checks and balances

Northern Cheyenne Constitutional Reform

Year

The Northern Cheyenne Tribe is a sovereign nation. It is a federally-recognized Indian tribe with powers and authority to govern the activities of its members. The Tribe is governed by a Constitution and Bylaws first adopted on November 23, 1935. In the early 1990s, in order to meet the demands of the expanding population and economic growth of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, the Tribal Council determined that its constitution needed to be amended. A Constitution Revision Committee was established to facilitate this process. The Committee was assigned the task of coming up with proposed constitutional amendments, hold public hearings and present their findings and recommendations to the Tribal Council. Finally, on May 10, 1996, a set of constitutional amendments was voted and adopted by the membership of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. The amendments were divided into three parts: Governmental Reform, Separation of Powers, and Code of Ethics...

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Gourneau, Norma, and Ian Record. "Northern Cheyenne Constitutional Reform." Red Ink: A Native American Student Publication. Vol. 8, No. 2. American Indian Studies Program, The University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. 2000: 63-66. Article.

Justin Beaulieu: The Red Lake Nation's Approach to Constitutional Reform

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Justin Beaulieu (Red Lake Nation), coordinator of the Red lake Nation Constitution Reform Initiative, provides a detailed overview of how the Red Lake Nation's constitution reform committee has designed and is implementing a methodical, strategic, comprehensive approach to reviewing and reforming the nation's constitution that puts primary emphasis on full, meaningful participation by the Red Lake people in the process.

Resource Type
Citation

Beaulieu, Justin. "The Red Lake Nation's Approach to Constitutional Reform." Leading Native Nations interview series. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Walker, Minnesota. July 9, 2014. Interview.

Ian Record:

"Welcome to Leading Native Nations. I'm your host, Ian Record. On today's program, we are honored to have with us Justin Beaulieu, a citizen of the Red Lake Nation in Minnesota. Justin currently serves as Coordinator of the Red Lake Constitutional Reform Initiative and earlier this year he was chosen by the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development to serve as one of three members of the inaugural Cohort in its Honoring Nations Leadership Program. Justin, welcome and good to have you with us today."

Justin Beaulieu:

"Thank you, Ian. It's a pleasure."

Ian Record:

"So I've shared a little bit about who you are, but why don't you start off and just tell us a little bit more about yourself?"

Justin Beaulieu:

"Well, I'm a father of two beautiful children with my wife Anne and pretty much my job and my kids are my life. I spend a lot of time in the outdoors. I like to hunt, fish, trap, do a lot of the cultural activities, go ricing and maple syruping. It's...just kind of live the old way and I learned from my grandpa and my dad."

Ian Record:

"That's great. The reason I wanted to sit down and have a chat with you today is because of your involvement in Red Lake's constitutional reform effort, which is still very much early in its development and we'll talk about that, but I wanted to start at the beginning. And based upon your knowledge as a citizen of the nation and obviously your involvement as coordinator of the actual reform initiative, what in your view prompted Red Lake to go down the reform road to begin with?"

Justin Beaulieu:

"I think -- and this conversation's been going on for a long time -- we had a discussion with Chairman [Darrell] Seki, our new elected chairman, the other day and he was talking about how his grandfather and grandma used to talk with other elders in the tribe and this was probably in the late 20s, 30s and they were talking about how our constitution then, the 1918 constitution, it didn't align with our cultural values or who we are or what we're about to what we felt was important as a people. So then as a nation, I think that has been passed along from parents to children to grandchildren to great grandchildren and finally we did a GANN [Governance Analysis for Native Nations session] in 2010 with Native Nations Institute and I think that was one of the catalysts that kind of drove that conversation into the forefront that said, ‘Okay, we can do this now. We've been talking about it for a long time, let's go ahead and do it.'"

Ian Record:

"So I should mention a GANN is a Governance Analysis for Native Nations session. It's a tool that nations use to assess their current governance systems and constitutions being part of that. When I first met you, you were a member of Cohort 2 of the Bush Native Nation Rebuilders Program and at that time you were working for Mille Lacs Band."

Justin Beaulieu:

"Yes."

Ian Record:

"And you've since returned to your own nation, Red Lake, and I'm curious, how did you become...how did you come to serve as coordinator of this constitutional reform initiative, and maybe shed a little bit of light on what your role is within this effort?"

Justin Beaulieu:

"Sure. Okay, we'll start at the beginning. Sam Strong, he went to Cohort 1 and he was part of the participation that did the GANN analysis and he was part of the team that brought me back to Red Lake. He had made a phone call, we had met through the Rebuilders. I didn't know Sam from anybody. He grew up in North Carolina and he went to school out east so we didn't have any previous history. So we met through the program and he called me and he said, ‘Would you mind coming home to work?' And I said, ‘Yeah, I'd love to. I've been planning on trying to find something.' I'd actually applied for three other jobs and the way it worked out I didn't get those...I didn't even get interviews for most of them because they would just fill them with whoever they wanted to at the time. So when he said, ‘Do you want to come back home,' I said, ‘Yes, I would love to.' And then he told me what it was for and I was really excited because with the conversations with my dad, with my relatives and with other people, we identified that the constitution is the first step in reassessing our governance and restructuring it to what we need as a nation to move us into the next generations. So that was kind of how I got involved in the process.

And my job as the coordinator is, we have a committee of 13 members who are...they're identified into each individual group. We have Redby, Red Lake, Little Rock and Ponemah. We have two from each one of those districts and they're the representatives that represent those people there. So they're the liaison between the people and their voice and then the committee. And then we also have a chairperson and we have a cultural advisor and we have a legal advisor. So those people are all citizen-members of Red Lake and my job is to help them to engage the community, is to get out there and do the grassroots, hit the ground running, try to figure out what they want.

But initially when I first came on, I was hoping everybody would be at the same level of education that I was with...and that wasn't the case. So we did probably like six to eight months of just real intensive training on what is a constitution, what is our constitution, researching our history, how did we get those constitutions, what was the relationships between the tribes and the governments, whether it be the state or federal during those times and what was...what were the catalysts of why they wanted to make an actual constitution in the way they did. So we did a lot of research and we put a lot of time and effort into figuring our what other tribes have done, what our tribe did in the past, how they made decisions and it was really an enlightening and learning experience for the whole committee.

So from there then I get to connect them with the community. So I coordinate community events, I coordinate... we do like powwows or celebration feasts. We also do just small group meetings. We do an advisory meeting. So my job is to make sure all of those go well, get all the people there, do all the coordination, get all the food. So it's a really intensive job, but I'm pretty good at it so I hope I'm doing a good job so far."

Ian Record:

"So you mentioned when the group first got together and you guys were trying to wrestle with, ‘How do we tackle this and this challenge that's before us and how do we develop a process,' that there was some internal learning that needed to take place and it started with developing a constitutional history of Red Lake. How important is that and what is the constitutional history of Red Lake? Where is your current...I guess first and foremost, how did Red Lake come to have its first written constitution and how did it come to have the current constitution that it governs by?"

Justin Beaulieu:

"Okay. So in 1918 we created a constitution and that constitution, it's basically identified a chieftain system, which we had the clan systems before then so it was similar to the same kind of system. But we needed to identify people to go to to make decisions about resources, about...because the government wanted trees, the lumber barons were there, the railroad was trying to come through. so there was a lot of people that needed to get access to those and also needed resources to go in and out of what we had as the current...the reservation. So when...they didn't have...they didn't know who to go to like, ‘Well, what clan deals with this or what clan deals...?' Instead they just created the constitution so they knew, ‘Okay, this is who we go to when we need to make a decision based on do we need to...require X amount of land or we want to get these trees from here so who do we talk to?' So that was one of the ways to limit the confusion between the federal government and also the businesses that were trying to do business with the tribe.

And then ultimately in 1958 we created a new constitution. This was a boilerplate IRA [Indian Reorganization Act] constitution and, that's essentially what it was, but they had been proposing since 1937, 1938 to get that constitution in place, but the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] was dragging their feet and saying, ‘No, the way it's going right now with Red Lake, we like it. We like the way it's going.' They did a big land grab with us. They got 11 million acres and we got to keep our tribe intact. We fought the Dawes Act so there's no allotment. Red Lake is one whole parcel, which I think that the foresight that our ancestors had for that was amazing. But in retrospect, looking back at it, the BIA had their hands in a lot of things for Red Lake, but Red Lake was a champion of sovereignty so they were pushing back and so they didn't want...’No, we don't want to implement this constitution because then there's democratic rule, then there's going to be some...we like the way the chief system works so we can just go, ‘Hey, we need this,'' and it was easy to work. So ultimately in 1958 they finally pushed it through and they adopted the revised constitution for Red Lake and that has been what we have been governed by since then."

Ian Record:

"So it sounds from talking with others that are involved in the Red Lake reform effort that there's a sentiment among many in the community -- including, as you mentioned, some of your own relatives -- that this current document that we govern by, it's not a product of us, it's not reflective of who we are. How much of that is driving this current movement for reform?"

Justin Beaulieu:

"I think a lot of that is. We look at our culture and our values that we hold to high esteem and none of those things are involved in that constitution. There is nothing that talks about our children, there's nothing that talks about our elders, there's nothing that talks about our language, our culture, the ways that we made decisions in the past. It's essentially a business model constitution on how to run like say for example a board of directors like Target Corporation. So it takes into account nothing that we hold near and dear to us and talks about our culture, none talks about our land. Our lake is one of the things that we're very much proponents for and stewards of and even that isn't included in there and unfortunately because of that we have lost a portion of Upper Red Lake due to mismanagement of how they did the survey and nobody was held accountable because nothing said in our constitution that ‘We are going to protect our lake in its entirety,' in the whole thing and that's going to be first and foremost. So ultimately we lost because of that."

Ian Record:

"I wanted to go back to the initiative in terms of how it was established. Can you briefly give us an overview of what this initiative looks like, how is it structured and why was it structured in the way it was and what is its I guess ultimate charge?"

Justin Beaulieu:

"Sure. Our charge is in the committee and that's who I help, is they're responsible for getting information to the people to give them a reason to kind of respond to stimulus. So if we want them to talk about something like land and natural resources, we put out a survey and ask them for information and then they respond back. And then based off that information we can kind of mine down the next questions to make them...to get kind of a smaller scope of how we're going to detail parts of the constitution and that's worked out well for us. We're separated completely from the tribal government, we're insulated in the fact that they signed off saying that they're going to be hands off for the committee and we also have contracts with each one of the committee members that states that they can't have a direct...somebody in their direct family that's either on the council or is going to serve on the council. So if like say somebody gets voted into office in our upcoming election, we have the runoff, then that means that if they were on our committee they have to step down then because that's in their contract. So that I think is...the way that is structured is good in the sense that it gives the people in the...the citizens, your average every day citizen, it gives them that sense of ‘Okay, this isn't the tribal council's idea. This is ours. This is our document, this is something that we can get behind, this is something that we can put our fingerprints on so to speak and it'll be ours.'

So it's, I think...we learned that from a couple other tribes who have done it differently and it didn't work out so well for them. It either...they either extended their time period that they...some of them even got basically...for lack of better words got their throat cut. They couldn't do constitutional reform anymore so we wanted to make sure when we set it up initially, that was one of my first questions to Sam when he asked me I said, ‘Is the tribal council going to be involved?' and he said, ‘No.' Then I said, ‘Okay, then perfect.' And I think that's the same...I don't think that I'm alone in that. I think a lot of the community members also have that kind of mistrust and it's not to say that our leaders are bad, it's just been over the years things have happened here, things have happened there and that trust has been broken and trust is very hard to build. So then to limit that, kind of the naysayers, or whatnot, we decided that we're going to keep the tribal council out of it and they're going to just allow the people to have this thing and it'll be ours."

Ian Record:

"And how important is that to send that clear message to the citizens who you're trying to engage, you're trying to get them interested in this discussion about reform and get them to offer their input, how important is it to send the message then that this is bigger than any one single elected leader or this is bigger than any current crop of leaders? It's got not just an independent nature to it, but it's got a larger, longer term nature to it, it's got a longer-term purpose to it than just who are the holders of the power right now."

Justin Beaulieu:

"I think the legacy of our forefathers -- like I talked about -- fighting the Dawes Act and that kind of shines through. And then when you tell them, ‘Hey, this is about us,' then they don't feel...they feel safer to share their ideas. They don't feel like there can be repercussions or, ‘My husband or my brother might lose their job or whatnot,' because that has happened in tribes over history that if you start political turmoil then things can happen to your...you can lose your spot on a housing list, you can lose some resources, you can get fired from your job. So making sure that there's that insulated barrier there, people will feel a lot more free to share their ideas and that fear isn't there and then that's where you get that real raw feedback and emotional response to some of these things. Where we talked about our children who are not enrolled because of our own standards of membership to the tribe, they are not covered under the Indian Child Welfare Act. So if something happens to like say myself and when my kids, they're not enrolled right now because they're 1/100th of a percent off of blood. They have enough Native blood to be enrolled in other tribes, but not just in Red Lake. They're not covered under that. They can be taken and then given to...anywhere. They can be sent anywhere in the states or whatnot and that's something that a lot of them it resounded with them like, ‘We need to protect our kids and we need to protect our land and we need to protect our people.' But none of that is covered in our current constitution. It just essentially talks about building a tribal government, a makeshift tribal government and how the resources can be divvied up then."

Ian Record:

"So I've been to the website for the constitutional reform initiative; very impressive. And I know some of your colleagues on the committee are doing a lot of...developing a lot of educational materials that will enrich that site moving forward, but I want to talk a bit about the vision statement because something in there struck me that explicit in that vision statement is this idea of strengthening ideas of self-governance in the constitution. Can you provide perspective on that and what is the nature of the conversation around strengthening this idea of self-governance? Because if you read that the implication is that, ‘Our current constitution doesn't fully enact our sense of what self-governance means.'"

Justin Beaulieu:

"Well, self-governance, deciding what we're going to do and where we're going as a nation is important. And one of the things that we suffer from is the fact that we have to chase grant money and federal dollars and things like...we always have to jump through other people's hoops. So we're not really governing ourselves. We're governing by dollars or governing to whatever extent that a grant source wants us to do to get some money funneled and to try to help alleviate some of the hardships that the citizens face. So self-governance is taking that accountability, creating our own government, creating our own future, creating what we're going to do for economic development, what we're going to do to create better institutions and governing structure, how do we align our schools with our tribal government and how do we align our schools to be able to help our citizens become entrepreneurs if they want. It's creating a place where our tribal leaders can actually worry about what we're going to do in five years, 10 years rather than worry about who's going to get a job tomorrow or who's going to get a raise next week. Those are the things that...the decisions that they're making on a constant basis, and those are management-level decisions that should be made by the directors and managers. Those are not governance issues. Those are things that I believe and a lot of other citizens believe that those should be dealt with on those managerial levels, not necessarily on a council level. So they're dealing with every day, ‘Who's going to get their lights on,' those kind of things, when they should be worrying about, ‘What are we doing strategically to move ourselves into the next 10 years, next 20 years?'"

Ian Record:

"So you've touched a bit about...you touched on a bit already about some of the things that you guys are doing, some of the activities that the reform initiative and the committee members in particular are engaged in. Can you talk about some of the strategies you and the committee are taking to engage the people and sort of hook them in and then keep them engaged throughout what could be a multi-year process? From everything I've heard from you and others, you're going into this knowing that this is going to take a few years to get done if we want to do it right."

Justin Beaulieu:

"Yes. So we started off and once we got the information that we thought was going to be relevant to us to start the process, we started off by doing an initial survey. We did some excerpts in the papers, we did some kind of op-eds and discussing what we're doing, what the project looks like, what the timeline is so people could get an idea of, ‘Okay, if you ask us some questions, we're not going to expect you to give us a new constitution in two weeks or in a month, something like that.' So they understood the process and the timeline. And then we also first initially started talking about things that are near and dear to people's hearts. So we talked about language and culture, which is very important to us, to our tribe, to our nation and we also talked about our natural resources, which is another thing that we hold very dear. So that was the thing that we could get everybody to rally behind. So it wasn't a polarizing thing, it wasn't like talking to them about membership or something like that where you've got people on extreme opposites of that continuum. It was easy for us to transition everybody into getting behind the project and see what it is and then give them feedback on that level. We also met people where they were so if they couldn't come to a meeting, we offered the website, we got a Facebook page, we got a YouTube site that we up materials on. So if we have something that we think is really important, we'll put it out on those mediums so that they can see it on the phone when they're in the car or at their house. If we've got elders that can't make it into a meeting, we can bring them a DVD of what we did. So it's really important that we find out who needs to be at the table and then find out how to get them there or find out how to bring that table then to them."

Ian Record:

"You've talked about some of the strategy you guys are employing to get and then keep people engaged and I'm curious, what are some of the challenges that you've encountered thus far? I know it's early, I know you guys are in terms of full-bore implementation of this reform process you're about a year in or so, but what are some of the challenges you've encountered and how are you working to overcome those?"

Justin Beaulieu:

"I think life is the biggest challenge. People have lives, people have things that they're concerned about. They're concerned about keeping food on their table, their lights on. Those are real-world issues and we're not a rich tribe. We don't have money coming in from casinos, and so we're just trying to combat what the I guess side effects are of that, then try to keep people engaged in that. And it's hard when you're looking at something that's a grandiose idea like a constitution versus, ‘How am I going to get food in my fridge for my kids.' And then also get them to say, ‘Okay, now I need to stop what I'm doing over here and invest some time into this.' So it was hard to initially capture their attention, but then keeping them engaged is something that's been very difficult. I think being transparent and continuing to kind of not so much bombard them but keep them up to date with information has been the easiest way. Posting things on Facebook, questions, throwing ideas out there. If somebody comes by my office and they have a really great idea, I'll put that out on Facebook and put it on our website and say, ‘What do you guys think of this?' And it gives people an opportunity to weigh in and then those things get shared by a bunch of people and pretty soon it's kind of like this landslide of things coming in. So it's easy in that sense where if using a tool, a technology like Facebook that something can happen like this and next thing you know 10,000 people have seen it. So just kind of capitalizing on those things has been an easy way to try to alleviate the issues of life happening.

Another thing that's recently happened is we went through...we lost our chairman. We lost 'Buck' Jourdain and that's not to say that the new Chairman Darrell Seki isn't going to do a good job, but he [Jourdain] was a big supporter of constitutional reform, which isn't bad or good; Darrell Seki is also a big constitutional reform proponent. And so he comes along and says, in his statement he says, ‘I'm going to support this fully.' But there's other people that are on the council that may not like the idea of losing kind of the way things are...change is a hard process for anybody, it's hard for me. So then if you go in and somebody identifies, ‘Uh oh, this might change the way we do things.' ‘Well, we've been doing this...I've been on council for 15, 20 years. What are we going to do? I won't know what I'm doing.' So that's kind of scary for them. So it's easier for them to kind of sit back and not help us with it and in the same sense we did tell them to kind of stay out, but those have been two of the things that have been kind of the hardest to keep people engaged because of the idea that once you...when you have an election, it is a polarizing thing. Families start fighting and people who are husband and wife start fighting. It gets down to that molecular, granular level that we have to try to keep these people focused on the big picture and not just the here and now."

Ian Record:

"So keeping them focused on the big picture; and you mentioned people have real issues in their lives, people are busy, in many tribal communities there's a lot of poverty, there's a lot of social ills that people are wrestling with, it's very time consuming, it distracts their attention from these sorts of things. Isn't part of the way to combat that though is instructing people on the role the constitution plays in their lives currently and then how a stronger constitution could benefit their lives, enhance their lives, enhance the lives of their children, that sort of thing? Is that part of the argument and the education that you guys are sharing with citizens in these community meetings and through other ways to say, ‘Look, the constitution matters. You may not see it operating in your lives every day, but it matters and on many levels'?"

Justin Beaulieu:

"Well, when we first started, probably about 85, 90 percent of the people had never even read the constitution, didn't really know what it meant and didn't know how it applied to their life. And that was one of the questions, like you said, we got was, ‘Why does this matter to me?' So then finding out that tie between where we're at now and some of the problems that have stemmed from us not having a constitution that matches our culture and then identifying with them some places that have changed their constitution and look at the things that they've been able to do now. They've been able to grow as a nation, they've been able to implement new procedures that helped them get new economic opportunities, that helped them revitalize some of their language where they were losing it, get some more fluent speakers. These are things that people really, really want and these are things that our current constitution isn't going to allow to happen. So that aligning their ideas of what they want in their own lives with what the big picture is that'll help the tribe is something that we've done as a committee and is part of my job, yes. And it's been very important on keeping people engaged and also identifying with some people who were the ones sitting on the back like, ‘Oh, I don't think that I really want to get involved in this.' ‘This matters to you.' ‘Why does it matter to me?' ‘Are your kids enrolled?' ‘Yes.' ‘Are your grandkids enrolled?' ‘Well, no.' ‘Aren't they part of your family?' ‘Yeah.' ‘Are they part of this tribe? Well, I guess not. So let's talk about that. How can we figure this out, because these are problems that a lot of people face? You're not alone in this.' So then they're like, ‘Oh, that's...okay, so the constitution can do that?' ‘Yeah, the constitution covers our government and how it...how we as a people want that government to function.'"

Ian Record:

"One of the issues that Red Lake has been focusing on and discussing in the early stages of the reform effort is whether and how to remove the Secretary of Interior approval clause from its constitution. Why the attention to that specific issue?"

Justin Beaulieu:

"Well, historically Red Lake has been a champion of sovereignty and also pushing the limits of what the government thought was okay and not okay and that's one of the things...if you look back to the Roger Jourdain era, he was going to D.C., he was a very vocal person, he was the "squeaky wheel" that pushed a lot of these issues that other tribes also face into the laps of Congress to say, ‘What are you going to do about this?' So then looking at that, Red Lake has not necessarily asked anybody what to do. They've decided what to do for themselves, but somehow they included that we have to ask for the Secretary of Interior to approve our constitution, our changes to it, our membership stuff. So those are things that people have said, ‘Well, why do we even have that? We ran the BIA out of here a long time ago.' Well, we wrote that into our own constitution, we asked for that to happen.' So they're, ‘Well, why don't we just take it out?' ‘Okay, let's talk about that.'

They decided to do that, they put it up for referendum vote back in 1990...I think 1998 and it lost by over 600 votes and so that was concerning to me. I was asking -- at the time Bobby White Feather was the chairman -- and so I went and asked him, I said, ‘What was going on during that time? Like why were people...why were they not...they were okay with kicking the BIA out, but they were okay with keeping this language in here that says we've got to ask them for approval to do things. Why were there...' And he said he thinks that it was -- and I'm kind of paraphrasing here -- he thought it was because of the mistrust that [people had of] the tribal government had at the time. They had just gone through an era in 1979-1980 where there was turmoil in our tribal government. There was shootouts going on, there was buildings being burned down, a lot of our history was actually lost because our tribal council building at the time was burned to the ground. So we look at, that's where our archives were, that's where a lot of our important documents were.

So the people were like, ‘No, we think the government should be involved in this because we want them to watch.' But they didn't really know that the government's not really caring what the tribe does, they just...’You put that in there in 1930, they cared back then. 1980, 1990, 2000s, they don't really care what you're doing. Look at some of the Supreme Court cases,' they said. ‘You figure out your membership. You figure out what you're going to do with your people. You figure out what you're going to do with your resources. You now have the ability to do your own self-governance stuff so we're not going to have our BIA people in there anymore.' So they kind of cut those parental ties so to speak, but we still have that in there because we thought we had Big Brother watch so ‘The tribal council can't screw us over,' or something to that effect is kind of what I got out of it. And there wasn't a whole lot of education done with it. They didn't go out and say, ‘This is what's going on with this. This is why it's important that we take ownership back of our constitution.' So I think that if they'd have done a little more education behind that and a little more transparency, I think that probably would have passed back in the ‘90s and we wouldn't be worrying about it right now."

Ian Record:

"I know, being a student of a lot of different tribes' constitutional reform efforts, I know that this is a common topic, common issue of concern, and I know that some tribes have approached this as they engage in sort of comprehensive reform to say, ‘We're going to go ahead and take this...we're going to do this as round one. We're going to get rid of this approval clause.' Laguna Pueblo is a good example of that. Back in 2012 they just said, ‘We know one thing that everybody can...we've gotten everybody to agree on, let's get rid of this language. Because we then want to engage in a discussion about what sort of constitution we want for ourselves without any sort of secondary or perhaps even primary consideration of what the feds are going to think.' Where's your nation right now? I know it's early, but is there a consensus yet on, ‘Is this going to be part of the overall package that we ultimately get the people to vote on or are we going to break this out as a separate amendment again?'"

Justin Beaulieu:

"That's the big question. We've been posing that to the community and one of the things we did is we actually wrote to the Secretary of Interior and asked them, ‘Can we just take this out and you guys will approve it?' He said, ‘Of course. Definitely take it out. We encourage you to take it out because we don't necessarily want to be meddling in your business.' So they wrote us a one-page letter that's going to be good for helping us to educate our own people like, ‘Look, this is something that can benefit us. This is some...we don't need somebody else approving any of our documents, approving what our government is and how it works. That's up to the people.' So that was one of the first steps we took. We also polled them. We did a survey, ‘What do you guys think of the Secretary of Interior? What does it mean to you? How do you think that it applies to us as a nation?' So that was enlightening too to kind of get those different responses and kind of get a feel for where everybody's at in the process. That way we can tailor our message to whatever individuals we have to to try to get the education part of it out so they can make a decision, an informed decision on their own versus, ‘I don't know what that means so I'm going to vote no because I know how things go when it is in there.'"

Ian Record:

"You've made...you've discussed...you've touched on some of the issues that have sort of been coming out in some of these meetings: culture, language, obviously the Secretary of Interior approval issue, membership as you mentioned is a big issue. What are some of the issues that have been bubbling to the surface as you've guys begin to engage the community and get their thoughts on constitutional reform?"

Justin Beaulieu:

"It's a lot of the buzz words like the transparency of the government. ‘Why don't they come and tell us in the individual communities what they've been talking about, what they're doing, what they're working on?' A lot of the people, they find out after the fact like one day all of a sudden there's this building going up. ‘Well, what is this? Why didn't anybody tell us there was a...why didn't anybody ask us what was going on?' So transparency is a huge thing. They want the tribal government to be transparent. They also want them to be accountable. They want them to be accountable to the people and to themselves. So that means...I guess it would mean some sort of job description they've been talking about like, ‘What does...what is the secretary-treasurer, what is their job? What are they supposed to do?' Because how can you hold anybody accountable if you have no idea what they're really supposed to do. So it's looking into some of those things.

Also they want to talk about our economic development not just trying to get casinos, but also working with the tribal members to kind of make it where the tribal government will allow the citizen entrepreneurs to actually have their businesses versus making them get a license, making them jump through this hoop, making them do this, making them do that, which is I think was important to them in the past to be able to kind of control what was going on in the communities, but now there's people who are very well educated. There are some very, very smart people in Red Lake that want to start their own businesses, want a culture that has a bank that they can go to. There's no bank, there's no banking system. So a lot of those things that would be extended to you in an outside world or an outside community is not available there so they want to talk about that.

What is economic development for the tribe? What does it mean for our people? Also, what does it mean for our government to get involved in the economic development versus we're doing it on our own or is it a separate entity, setting up tribal businesses like we have right now in Red Lake, Inc. Is it that? We have Red Lake, Inc. and we've had them for quite a few years now, almost four years, and our businesses are turning profits now. They never did before in the past. Not to say that any one person or any one thing is responsible, but to give that back to people who went to school for business, who know how businesses run, who now how to do budgets and who know how to do just anything that has to do with business. It was good for our tribe because we're making money on those businesses where we were just kind of pouring money into them and trying to get them to work before. So it's how do we separate all those different silos and then how do we then created a government that's going to be looking at what's more important for our future, what's more important for our children, dealing with the issues that we have rather than putting Band-Aids on things."

Ian Record:

"You mentioned this early on about how you, in structuring the reform initiative, 'I'm trying to figure out what's a proven strategy that will work for us,' that you looked at some other nations. Can you talk a little bit more about how you're learning from the constitutional reform experiences of other tribes? And perhaps on the flip side, yes, it's early on but what could other nations that are perhaps just discussing reform right now and when they start reform, what could they learn from Red Lake?"

Justin Beaulieu:

"Sure. I don't know for a fact what they can learn from us, but I can talk about what we've learned from other tribes. We've learned from some experiences that White Earth [Nation] had, that the Blackfeet [Tribe] have had, that Gila River [Indian Community]  have had, that the Cherokee [Nation] have had and just looking at kind of dissecting and mining through what they've done and how they got their process going, how they worked it. Did they have a committee, did they just have like a quorum of people that came together? How did they identify those people? How did...so it was kind of a learning experience for us to first initially set up like, ‘How are we going to do this that's going to be a good way, that our people can get behind and respond to?' And what we came up with is a committee of people who are from each individual community so that they felt represented. Sometimes in our communities, and it's a funny thing, the divide-and-conquer mentality. We have four communities and people identify with those communities more than they identify with the nation as a whole. So we decided, ‘Okay, that's how they identify, that's how we're going to work it. We're going to give them two representatives from each one of their separate districts and then those people will be the ones who they go to or can be a liaison for the committee to bring back the information, to bring back the ideas, also to share them forward. So they're like a conduit for each individual district.

And then like I touched on, we needed to figure out how to engage the community because we looked at, let's say White Earth for example, they got together I think it was about 40 people and they did some sessions where they would kind of hammer out all these details. And they did it with good hearts I'm sure and good intentions, but I looked at the videos of the people in the communities and they were really upset. ‘Why didn't you come to us? Why didn't you ask us what we thought? Why weren't we involved in these conversations?' And that's something we didn't want to answer in the future so we thought, ‘We better get them involved first in the process and then figure it out,' versus bringing it to them after the fact and saying, ‘Here this is good for you.' Because historically that's happened for Native peoples throughout history since first contact is, ‘Here, this is good for you, take this.' So we wanted to get them involved so that their DNA and their fingerprints and everything was on it. So their ideas were in it, it resounded with them, they can get behind it and say, ‘I had those ideas. I shared these ideas. These are now in our governing document. That's awesome!' So that was something that we learned from them.

Gila River, with Anthony Hill, he came in and he did a full meeting. We had about four hours. And so basically he came in and told us everything, how the whole process worked for them, how they started, how they got these road bumps along the way, how they worked past some of them. Then their regime change came and kind of put a kibosh to everything so they had to work really, really hard, but their documentation process was I think the thing that we learned the best from Gila River is they kept everything that they did and they kept record of everything they did so that way they could I guess regurgitate that at any time to anybody, ‘Why did you guys do this?' ‘Well, because we polled everybody in a survey or we had a community meeting and this is the results from what you guys said you wanted to see done.' So that was important for us so that we could, in the future, if somebody came along, even if somebody comes along in 50 years and they had no idea of how this constitution was here, they can go back and they can look through the whole process. We have it digitized, we have video, we have it in a lot of different forms. That way if some...one written form or something gets destroyed, it's always going to live on and it'll always be there so people can go back and say, ‘That's how they did that.'"

Ian Record:

"Isn't that critical also for interpreting the constitution because we hear a lot of attorneys, in particular tribal attorneys, talk to us about, the constitution's typically these short documents. They don't go into a whole lot of detail. They set up the basic parameters and judges say this too, ‘If I'm being asked to interpret the constitution, often it would be really helpful for me if I know the back story.' What was the motivation behind why this provision reads the way it does?"

Justin Beaulieu:

"Anthony Hill came to me and I actually got to ride with him. I drove him back and forth from the city so he got a good 10 and a half hours in the car with me. So I was asking him and he said, ‘The biggest thing is legislative intent. When I'm sitting on my...I've got my judge hat on, I'm sitting there and I'm trying to figure out is this a constitutional issue, how did they make this decision, how do I apply this?' He said, ‘And so I thought, that's the best way to do that is to actually have that in there with our documentation inserts, this is why we decided this. So then when a judge picks that up they can say, ‘Oh, legislative intent -- this is why they did it so this is how we can apply it.' And then if it needs to be changed, then you know why that decision was made so you know how you can change it then ultimately."

Ian Record:

"So I'm curious, I know it's early but looking forward, if this process succeeds, it reaches its fruition, what will success look like when all's said and done?"

Justin Beaulieu:

"Success I think for the committee and for myself, too, is that a new document ultimately gets written that's accepted by the people, but I think the real success is the implementation of that, is getting to that final product, is getting everybody onboard and I think that the way we're engaging the community now and getting their feedback and getting them involved in the process is going to help to expedite that process in the future because then when you sit down and you have a director of a program who's ultimately going to be their daily, day-to-day, basic stuff that they do is going to be impacted by this new constitution, that they're going to know why this stuff was done, how it was done because they are going to be part of the process. So then they can buy into it and everything can move, that transition can happen more quickly and also less painfully, the growing pains of trying to implement that. So I think that for us would be success is when that finished product is done and the implementation is done."

Ian Record:

"And isn't that really critical because when you think about it, when you ratify a new constitution, you're simply changing a document. You're changing paper and then you've got this much larger challenge I would argue of actually having to change the political culture of the community, not just of the elected leadership and those who work within government, but the citizens and how they interface with government, right?"

Justin Beaulieu:

"Yes."

Ian Record:

"It's an on...does that not require some sort of ongoing education, educational challenge to remind and instruct people, ‘This is why the constitution is set out the way it is. This is what we decided at the time and why and this is what it means for you, citizen, program director, council member, chairman.'"

Justin Beaulieu:

"Yes, for example, let's say I'm under a hardship and I need some help paying my light bill. Right now the process is they can go and just kind of ask one of the council members and say, ‘Hey, I need help. I need my lights paid.' And then they can then in turn pay that, but with the new...the way that the government will potentially kind of be set up it's going to have those checks and balances where if I don't do what I'm supposed to do and use my due diligence, then those...I'm going to have to go through the hoops of whatever we have for programs available to help me out rather than trying to just go right directly to one of my elected leaders and saying, ‘I need help. I want help.' So that's going to be a growing pain for some people because they're used to that. They've been doing that now for 10, 15, 20 years saying, ‘Hey, I need help with this. Hey, I need help with that.' So that is going to be very difficult for some people, but I think the overarching goals that we're going to have in place are going to kind of supersede any of those, the little...the intricate things that are going to have to get ironed out in the end. My hope is that that learning curve isn't so hard and it doesn't take as long, but I guess the people will ultimately be the ones to judge that and then the success will be based on how we adopt it and then implementation of it."

Ian Record:

"Well, Justin, we really appreciate you taking some time out of your busy schedule -- I know you've got a lot on your plate -- to share your thoughts and experience and wisdom with us."

Justin Beaulieu:

"Awesome. Thank you."

Ian Record:

"Well, that's all the time we have on today's program of Leading Native Nations. To learn more about Leading Native Nations, please visit the Native Nations Institute's website at nni.arizona.edu. Thank you for joining us. Copyright 2014 Arizona Board of Regents."

Rae Nell Vaughn: So What's So Important About Tribal Courts?

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Rae Nell Vaughn, former Chief Justice of the Mississippi Choctaw Supreme Court, discusses how justice systems are critical to Native nations' exercise of sovereignty, and sets out some key things that those systems need to have in place in order to administer justice fairly and effectively on behalf of their nations. 

Resource Type
Citation

Vaughn, Rae Nell. "So What's So Important About Tribal Courts?" Emerging Leaders seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. November 7, 2013. Presentation.

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"[Choctaw language]. Good morning. And I want to thank my brother from Oklahoma for the fine music and words. [Choctaw language]. Thank you. My name is Rae Nell Vaughn as Ron [Trosper] has said and I promise, I am 21. I've worked for the tribe for many, many years in different capacities; however, this capacity as serving as a judge was the most life-changing experience and enlightening moment for me. I served as a judge for 11 years and let me tell you, I definitely came in -- as I heard from one of our colleagues yesterday -- with rose-colored glasses on.

I remember the day when one of the judges came in, and at that time I was working with the Archives Department for the tribe, and she said, "˜Come out here and talk with me for a minute.' So we stepped outside on the patio and she said, "˜Rae, what do you think about being a judge?' I was very stunned at the moment. "˜A judge? What? Are you kidding me? I can barely make a decision for myself let alone for anybody else.' And the conversation went from there. I spoke with my mother and I spoke with my grandmother and my family at that time to talk about --- and of course she was being serious -- and to talk about whether this was the path I wanted to take. No one grows up saying, "˜I want to be a judge, that's what I want to be.' I remember -- she did -- I remember talking with my children and I said, "˜It just...it was on my path.' I just didn't know that it was on my path, but did I know that I was going in that direction?

In hindsight, yes, I see all the signs of where I was going that eventually led me there and gave me the opportunity for the experience, and then building on that experience, allowing me the opportunity to work within the executive branch. And so I say that to say that a lot of the conversations I've been listening to yesterday really validate a lot of the things that I have learned throughout my career and my years of working for the tribe. And let me tell you, it's a struggle at times when you're working for your own tribe, because there's always a tendency...and I know a lot of us have a lot of war stories, I'm sure many of you do, of how there's this sense of you're more on the cross than not, especially with your council, especially with your leadership, your local leadership and it's just almost like, "˜Why am I doing this? Why am I doing this?' But at the end of the day, we know that we're doing this for our future, for our children, just as our grandparents and our great grandparents did for us.

And it's amazing as Ron shared with us his experience with Chief [Phillip] Martin, I had the great fortune of being present, of seeing the evolution of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, of Mississippi Choctaw from a point of where there was poverty and then a period of prosperity, and like every society of a rise and fall and of a dark period of leadership. So we've had the experience that many tribes have also gone through too, and now we're in another period of our history, of a renaissance, of a new leader rising. We were fortunate to have Phillip Martin, the late Phillip Martin, who passed away a couple of years ago, for over 40 years of leadership and it was an amazing time of vision and of moving forward. And at the time of his...of not being reelected, we had a new leader, and unfortunately that leader chose to lead from a base of fear and created a lot of dissention and it causes people...you get angry because you want your government to succeed, and it caused people to step forward...causes people to step forward, because you know what's right.

So what I'd like to do at this time is talk with you about tribal courts and its role in tribal government and its importance, how it's important for you as leaders to understand the role and the capacity of the court. And there's one thing I will tell you that I have learned and you'd think I would have got that a long time ago, but how your economic development and your court systems, they have to run parallel. If you're wanting to move forward, those things you run parallel.

So let's go ahead and take a look at this slide presentation. And I apologize, I don't have the glitzy slide presentation that Dr. Ian [Record] had. I really like his, it was just zooming and moving about and I only have 30 minutes and Renee [Goldtooth] is going to [be] popping that sign up at me so I'm going to go quickly so that I can allow my co-presenter to present as well. And for those of you who don't recognize it, I love to talk. I love to talk.

Our first question is what role do or should Native nation justice systems play in Native nation rebuilding? Well, the key role I think is that it exercises sovereignty, the pure exercise of sovereignty. You as a government have the right and can exercise it and develop a court system. The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians operated under a BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] court until the early "˜70s. It was around 1974, '75 when the tribe then took over the tribal court system and it was a very small court, still funded by BIA of course, but we had a special judge who was non-Indian, a law trained attorney, and then we had the tribal judge and we had one clerk. And at that time our population was maybe about 3,000 people, not a very large population. We were still having issues of the local govern...the local law enforcement reaching our lands and coming in. I can vividly remember a time during our Choctaw Fair, which is held in July, of the paddy wagon coming by and we saw...I remember clearly seeing a tribal member sitting in that patty wagon. He was intoxicated and the county police had come and scooped him up and took him out, just did it. And then we began working towards taking on our own systems.

What key components do these justice systems need to possess? Law. How do we define law? We talk about an organic document of law and document can be subjective, written or unwritten. You need customary law, you may need or may not need a written constitution, ordinance and codes and common law, very basic. We have made points to ensure that we interweave tribal law, Choctaw law. Some tribes are very fortunate to have and to maintain and to practice their customary law. Unfortunately for Choctaw, a lot of things were not written or were not passed down as they should have been, but there are key elements that we do follow, values, Choctaw values that we do maintain, but not to the extent of some of the tribes that I know that were fortunate enough to be able to continue their practice. I think a lot of the tribes east of the Mississippi encountered these types of things. But again, those are the key things that these systems need to possess.

Why is it important that justice systems be strong and independent? Justice systems work hand in hand with the executive and legislative branches, and when I say that I say that in regards to the checks and balances of each of these branches. For Mississippi Choctaw, the tribal court is a statutory court. In their constitution, there are only two branches that are recognized, but we had gone over and beyond to ensure that there was a separation of this system. Now could they continue with a court? With it being a statutory court they could easily do away with the court, but they recognized the need of a forum of adjudication of these laws and so we continue with a court system, separate but equal.

What do strong, independent justice systems require? The very first thing, which is primary, is that you would be able to adjudicate with no political interference. Now how many of you have heard horror stories of leadership calling the judge, "˜What the beep are you doing down there? Do you know that that's my brother? We better do something about that.' And the one thing, I had never had leadership, the top leadership ever call me as a judge, but I had had a councilwoman call me and she was having issues with her children in our juvenile court and of course I'm the juvenile judge, and I said, "˜You know, it's already in the system, there's nothing that can be done. I don't think we need to have this conversation.' "˜Well, let me tell you Rae Nell, don't forget who approves your budget and your salary.' "˜Yes, ma'am, I'm very aware of who does. You are one of 16. That's who approves my budget and my salary. You are one of 16.' So I know that it's challenging as a judge, as a judicial officer when you have...when you live in the community, when you're a member of the community, it's very challenging, but we stand strong trying to maintain the integrity of the system, because I want you as a tribal member to feel confident in the system. As my co-presenter and I spoke earlier, there's always going to be a winner and there'll always be a loser. That's the name of the game. There's no...there's not going to be any way where both of you are going to come out on top, it just is not going to happen. I shared with one person, "˜If you don't like what's happening in court, don't get yourself there. Don't put yourself there.'

Secondly, to have the ability to appoint or elect qualified tribal members to serve as judges, and this is a work in progress I know for many, many tribes. We have on our bench currently two tribal members who have their juris doctorate. Our supreme court has two non-member associate justices who have their JD. So we're working towards those ends, of changing the bench, the structure of the bench in order to have law trained judges.

Thirdly, a canon of ethics, that should be a given. I've always shared with our judges when we go over the canon of ethics, "˜It's there to protect you. It's there to protect you.' You always have all these different forces coming at you and to say, "˜No, I can't do that, it's a conflict of interest, it's an appearance of impropriety.' 'This is what it looks like, if it's a duck... What's the saying, "˜If it quacks, if it swims, if it does... it's a duck. A duck is a duck.''

How has your nation remade, how is it remaking its justice system to more effectively resolve disputes? Well, they need qualified personnel. That's for sure. Our code is very broad in its qualifications. However, as I said, it's an evolving process where we're working towards trying to get the best personnel on staff and that's not just the judges itself, it's the support staff. It's your clerks, it's your probation officers, it's your advocates, your lay advocates. Everyone that's involved in that system, you're wanting folks who are coming in qualified in the sense of training, experience, what it is they're bringing to the table and enhancing those skills.

Financial resources. Have you ever been in a position where you're like looking at the budget and "˜Hmm, are we going to make it to the end of the year?,' because you had that one particular case that ate up your transcription fees, that you're having to provide outside counsel for and you're like, "˜This is that big case that really damages the budget, just blows it clean out of the water.' That's where your relationship with the executive and legislative is important in the sense of the administration of justice, ensuring that you have the adequate finances to operate the system because there is an administrative part to your judiciary.

Interdependence, again, talking about the checks and balances and making sure that you have these clean relationships, because you do have to have a relationship with your executive and you do have to have a relationship with your legislative body, but to understand where these boundaries are and of what you can talk about. It's very easy to have a conversation and we're talking about a code section and everything and then the conversation goes into a particular case over an issue that's happening in the community and you're like, "˜Whoa, wait a minute, we can't go there, we can't have that talk right now.' But those conversations of the administration, of their support, those are things that you need to have and it's a balancing act, it truly is a balancing act.

So how do we maintain law and order? Well, for Mississippi Choctaw, the system as I said earlier is a much bigger system than the judiciary itself. We have court services and under the Department of Court Services you have the probation office and you have teen court. Teen court -- for those of you who are not familiar -- is a forum that's available to our juvenile delinquents after they've been found delinquent to give them an opportunity to have their sentencing given to them by their peers and it's a very enlightening process. It also gives those young people, individuals to actually see how the system works. All of the positions in a teen court setting are held by young people except for the adjudicator, the judge, which is one of the judges minus the judge that heard the case who would sit and preside over this.

And I know the very first case that they held when we began operating the teen court, they wanted this juvenile delinquent to stand on the corner with a big sign saying that this is the crime that he committed, they wanted 1,000 hours of community service work. They were just like slamming him because of the vandalism and the offense that he committed and the message that we were trying to share with our youth is that, "˜Yes, this juvenile delinquent committed an offense against a person,' but it's more than that. It's committing an offense against the entire tribe, the effect of it, from the individual and the effect that it has on that individual, the rippling effect. So it's not just one person that you're committing a crime against, it's circular, it comes right back to you as a member, a member of the tribe, a member of the community.

And then we have also other agencies that provide support to the court system. We have a victim's advocacy department or program. We have a children's advocacy program. We also rely heavily on behavioral health to participate as especially with children in need of care, to help get our families reunified. And then of course we have the healing-to-wellness court. How many of you have a Healing to Wellness Court or are aware of a healing-to-wellness court, aka drug court? I see one hand, I see two hands. It's been a very successful, for Choctaw, a very successful forum. I think all of us recognize that we do have to look at other forums to help our people. It's easy to say, "˜Well, okay, let's just find them guilty and put them in jail and let's fine them,' and then they're back again, and then they're back again because we're dealing with these symptoms, we're not really getting into the root of what's going on. And so this has been a very valuable tool for us to utilize. Also it pulls in a number of the agencies that we have available to help us help this individual help themselves.

We look at how we reflect, promote our line with our people's cultural values and why these efforts are so important. Again, it's bringing in the Choctaw values. What's Choctaw? I am a tribal member, I sit on that bench and -- I sat on that bench -- and I would listen and you take it all in and I'm able to as a tribal member, as a member of that community to be able to decipher all of this and I'm able to weigh in on, "˜What is the best path for this person?' We have a traditional form of court, which is the Iti-Kana-Ikbi, to make new again, loosely translated "˜to make new again.' I had the good fortune of meeting the former [Navajo Nation Supreme Court] Chief Justice Robert Yazzie at the very beginning of my judicial career back in 1997. A number of us who were newly appointed had the opportunity to go out to Navajo Nation and to learn, and let me tell you it was a very learning experience, meeting the chief justice and meeting with their traditional court and having great dialogue as to how you create a good system, a great system. And I'm very appreciative of the opportunities that we were able to take to sit in in a court that has a record and had a lot of things going on.

What are the other efforts? It's bringing tribal member personnel in because there's an investment there, wouldn't you agree? It's an investment having your own people working your system because that's the goal. Ultimately, for all of us as tribes, that's the goal, us as tribes, as villages, as pueblos. You want your membership running your government. That's ultimately what we all strive for. Also identifying tribal member mentors and this could be our elders, this could be people who come in with a wide range of experiences to help us with shadowing, job shadowing, having someone to talk to. I think earlier yesterday I think someone talked about they felt good about being able to finally talk with someone about this, this case, this issue, how do I resolve it. And as I said throughout this presentation, it's important to interweave your customary law, your customary values with western jurisprudence, how we make that happen, 'Choctaw-ize' it as one of my mentors always said, 'Choctaw-ize' it.

What role does your nation's justice system play in protecting, strengthening and expanding your nation's sovereignty in advancing its nation building priorities? As I stated earlier, to provide financial resources, to create and support the judiciary and the Choctaw legal community. And when I say Choctaw legal community, our tribe has made the investment of not only supporting a judicial system, but we also have an Office of the Attorney General. On the flip side of that we also have a Department of Legal Assistance, which is available for the tribal...the individual tribal member. We also have available lay advocates who come in and also practice in our court. Secondly, the respect of other judicial systems, local and federal. How many times have you heard, "˜Oh, that kangaroo court'? "˜That kangaroo court.' I have heard that so many times. Have you heard that, "˜That kangaroo court?' Have you been..."

Eldena Bear Don't Walk:

"All the time."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"All the time. It was never tribal court, it's that kangaroo court. Well, I didn't realize that we were a bunch of animals, but okay. "˜That kangaroo court can never make a decision, it was never stable, it was up and down, depended on who was leadership, you just never knew what was going to come out of there and how the heck did they come up with that decision. That kangaroo court.' That's where we need to work. And unfortunately in Indian Country, there are those systems that don't have the support or do have interference and aren't able to have the credibility and the respect of the membership.

When I say the confidence of companies to do business with the Choctaw courts by entering into contract with the tribe, what I'm saying here is that, as I stated earlier with economic development, if you have a company that is wanting to come in and do business with your tribe, the first thing they're going to ask is, "˜Okay, if we have a dispute, where are we settling it? Do they have codes? What is the law? What's the rules to the game?' And so it's important to ensure that you have those things in place. Choctaw has a mirrored UCC [uniform commercial] code that it adopted back in early 2000, a number of codes that give us the ability to do business.

And of course then there was the establishment of the Supreme Court. I spoke earlier about the inception of the tribe taking over the court and at that point we were a membership of 3,000 and we had the special judge and then we had a tribal judge and then we had a clerk. Well, as the tribe began to grow in population and economically, the leadership then saw the need to strengthen and expand the system, and then in 1997 -- and I'll back up a little bit -- in 1994 we opened our casino. So what does that mean? Boom, the economics jumped up. You had people coming on to the reservation, customers coming in, you had a lot more vendors coming into the reservation, you had a lot of other things happening on the reservation as well. So the tribe chose to reorganize the system and expand it into four individual divisions with a senior judge and associate judge. We were still operating with the lower-level court and setting up an appeal process that would allow the judges that were not involved in the case that was coming up for appeal to sit as arbitrators for an appeal. Well, that wasn't really working well.

So in mid 2000, they chose to establish a Supreme Court and this Supreme Court was made up of three judges who did not participate at the lower court, they wanted to ensure that there was Choctaw values, a Choctaw voice in there so they require a tribal member who met the qualifications of the lower court plus years of experience on the judiciary and to have the associates who sat with the chief justice to be law-trained. And it was a system that worked out very well. On the other side of that, they chose in administrating the judiciary to allow the chief justice to serve as the administrator and there's some pros and cons with that as well. Ultimately, at the end, prior to my leaving the bench, I was operating a court with a budget of $3.5 million and I had 32 staff under me that I supervised. So it shows you the evolution of the system and again it's a growing system.

Ladies and gentlemen, court systems are important and it requires support and it requires attention and it requires the type of people, good people to sit on the bench and to be an adjudicator and to render decisions that are going to be in the best interest of the people, because as you know it's collective, it's for the entire tribe.

And so I thank you for the opportunity. I'm going to now turn it over to my co-presenter and I think we will have questions and answers after her presentation. Thank you."

NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow: John Petoskey (Part 1)

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

In the first of two interviews conducted in conjunction with his tenure as NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow, John Petoskey, citizen and long-time General Counsel of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians (GTB), discusses how GTB has worked and continues to work to build and maintain a strong, independent system of justice that is viewed as legitimate by GTB citizens. He also discusses GTB's integration of peacemaking and peacemaker courts into its justice systems as a culturally appropriate way of resolving disputes and bringing healing to the community. 

People
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Petoskey, John. "NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow: John Petoskey (Part 1)." Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. October 1, 2013. Interview.

Ian Record:

"Welcome to Leading Native Nations. I'm your host, Ian Record. On today's program, we are honored to have with us John Petoskey. John is a citizen of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians and has spent much of the past 30 years serving as his nation's general counsel. As general counsel, he participates in all federal, state and tribal litigation and administrative hearings where his nation is a plaintiff or defendant. In addition, John wrote the majority of Grand Traverse Band's statutes, published as the Grand Traverse Band Code. He also currently serves as partner with Fredericks, Peebles and Morgan LLP and is spending this week at the University of Arizona serving as Indigenous Leadership Fellow with the University's Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy. John, welcome, and good to have you with us today."

John Petoskey:

"Thank you."

Ian Record:

"I've shared a few highlights of your very impressive personal biography, but why don't you start by telling us a little bit about yourself. What did I leave out?"

John Petoskey:

"Well, I have been with the Grand Traverse Band for, as you said, a long time. Prior to that I did work for Legal Services...Indian Legal Services in Michigan and importantly, I worked on one of the leading cases on off-reservation treaty fishing and on-reservation treaty fishing that was called U.S. v. Michigan, which followed the same genesis of the United States v. Washington. And when I originally got out of law school in 1979, I was lucky to participate in the trial portion of that case as a first-year law student that had not yet gone to a federal district court opinion. So that was very gratifying and enlightening to me to see how the United States' trust responsibility is implemented for tribes. At the same time, I'm a product of my history in Michigan. My father is from Little Traverse Bay Band[s of Odawa Indians]; my mother is from Grand Traverse Bay Band. And through circumstances of history, the Ottawa tribes of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan were not federally recognized under the 1855 treaty, which was a misinterpretation where the Secretary of Interior took federal recognition away in 1871. As a consequence of that act, the state of Indian tribes in Michigan, the Ottawa tribes were desolate, and U.S. v. Michigan was the first spark of hope, if you will, by reversing that decline that the tribes had been in for so long.

After U.S. v. Michigan, I went to work at Indian Pueblo Legal Services in Northern New Mexico and I worked for, in one capacity or the other, for most of the pueblos as a legal services attorney representing poor Indians in the tribal justice systems of the Pueblos and in state and federal court. Those were largely jurisdictional cases at that time in the early "˜80s. There was a lot of assertion of state authority and state court jurisdiction for on-reservation activities. So I litigated a lot of cross motions for summary judgment of no subject matter jurisdiction and I also got to participate in some unique Pueblo-initiated procedures to resolve justice questions that the Pueblos had on their reservations, which were unique because the Pueblos have a unique system of justice that is still largely indigenously driven, if you will, from their historical experience.

After Indian Pueblo Legal Services, I went to Alaska Legal Services, which does have a totally different legal history under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. I was in a place called Nome, Alaska and I went out to villages in an area that was probably 500 miles in diameter surrounding Nome and provided legal services to remote isolated villages. And there you could see the coalescence of all federal Indian policy in a community of 150 people where you would have a traditional government and Indian Reorganization Act government and a local government and an Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act corporation board. So you'd have four layers of government for people, for a total population of 150 people. It was designed for failure, which that's a separate question, but those are items that are left out.

After Alaska Legal Services I went to work for National Indian Youth Council, where I worked on voting rights cases in the southwest turning at-large voting structures into single member districts, largely in New Mexico, in Cibola County and McKinley County. Then I also worked on First Amendment cases in which tribes were alleging that they had a right under the First Amendment to access to federal public domain law that was under the control of the federal government, but for historical reasons the tribes had ceremonial relationships with the land and their ceremonial relationships with the land were being impaired by the Federal Public Land Policies that prohibited their access in some cases or in other cases prohibited their access on an exclusive basis for some of their ceremonies that they needed to conduct."

Ian Record:

"We here at NNI know quite a bit about the Grand Traverse Band. A number of our staff have worked with the Band over the years. You and some of my colleagues for instance go way back to the late "˜80s, early "˜90s and the Band has also received three awards from our partner organization the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development and its Honoring Nations Award Program, but share with our audience a bit more about your nation, just who is the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians?"

John Petoskey:

"The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians are Indians that lived in and around the Grand Traverse Bay of Northern Michigan. Michigan is shaped like a hand. If you're from Michigan, people always say to each other, "˜Where are you from?' and they'll hold up a hand and they'll say, "˜Well, I'm from Lansing, I'm from Detroit or I'm from Gaylord.' In this case, using the hand as the analogy, Grand Traverse Band is located on the little finger. That's where the peninsula is. The historical area was a reservation that was created in 1855. Just immediately north to us is the Little Traverse Bay Band, which is located in Petoskey, Michigan. South to us is the Little River Band, which is located in and around Manistee, which is right there.

The Grand Traverse Band achieved federal recognition under the Administrative Procedures Process in 1980. It was the first tribe to go through the federal acknowledgement process under the then-developing federal regulations that go all the way back to the Policy Review Commission back to the "˜70s. When it achieved federal recognition, it had to engage in building all of the governance institutions that were necessary to establish a tribal government. Incident to that, I had met Steve Cornell when I had worked at National Indian Youth Council because he was a personal friend of Gerald Wilkinson and Vine Deloria and Dr. Cornell or Steve Cornell used to come and visit with Gerald Wilkinson and I met him initially in that time period that I was working at National Indian Youth Council.

And then after I started working as general counsel for the tribe in the "˜80s, we were engaged in the process of building these governmental institutions as a new federally recognized tribe and we had to look around for models of how to establish our tribal organization, how to establish our tribal constitution and go forward from there. And so we'd have constitutional committees drafting the constitution and we also were engaged in a fight at that time with James Watt, who was the Assistant Secretary of the Interior. And the position under the Reagan administration was that federal acknowledgement was limited to a discrete number of people on the original petition that was submitted, and our argument was that federal acknowledgement covered everybody that was eligible as a descendent from Grand Traverse Band from the last annuity treaty payment that took place in 1910. And obviously, our category that we said were eligible was much larger than the category that the feds wanted to recognize.

As a consequence, we were engaged in litigation with the federal government over the terms of our recognition, which impaired the development of some of our governance institutions, particularly our constitution, which the Interior did not ratify until after that litigation was resolved in 1986 and then the constitution was ratified in 1988, I believe. But at that time, once the constitution was ratified, we really had to come up with the procedures, if you will, for our justice institutions, for our legislative process and for our executive process. And doing research of what models to follow, I came across the Harvard Project on Economic Development and at that time, this was before the internet was widely available, we had to send away for these series of memorandums that students had written on a number of different aspects of Indian economic development and Indian governance issues. And so I basically sent away for all the memorandums and went through the memorandums and cut and paste what I thought was the best in those memorandums for GTB's situation and then went through the process of having the executive-legislature enact those provisions for Grand Traverse Band. Incident to that, I then reinitiated my friendship with Steve Cornell and Steve came up to Grand Traverse Band on two different occasions to visit and to present information and points of views on how he developed tribal institutions. Also, Vine Deloria came up a couple times because I had met and known him at National Indian Youth Council and gave brief talks to our tribal council on the historical relationship of tribal governance and the Department of the Interior and the United States. And Vine had at that time and always did have a very focused analysis of how tribal governments had been overpowered by the federal government. And so in all senses of the word, he was an advocate for strong tribal governance and he promoted that when he was speaking with our tribal council and providing advice on which way to go. So that's, in a quick thumbnail I think that's what the relationship was."

Ian Record:

"Following up on this issue of constitutional development, you said that you were one of the people charged with going out and learning what other tribes had been doing to develop governments that made sense for them and that you sort of worked to integrate the best of what you had learned from others. Was there at some point in the process a customization of some of those governing institutions to the particular circumstances, cultural values of Grand Traverse in trying to make it their own?"

John Petoskey:

"Well, yes. The process of writing a constitution is not...doesn't rise to the level of the Federalist Papers, where you have advocates writing arguments for and against different propositions that are in the constitution. In the Indian community, what that comes down to, if you will, the "Federalist Paper" analogy is a group of people sitting around working their way through the constitution occasion after occasion after occasion after occasion and bringing out their own personal experience from the community as to what will work and what will not work, and so that's what the Grand Traverse Band community did."

Ian Record:

"And how has the...in your estimation how has the constitution worked in the 25 years it's been in place? Do you feel like it's beginning to gain...it has gained widespread cultural and community acceptance?"

John Petoskey:

"Yes. The one unique aspect of our constitution that is different from other constitutions is most entities elect a tripartite system of governance where they have executive, legislature and judiciary. At the time, when we were developing our constitution, the concept of consensus through council discussion was the primary value that people brought to the table of communication of trading off what would work and what would not work. The concept of separating the executive and legislature was not high on anybody's list, and so the GTB constitution has a combined executive-legislative function, so the council meets as a group and acts by motion, ordinance or resolution and it's the majority vote of the seven on the council. There are itemized activities that the executive power has -- and the vice chair and the treasurer and secretary -- but that is still in the context of the council acting as the executive-legislative combined branch of government. So we don't have, if you will, effectively, three coordinate branches of government. We have two branches of government, the executive-legislature as one and the judiciary as the other."

Ian Record:

"Let's talk about the judiciary. I plan to cover a number of topics with you today, but first and foremost is the issue of the judiciary or justice systems comprehensively and I'd like to start big picture, and based on your vast experience in this area, what role do you feel justice systems play in a tribe's ability to exercise its sovereignty effectively, to achieve its priorities, to create a healthier more culturally vibrant community?"

John Petoskey:

"Oh, that's kind of an open-ended question. I would like to just go directly to Grand Traverse Band. In our constitution we have the judiciary as an independent branch of government with independent authority and it's recognized in the constitution to have that. The judiciary serves the function as a check on the executive and legislative actions and it also provides a forum for dispute resolution between the community and community members over behavior that is not acceptable or behavior that comes to the court to resolve disputes between two individuals.

For example, I'm thinking of family law matters, dissolution of marriages or abuse and neglect on children or cases like that, so you need a third party to resolve disputes where the question of who is right and who is wrong is an open question subject to the advocacy of the parties. I don't see the judiciary in a larger, big-picture sense that you outlined. I see it in a little-picture sense of resolving disputes and if an individual, a tribal member, has a dispute with the tribal council over the enactment of legislation or the administration of that legislation by the delegated entities that the council has set up, then that tribal council member under our system, if our constitution has the right to go into tribal court because our constitution waives the immunity of the executive and the legislature and to assert that the application of that rule to that particular person is wrong for whatever reason.

And the Section 10 of our constitution incorporates almost word for word the Indian Civil Rights Act, which is almost...with notable exception leaves out certain elements from the Bill of Rights. The Indian Civil Rights Act is modeled on the Bill of Rights and those are the, if you will, the constitutional values that the federal system has, that the state system has, and by force of this overpowering values of constitutional law from our coordinate sovereign governments, the federal government and the state government, most tribal members are familiar with the U.S. federal constitutional rights and state constitutional rights; therefore, if they have a complaint with the United...with the tribe, they frame their complaint in that context and what is not unique about our constitution, but other constitutions, also have this, is that the constitution recognizes that there's an automatic waiver for that type of cause of action by a tribal member to sue the executive and legislature alleging a violation of Chapter 10 of our constitution, which effectively is the Indian Civil Rights Act. And our constitutional members have done that a number of times.

And then we also have disputes between...we have had disputes between the executive and the judicial...the executive and legislative branch and the judicial branch and the constitution does provide a methodology for the resolution of those disputes. We have had judicial removals and it's a process of the executive-legislature filing a claim in the judiciary unit, a panel of judicial appointees are appointed to determine whether or not a judge should be removed for cause, that are established in the constitution. So when you say big picture, it's too big for me to grasp because everything that I...for myself at least, I'm not a big-picture person and look at concrete problems and how to solve concrete problems, and those concrete problems I guess do have big picture implications, but it's solving the concrete problems that I focus on at least."

Ian Record:

"Well, and that's one of the reasons we thought of you as a good pick to be one of our fellows is that in our vast experience working with tribes on the ground in tribal communities is the fact that nation building is not a top-down proposition. It really starts at the grassroots and it works from the bottom up with the problems that every day...that come up every day that tribal members face. For instance, seeking redress against the government when they feel that they've been wronged. You mentioned that Grand Traverse Band's justice system is strong and independent and NNI and Harvard Project have done a lot of research in this area and it's been pretty conclusive in terms of finding that having a strong and independent justice system is really vital to a nation's efforts to achieve its goals. And I'm curious to get your take on that finding based upon your own experience and obviously the strength and independence of the justice system was not an accident. This was a purposeful process that the tribe has engaged in over a very long period of time to build that strength, to build that independence, and I guess my question to you would be how do you see that research finding in the context of what Grand Traverse has done?"

John Petoskey:

"In the context of...well, I would support it first of all. Having a strong and independent justice system is very important. And I think Grand Traverse Band has been lucky in some of the initial judges that it had that were tribal members that served for a long time on the judicial system and the fact that they were tribal citizens gave greater legitimacy for their decisions and for the conflicts that were resolved by judicial action. When we have had problems with the Grand Traverse Band is when we have...our constitution was written in the early "˜80s and actually implemented in 1988 and the provision that we have for judicial appointments does have a proviso of appointing attorneys who are non-members, and so on occasion we have had to appoint non-member attorneys to act as tribal judges. And the argument there is, "˜Well, an attorney has training in procedural due process, dispute resolution, the framing of legal arguments for the resolution of complex disputes and is familiar with the substantive law that comes forward that regulates human relationships and governmental relationships and so therefore the attorney, even though not a member, would bring value in that position as a tribal judge,' and that argument I accept.

Nevertheless, the proviso in my experience has been that when a non-Indian, non-citizen of the tribe is appointed, there are problems that inevitably arise because the legitimacy of that judicial officer is questioned by the community. I would propose a thought experiment that people would see this analogy or this problem in another manner. For example, I don't think any tribal constitution provides a provision in which you can elect to their tribal council non-members so long as they're attorneys or that they're engineers or something else, and that's just unheard of. And so the executive and legislative branch that are made up of members has greater legitimacy for implementing a decision even if the decision is wrong because it's coming from that citizen group in that community. Conversely, when a judge who is not a member is trying to implement a decision, even if that decision is right, it has less legitimacy.

So the cautionary tale that I would have on building strong judicial departments is that you keep in mind, and I know this is somewhat of a touchy subject, but you keep in mind that those should be citizen members that are filling those positions and it lends greater legitimacy to the resolution of the problems, and maybe this is a problem just uniquely to some tribes that have that provision in their constitution for the appointment of non-Indians, but if you look at the Indian law world, all of the Indian law professors -- you could tick them off on your hand that are the big stars -- also serve on tribal courts. And so they're not bringing their membership as a member of a tribe, they're coming to serve on those courts as people that are profoundly sympathetic to Indians and profoundly conversant with the principles of federal Indian law and the principles of substantive law, but nevertheless, they are bringing the same baggage of their cultural tradition to an Indian forum for resolving disputes involving principally Indians. There's variations on that too because some of those...some people argue that tribal courts are courts of general jurisdiction so they can resolve disputes involving Indians and non-Indians and I accept that, but what I'm saying is that a citizen/member of the tribe lends greater legitimacy to the resolution of the dispute."

Ian Record:

"To me what you're really talking about are what I see as two challenges. One is there needs to be a thoughtful, strategic discussion about. 'What should the qualifications of judges be?' So for instance, obviously should they have passed the bar in the state in which the tribe resides? That's often a criteria. I think what the Navajo example and a growing number of other tribal examples teach us is that tribes really placing an emphasis on their judges having understanding of that tribe's common cultural law and being in a position to apply that. And from what you're saying that non-Indian outsiders are just not equipped with that because they haven't grown up in that environment."

John Petoskey:

"Yes. In fact there should be, and I think Navajo does this and I confess my ignorance in this, but there should be a Navajo bar exam and tribes should implement their own bar exams for the practice within their own courts. Certainly all tribes now implement admission to their bar for their court but really all that is...and I'm not saying this in a negative or pejorative sense, but all that is is motioning yourself in for admission, paying the admission fee and being admitted to the bar of that particular tribe. But, if a tribe were to develop a bar exam and it's not...doesn't necessarily have to be on the substantive elements of what constitutes a tort crime, but it would have to be on something, in the case of Grand Traverse Band, it would have to be on the substantive elements of what is the fundamental value of Algonquians or Ottawas on how you lead a good life and what is the balance in life and the aim of life that you're supposed to be doing. And there is a set of concepts interrelated that are from the tradition of Ottawas and Ojibwes that define what is a good life and what is a bad life. And being sensitive to that in the position of judging disputes in which people are arguing over and sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly over those received values, is important to resolving issues that come before the court."

Ian Record:

"I want to turn back to Grand Traverse Band and the strength and independence that you and others have worked so hard to instill within that justice system that you currently operate. What do you feel -- based on the Grand Traverse experience -- that tribal justice systems need to have in place in order to be strong and independent?"

John Petoskey:

"I know the appropriate answer would probably be an institutional structure that non-Indians are familiar with, but the realistic answer, if you...is you need people that are really bright and focused and from that tradition and that are committed to that tradition. They are people that are...that grew up in the tradition, that bring the intelligence of the tradition to the position and that are committed to that tradition, that is an answer that is sort of off-center, but you need an Indian jurisprudence of values that reflect the community that you're from and the way that those values evolve are from growing up in that community, and that's an ongoing constant process. There's no one set of values that control the evolution of the community. In my own life for example and my wife's life, our parents had a totally different experience from what it was to be Indian in the...they were both born in 1915 and grew up in a period from 1915, died in the "˜80s, their life experience was fundamentally different and their grandparents or their parent's life experience was fundamentally different and they were born in the 1870s and you stretch back. This may be a little far afield, but if you stretch back to my grandparents, who were in the 1870s, and you stretch to my children now who were born in the 1990s, you have 120 years of change that is constantly taking place, but all of them have the same common denominator of coming from the same group of people and going through that change together."

Ian Record:

"So basically what you're saying is that the folks that lead that justice system, if you will, need to be culturally grounded, right?"

John Petoskey:

"Yes."

Ian Record:

"They need to have roots in the community that are not sort of put down overnight, but come from long, sustained involvement in the community, whether it's residence or participation in cultural ceremonies, etc. But just to sort of throw out a scenario to you, so presume for a second that you have all that on the judicial side of the equation and then there's somebody, in your case the executive-legislative side of governance equation that doesn't...is not acting from those values, if you will, and places perhaps unhealthy pressure on the judiciary to act in a certain way, to sort of test that strength and independence of the judicial system. What sort of mechanisms are in place to -- at Grand Traverse -- to ensure the insulation of the judiciary from that sort of unhealthy interference and ensure that it can in fact enact the cultural values, it can actually judge cases based on their merits and mete out justice in a fair and a consistent fashion?"

John Petoskey:

"Well, this is not something that is in place in terms of institutions, but on the executive-legislature side, there are seven councilors and the councilors don't always agree with each other, but they're all from the community and they all have...they all bring their common experience from the community to their positions on the council and they disagree amongst themselves and they recognize that some of those disagreements have to be resolved by the judiciary. And if Councilor A has a position against Councilor B and Councilor A is going to try to influence the judiciary to impermissibly or in some manner that is not straightforward in the procedural process, then Councilor B is going to object to that and Councilor B is going to then use Councilor B's authority within the context of the executive-legislative branch to bring that objection forward. And so it is a self-policing method of checks and balances, of different policy positions on the combined executive-legislative council. And so in that sense, even though the value is consensus of trying to get to a consensus and once the council does arrive at a consensus, it generally goes forward from that position. Arriving at that consensus involves very heated arguments between the individual councilors as to what is the appropriate course of action and if that heated argument or those differences manifest themselves in a dispute in the judiciary then Councilor A's attempt to determine the outcome in the judiciary is going to violate the rights of Councilor B and Councilor B is not going to acquiesce to that and is going to take action against A in the context of the executive-legislative process. That's realistically the way that works. I don't know if you formalize that process in some other method."

Ian Record:

"I guess what about for instance if it's not...if it doesn't involve a difference of opinion with two council members, but say, for instance, I'm a citizen and I feel that for whatever reason that the case before the court needs to be decided in my favor and I call up one of these councilors and say, "˜You need to do what I ask and I voted for you,' kind of thing and this may not be something you're familiar with because it doesn't sound like this is a common occurrence at Grand Traverse. Unfortunately this is a common occurrence in a lot of other tribes that we've worked with. I guess is it sort of values and sort of community norms that prevents a lot of that from taking place or is there something formal within the constitutional framework that Grand Traverse has developed that prevents that sort of thing?"

John Petoskey:

"Within the constitutional framework the judiciary is independent. That's a categorical statement. The hypothetical that you posited has occurred and I am familiar with cases in which tribal members have called up councilors and say, "˜I don't agree with this court's decision because it's wrong,' and the councilors have come back to the council and said, "˜Judge is wrong in this basis, what should we do?' and other councilors say, "˜Well, it's a independent judiciary,' and you get back into the methodology that I was talking about earlier where A and B are arguing over the proper policy. We're lucky in one sense that one of our councilors is a former chief judge on our court and chief judge on other courts in Michigan. So that particular councilor is...has been in the shoes of a judiciary and has been involved in inter-branch fights between the judiciary and the executive-legislature. But we have not had extreme cases at Grand Traverse Band. I can...I don't want to...there have been cases in Michigan in which one where the executive branch and the judicial branch got into such an extreme dispute that the judicial branch ordered the arrest and incarceration of the executive branch, and typically it's the other way around. All of the hypotheticals that you've been positing involve the executive pressuring the judiciary, but in this particular case it was the judiciary that ordered the arrest of the executive over an election dispute where the holdover council was not vacating office and the executive branch was actually arrested and then the petition for habeas corpus was filed in federal district court to release the executive branch, that the judicial order was invalid. So it goes both ways I'm saying."

Ian Record:

"It sounds like at Grand Traverse there's a controlling dynamic within the executive-legislative function where if there is an individual council member who's being pressured by a constituent to interfere in the judicial function that the other council members remind that individual on the council of their role, what their role is and what their role is not. Speaking more broadly, what do you feel is the role of elected leadership in supporting the strength and independence and supporting the growth of justice systems, because for instance at Grand Traverse, your justice system has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 20 years and won an award from Honoring Nations for the incredible work it's been doing and not just building a strong and independent court system, but also making sure that that system is culturally appropriate and reflecting and enacting the values of the people. What do you feel the role of leaders are in supporting the justice function?"

John Petoskey:

"At Grand Traverse Band or in general?"

Ian Record:

"Just in general I think."

John Petoskey:

"Well, my response would be if you look at other systems -- the federal system, the state system -- there have always been disputes over the scope of judicial power in the...in federal court, in federal jurisdiction, what is the appropriate scope of federal jurisdictional power and what is the scope of its ability to resolve disputes. Justice Breyer makes a big point of this if you look at the election dispute between Bush v. Gore, it was a decision that was by the Supreme Court that was widely recognized as invalid in terms of its substantive analysis of the law, but nevertheless the whole country said, once the decision came out, "˜Well, game over,' because there's a strong judicial system and once the decision was rendered, good, bad or indifferent, that's it. Everybody folded their respective tents and went home and George Bush became president when he probably should not have been president on the substantive law basis, but a wrong decision on the merits is still a final decision and the parties respect that. And so you would hope that tribal court systems would evolve to that level of behavior where people would see that finality even for a bad decision. Of course Bush probably didn't think it was a bad decision, but they would evolve to that level of behavior that even for a bad decision, it's the final decision and you go forward. Nobody brought out the Army or guns or anything to enforce Bush v. Gore. The only thing that was done was Scalia saying, "˜Well, this case shouldn't be cited for any other precedent, just for the unique circumstances in George Bush as president.'

And the other cases, Justice Stephens and the other Justices, Stephens in particular, forcefully argued that it was a sad day for the judiciary, but they were arguing on the merits of what the decision was. Nobody was saying, "˜Well, are people going to abide by this? Are they going to follow this decision?' and ultimately that didn't even come up. The values were so engrained that everybody just followed that decision, but that was a hard-fought value because you go back to Brown v. Board of Education. When that came out, you had George Wallace standing at the entrance of a public university screaming, "˜Segregation now! Segregation forever!' saying, "˜I will not move and allow black people into this university,' and tremendous fights, killings, murders, just tremendous pain and suffering for the implementation of the Civil Rights decisions. So when you look at Indian Country, Indian Country is not something that is any different because we're all humans trying to resolve complex disputes and we're using different methodologies to resolve those disputes."

Ian Record:

"And I think it would be important for folks to keep in mind that while a lot of these justice systems are working...tribal justice systems are working to integrate, enact longstanding cultural values, the systems themselves are relatively new in many cases in that these were justice systems that were established in the "˜50s, "˜60s, "˜70s, "˜80s many of them, and it takes a long time in many of those communities for those systems to gain the legitimacy that you're talking about. Your colleague Frank Pommersheim, I had opportunity to interview him and he made the exact same point that the true test of a strong independent judiciary is, 'Do people respect the decision even though they disagree with it, particularly elected leadership?'"

John Petoskey:

"Yes."

Ian Record:

"That's the true test. They may not like the decision, they may not like the outcome but they're not going to blow the place up over the fact that they disagree with it."

John Petoskey:

"Right. That is a good test. And that...and nobody arrives at that without some pain and suffering, and that's why I brought out Brown v. Board of Education. Here you had the Supreme Court saying, "˜Segregation in education is constitutionally impermissible,' and you certainly had southern states saying, "˜It is not and we're not going to allow the decision to be implemented. Impeach Earl Warren.'"

Ian Record:

"So one of the things that in terms of how Native nations and governments and the other branches or functions of government can support tribal judiciaries...one of the things you and I were talking about yesterday was this issue of funding and what we've often heard tribal judges lament about is the fact that, "˜In our tribe the elected leadership treat us like we're just another department when really we serve a fundamental function of any society, which is to resolve disputes, which is to in many instances serve as a check on the abuse of power, the abuse of authority by the other functions of government. How important is it for leaders of nations...of tribal nations to have that mindset that the judicial system is more than just another department of government and fund it accordingly and really place an emphasis on putting the judicial system sort of at the top when it comes to allocating budgetary resources for instance?"

John Petoskey:

"Well, obviously my point is that judicial systems should be funded and the de-funding of judicial systems for political purposes should be categorically impermissible, because today's decision may be something that you support but tomorrow's decision may be something that you oppose and so the funding of judicial decisions based upon past precedent of the courts or decisions that they made shouldn't be in the equation of how you fund the judicial system. The conversation that we had was that I haven't seen any information on the relationship of how you...what the ratio is of the federal government's funding of its judicial system over its total budget, and I'm sure it could be easy to figure out, but I just haven't seen that in print someplace. At Grand Traverse Band, we have a revenue allocation ordinance and we did set up a system of funding the judicial system by a percentage of our income, our net income that we receive from various enterprises, largely gaming. At the time that we passed the RAO [revenue allocation ordinance] it was, I forget the exact number, but it was something like four percent or seven percent is going to go to the judicial system. And just through circumstances of gaming, like a lot of tribes over the last 20 years, the net income of gaming has risen dramatically like a jet taking off into the stratosphere. Those are numbers out there that everybody is family with. So we had this RAO number of four to seven percent that the judicial system received as a direct level of funding that was not to be...it was enacted by the statute and so once our enterprises took off, the amount of money that the judicial system was receiving was extraordinary. It got very high very quickly and because our enterprises were successful."

Ian Record:

"But I would imagine that as your enterprise got successful you're engaged in more commercial dealings, there's more disputes, there's the case load of the court system grows."

John Petoskey:

"Yes, yes, there is that argument, but my point is I haven't seen any good research on how you arrive at the appropriate level of funding for a judicial system. You do have the method of GPRA, of performance-based funding for projected future funding on outcomes with present resources and that's how you do programmatic funding for activities and then you have federal funding where federal priorities come into smaller communities and those are competitive grants that we look at and then you have what are called the self-governance BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs], AFA, annual funding agreements through self-governance taking over certain sections of what is known as the 'green book,' which is the budget book of the Department of Interior for funding and they have a number of formulas that are in that book based on the appropriate level of funding for different activities that the BIA is engaged in in administering an Indian reservation and just in a thumbnail in self governance is a tribe has shown that it can administer those programs just as well as the BIA through no audit exceptions, therefore they get control of that line item in the green book to administer the program or to reallocate to any other function. My point that I was getting to is that I don't see the formula for tribal court funding. Clearly funding should not be a political animal in terms of past decisions or future decisions, but there should be some formula methodology to determine what the appropriate level of funding is."

Ian Record:

"So Grand Traverse, by all accounts, has operated this strong and independent court system for quite a while that it consistently and fairly dispenses justice. What sort of messages do you feel that that sends to outsiders that interact with Grand Traverse in terms of how it does business, how it governs? Do you feel that there's been a positive ripple effect of the way that Grand Traverse dispenses justice that supersedes the reservation boundaries?"

John Petoskey:

"Well, yes. These sound like leading softball questions, but yes. Some of the things that we do at Grand Traverse is what other tribes do and some tribes do it much better than we do. I haven't looked at their site recently, but I know Ho Chunk had a very good site on their judicial opinions and we try to model our site on our judicial opinions. We set up all of our opinions into VersusLaw and into WesLaw and so they're categorized into the WesKey number system. They're available... we try to make them available... before the internet came online we did create a... all of our opinions available in the local law libraries when everybody was using hard copies to do research. We made arrangements with the county law libraries that they would have copies of our code, that they would have copies of all of our opinions that were issued. And then several years ago, it hasn't been updated, but Matthew Fletcher, who a lot of people know in the Indian law world, is a member of Grand Traverse Band and used to work at Grand Traverse Band as an attorney, assistant general counsel for about four years, and after he left he wrote a restatement of Grand Traverse Band's common law based upon all of the opinions published up until that point. And so we direct people to that on a regular basis to tell them, "˜This is the restatement of the common law as of X date. It hasn't been updated, but these are the opinions on a chronological basis that you can find that are available.' Our statutes are published online. We do have a qualified, when I say qualified, it's not as detailed as the Administrative Procedures Act, but we do have a process of legislative enactment in which we publish proposed bills for comment by our tribal members and before enactment and comments come in and the tribal council reacts to those comments either accepting or rejecting, and making appropriate decisions based on the comments and some bills as a result of that comment process have taken a long time to get through to enactment because some of the issues are extremely contentious internally with the tribe over the appropriate standard that the bill is implementing on the standard of behavior.

So I think the common denominator of what I just said is transparency throughout the whole process. Transparency throughout the judicial process in terms of the court publishing its opinions, making them widely available to individuals, the transparency of legislative acts being widely apparent to individuals. Grand Traverse Band is now going for its executive-legislative function to publish their proceedings online so that people who are tribal members...and this is an open question on whether non-members would be able to access it, but clearly tribal members would be able to, citizen members would be able to access council meetings to review what took place in the meeting and the process and procedures that were utilized in the meetings. There's discussions right now of doing the same thing for court proceedings that... of tribal court TV, if you will, to make transparency as the same value. So I think the value of transparency is something that is accepted by the majority of the participants in the political process and that has enormous benefits in a cultural norm of checks and balances, if you will, because everybody knows that everything is subject to review and all arguments are...can be developed after the fact, too, because you can look at something or you can be involved in this conversation that we're having right now, it's being recorded and later on I may be sitting at home thinking, "˜God, I should have said that or I should have said this,' and other people will have that same reaction."

Ian Record:

"Doesn't it all boil down to, when it comes down to transparency and the different ways that Grand Traverse is seeking to achieve that, is people who interface with the government, whether it's citizens of the Band or outsiders who may be dealing with the tribe commercially or may live within the community on allotment land or whatever it might be, that they understand not only the decisions that have been made, they're aware of the decisions that are being contemplated, but most importantly they're...they understand the rationale underlying the decision-making process. What is the common law that's driving this or what are the values that's driving this? Is that really at the crux of the whole thing?"

John Petoskey:

"The crux of the whole thing is not to have an indeterminate process; it's to have a determinate process that participants can enter the process at various points and figure out what happened, why it happened, what the future decision is going to be, what the arguments for and against it can be and an indeterminate process, what I see is a situation where the participants and the people who have to suffer the consequences of the decision don't know why something happened or what's going to happen in the future because there's no agreed upon procedure statutorily or there's no agreed upon cultural norm of transparency. And so it makes for an indeterminate future and an indeterminate past because the rationale for some of the decisions in the past were arbitrary, and these are words that are used in administrative law, but are arbitrary and capricious and they're not subject to analysis because they're indeterminate. And so I think the value that Grand Traverse Band is trying to achieve is a process of determinate decision making in its executive-legislative and judicial process, where participants in the process and the people who are subject to the process either as citizens or non-citizens can understand what occurred, why it occurred, and what will occur in the future."

Ian Record:

"So I wanted to wrap up with a few questions that get into a little bit more detail about Grand Traverse Band's approach to jurisprudence. We've been touching again and again on this issue of cultural values, common law, common tribal law and I'm curious, several years ago the Grand Traverse Band formally integrated the peacemaking approach to dispute resolution into its justice system. Can you talk about how that came about, what was the impetus, what does it look like, how does it work?"

John Petoskey:

"Well, the value of the peacemaking court...first of all, I want to acknowledge that Navajo Nation started with peacemaking court and I'm not familiar with the full scope of that, but I know that they had a peacemaking court long before other tribes did and brought in their values and cultural tradition to the resolutions of disputes that were involved on family relations. And at that time, our chief judge, his name is Mike Petoskey, he's not my brother, we're often confused because we're close in age and look alike. He is my first cousin. He was our tribal judge and had been our tribal chief judge for about 15 years and he was familiar with a lot of Navajo judges because he went to law school at the University of New Mexico and he had a common experience with some of these judges based upon their military experience in Vietnam and similar life experience even though these people were from the interior of Navajo, Lukachukai. So it was Ray Austin that he was a good friend with. I think Ray has published a book on the Navajo judicial systems. And Mike and Ray had been friends for many years, well, going to law school and had a common denominator even though they were widely geographically dispersed and culturally dispersed, one being Ottawa and one being Navajo. And so Mike was dealing with the types of problems that come up in Indian communities that are families-in-crisis problems and part of the way of resolving those problems in the non-Indian society under child abuse and neglect and families in need of supervision under the state model, if you look at their codes, are very destructive to the individual family unit because the resolution is, "˜This is not going to work so we're going to terminate the parental rights. We want to take the child away. We're going to sanction the parent and the family is dispersed.' I'm not saying that across the board, but that is one model that the family law in non-Indian society uses to resolve families in crisis and that may work if you have a larger group that you're...of people that you're dealing with and larger resources. But the tribe didn't have the larger resources and the group that it's dealing with is a common core of people that are related to each other across time and terminating and dispersing the family is not something that is...that the tribe wants to do, because a lot of the historical experience of the tribal members is suffering the state system of termination and dispersal of the family and then slowly finding your way back to the community. And so an alternative is to try to fix the destructive family patterns that exist within the family in question or whatever family it is. I don't have any family in question, I'm just saying this is how or what the situations that came up and the way to do that is to bring in other members of the extended family into a whole process of saying, "˜Well, what is the problem and why are you behaving in this manner that creates destructive consequences for your children or destructive consequences for your husband or wife or for your mother or father or for your aunts and uncles?' The behavior of one individual has a ripple effect like the stone in the pond that goes out into the whole community. And so the concept of peacemaking is to recognize that and to bring all of the people in the pond, if you will, that feel that ripple effect into the process to resolve that stone and to engage in dialogue, and there is a value within the Ottawa and Ojibwe tradition that all of our inter-family relationships are really community-based relationships and extend out to everybody and that a resolution of those community-based relationships of necessity involves all of these people that it extends out to because your actions today do not just impact your nuclear family, your husband, wife, mother, daughter. They also impact your aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, grandparents, and so bringing that whole group together or the principles within that group to work on the solution for that behavior is better than viewing it as a nuclear unit of a family, husband, wife, children and that's it and that as the scope of what the community was that had to be fixed. And the peacemaking court was to say, if you look at the larger community which everybody is impacted by this behavior and you try to bring the larger community into that process with the individual that is misbehaving, if you will, and saying, "˜This is what your behavior is causing to the whole community and we are here to help you to resolve that behavior,' and to bring the person back into the community by explaining what the impacts of their behavior has on the whole community. That's the fundamental concept. There's a long Indian word that I can't pronounce that my wife [Eva Petoskey] can, and so you might bring that up with her, and she has a better grasp of the language than I do."

Ian Record:

"So how in your estimation has it worked out so far, the use of peacemaking for Grand Traverse?"

John Petoskey:

"It's worked out well because it...there are a lot of people in Indian Country that are in pain and suffering for a variety of...this is sort of a leftist orientation, but of historical trauma, of what your parents and grandparents went through and so that has an impact on your present life and when I was talking about just looking at my own life, I'm 61 years old and I can look back to see my grandparents who I knew were born in the 1870s and there's been tremendous change from where my children are right now who were born in the 1990s and are in graduate school in college and going through different changes of their own, but we're all connected to this one place and we're all from this one place and we all grew up there. But the change is constant and for Grand Traverse Band since 1980 in the scale of things change has been positive for the community. The community has reasserted its traditions and reasserted its control over its community and when it lost its control over its community it lost control over its traditions because we weren't directing our lives, we were being directed by other people and so directing our lives even if it's in an impaired and fractured community is a process of healing that community and so that peacemaking court in the method that I just described is a process of resolving a lot of disputes that are very, very difficult and very difficult to resolve and that take a lot of time. It's not ever going to be perfect and it's not ever going to be over, it's always going to change."

Ian Record:

"As a final question, what I'm struck by in hearing you and others talk about the peacemaking approach is that often the western adversarial system, which is focused on punitive measures tends to focus on the symptom, which is the misbehavior whereas, peacemaking really seeks to get at the root cause of what's driving this behavior and sort of...and attacking that root cause to prevent that from happening again rather than punishing someone for what has already happened. Is that basically how it works?"

John Petoskey:

"I would say yes, but again I would say my wife has a better handle on that, but it's bringing in the community and the impacts on the community and saying to the individual, "˜You should have empathy and compassion for the acts that you're doing and the impacts on people that you have relationships with, long-term relationships with.' Sometimes they're loving relationships, sometimes they're not loving relationships, they're stressful relationships, but the point is everybody has a consequence for their behavior and those consequences are felt by the whole community and it's trying to say to the individual, "˜Your behavior affects the whole community and the whole community is here to try to tell you that to change your behavior so those consequences don't impact us,' because they do."

Ian Record:

"Well, John, we really appreciate you agreeing to serve as a fellow with the Native Nations Institute and agreeing to sit down with us today and sharing your thoughts, experience and wisdom with us. And this is part one of a two-part interview. We'll be interviewing you again this week in more detail about some of the work you've done in terms of developing Grand Traverse's legal infrastructure and I'd like to thank you for your time today. And that's all the time we have on today's program of Leading Native Nations. To learn more about Leading Native Nations, please visit the Native Nations Institute's website at nni.arizona.edu. Thank you for joining us. Copyright 2013 Arizona Board of Regents."

NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow: Frank Ettawageshik (Part 1)

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Frank Ettawageshik, former chairman of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians (LTBBO), discusses how LTBBO has set a solid foundation upon which to engage in nation rebuilding through its development and ratification of a new constitution and governance system that is culturally appropriate and capable of effectively exercising LTBBO's sovereignty. He also stresses the need for Native nations to develop and institutionalize nation-specific civics education of their people in order to create civic-minded citizens who can contribute to their nation-rebuilding efforts.

Resource Type
Citation

Ettawageshik, Frank. "NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow (Part 1)." Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 6, 2010. Interview.

Ian Record:

"Welcome to Leading Native Nations. I'm your host Ian Record. On today's program, I am honored to welcome Frank Ettawageshik. Frank is a citizen and the former chairman of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians. He currently serves as the Executive Director for the United Tribes of Michigan, and recently was chosen by the Native Nations Institute to serve as its 2010 Indigenous Leadership Fellow. Frank, welcome to the program."

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Hi."

Ian Record:

"I'd like to start off by asking you a question I ask virtually everyone I sit down with, and that is: what is Native nation building and what does it entail for your nation?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well, it has a lot of different parts to it. Some people think it's the constitution, some people think it's economic development. And those are components of it, clearly, and are very important, and maybe some of the more visible parts, but nation building to me is the, building the capacity of the citizenry of your nation to deal with change and to deal with the issues that come before it, and to do that in a healthy way. To me, you're building...a nation is wealthy, and it has true wealth as opposed to money. And, you know, economic development can bring you a lot of money, but it doesn't necessarily bring you true wealth. And the...you need wisdom to figure out how to take money from economic development, how to use a document that you've created if a constitution, how to actually have the institutions of your society, not just governmental institutions, but you know, institutions of your tribal society, of your nation, have them become strong. And that, to me that's what nation building is."

Ian Record:

"Dr. Stephen Cornell with the Native Nations Institute has framed nation building as in part the challenge of remaking a nation's governance tools. Do you agree with that statement, and why?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well, I think it's important, but you have to...the tribal government is not the tribe. The government serves the tribe. And to the extent that you have...you need proper institutions. And those institutions may be governmental institutions, but they may be institutions of your society. And you need to have them be strong in order to truly do the nation building. So it, you know the implication of the question would be if you do constitutional reform, you got, you're all done. And...but to me, I think that it's a little deeper than that. And so clearly, an inadequate governing document can be a huge hindrance towards the development of good, of proper governance. I mean it can be a real problem, and needs, you do need to have a good constitution for your government. Now that constitution, in some cases it may not be written, and you know, but nevertheless, you need to have a system of governance that's in place that the society understands and that your tribal citizenry understands and is able to use and that they feel comfortable with. Otherwise you, you can impose a system that, that for instance is not, that may be a good idea somewhere, but may not be a good idea in your community. You can't do that. You have to have something that works."

Ian Record:

"Follow-up question to that: you've obviously been central in the nation building efforts of your own nation and have gained deep insights into what a number of other Native nations have been doing over the past 20, 30 years during the course of your career working in a number of different arenas -- how do you see this question of why some Native nations have proven more successful than others in achieving, not just their economic development goals, but their community development goals? These social institution-building efforts, if you will?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Part of that is a question of leadership. You need to have the, you need to have the right combination of people together. Some, there's what, the 'Great Man theory': Does history make the great man, or does the great man make history? And I've always been a proponent of the belief that history makes the great man, or the great person, or the great leader in this case as it may be. And that it's not, it's less the force of a single personality, and it's more the outgrowth of the culture. And that when people are at the point that they're ready to do certain things, those people who can accomplish those will become apparent within their communities. And our peoples have suffered immensely. For over 500 years, our wealth has been gradually transmitted away from us, our wealth, not just monetary wealth, but the wealth of our resources, the access to our resources. Even if they're there, we sometimes, the game warden stops us from hunting so that we, for the food that we always hunted. And we have, that this loss, gradually, over the years, has been very difficult for us. We've maintained our elements of culture and items through that. But our, many of our institutions within our tribal societies have suffered at that over the years because of a lot of, just the loss of many people, say through the small pox epidemics and the measles and all the other things. We lost a huge amount of institutional knowledge within our tribal societies. And that that...that made it more difficult for us to grow –- we were in survival mode and we had to try to figure out how to pull things together to survive.

So, different communities and different tribal communities, different tribal nations are at different points in their recovery, because we are recovering. This is the first generation, or maybe the second, in our history that actually has more rather than less in most cases. In fact, in my life I've seen our tribal nation go, really this is the first generation that has had more rather than less when it comes to access to resources. When it comes to this, the community support for strengthening cultural society, strengthening cultural teaching, that we actually have more rather than less now. And that's an unusual situation for us. So in the cases of, in the case of money, we have, there's money from a casino, we have to figure out how to deal with that. How do we deal with money, how do we deal with the problems that come from a market place that moves up and down and back and forth? And how do we deal with that? Whereas before we were always on the low end of everything, we were broke. And so if the market fluctuated, we already were at the bottom, and you know, it didn't really take us much further down. But today, we actually have made advances, and so we can suffer through changes in the national economy for instance. So these are things that are, that you know that I think about that in trying to understand and learn as we look towards the future."

Ian Record:

"Dr. Cornell also...in a related question, Dr. Cornell refers to governing systems as fundamentally tools for creating the future that Native Nations want -- essentially a vehicle for strategic planning and implementation. Is that something you agree with, is that something that you've envisioned your government doing as part of its role, fundamental role?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well, the government clearly has a role for these things. You know, we have a planning department, for instance. And the planning department was really the first independent department that we created that was, that became out of the, when we started doing a modern administrative government as opposed to our traditional government. This was a, and it was important because there's financial planning and we had to learn how to do budget projections and running grants and all the other things. We also had, we had to deal with phone systems and how do you, how do you get it, deal with an expanding phone system from one to two to three to five to twenty-five to fifty to one hundred. You know, how do you deal with all of those systems. So we've had to learn to do all of that as we've had expanded offices, and as we've had expanded resources to run those offices. You know, we had an archives and records department that we had to create within the government because it was no longer possible to store our records in boxes under people's beds and in the hall closet in people's homes. We now started having fairly large collections of data that needed to be stored and taken care of. And then you have financial record keeping data that has to be stored for a long time. So we, these are kind of things we had to, you know, to figure. So yes, to those extent, we do have to, you know, you do have to have these institutions. But at the same time we have to be careful to not expect that our tribal governments do everything for people. That, that there's a, as I said the government serves the tribe, but the government isn't the tribe. And that's a very difficult thing because they, literally, the tribal citizens often actually ask us to do things that, it would probably be better if we didn't. And you know, there's a number of different things that I, that I think about in that regard that are, that I think sort of... One of them I guess I'll talk about is buying the meat for the feast, for instance.

Once we started having some money, people felt that we needed to provide the money to buy the meat for the traditional feast that we were having. And I felt that we'd had these forever, and that we should try to continue to have them in that same way. The government didn't necessarily need to be involved in that to make those things work. But we started providing the funds. And this gradually turned into providing the money to actually cater the entire feast. And we ended up having this where instead of having the women come and help cook and do a lot of the work, we had, you know, the casinos they have from...the catering folks came in and they just took care of everything. And we'd had this, and we were in a northern climate, and then we had a snow day, and very, we ended up having ten people come to this feast and a lot of people got really upset thinking, 'Well, nobody wants their traditions anymore. Nobody wants to attend the feast, nobody wants to do this and...' So it almost died because government, and for me it died I felt because government had gotten involved and started to, you know, question the date that it was held, and start to wonder who could come, and who might not, and started providing the money for this whole thing, as opposed to doing it the way that we had always done it.

So the next year when it came time to do the feast, we -- in a very long meeting at our elders lunch with the, we had just the week before the feast -- we discussed whether we, the people were right that nobody wanted to come to the feast and that we should just do away with it, or what should we do. Well then this long discussion got turned back into a potluck and got turned into everybody was coming and we had the biggest group that had been at this feast in 25 years. And that continues to this day being run that way, where we, everybody pitches in and works together on it. And it's the way it should have been. Well, that's to me a shining example of what government shouldn't do, and then what government should do. They should stay out of it. Government, in this case, got the grants, provided the funds, and built the facility in which we hold the feast. So it's a government hall that the community can use, and then the community comes in and uses it. And not only uses it for this event, but uses it for all types of other events: birthday parties, and for funerals, for state dinners, for all different kinds of things that are used in this facility. But most of the things that happen there are not government functions. Most of things are functions of the community as a whole."

Ian Record:

"So essentially what you're saying is that it's government's role to empower community and not necessarily replace community."

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Yeah. I think that's a good summation of it. And to me this is, we have to really be careful of this. When we look at what we're asked to do as a government, and also what we choose to do. And those things are, and they have to be thought through, you know. This long-term thinking about the implications of what we do have to be thought through."

Ian Record:

"Isn't part of that just the struggle with managing growth? What you're seeing, particularly with the advent of gaming, so many tribes, the amount of resources that they're receiving and then having to figure out what do we do with this? It just grows, has grown astronomically over the past 15-20 years, and it's kind of, it's been a challenge for some tribes to kinda take a step back and consider these very issues that you're talking about."

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well, the communities have a lot issues. But there are people who are quite critical of how tribes do some of these things and look at them. But I actually think that, you know, we need to look at it like this: we really figured out well how to be poor. We got that figured out really good. We know how to take a chicken and feed 30 people with it, you know. We can, we can figure out things. We got being poor figured out. But when we have money, we have to figure out how to do that. Lots of people with lots of money have a real hard time. Lot of old money families have all kinds of different issues. They're different issues than the ones of not having money. Well, as tribal citizens, tribal communities, having money is something that we have to figure out how to work with, and it's going to take a generation or two or three of four to try to work through those issues. How do we deal with not being the poorest ones on the block? How do we deal with, with not, with actually having resources that we need to allocate as opposed to just barely surviving? And those are different kinds of, different kinds of roles. So it's a natural, it's a natural issue. People who win lotteries --there's been studies done about the people who win lotteries. And most of them, after, oh say ten years, are probably worse off than they were before they won. Every now and then there's an exception, but because they don't know how to deal with the issues of having, of having money, and having access to resources. I look at it -- once again it's like I said earlier -- it's like having money versus having, taking that money and turning it into true wealth. And that's were you need to have, you need to put a lot of you effort into training people how to deal with that."

Ian Record:

"So let's talk a little bit more about that. How would you define true wealth?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"A safe, peaceful community. Where you have, you know, you have adequate education, you've got healthy people, you have adequate resources. And you can perpetuate and grow your culture. Not just talk about the way things used to be, but actually adapt and grow to the changing times and have your culture be alive, not just static, something that's in a book or something that's been studied and that...you know, so it's...to me true wealth is this. And true wealth sometimes involves having money, resources, and doing things with them. But true wealth can also be merely just good schools and safe homes and jobs. But that's, that's being wealthy, being, having a strong sense of self-worth, a good strong sense of place, not just in, in the physical place, but a place in culture, a place in history, a place in the preservation and continuation of culture and your environment."

Ian Record:

"I'd like to switch gears and turn to a topic that you're well versed in, and that is constitutions. Back in 2005, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians adopted a new constitution, and I was curious to learn more about what necessitated your nation to undertake that major step, and I guess give us an overview of what that involved."

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well, in our case, we were not on the list of federally acknowledged tribes. We felt we always had been acknowledged, but we felt that the government had somehow forgotten that; that they had neglected to keep us on the list. And so we spent 120 years in a legal battle with the United States government over this issue. And when Richard Smith went down with his ship in a storm in Saginaw Bay in 1871 in Lake Huron, he took with him the institutional memory as being the scribe at the treaty negotiations, the Treaty of 1855, Treaty of Detroit of 1855 that covered a substantial portion of the lower peninsula of Michigan, and a substantial piece of the upper peninsula of Michigan as well, in which today there are five federally recognized tribes, and a couple of others that are working toward federal recognition. And we had to fight with the U.S. Congress, with the executive branch, within the courts for all of that time. We had people who were involved in lawsuits, people traveling to Washington, all laying the groundwork for eventually us being successful in the passage of Public Law 103-324, the Reaffirmation Act for Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians and the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, both in Michigan. And this bill was signed on September 21, 1994.

There had been numerous legislative attempts over the years on things that would have affirmed our status in one way or another. There were a number of different things that happened, and there's a huge long history just behind that treaty, and behind the ramifications of it. But we spent this time working for this bill, which reaffirmed our status -- it didn't grant recognition to us, and it didn't restore recognition to us. It reaffirmed that we'd always had it, which I think is an extremely important, subtle difference. And in that bill it made sure that we be on the list of federally recognized tribes, so we'd be added to that, to the List Act, you know. And then we also were...it called for the development of a tribal role, and there was a certain timetable for that. It called for the development of a tribal constitution that, the one we subsequently developed. But it also recognized as an interim document, the constitution that we were operating under at that time that was our interim constitution, and then we were going to, we had to move forward with a new constitution.

Fortunately for us in this process, we had seen, we could learn from the issues of many neighboring tribes, and other tribes across the country, in the documents they'd had. We had very early on -- when we were trying to figure out how to work on our issues -- we had a grant from the Administration for Native Americans, and in that grant we wanted, we were gonna put on a conference, you know, a meeting for the tribe to discuss constitutions, to discuss the issues of federal acknowledgement. And we -- our attorney and I -- we were talking on the phone, and we wanted the Vine Deloria book, The Nations Within, we were discussing that book and we said, 'Well we need somebody that can really talk about that book, and talk about the issues in it. That's really what we need in the community to help move us along.' And finally one of the other of us, and I don't, never have remembered which one of us said, 'Well, why don't we just invite Vine?' And so we subsequently did invite Vine who came to our, came to the community and he -- along with a number of other people -- through the day gave discussion about constitutions and issues and laid the groundwork for helping us understand the issue of constitutions, and really what was wrong with a lot of the, what's called the boilerplate IRA constitutions that are out there, which, by the way, was pretty much what we were operating under is our interim constitution, was patterned after one of the boilerplate IRA constitutions; all of the powers in the council, and the council creates the court by passing a law, the executive and the legislative are all embodied within one institution, the tribal council. And as long as you have good people in a system like that, it works. But there are no checks and balances really. If the, if somebody, if a tribal member sues the government for something and wins in tribal court, the council can abolish the law that created the court, fire the judge, and then pass a new one and get a new judge and just keep doing that over and over until they get one that finally rules their way. That could happen, and actually things like that have occurred various places around Indian Country -– judges have been fired. So you really need a robust dispute resolution process, or a strong independent tribal court. One, and that's an important part of this. Well we discussed these things with, when Vine was there, and helped us start the process of thinking about this. And at the same time, this was prior to the passage of our reaffirmation act, Vine agreed to testify and came and gave the lead testimony for, at our hearing for, what became Public Law 103-324, when we went to the U.S. House for our first hearing on the bill.

So we had, we created a constitution committee, we worked through the grant, we prepared a draft, an initial draft that was looking at our, sort of looking at us from a theoretical point of view. This is what we'd like to see, as opposed to this is what we actually are. And then we had a committee that worked for number of years putting a draft together. Our constitutional process involved -- the development of the constitution involved -- having a committee that worked on drafts, studying constitutions from other tribes all over the country –- the good ones, the bad ones, the long ones, the short ones, the...and trying to learn from the experience of other people, as well as try to find something that fit our makeup, and our community. So we then did a public hearing, a meeting in all, not just in Northern Michigan right where our people are, but we also have a lot of people who live in the cities who would move there for jobs down in the southern part of the state. So we had meetings not only there, but also in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We had a total of eight meetings where the, sometimes we had as few as five people show up, sometimes as many as sixty would show up to these meetings where...and we wrote a transcript of the meetings, and talked about things like: if you're gonna be a judge, can you ever, can you have a felony in your record? Is there a length of time that you could go where we could consider that you might be rehabilitated? OK, if you've lived in the community, if you had a felony when you're 18, and you serve your time, and you're out and then 25 years later when you're, you know, in your 60's and you're being considered after living an exemplary life, would you be eligible to be a judge? Would you be eligible to be on the council, or to be the chairman, or...and we discussed these things with the community, and came up with, for most instances that they would be, there's the ability to be forgiven, and, not in every instance, but in most. And then we talked about what age people would have to be and what the basic criteria would be. We talked about all these things throughout the community in these discussions. And then a draft was prepared. That draft was then sent to all of the membership, one to every member. And then we then asked for written comments. We also had a meeting where you could come and give your, you could bring your written comments, you could mail them in, you could come to the meeting, and you could talk and discuss the things, ask questions, and we had it in an auditorium and had a fairly large turnout for this meeting. Then we took those, the committee took all those comments, and all those thoughts and everything, and took them back and made changes and thought it through and came up with a new draft, which we mailed out to everybody, and then did this whole process again. And we mailed, I think three times, the draft out for comments and had meetings where we put everything together. This took years; this was not something that was a matter of months. This took years to do this. And we finally ended up with a draft that was ready to be submitted to the, that was ready to be submitted to the Department of Interior.

Now the bill that we had, the Public Law 103-324, the Reaffirmation Act, it...when it called for an election for a constitution, it called for a secretarial election. So the fact that there's a secretarial election is really the only tie to this constitution as an IRA constitution, 'cause they required approval. So this was an IRA constitution only to the extent that it was required that that secretarial election. Because it really was not...this constitution that was developed was a separation of powers constitution, far from those boilerplate IRA constitutions. And it has a checks and balances within the different departments, within the different branches of government. And in addition to those checks and balances, there's also an independent prosecutor's office that, to help ensure this. And then there's also, not a branch of government, but a constitutional entity, the election board is also an independent body. And so these were the kinds of checks and balances that we built into this document.

Eventually we -- after considerable negotiation with the Bureau [of Indian Affairs] -- of course we, when we submitted it it was for an informal review. So we get this informal review and it took a long time. They're supposed to, there's timetables built into this stuff, but nobody ever meets those, the feds don't and, you know, the tribe, we didn't either, and so it took a long time to get this process. But eventually we got through that and negotiated through their informal review and then we got a formal document. Then we sent it in for the formal review and then we had to argue about certain points in the constitution about membership and territory and things that we had to sort of go through and deal with. And eventually we got the Assistant Secretary of the Interior to sign off saying that we were ready for a secretarial election – this was in the fall of 2004. And so the Bureau then started out to do the secretarial election, creating an election board that was our election board plus a couple members from the bureau. And they did a registration for that and then from the registered voters who registered for that election, it was about a three-quarters vote in favor of the constitution, which was...the election was certified on February 1, 2005. One of the key points to this, so that was a process of getting that constitution. It was a very long involved process, involving the community..."

Ian Record:

"A very organic process from what you're describing."

Frank Ettawageshik:

"...Yes. The next thing though, there's another important part of this constitution that I think was critical to its success, and I don't want to leave this out in terms of this point, but we...when people do constitutional reform, often the new constitution just goes into effect on that, on a particular day. Well, we were going from the old, pretty much a boilerplate, IRA-type tribal council, all authority being there, to one of different branches of government. And the people elected under an old constitution couldn't serve under this new one adequately, you know, it'd be really confusing. So when we adopted the new constitution, one of the provisions in it, was that it would not go into effect until the people were elected and sworn in to serve who would be implementing the new constitution. So it was September 21th, I mean, it took from February, it took months to have the election, to go through the process, and have people sworn in who then took office, and the new constitution went into effect. And that was a really important thing.

The other thing we did that helped with the transition that I think is...would be helpful to people is that we hired a couple of consultants to come in who had studied constitutions and had worked with tribes. We brought them, we gave them our document, and they had not been part of the drafting of the document, but we gave them our document and we said, 'We don't want to know what's wrong with this. Don't give us a detailed analysis of what's wrong with this. What we want you to do is to help us understand how to implement it. What are the things that we're gonna have to know when it comes to implementing this?' And then we hired them to come and work with the council, the newly elected council. And the day before we were all sworn in, they came in and did this training with the tribal council and with the executive offices, with all of the judges who would be carrying over, the process and...to go through this...and key members of commissions and key staff. So we had a training session on what the constitution meant. What it meant to be on a separation of powers, who was supposed to do what, how you appropriated money for instance, you do, you appropriated money through a process where you authorized the expenditure, then you appropriated the money and then you had to approve the, a budget modification where you put the money. And so those were things that we learned for instance from this, is way to keep adequate track of finances and dealing with that. And, so we went through this and we actually had a fairly smooth transition and went into this process.

So we went six months without...I attended every meeting as the, I was the chief executive elected under that first constitution. I attended every meeting for six months, all of the council meetings. They started to get a little restive about that because I'm a chief executive and I'm not really part of the council, so well, maybe they didn't really want me there. But they really wanted the chief financial officer, the CFO, and they really wanted the tribal attorney. But both of them worked for the executive now, and they, I told them, 'You can't have the CFO and the tribal attorney if you don't have me.' And they really didn't want me, so then they finally agreed, 'Okay, well then we won't have any of the people there, you know, you'll come in periodically.' And so we did, we had a table in the back where we'd come in and visit the meetings and answer questions when they had them and give them information, but we didn't attend every meeting. Well as soon as I wasn't attending every meeting, they started taking actions that didn't have input from the executive, and therefore within three weeks we had our first veto. So you know, things got interesting and we sort of worked that through where the executive exercises his prerogative with veto or with signing a bill, or letting it happen without signature. Those are all provisions of the constitution we put in.

So this is stuff that we did in the transition. And I mention one other thing about constitutions in here I think is important, and that is that a lot of people said, 'Well gee, you know, the separation of powers looks a lot like the U.S. constitution, why are we copying them? You know, we don't need to just copy them, you know we need to do our own thing, you know.' And, you know, I think of a story and I, about a project, a gift that my son gave me that he, he provided this, he went to camp, you know I think he was eight, and he made this thing, and I got it and it, it was wood burned on it, you know, and it said 'To the second greatest dad in the world.' And I went, 'Well gee, what is this? You know?' And he looked at it and he said, 'Well, but dad, you know, this other guy he said, "˜To the best dad in the world' and I couldn't copy him.' So I get a real kick out of that one. But the point is, is that, you know, we need to be careful. If something's good, just because somebody else uses it doesn't mean we shouldn't use it, particularly when they copied us when they prepared these checks and balances within the constitution of the United States. And they were, they took advice from tribes and they, they lived here on this continent and many ideas in there are native to this continent, they grew out of it. Even to the rules, the decorum in Congress and the way things are done. Many of those things came from the observation of tribal councils, of council meetings and different things. And so, you know, we've made a major contribution to the way the U.S. government functions. And if there's something that works, we shouldn't be, shouldn't say, 'Oh well, we can't do it cause they're doing it.' We need to say, 'Does it work and does it fit us?' And if it does, then we, we should be, not feel bad at all about taking that to use and using it to our own benefit."

Ian Record:

"Well yeah, it gets to the point of it, just because they copied us doesn't mean they own it."

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Yes."

Ian Record:

"You know, they're the only one that can use it."

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Yes. And that's...and so those are important things that we need to, that we need to think about when it comes to this. And so the constitution that we developed, that we put in place, I served four years as the first chief executive under that. I left office last August now -- in 2009 -- and it was, you know we're in, so now we're into a new administration and was, as with anything there's gonna be pushes and pulls. There's constantly, there's a, always a tension. With checks and balances, part of what that is is a certain tension between the different departments. And that's really sort of designed that way. And if there's a little bit of tension it's not a bad thing. But you, you know the executive authority for instance, the council, is really nervous about not exerting executive authority often, and really a lot of what they'd like to do is executive, and like the U.S. Congress tries to assert legislative authority, I mean executive authority and there's constant pull between the executive and the legislative, and that same thing is true within this kind of a document. You're gonna have that, and you're gonna have a court that will have to decide if one thing, if you've gone too far or not. But it's really important and what's...

The other thing that's important about a separation of powers constitution for me is that it's cumbersome, it's slower. And because it's slower it gives time for people to watch what's happening, to think about it, and the tribal citizenry can get involved. And if they don't like it they can let you know. You want something that takes, something has to be posted for 30 days before you can act on it for instance. You need things like that in there to give people time. Even if very few of them actually take the time, they need to know that they can, and they need to -- for those people that are interested -- they need to have that opportunity to do that in order to feel comfortable that the government actually is doing what they like and is a reflection of the community. When things can happen overnight without any notice at all, it's bad. And the other thing is you have to be able to notify people what's happened. People need to understand what the law is. A council can sit around passing laws all the time, but if you've got several thousand members, and they can't all attend the meetings, and if they have no way of knowing what the law is, you can't very well pass a law and then go out and arrest somebody for not following the law, unless they've had an opportunity to be involved in that, to understand what it is, unless they truly consent to that.

So if a law gets passed that they don't like, you need a mechanism within that constitution for them to remove it, for them to take it to a referendum. And if you have an inactive government that is not doing what the people like, you need the ability to have initiative, so that they can initiate laws through action that's outside of the council and the chair if they feel that they need to. And so these are kinds of things that, that give people the peace of mind that the government isn't totally out of control, and it's something that they can have access to, and that truly the government serves the people as opposed to the government being the people."

Ian Record:

"I want to follow up on a couple of points you raised during your description of the reform process, or not the reform process, actually the development process involved with the new constitution at Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, and that is this issue of separations of powers. And you described very early on that separation doesn't necessarily mean non-communication between legislative and the executive branches of government, or the executive and legislative functions of government, that you need to have that communication so that each side is making informed decisions, and that separation doesn't necessarily mean there's no interaction between the two."

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Yeah. Yeah that's...you have to have a method for communication, and you need to...I think that it's, one of the things that I advocate for is when there is a law that's going to be held, that's going to be, that's being considered, that the legislative body hold a hearing on it and call in the executive to be witnesses at that hearing to ask questions about how something is working, ask questions about how this new law would work if it were passed, get opinions about whether they think it would work. Because if...it's one thing to out of, out of the air to sort of create a law that you think works, but when you, if it's, when it's implemented through the executive side, you can't have something that won't work that is, you know, you can, you can't sort of force something to work, you need to know if there's some likelihood that it's going to work. And so you may not, you may have executive function, executive people who don't like the law because it may be going to do away with their job, or it may be you're going to create more work for them, or it maybe going to make them do something that they don't like. But that's not enough reason to not pass the law. But if you pass a law that has one part of government doing one thing, and the other part of government undoing it, you need to understand that, you need to know what the implications are from how things are going to work. And so it's a good idea to have public hearings, to have this debate, and to have a longer debate over the legislation so that you have an idea how it's going to function. And plus things take a while to implement.

An example of this: we passed a notary public law, and this particular law was one that took...we built an implementation period into the law and there was a lot of communication back and forth between the executive and the...you know we gave a markup back to the legislature to look at, to think about it, and we went through the different things that would be necessary to consider. And we thought a six-month time period to implement it would be fine. So we set out, once it was passed, to get the surety bonds for notaries, and were assured that that wasn't going to be no problem, a couple of different companies told us there'd be no problem, they did that regularly. And then we had to get embossers and stamps. Well this was a tribal notary law, so when we went to get the companies to do it they said, "˜Yeah, we'll do that send us your stuff.' And we sent the stuff and they said, 'Oh, wait a second, you know, where's your state stuff?' And we said, "˜Well, this is not a state, it's the tribe.' Oh we can't do that. And one after the other, they were falling by the wayside, saying, "˜You know, they couldn't do it.' So we had to actually find a company that...and we found one eventually who said, well see this is a tribal law and this is, you know, we showed them, we talked about the constitutional issues and all this, and they, and they understood, they finally got around to understanding it. So eventually they agreed to pay us $50 for us to license them in order to produce our stamps and embossers. And part of the thing was is they realized, they said, 'Now how many tribes are there?' We said, "˜There's over 500.' They said, "˜Oh, maybe we could do this.' And so we have one company who agreed to do this. We think we're the first tribe in the country to actually have our own notary public law this way, because we couldn't find anybody who would produce the stamps and embossers until we worked with them. Then when we went to get the surety bonds for the notaries, the companies who assured us they could do it suddenly realized they couldn't do it because all of their stuff was for state authorized notaries and they had, they just couldn't figure out how to deal with it. We finally found a company who...it took months. We had to get a six-month extension on our six months to implement the law because this took so long and we finally found a company who, an executive there had just returned from a seminar on insurance and one on dealing with tribal sovereignty issues. And he was really intrigued, and he came back the next day and got this call from us and he said, "˜You know, let's try this.' And so he set out to develop a special form, and all the different things.

So we have, we developed a product, which we think is unique in the insuring for tribal notaries. And there's now ten notaries licensed at Little Traverse, within our tribal jurisdiction, for notarizing documents. The average person needs a notary once or twice in their life. This isn't a big, sexy thing for tribal sovereignty. It's not something you're going to get headlined on a paper and all these other kinds of things, this isn't it, but exercising sovereignty is not just those big things. Exercising sovereignty is all the grunt work. You know it took years to develop the statute to get the council in the right mind to think it would be something that needed to be passed. And then it took some of the tribe people in tribal community said, "˜You're doing what? You know, why would we need to do that?' And you know, but we eventually got people around to the idea that it was as good idea. It's an exercise of sovereignty and it's part of good governance for us to be doing these things. So this took a lot of communication back and forth between the legislature and the executive. And it's an example of a law that worked, and we -- not only did we do this -- but we also notified the governor's office of the state, said we're doing this, and her attorney, and we talked through all of that. You know we have regular meetings with the executive office of the state, annual meetings in Michigan, and we, because we were, we did these things, we didn't surprise anybody with what we were doing, and now that's the way we function, now we got this going. But that, that one law is an example of the utilization of the provisions within the constitution for the passage of a law, and the implementation of it, and how it worked. And I think it's a good example of good communication and, you know, making things, doing some of that grunt work and the assertion of sovereignty."

Ian Record:

"Really what you're talking about, on one level, is education: education of internal to the government then also education of the citizenry. And I wanted to follow up on that point. You know, we've seen...NNI works with a number of Native nations on the issue of constitutional development, constitutional reform, and we often see tribes either fail during the constitutional reform process, never make reform happen, or they encounter a lot of problems after they've ratified a new constitution, or reformed one because of this issue of education. Doesn't the education challenge only begin with the new constitution? Isn't there an ongoing education process that has to take place? Because, you know, it's one thing to change a document on paper, it's another thing to change the political culture, which has been at work in the community often for 60, 70, 80 years.

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well...there's, you know, we evolve as a society. One of the things I can think of is, when I was young, if someone was drunk, the police officer often would say, "˜Give me your keys. Get in the car.' And he'd drive them home, and leave the car sitting beside the road. And, you know, that was something that was fairly common. Today, that's far from the way things happen, you know. I mean today, we as a society, we have ceased to sort of look the other way at that issue, and have really focused on it as a negative thing within our society, and all the ramifications of driving and drinking. I have, you know, we're doing major educational campaigns on TV, we do this all across the country. And, so as a, the United States as a nation has really, the culture has changed as to how we deal with that. Well, the same thing happens when we're looking at how we deal with our institutions within our government structure, you know. The question that I have is, for people, is how often have they attended a township board meeting, or a county commission meeting, or a city commission meeting, or the state legislature, or the U.S. Congress. The average citizen, there are many, many citizens who never attend any of those meetings, ever. Live their lives and do just fine, they're fine, productive members of society and very successful and whatever, and they've never attended any of those. And yet, when we look at our tribal governments, we often, you know we get so wrapped up in our tribal governments that we start to try to make them into everything. Once again as I say, "˜Not the tribe, the government being the tribe, not the government serving the tribe.' And so citizens of our tribal nations often demand of their elected officials things that they wouldn't demand of elected officials that, from other places that they live, other communities that they interact with. And they, in so doing the, we get very little education about how to function.

What education and the way government works in our schools, usually, is all based on non-Indian governments. I was involved in a project for a textbook printed for the state of Michigan, or I was one of the people interviewed and part of the development of this for fourth grade. And this was the best textbook that we'd ever had up to this point because, and it's a major publisher and it was put together in a way that a number of schools throughout the state are using it now, it's titled "˜Michigan.' But what it did is it, Indians didn't disappear after the first paragraph, or the first chapter like we often do in books on history of the state. But we made it to about the middle of the book in the first edition. Second edition is about to come out and my understanding is we make it clear through the end of the book in this one. But people actually are going to understand when...kids will hear that we have constitutional governments. They'll hear that tribal governments exist today, instead of the question...I used to do a lot of speaking to fourth-grade classes and different places around the state of Michigan. One person said, "˜How long have you been an Indian?', question like that, and uh, 'What do Indians eat and where do you eat it?', and things of this sort. Of course they, there's certain stereotypical answers to those questions that they'd like answers to, but...it's because we need to address those issues, and so that as people become adults they understand that tribal governments are governments. We're not clubs, we're not associations, we're not part of history and long gone -- we actually exist and are around and have a major effect. We are, have far more visibility in the economic world because of the casinos and employing a lot of people these days. But far more than that, we have an effect on the way the environment, environmental issues are dealt with. We have an effect on law enforcement, we have an effect on the various social programs and things that are going on. Tribes have a major effect within their communities for both their citizens and for the non-tribal citizens as well.

And so today, things are much different than they once were, but we're still suffering from this lack of education about who we are. I once got the door-knocker award, which was literally a brass doorknocker still in its package from the Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes for, we have an impact week every year in Washington D.C., and I went to that meeting and we would hold a breakfast where we'd talk and we go out on [Capitol] Hill and do meetings on the Hill, then we'd come back and we'd talk about what we'd done and, the sort of a summary of what we'd done and what things we need to do. I got the award because I'd taken a copy of the U.S. constitution. I had a lot of meetings. I was very energetic. And I took a copy of the U.S. constitution and I went in and I talked to the staff in all the offices I went to and I asked them if they'd ever read the Commerce Clause. Did they understand what, about treaties? It's sort of like 'Indian 101' in a way, the basics of Indian law relative to the constitution. And a huge number of the staff, a college-educated staff in the U.S. Congress, did not, had never read the Commerce Clause, with the idea of looking at tribal sovereignty through it. They didn't understand what it meant. They didn't, they never looked at the thing about treaties being the supreme law of the land, and understanding that meant Indian treaties. Never understood those things. And so this kind of education at that point is necessary. So what do we need in order to make our tribes work? Our own citizens are a product of this same sort of general education system that doesn't teach much about Indian law, Indian societies. And if nothing we're sort of curiosities and different things. Very little is that taught. So not only do our own citizens, as a product of this other education system, but they also need to understand their own government. They need to understand their own constitution. Nowhere are those classes taught. You know, they don't have a, you can't go and just take a class on the tribal constitution, and very few tribes have anything like this. So I've read, and I know other people who have advocated for tribal civics classes. We need to try to make sure that this is done.

One of the things that I feel that helps with this is I proposed a educational standards act for the tribe that would lay out what some basic goals were for different levels of say, elementary education, secondary, post-secondary, adult, you know, adult continuing education. What kind of things should we expect from each of these different age groups, and what...once we set some goals, then how do we achieve those goals? And one of the things that we did at Little Traverse that was done by, funded through the tribal council, but done by a number of different members of the community, is we created a video called "˜Journey to Sovereignty' that talks about the process of getting a reaffirmation bill passed and goes back into time, back into the history of why it became necessary to do it in the first place, and then how we went about doing it, and interviews with people. And it sort of told the story while the people were alive and we've got a record of it. And then we made a copy of that and mailed it to every tribal member, whether they were one month old or eighty, whatever, everybody got one. And then we continually show that at our hotel. We have the Odawa Channel at our hotel, and we show that video, a 'Four Directions' video. We have anther video on the history of the operation and some of the tribe. And we just have these showing in continuous loops so that, as a way to educate those people who are our guests who come to visit the tribe, but also for our own citizens who spend time there. And we periodically show these at other events just as a way to help people understand some of the history. Well it's things like that video, and other types that will be the tools that we need to actually get an educated citizenry about our systems.

So how does our system work? This is a long answer to your question, and I'm eventually getting back to your question here, that we need to have a mechanism for having an educated citizenry so that when we make changes in our governments, they understand what they're doing, they understand, you know, what this is likely to be. Once we made changes, as we implement them, they'll understand what those are. So we need education. It's like bringing in the consultants and helping educate the people who are about to serve under the new constitution. That seminar, that one-day training we had really helped move us through the transition. Now there will be, you know, we since have had others where we've brought people back in and looked at it again. And I'm sure that there will be continual training as we look at the documents and try to help them, and then look at our laws and see what laws we need to pass. We've had similar training when it came to dealing with the issues of Violence Against Women [Act, VAWA], and the personal protection orders and safety, issues of...we needed a victims rights act, we needed a, to strengthen a bunch of different laws. And we had a training where we brought in and talked about what we needed to do to work on this. We've had other trainings when it came to the implementation of, for instance the Adam Walsh Act, which by the way I just heard just recently that there are only three governmental entities that are compliant with the act, and it's overdue: one state and two tribes that have become compliant in the implementations of this federal law in the protection of children. But we're continually trying to do this through education. But as a basic form of this, we need to have this civics education. Each tribal nation needs to have a nation-specific course in how this is taught. We need to have general ones that help educate larger groups of people. We need to make sure like...I think there ought to be one of these in every law school. Every law school ought to have a class on dealing with sovereignty issues and dealing with tribes. Because many of those attorneys are going to end up serving before a tribal court somewhere, having to actually not just be a member of the power of Michigan, in the state of Michigan or in another state, but they're going to have to become members of the bar of different tribes in order to serve before those courts. And they need to understand what that means. So, you know, there's a need for an educated citizenry as a whole, and I think that this kind of training and education needs to not just be at the tribal level for our citizens, but also needs to be in the general public education as well."

Ian Record:

"If you could summarize for us, perhaps the three or four highlights of your new constitution -- the one adopted in 2005 -- in terms of perhaps what are the most important components within the constitution that advance your Nation's nationhood?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well, it would be easy to say, the separation of powers, the branches of governments and things, but I actually think that there are other components that are important here. The first one is a declaration of rights. It's like a bill of rights, but it's actually incorporated into the constitution. That is an important part of this constitution. A second part of the constitution I think that's important is the assertion of the inherent rights, and the fact that we acknowledge that others may have inherent rights, other peoples may have inherent rights. And this document lays out a process, which eventually could result in like a state department, or diplomatic relations with other nations, other nations being other tribal nations, or foreign nations to the United States, or, for instance, relations with the United States itself. You know, they all want to see, check with us to make sure that we're recognized. And when is the last time a tribe asked the federal government to apply for recognition before it's government? And I think that the reciprocal is equally true, and I think that that's something that we should do. We need to realize that that's a two-way street; it isn't just the one-way street. There are tribal organizations who the only way that you can be a member of those organizations is if you're a federally recognized tribe. Well, if you, if you're looking at that, you're basically, the organization is giving up to the federal government the right to decide which among the tribes are going to be able to be members of this tribal organization. As opposed to making that decision asserting their sovereignty and making that decision their own government.

Now it's real easy to say this from a, just a, it's a simple assertion, it's a simple bunch of words. It's a lot of work to actually have to figure out who you're going to have, what other governments you're going to have relations with, and not, and what the criteria is for doing that, and how you choose when you're not choosing just federally recognized tribes. You know, a state-recognized tribe may, and we've had state recognized tribes come to Little Traverse and ask for diplomatic relations, asked us to recognize them. We've had non-recognized, either by federal or state, tribal governments come to us and ask us for acknowledgement. And we have yet to actually work through the mechanisms of that, but one of the important things in this constitution is it lays out the groundwork. It lays out that the basic part of that we will recognize other governments who acknowledge us. And so, I think that's one of the most important parts of this. Because the document, the document itself lays out how we're going to relate to other governments. And I think that's critical. And so those are, those are some of the really important points I see is that there's that, the bill of rights, and then of course the delegation of authority, which in our case is to separation of power branches, different branches. But you could have a constitution that did these previous things, and then set up a different system. This works for us, it doesn't necessarily, wouldn't necessarily work for every tribe. And there may be others that are at different places in their development, different places in their history, that they feel that a different form of government would work. This isn't the only one that works, but this, the document itself, that assertion of inherent sovereignty and the ability to acknowledge other governments, and interact with them, is a fundamental part.

Now the most important part I think in the end of the constitution, that is there, is the statement, the flat assertion of the importance for, that the government is charged with protecting our heritage, our history, and our language -- that these are things that...it's a lens through which we have to look at the rest of the actions and the rest of the constitution. It isn't something that is merely an afterthought or, if you have time do this, or maybe you can do this you know if you get around to it. It's...this is the basic charge to the government so that we have to look at a, when we create a new department, is it furthering these ends? And that's something that, because it's there in the document, it's a tool that our citizenry can measure the effectiveness of their elected leadership as to whether they're doing what they wanted them to do or not."

Ian Record:

"This gets, this is a good segue into another question I wanted to ask, and your statement that you just made merges rather well with the statement I want to share with you that was voiced by a fellow tribal leader who's nation had recently developed a new constitution. He said and I quote, "˜The new constitution is our long-term strategic plan.' So how do you see that statement?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well I think that it, I would look at it that the new constitution, I mean this constitution for us is like the, vision statement and the mission statement. It isn't necessarily the plan. It lays out the fundamentals through which you then would develop your plan. And so to, I would sort of carry that a little further in that, that it clearly sets out, you know, the vision for what the tribe should be, and what the tribe is, and what the people want the tribe to be. And that's the important, an important step. And then, you know, the mission, and it's sort of how you're going to do it is laid there. But the actual specific objectives, you know we were fairly careful to not put specific like objectives and things of that sort into it because those may change over time. We wanted something that would last, not something that every twenty years you'd have to get a new constitution."

Ian Record:

"I wanted to follow up also on this point of culture. Essentially this is, as the culture, the history, the language, the heritage of your people being the lens through which your government would be organized in through, in the lens through which it would decide key matters, and who would decide those key matters. How does you nation's constitution express your people's culture, identity, and goals?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well, it expresses it through a preamble. And I don't have the words memorized, but it lays out the, who we are, it makes a statement of who we are, it makes a statement of what we, what we wish things to be, you know, to perpetuate our culture. And, so we have that section in the preamble, but then it also, there are directives to the government. And not just the preamble that sort of lays out the general tone for the document, but then there's the, this directives to the government and each, that the government's directed to do these things and to perpetuate the language and to protect the youth and protect our elders and to further the safety and to protect the right to work of our members and things of those sort. So we have these things that are built right in, and there's directives to the government. And those things are...we're directed to protect our heritage and culture. And so instead of...heritage and culture and spirituality blend and, but to the extent that we also have freedom of religion within the document so that it's not just, we're not, we promote our heritage and culture, but we tolerate and we're directed that if we have people who are choosing other paths, that we, that they're acknowledged, and their right to do that is acknowledged within our document as well.

So the government has to work on -- like the video that I described earlier -- it helps to protect our, get people understanding what different people in our tribe have done. I mentioned earlier that educational standards act, to me that's an essential part of meeting the constitutional responsibility of protecting our heritage because we want people to know what that is. I ask this question, 'How many of a tribe's citizens can name five chiefs from the 1800s and tell you a little about their lives, what they did? Now how many can name five presidents and tell you a little bit about those presidents?' So, the answer is many more to the second and very few to the first usually. Occasionally there are exceptions, but this is something that we need to try to fix. We need to have people understand who we are because, when I mentioned earlier there's a, we need to have a strong sense of place. And that sense of place is, it's multi-dimensional when you think about a sense of place. A sense of place isn't just the rocks and the trees and the streams and the things, you know. It isn't just that physical place, it isn't your home, or your town. But your sense of place is also your understanding of where you fit into your society. How you fit into your culture. How you fit into the history. And how you fit into your society, and where you fit in your language, where you fit in your, in, how you fit between the past and the future. You know? That interaction between them, that sense of place, that strong, assured sense of place is an attribute of a healthy individual. And as you have healthy individuals, you then have a healthy society. And so we need to try to help do things that foster that strong sense of place. And I believe that this constitution for Little Traverse helps to lay that out. We made every effort we could to make sure that those things would be part of that so that the government would actually; we could measure the success of a government.

When you do, when you work on documents like this, when you work on things like this, you have to prepare for when you're not going to be there. So, you know, you help pass laws so that, if need be, when you're no longer in the, an elected official, you can sue the government if you wanted. You need to make sure that there's, that there's, you know, the ability to do that. You need to make sure that you have the ability to initiative if a government becomes unresponsive and needs to be moved. You need to make sure that you have these things. So you have to build in all these safeguards to make things work well. And so, part of good governance is planning for your own obsolescence."

Ian Record:

"We've heard one leader describe that as, 'Mmy job is to make myself dispensable.'"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Yeah. I think that's a good way to put it. I like that."

Ian Record:

"I wanted to...you mentioned this early on in the discussion about this interim constitution that you had prior to the passage of the public law that reaffirmed your status in the, at least in the minds of the federal government, as a sovereign nation. And then the new constitution and the difference, inherent between those in terms of dispute resolution, in terms of a, your tribe's, your nation's justice system."

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Right."

Ian Record:

"Can you do a quick compare and contrast between the strength and independence of your court system of your dispute resolution within your nation, within the interim system, versus your current system."

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well, the first constitution, which was actually was a document that involved, and it initially, in its very early incarnations had some of the very typical language where every action within it required approval from the Bureau [of Indian Affairs], okay. You know, so that was a pretty typical of some of the early ones. And so by the time that we actually had it in place so that we were using it at the time of the passage of the reaffirmation act, so it became our interim document, we'd removed all those sections about approval of the Bureau on our legislation. But some constitutions, every single law, every single action that's passed by the council, had to go to the Bureau for approval. They'd have to analyze it, look at it, and when it came back signed from the Bureau then they'd, then they'd become law. Well, you know, that, we didn't have that. But we did have this thing that, with the judiciary, we passed a law that would create a court under the old constitution. And consequently we hired the judge. And the judge worked under contract through this, the law that we passed and, had we chosen, had we disliked the judge we could have fired the judge. And, or dislike a decision that the judge made we could have. The fact that we didn't meant that we respected the fact that we needed an independent court, and we needed to stay out of the court's affairs. But, you know, had things, you know, we certainly had the ability to do that under that old constitution. And that, you know, that isn't a really strong, it doesn't give...

If you're signing a contract with a company that you want to do business with, and the contract requires that you go to tribal court, and you -- because you want to assert sovereignty -- and there's no guarantee that the court will look like the current court. There's no guarantee what the court will look like at the time that the dispute would be taken to them. Or you could change the appearance and the operation of the court during a dispute, during the resolution of a dispute, it makes it a lot less comfortable for someone to acknowledge the sovereignty of your court, and to want to come to your court. And so they're going to demand that you have a waver of immunity, and that you take everything to federal or state courts because they don't have confidence in the tribal system. Your own citizenry have less confidence in the court itself when the court changes or is subject to change that quickly. So under the old system I, it was fairly weak. And it was judicial reform, I think is critical for government development, and probably is the fundamental reason why many constitutions are looked at in the first place. Even if nothing else is changed in them. To have an independent court is a move in the right direction.

Well, under the new constitution the judges are appointed, they're nominated by the executive, and then the nominee goes to the tribal council who holds hearings and talks to the people and asks them in-depth questions like, you know, what do they believe about different issues of constitutional law and, you know, what are they, you know, they ask them the same kind of tough questions that they get asked at any, you know, cause they realize that they're, if they approve the judge the judge is going to be there for a while and, and will have an effect, those rulings will have an effect on the tribal law.

And so as a chief executive, I have nominated, my nominees sometimes were approved, and my nominees were sometimes rejected, and I'd have to go back to the drawing board, come up with someone else. But once the judges were appointed under the new constitution, once they're appointed, there's a trial judge, an associate trial judge, and then three appellate justices. So the judiciary is five appointees. The judiciary itself, after they're appointed, are the only members who can remove a judge. Now, petitions can be brought from other places, I mean the citizens can bring a petition, the council can petition, the executive can petition for removal of a judge. But once a complaint's made, the other members of the judiciary meet to decide if the complaint has merits, and they've had to develop their rules on how they deal with all of this, but they're the ones who remove a judge. So the judiciary polices itself.

Now they also have terms so that an executive can choose to not re-nominate somebody as their term ends. And even if they were re-nominated, if the, if people brought pressure to bear on the council to say we don't like this person, we don't think he should approve this nomination, they can do that. So that's the mechanism for getting rid of a judge and for dealing with the...dealing with the court. All of those are important parts of the process to, for people to have faith that the court will actually do what you think it's going to do. And our court actually developed to the point where we, we had a youth drug court that was part of the court system. And the process that we did through that was so well accepted that we had local state judges who were assigning people to this from their own jurisdictions, as opposed to just our own. And they would be, attend these programs. And so there's those kind of issues. Because of the strength we've had in terms of developing the judiciary, and because of the strength of the constitution and the things that we've put together, we have cross-deputization agreements with two counties.

Our reservation is, resides, is part of two of the counties in the state of Michigan, and we have cross-deputization agreements with both of those sheriffs. So not only have our officers been sworn in by those sheriffs as deputies, but the sheriff and his deputies came to our courtroom. And when we first did this, I administered an oath to them to uphold our tribal constitution, and our tribal laws. And we had a detailed agreement on how we would exercise that, you know. They couldn't just come in on their own. They would come in, there's a protocol for how they come in when they need to, or when we back each other up. And so we developed seamless law enforcement that was to the betterment of health and public safety for not only our citizens, but for the non-tribal citizens who are a part of the whole region in which we live."

NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow: Rae Nell Vaughn (Part 1)

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Rae Nell Vaughn, former Chief Justice of the Mississippi Choctaw Supreme Court, discusses the critical role that justice systems play in the rebuilding of Native nations and shares how the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians has worked to develop its justice system to reflect and promote its culture and meeting the evolving challenges that it faces.

Resource Type
Citation

Vaughn, Rae Nell. "NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow (Part 1)." Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. September 15, 2009. Interview.

Ian Record:

"What role do tribal justice systems play in rebuilding Native nations?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"It's been my experience that it plays a significant role in regards to tribal government. One thing that I have found within the 11 years of my judicial experience is the fact that tribal governments as a whole have had to play a role of catch-up, fast tracked. In regards to Mississippi Choctaw, we established our constitution in 1945 at a point in time where we were living in very oppressed conditions. Of course, as you know, historically the tribe was removed to Oklahoma and we're the descendants of the members that chose to stay. No federal or state recognition at that point up until the time of recognition and the development of our constitution, and it was a building process. You had a number of leaders who would step up and were wanting to form a strong government. Of course, the justice system itself came in years later, but overall they've had to try to fast track a government in order to provide the people with services, and it was a struggle, it was a definite struggle. And of course ultimately, a justice system was developed under the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs], a court of regulations, a CFR [Code of Federal Regulations] court, and that had its challenges all on its own because you have the mechanisms but not the resources to provide law and order. And your reliance was on the BIA and it was a definite struggle during the early years of this system. You had a membership maybe at that time of close to 3,000 possibly.

Now going back historically, the membership dwindled down in the early 1900s to less than 1,000 because of the influenza epidemic and here we are in 2009 and have a membership of 10,000. And you talk about a flourishing economy at some point with the successes of this tribe, but you also talk about the population growth and with it coming the social ills and influences that impact a community. And so I've seen this system evolve, even prior to my interaction with it, becoming a judge. It's grown by leaps and bounds. They started off with a staff of maybe three: a tribal member judge -- when it was under the control of BIA -- and maybe one or two folks that also participated. And to this point, once...during my tenure as a judge, we were up to 32 employees. You had 11 members on the judiciary, which is so unheard of, but for me it was a signal from the government [that], 'This is important. A justice system for this government is important and we are investing in our government and in our people to provide them a fair form of justice.' Knowing where we're at, we're located in Mississippi, and the struggles that minorities have faced, Native people have faced, has always been there, an underlying issue. And so being able to have our people be in a forum that's fair for them, being judged by their peers was the most important thing. But also it was the fundamental exercise of sovereignty, operating a system, a judicial system, which not many tribes have had the ability to do and maybe not to the degree that we've been able to do it. That's not to say that there haven't been any challenges. There are, just like there are with any system, whether it's a tribal system or non-Native system, but it's a work in progress. Codes are forever changing and you have to keep your hand on...keep on the pulse of what's happening nationally because what happens nationally will ultimately affect you locally.

And so cases such as Nevada v. Hicks, issues of jurisdiction, those have far-reaching ramifications. So having a stable, consistent, and well-educated and well-trained judiciary is very important, and those are the things that I think tribal governments really have to take a look at and recognize the investment that you're making."

Ian Record:

"And I would assume that in that understanding of what's going on nationally, it's not just the judiciary that has to understand, it's elected leadership and particularly the legislators, the ones that are making those laws to say, "˜We've got to be out front on these issues so we're not stuck in a corner one day in the near future having to react defensively to something we're not prepared for.'"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Exactly. We have to be proactive. It hits every area of government: economic development, education, healthcare. We have to be very diligent and we have to go the extra mile in making sure that we're protecting our sovereignty and at the same time being aware of what the landscape is looking like politically. There have been times in previous [U.S. presidential] administrations where they haven't been quite so favorable to Native Americans. And we may be here at a time of renaissance where there's going to be more participation, more of us as Native people at the table speaking on our behalves, on our own behalf. As a Native person, this is where I've been, this is what we've gone through and this is what we can do and this is what we want to provide for the people, because at times Native people get lost in the shuffle of all the social programs and issues that the federal government itself is dealing with. There are some tribes that are very fortunate to have the additional revenues to provide for their tribes and some aren't. How do we all work together to make sure that each of these tribes are able to have the type of support to be able to function and exercise as a government?"

Ian Record:

"Mississippi Choctaw's court system was recognized by the Honoring Nations program at the Harvard Project in American Indian Economic Development just a few years ago. And in large part it was recognized because of its ability to exercise or to be a vehicle for sovereignty for the nation. Based on your experience in that system, in that court system, I was wondering if you could speak to this issue of strong independent court systems and what those look like, what do those systems require to be effective?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"That's a very good question, because it's a challenge that all tribal court systems face. And let me say that the Honoring Nations program was such an excellent exercise for us, because as a system you're in the trenches every day and you don't realize the things that you're doing have such far-reaching impact. And so when we began this process of going through the rigors of the Honoring Nations project program, I was just so amazed. "˜We're doing so much here, we're looking at alternative resources and programs, we're trying to look at things more holistically versus using the American jurisprudence of dropping the gavel and that's it,' because we recognize that within Native communities we're going to be among one another. I'm not moving anywhere, you're not moving anywhere, we're staying in this community, and it's trying to ensure that we have healthy communities and using the justice system and possibly not just going before formal court, using our peacemaker court, using teen court, using our healing-to-wellness court, are other alternatives that are available to the membership and it goes back to our own Native teaching of who we are. We were never a people -- as with other tribes -- that all we wanted to do was fight amongst one another, but of course all of this takes place based on social influences and evolution of things and prosperity. And so going back to your question, it requires due diligence among both sides of the aisle, the legislative body, the executive as well as the judiciary. And it's a really hard balance because I'm a member of the community, I have children who attend the schools, I'm a voting member, I see people at the post office or at the grocery store, I attend ceremonies, I'm involved just as all the other judges are; simply because we put on a robe during the day doesn't mean that that robe ever really comes off, but we also have to be able to be participatory in our communities. And it is, it's a hard balance, even with your legislative body because we all know each other, we've all grown up with one another possibly or they've seen you grow up and know your mother and there's this tendency of picking up the phone and saying, "˜Hey, what's going on and do you know da da da da da?' And it is, it's a really hard balance because of the close ties and the close knitness of the community and it's that community mentality that you have. But we work diligently to ensure that the people recognize that this is a very independent justice system. Now granted, in the case of Mississippi Choctaw, we're a two-branch government. The court system is developed by statute and is controlled, maybe that's not a good word, but is under the oversight of the tribal council as well as the executive. There've been times where it's been challenging because you wear two hats. Not only are you a member of the judiciary, but you have to be an advocate for the system, and so there's that give and take, development of codes. How can I not be somewhat participatory in the development when I'm the one who uses that code in order to...we're creating law basically, and there are several instances where it's almost a gray area that you enter, but knowing what the spirit of the law is and where we are as a judiciary and what we're trying to accomplish I think speaks volumes because the people see the separation. And it's something that you have to work at every day. You just, you have to."

Ian Record:

"So in your role as advocate for the system in strengthening the system, do you find yourself compelled at certain points to say to the legislature, "˜Look, there's...I'm dealing with these...this area of jurisprudence, these types of cases are becoming more prevalent. There's nothing on the books that tells me how to interpret these cases. It's up to you to get out in front of this,' as you mentioned, "˜and develop law that I can then enforce in the court system?'"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Exactly. One case in point is the Tribal Notice Act and that's very important, especially if you have two parties coming in and there's an issue that could possibly have a detrimental impact on the tribe, maybe possibly in regards to jurisdiction. And the tribe needs to know; the tribe needs to be noticed. And so we worked towards getting that on the books and we were successful. And it's a mechanism or a code that's been used a number of times. And so things of that sort, because you recognize or the people recognize the legislative body and executive body, they're dealing with so many different issues from economic development, healthcare, education, housing. There's not one person or one area that they're focusing in on. So I would not be doing my duty if I didn't bring things to their attention that I think could provide betterment for the system and also protecting the people as well."

Ian Record:

"So you're also, in addition to your experience, your 11 years as you mention serving on the Choctaw judiciary, you've since...you left that, your tenure with the judiciary, and you've been working to evaluate other tribal court systems. And I was wondering if you could speak to this issue. We discussed this recently about some tribes, some tribal leadership not really treating the judicial function of their nation as an independent...as an independent function, as a true arm of the government, whether you want to call it a 'branch' or what have you, but rather treating it as a program. And we hear this a lot from particularly tribal judges who lament that fact that, "˜We're just considered another program.' I was wondering if you could speak to that issue and what you're seeing on the ground."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Oh, yeah. And it's not so much with the work that I'm doing, but additionally with my participation with the national organization, the judges association, as well as my own experiences with Mississippi Choctaw. There's the thinking that tribal court systems are more situated or in the organizational things as a program, and either we fund you or we don't or...there's not that understanding of the importance of justice systems and how in regards to economic development, justice systems are key. And a lot...I've heard so many war stories about how we are treated as -- I hate to use the term -- as stepchildren. We get the hand-me-down equipment, we get the little bits of whatever is additional that we can get in our budget, but what I found throughout my work and my experiences with the judiciary is the fact that there are so many good people out there in Indian Country, members of their own tribe who want to provide a forum, a fair forum for their people and they work diligently with what resources they have. Now if it was a perfect world and we were able to get all that we want, that would be ideal, but it's not and a number of tribes who don't have the additional resources struggle, and for some of these tribes it's a really challenging thing because you're also not only at the mercy of the government, but at the community as well and there...if you don't feel that support from your government, then obviously the community's not going to support you as well and those are some key things that have to happen is to have that support. 'Now you and I may argue here, but when we step out as a judiciary and as a government, we need to be unified, because each of us as a legislative body and as an executive body and whether we're a judicial branch or a statutory court, we still have to work and maintain as a stable government,' because if your leadership is bad mouthing your judicial system, what does that say of the leadership?"

Ian Record:

"What does that say to the outside world?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Exactly."

Ian Record:

"So this issue of treatment by the leadership, by the community of the justice system as a program versus something more, among those tribes that tend to treat them as the latter -- just as a program -- aren't they missing the boat essentially on the importance of justice systems as a vehicle for not only advancing sovereignty, but also creating viable economies on the reservations and pretty much all around?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Exactly, because a lender who is thinking about doing business with the tribe is going to ask, "˜I need to know about your court system. I need to know where litigation is going to take place,' and if they can't see a system that is stable and consistent, you're possibly missing an opportunity to bring strong economic development to your area and that's key. I think a lot that has to happen is education. Now again, I go back -- I recognize there's so much that tribal government has to do. They're overloaded, they're understaffed in some instances, and they're trying to do the best they can do, but at the end of the day it's important to make sure that each of your areas of government are strong and are working together and that's where your checks and balances are. It's basic civics."

Ian Record:

"One other issue we discussed recently was this issue of...this treatment of tribal justice systems as nothing more than programs may emanate in part from this sense of, "˜Well, that's where the bad things happen.'"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Oh, yes."

Ian Record:

"...That's where, kind of the social ills bubble up, that's where the kind of the underbelly of the community, the negative parts. "˜We don't want to deal with that. It's too painful,' or 'We don't...we're at a loss as to how to resolve these issues.' How do you get beyond that mentality? How do you get to a point where -- as you've told me -- where the people, the community, that the leadership will treat the justice system as a vehicle for not only restoring, as you say restoring health to the community, but also as a way to, for instance, teach the values of the people to say, "˜This is how we operate, this is how we resolve disputes.'"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"One of the bad things or the negative side of the judicial system is the fact that a lot of things happen in the well of that court and at the end of it all, "˜It's the court,' "˜It's the court's fault,' or whatever it may be because it's surfaced, it has bubbled up as you said, it's surfaced and there it is black and white, right there in the well of that court. And ultimately it's the judge and their discretion as how they rule or decide or what it is that they end up doing for that particular case, whether it be a habitual offender, whether it be a family in need, a juvenile delinquent, a vulnerable adult. All of the social ills of your community hits right there and it is challenging more so again for your legislative body and your executive because what do they do, what can they do? We've developed so many different social programs, but we're not going to cure every ill, and unfortunately a lot of those things surface through court. And as I shared with you earlier, that's why we were looking at, in regards to Mississippi Choctaw, of other alternatives. We recognize these are social illnesses. This is not working, going through formal court. Something has to happen and it also has to happen not only with the individual, but with the family: accountability, responsibility, bringing in the people who matter the most to you and who you value, who are your mentors or your grandparents, your minister, your family to sit down and talk with you, help you in a peacemaking-type situation, a circle of sorts. Healing to Wellness [Court] is set up in that very same way, that we have there at Choctaw where the offender comes in, meets with a group of multi-disciplinary team and there's a check, there's this constant check, and we've had so many success stories come through there. Is it 100 percent? No, it's not, and it probably will never be, but there is an alternative, and with the one case that you have a success in, [it] ripples out to the family, to the community, to the nation in regards to the offenses, health issues that may have come from it, all the different things. And that success just can only breed more success because if you have this individual whose gone through this process, you see the community, see that individual being successful and others who are coming before the court say, "˜I want to try that because I'm ready to make that change,' then there's that vehicle."

Ian Record:

"So I would assume under the CFR system, there's no way that you guys could have developed these restorative functions."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"There is no way, no."

Ian Record:

"So essentially by developing your own court system, by taking ownership of that critical function, you provided yourself the freedom to say, "˜What's going to benefit our community in the long run? What's the best way of doing things, because the status quo is simply not working.'"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"No, it's not working and it doesn't work in Indian Country. And what may work for Choctaw, what may work for the tribes in the east may not work for tribes in the southwest or in the west or in the northwest or in the midwest or northeast. It works for us and looking at the different models you can see things that will work. There's this term I use, "˜Choctaw-izing it' -- making it your own, bringing in Choctaw values, culture, customary law into this model and it works, and it works, and the people understand it. That's the thing, the people say, "˜Hmmmm, yes, I know what you're talking about.'"

Ian Record:

"So can you give me just a...you mentioned this term 'Choctaw-izing' it. Can you give me one example, maybe one case of how the court system applied a core value of the Choctaw people to essentially try to bring that restoration to the community?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"As I shared with you earlier, we have a teen court process and in that process the individual, the juvenile delinquent goes through the formal youth court system. Teen court is more of a sentencing type court, but the uniqueness of it is they are judged, are sentenced by their peers, other teenagers in the community. We had a particular instance where there was this child who of course offended, committed a crime against the tribe, was found delinquent. The case wasn't or the offense wasn't to the level of the judge issuing the sentence so he transferred it to teen court and it went through the process, but the uniqueness is -- and this is where the cultural aspect came in -- is we had the judge bring the mother and the grandmother and auntie because we are a matrilineal society. And before the sentence was rendered by the peers, by the jury, the women stood up and they talked and they talked with both sides of the parties who were there -- because this was a boyfriend-girlfriend, teenager-type thing -- and how it was important to respect your family, respect your parents, to listen, and if that wasn't the most empowering thing along with their peers giving them the sentencing, I don't know what would be. It was so powerful and moving. And let me tell you, people sat up and took notice and you gave respect, you listened. And that's one instance where that...we were able to have that and that was just such a learning tool for our young people to sit there and go through that and to listen. Even though they weren't the offenders, but they knew exactly, they knew exactly. It was almost like a reawakening. "˜I know this, but we don't do it all the time,' and like, "˜Whoa!'"

Ian Record:

"So in that instance, the court was not even an intermediary between the community, the culture, and the issue at hand. They were actually just a mechanism for connecting those two."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Facilitating just basically, just putting those people and things together. And it's...one thing of...and when I first entered the court system I served as a youth court judge. And the one thing I would tell our kids, when they'd come before the bench and with that attitude, being rebellious, and "˜You can't tell me what to do,' is, "˜The offense you've committed, you think maybe committed against this particular individual or this particular family or to the school, vandalism, whatever.' I said, "˜But you're not hurting those particular individuals, you're hurting the tribe, and in essence you're hurting yourself. So what has to happen here is you have to make this right and you're making it right at the end of the day for yourself.' And for some kids it didn't click, of course being rebellious and angry and everything, but for some it did. They understood. And again, you never really had a lot of successes. You had some successes and statistically Native American Country and as well as in dominant society you knew that there were higher chances of your young people moving into the adult system, but we tried very hard and that's why we were looking at all these other alternatives. Many Native communities have such small memberships, and so when you have a lot of delinquency going on, number-wise it may not appear to be a lot, but there on the ground it's epidemic and that's one of the things governments need to recognize and why it's such an important thing to make sure that you're supporting and investing in all of these types of things that keep your system, your justice system strong, consistent and stable."

Ian Record:

"So what do you see as the major challenges facing tribal jurisdiction today?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Oh, my goodness. That's something that tribes are facing all the time and it's amazing to me how we do have the jurisdiction that we do have. There have been challenges locally, and as I'm trying to think back here, we've had a number of cases that we've dealt with ourselves at Mississippi Choctaw where you have a civil matter that came before the court and they were running concurrently with the circuit court, the federal court. And it was an issue concerning a, it wasn't a loan company, a bank, it was a bank and a big problem with a salesperson going into the community and of the lender reneging of sorts -- just a really basic background of that case. And tribal members who had signed up for this service, which I believe was a satellite case, then did a class action against the lender. The party then went to the federal court, the federal court in turn sent the case back telling the parties that, "˜You have to exhaust tribal jurisdiction before you can even attempt to make it here,' which I think said a lot for not only our tribe, but for tribes in Indian Country to have a federal court say, "˜You have to exhaust all remedies before you even make it here.' Now you and I both know that that's not commonplace and I think that sent a very, very big message. Why would that have ever been decided? I think a lot of it had to do with the court itself because it was a functional court, it is a functional court, renders opinions, clear decisions and it's consistent. And I think that had a lot to do with why we were able or the federal court made the decision it made.

Now Indian Country, tribes in Indian Country are constantly faced with issues of jurisdictions and I can't speak so much for these other tribes, but just from the readings I've seen and in the issues that I've heard about, it's constant. For example, I know that there was a tribe in California that had the state come in wanting to look at employment records. If that wasn't a clear crossing of the line, a failure of respect of another sovereign, I don't know what is and that's clearly overstepping jurisdictional lines. But those types of things happen and that's where you really have to, as a government, make sure that you have the type of legal representation for yourself to protect you as a tribe because you have it coming from every angle, from every area of wanting to chip away at what jurisdiction you do have. It's bad enough that we don't have criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians and as a gaming tribe there's a lot of issues that we have to deal with and we're at the mercy of the county or we're at the mercy of the federal government and its system. It makes no sense to me. Logically, we know when, I know when I cross the boundary and I go into Philadelphia, if I commit a crime, I'm going to be dealt with in Philadelphia court. It's a no-brainer. And this is an issue that's been talked about time and time again. I know I'm not going to change it, but I'm going to give you my two cents. It sucks, it's not productive and there are people who agree. There are people on the outside who do agree that you should have the ability to incarcerate, to judge any individual who commits a crime, an offense against the tribe or this jurisdiction. And we don't have that ability. And then you have the civil jurisdiction, which is always being tested and it's just so important that when we have issues that come up through tribal court systems that as a judiciary you're giving well-thought-out opinions and it's iron-clad so that you can't...it won't be unraveled and then there you go, you've lost more jurisdiction."

Ian Record:

"And it's not just making the decisions, it's actually documenting those decisions and having those ready in an accessible fashion, and that's where it's important to build the system of justice not just have judges making decisions."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Yes, exactly. You're exactly right because you have a lot of these systems that are in varying degrees of development and I am a big believer of having tribal members sitting on the court. Unfortunately, you don't have enough people who come to the court, come to the bench with a legal background. I'm not law trained. And so it's challenging and it's a struggle. Fortunately, our tribe made investments of having individuals on the bench with the juris doctorate providing us with legal technical consultation so that we're not standing there twisting in the wind, "˜Well, what do we do?' And so we're able to have this body of law, opinions that come from this court, that are guiding tools for not only us as a tribe, but also for other tribes should they wish to use it. I know that there are different companies or organizations who collect all of these opinions across Indian Country, which is good so that there is a body of law for other tribes to go in and take a look at and look at precedent and things of that sort. And we need more of that, but what we also need to do is be able to reach out and get this information to people. As I said earlier, you have a number of people whose systems are at varying degrees, tribes whose systems are at varying degrees and there are times where I think we do a disservice. Again, I am a big proponent for having tribal members on the bench, but you also have to be able to have someone there who is knowledgeable and can understand law, the analysis, the logic and to be able to generate really good opinions and good decisions. Are we right all the time? No, not necessarily, even those who have the jurisprudence isn't right all the time, but it's based on interpretation."

Ian Record:

"So it's really important then for tribes to invest in capacity in not only of people...tribal members who eventually will be judges, but also those clerks and other people in law enforcement."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Because let me tell you, those clerks are down on the ground doing all the work and there have been instances where I have seen they have ultimately become judges and they come in with all the knowledge of working every facet of that system in the sense of dealing with attorneys, looking at orders. It's amazing to me. Some of these clerks that I've talked with in my travels would say, "˜Yeah, I knew that wasn't what needed to happen.' It's just amazing the knowledge, the experience they gain and I have seen many instances where some of these clerks did step up or were appointed to serve as a judge and made excellent judges because they had the hands-on training and going through the process of the documentation, the order development and things of that sort. So it's key, it's very key in regards to having strong judges training and education."

Ian Record:

"So backing up a bit to what you were discussing a few minutes ago and this issue of...essentially, what you were talking about was transparency and jurisprudence, that it's not enough just to make decisions. You have to make sure that those decisions are clear, that they're open to not only the citizens of the nation, but to the outside world and that they're understandable and that they're accessible. Is that what Mississippi Choctaw has done? Is that what you're seeing other tribes starting to do? Are more nations really beginning to understand the importance of transparency in jurisprudence?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"For Mississippi Choctaw, yes, it's something that we strive for; it's not cloak and dagger, it's no big secret. Whatever decision is rendered and the opinion is generated, we had a procedure where we informed all arms of government, especially if it was something that was very critical, maybe a jurisdictional issue, something that would affect the tribe. They received notice, they received a copy of the opinion, and then in general opinions that were generated from the Supreme Court, that's 101. You need to get them to see this and also there may be messages in these opinions that say, "˜Look, this is how we ruled, but if we don't make changes to the body of the law that we have, we're going to hit this time and time again. You might want to think about it, but we're not telling you...we're not changing the law, we're not going to change this piece of legislation, but we want you to think about it.' And so it is, transparency is important. Again, going back to the issue of where tribal courts are and the varying degrees they are, those more established courts such as Navajo Nation have a large body of opinions and a body of law there that you can...I tap into it. I've tapped into that as well as Eastern Band of Cherokee -- your bigger, more established systems. And so you have that transparency there, but again it goes back to where the systems are in development."

Ian Record:

"I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about an ever-present dynamic in tribal jurisprudence and that is tribal politics and there's a reason why you're laughing. I assume you know exactly what I'm talking about."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"It's the bullseye right there."

Ian Record:

"But I wanted to get your sense of what you've seen in terms of the impacts of political interference in tribal jurisprudence and dispute resolution and essentially how far-reaching those things can be."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"There are many tribes that face this very question of political interference. And it's a hard line to walk, it really is. I think a lot of it has to do with who you are as a person and your integrity and what you yourself are willing to allow and not allow. And at the end of the day, just like I tell my children, "˜If it's an issue that you're really passionate about and you know this is what you need to do, sometimes you're standing by yourself,' and as judges that's ultimately what we end up doing is end up there standing by ourselves and telling whomever it may be, "˜No, you cannot cross this line.' Are there ramifications for those choices? Yes, in some instances there are. And that's unfortunate because of the messages that it sends not only to your community, but -- again as we talked about earlier -- to the outside world. If an individual makes a decision and in the eyes of the government it's perceived as a bad decision and it possibly wasn't in favor of what they wanted and they make sweeping change, who is going to want to step up and serve if there's the possibility of failing to comply or abide by what they're wanting. When you step up and become a judge, all of what you may have supported or your political views all fall by the wayside. Your primary concern is the interpretation of law, dealing with that case that's before you, that's it -- not what the politics are because they cannot be influential, they cannot be influential to what you're doing because if that's the case, then why have a court? Why not let the tribal council run the court? They want to, I know they do, but it's again checks and balances and the maintaining of independence. And I see it time and time again. I've heard so many war stories."

Ian Record:

"Yeah, we see some tribes that still have, particularly with those tribes that have Indian Reorganization Act systems of government where the standard constitution said, "˜The council can create a court system as it sees fit,' essentially and..."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Oh, in our code it does state that. It says, "˜If funds are available,' and I thought, "˜Well, what does this mean?' But for the time that that code was developed, that's again going back to, "˜Well, is this is a system or is this a program?' It's clear even in our general provisions, "˜If funds are available, we will operate this court.'"

Ian Record:

"Yeah, some of those IRA [Indian Reorganization Act] systems you still see to this day where the root of appeal of a tribal court decision is back to the council."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"And we do have that in Choctaw in some instances. Example, if there's an election challenge the court has no...there's no venue in our area. It goes directly to the tribal council once it goes through the election committee. And there is a valid challenge then it's ultimately the tribal council which makes the decision whether to say, "˜Yes, this is a void election or no, it's not.'"

Ian Record:

"You mentioned a few minutes back the messages that are...the very clear messages that are sent when there is political interference and tribal jurisprudence and I was wondering if you'd maybe perhaps talk about that a little bit more specifically because you mentioned messages not only to the community but to the outside world. What kind of messages do those send when you do see that political interference? And perhaps how does that impact the tribe in the long run?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Oh, yes. It does not put tribal government in a very good light when you have that type of interference. Sometimes it comes across as being more of a dictatorship versus a democracy. It really makes greater society doubt in the ability of that government of being able to provide for the people true leadership. And I know as a sovereign nation there have been other tribes and this is just from my travels and visiting with other jurisdictions and sharing war stories. We are under such a microscope, not only the judicial system, but the overall tribal government in Indian Country. We are constantly being held at an even higher standard. Yes, we need to be at a high standard, yes, but it appears when there's just a small hiccup or a small misstep it's magnified 100 times. "˜Well, you see, that's why we don't deal with that tribe,' for whatever reason it may be and it could be miniscule, but for the outside world it's like waiting. They're lying in wait for you to trip and fall. Choctaw itself has had its ups and downs. There's not a tribe that hasn't. We've seen successes, we've seen challenges, but we continue to persevere because of our membership. We're not going anywhere. At one point we were the third top employer of the State of Mississippi providing economic development, providing income for this state and that speaks volumes. Now we're dealing with the issues of the economy, the national economy and the effects that it's having on our tribe and we're having to act and react to those things and it's not been favorable, but we also have to be sustainable for our people and there are hard decisions that we have to make and we've made those decisions, rightly or wrongly, whatever may be perceived on the outside world, as a sovereign we have to maintain for the people."

Ian Record:

"You mentioned this issue of outsiders are looking very closely at what tribes do and in many respects they're waiting for tribes to mess up and using it as an excuse to say, "˜Okay, either we don't want to deal with them or they shouldn't have sovereignty,' whatever it might be. And I think that's really where court systems are critical because in many respects they're the most tangible connection, the most visible reflection of what tribes are doing and what tribe's abilities are, what their capacity is, how they make decisions. Is that something you've experienced at Choctaw?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Yes, very much so, very much so. We've been fortunate. Legal communities -- whether it's on the reservation or off reservation -- are small and word of mouth is very powerful. People know what's going on, whether they're on the reservation or not, they know what's going on and it's really key on how you bring these people in and how you...and also educating, educating them about what we are and who we are as a sovereign nation. One of the things that we provide as a system is a form of a bar meeting and providing them training, bringing to them things that are happening on the national level, educating them, and that's key -- going out and educating. And that's a lot of what I did as well during my time with the court. I've gone to Harvard, to Southern, to University of Southern Mississippi, to the University of Mississippi Law School, to Mississippi State [University], to a lot of the local universities within the state to talk about this very system. And they're so amazed at one, we're not just this casino that they see talked about on TV. Secondly, that there is a functional government, but what they're also very surprised at going back to what we've talked about earlier is the fact that there is no jurisdiction over non-Indians and that's always been the big, "˜Ah ha. Are you kidding me? How can that be if we're in this country of the land of the free and our constitution, our U.S. Constitution,' but that's what the cards we're dealt with. And that's how fragile these systems and governments are because I'm sure if the federal government wants to, and again looking at how governments are exercising their sovereignty or lack there of, they would be more than willing to come in there. It just says that we have to provide you with health and education, but it doesn't really say to what degree so I can...you'll take what I give you and that's where as sovereign nations we really have to be diligent about our exercise of government and of our sovereignty. We have to be. I know I sound like this...I sound like this caped crusader, "˜We've got to be. Somebody has to be at the gate and it's going to be me,' but there needs...there really needs to be more development of people who understand public service of giving back to the people and we've got to cultivate that."

Ian Record:

"So you've made references to the incredible growth of the Mississippi Choctaw's economy over the past several decades and I'll ask you a very blunt question. Could Mississippi Choctaw when it comes to economic development be where it is today if they, for instance had what's often referred to as a 'kangaroo court'?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"The short answer, no, I don't believe they could be. This system was and is, continues to be an evolving system and I think with the right leadership it was determined that there are certain things we're going to have to put in place in order to be successful and strengthening the court system was one of them. This system was taken into management of the tribe in 1985 and was operating with a very skeletal group of people and then they expanded the service. And then in 1997 there was another reorganization where they developed very distinct divisions of court. This would give the system the capacity to handle all civil matters. We had well over 1,000 people working for the tribe in the hospitality portion of it and of the industrial arm of it. The majority of these people were non-Indian. Where are civil actions going to take place? In our court if they're working for this tribe. You also had, once gaming came into play and tribal members were receiving per capita, a rush of people wanting to enroll and so our enrollment jumped by leaps and bounds from 3,000 to 4,000 to almost 10,000. And so you had to have the ability to handle all the issues that come with the economic growth and the court system and law enforcement are the people that deal with a lot of the day to day issues that come with that prosperity."

Ian Record:

"So in many ways the court system is the primary vehicle for managing growth for tribes."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"I would say so. People may disagree but I would say so."

Ian Record:

"So I wanted to ask you a bit more about this issue of justice systems and how they maintain stability in law and order and how does that... how does the justice system at Choctaw provide that for the people?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Well, we've been fortunate that the tribe has taken over, like I said earlier, management of the law enforcement division. It's now the Department of Public Services, as well as the court system itself. The tribe itself has also contributed to our legal community and I include law enforcement in that and detention as well by providing legal counsel for the tribe. We have an attorney general's office that's set up as well as a legal defense, which is the equivalent of legal aid for individual tribal members and so we have a pretty diverse legal community there. This provides for the community, for the people the ability to be represented within our system, but not only within our system, should there be issues that occur off reservation they have the ability to use legal defense to represent them as well in issues such as maybe child support type issues if it's a non-Indian and Choctaw union and the marriage dissolved and there are challenges and things may end up taking place off reservation for whatever reason. Also, the ability if they need counsel in federal cases as well because you know as well as I do that there's always challenges there where the level of adequacy of representation at the federal level. We've seen time and time again where Native people have just not had proper representation, which also dovetails into the additional work that I do as a commissioner for the Mississippi Access for Justice, ensuring that all people have the ability to have legal representation for their issues. But for the people, just knowing that there's law enforcement, there's a police officer there who is not out there on his own. There's a strong department and when I call I know they'll be here not in three hours, maybe within 30 minutes or 15 minutes depending on the location because we are managing our own law enforcement. What does that say for the greater communities? We're able to assist them as cross-deputized officers, peace officers, to assist them with whatever issues may be taking place. Again, going back to jurisdictional issues, there's always, "˜Well, where are we? Are we on Choctaw land or are we on county land? Where are we?' And so it's a tough call at times. Sometimes somebody has to pull the map out and say, "˜Yeah, well, here's the line.' And so it speaks volumes as to partnerships that have to be developed and strengthened to show stability, for them to see the stability of this system. And it spills over even into the court. We had an instance where there was an issue off reservation with two tribal members being dealt with in the county court and the court was familiar with our peacemaking, Itti Kana Ikbi, court, our traditional form of court. And he called up our peacemaker and said, "˜Look, I have this issue here. I think that it should be better resolved...it could be better resolved with you and peacemaking.' That is unheard of for a county court to turn its jurisdiction over to a tribal court. Even I was taken aback. But societies are changing and there are times of tension in race relations, yes, we recognize that. And to see something like that happen only proves more to me that we as a people, not only tribal members, but as people are changing and recognizing that we are just as capable as our counterparts are and that also signals stability."

Ian Record:

"I think in that particular instance, part of to me is them probably saying, that county court judge saying, "˜Hey, those guys do things, they do it right, they... yes, they have their own systems, their own principles that they administer justice on, but they do it consistently, they do it fairly and I have confidence in turning this over knowing that they'll resolve this dispute in a good way.'"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"That's exactly right. That's exactly right. And so that generated even more conversation and we have a very good rapport with the county courts and so there have been times where other issues, other instances have taken place, but that was just the turning point. And to be quite honest, I never would have thought I would have seen things like that happen in my lifetime. There's always been this sense of separation and I'm sure it is with other Indian tribes. "˜You're the Indian tribe, you're over there. Here we are metropolitan society. You do your own thing and we'll do our own,' but we're all members of the community, of our communities, and it's being able to interact with one another and working for the greater good of the entire people because don't forget, it's the people who are living outside that are probably working for the tribes on the reservation. So there has to be, whether they like it or not, there has to be a relationship."

Ian Record:

"Yeah, we hear this more and more often, this refrain from tribal leaders of, Native nations aren't islands and they can't act like there are. They can't exercise their sovereignty in isolation, that for them to advance their strategic priorities they're going to have to, of their own volition, build these working relationships with other sovereigns, with other jurisdictions, with other governments, with other municipalities in order to advance their priorities and create a better community."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Exactly, and I think that's what has been the successes of what has created an environment of success for our tribe, for Mississippi Choctaw, has been those relationships whether it's local, state or federal, having those relationships not only within your executive branches and legislative branches, but also within your judiciary. Maybe I was in the judiciary the fifth year of my tenure and I had the opportunity, and it was such a very moving moment, when I had the Chief Justice of the State of Mississippi and his associate justice come down. He came down to Choctaw and sat down and had a conversation with me, the Chief Justice of Choctaw Supreme Court, his counterpart to talk about, "˜How can we help one another?' And that's something that is...I couldn't even imagine that happening. And I shared with him... and we got to know one another and we've become good friends and I said, "˜It had to do with the people and the timing.' Everything just came and lined up and it worked. And so we were able...and we have and we've continued that relationship even with the new Chief Justice, that there continues to be and as well as my new counterpart, there continues to be this continuation of the relationship and it has to be. And it's good that it's now recognized."

Ian Record:

"A couple more questions here. This issue of...getting back to the issue of when you have a justice system creating this environment of stability, of law and order, of certainty, of essentially offering a fair forum for the resolution of disputes where people feel that, "˜If I need to go have a case heard, whether I'm an offender or the one that's the victim in this case, that it will be resolved or adjudicated based on the merits of that case.' Doesn't that send a pretty powerful message to not just those outside investors, but also to your own people that, "˜Hey, this is a place where I can come or I can remain and invest my time, invest my resources, invest my skills, my ideas and the future of the nation.'"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"One thing that I know people struggle with is understanding the system and once you enter in and begin going through all the different processes, they then realize how difficult it is to go through the court system per se. And it may have been designed specifically for that, because you certainly don't want frivolous actions coming before the court. You certainly don't want a manipulation of the system and so it's holding all parties accountable. And the messages that it sends to the people, I would hope, and that was always our hope, was that, "˜You will receive fairness here when you walk through these doors. You will see an individual there who is going to render justice, whether it's on your behalf or not, whether it's for you or it's not.' Of course when the person fails to get the decision they want, you have that as well. But I know that in my dealings with the legislative body, they recognize it as well and at times you have to let the community member vent. They're also your constituents and so you've got to let them vent, but also talking them through, "˜Well, this is what it is but you also have the ability to appeal,' which is the beauty of it all. There is still another forum to go to if you're dissatisfied and if it's a true error of law, then you do have another venue to go to. In some instances, most tribes don't have that luxury."

Ian Record:

"Several years ago we were talking with Norma Gourneau, she was...at the time she was the vice chair at Northern Cheyenne, and they were dealing with this issue of...the court judges were just getting steamrolled by councilors every time...they were having a big issue for instance with automobile repossessions by off reservation dealerships and these off reservation dealerships would get a default on a car loan, they'd come on the reservation to get the repo order enforced so they could actually come on the reservation and pick up the car. The tribal member who was in default would go to a council member and say, "˜Oh, I need my car.' The council member would lean on the judge, the judge would rule on the tribe's behalf. Before long nobody's selling cars to tribal members. And so what she said was they put a fix in there. They did a constitutional reform, they insulated the court from political interference and she said, "˜What I found was I had a lot more...I found myself empowered because I wasn't dealing with those issues anymore. I could now...I wasn't putting out those fires of having to interfere in the court system so now I could focus on what was really important for the tribe, which was where are we headed, where are we going and how do we get there?' Is that...do you see that as an important dynamic to have when the court system is insulated from that essentially liberates elected leaders to focus on those things?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"I wish there was more of a way to make that happen for all of us because we all deal with those...again, it goes back to what we talked about earlier -- political interference -- and again it's up to you as an individual of your integrity whether you allow it or not. Yes, they can be pretty quick to apply pressure on you. Yes, we've dealt with those types of things. It was always astonishing to me when a vendor would call and say, "˜Well, this is happening and I'm not getting service, I'm not getting the court system to react quickly enough.' And our council would be so quick to step up for those vendors and I'm like, "˜You have to allow the process to take its paces. It has to go through its paces. You can't speed anything up for anyone in particular. It doesn't matter, it just does not matter.' But yes, we have experienced in the past where because you had a number of tribal members defaulting on a lot of things, businesses begin then questioning, "˜Well, do I really want to do business with a Choctaw?' Not so much about the judicial process itself, but if I'm not going to be getting my money back or if I'm not going to get paid for whatever service I render, is it worth my time? Which is a much bigger question, but going back to insulating yourself, we as a judiciary, as many judiciaries, have canons of ethics and it depends on what those things mean to you. The legislative body as well as the executive body, unfortunately in our instance, don't have canons of ethics and...but those are to me things that are internal. You should have those types of ethics. You should know that it's not proper to go to the judge to say, "˜Change your decision.' It's not proper. You would feel...if there were clear lines of language that said, "˜No, you cannot approach the court,' then the atmosphere would be different. The atmosphere would be very different. Yes, there are tensions, there are questions, "˜Well, what's going to happen with the impact of this decision I've made? How is that going to affect possibly my appointment? Will I still be here in four years?' But if there were that...if there was the ability to have that happen where language could be developed and there were clear separations, you would be able to be in a position to judge more effectively without the fear of repercussion. You would. It's bad enough you have a lot of other things that you have weighing on you as a judge, to have that extra layer put on you and the sad thing is it's your own people, these legislative members are also your members, members of your community and of your tribe. I've heard one councilman tell me...he told me once, there was a case that was being dealt with and he was insistent on trying to get involved, to come in. And I said, "˜It's clear in the code, you can't stand as an advocate. It's clear in the code that you cannot post bond for this...bail for this individual.' And he would tell me real quick, "˜Well, out in this county I'm able to call the judge and da da da da da.' And I said, "˜Well, you know what, that's that court system, not here.' Needless to say, he wasn't my friend anymore, but that's the whole point of it. It's where your integrity lies and you have to. But again, it's also educating, educating the legislative body because of the evolution, the changes of a justice system, what justice systems mean, fairness and that, "˜No, you can't go and ex parte the judge.' It's about fairness and not so much about control. And that's the problem, it is an issue of control."

Ian Record:

"So the tribal code for Choctaw prohibits elected officials from, I guess, involving themselves in court cases in certain respects."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Yes, that's correct. If I as a tribal member would ask a councilman to come in to serve as an advocate or a speaker on their behalf of sorts, it's not allowed. They're not allowed to post bail or bond for anyone. It's right there in black and white, but they still continue to try to do that. I've always told my staff, the judges, when we look at the canons of ethics, "˜It's there to protect you so use it,' tell them that this is what the canons of ethics tell us in regards to appearance of impropriety, of political influence and things of that sort. That's what it's there for. And it's a struggle, it is a struggle and this is something that I know a lot of tribes face, a lot of judges face. It's a hard...it's a hard line to walk because again you are a member of the community, you do not have the ability to blend in with the general populace. It just doesn't happen. Like I said, for our tribe, we're a membership of almost 10,000. We have on the reservation over 6,500 people."

Ian Record:

"Do you think part of it, when elected leaders feel that impulse to interfere on behalf of a constituent, that they maybe haven't gone through the paces perhaps as you've termed it to think, "˜What's the long-term implication of my action here? Because I might be helping,' because that's their feeling, "˜I'm helping this person. I'm helping this person, but am I really helping the nation in the long run because this is going to be the ramifications of this. There's a ripple effect to what I'm doing.'"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Yes, and you're exactly right. I know in some instances their intentions are good, their intentions are good, they do want to help their constituent. They feel that someone needs to step up for them, someone needs to represent them, and maybe for whatever reason the different programs may not be able to help that particular individual, for instance, a vulnerable adult, an elderly person who may be being taken advantage of with his grandchildren taking the monthly check. And so I can see that, but when you don't allow the process to happen and if you don't follow the letter of the law, then the messages that it sends out is that, "˜Well, you can change the rules whenever you want,' and you can't do that. The rules are the rules for everyone, whether you're the community member, whether you're a member of the council, whether you're the chief, the rules are the rules. And although some people may think they might be able to change those rules; that's where the strength of your judiciary is the test not to allow those things to happen. I know within...in Indian Country those things happen where they're tested all the time. Like we talked earlier about jurisdictional issues, everyone is coming at you from different angles and let me tell you, being...living the life of a judge is not an easy thing. It's rewarding at times because you're providing a service to the people, the successes that you see make it worth all that you have to go through, but the political side of it can be at times very disheartening, very discouraging because you're having to deal with this mountain of things that are coming at you and you're trying to do the best you can do for your system. And sometimes people just don't see it the way you see it and it's trying to reach consensus with people, to get them on your side, get them to understand. Education, it's...it always goes back to education, teaching the membership, teaching the legislative body what these systems are all about and how important it is because at the end of the day that's going to be what makes you successful as a people, as a community. For me, it's always been my philosophy that tribal courts are the guardians of sovereignty. It's our job to make sure that we protect this sovereign through the well of the court, through this legal system and it's something that when you take on this judgeship, it's not about the notoriety, it's about what you provide, what you bring to the bench and the protection of the sovereign. That's the bottom line of all of this." 

Jill Doerfler: Constitutional Reform at the White Earth Nation

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

In this in-depth interview with NNI's Ian Record, Anishinaabe scholar Jill Doerfler discusses the White Earth Nation's current constitutional reform effort, and specifically the extensive debate that White Earth constitutional delegates engaged in regarding changing the criteria for White Earth citizenship. She also stresses the importance of Native nations understanding their traditional governance systems and also documenting the origin stories of their current constitutions prior to engaging in reform so that they can deliberate constitutional change with the appropriate context in mind.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Doerfler, Jill. "Constitutional Reform at the White Earth Nation." "Leading Native Nations" interview series. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, The University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 2013. Interview.

Ian Record:

"Welcome to Leading Native Nations. I'm your host, Ian Record. On today's program we are honored to have with us Jill Doerfler. Jill grew up at White Earth and is a descendant of the White Earth Nation. She's been involved with White Earth's efforts for constitutional reform and served as a member of the constitutional proposal team. She also serves as Assistant Professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota in Duluth. Jill, welcome, and good to have you with us today."

Jill Doerfler:

"Thank you so much. It's a pleasure to be here."

Ian Record:

"So I've shared a few highlights of your personal biography, but why don't you just start by telling us a little bit more about yourself. What did I leave out?"

Jill Doerfler:

"Sure. Well, as you mentioned I grew up at White Earth and then I did my undergraduate work at the Morris Campus of the University of Minnesota and then on for a Ph.D. in American Studies at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus. And then had two years outside of Minnesota, one at Michigan State and one at the University of Illinois. Then I came back to Duluth for American Indian Studies, which has been really a great place for me to work."

Ian Record:

"And you're also a published author."

Jill Doerfler:

"I am. Thank you. I have had a couple of books come out recently, one co-authored with Gerald Vizenor called The White Earth Nation: Ratification of a Native Democratic Constitution, which we'll be talking more extensively about as we move on today, but Gerald was the lead writer during the constitutional proposal process and so we collaborated on a book. David Wilkins wrote an introduction for us. Gerald wrote a chapter and the constitution itself is in there and then I write newspaper articles for our tribe and so some of my newspaper articles examining the constitution and explaining different chapters are in the book. So that was exciting. And then just recently in February I had another book come out that's co-edited called Centering Anishinaabeg Studies: Understanding the World Through Stories. And so in that book, I collaborated with Heidi Stark and Niigaan Sinclair and we have 21 chapters. It's a much lengthier book than the first and it's a wide range of scholars working in Anishinaabeg studies and using story as a kind of framework to look at law, to look at environmental studies, language, education, so a wide range of disciplines and kind of centering around story as a framework. And my chapter, in that I examine Ignatia Broker's Night Flying Woman which is a White Earth author's text about basically it's very instructive about how to act as a Ojibwe or an Anishinaabe person, and I examine how that text might apply to constitutional reform."

Ian Record:

"That's great. I'll have to check it out. So we are here today to talk about constitutional reform, and I'm curious to learn about how you personally came to be involved in the recent constitutional reform effort at White Earth."

Jill Doerfler:

"Yeah. So I was just a Ph.D. student working on my dissertation, which was on Anishinaabeg identity and citizenship focused on White Earth starting around the turn of the 20th century and moving forward. And I was just wrapping up the dissertation in 2007 when Erna Vizenor, our chairwoman, gave her State of the Nation address stating that we were ready to move forward with a new effort for constitutional reform. There had been other efforts at White Earth previously, but she announced that and so I was very excited to think about how my research could come into play in a very sort of real concrete way. So I called up the office and asked how I could get involved and we started out using newspaper articles as the first way, using some of my dissertation research and rewriting it into newspaper articles to share with people the history of tribal citizenship and Anishinaabeg identity. And then as the reform process moved forward, I continued to give presentations on my research to the constitutional delegates and so I became involved in that way."

Ian Record:

"So in 2009, those delegates ratified a new constitution for the nation. What prompted...you mentioned that White Earth had looked at constitutional reform in the past and had never sort of gone through the whole process and this time they did. What prompted them to go down the reform road?"

Jill Doerfler:

"Well, I think there's a wide range of factors. Currently, White Earth is under the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe constitution, which hasn't been functioning very well for us and there are no separation of powers, for example, in that constitution and the provision for citizenship hasn't been working well for us and there are several things, the Secretary of the Interior I think is mentioned maybe 13 times, and so that constitution just basically hadn't been functioning. And so there had been a few other efforts for reform starting actually in the "˜70s and then a strong effort in the late "˜90s and then Chairwoman Vizenor had ran in part on the fact that she would engage in constitutional reform. It's something that the people at White Earth have wanted for some time. They feel that a new constitution could provide some checks and balances. We have had some issues with corruption and fraud at White Earth in the past that were really problematic and if we don't have a new constitution in place, we don't have a way to prevent that from happening again."

Ian Record:

"So can you briefly describe the process that your nation devised to develop a new constitution, because I can tell you from my own experience that there's a lot of nations talking about the need for constitutional change, but of that number, there's a minority among them that actually make it through to the ratification of a new constitution. So in that respect, process is absolutely critical, so can you share a little bit about the process that your nation took?"

Jill Doerfler:

"Sure. It was definitely a grassroots kind of process and we weren't as organized to have a full plan laid out with timelines and deadlines when we started. Mostly, Chairwoman Vizenor just wanted to start by holding a constitutional convention and see how things went. So in preparation for that, I was writing newspaper articles and then we had a process for constitutional delegates. It was advertised mostly in the tribal newspaper and then people could apply to be constitutional delegates and then Chairwoman Vizenor also sent word out to our community councils and asked those community councils to each send two delegates. And everybody who applied to be a delegate was accepted so it was really inclusive that way. At the first convention, we discussed a wide range of issues and Chairwoman Vizenor ended it by asking the delegates if they wanted to carry this process forward and they did and so we did. So it was really...even though she was in some ways leading the process, she was really letting the delegates make the decisions as far as what they wanted."

Ian Record:

"So your process went through to its fruition, but I would imagine along the way there were several issues or obstacles that emerged. Can you talk about some of those challenges and how you worked to overcome them?"

Jill Doerfler:

"Sure. I think one of the biggest challenges was keeping everyone engaged and keeping the attention of the people and of the delegates, 'cause it was a couple of years in the process. So we started with that first convention in 2007 and then wrapped up in April of '09, so it was that lengthy process. We didn't have a large amount of funding or anything like that. We didn't have a person in charge of doing all the organizing. There were myself and Joe LeGarde and a couple of other people helping get things done, but we didn't have a dedicated person, which I think would have been advantageous to have somebody really coordinating the effort who was in charge. And so we were kind of splitting the duties and kind of each contributing what we could. So that was a little bit of a challenge, but I think the delegates who really believed in the process stuck through with us because they cared so much about the issue they were willing to take the few bumps in the road and to keep moving forward knowing that the results would be worth it."

Ian Record:

"So you sort of touched on this issue of citizen education and engagement, and you mentioned you did a number of newspaper articles which I've had a chance to read, and I think unfortunately we don't see that level of education in many other tribes that are engaging reform so I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about the efforts that you and the delegates undertook to really I think first and foremost get the citizens to understand why this should matter to them and then get them sort of moving in and engaged in the actual deliberations around what do we need to change in our current constitution or do we need to in fact develop an entirely new one."

Jill Doerfler:

"Yeah, well, I think the delegates are the ones who really did a lot of the work going out. We would talk about issues at the conventions and we would always say, "˜Okay, go back to your families, go back to your community, whether you're on community council or whether it's informally at other gatherings, talk about these issues,' and then I would write the newspaper articles also to kind of keep things at the forefront and hopefully keep people thinking about it and talking about it whether it's over a coffee break at lunch or whether it's at a powwow or like I said, another formal meeting. So we really asked the delegates to kind of go out and keep those conversations going and then to come back and share with us what they had learned and what people were telling them."

Ian Record:

"So it wasn't just about what you were hearing in the actual meetings but it was what you were hearing second hand from people who were coming back with essentially field reporting on what they're hearing sort of on a one-on-one personal basis."

Jill Doerfler:

"Definitely, definitely, and I definitely also received quite a few emails. As technology improves and with my newspaper writing, definitely a lot of people emailed me to tell me their thoughts and ideas and so we took all of that into consideration."

Ian Record:

"How important is that to make sure that the education and engagement of citizens around everything from what a constitution is to what we're thinking about in a new constitution, how important is that to be ongoing versus intermittent? We've seen other tribes stumble where really the only time they're really educating and engaging is when they have a physical meeting and whoever shows up, you show up and you get the information you need and you maybe give the feedback you want to give, but everyone else is sort of left out in the cold."

Jill Doerfler:

"Yeah, I think it really has helped the process that we've tried to stay as engaged as possible throughout, because it gives people more of a commitment and they feel like they're more part of the process, they are more part of the process which is what we want. We don't want a document that just comes out of a few opinions. We need to have everyone's input, because a document like a constitution is a big compromise ultimately. We took in lots of ideas and I'm sure no one person got exactly everything they wanted in that document and so that's another part of the process is sharing the deliberations, sharing the different ideas, and then the outcome so that people can see that there's such a range of ideas that we compromised on certain aspects to try to do our best with what would be the best choices."

Ian Record:

"So you mentioned at the outset that Chairwoman Vizenor was sort of the spearhead for this effort. She made it part of her State of the Nation address and took a lead role sort of at the outset, but then from what I'm hearing, she sort of took a step back after that and played more of a supportive role. And we've seen that as critical in other places as well, where it's good that the leaders are supportive of the effort but not dominating the effort. Is that sort of how it unfolded there and how important was that in the overall success?"

Jill Doerfler:

"Yeah, absolutely. I think it helped take...politics is never going to be out of anything, it's definitely not going to be out of a constitutional process, but I think it helped remove that Erma was not a delegate, she did not vote on the document, she helped facilitate the meetings, she helped with the agenda, but she was not making any of the choices. When delegates had to vote for something, she helped make the motions and helped the process, but she didn't have a vote in the issue, and so it helped give voice to the people and helped the people realize that it's up to them, they're the ones in control and they have the power to make the choices and it's not going to be a process where tribal government just hands us a document and says, "˜This is what tribal leadership wants.' Instead, it's more coming from what the people want."

Ian Record:

"So you did a presentation earlier this week at the Native Nations Institute's constitutions seminar on this topic and one of the things you cited as a key to success in terms of getting the citizens engaged and keeping them engaged was the use of small-group discussions, sort of breakout groups. Can you talk a little bit about what led the nation to use that as an approach and just how critical it was?"

Jill Doerfler:

"Yeah. Boy, I'm not exactly sure how we came to the decision to do that now that I think of it, but in preparation for the first convention we talked about...I was talking with Chairwoman Vizenor and Joe LeGarde and others about how the convention might run and topics and I think it probably was maybe Joe LeGarde that said we should do the small-group breakout. We started out with 40 delegates, which is a large group to try to have a conversation with and then all of the conventions were open and public, so at all conventions there were also other people who attended who were not delegates, and so what we did then is we would have a presentation on a topic or introduce a topic and then give the delegates time to consider certain questions within their small groups. And I think that gave each individual, whether they were a delegate or not a delegate, time to discuss and time to discuss with delegates what was best and it helped people get a more personal viewpoint and also not to feel intimidated to talk in front of a group of 40 delegates plus other attendees. That can be intimidating for some people and as far as time constraints go it was also useful that way. People could say more and then report back as a group and also kind of start the compromise process within the groups hopefully hearing a diversity of ideas in the group, presenting back maybe one or two ideas, and then hearing from others. And so I think overall it helped people feel like they were heard."

Ian Record:

"That's great. So you mentioned that this process lasted over two years. You had four constitutional conventions sort of spaced out during that time and obviously from what you're saying a lot of work in between, ongoing work. Was there...at any point in the process were you at all concerned that or did you doubt that a new constitution would actually take shape and be ratified by the constitutional delegates?"

Jill Doerfler:

"Well, let's see. I don't think...there was going to be no guarantee at the end what the outcome was because we started out with a very loose process with delegates asking them if they even wanted to continue with the process. And there was probably not the clearest of roles from the outset, and it wasn't until Chairwoman Vizenor selected the constitutional proposal team to start the writing of the document...and I think we were very fortunate to have Gerald Vizenor be a constitutional delegate, and as some of the viewers probably know, Gerald Vizenor is a really accomplished scholar from White Earth -- having written I think at this point well over 40 books, everything from poetry to novels to short stories to theory to history -- and so that was lucky for us. We didn't engage a lot of legal consultation, we didn't have somebody sitting by the wayside doing that, and so we had our processes and I had detailed notes and we kind of used that to start the writing. So I think until we started writing the document, it was a little unclear how long the process was going to be and who was going to be in charge of the writing. And I think it actually helped that we didn't have that team designated from the outset, that we were kind of in a looser process because then it wasn't...nobody identified us early on and said, "˜I want to make sure I say this to Gerald or this to Jill because they're going to be part of writing it.' Instead it was...kept it more open and kept the power also more dispersed."

Ian Record:

"So you briefly referenced the role of lawyers in reform process, and I think you may be an exception to the rule at White Earth in that you're not a lawyer and Gerald's not a lawyer and you wrote the constitution. We've seen other instances where the lawyers get involved, even before the writing of the constitution they're heavily involved in the process. Was that ever at sort of the forefront of minds, "˜Let's keep the legal aspects to the side, the legal folks to the side because we want this to be an expression of the people's will and not the expression of any particular lawyer's will?'"

Jill Doerfler:

"Absolutely. I think it's really difficult to find sort of objective legal advice. Everybody has their opinions, even staff attorneys at White Earth have their interests, and so we really wanted it to be a document that people can read and understand. Sometimes...from a legal perspective, sometimes lawyers write in a certain way that's difficult to understand and so we definitely wanted it to come from the people and we did not really utilize lawyers, which some lawyers have critiqued since then. Sometimes I get a raised eyebrow from lawyers that we didn't really engage that in the process."

Ian Record:

"Time will tell I guess if it's going to be an issue."

Jill Doerfler:

"Right, right. We'll see how well that works out in the end."

Ian Record:

"So what would you say ultimately -- now that the process is done -- what would you say ultimately were the keys to the success of the nation in actually seeing this process through?"

Jill Doerfler:

"I think definitely we had a very open, inclusive process. As I mentioned, we had delegates -- who everyone who applied was accepted -- and then all of the constitutional conventions were announced in the newspaper, it was open, anyone could come who wanted to come. No one was ever asked to leave or turned away and so it was very...it was as transparent as we could be and I think that was really critical. We never had a closed door meeting. Never had a closed door meeting with lawyers, we never had a closed door meeting with delegates. Everything was open and so that was definitely one of the keys to our process. Maybe I'll also say that persistence was part of the key as well, because it did take a couple of years and in a way that seems like a long time for me, 'cause that's the timeline I was involved, but some of our constitutional delegates had been involved in different efforts for reform over the past 30 years and so some of them definitely get a lot of credit for seeing the different processes through. And I would say that none of those previous efforts were failed efforts which could be looked at as well. We tried in the late "˜90s, there was a draft constitution at that time, but no action was ever taken on it. True, but I think nonetheless that process still helped us build up to what we did in 2007 and the experience that those people had, they brought that to the table with them when they came in 2007 with those other efforts so that was really advantageous for us."

Ian Record:

"And perhaps some informed perspectives on what didn't work and what to avoid and that sort of thing."

Jill Doerfler:

"Absolutely, yes."

Ian Record:

"So I want to turn to the subject of citizenship, which is as you know one of the most controversial issues facing all Native nations -- who's going to be a part of us and how do we define the criteria that determines that? Citizenship was at the core of your nation's constitutional deliberations, and I'm curious before we get into sort of the mechanics of how you came to arrive at your new definition of citizenship or perhaps a returning to an old definition of citizenship, can you talk a bit about how the White Earth Anishinaabe defined citizenship traditionally and what criteria they used prior to colonization?"

Jill Doerfler:

"Sure. It varied over time, so there isn't just one answer to how things worked, but there's big changes over time. Anishinaabeg people have had contact with non-Indians for hundreds of years by this point and there have been changes, migrations and where my research really starts is starting in the early 20th century, right after the turn of the century. And in my research, I wanted to look at how Anishinaabeg people thinking about their identity, sort of pre-IRA, pre-organized government, and what I came to look at was a series of records that were based actually on land transactions at White Earth. In the 19-teens, allotment happened at White Earth as it did in many nations. And what happened at White Earth is there's legislation that says, "˜Mixed-blood people can sell their land, full-blood people cannot.' Land at White Earth is really gorgeous and spectacular. It was both good timber land and good farm land, lakes country. Lots of non-Indians said, "˜Hey, we'd like that land, we can either make a living there or make money there.' And after allotment happens at White Earth, then we get that legislation about mixed blood and full blood and then land transactions take place at an extraordinary rate. White Earth is often pointed to nationally as a case study because of how quickly land changed hands. And White Earth people complained that there was illegal activities, that people were being lied to or people who couldn't read were asked to sign papers that they were told was for their bill at the store and it was for a lease or it was for the sale. So lots of White Earth people complained and ultimately the federal government did a couple of investigations and one was conducted by Ransom Powell, who was a relatively well-known attorney in Minnesota because he represented some lumber company interests and he was selected to do the process at White Earth. There's a clear political choice there on the part of the U.S. government in choosing him, but he and his team went around and interviewed Anishinaabeg people asking them, "˜Is so and so mixed blood or a full blood?' and those records are extraordinarily rich with responses by people at White Earth saying, [a] "˜I have no idea what you're talking about when you say mixed blood and full blood. We don't define people like that.' 'I can't remember' was a big one. And then Powell and his associates would then also ask questions like about phenotype. "˜Well, did such and such have dark skin' and Anishinaabeg people would say, "˜I don't know, I don't remember,' or some people would say, "˜I don't know, they weren't really light but they weren't really dark, they were kind of medium,' and so Anishinaabeg people found all these inventive ways to kind of get around these definitions that the U.S. government was trying to push, which were these sort of fixed biological, unchanging definitions and for Anishinaabeg people identity wasn't something that was fixed. Identity was something that people created themselves through their actions, how they lived their lives, what choices they made and so they conveyed that time and again in the interviews. And so part of what I shared was some of my research on that, that identity was fluid and people were empowered to create their own identity, which I think is really interesting for us to think about today, that many of us have been really familiar with blood quantum and thinking of identity as this thing that is unchanging that you're born with versus a 100 years ago, Anishinaabeg people saying, "˜Well, you make yourself a full blood or you make your own identity.'"

Ian Record:

"So you brought up a good segue to the next question, which is about blood quantum, because in 1963 White Earth, the sole definition for...sole criterion for citizenship at White Earth became blood quantum. And I'm curious -- how did that come to pass? And it doesn't sound to me like the White Earth people certainly prior to that and I would imagine in 1963 probably didn't fully embrace that change, did they?"

Jill Doerfler:

"Right. Blood quantum I always think is used to disenfranchise people at White Earth in two ways and first it starts with those land transactions. Ultimately, what that investigation found is that about 90 percent of people at White Earth were mixed blood, i.e. 90 percent of those land transactions are legally valid and there's no legal recourse. And so people at White Earth were familiar with how the federal government could use identity to disenfranchise them, in that case to take land basically illegally. And so White Earth becomes part of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, which forms in 1936 with the IRA kind of style government and originally there isn't real firm criteria for citizenship. People basically apply to become citizens based on their parents and they're approved. There is no blood quantum requirement initially. And the Secretary of the Interior starts writing to the tribal executive committee, which is the governing body of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, saying, "˜You really need to think about your citizenship requirements and you really need to think about using either blood quantum or residency or some combination of these things.' And many members of the tribal executive committee including people from White Earth said, "˜No, we don't want to do that. That's going to become a problem for our children or our grandchildren and we need to think about future generations.' And so they passed several resolutions on citizenship that were lineal descent and sent them to the Secretary of the Interior who has, there's an approval clause in the constitution that the Secretary has to approve. The Secretary rejected all of those resolutions time and again and so over about a 20-year period, this would kind of ebb and flow. It would kind of come up and they would pass a resolution and the Secretary would reject it and then time would pass and the Secretary would say, Well, you really need to decide this.' And they would do the same thing and the Secretary would write back saying, "˜For all intents and purposes, this is the same legislation that you sent me last time. I rejected it last time, I'm going to reject it now.' And then finally we move into the later "˜50s and into the early "˜60s and this is termination time as people familiar with American Indian history are familiar. And basically there were some letters sent that weren't too veiled threats regarding termination saying, "˜If the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe doesn't decide this very soon it'll be made a matter of Congress and Congress will decide.' And so ultimately the tribe agrees to one-quarter Minnesota Chippewa Tribe as the sole requirement for citizenship. It gets voted on by the leaders in '61 and it goes into effect in '63 as a constitutional amendment."

Ian Record:

"So it sounds like this was at the beginning...it sounds like this was a main topic of conversation from the get-go when the new effort began."

Jill Doerfler:

"Yes, absolutely it was. People have felt the impact of blood quantum now. I myself am one of those people. As you mentioned, I'm a White Earth descendant, meaning my mother is a tribal citizen and I'm not and the reason is because of blood quantum. And so many, many families have been impacted, literally divided by blood quantum which is what leaders were talking about in the "˜30s and "˜40s and the record on their statements is very rich, very impassioned speeches about the importance of family and how this will affect the future. In a lot of ways, it was a delayed form of termination. The tribe in some ways was up against these threats of immediate termination, but blood quantum itself is designed to slowly make the population smaller and eventually designed to eliminate tribes. And the Secretary of the Interior was very, relatively frank about that in some of his communications to the tribe saying, "˜Every person that you add to the roll diminishes the share that each person has,' and so trying to use resources to try to get people to tighten up citizenship requirements, trying to limit population numbers. And so to some extent, it's working. And the tribe actually did a demographic study recently showing population and the demographer found that using trends over the last 100 years, if we kind of average things out, we anticipate that by about 2040, we'll just have an aging population, there won't really be anyone eligible for citizenship, and by about 2080, 2090, we anticipate that there may be few or no citizens meaning that as the U.S. government has hoped, the nation will cease to exist. If there are no citizens, there are no treaty obligations, no tribal government, and it's over."

Ian Record:

"So you said the resolutions were from about the 1930s and the 1950s from White Earth about this issue and they were all rebuffed?"

Jill Doerfler:

"Yep. Yeah, "˜30s, "˜40s and then they tried some other tactics sort of in the "˜50s because what was happening was some people were like being rejected from healthcare, other BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] programs and the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe and White Earth as a part of that would write to the Secretary of the Interior or to the agent and say, "˜These people are our citizens and they don't have one-quarter blood quantum as the Bureau sometimes wants, but they're still our citizens and they still are entitled to these services.' And there was a big fight and as I said, the record is really rich, and I would imagine that the same is true for other tribes, and I would really encourage other tribes to take a look at their histories and kind of examine what was going on. If the tribe has blood quantum, how did that come to be, what was going on before that? Because I think for lots of people at White Earth, you know, we've had blood quantum since '63. A lot of people have grown up with that and not known anything different, and we need to look back at what our ancestors were saying, what people were doing historically, and think about, 'How can that guide us today? Can some of their wisdom still apply today?'"

Ian Record:

"I saw you when I was doing my presentation yesterday, I was making that exact point. You were nodding your head 'cause I was basically saying that it's absolutely vital for tribes when they begin the constitutional deliberation process that they need to first understand where they came from, where their constitution comes from, what's the oral history, what's the archival history, what's the documentation around what your own people were thinking back when these things were created and did they have any say in how these things were created? Or did they try to voice their opinion on how these things were created and were ignored, were refused, etc.?"

Jill Doerfler:

"Absolutely. I think that's very key. I think people sometimes assume that whatever document we have now or whatever document their tribe has been operating under was somehow sanctioned by elders or was the result of a lot of deliberation and thought and that's not necessarily the case. Sometimes these constitutions were passed with very little participation, sometimes the Secretary of the Interior or other bureaucrats from the BIA were heavily involved in writing these constitutions and it's important to look at that history. Before you're ready to move forward you have to think about the past, because really the way that we construct the past and what happened helps us understand our present and that's what helps us envision our future as well."

Ian Record:

"Isn't it really...at a fundamental level isn't it really an issue of ownership, that there are a lot of people in the community that -- because they don't know that back history, they don't know the origin story, if you will, of their current constitution and system of government -- that there is a sense that we do own this, that this is ours, that this is somehow our creation when in most instances, I won't say all, but in most instances, that's absolutely not the case."

Jill Doerfler:

"Yes, exactly. Yeah. There can be a loyalty to that document that maybe people would have a different opinion on if they had a little bit more historic information."

Ian Record:

"So I want to kind of dive now into how you guys deliberated citizenship, this issue of citizenship in the recent reform process. At the outset you developed some questions to help guide constitutional delegates in terms of evaluating the different options for redefining tribal citizenship. Can you talk about what those questions were and why you chose them?"

Jill Doerfler:

"Sure. It was actually a little bit more towards the end of the process. So we had had several deliberations on citizenship. I had given some presentations also on the history of blood quantum, which is important. It's important for tribes to know their own history, but then blood quantum as a concept has its own history. So we discussed those things, and then because of previous reform efforts at White Earth, there was a constitution created that had a list of citizenship options and so we utilized those during the current process. And so I asked delegates to take a look at those options and start going through them and based on the previous conventions I created a set of questions that wanted to ask which of these options best enacts our Anishinaabe values and beliefs because delegates had said time and again, "˜What we want is a constitution that's ours, that reflects our Anishinaabe culture and our values and how can we put that in the constitution? And so that was kind of an easy mark to say, "˜Then that's a question we want to ask as we look at our citizenship options.' One delegate had talked about how citizenship really is part of the question, who are we and who are we in our hearts,' which I thought was good so we utilized that. We also utilized a question relating to which of the citizenship options will be best for White Earth in the future, so not only looking at our current situation, not only thinking about ourselves or delegates thinking about themselves, but thinking about future generations as our ancestors had encouraged us to do then if we used that to look at the different options."

Ian Record:

"So tell me about one option which you've termed the "band-aid" option or maybe you didn't come up with it, but it's what you shared as the band-aid option. What did it propose and why was it ultimately discarded?"

Jill Doerfler:

"Sure. So we basically had several options that we were looking at. One was lineal descent, three were a variety of blood calculations of different types that were...some were relatively complex, and then delegates, White Earth delegates came up with another option during one of the conventions. One of the small groups said, "˜We have another option which is to make everyone who's currently enrolled, whoever is on the rolls right now, we'll make them a full blood. We'll make them four-fourths.' And ultimately that became termed the 'band-aid' approach. I think one of the delegates said that, that wasn't my term, but delegates considered that option a little bit and it was called the band-aid approach I think because it just put a temporary fix on the problem. What it would do would make it so that everyone who's a citizen now would guarantee that their grandchildren are enrolled no matter who they've had...who their children had children with, etc., that their grandchildren would be enrolled. But it doesn't guarantee anything beyond that. So we're looking into the future, but we're only looking into the future a little bit and there were probably definitely delegates with great-grandchildren who are part of the process who could already see that that probably wasn't forward looking enough. And delegates talked about the fact that this will fix the problem now, but what it will ultimately do is pass the exact same problem on to either our children or onto our grandchildren or some future generations, and so I think delegates ultimately felt like they came to be part of the process to make the hard choices. This isn't going to be an easy choice regarding citizenship, but they wanted to make it in a way that was more forward looking than just two generations in the future."

Ian Record:

"I think on Capitol Hill they call that the 'kicking the can down the road' approach."

Jill Doerfler:

"I think they do."

Ian Record:

"So what decision -- and I think you referenced this already -- but can you talk about the decision that the delegates finally arrived at regarding citizenship, and how did they arrive at that decision?"

Jill Doerfler:

"Sure. Ultimately lineal descent was selected as the option. We deliberated it, delegates deliberated it several times, I had given several presentations as I said evaluating options and sharing information and finally we were discussing different options for citizenship and finally one delegate just made a motion and said, "˜We would like to stop discussing options that deal with blood quantum.' It passed and therefore the only one option that doesn't deal with any type of blood quantum, that was lineal descent and then we moved forward from there. And I think it was probably a culmination of things. In some ways I think delegates who probably decided from the outside that they were in favor of lineal descent were maybe weary of talking about it because we had spent a lot of time on it and so I think for some of them they were like, "˜We are ready to make this decision' and I think for other people it was a little bit of a push that they needed to be like, "˜Okay, we're just going to...we're going to have to just make a choice here. We're never going to get a unanimous decision. There's going to be some people who are going to vote for and some people who are going to vote against and we have to accept that process and move forward.'"

Ian Record:

"So how do you...it seems to me that you're pretty certain that this will strengthen, this new criteria will strengthen the nation moving forward. Can you discuss in what ways?"

Jill Doerfler:

"Sure. Well, I think ultimately it is an enactment of our Anishinaabe values. It really places family and relationships at the center of the nation which is historically appropriate, which is things that we know that our ancestors wanted, and so that's advantageous 'cause it's putting those values into action. If we say family and love and respect is at the heart of the nation, how can we do that? Well, using lineal descent, using family then is one way to do that. It also strengthens the nation from the perspective that potentially we have the option to exist in perpetuity. We don't have a graph with a line that shows when the population will end like we do with blood quantum. We have the idea that as long as families are passing on their values and traditions and political loyalties exist, people will choose to become citizens of the nation and that leaves that option open. A strong citizen base I think is critical for any nation. It gives them a diversity of resources regarding people, what citizens can contribute to the nation, which is something we also talked about at White Earth quite a bit. Sometimes there's a perception that citizens will just drain resources and people will just want to become citizens in order to get certain benefits. We also talked about the fact that becoming a citizen is a responsibility and that when you make that choice to become a citizen, A, you're in some ways acknowledging the jurisdiction of the White Earth Nation, B, you're submitting yourself to those laws and codes and you have obligations to carry out. You're not necessarily going to get anything. We don't have per capita payments at White Earth. I don't see that happening in the future, and I think we want to think of citizens as assets and think about how can more citizens provide more resources. How can having somebody who's a citizen who has expertise in environmental like change, climate change be an advantage? How can we bring more people in and be more inclusive and what could that mean both for the nation politically and economically as well?"

Ian Record:

"So it's interesting you mention this issue of obligations. We talk with a lot of nations about that issue, that somewhere it was lost in the colonization process the obligations of citizenship, that a lot of folks in Native communities, because of the legacies of colonialism, view their relationship with the government as 'what do I get out of it?', not so much what the government and the nation should be expecting of them and what they should be obligated to do. Can you be a little bit more specific on what sort of obligations I guess are expected of citizens under the new constitution and system of government?"

Jill Doerfler:

"Sure. And I'll also say that I think in some ways, because of colonialism, that the relationship with tribal government and the relationship with federal government has sometimes been a little bit confused and I think there is this obligation and what the federal government owes especially via treaty obligations to tribal nations and tribal citizens. But tribal governments don't necessarily owe tribal citizens anything. They may choose to provide services, again enacting our values or choosing to do certain things, but that's not an entitlement necessarily that somebody has. So part of being a citizen is contributing and everyone...as Anishinaabe people we always say, "˜Everyone has a gift,' and the range and diversity of gifts is important to us. We don't want everyone to have the same gift. We want a diversity of people which also relates to increased population. But everyone will contribute in their own way. They will contribute maybe working in tribal government, maybe working for a certain program or service. They may contribute by raising healthy children, they may contribute by helping other family members, they may contribute in a wide range of ways, but focusing on that instead of focusing on what a single person might get."

Ian Record:

"I want to move now onto the other aspects of the new constitution, and I'll ask you in a second for your thoughts on what you think stands ou,t but I'm curious, there's one change that I forgot to write on the list of questions and that is, you're no longer the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, you're now the White Earth Nation. Why was that change made?"

Jill Doerfler:

"Well, we use that sometimes now anyway and we do feel it's a little bit more appropriate for us. It's a little bit stronger assertion of our sovereignty. That's been a preferential name that we've used internally for a while and so this was an opportunity to make that change officially in the constitution."

Ian Record:

"So what other things stand out in terms of the new constitution? Can you give us a brief overview of some of the concrete, fundamental differences between the new constitution and how you govern yourselves under the old arrangement?"

Jill Doerfler:

"Absolutely. I think the separation of powers is one of the biggest things. When Chairwoman Vizenor first announced the fact that she wanted to start constitutional reform, she mentioned two things: citizenship and separation of powers. Currently, there is no separation of powers and the court system is basically established via statute not in the constitution, which gives it a little bit more precarious of a position. And so the new constitution, the ratified constitution of the White Earth Nation, separates out a president, a legislative council, and the judiciary, and each has separate roles and responsibilities. Also the legislative council is not enumerated in a fixed way, because we know that White Earth population will change over time and we don't want to lock ourselves in to having three representatives or three districts or five districts and so that is left open, that will change over time. One part that is fixed is off-reservation representation -- which is something that doesn't exist now -- in a very concrete way. Right now, everyone votes for the chairperson and the secretary-treasurer. They're elected, as we say, at-large. But there are three districts on the reservation right now. So the constitution has sort of open number of districts on the reservation and then two representatives for off-reservation but within Minnesota. And so that's a guarantee that off-reservation [citizens] will have at least two representatives, which is important because we have a large portion of the population, White Earth citizens living off the reservation, so that was a major change. And as I said, having the judiciary separate and established within the constitution, that's really critical because things like the new Tribal Law and Order Act and the Violence Against Women Act, which is hopefully going to allow Native nations to extend their jurisdictional reach a little bit, part of that is having that separate judiciary helps guarantee for everyone that there will be some independence there. I think most of us in Indian Country are in favor of increased jurisdiction, but increased jurisdiction without a separation of powers can be a little bit scary and so that's also..."

Ian Record:

"It essentially raises the stakes and if you maintain a politicized court system, it's just going to make things even worse potentially."

Jill Doerfler:

"Correct. I'll also say a couple of other things about the new constitution. Currently at White Earth, we have community councils, which are operating in a relatively informal basis. They're not written into any governing document, but in the new constitution we have community councils established, we have an elders council and a youth council, and they all have real important roles within the community for people to gather to talk about political issues to also engage in cultural activities, to keep language and cultural practices ongoing and it allows people ways to engage the elected leadership and allows elected leadership maybe to choose to come to a youth council meeting or to come to an elders council meeting when they have a problem. And so that was really important to delegates, and I'm really proud that we have those different councils established and set within the constitution itself."

Ian Record:

"That's fascinating. One tribe I worked with for quite a long time, they, in a draft constitution, which has not yet been ratified, they actually gave constitutional authority to their elders council and their youth council to review legislation before it could be voted on which I thought was really cool."

Jill Doerfler:

"Wow!"

Ian Record:

"I'm really looking forward to that getting ratification at some point. So we talked about what's actually in the new document, some of the things you referenced. That's ultimately just a piece of paper. That leads me to the question: what's the new governance reality that that document seeks to create? How does it seek to improve the effectiveness of White Earth governance and make it more culturally appropriate, etc.?"

Jill Doerfler:

"Yeah, I think also trust is a big issue with government at White Earth and other nations as well. White Earth, as I said briefly, has had some issues with fraud and corruption in the past and that has really tainted peoples' view and their trust and their view of the tribal government as legitimate. And so we hope that the new governing document with the separation of powers, with the ways in which elections are structured, will help improve peoples' pride in the government, potentially their political loyalty, that would be improved."

Ian Record:

"If you were to explain to somebody that knows nothing about your tribe and knows nothing about the reform effort, what aspects of the new constitution and the new governance system are most culturally distinct to White Earth, what would you tell them?"

Jill Doerfler:

"I would say that our preamble is actually potentially most distinct. Preamble, as some people know, is a place in the constitution where there is sometimes a little bit more freedom rather than the articles and exact procedures that are laid out. But I think the preamble is really nicely written, acknowledges our broad range of relationships and cultural values historically and contemporary, and so I think that does a nice job. I do think that we have some processes for basically ethics, impeachment, citizens are allowed to petition. I think that kind of citizen involvement is very culturally appropriate and something that people will welcome having in the new constitution in a way that citizens haven't been able to be as engaged with the current governance structure. And I think historically, Anishinaabeg people and White Earth people had a lot more opportunity to engage leaders, to be a little bit more involved in the process than is currently available, so I think the new constitution also does that. And I think the balance of checks in power and balance of power is also culturally appropriate. Historically, Anishinaabeg people didn't have one or two leaders who were making all the decisions for the tribe. That power was disbursed, there were lots of lengthy council meetings where people could get out and participate, and so we see some of those things integrated in the new constitution as well."

Ian Record:

"So what cultural values would you say does the new constitution seek to protect, advance, to live, and what future do you feel it's designed to help create within the nation?"

Jill Doerfler:

"Sure. I think that one of the things that we talked about a little bit during the process was cultural values and core values. At ones point delegates were asked to identify some of their core values and write belief statements, and ultimately they came very close to intentionally or not intentionally mirroring our teachings, which are sometimes called the seven grandfather teachings, which is basically love, respect, honesty, humility, wisdom -- these types of really basic core values that transcend time, that transcend place that we can all be engaging in today. Sometimes culture for American Indians gets fixed a little bit historically in the past and fixed into certain actions, but if we think of love and respect as part of our cultural values then that opens us up to enacting them today."

Ian Record:

"So final wrap-up question. You guys have gone through the whole process. You're awaiting a secretarial election, is that correct?"

Jill Doerfler:

"Right."

Ian Record:

"But in terms of the actual process and the crafting of a new foundational governing document, you've gone through that process. What do you feel other nations can learn from the White Earth experience? What sort of lessons do you feel that you've learned that might be transferrable to the challenges that other tribes are facing?"

Jill Doerfler:

"Right. So I do hesitate to say we're through the process, 'cause we're gearing up for a really...hopefully what will be a really big citizen engagement and education effort, because things have been sitting at White Earth a little while. Delegates ratified the document in 2009, it's now 2013, and so we do need to work this summer and into the fall to reinvigorate and to educate about the document to make sure any questions that people have are answered. But as far as the writing process and the process that went into getting the document that we have now, I think that transparency was key. I think we did a relatively good job with that. I think since we've finished, social media has really taken off and I would say if we were doing...the nation who's doing it now I would say need more presence on the web. We primarily used newspaper articles which was great, but things on the web can happen a little bit more in real time and I think that would be something that tribes could utilize. I think the fact that we were inclusive as far as delegates went is also good. It also provided some trust I think to people who were maybe skeptical of the process. We can say that everyone who wanted to be included was included but there was that application process and there was a deadline and that was it. There were later some people who wanted to become delegates after the process started and we were unable to do that because we had to stick with our original plan. But I think that that was good as well. I think if we would have added new delegates later we would have almost had to start over and re-educate, so I think it was good that we had that open process, but then once the delegates were selected we stuck with it and we didn't make changes. So I think it's easy to say, "˜Oh, yes, we'll add you,' because there were definitely great people who came along that would have been great additions. Instead we said, "˜Please continue to come to the conventions and you can still share your thoughts and ideas and talk with the delegates and be involved that way.'"

Ian Record:

"Well, we really appreciate you taking some time out of your busy schedule to share your thoughts and experience and wisdom with us, and I'm very eager to see how things unfold there. I definitely think that other nations that are talking about reform, embarking on reform, struggling with reform can certainly learn a lot from the White Earth experience."

Jill Doerfler:

"Thank you. It's been a pleasure to be here and I'm definitely looking forward to our referendum, which will hopefully happen soon."

Ian Record:

"Well, thank you, Jill. That's all the time we have on today's program of Leading Native Nations. To learn more about Leading Native Nations and the Native Nations Institute's website, please visit nni.arizona.edu. Thank you for joining us. Copyright 2013, Arizona Board of Regents."

Honoring Nations: What is Good Tribal Governance and Why is it Important?: Tribal Leaders' Perspectives

Producer
Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development
Year

Moderator Joseph P. Kalt facilitates a rich discussion by an impressive panel of Native nation leaders about the role leaders play in building and sustaining successful tribal programs.

Resource Type
Citation

Anderson, Marge, Jamie Barrientoz, Peter Captain, Brian Cladoosby, Justin Gould, Kathryn Harrison, and Claudia Vigil-Muniz. "What is Good Tribal Governance and Why is it Important?: Tribal Leaders' Perspectives." Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Sante Fe, New Mexico. February 8, 2002. Presentation.

Joseph P. Kalt:

"This next session is dedicated to hearing from tribal leaders and former leaders, former chairs who have had Honoring Nations award-winners. In listening to the discussion of Honoring Nations programs, of course, you understand that those programs are programs. They are run by managers, directors, and so forth, and yet when we talk to the managers and directors, what they keep stressing is the need for support from senior leadership within the community, and so we thought it would be very useful to start by hearing from those senior leaders about their roles in building excellent programs in tribal government.

We're going to allow these individuals to just take some questions and talk about what they see as the role of senior tribal leadership in building successful programs in tribal governance. And we'll talk about...Justin Gould as well. Justin, like all tribal leaders, I know Justin's been on the phone this morning having some problem back home. Let me introduce our panel. After we go through questions and answers from your talk show host, throughout the audience we will be circulating some little 3x5 cards and any questions you have that you'd like to pose to the panel, just filter them up toward the front here and we'll give those questions to the panel. And if that doesn't work, we'll do it live from the audience.

Let me begin on the far end with Jamie Barrientoz. Jamie is the vice-chair of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. Grand Traverse is actually a three-time honoree in the Honoring Nations program, only a two-year old program. They must be doing something right. The tribal court, the planning efforts, and the land use claim trust fund from Grand Traverse are outstanding examples of tribal governance. Kathryn Harrison is the retired chair of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. Grand Ronde was a winner of an Honoring Nations award for their enhancing intergovernmental relations programs. Next, Brian Cladoosby is the chair of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community. Swinomish was a winner of an Honoring Nations award for its efforts in cooperative land-use planning. Marge Anderson is a past chair of the Mille Lacs Band of Chippewa Indians and also Mille Lacs has been a three-time honoree for their conservation code for the 1837 ceded territory, for small business development, and for their outstanding language development programs. Next, Peter Captain is First Chief of the Louden Tribal Council, and the Louden Tribal Council's Yukaana Development Corporation was an honoree for its outstanding work in the development of environmental cleanup mechanisms that have dramatically changed the face of their part of Alaska. Next, Claudia Vigil-Muniz is the president of the Jicarilla Apache. Jicarilla was a winner of an Honoring Nations award for the wildlife and fisheries department, a world-renowned program in wildlife conservation. And lastly, Justin Gould from the tribal council of Nez Perce; Nez Perce was a winner of an Honoring Nations award for its work on the Idaho Gray Wolf Recovery Program where Nez Perce has been a leader not only in its own community, but in the region in the preservation and introduction of the gray wolf. With those introductions, it's now your turn to talk and I'd like to begin with what I suggested a moment ago.

The honorees, your programs, are directed by on-the-ground managers and directors who are in their offices today or some of them are here, but we keep hearing from them that they couldn't do it without senior leadership that saw what they were doing and supported it. And so I'd like to just put a general question to you and get your comments on the way you look at the do's and don'ts of building successful programs like the programs of your own communities that have been honorees, but you don't have to talk just about those programs. I'd like to just hear what you say -- as senior tribal leadership -- about the role of that leadership in building these programs. I'll actually take a volunteer for the first time. Who has any thoughts on that? Kathryn.

Kathryn Harrison:

"It's really an honor to be here. As a past chair of a tribe that had faced termination for 29 years, I'm just astounded that I'm here, that we have taken our place in the family of Indian nations where there's a lot of hard work and, what I see as, a way for councils -- and I mean all tribal councils -- to work, to build their tribal government and their community and their nation is to be a team player.

What I saw on our council, each one had their place and each one had their duty. We had loggers, we had past loggers, past truck drivers, construction workers and they were left to get the young people, but they were already I guess mid-life I would say. They already had their life skills and to me that was a plus. There was no time to get out and say, ‘Well, I want to be somebody so I want to talk first.' Everybody had their role and knew they were valuable. So in our newsletters when I was chair, you would never see a report by me. I wasn't the one, and any chairman says they did it all there's something wrong. It's a team effort. And we heard over and over yesterday, ‘We're families.' As a tribe, one nation to another, we're a big family, so that team effort goes in there, too. You heard today, ‘Watch your back. I'm watching your back.' That brings to mind Sue Shaffer who, every time she goes on the [Capitol] Hill, you know she's going to protect every one of us and she is the chair of a past-terminated tribe.

I think maybe one thing we've learned is having lost our federal recognition for 29 years, we appreciated what it was that we had and it took everybody working together to gain back...for 11 years we were...to gain back that recognition in the eyes of our federal government. One of the things that inspired me each time we were discouraged, we had the good vision to hire former Congressman Elizabeth Furse. Of course, she had not been a congresswoman yet. But she guided us through our restoration effort and every time we went to our little one-room office we had to pass by our tribal tombstones of all those people that had gone on before us and had sacrificed and that always inspired us. If they could do it, if they could walk to where we were today and not even understand languages because there were so many different languages, then we could do it for what they had suffered for. And to me it's teamwork."

Marge Anderson:

"I'm really honored to be asked to sit on this panel and I don't know where to start. It's a long story, but if you bear with me, we'll get a history on where we were and where we are today. We were a very poor tribe. In fact, we had probably about 50 employees to what we have now; we have a total of about 3,000 employees. Not all of our...there is enough tribal members to fill all those positions so we have both Indian and non-Indians working for us. Early on, we had one form of government that the tribal council did the hiring, the firing, hearing appeals on the same board. And we took a look at that and we didn't think that was...we knew that wasn't a good way of doing government, tribal business. And we created a system of government based on the United States system, separation of powers not, that was based on the Iroquois Nation separation of powers. And through trial and error and everything else we had growing pains and through that system we created the executive branch, judicial branch and legislative branch and the executive branch was the chief executive and I had eight commissioners. You have to delegate, they have authority so they can do their jobs and through Band law, the duties and responsibilities were through Band law and we followed those and only answered to me. That's how we got this going. We had a lot of issues.

One, I guess I'll be talking about sovereignty. We had some conflict with the State of Minnesota that required us to waive our sovereign immunity in order to get the services from the state, which were by the way, passed through from the feds. We refused to sign the contract so we went...our people went on without service for about two years and our tribal government went without pay for a long period of time. But we stood our ground. We would not waiver and finally the state legislature passed a law that says they would not require tribes to waive their sovereign immunity in order to get programs, food on dollars.

But there was a lot of, like I said, fights along the way. One of them was treaty rights, 1837 treaty rights that we tried to resolve through mediation and we took it to the state legislature and they turned us down. And we told them, ‘We're going to win this,' and thought they would settle peacefully but they refused to do that so we went to court, into the federal court to the court of appeals and to the Supreme Court of the United States, which was a 5-4 decision at that time. At least it was a win."

Claudia Vigil-Muniz:

"I'll be the youngest of the women and let the elders go first. Good morning, everyone. My name is Claudia Vigil-Muniz. I'm the current President for the Jicarilla Apache Nation. I've only been in office for about a year and a half, so the program, the model program that has been referenced to was many years ago.

I believe that that program was successful because it was allowed to be developed. The managers and the people involved were allowed to create the program for what it has become. It's still in place today and mostly because we rely on that as a resource, a financial resource -- two of our primary resources are oil and gas and the game, not in terms of gaming but the real game -- the operation had to make some changes, but we have two biologists on staff who are non-tribal members who have contributed to the program and to the management of that particular game park that has allowed it to grow and develop and I think that's what's key in the does and don'ts. I really couldn't make any recommendations, but this is how it worked for us and this is how it continues to work for us.

We also currently have a ranch or a...we refer to it as Chama Lodge. We were successful in outbidding the State of New Mexico a couple years ago for the piece of property. At that time, the tribal council thought it was important that we get that piece of land back because that was original territory to the Jicarillas and it also plays a significant role in our traditional beliefs. We've taken that under a private...it's more of a chartership. We have a corporation that monitors that program and we let them operate on their own. And it's a package hunt and it's a private facility that's located on what we refer to as Chama land and it's an exclusive facility that brings in trophy hunters. And so we have that entity. And in one end, if we ever get this land successfully into trust, those two programs will most likely be combined and monitored by the same...in the same method that we have done in the past. And because of that role that we've taken, the government has basically stepped to the backside and allowed the managers to handle it. It's been working for us because they're the expertise, they know how to handle the animals and they know what to do with them. So in that particular issue, I think it's been very good for us."

Brian Cladoosby:

"Good morning. My name is Brian Cladoosby. I'm Chairman of the Swinomish Tribe. We're about 70 miles north of Seattle. I'm finishing my 17th year on the council and I'm finishing my fifth year as Chairman. And as I think about this question, the do's and don'ts of building good programs, I think the do's are, you need good strong leadership in order for these programs to work. You need to be inclusive and you need to know your past, you need to know your tribe's history, you need to know your history with the state, with the county, you need to know the federal policies that have affected your tribes, you need to know what you want today and you need to know what you want for the future.

And some of the don'ts, I think, is, number one, don't think you can do it all by yourself. That's where I say, be inclusive, don't micromanage. We're a small tribe of about 750 members to 800 members and I've got around 200 employees underneath. An elder once told me to always surround yourself with people smarter than you and I have no problem doing that. He said, ‘When you do that, you can take credit for their accomplishments and point your finger at them when they screw up.' But I think one thing you can't do is micromanage the people underneath you. You've got to let them do their job. And maybe some of you staffers at other tribes know what I'm talking about when you have strong councils who like to think they have to run every single program. But I'm a firm believer in not micromanaging. So my ‘don't' is, don't micromanage. Of course, don't make stupid mistakes. Some of you may have known leaders in the Indian and non-Indian communities that have made stupid mistakes. And so, don't make stupid mistakes or you're not going to be able to build good programs.

And don't think you're an island. We as tribes cannot think that we're an island. I cannot say, ‘Okay, Swinomish, I don't need you Tulalip' or ‘Swinomish, I don't need you Yakama' or ‘Swinomish, I don't need you Lummi.' We can't think of ourselves, don't think as an island. And reach out. And that includes the non-Indian communities. We need to reach out to those non-Indian communities. We are continually educating them, so don't ever stop educating those non-Indian communities, because their leadership changes all the time but the people in the communities are always there. So we not only need to educate the leadership, but we need to educate the people in our communities. And so I'm going to keep my comments brief because there's others up here also, and ditto to the ladies that have spoke also before me. Good remarks."

Peter Captain:

"Hi. I'm Peter Captain of the Louden Tribe from Galena, Alaska. It's in the Yukon in Alaska. First, I want to squelch a couple myths. For one, we don't live in igloos, although that's been around for years.' And we also are inclusive. In starting out, we have 229 tribes in Alaska and we're just one of them, and just about every village in Alaska is a tribe. And each village has two forms of government. You have the state government and you have the tribal government, and of course the federal government. But one of the first things we did was to be inclusive is we held many town meetings and invited the various entities into our meetings. And we had a five-year plan for a village and our portion of the plan was to take care of the economic...I mean the environmental portion of the plan. The city took care of the sewer and water and what not and the fish and wildlife and other entities took care of their federal... One of the things you hear is be all-inclusive and doing that, we found that we could function better in our endeavors. I'm always one for passing on knowledge. We have one of the more aggressive tribes in Alaska in all aspects of education, environmental cleanup and what not. And we don't limit that to ourselves. We try to pass it around.

We have what we call a Yukon Consortium. It's a consortium of about six villages right in the vicinity and we include all those villages within our group to pass on our knowledge, not to hold it in. This -- as you'll hear other people repeat this -- is passed down generations upon generations and my hope is...I'm not doing things for myself. I've never been one to do things like that. I do it for my people, of course, but ultimately I do it for my children and grandchildren and seven generations down. They're the ones that's going to be benefit from it. That's where we come from. Thank you."

Justin Gould:

"Thank you, Joe. It's a pleasure to be here this morning up here with this panel. My comments are somewhat similar to those expressed so far. I'm realizing now I really don't want to be in Jamie's shoes because I think I'm probably going to cover everything else that hasn't been said. I'm just kidding. Like the person sitting here to my right, it's an honor and a privilege to become a tribal leader in Nez Perce country and inherit some of the hard work of previous leadership. I was not on the tribal council when the Nez Perce Tribe got involved with gray wolf recovery as has been expressed by Joe here. Just to kind of shed some light as to...before gray wolf management, the Nez Perce Tribe was involved very heavily with many natural resource issues, primarily the fish management issues. And I believe it was from the record established in the direction that the Nez Perce Tribe had taken that naturally prompted the tribe in becoming involved with other natural resource management issues.

There is a long history in Indian Country of tribes striving to better their communities, striving to better themselves, and the common theme that the Nez Perce see in Indian Country is the direct relationship to the natural resources. It's evidenced everywhere you go in Indian Country, there's a story, there's a lesson to be learned in every part of our respective places.

Getting back to the Nez Perce story, it began in the late ‘60s with the tribe becoming federally recognized and having a formal government with constitution and by-laws, I believe it was around 1964. And at that time the fish runs were still alive and well in our country. The completion of the four lower Snake [River] dams had not even transpired yet. The Grand Coulee and Hell's Canyon dams were on the chalkboard and getting ready to go up. The Nez Perce Tribe learned early on that if these two dams were to go in it would drastically affect the future of the salmon in the interior northwest. Sadly these dams went in and consequently wiped out I would say 90 percent of the spawning beds of the Columbia River Basin salmon runs. And in the next 10 to 15 years, four or five other hydro systems were located in between these far-reaching projects toward the ocean, buttoning up the interior northwest for barging, irrigation, recreation. It was not until the late ‘70s, early ‘80s, that significant losses were recognized on the banks of the respective tributaries that our people used for thousands of years. And it was at that time a faction of our people recognized the need to create a level of awareness to bring about positive change to the situation the salmon were facing in Nez Perce country.

It didn't happen overnight. I recall these long nights as a child with my tribal leaders as a boy every night, every season there was another issue to discuss and at that time I felt we were beginning to organize ourselves and our thoughts. And it's taken a generation or so to really impact the home front in terms of educating our own people to the significance of these losses and what it means to the value of our culture that's providing the support we needed as leaders now to continue on in this good work of the leadership that we've replaced in some cases. It was only recently when our tribe was asked if we wished to reintroduce a species to the Columbia Basin that had been extinct for 20 or 30 years -- example would be the Coho salmon, the fall Chinook, the summer steelhead, the sockeye, the eel, lamprey. It was opportunities to look at these species and become true leaders and really step away from the followers that inevitably got us to the gray wolf recovery table. But it's the example that I'm speaking of now that is the basis for the tribe's involvement with gray wolf recovery.

Once we successfully returned and extirpated stock from Columbia Basin to its homelands again, the Nez Perce Tribe learned a valuable lesson and did its best to share what we could with anybody that would listen to take advantage of these opportunities when they present themselves. So four years later we got adult returns from the first generation we transplanted and the concept the tribe has is not concrete to concrete like in some cases like hatchery operation, but from gravel to gravel. And so for the last 10 years now you could say we've been double planting all of the streams. We will take the hatchery surplus and take them out into the streams and let them spawn with the natural or be reared with the natural and the wild stocks that are out there thus providing the double...doubling the size of the small runs to the estuaries. And it was through a series of political moves by the tribe that we became party to the Pacific Salmon Treaty as an Upper Columbia River Tributary Tribe, and it was again from the efforts made by the faction of the Nez Perce 20 or 25 years ago recognizing that the fishery was being destroyed and something needed to be done.

All of the issues that are in Indian Country just take a little bit of organization and leadership in my opinion and many great things can and will happen if strong leadership avails itself to those specific issues. So that's kind of the basis for Idaho Gray Wolf Recovery and for the Nez Perce was getting management capabilities and being recognized in a field of science to be equal or greater than the experts in those fields and continuing in that fashion as being the only choice of the Nez Perce Tribe. Extinction is not an alternative for the Nez Perce Tribe so we will look to find every way possible to continue on with the work that we've begun. It's my hope personally that the work that I'm able to do the short time I'm on the tribal council will be another positive lesson in terms of legacy for those who are yet to replace me. Thank you."

Jamie Barrientoz:

"I'm Jamie Barrientoz and I agree with all the comments that were made. I just want to just highlight a few. For our tribe, we haven't got to where we are today -- like the others were saying -- we didn't get to where we are just because of the select few that stand out in the tribe. It's a collaboration of all the people in the tribe.

One of our awards from Honoring Nations is planning and development, and through our planning and development initiative we include throughout that part of our protocol is to hold public hearings and to include all of our members. And you'll see in the documents here that we held a series of planning meetings with our members where 400 tribal members turned out and they all gave input and very valuable input. That helped us to incorporate our culture into what we were doing. We accomplished that and the things that we've done are so beautiful and will be there for the long run because many minds put much thought into it and the council was very gracious and didn't stand in the way and didn't get bogged. We held our egos back, because oftentimes egos get in the way of the tribe and people think, ‘Well, I don't...' I'm just speaking for my tribe. ‘If it's not my idea then it's not going to happen at all.' We need to learn to set that aside before we can even move forward. We need to accept that we need to compromise and we need to agree and disagree on many issues and accept that Jaime Barrientos doesn't have all the answers, and I don't.

And we surround ourselves with many smart people, but also we surround ourselves with many practical-thinking people with common sense, because so often we can get caught up listening to just the lawyers and we can get into trouble sometimes just doing that. And so we've learned from many experiences like that that just having...surrounding ourselves with everyday people, people that are living in the community, the laws and the things that we are doing how it's going to impact them. Those are the people that we get the most valuable input from because those people are the ones that are living the day-to-day life on the reservation in the communities.

And so that's kind of where we come from, that's where we stand and all of our council meetings are open to the public and the majority of the time, the time that I've been on the council, I've spent most of my time on the roads. But I like that and I like to communicate. I'm corrected all the time but that's how I learn. I'm 30 years old and I have learned a great deal from many of my elders. And my mother and my grandfather and grandmother always told me, ‘Never forget the elders because that's truly where it comes from.' That's something that we need to work hard at doing, because oftentimes we think about if we're going to invest in something we need to get value back and we always think about the dollar and the returns that we invest in. Sometimes we forget about the culture and that's one thing that we're very strong on at Grand Traverse Band is our culture and our history and we will continue to be that way. Thank you. That's how we do it."

Joseph P. Kalt:

"Let me put a question to you about the following. It deals with continuity within these programs and with the directions you try to set. All of you are elected officials, you're politicians, and politicians sometimes is used like a bad word but in fact, it's an act of tremendous courage to step forward and say, ‘I'm going to try to serve my people and I'm going to put myself out there, they might turn me out.' And all of you, Claudia is relatively new, Kathryn's retired, all of you have been through transitions at some point. We know that these programs to succeed need continuity in them. Any thoughts that you have about what you do in your community to put that continuity in there, recognizing there's going to be turnover in the elected officials, or things you wish you could do because some of you have probably been burned. It's a politician's life. It's a tough thing to do. Do's and don'ts or what you wish you could do around this issue of continuity -- how do you do it? How do you get continuity in programs when you retire, when you're newly elected? Claudia, any comments? You're recent, you said you're recently in office."

Claudia Vigil-Muniz:

"One of the things I'd like to stress is that something I learned a long time ago. I was in the education field for a long time and I had the opportunity of hearing a gentleman speak who was a former governor of the one of the pueblos here in New Mexico. And he put things into real clear perspective and it affirmed my way of thought and how we as Native American people fit into this whole picture. He basically said that we walk, you've heard this story of how we walk two paths and we have to know where the fine line is.

In one hand, we live in a society that has a different way of thought and we've had to adopt a western way of thought and that's the way of our lives now today. In order for us to survive, we have to be able to walk both of them because in the other hand we go home and we step into a different role and what...I guess it really didn't hit me until just by chance it was during the holidays and we went to his particular village and there was this gentleman that had spoken the day before at one of the universities and there he was. He was the leader of the group that was singing and from what we were told in that particular village, it's an honor to be selected as the head singer. That brought things into clear perspective about the role we play; for me it did. And also it's kind of fitting in terms of my own upbringing. My father was the one individual that I really idolized and who taught me. These little conversations that we would have during our visits, little did I realize what he was preparing me for. And some days I sit there and I think, ‘This is what he was talking about'. And sometimes I wonder, ‘How could it be that he knew that he didn't know.' Everything that he has prepared me for is for what I'm doing now.

The other thing is I'd like to clarify I'm not a politician. I do not agree with that. The reason why I say that is because, to be real honest, I didn't put my name into the race so to speak because I wanted to. It was because I was asked to and I had to discuss this with my mother, with several people and they basically told me, ‘You know what the honorable thing is. You know what it is that you have to do.' So I thought, ‘Okay, we'll do it.' Just to throw the numbers off. Little did I know I was going to win. But I think that it's important that, as Native people, that guides us in our decision-making and how we fit into this whole picture. Unfortunately, we do have to become the politicians as you refer to it. In my culture and what my father taught me was that that is not a good word and it has a lot of bad meaning to it. And you have to take it and use it to your best-decision making, because when I step into that role coming down here to Santa Fe, I do have to become the politician and I have to learn how to play the role of the beggar, so to speak, and that's sad that we as Native people have to do that. We have to come and beg for everything that we think our people could benefit from. Unfortunately, I don't know about the other states, but in this particular state, in my presentations to the state legislatures, it's always been to literally remind them that we play a role and that we too are citizens of the state and that we too deserve to be treated fairly and equally. And unfortunately, we have to come to that role. But I think that I deserve that same mutual respect from my colleagues as well as from other leaders and from other entities, government entities. And until we get that same status, I don't know if we'll be able to function as expected because of the term that the white man uses, which is assimilation. Unfortunately, that process is almost completed for all of us.

The villages here in New Mexico still maintain their beliefs and they're very strong about it and they are to be admired for what they maintain. Their history goes back a long, long ways. Mine -- in particular with the economic development that's taken place -- you can see where we're losing our children and a lot of it has to do with that almighty dollar. Having to remind your own people where you come from is what's most important and knowing who you are and where you come from so that they can make the right decisions, reminding them about the mutual respect that should exist so that we can progress on some of these issues because there again, we have to play the role of...the same role as the rest of the world in order for us to survive. If we don't, we don't educate our children and if we don't point these issues out, we're not going to do it. Our children are the key to this whole thing and we keep hearing about the seventh generation. Where are we at in the midst of that? And it's up to us to decide and to guide our children in that direction."

Joseph P. Kalt:

"Claudia, if I could follow up with one question. You've been president for a year and a half approximately. As you came into your position, on this question of the continuity of programs, what specific steps did you take to review the personnel, the programs, assess their strengths and weaknesses? What's it like, in other words, to be in this new transition and how did you go about managing that process? What specific steps did you try to take?"

Claudia Vigil-Muniz:

"I came on and I've been assessing basically on my own and observing to see how things...because as any tribal entity, there are a lot of rumors that go flying left and right about how you're going to...their interpretation of how you're going to be leading. It's been difficult, because you have to play a role as a personnel director and as a leader, so to speak, because you're constantly...when you go home you deal with bad personnel issues, at least in my case I do. And so redefining that, a lot of the policies are in place, they've been created and they're there, but what I've been having to do is actually implement them. I refer many things back to the departments and to the directors, executive directors, and trying to maintain the continuity, so to speak, but there's a lot of resistance because the policies have never been really enforced. But it's important to me because, in order to move forward in the economic development portion, several things have to fall into place. The personnel matters cannot interfere with the role of the government.

Earlier we heard about the separation of powers. Well, in our particular situation, to a degree, it exists, but still it needs to be refined. And in this assessment process, we also have to update our own policies and our own procedures based on who we are. They've been developed for us and that's what we're doing right now, but the continuity portion of it has been assessed to the degree that they've been allowed to function. And then now we're going to back and we're going to say, ‘Wait a minute. These things are going to have to be refined,' and looking at it from the positive things of improvement rather than from the negative things and trying to encourage everybody's participation, because I don't believe in functioning only hearing one side of the story. For too long we've done that. And coming from a matriarchal society this has always been encouraged and allowed and for some reason we got caught up and we have a misinterpretation that has distracted us. But now I think we can get back to hopefully...my term is four years and I don't think I'll see that. If I'm elected again, if the people wish, then we'll continue it. But it's only striving for the achievement of what everybody would like to have and everybody's say so."

Joseph P. Kalt:

"Anybody else on this continuity question. Marge?"

Marge Anderson:

"I think first of all you have to have checks and balances and accountability and hire a team who has expertise in those areas of education, services and so on. I think it's...in Indian Country, you've got elections out there and we had continuity when I left office. And it's unfortunate the recent elections I was in Phoenix so I don't know what's happening there now. But you need to have long- and short-term goals and a strategic plan to see where you're going."

Brian Cladoosby:

"Continuity with programs. I'm going to be speaking on programs that we've set up with others outside of our communities in the non-Indian communities and I think of the in-stream flow that we have established. As many of you know, water's a big issue out there in Indian Country and our tribe was the first one in the state in the last 20 years to establish in stream flows and there's already attacks by politicians to try to undermine that. So it's, once again, educating, educating, educating.

We have been able to set up a program with the Department of Ecology, EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] to allow us to do NPDES permitting, that's the National Pollution Discharge something-something committee. That's why I hire those smart people, they know about those names. I think it's like poop and stuff...that's laymen's terms. But our tribe is able to issue those permits and programs like that need to continue. Our land-use planning, the award that we won through the Harvard Honoring Nations, a program like that needs to have continuity. Our police on our reservation, they carry...they're also sheriff's deputies in the county. Programs like that need to continue and our utilities. We recognized back in the ‘80s and ‘90s that when you control the utilities you control growth on your reservation. So we came to agreement with the other purveyors in the county and they recognize us as the only ones on our reservation that will be allowed to issue a permit.

Now these are programs that have been established...I can go on and on and on. We have a list of probably another dozen programs that we've established, but how do you continue continuity with those programs and make sure that they last and continue? For one, you have to have a foundation. You need to create a foundation; you have to have some kind of mechanism in place that people will recognize in perpetuity. Now there's no guarantee that that will take place because like I said, our in-stream flow...one of the county commissioners in our county who is running this year and his platform is going to be the anti-Indian crusader out there fighting the tribe on all issues and he's already got some lawyers from Seattle, downtown attorneys reviewing that to see if there's any cracks, any way that he can get his little finger in there. So I think educating, educating, educating.

We continue to have new politicians and we are politicians and...I finally...someone had told me what politics means. It's a Greek word. It's 'poli' meaning 'many,' and 'tics,' 'blood sucking insects.' I refer to those as the D.C. politicians. But I think just educating, to have continuity to those programs you need to continually educate these new officials that come into office. That's the only way you're going to have continuity. We've had two new county commissioners this year. I spent two hours with them just educating them on things that the tribe has done with them over the years, so I think that's the key, just educating these...and I'm just referring to outside programs, not internal programs."

Joseph P. Kalt:

"Thank you. Kathryn, yes."

Kathryn Harrison:

"Thank you. I think one of the things that has worked for us was reaching out to the communities but not only that, being role models as tribal council. It's not a 9-to-5 job. Once you're elected, no matter what you do, where you go, awake or asleep, you must be a role model for your people. That includes and inspires continuity among the next lot to come along.

The other thing is when we campaigned for our recognition, we told everyone, ‘We won't have any surprises.' That included our people, the people in Washington, D.C. and the local people, the county commissioners, the schools. So our meetings were open and that is why we established our intergovernmental program that was our winning program with the Honors for Harvard. I like to have Justin and Nicole, Justin Martin and Nicole stand and be recognized for the good work that they do in reaching out to our legislative people not only in the State of Oregon, but in Washington, D.C. They keep their finger on the pulse of what's going on in Indian Country, they advise us of bills we need to monitor, they tell us when to come to the state capitol, the attempts [unintelligible] on Indian services, which includes every representative from every tribe in Oregon that's recognized and [unintelligible] representative from [unintelligible] and also a state senator and a state representative.

I think the other thing is you include all our people. We've held a lot of meetings that we included the county commissioners and everyone around us to show what we were going to do and ask them, ‘What do you think of this? Where do you see us in five years, in 10 years?' That included them. You have to show your people what works and once it's in place it's going to take a lot of convincing from the other side that wants to try to change anything and that puts continuity in place. And the last thing I want to say is I think we all agree how important spirituality is. That's what's carrying all of us, no matter what trouble we face, no matter what obstacles we face and that's what's going to pass on from our ancestors. That's how they overcame the struggles, that's how they pass on things to us and that's something we must never forget.

One thing I learned to say to our council is, ‘If you want to be treated like a tribal government then you have to act like one.' And by the way, I had black hair when I started. Thank you."

Peter Captain:

"I remembered what the other myth was coming from Alaska, not all tribes are oil rich. Unfortunately, ours is one of those that's not oil rich. So we have to be innovative in the things we do to keep these programs running. Our state dollars and federal dollars are being depleted. So we need to come up with innovative ways to keep all our programs running. You hear people say, ‘Well, you've got to surround yourself with smart people,' and that's good. You also have to integrate within your school systems the teaching of the young children on the different pollutants and the different aspects of the worldly comings, otherwise they're not going to know what's coming down the path and when it does hit they're going to be caught off guard. So a good solid education, if you can incorporate those within your school system, great. Short of cloning that's one way of continuity."

Joseph P. Kalt:

"Something I think that Claudia said must have sparked...you mentioned about looking at these programs and maybe some of the systems you have in place may not be working as well. A number of people are asking questions that deal roughly with the same thing. People would like to hear you talk about the way you handle issues of hiring, having to fire and promoting the career development of your employees. What role do you as senior leadership play in that regard? Any comments on that? A number of people have actually sent me questions like that. I know people wonder about those relationships. Anybody? Marge."

Marge Anderson:

"In our system of tribal government, separation of powers, that's delegated to the [unintelligible] policy board, which consists of all the commissioners and they handle all the personnel issues. I didn't have to worry. So that's how we handle those issues. What was the other one?"

Joseph P. Kalt:

"Both the enterprises and the programs, are they handled in the same way?"

Marge Anderson:

"The enterprises, we have a general manager and we have a corporate commission. We did have anyway, and that's where the personnel issues were dealt with."

Joseph P. Kalt:

"Continuity, though I heard you say could be an issue here. Anybody else? Jaime."

Jamie Barrientoz:

"For us, many times, the tribal council went, particularly with just the Grand Traverse Band members, we have public forums where...at our council meetings we have an open forum where any member can say anything that they want of their choice and oftentimes those kind of issues are brought out there and then we give the direction to those members on what they need to do to get their issue resolved. We do have an administrative appeals board. That's not perfect. We're always continually having to refine that, because we're a small tribe and often family members get involved on the board and then they get involved in employee disputes and we have to sometimes separate that and sometimes if you're new to the community or whatever you don't know who's related to who and what kind of click is going on. But we have those and we do have dispute [resolution] mechanisms, but mainly for the Grand Traverse Band members they come to the council and the council points them in the direction that they go. There are some times where the situation is so gross that the council has to intervene and make a decision based upon the tribal manager or the CEO not taking charge because oftentimes the tribal manager or the CEO is unsure if he gets involved. Which segment of the tribe is going to be coming down on him? So it's a real touchy situation, it's continually being refined, but it seems to be working for us. For the most part it seems to be working for us. There are some cases that are so difficult that they have to go to the court system and that's how they resolve it."

Joseph P. Kalt:

"Marge."

Marge Anderson:

"I need to add if they go to the [unintelligible] policy board they're going to work with their supervisor. If they're not satisfied with that then you go to the [unintelligible]. If you're not satisfied there then you go to tribal court."

Joseph P. Kalt:

"Brian?"

Brian Cladoosby:

"Personnel issues are the toughest to deal with in Indian Country. I hate dealing with personnel issues. That's why I tell my directors, ‘If you can solve it, solve it.' But we have this thing in our policy called nepotism, but I think it needs to be defined differently in Indian Country. But it is tough to deal with personnel issues in a tribe, especially a small tribe. At Swinomish, where the vast majority of our people are located within a very small area so everybody knows everybody and everybody knows everybody's business and the casino, we have 300 employees down there and we started just gung ho with a lot of tribal members filling those jobs and slowly. And I'm speaking to the choir here for those that have casinos, slowly by slowly those numbers start to dwindle for various reasons and you get calls as the chairman. ‘My daughter just got fired.' And I said, ‘Well, what happened?' ‘Well, she...it's not fair. She's a tribal member, she should have that job.' So I call the casino. ‘Well, the last 21 days she had 21 either lates or no-shows or no-calls or tardies or something.' And so it's real hard to deal with because you're so...you know them, you grew up with a lot of them. There's just such a personal connection there and it's...but...you know what I'm talking about. Personnel issues are the toughest to deal with, but unfortunately as the chairman you're put into a position where maybe a tribal member needs to be let go because they've been accused of sexual assault or sexual harassment or something like that and that's when the director comes to you and says, ‘I can't deal with this, can you deal with this?' I think personnel issues are the toughest in Indian Country to deal with."

Claudia Vigil-Muniz:

"Yeah, ditto. I mentioned earlier that I've been trying to refer back to the policies and procedures that are in place and so I kick them back. We have what we refer to as the five meg-department structure where we have five executive directors, one in...[unintelligible] director and education, public safety, health and welfare, education and public works. I guess, in the past, no one's been using these executive directors and they didn't know where they fit into this whole picture.

So when a decision comes to my desk, and as you well know, everyone has a tendency to go directly to the council or to the leader, and it's like, ‘No, I'm sorry. I'm not going to...I won't deal with that.' I'll kick it back, I'll call the executive and then I tell them, ‘This is your problem, you need to handle it, come up with a solution. If we can't resolve it, we have a human resource program, let them set up a grievance hearing committee.' Council is the last resort, and I keep reminding them that if they come to the council, they've exhausted all the remedies. And so people are finally beginning to adapt and adjust to that method.

The other...for the enterprises what we...we have boards in place for a lot of the enterprises that we have because they're under federal statute corporation. So they have a five-panel board that makes all the...that will make the decisions for them so that it leaves us out of the picture and that's how I've been handling it. Like was mentioned, with the nepotism issue, trying to keep things in perspective and try to correct the behavior that was mentioned about people being tardy, coming in late and what I keep reminding them of is that what I was taught was that anything you do in this organization it's yours, the resources are yours, what it pays for is yours. So you have a say so in every decision that we make here, but you have to remember that if you're going to go crash that vehicle that was on loan to you from the motor pool, that comes out of your pocket. It may not be a direct impact, but the fact is that you have ownership in that vehicle because in the title it is Jicarilla Apache Nation. And by doing that they're like, ‘Oh, yeah.' And so trying to re-establish the ownership part of it because the ownership, somewhere we've lost it along the way because it also flies to such things as being involved with the public school system. You hear this all over Indian Country, ‘Well, the school district isn't doing this for us, they're not doing that for us.' Well, what are we doing about it? What are we saying about it? Those are our children that go to those schools, so it just doesn't make any sense constantly going back and reminding, ‘You do have a say so on any of these things.' So I think it goes back to the gentleman here from Swinomish where you play a role in all of this and I think that's important for our people to understand that."

Joseph P. Kalt:

"You touched on something there and I have a question related to this. I'll introduce it by way of a story. One of the tribes we work with at the Harvard Project, one of the tribal chairs says to me one time, ‘All this stuff is great, Honoring Nations, nation building. My daughter's the president of the student body of her high school and doesn't know what I do for a living.' I've got a question. What ways do you have in place and what are you doing to involve the youth in your community in tribal government? They are the future leaders. What steps are you taking, what concerns do you have in that area? Justin."

Justin Gould:

"Being relatively young, it's not hard to remember the days of youth. Ten years ago, I got involved with the United National Indian Tribal Youth Program. In 1991, I was the National Youth Coordinator for the 1992 Alliance, an Indian advocacy group on Capitol Hill. I was a person who made the second to the motion at the policy table right after I swore my oath to be an elected official of the tribe. The motion maker made a motion to create another subcommittee within the structure of the Nez Perce Tribe. That new subcommittee is called Youth Affairs Subcommittee and it's a culmination of various efforts of the different youth provider programs within our tribe. We have social services who has concerns with our tribal youth dedicate employees to that cause. We have education liaisons who are dedicated to the needs of the youth in terms of their education. We have various examples to draw from that are essentially the same path and direction and vision but with no true administrative support to enhance one another's abilities to provide that positive future for our youth.

So under discussion a lot of that came out and before I called for the question I just reminded them that by taking this serious stance toward youth initiatives and youth services that will make it better tomorrow for us when we become the elder and they become the leader and if we could keep this direction going. I looked at my elders and said, ‘I will take care of you tomorrow and through this youth affairs committee we can set that value strong within Nez Perce territory that these children coming up have an obligation as well to take care of us tomorrow.' And that was the basic theme behind the rationale to it, looking at the national statistics in Indian Country among other things prompted us to do that.

Currently, I work with...as a natural resources chairman for the Nez Perce Tribe. I work with the other subcommittee chairs on developing holistic initiatives that will represent unity among all the generations alive on my...in my country in setting up literal examples of week to week, month to month, seasonal activities that we can all enjoin and share together in the spirit of health prevention, education, cultural identity, pride, all the good things that our forefathers had set aside time to provide to us. So it's just a simple continuation in a formal contemporary sense of something that we've all had a little taste of in our lives."

Joseph P. Kalt:

"Just let me put a question to you real quick. Specifically with respect to tribal government, is this Youth Affairs Committee attempting to expose the children and the kids and the high school kids and so forth to the work of the tribal government or are you working more broadly on youth issues?"

Justin Gould:

"Both. We actually have three youth that serve at the tribal policy level on this committee representing the different communities on the reservation; the eastern side, the western side and the northern side. So it's new but it's...and it's having a lot of growing pains, I would guess, but it's working. We now have an agenda that recognizes every youth provider to come in and be accountable and for the first time it has a direct impact to tribal policy formulation development versus being some kind of a quarterly report in a little bulletin fashion format that is like page 156 of a 600-page quarterly report. So that's kind of where we'd been treating them administratively, our youth, and this is a way to really let them tell us as tribal leaders what those concerns are. So it works."

Joseph P. Kalt:

"Good, good. Anybody else involving youth? Jaime."

Jamie Barrientoz:

"We have a junior tribal council that we established. It's a seven-member board of youth that are elected by the youth and they have a budget and they have a chair, vice chair, treasurer, secretary and they do their own fundraisers. And we have a thing called a Youth in Government Day where these youth -- not necessarily just the Junior Tribal Council -- but any youth that is selected through a process can job-shadow a council member or a high executive official on a day. And sometimes these youth are taken out on the road with us and exposed to these kind of meetings. We need to do more of that, but we are trying and we make attempts and they have a board just like a mini-council and they make decisions that impact the kids and how they try to influence us into making things easier for them because they understand what it's like with the environment that they're in in school and in the neighborhood and stuff. So we have that vehicle for them to be able to hear us. And there's an administrative...school administers board where the deans and the superintendents of the schools all get together quarterly and that's hosted by the Junior Tribal Council. They can talk to the school superintendents directly and say, ‘These are our issues as Indian kids. These are what we're facing and this is how we think you can help.' And the council is there and we're all there listening to their concerns and I must say that these kids are very smart. Sometimes we might take that for granted thinking they're young and they've still got a lot to learn but, man, I went to the last Junior Tribal Council and superintendents meeting and I was blown away by how much they really could articulate their point of view and move these superintendents into making policies that are positive for them and it was great."

Joseph P. Kalt:

"We're going to have to bring this to a close, but I'm always struck by the tremendous combination of leaders such as yourselves, show both the vision and tremendous ability to manage and to make things happen and to lead in good, strong directions. We've joked a little bit about the word politician but if you all are the examples, then the word is on its way in Indian Country to being a term of honor and respect as it should be. So thank you to all of you. Thank you."

Ben Nuvamsa: What I Wish I Knew Before I Took Office

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Native Nations Institute
Year

Former Chairman of the Hopi Tribe Ben Nuvamsa speaks about his tenure as the elected chief executive of his nation, and how the governance issues he and his nation have experienced in recent years offer important lessons to other Native nations.  

People
Native Nations
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Citation

Nuvamsa, Ben. "What I Wish I Knew Before I Took Office." Emerging Leaders seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. March 24, 2010. Presentation.

"What I have for you is basically a Reader's Digest version of what happened at Hopi. Manley Begay did a great precursor of the presentation that I'm going to make. I'm going to talk a little bit about the situation I got into, walked into and what happened. And I'm going to show you an example of really what happened. We talk about separation of powers, we talk about balance of powers, we talk about sovereignty and those kinds of things and I'm going to actually tell you really what happened. It's a lesson learned, and I think that's the intent of this session is to teach you how to, tell you how we can learn from this experience. With that...Manley we're 'Nation A,' Hopi Tribe, in Manley's case study. We had all the resources, we had the tribal membership and so on, but there was no strategic direction and so on and a lot of the faults that Manley spoke of for Nation A.

Let me tell a little bit about the situation that I walked into. Our former chairman was removed by the tribal council for I'll just say conduct unbecoming, and so that...he was like eight months into his term and so that required a special election. So I had really actually thought maybe not running that time but maybe the next term, but then I kind of got recruited, kind of like what the chairman here did. I kind of got recruited into it. In fact several emails and phone calls and constant barrage of these requests and I finally decided, 'Okay, let me do it,' so we did. So there was actually the national limelight on Hopi even on the Jay Leno Show. Some of you have seen that possibly, perhaps. And so the people were wanting to rebuild that credibility, the integrity of the Hopi Tribe. Because after all, we were the most traditional tribe in North America, we're supposed to be the peaceful people and all that. And there was great expectations of that new chairman, whoever that might be, to pick up the pieces and get us back on the road. So I thought that maybe with my education, my experience, and the vigor I had to step up to the plate -- not that I was going to be the solution, but I knew it was going to be very, very tough because all the dynamics that are happening in tribal politics. So that was the situation.

There was a great expectation by the Hopi people of getting this new administration, getting back and regaining the status and the integrity of the tribe. As you all know, Indian politics is cutthroat politics, but I really didn't fully grasp that we've always had this problem of the 'us against them' kind of feeling between the tribal council, the villages and the people, but I didn't realize that it was such a big division there. You also need to know that the Hopi Tribe is composed of 12 traditional villages, autonomous villages, and our constitution says they're self governing villages. So typically in any kind of government, you'll have three separate functions; you'll have the executive, the legislative and the judicial. At Hopi, we also have one important component and those are the villages. And so we've always had that conflict between the IRA [Indian Reorganization Act]-type constitution and our traditional governments. And I admire the brother, the sister tribes of New Mexico -- the Pueblos -- and how they're able to merge and incorporate their traditions in with their modern ways and the religion there, but at Hopi it was quite different.

I didn't also realize that the role of the tribal attorney played quite...it was just so significant and major that perhaps part of the problems we are encountering right now is because that attorney played a real significant role in basically shaping how the council operates and the advice that the attorney gave to the tribal council. And then there's the role of the outside interests and you keep that in mind because we talk about economic development, there are going to be companies out there, corporations out there -- and I think that as the Chairwoman [Karen Diver] talked about is -- that they're going to want that piece of the action. Well, in the case of Hopi, it was even deeper than that and it is even deeper than that and that is they're trying to regulate how you govern. And I'll talk a little bit about that later, but it was just so influential that it almost seemed to be that our council, some of our council members are kind of like puppets to these corporations and to the attorneys. And we talked, and Manley talked a little bit about that self-rule; you call the shots.

We always had our own separation of powers and balance of powers that we had, because one society would oversee the other. For example, I'm Bear Clan. At Hopi [Hopi language], which is the village leader, usually come or do come from the Bear Clan. And we don't go and appoint ourselves to be the village leader. Somebody else in another society picks that person. The One Horn Society picks that person and there is a process, a ceremony and process that then the person is then ordained, is given certain duties and responsibilities by this One Horn Society. And if that person is not functioning according to what they had prescribed to him, they will bring him down to the kiva and basically have like a performance evaluation, tell him this is how he's supposed to be. And that leader is supposed to be a humble leader. And there's a story that goes the Creator or at least the keeper of this world has this...gave this -- Joan's [Hopi language] said that he gave the people a planting stick and a bag of seeds. That's all that he gave them. What does that mean? Those are really powerful words that you go and you have to live a simple life. You can survive by what I gave you, the know-how. So that's the...and then we have certain other societies at Hopi, the kiva chiefs and so on. Their names are appointed or designated in a traditional process.

The IRA constitution was something very, very outside of our normal process and today, even today we are having problems with that. In my experience as chairman, if there's a final analysis of my experience as chairman, it would be, one of them would be the constitution and the form of government that we have, in which we have to incorporate our cultural, tribal values into those principles, in those provisions in our constitution. And I guess...so where we're at with what happened is if you don't have this balance, and if you have leaders that are sitting on the council don't have that appreciation and the need to be truly self-governing and to be truly looking out for tribal members and the long-term vision of Hopi, of the tribe, you're going to have an ineffective government. And you're also going to see how it impacts the traditional side, and it has, because the role of the [Hopi language] has been compromised, because he's supposed to be a sacred person, a religious person. Well, he's now...he has now been brought into the political circle and is appointing tribal council members to the council, which is not his responsibility and the constitution does not provide for that. And it's now filtered into the kivas, into the ceremonies and so on, where we now have conflicts and so on. It has broken apart or at least [caused] some conflicts within families and so on. And so that's really unfortunate. But those are the kinds of things that are happening.

Where is Hopi now? I think we're in a transition. We have to look at now what, who we are and where we need to be. We're at a kind of a transition happening or needs to happen from this form of IRA-type constitution that we've been living with since 1936 -- that's when the tribe adopted the constitution -- up [until] today. And look at the experiences that we gained, we've lived through and be able to fix that, so that it can be more meaningful to us in how we can operate, because I think that that's one of the real -- the things that I know that the Udall Foundation talks about and the [Harvard University] Kennedy School of Government which I've worked with before, helped out in certain projects -- is that we need to fix our institutions. We need to really look at what is our institution that we would govern ourselves, our constitutions, our codes and so on? We have to take a look at that and make sure that it's meaningful to us in how we are as a tribe. Not every tribe is the same. Therefore the IRA was this cookie-cutter thing that didn't work. It perhaps served the purposes for the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs], but it certainly created a lot of problems for tribes. So it all goes back down to governance and that's what Manley talked about. We have to fix our constitution, our institutions, so that it goes back to how we govern ourselves. What happens at Hopi and the lessons that we learned from this experience is going to define our future, and I think that's what we need to be looking at and how we need to be looking at this unfortunate situation.

The importance of separation of powers -- and I have a case study later on -- but separation of powers is this political doctrine that says that the executive, the legislative and the judicial branches of the government are supposed to be kept distinct to prevent abuse of power. So that is why it's so important that as I try to explain to you that in our traditional way there is no, there was no abuse of power because we had our checks and balances, we had this society looking over that society and we had a village chief [Hopi language] that's supposed to be a humble religious man and didn't go out and expound on what he has accomplished and so on, but a very simple man. That was his role. I guess I'll get to the case study at the end.

Basically we have learned -- if there's any one accomplishment in my administration -- we have basically learned that there is some deep, deep problems in our government and that we can learn from that and that we can shape our future from those lessons learned. In a typical democracy, the central institutions for interpreting and creating laws that are the three branches of the government, the impartial judiciary -- and you'll see what happened at Hopi -- a democratic legislature -- those are real good things, right? -- and an accountable executive. Those are kind of the principles that we have with the separation of powers and there should be a system of checks and balances, but you will see that all that went by the wayside.

The other thing is that it's so important on the rule of law that the rule of law is there. It is the most basic, in its most basic sense, the rule of law is a system that attempts to protect the rights of the citizens from arbitrary and abusive use of governmental power. I brought lawsuits after lawsuit against the tribal council. I won every case. On appeal also, I won those. But you know what, so what? They didn't care. So that's why it's really important that the rule of law needs to be complied with, because it's supposed to apply to everybody. No one is above the law.

The role of the tribal courts; it is so important. That to me is the most fundamental or the core of our sovereignty is to be able to have a court system that can interpret your laws and settle these controversies because if you have a tribal court system that is so corrupt and compromised, you're not... just basically your sovereignty is going to be wasted. And so fortunately at Hopi we had a great court system and that's continuing on. I think back in 350 B.C., Aristotle said, 'The rule of law is better than the rule of any individual,' and that's true. It's really important that you have a good court system that makes the right decisions or interprets your tribal laws the right way and make sure that the tribal council, everybody in your tribal government, complies with it. And I think that that's, to me, is the most important thing. And even though we have those decisions our people are still not complying with it. I just want to also quote that President [Barack] Obama said back when he had just gotten elected, he said, 'Transparency and the rule of law will be the touch tones of this administration.'

The other things that I think that I probably should have really honed, boned up on, is parliamentary procedures. It is so important. When you're chairman, when you're presiding over a council meeting -- you can picture this -- 22 council members all hate you, most of them hate you. And there's tribal members out there, they're probably supporting you, but they basically, they can't really say much. And these people are going to have what I call parliamentary trickery. They have an agenda and they're going to do whatever they can to trick you, parliamentary trickery. And so it is important, and you are in charge, you are in charge, know your rules. You have meeting rules, study them. Robert's Rules are only guides, but there are some good things in there that you can use. Robert's Rules are meant to protect the minority. You saw what happened on CNN just a few days ago. All these parliamentary procedures, effective use of them, and the Speaker of the House or the presiding officer right there just controlling the process as it goes through. I wish every tribal council meeting could be conducted that way so that we have some fairness. It is so...I don't know how many of you have presided over council meetings, but you have to look at body language. That person is doing some signs or they may just really hate what you said or they're sending notes or maybe nowadays texting back and forth. But you have to be so aware of all of those. So parliamentary procedures is so really important.

The art of conducting meetings, understanding group dynamics; you look at where they come from, what village they come from. At Hopi, everybody's related or maybe in Indian Country everybody's related. I'm Bear Clan and in our culture I'm a parent or father to everybody, even you. You're my children. So you have to keep those in perspective. Anticipate what the other side's going to do. Learn how to be able to strategize. Okay, this person has this objective or this person has this agenda and so on. Talk to them, say what you're proposing is going to be good for them and then maybe try to convince them. What I usually do is I have little meetings before the upcoming council meetings and try and get support. Have a legislative strategy, have a legislative agenda and that way you're not all over the place. You talk about strategic planning, that's part of it. And the chairman just said here, was it planning to plan or lack of planning is planning for failure.

I'm going to jump to some of the other things. Some of the lessons learned from this is that there is significant influence from the outside. You have to know who you're dealing with, hope America is out there. You've got your natural resources, you've got your oil, you've got gas, coal, water, land, now solar, and everybody's going to want that and they'll do whatever they can to get that, even through the state legislature or federal legislation and that's what we have at Hopi. Water rights -- it is so important to be able to have your water rights and be able to say, 'This is mine,' because it's going to be leverage you're going to use in negotiations. At Hopi, some of you know about the Peabody Coal, our vast coal resources. Our neighbors from Navajo, probably the country's richest coal deposits -- the highest quality, the low sulfur coal, very little what they call 'the cover.' So it's easily accessible for open-pit mining. Well, we are at the...we hold the cards to energy production in Arizona, California and Nevada. And so the State of Arizona plays a big role, the state governor plays a big role, Salt River Project plays a big role, the owners of the Navajo generating station play a big role including...that goes into California. The federal government, Office of Surface Mining, Minerals Mining and Bureau of Reclamation, the State of California, State of Nevada and the Navajo Nation. Know who you're dealing with and it always goes back to...some of you heard about this term economic sovereignty. What does that mean to you? It goes back to what Manley says, be able to call the shots. Talk about and protect that sovereignty but be able to say, 'This is my resource, this is my water, this is my coal, I'm going to make the decisions.' Don't let somebody else make those decisions for you.

We just recently won a major lawsuit against the Office of Surface Mining. Not as the tribe, we as the citizens. After I left office, we filed suit against the Office of Surface Mining for this life-of-mine permit that they were going to give Peabody Coal Company. The life-of-mine permit, because they were burning about 8.5 million tons of coal up in Navajo generating station, and the coal deposits were close to 800 million tons or a little over that, so that means Peabody would have access to our coal for over 100 years. That basically says to us, 'You're not going to have any kind of diversified economy, you're not going to be able to set and regulate the prices, you're not going to be able to determine how that coal is going to be mined and what's going to be manufactured from that,' and all of that. Well, Navajo was able to tax and back in 2005 figures were able to collect $20 million a year from Peabody Coal, the State of Arizona did the same, but Hopi did not. They didn't have an ordinance so we were getting no dollars. Part of economic sovereignty is going to be able to say, tax.

The other things is everything is a process, you have to go through the process and make sure that...sometimes you have to walk away from some of the battles. Choose your battles, but never lose sight of the big war that you're going to be fighting and the big picture. Be futuristic, look at the longer, some people say seven generations. Be visionary and think holistically, think and look at the big picture. And be very strategic, because if you're not strategic, a lot of things are going to or you're going to be doing things independently on your own. Take charge, you're the top elected official, but also exercise your responsibility, your authority responsibly and in the Indian way have respect, [Hopi language], for everybody.

One of the things that I think really, the teachings I had in my upbringing is what really kind of helped me survive is having a really solid foundation as a Hopi person. But my work is not done; it will continue. One more comment before I quit. In the Hopi way, our knowledge, our philosophy about a leader, a [Hopi language], is his path is like a sharp blade of a knife and you walk that real fine line; it's really sharp. If you veer one way, you're going to get hurt, you're going to get cut; if you veer the other way, the same thing. So as you're walking down that fine line, that path, you look back and make sure that your children are still following you, your people are still following you. If they are still following you, you're on the right path. But if you look back and your children are fighting and they're not there, then you have to assess yourself. 'What is wrong? Do I need to correct myself? Do I need to do certain things, or do I need to step down?' That is the teachings we have in Hopi and it goes back to management and leader, and that is you cannot -- the chairman here just talked about that -- you cannot take sides. You have to look at the big picture. So that concludes my statement, and if you want to take a look at my case study, come here at lunch time and I'll have more time to talk to you about it. [Hopi language]."

Darrin Old Coyote: Reforming the Apsaalooke (Crow) Nation's Governing System: What Did We Do and Why Did We Do It?

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Vice Secretary Darrin Old Coyote of the Crow Tribe's Executive Branch provides a brief history of the Crow Tribe's governance system, and explains the factors that prompted the Tribe to abandon its governance system in 2001 and replace it with a new constitution and system of government entirely of their own making.

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

Resource Type
Citation

Old Coyote, Darrin. "Reforming the Apsaalooke (Crow) Nation's Governing System: What Did We Do and Why Did We Do It?" Remaking Indigenous Governance Systems seminar. Archibald Bush Foundation and the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Prior Lake, Minnesota. May 2, 2011. Presentation.

"Good morning to all of you. My name's Darrin Old Coyote; I'm from the Crow Tribe. I'm glad to be here. I did a presentation at Harvard University for nation building on this same subject, and I'm fortunate to be asked to do this again. But I'm going to go through kind of a history of our government from the traditional form of government to the government we have today.

Reforming our nation's governing system -- and this is a quote that I used, ‘A constitution is a living, breathing entity of your government.' And today the question that brings all of us to this one location is government reform. Ask yourselves two simple questions to see if you need a constitutional reform. And this is the questions that we as a tribe, there was a group of us, asked: Is the current system working for us today or is it outdated? And does our current governing system reflect our unique tribal culture? And then we started from there. Getting started on reforming your government system, three main points: historical review of your government from pre-reservation to present day, and then establish lists of what is working and what isn't working in your current and past governing systems; set realistic goals for your government as a whole. And then -- this was the study I did -- the traditional form of government that we had as the Crow Nation.

There was a time when little boys would go with the warriors on war parties and they would call them Ichkaate or Warrior's Helper. And these Warrior Helpers would go on raids and warfare and then they became warriors. They were trained to become warriors. And then some, one that could run far, had great stamina would become scouts. And then scouts, they had scout leaders. And then your prowess as a warrior, they started offering pipes to the greatest warrior of the tribe and then these pipe carriers would then take war parties out. And then one would have to attain four deeds to become a chief: one was to strike an enemy in battle; two was to take an enemy's weapon in battle; three was to take a prize horse from the enemy; and four was to lead a successful war party. And then you became Baacheeitche, which is the term that we use for 'Good Man,' for the chief. And among the chiefs they would select 'Owner of the Camp' -- Aash Aahkee -- and he was the principal chief of the tribe. This was their way of...the people would choose their leaders that they would follow. After they would...if a man who had counted the four chiefly war deeds displayed outstanding qualities -- including generosity, kindness, fortitude, wisdom, and dependability -- then the people would naturally follow this man. And they would make public declarations about their choices. They say, ‘On this day, I'm going to follow this chief. On this day, I'm going to follow this chief.' Choosing a leader meant that the camp would not only be fortunate, but live well without threat from enemies and locating food -- and survival was kind of the main focus for the tribe at the time.

And it was a representative form of government; chiefs, band chiefs, and owner of the camp were the only ones to talk and vote on council. And the highest-ranking chief would convene the council and they would use tally sticks as ballots. And every time an issue came up, they would smoke the pipe and it would be lit by the man sitting to the right of the highest-ranking chief; the man sitting to the east and the south would speak first. And this was referred to as 'Smoke Talk' or Apsáalooke Ooppiilaau -- 'Crows Smoke Talking.' And that was our form of government -- the council.

The pipe was used to guarantee that individuals would speak with no interference. There was no interference from anybody and that individual would speak. And whatever he said, he was to tell the truth. And then they would pass the pipe over; they would discuss the issue. And the pipe was held in high reverence by the Apsáalooke; once lit, no one would talk except the one with the pipe. And then while each chief spoke, the person leading the discussion would place the ballots as represented by the tally sticks, either for the issue or against it. And they would place these tally sticks and at the end of the discussion all the chiefs would what they needed to say on this issue. And then they would take the majority of those sticks and say, the ones in the majority, they would say, '[Crow language].' They'd say, ‘The majority has ruled. This is what we're going to do.' And then one person didn't make all the decisions. And then all the chiefs would collectively decide on what the next steps would be on that issue.

And then there came a time when there was no longer need for intertribal warfare. There was no need for chiefs; intertribal warfare ended. Our last traditional chief was Plenty Coups, who passed away in 1932. And after the death of Plenty Coups, there were groups among the Crow that the U.S. government would consult with on Crow issues. They would just hand pick. They'd say, ‘You.' They'd see a person that had respectability among the tribe and they would pick that person. They'd say, ‘You can represent the Crow today.' And it was that way for years. And so these individuals gained...they're more for themselves than for the tribe. These individuals would go out and say, ‘I'm the leader of the Crow.' And anybody was a leader because the way we chose leaders back then was by those four deeds that they would attain to become the chief, to become the leader of the tribe, and they were well-respected. Even the term that we use today for chief is 'Good Man,' Baacheeitche, because they provided for the tribe, they looked out for the tribe. And whenever that person, that chief, was in the presence of the people there was respect. And now, the last traditional chief of Crow passed away and people were saying, ‘I want this piece of land,' and they're going off on their own and they would delegate groups from different districts.

Around this time from 1932 to 1948, we lost a lot of the land. We lost a lot of our...like our...I don't know if any of you know where Bozeman, Montana is. That was our first Crow agency and then the second agency was just west of Billings and then today we're at the third agency -- 30 million acres and today we have 2 million acres. Around that time we lost a lot of prime land. Today you see Paradise Valley; all the movie stars live there. I think Ted Turner lives right outside of Bozeman, Flying D Ranch -- largest landowner, private landowner. But that was Crow land. Because of all the chaos there was loss of a lot of land. And then in 1948, there [were] students that were coming back from Carlisle boarding school.

And then the Crow adopted a constitution at the time. U.S. government initiated an IRA (Indian Reorganization Act) asking all tribes to establish tribal business councils. But the Crow adopted their own form of government because they were a treaty tribe -- they didn't adhere to. They weren't a tribe that was placed there by executive order or presidential proclamation. They were a treaty tribe. And they adopted their own form of government, utilizing a council-type form of government to conduct tribal business because that's the way we conducted business was council-type. Every chief had a say in what was going on. And so instead of having leaders, they had every individual 18 and older -- Crow tribal members -- and they would elect four officials every two years. And then they would have councils every three months. And there was chaos. Every three months all the business of the tribe was voted on, discussed, in one day. And it came to a point where, in 1990, there was a chairman elected who stayed in power for ten years, being elected every two years with supreme powers. There was a resolution that gave authority over the tribal judge, the tribal police, kind of a dictator controlling the whole system. We were kind of a...and there was no term limits. And councils were held every three months: January, April, July and October on the first Saturday. And this was the only time business would be discussed on and voted on. And there was no continuity or stability.

There was a time when, I remember I must've been an eighth grader. I went to a council. My mom was the recorder for the council. She was taking minutes and so we would have to be there early. And in the back room, the tribal chairman and all of his staff, they would sit there and they would say, 'This is what we're going to do today.' They would line out which agenda they wanted to pass and which agenda they wanted to not discuss that day. And this was how the council was run. The chairman would sit up there and say, ‘I call this council to order.' And they would say, ‘Division of the house'; they would ask for division of the house to establish numbers. And so there'd be six individuals sitting right in front of the chairman and they would have, to establish numbers, they would have...a hundred was a quorum. A hundred tribal members was a quorum for the council. And so they'd be, they'd say, ‘All those people that are for the chairman's agenda, line up.' And they would run them through the line. Every tenth person they'd stop them and tally ten. ‘Alright, ten more.' And this is how they established numbers. And they'd say, ‘All those ones that were against the chairman's agenda, go through the line.' And the chairman would be standing there and he knew who was going against his issues. If there was a director, he knew. If there was a tribal employee...it got to the point where a lot of people didn't know what they were voting on. A lot of people were voting because they wanted leases for their cattle, they wanted tribal loans to buy a car, and there was a lot of vote buying. And the chairman would sit there and he would know who's going against him and who was for him. And they'd say, ‘On this issue...' and a lot of people didn't know what they were voting on but they'd say, ‘Let's go!' and they're all herded like cattle going through the line.

And then elections were held every two years; vote buying was the norm for every chairman ever elected since 1948. Every time a council was coming up, they would buy votes to pass their agenda or agendas; there's no self-sufficiency or business ventures pursued. So let's say a business deal would come to the Crow Tribe and they want to come by. We have nine billion tons of coal at Crow. A company would come and say, ‘We want to partner with you to produce a coal mine.' They'd say, ‘Next council, we'll vote on it.' And from the time the company got there, to the time the tribe voted, individuals would go to that company and say, ‘Give us money. We'll see that it passes,' under the table deals. And this happened since 1948. And then in 1999 a handful of young men consist...we met every night, almost every night, and talked about the problems with our government and discussed ways of reforming the government. It was election year and the majority of Crows wanted change. They were tired of this 10-year reign of dictatorship. It happened before but nobody paid attention. And then we visited with chairman candidates and discussed change but none wanted to deliver.

Change in our government system: young men went to the districts to hold hearings and gain support from the people to change the government system. The support from the Crows who wanted change was so great that chairman candidates were coming and wanting support from our group. And this group was all young people. One strong candidate with much support from the beginning impressed the group so much so that they supported the candidate and he was elected by a large majority to win the election in 2000. And the newly elected chairman promised change and he delivered in 2001. After much review and many discussions of the old '48 document and the traditional form of government, there was a provision in the '48 Constitution allowing the council to amend the constitution from time to time as needed. At a January 2001 council, the majority voted to amend the 1948 Constitution. The amendments were then written into a new document, which was then voted on in secret ballot; majority voted in favor of the new constitution in December 2001. The Secretary of Interior acknowledged the new document as the governing system of the Apsáalooke Nation.

And now we have a three-branch form of government. Chairman, vice chairman, secretary and vice secretary elected every four years starting in 2004. The legislative branch, 18 representatives -- three from each of the six districts -- are elected every four years -- staggered terms for two reps, then one rep elected two years later -- all serving four-year terms. We have one chief judge; two associates judges elected every four years. The executive branch duties is to implement and enforce all laws, resolutions, codes and policies duly adopted by the legislative branch; represent the Crow Tribe in negotiation with federal, state and local governments. The legislative branch duty is to promulgate and adopt laws, resolutions, ordinances, codes, regulations and guidelines in accordance with this constitution. The judicial branch shall have jurisdiction over all matters defined in the Crow law and order code. Stability was achieved with this 2001 Apsáalooke/Crow Nation -- constitution. There is more stability. Continuity was achieved. Business could be conducted in a more timely manner. All issues pertaining to the Crow tribe could now be discussed and reviewed before being voted on. Separation of powers along with checks and balances is now in place. Majority rule is instrumental on all decisions made by the Apsáalooke Nation.

And today, the constitution that we have, Department of Interior acknowledged it. We didn't have them approve it. We didn't have them say, ‘That's the document to use.' We said, acknowledged this as our constitution. And today every business that we do, it doesn't have to be approved by the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs], it doesn't have to go through all the red tape, bureaucratic red tape. But today we have an LLC [limited liability corporation], probably the first tribe to have a limited liability company to bring business in. We have a work first protection act that we passed, which strengthens TERO [Tribal Employments Rights Office]. We have more of...there's more businesses coming to the tribe. There's more tribes coming, more businesses coming to the Crow, because there's more stability, continuity. And so that's our constitution from traditional form of government to the one we have today -- 2001. (I saw a sign over there that said stop so I have to stop.)