capacity building

This Is What Capacity Looks Like: Building Development Muscle in Rural and Native Nation Communities

The Aspen Institute

It is often said that rural and tribal communities and organizations need more capacity to fully engage or solve problems in their regions. But what, exactly, equals “capacity”? What key components of capacity need to be carefully and intentionally strengthened so that locally led organizations in rural and Native nation communities can more effectively strengthen economies, health and livelihoods for all in their regions? What does it take for rural and tribal organizations to build capacity, and what barriers stand in the way?

Watch this video by the Aspen Institute to hear answers to these questions from national technical assistance providers, Indigenous leaders, and local rural development innovators. Gain insight that can help understand and explain capacity in plain(er) terms – and contribute your perspective to the mix. This event was held in conjunction with the Housing Assistance Council’s national conference.

Event resources


Shonterria Charleston, Director of Training and Technical Assistance, The Housing Assistance Council

Miriam Jorgensen, Research Director, Native Nations Institute & Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

Cheryal Lee-Hills, Executive Director, Region Five Development Commission

Linetta Gilbert, Managing Partner, Gilbert and Associates

Tribal Land Leasing: Opportunities Presented by the HEARTH Act and Amended 162 Leasing Regulations

Ian Record

This NCAI webinar discussed amendments to the Department of the Interior's 162 leasing regulations as well as practical issues for tribes to consider when seeking to take advantage of the HEARTH Act (Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Home Ownership Act of 2012)...

Native Nations
Resource Type

Begaye, Karis and Matthew C. Kirkland. "Tribal Land Leasing: Opportunities Presented by the HEARTH Act and Amended 162 Leasing Regulations." National Congress of American Indians. March 29, 2013. Webinar. (, accessed April 1, 2013)

Closing the Gap: A North American Perspective


This series of lectures is about “closing the gaps”–the socioeconomic and other gaps between Indigenous and mainstream populations in Australia. You might well wonder what a Yank academic is doing leading off such a series. I have to admit that I’ve wondered that myself. And I find myself somewhat intimidated by this audience, including as it does people–both in government and out, both Indigenous and non–who have invested not only good intentions but a lot of energy and intelligence and sheer hard work in trying to address those gaps. My knowledge of the on-the-ground problems here in Australia is modest in comparison to many of yours.

But I’m hoping I can persuade you today that there is relevance in exploring the experience of other countries, for yours is not the only one that faces this challenge. Earlier in this decade, New Zealand government policy toward Maori operated under a “closing the gaps” banner. There’s frequent debate in the news media in Canada about why the Aboriginal peoples of that country continue to languish in poverty. And my own country–the United States–has an Indigenous population that ranks at or near the bottom of the scale in household income, employment, health, housing, and other indicators, all of which lag far behind the American population as a whole...

Native Nations
Resource Type

Cornell, Stephen. "Closing the Gap: A North American Perspective." A Public Lecture Sponsored by Reconciliation Australia. National Gallery of Art. Canberra, Australia. September 11, 2008. Presentation.

Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Professional Empowerment Program


Across Indian Country, programs and businesses depend on skilled, committed, and responsible workers. However, some Indian citizens on reservations have limited experience in the workplace; little education; and face problems finding day care, adequate transportation, and other necessities. Representatives of various programs of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate got together to discuss the challenges of equipping their workforce with adequate skills. The result of these conversations was the Professional Empowerment Program (PEP). Offered six times a year to every employee of the Nation, PEP’s therapeutic model focuses on interpersonal problems and conflicts and provides participants with the necessary tools for maintaining successful employment. It has led to significantly less employee turnover in the tribe’s programs and businesses and a dramatic drop in recidivism in the tribal TANF program. But PEP does even more: it helps people live healthier lives and become more productive citizens of the Nation.

Native Nations
Resource Type

"Professional Empowerment Program". Honoring Nations: 2005 Honoree. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 2006. Report. 


This Honoring Nations report is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development. 

Grand Traverse Band Planning and Development


Faced with a growing land base and an increasing number of visitors to the reservation, the Grand Traverse Band Tribal Council established the Planning and Development Department in 1997 to build capacity within the community to accommodate new needs. The Department addressed its challenge by embarking on a comprehensive planning process that relies on community involvement at both the reservation and off-reservation levels to help identify key community needs. Since its inception, over 400 tribal members have taken part in the Department’s participatory planning process. Together with the community, the Department has overseen the development of tribal regulatory standards, housing initiatives, state-of-the-art public works projects, and plans for public spaces and public buildings. In sum, the Planning and Development Department improves the Band’s internal governance capacity and lays the groundwork for sound community growth well into the future.

Resource Type

"Grand Traverse Band Planning and Development". Honoring Nations: 2000 Honoree. The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 2001. Report.


This Honoring Nations report is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development.  

Can Australia follow Obama's lead?


This article was prompted by US President Barack Obama’s recent commitment to effectively empower American Indian nations to re-build their own decision-making capability. The President recognises that genuine self-determination is not only good public policy but is essential for moving forward. Stephen suggests that in Australia the evidence similarly shows that when Indigenous communities make their own decisions, the outcomes can have a transformative impact on people’s lives. 

Resource Type

Cornell, Stephen. "Can Australia follow Obama's lead?" Reconciliation News, Issue No. 17. Reconciliation Australia. Australia. May 2010. Article.

Patricia Riggs: Making Change Happen at Ysleta del Sur Pueblo

Bush Foundation and the Native Nations Institute

Patricia Riggs, Director of Economic Development at Ysleta del Sur Pueblo (YDSP), discusses how YDSP has developed and honed a comprehensive, multi-faceted approach to ciutizen engagement over the past decade in order to ensure that the decisions the YDSP government make reflect and enact the will of YDSP citizens.

This video resource is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of the Bush Foundation.

Native Nations
Resource Type

Riggs, Patricia. "Making Change Happen at Ysleta del Sur Pueblo." Bush Foundation and the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. St. Paul, Minnesota. February 6, 2014. Presentation.

Ian Record:

“So without further ado, I want to introduce Patricia Riggs. As I mentioned earlier, Patricia is the Director of Economic Development for Ysleta del Sur Pueblo in El Paso, Texas. We’ve worked with Ysleta del Sur for a number of years sort of off and on and we’re often asked to come and teach, do executive education with some of their leadership or program managers and so forth, and what we often find is that we end up learning a heck of a lot more from them than we actually teach them. We consider them one of the breakaway tribes that are really enacting these nation-building principles we’ve talked about and doing it in very culturally distinct ways. Patricia is going to talk about actually making change happen, how did they actually make change happen because they were faced with a crisis about 12, 13 years ago now, 2002, that threatened to really derail the nation and how did they come from that point where, listening to you guys talk, where a lot of your nations are, the struggles that you’re having and how do you actually begin to go down that nation-building road. So without further ado, Patricia Riggs. Thank you very much, Patricia, for joining us and enduring the cold weather.”

Patricia Riggs:

“Thank you very much. I’m really glad to be here. I know I emailed Ian yesterday and asked if it was still on because it was one degrees, and to me that’s like really a catastrophe because we don’t get that kind of weather. So I guess to you it’s pretty normal. I’m here and I’m really happy to be here and I want to share with you some of the things that we’ve done at Ysleta del Sur Pueblo. We’ve actually done quite a bit of work over the last 10 years and I know and I feel how you’re struggling to get everybody involved in what you’re doing. So I’m glad to share the practices of the programs, as well as the strategic plans and how we implemented them at Ysleta del Sur Pueblo.

One of the things that we really truly believe in is citizen engagement and we do it as a comprehensive approach. So we get everybody involved in whatever program or project that we’re working on and at first it was really, really difficult. We really didn’t have a plan, we didn’t have a structure and we just kind of figured it out as we went along, but what we’re doing now is we’re looking back and kind of evaluating our successes and coming up with a model, not just for ourselves, but to share it with other tribes as well, and also teaching that model within our own community to the different programs so that they can follow it.

So as far as community engagement is concerned, we really believe that all our tribal members have to be involved in the planning and decision-making, and especially when it comes to a particular issue. If it’s something that could be life changing for the tribe or has just significant meaning, we make sure that we get that input from our tribal community. And then the other thing is…one of the things is we really try to make sure that it’s not just one group or one person kind of setting the agenda for what we’re trying to change because that involvement from the community is necessary in order to get the buy in for the project. And then also just listening and respecting the community and leadership and elders, all your people that are going to help support this program. So at the end, you get all that feedback that you got for the community and that’s the tool that you use in order to make an informed decision.

So as we worked over the years with the community and we came up with different plans and program models -- as I said earlier -- we looked back and kind of started to look at what we actually did and at first we used things that were like theories and models and things that were developed by academia and what we realized is that all the time we had to tweak them. We were constantly tweaking them to make them meet our needs. So what we determined is really this is what our comprehensive model is at Ysleta del Sur Pueblo.

First you have to have a purpose and a passion. So we all know our purpose as leaders in our tribe, that we’re there to preserve and to do things for our community so that we can build stronger communities but…and so we all have passion for that, but we also have to break down that purpose into more detailed objective so that we can have a plan for what we’re doing. So we also harvest ideas and input from the community and along the way we have to find those core champions. There’s the people that will help you in the community to get things done and then…

So what you’re doing now with this action plan is you’re visualizing and assessing your community and then you’re going to plan. So you also have to measure the outcomes and impacts and at the end you have to have the data that something changed or that something was improved and you have to report the results. And I have ‘report the results’ at the end, but it actually takes place all the way through.

So this is that same model with a little more background to it. So for us the things as far as purpose and passion, includes really looking at what the Pueblo needs are. So our needs are always about our values and our culture and traditions and governance, but then you also break down those things into the other things that are necessary to survive today. So the purpose or the passion for your particular project could be health, education or in my case economic development.

So in regards to harvest ideas and input, what we really found as we kind of worked with the community is that it really is honoring the people. In the work that we do, we need to honor the people and that’s why we need that community engagement because they have something to say and they also sometimes don’t articulate it in the same way that we do because we’re professionals and we’re trained, but they have input that sometimes you’ve just got to bring out from them. And then also we talk about things like historical trauma and just everything that we have to do to survive as a community. So sometimes it’s really hard to get the ideas and input and get community engaged because they have their own things that they’re dealing with. So we have to find different ways to bring it out.

So one of the things that we do is we always talk about community values and figure out how we’re going to instill those values in the projects that we’re working on. So when you’re working with the community, you’ve got to earn that trust. You’ve got to demonstrate to them that what you’re doing is for the benefit of the entire community. So in order to earn that trust, you’ve really got to listen. When we first started listening, we started listening by doing like small advisory groups and focus groups and as time went on, we found that more and more people wanted to communicate what they felt about what we were doing.

So we started doing surveys and…which is not really a traditional way of getting information, but we made sure that the surveys really had questions in them that people cared about and that were going to benefit out community in the long term. And much to our astonishment, people were answering the surveys and we had these open-ended questions where people were just putting these really profound statements that we couldn’t have said any better. And as we started collecting the information, we found like maybe…we found trends and if it was about rebuilding or re-establishing maybe like old pueblo [style] homes, we kept finding those…people had the same concerns. So we were able to report that out and find consensus in that. And then the other thing is we never said who said what, but we put statements and actual quotes and people began to become proud of their quotes actually being in our reports.

We had a lot of community meetings and we did a lot of study, but we always have to report it out, always. So then what we found is we…you have to have those core champions in your community. You have elders and traditional people and opinion leaders. When you have your advisory groups, you get the people that have a lot of influence in different clans or different parts of the community and we brought them along. We also looked at the different partners, youth, as well as employees, and programs. One of the things that I do want to say about using employees is sometimes when we use employees we don’t realize that we saying, ‘Oh, they’re all tribal so that’s our community.’ But what we don’t realize is the employees are usually the ones that are better off and have bigger incomes and have less need than the people that are really out there in the community. So you’ve really got to be careful to make sure that your groups are really truly diversified.

And so what we’re doing right now, we’re creating these action plans. So we’re visualizing what we want to do, and assessing what our community needs are, in order to make that plan. But really what I call it is a shared dream. We have a shared dream to sustain our cultures and our communities both traditionally and economically and unfortunately nowadays we really have to have an economic foundation in order to save our culture and our languages and our traditions and our ceremonies. So we getting the input from communities, we’re able to visualize and to have that statement and create those goals and mission and vision statements.

Of course you set the goals and do all the traditional things that you do in strategic planning here, and so then we measure our outcomes and impacts and that really is about collective success. We’re a community who all have to have some sort of collective success in order to continue to live as a community. But we do those things like, for example, we teach nation building and we do the pre/post tests and we make sure that we increase the knowledge. If we do financial literacy, we make sure that people are actually saving money and that they’re creating bank accounts. And if we do…we have a VITA [Volunteer Income Tax Assistance] program. So we…but you report all those things out to the community and then you report the results.

We have all kinds of ways that we report the results. We have newsletters, we do community, what we call juntas, which is where the community is informed of certain things both business and traditional doings, but it’s a place where the community has a voice and so we also present whatever it is we’re going to…any big project that we’re going to start working on, we present it there. And we have a really good website also.

This presentation has kind of evolved over time and at first we were just doing the presentation maybe to council and the community and we…parts of the presentation we were doing to…presenting to youth council, but now we’re finding that more and more as we build more programs that are more sophisticated that you have to bring consultants in. And a lot of times, our tribal members don’t have certain expertise, so you have to bring those other people in to help you with your programs.

So these four…the 'Five Rs for Tigua' is what we’re calling them is we’re really advocating that people have a job to do and that they need to do it correctly and that they need to consider the community. Note that whatever you’re working on, you’re representing the entire Tigua community and the Tigua people. You have a responsibility to teach, protect, speak up for, ask, inquire, develop trust and stand up for the community. You have to reach out to the community and you have to teach, educate. Sometimes we go back and forth, it might take a year or two to actually get just the vision for one program. But you have to make sure that it is what the community needs. And then research, and this is mostly for researchers coming into the community, but even us as tribal employees, we have the responsibility to know that there’s cultural issues in research and that culture does matter and that whatever research and data that we collect that we have a responsibility to protect and then of course report the findings.

So I’m not going to go through all of these, but I’m sure you heard them every day in your work. I heard some people talking about negativity and how it is…how hard it is just to get past that, but the fact of the matter is that it’s just actually always going to be there and that you, as hard as it is, we have to find ways to tell people that that’s not actually true because some of these things that are being said are actually misconceptions or aren’t really true because…there are times that I’ve been sitting at the table and we’re discussing how we’re going to develop this new program or change something and people are saying things like, ‘Ah, what does it matter? Nobody cares. Tiguas aren’t going to listen. Tiguas don’t want to learn,’ and just some really negative statements where I think if I was somebody else, I would jump over the table and just kind of slap them upside the head, but you can’t do that, you’re working for the community.

One of the other things is that I know that we all have problems with our council, but sometimes we also use that as an excuse to not move forward. It’s easier just to blame everybody else than to look at our own programs and look at what we’re doing and to determine if there’s ways that we can change things to do better outreach and to educate people and to take more time to explain how things can be changed or things can be better. Believe me, I’ve gone through all kinds of just things with a terrible council, I don’t want to get into it, but there are days that they support me and there are days that they don’t support me at all. So I just have to figure out how to get through it and just keep moving. Otherwise I might as well just throw in the towel.

Does everyone think that sustainable development is a really difficult concept to teach? How do you build better economies? It seems really complex, right? But in reality we’ve been doing it forever. This is sustainable development -- finding ways to use your resources in a way that is best for your community.

This is Taos Pueblo, which somebody just mentioned today, but this community has been there for hundreds and hundreds of years and it’s still there and it’s still being maintained and people are still living there.

This is Ysleta del Sur Pueblo in 1880. Unfortunately, it’s no longer there in that way. What happened is in about 1880 the county decided that they wanted to extend a highway. So they held condemnation proceedings against the tribe and they tore it down and they put the highway right through there. So now actually to go through our ceremonies, we have to go across a busy highway and they have to stop traffic, tribal police stops traffic for us to go into procession to go into our traditional ceremonial places. But we’re still sustaining ourselves and we’re still sustaining our culture and despite all this adversity we’re still doing what we need to do to continue our ceremonies.

So I just can’t imagine what the people felt when the entire Pueblo was being torn down and the kind of adversity that they faced in order to continue our traditions. So we have a lot of adversity in front of us, but there’s been that adversity all the time, and it’s people like us, and it’s people like you that are going to get our people through it. So I’m just saying don’t give up because we’re still here and no matter how much…I’ve gone to bed crying. I never do it in front of community. I’m always like, ‘Suck it up, Pat.’ But I know how it feels to be working so hard for your community and just not feeling like you’re not getting to where you want to be.

I just feel like everything that we’re doing is a test. So we have these big things to do that are a test for our community and it’s a test that other people have already been through and it’s our turn to pass that test. So there’s different ways that we need to do it and one of the things that we do at Ysleta del Sur Pueblo is we’re always finding ways to educate the community and to empower the community. So as Ian said, we have all these different seminars, but we’re also now able to put these presentations on ourselves. So we’ve been learning everything that people like Native Nations Institute has showed us, as well as Harvard Project or NCAI, and we’ve tailored just about everything we’ve learned to fit into our community.

The other thing is we go to conferences and we have the opportunity to go to training and get certifications, but our people don’t. So somehow we need to bring those things back and make sure that we teach it in a way that they can understand also. Right now you all are developing programs and your action plans. These are our views of how we see what we need to do to reach our community. Like economic development for example, we want sustainable self-determination. Land use, we do land use also. We have to bring housing, roads and water. And we have social and health concerns, we have cancer, diabetes, and child abuse just like any other Native community. And then we also have education programs and we want to get them from pre-K to get them college bound, and actually become college graduates. And then we have cultural programs as well.

But there are ways that we view it and all those technical aspects of the programs that we’re developing, but you really have to sit back and think about what the community thinks because they’re viewing it different. They have the…a lot of it is not as complex to them and also about what it means to them personally and traditionally and culturally. So we have to find ways to make our programs culturally relevant and change those messages to get it out there to the community. Just keep in mind that they have a completely different view potentially than you do. At the end it might be the same, but how to make sure that you’re on the same page is you…it takes a lot of effort.

In order to harvest these ideas and input, we also have to address the longstanding concerns such as land loss, historical trauma and discrimination. Some of our people or our kids don’t even know that our…their great-grandparents went to boarding school. We have really nice housing and a really nice community, but these…all this housing and new infrastructure is new. All these other things such as historical trauma and…it didn’t go away. You can’t put somebody in a new house and it all of a sudden disappears. So we really try to discuss these things and talk about it even to the youth.

We also honor Indigenous knowledge and make sure in everything that we do we get those expertise from the community to incorporate Indigenous knowledge into what we’re doing. And then just realize…I know that…I think I heard somebody talk about how everybody has different views. So in Native communities, we all don’t think the same so we need to make sure that we get the different views from different community members and that we get those people with the knowledge. So look for those people that can help you with your programs and again earn trust. I can’t stress that enough.

So this is about value systems and as I said I teach this to different people, sometimes with local agencies that work with the tribe, but the top part here is kind of the value systems that everyone has or should have. They’re values from different organizations, maybe tribal…city governments, corporations, but then we also have our own set of value systems and we have to make sure that these things mesh and that they balance in order to get our programs and our goals out there.

A little bit about community engagement. If you invite them, they will not come. This is the flyer method and I did it, too. When I first started I just kind of sent out some flyers and then sat there and talked about how nobody was engaged, nobody cared, and in reality how many flyers do you get or correspondences that you never look at? And if you’re never looking at them, how do you expect to have a different reaction from your community members? So you have to figure out different ways to engage your community.

This is us at work, playing games instead of working, but we’ve developed these different games, traditional games and this is a game that we did with the directors. You can see they’re having a lot of fun, kind of icebreakers and stuff. But the point that I want to make is sometimes we have these inter-agency or director meetings and we start doing all our planning, but we’re not really engaging your community because this is your community -- it’s the people that are out there.

So what we do as far as trying to do effective marketing and getting the community engaged and involved is we actually will host a different series of events and we have different partners engaged. We will take our message to things like Grandparents’ Day. We’ve had like just mini pow wows to show off what the youth can do, and also go to the elder center and take our message to them and try to get people involved in the projects that we’re working on, and just recruit advisory people from even a community picnic. We do a lot of things for the vets also because we’ve also found that they’re just…there’s a lot of leadership there as far as the vets are concerned and so our message is put out there through various ways.

You really have to look for those core champions. You have to work with the youth. We do have a youth council and we teach them the nation-building concepts and we work with youth in entrepreneurship and other ways, but the thing about youth is they all have parents. So when you honor your youth and you demonstrate to them and you have these awards and certificates, their parents come too. And then so we do a lot of things with leadership as well. As I said, we work with elders, with the different program directors and then we also invite traditional people to a lot of our events and we have them give the traditional prayer, we might have them do storytelling or a blessing.

And then we also have the tribal enterprises work with us and we teach this to new employees coming in, but we also teach it to the enterprises as well. So we ask the people that are coming in, especially when they’re outside of the community, to take this training, which actually has about…there’s actually 10 different presentations that we do. We work with them as well and they also sponsor us, but it’s also a marketing and advertising tool for them also.

So these are just kind of again different things that we do. I won’t go over all of them, but of course food always works, and letting people talk, and also we all have our own little kind of tribal jokes that we tell also.

This is just a map that I kind of put out there to try to help you map how you’re going to get your community…you can do it whatever way that you want, but depending on the project, the map might go in different directions to be able to get the input and engagement and support that you need from different community members. I think Ian is going to have this available. We don’t have a whole lot of time. I don’t need to go over that. I think we all know that. But sometimes you get people from the outside that just don’t understand. The reason…teepees might be relevant where you have Sioux, Lakota, but for us we have Pueblos. That stereotypical kind of put some guy on a horse type of thingstill happens from time to time. We actually had one director who was non-tribal that thought that she could incorporate cultural relevancy by just putting the word 'tradition' in front of every bulletin agenda item.

June Noronha:

“Pat, just a question. So when you say not to do it. You’re not saying not to do traditional education, right?”

Patricia Riggs:

“No, it’s actually two different things. What not to do is put the word 'traditional' in front of every bullet item and expect it to be traditional. And then in order to really get out there and figure out what you need to do for your community, you really do have to know the footprint of the community. You need to know everything. What are the community values, what do you think the elders are concerned with, what is this generation concerned with and what is the next generation going to face? We need to know the ancestors and our history and everything cultural and ceremonial and where our sacred places are because everything -- no matter what it is that you’re doing -- it somehow interrelates. And you have to take all those things from the past and all our cultural things and apply them to what we’re doing now.

I have ‘make no assumptions’ out there, because a lot of times we don’t really go out there and study what the needs are. We just kind of make these assumptions based on our own experiences, but you really do have to have a collective measure of what the community needs. And then I have this up here because our communities have always been planning. And so this model, whether we know it or not, it worked in the old days, too. So in our community, we had to build homes. So that was our purpose and our passion, but we had to go out there and we had to look for the clay and we had to get the trees so we had to harvest the ideas from people in the community to figure out where to get those resources from. We had a core of champions that would actually make the things happen and build the architecture in the community and then we had to visualize, assess and plan. Our communities always faced east.

And then we had to measure the outcomes and impacts. We figured out whether we were building homes that were going to sustain the community and then report results. We love to brag. The same thing works with food. We had to plan our acequias. We actually created or established the entire irrigation system, what is in El Paso’s lower valley, which is no longer under our control, but we’re the ones that put the main channels of water systems into that community. And then of course our ceremonies took a lot of planning as well and throughout the year.

Why did we do this? Ian talked a little bit about how we had major problems that we really had to address and that we were kind of dumbfounded on how we were going to move forward. Well, our tribe, because we were situated in West Texas, we were never federally recognized because we were part of the…Texas was in the Confederacy when Abraham Lincoln acknowledged the Pueblos in New Mexico so we got left out. We continued to practice our ceremonies and continued to have a tribal council, but it wasn’t until the 1960s, when we were losing all our homes to tax foreclosure because our properties weren’t on trust and in the 60s we were in El Paso. El Paso was growing around us and everybody in El Paso had electricity and running water except for us. We had this community right in the middle of El Paso and our unemployment rate was 75 percent, our education was fifth grade. We worked in the fields that were once ours to sustain ourselves.

And so we had somebody come in, an attorney assisted us and we were federally restored in 1969, not restored, but recognized. So our economy started to get a little bit better. Our unemployment was by the 70s at 50 percent, which is better than 75 percent and our education started to rise as well. At least we made it to high school and we built our first housing division. When we were recognized, we were also terminated at the same time. I know it’s kind of odd, but Texas had the Texas Indian Commission so the United States transferred the trust responsibility to Texas, but when Texas went broke in the 80s they decided the first thing they were going to do away with was the Texas Indian Commission. So we had to go back to Congress and get federally restored.

So that’s when we decided that we were going to open the casino because Texas had passed a gaming law with the Lottery Act. And there was one small clause in our restoration act that said, ‘The tribe shall not have gaming that is illegal in Texas.’ And with that one sentence they were able to sue and close us down. So for a short time we experienced high employment rates and we had…our unemployment rate went down to five percent, we started building all this infrastructure and housing, we started buying our land back. We went from 68 acres to 75,000 acres and then when Texas sued, they actually won, and most of that is because we were in the Fifth Circuit and the Fifth Circuit doesn’t really have any experience with tribes.

So by 2002, the casino closed and our unemployment rate went immediately up to 18 percent in one year and we haven’t been able to lower it to single digits since then and all our businesses except for the smoke shop were failing so we had to come up with something. So we started doing nation building. And in order to do nation building we really started looking at our…and assessing where we were as a community so we did a lot of data collection and those are one of the surveys that we started getting information from all the community and started having to educate them about how important it was for them to give us this information because we needed to bring more money into the community. Some of the money came in through grants and we needed this money to be able to build other ways to be able to sustain ourselves and we didn’t think that the grants were going to be a long-term solution, but we needed them to have…jumpstart us.

I’m not going to go through all the profile, but just to let you know that we do on an annual basis collect all this data. We know who’s enrolled, what the poverty levels are, what the unemployment levels are and what basically the status of all tribal members as a whole. When we started working on different projects, first we started with a comprehensive economic development strategy, which include economic and community development in both housing and jobs and community development corporation and we established Tigua Inc. to separate business and politics. And then we also created policy and infrastructure that would help the tribe be more successful.

One of the things that we did is we changed our tax code because for some really odd reason the tribe had decided to borrow the State of Texas tax code, which made absolutely no sense and it was way too long and we couldn’t enforce it. So just by changing it we went from like a 200 page tax code to 20 pages. In one year we went from $58,000 in taxes collected to $1.2 million.

And then this is our new Tigua Business Center, which is an incubator for the Tigua Development Corporation, as well as houses Economic Development and that was in Brownsville. There was an old Texas Department of Public Safety maintenance facility and now it’s a LEAD certified energy efficient building. And then just real quick here…

We’re also doing a lot of planning and development in land use. So planning and development and protecting our lands is important to cultural preservation as well as our traditional practices, but we also need land for residential and commercial uses and agriculture and transportation as well. So this is kind of lays out our plan over the next 100 years in a snapshot, but really what the reality is is that we need to preserve Ysleta del Sur Pueblo because we’re in the middle of the city and the city keeps encroaching even more and more on us and we have all these kind of technical things that we need to do, but in the end 100 years from now it’s still about preserving Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and continuing our culture.

We are always continually looking for resources to get this done and planning and this is all the planning that takes place in the modern sense, but I think it was Winona LaDuke that said that, ‘Loss of biodiverse land and natural resources is directly correlated to loss of culture for Indigenous communities.’ So in the end we’re trying to buy back as much land as possible to bring back and to keep those traditional places.

This is just an example of our land use survey and we did different…these are…on the bottom we had these maps and we had the community draw out in certain areas what they wanted the community to look like and then of course we went through a series of different questions. And these are…I talked a little bit about us when we do the reports, we put actual statements. We don’t identify the people. These are also statements. And then what we found as we were talking to the community is that they wanted to see our cultural life cycle built into the way that we planned our community. So we have places for youth to nurture them in our plan and as well as places where people come together to do, like we have a nation-building hub and elder center. And at the end how is our plan going to sustain us into the next generation. And then this is some of the modern areas that look not so nice right now, but these are also areas that are slated for land acquisition that we no longer own and this is a plan of what we can potentially do with them. This real quickly is, everything in yellow is what we own because we have a severe checkerboard situation and we know we can’t buy everything back, but what’s in purple is what we eventually want to look like.

We also do some things around citizenship. In our restoration act also our blood quantum was set at one-eighth. So we had to go back to Congress to remove our…we were one of the only two tribes in the country whose blood quantum was set by Congress. So that was one of the big things that we just recently had passed by Congress, so there’s a lot of planning around that and how we’re going to get everybody on the rolls and also provide services for everyone. And then this is just a little joke for my nephew Chris [Gomez], just saying that people in the community have thoughts and messages to convey, so make sure you get them.”

Joseph Flies-Away: Knowing, Living and Defending the Rule of Law

Native Nations Institute

Joseph Flies-Away (Hualapai), Associate Justice of the Hualapai Nation Court of Appeals, discusses the importance of Native nations building and living a sound, culturally sensible rule of law -- through constitutions, codes, common law and in other ways -- that everyone in those nations knows, understands, practices, respects and defends.

Native Nations
Resource Type

Flies-Away, Joseph. "Knowing, Living and Defending the Rule of Law." Tribal Constitutions seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 3, 2014. Presentation.

"Good morning. Say these words with me, right after I say them: Framer. Framework. Founder. Follower. Funnel. Facilitator. Friend. Family."


"Now remember those words. Now I'm going to say something to you and I'm going to ask you to do something. I'm going to say ‘the people' and then in your own mind or in your own verbal expression yell out at the top of your lungs, or as silent as you want, your 'people.' So when I say ‘people,' you say your thing and then I'm going to say, ‘Gather, ground, and grow,' and I'm going to do something with my hands and I want you to watch that. So you all know what to do? You're the accelerated class? The people. Joan [Timeche]. You can't interrupt. I don't know if this is on or not. He put it on me, that man, so I don't know. I can't deal with the technical stuff. I've got to go on. Remember the instruction. I say, ‘the people,' you say yours out as loud as you want in your own language and then, ‘Gather, ground and grow,' and I do something with my hand. The people. [Audience] Oh, gosh, you people are...come on. [Hualapai language]. The people. [Audience] Gather, ground and grow. And I'm going to continue with that kind of thinking as we do this.

Okay, I'm going to talk to you from this paradigm and it's this, and I always speak to everything from this. And I developed this starting when I was a planner for the tribe and a council member for the tribe and then when I became a judge. This used to be a flat planning tool, but it became spherical when I became a judge after this minor said to me, ‘Joey,' because they always call me 'Joey' instead of 'judge.' I let the kids do that, but not the adults. ‘What do you think about when you decide to send me to jail?' or something like that and I really thought about it because I wanted to tell that juvenile what I thought about when I decided things because I had...that was the first time someone really asked me the question. So this has come...let me get it up here...and I now speak with it all the time because it's very relevant to what we do as community nation builders, how we all gather, ground and grow. And some of it's very academic so I can speak to a bunch of professors in this way and then I can speak to any population. I can speak to Chinese. I can speak to Russian. I was in Australia in November. I spoke to a bunch of judicial people there from the same point of view. I'm going to share this with you. Now that's this sphere.

As people gather, ground and grow -- throughout all human beings -- there's always conflict. There's always going to be, as you see on the bottom, conflict, but at the same time there's always going to be cooperation. And between conflict and cooperation we're going to go through life; all our life, we're going to have goods, we're going to have bads. We're also going to have issues of personal, or citizen against the group, tribe or community and we have to balance between myself and my people, myself and my family, myself and the tribe, myself and the nation. But we're somewhere along those lines in balance. We're going to also have to think about what one person thinks is right or wrong, as opposed to what the group thinks is right or wrong. Me, my family. Me, the tribal council. Me, my co-workers.

Now this last one, this sphere is made up of these axes and so there's that one, that one, that one, but the bulk of it is made up of this last one, which is on one end common law, constitutions and codes, that which is written and on the other end custom, common practice and culture, that what we do. And all cultures are in there somewhere. White people, you're like way over here on the writing for a long time, Anglos, English, they wrote. We didn't write all the things. We had picture glyphs and we had symbols and things, but we're more down here. We didn't have to write everything. We talked about it, we were oral, we told stories.

So as we get into the more modern context, they're asking us to be more in this somewhere up here rather than down here. But there's nowhere in the sphere that's wrong or bad. It's where the group of people have decided to be because you're going to take your custom and culture as far forward with you as the best you can. But like at Hualapai, chiefs used to have more than one wife. Can I do that now? Unfortunately, no, I guess not. So you don't bring everything forward with you. You bring the best of your people, the best of your culture, the best of what you know as human beings from out this generational growing as people. But somewhere along the line you're going to be between here and balance here all over.

The person in the middle or the institution in the middle is what I call the warrior of law. Every human being should be a warrior of the law. They shouldn't be just a judge or shouldn't be just a leader, shouldn't just be someone who was put in that position. Everyone of us, our children, all should be a warrior of law, meaning that we're going to try to balance all of these things throughout our lifetime. With myself as a human being, because this works as individuals, but myself with the groups that I'm a part of because there's always going to be the me, but always a group. There's always going to be all of these other things.

So, as far as dispute resolution, the four words that I look at that by constitution or by custom and peacemaking, they're basically doing some of these things. They're confronting whatever issue might be at hand or whatever problem or whatever hurt or whatever pain that's there. They start communicating about it, meaning they're going to discuss or they're going to go through procedure. What procedure are you going to use to get through it? So I call that communication.

They're going to need to make compromises, because no one can have everything they want, although we want to have everything we want, we just cannot. When we go to court, somebody's going to lose in there. I made a lot of decisions. I was telling some of these people this morning, half my tribe hates me because I put them all in jail at least once and I've took children away from people, I divorce people and I gave alimony to one side or I gave the tool chest to someone and they got pissed about it, whatever it's going to be. As a judge, you're hated or disliked by half the people. You can't win. It's sad for me, but I try to do my job. But people have to make compromises, but you confront, you communicate, you compromise in order to reach concord, which is peace.

So every warrior of the law, everyone of us should be wanting to get to peace inside of us as an individual, but with the groups and people, families and all of the others that we are a part of. That should be our goal in life as humans. Now institutionally, you have governments writing things down in constitutions saying how this communication might work procedurally: trial level, appeals, how it's to be filed. I have a case right now where the justices, the three of us on the panel, are bickering over whether to give a person a pre-trial conference on an issue, these little things that we have to deal with, but it's all a part of how we're going to communicate about it on the appellate level. But we have a code, we have new rules that we made not too long ago in the court of appeals. It's supported by our constitution and we try to do the best we can. But there are a lot of issues that I'd rather would not have all this procedure, all this stuff in the court system.

When I was judging, and I judged in many places, and I've been around many places to help with, as professor said, wellness courts. I even came to do TA [technical assistance] for this tribe actually. Pascua Yaqui used to have one of the only family wellness courts at one point and it was a good one. I don't know where it is now, it's not there, but they had a good family wellness court. I think they have adult, but that kind of process is something that you look at a little bit differently and we're making rules...they make rules about it and everything, but I've been all over the place and I've learned a lot everywhere I got from the people that I deal with. They're all over the board. Some like to be more like haikus or White people when they want to be the system; they want to look just like the state court. Others don't want that.

When I sit as a judge, I wear a ribbon shirt that my mom made and I don't like to wear that black dress. I might as well put on that white wig if I wear that black dress, but I'm not going to do that. I don't want my hair white yet. It's getting there, but I'm not going to go there yet. So I wear a ribbon shirt because it's something that is of us, not of Anglo. But there are a lot of tribes who want to be like that. Well, okay, who am I to say, ‘Well, that's not good.' But all of you as nations or people...leaders of your people, warriors of law, all of your people have to come to some conclusion about how that's going to look, up here. History, clarity, vision are the past, the present and the possible, the vision. You have to have a sense of what that's going to be.

What is your court system, your dispute resolution system going to be? And there's quite a bit out there as you just heard. There's other places that have started peacemaking. There's other places who are just developing court systems. A lot of people have...I read grants for the federal government, we award money to people who are just developing court systems and they want to do more like wellness court, they want to deal with the issues of that because wellness court is about addictions of all the people and yesterday I said, ‘Well, we can't build all these nations with half our population being sick, we just can't do it. Then we rely on all the outsiders and it's not our nation, it's theirs. We have to get our people well.' So wellness courts are important. We have to keep working on them and a lot of tribes, they ask for money to do that and that's one of the things I help them do. So we have dispute resolution, we have writings, we have customs here, we have the individual issues where people file against each other or the community or the tribe files against the person or however it goes.

Now, this part here, I'm going to talk about some of the...see the people, policy, place, and pecuniary possibilities. That's another way of saying the people gather, ground and grow. Policy meaning how do these people as a political unit, polity, get together, organizational structure. Remember the people were like this, we're related by clan, by family, by band, whatever. But when we get to government, it's like this, hierarchical. How is the structure of our government going to be? So the people gather in whatever form or fashion, ground, and then the place and land issues like we have to have a building for our court system, we have to have a place to meet, we have to have a courtroom, we have to have all these things. And when I was a judge, I got electrocuted in my court and some of my council members here don't even know this, but I was electrocuted in our court because it was a condemned building, but that's where I had to hold courts for two years. But we have to have a place to do it.

The pecuniary possibilities is we have to have the money and the funds. We have to be able to have the resources, the tools to do good court, to make good decisions. If you have an appellate court system and you're only paying your judges $100 a day when they're making five times that an hour as lawyers somewhere, you won't get all the people you need. I've been in different places where they pay from $100 a day to $500 a day and I've done all the different places, but it's a matter of pecuniary possibility meaning financial. So going back to this, it's another you have the people to do your court systems, do you have the human resources, your own people? It's best to have your own people as judges I would think.

But now through the TLOA, Tribal Law and Order Act, how many of you are actually looking at doing TLOA changes with your 3C or sentencing? Nobody in here? Because it's going to ask you -- and then the VAWA [Violence Against Women Act], the VAWA group -- it's going to cause you to have to have certain requirements made of your judges, of your public defenders, of your prosecutors, but we don't have a lot of us, don't have the human capital. There's only been three people at Hualapai that have gone to law school and two of them, they're younger than me, have already gone on and I don't know what the first one's doing, but the other one, he works in California and he's going to be a sports agent and I'm the one that works for tribal people, but some of us don't...some tribes don't have anybody who's gone to law school. But I'm not saying you have to go to law school to be a judge, although these acts tend to make you think you have to do that. But you have to have the human resources and we don't always have that.

A lot of people have wise people, older people. Well, not all old people are wise, but there are some...these peacemaking courts, which they put to use, those are the ones they're putting in there because they have some sense of wisdom and people respect them. mom says, ‘I didn't say anything and I'm an elder.' But I look at her, to me she's my mom and the elders are way older than her. So some people, we don't see the elders in the same light. But most tribes have good, strong, wise people who can be peacemakers, but are those...

Like what kind of cases are you going to bring to those systems? We have the law. We have a criminal code, tells you everything you can't do that's a crime, all the offenses, battery, assault, sexual defenses, everything. We have civil codes that tell you what you can't do. But we also have custom things that we shouldn't be doing, but these ones go to the court system that we have that is under the constitution and the code, but what about when people are just mad at each other? That is where I wish we would have more of the peacemakers where we could bring people in...we have a gym; we could fill the whole room with whatever. Bring these two people in and say, ‘What happened?' and if we have to give them boxing gloves. Well, let's make it a safe little place and let them have at it because we fight with pipes and all kinds of things, bats, when they get thrown in jail, why can't we let them do it in front of us? Just have them...we could do peacemaking at home if we just had the ability to figure it out.

And we can do it in our own way because at Hualapai, in our ethnographies and what I've read and then what I asked about from my great grandma was, they used to say...people would come in and if they needed to bring in another chief from another band...because Hualapai really, 13-14 bands of Pai people, [Hualapai language] is people of the tall pine. It's my great-grandfather's people. There's other bands. They're all different people. A long time ago they would bring in a head man or a chief from something else and sit down, hear what's going on and let that person decide, things like that. But they would all talk [Hualapai language] or how they'd say that. They'd all talk about it and some decision would be made and that would be it. [Hualapai language], it would be over with. That's it. We can still do that at home, but do we have the ability, do we have the people, the human resources to do that and do you?

Those are the things you need to think about and we have a lot of resources, but sometimes we don't know, we don't...and again it goes back to our own ability to see it in those people we don't like. And I know, you guys are all going to say, ‘Oh, I'm not like that.' All of you probably don't like someone at home and just tears at you when you see them excel maybe or whatever. You know how you see them going down the road and you go...I know. We all do that. You're going to all these cars waving and waving, there's one, don't wave at all. All of us, you know. We have to come and accept that that's the confrontation, the acknowledgment of that. We have to know that that's what we do. I know I did it or I do it. I'm afraid of people at home. They're mean to me and I was telling our councilmen, I have no thick skin. I'm a baby. One little word, look, I'm just in tears practically. But we do that to each other. We have to somehow get past that.

But a lot of that comes from the historical trauma or the way that we were raised. Our parents and the grandparents were in boarding schools and they weren't given all the love and all the parenting, and so we're kind of just mixed up through a lot of hurt and pain that we're not over. We carry it. And I always make the mistake of saying like Bob Marley, but I'm not talking about Bob Marley. What Marley am I talking about? No. Jacob Marley. Christmas Carol. You know how he's coming, ‘Eh, harr.' We carry our pain and our misery and our hatred and anger for whatever our great grandpa said about so and so. We do that. We need to let that go. We don't have to forget everything. We've got to let those chains go because we're holding onto such pain and just horrible feelings about things that has just been handed down.

My grandma used to tell me about how the...she heard and all of Hualapais know about this -- we're celebrating this in the next month or this month -- when they made us march all the way to a place called La Paz, which interestingly means ‘the peace' in Spanish, but they took all the Hualapais over there and a lot of people died on the way and they took off and escaped and came back home. People died on the way back. But I come from and these guys come from the people who survived that. But when the old people told you that story, they would remember and they would cry and they would just...and we haven't let all that go and we all have our stories, we all have that memory that we carry. And we may not acknowledge it or even know or can see it, but we do, we just hold on because our grandmas were special to us, our grandpas and we listened to them and they unfortunately sometimes gave us this feeling.

My grandma said, ‘Don't trust white people.' I didn't trust a white person until I went to college and five years ago I went to a reunion and I told them this. I never said it to them before. I said, ‘My grandma said not to trust any of you people, but you're all right.' And they laughed like that. But I had to tell them that because I was like, ‘Oh, god.' Three white people I had to live with in a three-room thing and, ‘what do I do with this?' because I hadn't lived with white people. The white people in here probably think that's backward, but it's just...I'm telling you as it is. So we have this in our people and I'm going to go these ones.

ELDR, E is for earth, L is for lightening, D is for dream and R is for rain. Dream's the most important, that just means law and I'm going to get to that, but E is the physical. We have a lot of issues: alcoholism, diabetes, hypertension, all of our physical problems that we have. L: lightening. Our thoughts. We hold off on our... We have terrible thinking. We remember, we hold onto these thinkings. The R: the rain. The emotions. We have a lot of the emotions still. But D, the most important one is the dream, which is law, whether it be what we've done as custom or what we've written down and all of that is good, but we have to have our law.

Law is what connects us and binds us together, whether it's in the stories and tales and cultures and customs and common practices that we know, that the Pueblos know more, Hopi knows more, Diné know more of these things because it's in ceremony. But we also have the ability to write things down for ourselves, for people to know in our own place, but also for outsiders to know who we are, where we come from, where we want to go as human beings so that is this side, but everywhere here is good.

There's so much more with this. I didn't even look at this. I had all these little notes, but I didn't even tell you these things because I guess that was all right, I went through stuff, but there's too much to say all the time and too little time with this. And there's too little time for all of you in a way because you're going to be 10 years from now, boom, what happened? So we've got to wake up, [Hualapai language], and do what you've got to do and go home as survivors and know that you descend from strong and powerful people and that you can do this stuff with whatever knowledge you learn from each other and other people and just do the best you can, like I said yesterday, because we have to get past that. We are going to be the people who show the entire earth how to be good human beings. Hopi prophecy, other prophecies -- that's going to be the Indigenous people. Which one of us are going to do the best job of that? So I challenge all of you to go and think about that.

Lastly, warrior of law, all of us as human beings, as leaders, leadership, law, land and les affaire we'll leave that for now. But all of us should say, ‘I stand in reason, I walk with will, I stumble over morality, but I will catch myself and go on with my journey with law. So the best of luck to all of you. [Hualapai language], thank you."

Patricia Riggs: The Role of Citizen Engagement in Nation Building: The Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Story

National Congress of American Indians

Patricia Riggs, Director of Economic Development for Ysleta del Sur Pueblo (YDSP), discusses how YDSP has spent the past decade developing and fine-tuning its comprehensive approach to engaging its citizens in order to identify and then achieve its nation-building priorities.

This video resource is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of the National Congress of American IndiansThe "Rebuilding the Tigua Nation" film shown in this video resource is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of Ysleta del Sur Pueblo.

Native Nations
Resource Type

Riggs, Patricia. "The Role of Citizen Engagement in Nation Building: The Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Story." 70th Annual Convention & Marketplace, National Congress of American Indians. Tulsa, Oklahoma. October 15, 2013. Presentation.

Ian Record:

"So I'll turn the floor over to Patricia Riggs. Again, she's the economic development director with the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and as she told me today, she's sort of their de facto chief of citizen engagement for their pueblo. Anytime they face a challenge in this arena, they tend to turn to her because she's done so much wonderful work in this area. Did you want to start with the video or with your presentation?"

Patricia Riggs:

"It's a little long. If you want to start it and then kind of go through middle and then restart it again."

Ian Record:

"So again, this is a video that Pat was involved with putting together. It's called 'Rebuilding the Tigua Nation.' Tigua is another name that refers to her nation and this again I think...think of this not just in terms of what it shares with you, but think of this as a viable tool of citizen education and engagement. We're seeing more and more nations do things like this. These videos that instruct not just their own citizens, but outsiders about who the nation is and what they're doing and why."


Patricia Riggs:

"Good afternoon, everyone. Hello. As Ian stated, my name is Pat Riggs and I'm the Director of Economic Development at Ysleta del Sur [Pueblo]. We started community engagement back in 2006. Of course at the Pueblo, there's always been some form of community engagement, but we had a very significant event that took place. If you paid attention closely to the film, we talked about the casino being closed down. In 1987, we were federally restored and there was one little clause in our restoration act that said, "˜The tribe shall not have gaming that is illegal in Texas.' So when the State of Texas started bingo and lottery, we decided that there was gaming in Texas so we opened our casino and they sued us and the courts held that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act didn't apply to the tribe, that the language in our restoration act superseded that. So we operated gaming from around 1992 to 2002. It was open for about 10 years and it first started as a bingo hall and then later on to Class 2 gaming. So when the casino actually did end up closed, we had invested quite a bit in infrastructure and the tribe had done a lot of good things with our funding or our revenues that we got for the tribe, but we were basically at a...we were in shock. There was this economic turmoil that was taking place that we didn't realize was actually going to take place. We thought that there was no way that we would lose the case, but we ended up losing the case.

So citizen engagement started out of the need to really find out what the community needed. What we started doing is really looking at different groups and seeing what their needs are and really trying to identify with the tribe and what they needed. This is just a picture of what we call "˜listening to our ancestors,' because everything that we do really does come from our history and who we are as a people and where we've been so just the fact that in spite of everything that's happened to us, it seems like...sometimes they call us the 'Bad Luck Tribe' because if something can go wrong, it happens to us. We got left out of the Treaty of Guadalupe in 1861 so we weren't recognized with the other pueblos. We ended up on the Confederate side of the line. Just things throughout history ended up happening.

Really a lot what was happening, too, was our own mindset and the way we thought as a community, so when the casino was closed we kind of stood at a standstill, we didn't know what to do, we were in shock. And I had been working at another location. I'd been working in the City of El Paso and the tribe asked me to come back and I was like, "˜Economic Development, hmm.' So I really didn't know anything about economic development, but I said, "˜I'll give it a try.' But when I came back, one of the things that I started doing is really listening and trying to figure out what was happening in the community. And so I heard in the video that Ian played before from Native Nations Institute, someone said that some of the challenges or the biggest challenges for the tribe come from within. So I'm really about training and trying to figure out what the community wants and so they started asking me to train different departments. And so I started paying attention to what the community was actually saying and to what some of our employees were saying and these are actual...their quotes, their statements that were actually said and they're things like, "˜Tiguas don't want to learn.' Everything was always blamed on tribal council and we all know that there's problems with councils sometimes, but sometimes I think we exaggerate those things because we don't want to move forward or we don't...we try to rationalize what we are or what we're not doing in our departments. So it was always about, "˜We can't do that because tribal council won't allow it,' "˜It doesn't matter.' Some of our non-tribal employees were saying that we couldn't do particular, they wouldn't do particular things because the tribal members would go tell council what they were doing and it was just, it was ridiculous, really. When you really sat down and listened to it and you put all the statements together, it was ridiculous.

So what we determined that we needed to do is really engage our community in education and try to really figure out who the community was because we know who we are as a people, we know our culture, we knew traditions, but we don't really know the community in terms of what needs do they...are out there, what are the poverty levels, what are the education levels, who's employed, who's not employed, what kind of skills do they have? And as far as doing a needs assessment we needed that, but we also needed to take an inventory of what we have or had in order to move forward. So we started doing different things to try and get the community engaged. And so this is what it looks like if you do the 'flyer method' and it just doesn't work. You send all these beautiful flyers out there and just get ready for everybody to come and they don't show up. So it was like, "˜Well, what am I doing wrong here?' And we were actually, at one point we even brought Native Nations Institute and we had a very small crowd there. So we thought about what we could actually do to get the community more involved.

So what we found is actually working with groups and even within the reservation there are special interest groups. We all have little things that...or subjects that we're interested in and what we found is to look for those core champions in your communities. And there's people who are really just very traditional and that's what they want to discuss and that's what they want to do in terms of who they are so we asked them, "˜Okay, how do you think that we can infuse tradition into the things that we're doing?' We also started working with youth. The thing about youth is if you work with youth and you train them and you honor them and you show their parents what they're doing, then the parents come, too. So we started figuring out how to get parents engaged as well. And then we did different things with leadership, with elders. One of the things that we did learn is that we really need to figure out how to work with each group and how to...and so through the little groups we got the whole.

The big thing here is you can't expect people to just come to you. As I showed the meetings with the flyers, it just didn't work. We had to find different ways to actually go out into community and to seek input. So we went to the elders. And I mentioned earlier that our casino had closed, but it's actually operating now as a sweepstakes center. So it's kind of we have... they look like terminals, but they're actually all hooked up into one network. So there are signs all over the place that say you're donating to the tribe and you're donating to our health, to our education. So we just got creative on ways to do things. It's not quite as revenue generating as it was before, but there's still funding coming in. One of the times I went to the elders and I wanted to do a survey with them and so they said, "˜Oh, no, we don't have time for your survey.' And I'm like, "˜But I have 'Free Play'.' And they, "˜Oh, Free Play, okay. Sit down.' So we started talking to them and then they found out some of the things that we're doing and they were engaged in that, actually came to where they actually wanted to participate in some of the events that we were having. And so they started making the food and sometimes we could pay them and sometimes we couldn't, but they were okay with that and they started assisting us in our events.

So then we also, one of the things that we did is in order to engage the community...there is no greater engagement than actually serving the community, so we started an AmeriCorp program and the AmeriCorp program, they work with the elders, they work in the cultural center, they work in emergency management, in environmental. So they're kind of our ambassadors for community engagement in different areas. The other thing is we do a lot of data collection and we do a lot of surveys, but when we do it we work with focus groups or we work with all the other little core groups and we educate them about why we're trying to collect the information. So we educate them first and then they are kind of our core champions or leaders so they go out into their groups and they tell either the other elders or youth or whoever it is that we're working with why it is important. So we educate them on how to educate the community on getting that information and we've been very successful in gathering information for our tribe in order to determine what it is that we're going to focus on, whether it's health or whether it's economic development. I'll show you a little bit more in a minute about the successes with data collection and also the projects that we're working on.

I know that one of the first times that Joe Kalt went to Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, I had been working in writing grants not just for the tribe, but also for the City of El Paso and I wanted a model, I wanted a matrix and I was like, "˜Well, do you have a matrix?' and it's like, "˜No.' So I realized, I think I really like to visualize what it is that we're trying to accomplish, but I kind of think very methodical. So I have to figure out what exactly it is that we're going to tackle, but I also realize that those kind of models and theories, they're for other communities, they're not really for us. We can't take somebody's methodology and use it at our tribe. So I started to look back and thinking like what is it exactly that we're doing, and this is what I came up with.

Well, one of the things is we have a purpose. No matter what it is that we're trying to tackle, whether it's constitutional reform or building entrepreneurs, there's a purpose there. So you find that purpose and there's also...but with that purpose, there's always passion and I'm so passionate about what I do. That's all I do. I have to have people drag me away from it sometimes, but there's other people in your communities with that passion. So look for the passionate people and then harvest the information. You really do have to harvest information and gather that input from your community, because that's who you're working for and that's who really is driving you to do what it is that you do.

The other thing you visualize and then you assess and you plan. And I know it's kind of theory-like, but when it comes to your community, what is it that you're visualizing? Like for us, one of the things that we're working on is a land use plan and land acquisition. So when we're visualizing, I'm not doing this theory of visualizing, we're actually looking at the community and thinking about the things that we lost and the things that we need for ceremony and where...the places that it's going to come from, from the land and how are we going to be able to redevelop our lands and preserve our lands as they once were and then also rebuild our community as a village because we're used to living as a village and that was taken away from us. So when we're visualizing, that's...we're visualizing how we want to live. It's about how the entire...what the entire community sees. So then of course we can work, work, work, work, but at the end of the day we really do have to have something to show for it. So you do have to measure those impacts and the outcomes of what it is that you're doing because...and then you take it back to the community and show your successes and so you report the results.

And then here's basically the same thing with a little bigger snapshot, but in the end it really is about community, whether you're trying to figure out what the community wants, you start at the community; whether you're trying to figure out the data, you're getting it from community, you're trying to draw a picture of what your community really is, and then in the end you report those results back to the community and then you also try to determine what is driving the community and those are things such as the ceremonies and traditions and culture and just living together as a Tigua society for us. So we look at the core values and we reaffirm them by asking different people in the community and also about what is the best way to apply the things in a manner that...that will work in a manner that is fair to the entire tribe and to every sector of the tribal population.

So this is a little bit of our timeline and as far as our economy is really what was happening to us, we had basically lost all our lands. We were living in a small part of El Paso in a little, basically it was a neighborhood. It really wasn't a reservation and we had, there were small adobe houses, most of them were one room. It was during the termination policy, so we really didn't have any hope of having a better life. We were just happy to be able to still be there and still be living as a community and still, even though we weren't federally recognized, we still held tribal elections, we still had our ceremonies every year, we still had people in charge of dong the things that...the doings that needed to be done for us to continue to survive as a Pueblo the best that we could. So of course the civil rights movement took place later and that's when people started to gain more confidence and to start asserting their rights.

So what happened in the 1960s is we were basically losing our few homes that we had left to tax foreclosure because it was the City of El Paso now and throughout there's a couple pictures that you'll see the entire, what our Pueblo used to look like, and because we weren't on federal trust land. And one of the important reasons that we start that film where we're crossing the highway and the tribal police are directing traffic for us is because that one spot is where our Pueblo used to be and we had stacked adobe homes. And the City of El Paso -- because we weren't federally recognized or had trust status -- they decided to have condemnation proceedings against our Pueblo because they needed that one spot that's a highway and they needed it to extend the highway. So they had condemnation proceedings and they condemned the Pueblo basically. So that is the center of our tribe and that's why we decided to start the film there.

So land acquisition and development and regaining and putting land into trust is very important for us so basically there was a lawyer by the name of Tom Diamond that helped us to get federally restored or federally recognized in 1969, but we were basically terminated on the same day because the State of Texas had a Texas Indian Commission, so they turned over the trust responsibility to the Texas Indian Commission. Well, there were some good things that happened out of that. We did get some new housing out of it and there was a few more jobs and some economic development took place. So in the "˜60s, basically our unemployment rate was 75 percent. By the "˜70s it went to about 50 percent and we went from a fifth-grade education to about a 10th-grade education. So then in '87 we were federally restored and the casino was thriving and our unemployment rate basically went down to three percent. We went from 68 acres of land that were transferred over during the time of restoration to 75,000 acres of land that we invested in with our casino revenues and then we also built a lot more housing. I think you saw in the film where the housing was. And then we...but then the casino closed because we were sued. So basically, we were really at odds, we didn't know what we were going to do.

So we started off by doing projections on our funding and what we had in reserves and we determined was that if we continued to operate in the same manner we would run out of money in seven years. So we had to decide what it is that we were going to do, so that's when we started this nation-building process and we started investing money in a development corporation, which is now doing federal contracting and we're located in probably at least five places throughout the country: Washington D.C., Virginia, California, Colorado Springs. And that also took forming a board and separation of business and politics and having a committee that turned into...later to the board. And so this education process, we're educating different people in the community.

One of the things we did is we educated the board on how to operate as a board, which started as an economic development committee and then they ended up the board. So now this... we reassigned the economic development committee and now they're being trained as how to operate as a nonprofit board so then we're going to replace them and they're going to become probably another board. So we just keep getting small groups and keep educating so that they can build the capacity to do other things. But in order to do this we really, really needed to know what our state was as far as a community is concerned. So we were able to really determine what our... who we were, where our people were located at, what the rates of unemployment were and poverty levels, household levels, individual household levels.

The other thing that happened to us in our restoration act is that the language in there said that the tribe shall consist of membership that is on the base roll and people descending from that base roll up to one-eighth blood quantum. They said that in 1987. So we quickly realized that in a few years we'd no longer exist as a tribe because we would lose that blood quantum. So the tribe decided that they were going...we went to Congress and it took us 10 years of introducing different bills, but we ended up just recently having the blood quantum bill passed. So in order to do this, we really needed to figure out who we were as a people because we needed to take that information to Congress. So this is what our community looks like now and we also studied the people that live outside the service area, our tribal members that live outside the service area as well, and what we're finding is really they left before economic opportunity because they're a little bit better off in terms of education and household income.

I talked a little bit about cooperative education and so what we're also doing in order to engage our citizens and get this information -- because we collect that information every single year from tribal members and we've been successful as far as getting the information -- but we also make sure that we give it back to them and that when we compile any sort of information that we give them the reports back, like whether it's health and if there's a diabetes report or whatever it is. But the other thing is we all come to these conferences because we work as professionals, but your average tribal citizen doesn't have that opportunity to learn the things like we're learning today, what's happening in the federal courts and what's happening as far as policy is concerned and even what happened with the Indian Child Welfare Act, and so we take that education to them. We make sure that there's money in the budget to educate our tribal members and we do everything from Indian law to nation building to...we have other people even come and do community engagement to let them know how important it is. We have financial literacy training, but we also do like board training. And so if there's a subject that we think is important for us to learn and what's on the agenda here and at other conferences, we make sure that we find a way to take it back to the community and to be able to train them so that they know. And even when we work with our departments who of course...there has to be some professional training there, a lot of times some of our tribal members don't have the capacity to be in those higher positions of directors, so we tell our directors, "˜We're going to put this training out for you, but you need to pick a tribal member and it doesn't matter if it's a secretary or a maintenance person or whatever it is, you need to bring them to this training also and you need to figure out how you're going to get that information back to your department as well.'

As far as community engagement and what it's done for us as far as impacts are concerned, these are some of the projects that we've worked on that have really made an impact in our community. One of the things is we did this huge comprehensive strategy and that's where we determined that we were going to do things like the Tigua, Inc. Development Corporation, we were going to do workforce development, land use plan, land acquisition plan. All those things were outlined in this strategy and there was focus groups and surveys that were on our website. And if you actually look at our website all the reports are on there as far as the information that the community provided to us and what we compiled and gave back to the community. So this comprehensive strategy, a lot of strategies and plans just end up on the bookshelf, but as you can see it didn't. We like to say that you need to plan your work and you need to work your plan.

The other thing is Tigua, Inc., the tribe provided the seed money for that and now they have really just taken off over the last couple years and getting significant contracts and they're doing a lot of building maintenance all over the country. They just recently got awarded the Wyler Building in California, which is the second largest government facility in the country to do maintenance. This is the Tigua Business Center that we just recently moved into about a year and a half ago and it also incubates Tigua, Inc., but it also serves as headquarters for our department, Economic Development, and we're also just now building another extension to it, which is going to be to incubate tribal member businesses, and we also have, because we really truly believe in educating the tribe and we're not quite there yet as far as having a college. We're building the Tigua Technology Center there, which is also going to help to provide the software that some of our tribal members need to get their business done like the costing and pricing for construction companies and for auto mechanics and CAD and those things that are really expensive that they can't afford as far as software is concerned.

And then also our tax code, this was one of the things that also came out of the comprehensive economic development strategy. For some reason, the tribe had decided that it was going to adopt the State of Texas tax code, which made no sense whatsoever. It was 200 pages long and we couldn't enforce it. And so what we did is we took a look at what would best serve our needs and we went from 200 pages to 20 pages and in less than a year we went from $58,000 a year to $1.2 million in tax collections. The allocation also is divided up for different programming. But I'm able to support our department because we get 30 percent of tax allocation and that's how I am able to turn that into some of the programming that we're doing.

Here's the feedback and it's really a snapshot of the feedback that we got back from the community and the things that they were concerned with in land use. So they were, the community of course was concerned with things like cultural preservation and being able to maintain our traditional practices, having land for residential use, commercial needs and agriculture, as well as transportation. So we determined what the best use of lands would be and through community engagement we also took an inventory of our lands and created a database that had all the criteria of our lands, as well as GIS mapping, whatever, if there were environmental assessments. And so we have a really defined database of all our lands and then we created a master plan and an acquisition plan. The acquisition plan isn't quite finished yet, but this timeline that we looked at started with the need to preserve our lands and we have these milestones where we want to have our master plan and do energy development and make sure that everybody has housing and those things. But then at the end it ends with cultural preservation, too, because it demonstrates 100 years from now that we're still here and our land is preserved.

And then also on one side we have all the modern and things we need to survive today, but we also have all the things that are important to us historically and culturally. When we started writing a master plan through community engagement, we had these and we had these maps of the land...of our land in big sheets and we had the community write what certain places of what they wanted the land to look like.

And also they put places like by the river, like for example, that is still important to us today but that...we have ceremonies at the river that we can't just go to the river anymore. We border Mexico, so everybody knows about the big fence at the river. So we actually have to go ask the Border Patrol to let us go to the river to do our ceremonies. So part of our master planning is to take over the acequias or the irrigation system or the canal system that we actually created 300 years ago. So we created this cultural life cycle that we would incorporate into our land use and master plan and it talks about where we are at birth and how we're being nurtured and the lessons we're learning and how we learn about our culture and then how as elders our roles change and that then we become teachers and we pass on this tradition and culture. So in our land use plan we...that bar that intersects across there talks about the different places that we're going to create to make sure those things happen. So we have things like a nation-building hub and also an elder center and places for teens to meet as well.

So these are...see those are pictures of maps that we used where the community actually drew what they wanted the community to look like, and these are statements that the community provided back. And then we also had different criteria as far as what the community wanted to see and graphed and charted what the community best wanted for our lands. So these are also places that we don't own yet, but they're what we used to own. And so in our land acquisition process, we want to buy these locations back and this is what we could do with them as far as economic development is concerned. And it seems like way out there, but in reality it really isn't. When you think about we just had 68 acres in 1987 and we have 75,000 acres now, it's attainable. And then so this is what our acquisition process is going to look like and how we mapped it. Everything that is in yellow is what we own and what's in the darker colors is our long-term acquisition. We know that we can't buy everything, but we do...those are the gaps that we want to fill in. I talked a little bit about our enrollment ordinance. Well, we're working on an enrollment ordinance, a new citizen engagement [process] because of the blood quantum bill that just passed last year. So I had thought that that was going to go to somebody else, but I just was told last week that that citizen engagement process would actually come to our department so that's something that we're working on now. This was just a little conversation that the team had last week and these are questions that we're really thinking about what we need to ask the community. It'll be much more comprehensive, but just basic things like what does citizenship mean to you and how did you learn how to be a good citizen from your parents and your community, and so that's the way we usually start with just the basic questions and then we move into real comprehensive model.

These are just a couple, I guess, pointers to just make sure that you try to identify what your tribe needs and also...and then as far as when you're working within your community just know that everything that you're doing is either going to impact your tribe either positively or negatively. And what the work [is] that you're doing, how is that going to actually help your tribe or not help your tribe because sometimes we're afraid to move forward and to change, but in order to change you really need to know what it is that your community wants and to respect what their thoughts are and what they want for the future. Thank you."

Peterson Zah: Native Nation Building: The Place of Education

American Indian Studies Program

Dr. Peterson Zah, former Chairman and President of the Navajo Nation, discusses the importance of higher education in empowering Native nations' efforts to achieve their nation-building goals. He also discusses the Navajo Nation Permanent Trust Fund as an example of the strategic orientation that Native nations need to have if they are going to truly become self-sufficient.

Native Nations
Resource Type

Zah, Peterson. "Native Nation Building: The Place of Education." American Indian Studies Program, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. September 23, 2013. Presentation.

Peterson Zah:

“[Navajo language]. Thank you, Manley [Begay], for the introduction and then thank you all for being here today to share some ideas, some things that we all as Native community need to think about as well as discuss among ourselves. I really appreciate the invitation to come here.

In working with Diane Humetewa, most of you know she’s a very fine lawyer. She’s the former U.S. Attorney and now has been nominated by the [Obama] Administration to become the next federal judge here in Tucson and she’s one of these scholars that we rarely have as American Indian, Native people. And I think…and I believe what Manley says that some day you’re going to hear more about her because of her commitment to...the concept of justice and she’s that good, just really an outstanding citizen.

My talk as I understand it from little brother here says talk about nation building. I think nation building is the way to go in sovereign Indian Country problem nowadays. We’ve come a long ways where we would take an issue by itself and maybe an issue with a certain group and we try to work with that specific group in trying to resolve the issue, but we have come this far where we now have to work with other entities around that group. No problem has ever been resolved satisfactorily when groups are trying to do that by themselves. You have to work with other entities. There’s just no way around the whole idea.

When I went to Arizona State University, I wanted to increase the student population because that’s what the president wanted. He says, ‘We get American Indian students and we can’t seem to go above 672 and when we do, they leave us the next year and we need to keep them there.’ That was his charge. And then I started thinking, ‘Well, he hasn’t given me any staff or any money so this means I’ve got to do this alone.’ And I knew that I can’t do something like that alone. I’ve got to involve other people, I’ve got to reach out, I’ve got to change the concept of how people recruit students.

And so I went over to the recruitment office and I says, ‘Can you guys tell me where you recruit more students for ASU [Arizona State University]?’ And then they started going to the board and they said, ‘New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Denver, Colorado.’ And I was sitting there and I said, ‘What about Indian reservation?’ And one guy who was the director says, ‘We don’t go Indian reservations because there’s…when we drive out there, there’s nobody around.’ And the guys says, ‘I drove across from Flagstaff, Arizona, through Hopi, all the way out to Gallup, New Mexico, and I saw two people.’ And the guy was trying to justify why they don’t go to an Indian reservation and I told him, I says, ‘You know what, they’re underneath all those bushes. You have to beat the bushes for them to get up and then when they get up, you grab them by the neck and then you drag them here to the university. And when they come, make sure that you educate all the staff people here at this university to welcome them, give them a reception, a warm welcome. You people don’t do that. You don’t do that.’ And so that’s how the recruitment got started.

And for me personally instead of trying to hit the different meetings or tribal council meeting or to the school board meeting, I go to a Yeibicheii dance, traditional Navajo dances, and I grab the microphone and while the Yeibicheiis are dancing away, I’m talking about education and trying to convince the parents that any child who’s able, capable, academically inclined, have a desire to better their lot, those individuals should be given an opportunity. And so basically that was the approach that we use to get students to come to these institution because the normal process sometimes don’t work. You have to think out of the box and maybe do strange things to get people over to where you want them to be.

And so I was so happy in 2008, a Navajo student came to me and she says, ‘Mr. Zah, I want to look at your calendar.’ Look at my calendar? I thought she was there to discuss a problem that she might have and I thought to myself, ‘Well, there’s nothing to seeing my calendar with her,’ and so I opened my calendar and then she says, ‘Mark that date!’ And I said, ‘What’s happening on that day?’ It’s like, ‘Graduation at ASU.’ And I said, ‘What do you want me to do?’ She says, ‘I don’t know, but I want you to be there, we want you to be there. We, the graduating students and faculty.’ So I marked it on my calendar and that day I went over to Grady Gammage Auditorium and I was there for the graduation and I thought that…two days before the graduation I thought she might come back in, ‘And I know she wanted me…maybe she wants me to talk,’ so I started writing my speech. And being ready so that when she comes back, I’ll say, 'Yes,' and then I’m the speaker.

She came back in and I said, ‘Well, I’ve got it all written out.’ And she says, ‘Written out what?’ And I said, ‘My talk.’ And she said, ‘No. We don’t want you to talk.’ I said, ‘What do you want me to do?’ And she says, ‘All we want you to do is sit on the stage.’ And I said, ‘What’s happening?’ She says, ‘All of the work that we have been able…’ and she was one of these students that was very active. ‘All the work that we have done recruiting, retention, increasing the graduation rate, all of that, the cumulative of all of the hard work you’re going to see in May on that date at ASU graduation.’ So I went, again I wasn’t happy with our conversation. I says, ‘What do you specifically want me to do when I’m sitting on the stage?’ And she said, ‘Smile. Smile. You’re going to be happy and you’re going to be smiling.’

And what she meant was that, 'We’re going to have over 300 American Indian students graduating and we’re going to march them in from your left, they’re going to get their diploma, because there are so many of them we’re going to have some more on your right and they’re going to get their diploma and you’ll be sitting there, these are all your students that you recruited. And out of that group we’ve got 22 doctorate, 56 master’s degree,' and many, many of those students became principals, teachers. Many of the master’s degree students were in charge of programs in Navajo.

And so when you get other people involved in the recruitment that you’re trying to do, that is something that you should look at as your goal because you can’t do it by yourself, you can’t do it alone. You’ve got to get other people involved. So basically that was something that ASU enjoyed and that was the day I decided in my own head, ‘We’ll never match that again, so I’m going to resign and retire.’ So the next year I left and I’ve been in retirement for the last…going into my fourth year. I thought I was going to stay home. I even bought a rocking chair and I wanted to just sleep, but it didn’t happen that way. There’s more work at home and if you’re not connected to any program, if you’re not a tribal employee or university employee or state employee, you can do many things because you’re free. You’re free.

And so basically, with me, since my retirement, I’ve been just working out with people in trying to improve their programs; many, many of them that need political muscle because here’s what’s happening, for those of you that are American Indian students and Navajo students, particularly. We have out on the Navajo, for example, Navajo Housing Authority, Navajo Oil & Gas, Navajo Gaming Enterprise; we have all these other divisions, there’s hundreds of them. All of the young, articulate, smart Navajo students are running those projects, rightfully so, except they’re not very well versed in their own peoples’ language, lifestyle. They have a hard time communicating sometimes with the elderly people. And they have a hard time communicating with their own tribal council members so they come looking for me to re-teach in many ways, to have them re-learn this whole idea of Navajo way. And so that’s how I’m helping some of those programs and projects. You take two entities, one is the council of 24 and let’s say Navajo Oil & Gas and then I start talking to them and say, ‘These guys are into oil and gas business. Navajo Gaming Enterprise is into gaming business. They’re also now in hospitality business, whether we like it or not. They have hotels. Do we as a traditional people know all that much about hospitality business? So how do we as American Indian people explain that to the elderly people?’ And so that has been my work and the chair back at home stays there and maybe on occasion it rocks, but I’m still out there doing things that really needed to be done.

And so for those of you that are young, I would recommend that you spend less time with this little gadget here and maybe pay more attention to what your grandma and grandpa has to say because that becomes even more important. I go to these dinners sometimes with people. I never turn down a dinner with people that I’m working with because I like to eat, just like anybody. When I sit down and eat with people, there’s all these people that comes in and they have dinners with maybe their grandchildren, their siblings, sons and daughters and when I look over to that table, the young ones are all on their cell phone and their computers and they don’t talk. They don’t talk. The Navajo is following suit. They’re exactly doing the same thing and that’s why I always tell the young people, ‘When you’re with grandma and grandpa, turn them off. It won’t hurt you.’ Turn them off because they have so much to offer that sometimes we have a hard time trying to acquire through normal ways. And that’s why you have a high-paid CEO for let’s say Navajo Gaming, Navajo Oil & Gas. The Oil & Gas CEO is an engineer. He’s only maybe one of the very few, two or three, that knows how to talk Navajo that can talk still to the council, but still has problems with trying to figure out the political ways of the Navajo people.

So when Manley says this is a class or this is a talk around nation building, we really, really need to do that because Indian tribes are nations and we’re trying to build Indian nations to be like a state, not necessarily a state, but like a state and be able to learn how to operate that government. We’ve got…we came a long ways, we’ve still got some...a ways more to go, but we’re getting there and so I always like the concept of nation building. Navajo Nation years ago has taken on that task where much, much of...some of the trust funding, just trust money that we created goes into nation-building concept, so that using the nation-building concept, those trust money goes to the chapter houses and they talk about their problems, decide how they should use those monies. So trust money is beginning to really help out the Navajo people. Manley mentioned something about the trust money, let me just tell you a little about it.

For any tribal nations building a trust fund is really, really hard because there’s a tremendous need from the local community and from the local people in terms of satisfying some of those needs and you need resources. So you’re a little weird if you become the tribal chair or the president and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got to save some money.’ People look at you very funny and they say, ‘Save money? We got elected, we’ve got to deliver services so therefore we need more money.’ There’s that mentality. If you were elected you’d probably end up doing the same thing. So I was with this weird group that said, ‘We’ve got to save some money,’ because if you look at the Navajo revenues, we’re getting about 75 to 80 percent of our revenues comes from the coal and some day the coal is going to be gone. Some day the mineral resources are all going to be gone. Some day the timbers are going to be no longer there. It seems to me and it only makes common sense to save some of that money now to secure the future generation of the Navajo people and that’s why we created the Navajo Trust Fund.

Up to that time there were…it was kind of a bad word to use when you mentioned trust and the trust fund came about because Navajo Nation won a United States Supreme Court lawsuit in 1984 in Kerr-McGee v. the Navajo Nation and we went through a lot with that particular case. And I remember sitting in the council when we spent days about how we should handle the lawsuit. At that time the Navajo lawyers, there were no, well, very few Navajo lawyers, Navajo people who became lawyers. And one of your esteemed members of the faculty here, Judge Austin, was one of those young people. And when we were doing that, talking about how it should be handled, Navajo council was saying that, ‘We’ve got to get the best lawyer in the United States. We’re in Supreme Court. We want to appropriate a million dollars. So Mr. Zah, you go find that person and we’ll pay them a million dollars to defend us.’ That one thought, but I knew that there was two or three Navajo lawyers at the time. Claudine Bates Arthur was one of them, Louis Denetsosie was the other one, Herbert Yazzie was another one. And so we had few Navajo lawyers and we decided that maybe what we should do is call on a Navajo and that person can choose anyone he or she wants to handle the case with them in Supreme Court. And so we brought in the group and we interviewed them and I don’t know if there’s anyone here who knew Claudine Bates Arthur. Claudine Bates Arthur was a Navajo gal that was about that high. Her father was a Tachii’nii, so is this man here, my father’s a Tachii’nii, so is Manley, so that makes her my sister and I used to call her [Navajo language], my little sister. And I says, ‘Can you handle it?’ ‘Oh, my god, handle a Supreme Court case in the United States?’ and by that time she was out maybe five years, six years out of law school. She had a good friend, Elizabeth Bernstein who now lives here, east of us here in a community. She chose Elizabeth Bernstein. So the two of them, we used to fly into Phoenix and we had these mock trial. We selected judges or lawyers that knows Indian law and they acted as justices, four or five of them and they made their presentation. Then we had some more lawyers to critique them. We went over that, over and over so many times before we ever got into Supreme Court.

When we went into Supreme Court, I was there with Edward T. Begay, who was the vice president, and maybe one or two council delegates and we were sitting in the front row just like the way you’re sitting here. And when the United States Supreme Court justices came in, nine of them, they all sat, it was kind of scary, intimidated by those people that know justice, that knows the law so much to be sitting there. And Claudine and Elizabeth did a really, really good job in making their presentation. And at the end of that day we were so happy and some good question, good question, outstanding questions by the justices. And the one thing that I remember at my age you have a tendency to forget things, I don’t even know what I did yesterday, but I remember specifically one justice said to Kerr-McGee, who was extracting coal in the Farmington area that filed a suit against the Navajo Nation, one justice says to Kerr-McGee lawyer, ‘Your client, when they went out to Navajo Reservation out there, did they go out there on their own will? And then went and found the Navajo coal and then they went to the tribal council and asked for a lease? Or did the Navajo Nation seek them out in the community and then against their will brought them over to the Navajo Nation and had them work there to extract coal? What happened?’ And the answer was that ‘we went out there on our own will.’ ‘And are you being taxed wherever you are operating?’ They were asked that question. And they said, ‘Yeah, everywhere we go we’re being taxed except the Navajo,’ and that’s what this case is all about. So the justice says, ‘Then what makes you think that it’s okay with you that you’re paying taxes to all those other states in the other areas except the Navajo? You have to pay taxes too because they’re looking for revenues. Their people are hungry and their people need jobs.’ And that justice really went into the lawyer from the other side and I think that’s what the case really turned on. That was the last time Navajo Nation won a legal case in United States Supreme Court and that’s when we won over $177 million.

The question was, ‘When the $177 million that we got, what do you do with that money?’ I was the tribal chair. I was the most popular guy in Window Rock because the bank just turned over all that money and I was maybe, looked like you, nice, young, handsome. And I had that money and it was almost up to me and the council as to what we wanted to do. What would you do if you’re being put in that position? Just think about it. What would you do? Wanting advice, seeking advice. You know where I went? Not to New York City on the Wall Street, not to any of the money managers -- I went to my mother, who was a traditional Navajo person with sheep. And I was telling her what had happened, that we got a lot of money that we won and I said, ‘Mother, if you were me, what would you do with it? If you were a member of the council, what would you recommend?’ And she says a question back to me and said, ‘Can money be treated like a sheep?’ Uh, can money be sheep? And what she meant was this. She says, ‘I’ve been a sheepherder all my life and I have this size corral and 200 to 300 sheep can get in there. And when I have that many sheep, I can sell them, I can feed you kids. We can have mutton day and night if you have that many sheep, it won’t affect our herd.’ And she says, ‘Remember one time you were a freshman in college at ASU when our herd went all the way down and we only had 15.' 'That was a pathetic sight,’ she says. ‘We only had 15. And I told you kids, I gathered you kids, your sisters and your brothers, and I said, ‘you can’t have any mutton this year.’ That 15 has to grow back up. If we wait one year, that 15 is going to be 30. If we wait another year, that 30 is going to turn to 60 and then we’re going to be back at the comfortable level.’' Her question was, ‘Can you treat money the same way you treat sheep?’ And when I heard that, I says, ‘Ah ha, she’s talking about trust. She’s talking about creating trust fund.’ So you put money in the bank and the money will grow.

And I went back to Window Rock really, really happy, thinking to myself, ‘There’s the answer and I’d gotten advice from somebody and I don’t even have to pay her.’ And so that’s how the trust money came about and the trust money right now is almost two billion. It goes back and forth depending on the economy and what’s happened at Wall Street. And when we get over to two billion, they’ll probably get another A rating. So this time it’ll be Double A. So that’s where Navajo Nation is right now. The council has already decided to use interest earned to build the casinos. So using the, and not the principal, the interest earned, [Navajo language]. Each year they decided to use that. So just think about it this way, if you have almost two billion, let’s say you have two billion, if the interest rate is five percent, how much is that? If the interest rate is 10 percent of the two billion, how much is that? They’re using that money, but not spending the principal. So using the interest earned they were able to build the casino at Gallup, Fire Rock. They were able to build Farmington, New Mexico. What was the name for that? Northern Edge. Navajos, they always give their own name to these places. At Gallup, [Navajo language]. Fire Rock, [Navajo language]. There’s a fire, then you just sit around the fire. They haven’t given the Twin Arrow a name yet, it’s too new, but they used that money to build that and the one at Ship Rock and then now with the Twin Arrow so all that trust money, interest that they earned each year was used for that.

Why am I telling you this? We’re talking about nation building that you have that class here, that’s what the course is about. Navajo is the only tribe that I know where in the process of building those casinos, they didn’t have to go to the bank. They didn’t go to Wells Fargo. They used their own money to build those casinos. So during the grand opening, the first customer that came in and spent the money that went to Navajo into the tribal treasury. All these other casinos, I stayed at the one over here and I donated last night and that money goes over to Wells Fargo and it’s going to be like that for I don’t know how many years, 20 or 30 years. So the whole idea of trust, creating a trust fund, that’s what it did. That’s what it did. And you have to understand the principle, interest earned; the principle, interest earned. We can’t allow the council to spend and go after the principal, almost two billion. People always ask me, ‘[Navajo language]. Why are you so stingy with that money?’ They ask me. And here’s what I tell them. I tell them that ‘If we do a good job of handling this trust money and then we wait another 15, 17, 18 more years, it could be up to three or four billion. If we wait another 10 more years, it could be up to five billion and it’s just going to keep on growing. And if we don’t allow the council to spend that principal, you know what could happen? 20 more years the whole Navajo Nation can live off the interest that it earns each year and we don’t have to beg anybody for any money elsewhere. That’s what it means.’

But it took a lot of courage, it took a lot of spunk to do that because it was an unusual thing to do at the time, it still is an unusual thing for anybody to do. That was one of the things that we did during our administration. Karen [Francis-Begay] is here, my daughter. Her father took part working with me at the time to create the trust fund and we had that in mind. So it’s getting there. It’s getting there. But the thing about it is this. Every once in a while the council would [say], ‘Pete Zah out there?’ ‘No.’ [Navajo language] ‘Well, let’s go. We have $1.7 billion. Can you make a motion to get $500 million out of there?’ [Navajo language] So I guess by saying that, we need more people to safeguard, to safeguard that principal in the trust fund. I’m telling you only one trust fund. There’s 10 others. There’s 11 trust funds. So it was something new that was happening back then and it didn’t come from an individual with a big huge doctorate, university degree. It came from a sheepherder -- the suggestion, the idea. So you should never sell yourself short. Idea can move mountains. Idea is something that is a very, very powerful thing, particularly if you move it. It can move at its own pace and that’s why you’re going to college and the importance of going to college here really expands your mind so that you’re well versed in what’s going on in the world. And that’s something that I think all of the people that work with the students should realize and recognize that that’s the way to do it is to get that college education. So it’s important that you continue to work in those ways.

The other thing that I wanted to just tell you is that Navajo Nation is embarking on many, many major decisions right now, huge decisions. Because if you look at what’s happening to the coal industry, the whole nation is moving away from the use of coal to produce electricity. Right now, Navajo has a role in deciding something about the electricity. So this thing probably comes from Navajo. So if Navajo don’t want to get into that, we can go over to the light and turn it off. This electricity comes from Navajo coal, but EPA [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] is really clamping down on fossil fuel, the use of fossil fuel to produce electricity and Arizona Public Service, all of the entities like them are beginning to suggest to the Navajo people that they should sell their power plant. So you have a power plant over in Page, I think four or five units there. You have a power plant over in Farmington, New Mexico, four or five units there. Those guys who own that, all of a sudden in the year 2013 became such nice guys. They want to sell it to the Navajo Nation. They’ve been mean all these hundred years, but one day somebody told them, ‘You’ve got to be nice to them,’ and so they’re saying, ‘We’re going to sell it to you for $182 million,’ or whatever it is. What do you think about it? For me, we’re going to be buying a used car. You know what I mean? A used car that has, what? 400,000 miles on it? And that’s going to cost us a lot of money. It’s up for discussion right now and you should be able to participate and all of the other things that will go with it. So here’s what I can’t really see, EPA, if you read…last night, I read another article that came out in USA Today how all of these plants are going to be shut down and new plants, they’re not going to be allowed to build new plants using fossil fuel and that means that electricity-producing firms are going to go to the natural gas. And why are we sitting in the council talking about the use of fossil fuel when EPA’s doing what they’re doing? It just doesn’t really make any sense. So you should participate in those discussions and see where you come out with your question on the proposed activities. And as a student, as a young person, I think you should try those kinds of discussions among and with your own people.

I really like what you are doing here regarding some of the classes that you are having. The students seem to be very well engaged in what goes on, they want to learn. And then for those of you that are Native American, education is so important in your life and in our lives. The Navajo people for example have come a long, long ways going all the way back 100 years ago, even 50 years, 60 years ago. In 1940, 1945 the United States discovered that there were 37,000 Navajo people that are of school age that had not enrolled in a school, that were not going to school. Imagine that: 37,000 Navajo people not in school of school age. I was one of them. I was one of them. So United States devise a program called Special Navajo Program and they put me into that institution and I became a student at Phoenix Indian School way back in 1948. And I always tell my grandchildren, ‘That program was called Special Navajo Program, so I’m special.’ And it was a program where you went to school for five years, only five years and they gave you a diploma, a certificate that shows to the market out there in the community that you’re a good worker, you’re a good carpenter, you’re a good painter, you’re a plumber. These are all the things that you’re good at and then they give you a certificate and they kick you out of the school. So I was on that program and something like the last week of school I decided, ‘I want to go to college!’ And the teachers would laugh, ‘You want to go to college? My god, you should have decided that 20 years ago.’ But I have a little fire in me and I decided as I was walking out almost practically crying that, ‘I’m going to show these guys and I’m going to invite them some day when I’m graduating from a university. To hell with them.’ And so that challenge is important because most of the teachers there, they said, ‘You can’t do it. You’ll never do it.’ When I was graduating from ASU in 1962 getting my degree in education, I sent a personal invitation to all of these teachers that were still at Indian School. None of them came. I wasn’t disappointed, but none of them came. I’m telling you that because you can’t always depend on those kinds of things. It’s what you’ve got in here. It’s what you have in here. It’s a desire that you have to do certain things.

So when I came back on the Navajo Reservation, I knew that there were some things that really needed to be done. And from DNA People’s Legal Services Program I decided that there were some people who were asking me to run for the tribal chair and there were a lot of people that said, ‘You can’t do it.’ And I said, ‘Oh, my god, that’s what they said back there.’ ‘You can’t do it because Peter MacDonald has all the power. He has all of the money,’ and they had a magazine, they had a magazine called Mother Jones Magazine. I don’t know if you remember and they had a picture of him with holding the coal saying, ‘The most powerful Indian in America,’ and so people that found out I was running they said, ‘See, you’re not going to win.’ Well, that was all I needed. That was all I needed. So when people say that, it kind of makes me angry, makes me angry and I want to prove to them that they are wrong.

The same thing as when I went to work at ASU, there was a provost -- imagine that, a provost -- he’s in second command. One day he walked into my office, I was sitting there trying to think how I should do certain things about our American Indian program and the provost sat down, he introduced himself and he says, ‘Pete, I’ve been reading all these rules, statistics, data, and you’re in charge of American Indian programs.' 'My advice to you,’ he says, ‘is that any American Indian who wants to enroll at ASU, we should just send him away. We should send him away to a school where they can last at that school and get their degree. This record shows that we’re losing them left and right and they never stay. We’ve got one of the poorest record on Native American retention so my advice to you is instead of getting some more white hair over that issue, we should just send them away. You’ll be doing them a favor.’ That was what the provost told me. True story. The exact words. So when I heard that, I was thinking to myself, ‘Well, that’s what Phoenix Indian School told me. That’s what the election process on the Navajo, some of those people told me. Now, Mr. Provost, you’re the third one.’ So I made sure in May of 2008 when all these kids were graduating, getting their degree, I invited him. I invited him and I had him sit in the front row. I wasn’t smiling like the way the student wanted me to. I was smiling at him.

So you’ve got to have that desire, you’ve got to have that fire in you. You’re the only person that knows yourself best, when to do some of these things. And so don’t ever fall for people that are trying to shortchange you because they don’t know you. You’re the only one that knows what your capabilities are. So I just wanted to leave you with that and be able to use that. I used to be a basketball coach because I played ball at Phoenix College. And one of the things that I learned from the coach was that there are some kids you have to baby, you have to baby them and say, ‘Hey, that was not right, son.’ You have to put your arm around them, you practically have to cry for them to learn. There are some other people that you have to shake, get after them. So using that psychology, different people because of our chemistry, we get motivated in different ways by different methods. You need to find your niche and what that niche is, what excites you, that’s I think very important thing to learn in life. And that I also want to leave with you and thank you for the invitation. [Navajo language]."

Manley Begay:

"Yeah, go ahead here then over there. Go ahead.”

Audience member:

“I was just wondering, today are any of the other tribes in the state trying to do the endowment approach, do you know?”

Peterson Zah:

“The reason why I’m telling you about the trust fund and endowment is that we have Indian tribes who are into casino that are beginning to make money, not a whole lot. If you’re a member of that particular tribe, then you should encourage them that while they can, while they’re making money to create endowment funds for the nation because you’d be surprised how fast that works. That’s your security. It’s like a child having a security blanket. It’s something that I think you need to encourage them. The question over here was the endowed funds over at ASU, the one that Manley was referring to, what’s happening there is this. Sandra Day O’Connor is the person that the law school was named after at ASU and she’s doing a good job working with the university in bringing in funds to the law school. What university has decided is to use my name and raise money using my name so that they can keep the Indian Law program going in perpetuity. Any money they get, they’re going to put it into trust, and then using the interest earned they’re going to go out and hire the most prominent Indian lawyer and have them teach that course one year or two years. After the two years is up, they’re going to bring in another person using that endowed money and then they’re going to have that person give them service for another year or two years. And if you have money endowed and put into trust, that thing can keep on going forever and that’s what they’re trying to do.”

Audience member:

Last year, about a year ago, the Resources and Development Committee in conjunction with the Dine College, they hosted that 'Nation Building Summit.' And I think shortly after you wrote an editorial to The Navajo Times and I think you had cautioned people about the like -- how can I phrase this -- like the council is approaching the spending of the permanent trust fund without much planning. And so if at any point it goes to referendum and the people indeed do choose to spend that money for whatever purposes, infrastructure, development or whatever, what kind of -- from your perspective -- what kind of planning do you think the students now within their education should be focusing on if that happens?”

Peterson Zah:

“There’s 110 chapters on the Navajo Nation. There’s 24 council [members]. What she’s referring to is a year ago the Navajo Nation Committee of RDC, Resource Development Committee, the Resource Development Committee decided that, ‘When we go out to these 110 chapters, they always have some needs, whether that’s employment, whether that’s materials for the chapter house, whether that’s food for the people to eat, they always have a need,’ they said. ‘But we don’t have any money,’ they said. ‘So why don’t we ask all these 110 chapters to come in and we’ll ask each one of these 110 chapters what they want.’ Christmas in the middle of the summer, so to speak, ‘and then we’ll add up that money, however many it is, we’ll add it up and then we’ll go to…’ At that time the trust money was at $1.5 billion. They said, ‘We’ll get the numbers from the 110 chapters, we’ll add it up and that’s how much money we’re going to get out.’ And it was anywhere from $75 to $150 million. That’s a lot. $75 to $150 million and all the 110 chapters were represented, RDC members were there, the council delegates of 24, some of them were there.”

Manley Begay:

“We were there, the two of us.”

Peterson Zah:

“Well, this is a Navajo trick between him and I. I was not really invited to be there, but they invited Manley to be a guest speaker the second morning, the second day. And Manley comes up to me in the morning and he says, ‘Why don’t I speak for a little while and then when all the people come back, I’ll give you the floor. I’ll yield my time over to you and then you can speak to the group.’ So I said to him, ‘Well, if that’s what you want to do, let’s do it.’ So it was a deal, Navajo trick. And so he gets up there and the chairman of the RDC gives him the mic and he was speaking away and then he says, ‘You know, we haven’t really asked a guy who created those money and save all of that much money. Nobody’s ever asked him. He’s sitting here. So I’m going to ask Mr. Zah to come up and see what he thinks. Is this the money that we could use for what is being discussed yesterday and today? So why don’t you come up and say something.’ So he stepped down, the chair then got up and she said, ‘Okay, Mr. Zah, get up and you talk. Here your brother’s given some time. Whatever amount of time he has left, you could use it.’ Well, that was all I needed. That was all I needed and I told about how the trust money was created, how the case was handled, who handled the case and then I told them about creating an escrow fund.

I says, ‘This is…this case that we won is over taxation and we’re going to tax all the companies that operate on the Navajo Nation and we want to build an escrow account so that while the case is pending in court, they could be paying. So each year the companies can pay into an escrow account the money that they’re supposed to pay for that year. And I told the companies, I brought in the companies just like you, there were a lot of people there, the president of Peabody, the president of this and the president of this, they were all there and I told them, I said, ‘You know, you guys sued me and why don’t we have an agreement? We’re in court. Why don’t we create an escrow account over at the bank and then you pay your money into that account? If you beat me, then you take all the money back. If we win, then we get all the money. That’s a fair deal. That’s America. Competition.’ [Navajo language] And so they agreed to it. And I told that story to the people and I says, ‘You know, it’s like this, we put a bucket here. It’s raining or there’s snow and the water is dripping [Navajo Language]. The water is dripping into that bucket and all during that time when it was dripping it start building up to over $270 million and then we won and we got that money. And then we ran to the bank to put it back into trust for your children [Navajo language].'

Now this council here, they want to take the money out. It’s like taking food out of your own grandchildren [Navajo language]. Now these guys have a legal problem, the council [Navajo language].’ I said, ‘Some of them were criminally charged for misusing the discretionary fund.’ [Navajo language] I said, ‘They were using discretionary funds and they ran out of that discretionary fund so they’re looking at that. That’s what they want.’ Oh, those guys started listening and I told them, I said, ‘My recommendation is that we leave this alone until they take care of their legal problem, until the court says, ‘No, they’re not guilty’ [Navajo language]. I just don’t trust them. When they get some of that money out, they’re going to go back to that discretionary fund. There’s no use in hiding. I’m an old man, I’ve got nothing to lose. I’m your cheii’.’ [Navajo language] And that’s when all hell broke loose. And so we end that…we ended that where the people went back into their respective groups because they were having a big breakout session and they all decided that, ‘No, we don’t want to spend the money. We want to save. We want to save for our children, generations of Navajo people, not now.’ [Navajo language] These guys still have legal problems that hasn’t been cleared up in court.

That’s the way you have to be. You see that thing that I was talking to you about, the little fire inside of you, the little fire inside of you. You’ve got to have a courage to do all of this. I don’t know what they think, but from that day on I was not a popular person with the council. But that’s okay, the hell with them. I helped them. I helped them, but when they decided to deliberately mislead the people and do something wrong, somebody has to speak up. So essentially, that’s my work unfortunately right now. But it’s okay because as Navajo people say, 'The elderly people have lot of wisdom, and it’s something that we use based on our experience.' And so that’s what happened in relative to your question.”

Manley Begay:

“I attended all these sessions, these breakout sessions. My brother says there’s 110 chapters, there’s 300,000 Navajos, we have 27,000 square miles of land, we have every issue under the sun: water issues, land issues, road issues, sewer issues, housing issues, elder issues, veterans issues and the list goes on. So all these breakout sessions dealt with these issues at Navajo. So what they were doing was, ‘Okay, here are our needs: elders issues, veterans issues, so forth and so on, children’s issues, education issues,’ and they tacked on dollar amounts to them. In the half a day that $1.5 billion was gone, it was gone. And they were saying the need was even greater than $1.5 billion, which is true, but if you want to secure your future as a nation, you have to save that money. You’ve got to think way ahead, not right now, but way ahead because the Navajo Nation is going to get stronger, the grandkids are going to come, the great grandkids are going to come. You’ve got to think way ahead. You can’t just spend all this money now. So when I went to these sessions, that’s what was going on. After my brother spoke, people said, ‘Wait a minute, [Navajo language], wait a minute. Let’s think about this a little bit more clearly. Let’s not just think about ourselves, let’s think about the future,’ and that’s what happened. So everything got stopped. Now we’re beginning to see the rewards of the money being set aside. Just spend the interest, don’t spend the principal because the principal was already spent, it was gone, it’s gone. Once it’s gone, it’s not going to come back. So if it’s going to be the Navajo Nation Permanent Trust Fund, let’s make it permanent, let’s not make it temporary. It doesn’t say 'Navajo Nation Temporary Fund,' it’s a permanent fund for the future. So that’s what my brother did, put that together. Another question.”

Audience member:

“Could you speak a little bit how you went about establishing the Supreme Court for Navajo Nation?”

Peterson Zah:

“Supreme Court was something that…it was considered in reaction to what was going on at the time. This is really, really crazy. There was a suit that was filed against the tribal council and one of the judges had the case and that judge ruled against the council on an issue. So the council then decided or that particular delegate then decided to share the issue with the rest of the council and the rest of the council said, ‘Well, instead of talking about all this, let’s just get rid of the crazy judge,’ and so they did. Another issue came about almost identical, a different judge handled it this time and the tribal council lost again so the council said, ‘Well, let’s get rid of that guy, too.’ And when you start getting rid of judges like that consistently, it means you’re sending a message to the world that you have inconsistent thinking, inconsistent tribal government and that they’re not stable. It needs to be stabilized. So we created a Supreme Court where we said, ‘Council has to get out of there. They should not be doing what they’re doing,’ and so we created the Supreme Court. And they were an entity unto themselves and I ended up as an individual that chose as a chairman of the tribe…that chose the Supreme Court justice and the panel of the Supreme Court. And so now it became a three-branch government. So the courts and judicial system is one, legislative, and the executive branch. So they’re deciding on many of those issues without having to fear that the council may go after them and that was the purpose of Navajo Nation Supreme Court. Supreme Court did a lot of things. They created what they call peacemaking process, peacemaker court. Peacemaker court is another concept of…another way of settling disputes and the way the Navajos were doing it, it went over wild, all over the place, even the states were calling in the Navajo Nation tribal judges to talk to the state judges about how they’re dong theirs. It went everywhere. The Navajo courts were a consistent guest at Harvard University, Yale, Stanford, all those big law schools where they conducted some of those sessions and so…then it even got recognized internationally. So under that kind of independent court/judicial system, they did a lot. And that was the purpose for creating the nation’s court, Supreme Court, and now they’re kind of like a model to all of the other Indian tribes. And you have a situation now where the Navajo judges are people, Navajo people who have law degree that are sitting there that talks Navajo. They can go back and forth on the values of those two entities. And the outside people, the outside lawyers, now they respect the decision of the Navajo court and because they decide those issues to the satisfaction of both parties.”

Manley Begay:

“One more question.”

Audience member:

“What do you see like the, for the Navajo Nation to become like economically and financially stable and zero reliance on the government, what do you see as the biggest obstacle for Navajo Nation to get there? Is it like a mindset or is it...what do you see that…what’s preventing us from getting there, I guess?”

Peterson Zah:

“Economic development is very, very [expensive]. Any kind of economic development is expensive and it’s also hard to get into that area because how the people are holding onto the land. Young people just like you, when you drive across the reservation, you’re driving, ‘Next service station 45 miles,’ and you look at your gauge, ‘Oh, my god, I’m going to run out,’ and so you have that situation now. And the reason why that is persistent is the people who have grazing rights to the land that comes up to the highway, they don’t want gas station. Somebody was telling me seven percent of the Navajo population holds grazing permit, seven percent holds the whole Navajo Nation in abeyance for the lack of economic development. They’re hostage, holding the Navajo people hostage. And that’s a major, major problem, the land issue and I think we need to correct that in some ways. I don’t really know what the answer is, but somewhere in between just getting the reservation open and then having some concept of ownership of lands in some degree and then having the land use right or land use…yeah, land use, write program at each chapter. If you belong to a chapter, you should be able to say, ‘Hey, we have this chapter house here. We should have schools here, schools for our children. We should have housing here for us to live in. We should have business development right here, service station. We should have…that’s what we should really be doing.’ But the chapters are fighting themselves because those are the grazing permittees land, grazing right land and the first thing they say is, ‘No.’ You’ve got to have a different concept.

I like my dad, my dad who used to be at Low Mountain Chapter and this is kind of funny. My dad had a good sense of humor. He was trained as a Navajo Nation Code Talker and one day he went home, we were with him and he says, ‘I came home because I want to be with you guys and I’ve got two weeks off because after I get back to San Diego, we’re sailing to Japan. We’re ready to go to battle,’ he said. ‘And I won’t be seeing you guys for a long time.’ [Navajo language]. So he went back. Two weeks later he was back and I said, ‘Hey, what happened? I thought you were going to be gone for a year.’ And he says, ‘No, don’t you know that the war is over in Japan?’ he says. ‘The Japanese people found out I was coming so they surrendered.’ He always had a real good sense of humor, the stories about him that I’m going to tell you.

Well, he belonged to that chapter and he was a chapter officer at one time at Low Mountain and Low Mountain had no chapter, Low Mountain had no houses, Low Mountain had no roads. We had nothing. And when people in the community would say, ‘We’ve got to have a place to build our chapter house,’ all these land permittees said, ‘No. [Navajo language]. No. No. No. Keep it out of there.’ [Navajo language]. Well, my dad had a grazing permit and so he says to these people that were planning a chapter house, he said, ‘You could come over to our land where we have a permit, grazing permit,’ and he says, ‘I’ll give you that land free,’ he says. ‘And when we have a chapter house, then I want to have a road that also goes through my land, highway all the way to the other highway, connected, all on my land,’ he says. And he told the chapter people, ‘When it snows and rains, we all end up in the mud. So when that day comes, I want only my family to use that road,’ he said. ‘All you other guys, you get your truck in the mud and you stay there,’ he said. He says, ‘That’s what you’re doing. That’s what you’re doing. That’s what you’re asking for.’ So they built a chapter house on his land where he’s holding the grazing permit and they put a road through where it was his grazing right land. And sometimes you have to say that to people. Some of those people didn’t think it was funny, but he thought it was funny that people were doing that. And so that’s how those things got…we need more people that are willing and in the best interest of the community, in the best interest of nation building, who think that way. He said, ‘I’m not sacrificing a land, that’s a poor use of word, sacrificing. I’m not sacrificing.’ And then the committee member says, ‘Well, the Navajo Nation has an account for anybody who gives up the land to pay for the use of that land.’ He didn’t want any money. He says, ‘You know, the real Navajo story is, you don’t sell your mother. You don’t sell your mother for money because that land is part of the Mother Earth. It’s for people’s use. It’s for [Navajo language],’ he says. ‘And I’m not going to get paid and I’m not going to demand money to sell my mother to somebody. Use it.’ He says, ‘I’m getting old anyway.’ And so we need more people who think that way, who are dedicated 100 percent to the community and to their people.”