decolonization

Applying the ‘CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance’ to ecology and biodiversity research

Year

Indigenous Peoples are increasingly being sought out for research partnerships that incorporate Indigenous Knowledges into ecology research. In such research partnerships, it is essential that Indigenous data are cared for ethically and responsibly. Here we outline how the ‘CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance’ can sow community ethics into disciplines that are inundated with extractive helicopter research practices, and we provide standardized practices for evolving data and research landscapes.

Citation

Jennings, L., Anderson, T., Martinez, A. et al. Applying the ‘CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance’ to ecology and biodiversity research. Nat Ecol Evol (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-023-02161-2

Transcripts for all videos are available by request. Please email us: nni@arizona.edu.

Archaeology and Social Justice in Native America

Year

Over the past 20 years, collaboration has become an essential aspect of archaeological practice in North America. In paying increased attention to the voices of descendant and local communities, archaeologists have become aware of the persistent injustices these often marginalized groups face. Building on growing calls for a responsive and engaged cultural heritage praxis, this forum article brings together a group of Native and non-Native scholars working at the nexus of history, ethnography, archaeology, and law in order to grapple with the role of archaeology in advancing social justice. Contributors to this article touch on a diverse range of critical issues facing Indigenous communities in the United States, including heritage law, decolonization, foodways, community-based participatory research, and pedagogy. Uniting these commentaries is a shared emphasis on research practices that promote Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination. In drawing these case studies together, we articulate a sovereignty-based model of social justice that facilitates Indigenous control over cultural heritage in ways that address their contemporary needs and goals.

Resource Type
Citation

Laluk, N., Montgomery, L., Tsosie, R., McCleave, C., Miron, R., Carroll, S., . . . Schneider, T. (2022). Archaeology and Social Justice in Native America. American Antiquity, 1-24. doi:10.1017/aaq.2022.59

Robert Joseph: History of Maori Governance and Self-Determination

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

In this interview, Māori barrister and Senior Lecturer at The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato, Dr. Robert A. Joseph offers his expert analysis of governance and law through the historical perspective of Māori self-governance. Dr. Joseph gives a summary of the complexities of colonization over Māori lands under New Zealand governments and in particular a thorough examination of the Treaty of Waitangi that lays the foundations for the governance relationships of the Māori people with New Zealand governmental relations and society. Included with his historical accounts are the ways that law and jurisdiction intersects with Māori economy that brings together a current context to the way colonization impacts the modern practices of Māori self-determination.

People
Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Native Nations Institute. "Robert Joseph: History of Maori Governance and Self-Determination.” Leading Native Nations, Native Nations Institute, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, December, 2017

Transcript available upon request. Please email: nni@email.arizona.edu

Policy Brief: Indigenous Data Sovereignty in the United States

Year

We live in the information age. Governments, industries, and organizations of all kinds are claiming a right to gather information on everything from our spending habits to our health records. Data has become a global currency, a valuable asset, and a source of power. Native nations are part of this data revolution, but encounter distinctive obstacles to fully realizing the power of data.

Purpose

This policy brief is a call to action on Indigenous data sovereignty. It defines the terms “data” and “data sovereignty,” explains the data-sovereignty rights of Native nations, describes the data history of Native nations, and offers recommendations for decolonizing data and asserting Indigenous data sovereignty.

Resource Type
Citation

Rainie, Stephanie Carroll, Desi Rodriguez-Lonebear, and Andrew Martinez. 2017. Policy Brief: Indigenous Data Sovereignty in the United States. Tucson: Native Nations Institute, University of Arizona.

Ian Record: Some of the Difficulties of Constitutional Reform (Presentation Highlight)

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

In this highlight from the presentation "Defining Constitutions and the Movement to Remake Them," Ian Record discusses two of the many challenges that Native nations typically encounter when they move to change their existing constitutions or develop new ones.

People
Native Nations
Resource Type
Topics
Citation

Record, Ian. "Some of the Difficulties of Constitutional Reform (Presentation Highlight)." Tribal Constitutions seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 2, 2014. Presentation highlight.

"Legacies of colonialism complicate it [constitutional reform]. I've had the great fortune of sitting down with Joe Fliles-Away, who you heard from this morning, and he often discusses when it comes to the issues of constitutions and constitutional reform -- and he may have shared it again with you this morning -- that it's really hard to do in Indigenous communities because you have so many people in your communities who are dealing with the legacies of colonialism, they're dealing with those traumas, however they're manifested whether it's substance abuse, alcohol abuse, violence in the home, whatever that is and you're trying to get them to care about their constitution and get them to provide input on how to change it. It's really, really difficult to get that person to contribute to this process because ideally you want everybody in your nation providing their voice to your constitution because your constitution is, ideally, supposed to be an expression of the will of the people. Frank Ettawageshik said it yesterday -- the constitution is the vehicle through which the people inform the government how they want the government to serve them and ideally you want all of your people providing that voice to that government.

So you have the legacies of colonialism. You have this issue of time. I'll never forget, and it was only a few months ago, we received an email from a tribe that we've been working with on and off over the years and it was from the chairman of the tribe and he sent us this email and he said, 'We're talking about constitutional reform here.' He said, 'I've only got X number of months left in my term.' He goes, 'I want to get this thing done before we get out of office or potentially I get booted out and somebody else comes in who may not share my belief that constitutional reform is a necessity for our tribe.' So he says, 'Here's the process I've laid out.' And we were reading through it and basically he had it in mind to come up with an entirely new constitution within six weeks. Six weeks. This is a nation of more than 5,000 people and he said, 'We can go from initiating a conversation with the community to having a draft constitution in six weeks.' It's not realistic. It's not realistic.

And so you really need to be cognizant of that issue about time because if you're going to engage in meaningful... a meaningful dialogue with your people around this issue of constitutionalism and what you want your constitution to look like moving forward, you've got to be very cognizant of time. You've got to understand going in that it's an organic, messy, unpredictable process and you can pre-plan it as much as you can and try to design the perfect process and inevitably you're going to have to retool, you're going to have to re-task in the midst of it because it's unpredictable. Unforeseen obstacles are going to arise and the idea that you can do it in that short a timeframe, it's just...it's on one level insane because it sort of assumes that you're not going to get to that level of engagement that you need to have with your people because often the challenge you face at a fundamental level is your people do not have ownership in that system, often because that system is not theirs. And so if you're serious about re-instilling in your system of governance a true sense of ownership by the people in that system, it's going to take time."

Terry Janis: Citizen Engagement and Constitutional Change at the White Earth Nation (Q&A)

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Terry Janis, former Project Manager for the White Earth Constitution Reform Project, fields questions from the audience about his specific role in White Earth's constitutional reform process. He stresses the need for those engaging in constitutional reform to be cognizant of the fact that a process involving foundational change will necessarily entail Native nations citizens to confront and deal with the enduring legacies of colonial federal policies.

People
Resource Type
Citation

Janis, Terry. "Citizen Engagement and Constitutional Change at the White Earth Nation (Q&A)." Tribal Constitutions seminar, Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 2, 2014. Q&A session.

Audience member:

"Okay, to develop this, I guess this governance model because we've been at this for awhile now and we got our... Let me take you back. It first started, we tried to go to self-government, that was shot down; people were scared of that. Our land code, people were scared of that; that went down. But we got our own election code and that's what the people passed and membership code. I guess how I see it is you gave us all this information how to govern ourselves, the whats and ifs, what if this happens, what if that or whatever, all the unknowns. Maybe it was too much for our people to give them all that at once. Now we have a problem of backlog of over 400 and some odd homes, some houses are boarded up and need renovation and so it boils up dollars.

So let's say if we develop a model and this is important what you're talking about on communication, that's important. With that same concept, if we've already got our election code and membership code, now let's develop the housing code because we have a problem, we pay rent. Nobody understands that money goes back into their homes and whatever to develop and all. Nobody likes paying rent. They think everything's free. So we have a problem of collecting rent. If we develop this model, let's say just for the housing area to start off, develop this kind of model, bring it out to the people, not evictions, whatever might work.

So is there processes like that that'll slowly sort of keep the whole picture into the... To me, the way I look at it is, there's too much, they can't digest all that. So bit-by-bit, I guess that's how I'm looking at it. Now what we're talking about here is just the housing part of it. We've got our own education, hopefully we develop that. At least in this term, at least we can push something, working with... It's a process to make it work, at least we're going someplace instead of taking a step back all the time. I'm trying to look for solutions I guess."

Terry Janis:

"I don't know if this is on, but can you hear me okay? In every situation you have to deal with the reality of two issues, one of which is our colonization. And we as Indian people have a colonized mentality, regardless of whether we realize it or not and when we're talking about change, we have to accept that. So we are a colonized people and change in that sense is going to be difficult to accomplish. And as people that are moving our communities towards change, whether it's a broad constitution or a specific code, that's got to be part of the educational process is accepting our people for who they are and where they're at. There's beauty in our people and because of the history of what we suffered there's also darkness. And when we're thinking about how we're informing and how we're educating our people, we have to keep in mind the colonized mindsets that our people have and are we going to engage that because we have to engage it, otherwise it'll kick us in the ass. It'll stop things from moving forward. And the reality is, it's only going to be able to move forward as far as it can. Sometimes you have to take a staged process. So that's one thing.

And the second thing I spent a lot of time with earlier is just the politics of our community. Anytime you're talking about change and you're talking about an informational, educational process the politics of the community are very real and you have to deal with that. I didn't mention earlier the kind of colonized reality or colonized mindsets because it's sometimes difficult to really accept about ourselves. But...and it's not always the best strategy to say it directly, but you see it over and over and it's a part of the reality of who we are as Indian people. It's how we grew up. We have certain ideas.

My dad growing up on Pine Ridge, the idea was that him as a landowner is he was completely free; he could never be regulated, he could never be taxed, he could do what he wanted with his land. That's what it meant to be Indian on a reservation. And the reality is that's just not true at all. We as Indian people are regulated and managed and controlled more than any other people on the country, my dad included. And if the tribe wants to move forward and start to assert its sovereign authority by zoning and regulating and taxing and doing other things with their property, they're going to do that at some point. But that's our reality and the colonized mindset comes from what happened to us as Indian people, but also the unique sort of situation that we live in, what we've gotten used to, the things that we think we can do and that are inherent, but oftentimes are just circumstantial. For my dad, it's just because the tribe hasn't chosen to regulate their tax yet and that's all that is.

But I agree with you completely. Thinking through, knowing your own people, how best to achieve change, how best to inform and educate your people about that process, maybe a staged sort of process is the best way, maybe a broad complete reform-like what White Earth did is the best way. You're in the best situation to make that decision but it's a decision you have to make. You have to make that decision. It's tactical, it's strategic and you're responsible for it. As leaders, you are responsible for making that decision, period. And you'll live or die on that. Sometimes it'll be the wrong decision and then it'll all fall apart, but that's your job and that's what you do."

Herminia Frias:

"Another question...do we have a question on this side? Okay, question over here. Oh, I'm sorry. Ms. Porter did you want to respond?"

Jennifer Porter:

"Oh, no."

Audience member:

"Okay, so I have a question for you, Terry. So you mentioned maintaining a firm principle of neutrality. That's really interesting and I suspect I'm probably not the only one thinking this, but as you noted, as a Lakota person working up with Ojibwe people, it's really difficult for me to imagine that, one being a Diné, I cannot imagine Navajo, in this case we have a constitution, but a Navajo government development person who is basically in charge of putting together a reform or a government that is one for either Comanche or worse case with the Ute, speaking from that role. So referring to that again what I'm saying is I commend you White Earth Nation and you for doing that. Getting to the question is the neutrality piece to it. We all come with our values, our perceptions, our thoughts. I can't help but think that at some point during this process that you sort of like wanted to nudge folks in one way or another on some of your own issues with respect to one being an attorney and having a good understanding of federal Indian law in relation to Indian Country. I just wanted to ask how do you handle something like that?"

Terry Janis:

"Yeah, yeah. There's two answers to that. The first is that in this particular issue, this idea of neutrality, it only focuses on the educational and informational process. The whole drafting of a constitution or an amendment to a constitution, you cannot be neutral on that. You're going to make decisions and you're going to compromise and it's going to be one way or another and that's the work that tribal members really need to be doing I think. So as far as your own governmental reform, actually drafting the reforms, actually thinking them through, I think the very nature of that is positional and political and about compromise. For me the neutrality thing was important from an educational perspective, strictly in getting information out there, educating, helping people to understand, answering their questions. When they're completely wrong about something, fighting with them about that. That's the only time I took a position. When they were wrong about what they were saying about what this proposed constitution said, then I fought about that because I just wanted them to get it right. I don't want...that didn't decide for them one way or the other, I just wanted their information to be accurate, that they learned the materials and I got into plenty of fights, I had plenty of fun on that. The reason why we go to law school is we kind of like fighting a little bit, right? And so you get into plenty of fights and you have plenty of fun with that, but that neutrality position is really directly tied to the educational and informational process as a community-based thing. This is community-based work. This is going into people's house, this is personal, this is physical, this is live; you've got to be comfortable with that. You've got to get educators and people that are a part of your community training and information thing that are comfortable with that kind of arrrgh. It's a beautiful thing and it's really fun if that's what you enjoy and that's what you love as an educator and that's... So no, I never really compromised in that sense. I didn't really have a struggle with that ever."

Herminia Frias:

"We have time for one more question and just to let you know, we're going to continue this conversation after lunch. Ian Record is going to be continuing this on citizen engagement. So Robert, you'll have the last question before lunch and if you have more questions, we'll open it up again after lunch."

Robert Hershey:

"Thank you and thank you very, very much for the presentations. In response to the gentleman from Canada, I was going to talk about this in my presentation later, but let me just say really the idea of big bites versus small bites. And there are a number of constitutions, like you talked about housing, well, the Tohono O'odham have a constitution that has a lot of power reserved to the districts. The districts are responsible for home site, land site assignments. The way the Navajos constructed land site assignments through matrilineal. The Hopi, the villages have independent authority in many regards and things are specifically reserved. So by working on these different codes, your election code, your education or whatever, it might be your housing, you are actually then having the discussions, which will then transform themselves when the time comes into writing themselves as constitutional amendments. So you are basically in the process of creating constitutions by virtue of your actual practices in these different areas."

Herminia Frias:

"Thank you, Robert. And I'd like to thank both of the panelists for sharing their stories. Thank you very much. Give them a round of applause." 

Sharon Day, Shawn Frank and Deborah Locke: Disenrollment (Q&A)

Producer
William Mitchell College of Law
Year

Panelists Sharon Day, Shawn Frank, and Deborah Locke field questions from the audience and a few participants offer their closing thoughts on the question of tribal citizenship and identity. 

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

Resource Type
Citation

Day, Sharon. "Disenrollment (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.

Frank, Shawn. "Disenrollment (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.

Locke, Deborah. "Disenrollment (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.

Matthew Fletcher:

"My wife, Wenona Singel, wrote a paper where I think I've learned more from this paper than anything else I've read and she...two points about the paper I think that are important. The first is...the paper's called "Indian Tribes and Human Rights Accountability" and it seems to me that there is a -- seems to her and I agree -- that there's a gap in human rights coverage and the gap applies to Indian tribes. International law obligates nations to guarantee minimal human rights and there are things in the United Nations Declaration [on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples], for example, that include these kind of principles, but they don't apply to sub-nations like Indian tribes and so tribes ostensibly have no outside accountability for some of the things they do. That's one of the reasons we have the lack of federal court jurisdiction over things like tribal membership issues is an issue. The other thing is the question of sovereignty and Indian tribes assert sovereignty over tribal membership decisions and if you think about sovereignty, the same kind of arguments that tribes are asserting now when they're defending themselves from challenges on questions of disenrollment are exactly the same things that the southern states made when they were challenged over slavery prior to the Civil War. And if you read the Dred Scott case, there's a long rambling dissertation in there about sovereignty, how internal governance matters should be left to the states alone and outsiders shouldn't have anything to say over that. So I just wondered if you wanted to... if that inspired any commentary from anybody."

Shawn Frank:

"I just think in terms of the sovereignty issue -- maybe I shouldn't answer this since it's framed versus an exercise tantamount to endorsing slavery -- but I think the tribes do have that authority and they can take actions pursuant to that authority. I think the question becomes of whether or not they should, but I certainly...one of the things I do believe is that tribes have to exercise their sovereignty in certain regards because what good is being a sovereign nation with independent authority in certain instances if you're not willing to exercise it? And I think that in issues of membership, that's an important exercise of a tribe's sovereign authority. And I think kind of getting back a little bit to kind of one of the themes of Sharon's [Day] presentation was I think Indian nations are in an interesting position because you have these traditional notions -- not notions, that makes it sound quaint -- these traditions of clans and kinship and where things were really fluid and loose, but as tribes became more like western governments and they adopted constitutions and laws, the tribes now are required to follow those constitutions and laws and sometimes they don't allow this sort of traditional healing, community togetherness concept because there are specific criteria in the specific things that tribes have adopted. So it's kind of a desire sometimes to get back to more kinship and inclusive thing, but the tribes by their own adoption of some constitutions and some other ordinances have really prevented that from being able to happen."

Sharon Day:

"But sovereignty also means that they could do that as well, they could move in the direction that I was referring to if they so choose. That's sovereignty, that's exercising sovereignty."

Audience member:

"After hearing everything that was presented today, I often wonder what the 570-some tribes throughout the United States that are going through enrollment issues, that if there could ever be a conference or a reunification of Indigenous tribes here, not just the continental United States, but the South American, Canadian come together and look at what has...so that there'd [be] a standardization hopefully maybe within the tribes, so that we'd send a message say to the federal government, to the Department of the Interior that we all have the same standards, that's what we're going to abide by. I think we're all going through the decolonization as Sharon was saying and we're still gun shy in what we do. Why? Because we're only one tribe amongst nations of many others and to set a precedence, not just for our tribe, but other tribes here have different things. For instance, they were talking about citizenship and that presentation. Well, if you don't reside on a reservation you don't get any of the benefits. And there again the question was, well, you get benefits, but you have pride in being a tribal member. And often we all say that what's good enough for one tribal member is good for all whether it be the benefiter or etc.

And so I think as a short-term goal probably within say even a year is try to get the message out to all the tribes in the United States, come together somewhere say centrally located, Oklahoma, Nebraska, whatever, come together and have a large summit. That would be a dream and if we go with the clan systems or a way of life, which our people followed many years ago that...whatever, it'd work out to be the best because...me and Willard went to Las Vegas for an enrollment issue and listened to that and we hear different perspectives on enrollment; you hear good stories, you hear sad stories, you hear pondering stories. You're like, 'Okay, I've got my head scratching, I'm thinking,' but you have to know your people also. Ms. [Deborah] Locke was talking about what happened to her and that could very easily fit a lot of tribes throughout the United States and nobody likes to open up Pandora's box to what legalities would come out of that. But the big thing is I'd love to see a summit because if we make these changes today, we're going to leave a legacy for our children and I still think that our children will still be looking at this issue down the line going into the 22nd century. [Anishinaabe language]."

Sarah Deer:

"Any other questions or comments for the panel? I guess we have a lot to think about. Well, let's thank our panel for speaking...for joining us today."

Audience member:

"Well, actually before we clap I guess, we're hoping to get a copy of your article because we'd like to..."

Sharon Day:

"I'll send it to Colette [Routel] and she can send it."

Audience member:

"...Because we'd like to include that into our newsletter and I think...I really enjoyed your presentation..."

Sharon Day:

"Thank you."

Audience member:

"...As a member of the lodge, it's good to have our grandmothers stand up and remind us of the different things that we have. And it's...one of the things I've always enjoyed about when I worked at White Earth is that even though it's a different place there's the common teachings that exist and it's good to know that, John Borrows talked about when you identify your clan you have that connection, so for us in the lodge is that understanding because one of the things that they teach us is the unconditional love, it's to be able to accept them as they are and respect all ways. I guess I do have a comment.

So one of the things I hope that...I hope for not just as a tribal attorney, but as a tribal member is that there is an effort to try to educate our tribal members to understand...someone presented about tribal civics and we talked about this in some of the council meetings, we've talked about this on the reservation about having an opportunity to teach ourselves what our government is like, because there's such a distrust that's come from this federal model and that people who are afraid of trusting authority automatically attack our tribal model and that undermines us because it's...but for the fact that we have these treaties that exist because there's no such thing as an individual sovereign, there's the idea of tribal sovereignty. People will attack our governments because they don't like to be told 'no,' but they don't know what to do to try to get to 'yes.'

I think sitting at this table...I try to remind our council...because I studied this when I was a kid growing up. My dad was someone who was very vocal and involved in this type of work and then when I went to college and I went to the Marine Corps, I went to law school, you keep the sense of identity of who you are and it attaches to your tribe, but more for me it was attaching to who my family was. I'm a junior so I carry myself in the way that knowing that my actions reflect on my dad, but they also reflect on my family and that's a teaching that we have in our lodge and that. So for me citizenship is kind of really difficult for me to understand because I'm always going to be a member of my family and [Anishinaabe language], means 'all my relations.'

And so when one of our family members walks on in our lodge, and I know this is taught in other lodges, someone else needs to stand up and do their work because that work needs to get done. And so that's what I envision and that's what I've seen growing up on the reservation, me and Willard. We've kind of been joking with him the whole day about trying to get him to speak, but I grew up with Willard and as we get older we take more of these responsibilities and among the people that I grew up with we say, 'It's our time. It's our time to do this work now. It's our time to look to our elders like Gordon and Rusty and the ones who've opened up this path for us. It's time for us to pick up that...' Well, they probably don't want to drop it right now, but they're ready for us to start doing this work and helping them carry it that much farther so that our children have an idea of where they come from. But we have to start...I think we need to do more to trust the governments that we have and trusting them by understanding what their role is, understanding where the root of the idea of sovereignty comes from, understanding what the role of the government is supposed to be so that just because you get a negative decision, and I don't mean that in reflection of anything that's been said today, but you understand the purpose of what it is. You have to protect the identity and the protection that we have as a collective group because for every negative instance we have there's a positive instance of a negative action from a government. And I say that as a lawyer.

But people...some tribes sell their memberships and they sell it to people who can pay whoever is on council to do that or they sell the right to go hunt and fish and those are things that are not intended as those treaties were done. My dad used to...my dad told me, 'One of the major things about the treaties was Article 5 of the '37 Treaty.' He said,  ''42 was the best one negotiated for the Ojibwe's, but Article 5 is the one that encompassed us the right to hunt, fish and gather as the way we understood that because hunting, fishing and gathering was the instrument and the means for us to get the deer, the wild rice, the fish and the plants and the medicines for us to have our ceremonies. And for us to have our ceremonies allowed us to go from birth to passing with all the ceremonies that go on in between there and that allowed us to keep our connection between our ancestors and we have something to give to our grandchildren. And that maintains our identity as Ojibwe and as Anishinaabe.' And so when I get an opportunity to teach in the schools I talk about that, but I try to put a face on that.

Gordon was the chairman for our tribe when we had the void litigation that opened up this idea of reaffirming our rights in the 7th Circuit and also in the Western District of Wisconsin. Rusty has been a 20-year veteran in the Army. And so we need to do more to recognize the contribution of our individual members and when they sit on council it's not just 'f*in' council did this' or 'f*in' council did that.' What it means is that we have people who have made a sacrifice of their personal selves to put themselves in a leadership position to take the responsibility of what happens and then respect them for their contribution instead of saying, 'Well, their family did this or their family did that.'

When I took the job as the tribal attorney, I stood in front of the council and said, 'I will let go of my responsibilities as my family and not carry the grudges going forward and I will serve my council to the best of my ability to carry that forward,' and I've tried my best to do that. You've got pressures that come all the time, but I think if we're going to really have a serious conversation about what citizenship is, whether it's the political discourse or membership, whether it's belonging to that group, you have to have an idea of what is your responsibility to contribute and not just expect something in return, not just to say, 'Well, I get to go hunting and fishing because that's my treaty right.' That treaty right came at the sacrifice of thousands of people who had to sneak in the woods at night because there was people who were trying to take that away from them. I read the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] reports, I've seen the game warden reports from like 1910 when they confiscated the fish and the deer from this old elderly couple from Lac du Flambeau and the father...the male died in custody and they made the mother walk home from the lake that she was at. You would never even think about doing that now. You would never, ever contemplate doing that, but that's a sacrifice that they did so that...we need to remember those stories and they did that because...they did that to survive, but I bet you their children knew how to hunt, fish and gather and they knew how to speak their language and they understood those seven principles that come from your teaching in the lodge and they understand what the seven fires are.

And I hope that if there's some day that we have that conversation so there is a thread that connects us so that we never forget the sacrifice of who we are and what's been done to give us that chance. And I hope that we are able to make that same sacrifice so that our grandchildren can look back and say, 'Well, there was this fat guy at a conference one time who said...kept jabbering on, everybody wanted to go home...' but at least we keep that connection alive. So that's what I would say. And I say [Anishinaabe language] for your teaching."

Sharon Day:

"[Anishinaabe language]."

Sarah Deer:

"Thank you." 

NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow: Michael Kanentakeron Mitchell (Part 1)

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Grand Chief Michael Mitchell of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne provides an overview of the nation-building work his nation has engaged in over the past four decades, from its decision to move away from the Indian Act to its systematic development of capable governing institutions designed to exercise true self-determination and self-governance.

Resource Type
Citation

Mitchell, Michael K. "NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow: Michael kanentakeron Mitchell (Part 1)." Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 1, 2008. Interview.

Ian Record:

"Well, we're here with Chief Michael Mitchell, the former Grand Chief of the Akwesasne...Mohawk Council of Akwesasne and Mike is our first ever Indigenous Leadership Fellow of the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy at the University of Arizona. Mike, if we could just have you start off by introducing yourself. I'm sure you can do a much better job than I just did."

Michael K. Mitchell:

"My English name is Mike Mitchell. My Mohawk name is Kanentakeron. I belong to the Wolf Clan. I'm a faith keeper in the Longhouse on the traditional side. I was born in Akwesasne, which is located on the New York State-Ontario-Quebec border. Half, half the reservation is in the [United] States, the other half is in Canada, and two-thirds of what's in Canada is in Quebec and the other part is in Ontario. So we have...if it's anything like this, it's five jurisdictions on the outside and in the territory on the Canadian side is the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, on the American side is another elected government called the St. Regis Tribal Council and historically we have our traditional Mohawk Nation Council. So there's three internal Mohawk governments. And the population, probably right now, it's closer to 17-18,000 and 10,000 are registered as resident Mohawks on the Canadian side of Akwesasne."

Ian Record:

"So that makes for a pretty complex governing situation, doesn't it?"

Michael K. Mitchell:

"Yes, it was, it still is, but it's...we've been able to resolve a lot of the issues, complex issues by taking over a lot of the authorities, programs and services and run it, operate it ourselves."

Ian Record:

"You've been involved with your nation's self governance for more than two decades now. I was wondering if you could provide just a general overview of nation-building efforts at Akwesasne since you became involved."

Michael K. Mitchell:

"The first time I got on Council for what was known back then as the St. Regis Band Council was in 1970, and I had just returned back from Alcatraz and just to start a few things back home, we started taking over islands on the St. Lawrence River. That kind of got people talking, "˜Maybe you should run on council.' So I served one term in 1970, but it was difficult because I was going to school at the time, ironically, film school at the National Film Board. We had our own Native Indian film crew that was doing documentary work. So it was really in 1984, well, I ran and got elected as a district chief in 1982, served two years and figured out that there's just too many outside government interference. Council was in a drastic deficit, probably half their budget of $5 million they were in a deficit and everything was controlled from the outside, which led to a lot of personality clashes within council. We're governed by the Indian Act in Canada, so we have to adhere to a lot of their regulations, codes, etc. All authorities were dictated from Ottawa through the Department of Indian Affairs. So that was sort of like an introduction. I didn't like it, I didn't want to run again, but the fact that I survived it and they were saying, "˜You should run for the top spot,' which was the Head Chief of the St. Regis Band Council.

Back then, the people didn't really elect the chiefs. You all got elected from your districts of which there are three. There's Snye, St. Regis, which is in Quebec side, and Ontario side is Cornwell Island, and each elect four chiefs they have a total... they had a total of 12. And among the 12, they would elect amongst themselves one head chief. So I had figured out, well, obviously you have to run not as yourself but you have to run with a party enough that you would control council and then make sure you have enough votes if you want to run for the head chief, which is what we did in 1984 and the person that I replaced had been head chief for about 16 years, so this wasn't easy. He had pretty well control of the community, the Council and ran it the way he wanted, the way he saw it. A lot had to do with the way the government ran things, too. So there was a very narrow causeway in terms of accessing information back to community. But regardless, we had the election in 1984 and I won by a vote of seven to five. So it wasn't expected; people were surprised. I was young back then, but I thought...ready for a change. I went about in the community and introduced myself as the new head chief and a little bit of surprise in the attitude in the community. They said, "˜You're only head chief of the council members that elected you. We didn't elect you.' And that stayed with me.

Then I ran smack into Indian Act regulations, how you run and service a community. You always had to ask for permission from the Department of Indian Affairs. So I took about less than three, four months before I recognized that we have people to bow to on every issue, on health, education, housing, economic development, and a lot of people are on welfare. People didn't have a high regard for council and it was stagnant. So I figured the only way out of this is you better cut a fine line as to where you're going to make your stand and proceed to make some changes. Right after I got on council, the person I replaced filed an appeal, went to court, and because it was a Canadian federal legislation, the Indian Act, there's many loopholes. It's pretty old. It was put in place in 1867 with very little changes. So if one wanted to mess around with it, there's a lot of legal things you can do with it. And there wasn't a whole lot of honor in the council system the way it was set up because it was controlled so much by the Canadian government. And about 10 years had gone by since the Indian agent had left because he used to run everything. So all this was fairly new. When I said it stuck in my mind when people were saying, "˜We didn't elect you,' and considering that I had to go through a Canadian court just to retain the chieftainship because being that it was so controlled I had pretty well said in my mind, "˜We've got to get out of this Canadian-controlled election process.'

I also found out I'm not supposed to release minutes of the meetings, so the community weren't really appraised that there was so much deficit in the council. Strangely enough, the Department of Indian Affairs, they came and chaired the meeting when I became...counted the votes to be elected chief, was the same person that came back a couple weeks later and he said, "˜We were about to lock up all your offices and put your community under third-party management because of your growing deficit.' So that wasn't a real good introduction. It seemed like every other week my office was occupied by my opposition. Where I lived was on Cornwell Island, Ontario and to get to St. Regis I had to go through the American side and once I'm in the village, if I want to go to Snye, I've got to go back through the American side to get back into the Canadian side of Snye. So we cross the border about 20 times a day just to service our people. Well, all those factors came into play rather fast and they had been operating this way, I would say about 50 years that they had been controlled. They had a system, delegated authority they called it, and everything that we were to do we had to ask for permission, "˜Can council do this, can council do that?'

Being that I was more used to blocking bridges and taking over islands, I took all that energy and started studying what had to be done in the community. We started doing house-to-house survey asking the community members would they like to see an election code that would be developed by the community, for the community and let's opt out of that Indian Act so that they would be the ones that would control it. And we started working out the mechanics after getting the feedback. So in that one term of two years, and that was the other thing I was upset about because I found out that two years is a very short time for elected leadership and a lot of things can happen in that two years and council members, if they want to get anything done they'll take the first year to learn the ropes. By the time the second year comes around, you're already getting pressured to provide money for such and such a person, for housing or more money for education and it's really money that set the limit, budget. Anyway, if you're going to make changes, it had to be done.

So I went to Ottawa and asked for a meeting with the Minister of Indian Affairs and I told him, I says, "˜Listen, this system that you have in place isn't working and we're going to have to make some drastic changes if the community is ever going to come out of a deficit and learn to govern themselves and look after themselves.' And the Minister's name was David Cromby. He got very interested. He said, "˜Well, you know, you have a lot of audacity to come in here and say we want to make some changes.' He said, "˜There's a system in place,' but he says, "˜I do worry about the deficit because it's not just your community, there's many other communities in the same situation.' He says, "˜What do you want to do?' And I says, "˜To improve the attitude and the atmosphere of our community, we want more of our people to take over the administration of programs and services. We want to change the election law so that we can govern ourselves and put the election process through under our own authority.' I said, "˜There's a whole history here in Akwesasne of every time somebody loses an election, you're in court, either Indian Affairs is in court as well as the council.' So he listened tentatively and he says, "˜Well, what about the deficit?' I says, "˜I'll do a deficit retirement plan, but I'll do a separate management plan and we'll wipe out that deficit within five years, but you have to agree to let us run our community.' So he went, left the meeting for awhile, he came back, talked to some people and he said, "˜They say that I can't do that, that we have a system in place,' he says, "˜But I say, we should let you try it.' He said, "˜The only other alternative is I've got to send more people, pay more money, put more money into the community and for what? There's always going to be a deficit, there's going to bad attitude.' He says, "˜I want to try this experiment.' So that was a start.

If you want to get education dollars, the ultimate authority was somebody in Indian Affairs, if you want to build a house and you need housing dollars, somebody's going to come down and take, do papers for you, applications, etc., social services, welfare, the same thing. So I asked for all these people to be sent back to Ottawa, sent home and we hired our own people. I went around and got a list of nominees...they were already working somewhere, either Ottawa, Washington, Syracuse, Albany, Toronto and we needed an administrator, manager, program directors and whoever had the qualifications, we called them, talked with them and told them what we had in mind and I said, "˜I'd like to see more people return home. You'll have a job. Bring your senior experience, your management skills and help your community because we're going to turn this around.' For some reason it caught on and people started coming back and we put together a management team to take care of the administration and I had one policy. I didn't think we had any business running the administration side -- we're politicians. So I had discussion with council saying, "˜Let's do our politics and we hire these people, let them do their administration.' So separating administration and politics was one of the first objectives and it worked. We set out a goal to analyze the political situation and carved out a period of time that we would achieve this.

And the other thing, you had to stabilize the community. The internal politics had to be taken care of so we did, it was done Mohawk style. Obviously the man that I had replaced...we had to find a way to stop the occupation. If I went to work on the American side, chances are they would cut me off over there and punch me out a few times. But there was a great hope riding on this thing about taking over. The community dealt with him. They had to settle it the Mohawk way, going out and have a little fistfight and the winner came out and they said, "˜Okay, Mike's going to have the opportunity to run this community.' And so I had that opportunity, but the greatest strength...the way I was brought up, because this is my introduction to elected system; I was brought up on the traditional side. And maybe I should take a few minutes just to acquaint everyone that on the traditional side, the women put up the leaders. And it was said that the women knew who the leaders were from the time that they crawl on the ground to when they walk to when they hunt to when they marry and have a family -- the women already knew who's going to be a good leader, who will be a good provider, who has integrity, who has good characteristics. So among the various clans of which in the Mohawks we have three major ones: Wolf, Turtle and Bear. I'm a Wolf clan, remember. My mother's a clan mother in that system. My brother's a wampum keeper in that system. So that's the family I come from. My grandfather's a faith keeper. So this whole idea of being involved in a modern, elected tribal system was new and you didn't have much authority, so if you're going to establish yourself under certain principles, I borrowed a lot of that from our traditional custom.

I found out very early that the community was ready to make changes. You raise up the optimism, people wanted to feel good about themselves and it seemed that it wasn't...it hadn't happened for awhile. I'm trying to be very polite when I talk about the Indian Act, but it is so...to me it is so evil, so dictatorial and delegated that they didn't serve our interests because we were used to perhaps more of an honor system. Do things and people looked at you for it so I borrowed that. And I says, "˜We're going to have to fight for our jurisdiction. We're going to have to fight to have our authority and if we can't convince the government that we should be controlling more services, more programs and more jurisdiction, then we have to fight them.'

Well it was only weeks away, there was some men at my office as I got to work; this is months down the line. They were fishermen and they had their boat confiscated and their nets and the motor by provincial conservation authorities. So I listened to them and I apologized to them that I had to have appointments made for me, but they were standing on the outside so I just invited them in. And this is on my way to work. Anyhow, I identified with how they fed their family. They're high steel workers and they take time off for a month and they would fish for their families and then they would fillet it and put them in the freezer and part of the traditions; people always did that. So when you have an outside government intrude on your tradition, what are you going to do? So I told them, I says, "˜Well, tomorrow I'm going to get some people together, we're going to go out on the river and if we find this conservation officer, I will talk to him.' And that sort of raised the interest of people saying, "˜You know what he's going to do? He's going to go out there on the river and see what might transpire.' So when I got out there, there was boats there already. They were ready to guide me and find this conservation officer and it didn't take more than about a half hour they spotted him leaving Cornwall [Island].

So we met in the middle of the river, right on the international boundary and we cut him off and we stopped his boat and I asked him very politely where the seizure took place. And as we're floating on the St. Lawrence River in our boats and we're talking, I said, "˜You know, around here, one minute you're in the States, the next minute you're in Canada, you're in Ontario, you're in New York State, you're back in Quebec.' I said, "˜The way the international boundary zigzags, I doubt very much if this matter was going to go to court that your charges, the seizure would hold up. So I'm going to ask you real nice if ya'll might want to just think about returning this boat to them.' And he was kind of mean. He says, "˜There's no way.' So I tried another way. I says, "˜Well, we don't need an Ontario fishing license to fish in our own waters. We have an aboriginal right, we have a treaty right, and it always says we don't need to have that when we're fishing in our territory.' He didn't buy that either. He says, "˜There's been changes.' So this went on for awhile, then my blood pressure started to come up a little bit and I told him, I says, "˜Well, in that case, sir, since you took their boats I'm going to take your boat.' And his jaw just dropped down. He says, "˜You're going to what?' I says, "˜We're going to seize your boat and I'm just going to keep it until I get their boats back.' Well, you should have saw the cheering from these guys. They said, "˜Well, let us help you.' So we dragged his boat, with him in it, back to the village. And once I got down there, we tied up at the dock and I went to the police station and I phoned Toronto, the Ministry of Natural Resources, and told them what had happened. So the rest of that day phone calls were going back and forth and as we were, higher departments, higher authorities kept calling back saying, "˜What's going on down there?' And it got to the point where the last phone call was one of their regional heads who said, "˜This could turn into an international crisis.' I says, "˜Yes, it could.'

And there had just been elections in Ontario, a new government had gotten in, and it usually doesn't work for us, but in this case it sort of did because the Premiere got on, the new Premiere of Ontario, Bob Rae. He got on and he says, "˜Listen, I know you people don't need provincial licenses to fish'. And he says, "˜But I'm more concerned about that officer that you have. Is he a hostage? Is he...what condition is he in?' I says, "˜Oh, he's sitting right here.' "˜Is he a hostage?' I says, "˜No, sir, he's not and he's welcome to go home, but he ain't got no boat so he can't go anywhere.' So he laughed. He says, "˜I see where this is going.' He says, "˜Well, let's get down to the brass tacks.' He says, "˜What do you need?' I says, "˜I need them boats back that your government confiscated from my people.' So we talked for awhile. He says, "˜You're right. I'll go look for them.' He called an hour back and he said, "˜Those boats are in Toronto.' I said, "˜Sir, that's four hours away. I want them boats back by 9:00 in the morning.' So there was a little bit of discussion at their end but the long story... short end of the long story he says, "˜Well, we'll have it back'. I said, "˜And I want that man that confiscated... this officer here to bring them back tomorrow morning.' He says, "˜I'll send somebody with him.' So they dispatched an official from the Premiere's office. Sure enough, next morning -- and I had no reason to hold this guy so they took him, allowed him to go home with his boat. But I realized early that the only language that a non-Native government understands is something drastic like that, where you have to really stand up to them and that was only the beginning.

The next morning they brought the boats back, the fishermen analyzed it, their nets, their boat, motor, oars, everything was all in there so they were happy, but that got me thinking, 'There's all these non-Native police on our waters. So how come our police aren't patrolling on the water?' 'Well, they're under the authority of the Ontario Provincial Police and so there's...work is confined to the mainland, patrolling the speed zone and accidents, etc.' 'Well, who patrols the water?' 'Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Provincial Police.' 'Well, what about that conservation officer?' 'Well, he's under our jurisdiction, under our...as well.' So it only took a few weeks for me to ask our police and they said, "˜Well, that's the way it's always been.' I says, "˜You know, we should have our own conservation officer out there patrolling, looking after our environment, the fish, the river life, the safety on the waters.' They said, "˜Well, that's never occurred to us that we should be doing that.' So diplomatically again I asked Ontario if they would consider training some of our people to be conservation officers and they said, "˜No way.' So then I turned around and I thought, "˜Well, maybe if I ask Quebec.' They said, "˜No.' Then I asked Indian Affairs and they said, "˜No. Criminal Court of Canada applies and it's the federal police.' They had no mindset that we would be out there exercising our jurisdiction and authority.

Well, it didn't stop there because being that our reservation is half in the States and half in Canada I had one other option. I phoned Albany, New York at the State Trooper Police Academy and they had a conservation program there. I says, "˜Would that be open to Mohawks from Akwesasne?' And he said, "˜I don't see why not.' So I asked for the course that I needed and sure enough they had a very thorough course. I says, "˜Can we send some guys down there?' He said, "˜Yep.' Well, six months later the two candidates we sent down there returned home. They're wearing a Stetson hat, nine-millimeter pistols; they're in uniform. They wore the uniform of where they trained. So it's very much unlike what they wear in Canada because they're used to those taxi cab hats. There was a district Ontario Provincial Police supervisor and he really took offense to their style of dress. He wanted to arrest them right there so we had a few words.

Now the time that they were away in the six months, we put together a conservation law. Again, in that six months, Indian Affairs just wouldn't hear about it. They said, "˜You're asking your community to control your water, to control enforcement.' I said, "˜That's right.' They said, "˜It's under the Indian Act. You don't have the authority to do that.' I says, "˜Then we're going to seize it.' Seven times we send, modified, and pretty soon we stripped all authority away from them. They still wouldn't pass it. So I took it all back, reformatted it and I went to the nation council and I said, "˜We're trying to claim back some jurisdiction here and under inherent right we used to control and take care of our wildlife, water life and all the animal life. We don't do that anymore. We're going to start doing it again.' So I gave a presentation, and this is an elected leader now meeting with the traditional leaders and they had always been at odds, never got along, and I explained to them, I says, "˜Well, you send me over there to create better relations of our own people in the community. Here's what I'm going to need.' Anyway, they took it to the Grand Council and they liked the idea of reclaiming jurisdiction back and they passed it as a community law for Akwesasne. Nothing to do with Canada or the United States, but it's a nation law on conservation and environment. So when the two conservation guys got home they had a law and at the same time we developed our Mohawk court.

Now we had judges under the Indian Act, very limited authority, but they were already in place. So we again started adding more, giving them more authority to hear cases higher, 'cause all they were doing is dog catcher's law, little municipal type things, so everybody was ready for it and they says, "˜Do it.' Well, it all fell into place. Community had watched the way the direction this activity was going to go. When they got home, we had bought them a boat and they started patrolling our waters, start advising our residents safety measures and there was hunting and fishing licenses by the Mohawk Nation. They went out, started telling the non-Natives who were fishing in our territory that "˜You need to have a Mohawk Nation fishing license if you're going to fish in our waters.' Well, that started an avalanche of protests, members of parliament in Ottawa start calling the Department of Indian Affairs, "˜They can't do this.' And our two young conservation officers wouldn't take no for an answer, "˜cause if you didn't have one, you were arrested and brought to our court and that's what they were doing. They were just bringing people in and our court got very active.

When they came in they said that, "˜This is a kangaroo court. It has no authority. It has no recognition.' And one of the things I had done in dressing up our courtroom, making the changes, is that we had a Mohawk community flag and we had a Iroquois Nation flag in the backdrop. Carpenters had done some work setting up -- you know how the judges kind of sit in a high place -- and they did some woodwork and got a principal's desk. I used to like to take my kids to flea market and I found some church pews, about half a dozen of them. So by the time they walk in there they saw an official courtroom and our lawyers that were acting for our land claims and adjudicating outside, brought them home and said, "˜This is your court now. This is where you enforce our law.' So there was a prosecutor and there was also a lawyer to represent them. So all this they saw when they walked in the courtroom and it dawned on them, "˜There's laws here.' There's a courtroom, the charges were read and they paid the fine. And on their way out, if they didn't have a fishing license from the Nation, they bought one. Two years passed. We knew at some point we would have to fight this in the Canadian court and as much as they were kicking and screaming, nobody ever challenged us because they knew that everything was done in proper order.

Well, anyway, the conservation officers made quite a name for themselves in the community. They were champions because things are now changing and I looked at our police force and realized they also had to change, first their attitude. They were referred to by the outside police forces as "˜window dressing cops.' "˜You look like a policeman but you don't act like one. You only enforce their laws.' So we started making more laws by taking provincial highway traffic laws and then we adopted them and we modified them to fit our community. So these things were going on and the provincial police dressed a certain way, so do the Mounties, and so our police force were dressed the same way as the Ontario Provincial Police. So I asked them, "˜Why don't we change that?' So we did a few more consultation meetings in the community with elders and with families and they gave us a lot of good ideas.

As it turned out, the community wanted them to be their police force but they saw them as, excuse the expression, "˜scouts for the cavalry,' spies for the outside police. They just were not theirs. So we were talking about what would it take to be a Mohawk police force? They had a lot of discussion, they made up a list. The style of dress, the police cars, the laws they would enforce, let them know that they're working for community. And when they changed that Ontario Provincial Police headgear, they ordered all their equipment from the United States and so they got themselves nice Stetson hats, shoulder flashes that says Akwesasne, emblems, badges that were their own, cars were set up a certain way. So it was distinctively for the territory. This was all going up very fast, changes were going and while all this was going on, community activity, we were changing that election code through our surveys, we were getting more ideas coming back. Anyway, at the end of the activity, we had encounters with the provincial police because they were saying, "˜We tell you what to do not...don't listen to that chief, he's got no authority.' I said, "˜It's not my authority, it's the community's authority. This is where they want to go.' So we had a few clashes along the way. The OPP [Ontario Provincial Police] arrested the conservation officers and confiscated their guns, so we went to court and we showed them everything that they had been trained for. The judge looked at it and he said, "˜They're well-qualified to enforce their laws because they trained for it. Give them back their guns.' So sometimes you have to fight through the system, through the courts or direct confrontation to keep advancing, so we were doing all this pretty active. And the Ontario Provincial Police appealed to a higher court. We won that one, too. So they says, "˜Well, here's your guns.'

Anyhow, the police started their program and they had their uniform changes and they started showing the community that they were community police, serving the nation, and the whole attitude started to change and that flag that I was telling you about started hanging out in the schools and in public places and in our institutions. And then I went to the Canadian Customs Building and I says, "˜Put this flag right next to your Canadian and American flag.' They weren't going to do it the first time around, so we went and put it up there. Then we went to the Seaway Building and said, "˜Put up this flag to fly alongside the Canadian flag.' They weren't going to do it, so we bought our own and put it next to theirs and dared them to try to take it down. It was Mohawk diplomacy more or less. So those changes were going on, but the community could see, they could see these changes were going on and it was for the better -- confidence building. So people had a different attitude and it didn't take long before they reflected in that law for elections because this went very fast.

Two years was up. I figured that's all I had to do was change the course because they had asked me, "˜We only want you to run one term.' And the strange part about it was, although I was from the traditional side, they don't vote in elections. So in order for me to become chief I had to be voted by the elective Christian side. For some reason they did because I was well known in the community to begin with and knowing that I would be very active in things and so they wanted to see what was going to happen. It was an interest thing for them, but they started liking when they see all these changes coming about.

The attitude changed in the community and they put that election code through with a lot of input. It became an Akwesasne election code. If you wanted to oppose or take action, you didn't like the way the turnout, you had a chance to appeal, but you appeal to our Mohawk court, not to a Canadian court or Canadian government or an institution out there, it was all settled inside. All this time the Minister of Indian Affairs was watching the way things were going and of all the skirmishes and things that would happen, he was happy because we were running our community by ourselves, we took responsibility for our finances, the administration, our programs and had a transparent operation. We started reporting to community by way of annual, semi-annual, quarterly reports, releasing minutes, giving an activity report of where monies were being spent, how they had...how they were coming in. And while this was going on I knew we needed more dollars. So I applied other skills, in this case it was lobbying skills, looking for the dollars and so we set up a portfolio system. I says, "˜this council has to change. The head chief should not be the one who is going to run everything. The head chief is the facilitator; he's a servant of the community. So the rest of you chiefs have to take far greater responsibility, because I'm going to go and start looking for opportunities out there, I'm going to do the fights out there, you look after the community.' So we decided to develop a portfolio system. This chief took care of the justice, education, health; everybody had responsibilities, and the community started to understand that they no longer had to wait to talk to the head chief. They talked to any of those chiefs, whatever problem you had you could see them and he will know and act on and convene meetings and try to solve any problems. So it took on a greater interest and a greater authority. Now prior to that, chiefs that served on council they called them councilors; we changed that. I says, "˜You're not councilors, you're chiefs. You're elected by the community. You're chief for your district.' So other than just the word, we gave them a higher level of importance and with that a job description of what they will do when they're on council and that was incorporated into the election code, Code of Conduct for Chiefs -- that was in there. If he done something wrong, you could take a chief out of office, if he violated the code of ethics -- that was borrowed from the traditional side.

We changed the name. We didn't like the name St. Regis Band. As a matter of fact I hated that because there was a band program, band council, band administrator, everything was "˜band.' I know the Canadian government had this as a mindset for us, to think of ourselves as a lesser people, because we don't mention anything about 'nation' anymore. The only ones that were always saying "˜nation' were on the traditional side and they had... they were in the minority, the government didn't pay any attention to them. So this whole idea of changing, we got rid of the word 'reserve.' You've got 'reservation' on the American side, but you've got 'reserve' on the Canadian side, and I didn't like either term so we said, "˜We're a territory. This is a Mohawk Nation Territory. We're not St. Regis, we're Akwesasne.' So again, we had a pooling of ideas, got feedback and started passing council resolution saying, "˜We're no longer going to refer ourselves as the St. Regis Band. So we became the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne. We became the Mohawk Territory of Akwesasne. There's no more band office; it's administration. And all those administration offices became Administration 1, Administration 2 and that language fit well in the community. And around the council table, some of these chiefs had been in office maybe two or three terms, four terms, some of them maybe even 10 terms, two-year terms. That new election code that we were now discussing says we needed three years because if you're making promises on your second year, you're up for election, chances are you're never going to control the deficit, you're never going to deal with it because you're forever spending more money. Took it to the community, they said, "˜That makes a lot of sense,' and so we revised it.

As far as those chiefs that were on council, sometimes they would say "˜band council' inadvertently. I said, "˜We've got to cut this out because we have to show an example to the community how we're going to refer ourselves and if we're going to change our attitude we have to change the way we refer to each other. You're a chief and we don't want to mention this band word anymore.' So I says, "˜Here's what we're going to do. I put a coffee cup in our meetings and anybody that says band for any purpose will have to donate a quarter into our coffee fund.' Again, it was non-threatening. It became a game and they all looked at each other, laughed and says, "˜Okay.' So, yeah, every other meeting somebody would get caught and put a quarter in there; pretty soon, we had a big jug and it caught on with the stuff. This is a whole different idea, it don't cost a lot of money, but to have you think of yourselves differently, to have you think of your community differently, your people differently we had to incorporate some things like that. So now you had the flag, you have a new council name, your community is under a different mentality. To get back to the election code now. We had finished it, we had a model and the community voted on it. Well, the government came back and said, "˜Geez, you need 51 percent of your total membership.' Mind you, families are out working in different places; we're never going to reach that. So I went back to the Minister and I says, "˜Well, I'll tell you what, would you be satisfied with a letter from the nation council because they don't vote, they don't get involved in these things and you're counting their numbers. So if they give you a letter saying we represent 800 people, that's traditional and we like what the Mohawk Council is doing, we like the idea that they bring their election law back to their community, would that be enough?' And he said, "˜Yeah. I could see that.' And that's how we got around it, just a little bit of innovative thinking. Next election it was under the control of the Mohawk community.

I thought my job was finished back then because I had started these things. They said, "˜No, now you have to run because it's no longer the Head Chief, it's no longer the St. Regis Band Council, it's now the Grand Chief...' And the idea, the first time, the first week I went around when the community people were telling me, "˜We didn't elect you,' I pulled that Grand Chief position, I says, "˜The Grand Chief is now going to be elected by the community at-large, not by these 12 district chiefs or councilors.' That was the one significant thing and that's how the community know that we're going in the right direction. We empowered them. Anybody could run from the community for Grand Chief, but you had to be elected by the community. Well, my opposition, 'That man's crazy. He's from the traditional side, "˜They're not going to vote.'' So we had another one of those famous runoffs and I ran and I won again and council was strengthened even more.

We kept on the path for governance, for representation, for change. A lot of the changes that were going on were really back to our traditions, not necessarily changing so much on the outside. The Department of Indian Affairs stopped being my enemies because now they're taking lessons on accountability, transparency and they would come back and I noticed that every time we had a representative from Indian Affairs, he would try to sneak out our reports to the community, put them in their briefcase. Finally I just asked them, "˜Why don't you just ask us, we'll give you a whole batch,' because now they're taking it to other reservations, showing them, "˜See what they're doing over there, they're giving reports to their community membership.' And so they stopped fighting with me and we became partners in governance. I would give them ideas and say, "˜This is what we want to do.' And most of that time, mind you there were a few other bad apples over there, but for most of that time they knew that we were trying to survive in a community that's divided up into jurisdictions, into puzzles and it was hard to bring it back together. So that was a little adventure into Mohawk politics. It's still on a course, sometimes it slows down, sometimes it's on a crash course somewhere. I shut down ships because we're right on the St. Lawrence river, when I didn't like something that was going on or shut down the bridge, international bridge traffic, and pretty soon I didn't have to do those things. And I'm getting a little older now and people say, "˜You mellowed, you're not a militant anymore.' But all these things, when you have respect, you can sit at a table and negotiate solutions. The challenge doesn't stop. We did a lot of other things that brought us up, but the idea was for most of the leaders, have respect for the culture and tradition of your people, have respect for the language. When we were small, we all spoke the language and as we had children and they grew up, the mentality was if you're going to succeed get an education. That language is not going to help you out there, nobody speaks Mohawk in the States or in Canada. So that was the mindset. In the "˜80s we turned that around and said, "˜Our culture and language is important.'

And for all the hard time that I had coming from the traditional side, something had happened in my second term in 1984 when I became Grand Chief. The Pope came to Canada and he wanted to experience a Native ceremony. I don't know what he was thinking, but he had asked the bishops in Canada, the Catholic Church of Canada to say, "˜This is what I want to experience.' And years before that he had already known that the churches would bring out so many Indians and they would dress them up, put the western war bonnet on a Mi'kmaq or a Mohawk out east, put them on horses, dress them up the way you would see a Native American on cowboy and Indian and the Pope was, he says, "˜I know all that. And I know if I'm going to go to eastern Canada I don't want to see you dress up your Natives that way. I want to see what they're really like. I want to see the spiritual side and I want you to organize it.' So the priests from our territory wrote back, says, "˜Well, they just elected a traditional...' well, they referred to me as a pagan, but more diplomatic is, "˜There's a traditional Mohawk here, he's now the Grand Chief and he goes to the Longhouse, he goes to ceremonies, he's a faith keeper in that Longhouse.' So it didn't take long before they wrote back. They says, "˜Would you put on a ceremony for the Pope?' And I had a lot of difficulty from the very strong Christian side of the community. It was always a test. So I went back to the Longhouse and I told them, I says, "˜Listen, this has been an offer, an invitation has been given to me to do this and do you think it's a good idea?' They talked about it and the conclusion of their discussion was this, "˜Maybe it would lead to better relations between ourselves, us traditionals and Christians. So we're going to send you, but we're going to send a clan mother, an elder and singers to help you.' So that's how...this was 1984, kind of still fairly new back then and given a hard time by the Christian side and often be referred to as a pagan, the attitude was, "˜You look down on your traditional brother.' The Pope came to Canada, we put him through that ceremony, and he was so affected by it because I work with Ojibwe and Cree nations to put this on, but a healing ceremony consisted of smudging, they use sage and sweetgrass. I brought my sacred tobacco and put everything together, put him through the ceremony. One of our elders did the blessing with the eagle. But all along there they explained to him what we were doing and when the words and the songs were put to him as he was going through, I could see a tear coming down and he was totally committed to this experience.

Anyway, when it was over and he read his prepared speech, that man can say greetings in about 20 different languages so that took a bit of time and then he gave his address. It was broadcast all over the world. There was probably an audience of about 80,000 in this...if you can think about what a Woodstock concert would have been like, it was pretty well the same set-up; speakers all over, screens so that they would project all over the field. And then he digressed from his prepared text and from here he told them, he says, "˜The Church assumed when we came to the Americas that the Native Americans were godless and soulless people.' He said, "˜That's wrong. They have a very beautiful culture and traditions and thanks to us we've taken that away from them.' He says, "˜What I've experienced today, I will remember it and I want to thank the elders and the people who put this ceremony together and my message to all of you is I want to apologize on behalf of the church for what we've done, the damage that we have done.' So his message to his followers was, "˜Don't be ashamed of who you are. Don't be ashamed of your tradition, your culture, your traditional beliefs. Incorporate them into your church activities.' That was a big turnaround. It certainly led to my being more accepted in the total community and within a short while after this was all over we had all been home, my community, in the church they started burning sweetgrass and offering traditional chants, singing and dancing, even dress. And so they saw themselves as [Mohawk language] Mohawks and they were proud of it whereas before they had been taught to be ashamed of it. That was a stark difference. So situations happened in my early term that helped the path that I was pursuing. It was well appreciated. I was invited to speak to other churches. I went and spoke in their churches, something that was very new for me and it helped with a lot of the changes that were coming about."

Ian Record:

"You talked about the laws and the codes and the court system that you set up, and early on you found yourself right in the middle of it because one of your family members was one of the first violators of I believe it was your conservation code or one of those, right? I wonder if you'd tell us that story."

Michael K. Mitchell:

"Man, I went all the way around not to go near that story. Yeah. The conservation officers, as new as they were, but the uniform was very distinctive, their presence was distinctive and the support of the community, they were champions because now they're out there exercising authority on behalf of the community. So everywhere they went the elders singled them out, shook their hand. So one day I'm meeting in the village with elders, we're talking about building a new nursing home and they walk in. This is just probably a few weeks after they had come from their training in Albany. And they said, "˜Chief, we need to speak with you,' and they got cut off. The elders just got all around them and they give them coffee and tea and cookies and all, made a...so they had to make a little speech and they were just adored by the elders.

So when they got a chance one of them cut away and he says, "˜We're here on official business. We need to talk to you, Grand Chief.' I says, "˜Really? What's it about?' He said, "˜There's been a murder on the island and your...somebody in your family might be involved in it.' Well, it hits you right here, huh? I says, "˜Well, excuse me.' I took them outside for a briefing. At their suggestion went outside and with stern faces they looked at me and looked at their report and they said, "˜There's been a murder up the hill where you live.' And I'm studying their face to see if this is some kind of a trick or humor. I couldn't find anything. Then I started getting scared. I says, "˜Well, what happened? Does it involve my family?' He said, "˜Yes, it does.' They looked at each other and then they said, "˜A pig was killed up the hill, farmer called in and it had piglets and they were all killed, too. And those piglets were traced down the hill to your farm. So the murderer, the culprit of this murder, is your dog, your Alaskan Malamute.' Well, then it started...I didn't feel as bad, because now I knew that this is their way of impressing how important their work is and their investigation. So I challenged them. I said, "˜Well, how do you know it's my dog? There's about three or four other houses that have Alaskan Malamutes.' They were just waiting for that. They pulled pictures out. "˜Behind your barn there's a whole, there's piglet parts in there. There's your dog, blood stains on his face and on his chest, and there's a trail down the hill, and so we know, we have proof, everything's documented. Grand Chief, you're under arrest.'

Now they scared me. I didn't know how to react so I went with them and they charged me. I'm the first one to get charged on a conservation law that our people put together and in the authority they carry, they singled the Grand Chief. So this created a lot of discussion in the community because I didn't have to go to court for two weeks and to prepare whether I'm going to argue it or offer a plea. So anyway, the charge was given to me. People either laughed about it or there certainly was a lot of discussion. To the elders they said, "˜Well, it's the Grand Chief's the one that's trying to find the money for this program. He sent them to school, he found a place for them to be trained.' Pigs die, even the farmer up the hill when he found out it was my dog he was trying to drop the charge. It was going both ways. My opposition says, "˜Well, is he going to pull strings and get out of this?' Two weeks came up, I went to court. I paid the fine. And people wondered, 'What was the result, what happened?' And I said, "˜I paid it.' And I guess it tells me that we all have to follow the law, and I just want to say the conservation officers did a thorough job investigating the murder on Cornwall Island.

And that was the result of the story. But weeks later, then I started getting some feedback. Apparently a lot of people in our community were watching to see how this was going to turn out and are we going to have respect for our own nation law. And if the Grand Chief is the highest authority, is he going to pull some kind of strings to get out of this or have the case dismissed or find a technical way to deal with it? And I didn't realize that there was such an interest in how this was going to turn out. But the law, the nation law applies to everybody and it all turned out well. It was a little embarrassing for me. I had to swallow a few times, too, but the bottom line is if you make a nation law, you better abide by it. It's not just for the non-Natives; it's also for us, too. And that was a little story about how the law applies and how you treat and respect the enforcement of law and justice in your community."

Ian Record:

"It's an interesting story. I think leadership is in many ways leading by example and that citizens of a nation are going to take their cues about what's going to be tolerated and what's not going to be tolerated in terms of behavior by how their own leaders behave."

Michael K. Mitchell:

"It was an example to the degree that there was interest generated and people knew that I could have it dismissed like that and it was just a thing that they were saying, "˜Well, how is this going to...?' And it led to everybody having respect for our program, respect for the nation law, respect for the police authorities, because it wasn't just the conservation. It applied to police in general and so it became a healthier thing. It was a good example to everyone and it taught us a lesson, because there were times when you had to stand up to the authorities on the outside, you might even have to disagree with them about how law is applied. That's how I looked at it. If you have to stack that up against your own laws or your own beliefs, if you violated a custom, tradition, that you want to defend it, sometimes you go to jail on principle. And it was those principles that became very important in our community. But at the same time, in your traditions there's also law, there's also justice and you better respect it. It doesn't mean that we can just do anything. That border that we lived on was inviting for a lot of criminal organizations and in my time, two or three elections later, it became a thing for smuggling of contraband going back across.

Let me try to see if I can demonstrate something here. There's three islands here: Barnhart Island, Cornwall Island and St. Regis Island. Here's the St. Lawrence River. Whoever set the boundary line back in the 1700s and 1812 must have been drinking somewhere because here's how it goes. Barnhart Island, New York State, it goes around this way and then there's Cornwall Island, Ontario and then it goes around, St. Regis Island, Quebec. You would think they would just go one way. Of course the water goes straight down. That's why I said one minute you're in Canada, the next minute you're in the state, you're in New York, you're in Quebec, you're in Ontario because that's how the international boundary line was zigzagging. And so the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigations] and the state troopers and the Canadian Mounted Police and the Provincial Police all said, "˜We'll never get a conviction on the water, so we'll just stay on the mainland and we'll catch whoever we catch on the mainland.' So this whole area became this, what they call this gray zone, and it didn't take long for criminal organizations to hear about Akwesasne, how it's easier to transport stuff back across. And it became very hard because they were enticing a lot of our people to say, "˜Run this across the river for me, boxes.' Well, it didn't take long for those cigarettes to turn into drugs, guns and when 9/11 happened, on CNN and NBC, ABC, CBS, we were watching and they had a map of Akwesasne and the first few weeks they were looking at saying, "˜Those terrorists must have had... come through Akwesasne.' We're getting to be famous for the wrong reason, but that's the scenario and that's what they thought happened. It took a couple of weeks to kind of find out that they didn't come through Akwesasne, that they were already in the country, but who do you blame first when something like this happens? Who do you point fingers to when criminal activities are going on? Both sides, they were blaming the people who live there and the customs security cracked down. They were checking every car, but they were checking the cars of the grandmother and the mother trying to get her kids to school going back and forth so they were very hard times for us.

There was another thing that I was instructed to do was challenge Canada on our border crossing rights. They loaded up my truck with food and furniture, household goods, stacked them way high and I came across the international bridge. Everybody walked with me alongside the truck, about 1,000 of our community residents, got through Canadian Customs and I declared everything that I had with me and then I says, "˜I want to exercise my aboriginal right, I'm not paying the duties and the taxes,' which amounted up to maybe $370 some dollars. They wanted to arrest me right then and there and they...Customs verbally arrested me, but I kept going. Second line was the RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] and they pulled me out, put me in their car and the women of our community went over there and pulled me back out, put me back in the truck and said, "˜Keep driving.' So somehow or another we got on this 401 that went to [Mohawk language], which is another Mohawk community further west and we gave the goods to them as a historic right of trade. And it went to court, it went all the way to the Supreme Court, because I was told in these meetings by high level government authorities, "˜Chief, if you believe your people have a treaty right, an aboriginal right to cross the border with your own proper goods, you have to win in a Canadian court. If you win in Canadian court, we will be prepared to negotiate how to implement, how to exercise that right.' So this was a test case that I was invited to participate. When I came home and I reported that, they said, "˜Let's do it.' And so this was the whole precedent setting thing that occurred.

Years later we finally hear the case and I win everything. So Canada was totally unprepared for how it was going to be done and the people that made those promises that I had to win in a Canadian court were no longer there, it was a new government there. They said, "˜We didn't make those promises, so we're going to appeal.' So it went to a higher level, they lost again. So a different Minister now getting really concerned because now their federal prosecutors are telling them, "˜You know, the Mohawks could bankrupt the financial institutions of this country, they could threaten the sovereignty of this country. Look at the decision what was awarded to them.' And we weren't asking for a lot, just to bring across our own community goods, our food, products, furniture, anything for the nation and to trade with another nation. That was the other thing that we had invoked. Anyhow, what happened was they said, "˜We're going to go to the Supreme Court.' I says, "˜You didn't say that. You said we would negotiate how to implement this right.' Anyway, they went to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court heard the case and they altered the argument, restructured it and gave a decision, a 'no' decision.

So after all that time, this is about 10 years for this battle of recognition of inherent right, aboriginal right, treaty right. I wasn't satisfied the way we had been treated. The lawyers in Canada started holding sessions on how this was played with and there's a code...there's a code of honor among lawyers and legal institutions that there's some things you don't do, and this is what happened because they were so paranoid. I got home and I thought, "˜Well, I've been to the highest court of this country, it wasn't exactly...turned out the way I wanted to see it turn out, gave it my best shot and I was just going to proceed to do other things. And then somebody came to see me and they said, "˜You should try to take Canada to the International Court because what they done to you should have never happened and if that's the last resort, that's the last course, then you should submit it to the Human Rights Commission. There's no guarantee they're going to hear it though.' So that's the next thing that we did is we submitted to them and we asked for more documentation, they looked at it and here's a team of lawyers from Canada saying, "˜Don't hear it. It's been settled.' They examined everything and they said, "˜We're going to hear it.' It was heard last February and we expect a decision sometime in the next few months. It'll be the first of its kind, but when Canada holds itself up as a defender of justice, of human rights, this happened in their backyard and so I didn't want to do this, but you forced the issue; you're promised something and then they take it away. So that was one of the last things that I was...challenges that I faced because by now those two years turned into 25 years on council. I would take a break, but always the next term they say, "˜We want to bring you back.' So that was one of the last fights I had with Canada."

Ian Record:

"What I've been hearing a lot in your discussion thus far is essentially you moved, Akwesasne moved from a position under the Indian Act where your system of government really had no transparency and no accountability to a system where you're striving very hard towards and you're institutionally building towards a system predicated on transparency and accountability, not only within the government but also accountability of the citizens to the nation. I was wondering if you'd talk a little bit about that."

Michael K. Mitchell:

"In the early "˜80s, middle "˜80s, when the government controlled the purse, we were barely getting by with the monies we had to service the community. When we took over and we had a better grasp of what's needed, we were able to lobby for more dollars and by reporting the results of the expenditures and the programs that we had implemented we also had our own actual figures of what's needed. I'll give you an example in health. We took everything over -- the administration of it, started putting some policies of our own, hired our own people in-house -- it became a big regime. And so much so that Canada started referring to it as a living example of what would happen if First Nations took over like taking it from a self-governing position. I never lost sight of the fact that the only thing that we were doing is removing those government people away and putting our own people, designing our health schemes, putting accountability factors, implementing programs and services in the community the way they want to see it and then built in involvement from the community to give direction where the health programs will go and as a result we qualified for more dollars. The institutions that were built is the same for education, it's the same thing for other programs, and pretty soon when we started from $5 million, when I left in 2006 they had a budget of $76 million to administer and service the community. In between that, people had a chance to return home, have a skill and bring it home and find employment. But that wasn't the end all. There were other factors now that were available so it was more promising than from the time of the Indian agent or when the council was controlled by the Department of Indian Affairs. So the movement...what's indicative was the attitude change in the community. When you think better of yourself, you're more aware of your nation culture and traditions, you take pride in your community. Those are all factors that were crucial. They didn't cost a whole lot of money, because at the time when we were in a deficit I laid these things down and had a path to pursue. We didn't have a whole lot of money to spend, we couldn't make a whole lot of promises, "˜I'm going to do this,' but we did some confidence building, pride development and slowly the attitude started to fall in.

The elders provided the greatest support. They knew that this was their community and wanted to see a strong, healthy community. Now mind you, that didn't mean that we didn't get hit with a lot of modern problems. I mentioned smuggling a while ago. A lot of things that were going in and out would also stay. So drugs became prevalent, social issues became very prominent and hard to deal with, but we set ourselves with a way to deal with it because our programs were there and we could add anything that came, but we're able to deal with modern-day problems. Now that generation from the "˜80s and into now, the product, language has become very important, the curriculum in education systems have become very important, more involvement and teaching of Native culture and history and traditions, more language programs. We have some schools that are total immersion, Mohawk and all the subjects. Nobody would have thought back then that we could have done and built institutions like that. Our relations with the tribe, that had been our enemies in the past, now they sit together in council. They now recognize the Mohawk Nation "˜cause very early in my term, probably within the second year, we passed a resolution recognizing the Mohawk Nation council as our historic national government. We're a community government; they're a nation government. So now we're trying to find our way, how do we get everybody working together. The mindset was, and the trick from the outside is, get people fighting amongst themselves, make one side seem lower in stature than the other. You're the good guy, they're the bad guy, they're the pagans, you're this and that. Well, now everybody's saying, "˜Wait a minute. We're all traditional now and we're all proud to be Mohawks and that's going to affect the next generation. So we can withstand all the modern problems and difficulties that will come, we'll try to find a way to resolve them because those problems are great, they're coming at you from all directions. But now you've built your institutions, you've built your programs to service your people, you've also developed a character that will withstand all the negative, and also from the outside governments that try to influence them so you don't have that. You have it in your heart and your spirit to fight for those things. Your children will grow up fighting for the same thing. So it's been a worthwhile experience. I look back now and I say, "˜That was a good term. You learned something.'"

Ian Record:

"The last question I have is this issue of governing institutions, which you've talked about in detail. The extensive research of both the Native Nations Institute and also the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development have showed that across Indian Country in the United States, across Canada, Native nations are aggressively pushing for sovereignty, for self-governance, but has chronicled case after case where when nations do not back up that assertion of sovereignty with the building of capable governing institutions, they really can find themselves in the sorts of battles that they can't afford to lose. And I was wondering if you could just comment in maybe more general terms about the importance of reinforcing that push for sovereignty with those capable governing institutions."

Michael K. Mitchell:

"There's a very historic wampum belt that we all grew up with in all our Iroquois communities that we're taught, and this belt has two lines, two purple lines. And one line they say is a ship and on the other line is a canoe and the blue line represents a body of water. And they said on that ship is the non-Natives, the European newcomers, settlers and in 1664 they sat down in Albany and they talked about this, making an agreement. And from that experience between the Dutch and the Iroquois, later the English and the Iroquois, they had this discussion and on a piece of paper when they said, "˜My king will be your father and we're going to have a relationship here and we're going to do business in this manner,' is that they left that day and the Iroquois said, "˜We're going to come back the next day with our response.'

The next day they came back, they said, "˜We have made this belt. First our answer to you is we can't have a relationship because you're telling us the king will be the father and we're going to be the children. A father will always tell his son what to do. Our answer is we'll be brothers, equal.' And so they come to these two rows. They says, "˜On this one row will be your ship that you came from across the salt waters and from what you're telling us, you couldn't practice your religion over there. You didn't have a fair system of government over there. You get penalized for doing these little things and so you want to be free over here. On this ship we're going to allow you to have your own government. You're going to have your traditions, your culture, your language, your governance. It'll all be on this ship. In our canoe, we're going to maintain our traditions, our culture, our language, our governance, our jurisdiction. And we're going to go down the river of life together. Whenever you need help, we'll come over and help you, but we'll never interfere in internal relations of your people.'

So that was a solemn pledge they made to each other and they did help each other down the course, because when the settler governments first got to the Americas, everything was new for them. They weren't knowledgeable of the medicines that the Native people knew. They knew nothing of corn and beans and squash, pumpkin, maple syrup and the list goes on that we take for granted every day now as edible foods. That was all new, even tomatoes, beans. So in helping them with the foods that were grown in this world, Turtle Island, when I said they helped each other along the way, this is how they would help each other. We also were not privy to a lot of the diseases that Europeans brought over so they would help us in the other way. That was the relationship. My point is sovereignty began with us from day one when a clear line of understanding in the relationship the way it was supposed to go. And it's in our heart, it's in our spirit as we look after our people. Unfortunately, that was a traditional practice. So when they brainwash you into a modern elected system, you didn't believe any of that stuff anymore. One of our jobs was to go back to our traditional ways and bring that out and say, "˜Listen, we're Mohawks, we're Iroquois and that is our belief, that is our principles.' So now both...everyone adheres and abides by these principles whenever we talk to outside authorities and governments. That's the basis.

Now I'll tell you one thing in Canada, you can't say sovereignty. They just freak out when we talk about our sovereignty. Not that we don't ever stop. We just listen with interest because they're so concerned about Quebec separating from Canada and they call it separatists. And the Quebec people start talking about their sovereignty of their nation, which is Quebec. And so they've had a couple of showdowns, referendums. One time they come by one percent that they were going to leave. We never really concerned ourselves with it because three quarters of Quebec is Cree and the other part is Iroquois and so we would have just had a referendum of our own and say, "˜We're going to separate from Quebec,' and come back to our own nation. At least that's what we told them and they always freaked out when we told them more or less embarrassing them.

The idea of nationhood is now growing, finding it's way back to the nations in Canada, and I know as I travel around in the States they're always talking about sovereignty. As a matter of fact, I kind of get disillusioned at times because I see so many of our leaders go to a national chiefs' convention, stand up there, talk about sovereignty then go home and do their due diligence with programs and services that are administered from the outside, the social conditions are bad, they haven't moved their community, so it has become rhetoric more or less. So you see when people are really strong it's not particularly the leaders, it's the community that has to grow. They have to have the confidence and they have to have the ability to say, "˜We are who we are. We are a nation. We want to do this. We're strong in our traditions, in our culture, in our language.' And when you're strong there, you become strong in other areas because now you're not afraid to get an education, you're not afraid to get an occupation or train for something because you know who you are. That's the result of the residential schools, that's the result of the churches, it's the result of people that have changed our minds. So we want to go home. So my interpretation of sovereignty is strictly being...knowing who you are, what nation you belong to, the roots that you have, that's your tradition and culture, and you'll be a strong nation. The problem is that many of us have been educated to the degree then admitting to something else that we believe that we no longer have those roots of our nations. And back home that root took place and embedded. So I feel kind of confident in the next generation that we'll continue to have the fighters going in the same direction. I didn't quite answer you the same way as you'd expect somebody to talk about sovereignty in that way, but that's how we look at it." 

Greg Cajete: Indigenous Paradigm: Building Sustainable Communities

Producer
University of Arizona's Department of Language, Reading, and Culture
Year

Greg Cajete, Director of Native American Studies at the University of Mexico, shares his more than three decades of work and research on Indigenous epistemologies for human and ecological sustainability, and discusses the need for scholars, academic institutions, and others to fully embrace these time-tested epistemologies as effective tools for combatting major issues such as climate change and global warming.

People
Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Cajete, Greg. "Indigenous Paradigm: Building Sustainable Communities." Department of Language, Reading and Culture, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 23, 2007. Presentation.

“Thank you, Candace and thank you Native students here at the University of Arizona for inviting me once again to give a presentation to your group and also to this group. As we say in my language [Tewa language], ‘Be with life, see that is the way it is.’ And I use this greeting, this way of opening my presentation today to sort of highlight, I guess, what I’m going to say to you and what I’m going to present to you in the context of this presentation. A lot of the work that I’ve been doing really within the last six years has been really around the notion of how do we develop a place for Indigenous thought, perspective, understandings within mainstream education. So hence, my role and my taking up the challenge of being the Director of Native American Studies at the University of New Mexico and actually attempting, not only with myself but also with some colleagues, to introduce in a kind of basic way this paradigm, these thoughts, these ideas into a Native/Western-based Native studies program.

So you can see that part of this has to also be about creating space and place within the academy, within the western academy for the thoughts and the ideas and the diversity of thought and idea that Native people have and have always had and have always brought to universities such as the University of Arizona and the University of New Mexico. And so my work today really is revolving around partly being an administrator. And all of those of you who have ever been an administrator know what that means. It really means lots and lots of time and meetings and working with political entities and coming forward and doing your presentations in hope of getting some money from some source to continue your program. The other part of it is internal work, which really requires you working with a variety of entities, particularly students and other faculty members to create a kind of openness first of all and secondly a kind of mechanism that allows you to begin to, in a sense, bring forward some of the ideas that are a part of what I call the Indigenous paradigm. And I’ve been working on this work actually for about 33 years now. It’s going to be 33 years that I’ve been ‘in the trenches’ as we say, a teacher starting really at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, as the high school science teacher and also the basketball coach and evolving into with the Institute into their college program, becoming the Dean of the Center for Research and Cultural Exchange there at the Institute and then also being the Chair of their Cultural Studies program before moving to the University of New Mexico 11 years ago now.

Part of my reason for taking on the leadership of the Native Studies program at the University of New Mexico is I felt that it was a time and a proper time to bring forward some of the ideas and perspectives that I had been working on as a cultural educator, as a Native educator within the secondary ranks and also within tribal college, as was the case with the IAIA [Institute of American Indian Arts] and bringing that into a university setting. And it’s not been without its challenges, it’s not been without much, much work but I think it’s becoming a point or a place where at least at the University of New Mexico where at least the Indigenous ideas and perspectives are becoming a part of the regular dialogue and discussion among students and Native faculty who are at the University of New Mexico. So the next stage of that is to make it a part of the dialogue of the University as a whole, which I think is probably going to be happening soon.

So my presentation today really is about what I would consider kind of my new work although it’s actually old work. It’s actually taking up some of the ideas and perspectives that I wrote in my first book Look to the Mountain: An Ecology of Indigenous Education, in which I sort of began to take a look at what was indeed Indigenous education, what were its sources, what kinds of components did it have, what is the epistemology if you will of Indigenous education and how can we use it as a foundation to begin to create new curriculum from and in a sense to engender a kind of process of thinking that would allow the Indigenous perspective to have a place within mainstream education. And so Look to the Mountain is about philosophy, it’s about epistemology, it’s about a lot of things that deal with what I would consider foundational, philosophical, epistemological understandings that Indigenous people share not only here in the United States but actually worldwide with regard to language, with regard to community, with regard to understandings and relationships to environments in which they live, with regard to the arts and with regard to spirituality and with this whole notion of education.

And that then led to another book that I wrote, which is Native Science from a Native American Perspective which outlines some of the kinds of content that I began to use in a curriculum that I developed at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe those 33 years, beginning those 33 years ago. And in Native Science, what I talk about really is the Native ecological mind if you will, the perspectives and understandings that Native people have and have developed a knowledge base around that has sustained them through many generations within the context of the communities and the places in which they have lived. So the thoughts and ideas of Native Science are really about looking at and trying to understand and trying to bring forward some of those foundational ideas, those essential ideas into a dialogue and into a kind of context of education for the 21st century. And what I talk about in Native Science is really the understandings that Indigenous people have about their relationship not only to each other but to the world around them and especially to the cosmos. And so while I use primarily examples from Native communities in the United States and a few from Mexico and Canada, a lot of the thoughts and ideas and perspectives and orientations actually could be utilized for tribal peoples from Africa, from Asia, from Australia, from New Zealand and so on. [Okay. That makes a difference, doesn’t it?] So given that, given that understanding, what I want to do is give you some thoughts and perspectives related to that but let me finish these books up first.

After writing Native Science, I realized that a lot of people were beginning to talk about how to create curriculum that integrated or introduced Native content into the teaching of science and then I thought, ‘Didn’t I write something about that a few years ago?’ So I didn’t actually write my book on Native science modeling until about 1999 and it actually is my dissertation in a kind of synopsized form and sort of represents the idea, the concept and also a model that I had developed and utilized at the Institute of American Indian Arts. And so the book actually was a book about probably that I should’ve written first. Because the usual thing is that you do your dissertation and then you try to find a publisher and then you try to publish that. In those days, in 1986, you were hard pressed to find a publisher that even understood what you were talking about in the context of this kind of culturally based education perspective. So in those days it actually was pretty difficult so it wasn’t until 1999 that I actually got Igniting the Sparkle written into a book form. So for those of you that are educators, this is the book that’s kind of the recipe book that if you’re looking for some thoughts and ideas about how do you actually take these ideas of culturally responsive science and make them real for Native students in the classroom, this would be the book for you.

I don’t have a copy of my other book which is called A People’s Ecology, which is actually more along the lines of the presentation I’m going to give you today, but it’s called A People’s Ecology: Explorations in Sustainable Living and that’s published by, I believe the publisher is Clear Light Publisher for that. So hopefully you’ll also take a look at that. My last book, which actually did not get distributed very easily because my publisher, Kivaki Press, actually went out of business so I’m left with having to move this book around, but it’s called Spirit of the Game: An Indigenous Wellspring in which I take ideas and perspectives of Native games and begin to build a pedagogy of curriculum around them. And so what I find myself doing these days is actually beginning to create what I’m hoping is a kind of series of books and representations of the Indigenous thought and the Indigenous paradigm within these various kinds of contexts of education and hoping that people such as yourselves, students such as yourselves will take the challenge to sort of bring forward those ideas in your own ways, in your own perspective, in ways that make sense for you within the communities and schools that you teach in and to make them real once again within the context of Native life and Native education in the 21st century.

So with that I want to invite you to this presentation, "Indigenous Paradigm: Building Sustainable Communities," because what I’ve notice in all these years of working in this field is that there’s a kind of paradigm that’s beginning to form among Indigenous people, Indigenous scholars. And that paradigm is a paradigm that is both ancient and also new in many respects in the sense that it’s bringing forward some of the ideas and the principles and the understandings and the histories that Native people have always had and making them real in the 21st century. And so that evolving paradigm is something that Indigenous scholars around the world are participating in in a variety of different kinds of contexts and in a sense creating this kind of body of work and if you will in academic circles a kind of theoretical base essentially that Indigenous people are beginning to form that they can now begin to work from in a variety of different kinds of context; education, health, economics, governance and sustaining Indigenous communities ecologically and socially, culturally and spiritually and otherwise.

So the presentation today talks about that, that perspective, that understanding and I want to sort of take you through really for me it’s a kind of going back to some earlier thoughts and ideas, bringing them forward and working with them. So it’s a creative process on the part of myself as a scholar as I do this. But recreating Indigenous education is really for me one of the most important kinds of undertakings if you will in the sense that what we’re attempting to do is really begin to take a look at teaching and learning, which is transformative and anticipates change and innovation within the context of Native communities, Native education and more particularly within the minds of Native students. As I say there, ‘Indigenous education can integrate and apply principles of sustainability along with appropriate traditional environmental knowledge.’

The whole notion of sustainability is really important I think to understand today and one of the reasons why I’ve taken up this work again reminding you that part of my training is actually as a field biologist and that I’ve been following kind of the environmental crisis for 33-plus years. And the understandings we have now for instance with regard to global climate change, to the evolving environmental crisis, these kinds of considerations and understandings and the indicators that this was happening within the global living sphere that we call Mother Earth is and was there 33 years ago. The footprints, the evidence was beginning to evolve, we began to see the melting of certain glacier formations, especially in the Andes and beginning to see changes in climate and environment. A lot of this was happening 33 years ago and I remember as an undergraduate biology student studying global climate change and some of the possibilities that were being considered as ramifications of that kind of change.

So now we find ourselves in the year 2007 with no more excuses and literally with the evidence in such overwhelming amounts that global climate change has been happening, is happening, that human beings are largely responsible for it and the kinds of societies that we have created, the focus on fossil fuels and also our lifestyles, all of these have contributed really to this mounting evolving crisis. What we find ourselves in as education institutions and also as educators is that we haven’t necessarily anticipated this kind of process, this kind of challenge and certainly our institutions in many ways are not prepared to teach students in ways that are necessary to begin to have a real understanding of how to address some of the issues and the problems that global climate change will begin to gradually bring to us. So we’re finding ourselves in the midst of having to change in terms of a society, in terms of the way that we view and understand education but not really knowing how to change in many ways and not really understanding the ways that we need to begin to think and rethink the process of education today.

So my thesis has been and continues to be that Indigenous societies have always had a form of education that in a very practical and very direct way ensured that communities remain sustainable through environmental change and also through environments and maintained also a kind of relationship with the natural world that ensured that sustainability was really a possibility. And I’m thinking and I’m saying essentially that in today’s society, we have to begin to revisit some of these older traditions of knowledge, of education, of ways of being in community in order for us to begin to understand what we need to do in order to in a sense become sustainable within our environments once again. It’s a huge challenge and I think we’re just at the very beginning of realizing how huge it is and it is going to have an impact on all of our educational institutions and the way that we view education as a whole.

So I’m saying essentially that Indigenous education forms a foundation for community renewal and revitalization. So for Native communities this is…there’s even more, an even larger imperative. In many ways in Native communities we’ve been torn and have a history with education that is less than positive and we’re really just beginning to move into a stage where we’re able to at least have access to higher education, we have access to professional kinds of positions in government, in economics but it’s just at the very beginning process. And as we move into that, there’s always been the question, ‘How much of myself, my tradition, my community do I bring with me as I move into this world, this world of western education?’ But for me Indigenous education is one of the foundations of this community renewal and revitalization and this particular slide I think represents for me that understanding because it is about a kind of relational thinking, a relational position that you take both individually and as a community that ensures a kind of process of reciprocity and mutual relationship that ensures survival over the long period of time.

We’ve heard this many times in many phrases, in many ways, in many linguistic forms that Indigenous people have, ‘We are all related, we are all related, we are all related.’ And that idea of Turtle Island, which has been used many times as an ecological metaphor, which in biological circles has…is associated with what we call the Gaia Hypothesis, the idea that the earth is this one gigantic living system and that we live within that living system, that we’re related within that living system. Things that we do as human beings does have an impact in that greater living system which we call the earth. And so those ideas and those concepts, while in Western biology many times it was debated if there was even such a thing as a global system such as Gaia, such as the Greeks called 'Gaia.' Well, I think climate change and the effects of climate change really does show that the whole earth is enveloped in this living, interactive system and it’s a living system and we’re a part of that living system. And of course if you study Indigenous traditions, Indigenous languages, Indigenous stories, you begin to see that theme played over and over and over again represented from numerous kinds of perspectives that we are all related.

And so those ideas, I think, have to become a part of the new epistemology, I think you would say, that begins to guide us as educators, as institutions, as communities, because the truth is that our survival may depend on it, ultimately that our survival as human communities in this biosphere earth depends on it. So given that challenge, what do you do, because if you’re training people for a paradigm of economic development that in a very short time will probably not exist, at least not in the way that people are being trained for that. If you’re training people for positions or community development concepts that in very short time may not be in vogue, it may be totally obsolete, what then do you have to fall back on from the standpoint of educational strategy? So this is why I’m saying that the ideas that Indigenous people have are important. Traditional and environmental knowledge can provide models and creative insights necessary to renew communities, revitalize human communities and economies.

I think also we have to begin to take a look at how and also as I say up there, a long and hard look at the current educational, economic and community development policies, planning and processes which may many times make us complicit with the status quo and so this is a debate that happens certainly within the institution and certainly it’s a debate that happens among my faculty and my students is being complicit with your own, in a sense, demise, in some cases as it’s sometimes referred to. But I think that more it has to do with the orientation or the paradigm that we work from and beginning to take a look at that paradigm seriously and really, really, really thinking about it in terms of how it allows us or doesn’t allow us to become the kinds of sustainable entities that we wish to become. And so that’s the reason for that idea of complicity.

For me, as Director of Native American Studies, the problem becomes, how do I develop new Native studies, programming, courses, perspectives that build on this evolving paradigm that’s based on sustainability? And so the new kinds of things that it brings forward have to do with new kinds of courses, new kinds of delivery of courses, new ways of looking at courses, new connections of courses and faculty and community. How do you make that connection work? Again, a new kind of Native studies education predicated on guiding Native students towards this vision of health, renewed and revitalized, sustainable and economically viable Indigenous communities. So a lot of what is happening today in Native contexts and circles has to do with this concept of building Native nations. So when you go around and you talk with tribal entities, tribal governance, tribal communities and individuals within those communities, the overwhelming focus and intention is how do we sustain our communities in the face of a variety of different kinds of challenges. How do we self-determine within a political environment that doesn’t necessarily recognize our legal and our communal kinds of mandates to self-determine or wish to self-determine? So these are the kinds of issues that then become a part of the discussion about what is nation building, Native nation building in the 21st century? It’s not just about economics, it’s not just about governance, it’s not just about education but what is underlying all of those understandings and to understand that you have to go back and ask yourself the questions, ‘Well, what did Indigenous societies found their understandings of all of these different entities on, why were they doing it, what was the underlying kind of motivation for having systems of governance and having economies and having these systems of education?’ Well, it’s probably…more than likely it was to sustain one’s self. It goes back to sustainability. It goes back to sustainability. And sustainability is connected to another philosophical idea that we call ‘being with life’ or ‘life perpetuating,’ perpetuating the life of a community. So I began this session with the words ‘Be with life or with life…,’ which is basically the same as saying, ‘sustain life,’ and it’s a term that’s used in many Indigenous settings to create a mindset, a way of looking at what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

So understanding this, I think, is a very important piece of this puzzle that we’re putting together with regard to, ‘What is the Indigenous paradigm and how is it related to Indigenous sustainable community development?’ We know that…when you study Indigenous cultures around the world, we know that there are certain kinds of characteristics of Indigenous sustainable communities that come at you all the time, that sort of reflect in a variety of ways and part of it has to do with this focus or refocus or constant focus on some sort of ecological integrity. Meaning that what you do as a community in some ways or another comes right back to some sort of an ecological connection, ecological sustaining connection to the environment, to the places, to the plants, to the animals, to the world in which you live. And so this is a part of that Indigenous epistemology and part of it is really start from the premise that what you do has integrity and honors life-giving relationships.

So now translating that ecological integrity into an action kind of statement and so if you were to ask the question, ‘Well, how do we develop Indigenous sustainable communities, what are their characteristics, how do we emulate that?’ Well, start with the premise that what you do has integrity and honors life-giving relationship. So what does that mean, how do you teach for that, how do you reflect that in the way you create your institutions, your economies? A sustainable orientation: building a process, which sustains community, culture and place. If you hear Native people talk both historically and also in contemporary settings, what you’re hearing many times when they talk about their communities, when they talk about the places in which they live, that’s what they’re saying; building a process which sustains community, culture and places, that connection.

Also, vision, purpose, vision and purpose. See what you can do in the light of revitalization of community. There’s things that can happen both individually and collectively that in a sense revitalize, that bring life back to something within the community. So if you begin to educate for those kinds of ideas, those kinds of actions, those kinds of ways of being in the world once again, those will more than likely happen. So we have today things like community-based education, we have things like service learning, we have a variety of different kinds of ecological restoration projects going on in a variety of different contexts, which in an of their essence bring life back to something, they revitalize something. And so that vision and purpose, see what you can do in the light of revitalization of community becomes a very important, imperative. Because what you work with when you’re developing sustainable community is you’re working with a culture, community and its resources and you begin to see those within the context of this greater challenge, this greater impetus of creating and teaching for sustainable community.

We know -- and as Native peoples we have always had -- a kind of spiritual purpose that has been and continues to be a kind of foundational understanding that we carry with us in a variety of contexts of education. So spiritual purpose especially has a very important role in this process of revitalizing Indigenous community. So this idea of cultural integration: actions which orient or originate, rather, through spiritual agency that stems from connections to a cultural way of being. That idea of Indigenous spirituality, it also has a practical purpose and it always has had a practical purpose. And that was to keep in the minds of a community that what you’re doing not only has spiritual purpose but it goes right back to that process, that understanding of being with life, seeking life or in some ways revitalizing, to revive or to bring life back to something. And so it also includes respect for all. Actions stem from respect for and celebration of community. This idea of respect, mutual respect, respect not only for each other in communities but also respect for the land, its plants, its environments, its whole environment if you will. And then engaging participation of community, the community is both the medium and the beneficiary of activities.

So the idea of education being of a community base first and foremost in Indigenous thinking, in the Indigenous paradigm, becomes a very, very important component of what I would consider the new kind of Indigenous education, which is largely community-based, not university-based; big difference between university base and community base. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have community in universities because you can and you do all the time, we create communities in universities, and what we’ve tried to do at the University of New Mexico Native American Studies is we’ve tried to create an Indigenous learning community that parallels the communities that the students and the faculty do come from. But what I’m talking about here is really that true Indigenous education happens within and through and around and with the Indigenous communities that it’s meant to serve.

If you study Indigenous education around the world, you begin to find that what moves it is relationality, that it’s based on a relational philosophy that relationship becomes one of the key principles of how things happen, how things get learned within those communities, how things get related to literally. And so when you take a look at Indigenous cultures around the world, it becomes a kind of tour of relationality in all of its many faces, all of its many representations. And so when you teach for relationality, it’s a very different kind of mindset than teaching for let’s say independence or rather individualistic kinds of endeavors or individualism. When you teach for relationship, you’re actually teaching for an understanding of how best to not only create relationship but extend it, maintain it and make it the foundation of all the things that you do. And so building upon and extending relationships are essential, process of this develop. Restoring and extending the health of the community is also part of that process ‘cause relationships can be positive or negative, can be healthy or not so healthy so relationship also has two sides to it. And you have to understand that part of what we’re doing is trying to create and maintain and extend relationships that are life giving so all of those things become important. Initiative should generate…the initiative should generate dynamic and creative process, the idea that relationship takes work, that it’s not just something that happens but rather is something that you have to work for and you have to constantly nourish because it’s a living process in and of itself.

There’s this business of commitment to developing the necessary skills, commitment to community renewal and revitalization, commitment to mutual reciprocal action and transformative change, that idea of commitment to each other and communities. There’s also the characteristic of Indigenous sustainable education in which the focus is to educate for the recreation of cultural economies around an Indigenous paradigm, so when we begin to look at things like economic development in the context of Native communities and we’re taking a look at some of the kinds of issues and challenges of global climate change, the dwindling resources, a variety of different kinds of ecological issues, then you have to begin to look at what it is that can begin to help people recreate some of the cultural ecologies or the cultural kinds of economies that once were a part of their life and their livelihood. So this is one of the reasons why Native people today, especially those that have a land base and resource base, fight so tenaciously let’s say for their fishing rights, fight so tenaciously for their hunting rights, fight so tenaciously for their gathering rights, fight so tenaciously for their rights to be…to continue let’s say traditional, environmental and/or lumbering practices or agricultural practices. All of that is based on this sentiment you see and this understanding. So begin by learning the history and principles of your own Indigenous way of sustainability, explore ways to translate that into the present, research the practical ways to apply these Indigenous principles and knowledge basis. So this is some of the kind of work that you would do in the creation of and moving forward to this kind of paradigm, if you will, of education.

Basic, shared Indigenous principles include many things. It’s place-based, resourcefulness and industriousness, collaboration and cooperation, integrating difference in political organizations, alliances and confederation building, trade and exchange. These are things that Native people have always done in the context of the kinds of ways in which they’ve created their sustainable communities alongside other sustainable created communities by Indigenous people. So in other words, Indigenous people have been creating these communities all along, but they haven’t been creating them in isolation. They’ve been creating them in relationship to other Indigenous communities, other regions, other places. And so we have a history of this, this relationship.

So what are some of the challenges to Indigenous sustainability today? In other words, if we were to create Indigenous communities, what are some of the kinds of issues that we would face immediately in attempting to do that? Well, establishing political self-determination is one of the issues that we continue to work with and continue to have to in some ways defend and find ways to express. Decolonization and culturally responsive education; decolonization in the sense that it’s a kind of re-education process for us as Indigenous people to begin to take a look at some of our own complicity and some of the issues of colonization and trying to begin to not only understand that but to reverse that. And part of the ways that you reverse that is through culturally responsive education, beginning to take a look at that paradigm seriously, express it, maintain it, extend it.

Also taking a look at economic exploitation, diverse and competing ideologies in some of the political restructuring that happens in Native communities and happens as a result of federal Indian policy, that mitigate against communities creating themselves or recreating themselves as sustainable communities. Other issues include the very fact that we have individual diversities among Native peoples, identity redefinition, creating formal and informal institutions also become a part of the task of in a sense retooling ourselves and retooling our view of ourselves towards this Indigenous paradigm. Challenges also include the cultural, the social, the political and the spiritual fragmentation that all of us experience in communities and also in different kinds of situations of community building. Creation of formal and informal institutions, which advance sustainability: some universities, some colleges, some tribal colleges are beginning to do some of this kind of work but much work needs to be done because it does require new kinds of courses, new kinds of configuration of courses, in some cases even maybe new institutions that begin to look at this kind of advancement of sustainability. Challenges also include flowing with heterogeneity, complexity and differentiation. As modern people living in a modern society today, Indigenous people have been affected by all of these challenges of differentiation and changes of perspective and understanding. So we have to begin to look at that and see how that has affected us.

And then also in many cases it’s also a matter of political restructuring both internally and externally. But what do we have going for us? You can’t just leave it there and say, ‘Well, these are all the challenges, let’s just give up and forget about it.’ The fact is is that as Indigenous communities we do have resources that we can actually draw on now and these include things like our extended family, clans and tribes, which are still functional in many Native communities, which are organizations of people, related people. We do have still community in bits and pieces in places. We also have places and regions in which those communities are situated and which can be affected in a sustainable way. We have political, social, professional and trade organizations that can be mobilized in a variety of ways to support sustainability of communities. We have had always co-ops, federations and societies which have developed around the ideas of how to perpetuate in many cases community activities and even the corporation, which can be sustainable if founded on principles of sustainability. Now that’s a controversial statement that I make there because some would say you can’t teach corporations new tricks. Well, the corporation believe it or not is actually a kind of community. It’s a very, very self-centered community maybe -- focused on maybe just one goal -- but the fact is that it is a community. Corporations function as communal entities and so beginning to take a look at what is the sustainable corporation. Does it exist, can it exist? I dare say that it probably has to begin to exist if our future is going to be one that is going to be sustainable. In other words, corporations do have to become more sustainable and more…and have more ownership towards community goals. And so there’s a whole group of people that are beginning to write about, ‘What is the sustainable corporation? Can it even exist?’

So finally Indigenous food traditions, Indigenous family, Indigenous communities, Indigenous relationship, Indigenous health, Indigenous education, these are all areas, these are like different seeds. Remember I showed you some corn cob and there were seeds on it and there were different kinds of…hues of the kernels of the corn. They were different, but they all were on the same corn cob and that principle in biology is called unity and diversity. You have a unity in the form of the community itself but you have diversity in terms of the individual kernels of corn which will turn into individual corn plants. Well, the fact is that we have individual kernels around which ideas, concepts and education around Indigenous sustainability can actually be taught, can actually be experienced, can actually be extended and ultimately it’s coming back to that old, very ancient notion of a celebration of life or an extension of life. ‘Be with life’ was what I started the presentation with and that idea is I think an idea that has never grown old. It may have been subsumed by other kinds of understandings, other kinds of ways of looking at things, other perspectives, but the fact is that human beings live in communities and part of the real deep instinct, I think, that we have as human beings is that we extend life and that we’re a part of this greater life process, which is the earth’s life process.

And so this is a vision of education. I’m not saying that it exists in any place right now, maybe in a few Indigenous communities that haven’t been too assimilated. It may exist somewhere in the world. It doesn’t necessarily exist in its pristine form as it once existed and I’m not really saying that we need to go back to that way of living but we have to understand what that way of living had to teach us. And I think more particularly the principles of knowing and understanding what it takes to be sustainable in a world that is under great crisis today and will continue to be under great crisis in the succeeding generations. So it’s both a challenge, it’s both a vision, it’s a perspective, it’s new work that I think myself and others are beginning to undertake. It’s really almost like a research question. What is the sustainable, Indigenous community? Can it exist, does it exist, where does it exist, how can it exist? And more particularly the education question is how do we educate for that or at least educate towards that? Because I think ultimately the next generation of scholars, of foundations of education have to be ecologically sound, they have to be about environmental sustainability. It can’t be just a marginal kind of undertaking but rather it has to be I think an integral part of education in the 21st century. And I will bet you that you’ll begin to see not only writing and not only new kinds of ideas coming forward because now they have to around these issues, around these perspectives.

So for Indigenous people, what is Indigenous education? And it’s something I started in my dialogue in Look to the Mountain. Where have we been? Which is our traditions, our ways of life and understanding those. Where are we now? Which is really the context in which we all find ourselves with the challenges, with the kinds of institutions and then we have to have a vision of where we’re going to go in the future. What are the possibilities and what are the paths that we need to get there? So that’s what Look to the Mountain was. Look to the Mountain was a metaphor for, ‘Where have we been, where are we now and where can we go in the future,’ in terms of Indigenous education. So I leave you with that question. It’s a hard question. It’s not an easy one. It requires multiple heads to think about it. It requires a community to do it.

There was the old saying that I used in Look to the Mountain that ‘Indigenous education is about finding one’s face,’ which is to find one’s identity, that’s what we call identity today, ‘find one’s heart,’ which is that passionate sense of self that moves you to do what you do, ‘to find one’s foundation,’ which is in today’s language vocation, that kind of work that allows you to most completely express your heart and face, and that all of that is within a relational circle. That it’s first of all relationship between yourself and yourself, which is self knowledge; relationship between yourself and your family, your clan, your tribe, the place in which you live, and then finally the whole cosmos and that it is towards an understanding of becoming complete as a man or as a woman. And you see that whole thing is a sphere and it’s a sphere of relationality, a relationship, and that’s an Indigenous paradigm that is reflected in a variety of different ways in Indigenous philosophies about what it is to be educated, what it is to be a person of knowledge. So these are ideas that I think are very important to begin to consider as we move into the 21st century and have to really rethink the way we’ve created our institutions, the way we’ve educated, the way we have been educated, the way we understand the process and the importance of community within education and the importance to in a sense come back to that.

So with that I’d like to thank you and I’m now open for questions. I should also say that since this is being filmed that the slides that I’ve shown you are actually archival slides that comes from the University of New Mexico and so those are slides that just were meant to bring your thoughts and your ideas to those points, those perspectives. They’re based on Southwestern Pueblo life and tradition but it could just as easily have been Navajo, slides of Navajo life, slides of Apache life, slides of Pawnee life, slides of Algonquin and other peoples’ lives, other Indigenous peoples from all over the world. The same ideas and concepts I think have a similar kind of play within those societies. While we are different even among Indigenous people, we do share some common ideas and understandings and I think that’s what in a sense allows us to maybe call ourselves 'Indigenous.' So with that I’ll take some questions, comments, perspectives.”

 

Idle No More: Decolonizing Water, Food and Natural Resources With TEK

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Indian Country Today
Year

Watersheds and Indigenous Peoples know no borders. Canada’s watershed management affects America’s watersheds, and vice versa. As Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper launches significant First Nations termination contrivance he negotiates legitimizing Canada’s settler colonialism under the guise of “progress.” Progress, through Harper’s political illusion, provides inadequate allocation of money for water and wastewater systems on Canada’s reservations. Almost every natural resource development currently operating or planned is within 200 kilometers of a First Nation community and on its traditional lands. Harper has laid off public natural resource managers and environmental protection personnel and has weakened policies for conservation, again in the name of progress. Idle No More is about many things, but first and foremost it represents a unified effort to protect Mother Earth. We will talk about the evidence of watershed degradation due to American progress too…. But first let’s talk about watersheds...

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Goodness, Valerie. "Idle No More: Decolonizing Water, Food and Natural Resources With TEK." Indian Country Today. January 30, 2015. Article. (https://ictnews.org/archive/idle-no-more-decolonizing-water-food-and-natural-resources-with-tek, accessed July 21, 2023)