Annie Wauneka

Peterson Zah: Addressing Tough Governance Issues

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Former Navajo Nation President Peterson Zah shares the personal ethics he practiced while leading his nation, and discusses how he learned those ethics from his family and other influential figures in his life.

People
Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Zah, Peterson. "Addressing Tough Governance Issues." Emerging Leaders seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. March 26, 2009. Presentation.

"Good morning. (I don't want to swallow this. It's so small.) I wanted to thank Steve [Cornell] for the introduction. I also wanted to give you two views about ethics. One of them is the written laws that your tribe may have, certainly with ours we do have that. And those are rules and regulations that governs the conduct of people who are elected to be responsible for your tribal government. The way I look at that is that that's a white man's law. It's in black and white and it has to deal with drugs, alcohol, conflict of interest, nepotism and those kinds of things. I always look at that law as, it's law written for the people that don't really have ethics of their own that's in their heart and it's in their mind that was given to them by their traditional people. They never really had that upbringing that they had, for example, with my coming from a highly traditional Navajo family and that's built into the tradition. So that is something that the Navajo Nation has. And then the second portion of the small presentation here is going to deal with the tradition, your own personal ethics. We each have that and you're the only one that knows that. To talk about it and how important that is in governance, in governing your people and governing a lot of the activities that go on in your nation. And so that will be my second presentation. However, I'd like to tell you a little story before I start.

Yesterday, as I understand, you were introduced to some of the Native American students that came from Arizona State University. And just indicate that the Navajo people love their children so much. And they are one of the groups of minority that I know of that really emphasize education, how important that is in life. And I guess because of that, we have today over 10,000 Navajo children that are going to colleges and university, supported by the Navajo Nation government through a scholarship service, supported by their own families, supported by many of the other entities that provide scholarship out there for Native American students and then many of them supporting themselves because of the traditional family instilling into them how important education is, what they can acquire during their lifetime. So that tradition lives on at ASU and we never really do things without our children. So I just wanted to congratulate Michelle [Hale] for continuing those traditions by bringing down some of these students that you met the other day. And you have to do things with your kids, with your children. You have to bring them on, bring them along, you have to educate them by example and by hearing a lot of these discussions that we have here today. And so I also just wanted to congratulate and welcome the students that we have here from Navajo and Apache.

The story is this: I got elected in 1983, and something like three or four days after the election I went back to my family in the center of the Navajo Nation called Low Mountain. We were in effect really celebrating among our own family members, my sisters and my brothers and my dad and my mom, aunts, uncles and grandmas and the grandpas were all there. And in the morning we had a lot of discussion, discussion around issues, politics, who all voted, how many people voted in that community of Low Mountain and all of that. And my dad at that time was about 85 years old. He could hardly walk, but he loved to herd sheep on horseback. So every morning, he would get his horse and he would saddle up his horse and then he let the herd out and then he came along on horseback to herd sheep. He says, "˜I'm doing this because I can't walk. I'm not as strong as I used to be and I can't run when the sheep tries to run off in the distance and so I have to have a horse.' But when he got on his horse, he wanted to pick up something that he had forgotten. The night before we were involved in local politics at Low Mountain, the discussion of how many people voted. And there was only one guy, one vote from my community that vote against me, that voted for the other party. And everybody was talking about who might that be. We were all discussing. In the morning my dad got on his horse and he also was talking about three or four days before there was a coyote that came into the herd and by god it killed one sheep and he was really ticked off about it. So brothers went over to the trading post, they got him some bullets and he had one of these 30/30 rifles that he always kept and it was always in his room. Well, he got on his horseback and he came to the front door and he says, "˜Gilbert, I forgot my rifle. Can you go get it and make sure that you also give me some bullets?' And my sister came out and she said, "˜Oh, you're going to finally kill that coyote that killed one of our sheep.' And my dad said, "˜No, I think I know who voted against us.'

A sense of humor is also very, very important as we discuss ethics, because when people violate certain ethical behavior expected of you or they violate the standard of conduct, it's a sad, sad thing. And my dad always had this sense of humor that was extraordinary about him. He was a member of the Navajo Nation Code Talkers, a trained code talker. And one day when I was just a young man way back in the early '40s, he told a story about how he was being taught to use the language. And he says, "˜When I go back and I'm having this furlough on a vacation in effect for the next two or three weeks and to spend the time with all of you. And then when I go back to San Diego, we're going on a ship and we're sailing to Japan. And we're going to be on the front line in combat using our language as Navajo Nation Code Talker.' So he, we had a ceremony and a sing and the medicine man painted him and all of that, did some prayers and he went back into the service. We said our goodbyes not knowing what the war may bring to [this] individual. But we were so surprised that a month later he was back. So I asked him and I said, "˜Dad, what happened, you're supposed to be in the war?' He says, "˜Oh, don't you know that Japan surrendered?' He says, "˜They knew I was coming.' A sense of humor in talking with groups of people in Navajo culture is very, very important, and it also has to do with ethics. So I wanted to just tell you that story.

Now, something about white man's law. Those laws are being enforced as we set it up in 1983-84. Because the courts were so overloaded with cases, we decided maybe the best thing to do is create a committee of the council that would get all of those ethics complaints that the Navajo Nation gets; that it would be the eight members that would act as a court, as a judge, as a forum where people can take their complaint to hold those hearings. And so basically the Navajo Nation has that system and people are encouraged to file these complaints with the ethics office. And when I checked last week about how those are going and how they're being handled and what are some of the most prevalent cases that we may bring to your attention -- and I do this because I want you to avoid them as much as possible -- on the Navajo Nation, the number one complaint is financial malfeasance or misfeasance, misuse of money. And that is happening because the Navajo Nation has decentralized its government.

We have on the Navajo Nation a government with over 300,000 people, 17 million acres of land and 110 chapters, local units of government. The Navajo is highly centralized and it has [an] 88-member council. So what the Navajo government did is they passed a law called the Local Governance Empowerment Act and that gave the chapters some authority, given to them by the Navajo Nation government, and they exercise those authorities at the local level to do what needs to be done. Along with that act, they also gave them some resources, some money to administer and that's where a lot of the misuse occurs. We also have 138 schools with 72 or 75,000 Navajo children going to school. So you have school board members, superintendents and principals that have all those duties to run those schools out there. There's a lot of misuse, misappropriation of funds. So it's the ethics office that handles those for the Navajo Nation. So number one is the financial malfeasance.

Number two is the conflict of interest. You all are familiar with that conflict of interest, where you have to avoid the conflict, where you have to not only avoid the conflict itself but every appearance of conflict you have to avoid because people interpret that a little different. And there's also a hazy area: what is meant by conflict of interest? I served on Window Rock High School Board for about, oh, maybe 12 years in my younger days. And every time a relative's contract would come before the board I always left the school board meeting either completely -- not participate in the discussion, particularly the voting -- or I went outside and took a smoke with some other guys in the community as it was being discussed; then coming back. That is a responsibility of the elected official to tell your colleagues that, "˜There may be a conflict here for me. So I'm going to try to avoid it by being outside. And you can always call me back in when you guys are finished with it.' The best way to avoid those is you yourself have to do that. So conflict of interest is high on the list for cases that are being handled by the Navajo Nation, the Ethics and Rules Committee.

The next one for Navajo is also very high, nepotism. You all heard about that, right? Nepotism, because we all say we're related to each other by clan. So the law has to be very, very careful in terms of how it states it and then how they enforce it because on the Navajo everybody is related to you. Everybody is related to you, especially when you get elected. They all come to you and they say, "˜I am your cousin or I am this,' and all of that. And so nepotism is one of those, like a conflict of interest case that's sometimes very hard to handle. Sometimes the courts can't deal with all of it. If we were able to put all of these things in court, our courts would be just loaded up with these kinds of issues. And so we try to have the local Navajo Nation government committee handle all of that.

And the last one that we have to deal with very carefully -- and there's a lot of that -- is courtesy to the employees. The elected officials misusing their power by the fact that they're members of the council and members of this committee using that authority and power and forcing an employee to do something that they shouldn't be doing. That's also high on the list of those cases being heard by the committee. And so we should as tribal leaders avoid all of this as much as possible.

I took office on the Navajo Nation in 1983 and we were in a terrible, terrible situation where the people or the person that I was running against was tried in federal court twice over misappropriation of money. And when your leader, the top guy, does that, then all of your other officials, their fuses go haywire; they want a part of the action. So when that happens, you have a complete breakdown of tribal government organization and function, especially when it comes to ethics; terrible, terrible problem. And that's what we faced when we went into that office. I even had people came to me when I first went to the Navajo Nation as chairman, some of the first few days where people were lined up outside -- Peabody Coal Company and all these other businesses that do business with the Navajo Nation. They wanted and they were expecting the same kind of favoritism that was given to them by the other tribal leaders.

I even had a guy come to me and he says, "˜Can you take a minute or two? I'd like to measure you, your arm, your chest, how tall you are.' And I said, "˜Why? We're here to talk business. Why do you want to measure me?' And the guy says, "˜Well, I think you'd look really, really sharp if you had a good suit on. If you had a blue striped suit with a nice necktie you'd look real sharp.' And I said, "˜Oh, my god.' I said, "˜You know, I like this and I like the way I dress. There's nothing wrong with it. It has nothing to do with my mind.' And he said, "˜Well, maybe the next time you're in Denver you can stop by and see us because we want to make you look nice.' [It was] very tempting because I didn't really have any decent clothes to wear, but my traditional family always said, "˜Be who you are. You're a traditional person by nature.' And that always come to mind when there were people who wanted to bribe you because that was the normal way of doing business in Window Rock. And so I wanted to just tell you and that's the standard of conduct that was issued by the Navajo Nation.

The next one is your own personal ethics. We each have our own personal ethics that was given to you by your tradition, by your families, by your grandmas and your grandpas. And you have to live by those; you have to live by those. Not only that you should know about it, and a constant reminder that that's what your traditional people taught you, but you have to live it, you have to be committed to it and you have to really practice that, because the only thing you have after leaving that office is your reputation. Yes, it was nice when I was in office because I had all these resources to help people with. But, when you leave office you don't have all of those resources. You have just you. You have just you. I am probably enjoying the best part of my life right now because I didn't commit anything and people know about it. You'll be surprised how many people follow your careers. They know about every little goof that you made, but they have a lot of respect for you if they never read bad things about you or never heard anything that's terrible about you. I'm really enjoying that right now because everywhere I go people respect the way you live. On the Navajo Nation with all of that money, I always tell people, I said, "˜See these five fingers, ten fingers. Millions and millions of dollars went between those fingers and not once did I put a dollar in my pocket. That belongs to the Navajo people. That belongs to your constituents.' I tell my friends, even in my own house. Yesterday I was driving this way to come to this conference, in my garage I saw a quarter and my wife says, "˜Hey, there's a quarter here.' And I said, "˜I'm not going to pick it up. That's not mine. That's not my quarter. It may be my grandson's, but whatever it is, it's not mine.' So I left it laying there. It's somebody else's quarter in my family. So you have to really, really practice those traditions when you go into govern your people and I think that's a very, very valuable thing to keep in mind.

I probably had the best teacher when I went into become a tribal chairman. There was a lady named Dr. Annie Wauneka. You probably heard some about her, probably read books about her. And she did some wonderful things in her life for the Navajo people. She was probably the best teacher. She always taught me these values. When I first decided to run, she said, "˜I'll support you. I'll go wherever you go.' So I would go to my first campaign rally at the chapter house. Boy, I would talk about my degrees. "˜I'm an educator, I got my degree from the university, I had these experiences, I was a legal service director,' and all of that. On the way back home after that rally she says, "˜My god, don't talk about that.' She says, "˜Don't talk about that. We, the Navajo people, don't value all of those things as much as maybe you do.' I said, "˜What do you want me to talk about?' She said, "˜Talk about your clan. Talk about your grandma, your grandpa. Talk about the fact that you were raised in the hogan. Talk about your corral where you keep your sheep. Talk about your dry farm and your field where you plant your corn and your beans and the squash -- all of those things that your family plants.' She says, "˜That's self-sufficiency; you don't rely on anybody else except yourself to live a decent live, a good life. Talk about your values, Navajo values. Not your master's degree, no.' That was Annie Wauneka trying to teach somebody who [she] thought was electable, but he just needed to say things a little more differently. So I probably do a lot of those things that my mother, my grandma, grandpa and what Annie Wauneka stood for. And those all had to do with ethics. One of the other things that Annie Wauneka said was, "˜Don't take things that don't belong to you. Don't ever think that it's nighttime. Nobody will see me. There's no one around. It's nighttime.' She says, "˜The night is your cheii'. The darkness is your grandfather. The people who are no longer with us, they turn into these great spirits and so your grandfather may be the night. You'll be taking things in front of your cheii', your grandfather. So don't you ever think it's dark time. Nobody's seeing it and so you're doing these crazy things.' Good lesson from a traditional person.

So my contribution to you today as young leaders, emerging leaders, is to live by those principles that have always been taught to you at a young age. And you'll be surprised at the end of your life, towards the end of your life how important those values are. Live by it, practice it. [Navajo language] Thank you." 

Native Nation Building TV: "Leadership and Strategic Thinking"

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Guests Peterson Zah and Angela Russell tie together the themes discussed in the previous segments into a conversation about how Native nations and their leaders move themselves and their peoples towards nation building. They address the question all Native nations have: How do we get where we want to go?

Citation

Native Nations Institute. "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.

Mary Kim Titla: "Welcome to Native Nation Building. I'm your host Mary Kim Titla. Contemporary Native nations face many daunting challenges including building effective governments, developing strong economies, solving difficult social problems and balancing cultural integrity and change. Native Nation Building explores these complex challenges and the ways Native nations are working to overcome them as they seek to make community and economic development a reality. Don't miss Native Nation Building next."

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[music]

Mary Kim Titla: "The challenges facing contemporary Native leaders are daunting. Typically, they are expected to do everything from defending and expanding the sovereign powers of their nations to tackling day-to-day social issues to finding ways to improve the future of their fellow citizens. Leadership can be tough. You get blamed when things go badly and sometimes fail to get credit when things go well. Today's segment examines what Native leaders are doing and can do to rebuild their Nations and forge a vision for their long-term futures. With me today to discuss leadership and strategic decision making are Peterson Zah and Angela Russell. Peterson Zah, a citizen of the Navajo Nation, has twice served as his tribe's chief executive, first as chairman from 1983 to 1987 and then as president from 1990 to 1994. For the past ten years, he has worked at Arizona State University, where he serves as advisor to the President on American Indian Affairs. Angela Russell, a citizen of the Crow Nation of Montana, currently serves as Chief Judge of the Crow Tribal Court. She previously served as a member of the Crow Legislature as well as the Montana State Legislature. Welcome to both of you."

Angela Russell: "Thank you."

Peterson Zah: "Thank you."

Angela Russell: "Good to be here."

Mary Kim Titla: "Leadership. Peterson, you know best about that I think, and I'm sure Angela can give us her advice as well, but why don't we start out by talking about just leadership in general and how it is so critical to our Native nations as they move forward."

Peterson Zah: "I think it is perhaps the most important issue today, mainly because of all of the questions that are being raised about Native leadership. The issues that we face as Indian nations, there are questions thrown at the Indian people regarding the sovereign powers of [an] Indian tribe, the social problems that we have on our reservation, things that we never ever thought will come to the reservation is now on the reservation, mainly alcoholism, drugs, the behavior of young people at the high school. Those are very, very crucial issues in the area of education. You also have questions on land, and recently it's the administration of justice on Indian land, in Indian Country."

Mary Kim Titla: "Angela, tell me what you can advise after all these years that you've served on the legislature on the tribal level and state level."

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 nation,s 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."

Mary Kim Titla: "You said something that was really interesting to me and that has to do with criticism. As a journalist, I always like to encourage people to give me constructive criticism and you really have to have thick skin."

Angela Russell: "You do, you do. You have to be able to take a lot of abuse. But there are lots of rewards, too. I think it's a real challenge to be in government, to be in leadership, because we are like third-world countries. There's lots of needs there. We do have resources. We may not have gaming where I live, but we do have a lot of natural resources, and that puts responsibility on leadership to take a look at what can the leaders do that would be best for their constituency. Abuse is there, criticism is there, but I truly believe that with good communication, you can dispel some of the criticism that goes on. You've got to have a good media outlet so that people always know what you're doing. We get very suspicious as human beings when we don't know the full story. We want to know what's going on."

Mary Kim Titla: "Peterson, we talked some years ago about your role as President -- Chairman and President -- of the Navajo Nation, and it really is an overwhelming job."

Peterson Zah: "It really is overwhelming. I see some of our leaders today -- particularly with Navajo leadership -- those people are overwhelmed and they have so much on their plate. They have so many things to do decide and every one of them are crucial. Everything that they have on their mind is important that people bring to them. But one thing that the leaders have to learn how to do is prioritize their work, because you have all of these problems coming at you. You have to sit back and say, 'This issue has a priority over all the others,' because in the representation of your constituency you have to learn how to do that. Number two, I always say that you also have to learn how to delegate responsibilities. You have a certain amount of responsibility as the leader for Indian people, Indian communities. You also have on the other side the council, you also have the tribal courts, and they are there to take on certain issues. You have to learn how to play your role and where those limitations are and be able to have enough trust in your people to say that they'll do a good job of handling those situations and you don't need to be everywhere. And that's where learning how to prioritize your work really comes into existence."

Mary Kim Titla: "We are going through elections constantly, and a lot of times people may come across as being a good leader. But after you elect them, you realize, well, 'Maybe they weren't the leader that I thought they would be.' We make mistakes sometimes in choosing our leaders. How can tribes, tribal people protect themselves from poor leadership?"

Angela Russell: "I think it's real important for tribes to have primary elections for one thing. It's only been recently that we've had primary elections. So people just entered a race and if they won, they won. But now I think we have a little more choice and we like to have our candidates be out there and talking about policy, about their platform. I would really like to see us have our leaders address the state of our nations and that would be research: What is the status of our tribes? What is that poverty level? What is the main economic income that's coming in? What are those potentials out there? I think if we had a State of the Indian Nations, or if it was the Crow Tribal Nation, I think any candidate should address that and say, 'This is what I want to see for our people.' You've got to have that vision. You've got to be projecting what is best for your people. You've got to move away from self interest and you've got to be looking at the interest of the whole."

Mary Kim Titla: "I'm sure you've dealt with that, Pete, with especially all the different delegates and members of the tribal council that you have to deal with."

Peterson Zah: "Well, I think the key is participation. The Indian people who are listening to this program for example, the students, the young people, they should never say to themselves, 'Let the tribal council do it, let the tribal chair, the tribal governor do it.' They have to learn that this is their government, these are their leaders that they elected. They have to learn how to work with them and they also have to participate in the tribal government process. In the process of participating, then you can judge how your leaders are doing. So I believe that's very, very important, because our leaders need to be held accountable for many of the things that they do, and I guess that's why I am in education. I always believe that education can solve many, many things and some people will say and argue with me and say that education can't solve everything. But, by god, education can solve a lot of our problems. It may not solve everything, nothing ever does. But if you have an educated community, people who are aware, people that have had the experience handling the affairs of our tribal nations, then I think we're in better hand as a group, rather than just sitting back and watching the tribal government do something that isn't pleasant to the local people."

Mary Kim Titla: "You touched on what was going to be my next question, and that is the role of non-elected leaders in the community. There are many of them. Can you give some examples of how people can become more active in their tribal government? I know attending meetings would be one thing, but can you give some examples of that?"

Angela Russell: "It's important for legislators, and I was one, you need to get out in the community, you need to let people know what is on the agenda for the next session, and you really need to solicit their participation. I had a woman just a few months ago who said she was really concerned about horses that were just all over the road, dogs that were abandoned and not fed, and why were these individuals having livestock and not tending to them. And I said, 'Well, you know what you can do is talk to your legislator and by the petition route, if you get a signature of 10 percent in your district, you can promote [a] resolution and that may become law.' So I think we need to really encourage people to participate instead of griping. You can say, 'Well, you can do something about that.' Another example is truancy: A lot of kids missing school, suspension of kids from school and somewhere, somehow somebody brought together a truancy bill, and now our students have to be in school 'til they're age 18 and we are going to enforce it. In fact we're getting ready through the court to enforce that shortly. So we need to have people participate. Instead of having a gripe, let's put it into action and do something."

Peterson Zah: "I also happen to believe that those things that really make our tribal government function very well is the people who participate in a lot of those programs, because you can go out into any Indian reservation, you won't have any problem finding the problems. They're there, many, many problems. I think the role of the local people, the non-elected people, is to define some of those problems and then say to themselves, 'How can I make a difference as an individual? How can we, the two or the three of us, make a difference? Let's see if we can do something about this particular problem,' instead of not doing anything, and to do that you have to motivate the young people. In the generations of Indian people that we have on Indian land, Indian Country nowadays, students are completely different than those students that I knew when I was just a young man, and motivation has to take place among those young people for them to begin having them become active in a lot of the social problems that we have on the Navajo reservation, for example."

Mary Kim Titla: "And I'd like to see more of that, young people really taking charge in their communities. I tried to do that as a young person and I'm hearing more from young people about efforts they're doing. In fact one young lady I met recently is going to spearhead a suicide-prevention walk, and I thought that was excellent because as we know, that's a big problem in Indian Country right now. What changes do you see in our leaders today? I know you've touched on this a little bit, but from say 10, 20 years ago, how different are they?'

Angela Russell: "Well, I think that the challenges, the demands of leadership today are just monumental. We're bombarded by so many requirements, so many changes that our societies need and I guess even going back further, I really like this term of enlightened democracy, where people have information, they're educated, they can make a decision looking at all the facts. But I think Indian people have a long way to go yet because we have so much poverty on many of our reservations and it really is a luxury to be participating in government, because a lot of our people are just kind of living from day to day, making sure that they're going to get through the day with whatever needs they may have. And it's not unusual for those of us who live on the reservation and are blessed to have employment, we have a lot of people knocking on our doors, people looking for work, people just looking for money and hopefully if we ever have a secure economic base for our people, then I think that we can start having more participation. Right now, I think it's limited, but I'd like to see that expand, and I think the economic situation is really important to take a look at for all tribes, not only our tribe but other tribes, too."

Peterson Zah: "I think this is probably where we have such a big difference between leaders of 20 years ago and today. If you go back 20 years ago, even in this state here [Arizona], we have Dr. Annie Wauneka for example on the Navajo. We have Ronnie Lupe with the White Mountain Apache Indian nation. Agnes Sevilla with the Colorado Tribe. And if you look at those folks, what did they have? What did they not have, and what did they not do for example? They really didn't have the education that we now have with our tribal leaders, but they have one thing that is so important in my own estimation which is a commitment and education and the dedication that they had to their people and they were honest. They didn't have much money to work with. They didn't ask for let's say compensation for their travel. They did things where the Great Spirit told them to do things. When the Great Spirit moved them, that's when they move and they were good leaders, women leaders in this state, and they were solely dedicated to, for example, eradicating tuberculosis on the Navajo by Dr. Wauneka. And she did all of those while there were no roads on the Navajo Nation and she rode horses, she rode wagons and she used radio, she used the Navajo language to do all of those things that needed to be done. She did not have the kind of education that many of our tribal leaders today have. And so I would say probably today's leaders are less traditional than let's say they were 20 years ago, but 20 years ago those leaders, 40 years ago, you could never outdo them in traditional way of doing things. You could never outdo them in dedication and commitment. I think that's what's missing."

Angela Russell: "I think tradition is extremely important, and for many of our tribes, it's real important to speak our language and to communicate with people through our language. We have a clan system and it's important to include clan members or to give them information. I think tradition is really the backbone of our society so we need to foster that and continue it. But I think if you can deal with tradition as well as trying to develop modern ways of dealing with things, I think that's the best route to go."

Mary Kim Titla: "What about our future leaders, our young people? What advice would you have for our young people who want to become tribal council delegates or tribal chairmen or presidents?"

Angela Russell: "I think that we don't use our young people to the extent that we need to use them. I think the tribe really needs to set up internships, they need to set up fellowships, give people practical experience, have them get their feet wet, so to speak. A lot of young people come home, they may go to college with the intention of coming back and doing something and they may graduate, they may come back, and there's nothing there for them. I remember a young man who just got his degree in civil engineering and he came back and he was really excited about working for the tribe, but the tribe did not hire him. And we have other instances like that. We have to make room in our government to encourage young people to participate and to take some leadership roles."

Peterson Zah: "If you look at the three of us, we came from a family where the tradition was very strong so we were taught by our parents and our grandparents about traditional belief. Now, if you look at the young people that we have today in college, their parents are less traditional, and many of the students that we now have coming from single parents and they don't have as much tradition as what the three of us had. And I think that presents a problem because the young kids today represent a totally different set of values that they have. The values aren't the same and I think that's going to cause some problems for the Indian nation. So we have to go not only to the young people but to the parents that are raising them, and then their children. And so to some degree we're losing the tradition that helped us survive among all of the Indian nations for this long. And the young people should never ever forget that we survived as long as we had because of our traditions, because of our language, because of our culture. Those may not have dollar signs, but they were more powerful than all of the dollars that the tribe gets now, and the young people should never ever forget that."

Mary Kim Titla: "One of the things that I was interested in learning more about from you Pete is this Navajo Nation Permanent Fund. Tell me about that and what made it become a reality?"

Peterson Zah: "I was very, very lucky when I became the tribal chair back in 1983. We had an 88-member council. Most of them were traditional people and a totally different perspective about leadership and about Navajo life and Navajo goals and aspirations. The difference is that back then those were visionary leaders and during that period in the history of the Navajo tribe we won several very, very important court decisions. One of them was Kerr McGee versus the Navajo Nation, a United States Supreme Court case where the Navajo Nation wanted to tax all of the companies that were extracting minerals off Navajo land, businesses that operate on Navajo Nation. We decided what we should do is tax them, and that's been in the works with the tribe for many, many years and so finally the tribe says, 'We're going to tax all of you, as you're being taxed elsewhere, you're doing business throughout the United States.' And so we did and they took us to court. While we were in litigation during the court process, they were paying us escrow funds, the amount of taxes that they're supposed to pay the tribe. So by the time we won in 1984, it had accumulated a huge amount of money in the escrow account, so all of a sudden as a young chairman of the Navajo Nation, $214 or $216 million was dropped on my lap and my job was, what to do with the money? As you know and Angela well know, when you have a tribal council such as what we have among Indian people, they want to spend, spend, spend. And any time you raise the issue of wanting to save you were an oddball. So in my case, I decided that I'm going to go against the grain of what the Navajo Nation Council wants, which is we're going to invest all of these monies, and the one that people always hear about is the Permanent Fund. That is where you establish a permanent account and we put something like $26 million into a permanent Navajo fund and we want that to grow. Back then, from 1984 to 2004, for [a] 20-year period we all agreed that we wouldn't touch that amount of money, and then the Navajo Nation was to contribute 12 percent of its total revenues into that account each year. So you had the $26 million that was earning interest and the Navajo Nation council was also depositing 12 percent of the total revenue each year into the account and that thing grew and grew and grew. And to this day, 2006, we're almost at a billion dollars. And when we reach a billion within the next several years, that money is to be used by the Navajo people after they have a referendum vote, so it's not only up to the council to decide how that money should be used. It's going to be up to all the Navajo voters. We had hearings three summers ago and the Navajo people decided that what we should do is don't use it all. Use only the interest off that one billion. We can handle that but keep the one billion in the bank so that you'll always have money in the bank for a rainy day for example, and only use the interest. And we can use that interest just to keep the tribal government, tribal services going and not ever spend the one billion. So that was the kind of visionary leaders the Navajo council was back then, and I was just very, very lucky as a young person to be in that seat working with them when that thing happened."

Mary Kim Titla: "Sure. And Angela, you have a new constitution."

Angela Russell: "We do."

Mary Kim Titla: "Can you talk about what prompted the tribe to develop this and where did the leadership for that come from?"

Angela Russell: "Well, I think there were only a couple of tribes that had a town council form of government. We were one of them. Our constitution was actually modeled after a Moose Lodge charter, and that was in 1948, so that was the constitution we had. And with mineral development possibilities, with changes in our society, we really needed to be more business-minded, and looking at that old constitution, it wasn't going to work. We had a group of individuals that were part of a committee called the 107th Committee but they -- in discussing where the tribe needed to go -- recognized that we needed changes in our constitution and there were a number of things that they really wanted. They wanted separation of powers, they wanted longer terms for tribal officials, looking at maybe limited waivers of sovereignty. There were a number of things that they looked at and when they looked at the old constitution, it just was not going to work. It was either in conflict or it was so inconsistent that it would raise lots of problems. So back in 2001, actually even earlier than that, many of us who participated in those old councils worked hard to try to look at a new constitution or constitutional reform. I remember I had a resolution before the council -- I think it was 1973 -- just asking for a study to look at different constitutions and bring it back to the council and that was defeated. So it's taken a long time to get where we are, but in 2001 we did approve a new constitution, and that gives you the three branches of government, six districts on our reservation and we have three representatives from each of those districts. And then we have the executive branch and then we have the judicial. If we really are going to move forward into business, it's really important that we have the three branches of government, because a lot of businesses don't want to come on Indian land if they don't feel they have a right to certain things or if they believe their rights aren't being protected. At least the courts provide a forum hopefully to be fair to individuals working on the reservation. So it's new and it's pretty exciting. There are problems that we need to work out, but I think it's moving along."

Mary Kim Titla: "We could talk all day about leadership and issues that our leaders are dealing with in their own communities, but we've run out of time. So I just want to thank you for your insight and your advice. I've learned a lot today."

Angela Russell: "Thank you. It's good to be here."

Mary Kim Titla: "We want to thank Peterson Zah and Angela Russell for appearing on today's edition of Native Nation Building. Native Nation Building is a program of the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy at the University of Arizona. To learn more about Native Nation building and the issues discussed on today's program, please visit the Native Nations Institute's website at www.nni.arizona.edu/nativetv. That's www.nni.arizona.edu/nativetv. Thank you for joining us and please tune in for the next edition of Native Nation Building."