Honoring Nations: Justin Martin: Enhancing Government-to-Government Relationships

Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

Justin Martin, Former Director of Intergovernmental Affairs at Grand Ronde, discusses his nation's relationship in previous years with the state government, and how Grand Ronde was able to build and sustain success over time in the state's legislative arena.

Resource Type

Martin, Justin. "Enhancing Government-to-Government Relationships." Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Sante Fe, New Mexico. February 8, 2002. Presentation.

Andrew Lee:

"Our last morning presentation is from a man who's always on the go, Justin Martin, who's the Director of Intergovernmental Affairs at Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. He's done a fantastic job and I know working with Kathryn [Harrison] and his team and Nicole [Holmes], they've just done a great job and being recognized as a sovereign and just making a ton of headway with state and federal interactions, so Justin Martin."

Justin Martin:

"Thank you, Andrew, for that kind introduction and thank you all for having us and being here today. I'm going to talk not so much about my program today, I'm sure you've all read about that in the report. Today I'm going to focus a little bit on state-level politics and our journey through the past five years with the state-level government and how we were able to build some success in that level. I'm actually going to talk specifically about some numbers today, because I've approached this from a very general perspective over the past couple days, and then talk a little bit about what got us to the level that we are today with respect to being able to effectively promote our sovereignty.

First, before I go into that I'd like to take a quick moment to, as Andrew mentioned, to thank Kathryn Harrison, who as I went through this journey over the past five years, I've been fortunate personally to work with several mentors. Some of the best lobbyists at the Oregon level; a man that's been in the building for 45 years, one of the best public relations/public affairs persons in the Pacific Northwest. And then finally Kathryn, as a mentor to me, I have been able to learn from your vision and your guidance and your commitment, and most of all, Kathryn, your perseverance. And those are lessons that I will take with me for the rest of my life, so thank you very much for that. It has been a blessing to go through this journey with you for five years. Also I'd like to thank my sidekick, my partner in crime, Nicole Holmes, who is the other half of the Intergovernmental Affairs Department -- a whopping number of two employees in that department. We were able to steal Nicole from a state representative, which I wouldn't recommend to a lot of folks, but he was a very big fan of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and realized her value to this tribe. So, Nicole, thank you for all your help and all your work over the past three-plus years.

So with that, a little bit about this journey. I am a tribal member and how I came to be in this role is in 1995, a state representative went to the tribal council and asked if there were any young Native Americans interested in coming to work for a state representative in the legislative process. My grandfather was on the council at the time and gave me a call and said there's a man in Salem that's interested in having somebody come and work for them. So I saw this as an opportunity within my curriculum at school to go and do this. As I mentioned yesterday, my background is public policy and public administration. So that's what got me into the legislative process. It was a generous offer by a state legislator and one that allowed me to start to create some of those personal relationships at the state level that in turn wound up getting me to Grand Ronde. Another nice side of that is I was able to then, when I went to work for the tribe in '97, to create a relationship with my grandfather who I did not have a relationship with growing up. Him and my grandmother had been split up for the 26-some years that I had been alive so that also in and of itself has been a wonderful experience. He is retired from council and moved on but again, I've been able to build that relationship; a relationship with some of my culture and heritage that frankly, I didn't pay much attention to growing up. The Grand Ronde Tribe was a tribe that was terminated in the ‘50s. So for the first 14 years of my existence, the tribe did not exist in terms of federal recognition.

So, a quick kind of history of Grand Ronde: 26 bands originally were moved to the Grand Ronde Reservation in the 1850s. That was originally a 69,000-acre reservation. Through termination, that went down to two-and-a-half acres in the 1950s and then again, through perseverance and commitment of some of our elders, we were able to be restored in 1983. Kathryn was a big part of that, also Congresswoman Elizabeth Furse, who wasn't a congresswoman at the time, played a big role in that. We were recognized in name only and did not get any of the reservation back until 1988, a separate act of Congress. The 1988 Reservation Act in which we got about 9,800 acres of contiguous timberland back in which to sustain our government. So from that time until the onset of Indian gaming in 1995, that is how we operated. So with that onset of Indian gaming came all kinds of new issues with respect to the state.

So as I told you a little bit earlier, I'm going to talk specifically about some of the state-level programs that we've been able to get involved with and have some success with. Right before 1997, we signed a permanent compact with the State of Oregon for our gaming facility that opened up several avenues and several concerns. So in the 1997 legislative session when I came aboard with Grand Ronde, we saw about 39 legislative measures that had some potential impact to Native American tribes in Oregon. Out of that 39, about 19 of them were considered damaging, what could have an adverse...a potential adverse affect on the tribe. So we went to work and we went to work trying to educate elected officials to let them know exactly how this would impact the tribe and we were able to successfully defeat all those.

So in the time between 1997 and 1999, this is the nice part of what we've been able to do, we can actually start to quantify some of the success of government relations, which is very, very difficult to do. In the '99 session, we saw only three potentially damaging measures. So that went from 19 to three in about a two-year period. Well, how did we make that happen? We hit the road, we started educating elected officials. This is kind of where my program comes in, we started communicating, we started educating, we started cooperating with the communities, we started making contributions and yes, those are political contributions in the form of dollars, but again those are other contributions in the form of being community members getting involved in the community making things happen there. And then finally we started to create a presence, a presence where people knew if they were dealing with Native American issues, they were going to have to talk to Grand Ronde and the eight other tribes that existed.

So now we can kind of follow this journey again and quantify it even more so in the '01 session and in the '01 session we did see about six measures that were potentially damaging. So you might say, ‘Well, Justin, you went from 19 to three, that's quite a remarkable feat but then you went back up to six potentially damaging pieces of legislation in ‘01.' Well, we've also been able to widen the scope of legislation that we have tracked. So on a percentage basis, it's about the same percentage of damaging legislation that we saw in '99. But the really effective number that I think, out of those six potentially damaging measures that were introduced in the recent '01 session, not a single bill got a hearing. And to even keep something from even creating a public discussion or some public sentiment is truly a win in and of itself. I would rather have 10 potentially damaging measures that don't see the light of day than even one that could create some kind of public swell. Not only was that the effective part of the '01 session, but we saw something that we hadn't seen in Oregon I don't think ever.

We were able to pass, and I say we, this is not just Grand Ronde, I like to believe that all the tribes working collectively were able to pass six pieces of positive legislation. So you look from 1997 where everything was negative, negative, negative and how does this affect...we were able to effectively make a complete turn, 180-degree turn and now we're passing positive legislation. And one of those, for a quick background, Oregon, I think, is a real progressive state. We have had a progressive governor that has looked at creating state-tribal relationships that go beyond just the everyday legislature and just beyond everyday state-level programs. There was an executive order in 1996 encouraging state-tribal relations, and that included one summit every year, that included individual cluster groups for tribal agencies and state agencies to start working together. Some of those cluster groups are natural resources, environmental resources, public safety, health, education and finally economic development -- a wonderful, wonderful program. But what happens when the current governor is gone? So we looked at that collectively as tribes and said, ‘Why don't we do something about this executive order? Let's pass some legislation and put this into statute.' And that's exactly what we did. Senate Bill 770 passed the legislative session this year essentially guaranteeing that we will continue that government-to-government relationship throughout the future no matter the administration, whether they're Native friendly or not. Again, just a landmark piece of legislation, one that we're very proud to have passed. Some of the other pieces of legislation, Senate Bill 690, a Native American Teaching License Certificate Bill, which allows elders to go back into not only Native schools but public schools and teach the language. It effectively took away the barrier that said you have to have this college degree and this teaching certificate because we don't want to lose what these elders can offer at this time. Just a wonderful bill. Some of the other bills, both a statutory bill and one that sent a message to Congress was the deletion of 'squaw' language from Oregon geographic board names. We passed that both in statute and within our memorial, just a wonderful message to Native Americans throughout the state. And then finally the creation of local mental health authorities on reservations in areas that even the community, non-tribal members don't really have access to mental health care. Now they can begin to get those services and also look at some alternative funding methods combined with tribes, again, in those areas that are outside of the metropolitan areas.

So how did we do this? How did we get to this point where we were able to totally turn a negative situation to a positive situation? And I've heard from some other folks that other states aren't quite that progressive and that, obviously, is understandable. And some of the questions on the panel yesterday talked about kind of volatile environments, how do you start to make a difference? Well, what Grand Ronde did, what the vision of the tribal council did is said, ‘We need to be involved, how are we going to do that?' and then went and they worked with outside professionals. We went and we hired again that best lobbyist, we went and we hired that best public relations manager, we hired the best marketing firm, but council said, ‘We're not just going to do that and we're not just going to put that in the hands of somebody that doesn't understand the Grand Ronde way, doesn't understand what the Native way of life is all about. So we're also going to take from these people what we can in the way of education and experience and we're going to start to create it for ourselves.' And that's where I have personally been fortunate to be brought into that. But that also carries over in every department within our government. So we've been able to utilize that external expertise, not only utilize it out there, but to utilize it internally to learn from it and become stronger and in the future we'll be able to do that for ourselves. Now, when you go out and you look to contract with somebody, make that a part of the deal because, you know what, we've got a good issue and that's something that professional lobbyists or professional public relations persons, that's something they want to work with. You as a tribe will be a feather in their cap as far as a client. That's out there. Do it on your terms because you're the one that's ultimately responsible for protecting that sovereignty and again, effectively promoting it. You're not giving up jurisdiction, you're not giving up your sovereign rights, you're finding a more effective way to deliver that message because some of these external professionals open doors that we would never have had a chance to open five years ago. Get that in, start to create those relationships at the grassroots level and you're going to be that much more effective.

So that is some of the success that we've had at the state level. I've also been having some side conversations with folks. What are some of the other really successful things that you've seen? What we have been able to see is sentiment that says, ‘Okay, the Oregon State Lottery provides...it's about $900 million per biennium for the state.' But every voter that sits in those rooms wonders, ‘What do they do with the money? What are they doing with the dollars?' But, what we've seen, almost two out of three voters in these focus groups is Grand Ronde. What have they been able to do with the dollars? What have they been able to do within their community? As soon as you ask them about, ‘Well, what about the other gaming that goes...? What about the other gaming product in Oregon? What about Indian gaming?' and the first thing you hear is, ‘Well, they're giving something back to the community. They're delivering dollars. They funded LifeFlight, they funded OMSI', which is the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. ‘They work in conjunction with the Oregon Food Bank. Those guys are going it right'. And when you hear that your government, a small tiny tribal government is doing things the right way, that's when you know you've been effective, that's when you know you're changing public opinion, that's when you know the grassroots has taken effect, that's when you know you've been able to sway public opinion because, you know what? We're all on the right side of a good issue. We're not pushing anything bad here and once you educate people to that fact, and I've seen it a million times, it clicks. 'Why don't they tax...why don't Indians get taxed?' 'Well, we're paying for services outside. We contract with Polk County, we contract with Yamhill County. We don't have our own water; we don't have our own sewer.' It clicks. People go, ‘Oh, that's why'. Or we seeded LENA. ‘Oh, that's why. I didn't think about that 'cause that's not what I hear in the newspaper.' So get out there and educate, grassroots. It sounds simple and easy and it is because again it's getting down to the lowest level of building personal relationships. Once you find something in common -- and I think we can all find things in common with other folks -- you can make it happen.

So with that I'm just going to close by telling a little story. Again, I think, Kathryn, when I first started, I was about three months on the job and Kathryn wasn't feeling well and she was to give a speech about the Grand Ronde history in front of a bunch of state agencies. She said, ‘Justin, I'm not feeling very well, can you do this?' I thought, ‘Oh, my god. Okay, you've got Kathryn Harrison, who's again a model of perseverance and understands and has been through that, and then you've got Justin Martin, an urban kid from Salem that has been working for the tribe and really doesn't have a grasp about that. What the hell am I going to talk about?' And so I went over...on my way over and I started trying to formulate this speech, which I was going to give in about 40 minutes and started thinking about, ‘What can I talk about?' And I looked to the right to that two-and-a-half acres when the tribe was terminated and thought about my grandma...my great grandmother who I was very fortunate, again to be able to spend about 21 years of my life with before she passed in 1992. So I started thinking about her a little bit and I turned left -- and if you guys have been to Grand Ronde, you eventually come up on the casino, which is huge and then I looked at that and I thought, ‘Boy, that's really impressive'. And then I kept driving a little bit and I started thinking, ‘Well, boy, I wonder what my great grandmother would have thought, my Grandma Cora. Boy, she would have really been impressed by seeing that building.' But then about 15 miles down the road I started thinking, ‘Would she really have been that impressed? Well, no, would the bright lights or that great big building have impressed my grandmother? No. Would the five restaurants with all the fancy food or all the money and all the fancy machines, would that have impressed my grandmother? Well, no. What would have impressed her?' And so a little further down the road I started thinking, ‘Here's what would have impressed her. We've been able to do something at Grand Ronde that hasn't been able to be done in that area. We're starting to bring people back home, people that had to leave the reservation because of assimilation, failed assimilation policy. We're able to bring them back home. We're able to start turning their lives around through programs in health care and education and housing and elder pensions and elder care. We're able to bring back that community, we're able to make our members more self-sufficient and best of all we're able to give them some hope.'

So thank you all very much for hearing me today. And again, you can make a difference at the state level, you can make a difference at the federal level, and you can make a difference at the local level, just get out there and meet some people and make it happen. Thank you very much."

Miriam Jorgensen:

"We've got a few minutes to take maybe a couple questions for Justin if you have them so let's go ahead and take a few."

Audience member:

"I'll restrict my 50 questions to one, Justin. Could you talk about your relationship with other interests in the state, being a small population group in Oregon? Undoubtedly you need additional support in order to get your legislation passed. And also there are a lot of issues in the state that aren't specifically native issues, but which affect Native interests very much. I imagine employment policies or health policies or TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] policies and so on. So what's you're relationship with other lobbyists and interests beyond the Native community?"

Justin Martin:

"Great question. Thank you for asking. We start to see...I think you start to see a spread and this gets to where my program really focuses on presence. So not only are we a government presence, but now we're starting to be a presence in the business community, now we're starting to be a presence in the non-profit and the charitable community, and we're able to utilize not just political contributions to our advantage. So say we start to build some partnerships in that community, we start to build partnerships in what we call regional problem solving where in Yamhill County, Polk County, the tribal government, and then the local governments start to work together in a consensus fashion to be able to make those things happen. That also happens like I said in the business community. You start garnering support and you start working side by side with some of the big business interests. So okay, it's not just Grand Ronde, a small tribal government. They've got that right, they've got...we need to give them that respect. It's also Grand Ronde, the largest employer in Polk County. So okay, we don't have a lot of votes to deliver say in an election or we don't have a lot of individual contributors to certain programs, but look at our workforce. And they're going to go out in their communities and back to their homes and spread the work about Grand Ronde. So it becomes...again it's kind of this groundswell of grassroots, but it's also in other areas that we would never have thought possible and that's not just politics, that's employment, that's in natural resources, cultural resources. People start to look to the tribe as experts in each and every one of those areas."

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