Indigenous Governance Speaker Series: How to Build a Nation with Susan Masten (Yurok)

Native Nations Institute
Susan Masten (Yurok), former Chairwoman and valuable leader of the Yurok Tribe, joins the Native Nations Institute's Executive Director, Joan Timeche (Hopi), for an engaging discussion on Native nation building, specifically, how she actually helped build the nation. She was critical to the fulfillment of the requirements of the Hoopa-Yurok Settlement Act, including developing the criteria for the first base roll and a tribal council. Susan shares her insight on how the tribe developed their own tribal constitution, which included an attempt to ensure everyone was equally represented with the formulation of districts where the villages were located. Another struggle she faced in the building of the nation was clearly defining the powers of the government. She speaks on how cultural values inform how decisions are made at a governance level and the value of keeping the branches of the government separate from council. Her definition of good governance includes transparency and ensuring the peoples' buy-in and confidence in government. Other tidbits of wisdom:
  • How to learn from the successes of other tribes
  • The value of developing policies and ordinances and who should write this legislation
  • How to prepare leaders for their role in the tribe
  • Governance challenges and accomplishments of the Yurok tribe
She ends the discussion with her reflections on leadership and developing strong leadership skills, especially the value of focusing on individuals and holding yourself to a higher standard. In her experience, there are still disparities between how people treat women in leadership roles vs. males and she shares how she has attempted to change the status-quo. Her final message includes the importance of traditional knowledge and how it guides the process of nation building.
Currently, Susan is the co-president of Women Empowering Women for Indian Nations (WEWIN), an organization she co-founded in 2004.
Native Nations
Resource Type

Native Nations Institute. "Indigenous Governance Speaker Series: How to Build a Nation with Susan Masten (Yurok)". Native Nations Instititue, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. February 24, 2022.

Transcript available upon request. Please email us:

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