citizen engagement

Cherokee Nation '99 Constitution Incorporated Older Ideas

Producer
Tahlequah Daily Press
Year

Before the Cherokee Nation 1999 Constitution was ratified by voters in 2003 and recognized by the federal government in 2006, the tribe was governed under different laws that required extensive input and oversight by Cherokees when they decided to rewrite the document in 1995.

Under the 1975 Constitution, the tribe was required to ask its citizens in 20 years whether the law should be amended, edited, or reworked through a constitutional convention. After it was overwhelmingly endorsed by CN citizens, the tribe created the Constitution Convention Commission in 1998 to discern what changes should be made.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Crawford, Grant D. "CN '99 Constitution Incorporated Older Ideas". Sept. 8, 2019. Tahlequah Daily Press. Retrieved from https://www.tahlequahdailypress.com/news/cn-99...

Why citizen engagement and assessment matter to developing a tribal workforce

Year

Distilling lessons learned from that endeavor, PTG identified 15 strategic considerations that tribal leaders, workforce development staff, and other decision-makers must tackle as they craft workforce development approaches capable of achieving their definition of what “success” looks like for tribal citizens and the nation as a whole. These mission critical aspects of workforce development have a direct bearing on the ability of tribal workforce development approaches to make a transformative, sustainable difference. The following explores two of those considerations: citizen engagement and assessment.

Resource Type
Topics
Citation

NCAI PTG. 2018."Why citizen engagement and assessment matter to developing a tribal workforce." Indian Country Today. August 28, 2018. https://newsmaven.io/indiancountrytoday/opinion/why-citizen-engagement-…

Native Civics: Commitment to Community

Producer
Produced in partnership with TPT-Twin Cities PBS and producer/director Missy Whiteman
Year

Native nations are building a future for their communities with the foundation of tribal knowledge and alliances. Civic engagement is both an individual and collective effort. Produced in partnership with Twin Cities PBS and producer/director Missy Whiteman. Special thanks to Dr. Twyla Baker and Levi Brown.

Resource Type
Topics
Citation

Native Governance Center. 2018. "Native Civics: Commitment to Community." Produced in partnership with TPT-Twin Cities PBS and producer/director Missy Whiteman. St. Paul, Minnesota. Video. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ivXrzsS_Cno&t=11s, accessed November 14, 2018)

Residence, Community Engagement, and Citizenship: How do non-resident tribal citizens connect with Native nations?

Year

The research draws from an online survey targeted primarily at younger tribal citizens living away from tribal lands; this project provides preliminary insight into 1) non-resident citizens' engagement with their tribes, and 2) the ways tribes might connect more effectively with non-resident citizens, should they choose to do so.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Schultz, Jennifer Lee, Stephanie Carroll Rainie, and Rachel Rose Starks. Residence, Community Engagement, and Citizenship: How do non-resident tribal citizens connect with Native nations? Connecting Across Distance & Difference: Tribal Citizenship in a New Era. The NCAI Policy Research Center Tribal Leader/Scholar Forum. National Congress of American Indians Mid Year Conference. St. Paul, Minnesota. June 30, 2015. Paper.

Project Pueblo: Economic Development Revitalization Project

Year

A strong economy is one of the foundations of a healthy community. Native nations use business profits and tax revenues to invest in areas such as health, education, culture, and public safety programs to meet the needs of tribal citizens. At the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, a sudden economic decline in the early 2000s forced the nation to re-examine the way in which business was being conducted on the reservation. The tribal government responded by launching Project Pueblo, a full-scale planning initiative that took a hard look at all aspects of their economy and government to find a new path forward.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

"Project Pueblo: Economic Development Revitalization Project." Honoring Nations: 2010 Honoree. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 2011. Report.

Citizen Potawatomi Nation Constitutional Reform

Year

Tribal governments across the United States work tirelessly to provide their citizens with effective systems of governance. After years of failed assimilation attempts, the federal government imposed blanket political systems upon almost all tribes regardless of those systems’ effectiveness or cultural suitability. Given such misdirection, it is little wonder that many tribal governments find it difficult to meet the demands of the 21st century now that they have greater business dealings, substantial legal jurisdiction, more control over service delivery to tribal citizens, and increasingly mobile populations. In response to these pressures, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation of Oklahoma began a radical constitutional reform process designed to make its government more responsive, stable, and predictable. The task was daunting. The Dust Bowl of the 1930s and the following decades saw the nation’s citizens scatter to all parts of the United States. The desire to reach out to and involve every citizen has now created a unique tribal legislature, with simulcast meetings and participation from across the country. These political changes are vitally linked to strengthening the nation’s identity, developing the nation’s economy, and celebrating the nation’s culture.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

"Citizen Potawatomi Nation Constitutional Reform." Honoring Nations: 2010 Honoree. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 2011. Report.

Per Capita Distributions of American Indian Tribal Revenues: A Preliminary Discussion of Policy Considerations

Year

This paper examines policy considerations relevant to per capita distributions of tribal revenues. It offers Native nation leaders and citizens food for thought as they consider whether or not to issue per capita payments and, if they choose to do so, how to structure the distribution of funds and make that distribution serve tribal goals. We describe this as a "preliminary discussion" because it represents only the first stage of an ongoing research project examining tribal per capita distribution policies and their effects.

Resource Type
Citation

Cornell, Stephen, Miriam Jorgensen, Stephanie Carroll Rainie, Ian Record, Ryan Seelau, Rachel Rose Starks. "Per Capita Distributions of American Indian Tribal Revenues: A Preliminary Discussion of Policy Considerations." Published for the 2007 National Congress of the American Indians Annual Convention. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy, The University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. November 2007. Paper.

Eileen Briggs: The Importance of Data and Community Engagement

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Eileen Briggs is a citizen of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and is the Executive Director of Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Ventures. She is also the Principal Investigator on "Cheyenne River Voices Research" — a reservation-wide research project including a household survey of over 800 families that has created a historic set of baseline data for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and others serving the reservation population. In collaboration with researchers at NNI, Eileen is creating a series of papers on Tribal Data Sovereignty & Governance.

People
Resource Type
Citation

Eileen Briggs, "The Importance of Data and Community Engagement," Interview, Leading Native Nations interview series, Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ,  March 03, 2015

Verónica Hirsch:

"Welcome to Leading Native Nations. I'm your host Verónica Hirsch. On today's program we are honored to have with us Eileen Briggs. Eileen is a citizen of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and currently serves as the Executive Director of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Ventures Program in Eagle Butte, South Dakota. Eileen is also certified as an economic development finance professional, is President of the tribally owned energy corporation and is a small business owner. Eileen, welcome. Good to have you with us today. I've shared a little bit about who you are but why don't you start by telling us a bit more about yourself. What did I leave out?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Well, I grew up on the reservation. I lived my young life there and then moved away and got some great experience living in other states working with other tribes in Wisconsin and Minnesota and then back in South Dakota working with other Lakota tribes in the region and it's just...it's great to be back working for my tribe, for my people and I think that I have been very fortunate to along my journey to have a lot of tools in my toolbox added as I've went along and to be able to bring them back home and gain so many more. So I just...I live there in the Eagle Butte community, our tribal headquarters and make my home there with my extended family."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. Eileen, could you please describe the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Ventures Program? What prompted its creation and what brought about the partnership with the Northwest Area Foundation?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Well, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Ventures Project is really the kind of project that I think a lot of our reservation communities sort of are in a way working towards without that kind of a title and for us it's really a larger strategic planning process that came to us through our partnership with the Northwest Area Foundation. And it's a project that's focused on poverty reduction and of course in Indian communities, our communities in particular we have very high rates of poverty for the nation and so we really had this opportunity with the 10 year poverty reduction plan to look at poverty and to stand around it together and determine what strategies and initiatives that we think would make an impact. And so what brought it about was the opportunity that the Northwest Area Foundation was bringing to the region that they serve and the Northwest Area Foundation selected Cheyenne River along with two other tribal communities in this round that we were invited in 2003 to participate in. And so we went through a process of strategic planning with an investment from the Northwest Area Foundation. That process was phenomenal in and of itself to give our reservation leadership, community members and organizations across the reservation a chance to talk to one another and to develop a strategic effort to address poverty."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. Can you please describe what the Tribal Ventures Project's purpose is?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Our purpose is specifically focused on this 10 year effort that began in 2006 to address poverty on the reservation and implement the strategies that came from the people and that the tribal council ultimately endorsed and made the focus of the plan and our efforts for the next 10 years. So our work and the mission of Tribal Ventures is to implement that plan, to take the ideas and make them into reality, to try them out. Some of them were brand new things that never existed on the reservation. All of the projects are focused on long term results and impact for our communities and were projects that weren't there on the reservation before. And it's really given us a chance to look at the kinds of ideas that came from the people and the kind of responses and designs that we would want to create for our own people."

Verónica Hirsch:

"You mentioned how the people really helped direct the Tribal Ventures Project strategies and focus. How were their opinions and their insights solicited and the incorporated into the project?"

Eileen Briggs:

"It was a very intense and really rewarding...I was able to be a part of that rewarding experience and a very focused engagement and a focus on inclusiveness. So it was a strategic effort to reach out to all of our communities. We have a very large land base, 2.3 million acres of land. And we have 19 communities on our reservation, small. 20, 25 houses to a larger city of 5,000 to 7,000 people. And we visited each of these communities and visited with our people. We sat with them over kitchen tables, had conversation, posed questions about what did they think poverty meant, talked about what ideas, what were the issues that were facing them. It really was a very...very thoughtful process of 18 months of not only going to the people in the communities and having conversation numerous times but we also engaged with tribal leadership following each round of community meetings and would share the themes that were emerging, have conversation with them and then we would return to the communities and have further conversations as well as meet with tribal organizations and programs of the reservation. And we also realized that our young population of 19 to say 30 were not really engaging in these community meetings and so we made a decision to survey them in a different way and so we conducted what was called the Young Voices Survey and we surveyed 704 young people, men and women throughout our reservation in their communities and in the larger city to get their ideas and thoughts around workforce development, education and future focus for the young people. So it was really a phenomenal process of engagement on numerous occasions over an 18 month period filtering that through systems and ultimately a core group of around 80 people participated in a...I think we were about six weeks of intensive meeting. We met every week for three hours. We had put in thousands of hours of meetings where people would basically distill this sort of idea into a tangible vision and strategic thought around what that program or that initiative would focus on. For instance, there was very much an effort around financial literacy. That wasn't the words that people said. What our people said were things like, "˜Our young people, our kids are getting taken by this money. They're getting taken,' they'd say. Like they would have a car and then they would make payments and then not be able to keep the payments up "˜cause they lost their job or some change had happened and they wanted to turn that car back. Well, obviously it affected their credit but the families were saying, "˜they're getting taken.' Or even if they're getting, they're paying really high interest rates. So we took statements like that and then a core group of people engaged in a process of saying, "˜Well, how would we...what would we design a program around to address that issue?' And that emerged financial literacy and youth development, an individual development account project. So those are the sorts of engagement that we were able to give and bring to our people to really include them in the process of creating this plan."

Verónica Hirsch:

"With the Tribal Venture Project's focus upon citizen engagement, how does that ultimately support or to what extent does that support the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe's nation building efforts?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Well, I think it's a core foundation. I think it...this project was a project of the tribal council, the tribal leadership and very intentionally focused on engaging its citizens in a process of thoughtfulness and ideas and seeing their ideas actually come together in a plan.

I don't think that we were really calling it nation building efforts in any way, shape or form at that time but it really has as I've come to understand the nation building process it really was the kind of project that people felt included obviously. It also was a process that was transparent. It was the kind of project that wasn't...had an intention of trying to rebuild trust with community members from the tribal council and so oftentimes there's sometimes contentious situations or relationships sometimes between the tribal citizens and tribal government in public meetings and these opportunities dissipated that a little bit and demonstrated to ourselves as tribal citizens and us also just within that dynamic of tribal governance and government that things could be done in a good and appropriate way. And we're really proud of our people who participated in this opportunity because they're really...it is very much indicative of our culture to come together as extended families or tiyospaye and speak about and talk about an issue and then be able to take that, send somebody with that information to the tribal leadership or whomever and this was a component of that. And I think as a foundation of our nation and our culture that I think that created a bedrock for the nation building for our people."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. Who led the Tribal Ventures Project development?"

Eileen Briggs:

"The tribal council and the tribal chairman, Harold Frazier at that time, was the lead person to ensure that this happened. He was very much in support and understood the opportunity that was brought to us by the Northwest Area Foundation and he selected a long time tribal administrator and tribal citizen who has worked with many years, her name was Sharon Vogel and she really took on the project as the opportunity of a lifetime really for our people. The chance to...a once in a lifetime opportunity to really go out and talk with our people and have a process. So Sharon Vogel was the project administrator and then I worked as a project researcher and coordinator to help with sort of the logistics and then the development of the plan itself."

Verónica Hirsch:

"To what extent did the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Council, tribal citizens and/or tribal department staff influence the project's development?"

Eileen Briggs:

"I think they were crucial. The tribal council met in with us along with the tribal chairman regularly and we had probably four to seven I think retreats with them where we would basically walk through the input that was coming from the people and then get their feedback and then as things got more refined ultimately they would provide input about the design of different programs but also the intent of the initiatives. The same for the program directors. They were all...those that were interested and obviously had a fit with this initiative, any of our workforce development efforts and our education systems, they were engaged to give their input and they were...when I talk about those thousands...thousand hours one July that we worked together on this, many, many people donated their time to be a part of designing the wording for the description for each initiative and strategy area which really is the focus of the effort."

Eileen Briggs:

"I think our tribal constitution sets the bedrock for the way the governance system works and the administration of the tribal efforts work and I think that this constitution provided for the proper oversight of the project. It also provided for just the development of the project. The tribal council was the final say to the plan. We talked about that with our tribal citizens that tribal council would have the final say but they could see where so many of our people's ideas had come into the plan that it wasn't the sort of thing where tribal council was just going to go into a side room and decide how would this investment be utilized. The constitution has a lot of challenges but I really felt like we used the...our respect for our tribal leadership and our tribal government appropriately throughout this process and I think that that reinforced the leadership and the governance structures that were...that are in place that work really well. But I also think just in general this process was so much really a self-determination type of effort. We were determining ourselves and I don't know if I mentioned this in the previous comments but we ended up with a $9.5 million investment from this Northwest Area Foundation to implement the ideas that came from our people and so this has really been a process that has been a part of trying to engage in a different way, try to self...design our own efforts and work collaboratively. So as far as policy specifically and the kind of constitutional sort of underpinnings, we really used what we had well and I think exercised the sovereignty to do things the way we wanted to do ultimately in the plan. And I just would make a last note that the way the tribal government made the decision about who would govern this project in order to ensure its sustainability and continuity was they determined to create a...delegate an authority board which they as a tribal council could do and they seated one of their tribal council members continuously on the project so they were always engaged fully in the project through their tribal council representative but they seated a board of partners who really focused on ensuring that project's success long term because we had continuity and focus."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. On that aspect of the Tribal Ventures Partnership Board, could you please describe the role of that board?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Well, the board's role was really to ensure that the project was implemented throughout the 10 year project as well as to ensure that we had designed partnership and oversee the funds that...there was of course the accountability of funds but also to ensure that we had an opportunity then policies that were fair and were not...were free of sort of political influence or situation, had some autonomy to make decisions, they were given that. And so I think that their role has been crucial to be able to focus on this and steer this course...keep it on course I should say, to move this project forward and to step back and do the reflecting about what have we learned, what has this process taught us and to have those opportunities together. And I think one of, it's not so much what their role was or their mission but I think you...we saw in our community many of our organizations, tribal organizations and nonprofits sort of sometimes working in silos and not connecting and I think this Tribal Ventures Plan in its...because it was a partnership board was to build the understanding and communication between those entities and organizations so that we can address these issues more collectively."

Verónica Hirsch:

"You mentioned that the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Council created the Tribal Ventures Partnership Board. I would like you to perhaps address what criteria were specified to create the board? You mentioned that a tribal council member remained a permanent part of the board. What other criteria were in place?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Well, there...it's a unique situation. We have a tribal council member as I mentioned. We also have two members of the community that are...well, we have members, I shouldn't say just two. But we have members of the community on the board that are living in poverty that have struggled with some of the challenges related to that. We also have partners that were key entities or stakeholders that were carrying out components of the plan that were actually sitting with the partnership...on the partnership board to help design and continue to ensure this participation. So the criteria included stakeholders as well as tribal leadership and community members."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. Realizing that the board included such a wide range of citizens who had various areas of responsibilities, can you please address how the board's creation ultimately promoted broader citizen inclusion and engagement?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Well, I think that having our community members seated on the board who had the real life experience with the challenges that our families are facing really helped us to always have that lens constantly on everything we were doing from our communications to the approaches that we were taking, the policies that were being implemented and then the kind of broader learnings that we're applying because this challenges around poverty and the struggle day to day around survival make it difficult to sort of be thinking long term so we not only got to kind of because when you're thinking and you've got a project and you're managing something, you're thinking this longer term effort and sometimes it's...sometimes you have a disconnect from the lived experience and when we have these continuous conversations and meetings, and I don't think we're so...any of our families are...when we live on the rez or with our communities we're not so far removed but you can get...you can lose sight of that and I think having that engagement together did support this project's success so far that we've seen that input available but also vice versa. Giving families and our community members that were on the board the opportunity to see a perspective longer range that maybe they wouldn't have had access to. And so when it got to the communities, when we'd do our community meetings, we would very much sort of speak to that perspective because we're rooted in it, we're right next to it, it's our friends and relatives who have informed how we approach talking about these issues, the ways and the methods that we describe, the efforts and the impact and outcomes of our work."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. What institutional support does the Tribal Ventures Project need and have?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Well, I think that we have seen over time, again, we've had a 10 year...we're running towards a 10 year, very close to that timeframe, of institution of the government, the organization, knowing what Tribal Ventures is, that we have a grant from this private foundation, we have these initiatives and I think that we've had a lot of support because people have seen the ideas that came from the people come to life, they have seen real change in their families; people getting their GED, financial education, jobs being created. We've seen the kind of policies and activities that we want to see happening in our communities, some adjustments. Sometimes they don't know that Tribal Ventures is...the investment from Tribal Ventures has helped to make that happen so I think that's one of the things that we do need is more of our story to be told and understood, the sort of what's behind the scenes. But I also think that we are very much accustomed in our tribal communities and we're no different to different federal funding sources or governmental funding and so we sort of get to look like another program–that program. And this has been more than just a program. This is really about a process and a movement towards moving our families forward collectively in a strategic effort and I think that that's a little hard to get your head around because people are just looking, "˜Well, what is your program and what can it do for me or my family or our community,' and when we're dealing with such larger issues, we...I think that's one of the things of the institution's understanding their role, the opportunity of engagement and it's sort of a living, breathing entity or organization. It's a process. I always say, "˜Well, we're not really a program, we're a project,' and it's a project that came from the people and a plan that we're seeing the results of over time."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. I want to return a bit to the role of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Council and its...I believe you mentioned previously that ultimately the tribal council decided what would be really the major focus areas for the Tribal Ventures Project. I'd like to ask what role does the council play in the day to day operation or the day to day governance of the Tribal Ventures Project?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Well, in our day to day operations the tribal government as a whole, the council doesn't play a role specifically. Because they set the Tribal Ventures Partnership Board with delegated authority on their behalf to manage this project for the duration of the funding it's really been able to create a little bit of that autonomy but also the trust and respect. So a number of things happen that do engage with tribal council. One, all of our reports go of course to our Board but they go...the same reports go to the Council and to the Northwest Area Foundation so there's a lot of transparency and communication through myself as the executive director as sort of the conduit of information and sharing but we do have a tribal council member who serves on our board. We've had three different tribal council members serve during the time period that we've been operating and our tribal council member–for instance, when we are drawing money down from our accounts into the operating, they're a signer on that so they do see every time we're drawing down, they know what we're going to use the money for so we have that accountability and transparency as far as this isn't just running its own program over there. Tribal council has some awareness and knowledge of course through...that tribal council member knows the detail of the activities and the goals and the intentions for that year and then now with this funding source. So we have some of that accountability that I see that they are involved in day to day through that tribal council representative."

Eileen Briggs:

"I think what we've needed for... I think that we've needed for the last seven or eight years is the opportunity to try these new ideas out, sort of the trust. We've needed the trust, we've needed the encouragement and the...I guess we have some level of autonomy but the understanding of what Tribal Venture's role is, what our project is and to let us do what we said we would do without distracting from that work. And we've had that and I think that that has been very remarkable. And we look for...as we look forward I think the work is really about what we need, it's really about again more conversation collectively in order for us to determine now what will we...what have we learned from this 10 years of poverty reduction efforts, what have we learned about ourselves, about our families and what direction does it give us about a future that we need to create and the kind of strategic thinking that is useful for our people. And I guess the last thing I would say about that is that I think that we have shown that strategic thinking has really been beneficial and so now the challenge is you have a different council, a different group of people so it's continuous education and conversation about what this project's intention was and what we've learned from it and then are we ready to do more strategic planning."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. What efforts have been undertaken to educate the tribal council regarding their roles and responsibilities to the Tribal Ventures Project?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Well, it's been an effort that I've taken on each new election that we have. We have staggered terms every four years so every two years I have...sometimes can have a set of new elected officials so I meet with the tribal elected officials and give them an orientation independently, just sort of walk them through what we...our purpose is, what our outcomes have been and what we intend to do. And then understand that this is a grant from the Northwest Area Foundation and that we have our responsibilities through a memorandum of agreement with them and so we just really clarify the roles of everyone very early on in their election being seated, after being elected. And the other roles that we've done is really helping as each tribal...new tribal elected chairman...we've had...this is...Harold Frazier is the chairman again so we've had technically three different chairmen in the time that we've worked this project and so again just my relationship with whomever is elected, respecting their leadership role, giving them as much information as I can so they know where we're at and just that process of seeing what we've learned. And so we do meet with them annually, the Tribal Ventures Board and the Tribal Council itself. We have a retreat and discuss this year's efforts and again our goals for the next year."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Regarding the annual meeting with the Tribal Council and the Tribal Ventures Partnership Board, how effective have those meetings been? Have...has there ever been discussion or suggestions regarding to how... Has there been discussion or suggestions regarding how to increase the efficacy of those annual meetings?"

Eileen Briggs:

"We've had these annual meetings... We've had annual meetings both on the reservation and off the reservation for Tribal Ventures Board and the Tribal Council to have conversation and my estimation of them they're very effective. Tribal council oftentimes are obviously meeting in official sessions and they don't often get to have sort of larger I would say conversations around the larger issues and just their own space to have conversations collectively. So I think we've created a space for that through the annual meetings or the project...the retreats with the council. I also think that it's given some insights to the efforts of nonprofit organizations and the role that they play in the community. It's helped to educate one another around the kind of collective efforts that we're doing. There are...there's...obviously we all work in our own little world and I think it's raised the awareness of each other's responsibilities, particularly around the kind of program deliverables and the kind of accountability that we all have and I think that that's made it really effective. And as far as feedback about when they want them, tribal council members say, "˜We need to have more of these,' so they're very interested in those. The other piece of that is really trying to have it go beyond just a presentation of outcomes and impacts but really create the space for the kind of dialogue and conversation about what are our core issues, what directions are we going and build relationships to move that way. We don't always have 100 percent participation from council but we've had I would 60 to 75 percent participation nearly every time."

Verónica Hirsch:

"What do you suggest could be done to maybe increase that participation level?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Well, we do find that if we have...it's sort of a 50/50 opportunity. If you have the retreat or the meeting on the reservation you may end up with more participation but there's sort of a distraction that happens with daily life and situations and so it's hard to stay focused. We do have council members who do not travel so I think that that's sort of our...we might have more participation if we kept...are able to keep it closer to home and been able to create that environment for focus."

Verónica Hirsch:

"What strategies have been used to engage and educate Cheyenne River Sioux citizens about the Tribal Ventures Project's process, where it is right now?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Well, we've used a number of different techniques. One.. Of course we've done a newsletter that has sort of summarized each project and given little tidbits of information. We actually hosted a radio show on our local community radio station regularly on...and it was not only just about Tribal Ventures but it was about the...looking to the future and projects that were happening on the reservation so we brought in other entities. So I think that in and of itself showed our people an opportunity to communicate about the efforts and progress of Tribal Ventures in conjunction with other progress and efforts that were happening on the reservation. So those two mechanisms through communication I think have been key. And then we've been very diligent about our communication with tribal communities that we visited in the first place. So we return to communities on an annual basis to do sort of an updates, give a report to the community so we'd give a presentation, we'd have different participants and different initiatives speak about their experience and what they got from that. Then we also held...periodically we would host a large community celebration. Again, in our culture and our way we realized that this was a gift that came to the Cheyenne River people and this...for this gift we give thanks and so we would have an annual...not annual but about every three or four years we'd give a [Lakota language] which is Thanksgiving gathering. So we would feed the people and have a celebration and at those events we sort of would do the reflecting back again of sharing about what the progress has been. So that sort of 800 people coming to a gathering is one example. And then also very small events and programs where we would present to programmed officers and departments again about what our efforts have been. And timely, trying to find places where there might be a natural intersect. And as we've come towards...we're coming towards the end, we're not completely finished with our project, recently we've used two specific tools. One has been again the community meetings so I just finished 45 presentations throughout the communities in about three months and with that we actually used videos. We designed and created these videos that helped tell the story of the strategic areas of economic, community and individual development of the plan as well as our Voices project and then the overall impact and outcome of Tribal Ventures. So these short four minute videos have been phenomenal where we've been able to interview participants, people have been able to see their relatives and see different components and parts of the reservation benefit from the efforts of the Tribal Ventures plan and I think that has been really helpful and we are seeing some momentum here for people feeling positive about the work that was done not just for Tribal Ventures but really proud of our own people for the steps that they've taken to take this path that Tribal Ventures has created for people."

Verónica Hirsch:

"You mentioned several means of engaging and updating the community on the status of the Tribal Ventures Project including the newsletter, radio broadcasts, community meetings where videos were features, the [Lakota language]. Were these various methods...were they part of a larger citizen education plan?"

Eileen Briggs:

"No. I think we were...we were looking at I think as much as it formed was our commitment to the respect we gave to our community members who gave us so many ideas in the beginning of the effort and tribal leadership and it was that continuous I guess the continued commitment to their voice and their ideas that came from the people and the respect for them that we of course needed to bring that back to them because this came from them. This came from the people so this needed to return in a good way to give them the updates, let them know what's happening and I believe that when people saw the plan when it was written that they could see themselves, they could see their families. They actually saw their quotes. We had quotes from people in there. Maybe not identified but people could see themselves in the plan and so that I guess...that commitment and respect for them was so important to us that I guess that was the underlying plan was that we would of course give this back to them, take this back to the people "˜cause a lot of times we get these grants and programs and they come and go and we don't one have the resources to do that communication to talk about the impact and the outcomes of that and so we're trying to see not only is this different money but we're trying to show our people that we can do this. We can tell our stories about what has worked, what hasn't worked and where we need to go from there and give people the opportunity to participate in that so it's not a separate effort. And I think we've modeled that."

Verónica Hirsch:

"What participation method or venue do you feel proved most effective?"

Eileen Briggs:

"I think these videos have been phenomenal. I think obviously face to face meetings. We was in a small community, Thunder Butte. It's a small community of 10, 15 houses and around 45 miles from our tribal headquarters and was there a couple of...just a couple nights ago and we were just...we got the feedback. They were participating. We had 10 or so people there and the reality was people said, "˜Nobody comes out here. Nobody comes to us and tells us these things.' So they were so appreciative of the meeting, of being face to face and then I think the videos have been just incredibly effective. They were very short and concise, positive but they didn't just gloss over things. They tried to talk about the issues that we were dealing with but in a way that people could absorb and I think that those have been really effective."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. How are coalitions built between and among other Cheyenne River Sioux tribal departments and programs with the Tribal Ventures Project?"

Eileen Briggs:

"I think it's happened in a number of ways. Obviously around areas of interest. We had a financial literacy, youth individual development account, effort there and that effort focused on a lot of young people so there were efforts to reach out to schools, connecting to that program. There was also an effort within the tribal government with their employees to increase financial education amongst employees. There has also then grown out of that a larger...we don't necessarily call ourselves a coalition but a group of people who are focused on workforce development coming together talking about just really what does a workforce strategy look like on this reservation but understanding that the basis of that is we need to understand each other. Programs and departments don't necessarily know what someone's role is, they have an expectation that's maybe not realistic or they don't realize there's an opportunity that they're both going after because there isn't necessarily communication. So I think that those coalitions or those coming together have helped to improve services, to help us to coordinate better. I don't at some level sometimes collaborate but I think sometimes you kind of go with just communication and coordination first and then you get to some collaboration over time. So that's the sort of effort that I think we've seen sort of outgrow with our partners. And I would say that the Tribal Ventures Partnership Board in and of itself is the kind of collaborative work between tribal department programs, nonprofit, community members, tribal leadership so that itself has its own dynamic that is impacting the kind of understanding that we need to have collectively to address issues like poverty and other issues on the reservation."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. Were any external partners included or approached in a type of coalition framework and when I say external I mean external to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Well, I know that we worked with the...we created a Cheyenne River Chamber of Commerce and they connected to other native chamber of commerces to do... They connected to other chamber of commerces in both native communities and non-native communities to understand and educate and make connections. We also saw the South Dakota Indian Business Alliance engaged with some of the efforts with Cheyenne River as a result of our work together. We saw with a number of the work around GED attainment. We created a very successful GED program and that has built our understanding and relationship with different organizations in the state that provide similar services to better provide services on our reservation and also to improve the kind of services needed to be provided to native people."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. I'm going to transition here and ask you to in a sense predict what... What dynamic do you think would exist within the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation among the Lakota people there if the Tribal Ventures Project did not exist, had not come into being?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Well, I moved home about the time this project emerged on the reservation so I don't have a ton of sort of previous experience but...but, I think that...we have a lot of challenges with our own trust of one another, our own sense that we can...we have great ideas but I think that we often worked in silos and I think that that was a result of very much governmental resources and scarce resources and then all of us having to sort of protect those resources. I don't think that people intentionally were trying to be territorial, I just think that you've got...that naturally started to occur. And so I think that that would have continued I think to a larger extent. And there wouldn't have been this opportunity for sort of a collective effort and reaching out to our...think of our whole reservation and not just your community or your family but we could think of us collectively. And I think intuitively we want to think of ourselves as the Lakota...Four Bands of the Lakota that live on our reservation but oftentimes when you're mired in survival and struggle and just trying to keep what you have and maintain that in the midst of much, much challenge it's difficult to think of the larger, bigger picture and I think that that's one of the things that I think has made a...we've seen an impact. And then I would just also add that the work of the tribal council over time to see that this continued on. That in and of itself... When tribal programs or funding comes and goes and you're kind of used to, "˜Well, that used to be here, it was good but it's not here anymore,' usually in three year timeframes–we had 10 years of effort and it's...we're going to be in the same boat as we look forward. Will this just end? What will we do? There's a lot of questions in front of us as a tribe but regardless of that, we've had this time to sort of stop and think together and I think that that may not have happened for...and it's hard to predict or to be able to say, "˜Well, this wouldn't have been here.' But we know that lives and resources have been changed, opportunities that weren't here before that really just made sense like, "˜Yes, we should have that,' but we never had the resources to make that happen. And we have opportunity now with our own tribal...some tribal resources that we have available now and I think this has helped to demonstrate a collective effort. Obviously I've spoken about that but I think it also demonstrates the creativity and the thoughtfulness that's necessary for effective programming and we have some resources available to us as a tribe now through some settlement money and some decisions are being made and you're hearing things like, "˜Well, we need to think that out or have a strategic plan,' and I'd like to think that Tribal Ventures would have...has influenced that but if not we may have just been acting again in a survival mode. "˜Here's some money, let's spend it. Let's not think about what...' Not that our people didn't think but I think that you just get caught up in reacting. That's all. And I think we've been able to have at least a breather and take a pause and make an effort together."

Verónica Hirsch:

"How does the Tribal Ventures Project represent Cheyenne River Sioux citizens and reflect Lakota values?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Well, one of the values is about respect itself and I think that the work that we've done with our partners is really about trying to meet people where they're at, be respectful of their opinion and position but also try to give this exchange an opportunity for everyone to have room to be where they're at but also emerge from that in a place of your own vision for yourself and I think we reflected that on an individual level and then the community's vision of itself and then our families and our whole economy really that vision. And I think that those kind of respecting...we're always kind of putting those lenses...asking ourselves those... We'll run into challenges, communities or projects that we got started really...many of them have been very successful but we've hit a lot of bumps in the road, things that didn't go the way we wanted them to, partnerships that didn't work out the way we thought they would. And we always come back to asking ourselves, "˜Well, what do our values tell us? How should we handle this? What should we do?' We had some contentious issues a couple of times and we really just felt like, "˜Well, we need to go there and just listen and talk to one another and understand each other.' And that in and of itself is a reflection of how we do business. We are very much committed to our communities, the historical and cultural connections that are in our communities and in our families and so when we approach communities even for a community meeting we'll say, "˜Well, who's the grandma in that community?' or "˜Who's the person that we reach out to?' "˜Well, that's who this is, this is the person but that's her nephew so you can him.' So we're very much going within the dynamics of our own community and respecting that process even who's cooking. We're going to make sure we ask appropriately for someone to cook for us and try to feed our people and do things in a way that is comfortable for them and respecting that and giving thanks. I think that that's something that we really focused on at Tribal Ventures is to be able to be appreciative and thankful for what we have and to be honest about the opportunities. That's another value of ours is honesty and being honest about things when they didn't go well and things when there's opportunities and challenges that we have to say, "˜We have to look at this. This isn't...' I always say to people, I say, "˜Well, no one's going to care about this place as much as we do and so we're the ones that are going to have to lead this change and have to be willing to listen to one another even though we disagree. We still have to have those conversations.' And I think that value of fortitude, of being something to stay with something is very much underpinning of the work that we've done to say, "˜You've got to stick with this and we've got to keep going with this because the children are depending on something to happen.' And so we're very much talking about values. We recently did a support of a couple of veterans groups who were going to be traveling across our reservation and elsewhere and so we supported them by creating these t-shirts and we wrote, "˜The Lakota Values,' on the back of the shirts and we said, "˜These are just words unless we live them.' And so we're sending a message around values and talking about that as well as we created this cultural mini-grants. We had small amounts of money that really were giving people opportunity to carry out their ideas that they felt would support and encourage a positive Lakota cultural value. So all kinds of ideas from horse rides for young men and women who wanted to learn about horsemanship but also our culture and our values "˜cause no one was teaching them that. So we supported that in a small way. Other projects...we're helping other community members think about the positive decisions and positive lifestyles about living this life and choosing to live in the wake of many suicides that we have in the community. So there were every ideas that came. People have really good ideas about promoting positive self-identity and our cultural values and so we put out a little bit of money to help to support food or t-shirts or something that they wanted to make it happen but they made it happen. And I think that that self-determination or that value of...that you know what you need to do and to support that and with this little bit of money...it was a little bit of a catalyst, it was an activity that we did but we found that people really wanted to talk about their values and it meant so many things to different people and yet as a group we will not move forward with any kind of poverty if we don't feel good about who we are, if we don't live the values that we have as a people and we don't talk about them. So I think just the process that we've engaged in with our community just sort of...it's embedded. It's real hard to pull it out and say "˜Oh, well we were talking about values on Thursday.' We live them and talk about them more directly with people to shine a light on it when we can but just to remind ourselves that we're Lakota, we need to be Lakota."

Verónica Hirsch:

"How do Cheyenne River Sioux citizens understand and define their tribal council's roles?"

Eileen Briggs:

"I think there's a couple of things I...my perspective is. I think that they have a lot of expectation of their tribal leadership to be their advocate, to be some sort of a social worker problem solver, to be a legislator, to be a diplomat, sort of ambassador for the tribe and those roles are a lot of different hats but I think because of our community and many other communities I'm sure face this, there is an expectation a lot in that social worker problem solving advocate role and so I think our community members sort of define like, "˜You're supposed to be my spokesperson.' And that's very much part of our traditional life ways that we have an [Lakota language] and you send someone up to be that head person to speak and so that's who's...even though we have a political process and elections now, it's still embedded in sort of who from that community are they putting up to speak for them. And so when you're up there and you're on tribal council, that is the expectation that you're going to be the conduit for any elected leader but a lot of times you're trying to help someone get their electricity turned back on which many elected officials in the United States do not have to deal with on a daily basis but I think that the expectation is very high for our tribal leadership and understanding those roles and responsibilities is really key because oftentimes your time is used up filling some of those hats and you're not able to focus on the legislative part or fix things on a policy level or legislate. And oftentimes, this is just my opinion but I think as a leader sometimes it's overwhelming–it is overwhelming and so I can... "˜Let me do the thing I think I can handle. I'll work on this electricity thing or this other problem that I think I can make changes and this is a whole other arena that I'm not as knowledgeable about or I haven't learned as much as I want to yet to really affect the kind of changes.' So I think that's the balance that we have facing our...when we look at our tribal elected leaders. But we as a people in our...what I've seen at home is that our people very much respect that that tribal leadership is a responsibility and they respect that. They don't agree with it a lot of times and that's okay. I don't think that's been the issue of not respecting it but I do think that they see that it could be better and they would like to see some changes. I think that's a larger see change and some things that can happen over time but we have made the IRA government system work fairly well on Cheyenne River because we are Four Bands of the Lakota, we have... Before the IRA government we were already doing sort of representative councils to make decisions around our area but what I've seen since then is that we realize that things could be improved and we want to make changes. But our leadership and our tribal citizens need to be clear about what all those roles are because I think we become mired in the role of the problem solver and the challenges because so many people are in survival mode."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. You've mentioned citizen participation in some of the Tribal Ventures Project's community meetings. You mentioned that community members expressed gratitude for having Tribal Ventures staff come to them and to really make a deliberate effort to engage them. Now this far into the timeframe of the Tribal Ventures Project have you noticed that citizen participation has increased in these type of community events?"

Eileen Briggs:

"I don't know that I've seen a huge increase. I think that social media has changed in the last 10 years for this reservation and I think that participation in face to face meetings you're kind of getting around the same number of people coming. It depends on the community. We were in a what I would call more traditional community of Green Grass recently. We had 25 people come. That's phenomenal. They have like maybe 20 houses there so we had a big turnout for that community and they very much are reflective of...they don't have as great of internet service there so they're very much communicating word of mouth, telephone, face to face works best for them so we have great participation. Other communities where there's a lot of technology and that, a younger population is using that. They're getting information in a different way. So I think that that's changed us a certain amount so I don't know if I've seen participation in that way in our community meetings. We have different Facebook groups that definitely have a lot of...it's a great place that you can stand behind your computer and have all kinds of opinions and ideas and sharing that happens with social media. And so I think that kind of participation is...we're seeing that but I don't know if we've seen the kind of participation that is sort of engaging to change things collectively in a face to face way quite as much. Not in my experience. But I think that we're ripe for it because we have the social media to gather people. I think our colleges are a nice central location as well, our tribal college so those are some places where I've seen a little bit more participation but they're a little bit more engaged. It's sort of indicative of the structure of education."

Verónica Hirsch:

"You've mentioned the changing dynamics of participation mechanisms. How do you think the Tribal Ventures Project can address those changes and maybe even harness some of let's say that youth involvement albeit that involvement takes place as you mentioned maybe behind a computer screen? Do you think there's a way to even using that means to somehow inspire or promote an increased level of let's say youth citizen participation?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Oh, definitely. I think that we see young people participating in their own way. We have a group of young people on our reservation currently that are very concerned about some issues–health issues, some environmental issues–and they have organized themselves to do some research and collectively try to advocate on that and it's a different arena than I work in every day but I watch that and I'm in awe that they have taken on these steps and I certainly can't speak to every detail of that but they're going to be participating in a research conference that we're going to be having in a few weeks and I just see them wanting to be engaged in something and I feel like the work that we've done with Tribal Ventures and I think the work that we see tribal programs and departments do, they...we certainly have not excluded that kind of participation so we're welcoming it, making room for it and opportunities for the kind of participation that we all need. And I would also make a comment around communication. I think that that's a critical issue in many, many of our communications that the communication is very low, trust is low, so is the sense of...leadership is low and I think we have these high incidents of sort of imbalance in our community and oppression and racism and things like that that we're facing but I guess I have done some understanding but I see this kind of thing that we should push down on some of those things that are really high but I think the work of really trying to grow and push up levels of trust and leadership and communication can naturally push those other things down in what I've come to understand. And so I really think that communication is a key component. And if I had a magic wand and I could say, "˜I would like to have every tribe have some significant communication tool consistent for just information and positive stories but the kind of information that...' We don't have that as consistently as I would like for our people because when you don't know, you're going to be in poverty, you're out of the loop, you don't know... If you're not related to the right person, you're not connected in some way, you can become disconnected and it can hurt, your family can continue to be disenfranchised I guess in a way, like struggling out there. And I guess I feel like any tools, whether it be a newsletter or radio or the sort of videos or trying to harness how we can use social media and other tools to try to communicate that that's sort of my own interest but I see other tribes... I watch the Confederated Tribe of the Umatilla. They have an amazing newspaper that they've had for many years. Well, they have some gaming money, they can support that and just understanding what did that sort of communications office of the tribe do and how much does it cost to run one and what kind of deliverables can they provide the people? There's always challenges with that but I just feel like that's a gap that's missing in our communities is communication and particularly from the government. So you have this continued disengagement of citizens because there's no communication, websites aren't updated, there isn't sort of anybody who's writing about what's happening that's good and we just like to talk about what didn't go well and, "˜Did you hear what they did?' And that's in every community but I feel like we have a gap there and that could really affect some change."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. The Tribal Ventures Project spearheaded a large data collection attempt to learn about the tribal community. What was happening at the community that made that particular project, that data collection project a priority?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Well, I think two things. One, we had a 10 year poverty reduction plan with the Northwest Area Foundation where we were really looking at the kind of outcomes and impact that we were making and trying to determine what would be the key indicators, what data points will we point at from 2006 to 2016 to indicate some kind of change. And of course we were looking at census data which is not reflective of Indian communities and is historically under representing our statistics for our families and demographics and we really felt like we were just...that was our only option and as much as we looked at other points where we could talk about participation outcomes and things around that, it really didn't really show kind of where the status of our families was at so I think that was one of the drivers behind that. And I think the other was just the overall dissatisfaction with the census and how it isn't good data for us as Indian people. And so we said, "˜Well, we have an opportunity to use some of the Northwest Area Foundation investment here under our evaluation to create this...some tools and so we made a decision to create a baseline dataset around our families. And we decided to do a household survey across the entire reservation surveying every fourth house on the reservation and up to five families in that home. And I think it has been a very remarkable effort. It's sort of like...sometimes I step back and I say, "˜Whoa! What did we do?' Because we got in deep in families. We got participation from 819 families, from 520 some households across the reservation, both native and non-native, drove every road on the reservation, used our own tribal members to do the surveying, got three attempts at every house. Our methodology is very solid and our sample size is amazingly large. But that dataset has created a baseline about lots of information. We asked over 160 some questions around land, around their home, around the demographics or the people and their household characteristics. Were people a veteran, what was their highest level of education at this point, how many children were in the house, what were their ages? We asked questions around income and expenses for their home. How much money do you spend a year on birthdays? How much money...do you...who do you trust to lend money to or who asks you to lend money? Do you trust banks? Lots of questions. And then we asked a lot of cultural resource type of questions. Do you hunt traditional foods? Do you pick traditional foods? Do you participate in cultural activities? What do you...how many times a year? Lots of questions. We asked a lot of very quantitative questions as well as qualitative questions. We asked questions about...qualitative like what do you think the hardest thing is about being Lakota today and that kind of information. 819 families participating and giving us their input and providing us what we call the Cheyenne River Voices Research Project. It is the voices of our people. It is an opportunity to now have a tool. We have an executive summary of that that we've created to help our tribal leaders have some direct feedback and what we call backup. We like backup for their...maybe your gut check says, "˜Well, yeah, of course we spend a lot of money, leaves the reservation to shop at these larger discount stores.' But what percentage of our people shop at that and we can tell that story. We have an actual number. How many people have children in their home? How many people have a cell phone? There's so many questions that we asked. We're basically sitting on...we call it a treasure chest of data and information for our people. I don't think we've even begun to understand even how we can use that because it is fairly fresh. It's been in the last year. But we are definitely seeing people saying, "˜This is a tool. This is something I can use to design program or this is a tool we can use to support grant efforts, this is a tool we can use to strategically think if we moved up or down in our efforts.' And of course we need to do the research again to survey to have some sort of comparison data and also ask similar questions that might be asked in the national survey but I think that it's really...it's changed our data, changed our data that we're used to accepting from the census. For instance, the census said, when we started this project in 2012 that we had around 6,109 people that live on our reservation within the two counties that encompass our reservation and we did...our Voices research came with 10,527 people living on our reservation. So we changed our population number and it was tribally driven data. This data was driven and...driven...collected by the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe on behalf of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, it's their data, tribally collected, the questions we wanted to ask, the kind of things that we wanted to know about our own community with our own nuances and we're so grateful to the 800 and some families that participated in the Voices research. We're so grateful. And so we've been taking that back out to the communities and sharing with them what we found out and people so appreciate that. They're like, "˜Wow, you really were listening to us.' And so we haven't even...we still have so much work to do but that just kind of gives you an overview of the Voices research and the work that we've done to really try to capture the story and be able to tell the experience of our families."

Verónica Hirsch:

"You mentioned how the Voice project permitted the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe to exercise sovereignty in data collection and arguably will be able to exercise that same measure of sovereignty in data interpretation. With that in mind, how do you think the data that has been collected can impact or influence tribal governance systems, whether it's happening currently or however far into the future?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Well, I think we can do a number of things that this sort of data collection, that we're capable of doing that, that we have...not just capable but we have the willingness and the strategic forethought to do that and I think governance systems can be responsive to those sorts of notions and that that sort of becomes to be expected. Well, we're supposed to do that, Cheyenne River is known for that, we've don't that. And I think when you talk about governance systems, systems that often obviously in high poverty, high areas of struggle and reactivity, it is very...the governmental system is only reflective of that life and experience of its people. And so I think it can only be and I think that these opportunities that we have with the Voices data, with the work of many partners in this effort has really...has a chance to influence the governmental systems. We can think through these processes, we come to expect that we should have some sort of baseline information, something to compare it to. We can help educate each other about what are the realities and then design and frankly evaluate our efforts more effectively. I think that we oftentimes are just...we're just trying to work grant to grant. That's no different than paycheck to paycheck. So we're working grant to grant and we're trying to say, "˜Well, what does this...how does this grant fit within our strategic effort? What do we want...what do we want for this population that we're trying to serve or for our future? And I think we have some sense of that but I think this data can help us pinpoint that a little bit more. I think that this data can change the governmental governance systems in a way that looks at our policies, that looks at our human capacity, human capital so to speak and see our families in a new way and figure out how do we move our families forward so that our government can move forward."

Verónica Hirsch:

"With that in mind, how can the Tribal Ventures Project excuse me, the Voices Project, really promote those in tribal government as well as tribal citizens to get onboard with this idea of data collection, of realizing its significance, its importance and its relevance to the tribal community?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Well, I think they see themselves in the Voices data. They see, "˜This is reflective, this is data that we're interested in that will impact.' I think that a lot of times our people haven't been asked, not asked relevant questions that are relevant to their life, to their own culture, to our own way of life in the middle of the prairie, wherever we live and these sorts of efforts...oftentimes data collection is often done by people from outside and that data gets collected and then carried away and we don't ever see the results of that and I think this kind of effort we're keeping at some level inside the camp and we made a lot of work to make sure that when this data was released that our own people held onto it, sat with it, looked around it themselves and there's so much more. But we know that other tribes, other organizations are interested in what we've done. We are sharing it to the best of our ability but the focus is inside the camp. And our focus is to make sure that we actually see this data being utilized to impact the changes and I think that's what will engage people because data does... Decisions are made every day that affect our people based on data and if we aren't deciding and getting that data ourselves, somebody else is going to do it and we may have nothing to do with it and I think that we are showing here that we need to be involved, we need to create, we need to drive the bus as I say. We're driving...we need helpers. I don't have statisticians on every street...every corner at home but we have helpers who can come and help make those things a reality and a partnership that can help get us what we need. But, we have to know and stop and figure out what our intention is around data. What do we need to know? What are the kind of questions that we need to be asking ourselves so we can move forward?"

Verónica Hirsch:

"Can Lakota values be employed to educate the tribal citizenry about what data is, what it is, what it does and why we care about it?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Yes, I think Lakota values and our way of life...I think we've always been data collectors as people. I think that we have over time...obviously we've survived...survival and problem solving in a survival mode is always analyzing data, looking at information. We don't call it data. We talk about stories. We know the stories and we make decisions based on the stories that we know of our families and the experiences they're having and we feel like that's reflective of the situations that we need to impact. And so we've been doing that. I think that Lakota values are really...it's not so much values but knowing who we are as Lakota and keeping...or knowing who we are and living those...that experience of historically. But this isn't necessarily new. It's a new way of doing things, a sort of a more modern way of understanding that yes, we've been collecting data a lot of times for federal programs and federal requirements for compliance primarily but not for strategic direction and I think we are in a position right now in Indian Country to get a hold of that and to take a more of a proactive and I think strategic approach to collecting that data, looking at that data ourselves. Either the data we've already been sending to wherever and understanding it and analyzing it better so we can make better programmatic and evaluative decisions but also collecting additional data. But that's a process. Data isn't a priority for everyone. They think, "˜Well, that's just the way we've done it all these years.' But that's because of the generational experience with the federal government compliance and data requirements. It's not something that we have been...that hasn't been invested in. Tribal govern...federal government has given tribal government any experience and expertise and technical assistance to develop our own data collection systems. We now are seeing where that needs to...we are wanting to make that happen and trying to go in those directions and I think that's the effort, that's the opportunity that we see that are our cultural values. We need to make decisions based on information that came from us not on information someone else is deciding about us and that's...data is power and data and power money, they all go together and we need to be sovereign of that. We need to be understanding our own data. We need to be able to design mechanisms and ways to collect that data so that we are the ones determining our future."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. That's all the time we have today on today's episode of Leading Native Nations. To learn more about Leading Native Nations please visit NNI's Indigenous Governance Database website which can be found at igovdatabase.com. Thank you for joining us."

Kristopher Hohag: The Challenge of Governance

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Kristopher Hohag, former Vice Chairman of the Bishop Paiute Tribe, recalls his experiences as a young leader participating within tribal government. He provides a brief history of the Bishop Paiute Tribe and recounts the tribe's endeavors to provide a better way of life for the people. Hohag offers his perspective of tribal government and constitutional reform. In addition, he provides insight as a part of a younger generation of elected tribal officials.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

HohagKristopher, "The Challenge of Governance," Interview, Leading Native Nations interview series, Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, December 10, 2014.

Verónica Hirsch:

"Welcome to Leading Native Nations. I'm your host Verónica Hirsch. On today's program we are honored to have with us Kristopher Hohag. Kris currently serves as the Vice Chairman of the Bishop Paiute Tribe in Bishop, California. Kris, welcome. Good to have you with us today. I've shared a little bit about who you are but why don't you start by telling us a bit more about yourself."

Kristopher Hohag:

"Thank you, Veronica. I'll start by introducing myself in our language. [Nümü language] What I had said to you was my name is Kristopher Hohag [Nümü language] is my Indian name. I live in Bishop, California. I'm from the Owens Valley of California which is the deepest valley in the country on the eastern side of the Sierras in California and I feel really good to be here with you so thank you. I'm honored to be here."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. Kris, what did I leave out in the brief introduction I provided, I prefaced our conversation?"

Kristopher Hohag:

"Right. Well, yeah, this year I currently serve as the Vice Chairman of the Bishop Paiute Tribal Council. That is only a year-to-year title. We have elections every year where if the council and the people want you to remain in a position that'll happen, otherwise we have an option to switch it up. This year I'm also currently the Vice Chairman of the Owens Valley Paiute Shoshone Board of Trustees which is the governing body of three reservations in the Owens Valley–the Bishop Paiute Tribe, the Big Pine Paiute Tribe and the Lone Pine Paiute Shoshone Reservation. I'm an educator by background. I really don't consider myself a politician but that's kind of the role I've been put in so I work with the youth, that's kind of the main thing that got me up to this point in my career I guess you could say. I have a master's in education from the University of Washington in Seattle and I've also worked as a Native American recruiter for the University of Washington recruiting Native students to go to college. And I have a bachelor's in Sociology from the University of California Irvine. So prior to moving home, back to the rez and working with my community, I really worked in higher education. I worked with young people in other communities but I would always come home. So after doing that job up in Washington, in Seattle, I was just...I got the feeling I wanted to be on the community side of things. I'd go into these communities and I would talk with people and try to get their kids motivated to pursue something that meant something to them and that they could give back to their community and I'd dialogue and I'd interact with these mentors of theirs, essentially the point people. I'd say, ‘I want to be like that person. I want to be a person that sees our young people grow up and help them along.' So I ended up moving home to go that route and I essentially work with various entities on the reservation working with youth outreach, convention work, worked for the education center, worked for our health project and also just did volunteer community organizing, helped...was instrumental in co-founding the Bishop Tribal Youth Council which is still in existence today and overall just trying to help provide some healthy opportunities for youth in our communities."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. I'd like to transition now into some questions that have to do with Native nation building. So I'll begin by asking for your opinion. How do you define nation building and what does that mean for the Bishop Paiute Tribe?

Kristopher Hohag:

"Personally I define nation building as anything that it takes to build a healthy, thriving nation and all the various components that make that happen. So whether it's our education department, our economic development department, food sovereignty, our health of our people, medicine, both Western medicine and traditional medicines. Whatever the needs of our people are to be self-sufficient, how do we move towards that to get...to be a healthy, thriving nation. We've had all these generations of surviving but how do we thrive in a healthy way. I think that's what nation building is about."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. Based upon your experience, what are the unique challenges of being a council member of a Native nation?"

Kristopher Hohag:

"Good question. The unique challenges of being a council member? Well, your constituents are your family, your relatives. I heard someone say people that maybe didn't like you when you got there aren't going to like you when you get there. But I just think the breadth of information, the breadth of knowledge that you have to either have or acquire. I think it's constantly a learning process. I'm a young council person but I know everyone goes through it, is what...how do we grasp all of these various issues that we have to tackle as nation leaders so whether it's the federal government, learning all the acronyms was...like the first year was just a big education of navigating those corridors of government whether it's state, federal, inter-tribal, building those relationships. They're all unique challenges. I think I kind of come up with a unique challenge every day. Collaborating with our council, it's challenging to have a unified council. I've only been a part of two councils so far but they're very different and having to kind of learn everyone's personalities, everyone's I suppose you could say agenda, interests, priorities and how do we synthesize those and actually get stuff done for the people."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. How do Bishop Paiute Tribe citizens choose their leaders?"

Kristopher Hohag:

"We choose our leaders by popular majority vote. Every summer we have a primary election. People are either self-nominated or nominated by other community members at a nomination meeting and then several weeks go by and we do a primary election and then we do a general election about a month later. And so it just gets narrowed down and whether there's three openings or two openings, the top vote getters then become the next council members and then... We have five council members in Bishop on the tribal council and so among those five we determine the chairman, vice chairman, secretary and at large members."

Verónica Hirsch:

"And how are those offices determined?"

Kristopher Hohag:

"Well, unscientifically. It's a mixture between who really wants it and I think the abilities and knowledge that are present within that group of five."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Among that group of five are those who are selected or elected to serve for instance as chairman or vice chairman, is this through consensus?"

Kristopher Hohag:

"Yeah. Yeah, at least in my experience. I'm sure there are some times where two people might want so and so and three people want another and then you've got to work it out that way but in the time that I've been on there it has been consensus who the chairman and vice chairman and so on going to be."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. On this topic of leadership and also bearing in mind that leaders themselves enforce law and also help make it, my question is this. How does the Bishop Paiute Tribe make and enforce law?"

Kristopher Hohag:

"Well, it goes through the council. If it's a new... We're an ordinance based tribe. We're going to talk about that later I know but essentially if there's a new ordinance that's going to be coming about, there's obviously a need for it. Maybe it's community members have expressed need, maybe it's department heads, influential people who have said, ‘We really need to put in this dog ordinance or this fireworks ordinance or something that is going to benefit and support the safety of building a nation.' And so then we go through a series of public hearings for the community. I believe three is the minimum and we get input from community members who will come and we'll have a meal and just essentially have a public hearing about the issue. And so we kind of narrow down what do people want in there, what do people not want, come back with drafts at the next meetings and we kind of narrow it down. And then once we've gotten to final draft, the council will then pass it into law at a council meeting and it becomes official common law that way.

Verónica Hirsch:

"And how are such laws then enforced?"

Kristopher Hohag:

"Well, we have of course the tribal council are the officials of the tribe so we are charged with that and then we do have a tribal police department so they're obviously going to enforce to the extent that they can and that's actually fairly new having a tribal police department on our reservation so we're working through how that is probably done most efficiently. But it's very unscientific how these laws are enforced but I know that for sure. We have a small reservation, it's 877 acres. It's less than one square mile located within essentially the town of Bishop. The city limits are just east of us but we still have neighborhoods to the north, the south and the west and so we have a small little nation surrounded by a town, surrounded by a county, surrounded by a state. And being a PL280 state there are many laws that apply on the reservation, in criminal cases so our tribal court for instance does handle civil issues, civil law issues but I think that's always been a challenge, how the council enforces law on the reservation. I believe that it's been a challenge and it's still something we're working on today."

Verónica Hirsch:

"You mentioned how the Bishop Paiute Tribal Court does handle civil cases and I'd like to ask a question, in the instance of an infraction of a particular ordinance, let's say it would fall within the purview of a civil case. Are there any fines associated perhaps or any other type of repercussions?"

Kristopher Hohag:

"For sure, yeah. Yeah, there could be. Depending on the issue there are fines attached to certain issues and so those are the guidelines that of course our tribal judge would hand down a sentence or a decision."

 

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. Can you discuss how the Bishop Paiute Tribe relates with other tribal communities and governments? What is the relationship between the Bishop Paiute Tribe, the Paiute Shoshone Owens Valley Board of Trustees and the Owens Valley Career Development Center?"

 

Kristopher Hohag:

"Well, as I said before, we are located in the Owens Valley of California. It's a fairly remote part of California because of the geography of the state. The Sierra Nevada Mountains, 14,000 foot peaks right next to us. We are located at the base of the Sierras and so we're somewhat removed from the rest of California although in past years I know there's been strong collaboration with our area but I know we're kind of... That's something I think we're working on right now is getting back into it. We work with other tribes regarding gaming compacts and such and such but oftentimes we're kind of left out there on our own working with other tribes in the valley. You mentioned the Owens Valley Paiute Shoshone Board of Trustees. That predates each of our tribal councils actually so that was...we had a land exchange on our behalf, the 1937 Land Exchange between the Indians of the Owens Valley, the federal government and the City of Los Angeles which essentially gave the City of Los Angeles huge portions of our traditional territory in return for very small reservations in the valley. And so that exchange and then subsequent ordinance that came after that, 1962 Land Ordinance, there's a big gap there but that ordinance essentially set up governance, a very loose governance on each reservation and it...originally the intent was to govern land assignments and help provide housing assistance. So that was a governing document for Bishop, Big Pine and Lone Pine Reservations. There's two other reservations in our area, in the valley which is Fort Independence and Benton but they were established separately with different documents and essentially a slightly different history. And so we have this document, this Board of Trustees, which included five members from...representing Bishop because Bishop is by far the largest reservation in the valley. We have just under 2,000 tribal members and my understanding it's the fifth largest tribe in California but on a very small reservation, less than one square mile. And then Big Pine has a representative on that Board as well as Lone Pine as one representative on the Board of Trustees. And so historically that was...it was put together in that way with five from Bishop, one from Big Pine, one from Lone Pine to represent the size, the populations. That has sense fluctuated a little bit. I think Big Pine's definitely larger and they probably deserve more than one member at this time. But as time unfolded you had...within that ordinance we have Indian committees and those evolved into the tribal councils that we have today for each reservation, those representatives that we elected by each of those respective reservations. And so the Board of Trustees still is in existence today. Our role has...I believe it's fundamentally changed because the capacity of the reservations, the tribal governments have really grown such that each reservation essentially handles their own land assignments and housing situations so the Owens Valley Paiute Shoshone Board of Trustees goes through that only in relation to the Bishop Tribe now. Big Pine and Lone Pine have both pulled out and they have their own ways of going about that. We do too through Bishop but that's just an extra step where we still follow that ordinance and we still go to the Board of Trustees kind of just as a final approval of those land assignment situations. But our role now has mainly transferred into being a governing body for the Owens Valley Career Development Center and that's an organization that is based off the Bishop Reservation but serves every reservation in the valley as well as six counties in California surrounding the Sierra Nevadas on the east and the west side. And so with the Board of Trustees we oversee this large social services, educational organization, the Career Development Center and that runs the third largest tribal TANF program in the country. And so it's a big social services organization helping our tribal families in reservation, urban and non-reservation environments."

 

Verónica Hirsch:

"what do you wish you knew before you first began serving on your nation's elected council?"

 

Kristopher Hohag:

"Well, I think there's a lot of issues but if I could narrow it down to one main one I really wish I had a better grasp on finances, financial management because it's so key to everything that we do at a board level whether it's at the tribe or if it's on the Board of Trustees or any other board that a tribal leader may be called to sit on, I think financial management always comes into the picture and I didn't consider myself to have a strong financial background being an educator, working with facilitating, learning an education, I really didn't invest a ton of my time into learning about maybe business and things like that. Fortunately, I do really like learning so I'm picking it up as I go but I wish...I do wish I had a better grasp on that coming into the position and I really would encourage anyone considering getting involved in tribal leadership to get a healthy understanding of financials on a large level, much larger than personal finances. I'm dealing with amounts of money that I would never deal with as an individual. That's what I would say."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Any other major areas that you wish you knew prior to serving for your nation on the elected council?"

Kristopher Hohag:

"Wish I knew. Well, there's a lot. I wish I had more experience, I wish I was older, I wish I was an elder, I wish I had the experience of my ancestors to bring forward to today but that's really the need to engage the community and hope...be accessible to community members. When I first got on council I got a lot of advice, some good, some not so good but everyone wants to give you input. And I think that's valuable to an extent but you've also got to be able to filter it and see what's practical, what's useful and what's applicable. But all in all I feel fairly well prepared, at least in bigger picture thinking of what nation building means, where we should be headed as a tribe. I've been fortunate to have I think pretty strong mentors, not just in my own community but in other communities that have helped me always see that this is a very important thing for all of our people and I kind of figure that eventually I will come back around to working within a role similar to this. But issue specific, I don't know. It kind of is one of those things where it's like dive in and start swimming and you'll figure it out."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. I want to transition now into a discussion regarding some of the content that you already mentioned, ordinance based and also maybe contemplation of constitutions. And with that I'd like to ask or rather state and then ask, the Bishop Paiute Tribe does not possess a written constitution. Can you please describe the tribe's current governing structure and has the current structure been impacted or shaped by certain historical and/or legal circumstances? If so, in what ways?"

Kristopher Hohag:

"Well, absolutely historical circumstances as I eluded with the land exchange and our land ordinance that governs the reservations and how we moved from a valley wide governance system to kind of like each reservation has come to stand on their own. I think we have a long way to go still as far as that question's concerned. I think right now the councils...on our reservation...this is definitely not the case on every reservation...so Lone Pine and Big Pine have...Big Pine has a constitution, Lone Pine a general council. Bishop is a little in between. We don't have a written constitution, we're also...it depends on who you ask about general council. We have general council meetings but they don't operate in the same way that they used to generations ago. And so in a lot of ways the council is kind of, for lack of a better term, the judge, jury and executioner as of now. We have to look at the future and how do we want to separate our powers so that we have a healthy governance system for our people moving ahead regardless of who the individuals in office are. And so we do have a tribal court which is intended to be a part of that separation of authority and responsibility. But largely our governance structure really starts and ends with the council making decisions on behalf of the people; putting things into law, making directives and essentially making sure that the needs of the community are met. I wish there were more variables to that but we're moving in that direction."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. How are governance roles and responsibilities defined and delegated within your current framework? You mentioned briefly about general council and the fact that the Bishop Paiute Tribe does in fact have a tribal court. You also mentioned that there is a move, hopefully a steady move towards this exercise of separation of powers within the current framework. Can you provide a bit more detail on this topic?"

Kristopher Hohag:

"Well, everyone has a general understanding of the role of council but it's a loose understanding, you know what I mean? So my interpretation could be completely different than the next person's interpretation and maybe the limits and how broad our power, authority, what have you goes really depends on the individual. So we talk about constitution, I think that's really important because it sets very clear rules and definitions behind what we are meant to do so that there's clear understanding between me as the elected official and my citizen who has an expectation of me because a challenge that I find is I have an understanding of my role to help set rules and enforce law without personalities getting in the way, mine or someone else's or preference because of an individual connection but other people have different interpretations of what your role is in there and I think without that being written down, defined for all of us without any questions asked, I think we're always going to have that challenge of interpretation. And what I've found is it's definitely different on this side versus that side. There are certain things where you become privy to so much information as a council member that you don't fully see the picture if you've never been in that role. It's kind of like an iceberg where you think they should be doing all this but you don't realize everything else that's also on their plate. So I would love to see a constitution because as one tribal member that would really provide some clarity as to how I can hold my leaders accountable and as a tribal leader how I can then perform up to what obvious expectations are for everyone else."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. Can you discuss the role of tribal elders and youth within the Bishop Paiute Tribe decision making process?"

Kristopher Hohag:

"Yeah, our elders and youth are very important facets of our population of course, in all communities. We revere our elders and we take care of our youth and we want to educate them and show them what it means to be Ní¼í¼mí¼, a Paiute person and send them off to get an education to come back and do what we're doing. We don't have a lot in place within our governance structure. I think how the question is framed is how...within our...we don't have, like I said, there's no ordinance that says the elder's committee is going to advise the council. We have an elder's committee that's for the elder's program and we have...oftentimes we have committees that are formed at the need of a grant or a requirement like that. I would love to see it move towards the direction of where maybe we have an official elder's advisory committee to the council. We do have a Bishop Tribal Youth Council as we talked about before that I did help start and I definitely envision that having a much closer role to the actual tribal council as we move ahead because our youngest tribal members who are just learning how to become leaders themselves, they're going to have insights that the council members are not just ‘cause they're in a different place in their life and same with the elders. They're going to have things that we maybe didn't think of or they're going to have to set us straight and so I would love to see that maybe included in that constitution. But right now it's completely informal. They definitely have a role at meetings and input when they see us around but it's not written down and very defined in that way."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. You've mentioned previously that in your personal opinion a written constitution is necessary and I wonder if you could please expound upon that. Why do you believe a written constitution is necessary?"

Kristopher Hohag:

"Well, I just think it would clear out a lot of clutter and confusion and as I said before interpretation. There's always going to be interpretation of course with anything written down but I think it would really help clarify roles, responsibilities, expectations, successes, and failures just like any job description. This is what we expect of you and if you don't do these things because this is in your job, then you're not doing your job properly and you now that as opposed to with those things not written down it's kind of a...it's a little bit of a hit and miss. It depends on the individual, it depends on the makeup of the council and I just think a constitution provides some safeguards for those things. I think it provides some clear, definite rules that hopefully everyone can agree to. We know our playing field at that point. We know the rules, we know what our limits are, a boundary and we know how to do our job better I think in that way and therefore our people can hold us accountable better."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. As of 2014 the Bishop Paiute Tribe is in the process of creating the constitution's committee. Can you please describe how this new committee is being formed and are specific strategies being employed to encourage a wide range of community and family representation on this committee?"

Kristopher Hohag:

"Well, the committee is being formed...similar to many of our committees which are based on interest, people signing up, putting in a letter of intent why they want to be on the committee and then the council appoints them and so this is no different in that way other than it's a very specific issue and cause and objective. So people that are going to be on this committee are people who are engaged in the community, who are involved in boards already, who understand the history of the tribe, certain elements of governance, who just have a good understanding of the inner workings of the tribal government and obviously are community people. And we want a good, healthy representation of the community. Not a big reservation, not a huge tribe but big tribe in relation to other tribes and we want it to be so that as many people as possible can have input or can get information. So we know by experience the majority of people don't come to meetings, the majority of people do not show up at public hearings and make their voice known as we would like but if we can make this committee representative of the families on the reservation, maybe certain areas of the reservation, then the intention is that hopefully those committee members can then reach out to their relatives, neighbors and such and such and provide information of what's been happening, where they're going, some updates and they can get input from those people who may not otherwise show up and provide input themselves. So that's the intention. We have...I don't know if we have appointed officials but we know who's going to be on that committee. We did have a sign up very recently and it's quality people who've had history within the tribe and have an understanding. I think it's going to be good. In a small community you tend to get a small population of that group that is involved in almost everything. So I think we have a knowledgeable group of people that are going to really help us move forward. That's our goal. Hopefully...the plan is by...in the next six months so we'll see what happens. It's now on record."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. On this topic of how to encourage or foster representation of various areas within the Bishop Paiute Tribe's community to participate on this constitutions committee, are there specific strategies being employed to engage or to encourage participation? Has it been something that's been more organic in process or has there been a discussion of how or who to approach, to encourage, to foster this type of engagement with the intent of having broad representation on this committee?"

Kristopher Hohag:

"Well, I don't know if we have any certain strategies. I'm sure we're going to move forward was we've done things up to the point with certain committees and then there's definitely going to be some new ideas infused. We have yet to talk about any like best practices type of situation. I think maybe once again I would love to see that actually. If anyone out there has some best practices on how to make a committee more efficient and creative I would love to hear but I think it'll go the direction of the individuals. One of my strengths I feel like is facilitation of dialogue, of issues. With my background as a teacher I always felt like facilitating people moving in a common direction is what I hope to do. I would hope to get involved in that way but we'll get them together, we'll educate them a little bit. We may use some Native Nations Institute resources to help them get a broader understanding of what constitutions are about, maybe what other tribes are doing and really just have conversations, bring them up to speed, make sure we're all on the same page, see what we have maybe from our previous drafts and try to put it together in something that the people will see fit to pass in another election and then it'll become another document that guides us."

Verónica Hirsch:

"You mentioned the existence of previous drafts. Are those previous drafts of a constitution for the Bishop Paiute Tribe? Can you provide a bit of back story on those previous drafts?"

Kristopher Hohag:

"I don't know a whole lot about them to be honest with you. I think there's at least two drafts from previous years. Depending on who you talk to there's been anywhere from two committees to 10 committees over the years and with decades. The most recent one was in the mid-2000s, the first decades of 2000s and that one actually went to a vote and was voted down. In conversations with my council it sounds like it's a good constitution. I think there's certain elements within or maybe we're taking off too big of a bite with something that's going to go to a vote. For instance, if we were going to write a constitution and incorporate all of our existing ordinances or maybe try to bring in some laws, a lot of these things each individual issue typically goes for vote so people are used to tackling it in little pieces. And so I think some of those first attempts have kind of been in essence biting off more than people were able or willing to chew. And so part of the strategy moving forward is how do we make it clearer, more digestible for the voter so they make an informed, educated decision on this. I think the direction we're going to go...as I said, we have ordinances so that probably won't be included, maybe peripherally that will come under it. But I think the drafts are going to be heavily relied upon. There may not need to be huge changes but just some strategic changes that like I said make it more digestible and so that we can move forward. We can always tweak things here and there. We can always make amendments but something that the people can comprehend and agree is really important. We don't want it to be so convoluted that 99 percent of it's great but one percent is really iffy and that's going to get it voted down. So we'll use it to inform the ways that we move forward with it, those drafts."

Verónica Hirsch:

"From your perspective, what means could be used to convey the drafted or the proposed constitution's content to Bishop Paiute tribal citizens in a way that will be clear, will be concise and will foster a greater understanding of that content?"

Kristopher Hohag:

"What means could be used? Well, I don't know if we're going to do this but we could obviously mail it out to every community member, every household. Then they would have it. The challenge then is how do we get active participation and working with that draft of getting people's input and for that we would definitely have to call a community meeting similar to things we've done in the past, have drafts on hand for people ready to edit at will and then have a dialogue as a group and then come back together and maybe do several of those and just kind of whittle it down to the core essence of what we're trying to get at and essentially a working committee, that's what this will be. And we'll do a lot of that and I foresee the committee then having larger community wide meetings to then update on what some of those changes are but I think it's anticipated and expected that when we work on something of this magnitude, it's a smaller group of people that are working on the document that's going to affect everyone and that's just the way things are. So I think the committee is going to be obviously the driving force in the action, in the work. But people will be invited to definitely provide their input as we go along. It's not going to be an overnight process but we're going to get on it and really stay on it, get going in the next month and hopefully have regular, regular meetings and updates for people to be involved."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Can you discuss key issues that in your opinion will be addressed by the perspective Bishop Paiute Tribe constitution?"

Kristopher Hohag:

"Yeah, I think the big one is going from two year terms which we currently have for our tribal council members to four year terms so effectively doubling our time in office and making sure that there's a removal clause. I know that's really important to our tribal members in case a council member is not performing up to par or is abusing their authority. We really need to have that. I don't think it's controversial at all but it's very key and I think it's probably the single most important element that's going to be in there other than like I said the defined roles and responsibilities. Eluding to a previous question we had maybe it's one of the challenges to previously passing was...I think 99 percent of it could be great, fine and dandy but we had something where we were fundamentally changing the name of the tribe and I think that's probably what could have been a big reason why it changed, trying to go back to our traditional name so currently we're the Bishop Paiute Tribe. Well, culturally, historically Bishop has nothing to do with the people. Paiute is essentially...it's not our word. I don't know where it came from, couldn't tell you that. We call ourselves Ní¼í¼mí¼ and all Paiutes essentially have a variation of Ní¼í¼mí¼. So our constitution that didn't pass several years back was going to redefine on our terms who the people are in our words. But I think there's major outreach and education that needs to go into something like that. It is a paradigm shift in thinking about yourself, your identity and who you are, especially if you've been raised your whole life like, ‘I'm a Bishop Paiute Indian, Bishop Paiute tribal member.' If that doesn't exist anymore, that's a pretty big thing I think. I think it's a good thing with the proper education. I would love to see it happen as we reclaim our identity and re-indigenize our terminology within our government and beyond. I'm a huge proponent for that type of thing because I think identity is super key to our youth and our existence as tribal nations. But that takes I think serious educational efforts to remind people why it matters, the positive benefits they're going to see in the future and maybe at the same time say, ‘This is how it's been instrumental up to this point, why we should change it.' Maybe it's a strength based change. So I think there's just more fundamental outreach and education that needs to go in something like that because it's wonderful. I would love to do that because I...it's empowering to learn on your terms from your language, from your ancestors from your land, this is who I am but on the federal register it says something different. We have to correct those type of things about who we are and we're in the process and a lot of tribes are still in that boat. Some are changing as we speak, some have done it recently and maybe some will in the future so I think we can go in that direction but that was probably a pretty major obstacle to getting it passed the first time around."

Kristopher Hohag:

"Successes and challenges of our current governance structure. Well, there have been successes over the years I just...it's...without a clear cut definition of roles and responsibilities it really kind of does this pendulum swing of we'll have some very good years of economic development and building up maybe our education system, our housing, our services for our tribal members and then there'll be years where it's not a whole lot. And so some of the...the stability I think is a big challenge; stability of the government, stability of our economic development to support our nation. Those are definitely challenges that I see I've been able...just being...within my role now and being able to take a good look at the whole tribe and all the departments and understanding that consistency is really important and so that's why I think these four year terms are really going to help provide some stability to that. Not to say that those have been just challenges all the time. We have some very successful organizations. The Bishop Education Center was the first Indian education center in California as part of a...I can't remember specifically but Senate bill that essentially funded all of the first Indian education centers. We were the first ones to get that and we had a traditional health board of tribal elders in our area who were very instrumental in forming health programs over the years that then informed California Rural Indian Board, that then informed...you've got Toiyabe Indian Health Project which is...I think prior it was like a tri-county type something or other but essentially serves all the Indian communities on the east side of the Sierras in California. And so that's a very good thing that's come about through our governance over the years and the Owens Valley Career Development Center. That provides huge much needed services to families in our areas educationally and just supportive services and just getting by and helping them get careers and educated so that they can then go out and be productive members of society and our community. So I think there's been some really big successes over the years but there's been an ongoing host of challenges that I think really the root cause is the instability of the governance and hopefully we'll be able to address that pretty soon here."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Can you discuss the general council's efficacy? You mentioned it before. What are the successes of the general council, past successes and what are some of the potential pitfalls that maybe the general council going forward in your opinion could do well to avoid?"

Kristopher Hohag:

"I don't necessarily feel like I'm the best person to answer that. Yeah. I wish I was 40, 50 years older. I would have a much better answer for you. Because yeah, I don't think... In my lifetime general council hasn't really had quite the influence that it used to have as far as big decisions of the tribe. Certain issues will go to vote and then obviously that comes down to general council decision. But the majority of the business that takes place on the reservation comes to council and so general council has informal input on a lot of things and then when things go to vote they obviously have official approval or denial but some of those things I think are real historical in nature and I wouldn't be the best person to say this but what happened to the good and the bad and the ugly. My grandpa would have some stories of that."

Verónica Hirsch:

"In your opinion does the Bishop Paiute Tribe utilize certain strategies to facilitate tribal citizen engagement whether at the general council level, at the constitutions committee level that we've already discussed or in some other capacity, perhaps in an informal environment?"

Kristopher Hohag:

"Well, yeah, council members are very accessible. We're around and living in the community like anyone else so informally all the time. Informally we're constantly getting input. A little more formally we have public hearings on...usually on issue specific things if we're going to be passing anything or there's things just to update people on we'll do multiple public hearings either on week nights or if it's an extra large issue we'll do week days...weekends I mean. We do have periodic general council meetings we call them but in recent times they really haven't been...there have been action items on the agenda, more informational but there'll be maybe a whole day or whole morning on a Saturday. The committees as we touched upon a little bit, those are ways for people to get engaged."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Can you discuss Bishop Paiute Tribe efforts at either including language within the yet to be created tribal constitution and/or emphasizing language, language revitalization as necessary for nation building?"

Kristopher Hohag:

"Yeah, I think it's vital when we're talking about nation building to incorporate your language as much as possible ‘cause it is one of those characteristics that we cite that makes us a nation is we have a very distinct culture, language, geography so I think language is key to that. In the state that our languages are in nationally, internationally, globally, it becomes an issue that I think we always have to think about. From a tribal perspect...I speak on what I feel personally and what I would like to see from a tribal perspective, I do see us prioritizing it right now. It hasn't always been that way. I think there's been times of real strong activity with regards to language revitalization and there's been times of dormancy. But I've certainly seen since I've been on...in my role been bringing it up and it's become more of an issue. I'm glad to see that. I don't take credit for that but I'm glad it's happening and I get to witness it. We do have a language nest getting started as we speak but sometimes the bureaucracy that we create gets in the way of these things getting done when they're just...it's not about rules, it's about this needs to happen. We need people to be talking to each other, we need people to be speaking to our babies so that they're digesting and inputting it. It has nothing to do with rules. You want to create parameters that are going to keep it safe and any liabilities in a situation but it shouldn't get in the way of the issue at hand. So I'm really glad to see we actually have a community member who is just doing it and we're going to support him any way that we can because... We have a language program that operates under the Owens Valley Career Development Center and so they do focus on Paiute language of the Owens Valley in our area and they also work on other languages in other regions that we serve there but locally... I used to work for the language program. I was an intern while I was in college and then I did study language revitalization when I was at my grad school, studied what other people are doing to do that and we've done great work in terms of documentation and archiving. So we have a lot of good stuff to work with, working with some of our fluent first language speakers before they had passed that were active and willing to document so we've got some really good archives in that way and now it's turning the page and how do we get it into the minds and hearts of our babies so that they're going to help us bring it back. There's a very clear distinction between adults trying to learn it and babies trying to learn it. There's just two different minds at work. And when adults are making those decisions, sometimes it's harder because there's an intimidation factor if you don't speak it. My mom, my parents, it's not...their generation lost it. They didn't lose it but it wasn't passed to them for all these factors that many of us are aware of and therefore it didn't come to me either but if we remind people why it matters and I think we really can engage people that this is as important an issue as anything that we face is our identity's at stake, our connection to our land, our connection to our ancestor's spirits, spiritual things, the language holds so much for us and I think it should be at the forefront of everything that we do as a nation and being that so few of us do speak it's really an ongoing challenge. We try to bring in speakers to make the language available and open and accessible so as many people can hear it as possible. At council meetings we have someone do the prayer in the language. That's ideal. We do have classes in the community both for people who are working and people that aren't working. We have language teachers going into our Head Start and just in the last year or two our daycare and our education centers are really ramping up their use of the language. Very evident, I can see it, just night and day. And the kids, kids are just soaking it up. I think...my personal feeling is it's one of those things that it...and just in my community maybe because we haven't gotten to the stage of certain communities at revitalizing it. I think it's going to happen, it's just a matter of time. We've got to keep plugging away but it really takes some massive commitment to...not only from an individual perspective of speaking if you only know a word or only know a sentence or can only introduce yourself, be proud of that much and try to learn more and share it as much as possible with the children, with each other. It's just...it's cool to see people even just greeting themselves a lot more commonly as of late and for non-natives to hear it. When they realize that we still have that, that people are still speaking it ‘cause a lot of times they hear it so infrequently or everything is English that they just assume that's a gone part of who we are. We need to remind them, no, it's still a very important part of who we are and in fact it's an element of who we are that's getting stronger and will continue to get stronger so get used to it. There's going to be some signs around here. You're going to have to start to learn Paiute. You are in Paiute Country even if our reservation is only 877 acres. I think that's something that I see. As a leader of my nation I think we have to think beyond the borders of our nation sometimes because our traditional homeland is so vast and yet our jurisdiction is so small, well, I realize that my jurisdiction is only this big but I can't have my mind only within this small box. It's so limited. We go to Hawaii, everyone says Aloha whether you're native Hawaiian or not. It's the language of the land and I feel the same way about our areas. I think people should learn the language in the land that they're at and show respect for that and I think we as people, I hope that's a prideful effect on us and our children."

Verónica Hirsch:

"You've mentioned briefly the challenges of boundaries and I was wondering if you could provide your opinion about the challenges for a Bishop Paiute tribal member who is living away from the community who may want to be very much engaged within the Bishop Paiute Tribe's local process, specifically with regard to voting. In that scenario I've described, what challenges to exercising his or her right to vote in tribal elections might that person encounter?"

Kristopher Hohag:

Yeah, I think it's a really important issue. I have some personal experience just having lived away from the community and I know a lot of people are in the thick of, as we speak. In our community, based upon our enrollment ordinance you have to live on or near the reservation in very prescribed areas in order to be...have the privilege to vote about anything–the tribal leaders, any issue at hand and the exception is if somebody's in college at a school or in the military. So that leaves a lot of people out. That leaves a lot of people who...we have a lot of tribal members but many of them are not authorized to vote under those exceptions. Maybe it was economic purposes that sent them away which totally understandable in our area being as secluded as it is and away from major industry and so...or college students that go away and find a career that they couldn't pass up and they're building their skills with the intention of bringing it home to our people to help us build our nation. But, in the meantime they have no say at home. Just having been in that scenario and knowing numerous, actually a good amount of people today that are in that way, I think it's really important that we keep them engaged on a regular basis. To me as we chatted about, to be off the reservation doesn't make you any less who you are. For me to be in Seattle or to be in New York doesn't make me any less Ní¼í¼mí¼ or Paiute from this community. I will always be a part of that community. I will always have the well-being of that community...our community in my heart and what I'm trying to do but I think it's really important to facilitate that engagement still because those are our minds, those are hearts of our people that are going to be contributing to the innovation that we need today to be a thriving nation. We talked...is nation building is a healthy thriving, nation...building a healthy, thriving nation, then each one of us is a key element to that and we have...if we have people out getting their PhDs and their master's degrees and they work in the university, well, you can vote as long as you're a student but once you start working that job, sorry. I think we really should emphasize keeping them engaged because not to say that the people living at home on the reservation don't have a lot of valuable input as well but I think to make the most of our citizens or to make the most of our nation we need to engage all of our citizens to the greatest extent possible and keep them engaged and along with that continue to do our best to facilitate their return back home when it makes sense because currently it kind of...we might force you to return home if you want bad enough to participate, to have some input, know who your tribal leaders are and the issues at hand, to get some land, to get a house, you better get home. Never mind all those other goals you had out there, you better get home because you don't have those privileges if you're out there in the world. I would like to see us find a balance there where we continue to encourage our citizens to succeed at their potential and shoot for their goals and dreams and acquire this expertise and experience out there that's going to benefit us all in the end. If we could facilitate not only their education ‘cause we certainly do our best...I think probably all tribes do their best to educate their kids in one way or another that makes sense to them. Sometimes that's sending them away to college. Sometimes it's not. That's why tribal colleges are so important if they're located within a nation's territory and is grounded in their educational values. I would love to see that in our area as well because for us it's necessary to go to...to leave if... To go to a four year university I can't stay home. It's not possible. Have to go at least four to five hours away and then if you want to go further, you've got to go further. So I would love to see more dialogue around facilitating their return so that they can contribute to the nation as a whole. I think that only benefits us all. As a tribal member who's been in that position at one time and may be in that position again in the future, for myself and for my children, you want them connected back home and I think the tribal government should keep that in mind and do our best to facilitate that connection to the greatest extent possible."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. From your personal perspective could you provide some suggestions for engaging those Bishop Paiute tribal citizens who for multiple reasons have or currently live away from the community, how to both encourage their return home to the Bishop Paiute Tribe homelands and also how they can, to whatever degree you believe appropriate in your opinion, remain engaged within Bishop Paiute tribal election processes?"

Kristopher Hohag:

"Yeah, I think some easy things to start with would be get them on the mailing list, allow them to receive every newsletter, every information packet that other tribal members receive just so that they're aware. I think it should be accessible to them to receive language materials or anything that's connected back home to the identity of who we are. Maybe that's language CDs, something that makes them build that connection while they're away, don't let that connection get any stronger or any weaker, let's build that connection so that when they come home they feel a part of the community and they're eager to not only contribute but to learn more rather than maybe they feel like an outsider. I don't know that that's going to be the case with anyone but let's work towards strengthening that connection and that tie. Perhaps we have...some tribes will have like an annual election where everyone...everyone's eligible but you've got to make it home and then you can vote. That's an option. I think that's a potential option as long as everyone's aware of it. Make sure you know where they're at. If they're a tribal member, we have their address, let's keep them informed of the happenings and say, ‘If this is important to you, this is when it's happening and you are welcome to be a part of it and provide some input but it's happening here.' So that's an option I think. And then many things that are issue specific. I think mail is just fine. I think a lot of people just appreciate being connected and knowing what's going on from the government as opposed to, ‘I've got to call home and see what the issues are.' That's how we do it now but I think it would go a long way to say, ‘Hey, you're one of our citizens, we know you're out there in the world but we know this is your home and so these are the things we're dealing with. What's your opinion? How can you support this and add to the dialogue to help us become stronger?' I don't think that hurts us in any way myself."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. In a previous conversation you mentioned positive, inter-governmental working relationships. You've also mentioned some of the current relationship that the Bishop Paiute Tribe has with the Owens Valley Career Development Center as well as the Owens...excuse me, the Paiute Shoshone Owens Valley Board of Trustees. I wonder if you might also provide a bit more information on the positive relationship that the Bishop Paiute Tribe has cultivated with the Bureau of Land Management."

Kristopher Hohag:

"Yeah, definitely. In just my limited time in tribal politics I've learned and come to understand that there's a lot of challenges with tribes working with federal agencies, state agencies and it's not always a real healthy relationship to say the least and I think we have a fairly healthy relationship at least with our area offices of the Bureau of Land Management and the United States Forest Service. On our small reservation we do have an area that's set aside for economic development that is occupied by the BLM and Forest Service. They have their area office buildings on our reservation as well as the California Department of Motor Vehicles office is located on our reservation. These are developments in the last 10 years and I think they've been really positive in terms of facilitating regular dialogue. We have quarterly meetings with the BLM and the Forest Service which is facilitated by our THPO which is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer and that person has regular dialogue with them about issues that they're working on. And so I think those regular consultation prove to be really valuable and at least locally the people...the staff are very mindful of how their work is impacted by the tribe's and vice versa. And so there's just a willingness to reach out and say, ‘Okay, this is what we've got going on. Is this okay?' or ‘Do you guys have any input about this or that?' So I think that's a really good thing and a lot of it is personality based. I think sometimes maybe you get a field director in there that, ‘My way or the highway.' That happens. But right now I think we're in a very...we have a positive, healthy relationship with those particular federal agencies and that's really key for us because it's such a small reservation and in our particular area much of the land is public lands so they have the jurisdiction over a lot of that area. For instance, one of the outcomes of this positive relation is we do have a memorandum of understanding with the BLM for co-management of I believe about 70,000 acres just north of the reservation which is...they call it volcanic table lands and what it is, it's essentially traditional hunting territory of our people and at one point it was slated to be the reservation of our valley prior to the land exchange which was like 60,000 acres for the reservations. No, 3,000 acres for the reservations. That was one of those strokes of the pen that really affected our present status. But I think to be in that collaborative agreement, to have that MOU about co-management is really a good thing moving forward and we're still pretty early on in that relationship of co-management. I believe it's only been about two years and so we still have a lot of room to grow within that and hopefully we can get our tribal members out there helping them to do...fulfill their responsibility of those lands but we as a tribe take some of that responsibility as well."

Verónica Hirsch:

"In your opinion how important or appropriate is it to include Bishop Paiute Tribe Indigenous language within government documents or to employ it within the context of general council and tribal council?"

Kristopher Hohag:

"My opinion is it's vitally important. I think it is. Some may say it's just semantics and maybe it's just a gesture, it's symbolic and that's true too but I think it's an important symbol. I think it's important to say, ‘This is who we are, this is our intentions and this is how we present ourselves. This is our language.' As you eluded to, ‘These are our responsibilities as Indigenous peoples of this land,' and I think those should preface all of our government documents, remind people. If people weren't aware of it, maybe it's new to somebody, ‘Oh, this isn't your standard government document. There's something very unique about this. This is a sovereign nation with its own language, with its own customs, with its own history and belief system.' Being that so many of those things are embedded within our language, our cultural world view, I think it's vital that it be included in our government documents as well however symbolic or practical. I kind of think that's irrelevant. Obviously there's a spectrum of how practical it is depending on the community and how many people actually speak and understand their language but coming from a government point of view I think it should just be clear cut and dry include your language in that.

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. That's all the time we have on today's episode of Leading Native Nations. To learn more about Leading Native Nations, please visit NNI's Indigenous Governance Database website, which can be found at igovdatabase.com. Thank you for joining us."

Ian Record: Constitutional Reform: Some Perspectives on Process

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Dr. Ian Record, NNI Manager of Educational Resources, provides a broad overview of the inherent difficulties involved with constitutional reform, the different processes that Native nations are developing to engage in constitutional reform, and some of the effective reform strategies that NNI is encountering through its work with Native nations in this area. He also discusses the appropriate roles that attorneys and legal advocates should play in the reform process.

People
Resource Type
Citation

Record, Ian. "Constitutional Reform: Some Perspectives on Process." Indigenous Peoples' Law and Policy Program, James E. Rogers College of Law, The University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 15, 2014. Presentation.

“The reality is that in the era of nation building, the era of tribal self-determination, what we’re seeing is a growing number of nations realizing that if they want to fully exercise their sovereignty, if they want to fully exercise their jurisdiction, if they want to be serious about tribal self-determination and self-governance, they have to look first and foremost at the constitutional basis of their governance systems and once...when they do that, what a great number of them are finding is that the constitutions that they have for a variety of reasons aren’t theirs, were imposed upon them by outsiders, typically the federal government through the Indian Reorganization Act, through the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act and other types of legislation and acts. And what they’re finding is that they don’t own them, they’re not theirs, they don’t make sense to them culturally, and also in many cases, they don’t meet the challenges of the day. They’re very structurally weak, they’re ill equipped to enable Native nations to achieve their goals, to negotiate the complex governance challenges that they face in the 21st century.

And so what we do at the Native Nations Institute is we spend quite a bit of our time working directly with a growing number of native nations, in particular in the region of North and South Dakota and Minnesota in this realm of governance reform and specifically constitutional reform. So often we are called to come in, and at the very beginning of a process, when the nation may just have come to the decision that we’re going to tackle this constitutional reform challenge. And often we’re brought in after a reform process has failed. Often we’re brought in to help a nation design a citizen education campaign around a new constitution that they’ve already created. So what we’ve been in the great position to do is to really see at various stages of the constitutional reform process what is working and what isn’t.

So what I wanted to talk about today, to spend a little bit of time on, is what we’ve learned when it comes to not so much what kinds of constitutional changes that tribes are making, but more how they’re doing it. Because fortunately or unfortunately, what we’re seeing is there’s a lot more nations that recognize that they need to make constitutional change happen than are actually doing that constitutional change because it’s an incredibly difficult process. And it’s often difficult for the very reasons that I already talked about, these legacies of colonialism, which I’ll get into in a little bit.

So here’s some of the outcomes that we see, and this is sort of done in conversational style, but we see a variety of outcomes when it comes to nations engaging in constitutional reform. Some actually succeed. Some actually succeed to the scope and to the degree to which they actually embarked upon.

So they say, ‘Well, at the beginning of the process we’ve decided we’re going to get rid of this constitution we have because for the reasons I put out it doesn’t make sense to us, it doesn’t meet our needs and they actually succeed in developing an entirely new constitution. Other say, ‘Well, yeah, I guess you could say we succeeded, but we only did minor changes. We didn’t do nearly as much as we had hoped to do because perhaps some of the bigger changes were too controversial, our people weren’t ready to really accept what a major change in a particular area was going to mean so we kind of...we did the easy stuff. We did the more pro forma stuff.’

Sometimes we hear tribes say, ‘Well, we completed reform but our citizens didn’t really have a full sense of ownership in the process and they didn’t really care what the outcome is and things are sort of proceeding as they did before.’ And that’s a real dangerous place that you don’t want to be in as a Native nation.

Sometimes we see tribes say, ‘Well, we completed reform, but the community is now only more divided than it was before. We engaged in this process because there was division within the community, there was a lot of factionalism going on, we felt that at the root of that factionalism was our governance system and the inherent inadequacies in it, but this reform we’ve engaged in has actually made things worse.’

Often we hear this, ‘Our process started and then it stalled.’ And there is a variety of reasons we see for that. I’d say the biggest one probably is the political turnover challenge. Often, in these nations that are wrestling with constitutional reform, if you look at for instance the standard boilerplate IRA (Indian Reorganization Act) constitution system of government, you have two-year, non-staggered terms of elected office. So if you think about that, you have a very small window. If you have a group of leaders that decide, ‘We want to push constitutional reform, maybe that was the platform we ran on our campaign and we really feel like we’ve got this short window to do this,’ and if you’re thinking about two-year, non-staggered terms, you’re looking at maybe 12 months of real meaningful work that you can do before it’s time to get ready for re-election and try to run on some sort of platform of progress.

And then often we see, ‘We can’t even get the process started.’ And in these instances typically what it is is there’s widespread recognition in the community, there’s widespread recognition among elected leadership, there’s widespread recognition among people working in tribal government that, ‘The system we have is not working. We can’t make this work, we can’t move forward as long as we have it, but we can’t seem to get off the mark in terms of figuring out how to actually change it.’ So these are just some of the common outcomes.

So why is it so difficult? Constitutional change is difficult everywhere. If you look at a lot of the examples coming out of Africa for instance in the last 20, 30 years, if you look at those former Eastern European Soviet Union block countries that got out of the Soviet Union when the Soviet Union fell apart, they’ve been struggling for the past 30 or so years trying to figure out, ‘What’s going to be the constitutional basis of our government?’ And there were a number that simply pulled one off the shelf and they very quickly found that, ‘It’s not working for us. We’ve got to develop something that is ours, that makes sense to us.’ So it’s difficult everywhere.

The legacies of colonialism complicate it. Often the very policies that nations are trying to get out from under by engaging in constitutional reform are the actual things that hinder constitutional reform, things like I just mentioned, these short, non-staggered terms of elected office. Often in these nations you have a lack of separations of powers, division of responsibilities, so you can have one leader or a couple of leaders just say, ‘If we’re not buying into this process, we can derail the whole thing,’ because they have that much power and authority. So the legacies of colonialism complicate it.

Time is often short. I mentioned that. And I wanted to share this example with you and this is in your packet here. This is...I actually took this screen capture. This is from an email that we got from a tribe that we’ve been working with on and off for the last several years. They were basically emailing us asking us to provide them assistance and this is what they laid out as their timetable for starting a constitutional reform process and actually having a new draft constitution in hand, upon which time they could have their citizens vote on it. This is a nation with more than 13,000 citizens, spread out all over the place. More than half of them live off reservation.

So they had it in mind, the particular elected leader who was leading this initiative, had it in mind that between early May and mid-June, roughly six weeks, that they would initiate a constitutional reform process with an initial training of their leadership followed by a community forum to discuss and review the current constitution, a team meeting to draft the new constitution, a community forum to review that draft and offer any feedback, and then the presentation of a petition and proposed revised constitution for signatures at general council to basically put it up for election. All this they were going to do within six weeks, an entirely new constitution.

And what we responded to them was, we said, ‘You need to take a step back and take a deep breath and think about what you’re trying to accomplish. You’re trying to essentially revolutionize your entire system of governance in six weeks, a system of governance that your people has lived with for the entirety of most people’s lifetimes on the reservation and you’re going to give your community, your citizens, one opportunity really to express their will about what they want to see in a constitution and then one opportunity to respond to how they think they see their will captured in that document. And also they have to be physically present and there’s only going to be one chance each time. So if you’ve got a schedule conflict that day, too bad, you had your opportunity.’

So this is the sort of thing we sometimes see nations struggle with because this elected leader says, ‘If I don’t get this done during my term in office, then it’s not going to happen. So I’ve got to sort of build this artificial timetable that does not allow for the people to gain ownership in the process.’ And often really that’s at the root of the problem in many of these constitutions is the people don’t own it. They don’t feel it’s theirs, they don’t believe in it and they don’t believe in the system of government that the constitution creates and so they tend to try to rip off that government for everything it’s worth instead of actually supporting it and supporting the elected leaders who are elected to lead it. So time is often short, that’s a huge challenge.

Cultural match, which is one of the NNI research findings. That is often very difficult to achieve because it’s very difficult to go back to the way things were 150, 200 years ago. What I often stress when I work with tribes in this area is you need to go back and understand how your nation governed itself before the legacies of colonialism began to have an impact, federal policies began to have an impact. What was your nation’s constitution, written or unwritten? What was it? How did the people actually organize to get things done, to sustain the life of the nation? And then also how did your nation’s current constitution come to be? Because those are tools, those are informational tools that nations need as they begin this...to engage this question of reform.

And then another challenge of why reform is so difficult is that you’re not reforming your constitution sort of in isolation. You’ve got to do it with some thought about, ‘How do we relate with other governments? How do we relate with the United States government?’ And what’s really cool is what we’re seeing is we’re seeing a growing number of nations for instance that are removing any reference to the United States in their constitutions, they’re removing any reference of the U.S. Secretary of Interior and their ability to approve changes to the constitution within that constitution. So it is a difficult challenge.

So here’s some other reasons that we’ve encountered. There’s not enough citizen education. And this is really an inherent issue that is larger than simply the constitutional reform process that many nations try to engage in. Often they’re starting at a deficit because they don’t...there isn’t in the community a tribal civics education taking place where young people in the community are learning about how their people governed themselves traditionally, how their current government works, what their current constitution says, they’re not learning that. And so you’re sort of starting with a knowledge gap in many Native communities that is difficult to overcome and really takes a lot of forethought. And that sort of is a bigger challenge than simply saying, ‘Okay, we want to change the constitution.’ If you’re engaging your people about that question, first they have to understand, ‘Well, what are we starting with? What are we starting with? You’re asking us to consider changing something, we don’t even know what that something is.’

So often that’s an issue. Often there’s not enough citizen participation and ownership. It’s that example I just showed you. ‘Eh, we’ll give our citizens one shot at the apple and after that we’ve at least given them the opportunity and then we’re going to move forward.’

And then there’s this question of politics. Reform has to start somewhere and typically it’s going to start with one group of leaders, elected leaders, who are saying, ‘We think this is important. We think if the nation’s going to move forward we’ve got to go down this constitutional reform road.’ No matter what, there’s going to be some in the community that’ll say, ‘Well, this is their political agenda. They’re not doing this on the nation’s behalf. They’re doing this for their own political gain.’ So there’s sort of an inherent distrust and often it’s, again, this is one of the many ‘Catch 22s’ in this area, often the distrust of government in many of these communities has been exacerbated over the decades by the fact that they have a weak constitution. And so when these nations or these leaders say, ‘Well, we need to strengthen our constitution,’ that’s when that distrust tends to rear its ugly head.

And then there’s just simply fear of change. Fear of change. Like I mentioned, in many communities there’s a widespread recognition that the constitution and system of government they have is not adequate, it’s not appropriate, but at the same time a lot of those people feel very comfortable with the way things are. It’s not the best it could be, but they’re comfortable with it, they know how it works, they know the system and if you come to them and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to turn this thing completely upside down on its head and we’re going to create an entirely new governance reality,’ that’s pretty scary for folks.

And there’s parallels around the world. Just look at like the Affordable Care Act. That was a major change in terms of how the government, how the U.S. government serves the U.S. citizens. Basically saying, ‘We’re getting into the health care field. We’re going to get more forcefully into this area.’ That was a huge change and a lot of people still aren’t satisfied with it.

So here are some strategies we’ve come across. We’ve seen tribes tend to be more successful with constitutional reform when they think really hard at the outset about who is going to be in charge of the process. Who is going to be in charge of the process? And we’ll get more into that. They think long and hard about, ‘What are the best ways we can educate our nation’s citizens,’ and this is really critical. That ‘s’ is underlined for a reason. Tribes tend to be more successful when they develop a multi-faceted approach to citizen education and engagement. So basically they do much more than that example I showed you where they just said, ‘Well, we’re going to have a community meeting. We’ll make sure it’s well publicized. Whoever shows up, shows up and whoever doesn’t show up, you had your chance.’

Well, we’ve seen nations like White Earth for instance, who recently went through the development of a new constitution up in Minnesota, who said, ‘We understand our people. We understand the different ways they learn. We’re going to try to develop multiple pathways by which our citizens can learn about and contribute to the development of this new constitution. It’s going to be several cycles of community meetings held in different locations where we know our people live, whether it’s on reservation or off. We’re going to have a website specifically dedicated to this process where we have things like explanatory videos that discuss key aspects of the new constitution, etc. We’re going to be active on social media because we know that’s how young people access information.’ So a multi-faceted approach to educate and engage the nation’s citizens about this critical topic.

And then culturally appropriate methods, culturally appropriate methods. So for instance Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, a Pueblo nation in Texas that I’ve been working with, they’ve incorporated, they don’t have a written constitution, but one of the things they’re engaged in is redefining their citizenship criteria, which you could argue is a major constitutional change because they’re changing how they’re constituting themselves by seemingly...it looks like they’re going to be abandoning blood quantum and moving to lineal descent. So that’s a major constitutional change.

Well, what they’ve been doing is they’ve been incorporating their citizen education and engagement strategies into their existing cultural activities. So for instance, I think it’s every three months they have what’s called a ‘Pueblo Junta,’ which is basically a large gathering of all the community members and that’s where they’re updating citizens on what they’ve been learning about -- the surveys they’ve been doing of community members, engaging them, getting their feedback and so forth.

So where we see nations really say, ‘What’s appropriate for our people culturally?’ For instance, ‘If we’re really serious about engaging our elders, what’s the most culturally appropriate way to do that? What’s the most culturally appropriate way to get their input on what we want the new constitution to look like?’ So we’ve seen that bear some good fruit.

Where we’ve seen tribes stumble is when councils dominate the process. It gets back to that politics challenge. You don’t want your elected leaders seeming like they’re at the helm of the reform process. That’s not to say they don’t have a critical role to play in sort of setting up the process through, for instance, enabling legislation. They could pass enabling legislation that actually formally creates a constitutional reform body and then make sure that that constitutional reform body has a life that transcends any single administration or any single term in office. But it’s really a supportive role. Where we’ve seen tribes be successful is when they set up an independent constitutional reform body. It can be a commission, a convention, a committee -- whatever you want to call it. The name doesn’t really matter. It’s the independence that matters, the independence of that entity that matters.

And we’ve seen tribes take a variety of approaches to this. Tribes are really being innovative in terms of how they’re making sure that this constitutional reform body is representative of the entire nation because they understand that at the end of the day, if this reform process is going to be successful, it needs to have the trust of the people and the ownership of the people or else the outcome won’t matter. And so they’re saying, ‘Well, how do we achieve that?’

Well, for our nation it might be, ‘Let’s do it by district. Let’s do it by political district because that makes sure that...that ensures that we have...every district will have representation.’ Or they might say, ‘Well, let’s do it by demographics. We want to make sure we have a young person on there. We want to make sure we have an administrative, bureaucrat type from tribal government on there who can sort of bring that perspective. We want to make sure we have an elder on there. We want to make sure we have an off-reservation citizen on there. We want to make sure that we have somebody who’s a descendent of a tribally enrolled citizen, but may not actually be a citizen of the nation because one of the things we’re thinking about doing is reforming our citizenship criteria and if we do that, that person would then become a citizen of the tribe. So we want that perspective as well.’

So there’s a variety of ways that nations are approaching this representation issue, but ultimately what it needs to be is independent. It needs to have that sort of stand-alone...that stand-alone persona in the community where the average Joe Citizen will look at that reform body and say, ‘Okay, this is not the creature of the council or this particular elected leader. This has its own force to it that is independent and distinct from the current holders of political authority.’ And it’s got to be well funded and it’s got to be respected.

What we’ve seen in some instances is nations will do a really good job of this kind of stuff, the independence questions, the representation question, and then they get down here and they say, ‘Well, we didn’t really have a lot of money for this.’ When what we’ve seen, where these efforts tend to be successful, they take two, three, four, five, six, seven years. They take an extraordinary amount of research, meetings, sometimes travel, sometimes these nations are sending delegations to other tribes who’ve undergone reform and learning from them. So this can get pretty costly and a lot of it depends on how big the tribe is, how many of their citizens they’re trying to reach and get engaged in this.

And then it has to be respected. It has to be respected. Unfortunately what we’ve seen is in some instances tribal leaders will pay lip service to the fact that, ‘Yeah, we’re for constitutional reform. We’ve set up this commission,’ and then they’re out at the powwow and they’re chatting up their buddies, they’re bad mouthing the commission’s work and basically that begins to derail the process because people begin to think, ‘Well, if the leadership really isn’t truly behind this, why should I be?’ So that issue of respect is absolutely critical.

I kind of covered this already about this question of legitimacy of this reform commission, of this reform body. One leader of a nation we’ve worked with in this area said, ‘We went into this process with the very explicit thought in mind that we wanted to have this commission maintain an aura of independence,’ was the term they used. An ‘aura of independence.’ That it’s separate and distinct from sort of the normal political back and forth of the day. That this was going to be about the nation and not about faction A versus faction B.

So here’s some just responsibilities that we see these members, whoever ultimately serves on this commission, what we see as some of their key responsibilities. One of the things we really impress upon tribes... And again, it’s hard for tribes to get outside of their own box, to kind of get their head out of their own issues, their own constitutional problems and say, ‘Well, what could we learn from other nations?’ And so what we really impress upon the nations we work with on this is, ‘Go out. Learn from other tribes. Yeah, we can tell you a little bit about what Tribe A did and Tribe B did and Tribe C did, but you could learn a lot more yourself by going and learning from them directly.’ And it’s not to say you go out and you meet with them and you learn from them and you just simply take everything that they’ve done and you implement it wholesale in your nation, but you may learn a lot of valuable lessons about process, you may learn a lot of valuable lessons about the particular types of constitutional changes that those other nations made and why they made them, and are they working or are they not working. But again, that kind of thing takes funding so you’ve got to think about that up front.

They developed drafts of constitutional changes for feedback and this is critical -- drafts plural, drafts plural. The constitutional drafting process is not a one-shot deal. We’ve seen tribes tend to be more successful when they go into it thinking, ‘We’re going to keep drafting and redrafting and redrafting and redrafting until we get this right because it gives us an opportunity to continually, again and again, solicit the citizens’ thoughts, capture their will on this issue and then incorporate it into this document.’

And part of the...I touched on the citizen education challenge a little bit more, but where we see tribes focus a lot of their energy is trying to help the people understand the answers to these questions. They need to understand that the average Joe Citizen who’s maybe a single mom with three kids, just struggling to put food on the table, get propane in the winter, that kind of stuff, you’re asking them to care about the constitution. You’ve got to make the argument, ‘This will improve your life. This will improve the life of your children and their children.’ And you really need to then educate them about what role does the constitution play in the lives of the people, because if you’re not making that argument, then you’ve lost them even before you get out the door. And then you’ve got to say, ‘Well, if we change the constitution, here’s how we think it will benefit you. Here’s how we think it will strengthen your role as citizen of the nation.’ And here are some of the things we see them focusing on in terms of explaining the purpose of this to the people.

And we see them adopt a number of really interesting strategies. We’re seeing...I’ve been working a lot with the tribal colleges across the country in getting them to use our online curriculum and what we’re seeing is a proliferation in recent years of tribal government classes, of history classes specifically about that nation’s government and that nation’s constitution. We’re seeing some tribes really use their media outlets, whether it’s their newspaper, their tribal newspapers, their tribal radio stations, they’re using them to great advantage.

For instance, one woman I know, she’s from one of the Dakota tribes and she’s got a radio show and she’s on the constitutional reform committee. And so each week she does about 30 minutes on the nation’s constitution and she interviews people on the constitutional reform committee and has them provide updates on where the conversation is on the new constitution and so forth. That’s a really good example. And there’s a lot of tribes that have their own radio stations or at least have access to airtime on radio stations that they don’t own.

Youth councils is another emerging trend we’re seeing. Nations really thinking, ‘This challenge of rebuilding our nation, it’s not going to happen overnight. It didn’t take us a year to get to where we’re at. It’s not going to take a year to change things for the better, so we’ve really got to view this as a long-term proposition. And if we’re going to be serious about nation rebuilding, about making...building a stronger government that is more culturally appropriate, we’ve got to start young. We’ve got to start with our young people.’ So just here in Arizona, there’s some of the most innovative, award-winning tribal youth councils anywhere in Indian Country. Gila River, Tohono O’odham, some really good examples there.

So here’s what we sometimes see and this is an unfortunate thing. And again I think, as we move forward, I’ll talk a little bit more of where we see the role of lawyers, of attorneys, in the constitutional reform process. But this is something really important to keep in mind that you really have to have the citizens on board before the constitutional reform train leaves the station or you could end up with a situation where reform fails and you have your citizens even more apathetic about government, even more alienated, and that’s not where you want to be. Particularly when you embark on constitutional reform, it’s often to improve or strengthen the relationship between citizens and government. Often constitutional reform is attempted precisely because people in positions of authority and of leadership realize that ‘our people are completely disengaged and at the root of that disengagement is this inadequate constitution we have.’

So here’s some reasons why people won’t participate and why the citizen engagement challenge is so difficult. I’ll talk about this. I sort of touched on this. Often people just say, ‘I’m too busy. I’ve got too much going on. I don’t have time to deal with this.’ And so where we see tribes succeed is where they recognize early on that, ‘We can’t expect the people to come to us; we’ve got to go to them. We’ve got to go to them.’ As the leader of one nation that we work with said, ‘If your entire constitutional reform process is predicated on the flyer approach, then you’re dead before you even begin because where you’re simply posting flyers saying, ‘Come to this meeting about constitutional reform,’ nobody shows up and you said, ‘Well, they had their chance,’ that’s not good enough. You’ve got to go to them.

‘It’s not my constitution.’ I don’t know how many of you guys read Indianz.com on a regular basis or Indian Country Today. I don’t know how many of you’ve been following the saga up at Blackfeet. But they are...I was just reading a story today and that refrain was coming out again and again and again. ‘Why are we even dealing with this constitution? It’s not ours. Why are we even abiding by these rules? They’re not ours.’ And so I think again that’s where that history piece is so critical, is people need to really understand sort of the detail of that. ‘Well, yeah, you understand it’s not yours, it was something that was imposed upon you, but what does that mean? What does that mean for how you actually go about changing it? And if it’s not yours, then what would be yours?’ Because often, there’s not a lot of conversation about that. There’s a sense of, ‘Well, we know that’s not our government, we don’t believe in it and we understand that’s at the root of our dysfunction,’ but there’s less conversation about, ‘Well, what is ours? What is our constitution if this is not our constitution?’

‘It doesn’t impact my life.’ You could ask any average American citizen that and that would probably be what they would say about the U.S. Constitution. ‘It doesn’t impact my life.’ Sure it does, just not in a way they can readily see. So again, that’s part of the citizen education and engagement challenge is you’ve got to educate people about how it does in fact impact their life.

‘I don’t trust the process. I don’t trust the process.’ And I want to focus on two things here. Sources of mistrust, one of them is commonly dominance of lawyers in the process. How many of you guys like reading constitutions? Come on, raise your hands. Ray, you like reading constitutions? Nobody likes reading constitutions, right? Even you lawyers to be, not really a lot of fun to read constitutions. Imagine your tribal citizens, your average tribal citizens who may have a tenth-grade, twelfth-grade, maybe a tribal college...a couple years of tribal college education. When lawyers tend to dominate the process, the accessibility of the conversation about constitutions tends to be way above their heads. And so we see a lot of mistrust bubbling up when the lawyers are sort of front and center in the reform process from start to finish.

I’ll give you a good example of this and I may have shared this at the seminar. I was actually teaching with some of my colleagues at an executive education seminar with a tribe who has sort of the boilerplate IRA constitution, system of government-style tribe. We had these lawyers show up to this seminar during the second day and they said, ‘If you have some time at the end of your agenda, we’d like to have the floor so we could talk to the elected leadership and community members and some of the key decision makers,’ that were assembled there in the room. And so we did and they actually got up and they said, ‘Well, we’ve been working on this new draft constitution for the tribe and we got it all done. Here it is. It’s all finished. We want to just give you a quick overview of it.’ And before they got more than about 20 or 30 more words out of their mouth, they got shouted down by the people in the room because nobody knew they were even working on this draft constitution. And so there was no ownership in it and the people that had assembled in the room didn’t even care what was in it, it didn’t matter because it was sort of a done deal. And the feeling was, ‘Well, you’re showing us that this constitution’s a done deal and we weren’t even consulted on it. How dare you.’

And so the ways to overcome, some of the ways to overcome that mistrust is transparency, transparency and transparency. You have to expect that the lawyers are going to respond to the community needs and concerns instead of expecting the community to follow the lawyer’s lead. And what’s absolutely critical is that you create a safe environment for real dialogue. And again this comes back to the role of elected leaders. If you’ve got your elected leaders at every single community meeting about the constitution, about the drafting of a new constitution, and you’ve got a bunch of people that care about this new constitution and they really want to share their thoughts and feelings, but the last time they did it in front of an elected leader they lost their job or something like that, you’ve got to question, ‘Do we really have a safe environment for real dialogue?’ And the elected leaders have to think, ‘Well, me even being here, not even saying anything but me even being present at a community meeting about a new constitution, is that appropriate? Is that going to stifle real dialogue? Is that going to stifle frank input from our citizens who we really need their input if we’re going to have a constitution, a new constitution that is going to have the ownership of the people in it?’

So I want to spend a couple more minutes about some of the things I think that you as attorneys to be need to think about when it comes to tribal constitutional reform and the process by which tribes engage in constitutional reform. Because I would imagine that at some point in your careers -- as I mentioned at the outset -- at some point in your careers you’re going to get involved in a constitutional reform process or you’re going to be engaged on a constitutional question or you’re going to be asked to review the constitutionality of something, of a tribe’s constitution, and that could be in the constitution, it could be in its codes, it could be in resolutions or something.

And I thought this...I wanted to share this quote with you because I thought that it’s very telling. One of our colleagues was having a conversation with the leader of a nation who was engaged in reform and he said that, ‘The law comes from the constitution, therefore the lawyer should come after the constitution.’ I thought that that’s a very telling quote because what you want to think about as an attorney and as a lawyer is, ‘What is my role in assisting a nation in developing a constitution, implementing that constitution, living with that constitution, interpreting that constitution,’ it needs to be a supportive role. It needs to be an advisory role, not so much a creative role.

So one of the things to think about in terms of the appropriate role of lawyers in the reform process is to become an expert on tribal constitutional reform. And there’s a couple threads here that I think you should think about. The first is, have a sense of the landscape. What are tribes doing in the area of constitutional reform across Indian Country? What are the major trends that they’re showing as they develop new constitutions, ratify constitutional amendments, etc.? Where are they focusing their activity, their energy? Things like separations of powers, which is an Indigenous concept. Re-instilling that back into their governance systems. Things like removing the Secretary of Interior approval clause from their constitutions, where if a tribe wants to change its constitution, amend its constitution, it has to go get Secretary of Interior approval to do that. A lot of tribes are just saying, ‘Let’s get that out of the equation. We’re going to amend our constitution to take that out.’

It’s things like strengthening justice systems. And as lawyers who are going to be probably dealing in that realm quite a bit of tribal justice systems, it’d behoove you to know, what are tribes doing in this area to strengthen their justice systems? How are they doing it? How many tribes are bestowing upon their appeals court or their supreme court the ability to review the constitutionality of legislation that the tribe ratifies, that the council passes? So become an expert in tribal constitutional reform. And I would argue also become an expert on...if you envision yourself -- whether you’re an attorney general or maybe you’re a lawyer that’s on retainer with the tribe or maybe you’re consulting a number of tribes -- become an expert on what’s the oral history, what’s the record of that nation’s constitutional reform and that nation’s current constitution because often there’s a lot more in the back story to that nation’s constitution than what’s written on the page. Because you might read a provision that says, ‘Well...’ that articulates a separation between the executive and the legislative and it may be a bit innovative in how it words it, but that doesn’t give you enough to go on. You might need to understand, ‘Well, why did they decide to take that approach to that separations of powers question?’ And so learn what you need to learn to understand how that constitution and specific provisions within it came to be.

Help to fine-tune the final constitutional language. So for instance, there’s one tribe we’re working with right now and what they’re moving towards through their citizen engagement process on constitution reform is they’re envisioning, ‘At the end of the day we’re going to end up with basically a terms sheet.’ It’s basically going to be in very layman’s terms, ‘Here are the dozen or maybe two dozen key things we want to see in our new constitution. We want it to protect the language and preserve the language of the people, the native language of the people,’ or something like that. ‘We want a clear and distinct separations of powers between the executive branch, the legislative branch,’ whatever that might look like, whatever it might be. So there might be sort of layman’s terms-style provisions that then need to be taken by a lawyer who understands the legal language that might...that might be the role for you is, ‘How do we fine tune this?’ Another thing is to provide advice as to the legality of the new constitutional amendments. Because often constitutional amendments, if they’re not worded correctly, they might conflict with other laws that the nation has on the books. They might conflict with the actual constitution. An amendment might actually conflict with the rest of the constitution. So that might be a role that you as a lawyer could play.

Help the nation navigate the secretarial election process. So for a lot of nations, as I mentioned, who have that language in their constitutions that says, ‘If we want to change our constitution, we have to have the Secretary of Interior approve it.’ You actually have to go through a secretarial election. It’s an incredibly complex, thorny process and that’s where an attorney can play a role to say, ‘Okay, how do we navigate this process. Maybe there are other nations who’ve recently gone through this. I can call up their attorney and say, ‘What worked for you, what didn’t? How do we streamline this process? Are there certain people at the Bureau that I need to talk to who will be responsible on this thing so we can move this thing forward so our people aren’t waiting 18 months to get an election on something they already agreed to at the tribal level”?’

One of the key areas is you’d advise a nation on, ‘How do you actually implement this constitution?’ Because often these new constitutions or these constitutional amendments will mandate the creations of bodies of law by which those constitutional provisions are then enacted and it might be your role to say, ‘Okay, well, here’s how we actually implement these changes. We need to create laws for this and laws for that. We need to reconcile these conflicting laws we have or else we can’t fully enact this particular provision.’

And then you have to understand how the changes that the nation is either contemplating or the ones they’ve already made, what is it going to mean for how the nation can now exercise its jurisdiction and sovereignty? Because often if you look at some of these IRA constitutions, they’re very, very limited. They have a very limited conception of the nation’s sovereignty and suddenly when that nation then creates a new constitution, it really argues for a much broader, much fuller expression and exercise of sovereignty. So in your role as legal advisor, you’ve got to think, ‘Well, what does that mean in terms of how we deal with other governments, how we deal with private parties for instance? How does that...what does that mean we have to develop in terms of law? Does this mean we structure our contracts differently?’ So there’s this huge ripple effect that comes from constitutional change where the attorneys are going to be front and center.

So here’s some other things we’ve seen when it comes to constitutional conventions and public hearing processes. I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time on this but...one of the things I wanted to mention briefly is that it’s important for nations who are going down this constitution reform road to not automatically treat it as a one-shot deal. Often because of those political pressures, often because of the short-term windows, there’s a sense of urgency, there’s a sense of...and often it’s because of responding to crisis. There’s this sense of, ‘We’ve got to get it all done at once. We’ve only got one shot at the apple on this. We’ve got to collapse absolutely everything into this constitutional reform process that we’re currently engaged in. It’s basically an all-or-nothing proposition.’ And where that can really handicap tribes is almost invariably there’s going to be one issue or a couple of issues that are so divisive, that are so controversial that at some point they’re going to threaten to derail the process altogether. Often it’s things like citizenship. ‘Do we want to reduce our blood quantum criteria for citizenship? Do we want to get rid of it altogether?’ I can guarantee you that’s going to be controversial. It can be things like elections, it can be things like terms of office, it can be things like, ‘Do we want our elected officials to be fluent in the language of the people, the first language of the people?’

I worked with one tribe where that blew up the whole thing. They agreed on a bunch of other stuff, but the reform committee was divided right down the middle over that question and instead of saying, ‘Well, let’s set that one aside and proceed with what we agree upon,’ they said, ‘No, because we understand we’ve only got one shot at this, that’s our thinking, then it’s all or nothing,’ and it turned out to be nothing. And I read their draft constitution, it had some amazing things in it, some amazing things that only would have come from them. It is not something that any federal government bureaucrat would have ever dreamed up. It was definitely unique to them, but all that was lost because of disagreement over one thing that probably could have been tabled and an innovative solution could have been crafted over time and it could have been voted on separately.

And then when we’re seeing tribes abandon the Secretary of Interior approval clause and basically saying, ‘We’re going to leave it up to ourselves to determine how our constitution is going to be amended moving forward,’ a lot of thought needs to be given to that because you don’t want amending the constitution to be too easy because then it can be subject to the political whims of the day, the political, internecine fights of the day. You want to make it pretty difficult to change. Not impossible to change, but pretty difficult to change.

Another thing that more and more tribes are considering are older cultural solutions. If you look at some of the new constitutions that are being developed up in Canada by First Nations who are developing new constitutions either by abandoning the Indian Act or often they’re developing them in conjunction with these treaty processes that they’re going through with the provinces up there, some amazing innovative efforts to re-integrate governance principles, time-honored governance principles that are Indigenous to their own cultures. And it’s really fascinating and I think often we see First Nations in Canada looking to the tribes in the United States to learn from them about how do you engage in nation building, how do you engage in governance reform? And I think what we’re starting to see is that tribes in the U.S. have a...can learn a great deal from First Nations in Canada when it comes to constitutional reform and re-integrating culture. And not just culture in sort of the abstract, but culture in the ways that Indigenous nations lived traditionally, in the ways they thrived traditionally, the sophisticated governance mechanisms they had developed and honed over centuries and millennia to ensure their survival, ensure their prosperity. They’re bringing those things forward and they’re sort of tweaking them, they’re adapting them to meet the challenges that they face today in the 21st century.

So just some more information about some tips on the referendum process and again I think as attorneys this is where you’ll likely play a role. There’s the question of the secretarial election process, which is a federal election and then there’s the tribal election process where the tribal citizens come together and vote on this new constitution. And I won’t go through all these, but here’s an overview of some of the emerging best practices we’re seeing when it comes to the process of constitution reform.

And the one I added here is that when nations, and in particular constitutional reform bodies that they set up, have this conscious thought in mind that, ‘At the foundation of the work that we engage in on constitution reform and in the process of engaging the people about reform, we really need to set it up around two litmus tests of success and that’s trust and ownership.’ And basically the thinking is that, ‘We’ve got to do...we know the people, we’ve got...we know what the deterrents will be to them fully engaging this process. We’ve got to figure out, 'How do we overcome those obstacles, how do we engender in them a sense of trust in the process, which over time will ultimately lead to ownership in the result?’ Trust in the process and ownership in the result, and if you don’t have those things, you’re going to end up with that outcome where it was worse than what you started with."