?"

Anthony Hill:

"Okay, I get that point. Thank you. It's interesting because in our constitution it says, "˜If you are away from the reservation for 20 years, you are automatically disenrolled.' Now, that's a big...that's a lot of people and when we went out to the people who didn't live on the reservation, we pointed that out and says, "˜Technically, a lot of you, we could probably disenroll you.' Now the community has never done it. Let me be perfectly clear, we never did it. No one ever exercised it, no one ever sought to do it, but that's scared a lot of them and they wanted to see that taken out. The other thing was is that they were concerned because they were enrolled community members yet they weren't receiving the benefits that came with living on the reservation and they were saying, "˜Well, you're using my enrollment number to help get casino machines, but yet I don't get the benefit from it just because I choose either to live off the reservation or you have no place for me to live on the reservation.' And their concern was, "˜How do you include me in that? How do you include me in the education programs? How do you include me in the housing programs or the health programs,' things like that? So it brought a lot of people out and we actually brought some elected officials with us to these meetings and they were asking them, "˜How can you help us be more connected to the government and how can you help us because we need help off the reservation, too.' And that conversation started...I don't know where it went, because unfortunately our leaders never went back out after they sort of tabled the constitution. That whole thing kind of died out, but that's the sad part of the whole thing I think because we had a good dialogue going with them; they were eager to see us. I met some people who were my relatives that I didn't even know that lived in other parts of the country. It's an open book still and it's not finished yet, but that's where I guess I have to leave it."

Melissa Tatum:

"My husband is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and the Cherokee Nation allows citizens who are outside the boundaries to vote and there are I believe it's two at-large representatives on the council. And what they do is they have set up a system that you can...there are official satellite communities where there's a critical mass of Cherokees who are living outside the boundaries and each satellite community has regular quarterly meetings. We have four meetings a year. They're on regular certain Saturday of the month. So people have it on their calendar, they expect it. Then the Cherokee Nation arranges programs, usually a potluck supper, but they bring representatives from council out, they have Cherokee history and culture classes, the at-large representatives come and speak and report on what's going on so that the satellite communities feel connected. So that's one way that Cherokee does it."

Stephen Cornell:

"Just to add to that very quickly ma'am before I come to you...there are a number of nations now doing this and we heard the first morning of Citizen Potawatomi, which has eight seats on their council from Potawatomi County, Oklahoma and eight seats, which can be filled by any Potawatomi anywhere in the United States and they run their council meetings with videoconferencing. So you'll have a Potawatomi councilor living in Los Angeles County participating in a council meeting on a video screen on the wall in the council chambers real-time voting on proposals, participating in the debate. And what Citizen Potawatomi says is, "˜Any service available to a resident, to an enrolled Potawatomi from this nation should be available to any enrolled Potawatomi no matter where you live.' So they have a home ownership loan program, they've got a small business startup program; they funded Potawatomi citizens to start businesses in Phoenix, in Kansas, all over the place. So that's part of their effort to do exactly I think what Anthony is talking about, re-link all these people to the nation and give them a sense that they have a stake in your future and the future of the nation where you are and there's power in that. Yes, ma'am. Sorry. Go ahead."

Audience member:

"I just have a comment to make to his question, too. When you have tribal members that are living off the reservation, because we have a lot in Fort McDowell that are in other states, we treat them like a regular...they're treated equally as anybody else living within our boundaries of the reservation because those people, most of the time, are going to be your most educated people because they have to follow other rules that you don't follow within your tribal government. Those people are very big assets to your community and all the tribes you should understand that because we use those people. Because when we have to go to D.C. to fight, a lot of those other senators sit on Indian Affairs commissions and boards and other things and you use those people that say you have a senator from Minnesota that's on an Indian Affairs. You tell your tribal member, "˜Write to your senator on behalf of your tribe over here because we have something going on in Arizona that we need their vote.' So that's why to us it's important on our reservation that we treat everybody the same because we use them, they're assets to our community and I think a lot of...like I brought up before, I didn't know there were tribes up there that had different classes of tribal members that whether they don't give you benefits or they don't because in our...in Fort McDowell ever since I was little, I've always known our Yavapai people to treat everybody the same because we're all family oriented and we don't tell one person, "˜Because you don't live here or you haven't been here that you're limited, your benefits are limited.' At one time that was brought up, but I'm proud of my elders that stood up and said, "˜No, those people are important just like you and we have to treat them the same.' And like you said, like us, we use them for very important things because we know that they know how to live off the reservation versus me as a tribal member that lives on the reservation. We have many benefits on our reservation and some of our tribal members, I don't think they could make it if they lived off in the city of Phoenix and Mesa because they got a lot of taxes they got to pay, city taxes, trash tax, water tax, all these other things that sometimes in the tribe it's a benefit to you. And sometimes you have to rely on those people, but that's just a comment that I wanted to let you know that on our tribe a lot of our people living on and off...the people off the reservation are very important to us."

Stephen Cornell:

"And I bet this lady on hold here, ma'am do you have a comment or a question?"

Audience member:

"When you're going out to your community members and talking to them about, educating them about a constitution, it says in the thing here that they'll say, "˜How does that impact my life?' What specific examples do you have that your people when they were talking to community members, what did they say to them that how this constitution impacts their life? Could you give any examples about that? Do you understand what I'm asking?

Angela Wesley:

"I'll start a little bit. It sort of ties in with the people that live away from home; when we do go away and have regular meetings with our people who live away from home, that's always the question is, "˜How is this going to impact me?' It really comes down to the constitution gives us the ability to make decisions for ourselves and like this lady was saying, just because people live...our people have been forced to live away from home doesn't mean they're not a part of us anymore. But the way our funding structure was from the Department of Indian Affairs is we were only allowed to spend money for people who were living at home. So that was something that we thought was really critical to us governing ourselves is that we would be able then to earn some wealth with resources that we were getting through treaty and to develop our economy so that we could start to provide services to people who live away from home, whether that be housing, health, education, increased medical services or dental services, that kind of thing, but we always said that's up to us. So many of those things were up to us and that we had to continue to have those conversations as we built our wealth so that the money is being put to where the people want it to be. In terms of reaching out to people and just talking to them and why we would do that, what they can bring, part of what we wanted to do with 85 percent of our people living away from home is to start to build that vision in our people, that just because you live away from home doesn't mean that your future generations aren't going to come back. Like you said, those educated people that are out there that can come with different skills to bring into our community when we start to be able to rebuild our economy. So we really wanted not just to make the linkage, but also to encourage people to start thinking about coming home. Our vision talks about strengthening our culture, strengthening our language, trying to reincorporate our traditional way of governing ourselves; people have to be home for us to do a lot of those things. So we wanted to start to build that notion in people's minds that yes, it will be possible. We don't have schooling right now, we don't have healthcare right in our community, but let's work so that we can so that we can start to attract some of those people to come back home and live comfortably in our territories. That's part of our vision is that our people are able to live at home. And we recognize that not everybody is going to do that, but we want more people to be able to do it."