core values

Leadership Institute at the Santa Fe Indian School


Founded in 1997, the Leadership Institute at the Santa Fe Indian School aims to create a dynamic learning environment in which community members not only learn and teach, but are able to actively contribute to the success of their nations. Four themes guide the Institute’s work: leadership, community service, public policy, and critical thinking. These themes are realized through the Institute’s four programs: Community Institutes, a Summer Policy Academy, High School Symposia, and Enrichment Opportunities.

Native Nations
Resource Type

"Leadership Institute at the Santa Fe Indian School." Honoring Nations: 2010 Honoree. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 2011. Report.

Patricia Riggs: Making Change Happen at Ysleta del Sur Pueblo

Bush Foundation and the Native Nations Institute

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

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

Native Nations
Resource Type

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

Ian Record:

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

Patricia Riggs:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June Noronha:

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

Patricia Riggs:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Borrows: Revitalizing Indigenous Constitutionalism in the 21st Century

Native Nations Institute

In this thoughtful conversation with NNI's Ian Record, scholar John Borrows (Anishinaabe) discusses Indigenous constitutionalism in its most fundamental sense, and provides some critical food for thought to Native nations who are wrestling with constitutional development and change in the 21st century.

Resource Type

Borrows, John. "Revitalizing Indigenous Constitutionalism in the 21st Century." Leading Native Nations interview series. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 4, 2014. Interview.

Ian Record:

“Welcome to Leading Native Nations. I’m your host, Ian Record. On today’s program, we are honored to have with us John Borrows. John is Anishinaabe and a citizen of Ontario’s Chippewa Nawash First Nation and he currently serves as the Robina Chair in Law, Public Policy and Society at the University of Minnesota School of Law. John, welcome and good to have you with us today.”

John Borrows:

“It’s good to be here.”

Ian Record:

“Before we dive into our conversation, I was hoping you’d just start out by telling us a little bit more about yourself.”

John Borrows:

“Yeah. So I’ve been a law teacher about 20 some odd years now and really have enjoyed that being in different schools. I’ve spent some time in U.S. schools -- ASU [Arizona State University], Minnesota obviously, Princeton; also taught across Canada, University of Toronto, Osgoode Hall Law School, UBC [University of British Columbia], and University of Victoria. So I’ve got around in my career.”

Ian Record:

“So I wanted to start out by getting a little bit more of a perspective on your scholarly work. In preparing for this interview, I talked with a lot of your legal colleagues -- including some of them here at the University of Arizona in Tucson -- and they said you’re really one of the innovative thinkers and scholars when it comes to Indigenous law and I think differentiating that from federal Indian law but Indigenous law, and can you just provide a quick nutshell about why the focus on Indigenous law, why have you dedicated your career to this particular issue?”

John Borrows:

“Yeah. I think it started growing up. A lot of the standards for judgments in our family were often taken from what we were seeing around us outside our door and we had lots of conversations about what our obligations were in relationship to one another and the world around us. We had a treaty that my great-great grandfather signed back in the 1850s and that was also a part of the conversation. So when I began my legal career and my graduate work I actually wrote an LLM thesis called The Genealogy of Law, where I took the seven past generations of my family and looked at what the criteria was that they used to be able to respond to the challenges they were encountering as they encountered the Canadian State. And I noticed in each one of those encounters they drew upon a deep wellspring of our own sense of what the appropriate standards were as to how to deal with the War of 1812 or the Royal Proclamation or the signing of the treaty, whatever it might be. And so what was exciting to me as I then started my legal career was a recognition that we have a lot of sources of authority that we can turn to to answer our questions. And so I think it grew from that place to just continue to drive my research and my interests in my work today.”

Ian Record:

“So you’ve spent the last two days participating in the Nation Nations Institute’s Tribal Constitution seminar both as a presenter and also as an observer. And I’m curious, what from the proceedings of the last two days as they’re still fresh in your mind really struck a chord with you?”

John Borrows:

“I think I like the examples that I saw that were practical and on the ground, that had a lot of deep thought behind them. I think when people come to seminars like this they might expect they’d encounter a process, but in fact what they see is a lot of work that’s done over a period of years that’s been cultivating of the different traditions and understandings that people bring to what constitutionalism is. And so I was impressed by the hard work that underlies and is behind many of those presentations. And while there are lessons that we can generalize, you did a great job I think of pulling out those generalized lessons, more fundamentally was context matters and paying attention to the specific context that a nation comes from seems to be the message that I took from the seminar.”

Ian Record:

“One of the first things we tackled on day one of the seminar was starting at the beginning and really defining what in the most fundamental sense a constitution really is and that can take many forms. It can be a written constitution, an unwritten constitution, and I’m curious, given that you spend so much time thinking about these things and writing about these things and doing research about things around this idea of constitutionalism I’m curious to get your perspective on what that is and maybe your definition of what that is.”

John Borrows:

“Yeah. So I think of constitutionalism as a conversation and a set of practices around living tradition. Sometimes when people think of constitutions they just think of pieces of paper, but really what a constitution is is a verb, it’s a way of constituting a people through time. There’s a past and a present and a future tense as a part of how they might relate to one another. And so for me constitutionalism is this living, ongoing, breathing set of understandings, customs, procedures around trying to create a better life, a more orderly set of relationships between the people. The Anishinaabe have lots of different words for constitutionalism. [Anishinaabe language] is one of those words. It means 'the great guided way of decision making.' This idea of [Anishinaabe language] is almost the process of the creation of a tradition as you move from generation to generation. But there’s another word in Anishinaabemowin that communicates constitutionalism, which is [Anishinaabe language]. The root of that is [Anishinaabe language], which means 'old time, a long time.' So there’s this other strand of constitutionalism, which is you draw upon a long time way of doing things and you continually place it in a present context so that it can speak to the future.

And I think the tension there between those two different ways of looking at constitutionalism is important. One of those ways of proceeding is seeing this constitution as ongoing, living, breathing, continued in its development. The other one is a process of creation anew. That is, there’s an idea in constitutionalism that you would always have new starting points, that it’s never done, it’s never over. Like I said, it’s an ongoing conversation. That sense of constitutionalism isn’t something you just find within an Anishinaabeg or Indigenous peoples as well. In the United States, we have a constitutional tradition, which is called 'originalism.' And so you try to figure out what the meaning of the constitution is by going back to some magic moment, 1787, and you draw on the intent or the public meaning of what the founders said at that time.

We have another tradition within U.S. constitutionalism, which is called 'living constitutionalism,' which is yes, history is important, but we’ve developed as a people through time and while we take guidance from the history, the history is not determinative and I think within Indigenous constitutionalism we have that same kind of tension that’s present. Some of us want to go to that original moment, a creation story, a treaty, some kind of drafting of a document and you would find that people argue vigorously that the constitution can only mean what was said when that creation happened or when those people signed that document. In the U.S. constitutional context, you have [U.S. Supreme Court justices] [William] Rehnquist and [Antonin] Scalia that kind of take that way of proceeding though you have this other strand, living constitutionalism where you would look to what the people now understand the constitution means 200 or some odd years later and you would allow for that to occur.

In the Canadian context, we call this 'living treaty jurisprudence.' In the 1930s, the court was asked to consider whether or not women could be seated in the Senate because at the time that the constitution was drafted women were not political citizens and in the looking at that they could have taken an originalist approach and said, ‘Well, at the time women didn’t mean persons, therefore they couldn’t be seated to sit in the senate,’ but the court took another approach. They said that the British-North America Act had placed in Canada a living treaty, which was capable of growth through the ages and that its roots continue to extend out branches that have new obligations that the people would encounter and so therefore the dominate mode of constitutionalism in Canada is living constitutionalism as opposed to originalism. Again, within a Native context you see those tensions very much present. Some want to look to that initial moment and find all the meaning in that moment. Others see it as a tree, they see it as more organic, living, growing, breathing through the ages.”

Ian Record:

“In some sense, doesn’t the constitutionalism of any nation and particularly Indigenous nations given all that they’ve experienced in North America in particular over the last 200, 300, 400 years that it must be able to adapt to the times, adapt to the changing circumstances, the new challenges, growing populations, all sorts of things?”

John Borrows:

“That is definitely my understanding of how constitutionalism proceeds in most Indigenous nations. I certainly see that within my own nation as well, though there are people that would differ. They say when the old people put us in the four corners of these sacred mountains they set up a way of being that we cannot mess with and that we have to ensure that we live in accordance with those original instructions. And to the extent that you start to take in influences from United States or Canada or just whatever the context you are in today, they would critique that and they would say, ‘That is polluting, that is compromising, that is not being true to what the founders said that we should abide by.’ And so while I do agree with you that a constitution needs this definite grafting on, growing, organic way of being in the world, there are people that would take a different approach and I think at heart some of the debates that happen throughout Indian Country around constitutionalism are that very debate, the worry that we’re departing from something that’s original that was given to us and that by trying to adapt to the present situation we’re just assimilating or swallowing some other kind of complicit line.”

Ian Record:

“Let’s talk a little bit more about the Anishinaabe and prior to colonization -- I’m curious, you’ve learned -- I think first and foremost through your own upbringing and then in the research you’ve been doing since getting into the academic realm -- a great deal about what the Anishinaabe constitution looked like traditionally and where it was found, where it lived and where it breathed. Can you shed some light on that?”

John Borrows:

“Yeah. So I think one of the main influences on Anishinaabe constitutionalism is the environment that we lived in and live in today. And so we would take from the Great Lakes area and that watershed that surrounds it and the plants and the animals and the birds and the clouds and the rivers and we would see that behavior that was taking place in the natural world and we would learn from it. And when we saw things that were positive and uplifting and sustaining and nurturing and nourishing, we would try to analogize those behaviors to our own sets of ways that we should be. Or if we saw something that was troubling in nature, we would then take a lesson that we shouldn’t behave in that fashion. And so our constitutionalism is very much in the ecological type of principle.

In U.S. and Canadian constitutionalism, when you draw analogies, you often do so from the cases that are there, the stories that have been told by judges through the ages. Our analogies were first of all the stories that were told to us by the plants and the animals and the rivers and the trees and then it was the stories that our elders, our wise ones told us about the animals, the plants, the rivers and the trees and so our case law became stories about how the skunk got its stripe and how the robin came to sing like it does and why the trickster is intervening in the creation of the beaver dam in that place. And so for Anishinaabe people that constitutionalism can be labeled [Anishinaabe language], which is you look at everything, [Anishinaabe language] and you take the lessons from what you’re seeing. Another way of thinking about that is [Anishinaabe language]. [Anishinaabe language] is the Anishinaabe word for 'earth,' [Anishinaabe language] is 'to point towards.' [Anishinaabe language] then is this concept of you point towards the earth and you learn from the earth and you apply those teachings from the natural world around us in creating our sense of obligations to one another. It’s the similar word to our word for 'teaching,' which is [Anishinaabe language]. So to practice this way of constituting ourselves is to understand what the earth is trying to teach us.

I remember going to a seminar with an elder, Basil Johnston, back in 1996 when I was a newer law professor and we had convened at Cape Croker, [Anishinaabe language], to talk about our constitution and I was surprised. I shouldn’t have been but I was surprised that we began with the creation of the earth and the first formation of the rocks. And then after the rocks, we had stories about how the water came into place and after the rocks and the water we would start to talk about the first little crawlers in the ocean and on the lands and what they did in relationship to one another. And then the plants and there were stories about how we got corn and how we got cabbage and all these other things and then this went on to animals. We had all of these stories about the natural world for maybe four or five hours. Humans came along in the afternoon after lunch. And I realized in listening to that that Basil was trying to teach us that Anishinaabe constitutionalism is how are we constituted as human beings in relationship to this wider order that we see around us. And I’ll never forget that and it’s become one of the guiding lights for me in thinking about the practice of Anishinaabe constitutional law in a present day.”

Ian Record:

“It’s interesting you bring that up because one of the things as a student of tribal constitutions who my role with the Native Nations Institute, we’re asked to come in and help tribes wrestle with their current constitutionalism and wrestle with a deep...often a deep conflict between their sense of who they are and their sense of right and wrong with this whatever written document they have, whether it’s an Indian Reorganization Act constitution here in the U.S. or an Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act constitution or up in Canada it’s wrestling with the Indian Act system. And what you often see in reviewing these written documents is a lack of explanation of the people’s relationship with place and I use the word 'place' very purposely because you often will see references to, ‘Okay, this is our territory and we have jurisdiction over this territory,’ but it doesn’t evoke anything about the relationship between people and place, the reciprocity between people and place, exactly what you’re talking about with Basil Johnston. Do you see that as one of the big challenges that tribes face is, how do we evoke that and perhaps revitalize that relationship with place and then be nourished by that process of reciprocity that has sustained the people up until this day?”

John Borrows:

“Yeah, I definitely see that. One of the things I worry about in some of the contemporary constitutionalism that’s happening amongst Indigenous peoples across North America is that they de-contextualize who they are and their relationships to one another. By 'de-contextualizing,' meaning there’s something of a universal nature that appears in these constitutions as if all time and place can be subsumed in the wording that’s contained in the document. And yes, there are generalizations we can make, of course, but those generalizations have to be rooted in a particular set of relationships that a people have to a place. If not, the constitution’s actually not going to work. What you see in looking at constitutionalism in a non-Indigenous context is there’s many pretty documents that are in place in Central and South America or in some Asian countries, but that’s all they are is pretty documents. They don’t get connected or rooted to the place and the people that have to live in relationship to them. So you get nice words and maybe even good decisions from the court, but the decisions of the court, the words on the paper mean nothing unless people are also internalizing their constitution as well. And that’s why I started out by saying that a constitution is an ongoing set of conversations and practices about your tradition in a particular place and if the constitution is not doing that, you’re not really internalizing the ways of being and of course if you’re not internalizing a constitution, it’s someone else’s document. It’s the people’s or the place, the land, the animals, the plants, constitution there. So I think maybe, and I’m not sure it’s our biggest challenge, but one of our biggest challenges is to make sure that the constitutions that we’re dealing with actually reflect the place that they’re coming from.”

Ian Record:

“So what are some of the other challenges? Obviously you sat through a lot of different discussions over the last couple days and heard a lot about some of the challenges and I’m sure came into the conference well aware of some of the other challenges that Native nations in the U.S. and Canada and elsewhere, Indigenous peoples face when it comes to their constitutionalism and reconciling the past with the present and outside forces with internal ones and so forth. What are some of the other challenges you see?”

John Borrows:

“Yeah. Well, I think one of the biggest challenges in relationship to the creation of constitutions is having hope, having faith, having trust, to having love for one another. If we’re going to really internalize our constitutionalism, we have to think about those values at that level. When the U.S. was drafting its constitution, it put big words out there, 'life' and 'liberty' and the 'pursuit of happiness,' and there was the sense of freedom and association and forming a more perfect union. These big ideas were a part of what the aspirations of the people are and were and I think that sometimes we sell ourselves short by borrowing those words and not actually thinking about what our own aspirations and words are. For me, it would be what can we do in living together that would facilitate greater love, greater respect, greater honesty? There’s something called the Seven Grandfather/Grandmother Teachings of the Anishinaabe and those, I think, could be legal terms of art as well as spiritual and cultural and other types of ways of relating. We have a hard time when we put big words out there, then define them in a constitution. We’ve had no end of disputes through the years about what does freedom mean in the First Amendment? What does equality require in the 14th Amendment? But just because we have difficulty with the big words and we can’t quite pin them down doesn’t mean that we leave them behind. In fact, it increases our expectations of what those words might do for us. And so I would love to see Anishinaabe and other Indigenous nations start to...what do we want to create, what’s our equivalent of freedom and equality? If it is things like in Anishinaabemowin, [Anishinaabe language], thinking about love or [Anishinaabe language]. There’s different meanings of love that I’ve just given you. One’s kind of a stinginess, the other one’s kind of a compassionate way of being in the world or likewise around trust and honesty, [Anishinaabe language]. There’s a lot I think that we need on that ground. So I think that’s the biggest challenge actually.”

Ian Record:

“And you’ve discussed those things, those Anishinaabe values, those Grandfather teachings within the context of citizenship and identity and that’s a huge issue right now. I think in the nations I’ve worked with, there’s typically two considerations that tend to dominate. One is that if we continue with the criteria that we have...and I think most people understand where those come from and although I do think that some people still need to understand where those come from, but there’s two tracks. One is that if we continue this criteria we’re going to not be around because there’s not anyone that will be...that will qualify to continue to be citizens. And another is around basically what you were talking about, that we need to address what the criteria is doing to us in terms of our unity, in terms of our relations, in terms of how healthy our relationships are and how revisiting this might strengthen that in some way. How do you see that challenge today and what do you think nations who are wrestling with that issue need to really be thinking about as they in particular engage their community about this critical topic?”

John Borrows:

“So again, context is everything and each nation would have to pay attention to its own way of framing these larger ideas in relationship with the particular challenges they face around membership or citizenship. But what I would say is that we need eyes wide open to both of these concerns. One is that we have been overrun as a people and so there is a need to be able to create a set of criteria that would say who is Anishinaabe and who is not and those kinds of line-drawing exercises are very, very hard to do. Unfortunately, what I think we’ve done is we’ve drawn those lines in a very cramped and stingy and closed way and I’m not sure that that is consistent with that other stream that we need to be taking account of which has to do with all our relations, with our responsibilities, with the hospitality ethics that have been passed on through the generations within many Indigenous peoples. So I do think that lines have to be drawn somewhere, but I think we should be much more generous and open and liberal and large and gracious and hospitable in that regard. And when we do so, I think what we’ll start to do is not see the government as the source of authority and the source of resources that would help fund the future of a nation because when you start opening up the opportunities for people to participate who are connected to the nation, what you get is a huge infusion of what in some places is called human capital, but in just of speaking plainly of creativity and possibility.”

So when you see a broader-based conception of citizenship, what you do is you tap the potential of many sources of innovation and I think eventually that will create a broader base of resources for nations through time. And I think that’s going to contribute to our freedom as peoples, that we won’t be tied to a colonial government in the United States or Canada, that our freedom will come from our relationships with the earth, our relationship with one another writ large. The Anishinaabe word for 'freedom' is [Anishinaabe language]. [Anishinaabe language] means 'to own something.' [Anishinaabe language] is this idea of owning our relationships, freedom being this sense of stewardship and responsibility to others. This isn’t necessarily the ownership concept that you would get in kind of western property law that we would alienate others or land and therefore have a sense of possession. This is the idea of ownership that comes through responsible stewardship and relationships. The word for 'citizenship' in Anishinaabemowin is [Anishinaabe language], literally freedom is owning...citizenship is owning our responsibilities with one another and our relationships. So yes, lines have to be drawn, but we I think can do much better in thinking beyond what the colonial criteria for that is and looking to our own legal traditions and then doing the analysis around what economically and socially and politically could be possible if we saw ourselves in that broader light.”

Ian Record:

“It’s interesting you bring that up, the need to be more inclusive and that being an Indigenous value. We’ve seen a number of Native nations that, two that jump to mind, are Citizen Potawatomi and also Osage Nation in Oklahoma who’ve taken a more inclusive approach and they’re starting to see the benefits of that because they have gained this...regained this huge reservoir of human capital, of people who have things to contribute. They have skills, they have assets, they have ideas, they have creativity as you mentioned to contribute to the life of the nation and it’s’re starting to see a real shift in the ability of the nation to actually live as a nation. On the flip side of that though, isn’t it incumbent upon, as nations engage this issue of redefining citizenship criteria, of looking at their current criteria and saying is this...does this really work for us, isn’t it critical that they understand that this criteria of blood quantum is not cultural because we see that...we’ve seen because it’s been in place in a lot of communities for so long, we see some people embrace it as some sort of cultural value, that this is how we equate our identity and also that in that criteria there is a lack of civic obligation, of civic responsibility because the mentality is that, ‘As long as I have the blood I qualify and my work is done.’ Is that important to this conversation do you feel?”

John Borrows:

“It is. What I think it does is it identifies where our traditions may be harmful. That is, this is not something that was a historic tradition prior to the arrival of Europeans to set blood as a criteria for membership. Anishinaabe people could take in Potawatomi or Odawa people, sometimes Haudenosaunee people who were enemies became Anishinaabe so there’s that fluidity there prior to the arrival of Europeans. But you’re right, some people now, as a result of introductions from the Canadian and the U.S. government think that blood is the thing that marks out our identity and it’s a very,’s a proxy for belonging, but it’s a very poor proxy for belonging because it doesn’t engage our traditions. Largely we’re talking about the plants and the animals and the...there’s just something that is then short circuited by that criteria. Again, I understand the need to be able to draw lines and some where you’re going to draw a line, I don’t think blood should be the way that we draw that line. There are other kinds of criteria that we could take that would form a gate-keeping function if that’s what we’re concerned about, but hopefully that gate keeping then would be around conceptions of civic responsibility that flow from an Indigenous legal perspective and the gate keeping is not the U.S. government’s worried about their obligations of having to fund 10 extra hospital beds if we increase the numbers of people in the tribe.”

Ian Record:

“So let’s turn to...back to this issue of constitutional challenges. As I mentioned at the beginning, you’re from the Nawash First Nation up in Ontario and the nation works...operates using an Indian Act government and I’m curious, what do you feel are your own nation’s largest constitutional challenges here in the year 2014?”

John Borrows:

“Yeah. So just a little thing about constitutionalism more generally in Canada, we don’t have one document that sets out our constitution. In fact, the preamble of our 1867 British North America Act is that we’ll have a constitution that’s similar in principle to that of Great Britain. Great Britain does not have a written constitution. It means that Canadian constitutionalism is not distilled into one written place. There’s an ongoing tradition in Canadian and British constitutionalism that extends back 1,000 years and then there’s little markers along the way like this 1867 document or 1982 document, but they never purport to spell out what the entire relationship of the people will be through their constitution. If I could draw an analogy here then, Anishinaabe people have a constitutional tradition that goes well beyond 1,000 years back into the mists of time and that tradition is what we’ve been talking about today. And then we’ve got the Indian Act, which is one moment of constitutionalism, which is an imposition from the Canadian government and what I would like to see is similar to what we have in the British context that that’s not the be-all and end-all of constitutions and that you can overturn that, that you can go back to some of the things that were there in the past, graft on other things today, but I don’t think the people see the Indian Act in that way. I think they see the Indian Act in somewhat a similar way to how some might regard something like the U.S. Constitution. It’s written in stone, can’t be changed, it can never be put aside and this is a matter of the heart and the mind so our challenge is to see the Indian Act for what it is -- anomalous, a drop in time. Yes, a very powerful set of Trojan horse-like laws that have run into our community and tried to take us over, but nevertheless have not. So when band decisions are made today at Cape Croker under the Indian Act, it is true that when you make a by-law, in order to have that approved you have to submit it to the Minister of Indian Affairs, if you don’t hear back in 40 days then it becomes the law of the community. But that exists in the midst of a wider tradition of people still trying to consult with family, still watching the land, still looking through the language, taking account of the deliberative structures that flow from the clans and the chiefs, etc. In other words, our constitutional tradition is not limited to that Indian Act imposition. It’s there and what we need to do obviously is peel out and pear off and get rid of that Indian Act oversight just as people try to get rid of secretarial approval in the IRA style of constitutions in the United States. And when we do that, it’s not as if there’s a legal vacuum that’s present because even under the Indian Act there is a set of traditions that have been flowing through our community that come from the past, but are the present and have something to speak to the future. And so when we peel that Indian Act out we’re not starting from scratch and then what we need to do is identify, have conversations, fight, discuss what are those things that we’re doing now that we can distill for this moment, not for all time and place again, but for this moment that would help us further remove ourselves from the Indian Act.”

Ian Record:

“So you’re probably well aware that in Canada there are a growing number of First Nations that are working to get out from under the Indian Act. They’re developing their own constitutions and sometimes it’s through the treaty processes that are going on in British Columbia and elsewhere, sometimes it’s through the development of custom election, what’s called custom election code approaches, and down here obviously in the U.S. there is a tremendous amount of activity going on, some successful, some not. And I’m curious -- we’ve been talking a lot about context and historical context and you just sort of related the historical and cultural context within what your nation tries to reconcile, wrestle with the Indian Act in your reserve and sustain your Indigenous Anishinaabe legal traditions and ways of doing, ways of constituting with that system. How important is it for nations who are engaging in this reform effort to really fully understand their traditional Indigenous legal tradition, their traditional Indigenous constitutionalism and also the origin story of how they came to have what they have now with often an imposed system? And when I say that, I’m speaking specifically for them, for their community, for their nation in particular because yes, for instance, all First Nations in Canada, most of them have the Indian Act, they work under the Indian Act. In the U.S. yes, most or a great number of tribes work with an IRA system or something akin to it, but their specific histories are very distinct. How important is it for nations as they engage this constitutional change prospect to have that cultural context, to have that historical context?”

John Borrows:

“Yeah, it’s huge and what you need is a lot of storytelling that can occur from the elders and from the teachers that might be there in the community, but you also need storytelling that’s good social science, research that has economic analysis and looks at the political system structures, you need education that’s also of a more public nature through Twitter and Facebook and media, YouTube, etc., putting those altogether, having people understand what are the different streams that are flowing into the present way that we’re constituted. Some of those streams are colonial, they come from the Indian Act and how does that...what is blood quantum one of those streams, it’s actually polluting us right now, and identify that history and those streams and then also say, and yet there’s this other stream that we continue to pull upon. Why is it we begin with prayer at the beginning of our council meeting? Why is it that we do a lot of our business going in home to home to home? That’s not written in the Indian Act anywhere, but there’s a sense of people and clan and place still being involved in that. Why is it that my head councilor goes out and owl calls as a part of what he does with people in the community? And putting that all together and saying, ‘These streams are not so healthy, but these streams are continuing to be vibrant.’ Without that context, without that history, without both traditional and social science research you’re not in a place to do a good analysis about where you are and where you could possibly go from here. And I know that’s hard to do because there are just so many other pressing needs that a community has to encounter. You’ve probably heard that analogy before, often there’s people that are falling off a cliff, what ends up happening is the councilmen come over, ‘We need to get these people that are at the bottom of the cliff and make sure that they get help and healing.’ And so where all the time people are falling over the cliff in our communities and they’re bruised and bloody at the base of the cliff and we’re just dealing with the crisis of the moment instead of taking the time to put the fence at the top of the cliff and show where the boundaries might be so that we can cut off that flow of trauma that’s happening in our place. And so yes, there are those every day-to-day needs, but those day-to-day needs will eventually be attenuated if we could take that longer term approach and put systems, structures, fences in place that prevent us from falling down and really seeing the damage that’s a part of us.”

Ian Record:

“So a lot of what we’ve been discussing focuses on one of the key research findings of the Native nation building research that both the Native Nations Institute and the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development have been engaged in for the past 30 years and that is cultural match. Basically the match between...what is the match between the people and the governance system they use to thrive, survive, move forward as a people? Perhaps you can share your perspective on that, because it sounds like that’s really at the forefront of your mind when you think about the issues around constitutionalism and other issues as well.”

John Borrows:

“Yeah. So I’m really celebratory of many of the findings that come from the Native Nations Institute and the Harvard Project because I think they’re right -- we do have to pay attention to cultural match, that we need to find greater fit between the context of a particular people and their own then constitutional expressions and that is not occurring and that message needs to be loud and clear and just repeated over and over and over again. But there is a caution in taking that approach, which is constitutions also have to challenge the culture of the people. It’s not just about matching the culture of the people. So let’s take an example just looking at the U.S. context. There was a tradition of slavery in the United States that of course was harmful to the people that were caught up into it that led to a civil war and the constitution, when it was first drafted, tried to paper over the differences that were there between the peoples and how they were living culturally in the North and the South, etc. Fortunately we found in the U.S. constitutional context that there was the ability of the 13th, the 14th and the 15th Amendment as they eventually were drafted or through the Brown vs. Board of Education case that the constitution itself became a challenge to the tradition and a challenge to the culture and without that challenge we would have continued to reproduce prejudice and racism and policies that are harmful to people that we should be in better relationships with. And the same thing could be put into any context. You think about the British constitutionalism, it of course is by and large a product of matching cultures of the people and their place, but that constitution also has conventions that says to the king, ‘You can’t just do what you want.’ It says, ‘If you want to act, you have to do so through a legislature,’ and there’s a lot of conventions that are found in British constitutionalism that go against the flow basically. And when a tribe designs a constitution, again the message that must be the overriding message is cultural match. We don’t have near enough of that. But as we do so, just be careful that we don’t get carried away because we need to think about those who might be a minority amongst us. That could be families, it could be clans, it could be non-Native people that are associating with us in our place and unless we have ways to also challenge our own traditions and have things that would go against the flow of the way we’re living, we will reproduce our own abuses and we will create conditions that diminish the dignity of people that live amongst us. And so it’s going to be a hard thing to do because you want the popular sovereignty of the people to largely guide your constitutions, you want people’s voices to be by and large what guides the day, but it’s worthwhile considering the trickster, which is an Indigenous tradition, by what is contrary there, what’s going on in another moment that we need to take account of and if we heeded our traditions of the trickster, that is contemplating at the same time things that can be harmful and helpful, kind and cunning, charming and playing mean tricks, our constitutions need to do that too and if we’re just all about a celebration of match and neglect those elements of push back that are within the community, we are not going to be living well together.”

Ian Record:

“Well, John, I think our listeners and viewers have learned quite a bit from you and giving them a lot of food for thought and we really appreciate you taking some time to sit down and share your thoughts and experience with us.”

John Borrows:

“Thank you. It’s been fun.”

Ian Record:

“Thank you.”

John Borrows:


Carlos Hisa and Esequiel (Zeke) Garcia: Ysleta del Sur Pueblo: Redefining Citizenship (Q&A)

Native Nations Institute

Carlos Hisa and Zeke Garcia from Ysleta del Sur Pueblo (YDSP) field questions about YDSP's current community-based effort to redefine its criteria for citizenship, and they provide additional detail about the great lengths to which YDSP has gone in order to document the origins and history of their current criterion for citizenship (blood quantum) in order to make an informed decision about whether/how to change it.

Native Nations
Resource Type

Garcia, Esequiel. "Ysleta del Sur Pueblo: Redefining Citizenship." Tribal Constitutions seminar, Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 2, 2014. Q&A session.

Hisa, Carlos. "Ysleta del Sur Pueblo: Redefining Citizenship." Tribal Constitutions seminar, Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 2, 2014. Q&A session.

Ian Record:

"We have about 10 to 15 minutes for question and answers before we break for lunch and we have microphones set up here on the...just in front of the panelists here and then there's also one... Steve's got a running mic there in the back. He's quite swift, so here we go, Terry."

Terry Janis:

"Yeah, I'm Terry Janis working with the White Earth Nation on these issues for the last year. First of all, I commend you on getting the information to your tribal members. That's huge if you're going to make a solid decision on this and be a part of it. Two basic questions: one is [audio cuts out for a few seconds] ...conversation that is more about limited resources, right? We have limited resources. If we double the population, will the system take more away from us? How much of that is a part of the conversation and how do you resolve it? And then the second question is have you started thinking about the verbiage of the language of how this phase is going to be laid out? Is it just going to be straight moving to descendency or is there going to be more of a process as was discussed earlier of dislocation, engagement and involvement on the part of being enrolled into citizenship?"

Carlos Hisa:

"To your first question about whether it's a concern about the services we're providing and the cost-benefit or will we really need to adjust, like Zeke said, we did send out a survey and I was astonished with the responses. The descendants don't want to be a burden. They want to do what they need to do for the Pueblo. They want to do their part. We have mentioned to the community that the biggest impact is going to be in health care because in the other areas we have been providing for descendants as we recognize them when it comes to education, when it comes to other things. It's just health care that's going to be the big one and in my conversations to the youth, the descendants out there, they're willing to give that up, for our elders, for those that really need it. So it's not...the discussions haven't really been focused on the benefits we're going to receive by the federal government to more as, 'We're Tigua now, we're going to be recognized as such.' So that's something's unbelievable to me because that's the way I was raised, and for a period of time I thought that was fading away, but it's obviously there. We planted that seed and it's still there. The second question..."

Esequiel (Zeke) Garcia:

"What was the second question?"

Terry Janis:

"It's more about what sort of language are you going to utilize to define citizenship, just straight lineal descendancy language or is there going to be more language on involvement, participation, understanding of community, etc.?"

Carlos Hisa:

"That is the beauty of getting the community involved and having this board because the board consists of elders, people that have been there before in council, individuals that are outsiders that live out of town, descendants. So it's a good group of different aspects. So when the discussions are coming, those questions are brought up. What is a Tigua? To me -- and that's what I always tell my daughters, 'No document that's out there, no blood quantum requirement is going to identify who you are as Tigua.' I said, ‘It's what you do for the community. Your involvement spiritually, emotionally and physically is what identifies you as such.' But that's just me, the way I was raised. We need to hear from everybody.

But those conversations are being held when we have our meetings as a board. I, in the beginning, stepped away and said, ‘I want this board to function on its own.' But I was quickly dragged back into it because it is a sensitive issue and there's a lot of opinions and very...people are very passionate about it, so they're wanting to go out there and implement these type of things. If you want to be a Tigua, this is going to be your responsibility. Like I said, we don't have a constitution. We are governed by oral tradition and the way it's been taught to us in the past is we don't want to put it in writing per se because if you want to know it, you've got to live it. If you want to stay away, well, stay away and once you come, we're always going to embrace you, come over, the doors are always open. But when you start living this way of life and understanding, you understand the essence of what we have in place, you'll feel it, you'll know it. But again, that's just me. That's the just the way I've been taught.

Things have changed, but those conversations are being held, and together as a community I know we're going to come up with something strong, something that's going to stay there for a long time. At the same time, it's not going to be sketched in stone. If there's something that we need to change and learn from, it's all going to...we're going to be able to have that flexibility, but again it's going to have to involve the entire community as a whole. I hope I answered your questions there."

Audience member:

"...And how do you...what are some of the strategies to meet that goal and to say it's the will of our people so that we need to make this decision?"

Carlos Hisa:

"I see the point. What we're trying to...what we're doing, we're in the process of doing is getting all the information together. First, what our people see as identity like he said, one of the things we had on there. Okay, we're going to identify who we are. These components identify who we are as a people. Those are being identified. The survey we have, we're getting that information on there. That's being put together. We don't have the complete report; hopefully by the end of this month we'll have it. The other thing is looking at...showing the community as a whole what the impact's going to be financially. We want to get all that information together and create a...I guess a final decision...resolution to be able to present to the community and say, ‘After all the research that we've done, this is what we see as a council [is] the right way to go,' and present it to the community. And like Zeke said, we have quarterly meetings, and you call them like town halls, where we invite the entire community to come and make decisions on things like this. We will present the information and make a couple of, I guess, suggestions on how we can move about and we'll allow the community to vote on that decision. Again, that's something that we're going to put together and recommend to the community once we have all the information in place."

Ian Record:

"If there's no other questions at the ready, I had a question and it's sort of a leading question because I've been involved with this effort in a very peripheral way, but...and it really speaks to what John [Borrows] was bringing up with basically imploring folks to think about your own histories as you engage this issue. And what I was really struck by in working with Ysleta del Sur last summer is the lengths to which you guys have gone to capture the history of this issue in your community. The number of interviews that you guys have done with the people who are in the decision making roles within your nations back when that blood quantum requirement was first initiated and the sorts of pressures that were being exerted upon the Pueblo at that time because...and I think that's very important and I was just hoping you could speak to that because one of the things we often see as we work with communities, particularly on this issue, is there's a feeling I think, and often I think it's misplaced, that we own this, that this criteria that we're currently using is somehow ours, it's somehow cultural when if, when you go back and do the history like you guys have done, you realize often very quickly that it never was cultural."

Esequiel (Zeke) Garcia:

"When we were doing the research, we had to go back and realize that our presence in El Paso, Texas, was in existence in 1682. There was no blood quantum back then, there was no enrollment number, no enrollment card issued or anything like that. And we had to go back that far to understand where we want to be at. Right now, because of federal monies, enrollment cards are required. Some tribes require a blood quantum as a requirement and we needed to let our community know that, ‘Okay, the ball is in our court. What do you want? Do you want a blood quantum? Do you not want a blood quantum? Do you want to just go through descendency?' And this because of the 1984 act, a lot of our way of thinking was that that was the norm, our blood quantum and some of our tribal members kind of...we kind of accepted that and we felt that we need to continue that. That's why initially we were just reducing our blood quantum and we came to a point when we said, ‘Well, does really a blood quantum determine if you're Tigua?' And that's one of the things that we're facing with right now and our community members are becoming aware. The ball's in our court. What do we want to do? Do we want to continue with that, do we want to change it? And that's where we're at."

Carlos Hisa:

"And in addition to that we...our history is well documented. We have a set of archives and we realize that there was a census back then. We have enrollment documents that date back to the 1800s that have family members from the past on there. But again, there is no blood quantum on there. It just says that they're Tigua, they are part of the community and they kept a list. So a census I think is something that we do need, but it shouldn't be restricted is what we're saying."

Ian Record:

"So I think we have time for one more."

Audience member:

"...I think it's interesting to see the level of...go into the engine that's giving you this conversation. One of the experiences we had in Pueblo Laguna, a couple years ago....constitution...on enrollment was prior to engaging the community about the most substantive issues of what...who is a tribal member, we had to first have a conversation of shifting the thinking of how should we think about this issue because easily these decisions can lead to resources, the lack of resources, power and how we're going to be stretching our resources thin but we realized that as we had this conversation, what is the core values of our people? Are we inclusive or are we exclusive, because our elders didn't have...they hadn't seen the impacts of blood quantum for whatever reason for generations out. Well, we're seeing the impacts of grandchildren who are participants in the culture but they did not have the blood quantum...that door of blood quantum of the tribe or another...down the road. So how to engage the conversation then...first question, how do we...this? We have clans that...Certainly that blood quantum was the issue there and certainly our people didn't...So it's a constant reminder when we had to engage the community in this discussion of let's shift our thinking first and set the foundation of how we're going to think about this. We have to be inclusive of people. That is our way, that is our values and we have to go forward with this citizen discussion with that mindset. So I think that was critical for us to engage the community because it was when we decided to go that direction of monetary resources, well, if we have more people, this is going to mean we get less per capita, whatever. But there was the that are we pushing away the prosperity of people if...close the doors, are we closing off the blessings...responsibilities? So I think it's important to ...that level and focus it as shifting the mindset of how..."

Carlos Hisa:

"I agree. That was something that we were afraid was going to happen so we did the impact study, we did all this research on everything and we still need to present that information to the community we feel, but our community is leaning more towards being Tigua and what we need to do to continue to exist. The real battles I think were back in the day. Right now our battles are not as devastating as they were back then, but this is a battle that we have to face and it's going to determine our future and who we are as a people. And again, and I tell my daughters, I said -- and this is something that's been implemented in my family is where, 'When the Pueblo is good, you do your part. When the Pueblo is struggling, you have to sacrifice, you do more.' And that's what I'm seeing is still something that's very, very strong in our community and it makes me very proud and happy at the same time and gives me just more encouragement to keep pushing forward to get this done. But I agree with what you had to say. Thank you."

Ian Record:

"Well, let's do one last round of applause to our panelists. I think we've learned a lot."

Deborah Locke: Disenrollment: My Personal Story

Tribal Citizenship Conference

Deborah Locke, adopted by a Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa couple when she was a small child, shares her heartbreaking story of how she and her adopted siblings were disenrolled by the Band decades later because they were not the biological descendants of Fond du Lac Band members and also because they did not meet the minimum blood quantum requirement as established by the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe constitution.

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

Resource Type

Locke, Deborah. "Disenrollment: My Personal Story." Tribal Citizenship Conference, Indian Law Program, William Mitchell College of Law, in conjunction with the Bush Foundation. St. Paul, Minnesota. November 13, 2013. Presentation.

Sarah Deer:

"Our final panel today is looking at the question of disenrollment. So we have a number...we have three speakers who are going to each discuss one angle or one facet of the controversial issue of disenrollment. So we have legal, personal, and traditional perspectives on this question. We have three speakers.

I'm going to start with Deborah Locke from Turtle Mountain. She is a former editorial board member for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and a former reporter for the Milwaukee Journal. She also edited and wrote for the newspaper of the Fond du Lac Reservation, worked for almost three years on a legacy amendment funded project on the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War at the Minnesota Historical Society and she is currently a freelance writer for the Mille Lacs Band.

Shawn Frank from the Jacobson Law Group is a member of the Seneca Nation of Indians, joined Jacobson Law Group in 2002, has substantial experience representing Indian tribes, tribal organizations and entities that do business with tribes. He became a shareholder in 2003. Mr. Frank does speak regularly at lawyer's seminars on the subjects of tribal sovereignty, doing business in Indian Country, the Freedom of Information Act and the administrative appeals through the Department of Interior.

And finally Sharon Day, Executive Director of the Indigenous Peoples Task Force from Bois Forte Band [of Chippewa]. Ms. Day is one of the founders of the Indigenous Peoples Task Force, formerly known as the Minnesota American Indian AIDS Task Force. It began as a volunteer organization with all of the work performed by the board of directors. They hired their first staff, Ms. Day, in 1988 and she has served in this capacity since that time. Ms. Day has received numerous awards including the Resourceful Woman Award, BIHA's Woman of Color Award, the National Native American AIDS Prevention Resource Center's Red Ribbon Award, and most recently the Alston Bannerman Sabbatical Award. She also is an editor of an anthology and a lead walker who carries the water from the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Superior with the Mother Earth Water Walk. I'm looking forward to all their presentations, so please join me in welcoming our panel."


Deborah Locke:

"Hi, I'm Deborah. It's nice to be here today. I hope you can hear me. I received this letter dated January 6th from the Fond du Lac [Band of Lake Superior Chippewa] Reservation Business Committee:

Ms. Locke,

It's come to the attention of the Fond du Lac Reservation Business Committee that you are not the biological daughter of Frederick and Anna Marie Locke and that you were in fact adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Locke. Under Article 2, Section 1c of the Minnesota [Chippewa] Tribe Constitution, only the biological children of members of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe are eligible for membership in the tribe and if born after July 3rd, 1961, must also possess one-fourth degree MCT blood quantum.

There's a lot of lawyers in this room. I think most of you know that by heart.

The Reservation Business Committee has accordingly directed that disenrollment proceedings be initiated against you in accordance with MCT Ordinance #9. You have 30 days from the date of this letter to request a hearing before the Fond du Lac Tribal Court to provide evidence and argument as to why you should not be disenrolled.

Think about that.

In addition, per capita payments from the Band are being immediately suspended pending the final outcome of this matter.

Linda J. Nelson
Enrollment Officer

I was standing outside the Rosedale Target when I read that letter one cold day and I cannot even explain to you how weird I felt. I felt damn weird. The day before I was identifying with Pocahontas, today I'm a white girl. The day before I was a Band member. I had family at Fond du Lac. Today I'm cut free. I'm a white girl. I tell you, that felt a little bit weird and it also felt embarrassing. More than anything else it felt embarrassing. I thought, ‘What did I do to bring this on? I was born and I was adopted. That's all that I ever did. What...they've got Band members that shoot each other, that use drugs, that steal, that...the list goes on and on and they're getting rid of me?' I tell you, I was totally perplexed. I called my mother from my cell phone in the parking lot and told her what I'd received. She was absolutely incensed. She was very, very upset and bewildered and she started calling relatives after we hung up. So let me tell you a little bit more about my mother and my dad.

They adopted four American Indian kids in the 1950s and they had always...they wanted children. They went to Catholic Charities in Duluth. A social worker asked them if it was okay if the children were Indian. My mother is a Band member at Fond du Lac and she said, ‘Are you serious? We don't care what color they are.' Dad said the same thing and so four children came fairly quickly after that. I was the first and when I was a little girl my parents had a book that they read to all of us starting with me that was called The Chosen Baby and it was about two kids named Peter and Mary. And Peter and Mary were adopted, and what I took from that book starting when I was three years old is that being adopted is really special. Being adopted means that you are a gift to someone and being adopted means that you were chosen for a very special reason. And so I lived with that magic for a long time and most of my life believing that adoption is a good thing.

So that's my family background a little bit, and I'll tell you that the Fond du Lac Band was also interested in that family background starting with this letter dated July 22, 2009. The Band had sent a letter to the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe asking for assistance in getting my adoption records from the state. So a letter went to the Minnesota Department of Human Services and I'm going to read a little bit about this. ‘The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe branch of Tribal Operations is inquiring of the circumstances of the adoption of...' and then it lists the four Locke children and it's signed by Brian Brunelle, Director of Administration for the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. And that was followed by an affidavit dated December 23, 2009 from a Jamie Lee with the Department of Human Services at the state and she's responsible for maintaining the adoption records and in this document, in this affidavit she ensured everybody that I was indeed adopted. Here's the date I was adopted, when it was finalized, here's the case number and my name was changed from whatever to Deborah Locke on this date.

Also within these papers that the tribe had was a resolution from the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe dated 1978 wherein I and my brothers and sisters were enrolled with the Band. We were enrolled with the Band because my uncle, Peter DeFoe, Sr., had gone to my mother one day and said, ‘You should have the children enrolled. They're all Indian. They're my nieces and my nephews. I recognize them as such and they should be enrolled.' And mom said, ‘All right.' So she went through with it and apparently that went without a hitch. All I know is that one day in my 20s I was told that I was enrolled. Well, I thought that was pretty cool, but I didn't really fully understand it quite honestly.

You might wonder, where did this all start at Fond du Lac? And from what I can tell it began maybe at least five years earlier, maybe longer, with a family that had adopted two non-Indian children. The woman, Roberta Smith Poloski was a Band member. Her husband was not. He's not American Indian. And they adopted these two girls and had them enrolled in 1982 and there were Band members who very much resented that. The little girls grew up with their Indian relatives, identified with American Indian culture, and were pretty much accepted as far as I knew. We were good friends with them; they lived just down the street.

So the Poloski girls were later identified as non-Indians with Band benefits and there were complaints about that that were registered with the RBC [Reservation Business Committee] starting again minimally five years before this and it might have even been 10 years. I can...I'll read this to you, this is the RBC open meeting minutes from the Brookston Community Center dated November 19, 2009.

Geraldine Savage asked, ‘What is going on with the disenrollment issue?'

Chairman Karen Diver said, ‘There has been a hearing and we're just waiting to hear on the judge's decision.'

Ms. Savage asked, ‘Why is the RBC waiting for the judge to decide?'

Mr. Ferdinand Martineau said, ‘We are following the ordinance that was done in 1988.'

Ms. Savage said, ‘It should be the RBC making the decision.'

Mr. Martineau said, ‘This is the way the ordinance is set up.'

Ms. Joyce LaPorte asked if this is going to cause a backlash.

Mr. Ferdinand Martineau said, ‘It may.'

Mr. Martineau said, ‘The individuals were enrolled under a different council.'

Ms. Geraldine Savage asked, ‘How long will it take for a decision?'

Mr. Martineau said, ‘The enrollment issue should have been easy to decide.'

Mr. Martineau said, ‘Conflict would come if the tribal court said to leave them enrolled.'

Ms. Savage said, ‘This would be a conflict then.'

Mr. Martino said, ‘But we have brothers and sisters and some of them are enrolled and some of them are not enrolled.'

Ms. Nancy Sepala asked if we are going to lose Band members because of the blood quantums.

That last question was never addressed. They went on to talk about elderly housing. I think that last question is really a key one, and that was a question that a lot more people than Ms. Nancy Sepala was wondering at that time. What would be the ultimate outcome of these disenrollments that we're starting?

So anyway, the Poloski girls had their day in court and the tribal judge ruled against them. They decided to come down to St. Paul and present their arguments to the Court of Appeals, the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe Court of Appeals, and that court gave them a decision dated March 30, 2010 that said, ‘We affirm the Fond du Lac Tribal Court decision and their justification was that all children of at least one-quarter degree Minnesota Chippewa Indian blood born after July 3, 1961 to a member...' and then there's that language. So apparently the girls didn't fill that criteria. And then there's reference to the fact that ‘the constitution is unambiguous and that the children must possess a direct biological link to members of the tribe and that at least one-quarter of the applicant's biological lineage must trace to Minnesota Chippewa Indians. Applying this clear requirement to the facts at issue in the appeal is a straightforward task, but it's a task that we do with sadness.'

So Renee and Robin were disenrolled and they complained to the RBC that there were other people who were still enrolled who were also adopted including those Locke kids who were just down the street. And so the RBC took that charge pretty seriously and started its investigation, and I've just read to you some of the documentation that they were working with. What happened to me? Well, after that very fateful day when I received the letter, I was working as their editor and I went to work and made a couple of calls and discovered that not everybody agreed that that disenrollment action was a good idea and that made me feel pretty good. In fact, there were a few people who were rather upset at the Fond du Lac Band when the news of this got out. I don't think it was a groundswell. I don't think that...nothing like that happened, but there were a few key people who mean something to me who didn't like what happened and they had some good advice, including names of attorneys throughout the state who I should contact to get some advice from and so I did. I made phone calls and discovered that I should request a petition date. I'm sorry I'm not a lawyer, I can't get into too many of the legalities, but I do know that it wasn't long after that before we did set...we sent documentation and asked for a hearing. And then I had to wait quite awhile before that hearing date actually came up.

But in the meantime, again I was in this odd rather limbo-like state. I knew some details of my adoption. I knew that my biological mother was from Turtle Mountain. I had seen documentation from the county, St. Louis County, which said that my...the name of my father had never been released. There was no reason for us to presume he was not Fund du Lac. The only description and information I ever learned about my father was that he was tall and he liked to hunt and fish. Well, now that covers about 98 percent of the men at Fond du Lac, although not all of them are that tall, but there could be a tall one out there somewhere. So they all like to hunt and fish and he was athletic, so that was all very interesting, but it didn't tell me a whole lot. It didn't tell me whether or not he was in fact a Band member.

What happened from there is this. I was urged to find an attorney, I couldn't. I called everywhere I could think of to get someone to take the case. Finally, Tim Aldridge did and he was an attorney at Bemidji all the time, had done some work for a couple of bands and Tim agreed to take on the case. The reason these lawyers said 'no' was because there was no precedent. They didn't know what they were getting into and they weren't quite sure how to win it. I'm sure the list goes on and on and on. But my mother went into her savings to pay for the retainer, which absolutely broke my heart, but I didn't have many choices at the time and I think this is true of a lot of people who are included with me. What I heard is from 20 to 40 people at Fond du Lac got that letter and I was the first one to go through with a trial or a court hearing, which says that I was the only one who paid the money that it required. That's an advantage tribal courts have. They know that the people who they represent often don't have the money to pay for an attorney. I think that's one of the worst tragedies of this story.

Anyway, I went ahead, I had this great lawyer and when we got the hearing date, he and a couple of other...quite a few people were sort of involved with this and giving me various kinds of advice. They put together a summons and complaint and I filed it and things were quiet for awhile and then we had our...and I hired the attorney and we had our initial hearing. That went okay. I'm not even quite sure...that was just to see what information...discovery, that was discovery. And then we set the date or the hearing date in the tribal court offices or the tribal courtroom, whatever that's called. And I argued that or my attorney argued with me a number of things and here's what I can tell you from the complaint.

He cited the Indian Civil Rights Act and he said that that states that, ‘No Indian tribe in exercising powers of self-government shall deny to any person within this jurisdiction the equal protection of its laws or deprive any person of liberty or property without due process of law.' Again you're wondering, property, yeah, that little $400 a month payment that I was getting was very useful. That was cut off with absolutely no notice whatsoever. That's just the beginning of what was cut off. I was informed of a -- this goes on -- now this is my voice. ‘I was informed of a pre-hearing conference set for May 18, 2010, but have not received the documents that will be used against me. I request...' and here's B, ‘I request the honorable court to scrutinize the purpose of the disenrollment attempt as to procedural and substantive due process. The January 6th letter sets forth vague information that an adoption is used as the basis for the disenrollment. I may be entitled to enrollment apart from the adoption allegation moreover admitting tribes have the right to determine membership.' Those were the two strongest arguments I think from this document. It also says, ‘My specific allegations alleging lack of due process justifying injunctive relief are as follows...' I was told and I remember this phone call, I was told in a telephone call by a court employee that I would only be allowed to look at the evidence against me at the time of the hearing without prior notice of what may be used against me and B, the pre-trial hearing was set prematurely without a scheduling hearing, a discovery period and without adequate time to be allowed for me to prepare a meaningful case based on the merits. Defendants failed to give a fair warning of the nature of the case. This goes on for maybe another couple of pages. It's signed and dated May 17, 2010.

So, we waited again and it wasn't until I'm thinking, yeah, by late December I was really wondering when are we going to be getting some sort of a decision from the judge and an order arrived or was sent to my attorney on January 22, 2011 and it said this, it said, ‘The issue was whether the petitioner met the tribe's membership requirements when the decision to enroll was first made.' In other words, did that initial RBC and did the officials with MCT just make a simple mistake back in 1978 when they permitted this to go through. And the judge's order also said this, ‘Petitioner's request for hearing did not set out the reason she believed she should not be disenrolled, but stated that she understood the fact that she was adopted was the reason for her disenrollment. She requested documents leading to the decision to proceed with the disenrollment.' The order also said that I provided a document from my biological mother that showed I had enough Indian blood to be enrolled and it also said the Band argued that an enrolled adoptee must be born to a member of the MCT. The judge also referred to the letter from the St. Louis County Adoptive Services that stated my biological parents were each American Indian and although the judge did say the document named my father, it didn't. His name...that name has never surfaced. The order says that, ‘Though I am perhaps of Chippewa descent...' That's the word she used -- 'perhaps.' ‘Perhaps she's of Chippewa descent, it's not enough information to conclude that I met the requirement of MCT membership.' And consequently the disenrollment was approved.

So I received that information, my attorney and I talked a little bit about it. I talked with these other attorneys who had been involved and they all said that, ‘You cannot give up at this point. You have to appeal this. You've got to go to St. Paul to Bandana Square and talk to these judges,' and that means of course I need to hire another attorney because by this time Tim Aldridge had left his practice in Bemidji. I thought, ‘What's this going to take? I have to go to my mother again and borrow from her savings for what may be another losing case and I have to try and find an attorney, most of whom don't even want to come anywhere near me. And what else do I have to...I have to get up in the morning for how many months ahead, each morning, and deal with this thing.' I cannot even begin to describe how this weighs on a person. I can't even tell you how it just turns you upside down, not only me, my siblings, my mom who was elderly to begin with, my extended family and friends. And I didn't realize how much it had affected them until I had heard a rumor through my brother that we were suddenly all to be reinstated. And I told one of my friends whose husband is a Band member and she started crying and so I realized that this is something that is really touching a lot of people in a lot of different ways.

What I heard from one of the attorneys is this, he said, ‘Membership is a right. If you are born to an MCT parent...' and no one proved that Deb was not born to an MCT parent... ‘Fond du Lac and MCT shifted the burden of proof to me after more than 30 years following an open enrollment process.' Those were the words I heard from one of the attorneys. In the meantime, personally what was going on, my youngest brother David has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. He is living in Tucson right now. He has been for quite a few years. The $400...he cannot work. He can't. He has a...he's got a disability that will not permit him to function very well. He's about 12 or 13 years old emotionally and in every other way. So he's in Tucson and he gets the same letter that I did. He goes to my mother and he's crying on the phone. He's already torn up his ID and all of his papers and anything that ever had anything to do with Fond du Lac. He's very distressed about this thing and my mom of course is very distressed about it and what are we going to do about David now -- because that piece...that puny little $400 a month was basically all he had and some food stamps. So my mom and I started paying his bills that year and he' heart goes out to him because he lives in like this world of confusion. There's so much he doesn't understand and it is not his fault that he doesn't understand it. Anyway, in December of 2010, David got a letter that he would receive a check for $4,800, which is a year of casino dividend payments. The letter said he was getting a lump sum because he filled the annual dividend form incorrectly in January. He never got one. What he got in January was the same letter that I got. I reminded my brother that I got the same letter he did in January a year earlier about disenrollment proceedings.

So where does this leave us and where does it leave me? It leaves me with a lot of confusion about what I call 'cultural competency,' because in the course of that year and a half of trauma, one of the first things I was told was that in Ojibwe history and culture adoptees have the same status as biological children, that it had been that way for hundreds of years and that you truly were a chosen baby. I was also told that the tradition of adoption...that adoption meant that children were called to the Band for a very special role and that included the Poloski girls, excuse me, but it did. The Poloski girls as well as me and my three siblings all fell under that blanket. For some special reason, the Creator placed us with this Band. We were babies, we didn't have much say about it, but that's what happened and what I learned from these attorneys, who actually were culturally competent and kindhearted and everything else you would look for in an attorney, and I'd never met people like this in my life, but wow they were good. Anyway, a sidebar.

What I had hoped for through this proceeding and somewhere buried in the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe constitution was something that said that traditions matter and that the fate of children matters and that when you get to be in your 50s and 60s, people don't pull the rug out from under you the way they pulled the rug out from under me and my family. My mother had a good solution early on. She said, ‘If the Band wanted to change something, they could have grandfathered all of you in and said, 'From this point forward this is the way it's going to be.'' And I think that would have been a good solution, but of course they didn't think of that. It was just too easy to say, ‘Well, maybe Renee or Robin are making a point.' I don't even...I can't even speculate where they were coming from on that. I don't... was it a cost savings? I don't think it was that great a cost savings, 20 to 40 people. I still see myself as a 'chosen child' and I really wish the Fond du Lac Band was Ojibwe enough to understand what that means. Thank you."

John Borrows: Who Are We and How Do We Know?

Native Nations Institute

University of Minnesota Law Professor John Borrows (Anishinaabe) discusses how the Anishinaabe traditionally defined and practiced notions of social identity and belonging, and how those definitions and practices were rooted in relationships: relationships between those deemed to be part of the group, as well as their relationship with the natural world. He recommends that Native nations consider their own, Indigenous notions of identity and belonging as they tackle the challenge of determining what criteria for citizenship make the most cultural sense for them today.

Resource Type

Borrows, John. "Who Are We and How Do We Know?" Tribal Constitutions Seminar, Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 2, 2014. Presentation.

Ian Record:

"I have the great honor of moderating this next session. We're at session two in your agenda and in your booklets and the title of this session is "Key Things a Constitution Should Address: Who Are We and How Do We Know?" And we're going to be tackling a number of critical aspects of what we've identified from our ongoing research as key things that a constitution should address. It's not to say that these are all of the key critical issues, but the ones that we most often hear are issues that Native nations are struggling with, are tackling as they engage in answering this question of does this constitution meet those tests that Joan [Timeche] left you with at the end of the last session. And one of the most critical areas that we see tribes, First Nations in Canada struggling with is this issue of identity, of citizenship, of answering that question of who are we and then how do we either define or redefine a process by which we determine who can be a part of us. And we have the great fortune today to have with us a distinguished series of panelists and I will introduce them very briefly and then leave it to you -- if you wish to learn more about who they are -- to consult the rather lengthy biographies in your booklets there.

But the first panelist we're going to hear from is Professor John Borrows. John is a citizen of Ontario's Chippewas of Nawash First Nation, an Anishinaabe, and he joined the faculty at the University of Minnesota's School of Law back in 2009. Many of my colleagues know John well and regard him as one of the most innovative and influential thinkers and scholars when it comes to Indigenous law, not so much Federal Indian law, but Indigenous law. And we came across John -- and we thought he would be the perfect fit to serve on this panel -- when he partook in a seminar specifically on this question of tribal citizenship that the Bush Foundation up in Minnesota put on back last November I believe it was. And we were struck by his very thoughtful, deliberate approach and message to getting people thinking in a new and, I would argue, more cultural way about what citizenship means in the most fundamental sense of the word.

And then second, we are joined by actually two representatives from the Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo in Texas. I've had the great honor and privilege of working with Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo over the last several years on a number of fronts. Most recently, last summer I worked with them on this very topic of citizenship. Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo is currently engaged in a process to redefine its citizenship criteria and we thought that what better way to get you thinking about this critical topic than to hear directly from a nation who is currently engaging this critical issue. So just to give you a quick overview of how this session will proceed, John will speak first. He will share his thoughts and then we're going to turn it over to Carlos Hisa, who is the Lieutenant Governor from Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo, and then Esequiel Garcia who is basically leading up the effort to understand this issue of citizenship within the community, to engage the community itself about this issue, and then ideally arrive as a nation to a consensus about how the nation wishes to define its citizenship criteria moving forward and then how that will actually work. So we'll hear from the two of them and then we're going to hold questions until the end. So with that I will turn it over to John."

John Borrows:

"[Anishinaabe language]. I'm grateful for the opportunity that I have to be able to come and speak with you this morning. It's wonderful to be here on Pascua Yaqui land. As I went out running along the buried cable road this morning, it was amazing to be able to watch the sunrise and to be able to hear the morning doves and see the little lizards scurry off through the sands and to be able to greet this day in this beautiful place.

I think this place can teach us a lot about what we might consider in our deliberations about citizenship, our deliberations about what a constitution might require. That is, we can look to our own lands, our own territories, our people and our own relationships to try to construct, to try to revive our understanding of who we are and how we should be appropriately relating to one another. And often those first messages about how to be a good citizen come to us as we take in the messages that occur when the sun shines on us, when we see the life around us and when we witness that surge of energy that takes place as we greet the new day.

When our ancestors signed treaties, they often talked about these agreements being for as long as the rivers flow and the grass grows and the sun shines. And I think there's a reason for that, which is that one of our most important sources of law is in the natural world around us. So to be able to understand what our criteria for judgments are, what our standards for decision making are, what are the guidelines that we might choose to follow as to how we would relate to one another, we would take a page out of what we've observed for as long as the river flows, the sun shines and the grass grows.

The Anishinaabe -- of which I'm one -- on the shores of Georgian Bay, Lake Huron, Ontario have a word for thinking about law and constitutionalism that comes in this pattern, which is [Anishinaabe language]. That is literally our laws are [Anishinaabe language] the earth, [Anishinaabe language] they're taken by pointing to the earth and looking from lessons that are drawn from the earth. It's a derivation of our word [Anishinaabe language], which is the word to be able to teach. So how do we learn, how do we teach, how do we understand our laws? We look to [Anishinaabe language]. We look to the things that are literally written on the earth. So where are our laws? They are written on the earth. What are the texts of our cases? They are found in how the sun interacts with the birds in those first few moments of the day and then how those birds might interact with their surrounding ecosystem as the day develops.

The point I'm getting at here is as we think about the earth as our teacher and we think about our language in relationship to the earth, we can begin to understand how we might frame conceptions of citizenship. This notion of citizenship in Anishinaabemowin is actually linked to the word for freedom. Now I know you'll have different words and different languages, but the point is to go back to your communities and think about what the earth might teach you about how you should relate to one another and think about what your languages might teach you about how you relate to one another in thinking about these ideas as citizenship.

So, Anishinaabemowin talks about [Anishinaabe language], 'freedom.' If I was to say that I owned something, I would say [Anishinaabe language] if that was animate. And if it was inanimate, I would say [Anishinaabe language]. [Anishinaabe language] has the same root for 'ownership.' Freedom means some kind of ownership of our responsibilities, of our relationships. Did you ever think about citizenship in that fashion, the responsibility for owning your relationships? Our word for 'citizenship' then is [Anishinaabe language], the sense of almost a property-like type of responsibility, but not a western notion of property law where you alienate land or people from you, but a notion of Anishinaabe property law, which is about relationships and how we take responsibility for our relationships.

Many of our debates that we're having about citizenship throughout Indian Country don't fully involve our teachings as drawn from the earth and from our relationships or drawn from our language and we find ourselves talking about blood and we find ourselves talking about cutting off our relations. One of the greatest teachings that I learn about citizenship again comes from looking at, 'for as long as the river flows, the grass grows and the sun shines.' These are not concepts of cutting off and diminishing. They are concepts of energy, about enhancing, about growing, about seeing energy flow through the world and also seeing energy flow through our communities. So let me just talk a minute about rivers.

In Anishinaabemowin the word for river is...the mouth of the river is [Anishinaabe Language]. Now you know at mouths of rivers you find a place of great life. This is where all the energy comes off of the land by way of organic matter and it feeds this vibrancy of life with the fish and the plants and the birds of many different species that would gather there and then as the people of course come to use the plants and the fish and the animals and the birds in that place, this idea of [Anishinaabe language], the mouth of the river, is a place of nourishment, of growth, of abundance. And in Anishinaabemowin the word for 'love' is [Anishinaabe language], if I'm talking about something that I love that's animate, or [Anishinaabe language] if I'm talking about something I love that's inanimate. Interesting, legal principle, constitutional principle that in the behavior of the river, the abundance, the nourishment, the flow, the energy, the creation, the sustenance of life, is also how we should think about love. I would like to suggest that our citizenship codes, at least as Anishinaabe people, should look to those lessons and that language to think about what we might be able to do as Anishinaabe people to encourage that flow, to encourage that energy, to see that nurture and that nourishment flow to all our relations and not see them cut off by some artificial channeling that we might choose to put into that place. This word [Anishinaabe language] obviously is for as long as the river flows and our sources of law, how we are constituted, relate to how we are in the world around us. We are part of the world not separate from us.

Another word that I can think about that's drawn from our treaty languages, not just, 'for as long as the river flows,' but, 'for as long as the grass grows.' At this time of year, maybe just a little bit later throughout Anishinaabe territories, you get the small buds starting to come out on the branches, very, very nascent at this period but as the spring goes along you start to get the energy from the sun shining down onto the bark of the trees, on to the ground as it's eventually uncovered, and you get water flow up. When does water flow uphill? In the springtime around the Great Lakes as the saps start to go up and down those trees. [Anishinaabe language], this flowing again of energy, even against impossibility flowing up. What you have at the end of these branches or in the earth around is [Anishinaabe language] in the good earth season is you get these budding out of the leaves. [Anishinaabe language] related to [Anishinaabe language], which is our word for the flowing of the rivers related to [Anishinaabe language], our word for love from one another. Imagine crafting our citizenship codes by thinking about what the Creator has placed all around us by way of analogy and drawing from those analogies and seeing them as constituting who we are, all our relations [Anishinaabe language]. 'As long as the river flows and the grass grows and the sun shines.'

[Anishinaabe name] is the name of a little girl I know. [Anishinaabe name] is her father, Jason Stark. The name of this little girl is this name of the sun, [Anishinaabe language], the sun streaming its energy down upon someone so that that person can grow. But what it also means is the love gets streamed down on that little one so that she can grow and become a healthy person, a healthy citizen amongst the Anishinaabe.

What does it mean to be Anishinaabe? It doesn't mean the same thing as to be an Indian. What does it mean to be Salish or Blackfoot or Apache? What are the words in your language for citizenship, for who you are as peoples and what might be found in those words for setting your codes, your patterns of behavior for belonging? Anishinaabe, there's different ways that we could think about what this might mean for us as Ojibwe or Chippewa people, constitutionally speaking, in citizenship perspectives.

One of the words means as follows. When I was growing up, if I did something well, my grandfather would say to me, '[Anishinaabe language], that's good, [Anishinaabe language].' And the word for being in Ojibwe is 'naabe.' Anishinaabe, 'a good being.' What a great aspiration for citizenship that's been given to us by our grandmothers and grandfathers to try to be good in the world, to try to live such that that love can flow from us like those rivers, like that energy and the newly forming leaves, like that sun that shines down upon us. Anishinaabe or if you're a woman Anishinaabekwe. Better any day than an 'Indian.' Or sometimes if we're joking with one another you might say, '[Anishinaabe language],' I'm just saying nothing. [Anishinaabe language] means those who really are nothing meaning that we are the weakest in creation, that we follow a long pattern of reliance upon the world around us and if it wasn't for the sun and the plants and the insects and the birds and the fish and the animals, Anishinaabe, we would be nothing.

How many of our citizenship codes take a humble stance towards thinking how we might be constituted as a people? Notice the verbs that we're talking about here. Anishinaabemowin is 70 to 80 percent verbs. Everything's relational. It's about action. It's about the past, the present and the future. It's not about nouns. It's not about categorizations and if we think about citizenship in this relational, verb-oriented context, we might think about how are we relating to one another in the past, in the present and in the future. The beauty of taking Anishinaabe in its many different...can mean from whence the species was lowered. There are many different ways of working through this. It can help us understand that our traditions are living, legal traditions that draw upon how we are constituting ourselves today. So beware of a draft that tries to put within the four corners of a document a categorization, a noun. If you put your understanding of how you'll continue to constitute yourself within that document, make sure that there are many framings within that place that point you beyond the document, that point you to the living nature of your traditions.

Traditions can be the dead faith of living people or the living faith of dead people, and sometimes our traditions are a dead faith of us who are living today because we don't apply them. We want to preserve them, but in the preservation they are so housed and under glass looking cases that they don't have relevance in our lives. Our traditions can be the living faith of dead people, the living traditions of what our ancestors have passed along to us. A constitution is a living or should be a living tradition and therefore it should not just be about cultural match as important as that quality and criteria are. That is, our traditions change and in changing there are times that we go through our ways of being together that we have a conflict and that conflict -- as we look to the world around us -- can also be more effectively processed. That is, when we look to our traditions, we have to make sure that we leave room for the trickster.

We have stories that are taken from the land and our observations of those around us and in drawing on those stories we don't just seek for match. If we did not have the Brown vs. Board of Education decision in the United States, we might still have formalized informal discrimination against African-Americans, black people in the South in particular, but throughout the nation. That is the constitution existed to challenge tradition as well as facilitate tradition. Grateful -- I see my time is up -- to be able to speak to you just a few moments about what tradition might mean as you think about our languages, as you think about our stories, as you think about the world around us, as you think about the living nature of who we are as peoples. Again, I appreciate this invitation. [Anishinaabe language]. Thank you."

Shannon Douma: Cultivating Good Leadership: The Santa Fe Indian School's Summer Policy Academy

Native Nations Institute

Shannon Douma (Pueblo of Laguna) provides a detailed overview of how the Santa Fe Indian School's Summer Policy Academy works to develop Pueblo youth to ably take the leadership reins of their nations through a rigorous curriculum designed to build up their sense of cultural identity and personal self-confidence and self-esteem.

Resource Type

Douma, Shannon. "Cultivating Good Leadership: The Santa Fe Indian School's Summer Policy Academy." Tribal Constitutions seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 3, 2014. Presentation.

"Good morning everyone. My name is Shannon Douma. I'm from the Pueblo of Laguna -- I'm also Hopi/Tiwa -- and for the past couple years I've been serving as the Director of the Summer Policy Academy, which is a program out of the Santa Fe Indian School. I also serve as the... I share a couple hats at the Native American Community Academy. It's an urban charter school in Albuquerque, New Mexico; it's our eighth year as a school and we serve primarily urban Native students in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and I serve as the Enrollment Director, Out of School Time Learning Director.

Today I wanted to share with you though a program that has been in existence for...since 1997 called the Summer Policy Academy. So there are some key questions that I wanted to touch upon in my slide in reference to some of the things that'll want to consider in your constitutions, consider when working with young people. This is a program, it's for Pueblo students and I wanted to draw your attention to how we start our program. We select about 25 Pueblo students from across New Mexico and one of the of our key components of our program is really focused on identity development, understanding self as an individual. We have students that come in from many different parts of our communities, some students that live in urban settings, some students that are born and raised on the reservation. It's important that we identify the students that our Pueblo communities represent, but I wanted to draw your attention to this.

When we work with our students, we start off with an understanding of self, their core values, how they relate to the world. So in terms of who am I as an individual, my inherent qualities, the skills that I have and all of us possess these qualities whether it's our personality, the skills that we posses, our ability to live those core values, the ability to get along with people. In terms of if you think about this as you as a whole person, all of us are individuals that come from families, whether we're a sister, a brother, uncle, auntie, there are very important roles that we have in our communities and how we interact with each other, but also our young people. And so in terms of as individuals, how we live out these responsibilities as brothers and sisters or aunties and uncles is a really important thing that we share with our students because we want to know their role in preserving families within their own communities.

Then, if you think about our self in relation to our communities, how we...what are our roles and responsibilities in our communities? Think community, we have very specific roles and responsibilities that we have as community members and how we live together in our village. In terms of myself, I've been raised as the oldest daughter; I have a lot of responsibilities when it comes to things that happen in our communities around our feast days, around our ceremonies. Being the oldest daughter, I was taught at a very young age to learn how to cook, to clean, to take care of my family. So those are things that have been instilled in me that I now possess and now am passing onto my children.

So in terms of our self in relation to the global world, we want our students to understand that when they leave our communities, they go outside of our communities, they're interacting with people who know little about them, little about who we are as Native people and sometimes there are stereotypes, sometimes there's misperceptions about who we are and it's important that our students know how they relate to the world outside their communities, how does the world see them and how do they maneuver in and out of that world as they go to college, as they seek work in the workforce outside of our communities and then as they come back home.

So all of us possess an understanding of ourselves in many different ways based on our experiences, our backgrounds, our relationships with our families, how we grow as individuals into adulthood. And so this is where...when we talk with our students, this is where we start; it's from an understanding of their core and who they are and how they relate to every aspect of their lives. When we start our work with our students, we start from our core values. Our core's not...all of us have these core values that we possess, that we learned from our families, from our communities –- love -- being able to show the love and compassion to each other and it's something that we want to model to our students when they come and they work with us throughout the time that they're with us how we want to relate to one another. If you think about respect, sometimes respect in a sense is we have an understanding of it, but how do we practice it? Do our students understand what respect is and how they live that through their daily lives? Of course there's a lot of core values that I think resonate with all of us and we possess all those core values and this is a foundation, this is how we advocate for a better future, a desirable future for our students.

And then if you think about...the other side is our...the gifts of our Creator: the ability to learn, our education, the ability to think forwardly, the ability to be innovative and creative and all of these things on the other side are basically things that are inherently given to us by the Creator, whether it's the land, our culture and resources, our families and how we take care of them. And then also governance: how we live our lives and how we govern ourselves, what are those specific responsibilities that we have within our own villages is really important as to how we raise our children, how we develop their most desirable future for our communities.

So when we work with our students, this is the foundation that we start from. We start from our core values. It's a really important place and I think all of us can see that this is what drives how we want to create a better community for our communities. And so this is what we start off with our students. When I move forward, I'm talking about our Summer Policy Academy. So the Summer Policy Academy is a project out of the Leadership Institute of the Santa Fe Indian School and we have 12 programs under that program. And I want to acknowledge my colleagues that have been working on this, the leadership Institute for the past probably 15 years plus.

The program started in 1997 and it was a forum to bring Pueblo people together to talk about important issues like education, like family, like law, health, these important issues that are impacting our communities. This is a picture of our students that have participated in our program. Our Summer Policy Academy is for incoming juniors and seniors representing the 19 Pueblos of New Mexico. Our mission is to grow leaders, youth as critical thinkers, conscious critical thinkers. Just sitting here this past couple of days, a lot of these issues that we talk about, whether it's law, governance, education, health, they're very challenging issues, issues that impact our communities. And so throughout this process that our students are going through, through a two-week process we're engaging them in critical thinking, asking those critical questions of each other, but also our leaders, our faculty that serve in our program. We want students to understand public policy.

And this program began and also our Leadership Institute began because we saw the need to have more people represented in our state government, to be people who are making laws, people who are advocating on behalf of our communities. At that time, there was less people that were representing our communities, our Pueblo communities, so we wanted to advocate and start early to get students to start thinking about these tough issues that sometimes we don't know about until we're in tribal leadership positions and we're in places of leadership in our communities where we start learning about governance, start learning about family issues, about all of the public policies that have been developed over time that have impacted our communities and specifically our Pueblo communities.

Also our program focuses a lot on community and service. We want students to give back, we want students to contribute back to our community, we want students to come back home to our Pueblo communities and serve in key roles in our communities, whether it's program planners, program developers, village roles, tribal leadership. And then of course leadership is an important skill for anyone to have, the ability to problem solve, the ability to speak in public, the ability to problem solve and make decisions so those are all key areas that we focus on with our program.

Our curriculum is designed so that students consider Indigenous issues from a world perspective. I'm going to start from the local tribal perspective. There's issues in our community that our students are studying, in our villages, things that come to the table when it comes to, for instance, health. What's the status of health in our communities? What's the status of health among our Pueblo communities in regards to Native youth? And then looking at our state and tribal governmental relations, we take our students to the New Mexico "Roundhouse," the legislature. They participate in a mock legislative session with our co-director, Mr. Regis Pecos.

And we also study national issues. What is our relationship with the federal government? And so that's important for our students to understand the relationship and how when we advocate and we go to Washington, D.C. We're going to learn about our programs that we have an understanding of what those national issues are and how they impact our communities.

And then globally, what are those Indigenous issues that are happening in places like New Zealand, in Africa, in Australia. We have a key area that we focus on with our students when it comes to understanding that there's communities across the world that are experiencing the same issues that we are as Native people here in the United States.

So our program is a four-week program. It's two weeks on campus at the Santa Fe Indian School. Our students stay in the dormitory there. And our topics focus around those 10 areas that I mentioned in the couple of slides, the gifts of the Creator. And those topics came about through the community institutes that have been happening since 1997, Pueblo people saying health is an important issue, education is an important issue. So those topics are areas that we focus on with our program.

Another part of our program focuses on health and wellness. We want students to know that being healthy and well is important. So part of that part of it is starting every morning with positive affirmations, taking care of their body physically, understanding emotional health, social and emotional health and wellness.

And one part that we do is a talking circle that happens in the evening time where students are pretty much talking about issues that are important to them. What's, maybe, their own personal issues that they want to bring to the table?

Another part is project planning. We want our students to know the essential ingredients to put together a plan and a project when they go home so that they have something to go off when they're implementing their projects.

Team building is important. We have our students for two weeks so we want them to know one another; we want them to reinforce the core values of family, of brothers and sisters. And so that's a key component of our program is being able to be together when it comes to living together and growing together throughout the two weeks that they're with us.

A creative writing component: our students are developing creative writing, free verse poetry, and so we have individuals that come in and share with our students how to do that. And then art is a piece that we just added to our program. We spend a couple days with Pueblo artists. This past year we spent...the past two years, we've spent the week with Robert Tenorio who's a Pueblo potter from Kewa Pueblo. And so he's really instrumental in reinforcing and encouraging students to be involved grow their interest in art and to also display their art and be advocates for people in the community that are wanting to be artists.

Following our program, we have a two-week timeframe where students go back home to their communities, they initiate a service project, and then after the two weeks they come back and they present it at a graduation banquet that they share their project with their peers, their family, the community, tribal leaders.

How do we choose our leaders? Basically, it's a reflection of our community in our communities and our Pueblo communities, any of us can be called upon to serve in key roles in our communities, and so we want our students to reflect our communities. So we don't choose students who are doing well academically only. We want our students who have that leadership potential and so how we recruit students is by recommendation.

I, for the last, since I started the program have served as a recruiter, and so I seek recommendations from our faculty, from community leaders, people that know the students in the schools that can recommend those students, and then understanding that we have different leadership styles and that we...

All of us possess different styles and so we have our students go through an exercise to understand what their leadership styles are. We've graduated seven to eight classes over the...since 2007. We have 150 youth leadership fellows. We have students that are now entering adulthood and moving toward college and career development. I'm going to go through these slides because my time is almost up.

One of the things I wanted to emphasize is the support from our community institutes. Our adult and Pueblo leaders serve as leaders and mentors to our students and Governor [Richard] Luarkie and my brother, Casey Douma, they serve as our faculty. So Governor Luarkie has shared with our students a presentation on governance and what that means and how it's displayed in our community, how it works in our communities, our Pueblo communities and then also with Casey talking about law and what that means. So it's really, really important that we look to our own people because we're the ones that have the expertise, we're the ones that possess those skills and talent and education. So we rely a lot on our community members to contribute back to the community and to our young people.

We're also encouraging adult and youth partnerships, adult and youth relationships, whether it's a parent and child, teacher and student, advisor and a student. We want to encourage that students can seek out an adult for support. And so throughout our entire time that our students are with us, they have the ability to make contact with an individual that they can rely on and trust. I'm going to finish up with a couple of slides.

We're beginning to have the conversation about role of women in leadership and in April 2012 we had a Pueblo Convocation that brought together about 400 people from all the 19 Pueblo communities to focus on the 10 topic areas that I had mentioned. And from this we started understanding the opportunity to bring in women because for the most part women are not involved with the political aspects of our communities. And so we started having the conversation from the public convocation, which led into a Pueblo Women's Convocation, Pueblo Institute for Women, which came from the Brave Girls Project at the Santa Fe Indian School. And so it's a program that we are focusing on in terms of how do we engage women in dialogue and discourse about key issues with our governance in our communities. So this is a three-year process.

We have our SPA One program we spend at the Santa Fe Indian School. We have SPA Two program where we travel to and study at Princeton University. Our students are matched up with a team leader where they research key issues that are pending legislation in Congress. And so our students are studying these issues at Princeton and then eventually travel to Washington, D.C. where they present these issues. We also have an SPA Three program that's an internship program where the students are actually serving in key roles, whether it's in legislator's office, program offices, libraries. We have students at my school that are serving as interns.

I think it's important to understand that when our students commit to our program, we invest the time in them. We invest the time from the time that we meet them with their families to the time they go through our program. And so time is really important when it comes to young people because their times is valuable and they need that investment.

The communication is building our network. How do we build our network of young people? And we've seen through the experiences of SPA that our network has been growing because our students having a deep interest in these issues, but also having the opportunity to network across the Pueblos with each other. We have a conscious investment in our curriculum. We tweak it; we tailor it to see what's worked.

We've tried many programs, many different I guess opportunities when it comes to partnerships. And so we kind of welcome new opportunities, but we also notice when we need to tailor our program to meet the needs of our new audience of students. I guess an opportunity to be open to partnerships.

We have a lot of partnerships through like UNM [University of New Mexico] law school, UNM medical school where we take our students and expose them to law, to health, just for an example. So we want them to pursue career interests in these areas and come back home and support our people.

We have a key component around youth involvement and contribution. So we have students that are developing service projects over the two week time that they're in their communities. But also we have students that serve as representatives at the United Nations Permanent Forum. So we have students that are participating in the youth caucus there, but also internships, that they...of their interests.

And then lastly -- this is the last slide I want to share with you -- is what we have learned and it's something I wanted to pass on to you because we talk a lot about involving young people, we talk a lot about investing in young people early. There were comments about, 'We need to do this in schools,' and so what we've learned is that we need to value youth voice. And we say that young people are important, that young people are our future, that young people are going to be in positions that we are in, that we have to value their voice, we have to engage them in conversation. And then finding money, channeling money to youth initiatives that are going to benefit young people so that we're putting our money where our mouth is really. We're talking about our future; we have to invest in our young people.

Encouraging collaboration among our community tribal programs to support youth. There's a lot of programs in our communities. How do they collaborate to leverage resources to bring ideas together to support youth? And then also identifying real youth advocates in our communities who are invested in youth and support them. There's a lot of things happen in our tribal communities that we may not know about because there's a lot of grassroots organizing that happens with young people. They see an issue, they want to be involved. How do we get them involved and how do we support them?

So the last thing is we always leave our students with this question. What will be your contribution? What is it that you're going to give back to your community? And so throughout the whole entire process when our students are going through this, we notice that young people are eager to be involved. They want to be involved and so our job is to connect them with the resources. And so I just wanted to leave this question with you all so that you can think about what will be your contribution to your communities, whether it's your individual contribution, your family contribution or your community contribution to what happens in your community. I think that's all the time I have, but if you have any questions I'm here." 

Shannon Douma and Richard Luarkie: How Do We Choose Our Leaders and Maintain Quality Leadership? (Q&A)

Native Nations Institute

Shannon Douma and Richard Luarkie (Pueblo of Laguna) field questions from seminar participants about how the Pueblo and also the Santa Fe Indian School's Summer Policy Academy groom Pueblo youth to take over the reins of leadership of their nations.

Native Nations
Resource Type

Douma, Shannon. "How Do We Choose Our Leaders and Maintain Quality Leadership? (Q&A)." Tribal Constitutions seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 3, 2014. Q&A session.

Luarkie, Richard. "How Do We Choose Our Leaders and Maintain Quality Leadership? (Q&A)." Tribal Constitutions seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 3, 2014. Q&A session.

Casey Douma:

"If you think about it in the context of that analogy of farming, you have to clear the land and plow the field and get it ready for irrigation. Get intentional rather than just take some seeds and throwing out there and hoping something grows, and from that crop becomes the people you select for leadership. We're very intentional in providing the environment for our children so that when they grow with the proper care and attention, that as they grow and the care is given to them, that when it comes time to select the leaders, that we have individuals like Governor [Richard] Luarkie who have been instilled with those types of values, and that when it comes time for harvest, the individuals possess the values and attributes of leadership that we hope for. And we know that that doesn't just happen on its own, it's very intentional in the communities.

So emphasizing the work with youth is so critical because we have to keep thinking of the next generation of leaders: who will be our caretakers, who will sustain us into the future? So in the efforts to think about leadership and leadership development, when it comes time to elections, when it comes time to get leadership in place, you think about who are our choices of people, what types of attributes do they have? And if they lack in those attributes, how do we instill that so that in the future we're not going to just let up, take the best of the worst and just take the whoevers? So as a part of growing leadership to...because so much of the stuff that we talked about for the past two days it comes back to how do we make this happen, how do we get things moving or how do we have a constructive conversation regarding constitutions, about governance, about laws and about our judicial systems? It takes a mindset of critical thinkers, of people who are eager to contribute to their communities. And that doesn't happen naturally. We have to be intentional in our approach.

So I'd like to just add that...commend both Shannon [Douma] and Governor Luarkie of our people for providing that respect. That as youth develop, it is so important because we were blessed by the...we were blessed with...we have leadership like Governor Luarkie, others who are products of the community, that are able to effectively govern and lead."

Miriam Jorgensen:

"Are there other comments or questions? Thank you very much, Casey."

Terry Janis:

"As far as your leadership strategies that you're engaging in in the youth program, speak a little bit more about how you're thinking about the critical nature of service and core values in particular. I ask you for a couple reasons. One is I'm constantly impressed by the Pueblos in the role of service in so many parts of governance and community and everything else. And I was wondering if you could speak more about that kind of balance between service and core values in your curriculum, your pedagogy, and how you think about them."

Shannon Douma:

"I just wanted to touch upon that. I think with the Summer Policy Academy we recognize that we have to establish a strong foundation for our people, for our young people, to instill and reinforce the core values of our people. Our students come in with an understanding...our students come in from a variety of places. They come in with a lot of knowledge about their communities. They've been involved in their communities, they've been raised to know what those values are. And then we have students that have lived outside of the communities that are Pueblo communities... they're Pueblo students, they've lived in places like Colorado Springs or in Albuquerque that maybe don't have as much exposure to their communities, and so we understand that our students come in with a variety of experiences.

So going back to talking about being intentional, we have to be intentional about how we work with our students because they're not learning it in the schools. We know that. They're not learning our history, our knowledge, and our experiences in the school settings. So how do we instill these values with our students to understand service, to understand reciprocity? We want our students to come back home and help our communities and that's something that I think...with all of us...I think for myself, being able to go away and experience college outside of my community and to know that there was always an opportunity to come home and serve my community and in what capacity, but to understand that we serve our communities in many different capacities. Some of us are in direct positions, some of us are working from afar, but to understand that it looks different for all of us and to recognize that.

And I think one of the things that I wanted to mention is that the core values advocate to achieve a higher standard for ourselves and families and our leaders. I think once the expectations are established we begin to reinforce those in our communities, with our families, with our leaders and we start holding each other accountable and so that's what we notice in our students is they start an understanding of how we're supposed to function, how we're supposed to live in terms of through this experience of understanding the history, the culture of our people. There's a real intention that students have in like, 'What can I do to give back? I've learned how my people have gone through this policy with boarding schools.' We've also learned about self-determination. 'How can I now give back to my community?' and it happens in many different ways. It happens through individual service, in groups, it happens within the schools that they go to school at. We have students that, in our school, we have some students from Laguna Pueblo that came to our program this past year and there was three students, they said, 'I didn't learn about this. I'm not learning about this in my school at all. How can I bring back the language and culture to our communities?' And so through that is a process of how we provide them with the tools, but also how we support them along the way.

So I think one of the things that we learn is that our students have the need to give back and they support one another and they help one another and I think they're eager to stay involved. And how we keep them involved is devoting our time to them, real intention of how we support them throughout the process. We don't just say, 'Come to our conference, hang out for a little bit and then go home.' We want them to understand that we're all a network now, we're a community now. So how do we support one another to serve our community because we're all representing those communities of the Pueblo people. Was that helpful?"

Miriam Jorgensen:

"We have one more question and then it's going to be our last question because I want to make sure we have a chance for a brief break and then we also have time for a very exciting pre-lunch panel as well. So sir, you've got the mic for the last question."

Esequiel (Zeke) Garcia:

"I've got a question for both panelists. The Institute, does it incorporate anything like an internship where the youth is paired up with a council member and actually gets hands on experience? And then the question for the Governor, for incoming tribal council members is there any type y'all's setting in your Pueblo...any type of like orientation or how they...any type of orientation to make them aware of what their role is and how they should go about practicing their position as a leader?"

Shannon Douma:

"I think in terms of like an internship with the governor's office or in...I think that's possible. We haven't had a student that was interested in that particular internship. So that's an idea that I think it's something that we can explore. Our internships span across many different areas and we rely a lot on our faculty. Like for instance, the UNM [University of New Mexico] Law School, we have Professor Christine Zuni Cruz who has interns work with her, understanding how it all works with the law school programs, services provided. And so basically students have a certain interest area that they'll pursue and they'll ask us if they can have an internship there, but we haven't had anybody right now that has had an interest in being in the governor's office. I'm sure that would be a great experience for our students, I think that's an idea that we'll explore when it comes to our internships for the coming years. But thank you."

Richard Luarkie:

"Thank you for the question, sir. As far as incoming council members, those officials, we don't...we have a process as I explained earlier where you're kind of groomed from the town crier to the mayordomo to the council. So that's kind of the longer version of our orientation preparing them for those offices. When an individual is then eventually put into office on January 1st when we have our installation ceremony, it's the opportunity for the people to encourage and remind the officials of what their role is. So it's the people that provide that first level of orientation. 'Here's what your responsibility is. Here's your reminders. Here's what the priorities are that we set forward, continue with this.'

When we get into the council environment, when we convene as a council at the beginning of the year, we normally have...we go through what we call our council policy, just our conduct, how we conduct ourselves, our responsibilities. As an example, council council members with the exception of the staff officials, the cane-bearing officers, the only time our council members have authority is when a council meeting is convened. When the council meeting ends, they're regular Joe Blow. They can't go out in the community and say, 'Council said this or I have the authority.' They don't have that authority unless we delegate them. So those kind of things are done to orientate.

Now as far as an internship in the governor's office or the treasurer or the secretary's office, I don't see that those are impossible because we have the Government Affairs Office that's a part of the governor's office. But again, back to our teachings, we're taught, 'Don't chase these positions,' [Pueblo language]. They remind, 'Don't put your hand where you're not ready yet.' So they're very reminding that you don't chase them. When the people think they're ready, then they'll start putting you into these positions and that's kind of your flag that they're probably -- as Casey mentioned -- they're intentional about beginning you down that process. So that's probably a reason from the traditional side we've not necessarily had internships in those offices, but that doesn't mean that the other functions we can't create it now. Even I think in this modern day and age, I don't think that that's something that's unattainable. As a matter of fact, I think it'll be a really cool project that we can develop something like that to help our students, help our students with."

Richard Luarkie: How Do We Choose Our Leaders and Maintain Quality Leadership?: The Pueblo of Laguna

Native Nations Institute

Pueblo of Laguna Governor Richard Luarkie provides a brief overview of how Laguna citizens gradually and systematically ascend up the leadership ranks within the Pueblo through their adherence to and practice of Pueblo core values.

Native Nations
Resource Type

Luarkie, Richard. "How Do We Choose Our Leaders and Maintain Quality Leadership?: The Pueblo of Laguna." Tribal Constitutions seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 3, 2014. Presentation.

"Good morning everyone. Good to see all of you here. Thank you to the University of Arizona for inviting me down to have some time with you today and Shannon [Douma] did a great presentation this morning on focusing on the development of youth. I'm going to talk a little bit more on the...what she's building for on the tribal leadership side and those elements.

And many of you are currently serving in different roles or have served in roles or you support even those that served in roles, but I guess the perspective I want to take with you is pretty basic. We're taught in all our different communities about who we are and where we come from and all those critical pieces of education. In Laguna, we're taught about our creation story and how we came to be as Native people.

And [Pueblo language], our mother, the Creator, created everything. As Shannon mentioned, we all have roles. So she created first the moon, the sun, the stars, the earth, [Pueblo language], the sage singers. And she gave them [what their] roles and responsibilities would be and what their responsibility was to be; talked to them day in and day out. The sun as we all know comes up every morning from the east, goes across the [Pueblo language], protects us, gives us light, gives us guidance, [Pueblo language]. The moon, the sun, they come out or the moon, the stars then it's their turn. They take turns watching over us. So we're never in the dark because there's always some light on us. That's their role.

Then the spiritual beings were created and their role, as we all know, we start most every day, in your own particular teachings, but we're taught you carry your pouch, you carry your corn meal. We start every day with prayer, ask for that guidance, extend your appreciation for the day, for the life that you've been given. [Pueblo language], it's only borrowed. It's [Pueblo language], the breath we breathe, the heart we have; it's only borrowed. We thank for that every day that we have an opportunity again for a new day. We thank the spirits for that. We ask for her strength for guidance to live a good life.

Then the last creation was us, [Pueblo language], the people. But we were bestowed responsibility as well. [Pueblo language] she bestowed us [Pueblo language], love one another. [Pueblo language], respect one another, [Pueblo language], be careful with one another's heart, don't hurt each other, take care of yourself. [Pueblo language], as we grow, have the ability to learn. [Pueblo language], to be obedient. [Pueblo language], to be disciplined in your thought process. Those are the responsibilities we were given.

So I start in that manner because when you look at leadership, when you look at governance, it's not about your degree, it's not about how good you can write policy or how good you interpret the law. It's how do you take care of the people right? When I talk to young kids, I tell them your most important education is what she talked about; what does grandma teach you, what grandma teaches you, what mom and dad teach you, what the community teaches you. That's your most important education. And I'm not saying a degree is not important because it is, but it's a tool. You can have masters and have a law degree, a PhD, a medical degree, but if you're a jerk it doesn't matter. You need to be a good person. You need to be a good person.

And so those are really important things I think that we need to keep in mind when we think about the earth because when you come into leadership, in Laguna as an example, we're taught, and Shannon and Casey [Douma] can verify results with me. When we're preparing for leadership, we start our leadership in the community. You're responsible for, 'Go help your grandpa, go help your grandma, go cut weeds, go help with everything.' That's where it starts. Not to punish you, not to penalize you, but to teach you responsibility, and paying the price up front first before you go play. Nothing wrong with that.

When we looked at our offices that we had in the Pueblo, we have positions that...what we call the town crier, that's kind of your entry-level position. It's the guy that goes around and he lets the community know that there's going to be a village meeting, there's going to be ditch work, there's going to be grave digging or whatever, keeps the buildings clean and that kind of stuff. Then we have the next officer, which is our mayordomos or ditch bosses, those that are responsible for the land, the irrigation, the land issues, those kind of things. Then you have the council member. The council member obviously serves in our tribal council. Then you have a staff officer. We have six villages and so each village has a staff officer and that staff officer is kind of like the mayor of the village so he's the head of that village. And then we have the governor, secretary, treasurer, interpreter, those positions, the at-large positions.

So in our way, you should normally start as the town crier because you get to know who's in the community, you get to know your community. Then once you finish that maybe you can go to the middle, then you start being a little bit more involved with the direct family issues and your community issues, land issues. Then you can go to a council member once you've completed here, then you can be a council member because now let's assume you've learned your community just a little bit more, you've understood the foundation. Then you can go to the staff position, kind of the head of the village. And then if the people think of you otherwise, then maybe they might consider you for the governor position or the other positions. And that's an important process because it teaches teaches you patience, it teaches you how to learn about your community, but also about yourself.

The other piece of our process is that we don't have a process or a system that allows for declaration of candidacy nor can you campaign. As a matter of fact, if you do those you're disqualified. It's up to the people to decide who is ready for these positions. Then they put your name in for consideration, the people will do the nominating as to who's going to go on the ballot. But even at that point, that teaching, again that starts to what Shannon was talking about, that starts in the home. That teaching also teaches you about [Pueblo language], permission.

When I got nominated for the governor position, I could have just said, 'Alright, I got nominated.' That's not what you're supposed to do. I have to go home now and tell my wife and get her permission and say, 'They nominated us,' not just me. Do I have your permission to accept because it's not just me?' And if she said no, then that's as far as we get. We go to the village and say, 'Thank you for your consideration.' But in this case she allowed it. So you need permission. That's what we're taught in our community, the males, what we get from the female, so we can't just do as we please or we shouldn't anyway. Unfortunately there's a lot of inconsistency with that, but that's our teaching. The clans and all those things we get from our mother. But what that teaches you as well is that humility and serving and being there to carry out the responsibility of the office and the policies and the rules and everything.

So as I stand here as governor with you, it's interesting because at the beginning of the term when the people that's holding office, they give you the canes. We've got canes that represent the symbol of our authority. We have a cane that goes back to the 1600s when the Spanish recognized the Pueblo's right to self-govern. We have a Mexican cane from the 1800s. We have from Abraham Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln gave us pueblos in the 1800s, 1863, 1864. So the governor carries the Abraham Lincoln cane. The First Lieutenant carries the Spanish and the Second Lieutenant carries the Mexican. So we still have those and every term or administration, we hand those over to the next official. And when they hand those over, they give us the offices then of course we have to speak to the people and let them know our elections and so on and so forth.

There was one year when we went through that process and one of our officials, they gave us the canes and he got up to make his comments and he said, 'You know, I'm willing to serve and willing to take care of our responsibilities, now you've given me the power to make decisions, I have the power to do this, I have the power to do that.' And he finished his comments. So it got to my turn. I got up to speak, made my comments, but I also touched on what he said about power and I believe this to this day. As the governor, I have no power. All I have is responsibility and authority, that's it. And it's defined for me in the constitution, the policies and the bylaws that we have ordinances. I have no power. The minute I believe I have power, I've lost touch because it then becomes about me and there are people that are very adamant about [Pueblo language], it's not about you. [Pueblo language], literally means 'don't puff your chest, don't show off, don't brag. It's not about you. The people are behind you.' The power resides [Pueblo language] our people [Pueblo language] with our Creator. That's the only place that has power. I have none.

So in that regard, going back to the creation story, the start of it, the little tidbit, Twitter of our creation story. If you don't have that piece, it's very easy to get caught up in all this other stuff. It's very important you start your day in prayer, however it is you pray. Keep your faith. Don't be jumping from this way to this way to that way. Keep your faith, whatever it is. And I think as we go forward in the development of leadership those are things that where at the point of time you need to be aligned with one another.

As parents now, a lot of times...I remember growing up in the Pueblo there and when my...grandpa and grandma raised me. If grandmother had something on the table, if I didn't like it, guess what, I didn't eat. But now sometimes I see parents going and trying to figure out, 'What do I feed my kid who doesn't like what I serve?' We need to get away from that, we need to be able to get our kids to be responsible, to be faithful. You want them all to grow up and be appreciative of what's provided. Whatever little bit, maybe not lobster, but if it's fried potatoes a couple nights in a row, to me that's a feast. Those are feelings that you need to be reminded because when you come into leadership role, those are the things that will help guide and help you make sound decisions, the simplicity.

And as I close here, whether you're a leader for this tribe or that tribe or whatever tribe, whether you're working in a particular program or whatever, know that the people have value; everybody has value. We're in a situation in our communities that I'm seeing now as we go across the country and go to different meetings and what not where we see, well, maybe a person committed murder, maybe a person did this, did that, and we're saying, 'Get rid of that person.' It's a difficult conversation that we're having to have now because in Native communities, we don't have the right to pull a weed and just throw it. As a leader, I don't have the choice to pick and choose whoever. I have to accept and love all of you regardless of what you've done. Granted, there's laws, there's passion, there's safety, responsibility -- all these things we need to balance. But going back to the creation story, our Creator didn't say, 'Leaders, you only need them and them. You only love them and them.' That's not our teaching, but we're embracing that. Then we're willing to fight with our own. Everybody has value.

So I want to encourage you that we find that way...we find a way to recognize that value in one another. The elders, I know a lot of I said, my grandparents raised me. My grandmother was born in 1903. When I came around she was already in her 60s, when I was born. She died in the '90s, she was 88. But, you know, grandparents are so very, very special and those of you that are grandparents know that you're loved, know that you're loved. You are teachers, you are caretakers, you are guides, you are protection and you are angels. You never know if you're going to...these are all elements I intentionally bounced because in our Native communities we don't have a written document that states, 'Here's how you need to live.' All these things contribute. Back to my point: everyone has value. Grandparents, I love you because my grandparents raised me. I have a special tie to them as grandparents.

So with that, I hope that I've been able to contribute here. Just on the comical side, a couple years ago, my daughter, she was about eight years old and she said, 'Dad, help me with this science problem.' 'Sure.' And it was on sugars and all those kinds of things and when I started college I so I was like a biology major and chemistry minor so I learned about carbons and sugars and all that kind of stuff. So I took off and was [sharing] my knowledge and my wisdom. So I went into talking about the structure of sugars and all that kind of stuff and she was sitting there really listening intensely. So after I finished she goes, 'Wow, Dad.' And I thought she was going to say, 'Wow, you're the smartest guy in the world.' And she goes, 'Wow, Dad, you have a lot of useless information.' Thank you very much."

Jill Doerfler and Matthew Fletcher: Defining Citizenship: Blood Quantum vs. Descendancy (Q&A)

William Mitchell College of Law

Panelists Jill Doerfler and Matthew Fletcher fields questions from the audience, and several participants offer their heartfelt perspectives on the complicated cultural and social dynamics surrounding citizenship and identity in their respective Native nations and communities. 

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

Resource Type

Doerfler, Jill. "Defining Citizenship: Blood Quantum vs. Descendancy (Q&A)." Tribal Citizenship Conference, Indian Law Program, William Mitchell College of Law, in conjunction with the Bush Foundation. St. Paul, Minnesota. November 13, 2013. Presentation.

Fletcher, Matthew. "Defining Citizenship: Blood Quantum vs. Descendancy (Q&A)." Tribal Citizenship Conference, Indian Law Program, William Mitchell College of Law, in conjunction with the Bush Foundation. St. Paul, Minnesota. November 13, 2013. Presentation.

Sarah Deer:

"At this time again we'd like to open it up to questions and comments. We have a few minutes before lunch and we'd like to have some dialogue based on what the speakers had to say.

Audience member:

"Has there been any talks with the state level officials or any federal officials on how they view what an Indian is and at what point...or what do they expect of Indian tribes? We've been talking about funding, we're talking about land being taken back. Okay. I know in Wisconsin we had a meeting with a state representative and he didn't even know we had 11 tribes in the state of Wisconsin. He knew that all the tribes in Wisconsin were per cap Indians. That was his perception and he was from the southern part of the state. And so a lot of times when we...we struggle with this blood quantum issue is the end game that what does the federal government and Chairman Bugonaghezhisk hit it right on the head though. At some point they don't want to pay no more. And of course I speak for myself that they can never pay us enough for what they've taken from us. And I notice that when I look in the appropriations inside the Department of the Interior. Parks and Services get more money than the tribes do and why is that? And so these are some of the questions on the other side of the line is what does the government...what is their end game? The gentleman here talked about...Mr. Fletcher was talking about that at some point all they want to do is wipe the slate clean and mainstream us into society with no debt to the Anishinaabe people."

Dana Logan:

"Hi. My name is Dana Logan from Grand Portage. My question regarding the lineal descent is if the government has wanted to, like you said, wipe the slate clean, get rid of Indians? So if you are going to go to...are thinking of going to lineal descent and I'm going to use the Cherokee Nation, going to lineal descent and I've seen their blood quantum as being at one-3000th. So at what point if tribes go to lineal descent are we no longer going to be identified as Indian tribes and we're going to be so what the government might say is diluted, there aren't no real Indian left? And so that I worry about a little bit in identity and what the government thinks of us. Myself, I'm enrolled in the Chippewa tribe. I have children who are Northeastern Oklahoma Indians enrolled there at a ome-eighth requirements. They're half, my husband is a full blood Indian. Now, look at their CDIB, they're Grand Portage, they're Canadian on my family's side, they're Cherokee and they're also part Shawnee and Eastern Band, and then in the Cherokees, split you up on what kind of Cherokee you are. So you have all of these things that we do to ourselves but yet we have to protect ourselves as a group of people...I don't like to say a racial group either, but we do need to keep our identity so that the American government doesn't say, "˜You people aren't here anymore and you don't matter.' Thank you."

Matthew Fletcher:

"I'd like to just toss out something. I think the way that the self-determination policy has worked in the last couple decades along with the Supreme Court has looked at Indian identity is to really rail and recognize a tribe's decision as to who is a member, who is not. So if you look at a lot of statutes that Congress and state legislatures have passed prior to the "˜80s really, they all talk about blood quantum, they talk about half blood, quarter blood, who's an Indian, who's mixed blood. The U.S. and most state legislatures even have moved away from that. And so for example a year or so ago the Department of Justice, Fish and Wildlife Service in the U.S. government said, "˜Well, we're going to recognize anybody who's a member of a federally recognized tribe. Blood quantum is irrelevant. Whatever they decide, they are able to with their citizenship card they can carry an eagle feather. We're not going to give them any crap for that.' So that was the policy floating around. What it means is, they talk about tribal membership. Whatever blood quantum is, it's up to the tribes and I think that's a really good development. But that's the politics right now. 50 years down the road, maybe John Roberts type people, and he's the one who asked the question in the Baby Veronica case, "˜Hey, the last time that this kid and dad had a full blood Indian was during the time of the American Revolution in their ancestry.' It was important to him and so maybe that will change over time. But right now, now is where the federal government is deferring to tribal prerogatives on tribal membership, whatever that might be, and I think it's a good time to take advantage of that."

Jill Doerfler:

"Yeah, and there's lots of prevailing arguments as well that blood quantum and this racialization was meant to destabilize politics. The U.S. and native nations have a nation-to-nation relationship. It's not a relationship between a nation and a race and so there's also lots of arguments there that treaties that form a big part of that government-to-government relationship there primarily are not racially based. They're governments making agreements with other governments. The U.S. government racial...the race of Americans is changing over time. We're going to start to see the white race decline and we're going to start to see white people becoming a 'minority' in the U.S. Does that mean if the race of America changes, does that mean that those political agreements are null and void? Most people would argue no because it's still the same political system that's in place. The makeup of the people might be changing, but you still have that government structure."

Audience member:

"So I guess to touch on another one of those stories that we carry with us from our relatives, one of the things that I was taught was if you wonder about who you are, think about yourself when you're done with this world and who is it the ones that's going to take care of you to help you on your journey to the next place. And sometimes that is the defining characteristic, because when you're left by yourself and you're completely dependent upon the people who are supposed to take care of you, sometimes that defines who your identity is. What we have based on these discussions is a converging of social, cultural, political type of discourse -- I guess for lack of...for a more intelligent English word -- but...and how that convergence comes into play. I mention these things and the things that come from me that I work with when I work with my people in my tribe is we never lose that connection we have to our relatives. And that's difficult sometimes, especially when they're adopted away and they're taught these different types of...different ways of doing things.

And so when I was in school there was people who were sympathetic, these non-tribal people who were sympathetic, but they wanted this and they always said, "˜Well, how do you...' -- I used to joke with them and tease them because there's some things you don't share with people you don't know -- I said, "˜Well, if you want to know who's Indian, go ask them what happened to their grandparents,' because almost always you can find a story about the boarding schools. My tribe and my relatives all have the same stories about where our grandmothers went and grandfathers and how we can't stop in...when we travel back and forth and Janesville with my grandma.

And so one of the things that I'm proud of as Ojibwe and as Anishinaabe is the treaties that we have going back to American or Federal Indian Law 101 is the four purposes of why treaties are made. Well, there's a fifth treaty, too, that helps define the contents or reserve the rights of your own identity. And for us, for the Ojibwes and among the Lake Superior Band, our 1847 treaty -- one of them gets overshadowed because that was Bugonaghezhisk's allotment that he got over by Wadena -- but the other part of that 1847 treaty is a separate one, which was the recognition...forcing the United States to recognize that Ojibwes did not recognize mixed blood or half breeds or whatever they called us back then and that all of the people who were among our communities from wherever they came from were considered part of our family. And that's a teaching that we have that...we have these cultural bonds that go across there and so a lot of my [Anishinaabe language] are non-tribal. And for those who don't know what [Anishinaabe language] are, it kind of translates to like 'godmother' or 'godfather' or 'god-relative' that is supposed to help you take the place or help assist your parents in raising you or your family in raising you. And then as we include them as our [Anishinaabe language], we also name them so that the Creator can understand them in the Ojibwe that is the predominate method on how we're conducting ourselves. And so even though we use this more dominant language or English to kind of define our interactions and to articulate these views, I still from the time I was born until the time I pass and I sit there with my grandmothers again and my grandfathers and tell the story of my life as part of our teaching. Ojibwe is the means that identifies us because it doesn't set parameters, it gives you the method to teach you how to come back home. And so that is...the prevalent thing that comes through this is the language. We call that...that's the gift from the Creator. Our work is the land that was given to us or the responsibilities that attach us to the land.

But there's still, I guess, and I'll finish this real quick I guess, but the other part that kind of makes our blood boil and all of that is when we have the people who create these manufactured senses of identity of what it is to be Indian and then they come back and they bring these different concepts. Even though I'm a lawyer and trained just as Professor Fletcher is in speaking English in terms of interpreting our laws, the constitution that we have is probably one of the most detrimental and damaging things that we've done as a tribe because it tries to codify what the idea of a good government is or how to run your to organize your people to do certain things and that gives a tool then for those who disagree with our ways of life. Our grandmothers have prominent places in our society, but it's not recognized in the constitution or when people identify their laws and say, "˜Well, you're not a member because the constitution doesn't say that,' even though my [Anishinaabe language] grew up on the reservation and has done as much for me as anybody else, she's not from Lac Courte Oreilles.

It's a dangerous double[-edged] sword that I think that -- and I'm going to get slapped by Robert here if I'm not careful how I say this -- there's people who take this idea of spreading democracy as President [George W.] Bush had said when he was justifying these incursions and sending among others some of our Native youth into Iran and...or I mean Iraq -- whew, there's a Freudian slip -- in Afghanistan and to these different countries is they're trying to spread democracy back to the tribes in that they want to change their constitutions so that they have these things that are not...don't necessarily arise from us, but they come from this idea that we're going to have participation, that we want representation from different areas and the model that they use is the United States, but yet how can that be a positive model when we have something like the Tea Party that's disrupting the government or we have the idea of democracy and we've got the idea that corporate citizens are now or corporations are now people. And so that makes me nervous and I think it's the responsibility of those who really want to be part of that community to be diligent, to hold true to what your ideas are and to not...if you're going to bring something else in there, bring in also with the open mind of coming into the community and listening to what that is.

I know that there's criticisms split between on reservation and off reservation and it shouldn't be that way because the reservations were something that was given...that was forced on us by the American government because we're actually in the area -- and this is going to get me probably slapped by the Dakota in the room -- this used to be Ojibwe country and there was an 1825 treaty that kind of demarcated this line. It wasn't ours like in exclusion of other people. It was our shared responsibility to take care of this land and take care of these resources. And so this idea of possession is something that got forced into us so that the dominant society could figure out a way to kind of [figure out] who to talk to instead of having to talk to everybody, they picked who they wanted to speak with. And so when they come back with these people with these ideas of changing the constitution so that it incorporates more people, I think that's such a dangerous topic because you're incorporating it under the wrong premise. There's other ways that could be done and that needs to be incorporated into that. If we're really going to have binding, logical extensions of ourselves codified in the constitution, it should be in the language, it should be in the way that those words were intended and it should be representative of the practices of who we are.

My grandma told me -- and my grandma told me a lot so I could go all day -- she told me, she says, "˜When you pass, one quarter of you doesn't go somewhere else, one quarter doesn't go to this other spot. It goes to where you think your family is because that's the teaching that the Creator gave to you. And so when you go up and you say your name, your name is like one slice of your life over the time that you've been given this time on this earth. And so when you hear that and they ask for you, you know where to go to.' And I don't mean to disparage people with different beliefs because I've seen people who are strong in their beliefs and I believe them. The major tenet of me and my lodge is you respect all ways and it just...sometimes though when we respect all ways the first way that seems to get diminished or get erased is the Anishinaabe way and we just...I can't allow that. [Anishinaabe language]."

Robert Durant:

"I won't hit you. I want to shake your hand. Again, my name is Robert and I just want to talk a little disrespect to all the efforts that White Earth is going through and I'm on the council in White Earth. I too, I have always been afraid of this. The new constitution that's been written, I feel there's so many things that take away from the future and also removing the past on where we're at and what was done and closing the door on so many other issues. And then when there's issues that are talked about, how are we going to deal with this here with programs -- whether it be housing, whatever -- and all the other issues that comes along with that and maybe being censored from working one way or working another way if this thing passes? Then it's said that, "˜Well, we'll tweak it out.' Well, tell you what, that's not what people are kind of voting for. I'm not going to say 'yes' to where you're going to change it anyway so what good is it? Things like that, it really gets to my heart. And then when we talk about to opening these doors to rewrite a constitution that's taken decades of interpretations and decisions and ordinances and then to me it's really sad, because to me it's like the modern day of being fleeced by using enrollment. I get afraid of that. I'm afraid of that. Remember the stories of our tribal nations being fleeced? And then sometimes when we talk about the enrollment laws...I remember listening to some old men talking about [Anishinaabe name] or 'Hole in the Day.' He only would...during the removals come to White Earth, he talked about only the half breeds could come with him. We all know he was killed, but there's a lot of other histories, I read about other leaders they wanted, for reasons, whatever that was. And that's what I think about, but they disappeared in life and who was always behind it, it was always the government. So it's really difficult for me...when I think about this, I'm doing it right now, I'm shedding a tear because what are we doing to ourselves and what are we allowing to happen to us? It's not easy, but everybody is not being taught.

We sent out as a lesson for everybody, White Earth sent out...there's 18,700-and-some members under the last roll that we took. That list was used to mail out a constitution. I asked, "˜Well, if you're going to mail that out, at least have some fairness and mail out the one that we've been dealing with that was revised in the "˜60s.' Well, no it wasn't done because I was intercepted and it wasn't done, so it wasn't fair because people on both sides ain't getting a chance. So when you go for this here in other nations, realize that because we're stepping into something that we do not know and it's scary. I can say that because my children, they're tribal. But I can understand they may make a choice not to be with another tribal or their children, but the thing is I need to have that responsibility to show them who they are too. But I made that choice. Why am I tribal? There's a lot of teachings.

I want to tell you a little story, too, before I quit here because it really gives me an insight. I got a gift, again, there's a lot of gifts. I received a packet of writings done by tribal members; I'm going to share that with you Jim. They wrote manuscripts of...100 years ago they wrote this. I had my administrative assistants type it all out because the paper was frail and it was written beautifully. And they told the stories of what it was. They told stories. Imagine 120 years ago someone 84 years old saying...writing the story of the modern Indian. It makes me angry when I read that, but it was the truth. This topic is really tough and I'm not the only one that feels that way. These are lessons we listen, lessons from our elders, real lessons. Not just a story, but this time as being told...these were handwritten. [Anishinaabe language]."

Sarah Deer:

"I think we have time if you want to respond unless someone else in the audience wants to make sure we get you on record. There we go."

Sam Strong:

"It's not really a response. [Anishinaabe language]. I think for me it wasn't actually in any response to Terry's comments there, but basically when I think about being Anishinaabe, when I think about being Ojibwe, when I think about being from Red Lake, what does that mean to me? It means a way of life. It means living that [Anishinaabe language]. It means being a part of a community that has been centuries in the making so it's understanding that you're a part of that history. That's something for me that I'm very proud of. I'm an enrolled member. I'm very proud of that. I'm very proud of my heritage. I'm also proud of...I'm mixed. I'm proud of everything that made me and that's part of being Anishinaabe, that's part of being Ojibwe is understanding who you are and being comfortable with that and then living that lifestyle in all facets of your life.

I think about the past, I think about Red Lake and one of our first leaders, once we started with treat making and all that, his name was Peter Graves and he actually wasn't a Red Lake member. Our first real leader wasn't even a member. He was an Ojibwe person that had moved there. He was mixed, he was half, and you think about the contributions that he made to Red Lake. We consider ourselves unique. I'm sure all tribes consider themselves unique. But we're a closed reservation. We're the only tribe that never ceded control of their land. We're proud of those aspects of who we are, but at the same time you look at today what people they're living and what's going on in the communities and we're disconnected from who we are. So I think it's important to identify that in looking at citizenship. Your community is going to look at where you're at today. What does it mean to be a Red Laker today?

Our chairman always tells this story as kind of a fearful indication of where the community is at. He was at a meeting and one of the was a forum for an election or something like that and one of the kids stood up and he took his card out. He said, "˜This ID card, what does it mean for me?' And everyone's like, "˜Well, what do you mean?' And he said, "˜Where's my check? Where's our per capita? We have all these casinos. Where's my money? What does this card mean for me?' I don't think that's the prevailing thinking that most of the community members have, but it's out there. That's kind of how the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] would want it. They would want to see us as dependents. They would want to see us as people that our identity is putting our hand out, but that's not who we are and I think understanding that there is...there's that divide. What we have created and who we are are so different from one another.

You think about the teachings and the people that I listen to and that I learn about myself and my culture and some of these people, if you met them on the street, you might think they were Caucasian, but the reality is these people are carrying on the culture and the language. They're not all enrolled members, but these people have dedicated their life to understanding our culture, our language, our traditions and they're carrying that on for our tribal members. And you think about all these people that have helped us get to where we're at today and all these community members that have contributed and it has nothing to do with the percentage of blood that you had. It never has and it never will, but the reality is our communities have become dependent upon the resources from the BIA, from the federal government, so on and so forth and people have started to look at membership as what's going to be put in my hand for free?

And I think the only way to change that -- we're looking at constitutional reform right now -- and you pose this question to Red Lakers, you're going to get a lot of angry people. We're a closed reservation. We've maintained control of our land, so what happens when we open up to lineal descendancy and we have people that are totally disconnected from our land base? Would they potentially put us in a position where we would lose ownership of the land, where the tribe would make a decision to sell it? I don't think so, but at the end of the day, these are the fears that the tribal members bring up when we talk about changing our enrollment criteria. How do we address those?

And to me, it's one of those's obviously mathematical genocide. I think all of us can agree that the current system doesn't work, but how do we move forward in a responsible way, in a way that allows for the people to also grow and the only way to really do that is through teaching your people about your culture, your language, doing all the things that we're talking about here, but it's not a one-day change. Even if you were to make the change from lineal descent or whatever it may be, that's not the important piece. It doesn't matter what the criteria are if your community isn't carrying on the values and the traditions of who you are. That's the way it was always taught to me is that the way you live is who you are.

Another teaching that I always was told is, coming into today's world you see the troubles of today with the environmental degradation and all the social ills of the communities and our elders say that our ways are the ways that are going to bring this world back into a better place. That's been our teachings. And how can we do that if we can't even include people that are living in our communities in our traditional ways? You have to think that...what's the long term? The long term is obviously that we need to be inclusive and teach our ways and share those values, but in the short term we have to focus on ourselves. We have to get to a point where our own people understand who they are and their lifestyles. Without that, it doesn't matter how you identify yourself. In 100 years what will our communities be? So to me it's...without the identity the rest's almost impossible to even solve that so it's not to make the...and we're going through the same process so I ask this of all the members of our community when we go out. We have a constitutional reform committee and so they're asking these same questions as well. But the reality is, I don't think it's a one-year thing, I don't think it's just change the criteria, it's what are we doing as a nation to hold onto our identity, to create a better quality of life in our communities and to create for...something that everyone can buy into, not only our people but all Ojibwe people.

I always brag about Ojibwe people because I consider us to be the largest tribal nation. I think from a land base perspective you could make that case pretty easily. But today you see tribal nations that are 100 miles away from one another that are fighting with each other. You have racist communities in between that we just ignore and then we have what you would think would be supportive nations down the road and we're not even on the same page. So who are we as a nation even? Have we forgot who we are as Ojibwe people? Have we forgot who we are as Anishinaabe? When I say 'Anishinaabe,' I mean all Native people. I was hearing some of the speakers earlier and they were talking about what that word meant and for us in Red Lake it means free people, people that live in a good way and I think when you think about what we all...all of our ideals as Native people, it's very similar. So why haven't we come together? Why haven't we come together as a people, as a nation and even as Red Lake Nation? So you've got to start somewhere, but at the end of the day...I think sometimes we focus on all these issues and we forget about where the people are at today. For me, living in Red Lake and seeing it and seeing the suicide, the drug use, the...all the social ills of my community, you would just hope that we would focus on the things that would start to change that and create that pride in who we are and all the other stuff will fall into place. But without that, all the rest is for naught, in my eyes at least. [Anishinaabe language]."

Sarah Deer:

"Thank you. Thank you very much. This has been an incredibly rich and deep conversation, and I'm very grateful for all of the participants."