Floyd "Buck" Jourdain: Constitutional Reform and Leadership at the Red Lake Nation

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Native Nations Institute
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Floyd "Buck" Jourdain, Chairman of the Red Lake Nation from 2004 to 2014, discusses his nation's constitutional reform effort and the supporting role he played in helping to get the effort off of the ground. He also talks about how comprehensive constitutional reform will empower his nation's elected leaders to effectively tackle its biggest problems and identify and then achieve its strategic priorities. 

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Jourdain, Floyd "Buck." "Constitutional Reform and Leadership at the Red Lake Nation." Leading Native Nations interview series. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Walker, Minnesota. July 9, 2014. Interview.

Ian Record:

“Welcome to Leading Native Nations. I’m your host, Ian Record. On today’s program, we are honored to have with us Floyd Jourdain, Jr., a citizen of the Red Lake Nation in Minnesota. Floyd, otherwise known as ‘Buck,’ served as Red Lake Nation Chairman from 2004 to 2014. An advocate of Native culture and living drug and alcohol free, Jourdain has spent the past three decades working as a counselor, community organizer and educator. Buck, welcome and good to have you with us today.”

Floyd Jourdain:

“Miigwetch. Thank you.”

Ian Record:

“I’ve shared a little bit about who you are, but why don’t we start off by having you tell us a little bit more about yourself. What did I leave out?”

Floyd Jourdain:

“Well, you didn’t leave out much I suppose. It’s a good nutshell there. I grew up on a reservation, Red Lake, northwestern Minnesota and was educated there, graduated from high school, went off to college for a couple years and got involved in chemical dependency and recovery programs, and working with youth and youth councils and those type of things. Started studying sociology and racism and trying to combat those type of social factors in Indian Country, and then somehow it led me to be the chief of the tribe. I don’t know how it happened, but it did and I was the chairman for 10 years.”

Ian Record:

“We’ll talk about that, your tenure as chairman a bit later. What I wanted to start off talking about though is constitutional reform. In August 2012, the Red Lake Nation approved a plan to review and revise its constitution. That’s an effort that’s still unfolding, it’s very early on in terms of its…in terms of the process. From your perspective what prompted the nation to go down the reform road?”

Floyd Jourdain:

“Well, it’s been a topic of tribal elections every two and four years. You hear catch phrases like 'separation of powers,' 'constitutional reform,' and candidates never really elaborate on that or what it is and people are left with this big question mark. I think that finally somebody came along who said, ‘This is something that really needs attention.’ I think my background in studying political science had something to do with that and also the culture of the tribe and the history and the treaties and our government structure and how we’ve evolved over time. So leading up to it, it just fell right in step with some of the things I was interested as a tribal leader, so I was right from the early on get-go interested in pursuing that.”

Ian Record:

“So you were chairman at the time that this effort, this initiative was formally given the green light by the council. And I’m curious, what role did you play in your capacity as chairman in terms of getting this movement going, to getting this effort off the ground?”

Floyd Jourdain:

“That’s one of the advantages of being the chairman is you’re able to carry out some of the vision and some of the things that the people are wanting to see happen. Over my lifetime, I’ve seen some political train wrecks and tumultuous times that had to do with the constitution within our tribe and others and being able to instead of pointing planners in the direction of saying, ‘Well, hey, let’s get some immediate things going.’ No, let’s try to embark on something that’s long range and constitutional reform is one of those things. It was a priority when I came into office and actually before that I was dabbling and studying it and going to school studying political science and those type of things. So I was pretty excited about finding some people who were interested in taking that on and then just letting them go.”

Ian Record:

“You talked about finding some people and letting them go. From what I’m hearing, there was a sense of your own place and how the extent of your involvement could be perceived by certain folks. Did you have any sense that, ‘I need to be careful about just how fully I as the chairman, as the chief elected leader of this tribe, get involved in the reform of the nation’s constitution and government?’”

Floyd Jourdain:

“Indian Country can be so divisive, especially when it comes to politics and you have to be respectful of someone’s…what you perceive as a bad idea at one point was somebody’s good idea and to build something lasting. You don’t want to have your name tied to…directly to it. And I think empowerment is key by planting that seed, finding the right people to carry it out, support them, step back a ways and just kind of guide things from the peripheral -- if you’re allowed to do that -- because at some point you do more harm than good if you’re directly involved in especially major efforts that are going to be carrying on for quite some time regardless of who the political leaders are.”

Ian Record:

Was part of your role being like a source of information for folks who were curious about what’s going with this, ‘Tell me more about this,’ and sort of giving them the 411 on what this constitutional reform initiative is all about and who is in charge of it and things like that?”

Floyd Jourdain:

“Yeah. Prior to coming to office people would come to me and say, ‘Well, what’s all of the big…what’s all the fighting about?’ And usually it was two political powerhouses fighting over who’s going to control the jobs and gaming and housing and who’s going to do the favors and control everything. And they would say, ‘Well, why are they doing it? How are they allowed to do that?’ And so a lot of the educating of like my family and friends and younger people, youth council, those people; so I was doing a lot of teaching back then about how governments work, in particular tribal governments because not only looking at tribal constitutions, but also the United States Constitution, European history and how all of those...American history affected us. Yeah, those…the education is a huge, huge piece of getting people to understand, ‘Why is there this dysfunction happening? There’s got to be a reason.’ So I’ve always been fascinated by prying and finding out why something happens or why it’s happening and not being satisfied just with that, but now what’s a good strategic way to do something about it?”

Ian Record:

“It sounds like you had a supportive role to play, you had an information-sharing role to play, also with a keen sense that you have to allow the people to take full ownership in the process. From what I know about the Red Lake constitution reform process, that seems to be the top priority: this has to be ultimately an expression of the people’s will and not, as you’ve sort of alluded to, to be assigned or attached to one political leader. Can you elaborate a little bit more on this sort of mindset that went into that?”

Floyd Jourdain:

“Well, I can speak for my tribe when I can say the tribal chairman has always had a huge target on them and people come after the chairman, I don’t care who it is, and the same goes for a lot of other tribes as well. And so the chairman, if he gets behind something, a lot of times it’s…of course his supporters are going to say that’s a good thing, but then the other people are going to say, ‘Well, hey, this is something that we’re opposed to.’ You want to get as many people involved and empowered and be neutral and you’re exactly right, we just have to give it to the people and let the people take ownership of it and make it their own. The effort itself is…you basically cut the cord and watch it grow. And I think that’s a good thing because regardless of who the leader is, then the effort stays strong, it stays connected with the people, it has a grassroots feel to it and they will keep it moving. It takes on a life of its own and I think that’s a very, very strong way to go about approaching government reform.”

Ian Record:

“So can you describe in a nutshell the approach that Red Lake…the structure it created to shepherd this reform movement along, sort of at a macro level?”

Floyd Jourdain:

“The structure…well, we were hoping to… I’ve seen like piecemeal efforts in the past to do constitutional reform and usually it’s the people in power will fix a little piece or this or that that’s going to work to their benefit and people were like, ‘Well, what was that all about?’ and it was never fully explained. So by putting together a team of people who are able to have this fervor and this interest and this energy to go after this and not only educate themselves on it, but to go out directly into the community in a strategic, planned out, chronological order, that’s been really effective. And starting with education: ‘What is constitutional reform? Why are we doing it? What is…I’ve heard about it, but I really don’t understand a lot about it.’ I think finding the right team and the right people and just letting them do their thing has been a good approach.”

Ian Record:

“Isn’t part of that challenge of getting the people engaged, you mentioned making them understand what constitutional reform is, but isn’t there a piece prior to that where you’re actually trying to make the argument, ‘Here’s why the constitution matters to you as a citizen of this nation,’ or, ‘here’s how revisiting and strengthening it can actually improve your life and the life of those yet to come’?”

Floyd Jourdain:

“Yeah, I believe so. Just basic rudimentary government. A lot of this new generation coming up, some of them have had a misperception that we’re really steeped in tradition and language and we’re carrying on a tradition that has been there for hundreds of years when actually we’ve recreated a template of somebody else’s stuff that has very little to do with our tribe at all -- our identity, our language, our philosophies and our culture and any of that. So I think that’s where a lot of it starts is that people just don’t have any idea. And elections are…I see it as an opportunity to educate people because people will go out there and they’ll say, ‘We need a separation of powers and we need term limits and we need this and we need that.’ And then people are scratching their heads, ‘Is this a bad thing or why are we…?’ So I think it’s really important to…again I can’t emphasize enough with youth councils, high schools and alternative schools and charter schools to educate at that level. Because in Indian Country I didn’t read anything about any of this stuff until I was like two years into college and on most reservation schools you have public schools or you have BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] schools; they don’t teach this stuff. We don’t know anything about it until we get a little older, but what’s encouraging is the next generation coming up, you see they’re more advanced in their thinking, they’re learning about federal Indian law and they’re fascinated by language revitalization. They’re educated at a whole other level now with social media and access to technology. It’s pretty fascinating digging through card catalogs to find out about the Marshall Trilogy and you’re two years into college. Now these young people on youth councils and they’re saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got this thing going on on federal Indian law, would you be interested in coming to speak?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, sure!’ Whoa, I wish I would have had that when I was younger because there was no such thing."

Ian Record:

“Card catalogs. We’ll have to explain to our younger viewers what that is.”

Floyd Jourdain:

“Yeah, it was cumbersome and a lot of work.”

Ian Record:

“You’ve alluded to this and I want to talk a bit more about it, but in the vision statement for the Red Lake constitutional reform initiative -- which is overseen by a reform committee that represents a broad cross section of people in your community -- but the vision statement for this initiative and for this basically the charge of the committee is in part to strengthen the ideas of self-governance in its constitution. Can you talk a little bit more about that, about how the current constitution doesn’t truly and perhaps fully enact notions of self-governance and in particular Anishinaabe Ojibwe self-governance?”

Floyd Jourdain:

“I think self-governance is inclusive of the people and that’s one of the things that’s been lacking. Elected officials --again I can speak for our tribe -- have no job descriptions. Nobody knows what they do. They’re not required to really do anything. You get on the tribal council, you’re elected to that position and there’s a misconception of what the role of a tribal leader should be. So basically we’re saying, ‘You write our job description for us. What are your ideas, what is your vision, what do you think a tribal leader should do? Is it to control all the housing and the jobs and bring all their political people in and do this and that and do favors and comps and all this kind of stuff?’ No, that’s not what a tribal leader is supposed to be doing. ‘Well, it doesn’t say they’re not supposed to be doing that.’

So in our particular situation, there’s job descriptions for the three executive officers: the chairman, the secretary and the treasurer, but the representatives, nothing. There’s nothing in there that says what the chiefs are supposed to be doing. There’s no criteria, there’s no qualifications that they’re supposed to have, there’s no code of conduct, ethics, no bill of rights and under that particular arrangement the people are detached from government; there is no empowerment. And I think with constitutional reform, it’s going to allow people to say, ‘These are the expectations of our nation. We expect better. We expect a higher level of representation. We expect to raise the standards of our tribe and what our nation is aspiring to be.’ And with a lack of that, you can do anything. You have these elections every two and four years, there’s a lot of upheaval, there’s no accountability. You have people perpetuating a system that is...basically contributes to sometimes, unfortunately, chaos and a loss of any potential and progress. So I think those are important. You just call it what it is.

When you start to point those things out, people will [say], ‘I had no idea. I thought a tribal council member was supposed to be the director of our gaming,’ or, ‘I thought they were supposed to oversee. I thought we could go to them and get money from them and those kind of things.’ So minus that, you get these people who are…they become almost in a sense sometimes enablers and they perpetuate it after awhile. I don’t know if it’s a sense of, ‘People are relying on me, they’re dependent of me, they need me,’ and next thing you know you lose focus. Our nation needs leaders and our job is to be…set the direction of the tribe, the vision to move our nation forward and be forward thinking. We’re supposed to be looking over here, not just right here and I think that that’s a huge part of constitutional reform is, ‘What are these leaders doing? They get bogged down in all these other things and what about us?’

I ran for office and I was a younger person and there was a lot of squabbling and fighting and the constitution was, ‘Oh, well, this person here is doing this and that one, we’ve got to have a recall and we’ve got to get this one out of here and we’ve got to…’ and there was a lot of finger pointing back and forth and anger and emotions and tempers flaring and people marching around with petitions and all this kind of stuff and people were like, ‘This is crazy. What’s going on?’ Meanwhile, we had youth suicides and crack cocaine was infiltrating Indian Country, enormous, ridiculous amounts of diabetes with youth and juveniles and chemical dependency issues and joblessness and homelessness. But then you have all of these people fighting over…citing the constitution. ‘They’re not doing this, they’re not doing that, according to the constitution.’

So those are things that I think will contribute greatly to healthier communities, to more effective leadership, better education, better systems and it’s a huge, huge undertaking, but it’s one that has to be approached in a manner where you can just continually pass the torch, pass the torch, pass the torch. Sometimes it might take generations. It’s nothing something I don’t think that will happen really fast, but it’s something that definitely is happening now.”

Ian Record:

“So in this process of redefining self-governance and what that means and people are taking a full participatory role in that redefining process, how valuable is it for -- and it sounds like this is what the Red Lake constitution reform committee is getting the people to really focus on -- but how valuable is it for people to go back and realize and investigate that, ‘Hey, we as Red Lake, we had this self-governance thing figured out a long time ago. In fact, that’s the reason why we’re still here and maybe if we more fully examine the key principles that served as the foundation of that traditional governance system, there’s things that we can bring forward and make it more ours, make it more Anishinaabe.’ Is that a current you’re starting to see taking root within the community as sort of a topic of conversation?”

Floyd Jourdain:

“I think it is, because incorporating the language and culture into tribal courts, into tribal leadership, into education and melding that into a governmental instrument that’s effective for everybody is something that’s going to be…greatly enhance the quality of life for everybody. And the Anishinaabe philosophies and those principles and ways of living, they were minus a lot of the…how do I say, suppose ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ and ‘getting a leg up on somebody’ all the little catch phrases. But yeah, it was…that is not reflected in the constitution that we have now. There’s absolutely nothing in there that pertains to Anishinaabe values, traditions, language, anything. And in fact, one time I was listening to a college president at a tribal college say, ‘When our elders wrote our constitution, they were thinking about us,’ and I had a copy of the constitution and I was flipping through it going, ‘Our elders didn’t write this.’ This was a college president. It was one of the boilerplates and I was like, ‘Well, they might have adapted it or basically modeled after it, but an Indian person didn’t write this. I know that.’ I didn’t say anything, but it was…so we really have come a long way from the way we…our traditional customs and systems were applied to leading a nation.”

Ian Record:

“You mentioned who wrote the constitution and that’s a topic we often see a lot of general understanding among people who are concerned about constitutional reform and the inadequacies of their current constitution in Indian Country. They’ll say things like, ‘We’re an IRA tribe and we have an IRA boilerplate constitution.’ But what we’re seeing I think in a good way now more and more is that more tribes are going back and gleaning the origin story of their constitution, going beyond just analyzing the words on the page, but saying, ‘What was going on at the time that this constitution was formed? What can the elders tell us about who was in charge and how…just how dominant the BIA or some other outside entity was in the formation of this document?’ Because as you said about Red Lake’s constitution, in most instances you can read this and realize in a heartbeat that this was not written by an Indigenous person or this does not reflect the voice of an Indigenous person. This was obviously someone else’s product. And it sounds from some of the video work that the reform committee’s doing that that’s precisely where they’re focusing is, ‘We’ve got to bring to the people a sense of context for where this constitution came from.’”

Floyd Jourdain:

“Well, some of the…at one point there was dozens of people on the tribal council and of course there was one central figure, again. Somewhere along the line you see just where respect was lost for chiefs, a total disregard for tribal chairmen and they were viewed more as adversarial people and maybe coopted by outside entities and not basically viewed as a person. This is a person who’s looking out for all of us. I went to NCAI [National Congress of American Indians] in Tulsa, Oklahoma several years ago and a young man stood up there in general assembly. He said, ‘I really got to hand it to you tribal leaders, especially chairpersons.’ He said, ‘My dad was on a council for many years and we saw what he went through as a family, what affect it had on him and on us as a kid growing up in a home of a tribal leader, and the toll it took on him and how much he poured into it. I really got to hand it to you. It takes a unique breed of person to step up to the plate and take the arrows in the back and take the bullets from the front.’ So the fight is out there, but you’re just getting hammered from fighting. Sometimes it’s so, so hard to try to do things for the people when a lot of times you’re perceived as somebody who is not looking out for their best interest, regardless of how much progress, what you’re doing.

So those definitions I think again really need to be re-evaluated and that’s where the lack of culture, the lack of…like in our language: [Anishinaabe language]. That’s, ‘There’s a man standing out in front of his people.’ All the people are here and there’s a man standing out there. That’s my Indian name that was given to me by an elder many years ago. I wasn’t a chairman then when I received that name, but somehow it happened for me. That’s part of our traditions and our teachings. I believe that the Creator up there has a plan for all of us and things do happen for a reason. So just the…how that factors in, the leaders are chosen not because he’s going to promise me a raise. Leaders were chosen because you say, ‘Well, this leader has a good heart and I know that he’s going to give everything that he can for the people.’ That is lacking in constitutions now so I think that the…if you connect those two together, then they’ll perceive tribal leaders to be more as human beings and more of caring individuals and not so much, ‘We’re fascinated by watching this individual topple,’ or ‘we need to get our guy in there.’ And then sometimes unfortunately across Indian Country, you have some pretty good things going on that are toppled because of an election and then later on the people are like, ‘Oh, geez, maybe we shouldn’t have…’ And sometimes there’s others who need to have the next one come in and take over.”

Ian Record:

“So it sounds like in talking with some of the other folks that are involved with the Red Lake reform effort that it’s beginning to take root and more and more people in the community are beginning to get engaged, the turnout at some of the community meetings has been really strong, people are beginning to share their aspirations for what a new constitution and ultimately a new Red Lake future will look like or should look like. But I assume that you’ve observed… I assume you’ve observed some challenges. Has there been some blowback to this reform effort? Are there people that are perhaps looking upon it negatively for whatever reason? And is that to be expected and perhaps how do you see the reform effort sort of dealing with those sorts of challenges?”

Floyd Jourdain:

“I think some of the people who are actually assigned to do or appointed to do the reform effort too, they have their own renditions or their own ideas and…some of the things I’ve seen is, ‘Well, we need to create new policies for human resources,’ and, ‘the programs need to be…’ which has absolutely nothing to do with constitutional reform. And there’s others who have their own idea, who want to impose their own vision and not the collective of the people, Anishinaabe. Some want the language incorporated in, succession, those type of things and others have just adamantly said, ‘Well, you know what, I don’t know about that. I think this is…we don’t know if we trust this. This has worked up to this point so far.’

As far as the leadership, some of the leaders are like, ‘Hey, great. Anything that’s going to take away power from one individual,’ like the old Lord Atkins and immortal law, absolute power corrupts absolutely. If power’s concentrated in one figure for a long period of time, eventually the individual will become corrupt and those type of things. And so those type of things have been talked about is term limits and so there’s…it’s good healthy discussion. All of it is really, really good healthy discussion.

Some of the drawbacks I think from the leadership is that, ‘Well, geez, if we do this, does that mean we’re not going to have the power that we had or we’re not going to be as effective and what is our job then? The people elected me to provide for them and do this and do that and they have expectations of me and if I’m in a position now where I don’t do those things for them anymore, then I’m probably not going to be around here for very much longer.’ So the education piece also starts to radiate out to the leadership where they start to see that empowerment is a good thing for the nation, but it might necessarily be a good thing for them if they’re of the mind that they want to hold on to power.

And one of the things that I experienced being a younger chairman coming in, there was no Chairman 101 and all of the tribal council members who were there, they were not falling over each other to come and educate me on what it’s like to be a tribal leader. I don’t think they had expectations of me being there very long. So why are we going to do that?

So a lot of it is…you can go to school, you can get educated in American Indian history and law and federal Indian law, policy, sovereignty, treaties. You can study tribes all over the place, but when you walk into the office on day one, it’s like all of that is like, ‘Oh, okay. Well, that's not really what I’m doing here. The people have expectations that are aside from that.’ And a lot of times leaders come in and they see it that way. It’s like, ‘Well, hey, I’m here to satisfy people.’ And those are the ones that…they’re a little more resistant to empowering and allowing the nation to grow.”

Ian Record:

“You touched on one of the major challenges that I think a lot of tribes get sort of a cold splash of water in the face or a wakeup call is when they actually ratify new constitutions, there’s sort of a sigh of relief. ‘We cleared that hurdle,’ and then it hits them that now the hard part comes. ‘We’ve actually got to implement this thing.’ And part of the challenge then is you’ve got to educate not only the people about how the new government works, but you’ve got to educate your leadership about what their role is and how that role may have changed. And from what you’re saying, it sounds like that means that people have to take a whole new approach to how they govern, how they make decisions, how they view their role, how they interact with their constituents. It’s potentially a completely revolutionary process, right? And from what I’ve heard, Red Lake is considering comprehensive reform and not what you’ve talked about that’s happened in the past where there’s sort of these piecemeal little changes here and there, but we’re looking at the whole thing.”

Floyd Jourdain:

“Right. Yeah, I think it is…a more comprehensive approach is why just change one tire when you can change them all and the leadership taking a look at, ‘Well, if this happens…’ And I give one example where a tribal council member said, ‘Well, then what are we supposed to do? If we’re not running the programs and we’re not overseeing the businesses and we’re not calling all the shots here…? The people elect us to do these things and so then what are we supposed to do?’ So you can see how far reaching the influence of tribal leaders can be when they do not have a specific set of duties that they were elected to do. And changing that culture, it is a process and it would be like a fish out of water. They walk out of the ocean, they’re on the beach and they say, ‘Oh, yeah, this is not good. I can't adapt to this.’ Two minutes later they’re going to want to run back in the water. So it’s again passing down…and our elders teach us this. They say, ‘The knowledge that you have acquired in your lifetime, you have a duty to pass that on to the ones that are coming. Because you’re connected to your children, your grandchildren and just because you might be in the position you’re in right now, doesn’t mean you’re always going to be there. You might flop over tomorrow and take everything with you. So you have a responsibility to educate the ones coming up.’

So I’ve always been fascinated by demographics and numbers and political science and statistics and watching trends, especially in Indian Country with the generations coming up in the education systems that are happening. They are going to inherit everything. We have a massive reservation, hundreds of thousands of acres of woodlands and lakes and lands and resources and a government system that is very fragile. I had an elder one time tell me, ‘Buck, it’s really refreshing to know that some of these younger people coming up or even some of the older ones that we’re not really in tune with what is going on, now they’re getting interested, they’re getting involved and that makes me feel good as an elder because I know I can go off to the Happy Hunting Ground, lay my head down, knowing that our tribe is in good hands and it’s moving in a positive direction.’”

Ian Record:

“One of the issues that Red Lake has been focusing on in early stages of the reform effort deals with whether and how to remove the Secretary of Interior approval clause from its constitution. Why the attention to that specific issue do you think?”

Floyd Jourdain:

“I think that’s always been like a myth that we have to check with the Great White Father every time we do something. And over time with Red Lake, the sovereignty and the uniqueness of the government there, they’ve always maintained that, ‘Hey, we really don’t have to check with anybody? Do we really?’ And whenever there was a political fight going on, one party would say, ‘Well, hey, you guys can’t kick me out of here. I’m going to tell the Secretary on you.’ And then finally one group said, ‘Go ahead.’ And nothing happened. So I think over time is a misconception that just because we basically modeled ourselves after an IRA constitution that we had an obligation, a congressional mandate or something from the Department of Interior that, ‘Hey, you can’t do anything until you check with us,’ and Red Lake didn’t do that. So we haven’t been checking with the Secretary of Interior all of these decades, why should we start now?

So I think over time the Band itself, I don’t know if it’s lawyers or historians or chairpersons or whoever said, ‘Well, let me check that out.’ They checked it out and they said, ‘Well, no, it’s not in fact true. We don’t have to get the consent of the Secretary of Interior for anything.’ We have some code of federal regulations. We did away with those. We’ve done some things with business and courts and done some amendments over the years and there was no tribal chairman sending a…or secretary sending a letter off to the Department of Interior. So I think that’s an easy start and it is a start, I think just to get something going. Let’s do this, just to get the momentum going to say, ‘Look, we’re going to eliminate that from our constitution. It’s something we know we can do. It’s a slam-dunk for us. So let’s start there.’”

Ian Record:

“And it sounds to me like that’s a productive approach to take is to…in knowing that there’s going to be some really controversial issues, constitutional issues that are going to come whether it’s blood quantum or citizenship criteria, what have you, that you’ll ultimately have to deal with.”

Floyd Jourdain:

“Well, removing the Secretary of Interior clause is important because it also…that’s pretty monumental in itself because at one point, being a self-governance tribe, the Red Lake Band had certain agencies that had federal employees on the reservation for so many years. And those federal…Band members who work for these federal agencies -- IHS [Indian Health Service], BIA and law enforcement, nurses, what have you -- they were like, ‘We don’t want to be under the tribe. We like our government jobs. We want our pensions. We want to be under that safety and security net.’ And the Band has always maintained that at some point we have to strive for self-determination and self-sufficiency and we have to manage our own affairs and at what point are we going to pull ourselves out from the cover of this almost a demeaning subsidiary of the federal government itself.”

Ian Record:

“I know it’s still early, but looking forward, what in your view, when all’s said and done, will success look like for Red Lake in terms of constitutional reform? If everything goes right from your perspective and the process reaches its fruition, the outcome will be successful if what?”

Floyd Jourdain:

“I think if you have a new generation educated on the tribe, treaties, history, the role of government and also have a comprehensive plan and diagram of what the nation should…a healthy nation should look like. That in itself would be a huge, huge victory for the people. The empowerment is important and the education and the empowerment of the people is important because there’s certain things that people want. They want to be healthy. They want to be safe. They want clean water. They want land. They want their leaders to be looking out for them and they want their children and the generations coming up to preserve what we have: our culture, language and our traditions and our land. And I think that’s important and if we have a document or a guiding…some guiding principles and rules that not only the people have to go by, but also the leadership has to go by as well and that’s tempered, is balanced, it’ll build trust, it’ll build stability in government. It’ll be…it’ll contribute greatly to building an economy, strengthening our tribal courts. Because otherwise, if you have…there are no definitions, then you have a lot of the dysfunction that happens in Indian communities.”

Ian Record:

“I’d like to switch gears now and talk about governance and leadership and the relationship between the two. We’ve talked about leadership a lot already, but just recently, in May 2014, you lost in your bid for another term as chairman of the Red Lake Nation. I was following that election closely and was struck by how graciously you accepted your electoral defeat and in particular how you worked to ensure a smooth transition from your administration to your successor’s. In fact, at the council meeting just on June 10th, just about a month ago, where you handed over the reins to the incoming chair, you were quoted as saying, ‘Anything I can ever do, Mr. Chairman, I will be here for you.’ I wish I could say that is an approach commonly taken by outgoing leaders in any government including Indian Country, but unfortunately it’s not. I’m curious. Why did you take that approach that you did? It sounds like it comes from some of the teachings that have been imparted to you earlier in life, but maybe if you could just elaborate a little bit more on why did you take that approach?”

Floyd Jourdain:

“Well, you’re right, a lot of that come from my parents, my mom and my dad, my grandparents. And embarking on leadership prior to being an elected tribal leader, I was also a mentor for youth and I worked for youth programs and trying to help people with their personal struggles with addictions and those type of things. So to keep hope alive and to keep dreams alive and to keep a positive attitude, I think that’s important. I’ve served as a conduit between one generation of people, our elders who are starting to leave us now, and the next generation coming up. So to keep that transition going and realizing that our lives are so short, that there’s value in supporting someone who’s coming in and continuing.

And like I said, there was no 'Chairman 101.' Now you can be surrounded by thousands of people and be the loneliest person on planet earth. And I know what that feels like. There’s very few people who know what that feels like and one of the things I spoke to in that inauguration as well was holding the weight of the people. It can be grueling and there are rewards, but there are times when you really have no one else to look to. ‘Who can I talk to about this? Is there anyone that… Well, there’s Buck over here or there’s maybe Bobby [Whitefeather] and there’s like on this entire planet there might be one or two people that know what I’m going through that hopefully I can call them and consult with them or maybe they can help me with an issue.’

So I think it’s important to keep those doors open and when you’re talking about a nation, there’s a momentum that’s building, there’s a new generation coming, there’s…and a lot of times we like to think that, ‘Oh, geez, just because I’m out of here, I’m going to kick down the house of cards. They won’t have me to kick around anymore.’ It doesn’t work that way. The tribe will go on. The people will go on. The progress…that’s one of the scary parts about leadership is that everything that we’ve built, hopefully it won’t get all dismantled and then we’ll go back several decades to where we were before. I think people like to think that that’s going to happen, but I like to believe that we are good people, all of us.

These campaigns, they can be brutal, they can be ugly. The people a lot of times, it takes on a life of its own that they get so caught up in all of these things and at the end of the day…tribal leaders, though, they don’t wish each other harm or…we don’t want the next ones coming in to do bad because if they do bad, then we all do bad. So I think it’s just something that was taught to me was that, ‘Don’t go stomping off muttering and hanging your head and kicking a can.’ Just…you move to the next chapter and hopefully another door will open.”

Ian Record:

“So I’m curious, I know it’s…you’re what about two months now into your post-chairman existence, but how do you conceive your role now as a former elected official in terms of nation building and contributing to some of these nation-building initiatives like this constitutional reform effort that’s currently underway? Because you spent 10 years building up an incredible knowledge base. Not just in terms of about the needs of the people because you’re a public face and people come to you and share their problems and share their aspirations, but also because of your knowledge of how your current system works, the governance system and perhaps what could be improved. How do you view your role now that you’re no longer in the position of chairman?”

Floyd Jourdain:

“Well, the transition is tough, especially if you go from 100 miles an hour to 20 overnight. And you go through certain stages of, ‘What’s my role now? I’ve been doing this for so long.’ I think passing that on is what I talked about. There wasn’t anybody that I could come to and say, ‘Well, I’ve run into a huge, huge situation here. Who do you turn to?’ So all of those experiences, the life experiences and the knowledge and all of the things that have happened over time, I think it’s important to share that with people, whether that be teaching or writing a book or just being in the community maybe as an elder or trying to get involved more again in the grassroots just to pass on what it is, in a good way, to pass on to the next generation some of the things that they otherwise wouldn’t know.”

Ian Record:

“Well, Chairman, we really appreciate you taking some time out of your retirement, your hopefully short-lived retirement, and sharing your thoughts and experience and wisdom with us.”

Floyd Jourdain:

“Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity.”

Ian Record:

“Well, that’s all the time we have on today’s program of Leading Native Nations. To learn more about Leading Native Nations, please visit the Native Nations Institute’s website at nni.arizona.edu. Thank you for joining us. Copyright 2014 Arizona Board of Regents.”