Harvard Project "Honoring Nations" Symposium 2007

From the Rebuilding Native Nations Course Series: "The Strategic Approach to Leadership"

Native Nations Institute

Native leaders discuss why it is important for Native nation leaders to take a strategic approach to leadership, stressing that the decisions they make must be made with the culture and values of their people and the next seven generations in mind. 

Native Nations

Briggs, Eileen. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Prior Lake, Minnesota. December 1, 2011. Presentation.

Lyons, Oren. "Rebuilding Healthy Nations." Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. September 27-28, 2007. Presentation.

Makil, Ivan. Nation Building seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 6, 2005. Presentation.

Pico, Anthony. Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project for American Indian Economic Development, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. September 2004. Presentation.

Russell, Angela. "Leadership and Strategic Thinking" (Episode 9). Native Nation Building television/radio series. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy and the UA Channel, The University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. 2006. Television program.

Oren Lyons:

"From our directions and from the instructions given to the leaders of the Haudenosaunee when they say -- among many other instructions -- we are reminded and the words are direct, 'When you sit and you counsel for the welfare of your people, think not of your children, think not of yourself, think not of your family, not even your generation. Make your decisions on behalf of seven generations coming.' Now that's an instruction on responsibility, a very serious instruction on responsibility. Peacemaker said that, I don't know, a thousand, maybe two thousand years ago. It resonates today. Today it resonates. Be concerned about the seven generations and how we are going to survive and we survive by doing on a daily basis."

Anthony Pico:

"The strategic question the Viejas council engages should not be 'who runs the mailroom?' but what kind of society are we trying to build? What are our priorities as a community? What uses should we make of our resources? What relationships with outsiders are appropriate and necessary? Who can we trust? What do we need to protect? And what are we willing to give up?"

Eileen Briggs:

"I think that there's a general receptiveness to the new ideas that come. I think the biggest challenge for ourselves is how we listen to each other, say what about, what have we forgotten. Because that's where our biggest challenge...and I have to say I don't know if the word is fight or struggle maybe, is that you have people coming in and saying, 'You have forgotten who you are because this is, look at how you're running this meeting. Look at how this is getting done.' And it's important that that auntie stands up and sort of reminds us and maybe scolds us about, 'Look at, look at the way things used to be done. And look at this.' And that's what, I think in my analogy, that's the message she's giving us, is remember who you are. What were and are the values you were raised with? And look at how we're behaving now and how we're getting this done, how we're approaching something, what we're open to, what can we bring to this, and not just swallow this idea from the outside, whole, and say, 'Hey, we've been successful. Because that's this idea -- we did the thing.' Did we do that at the compromise of ourselves? Have we stepped back and given ourselves time to say, 'Does that fit us? Is this right for us? Is how we're doing this work for us?'"

Angela Russell:

"Well, among our people, when we say leader we say '[Crow term],' which means a good person or a good man, and I think leadership is extremely important to all of our nations, and it's important not only for the leader to have a vision for his people, but as citizens of a particular nation, we need to be very supportive to our leader, but we also need to be participatory in a sense that we need to give some direction, we need to give support, we need to give encouragement. I think too many times it's easy to be very critical and to not look ahead toward the vision. You have to have goals, you have to have reachable goals, whether they're short-term or long-term. So leadership is very important, but it's a very, very difficult thing, because in the past our leaders were usually men who had many deeds, many accomplishments and that's how they became a leader. They were supported by the community, and today it's a whole different role, different dynamics, a different society we live in -- lots of challenges ahead for leaders."

Ivan Makil:

"And as leaders, that is one of the responsibilities you have, is to have that vision and to help to define a vision for you people so that there's going to be several paths that you can take but you want to define something that provides the kinds of things that your people need, the kinds of things that your people are looking for, the kinds of things that are consistent with the lifestyle and those values that are important to your people, the kinds of things that I call seven-generation thinking. Seven-generation thinking meaning very simply that when we make decisions -- and this is a traditional concept as well -- that we think about the impacts of our decision on the next seven generations. Our ancestors in the Phoenix valley two thousand years ago built a canal system and they did it with a lot of vision. They did it with a lot of thought. But interestingly enough, two thousand years later, at the turn of the twentieth century, the settlers came in here with all their technology and their engineers and they're going to lay out, map out this whole new system of irrigation for the valley so there could be growth and opportunity in the valley for Phoenix. So they started mapping this area out and you know what was so interesting? The areas they laid out for the canal system for the Phoenix valley were a direct overlay over the traditional hand dug canals that our ancestors built two thousand years ago, because it made sense, because it was seven-generation thinking, it was thinking about the impact on the next seven generations. And although that's a concept, just think: that system lasted for more than seven generations." 

Honoring Nations: Juana Majel-Dixon: The Violence Against Women Task Force

Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

Juana Majel-Dixon, Chair of NCAI's Task Force on Violence Against Women, reflects on the work of the Task Force on Violence Against Women and their efforts to push for passage of the Violence Against Women Act in Congress.

Native Nations
Resource Type

Majel-Dixon, Juana. "The Violence Against Women Task Force." Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. September 27-28, 2007. Presentation.

Heather Kendall-Miller:

"This is Juana Majel-Dixon, who is Chair of the Violence Against Women's Task Force, a 2006 honoree. So we'll see how far we can get with Juana before she has to dart out of here. I want to again say my, send out my deepest appreciations to all of you here in the room, and especially Amy [Besaw Medford] and all of the staff that have worked so hard to pull this together. It's been a great experience and I will see you in another year or two. With that, Juana."

Juana Majel-Dixon:

"Thank you. [Luiseño language]. I just told you I was a tropical chick from California. I can't resist that. They always think I'm Samoan or something when I'm over there. And when I go to Hawaii, they think I'm Hawaiian. I went to Tahiti, they thought I was from Tahiti. When I was in New Zealand, they thought I was Maori. But they didn't think I was Aborigine when I was in the bush in Australia, but that's where I was heading to. What I did say to you, in our traditional manner, I greeted you in the language of my people, the [Luiseño language] people, means ‘western' people. My clan group; I come from the [Luiseño language] family and my language is [Luiseño language]; it means 'dove clan.' As well as the matriarchy of our system is [Luiseño language], which is the bear; so I have the peacemaker and the protector. And in traditional concepts it's little wonder why I do what I do, ay? I also ask you to acknowledge the strong-hearted women of our nations. [Luiseño language] means ‘acknowledging the good of the strong-hearted women of our nations. I also asked you in my language that the words that I speak be of a clear mind and a clean heart. And I also reminded myself that when I give breath to the words, they no longer belong to me, they belong to the people.

I am a traditional appointed leader. Back many years ago, I guess in the old style of youth groups, I was given a provisional license to drive my mother in daylight hours to tribal gatherings and she drove home at sunset because I was too little to drive. And I can remember looking through those big steering wheels. And I would sleep in the back of the car and I would sleep at the meetings. But little did I know, I now have almost 35 years with the National Congress of American Indians. They call me an NCAI baby. I don't know what to think about that. But when the leaders start saying baby to me, I think it's mighty fine. Us Indians we've got good humor. And they don't care what shape our Indian women are in; they just love us. I like that about our guys. I don't care what shape they're in, I just love them. Maybe it's just an Indian thing. Or we're small in number. That's just wonderful about our nations.

I've come to learn so much as a leader. As an appointee I was 19, and I'm going to be 57. I think I'm going to have to die in my leadership position [because] it's a traditional position. There are five us from our five clans, one from each clan. And we're waiting for the next three. Three, of my generation, have died and there are only two of us left. So I've been a traditional councilwoman --legislative council, predominately -- to the tribe for 28 years, 28-plus years, I guess. I stopped doing the math so I figure at 30 I'll leave it at that. As a result, my role with the tribe has a great longevity and I'm a professor for 25 years now, actually 26 years this month at the University for U.S. Policy. I teach U.S. Policy and Federal Indian Law, which is probably why I do some of the things that I do.

But I'm here to share you the impact leadership has had. And I was at the senate, I wanted to be with you. I have a certain part of me that ached for not being with you for the last couple days. But I got to witness something that -- I commend the women of our nations, our community grassroots people who are part of this whole honoring system. They selected people to speak before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee [U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs] and they chose our women. Isn't that great? Isn't that incredible? That is powerful. And these weren't women who were leaders in the sense of tradition or election, you know those things that happen, but they had done such grassroots work that they became the voices of all our nations and of all our women about the violence against Native women. It was not an easy testimony 'cause we also had to deal with [???] in the room, which is a very gentle, big gorilla in the room, but we love them. They're just not of our clan, you know. I'm just kidding. No, I'm not. They're good people, but I just think that they got in after we did all the work, and I think you know what that is -- and what you have taught me in order to even sit at this table with you that it had to be something, that she so eloquently said, can be done with that particular person left out and be sustainable. And to witness that and to sit behind them as a leader, told me, yeah, this worked and that the Senate heard them and that was so powerful. You can get on CNN and dial it up or however you do it on the Internet and you can see them. Tammy Young from [Sitka, Alaska] and Karen Artichoker from Sinte Gleska [University], Pine Ridge I think, Kyle [South Dakota] area; very, very, very powerful speakers.

But then what followed that, was a series, a barrage of meetings with senators, and then ending that evening with the Indian -- No ending, actually, the evening with NAHASDA [Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act of 1996] and HUD [Department of Housing and Urban Development]. But just before that, we finished with the Senate Indian Affairs staffers. And there are things that have happened, and the leadership in the room who have attended some of our gatherings with NCAI and the consultations that followed -- We even created a new Blue Book in case you wanted to know what some of the money went towards. As we left you in Sacramento, we got hit very aggressively by the Adam Walsh Act -- it was the sexual assault registry. And to me I think that's a very talented, very clever example of your researchers that are out there and people who might get the ‘ah ha' when you see a flag go up. Where was Adam Walsh sitting all those years? It was what, 20-plus years before John [Walsh] got his -- It's his son that was killed, Adam, who was brutally murdered and harmed -- It took 20-plus years for that act to follow, but it came right after VAWA [Violence Against Women Act], because inside of that we had a national sexual assault registry.

And one of the things that we accomplished with the women of our grassroots area and our leadership coming together -- I just wish there was a way to capture on film this incredible year, since we last saw each other, of the leadership, listening to your own people, and the people speaking. When we were at this last consultation, they certainly called the woman, Mary Beth Buchanan, to task, but it was -- for me, you see, I'm a California Indian girl. We've always had this standing joke with our Pueblo governors, because we have a lot of female leadership in California and they don't have a whole lot of female leadership in Pueblo country, in the same manner as elected leaders or that kind of a thing. So they tease us mercilessly and tell us how we should be in their areas doing these kinds of duties. And we take the ribbing with great heart and great respect. But I have to tell you, the leadership of the Pueblo councils, of the governors in that room, that set the precedent of the day, was phenomenal. And they even had, there was four designees, Nambe had someone, their judge, and Santo Domingo and I can't remember all -- but they had designated women in their communities that were doing this grassroots effort. And I knew that was at a great of respect but also the recognition of their expertise. That's another transferrable, sustainable evolution of the work that was done and it was humbling and honorable to watch them cause it was their nation that we were in. And so setting the tone, to hear those governors speak and then to be so passionate and understanding of what was going on and how hard it is to implement this law within our own nations. But we're going to take that journey together.

But one of the most powerful things that came out of there -- well, there's going to be a lot of powerful things, so let's just say that everything that we did was powerful. It blows you out of the water, and I'm going to make sure that all of you get this book. And I'll give it to Amy [Besaw Medford] who can give me a list of people. Just give me the number and we'll send it to you. But we got -- in the midst of Adam Walsh, we got our national sexual assault registry funded for $1 million per year for the next two years. Does that make any sense? And out of the clear blue -- now we need to talk to Jim Casey about this. It just so happens that the exact amount that he pulled out of JOM [Johnson O'Malley] is the money that Adam Walsh has. So it's a leadership thing. You follow that stuff. But we need to talk to him. And my leaders are in the room, please make note of that 'cause he kind of squirms a little when you bring it up. My sisters over there, we know nothing. Oh, yeah, Jim Cason. What did I say, Casey? Well, that's probably why. It's just me slipping. Get the right guy, okay? Cason, okay.

We get this book going and we then get another $500,000 for the next two years for the cost of injury study on violence against Native women. That's in the title. We get $1 million for the next two years for the national baseline study. No, it's not $2 million for the tribal sexual offender order of protection registry. We get $1 million per year for the next five years so that's $5 million. And so here Adam Walsh is coming up and -- then they're making it a competitive application, by the way, for the leadership. They did Op 10.

But I wanted to tell you -- oh, three minutes does that mean something? I'm sorry. It's not your fault. We out white the Whites sometimes. It's not a bad thing, but I understand that but it doesn't make sense to me right now. I'll hurry.

One of things I realized in doing this journey is that -- I need you to read the book because then there are the things that we need to do follow up with VAWA [Violence Against Women Act] for the leadership of the community. But I sat in a meeting yesterday following this with the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and, as you know, Dorgan's doing the Omnibus Crimes Bill, which is unheard of. This statute has done so many things. And I got this three pages -- and I let Heather have a look-see, Joanne looked at it, and it's like, wow. There are sections -- one is alcohol substance abuse, reauthorization to amend, to address methamphetamine. They want to amend the Indian Alcohol Substance Abuse Act. That's amazing. The section on Indian Law Enforcement Act; the big one there is the mandated declination reports and data collection. The current law authorizes but does not require FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation], BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs], U.S. attorneys to report to the tribe's tribal law enforcement when they decline to investigate or prosecute a case. That's amazing.

But who's sitting with me when this is being done? These women from the grassroots community to help affect this change. So it's a combination of the leadership and some incredible journey. We've looked at the violence against our women, which we know we will have to look at the fact that it is happening also from our own men. But we went back and asked our elder women, how far back can you go? And different nations we went to, and I can probably get a list of the nations, but the consistent answer, after World War II. So at least we have something to work with and our men of our nations have something to work with, [because] we as strong women support them. They can affect the greatest change amongst their own selves as men. And we're looking at ways to acknowledge -- This law is about reasserting and re-acknowledging and increasing tribal authority to protect its women. So it's a powerful law.

But we've also been hit, just been hit, by the strongest arms of this nation that they have come up with the Adam Walsh -- We are reauthorizing FVPSA, the Family Violence Protection Service Act. There's great things involved; but we've come together to create this tribal core group that was mirroring now the original core group that helped move VAWA and they're wanting to do the same with FVPSA. So it's like, just when we settle down, something else to happen. And then they have Tribal Law Enforcement Arrest Authority, Law Enforcement Information Sharing, Law Enforcement Training; reauthorize/require DOJ [Department of Justice] to appoint tribal prosecutors as special U.S. attorneys to Indian Country; Indian Child Protection Act, Tribal Justice Support Act; reauthorize consultation and institutionalize this U.S. tribal liaison; also, domestic violence pilot project, establish a pilot project; authorize non-Indians to voluntarily enter into drug courts, tribal drug courts; establish federal crime for violation or tribal court protection; reaffirm tribal authority to enforce jurisdiction protection orders. And they're talking about doing it over non-Indians.

And as we have talked, my brothers and sisters that are leaders in the room, of the MOUs [Memorandum of Understanding] that we must do, with all that intermarrying we did with our relocation and boarding schools, and through a few other wasicus and Spaniards -- and they're okay. But the stuff we've done, we now have to take some responsibility and authority for. And then I also have urged our leadership; with this work with women who have influenced me greatly, is that I must enter into a full faith and credit relationship with you, my nation to your nation. And I think that is one of the most powerful things that we have done, reacquire this great nation of America to do that with us and at the least we can do it to each other.

Okay, I'm going to wrap it up. I have more to say but I really missed a lot out here. Maybe I'll write it down and you can read it. I shared a joke with Regina Schofield yesterday, because it was her last day yesterday. And they have created several task forces, which will be federally mandated, which is the VAWA Task Force, the Adam Walsh Task Force, the DOJ Tribal Leadership Task Force and SAMSA [the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration] is doing a task force, which is coming from this work. But I said to Regina Schofield, ‘Okay, now that you're out of DOJ, you don't have to worry about the party line and being bushwhacked later.' If you're in Indian Country and you saw Mr. and Mrs. Big Left Hand over there and they come to you because they're stealing in the tribal store, they're elders. And she asked them, ‘So, Mr. Big Left Hand, why are you stealing?' They just kind of look at you as elders do, volumes are said, but you don't get to ask much more 'cause they usually have a sign that says, ‘When did you say you were leaving?' I said, ‘All right, Regina.' I said, ‘You ask that guy, Mr. Big Left Hand, what did you steal?' ‘A can of peaches.' ‘How many peaches were in there?' ‘Seven.' ‘Well, Mr. Big Left Hand, you've got to do seven days in the tribal jail.' A little hand goes up. Mrs. Big Left Hand is up and Regina looks at her. I said, ‘Now Regina, pay attention. This is Indian Country. Yes, Mrs. Big Left Hand.' ‘He stole a can of peas, too.' So I thank you for having me."

Honoring Nations: Mary Etsitty: The Navajo Nation Sales Tax

Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

Mary Etsitty, Former Executive Director of the Office of the Navajo Tax Commission, discusses how and why the Navajo Nation sales tax was established, and how the Office of the Navajo Tax Commission works to consult and educate Navajo citizens about the need for -- and benefits of -- generating governmental revenue through a sales tax.

Native Nations
Resource Type

Etsitty, Mary. "The Navajo Nations Sales Tax." Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. September 27-28, 2007. Presentation.

Michael Lipsky:

"And our final speaker will be Mary Etsitty, the Executive Director of the Office of the Navajo Tax Commission."

Mary Etsitty:

"Yá'át'ééh. Good morning. My name is Mary Etsitty and I'm Diné from the Navajo Nation. So, greetings from Navajo land. I'm actually from Arizona; the Navajo Nation is also partly in New Mexico and Utah. I'm here today as a representative from the Office of the Navajo Tax Commission. In 2005, we were an honoree from the Honoring Nations and [I'd] just like to thank the committee here again for that honor. It was very special to us and I'd like to thank Amy [Besaw Medford] for inviting me to be here today. This is a very wonderful experience.

We were given our award in 2005 because of our sales tax. The Navajo Nation has actually had taxes for many years. Back in the 1970s is when we initiated our tax program. We were not successful in collecting taxes until about 1985 when we had a Supreme Court case, Kerr McGee vs. the Navajo Nation. So ever since 1985 our office has just been going full force in collecting taxes. Last year, we collected a total of $85 million for the year, and although the overall budget of the Navajo Nation is greater than that, we're just striving to get to the point where we are basically sustaining ourselves. We do have seven taxes right now. Our original five taxes are based almost solely on the natural-resource industry because Navajo Land has coal mines, we have oil and gas leases, we have pipeline property, we have electric generation, and we collect a lot of money in royalties and taxes from that type of industry. But what happened in the late 90s is, we had a leader at the time whose name was Kelsey Begaye, and he was kind of looking into the future for us. And he said, ‘You know, we're not always going to be able to sustain ourselves on natural resources so we need to look at other areas for generating revenue.' So he encouraged our office to start looking into some other taxes, and that's when we looked into fuel excise tax and the sales tax.

We have actually always been taxed on fuel except before 1999, the states of Arizona, Utah, New Mexico were collecting those taxes and it was not coming back to the Navajo Nation. So we adopted our fuel excise tax and there's a credit we have against the states. So we collect our own money on the Navajo Nation and the states, in some circumstances, they give us refunds. We kind of work it all out with them and we have very good relations with the states at this point. And so that was our fuel excise tax. And then right after that was our sales tax that we initiated. And with these two most recent taxes, the leaders within Navajo, they knew that what was going to happen, ultimately, is these taxes -- fuel, excise and sales tax -- were eventually going to come down to the Navajo people. Although technically legally the burden is not on the buyers, that's how our sales tax is set up. It's on the sellers, and for the fuel it's on the distributors, but they do ultimately pass it down to the consumers, the Navajo people.

And so our leaders back in this time thought, ‘We need to know what the Navajo people think.' And actually, the executive director of our office, at the time, kind of foresaw this as well and he -- just from the beginning of our fuel excise tax and our sales tax -- he sent us all out. I was working as a staff in the office at the time and he literally sent all of us out into the field. The Navajo Nation is approximately 27,000 square feet; it's a very big reservation. Oh, I'm sorry. I always say that. I'm sorry. I always say square feet. [27,000] square miles. Anyway, so we're pretty big. And there's only like 20 of us in the office and so we all get sent out to talk to the public, to hold these public forums, and find out what the Navajo people think about taxes; and so we did this for our fuel tax, and then later on, for our sales tax. And what we found out was that, within Navajo land, many of the people were in favor of being taxed. They really didn't mind. They said, ‘I think we should contribute to the government as long as we're going to benefit and our communities are going to get this money.' So it was actually kind of good to hear that from the people. Although, when we would talk to the business owners it was a little bit different. They were not real happy about it. But, in general, the people were. So that kind of helped us to move along our effort and keep pursuing the sales tax. And these public forums that we held helped us to structure our sales tax and it told us that we need to get the money back to the communities. That's what the Navajo people want.

And so what we did was -- we kind of compiled this report that said we went out and talked to as many Navajos as we could, as many people that live on the Navajo Nation, and they want the money to go back to their communities. So the executive director of Tax Commission at the time -- he's an attorney, also, so he was able to get all this legislation together and structured it so that the money that comes from retail establishments within the Navajo Nation will go back to that area. There's kind of some calculations that you have to go through but the money is there for the chapters. We call them chapters with the Navajo Nation because we are so big; we're split up into 110 chapters. Chapters are kind of like the local areas where people go to get information about the government. So the money does go back. And it's not real specific at this time how it gets spent, but it's supposed to be spent on government purposes. Another thing about our public forums is that I think, at the same time, Kayenta Township was also becoming very noticed because of their sales tax initiative. So I think people on Navajo Nation saw that as a very positive thing and so they were in favor of Navajo Nation sales tax. Our sales tax rate is at three, or it was at three percent for the first few years. And what we did was we studied the sales tax rates of the surrounding communities around the Navajo Nation and we kept our rate relatively low compared to some of the border towns around the Navajo Nation. And surprisingly, people on the Navajo Nation didn't really, it didn't really affect them when we started our sales tax. I would talk to people just in the public and ask them, is it changing your spending habits and they all said, 'No.'

Most recently, within the last year, our judicial committee from our legislative body decided that they needed more money to build more courts and more jails. So they said, 'Let's try to get some of the sales tax money.' And so what they proposed was to increase our rate to four percent and then to keep that additional, or to keep 25 percent of it, which would essentially be that extra one percent. And so the judicial committee, judicial and public safety committee, they wanted to do this. And so they brought it before the overall Navajo legislative body. And the first time they approached our council, our council said, ‘No, we need to know what the Navajo Nation people think. It's going to affect them, ultimately.' So they pretty much sent the judicial committee out to do what our office had done originally, which was go out and hold public forums and find out what the Navajo Nation people think. So within the last year, I assisted the judicial committee and the public safety committee and we essentially did the same thing. We scheduled forums at some of the chapters within the Navajo Nation and we met with residents and basically informed them of some of the needs of the judicial branch and the public safety branch of the Navajo Nation, and asked them what they thought about us increasing the rate and having that money go to those specific activities. And again, Navajo people were in favor of it. They said, 'Why not increase it [to] two percent instead of just one percent.' So they were again, they liked the idea. They said, 'As long as we know that our money is going to go to a good cause and it's going to help people in general, then we are for it.' So once we compiled all that information again, [we] went back to the overall legislative body and explained to them what we had found out by talking to the people. And then it passed. So as of July 1st of this year [2007], our sales tax rate is now four percent and that extra [one] percent is going into a special fund to supplement our judicial and public safety facilities.

As of right now, we really haven't gotten any negative feedback or negative comments on it so it's going very well. The way our sales tax is set up, it actually, we have a range that we can go between two and six percent. That's the way our sales tax statute is written. So I think in the future, we're probably going to have more offices and other legislators coming to us and saying, ‘Let's increase it some more.' As far as I know, right now, Navajo people are generally in favor of it. Their main concern is just, ‘Let's make sure the money is spent well.' That's one area that -- it's kind of out of the hands of my office, as far as how money is spent. We really just concentrate on generating revenue, bringing in revenue and making sure our taxpayers are filing and paying the correct amounts. But it would be very good overall for our government to show how tax money is being spent. So with our sales tax money, some of it does go back to the communities. And with our fuel tax, that all goes into a roads fund that the Navajo Nation Department of Transportation oversees. Again, people in general are in favor of that because they know where it's going, they see where it's going, and it's going to help them, ultimately.

So that's kind of the Office of Navajo Tax Commission's story of civic engagement. Is -- we kind of have no choice but to go out there and talk to people because people, in general, in Indian Country, they just are not familiar with taxes at all. I'm not sure, but I think Navajo Nation probably has one of the most extensive tribal tax programs at this time. We try to help out other communities and other tribes that want to set up their taxes. We've made it a point, ever since our sales tax, within my office, to go out and educate people, especially people on the Navajo Nation. Before our sales tax, a lot of people didn't even know that we had taxes because it never came down to them to pay anything. We've really been educating people. Every time we are asked to do a presentation, we go out and explain all of our taxes as much as we can.

One of the things that we've started doing also is, every year -- I'm not sure how it is here, but out in the west we have fairs, have rodeos and the whole big parade and all that stuff. So every year now, during fair season, we put together surveys and we go out and we talk with people and get information from them and try to educate them at the same time. A lot of them are very glad to hear what the Navajo Nation is doing as far as taxes. And again, a lot of them are in favor of it. That's always a good thing for us [because] we're used to being not really liked by business people. We're not always the most popular people at meetings and stuff like that. So that's what we've been doing and I just wanted to show -- this year what we did was we found this really cool promo item and it has our logo; we have a logo called Buy Navajo. And this is actually another interesting story. About three or four years ago, the Office of the Navajo Nation President sponsored a contest. The president said, ‘We need to have people spend their money on the Navajo Nation. Let's try to have people not spend so much in the border towns.' And so he said, ‘Let's make up this logo called Buy Navajo.' And he had a contest for someone to come up with a design for this logo. I think it was a young man out of Shiprock, New Mexico that came up with our logo, and it's basically a corn stalk. And unfortunately, this is really small for people to see, but it's a corn stalk and then it has the four sacred mountains that Navajos have in the southwest. So we promote the Buy Navajo campaign. We try to tell people, ‘It's important to spend your money on the Navajo Nation, buy your groceries, buy your gasoline on the Navajo Nation, because that tax revenue will stay on the Navajo Nation.' So that's another example of civic engagement. As our president said, ‘Let's get all the people involved in trying to come up with a design for us, for the Navajo people.' Oh, okay, I'm sorry. It's called a view-tainer. It's just a container, you can buy these at Home Depot and it's just a really cool-looking container to put stuff in. We kind of saw it like as a little piggy bank maybe and you can put change in it.

So this year at the big Navajo Nation Fair we had just a brief survey that we were doing and we were just asking people, ‘What's the Navajo Nation sales tax rate?' We want to know if people are current on their information and then we asked them, ‘What's the sales tax rate in the nearest border town?' And that would be Gallup, New Mexico, if you're in Window Rock. And then we asked them, ‘Where's the last place you shopped at? Where's the last place you bought your fuel?' And so right now we're compiling that information. It's just also to make people a little bit more aware of where they do shop and just make them aware of taxes in general. What we did was we just put our own information inside the view-tainer so when people filled out the survey we would give them the container and then inside it had some of the answers like to some of the sales tax rates of the surrounding cities, counties, states.

That's what we do to try to educate people because, even with the general United States population, there's a huge misconception that Native people do not pay federal income taxes. So I would just like to ask all of you to please try to talk to people and let them know that that's not true. I attend a lot of tax conferences, and even people that work in the tax industry, they have that misconception. It's all about educating as far as taxes are concerned. I thank you for listening to me and I think maybe taxes are kind of boring for some people but it's actually very interesting to some of us on Navajo land. So thank you."

Honoring Nations: LuAnn Leonard: The Hopi Education Endowment Fund

Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

Hopi Education Endowment Fund Executive Director LuAnn Leonard (Hopi/Tohono O'odham) speaks about the purpose and growth of the Hopi Education Endowment Fund and how the initiative has inspired those HEEF serves to answer the question: What does it mean to be a Hopi?

Native Nations
Resource Type

Leonard, LuAnn. "The Hopi Education Endowment Fund." Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. September 27-28, 2007. Presentation.

Michael Lipsky:

"Our next speaker will be Luann Leonard, the Executive Director of the Hopi Education Endowment Fund [HEEF]."

LuAnn Leonard:

"Good morning. My name's LuAnn Leonard. I'm Hopi and Tohono O'odham from Arizona. We've come a long way. Yesterday morning I woke up really late and so this morning I woke up really early to be prepared, and now I'm all sleepy. So hopefully I won't fall asleep on you here. But the Hopi is located in northeastern Arizona. I'm from the village of Sichomovi on First Mesa. I'm from the Deer Clan, the Hopi Deer Clan. I wanted to introduce the people who are here with me. Monica Nevumsa in the back; she is the president of the Hopi Education Endowment Fund. And then sitting at our table, he's not here right now, is Ben Nuvamsa; he is the chairman of the Hopi Tribe. And no, they're not married, same last name. Our colleagues, Cedric Kuwaninvaya, he is a councilman with the Hopi Tribe and also a former recipient of an award, and Bernita Kuwaninvaya, she is a 2006 honors awardee; and yes, they are married, these two.

I wanted to thank Mrs. [Amy Besaw] Medford -- I had to say that -- and her staff for inviting us here. Everyone was telling us when you win honors, or high honors, with [the Harvard Project] you really join a family and I think that that's true. We've felt very appreciated and we appreciate the involvement and having us come out all the way [here]. I had to mention, in your booklet you see us listed with those big donors. And it's funny because they had put out a, you probably all got one, a letter asking for donations; they're non-profit. And we wanted to be one of the first to respond because we know how hard it is to raise money and so we responded to the call. And I challenge all of you to do that because it will make their job more easier to raise money if the people who they're asking know that we are all trying to contribute, even if it's a little bit to the fund to make this keep going cause this is a great program. I think you all can agree with me on that.

There's Chairman Nuvamsa. I told them you're not married to Monica -- he's her 'boyfriend' in Hopi way.

A little bit about the HEEF and then I want to get into the topic. We are a 7871 non-profit of the Hopi Tribe. We're the only one in the United States that focuses on education. We are not a rich tribe. We're located in a remote area of northern Arizona. We're not gaming. We established our 7871 through a tribal ordinance and that was done on purpose to protect it from the politics of the day. We have a 30-member board, which 80 percent are Hopi. We have a seven-member executive committee of which Monica is the president and the president must be an enrolled member of the Hopi Tribe. What's really nice about our organization is no member of the tribal council can be a member of the board, but we're part of the tribe. So we're protected from the tribe but we're part of the tribe. The seven-member executive committee has the fiduciary responsibility. They're my bosses, and talk about a challenge that changes every year, that board. But I get a new boss every year, but it's a great, wonderful group of people. We truly believe in Hopi for Hopi. When we created the endowment fund seven years ago, we chose to keep it on reservation. We're located on one million acres in northern Arizona in Kykotsmovi village, a little rock house, you probably would get lost looking for it, but we do all of our outreach from there. I have a three-member staff, all of which are Hopi.

When we came on board none of us had any non-profit experience, but we had a desire to make this work and I believe we are making this work. When we went to trainings, what was really encouraging -- we went to trainings at Indiana, IUPUI [Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis], University of Indiana; they have a non-profit program there. And one of the first things we heard is Native Americans were the first philanthropists and I think about that and I think that's so true. And we've come to find that out. We're not experts in what we do yet, but hopefully we will be, but we believe that we have things to share. I don't believe in reinventing the wheel, so you can take our ideas and hopefully change them into something that you can work with, with your people. With the Honoring Nations award we produced our first video. We used some of our money to create the video about our program. I brought a few copies; this one's for Oren Lyons because he's so special. If you'd like a copy, just give me your card and I'll make sure you get one. But it's a seven-minute video, and I think you'll understand what I'm talking about when you see our video. It's called Planting the Seeds...for our Children's Future.

When Amy gave me the topic of the panel, I thought about, what am I going to talk about? She talked about community participation, what [role] it plays in nation building, how do we engage our community members so that we create ownership, sustainability, and program effectiveness. The bottom-line question is what do we do to connect with the community to foster that support? And I asked myself some questions. I asked, what inspires a talented 16-year-old high school student to donate a piece of his first artwork to our silent auction? What motivated an artist living in low-income housing to donate a $700 painting that he could sell to sustain him and his family? What motivated him to donate that to our silent auction? What moved a high school graduate to donate $25 to our alumni challenge in the name of his alma mater, which is Stewart Indian High School? And finally, what motivated the Hopi Tribe, the Hopi Tribal Council, to really walk the talk and, that day in October of 2000, to create the Hopi Education Endowment Fund and to give us the first gift of $10 million? How did we do it?

So I thought about what in our culture made us be this way because, obviously, there's people who really need the money but somehow they're giving of their own. Our goal at the Endowment Fund is to turn our people into our ambassadors. We want every Hopi to know who we are, what we do. And when someone, a visitor, an Anglo friend comes our to see a dance and they say, 'How can we help?' They can say, 'Hey, you should think about the Hopi Endowment Fund.' And they can go online and find us real quick. As I thought about it, I found that the answer lies right before us and it lies right before each of you too. It's in your teachings, your practices and your beliefs.

You all have been given a copy of a piece called A Hopi. This piece was created in '95 and I was happy to see this created. It was kind of started funny because we have the Hopi, Navajo-Hopi Observer that comes to our reservation. And for a while there they had an award, Hopi of the Year, Navajo of the Year. And then we all thought, 'Hey, I want to be Hopi of the Year.' But what is a Hopi? And so we got into this big discussion. Joan Timeche was Hopi of the Year one year. So you'd join a high caliber of people there.

But what is a Hopi? And so we had a person in our group who thinks way beyond the present and he came up with the piece. And I don't want to read the whole thing to you but I want to read a couple of sections that really hit what we do as philanthropists. The third paragraph down; a Hopi is one who fulfills the meaning of Sumi'nangwa and will come together to do activities for the benefit of all out of a compelling desire and commitment to contribute or return something of value or benefit to the society. A Hopi is one who fulfills the meaning of Nami'nangwa by helping one another or give aid in times of need, without having to be asked to do so, and without expecting compensation for that deed. A Hopi is one who places the society and/or community's interests and benefits above their individual and personal interests and gains. And finally, a Hopi is one who understands that the greatest feeling of accomplishment and fulfillment is one's participation in social and community functions or activities and knowing that your contributions have resulted in benefit to the community and people. I think each of you can relate to this. Each of your native teachings and beliefs have this, involve these kinds of thoughts. We incorporate these teachings into all the things that we do.

We work to help our people understand what we do because, although we were the first philanthropists, formal philanthropy is not really understood. And so just the 'endowment,' even the name of our fund, throws our people off. But what we do is we help them to understand what we do and translate it into the concepts of Hopi. One example is that we're known for farming; we farm blue, white, red, yellow corn, beans and squash. The beauty of that is it's dry farming; we have no irrigation. It's all hard labor and prayers for the rain to come. When we talk about our Endowment fund, the seeds in the planting cycle, we let the people know that the seeds are the money; that's the donations coming into our organization. When you plant the seed, your next step is to cultivate that. Keep those relations going, go to your field, check on it and keep that plant growing. So that's what we do when we cultivate our donors and we watch over our investments so that they grow day to day. Eventually, the harvest comes. And the harvest -- we take part in the harvest, we eat part of it. And how we relate that to what we do is we disperse out our money, and we fund college students across the United States with some of that money, some of the harvest. The final part of the planting cycle is the storing. Hopis always store part of that crop for the next year and the next year after. Our storing is reinvesting our money and hoping that it will grow and benefit people 50 years out. Another good concept in helping them understand investing, cause investing itself is so technical, is planting in more than one field. I don't know how many of you are farmers, but Hopi men, they usually plant where their wife is from and then they plant in another area, maybe where their traditional clan has a planting field -- because you never know where the rain's going to fall and your family has to eat. So you need that kind of diversity to make sure you're going to get something out of your crops. When we explain investments and diversification, such as stocks and bonds, that makes sense to people and it helps them really understand, 'Hey, these guys are doing the right thing.' So think about those kind of things when you are working with your people to enhance your community involvement.

My message to you is to look within yourselves and ask, 'What is a Lummi? What is a Sioux? What's a Chippewa? What's a Umatilla? Who are you?' And find that connection and use those teachings, use what you find in a very respectful manner in dealing with your people. They know when you're overusing those kinds of beliefs and maybe materializing them and they will take you to task on that. But use them in a respectful manner and you'll find that you're going to grow your own ambassadors. Those people are going to be the spokesperson for your programs. In closing I'd like to say, to be a Hopi is to continually chase a rainbow. It's looking for that pot of gold, but you know you're never going to get to it. But if you read A Hopi and you live this way, and I think if you go back and you look at your own people and you live this way, you'll agree that it's going to be a long journey. But along the way, you'll make the world a better place. So I wanted to thank you for this time and opportunity to speak. Askwali."

Honoring Nations: Don Corbine: The Bad River Chippewa Recycling/Solid Waste Department

Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

Former Manager Don Corbine of the Bad River Recycling/Sold Waste Department shares how the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Tribe is using recycling to clean up their community and reinvigorate community pride among its citizens.

Resource Type

Corbine, Don. "The Bad River Chippewa Recycling/Solid Waste Department." Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. September 27-28, 2007. Presentation.

Michael Lipsky:

"Our next speaker is Don Corbine from Bad River Recycling."

Don Corbine:

"Boozhoo. I'm Don Corbine. I'm a member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. My Indian name is [Anishinaabe language]; I am called Red Cloud Clear Sky. I'm a sky person; I look over things. It has always been a part of my life that I've always been in the sky in my dreams, in my physical life. Part of my life early on was the military; I was an 82nd Airborne paratrooper. Later on in life, I became an ironworker on a bolt up gang. So I was always up there in the sky, I was always looking down at earth. And from up there, from that point of view, I could see many things happening. One day, eventually, I moved back home and maybe for the purpose of what I'm doing now. I'd like to thank the programs for all your wonderful stories, for your encouragement. I'd like to thank the board members for your strong words and it makes me feel good in my heart. I'd like to thank the Honoring Nations staff, Amy [Besaw Medford], for all your wonderful help and everybody just participating here.

My official title with the tribe is Operations Manager for the Recycling/Solid Waste Department. In laymen's terms, I'm a 'garbologist.' I've worked for the tribe for about 12 years and the tribe has been recycling and they've been in this endeavor since 1989. Well, almost 30 years and since that 30 years, probably half of that time, it was a little stagnant and the program wasn't really going anywhere. And they separated the duties from our water and sewer department and they developed this position. And it was something of interest to me and I felt that I could help the tribe and the program. Al [Pemberton], if you ever get another plane you bring it down to Bad River, I'll scrap it out for you. So my business here today is 'talking trash.'

But first I want to give you a brief bio on what this department is all about, what type of services we offer, and how we approach our constituents. Our function is the collection, the processing, the handling and the marketing. We've been recycling for quite a long time. Currently we're recycling about 18 recyclable items. We're doing number ones, number twos, aluminum, cardboard, magazines, glass, tin, mixed cardboard, newspaper, shredded paper, office paper, appliances, electronics, metals, tires, yard waste, household hazardous waste, and there's a lot of those items also. So we look at the proper disposal and handling of all these items. We see that they're managed in their proper perspective and we're seeing that there is no negative impact to our lands, or our waters, or anything else.

We provide service to both tribal and non-tribal. We provide a service to households, as well as businesses. We work with everybody closely. There's always communication there. There's always an open line. I'm only a phone call away. I'm here to provide solutions. If you have something, and we all have -- before I came into this position I had never realized the amount of waste that we generate. It's amazing. Our program's objectives are to provide a high-quality service, a personalized service, a program that promotes a healthy environment, and adopting environmentally sound practices. We provide public education, which is mutual to both the community and the program. We maintain a high level of community competence. We have to gain their support. Community cooperation and participation is essential. It's necessary and community members need to buy into this. And without their involvement this program wouldn't be a success.

Some of our methods include, well, the education aspect of it -- we promote proper disposal methods, we promote program requirements, we promote ordinances, we promote the benefits of compliance; we talk about cost effectiveness, material reuse, marketing; we are environmentally friendly. And by doing so we hope that some of these activities we're involved in, while they save energy, they save a lot of different processes, they're helpful to the overall operation. Our operation is cultural. As Natives, we respect our surroundings. And I'm from an area in northern Wisconsin, on the shores of Lake Superior, where it's so beautiful and clean and pristine that these type of things would harm it if it was rampant, or if it ran wild, and illegal dumping took place, and what not. And things of that nature did happen before. And over the years we've been working at cleaning up all these sorts of things -- we're caretakers, we're stewards, we're responsible for our Mother, our provider, and we're obligated to watch over her.

Some of the other educational tools that we use are by the means of newspapers, tribal newspapers. We could stick in there most anything and what we stick in there are articles of encouragement. We give praise to our communities and their contributions that they make. We keep our public informed on current trends, regulatory updates, and departmental achievements. Some of the other things are the circulation of brochures, flyers, public notices, just reminders; just keeping everybody informed and just keeping a visual for everybody to see that these things are always there and we're here to help you. We had to develop community trust and we have to respect each individual household and person individually. We have to be respectful of their needs, their concerns and no problem is too small. If it concerns them, then it concerns us. Their concerns are our concerns. If we need to go door to door and explain, and teach, and assist them with understanding, well, that's what we're going to do.

Other things we do in our community to promote community involvement is support in the community and tribal events, working collectively with other tribal departments to accomplish or meet their goals. And sometimes our goals overlap or match. For instance, we work with the air quality people. We developed a burn barrel exchange and then took it a step further and went to a burn barrel buy back. We found that some households were still kind of like in that rut of taking their garbage out back, throw it in the barrel, and lighting that baby up. So in our roaming around the res, and going to everybody's houses, a lot of people felt interested in this idea. And because of that, today we've reduced toxic emissions by 27 percent.

We collaborate efforts with our EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] specialists. We collaborate and assist every household and tribal entity within our structure. We're there for their needs, to support them. We employ summer youth in summer intern positions and they get hands-on experience of what we do and how we provide. We employ additional people, during a certain time of year, for our spring clean up. On that little adventure it takes at least a month. We're in the community for two straight weeks going curbside, door-to-door, promoting; we're looking for waste. We don't want to miss anything that, any kind of step that's going to, we're going to find that waste in a ditch line, or one of our ravines, or streams, or on our beaches, or anywhere else. So we look at every effort that we can possibly imagine, from every angle, to provide for them. We work with the powwow committees, the housing authority and, like I said, tribal infrastructure.

Encouraging community involvement and participation comes in many forms. First you have to show you care. You put into it what you get out of it. And like the old saying goes, when you put out good, it'll come back. Your rewards are noticeable and their reward is their participation and buying into the program and supporting it. Nothing's too small. And at the time your community members notice these things, your communities are cleaner, your beaches are cleaner, your roadways are cleaner, everything; it's just a noticeable thing. And it's not only because of what we do, but it's what they've put into the program and their support of our endeavors.

Some of the other things that we do -- But first there's this old-age concept, a value of sorts, that's called giving back. It helps reinforce the concept of caring and sharing with the community. Through the years we came to times where, for instance, the Social Service Department ran a food shelf and it was during Thanksgiving, right before Thanksgiving. And during a department head meeting, I was in discussion with [the] social service director, and she made it known at the meeting that her food shelf went dry. So I'm thinking like, how the hell could that happen? There's always got to be a contributor somewhere that cares about this. So I took it upon myself to find a solution. Oh, and I've got a bunch of marketable materials in my building too. So I went and cashed in a couple bales and I gave those proceeds to that food shelf. Well, they made everybody happy during Thanksgiving for those that were in need. And then once again, a youth program, they were in need of sports equipment; basketballs, baseballs, bats, whatever. And they approached me and they said, "˜We're having a hard time here. We only need a little bit but whatever you can do would help.' So again I dig in that garage and I pull out a couple more bales; take them to market, give them the money. I say, "˜Here, buy your sports equipment.' Other times when a resident becomes ill and they're trying to raise money for beneficial purposes to offset hospital costs or what not, we again, dig in that little shed, pull out a little bit and help them with start up money so they can have their benefit.

We've developed close and personal relationships with our vendors and service providers, family-run businesses. And if they experience a loss, we care about them. We've been doing business with a lot of these people for a long time. And out of respect we'll send flowers, cards, condolences. And these are the things that people remember. These are activities, which our community connected.

Some of the confirmations that shows that we're going the right way, and the first one -- and I move about quite a bit and I never really hear firsthand what community members feel about the program besides, 'Hey, that darn truck is late. Where the hell you at?' So during our visit from Amy, Catherine [Curtis], we had a reception and after we had a community panel. And a community panel was set up of members from different communities throughout the reservation. I introduced everybody and asked them if they wanted me to sit down and partake in this little discussion. And I felt I was maybe going to be in an area where I don't want to be. I didn't want to listen to any negativity or get yelled at or whatever. So they asked me to sit down with them anyway. And what I heard at that table was amazing. I had one grandma describing how long she'd been recycling and teaching her children to recycle. And after a few years, her daughter had a child and now she's teaching that child how to recycle. So three generations of recyclers right there in one house. That's awesome to me. As I sat there and listened to the rest of the panel, they had a lot of good things to say too. And I was just kind of blown away. I'm like, 'Holy crap, all this work did pay off.' But then there's some other noticeable things that we see, and it's the physical beauty of the community. And there are some not so good things because people rely on us so much. They call us every day. They call us about litterers, about places where people are starting to drop stuff off at. And one thing that is gratifying around the holiday is my staff gets cards, they get money, and they're shown their appreciation by the constituents, and it's a feel-good situation. And one thing that I look at as being a reward is that our recycling rate has increased. During the past year, we've been working on an integrated solid waste management plan. And through the collection of all that data, and going through it, and just finding out where the heck we're at, we found out we're recycling 46 percent of our waste, of our total waste. Now the tribe has greater expectations of us. They're used to having things done on schedule, and like the mailman, whether they're hot or not, rain or snow, or 30 below. They count on us.

Since we've received our recognition award from Honoring Nations, we've had reason to celebrate. We've been given praise from state, tribal, and government officials. The tribe had a big luncheon for us when we got back. The community was there to help celebrate. The state senator stopped by and [???] stopped by, gave us a recognition award. The BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] Great Lakes Agency gave us an accomplishment award. The Wisconsin DNR [Department of Natural Resources] sent a letter congratulating us on our achievements. And all the news -- a lot of newspaper articles, a lot of sharing this information and spotlighting this program. From that, we've been called in by another Chippewa Band, the Lac Courte Oreilles Band, to come down and take a look at their program, to make recommendations to see what we can do to help. One last thing I want to share about our program. It's not a big, expensive program; it's not state-of-the-art. It's about doing what you have to do with what's available, making the most of what you have, and doing big things with very little. So there is a revolution at hand, and we're in for the ride." 

Honoring Nations: Ken James: The Flandreau Police Department (2007)

Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

Former Flandreau (South Dakota) Police Chief Ken James discusses how the Flandreau Police Department works to provide culturally sensitive law enforcement to all of the citizens it serves.

Resource Type

James, Ken. "The Flandreau Police Deparment," Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. September 27-28, 2007. Presentation.

Michael Lipsky:

"So our presenters are Ken James, Chief of the Flandreau Police Department, who was honored in 2005, whose program was honored in 2005; Don Corbine, who is from the Bad River Recycling program in Wisconsin; LuAnn Leonard, the Director of the Hopi Education Endowment Fund; and Mary Etsitty, the Executive Director of the Office of the Navajo Tax Commission. So perhaps, we'll go in the order that I read those names and so Ken, perhaps you'd start off?"

Ken James:

"[Dakota greeting/prayer] Before I start I want to share with you -- it's a song. And I sing this song for strength, for inner strength, and it's a song of encouragement. And I sing this a lot in the line of work that I do. I always need strength from the higher power. And after I get done singing his song, I'll share with you the history of that song.


That song, (you can go ahead and sit down. Thank you). That song is a reminder of our history, as Dakota Santees in South Dakota, Nebraska and North Dakota. On December 26th, 1862, our brothers and sisters, our ancestors, stood side by side holding hands with the men, the women and children in Mankato, Minnesota, on December 26th, 1862. They were a bristling wall of strength that stood there, and they watched their brothers, their relatives. The largest mass execution in U.S. history; 38 Santees were put in the gallows and they were hung. And it was for our homelands in Minnesota and we were exiled. Our ancestors were moved, and we were moved, and we were moved. And through all of those journeys through life, we've had the tenacity to overcome and to adapt as Indian people.

When I look around the room today, I see each and every one of us have our own stories to tell in our families, in our tribes, in our nations. And so we, each and every one of us, we're that bristling wall of strength today for our people and for the generations to come. And I want to start off by -- it's been so gracious, I've learned so much since I've been here. I've never been to this side of the world other than to -- I've been to D.C. for a law enforcement summit, so it's been just very gratifying to come here and to learn and I'm just absorbing it all in. It's just been a blessing and a gift. Somebody once said that sometimes we have to travel this road alone but we don't have to do it by ourselves. We have so many people. I share that a lot with my children that sometimes we're going to have complex issues come in our life but we can do it together. There's nothing saying that we can't do it by ourselves.

And I want to share with you, I want to thank and I want to acknowledge some people here. I think it's only right and fair that I do that. In our Native way, we do that anyway. [Because] what I've learned in my career, it was given to me, it was something I didn't do by myself. I had so many people that are no longer here in the physical realm that [have] helped me to get where I'm at today. So I'm very appreciative of that love and that unconditional love that has been bestowed upon me. My Indian name is [Dakota language]. In Dakota that means ‘strong minded.' That was given to me in 1995 in a Hunka ceremony in Kyle, South Dakota. I was adopted into the, at that time was the president of, the Oglala Sioux Nation; his name was Wilbur Between Lodge. And it was mostly, in part, because of the work that I was doing down on the Indian reservations working more so with gang violence in Indian Country. I also did a lot of work in building healthy lifestyles. I want to share with you that last week was 14 years of continuous sobriety for me. I gave that up. So today the federal Bureau of Land Management declared me a fire hazard because I'm so dry. So don't light a cigarette or nothing around me, I'm flammable. I've been married 27 years. I have six grown children and one granddaughter and another one on the way. My daughter's Kaylen James. She's a student now here at Wellesley College here in Boston. Her sister, another identical twin, is up at Dartmouth going to school there. And I'm very proud of them. I have four other grown children and they're all in school, going back to college and still continue to evolve and still continue to learn.

I want to acknowledge that we have Josh Weston, our president, the youngest president in the history of our tribe; he's my nephew. And then I have another person I want to acknowledge is Leah Fyten. Leah is the Housing Director for the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe. She's currently on our Public Safety Commission and she's also Chairperson of our Meth Initiative Coalition there in Flandreau, South Dakota, that she chairs and doing a very good job. The other person I want to acknowledge in the crowd here is Dr. David Gipp, a huge contribution in my life, as far as my career in law enforcement. In 1979, I was a young 18-year-old, turning 19, and I went to school at United Tribes [Technical College], and I took up the Criminal Justice program. And I had the opportunity to learn and also work at United Tribes [Technical College] for four years in the security department before I went on to work in the Rapid City Police Department. We have continued to maintain contact and continue to keep that dialogue open as far as some of the contemporary needs and concerns that's going on in Indian Country today. So I'm just glad and very pleased that we still have people, such as Dr. David Gipp, around that's still a huge inroad in our lives, still paving the paths for so many successes in Indian country with all the students that graduate [from] United Tribes [Technical College].

And then last is Harvard [Honoring] Nations. Yesterday the motto was ‘Just do it'. Well, I think there's another part of that is they keep coming back. Two years ago when we were given this award we thought that would be the end of it. That's not the case. They call you up, they're in contact with you, sharing dialogue, sharing information, sharing ideas. And it's kind of spun off on me [because] now I'm contacting them. When I'm dealing with complex issues, it just takes a phone call, or even an email, to get on the phone, or get on the computer, and we share these issues together because together -- again, I heard someone say that two minds working together is better than one and when we can put that altogether it's really, there's a lot of strength in there. I just appreciate Harvard for all the work that they do and continue to do, even after you get your award, they continue to work with you. And then it's people such as yourselves that are here. I've learned so much talking and sharing and learning so much about the other cultures and different backgrounds. So I'm going to be going back to South Dakota rejuvenated, energized, and ready to go back to work and do what I do.

Myself, I have about 28 years of security, corrections and law enforcement work. The majority of my law enforcement career was in Rapid City, South Dakota, which is in the western part of South Dakota. There we have probably about 80, 85, 90,000 population. And about 7,000 Native Americans live in Rapid City and that population fluctuates. And then I've been the Chief of Police for the Flandreau Santee Sioux tribe and the City of Flandreau for the past seven years. One of the things I wanted to share with you is that, when I took this position as the chief of police, they were looking for someone who could collaborate and use that cooperative learning to engage the community; someone that would be able to work with the Native population, the Native people, and then of course work with the non-Indian community and bridge that gap and bring things together. One thing that I found out is, there's an old Hopi saying that says, ‘One finger can't lift a pebble, it takes more than -- several fingers to coordinate and bring that together,' and that's how it is when we work together in Flandreau.

It hasn't been an easy road. A lot of the rites of passage, the maturational process that we had to go through to get where we're at, was -- we weren't courting disaster, but when you go into something and when you don't settle for the status quo -- there's nothing wrong with the status quo, there's nothing negative about it, but if you want to be an innovative leader, if you want to forge ahead and maybe sometimes even fall forward, falling forward sometimes you're going to make some mistakes. And certainly in our department in Flandreau we have some flaws, we've had some weaknesses. But we didn't try to override them; we tried to work through them. And it's been a tremendous learning experience, as far as our growth, and we have certainly not become stagnant.

One of the things I wanted to share with you about our experience is we've -- talking about Flandreau -- we've been able to take that model, use a traditional law enforcement setting. If you look at it, where we're at today in law enforcement, the model is that it used to be tribal law enforcement and traditional law enforcement. Then it moved over to Indian Scout, and then it went to BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs], and now you're seeing it come in a complete circle, starting to go back again to traditional law enforcement. In Dakota, we call it the Akicita Society, the Soldier's Lodge. Today, what we have done is, we've been able to fine-tune that and today, in contemporary law enforcement, we call it community-oriented policing -- and in that, what we've done is, we've been able to mesh that together. And so I come to find out that community-oriented policing correlates very well, it identifies very well, with traditional law enforcement, what those principles are about. In [community-oriented] policing, it talks about the broken window[s] theory. In Native country, when we see broken down cars and dilapidated buildings, we become desensitized to that, we see it every day, and after a while we become accustomed to it. In the [community-oriented] policing, the broken window[s] theory is that, if you have windows that are busted up, what it does is it increases crime; it goes against societal needs.

One thing that I want to share with you is that, as the chief of police, I am Dakota first and professional second. Everything that I do, the way I live, the way I act and conduct myself is that I'm a Dakota first and that I'm Chief of Police second. In the same lines, as chief of police, I'm also chief of police/mentor/coach/teacher to my officers. I keep giving back to them that sacred trust and responsibility. When you wear that badge, that's what it's all about, about the community comes first, the welfare of the community. Sir Robert Peelsaid it best during the ancient feudal backgrounds when law enforcement was first established. He said, ‘The community is the police and the police is the community.' We're just an extension. One of the things about [community-oriented] policing in Flandreau, as well as across the nation, is part of that [community-oriented] policing principle is that we're there to identify problems and then coming up with approaches and solutions to those problems. It's being a problem-solver in today's 21st-century law enforcement.

And again I want to share with you is that -- I heard yesterday, someone talking about, by working together in unison -- a single twig breaks but when you put a bundle of sticks together there's strength there, it's hard to break that. One of the things I wanted to share with you is that when we work with people and we work with the demands of society, we see a lot of issues; we see a lot of concerns. And one of the things I wanted to share with you is this, is that -- there's an old ancient method of working with arrows. Someone had talked about the quiver and the arrows yesterday. What we do with the arrows is that, when you have one arrow that's out of line, what you do is you take that arrow and you make it the focal point. You make that the center of importance. You take that arrow and you put it in the middle. And you take all the straight arrows that have precision and balance and equilibrium, you put it around that arrow and you wrap it. You put it away for a couple of days and you come back. You don't go back and tamper and check and see if everything's working okay. You let it be, you let it work on its own accord. Several days later you go back, you unravel that wrapping and the arrow that was crooked and out of line that was in the middle is now straight. It's been aligned with the rest of the community. That's social bonding in our traditional culture, bringing things together. And when we see kids that are in gangs, we see the methamphetamine issues; that's what we need to do with people. We put them at the center, rather than outcast them and displace them and kick them out of the community.

One of the things I want to talk about, in our department there's training through osmosis. It's probably been the biggest thing, as far as relational building, is that I have non-Indian officers that work in my department. What we've been able to do through training through osmosis is they learn from me, as a Native chief of police; I show them the mannerisms, I show them the etiquette, I show them the things that we do in our way of life. And vice versa, we do the same thing. I go out there and I learn just as much about the backgrounds and cultures of my officers that work for me. It works so well, is that our model -- in Rosebud reservation in South Dakota, up on Standing Rock, they're starting to look at and view what we've been able to do in Flandreau, as far as building that partnership between the city and tribe, because in the Nation it's never been done. So when we forged ahead in that concept, in that partnership, we didn't realize the magnitude of what it was going to cause. We didn't even think of it as something special because historically, in Flandreau, the city and tribe has always learned to get along with each other, see the differences, and be able to work through some of those issues. And I think that's partly due, because we have one of the oldest BIA boarding schools there in Flandreau, and -- for example, our city mayor is a retired teacher from the Flandreau Indian School. So, in other words, we never had to really reinvent the wheel, and today the tribe and the city are working on other economic development ventures and things like that. So we're certainly moving ahead, forging ahead and we're learning from our past.

One of the things I want to share with you is about, when I traveled over here the other day, come across, we had a relative, an ancestor, his name was [Dakota language], which means winner. Most of you guys probably seen the movie that came out a couple months ago, it was about Wounded Knee. And in there, the main character was about Dr. Charles Eastman. Dr. Charles Eastman came to Dartmouth and went to school here and got his education. And what happened was, during that time of travel here -- I can only imagine what had happened, as what happened to a lot of our ancestors, it was part of that assimilation process, as far as that U.S. policy of educating the Indian. A lot the people, especially the Dakotas and Lakotas and other tribes, we were taken from the families and we were taken, by either buggy or horseback, down to the Missouri River where they were departed from their loved ones and their relatives and they made the journey east to go to school here. I had a grandpa that went to school at Carlisle Indian School; he was a World War I veteran. After he left Carlisle, he never did come back to our reservation and that was a part of that process. It's not to say that he didn't go on and work in other Indian communities, but he ended up relocating in the Southwest. And we all know too well about the 1950s with the relocation.

I had a grandmother that went to school at Hampton Institute over here on the east side. So there's a history that's there. Earlier when I sang that song, I want to share with you, it's about tenacity, it's about perseverance and it's about enduring. One of my grandmothers, after the Dakota conflict, went down and went to Crow Agency, or Creek, and ended up there and then ended up down in Santee Agency in northeast Nebraska and she had the intestinal fortitude to go, during all the mass confusion, she ended up going back. We ended up leaving one of the children behind there in Minnesota up in present day Minneapolis, Fort Snelling. And it was at a time when there was still a lot of hostility towards Native people. When she got to Santee Agency, it wasn't a man, her Indian name was [Dakota language], which means ‘like [a] man,' [because] she took some of the duties of the man when they were away on war parties or if they were away from the camp. So she went, she walked on foot. I don't know how she got through over the bridge, or there wasn't even bridges back then, but she walked all the way back to Minnesota and reclaimed one of the kids there and then took him back on foot all the way back to northeast Nebraska. I shared that story a couple years ago at a wellness conference in Rapid City; we were talking about building strengths in families. And when I look at my own disappointments and my own problems in life, I just have to draw back to that memory of our history in our family and I say, ‘Wow.' Last summer I had a chance to go down to the southern part of our Indian reservation in Nebraska and I found where she's buried. It's way down in this valley and I walked down, I got out and I walked and got there and I was able to -- I just remember kneeling down at her headstone and saying, and I kissed it and said, ‘Thank you. Thank you so much for what you done.'

So I've learned, through that time, about taking our police department, all the things that we've been able to do, mixing them together, and sharing, and giving a lot of thought to what we're doing, as far as a police department in today's contemporary society. And I want to share with you one more story. And it's about what I do, why I do what I do. When I was working in Rapid City I went to a domestic violence call and it was very chaotic. I remember showing up about three in the morning, I got there and there was a young boy. It was families just fighting, people were intoxicated. And I looked and I could see right through this little door, these little eyes peeking out, little angel faces peeking out, little lips were trembling. And I imagined they were scared and frightened of police and fire and ambulance there, and one of the grandmas was [lying] on the couch having a heart attack. And so I remember watching them and I went out the door, I got in the police car, and I was getting ready to leave. And I looked and I seen this little young man, about nine years old, he was walking back and he, at nine years old, he already had a substance abuse issue, inhalant abuse. And he was probably one of the youngest that was put into the detoxification center in Rapid City. But anyway, he was coming back and he was acting like a gang [member]. So I called him over, I knew that he was on probation so I put him in the car with me. And I call it a divine intervention. And I put him in the car with me, I put him in back and started talking to him, he got very defensive. So I started talking with him and I said, ‘You know,' I said, ‘How do you feel right now with all the stuff that's going on with your family right now?' And so he got very defensive and very abrupt and I just kept talking to him and finally he -- I told him, I said, ‘You know, I want you to know this,' I said, ‘as a young child,' I said, ‘You've already been to hell and back already with everything that's going on in your family.' I said, ‘You've got sisters in there, little sisters that need you.' I told him, I said, ‘If you can get through what you're going through today, you can go anywhere in this world, if you put your mind to it.' And I ended it by saying, ‘You know why I'm telling you this? It's because I simply, I care about you.' And that little boy, in the back seat of my patrol car, he just started to weep like a baby and he ended it by saying, he said, ‘I want to say something to you.' He said, ‘I never -- no one's ever said that they care about me.' That was a reflection, a tiny reflection of myself, looking at that little boy growing up. And that sticks with me today because sometimes in my line of police work and working in Flandreau, working with families, one thing is that we get kind of bogged down, we get wrapped up in our work, and I have to go back to the basics of why I do what I do. And it's about making a difference in people's lives, improving safety in Indian Country. And so I wanted to share with you a little bit about that.

We still have a lot of work that's ahead of us. Together, we can accomplish a lot of those things. The thing that's really, that we're dealing with today in society, in Indian Country, is methamphetamine. The other part is we're dealing with the youth gangs and the violence. And then we still haven't really curbed the domestic violence. And today, on the panel, there's going to be some work and discussion about the Violence Against Women Act. So those are the areas. And I wanted to share with you and close by thanking everybody here. I wanted to talk a little bit about our police department. I'll be around still afterwards to share with you a little bit more about what we do in Flandreau. With a time allotment of a little over ten minutes, I don't have that much time to share with you everything and it's impossible, you can't do that. But I want to share with you some things that you will understand as Indian people, the commonality of things that we do. Thank you very much."

Honoring Nations: Sovereignty Today: Q&A

Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

The 2007 Honoring Nations symposium "Sovereignty Today" panel presenters as well as members of the Honoring Nations Board of Governors field questions from the audience and offer their thoughts on the state of tribal sovereignty today and the challenges that lie ahead.

Native Nations
Resource Type

"Sovereignty Today: Q&A." Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development. John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. September 27-28, 2007. Presentation.

Ethel Branch:

"Hi. Thank you all for speaking. It was really inspiring to hear all of your words. I guess my question is -- My name's Ethel Branch. I'm a student at the law school. I'm Navajo from Arizona. My question is, Indian policy, federal Indian policy has always suffered vicissitudes going back and forth from an era of termination, extermination, whatever, and switching to an era of revitalization, empowerment of tribes. We've been in self-determination for now over 30 years. Do you see a shift in the tide? What direction do you think the next era is going to go? If you could give insight on that, I'd really appreciate it. Thank you."

Floyd "Buck" Jourdain:

"Geez, I feel like Billy Madison up here. Anybody who's seen the movie, you know what I'm talking about.

Self-governance. We're a self-governance tribe and we no longer have a BIA agent and all that, we deal directly with our appropriations through the tribe. And it's [an] experimental thing that several tribes took on, but we feel it's working to our advantage; we're using it in a good way. And one of the things that we notice with the non, the tribes that are still under the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] -- they do get preference over us, so we have to really fight and arm wrestle every year; appropriations, negotiations, hearings. And it's almost like sometimes there's a safety net there that we need to grow away from. Self-governance is a good thing if it's used in a good way, and it's used correctly, and you have good leadership, and people are really on top of it. I think we just need to pry away from that old era and get away from that. And if it doesn't happen, then you'll see tribes, kind of, falling back into that, which is a dangerous thing.

Like I talked about today, the climate. You talk about the energy push in America, George Bush and the big oil companies. One of the things that -- our tribal treasurer goes to D.C. and brings back these horror stories about, 'There's going to be another huge cut. The [Department of the] Interior and BIA is going to cut, cut, cut, cut, cut.' And you have all these issues in your Indian community. You have methamphetamine, you have homelessness, you have poverty but, 'Hey, here's the answer to all your solutions! Let us come in and build a power plant on your lakeside and that will really help you guys out and get you out of this state.' So right now it's been rights of ways issues, those are huge -- people wanting to build power lines and roads across our land so they can -- tourism can explode and those types of things.

So I think that tribes need to really grasp it, emphasize self-governance, and really use it in a good way, and be aggressive with it. And I think that if more of them start moving in that direction you're going to see a lot of self-sufficient tribes out there doing some pretty good things."

James Ransom:

"I wanted to stand up. I know some of the people over here can't see us over here. I just had two comments on the question.

A trend that I see happening and which is real obvious is one, stay out of court. That cannot be overemphasized right now. Anything that gets to the Supreme Court is going to be an erosion of sovereignty. You can almost be guaranteed that.

What that tells us though is we need to refine our diplomacy skills and we need to negotiate solutions to issues on the local level, on a state level, on the federal level but in a way that is protective of our communities. And again, that talks about responsibility. We need to work on that and bring that back.

I think that's going to be the key to the future is exercising our responsibilities in ways that non-Natives -- the larger society -- can understand and appreciate."

Michael Thomas:

"I can only agree first of all with what's been said in terms of our own responsibilities and how we should not allow a perpetual federal trust responsibility to us to foster dependency. And frankly, the 30 years of the [Indian] Self-Determination Era has, in my mind, fostered as much dependency as self-determination. And frankly, I think that self-determination can be an excuse for modern governments to avoid their trust responsibility to each and every one of the people in our tribal communities. And so it's a balancing act. I think that we will see the lip service toward self-determination continue, but I think that you'll see the pendulum swing back and forth between whether these people are walking the walk or simply talking the talk.

As you watch the composition of our Supreme Court change, the advice about staying out of court becomes more and more relevant. And that is the kind of long-term pendulum swing that we as Indian people can appreciate but the average American cannot. The reality is, unless you are subject to those swings in constitutional interpretation, and Supreme Court composition, and federal Indian policy, and all the other things that create the storm of politics within which we must live, you're not going to get consistent outcomes.

And so that responsibility that both other tribal leaders here have emphasized is critical. Because it's a different approach to say 'They will never fully meet this trust responsibility, therefore we must...' than it is to simply cry over and over and over, 'Meet your trust responsibility, meet your trust...' We end up putting our people in a victim's position, when the reality is that we have all we need to protect and advance our people even in the absence of that fulfilled trust responsibility. I think an increasing recognition of this by tribal leaders can only lead us to good places."

Ben Nuvamsa:

"I'm very humbled to be here among you leaders. Thank you for your teachings and validation of what I also believe in. Chief Ransom, as you spoke, I feel like you were talking about us.

At Hopi, we're going through a tremendous change. I agree with you, wholeheartedly, that along with sovereignty comes responsibility and accountability, and if we can exercise that in the correct way -- hopefully we don't get to the point where somebody tells us what sovereignty means to us, like the Supreme Court. Our constitutions that we have adopted, the IRA constitution -- at Hopi we're very different because of our traditional ceremonies that we are very still actively involved in, in that -- and our values are much different than what an IRA constitution puts forth. And that really creates some problems for us, that we have two different cultures always conflicting with how we operate. And I think that in the situation that we're in, we need to go out and we need to re-evaluate that constitution. And many tribes have done that. I guess what I'm trying to say is that good, bad, or indifferent, however our constitutions are, we need to interpret those in our Hopi ways, in our tribal ways, what does that mean to us in our local customary practices. That's what's going to sustain us forever. I think that's where we're at.

I'm also very humbled to be with a group of our representatives here that are very knowledgeable in our tribal government. Mr. Kuwaninvaya has been on the council for a long time and I look to him for guidance. He's very astute about when we get into a debate at the council -- and he has this unique knack to put things in proper perspective, and he brings our traditional values, our knowledge, and interprets that debate into how we are supposed to be. And it seems like it really clarifies the whole debate. It's very simple. Go back to what Hopi is. Go back to what our beliefs are. And I think that's what sovereignty means to us is who we are as a people, and what our beliefs are, what our customs are. And we speak our language; our language is what sets us apart also. That is our sovereignty.

And so I just want to thank you for the thoughts. We also have certain principles that you talked about. Sumi'nangwa. Nami'nangwa. Kyavtsi. Respect for one another, coming together as one people, putting our heads together and working together. Those are principles and kind of visions that we have, high bars that we have to achieve. But I think that's the kind of a process that we're in right now and we'll need to get to that point. And I just want to thank you for your words of wisdom all of you."

Regis Pecos:

"Thank you for that, what I think is a really profound question. If we go back into the past and reflect upon that time of federal policies dealing with extermination, and where that moved to assimilation, and where that moved to termination, and then the more recent federal policy that defines this time as the era of self-determination, we really are at a critical juncture to be asking some very critical questions with regard to, 'What are we doing differently now, when we are in control, from those times when we weren't and we were critical of that subjection to those federal policies?' Because if we're not careful, I think that we potentially become our own worst enemies at this particular time and juncture in our journey through life.

I really think that this next wave, to answer your question, really is going to be a return to the core values. And that the definition of sovereignty is really going to come back to be defined, redefined, internally and outwardly. And I think part of the celebration, with something as profound as what we've heard all of today, are the incredible redefining of approaches that is coming from and dictated by our return to those principles and core values. I think in this next wave it's going to be part of a process and an evolution that is using the core values to redefine the strength of tribal governments, and the sovereignty and the power of our peoples to define, outwardly, the interrelations of intergovernmental relations, if you will, but defined for our purposes. So that, as we take a circle, and in it are the core values of our land, our language, our way of life, our people, our resources, our water, our air that sustains that spirit of living, to examine the way in which we either are making decisions with governance and our jurisprudence that moves us away from the core values or reinforces the core values; and where decisions are made that's moving us away, how we're contributing to make fragile that institutional framework that otherwise creates for an operation from a position of strength. And if all we're doing in this time of self-determination is simply replicating programs with no conscious thought about how the replication of programs is moving us further away from those core values or reinforcing core values, or the way in which economic development is viewed, to either be supportive and compatible with the core values or moving us away from the core values, and something as critical as education -- If we see education as the means and the process that was never intended for us, but how we find that to be necessary in developing our skills to deal with their external forces, to protect the internal workings of our nations, it becomes critical at this very point to really look at ways in which we strike a balance. And as our young people and our trust for the future are being schooled in the formal education institutions, we really have to be mindful in terms of what we're doing consciously in redefining our own blueprint for the teachings, from a cultural perspective, so that in the kind of challenges from this point forward, we really must operate from that position of strength, that is, articulating our relationships with other governments from those fundamental principles encompassed and defined by those core values.

So I think in this next wave, it's going to be about our redefining relationships with other governments based upon the articulation and the full utilization of the core values moving from within, outwardly, as it's never been done before. And if we're not approaching it in that way, the gaps are going to become greater and wider. And if language and culture is not the focus of what we do in creating the next generation of leaders, ask ourselves, 'Will they have any opportunity to argue the spirit of sovereignty from any other context or perspective?' Because when that happens we're going to be reduced to everything we don't want to be reduced to, as simply political subdivisions of someone else's sovereign governmental framework, different than what we want to do -- to come from within that context that sustains that spirit, that is defined by everything the Creator gave us and blessed us with, that sustains that spirit of living from a totally different perspective, which means that we have to create our own institutions. So that for all of us who've gone through the experience of a formal education, it doesn't take us to move back through a process of being reeducated in the principles of those core values.

So I think in this next wave, we have to be conscious about creating our own opportunities and institutions to strike the kind of balance that results in the kind of training that is necessary for young people to have that kind of balanced perspective, moving the core values as we define the way in which we're going to preserve that sustained spirit of living using those core values."

Michael Thomas:

"Definitely very well said. I would only add one piece, to what frankly, I don't think any of us could say better, which is that one of those core values we have to emphasize, in addition to that which separates us...is our foundation, our language, our culture, our values, the history, this dirt that we are from and of -- the interconnectedness value that we were all given as well is horribly underplayed. As important as all of those things that make us distinct tribal communities are, equally important are the things that bind us from one to the other, the interconnectedness value that every last one of us was taught by our elders is one that we don't walk often enough. It's an area where the way I say it to our council, it's an area where we are not matching our lips with our moccasins. It sounds wonderful, but to really emphasize the interconnectedness means that we would fight less within each of these tribal communities.

And frankly, I've never been to a tribal community, and I've visited several hundred in my life, that is startlingly different from another. As a matter of fact, when people come to Mashantucket, I tell them, 'Don't be confused by the cars and the houses. This is the res.' It might be a little bigger or a little prettier -- same issues, frankly. Wealth has intensified some of those community, social, cultural issues that we face. We're thankful to have the means to deal with those things, finally, but we've got to emphasize connectedness, because all of the other things bring us into our own individual boxes. And everything in this American culture is so individualized and so disconnected from anything, that what that value of 'the connectedness of all things' is one of the most important traditional values we should keep in mind and turn into the action that Regis articulated as well as anyone could. Thank you."

David Gipp:

"Regis, I think you summed up quite a few things today, at least from our perspective and from the tribal perspective, and where we're going hopefully. Let me jump to the next question. And it's a question for you, and other leaders, and everyone here, I think. And that's the question that our Assistant Secretary is posing and he's talking about modernizing the BIA. I don't know if you heard his remarks this morning. And I thought some of them made very good sense as compared to what I heard you say out in...which was the introduction of that thought. And I know you're running around the country trying to get ideas of what that means as well, at least that's what I hear. Comes that question, and that's part of what you have raised is, where are we going to go with this? And how are we going to deal with this? Because the immediate question is, now we have a new trust office that's been put in place, and it's supposedly doing all of these wonderful things for us in terms of managing our trust resources, and being accountable, and somebody mentioned the word transparency, and perhaps we'll see this someday from the U.S. government and truly see what they've been up to all these centuries. But the other issue is, what happens with the rest of the functions within the Bureau of Indian Affairs? Particularly as our tribal nations assume more of these, I'll just say, jurisdictional issues and more of the issues that relate to sovereignty and who and what we're all about. What happens to the government in the meantime, and the U.S. government? And what role does it play? And how will it play that role? And where do we put it in its place, if you will, as we talk about this new, if you will, evolution that's beginning to take place? And I think that's a very real question, because the government can surely be, as we know, stand in the way and create even more problems than it has in the past. Or it can be, indeed, potentially a partner, if we make it a partner. And how do we do that?"

Oren Lyons:

"Sovereignty is the act thereof. No more. No less. And it's a French word. It talks about kings. It talks about absolute monarchal power, absolute. That's what sovereignty comes from. But we came to understand it to mean control of your own future. When we talked this morning about the landing of our brothers here, and not too far away from right here, and they saw the Indian come standing out of the forest. And they looked at him and the word was, 'We'll never tame that man.' And all they ever saw was a free person. That's what they were looking at, was a free person. And that's what we all were at one time. And it's absolutely [certain] that we have to go back to our original teachings to move into the future because they're fundamental, they don't change. Principles don't change. Everything else changes, but principles do not. So as we move forward, we've changed as well. I would imagine that if we were to talk to our counterparts 200 years ago, if they walked in here, they wouldn't know who we were. They'd say, 'Well, whatever happened to our people?' We change. And 100 years or 200 years from now, we'd look at what's in the future and we'd say, 'Well, whatever happened to them?' But if you keep your principles, the main core principles, you can change all you want and nothing changes.

And so I think that it's true that there's going to be outside forces, this global warming is no joke. It's going to break economies. It's going to break world economies. They're just not going to be able to stand it. They're not going to be able to be spending all their money on wars and fighting because they're just going to be talking about survival. So commonality comes back. The discussion is about water, it's about land, it's about resources. When you talk about sovereignty in a contemporary sense, you're talking about jurisdiction. Who has jurisdiction on your land? And that will tell you how sovereign you are. And so jurisdiction is a very important discussion. How do you maintain that?

The courts have always been unfair but they're extremely unfair these days. I agree with you, it's a very difficult time. There's not been fairness in this country to us, there never has been. Racism is still here, it's still rampant, doesn't take much for it to come up. It does not take much for it to pop right up and look you in the face. So we're in a time, I guess, where we're going to see momentous changes. And so the spiritual strength that comes from our elders and comes from our nations and our old people, they always talk about the old people. I always remember Thomas Banyacya saying, 'Well, the old people said...' I always liked it when he said that because he was talking about our elders and how they instructed us and how they always looked after us. It was never a question about leadership then.

The problem with today's leadership in Indian Country is the system that doesn't allow you any continuity. You're there for two years, and then you have an election, and you fight each other for two years, and then you start again, and two years later you're -- it keeps you off balance. The traditional system, the old system, where the chiefs were there for life, I'm one of them. I've got 40 years on the bench, so to speak. I've seen a lot, talked to a lot of leaders (Nixon), most of them one time or another. Bob Bennett, I knew Bob. All of them actually -- how they had a short time, problematic time, but meantime back home, back home where we live, things remain kind of constant. You do what you can do, but I think the core values are just what we're going to depend on and we have to just get back to that. The ceremonies that Jim [James Ransom] was talking about as a guideline -- ceremony is what kept us going, ceremony is what makes us unique, it makes us different from everybody. If you were to ask who we are, we're the people who give thanks to the earth. That's who we are. And we do it all the time. And we still do it. It's important and we were told as long as you're doing it, you're going to survive. When you give it up, you won't. Simple as that.

So we're coming into times, hard times. We've had changes. On September 13th [2007] the United Nations adopted the Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. And for the first time in the history of this world they recognized us as peoples with an "s." We fought 30 years for that. Up to that point, we were populations. Populations don't have human rights. Peoples do. That's why we had such a problem. Well, 143 countries voted for us, four voted against us. We know who they were. But the question is why? The question is why? And you have to really inspect that for a reason. We know each other. We've been sometimes allies, sometimes antagonists, but we know each other very well, especially the Haudenosaunee. Those 13 colonies were about as close to Indian as you're ever going to get, Grand Council, the whole works, instructions from our chiefs, democracy. Democracy is from here. It didn't come from overseas. It was here all the time. We were all democratic.

And so we're coming to a crux and it's a tough one. We're involved in it because we're people; peoples, I should say. That was really a benchmark. Now the problems that we had in that final document, we'll be battling in the next 30 years I suppose, if we have 30 years. That's the question. This global warming is extremely fast, it's coming and it's coming faster than you will think. In 2000, we gave a speech at the UN and we warned them then. We warned them then. The ice is melting. It took them seven years to respond to that, but seven years lost. Time's a factor now. We really don't have the luxury of another 100 years. We're going to see stuff very quickly and we best be ready, as leaders, as responsible people. It's coming now. You can't be red, you can't be white, you can't be yellow, you can't be black. You're people, you're a species and the species is in dire trouble as a species. There's nobody in charge of our fate except ourselves. Human beings have their own fate in their hands and how they act is how it's going to be. So they're looking for instructions and right now the long-term thinking is coming forward and the values are coming forward -- our values. And I say that collectively, because I know we all have the same -- I know that. I've traveled into ceremonies all over the place. It's all the same. It doesn't matter what language. It's the same. That's going to come back again. Now whether we can survive, collectively, is going to be up to us. It's just going to be up to us. That's all. So leadership is now coming forward and I think Indian nations have that opportunity. And the stuff that we're doing right here is kind of what you would call getting in shape. You're getting in shape, flexing yourself, getting back to where we used to be, getting in shape for the big one.

And I'm just really pleased and honored for this collection of humanity: common people, common cause, and we have to work together for survival. That's the way it's going to be. Unity -- that's what the peacemaker said. Your strength is in unity. One arrow you can break, arrows bound together in a tight bundle is strength. That's what we're doing. We're binding the arrows, getting ready. We've got to take care of each other and help our brother. He's in a lot of trouble and when he's in trouble so are we. There's no way to run. You have only one Mother and when you make her mad you're in trouble. And that's where she is right now. You can't make war against your Mother and that's what's going on in this world, and not without a consequence. So I know next year, when we have the meeting again, there'll be more examples of our abilities and our strength and who we are. It's coming forward and I'm pleased to see that.

I just want to say one more thing about sovereignty. In May [2007], in Halifax, Canada, they played the World Games Box Lacrosse Championships, world championships. And Iroquois Nationals won all through the week and came into the semi-finals and we defeated the United States 14 to 4. And we moved in to play for the gold on a Sunday and we were defeated by Canada by one goal in overtime. And I would say bad call from the ref in there, too. But it was our flag, it was our anthem, and our nation and our boys and they did do well. [Thank you]."

Megan Hill:

"Thank you, Chief. I've been honored and humbled to have been in this room with so much wisdom."

Honoring Nations: David Gipp: Sovereignty Today

Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

President David Gipp of United Tribes Technical College synthesizes the words of the "Sovereignty Today" presenters at the 2007 Honoring Nations symposium, and discusses the direct relationship between a Native nation's effective exercise of sovereignty and its distinct traditional cultural values and identity.

Native Nations
Resource Type

Gipp, David. "Sovereignty Today." Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development. John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. September 27-28, 2007. Presentation.

Amy Besaw Medford:

"We're not just leaving yet. We're hoping that the microphones are still going to circulate around. Dr. David Gipp from United Tribes Technical College, also on the board of governors is going to join me and kind of synthesize some of the things that we've heard today, and set the stage for tomorrow 's discussion. So I hope you humor us, and participate with us, add to things that we may have missed, add to things that you would like to hear spoken about tomorrow, issues that you wanted to bring forward, things you want to further pull out. So without further adieu, Dr. David Gipp."

David Gipp:

"Well, I would say we had quite a discussion going already in terms of reflections and what's going on, and I'm not sure that I can do justice to some of the remarks that have already been made. But I was asked to give some remarks about our first panel and some of the other remarks that have been made throughout the day. It seems to me that every one of the panels -- both panels and the panelists themselves -- have really done a wonderful job of not only telling us what their projects and programs have been and how they're contributing to their particular tribal nation and community, but also how they are really reinforcing that infrastructure which is really critical to all of our lives, as the Chief [Oren Lyons], I think summed it up so well in terms of the world and the future and the generations to come, the seven generations.

I'm a Lakota, a Hunkpapa Lakota. From Standing Rock is where I'm from, from North and South Dakota. And I'm President of the United Tribes [Technical College] in Bismarck, North Dakota. And one of my chiefs, the Hunkpapa, was Sitting Bull, and he was a man who believed in nationhood. He didn't believe in signing treaties and he never signed one to his death in 1890, just shortly before Wounded Knee. And I talk a little bit about that, because you raised the question of what would his generation say about us today and what would they say about even our remarks and our outlook on life. And oftentimes, I listen to some of my leaders out in my region of the country talk about being treaty tribes and bragging about it, when I know that Sitting Bull disdained the signing of treaties because he felt that was the first step towards defeat, the first step towards losing what we call sovereignty. And as you say, we did not have a word for that but other than our nation and the Lakota nation in our word, which was both 'friend' and 'ally' in terms of our translation. And so we look at that and look at the era and the times and how they have changed, and now we look at what happens with U.S. policy and how that continues to affect or disaffect us, I guess becomes the other part of the question.

But I look at the projects today and we know that they really are exemplary. They are the proactive things that we are doing among ourselves, and the creation of good things among ourselves to look at success, because indeed, we are constantly wrapped up with the issues of all of the problems that are out there -- methamphetamine, jurisdictional issues between our states and our tribes, and who takes precedent over whom in terms of how we enforce the laws of our own lands, and how those things are going to be affected, and the fact that we have not enough law enforcement officials on any one of our reserves, any one of our territories. You go to my place at Standing Rock, I think we have six officers full time, seven days a week if you will, to cover about actually, 2.3 million acres of land, similar to your territory in Hopi, similar to our friends at Red Lake. And the issues that are faced there constantly, day in, day out with the lack of adequate, just plain police protection of our own, by our own. And so these are the conditions that every one of our people face back home and have to live with on a day-to-day basis.

I listened to one of my councilmen from Standing Rock recently talk about the issues of gang and how they affect and disaffect rural reservation areas, and how you have to wait hours for a policeman to get there on the site when an incident occurs, and how the community is in fact disenfranchised from itself, and how mothers and fathers and elders are intimidated by those kinds of actions. And we talk about the Mexican influence of methamphetamine, and coming into our communities, and taking advantage of our women. Those are the disparities that we talk about every day.

But what is good about these projects, the Honoring Nations projects, is that they demonstrate clearly what we can do in our own communities by our own tribal nations, and how we can take, if you will, the bull by the horns and begin to reshape what we have in our communities, and do them in successful, in proactive, in positive and in constructive ways that can demonstrate what's so important to our youth and to our elders and to all of the rest of the adults in our communities. That we can create, in fact, our own role models, that we can create our own kinds of models themselves -- whether they are financial in nature or whether they are behavioral in nature -- through the courts or through education systems.

I've been in the business of tribal college development and university development for close to 34-35 years. I've been president at United Tribes [Technical College] for 30 years now, or better than 30 years. We serve nationally about 30-35,000 students around the country, among the 35-36 tribal colleges that are out there today. When we started out, we started out with six tribal colleges. Navajo Nation was at the forefront of creating, at that time, Navajo Community College, now Diné College, and was one of the leaders to help create the movement, if you will. And in North and South Dakota, the core of the tribal college movement began there, and emanated out to places like Montana and other parts of the nation, if you will. But when we started out, many, many academics said we could not do that, (A) because we didn't have enough educated people to educate ourselves, (B) because we didn't have the resources. And the U.S. government testified against us, in the first Senate hearing in October of 1975, and said, ‘Tribal colleges weren't necessary because we already had three institutions funded by the federal government and operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.' We said, ‘No, we want to do this ourselves for ourselves, by ourselves and through and with, and through Indian nations, and to reinforce the sovereignty of Indian tribes.' And some among us even challenged us saying that that is not what we were doing. We prevailed, if you will. At that point, in 1974-75 we had about 1,500 tribal students across the country. We have tribal colleges that are not only doing the two-year programs, but they're doing four-year programs and they're doing, beginning graduate programs. We're moving from a two-year to a four-year institution in the course of three years now -- one in the area of public health, the other in the area of business, a third in the area of law enforcement, because of the disparities that we see across the land, and the fourth dealing with leadership itself, and what tribal leaders need to know.

And that is why I think the beginning kinds of curriculum that we see here, that's been developed through the Harvard Project on American Indian [Economic] Development, are so critical. And all of the things that we're doing in our tribal communities become so, so relevant to what needs to be taught at, and through, and in our Indian communities, whether we have populations in rural reservation settings or in urban Indian settings. We must not forget the fact that we have a large concentration of our populations living in places like Minneapolis or L.A. or Phoenix, Arizona, or Albuquerque and on down the line. We must not leave those young people out of the equation because they are part of us. Some of them are your relatives; some of them are your brothers and sisters. They want a part of Indian Country and they want to be a part of Indian Country, but we must go back and begin to teach them the issues of values, the issues of language, of culture and of what community is about. And that I think is what is epitomized by the projects that we heard today, in all of the panels, in every one of them. Some doing it with resources, some with doing it with few or no resources, but nevertheless doing them and that was how we began the tribal college movement. What was significant about it is that the U.S. government opposed us all the way. And that's when I think of Sitting Bull who said, ‘I will do what I will do and I will prevail.'

I watched this Emmy-winning movie that was produced about Sitting Bull and, quite frankly, it was one of the greatest misrepresentations, at least the film version, of Sitting Bull. Fine that they used Indian actors -- and I'm glad that Indian actors were used as far as part of getting a bit of employment and perhaps some notoriety -- but the story was one of the greatest misrepresentations of who we are: Lakota people, Hunkpapa people, in particular. Some of the story lines and some of the things that were said in that movie were absolutely untrue. I remember the scene in that movie when Major McLaughlin appeared with Sitting Bull and told him that, ‘You will be educated by my schools.' And while that may be truth, in terms of the policy itself, it was a statement that McLaughlin never said, because Sitting Bull demanded his own schools. He had traveled the world, literally, to Europe in the Wild West shows of Buffalo Bill Cody. He came home and he went to one of our beginning, if you will, boarding schools back home in a place called Kennel, South Dakota, on the Standing Rock, and he talked to the children of that school. And what he told them was that they needed to learn the words of the white man, the wasicu. They needed to know how to use them and write them and construct them because he said, ‘If you don't, you will not survive.' He said, ‘I've been out there and I've seen them coming,' and he said, ‘there are so many you can't count them.' He meant like the ants and like the locusts. He said, 'There are so many that are coming.' He said, ‘You will never believe how many there are.' And he said, ‘If you don't learn these ways and these things, you will not be able to defend yourself and you will not have the life that you want.' I know those words were true, because one of those little children in that school was my grandmother and she knew what he meant. Don't give up your ways, but you need to learn and constantly take in all of these other things, and you must not forget who you are, but you must always be sure that you use them in a way that protects you. The adage that he used was, ‘If you see something in the white man's world and on the road, pick it up if it's good. But if it's bad, make sure you throw it away and don't use it, because it's not relevant to you and you'll lose your way.' Part of that is the issue of things like methamphetamines and the alcohol and all of those so-called things that are not a part of our life, because they were not part of our life, at least not among the Lakota, not originally. Now we're battling new kinds of battles.

So I look at what we're doing with the Harvard Honoring Nations, and indeed it's a great honor to have sat with this board and to look at the various projects, because then we get to see all of the wonderful and great things that are coming from America in terms of all of our own people, our own Native American Indian tribal nations. This is a good thing. And so you're at a good table, and there are good things in our road and we can continue to make those good things. That's what I observe today as I listen to all of the wonderful remarks. Yes, challenges, some of them difficult, but nevertheless I think every one of them things that we can use in good ways and make that road a good road, a good red road. We talk about it in the way that we say [Lakota language]: We're all related; we're all connected. There's not one of us that isn't connected. No matter what your language, no matter what your heritage, no matter how you understand your way, we're all connected and that's the way we have to be."

Honoring Nations: James Ransom: Sovereignty Today

Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

Former Saint Regis Mohawk Chairman James Ransom provides his perspective on what sovereignty means today, and stresses the importance of using traditional Indigenous teachings in modern Native nation governance.

Resource Type

Ransom, James. "Sovereignty Today." Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development. John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. September 27-28, 2007. Presentation.

Megan Hill:

"Next, we're going to hear from Chief James Ransom from the St. Regis Mohawk. As we know, Akwesasne Freedom School is a 2005 [Honoring Nations] honoree. Chief."

James Ransom:

"Thank you. I wanted to thank you for the opportunity to speak, and it truly is an honor to be here. I wanted to recognize David Cole from our tribe's economic development staff. He is also here, and you had already met Elvera earlier. Just as introduction to myself, I've been on tribal council now for four years but I've been working for my community for 29 years in different capacities. Akwesasne is pretty unique. We're an international community, half in Canada and half in the United States. And I've been fortunate to work for the tribe, prior to becoming Chief, to also work for the Canadian Recognized Council, as well as to -- I've spent five years working for the Confederacy itself. So I've kind of had a unique life experience of seeing all of our governments in action in different capacities.

What I want to talk about is, to share with you my perspective on sovereignty first. I think that I view it as inherent, as either you have it or you don't. There is no gray area about it. Someone else can't give it to you, and I feel strongly that someone can't take it away from you. I think that the Supreme Court just doesn't get it. They can only suppress it, but it keeps coming back. I think it was [Justice John] Marshall, on the Supreme Court, that called us 'domestic dependent nations,' as you heard this morning. Tell that to, as you heard this morning, tell that to Israel, tell that to China, tell that to Australia, who are looking to us for help today. That's not dependent on anybody. I think that the key to why sovereignty can't be taken away from us is because it's about responsibility. It's about our responsibility to live in peace and harmony with each other. It's about our responsibility to live in peace and harmony with the natural world. As Oren [Lyons] said this morning, it is about our responsibility to ensure that there is going to be a seventh generation.

The one thing that I've learned over the years about it is that it can become the longest four-letter swear word that I know when somebody abuses it. Particularly when individuals defend inappropriate actions by hiding behind it, that's the danger for us. The other thing that I've learned is that if you don't exercise then you can be pretty certain that somebody is going to try to exercise it for you and to your detriment. I wanted to talk briefly about the origins of tribal sovereignty in particular, and I think that -- I've heard a lot of the presentations today -- and the common theme that I keep hearing, resonating, is we need to look inward, we need to look at our culture. And I think the same holds true for sovereignty, that's the key to it. And for the Haudenosaunee, in particular, and I think for all tribes and all nations, we need to turn to our traditional teachings to answer the questions about the origins of sovereignty. And I think that when you're talking about responsibilities that our ancestors knew their responsibilities long before sovereignty was even a word, and that they embodied these responsibilities in the traditional teachings.

For us, you can see it in some of our teachings, like the Thanksgiving address, like the two-row wampum treaty belt, and they serve today as valuable guides on how we should conduct our relationships with others. And when you look at your teachings, look at the principles that underlie them. For us, I think that these principles are based on simple, but powerful words that are just as practical today as they were hundreds and thousands of years ago. For example, in the two-row wampum, there's three principles. The first one is [Mohawk language], or peace, and peace requires action. It doesn't just happen. It means that we have to work at it to achieve it. It means we need to be communicating with each other, always working to maintain the peace. The second principle, we call it, [Mohawk language], or a good mind. And what that means is that we set aside our differences and instead we try to bring our minds together as one and focus on our common interests rather than our problems. The last principle is [Mohawk language], or strength. And strength arises when our words and our actions match. That's what integrity is, that's what ethical conduct is.

In terms of sovereignty today, I thought it was important to set that backdrop to talk about it today. In that, if we look at Indian Country, we are approaching an economic crossroads. Some are already there, some are fast approaching it, others have a ways to go. And I think that the message I try to give on that is that now, more than ever, we need to make sure our decisions are rooted in our traditional teachings. I think it can make the difference as to whether we control our decisions or whether our decisions control us.

I wanted to give Akwesasne as an example to try to convey the message. We've had more than our share of problems, we've had 100 years if not more of industrial pollution. We've seen the destruction of our traditional lifestyles. We have health problems today from this pollution that weren't there before. In terms of education, in the 1950s, we turned over the responsibility of educating our children to the state and the public school systems. Internally, we've struggled as a community. We've struggled in particular to come of one mind as a community.

As I said, we're one community that's international, but we've become a community divided, and it's more than just the border dividing us geographically. Today we have three Mohawk governments. I sit on the elected council on, quote, 'the American portion.' We have an equivalent Canadian federally recognized government on the northern portion of the community, and we have a traditional government, and we [have] a couple of others that are trying to claim to be governments as well. I think to say that we haven't always gotten along is to put it mildly -- anybody who knows our community. If we look at our surrounding area and our region, locally and regionally, we have similar stories to others. We've been marginalized over the years, we've been viewed as being irrelevant, unimportant. We've got the St. Lawrence Seaway and the associated hydroelectric project in our backyard, but we have none of the benefits of that. We certainly have the environmental harm. Our local school district that we send our children to has an arena, has a swimming pool, at one time it had a planetarium, all built with Indian dollars because our students were going there.

So that's sort of a little bit of the past, but today, we're a community in transition, and that's where I want to bring back the traditional teachings. In that, particularly the last 30-40 years, I think we've seen a return to those traditional teachings, an enhancement of them to guide our community. If you look at some of the examples, I don't know if people are familiar with Akwesasne Notes. That newspaper, I think, really was a big part of the renaissance in terms of traditional teachings coming back into our community, and that thinking being reinvigorated. The Akwesasne Freedom School in 1979, and that institution being established. It's literally wrapped in traditional teachings, both in the Thanksgiving address and in teaching in the Mohawk language. What Elvera didn't talk about is the influence the Freedom School has had on the public school system. And what we've been doing the last 10 years in particular is taking back responsibility for the education of our children. I think that we send the majority of our students to a public school system and today over 60% of the students in that school district are Mohawk. It's the only school district in the entire state of New York that has a Native American student population that's the majority. Today, five out of the nine school board members are Mohawk. The curriculum is now incorporating the Thanksgiving address into it. You can go to the school and the Haudenosaunee flag flies alongside the Canadian and American flags, and it has carried over into Onondaga territory and the other territories as well. You can go to graduation now and you can see Mohawks in traditional clothing as an alternative to cap and gown at graduation -- it is a powerful visual sight. If you look at [the] environment, that we've been using the teachings to change relationships with state and federal officials and with industry. We've been using them to explain how we've been harmed from the pollution. We've been able to, by doing this, force -- literally force -- hundreds of millions of dollars of environmental cleanups. We're also using the teachings to restore our agricultural base. We are now planting original Haudenosaunee heirloom seeds in our community. We've planted thousands of black ash trees to support our basket makers. We've now developed an environmental assessment process based on the Thanksgiving address. I think that going forward from here for Akwesasne, and I think for Indian Country, is we need to develop a positive vision for that seventh generation that Oren [Lyons] talked about. In Akwesasne, what that means for us is getting control of our infrastructure.

Right now, we're in the process of forming a tribal electric distribution company and we've convinced the local company to leave our territory and allow us to buy them out and take it over. We're working with the Mescalero Apache, and we hope to form a tribal telephone company. We're working to heal the rift in our community, and that's probably the most daunting task we have. The reason is that, I think it's a trust issue in that the years of distrust work against us and it takes years to build trust. And when I talked about the last principle of [Mohawk language], or the strength, what I've seen is that when our words and actions don't match, it can take years to repair that damage. That being said, I believe our community is well positioned going forward. There is a lot of cooperation going on in the community that wasn't there before. We held a referendum on land claims in 2005, first time in the history of Akwesasne that we held a referendum on the southern portion and the northern portion on the same issue, on the same day, at the same time. And in that same time period, the traditional council held a similar debate over the issue. All three councils came out and the community literally came out in support of the settlement. That's the power of working together. What's changed probably most significantly is how the outside community views us. And I think that we're now getting our respect from our neighbors, our non-Native neighbors, that's been missing for a long time. And in fact we're becoming recognized as the economic hope for the region.

So I wanted to share this perspective with you and again I want to thank you for the opportunity to speak."

Honoring Nations: Kristi Coker-Bias and Allen Pemberton: The Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corporation and the Red Lake Walleye Recovery Program (Q&A)

Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

Honoring Nations symposium presenters Kristi Coker-Bias and Allen Pemberton field questions from the audience about the Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corporation and the Red Lake Walleye Recovery Program.

Resource Type

Coker-Bias, Kristi and Allen Pemberton. "The Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corporation and the Red Lake Walleye Recovery Program (Q&A)." Harvard Project on American Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. September 27-28, 2007. Presentation.

Alfreda Mitre:

"The next question is from Ben Nuvamsa, chairman from the Hopi Tribe."

Ben Nuvamsa:

"Thank you. I just wanted to thank you for all the good work that you're doing out there for Indian Country, all of you. I just have a question for Kristi Coker on your program. Most of our reservations are isolated out there and we typically have a difficult time attracting businesses, or at least the financial, the banks and so on, out on our reservations. My question to you is, your population, was that a deterrent in trying to get the banks or that kind of financial [institution]? Maybe you took the matter into your own hands, but it seems like that's something that may be a challenge for most of us. And how did you overcome that obstacle? Because we are faced with that -- we would like to have some banking institution out there, but it's because of our isolation it's often difficult for us to do that. By the way, we're Hopi, we may be short but we walk tall."

Kristi Coker:

"Well, we did take matters into our own hands. In 1994, we bought a struggling bank, a national bank, the tribe did. And why we started the Community Development Corporation in 2003 is that traditional financing, traditional financial institutions, just weren't the answer for the Native American community. It was a great enterprise for the tribe and it's a great financial institution, but so many people just needed the handholding and just were leery of banks still. And so even though we have our own bank there, there was a need for a non-traditional, flexible, self-regulated financial institution that is geared toward your mission, geared toward your market.

There's a lot you can do with a CDFI [Community Development Financial Institution]. You can do a credit union, and a credit union is the answer for a lot of Native communities. Oweesta even has some upcoming training. I'm on the Oweesta board, if you couldn't tell. But Oweesta has some upcoming training on ‘does your native community need a credit union?' And it's actually online and over the phone and so that might be something you want to get involved with. But a CDFI can do a lot, as you see. We're doing financial education, we're doing credit counseling, we're doing commercial lending, micro loans, larger loans. So we're doing loans from $2,000 up to $750,000. So we have a wide range of loans.

And we have had a tremendous amount of interest from private foundations, from the large national banks. They don't understand how to do lending in Indian Country and a lot of them, through the Community Reinvestment Act, have incentives to do this type of work. So one of the things they can do is they can fund CDFIs in Indian Country to do this work for them. If they're not interested in doing that, you could at least engage the local institutions in financial education as trainers and curriculum they may have.

I think what's so neat about the CDFI -- and the Treasury Department has been an amazing department, as far as a partnership with tribes. They have set up very comprehensive, coordinated programs and actually give you the training and technical assistance along with the money. And one of the things about being a CDFI, for those of you that don't know, our incentive, one of our incentives was for every non-federal dollar you can raise, you get that matched dollar for dollar from the Treasury. So a lot of my time goes to fundraising efforts and those sorts of things.

But I think what's so neat is the flexibility of it. It's regulated by the tribe, by the board of directors of your community development financial institution, and that it meets the needs of your people. You design it around your people. It looks many different ways. Some CDFIs are doing housing, some CDFIs are just doing IDAs [Individual Development Account] or just micro loans. You gear it toward your mission and your market, which is kind of driven by a study. It all kind of starts with a market study to determine what the needs are. Is there a housing need? Is there a business loan need? Do we have a gap?

Another thing that we're doing is even helping with gap financing for banks. A lot of the times even existing businesses that have assets, that have collateral, that have financial records, and those types of things, most of the time you can only get 80 percent financing at a bank and they just don't have 20 percent cash to inject at that time. So we're able to come in and it would actually be a bankable project through a bank and we're actually able to come and do the 20 percent.

So I think there's lots of creative things you can do and lots of opportunities and I would recommend exploring developing your private sector."


"Next question is from JoAnn Chase."

JoAnn Chase:

"I have a question for Red Lake. Obviously, so many of the stories that we have heard, they're very moving components to how initiatives and programs came to be. And one of the most moving ones for me, during my involvement with this program, was the fact that your own fishermen chose, they voted actually to vote themselves out of a job in economic situations which were absolutely dire. And so that told me that you obviously spent some significant time with your own community and working with the community. I'm wondering if you might just talk just a little bit more about what went into engaging folks, to the point that they would take a very deeply sacrificial decision in order to replenish the lake, and some of the aspects of the dialogue or the efforts that you, as a program, had to undertake in order to get the community to really buy and support and ultimately make very deeply sacrificial decisions."

Allen Pemberton:

"I wasn't actually at the meeting, but there was a lot of talk. Some people didn't want to do it, but I think the majority of the people seen that they just weren't getting the catches that they were in years past, and if they didn't do something now it would never come back.

I think looking at the records and some of the stuff that happened years before -- like about six years earlier we had a really big year class of female walleyes. And, as we all know, we have to have females to keep moving in this life. And there was -- the fishery guys that I talked to, they did the spawn nets every year and there was like -- they'd get like 100 males in the net and no female. And what happened was that -- If they would have just stopped like five years before, which is pretty hard for them to do because they were really catching the walleyes that year, and if they would have just stopped then, knowing what they know now, maybe we wouldn't have to quit for ten years [because] there was that nucleus of fish out there at that time, but they got hit pretty hard by the nets and stuff. And I think a lot of the people back home now, they're worried about -- that's why they told us to take a cautious look at what we do from now on. We've go to protect that resource.

One of the things the old people, the chiefs, and people called it, that lake was our freezer. As long as you have fish in there we're never going to starve. There are so many things that move to these days. Like my grandpa, he told me, there's another -- I have a hard time talking about him because I loved him. He told me, 'There's another lake under this lake.' That was one of the kind of -- the fish will come back, there's another lake under here. And a lot of people to this day still think that there is one there, but I don't know. It's kind of hard to -- it's in my heart to take care of our land. The fishermen are -- right now, they're looking at a different way of taking fish because a lot this, what happened was -- they all know it. All of them were older guys and now there's ten years of people, almost a generation of people, that didn't go out into the lake and do any fishing.

So the lake, our lake is -- I always remember what Pat Brown said, our fishery biologist, when he first came to Red Lake just before they started the recovery. He came from Wisconsin (another Packer fan), but he says to me, he said, ‘Man, I walked up to...I got to DNR [Department of Natural Resources] and I looked out on that lake and said, ‘Oh, man, how am I ever going to bring this thing back? I can't even see the other side of the lake. It's just monstrous.'' It's the sixth largest fresh water lake in the United States. He just said, ‘Oh, man, are we ever going to be able to bring it back?' It was a big initiative. And actually, the DNR took a big step forward in that. And really, Dave Connors, and there's a lot of people to thank that were non-members, but they were hired by the tribe to help us bring this lake back and it's back bigger than it ever was. The numbers show that there's more fish in our lake than there ever was.

And I think one of the things that happened throughout -- when I first got on the council we went to a game one time. I always like to tell this story. Red Lake was playing in Grand Forks, which is about 90 miles away. Basketball -- it's a big thing on our reservation. So everybody went. And we were coming home, and my wife -- we were riding down the road between Red Lake and Redbye coming home -- and I said, ‘Man, what is that on that truck?' We seen these red lights coming and I said, ‘What is that?' It's almost covering the road. And we got closer and there was a plane, there was a plane on the back of this truck. These non-members came and they flew up and down Redby, which is the district I live in and represent, and they landed on the lake and started fishing, which is -- the fishing, you can come buy a permit on our reservation to fish the small lake but the big lake is only for [band] members; only members fish that lake. So we guard that with our lives. So people are calling the cops. I suppose these guys thought, ‘Oh, these Indian tribes they don't have no game wardens. They ain't going to care if we go fish on their lake.' They knew where they were. And what they did was they landed and started fishing. And game wardens went out and arrested them, took their plane away.

They were coming down -- Then when I come home, it was like my first year on the council and we were getting bombarded, the council was, with ‘What are you going to do with this?' Because we really can't...in our laws -- it's one of the things we've been working on now -- that we can't do anything to non-members. If a non-member comes [and] punches me, we can't take him to court. The federal government would probably slap his hand and, ‘Go ahead. Go ahead and land on the lake some more if you want. It's only Indians that live down there.' But one of the things that I said at that time, I said, 'We should just keep that plane because there's going to be more people coming, thinking that they can trespass on our land.' But we said, ‘Well, we'll be good neighbors and give it back to them.' Like we've been catching heck over that for the last -- I think at the Honoring Nations deal I was telling them, I said, ‘If we would have kept that plane I could have flew out here to Sacramento. I would have been a pilot by now.' One of the things that happened after that, they did get fined a lot. It wasn't the best plane in the world. But you have to, as Indian people, you have to stand up for your rights.

We own that land in Red Lake. It's all owned in common. It's a closed reservation. We own all the land there. We have hunting and fishing rights and we never ceded our lands to the federal government. I'll just let you know that they had a game warden that was for the State of Minnesota, and it seemed like we have a pretty good relationship with them now, but this guy kind of threw like a wrench in it last spring. They didn't care about our lake before, but now that the walleyes are back, ‘Okay,' they said, ‘All right, Red Lake, you don't own that lake. You own the land under the lake.' Uh, okay? Well, they were citing some kind of court case in Montana, but those people in Montana they allotted their land. So it was more of a waterways issue. We talked about it and we said, ‘Well, Red Lake's totally different than that tribe. We own our land. And they said, ‘Well, I'm going to bring a bunch of people over there and we're going to fish on your lake.' I'll tell you, a lot of people at home said, ‘Well, bring it on.' There's going to be -- we're going to fight for our land again. If it comes to that, that's what's going to happen. But it never did. But just that part of it, we have to always be on our toes as Indian people because there's always somebody out there that wants our land. They put us on land that they didn't think anybody wanted. But it's our land and we've got to take care of it.

This guy -- I had an old man call me one time, he was an older fellow, a white gentleman and he said -- I got this call at my office --and he said, ‘Yeah, you know, I don't like that that you guys took this boat away from this guy 'cause he went across the line and then you guys had machine guns in there. The game wardens had machine guns.' And I said, ‘Well, they weren't machine guns. They were issued arms for their work. You guys were a mile onto our land. You knew where the -- we put GPS -- they had GPS ratings with the state and all this stuff. And they knew where they were at, but yet they came on to Red Lake to fish. So our game wardens had time to go all the way to Red Lake, which is about 40 miles away from the Upper Red Lake, get their boat, come back and them guys were still fishing on our side of the lake.' And this old guy tells me, he says, ‘Oh, I don't think -- then that plane. You guys kept that plane.' I said, ‘Well, we didn't keep the plane. We gave the plane back.' I said, ‘I just want to say something to you.' I said -- I was trying to do it in kind of laymen's terms and be nice to him too, but I said, ‘If you owned 100 acres and you had four or five really nice bucks on your land and I knew about it. And just before deer season I came over and shot all four of those deer...' I said, ‘How would you like it?' ‘Well, I wouldn't like it,' he said. ‘Well,' I said, ‘it's the same thing here.' I said, ‘We own this land. It's not owned by the state. It's not owned by the government. It's owned by the Red Lake Band of Chippewa.' I said, ‘We all own it in common.' He said, ‘Well, I kind of understand now.' I said, ‘But one of the things that I think a lot of people don't understand is that they think that no matter what it's everybody's land, but it's not.' That's one of the things that's unique about Red Lake. And like I said, the chiefs for -- they had some real good insight to keep that land for us. And we have to -- we, as a council and people, have to protect that [because] that's our land.

I think one of the things I forgot to say earlier was that the tribe recently served notice to the Secretary of the Interior that they will no longer abide by the federal regulations governing the fishery. We are going forward and determine our own quotas. Every year it'll change depending on how many fish we have in the lake. It'll no longer be -- we won't have to go see Big Brother to say, ‘Hey, is it all right to go and take some of our own fish? Can you guys sign off on this?' I think one of the things I always laugh about, at the DNR when we went Self-Governance, they kept one person there to sign off on things. The guy didn't, the guy really didn't like what I said to him, but I always told him, ‘Oh, yeah, we better get our Indian agent in here so we can make sure that we're doing things the right way.' He didn't like that. That's about all I've got to say. Thanks."

Alfreda Mitre:

"Thanks, Al. One of the recurring themes that you're going to see throughout the symposium here is -- that's going to make this symposium a little bit different is -- the love of the land. We are who we are because of the land. The only thing American about America is us. Everything else was imported into this country and I think that's important. You can see, and you'll probably see throughout the symposium, the love for the land inspires the programs that are put forth to Honoring Nations. No one can tell our story better than we can. When westerners do something in their neighborhood that they don't like, they can move to another city, they can move to another town, they can move to another neighborhood. We are truly connected to the land and therefore no one could love the land or protect it better than we can. So that's going to be a recurring theme, and I want to again thank you all."