Jim Gray and Patricia Riggs: Citizen Engagement: The Key to Establishing and Sustaining Good Governance (Q&A)
Gray, Jim. "Citizen Engagement: The Key to Establishing and Sustaining Good Governance (Q&A)." 70th Annual Convention & Marketplace, National Congress of American Indians. Tulsa, Oklahoma. October 15, 2013. Presentation.
Riggs, Patricia. "Citizen Engagement: The Key to Establishing and Sustaining Good Governance (Q&A)." 70th Annual Convention & Marketplace, National Congress of American Indians. Tulsa, Oklahoma. October 15, 2013. Presentation.
"You know, one of the things that really sticks out for me having worked with the Pueblo over the last several years is this use of focus groups and I was honored to be part of one such focus group that they convened about three and a half years ago. It was real interesting. They brought in a mix of folks: tribal leaders, leaders of the Pueblo, employees of the Pueblo, and just your average Joe citizens. And I remember when we were doing this focus group, one of the citizens became very emotional because she said, "˜This is the first time my Pueblo has actually asked me what I think. They actually care about my opinion and my view on where we are and where we want to head.' And basically what she was saying is, "˜I have a voice and I matter.' And I think that's really the theme that I hear out of both of these wonderful, ongoing success stories is about restoring the voice to the people and figuring out not just about hearing that voice but, 'How do we actually actualize that in the governance of the nation? How do we put that into practice?' And that's really what she's staying up here. It's not just garnering the tribal information, the voice of the people, but actually using it. How do we actually use that, how do we actually put that into play, how do we actually make that real, not just today, but into the future?"
"My question is for Jim. Glad to see you used a movie quote, by the way. My question's about the...I guess in the process of trying to reach a consensus or actually maybe it wasn't the consensus point, it was the point where you tried to get moving past the status quo. Was there a rationalization by the head rights people that we shouldn't do this because this is our custom and tradition, this is what we do, this is all we know and it's who we are? But this is really a question about planting the flag of custom and tradition and using that as a reason for resisting the change. Did you encounter that in particular?"
James R. Gray:
"Oh, yeah. We really did and I would say the biggest part of it was tied to...what I wanted to make sure came across very clear was that the form of government that in 1906 the federal government imposed on us was not one of our choosing. We had a constitutional government before that and we had a three-branch government. We had our court system, we had law enforcement, we had all the elements of jurisdiction in place, and because of other reasons, the United States government abolished that unilaterally, illegally, as a part of their effort to try to bring all the tribes under allotment for statehood and breaking up the tribal land holdings was very difficult for the Osages because the full-blood faction would not ever gonna go along with allotment and it's a historical fact that there was a lot of Osages enrolled out of nowhere, just suddenly started showing up as Osages. Another election was held, the next thing you know we went from having 1,000 Osages to 2,229 Osages. The new council that got in tried to fight it. In 1911, I think, the unilateral authority of the Indian agent at the time obliterated the members and installed interim council people because they weren't going along with what was expected of them by the Indian agent.
I think the Osages by that time, when the oil was discovered and the money started coming in and the Osages started getting murdered in large numbers, most of them were people with numerous head rights that in today's dollar were valued at a million dollars a year, much like the per capita distribution for Pechanga citizens. No, I'm just kidding. What I was saying was that there was what they called the 'reign of terror.' It was one of the first cases the FBI actually investigated was the complete and utter wipeout of Osages to get their money. It's a historical fact. My mom was an orphan in 1925. My dad was an orphan in 1928 and my dad and mom's stories aren't unique in the Osage storyline. And you hit the period of time when they weren't even allowing Osage women to participate in Osage elections. So not only were you...had to be Osage to have a head right, but you also had to be an Osage man to be able to participate in elections. Osage women could get a head right, but they couldn't vote. All those changes occurred after World War II, so there was a steady drumbeat of slow but sure progress, but at the same time knowing that if Osages pushed too hard, there was going to be consequences: wipeout of your tribal council, the complete indifference of the BIA while your own citizens' homes were being blown up and murdered on the street. My great grandfather, Henry Run Horse, was taken out in the countryside and shot in the head. These are common stories. Every one of these stories as tragic as they were resulted in Osage losing another head right.
In 1978, the tribal council was able to get to the U.S. Congress to amend the 1906 Act to make sure that no more Osages would be able to, no more non-Osages would be able to inherit any part of an Osage mineral estate again. So we had to go 70 plus years into that period of time at which we probably lost maybe a fourth to a third of those head rights during that period of time to what are now defunct oil companies, non-Indian spouses who've moved on and married on and still collect a head right check. Jean Harlow, the famous actress, some Osage fell in love with her in Kansas City and he died unfortunately, willed his head right to her. Unfortunately for her, she died shortly after that, didn't have any heirs. IIM maintained Jean Harlows' estate for years. These kind of stories are just...the Catholic Church owns several dozen head rights. Non-Indian wealthy landowners in Osage County own many head rights. Businesses like Phillips Petroleum Company own head rights. If Osages were a little reluctant for any radical change even as late as 2004 and '05, I have to give them some credit, because living memory of many of these people seeing all these changes occur and it was just a matter of getting to a moment of crisis, and that crisis was that last original allottee mark. Nobody knew the answer to that question when the last allottee died and in 2004 when [President George W.] Bush signed the bill into law, we only had one left. So if there was anyway to kind of get past that point to go forward and really move it, it was that critical issue, in my opinion. There may have been other people with different opinions but that was one of my [observations]."
"Next question. I think we had the lady in front. Minnie, did you want to..."
"Hello. My name's Lenora Hall, I'm from the Smith River Rancheria in Northern California where the redwoods are. I'm just wondering, you went from -- this question is for Patricia [Riggs] -- you went from 68 acres to 78,000 acres. Did you have any, how much of that 78,000 acres is in trust now? What have you done? Are you buying land and seeking trust status with it? Because I seen a lot of them had economic enterprises on them, which are real lucrative and stuff and so I'm wondering what the status of your land is."
"Well, we went from 68 acres that was conveyed into trust to 75,000 acres. 70,000 of those acres are a ranch and it's not in trust. We're working for it to be put into trust, but from those 68 original acres in trust we have something like 3,700 acres in trust. So we've got quite a bit of land into trust. One of the places that we put back into trust is an area called Waco Tanks and it's a mountain. It's a mountain that is sacred to us and unfortunately we couldn't get all that mountain, it's a state park, but we were able to get the back side of the mountain and put that back into trust and all our residential areas are in trust as well. The ranch is a working ranch, but there is also some significance as far as traditional places and where we go to gather different plants and things and hunting as well."
"Other questions? Sherry, go ahead."
Sherry Salway Black:
"So Pat, and this is for both, but Pat you talked specifically about measuring impact and evaluation, like how do you know you've been successful? So I would ask that in the sense of how much are people participating now? So you've done the education, you've done the focus groups. So for your citizens, do you have high percentage of citizens voting in elections? So just again, how are you measuring your citizen participation on an ongoing basis?"
"Well, one of the things that we don't measure officially, but participation in cultural events and ceremonies, I would have to say it's more than doubled. We used to maybe have 50 dancers, now the line is so long and getting really hard, because we actually jog kind of through the streets and it used to be a short little jog, but now it's so long you can barely jog. But the other thing is we also measure impact as far as how much more revenues are coming to the tribe, how much more taxes are coming to the tribe, how many more people are enrolled in college and coming to tribal meetings and things like that. So I've just pretty much learned to count everything, even when I'm participating in ceremony, I'm counting."
"Shortly after the constitution was passed we had that kind of deer-in-the-headlights look on ourselves after the election was over and we were all sworn in it's like, "˜Okay, now what do we do? We've been fighting this battle for 100 years.' We got together and I put my cabinet together, it was the first time a chief got to put a cabinet together in 100 years. So a lot of new stuff was occurring and I realized there was a sense of historical importance in all the little things that I was doing in establishing new protocols for the executive branch, little things mattered in terms of how we addressed ourselves and how we separated the political appointees from the career employees and started drawing those distinctions in HR [human resources] policies. But I think the thing that really I recall the most was a desire to go back into the communities again, and this time not for a constitution that would require a referendum vote, but for a general direction to give us a plan, a strategy plan, and Pat used the term master plan, but a plan nonetheless that everyone had some ownership in. And we kind of brought back the old bunch of government reform, we brought in a bunch of new people that had been left out of the process before and we went back out there with what we called the 'Team of Teams' and we asked for a million dollar budget. Congress gave us half of it with the conditions of seeing certain things happen within six months and we all had to be very careful, but very specific at how we did this. And so we generated a strategic plan that would last for 25 years generally combined into six areas; education, health care, economic development, mineral and natural resources, governance and justice, and cultural preservation. And in each one of them they had a set of projects, in each six of those categories. And each one of those six categories were bunched up into three different categories of short term, midterm, long term. So each one of them had about 50 different projects assigned to it, everything from going after your water rights to establishing citizen input, citizen rights like a bill of rights kind of process to establish stronger justice systems. We didn't have an AG [Attorney General] office at the time so there was a lot of institution building that called for...that came out of that. Updating our entire master campus plan, which was going to be a huge undertaking, because that campus had been a hodgepodge of trailers and metal buildings that we got from CDBG grants 30 years ago that we're still using them and they leak like a sieve and their constant care of maintenance is just draining the tribe's properties budget. So it took us years to kind of draw these conclusions about revitalizing our language program, revitalizing all these different categories, compacting our health clinic, taking greater control of the mineral estate. There was just this...but we wouldn't take on anything big unless we went back out and talked to the communities again. And that's how this whole thing kind of became part of what I believe is a new expectation that our citizens have of their tribal government. "˜If you're going to do anything big, you better come out and talk to us.' That seems to be the attitude now and I think that's stuck."
"I was wondering, how do you...you have a significant part of your membership out in the world, you said there's Osages everywhere. So how do you communicate with them? How do you get them involved? That's part of your whole thing is involvement."
"Well, there's one thing that has happened in the last 10 years that I think we all to some degree have become more familiar with and it's social media."
"Obviously we have people's addresses, they get the newspaper every month. That was the traditional way. The advent of our expansion of our tribal website, [we were] able to put archived audio of council meetings and videos of special events that the tribe would undertake that anybody who wanted to can participate. It was kind of a one-way communication to them."
"And did you say that your meetings are open?"
"Oh, okay. So anybody in the world, any Osage in the world or non...?"
"Anybody can tap in and listen to your meetings?"
"...which that 'anybody' part has been the subject of a lot of debate too but..."
"...The thing is that in this day and era where we live it's impossible to live on an island. You're just going to have to embrace the fact that everyone's going to know your business eventually. There's so many public records, public documents, there's Freedom of Information Act laws in our tribe, anybody can apply for them. And the tribal newspaper being an independent body can go get things and disclose it in their newspaper, which everybody can get. They're members of the AP [Associated Press], it could be picked up. There's just...don't fight it, just accept it and go on."
"Do you have council members who live in different parts of the world that can be on the council or do you have to live within the service area of the Osage?"
"We have election of councilmen at large, so the top six in staggered terms get elected and then another six in another staggered term get elected. There's been a lot of discussion about district voting. When I told you we had a referendum vote before the big vote, that was one of the questions and the people by a large margin voted for at-large votes."
"Good dialogue. I hate to break it up here. Especially for Pat, but Chief Gray, please comment as well. I'm from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota and I work at a tribal college, Sente Gleska University, and we have engaged with our 20 communities about 130 miles by about 50 miles. We have five counties that we have roughly a million acres in and when you look at a map it just shows one of the counties and a lot of the development happens in that county and my question is about priorities. We have 135 hours of comments from when we went out as a tribal college and filmed, as you're doing, all the ideas that people have and now the question is it's a tug-o-war. When you're a very big community, do you take care of the neediest first or do you develop where the revenues will lead to other opportunities to go to the bank and to continue to develop? I'm just kind of curious. You did a really good job of taking the flyer failure, I had to say it, but we have that problem, where some people don't show up and I like your strategy of going to the little groups, but how do we get this tug-o-war...? How do we get past there where we say, "˜Okay, you guys, you're coming in 30 years. We know you're farthest away from the tribe, but you're not going to be developed first.' So I'm struggling trying to figure out how to help our community to set a priority list."
"Well, as far as housing is concerned, that's a real priority for us, but we've determined different ways to bring housing to the community. Of course we have HUD [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development], but then it becomes very limited because we have this group of people that don't qualify for HUD, but yet they can't get affordable housing. So one of the things we did is we tried to diversify the way in which we brought housing to the community and we brought investors to do the low-income tax credits units. We also have housing, but then council is also, what they're doing is some of the HUD housing that's already paid off, they're buying that back from tribal members who may be elders and then they're reselling it to other tribal members. And we also have...we've started to...we've contacted the BIA and HUD to do the low income, not the low income, but the guaranteed loans. So we're also looking at different ways to...maybe some of the elders, move them out of housing and bring in an elder center, but also bring in more housing around our ceremonial areas because what...so that's one of our priorities is to rebuild our ceremonial areas in the places that were once villages around the ceremonial areas, because in order to protect our ceremonial places we need people there. So that's one of the ways that we prioritize. Eventually what we want to do is rebuild some traditional houses around our ceremonial areas, bring the elders back there. But then we're also thinking about, as far as priorities, the places that make the most sense for us are the places that are going to fill in those gaps where our original land base, in the core. We're calling it the 'core' of our community. So we determined that that was going to be a priority for us. And then also to build either through commercial areas -- we know that it's coming, so we're just thinking, 'Why not do it ourselves?' And some of what you saw there was some of the boulevards that are closest to our community. So what our plan is is to invest and then be able to reinvest for more land acquisition, even if we have to lease to retail areas and things like that. So our priority for us is to protect those places that are most traditional and the core of our community and then to move outward and to fill those little gaps as well."
"Real quick. One of the things that we were very blessed with at the time of our constitutional reformation was the fact that simultaneously, while that was going on, we were opening casinos at a very fast pace and getting a lot of people to work, creating a lot of jobs. In 2002, there was like 200 full-time employees at the Osage Nation. In 2006, there was about 900. In 2010, there was about 1,800. During that period of time, a lot of Osages came back because there was something to come back to -- there were jobs. Not just casino jobs because the money that was leaving the casinos and going to the tribe, the tribe would invest in expansion of a lot of programs, specifically the education program, scholarships. So the benefits of the tribe that spilled out into the communities, no matter where you were, you were an Osage, in New York City or California or Washington State, you were eligible to apply for a college scholarship program. If you met all the criteria of making the grades and getting yourself accepted into state-recognized schools, different types, private schools too, but couldn't match the kind of funds that other tribes were giving because there was like 12 -- by the time I left office, I think we had 1,000 kids in college somewhere around the United States. Before we may have had a few hundred kids in college and they were getting like $300 a semester. Well, now we're giving them like $5,000 a semester and that's almost enough to cover all your expenses. Almost, depends on where you're going, but it covers a big chunk of it. So the more we were able to bring the resources back out of the communities, simultaneously as their political rights were becoming more involved, questions of accountability and participation and eligibility became more part of the social media conversations. And I can promise you between that, the language program, which just blossomed in the last 10 years because the tribe was putting a million dollars a year into the program that we just invented on our own and the kids that got to take Osage language in the public school system were speaking it in the hallways and classes. There was one story in Skiatook where I'm from where the quarterback was Osage and he'd taken those classes and he convinced his linemen to take Osage that weren't Osage. And his cadence in Osage was good for at least one to two offside penalties every game. All of a sudden people started getting the benefit and there was this swagger, this confidence that didn't exist before that you had the political rights and the financial resources to actually exercise and were going on at the same time. And when that was going on we didn't have any trouble filling up a room whenever we did something."
"Thank you panelists. One final round of applause. We only have a couple minutes left and I wanted to wrap up with just some food for thought as you leave. My colleague Minnie is handing out flash drives courtesy of NNI as a show of gratitude for your attending the session today. It's got some really good information about some of NNIs current initiatives. I wanted to share with you some strategies we've seen have been effective and again you see a lot of these coming through the comprehensive and multi-faceted approaches that Osage and Ysleta del Sur have been pursuing there in citizen engagement.
And really what I want you to think about when I roll through these is really the challenge incumbent upon all of you is how do we re-instill a sense of tribal-specific civics in our community? How do we get our citizens to want to actively engage their governance in a constructive way where they feel like they're contributing to the present and future of the nation? So things like high school classes, community college classes, community meetings to discuss tribal government, tribal history, tribal law, a series in the tribal newspaper, ongoing series conveying the messages and themes that you want to get across to begin to inspire your people to participate, youth councils. That's a huge movement across Indian Country, where we're seeing this emergence of youth councils to try to get the future generation of nation leaders oriented in the right way figuring out how they can contribute. Tribal government handbooks, history courses for tribal government employees -- Cherokee is a leader in this area -- focus groups, as Pat's nation has used so effectively, and then one on one. I think the challenge facing everybody in this room is to think about how do I begin to move our citizen education and engagement work forward on my one on one interactions with my professional colleagues, with the citizens I run into at the grocery store to either start a new conversation or change the existing one to something that's more productive that's pointed towards moving the nation forward, to breaking through some of these barriers and sort of things that keep us in place. How do we keep that moving forward?
And then finally some things to think about. Think about citizen engagement not as an event, but as a process. I think what particularly Jim said and what you see from Pat's visuals is that you really need to conceive of this as a permanent part of your governance challenge. This is not something you just do when you have a big referendum vote; it's something you need to do all the time. You need to institutionalize it as a governmental priority and fund it accordingly. You need to pay people to help you do this work. It's not just about the elective leadership going out and doing the messaging and getting citizens engaged. You need an actual governmental apparatus to carry this work out. Know all of your audiences. You saw that with Pat's presentation. You have to know who you're trying to reach. You need to know how they learn. Do you know how your young people learn? Do you know what sort of social media they're using? Do you have a presence on that social media? Are you speaking to them through that mechanism? If not, you need to think about, 'How do we begin to do that?' And we're seeing some tribes begin to develop social media policies because they realize, as Jim said, it's a part of life; it's a fact of life. You've got to figure out how do we take advantage of this. Develop a holistic approach to tribal civics that demands that everyone teach as well as learn. That's why Indigenous societies were so vibrant traditionally is because everyone had a role in imparting the knowledge of the nation to carry it forward. It wasn't just the job of government, it wasn't just the job of formal education systems, it was the job of everybody. Keep up with and capitalize on new technology, just talked about that. And finally, track your citizen engagement activities and their effectiveness. Pat made that point crystal clear. So you've got to assess what you're doing and figure out, 'Is there a way we can do it better?'"