diversified economy

Investing in Rural Prosperity Chapter 7: Native America x Rural America: Tribal Nations as Key Players in Regional Rural Economies

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The seventh chapter in Investing in Rural Prosperity, "Native America x Rural America: Tribal Nations as Key Players in Regional Rural Economies", outlines the diversity of Native nations, including with respect to governmental structure and economic opportunity. It also explores the history and evolution of Native economies, the effect that European colonization and U.S. government policy have had on economic opportunity in Indian Country, and efforts by Native people to improve Native economic prosperity. The authors highlight ongoing challenges to improving Native economies, including the still small on-reservation private and nonprofit sectors, and the need for continued improvements in creating business friendly legal infrastructure and access to capital. The chapter concludes by showcasing instances in which cooperation between Native nations and nearby non-Native communities have led to improved quality of life for both and proposes that increased regional collaboration could result in substantial mutual gains for both tribal and rural communities.

Investing in Rural Prosperity, published by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis in collaboration with the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, seeks to help rural individuals and communities achieve shared economic prosperity. By outlining a framework for how to approach rural development successfully and showcasing stories of progress in different communities—as well as highlighting recommendations for action by policymakers, practitioners, funders and researchers—the editors and authors hope to advance this important goal.

The book includes contributions from 79 authors in the United States and abroad, representing financial institutions, nonprofits, philanthropies, academia and government agencies. The chapters touch on a wide range of topics, including entrepreneurship support, workforce development, energy efficient manufactured housing, and digital inclusion. The book delves into the challenges of our past and the promise of our future. Ultimately, Investing in Rural Prosperity is a call to action, so we can realize that promise—together.

The views expressed in the book do not necessarily reflect the views of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, or the Federal Reserve System.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Jorgensen, Miriam, and Joan Timeche. “Investing in Rural Prosperity Chapter 7: Native America x Rural America: Tribal Nations as Key Players in Regional Rural Economies” Saint Louis Fed Eagle, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, 23 Nov. 2021, https://www.stlouisfed.org/community-development/publications/invest-in-rural

 

 

Jason Mika: Maori Governance and Maori Economy

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Jason is a Fulbright scholar in the US from August 2019 to January 2020 visiting the Native Nations Institute (Aug-Oct) at the University of Arizona and the Woods Institute for Environmental Policy at Stanford University (Oct-Jan). Jason is an Indigenous entrepreneurship researcher from Massey University’s School of Management in Aotearoa New Zealand. Jason completed his PhD in Māori entrepreneurship in 2015. Jason’s research interest centers on how Indigenous entrepreneurs balance cultural and commercial imperatives in multiple sites, sectors and scales, including marine economies, agribusiness, tourism, regional and national economies. In this short NNI interview he gave his insights on the ways Māori Governance works with their economies and the differences he noticed between the Native nations making economies work in the United States and Māori economies.

People
Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Native Nations Institute. "Jason Mika: Maori Governance and Maori Economy" Native Nations Instititue, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. August 7, 2020.

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

Robert Miller: Creating Sustainable Reservation Economies

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

In this informative and lively talk, law professor Robert Miller discusses the importance of Native nations building diversified, sustainable reservation economies through the cultivation and support of small businesses owned by their citizens, and offers some strategies for how Native nations can then leverage the economic activity of those businesses.

People
Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Miller, Robert. "Creating Sustainable Reservation Economies." Emerging Leaders Seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. November 7, 2013. Presentation.

Stephen Cornell:

"We want to turn our attention from courts to economies in this next presentation, and we're very fortunate that we were able to persuade Bob Miller to come down and talk with us this morning. It's my pleasure to introduce him. Robert Miller is a citizen of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma. Bob's been engaged in Indian law for more than 20 years now. He's served as a judge, a justice, is now I think Chief Justice of the Court of Appeals at Grand Ronde and is currently Professor at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. You can read the details of his bio in the book...the curriculum booklet, but he's recently just a year ago published a new book called Reservation Capitalism: Economic Development in Indian Country that's now available out there and some of you may want to look for, but it's a pleasure to have Bob down to talk to us a little bit about creating Indigenous economies and sustainable communities. So please let me welcome Bob Miller."

Robert Miller:

"Thank you, Steve, and thank you all for being here and thank you for inviting me from Native Nations Institute. I gave this talk last night to a class at ASU [Arizona State University] and I took an hour and 40 minutes. I don't think I have an hour and 40 minutes today. In fact, I've been asked to talk for about 20 minutes and then leave the floor open for questions and we'll see what you want to talk about and what comments and questions you might have so I'm going to try...you have the materials and the slides in the book, the slides go way beyond 20 minutes so we're going to roar through this.

As Steve mentioned, I've been working on economic development ever since I was hired as a professor. In 1999, I was hired as a full-time professor at Lewis & Clark [College] in Portland, and the first topic I wanted to address was economic development in Indian Country. I do not think I'm overemphasizing this point: I think that economic development may be the most important issue you are facing as tribal leaders. As tribal communities, we need to create sustainable homelands where our people and our citizens -- if they choose of course -- where they can live and have access to adequate housing and adequate wage jobs. How are our reservations going to be sustainable communities, that next seven generations that we think about and talk about, how are we going to have young families able to live on reservations, to attend tribal colleges to learn language from elders, to learn culture from elders. So when I'm talking economic development, I'm talking about far more than just making money and I'm not talking about making the next Indian Donald Trump or making someone rich. We're talking about making reservations sustainable communities that continue to survive for those thousands of years that we already have.

So I have a couple of just sort of prime messages that I wanted to write in this book and the very first chapter is really just...let's look at all those really at the same time. So my number one chapter, I guess it's chapter two, but I'm trying to establish even for Native peoples, but certainly for the American society at large, that Native communities supported themselves by intelligent, hard work for centuries, and dare I say that it was entrepreneurial, family type businesses. We didn't...the picture of Americans is that Indians frolicked through the forest like wood nymphs living off the bounty of nature. I think there's a nefarious purpose for American society to have that vision. I think that helps their consciences feel less guilt about the taking of this reservation -- excuse me -- this continent and the resources. So they'd pretend that Natives didn't own private property, they'd pretend that Natives didn't know how to develop resources and to protect and marshal those resources to have an economic life that they could live and survive in.

I have a quote in my book that's interesting: What's the economic year? I'm not an economist and I don't use that many economic terms, but there's a few points I want to make today. Your economic year is how long it takes you to create...either to earn the money or create the resources for you to survive for a year. And what I've read is that most tribal peoples survived on a three- to four-month economic year. They could either grow, harvest, hunt or gather the products they needed to support themselves. What's your economic year now? What's the average American economic year? It's fifty weeks, isn't it? ‘Cause doesn't the average person only get...gee, whose economic system was better? So I'm trying to drive home a point to American Indians that we did work intelligently, we did know how to create economic valuable properties and we did understand private property. And let me address that because I think also American society thinks, ‘Oh, Indian people don't own property. Gee, you don't want to work, dude, because you don't own property.' Well, I dare ask you what that you have do you not consider your private property? Our lands, we view tribal governments as owning lands in common and that certainly has been our history and then sort of the legal property regime, but in chapter two of my book I talk about economic principles of tribal governments. Even though land was held in common for the tribe, individual families acquired private property rights. I cite the Hopi Tribe and various Pueblo tribes where various planter chiefs maybe, if that's the correct word, would assign plots and lots to various families, but they would then grow, harvest and those crops were theirs to use as they saw fit. And as long as that clan or family used that resource, it was in essence private property.

Where I'm from, the Pacific Northwest, I know a fair bit about the salmon cultures and the Columbia River. Native families up there would own prominent fishing rocks. Native families built wooden platforms to fish over the rapids at Celilo Falls, for example. Those were private property. No one else used those items without the permission of the tribal family. They were even inheritable property. That's something that some people, [it] would just boggle their mind that Native societies had a vision of private property. And in the tribes...the Makah Tribe at the very northwest tip of Washington and then their relatives up Vancouver Island, the Chul-nuth people, they took the ownership of what today we call intellectual property -- that's the second-to-the-last point I have there -- to a high degree that I think most Americans are unaware of. In the cultures of the northwest and into British Columbia, you owned songs, names, totem symbols, ceremonies, dances, and no one else would dare to use those privately owned intellectual pieces of property without permission of the recognized owners. The potlatch ceremony, I know Professor Trosper's written a lot about that. In fact, he's coming to speak at a conference at our school in February. So if any of you want to come to Arizona State February 27th and 28th, we are having a two-day conference about creating the tribal economy. So that's primarily what I'm interested in, what I'm talking about.

So the one economic term I'll put forward to you today is the idea of leakage and the multiplier effect. Again, I'm not an economist so I've learned these recently, but what do they mean? You've probably lived the idea of leakage. That is when money leaves a community sooner than is optimal. In 1994, I heard a Navajo tribal official say that 84 cents of every dollar a Navajo person receives leaves the reservation immediately. Now that is the case on practically every reservation I'm familiar with. Why is that? Because there are no businesses. There's no place to spend the money on the reservation. So the reservation that I'm actually the most familiar with is the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana because I worked for the Tribal Housing Authority for over three years. The first time I went to Navajo or, excuse me, to Lame Deer to apply for the job I got the map out, saw how I would fly there and then drive there and I said, ‘Oh, I'll just stay at the motel at Lame Deer.' Now you know where this story's going don't you? Good thing I had my tent and my sleeping bag with me because I slept on the front yard of my friend's house. So I go, I show up in Lame Deer, there's nothing to eat, there's no place to buy anything. The only business is a tribal gas station and there is an IGA store owned by a non-Indian. So that really started to open my eyes to some of the issues that economics face in Indian Country.

So I should ask Professor [Ronald] Trosper this, but I think economists say that a dollar should circulate in your community five to seven times. That's sort of the optimal goal before it is then taken and spent elsewhere. So that's what's called leakage, but in Indian Country with almost nowhere to spend your money, what happens? We know that our people get in the car. Perhaps there's not even a bank on the reservation. At Northern Cheyenne there was no bank. No reservation in Oregon that I'm aware of. Well, I better preface that, very few banks on reservations. As of a few years ago and I cite that in my book, only eight tribes owned banks. My tribe purchased a bank. We're in a small trust land-only corner of northeastern Oklahoma, but we purchased a bank by buying shares in that bank so sort of a different way just through the stock we ended up buying a bank. I do not know the number of how many tribes own banks today, but banking in Indian Country as you are well aware is an issue and so where can you cash your check? So at Northern Cheyenne people would get whatever kind of check they got from working or government or whatever, 42 miles to Hardin, Montana, that's where they would cash their check. One hundred and two miles to Billings, that's where they could cash their check and that's where that money got spent. That's a disaster for economic development for what we call the multiplier effect being spent on the reservation.

So what I have been talking about is creating businesses in Indian Country and emphasizing the importance of economic development. I meant to read you a quote of a couple chairmen that I interviewed for my book. Because this idea that economic development is the most important issue in Indian Country, many people might go, ‘Wait a minute, what about sovereignty, what about jurisdiction, what about social welfare issues? All those things are important.' Well, what I mean is that all of those issues are tied up with having an economy and having economic resources so that a tribal government can engage in social welfare programs, economic development welfare programs, improving their court systems as we just heard about, and in doing all the things that government is expected to do and what we hope [for] from government. But economic development is also crucial for individual Indian families to support themselves and to contribute to supporting their community and to educate their children, feed their children and help just the lifestyle of the reservation -- lifestyle, wrong word, the improvement of economic conditions in Indian Country.

So here's what Chairman Clifford Marshall of the Hoopa Tribe in Northern California told me back in '99. He said, ‘There's nothing traditional about having the federal government take care of us. There is nothing cultural about that.' 'My idea,' the chairman said, ‘of tribal economic development is that sovereignty is economic independence. Until we get there, we are not independent.' Another chairman from the Umatilla Tribe, Antone Minthorn told me, ‘If you own the economy, it won't hurt culture.' So we always run up against that question, ‘Is economic development somehow anti-Indian?' And that was one of my primary goals in working on this book. Native people have always worked intelligently and hard and even at risky businesses. It's not safe and easy to go whaling, is it? It's not safe and easy to be a buffalo hunter, is it? These are dangerous occupations. But Native peoples knew how to acquire resources and how to use them, even if that included distributing and sharing resources through giveaways perhaps or the potlatch ceremonies from the northwest. We knew how to use resources to support our cultures and our societies and I think we're in that same place today or we need to be in that place today. So I'm going to just quickly slash through some of this. I don't want to spend any time on that.

I am tired also at looking at these statistics. Maybe you're tired of talking about these things. I want to talk about improving issues. I don't want American Indians to be the least-educated, specifically identifiable racial group in the United States. I don't want us to be the least healthy group in the United States. I want us to improve our situations. And can we rely on the United States to do that? Does the United States care? I have a statement in the book, ‘Okay, we've relied on arguing you owe us certain things under our treaties, you have a trust responsibility for us, help us, assist us.' Well, we've waited 200 years for that. How's that worked out for us? Well, here's the situation. So if we don't do it ourselves, who's going to do it? So that...when I'm talking about creating an economy, I'm talking about intelligent tribal government and intelligent tribal communities working together to create a public and private economy in Indian Country. We often do rely just on you folks, the elected tribal leaders and we think that it's the tribal government's job to create economies and that's not completely true, is it? You create the conditions in which an economy can thrive, just what we heard about the tribal court system. Without laws for commercial issues, without laws about how you incorporate on a reservation, how you lease land on a reservation, without effective bureaucracies -- which the Harvard Project has taught us -- without effective institutions economies can't thrive. Entrepreneurs will go elsewhere. I have a cite or two in my book, a quote or two, excuse me, about Arizona Natives who started a business and they said they were going to open that business in Phoenix and not on their reservation and they had some reasons they didn't want to do that. And so that like kind of hurts me. We hope that Native entrepreneurs will consider their own reservation, will create jobs, will become mentors, and will help that new generation of young people to see that, ‘Gosh, being an owner of your own business is very much Native and is very possible.' So that's what I keep pushing for.

These statistics are quite old. You can see this is based on the 1992 Census and this chart is created by ONABEN. I was on the Board of Directors for ONABEN for 12 years and that's why when I became a professor this was the topic I wanted to write about. ONABEN stands for the Oregon...look at that, I can't hold that pointer steady. You guys are making me nervous or something or maybe it's that I'm 62. Oregon Native American Business and Entrepreneurial Network. Four Oregon tribes created ONABEN in 1992 because they knew that they needed individual entrepreneurs to open businesses on their reservations. So ONABEN's mission is to help individual Indians learn to draft business plans that are fundable by a bank, that could perhaps be given a loan and then we used to teach classes, in fact a year-long class we taught on how to operate your business, accounting, management, employment, all sorts of issues. But ONABEN took these statistics for Oregon and you can already see the stats. So in Oregon as of 1992, white Oregonians owned a business per 1,000 people at the rate of 81. 81 Oregon...white Oregonians owned their private business. Look at where American Indians were and I don't know how much that number has changed even though these statistics are pretty old. We have enormous room to improve in creating economies on our reservation and to encourage entrepreneurial activities. These are statements from ONABEN and this is the effect of poverty on Indian Country so I guess...I should have worded these I guess in the negative. So poverty causes education, economic, social and health issues; it injures community cohesion. As we know, if our people have to leave the reservation to go to school, if our people have to leave the reservation to live, to find adequate housing and jobs, that's what we call the brain drain, isn't it? That's assets, those are positive benefits we need on the reservation, but because of the lack of certain services and opportunities on the reservation they have to go elsewhere so that hurts community cohesion. If the parents have to leave to work or to be educated, that hurts family stability. Ultimately it hurts many things that we do care about.

So here's what ONABEN says are the benefits. Earned income: there's pride from earning and supporting yourself. There's pride from being able to buy your kids that toy they'd like to have, right? Support them and feed them. We already talked about the multiplier effect. The more we can keep money on the reservation circulating, even though it's only one dollar folks, what we mean by the multiplier is that it increases the effect of it. It's paid to the employee, the employee then goes to the local gas station and buys gas. Well, that pays the employees and the rent there and for the gasoline. Someone then goes to the local grocery store. That's paying employees and profit for everyone. So as long as we can keep that dollar in Indian Country, that's the goal of every community in the United States, capture those dollars, make the multiplier effect continue.

So ONABEN, like I say, tribally run organization, our board was made up of tribal representatives appointed by the tribal councils and then a few of us were Willamette Valley representatives. So I was the Willamette Valley representative. It's not anti-Indian to own your own business and I've already hammered on that point I think. That's what my chapter two is about. We all ran our own businesses, didn't we, whether it was family or individual, we engaged in economic activity to support ourselves and we were proud of that. So I think that's an ethos that we need to reinforce that that's cultural. Being poor is not cultural. Do you know of any tribal community that wants to be poor? Do any of us have a culture that said we had to be poor? I'm unaware of one, so we need to ban that idea from our mind.

ONABEN says, ‘We all benefit from a quality of business ownership in Indian Country.' Now I'm not going to spend much time talking about the Harvard Project because we have those representatives here and you've heard that so these three points: Being involved in economics or tribal government thinking of developing an economy is not somehow anti-sovereign. Even if you're thinking about helping develop private businesses. Yes, that's a business the tribal government might not be in control of, but all of these decisions are based on sovereignty and help support sovereignty because if we have an economy in Indian Country, again, a more sustainable reservation, a place where our people can live if they choose to and it contributes to and helps strengthen tribal government. Our institutions matter. The court system you just heard about. Without the laws, without a fair court that will protect property rights, contractual rights, what entrepreneur is going to open a business in your tribal community?

I mention in my book...I already told you about some Natives here in this state that chose to open their business in Phoenix because there were things they were concerned about about being on the reservation. So if there are governing principles or if our own institutions are somehow slowing business down or injuring business or if we have a court system that's not fair, no entrepreneur is going to invest their human capital -- their time and expertise and experience -- or their physical capital -- their money, materials they own, tools they own, etc. They just will not operate in Indian Country if they're afraid that their rights that they've worked for will not be protected. So these are governance issues, and culture matters the Harvard Project has shown with study after study after study. A comment that I just made in Bozeman, we had a conference this past weekend of economists in Bozeman and I'm not an economist so I mostly sit there and listen, but...and now I totally forgot where I was going. Oh, the comment I made is, ‘You probably would not open a hog farm in Israel, would you?' I don't pretend to be an expert on Judaism, but I don't think pork is a big seller in Jewish communities. So there are reservations where certain jobs or industries won't be supported. So an intelligent investor is going to research that topic and going to go, ‘I can't open Business X on Reservation Y. It's crazy. It'd be like opening a hog farm in Israel.'

So let's see what's next and let's...this is what I've been talking about. Here again, I'm borrowing from Harvard and if I get the facts wrong, tell me, Steve. But I think their studies have proven that a tribe that separates the operation of a tribal business, if they separate it from political decisions and from the tribal council, if they get an experienced board of directors that knows business and operates that business, there's a 400 percent greater chance that that business can be profitable. Tribal governments can't afford to run businesses that aren't profitable. That's not sustainable and I'm talking about sustainability.

Also, the Harvard Project shows that a tribe that has a court system and a dispute resolution system that is deemed to be fair, that is not tainted by political influence, will have a five percent better employment rate on the reservation than another tribe without that. Steve gave that comment -- you won't remember this, but I do -- in 1994, at a conference in Utah, you made that statement and I came up to him afterwards and I go, ‘How can you prove that?' He slapped me around a little bit. So I've been nice to him ever since. We know what the obstacles are. I talk about them in the book. Maybe we can talk about them a bit, but I want to close with some of these points.

Does your tribal government -- and boy, I'd really like you to think about this -- are you as a policy engaging in buying from your own Indian entrepreneurs on your own reservation? Now I have heard the executive director of the National Indian Gaming Association and he says, ‘We know tribal casinos are not utilizing enough Native entrepreneurs.' That's a $27 billion-a-year industry. Where are the tribal casinos buying their laundry services, their janitorial services, their paper towels? Are we buying these from Phoenix and Tucson businesses? We're hurting ourselves then, aren't we? We're spending our own money outside our community. Well, that's not very -- how dare I say -- that's not the best strategy. So I want to advocate, I was glad also to hear the judge mention nepotism because this was discussed at this conference I was at at Bozeman. Nepotism is a bad word out in the American economy, but we do work with our bands and families and extended families and we are related to practically everyone. How can you not be related to everyone on a community of only a couple thousand people? At my tribe, practically everyone has my mom's maiden name. The last name 'Captain' is the primary name at my tribe. So I'm related to practically everyone. So you can't avoid nepotism in the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, but I am so much advocating that we keep our money in our reservation.

Is the tribal government being a client of tribal entrepreneurial businesses? If you're not, you're spending your money on non-Indian owned businesses at some far distance from your own community and you are -- I don't know how strongly to say this -- but that's hurting our own communities, isn't it? So Buy Indian acts, I am advocating that tribes adopt a ‘Buy Indian' act, perhaps even designate a specific amount of the tribal budget to be spent on tribally owned -- not tribally owned -- individual Indian-owned businesses or even in tribally owned businesses. Let's keep the money in our communities. So let me show you the federal ‘Buy Indian' act. It's a joke. The current version was drafted in 1910, so please ignore that top one but this was the direction of Congress in 1910 that the Secretary of Interior in acquiring goods and labor for Indian Affairs that he or she try to buy Indian-owned goods and labor. But look, it's not mandatory. It's about as discretionary as it can get. It even has the word discretion. ‘As far as may be practical...in the discretion of the Secretary of the Interior.' So the Buy Indian Act has hardly been used. There are some federal lawsuits in which an individual Indian business owner has sued the Secretary saying, ‘I was fully capable of doing Job X, I applied for it, you didn't hire me.' The federal courts go, ‘You lose that case because the Secretary can do whatever they want.' So I'm advocating that tribes try to get Congress to make this law a little more powerful.

An example is in the Department of Defense budget. The Department of Defense is required to spend five percent on minority- and women-owned businesses and that five percent set-aside has led to several tribes creating -- I think Salish Kootenai is one of them -- making products for the military and has helped tribes enormously, a few tribes. So if we had some sort of requirement that the Secretary spend at least five percent, if tribal government said, ‘We will spend five percent of our budget on Indian-owned business,' what will Indian entrepreneurs do? What does an entrepreneur do? What is an entrepreneur? They see an opportunity, they think, ‘I can do that. I'll take the risk.' So if tribal governments were committed to spending money in Indian Country, I think entrepreneurs will see that and follow that."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"I agree with your point. However, I've seen in the past where you have a tribal member who'll throw up a shingle and say, ‘I do this now,' and it turns into a pass-through. We try to at Choctaw and define Indian preference in regards to buying services, to say that you must have 51-percent ownership in your business; you must show years of business interactions. And so that's one of the challenges I know that across Indian Country some people face, because then all you're doing as a tribal member setting something up to get maybe $25,000 out of the $1.5 million furniture contract that was set aside for the building, and so that's one of the things I think we really need to focus in on what is true Indian entrepreneurialism and true Indian business."

Robert Miller:

"You're exactly right on that. Now did you say that your tribe has a statute on this or some kind of regulations?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Regulations."

Robert Miller:

"I would love to see that. So you're Mississippi Choctaw or Oklahoma?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Mississippi Choctaw."

Robert Miller:

"Okay, great."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"My brother is Oklahoma Choctaw down the way there."

Robert Miller:

"They're close to us. Yes, sir."

Audience member:

"Thank you, Professor Miller. So I had a question. My question basically surrounds entrepreneurship. You sort of touched upon a definition of it. Social entrepreneurship, social enterprise, and I'm wondering what your thoughts are on that concept, on that model with respect to having put together any social enterprise on a reservation where one is working with both profit and non-profit ability hybrid model using some type of federal funding and building on a revenue component to that set up because that's something that I'm tinkering with along with some folks up in Navajo, that western part of Navajo. That's what we're looking at and I'm wondering what your thoughts are on that."

Robert Miller:

"Okay, well, that's almost a new idea to me. So you might have to explain it a little more, but an organization that has a social welfare...objective."

Audience member:

"Objective. A social objective, a social impact on one hand; on the other hand, have a revenue side so that you built it a hybrid model. So basically you're addressing two things at one time. So if that's quite successful, I know a lot of organizations are going in that direction, and one of the great examples is right there in Phoenix in Maricopa County with the school districts. That's something that they did and I'm wondering if that would be something that tribes can perhaps pursue."

Robert Miller:

"Well, I am absolutely for anything that brings any job to Indian Country practically and anything that can produce some income that perhaps might be spent on a reservation. So an organization like you're saying, sort of has a mixed agenda, right? They're engaged in social welfare activity. So I know there's an organization at Navajo I believe that's working on traditional foods, traditional crops. So in one sense I guess you could call that a social welfare idea -- let's bring some tradition back -- but if that's producing crops and jobs that then will be on the reservation, man, I applaud that. And we always like to bring federal dollars to the reservation, don't we? But then we've got to capture those dollars and we want to keep them there as long as possible."

Joan Timeche:

"If I can also add, on my reservation we've long had...it's called the Hopi Foundation. It started out as a 501(c)(3) and it was really designed by former tribal employees that were frustrated with the government because they were not able to...the government was not acting in a speedy process in terms of applying for grants and being able to meet social needs. So they first started out providing social services. They have spun off a number of non-profits and a number of for-profits and they're all in different areas. One of them deals with international victims and it's actually based here in Tucson. It's a non-profit, but it's a spinoff of this overall, this Hopi Foundation about helping...and then we have, out of it came a solar energy project because it was a social program, the first to introduce photovoltaics because we have a number of villages out on Hopi who by choice did not have electricity so they were trying to introduce alternative energy options to them. So it started out as a non-profit and then later on merged, spun off as a for-profit so that existed and out of it came our Education Endowment Fund, which then became a whole separate entity. So there are models out there that can work."

Robert Miller:

"Well, and let me just add to that, while you're moving the microphone. In my book, I advocate for a mix of businesses, for a diverse economy. I think the strongest economy is one that is diverse. So there's no, just because I'm talking about entrepreneurship or ONABEN's talking about entrepreneurship, I'm not somehow anti-tribal government business or then anti this social welfare arena. Economic development can come in many ways and she gave an example and so did you, sir, of what sort of a social welfare agenda, but can lead to jobs and money on the reservation. So I'm advocating for as diverse of an economy as we can get. We realize some tribes are in such rural areas that the economy they're going to be able to develop, the opportunities are very slim. We know American rural areas are the poorest parts of the United States just because of the lack of infrastructure, highways, internet, telephones, water, and we know that tribes in rural areas face those issues. But I am advocating for the development of as much of an economy, public, private, tribal, non-Indian investors, Indian investors, etc. Yes, ma'am."

Audience member:

"Well, to further touch on what he was talking about, where I work and where I live, I live in 'ag central,' I'm from Nebraska. I work at Little Priest Tribal College and right now I'm the USDA grant coordinator and what I do is I have obtained this money and what we are doing in my program, we're going through our last year's funding, but I have... we are a hybrid. I function off a grant that's for community sustainability through agricultural and economic development. We are taking our food sovereignty and we're taking our seed sovereignty and we are building on that. And I'm able to employ approximately 40 tribal members seasonally and we teach people how to can, and we have a Farmer's Market, and we're expanding on that and we're going to be able to operate the next couple of years off the monies that we've made via our federal monies that we were awarded. But food sovereignty is a really big movement in Indian Country right now. Seed sovereignty is a really big thing and I really encourage other tribes to expand on that. It's really important because it is a social problem because so many of our communities are fighting diabetes, thyroid problems, all these health issues and it's because of the genetically modified foods that we're eating. It's so important that we stick to our Indigenous diets. And I'm from the Omaha people, I'm also a Burns Paiute too, and we have an Indigenous diet that's really important. Back home we have ceremonial corn, but we have corn to eat every day too and it's really important to embrace that, grow it, teach your kids how to grow it. There are ceremonies that hold on to those things, do it and teach the people. And then if you can, you can build a hybrid on it. Right now we have an apple orchard. We have expanded on that apple orchard. It's been really awesome. It's really exciting. It's really a big thing for me. If you guys want to know anymore about it, I'd be more than happy to share information about it. But we have, we've developed a hybrid program. We're very successful. Like I said, we're going to be able to operate the next couple of years without federal dollars because of the revenue we've brought in because of our product. And organic food market is huge right now. They love Indian food."

Robert Miller:

"Did you say you work for the Department of Agriculture?"

Audience Member:

"Yes. Well, I'm a USDA grant coordinator and I'm working...I'm collaborating a lot with the USDA and I work with the Little Priest Tribal College."

Robert Miller:

"Well, you'll have to come on February 28th to our conference because the Undersecretary for the Department of Agriculture, Patrice Kunesh, is going to speak. She wants to advocate how much the Department of Agriculture has available for tribes. Tribes are just thinking of the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs], and the Department of Agriculture in the areas you're already talking about has so much more as far as money and funding than the BIA has. It's incredible. So she's coming to Phoenix to talk about that issue on February 28th. And for food sovereignty, it's interesting she should mention that because a Native woman who I think is the first dean of a law school in the United States, Stacy Leeds, is the dean. She's Cherokee and she's the dean at University of Arkansas and they just started a food sovereignty clinic. I think that's the right word or at least program. So she's coming to our conference to talk about food sovereignty, so exactly what you're talking about. And then what she said ties in with what your question was sir, that here's sort of a social welfare, I guess, developing our Native foods again and bringing them back. That doesn't necessarily sound so economic, does it, but what an economic and cultural benefit that it has. So this is a wonderful example of the synergy of mixing these ideas and goals and so economic development's not hurting culture, we can use it to support culture."

Stephen Cornell:

"We've got a question right here."

Arlene Templer:

"I'm happy to hear you say to support the Buy Indian acts. I'm Arlene Templer from Salish Kootenai Tribes and under my department I have a gas station, convenience store, grocery store, laundromat, and it costs me more to run an Indian-owned business. I can't compete with Town Pump, and so what I have to do is sell it to the tribe's membership that this gas station provides work experience placements, it also provides revenue to the transportation system throughout the reservation because I have to charge between almost 10 cents more a gallon for gas. I can't compete with Town Pump so we have to support each other until we can get there and the Buy American act can help with that."

Robert Miller:

"Excellent. Next time I'm at Flathead I'll come to your gas station. That's what we talk about you keeping Indian money in the Indian community. Let me expand that just one step further. Let's not think just about our reservation, but a perfect example in the State of Washington. The Cowlitz Tribe, a brand-new recognized tribe wants to do gaming. So instead of turning to some Vegas company, which as you know many, many, many tribes have partnered with Harrah's and those Vegas companies, but the Cowlitz Tribe in Oregon partnered with...in Washington, excuse me, partnered with the Mohegan Tribe from Connecticut. Gosh! So in one sense that's keeping our dollar within the Indian national community, isn't it? So I really enjoyed seeing some tribes working on things together. Another example from Oregon, the Grand Ronde Tribe and the Siletz Tribe are working together to develop lands that used to belong to the federal government and the Chemawa Indian School and they now have received those lands through various federal programs. So these two tribes, instead of then competing and fighting each other over who gets to develop it, they're working together. I see that again as keeping money in our Indian community."

Stephen Cornell:

"Mr. Henry?"

Audience member:

"I'm on the tribal council and it's hard for entrepreneurs sometimes to go through tribal council I think. Comes up with a great, great project and then after that the tribe kind of just shuts them down after that. But then, is there a way for the tribal member to go through, if they have BIA, if they have Section 17 from BIA to where it helps the tribal member and the tribal council sets or adjust the code for the development for a tribal member and then instead they don't have to go through the tribal council, but go through Section 17 with the federal government, which too allows the reservation development to where if those two can work together to where instead of the tribal member for entrepreneurship goes straight through...go to the tribal council, but instead just follows the Section 17 in corporation building? Have you ever come across something like that?"

Robert Miller:

"Yes. Incorporation is a big issue, folks, and this is part of the law building that the tribal court panel was talking about, but that I'm talking about that many tribal governments do not have an incorporation code. [Okay, we have two minutes. That's in total? You showed me two minutes, two minutes ago. Did you give me two more minutes? Oh, five okay. I didn't see it. So let's see, where was I going?] Incorporating, for a Native person to incorporate their corporation pursuant to their own tribe's governmental code, that's an exercise of inherent sovereignty. So there are three ways to form corporations in Indian Country. Under state law, which is probably the least beneficial, that exposes you to state regulations, state taxation. Section 17 that you mentioned, which to my knowledge is only available for tribal governments. My own government created a Section 17 about a decade ago. I think there's a fairly small number of Section 17 corporations because tribes haven't really seen that the way to go. But to incorporate under your own inherent law, and if you have the code that governs and taxes businesses, then people know what the landscape of the law is. So I advocate for tribes to have corporation codes and for tribal citizens to incorporate under the inherent authority of their own tribe. Now you are then subject, however to the tribal law. So that's where we get back to effective institutions. Is the tribal court fair, does the tribal court have experience in interpreting contract and business law; have we appointed judges with that kind of experience? Those are the issues that are the institution business that the Harvard Project has showed...studied and has shown is so important. So you raise a very good issue that needs to be worked out and I'm not sure how many tribes have enacted their own corporate codes. Probably not too many, but it certainly sounds like the way for tribal entrepreneurs to incorporate."

Stephen Cornell:

"Can I just add to that, Bob? In regard to your question, from the sound of what you said, you may be in a situation where starting a business then runs afoul of council interference or obstacles and this is exact...Bob is exactly right. This is where these institutional issues become critical -- that you've got in place a set of laws that facility instead of hindering economic development. All the things Bob talked about trying to build an economy, that can be brought to a halt by a set of governing institutions that burden the entrepreneur so much that they run to Phoenix or Flagstaff to set up their business. So if what you're encountering is, ‘Gee, we can't get a business going because we have to go through council and it's too involved and it takes too long and the politics get into it and all the rest of that,' you are a prime candidate for rethinking some of that governing structure so that you can begin to support entrepreneurship on your rez."

Diane Enos: Building a Sustainable Economy at Salt River

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

In this informative interview with NNI's Ian Record, Diane Enos, President of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, discusses some of the many significant steps that Salt River has taken over the past few decades to systematically build a self-sufficient, sustainable economy.

People
Resource Type
Citation

Enos, Diane. "Building a Sustainable Economy at Salt River." Leading Native Nations interview series. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, The University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. September 28, 2010. Interview.

Ian Record:

Welcome to Leading Native Nations. I’m your host, Ian Record. On today’s program, I’m honored to have with me President Diane Enos of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. President Enos has served in that capacity since 2006 and recently won re-election for another four years. Previous to her becoming president of her nation, she served for 16 years on the tribal council. And in terms of her other current responsibilities, she’s president of the executive board of the Intertribal Council of Arizona, and past chairwoman of Arizona Indian Gaming Association. Diane, welcome.

Diane Enos:

Welcome to you.

Ian Record:

Well, I just gave a few highlights of your very busy life and I was wondering if you could just share with us a little bit more about yourself.

Diane Enos:

Well, I am the parent of two boys, ages 6 and 7. So that is really my driving force in addition to my community. I became their guardian after their mother passed away in my family. So they are a source of life for me now. So as you can imagine, in addition to my job duties and my other responsibilities, to me that is the most important job I have right now, as a parent.

Ian Record:

So you don’t, you probably don’t sleep very much do you?

Diane Enos:

I try as much as I can [laughs], but I get up early!

Ian Record:

Yeah, I bet. Well, we’re here today to talk about economic development in Indian Country and focus specifically on what your nation, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community has been doing in that area, one of the progressive leaders across Indian Country by all accounts. But first I’d like to talk a little bit more generally about economic development and get your thoughts based upon your vast experience in this area and essentially get your, some food for thought from you that other nations and other leaders might learn from. And my first question is, how do nations move from a dependent economy, where they’re heavily reliant on the federal government, to a productive one, where they themselves are in the driver’s seat?

Diane Enos:

That movement depends on the nation itself. It depends on the resources that are available. It depends on the drive to do more than survive the colonization that we’ve all undergone. But a lot of times you have to be, as a nation you have to be willing to take calculated risks. For us, what we did in 1987 was purchase the Phoenix Cement Company with the guaranteed loan, just guaranteed by the federal government, and that enabled us not only to create jobs but to also create an enterprise that had a, it’s returned the amount of money we had to borrow many times. So, it’s an example of having to take risks.

Ian Record:

I assume coupled with that was a movement on the part of your nation to essentially build up the capacity needed to make economic development happen, both human resources and institutional resources, wasn’t it?

Diane Enos:

When you look at what’s available to you, a lot of tribes, like I said before, you have to look at where people live and what kind of resources are there. For us, we had the dry riverbed as a source of aggregate for sand and gravel mining, so we use that. Now some people might think that that’s contrary to our values to, in some senses, deface the earth, but we look at things in terms of gifts from the earth and from our Creator to help us survive in this world. Whether you go and kill a deer or kill an animal and eat that animal to survive or whether you go and dig up aggregates from the riverbed and turn around and market those in order to provide for your people, are two very similar things. So it’s a matter of being able to consider what you have to do to help your people out to make things better for them.

Ian Record:

So you mentioned that the community in 1987 purchased the cement company,

Diane Enos:

Yes.

Ian Record:

And prior to that would you say that your tribal economy was essentially a dependent one, as I mentioned?

Diane Enos:

I would say so to some degree, because when I grew up here, when I was growing up as a child here, we didn’t have, for instance, indoor plumbing. We didn’t have paved roads. We didn’t have telephones. Few people had electricity. We didn’t have, I think we had maybe a couple of police officers. We had the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] school, which I went to, and the Indian Health Service. So, yes, dependent, the tribe wasn’t in a position or at that time wasn’t actively pursuing economic development. We were fairly isolated, I would say, for the time.

Ian Record:

So back during that period, essentially a dependent economy, you were relying, I would assume, primarily on the federal government for transfer dollars,

Diane Enos:

For programs, yes.

Ian Records:

For programs.

Diane Enos:

But I think for people, in order to make money for your living, people have always gone off the reservation to work. And I know that my father, my own dad, worked in construction and in order to do that, to provide for his family, he would go with several other men and live in Tucson and do construction work during the week and come home on the weekends. And I remember that he did that for several years and they even went to Kingman, I think. They went where the work was; a lot of people did that. So as far as a dependent economy, I think we’re talking about programs for the tribes as a whole, yes.

Ian Record:

So what were some of the drawbacks to having that dependent economy in terms of being reliant, so reliant on outsiders for essentially the tribal government,

Diane Enos:

You have no control over it. You have very minimal, if any, control over where those dollars are directed. And it doesn’t empower your people to achieve more and it doesn’t, it keeps you down, so to speak. It’s another arm of the colonization I mentioned earlier. It’s very limiting. You don’t get to strive for more, because all you do is when you’re a dependent economy is wait for the next turn of funding and if, that’s unpredictable and it certainly isn’t a way for you to expand what your resources are capable of doing, because you’re dependent on direction and programming from the federal government.

Ian Record:

We’ve heard, and other leaders I’ve sat down with, I’ve heard them speak of a couple of other, I guess, dynamics to that dependent economy, which is that the measurements of success, the criteria for determining whether a program or the dollars that are being spent in a particular community are having, are achieving their intended goal, those are being set by outsiders not by the people themselves. And those criteria may be very different. Is that something that you saw back then?

Diane Enos:

I’m not sure back then, since I wasn’t in government, I’m not sure how that actually worked, but I do know from those periods of time...I had an interesting experience one time. I remember talking to the tribal chairman when I was 16 years old. I went into his office and I asked him about programming and the information that he gave me was very limited. And it appears to me now, in retrospect, that people in elected positions at that time, and I’m talking about tribal positions, didn’t have a whole lot of knowledge anyway about what the programming system was. It appears, it looks to me like we were just there applying for money and getting whatever we could and directing it where the program made us. So as far as that kind of comparison, I don’t know that we were able to make that even.

Ian Record:

We’ve often heard this, this term thrown about with respect to this dependent economy -- which fortunately, we’re seeing a lot of tribes, including your own, moving very deliberately away from -- of the 'project mentality.' And it centers around the kinds of grants that you would get from the federal government that, that there wasn’t an overarching movement toward, you know, for tribal government. It was all essentially dictated upon what could get funded from one year to the next, and there was not kind of a strategic direction to the operation of government. Is that, that sounds a little bit like the story you just related.

Diane Enos:

It is, and a lot of that started to change in 1995 when we signed our self-governance compact with the federal government. And what we do now is, it’s demonstrative of where we’ve taken it, because what we’re able to do now is to manage and direct our own programs. We receive funding and of course, you know, in the recession we’re experiencing right now, that funding has become lesser and lesser, and we’ve relied more on our own tribal funding. But I always like to think about what kind of situation other tribes are facing, because we’re in a unique position. Because of our location, we have more opportunities, not only business development, but gaming as well. But with Self-Governance, the monies that we do receive from the federal government, we’re able to program those in according, kind of in tandem with what we’re able to provide as well. So that the program, programs that we create and further are a combination of our own resources and limited federal resources. But we’re able to decide how to spend those monies and where to direct those to what we see as a greater need.

Ian Record:

So, back in ‘95 you were on the council at that time, when you signed the self-governance compact.

Diane Enos:

Yes.

Ian Record:

And so, you know, we’ve talked to a lot of tribes that have gone that route, self-governance compacting, and leaders of those nations have talked about, you know, it was one thing,  it was quite one thing to actually make that decision and say We want to go Self-Governance do that compact and quite another to actually build the governing institutions you need to essentially carry out the expanded, the expanded ability to exercise your sovereignty, if you will, under that compacting system. Can you talk a little bit about the challenge that it presented for Salt River?

Diane Enos:

We’ve always, and I have to look back at the Indian Reorganization Act, and that didn’t happen too very long ago. At the time of the Indian Reorganization [Act], prior to that, we had a chiefs system and what it consisted of were representatives that were there in council and I will call it that to further the needs of the people as a whole. So the system of sitting down together, like we have today with the tribal council, is really not a new system. It’s just that when the IRA came in, it changed the process of how we do it because we have an IRA constitution. So, going into the self-governance process, signing the compact for us as a community was clearly, I think, it was not a big struggle for us to make that decision; it was something that we were eager to do. And I know at the time, former President [Ivan] Makil who is, and is still well known as a proponent of self-governance, was really critical in making us aware as a council of the need for us to, it’s almost like stepping back in time, and the term 'self-governance' is you take care of yourself and that’s something that tribes always want to do. We’re not any different in that sense. We know what’s best for us and I think that we always will. We’ve dealt with the federal government out of, we didn’t have a choice and I believe that that’s something that we’ve always looked forward to is the opportunity or at least the, how shall I say, the willingness, the desire, the drive, if you will, to be who we are and to be what we can be for who we are.

Ian Record:

So what were some of the formal governing institutions that the council decided was, and President Makil back at the time, decided was necessary following Self-Governance. Like, what were some of the governing, formal institutions you put in place to say we need this, this, and this if we’re really going to carry this out?

Diane Enos:

The compact that we signed then as time has passed has changed. Right, way back then, and forgive me for not remembering the specifics, but I do know that some of the programs we are now are responsible for are public safety, for instance, fire and police, education, health and human services, and we go back and look at some of the things we need to have done then are still the same needs we have now. But it’s like, it’s like, and I hate to use this term 'growth' because it really is 'regeneration' almost. So, those are the programs we, the initial push was to redevelop those programs.

Ian Record:

Let’s turn now to, let’s turn our focus a little bit more directly economic development. You mentioned previously that the purchase of the cement company was a key first move for the nation to essentially move from that dependent economy to one predicated on self-sufficiency. And since then, your nation has been very aggressive in developing essentially, what we like to call, a diversified or thick economy; where you have a robust mix of nation-owned enterprises and citizen-owned businesses. Why is creating a diversified and thick economy so important?

Diane Enos:

It’s common sense. It just makes sense, because you can’t put all your, what’s that saying? Putting all your eggs in one basket? They taught us that at BIA school, just kidding. It just makes more sense, because you never totally rely on one resource because you never know when that one resource is either going to dry up or not be there or become more challenging. And I mentioned earlier the opportunities we have here because of our location. We had the dry Salt River bed, so we had Salt River Sand and Rock developed at that time as well or a little prior to that; and we’ve had the opportunity to develop our own phone company. We also have, and I’m speaking of today, we have some land that’s very choice for leasing. So we’ve developed the Salt River fields, which is the Major League Baseball spring training. And obviously we’re a gaming tribe, so we’ve gone further and developed a resort. We’re looking at developing a hotel right now separate from the resort. We’ve got the Talking Stick Golf Course that the tribe is the developer on and that started in the very early 1990s. So diversity means that you get to have all these different pockets, these different sources of revenue. Oh sure, they present different challenges, but you get to do, it’s not just one game, it’s many games, if I could call it that. But the return, it’s like betting, almost. If you are a gambler, so to speak, you want to have different options, and it’s always good to have options in life because when one doesn’t come up, the other may be there, and so on and so on. It just makes better sense, especially for us, that are located, the location that we are in.

Ian Record:

So, within that mix of businesses, both those owned by the nation and those owned by your citizens, there are certain businesses that, I mean, makes more sense for the nation to own. Then there are other businesses that it makes more sense for perhaps a citizen to own. Can you talk about that dynamic and, you know, for instance are there certain types of businesses that maybe the tribe should think twice about owning? And maybe say maybe this is better for a citizen to own that kind of business?

Diane Enos:

I think that depends on the size of the business. For instance, some tribes go into farming and that’s something that we’ve been looking at. I think the more that time passes, if an individual wants to go into that, they’re going to have to have a lot capital. So, I would say that right now, what we’ve done to support small businesses is to really, to develop what is called Salt River Financial Services Institute, and that provides loans for people as a jumpstart to open their business. But as far as what should we, what should a tribe not operate. Well, I don’t think you want to get into things that have a moral question and, like massage parlors, things that take too much capital and they’re too risky. Obviously, again as I mentioned earlier, we’re a gaming tribe. And back, I believe it was 1987 again, the national Indian gaming act came into place, we as a tribe didn’t take advantage of that until the 90s. So it’s been a constant struggle but that’s an opportunity for us. Some people may say tribes should not be involved in gaming, but when you don’t have much else, what are you going to do? It’s one of the most regulated businesses. It’s more regulated than Las Vegas, I would say, so it’s been an opportunity for us.

Ian Record:

Within that, within the economic development arena, particularly with nation-owned enterprises, the Native Nations Institute has done extensive research. And one of the things we’ve identified as a key to success for nation-owned enterprises is effectively managing the relationship between business and politics. You know, your predecessor Ivan Makil, I know, said it very well. He said, you know, 'We’re unique among the governments of the world in that we’re expected to govern but also turn a profit. You know, we had that dual role where most of the governments, they’re not expected to generate economic development. That’s someone else’s job.' Yet, you have the dual role. How do, how can tribes effectively manage that relationship where business is business and politics is politics and not let the politics creep in, and how has your nation approached that challenge?

Diane Enos:

It’s always a challenge where you have humankind. I’ve thought about that a lot and I have to go back and think about what it must’ve been like for our ancestors, because collaboration and cooperation is critical to the survival of any people. You’ve got to look around, like where we live in the desert, we couldn’t have achieved what we did without a sense of collaboration and a sense of depending on each other for the interests of the group. We still have that mentality, I believe. So making money to help out our community is a job that we have and it has to be a challenge. Of course, you’re going to have politics; people are always going to want their personal interests, but I believe we’ve been able to, as best we can, deal with that by setting up what is called the enterprise system. We have several community-owned enterprises; they’re businesses. And what we’ve done is set a board for the enterprise directors. And we’ve balanced those boards out by putting on the boards professionals -- and they can be outside people who are not tribal members -- but also some of the members of the community who also sit on the board and they govern through the policies and the procedures and the interests of those particular enterprise boards. And they, in turn, report to council on an as-needed basis, but also ultimately in the ordinances they answer to the council. So, council answers to the people generally and I like to refer back to what’s called the political process. If they don’t like you, the people don’t like what you’re doing and they don’t like the way you’re doing it, they won’t re-elect you. It seems almost simple, but accountability is always going to be a challenge to any government. And I believe that we’ve done well to try to balance that out in our system.

Ian Record:

Right. So, the way you described your board is a description that we’ve heard from other tribal nations in terms of how they’re setting up their nation-owned enterprises and the relationship they’re formalizing between those enterprises and the elective leadership of the nation. That board is, from what you’re saying it sounds like it’s set up as a firewall to insulate the day-to-day operation of those businesses from any sort of political interference?

Diane Enos:

Right, because under our ordinances, which is our law, so to speak, the boards are set up to have oversight over management of the particular enterprises. Management answers to those boards and if there becomes a situation where it gets to council and it affects the interest of the community, tribal government as a whole, that’s where council has the authority and the oversight to step in, but that’s very rare, very rare. In fact, one of the things that I think a lot of boards have learned, and we’ve certainly learned, is to not, what we call, 'micromanage.' Because if you get into micromanaging, you take away from policy-driven decisions, and really that’s what the authority of the council is under our constitution is to develop and make sure that all the policies and the laws are followed. We can’t do that if we start nitpicking and getting into the little things, I call them little things, over business. You just can’t do that. That’s what the boards are there to make sure that management does. So in some sense, yes, there’s a firewall because it keeps that arm’s length unless there’s a critical situation.

Ian Record:

But the council and you, as a president, have a very vital role to play. You mentioned formulating those policies, establishing a strategic direction. I mean, you have a vital role to play to ensure that there’s accountability there, that those businesses are performing but on a, kind of a larger picture and that they’re carrying out the nation’s larger objectives, correct?

Diane Enos:

Yes, yes they report to council. In fact, we just finished a series of annual reports to council on budgets for all the enterprises. They come and sit down with council and present their budgets. At that point, and there’s several points, other points during the year where council sits down with these boards and asks, and management, and asks them specific questions: 'What are you doing in this area? Why are we seeing this over here? What are you going to be doing in the future? What are your projections as far as the health or the, on health of a particular enterprise?' We get to have those discussions periodically, and I think that that’s really important because they understand who is doing the oversight over them and we understand how we should not micromanage or try to stay away from micromanaging.

Ian Record:

Okay. So your nation has set up an economic development corporation called Salt River Devco. Can you talk a little bit about what the overall mission and goals of that corporation are?

Diane Enos:

That was initially set up to be a clearinghouse for economic development. When I say 'economic development,' I mean actually that. The community decided in 1991 that development, and when I say development I mean it’s building buildings, creating businesses, creating an enterprise area; that only ought to occur on the perimeter of the community. So Devco was set up to manage that and to be a clearinghouse for all sorts of proposals. It was also set up to be an asset manager. Not only do we have the Chaparral Business Park, we have a large lease -- I think it’s 120 acres if I’m not mistaken -- in that whole area there. We also have a signage, outdoor signage company. We also are looking to put other small endeavors under the Devco umbrella. And now as time passes, we’re starting to move towards the development of limited liabilities corporations under, I believe it’s Section 17 of the federal government’s regulations. So it’s a...you have to be flexible when you talk about the kind of enterprise development that we do, because things change and you have to allow for those changes to occur. And the developments of limited liability, LLC, let me just say that; LLCs have to be considered ultimately because what you got to do is you got to not only change with the times, but you have to protect the tribal government as a whole, protect that interest.

Ian Record:

We’ve touched on this a little bit, but I’d like to ask you a question directly about it and: How do you see your role and the role of the councilors at Salt River, the elected councilors, in terms of your nation’s enterprises? What is your fundamental role in terms of ensuring that those businesses take root and grow?

Diane Enos:

Are you talking about tribal businesses?

Ian Record:

Tribal businesses.

Diane Enos:

Under our constitution, the council -- and that includes the president and the vice-president -- have the responsibility to do a whole list of things for the people. And not only do we provide for court systems and for the laws of the community, but we’re supposed to take care of the people, essentially. So our role, as far as being in the positions we’re in, in order to take care of the people we have manage our assets. We have to take care of the assets. Not only taking care of those assets, but making sure that they grow. It’s kind of a fiduciary relationship. And you don’t have a fiduciary that just sits there on his hand, his or her hands. You have to be active and you have to look for more opportunities. And ultimately, the goal is to help your people, is to make sure that there’s a resource for not only the people that are alive today, but the people that are coming. So that’s essentially what I see our role as, as a council.

Ian Record:

You talked about the obligation that you have as president and the councilors have to the people of the nation. Let’s talk a little bit more about that. Can you speak to the role of citizen support in the development and operation of nation-owned enterprises? You know, it’s quite one thing if you guys as a group say it would be a good idea to get into this new business area, but it’s quite another to get the people behind that idea and to really support it, you know, long-term. What kind of, what kind of challenge does that present and how important is transparency and citizen understanding of the economic direction you’re going?

Diane Enos:

You have to, you have to have citizen support for any ventures that you do. You’re not always going to have 100 percent citizen support. You have detractors, that’s just part of, part of life. For instance, let me use the Salt River Fields examples. The idea came up pretty quickly and the council started discussing it. And obviously we knew it was going to take a lot of input in terms of capital, so we had to discuss how we’re going to do that. And right away we started talking about this idea to the people. We started putting the idea out in public, in public meetings. But this particular proposal didn’t provide enough, a lot of time. It’s like we had to make decisions fairly quickly. And those decisions, because they involve our finances and our resources, which are not public information because for a lot of reasons, some of the discussions that we had to have had to occur behind closed doors in executive session. So when this plan was finally unveiled, and I would say with pictures and what not, some of the people were saying, 'Why are you doing this? Why are you not asking us? Why didn’t we take this to a public vote?' And we had to tell them there wasn’t enough time to do that. We have to make some decisions; we have to make some commitments. So explaining that part of it to the public was critical. And the other thing that we still do -- we just had an update on the progress last week -- is to continue to have periodic updates and the resolutions that we pass towards the development, you know moving it to the next stage, were done publicly. Everything that we had to do, we have to tell the people why we’re doing it, and sometimes we have to just tell the people, ‘We don’t have enough time to take a community vote,’ and people have to understand that. And I’m sure there are still some people who don’t like that and maybe didn’t vote for some of us in this election because of that, but in order to get the confidence of the people you have to demonstrate a track record that shows stability and shows calculation and an ability to move towards transparency. It’s difficult to have total transparency when you’re a tribal government, because you have a lot of non-members, the out, let’s call them the outside world, who may be interested in your financing and your finances for many reasons. Some of those aren’t good reasons. So when we talk about transparency, you’re talking about money, but we’re also talking about process. The ability to tell, discuss those issues, we do and have done frequently with community member-only meetings, where if you’re going to come to the meeting you have to show your enrollment card. That’s, to us, the best way to be as transparent as we can, because it’s really our membership that has the most stake here at hand in any particular proposal.

Ian Record:

Let’s talk about another aspect of successful economic development in Indian Country and that is a neutral dispute resolution. And you have a, you have a legal background; you practiced law for many years so you have a keen eye on this particular area. Why is neutral dispute resolution important to successful nation enterprises?

Diane Enos:

Sovereign nations, tribes, cannot be sued because as a sovereign you have a shield around you. But people will not want to do business with you if you cannot, if they can’t take you to court, if you have an argument with them or if you have a dispute with them. What we’ve done -- and I know lots of governments have done this -- is having to do what’s called limited waivers of that sovereign immunity. Part of that, to do business with an outside entity, involves which court are you going to go to if you have a problem, if you have an issue. A lot of outside businesses do not, for many reasons, want to take a dispute to tribal court. So what we’ve done is set up an arbitration clause in our agreements, in I would say just about most of our agreements that we do with outside entities. That gives assurance to them that if there ever is a problem, that we have a process laid out where we can take a dispute and have it resolved by a third party. And it gives a lot of comfort, because you’ve got to have that in business and tribes have to understand, we don’t like it, every time we do the limited waiver of sovereign immunity. It makes us a little bit uncomfortable because we’re giving up some of our shield, but in order to properly advance our business interests it’s almost like, I’m trying to think of an analogy and it escapes me right now, but you have to consider the worst-case scenario in any, in any venture that you go into. What will happen if this worst-case scenario occurs? What are we going to do? And you always have to have, in the back of your mind, how are we going to protect the tribe, ultimately? And the arbitration clause is a way for us to achieve that.

Ian Record:

So there’s these disputes that tend to arise big-scale when you’re talking about, you know, you the tribe in a joint venture with an outside partner, say around a major development. Then there’s kind of the day-to-day, personnel kinds of disputes. I assume you’ve had to build in some, some neutral dispute resolution mechanisms for things such as personnel disputes that arise from one of your enterprises. I mean, that’s equally critical, is it not?

Diane Enos:

It is. It is because those enterprises operate in any kind of business relationship that they have to develop or whether it’s with a particular employee, there has to always be a way to resolve a dispute. Right now, I don’t know if you know this, crimes do not have criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians, but we still retain a measure of civil jurisdiction and authority over non-Indians so that if you have a non-Indian employee, we still have civil authority over their, over the conduct. And as you know, or you may or may not know, most disputes are civil in nature and when I say civil, the law’s divided into criminal and civil, so you have a forum to resolve those disputes with an employee and that would be tribal court or the human resources department.

Ian Record:

So how is your tribal court system grown? How has it grown and why has it grown in the fifteen years since you forged your self-governance compact?

Diane Enos:

The tribal court for any nation has to grow. With us, particularly, here, given our broad range of development here and the amount of employees that we have and the number of people that live in the community we have had to allocate more and more resources to the development and the strengthening of our tribal court. Tribal courts really are a strong basis of our sovereign authority here, because they spell out directly the power that the tribe has. If you can take somebody physically into custody, adjudicate a matter against them and jail them, I mean it seems to me short of execution there is no greater example of authority over a person, and we have that authority over all Indian people that live here or come here and we all also have had to develop our police department so that we’re able to exercise the state’s authority in certain areas of the community. But our tribal court has had to be flexible. We’ve instituted some changes. What we do now is we’ve opened up the application pool to sister tribes to become judges so now you don’t just have to be from Salt River to be a sitting judge here and they’re appointed by council. You could be a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation, the Gila River Indian Community or the Ak-Chin Indian community because we have a lot of the same cultural values and systems. That’s one example of how we’ve grown.

Ian Record:

So in terms of trying to foster an environment for the success of your nation-owned enterprises, your citizen-owned businesses, what key laws and codes and policies have you put in place?

Diane Enos:

One of the big things we’ve done recently over the last several years is the procurement policy. And what that does is it enables certified tribal member-owned businesses to move ahead in the line. If there’s a contract that is to be let out by the tribe they have preference: tribal member-owned businesses and then Native-owned businesses and then other owned. And what that does is it enables them to, if you can get certified -- and certification has certain requirements to make sure that this isn’t tribal member owned business –- then it’s only proper that they step ahead of our people in the process. And again you’re going to look for how the service benefits the tribe and you have the spin-off benefit that occurs when you have a tribal member-owned business get priority.

Ian Record:

Okay. So one of the things you did, one of the things the community did a few years back was zone the entire community, in terms of its land, and you developed what is referred to as the General Plan. Why did the nation decide to take that step and what impact has it had on your ability to develop economically?

Diane Enos:

The community’s been doing that for many, many years, prior to me ever coming on to council. And what it does is it sets our roadmap and the people have input through the council representatives. We have also had several meetings over a period of time where people are able to give their input. I mentioned earlier that in 1991 we had the vision meetings, strategizing, and right now we just finished, my gosh, probably about seventeen or eighteen community member meetings with various segments of the community -- the youth, the seniors, general district meetings, general meetings -- to ask the people, 'What do you want?' And what the result is is to impact the general zoning plan because it’s the citizens of the tribe that have to decide where development occurs, because we live here. And it’s the citizens of the tribe that have to decide where education’s going to occur and where certain things are not going to occur as well. Because where we live, we live right in the middle, almost in the middle of metropolitan Phoenix; we’re on the edge. We have to have a better handle. We have to make sure that the people feel like they have a say. And when I say 'they,' I’m one of the people. I like to sit back and think of myself as just a regular citizen and the things that would annoy me on a day, you know, day-to-day basis living here and the things that would make me feel comfortable here and my children and my family. Those are the things that continue to be important as time passes, and certainly if I see change occurring in my community that I don’t like, I’m going to say something about it. Conversely, I would like to be able to say something about what I want my community to look like.

Ian Record:

One of the things that struck me in reviewing the General Plan and the map that you’ve developed that shows where development will happen and not happen is the fact that you have a very, I think, confined area for development and there’s essentially a segregation between the development zone and the living zone, if you will, where development’s going to take place adjacent to Scottsdale and then where the people are going to live and carry out their lives and I assume that was very purposeful, wasn’t it?

Diane Enos:

It was and that started in 1991. It started prior to that, but it was formalized in 1991 with the creation of the vision statement. And the project that we are in right now and just finished the meetings that we had is called Vision 2020, because I believe we need to go back 20 years and sit down with the population of the people in the community and ask them. Well, the big push for that 1991 discussion was the development of the Pima Freeway. That was a very, very divisive issue. When the State of Arizona decided that it wanted to build a freeway on tribal land there were a lot of people, and I was one of them, that was told that was absolutely against this proposal because it was felt at that time and I still, I know that it was going to change our community and it has, but I also believe that once a decision’s made by the majority of the people, we have to fall in step with that we have to make the best use of it that we can. So back in 1991, the people knew that this freeway was coming and in fact it had I believe been decided on. So people started saying, ‘The intrusion into the community of the freeway, the 101 Freeway, we don’t want it to go any further, we want this to be the line right here.’ All the proposals for businesses, stores, retail, development and all other kinds of fixtures, I mean just call it that, are going to stay over there because we want to be able to walk down our roads and we want to be able to look at the sunrise and we want to be able to look at the mountains and we want to be able to have our children play in our yards and we don’t want no stores, no businesses, we don’t want a lot of things that economic development has -- we don’t want that in our backyard. It’s the ultimate 'NIMBY' ['Not in my backyard'] type of posture and I think we’re very happy with it.

Ian Record:

Several years ago your nation established a sales tax. What prompted the nation to establish a tax and where’s the money go? What benefits has it brought the nation?

Diane Enos:

Every government considers taxes and every government has to tax in one form or another. Whether it’s part of your crop, whether it’s part of your seeds, you know back in older times, and the tax that we levy right now on our own members is small compared to what the state levies. We don’t, we’ve had to do it as a matter of necessity. We don’t share in the revenue with the state and the county that is collected on state’s sales tax; tribes don’t. If we didn’t collect our own tribal tax, we wouldn’t get that money, and where that money goes, it goes into the general fund and it goes toward our general budget, our operating budget, it goes towards things like social services, police and fire protection, education, the cost of this building, the cost of paying our employees, just in the general fund it helps our government.

Ian Record:

And was there an education effort that needed to take place of your citizens to say this, we really need this?

Diane Enos:

I don’t remember when that tax was set up. It’s been so long and it’s just been a part of, part of our government. I don’t remember a specific time.

Ian Record:

I’d like to wrap up with a short discussion of small businesses -- businesses owned and operated by tribal citizens. Just a first, general question: how important an economic engine can citizen-owned businesses be for your nation and others?

Diane Enos:

As far as being able to provide government services, they pay taxes, but the other part of it that’s really important is that they can be employers of our people. They can, not only, what do they call, recycle the dollar in the community, but they also provide modeling for our youth and our children. Because if you’re going to go into business you’re not, you’re going to have certain qualities as an individual. You have to be able to take risk, but you’re also going to be able to manage what you have in order to be a success, in order to function as a successful business. And for our children to see our own people doing that I think that that, to me, that’s one of the best things to come out of seeing and supporting community member-owned businesses is that modeling. Because without it, you’re only seeing success and risks being taken by non-members and non-Indians and what does that say to a child? So that’s, to me, that’s the key concept.

Ian Record:

And it also gives them a sense of what’s possible in terms of their futures, their careers, you know. There’s other things out there than just maybe going into tribal government, getting a job there, or going to work for the casino.

Diane Enos:

Absolutely, Yup. They keep us on our toes.

Ian Record:

How does your nation work to cultivate and foster small businesses owned by your citizens?

Diane Enos:

We have what’s called the Salt River Financial Services Institute, which offers loans. We also have procurement policies, which provide preference to them for contracts. We have employee preference policies in place. We also have, there are businesses here from their own organization. In fact, I just met with one of the key officers in the Salt River business owners and encouraged them to come to council and have a dialogue with us: that dialogue has to continue because since tribal government sets up a lot of the regulations and frankly has the keys to some of the opportunities, we have to partner up with them. So the idea of partnering up with them is to figure out how we can do better as a tribe to encourage that growth and support that growth and how they in turn can tell us we can do that better. So it’s really a partnership that I’m anxious to see continue.

Ian Record:

So, you know, this thought process that you and your, that you and your councilors here at Salt River have about consciously incorporating small businesses as part of your overall economic development strategy, that’s not something that a lot of nations do. I mean, are some nations and nation leadership missing the boat by not consciously considering small businesses as part of the economic development process?

Diane Enos:

I would say if you don’t encourage and further small businesses you are definitely missing a boat there. And what I mean by that is missing the opportunity to do those things we just talked about. You’re also not utilizing some of the best talent that your people have. You’re also failing to provide opportunities for tribal government, because if you encourage businesses to flourish and you encourage them to participate in a dialogue with you, they can tell you how you can do your business as a tribal government better. And that’s your own people talking to you. So, yeah, I definitely think that the pluses far outweigh the minuses there. So, yeah, you’re missing a big boat.

Ian Record:

As you mentioned earlier, you’re also keeping those dollars when you have those local outlets for spending by your people, you’re keeping those dollars circulating within the community.

Diane Enos:

Absolutely. You’re keeping employment within the community and just making more opportunities for your own people, ideally.

Ian Record:

Well, President Enos, we really thank you for your time and thank you for sharing your experience, wisdom and knowledge with us.

Diane Enos:

Wisdom? [Laughter] I don’t know about that.

Ian Record:

Well, that’s all the time we have on today’s program of Leading Native Nations. To learn more about Leading Native Nations, please visit the Native Nations Institute’s website at nni.arizona.edu. Thank you for joining us. Copyright 2011. Arizona Board of Regents.

Richard Luarkie: Leadership and Nation Building at Pueblo of Laguna

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

In this informative interview with NNI's Ian Record, Governor Richard Luarkie of the Pueblo of Laguna discusses Laguna's approach to nation building, the roles their core values and time-tested process for cultivating effective leaders has played in that effort, and how and why Laguna has worked to systematically build a diversified, sustainable economy.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Luarkie, Richard. "Leadership and Nation Building at Pueblo of Laguna." Leading Native Nations interview series. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. October 1, 2012. Interview.

Ian Record:

"Welcome to Leading Native Nations. I'm your host, Ian Record. On today's program, we are honored to have with us Richard Luarkie. Since January of 2011, Richard has served as Governor of his nation, the Pueblo of Laguna. He previously served as First Lieutenant Governor of Laguna and as a village officer for several terms. He also is a former small business owner. Governor, welcome and good to have you with us today."

Richard Luarkie:

"Thank you."

Ian Record:

"I've shared a few highlights about your impressive personal biography, but why don't we start out by having you tell us a little bit more about yourself. What did I leave out?"

Richard Luarkie:

"Well, again, thank you very much for allowing me to be here and interview with you today. As far as my background, my education, I did go to the tribal school systems there in Laguna, Laguna Elementary School through the high school and then went onto college, got a football scholarship, went on to play at a D-three [Division III] school in Ohio, eventually transferred back to New Mexico, graduated with my bachelor's in Economics from the University of New Mexico and then worked for our tribe, the tribal entity Laguna Industries at the time, and then the Pueblo itself, then returned to graduate school at New Mexico State University where I got my master's degree from New Mexico State. And my professional career, I've enjoyed opportunities working with private sector firms like AT&T Global Systems, American Management Systems, mainly IT, Indian Health Service, and I've had the privilege as you mentioned of owning my own firm. So that's just a little bit more about myself."

Ian Record:

"So we're here today to tap into your knowledge, your wisdom, your experience regarding a wide range of critical Native nation building and governance topics and let's start with nation building. How do you define nation building and what does it entail for the Pueblo Laguna?"

Richard Luarkie:

"It's a wonderful opportunity, I think, for many tribes to reinvent themselves. For the Pueblo of Laguna, nation building is about the embracing or re-embracing of core values and responsibility to those values, promotion of courage and capacity and exercising of resilience in a new way. And what I mean by that is resilience not in a survivor mode, but resilience of, ‘Now that we're in control, what are we going to do?' However, as a step towards that, in order for this to be relevant and practical for most a major effort must be put forth to change the mindset of our people that we are nations, not minority groups. We are nations not only in name but in responsibility. I had one of our former governors from one of the pueblos, pueblo nations there in New Mexico, he shared an experience with me that in the ‘60s he had the opportunity to meet Malcolm X. And Malcolm X, once he found out that the individual was Native American, he told the governor, the former governor, ‘I want what you have. You have the ability to make your own taxes, create your own laws, you have your own land base, you can determine your own membership, citizenship.' And for us as tribes, we have to take that...we have to embrace that responsibility, and I believe that with the United States recognizing us as tribes on the same level as they do states as domestic sovereigns, it's a tremendous opportunity to build and rebuild our nations. So nation building is critical for us in the fact that for not only as Laguna but as Native nations across the country, we have to embrace that responsibility for nation building."

Ian Record:

"The Native Nations Institute has worked with the Pueblo of Laguna for a number of years now, providing assistance in some respects, but more often than not just observing some of the amazing things that the government of the Pueblo of Laguna has been able to do. Can you...imagine you were in an elevator with someone and they asked you to describe in just the few minutes you had together what the Pueblo of Laguna government looks like and how it works, what would you tell them? I guess what would you highlight in terms of what makes that governance system unique and what makes it distinct?"

Richard Luarkie:

"Well, for me, my belief is that it's a government that is truly based on the desires of the people. The position that I currently serve in is not my position. The people, if they so chose, could have a meeting tomorrow and decide that, ‘Thank you for your services but you're going to go this far, we'll have someone finish the rest of the year.' It is truly in the control of the people. And to me, that definitely brings the responsibility for balance, for acknowledgement of our role, and so I think in a very short phrase we have a government that is truly based on the people and the authority of the people to place in positions and lead."

Ian Record:

"We were...before we sat down for this interview we had a chance to sit down with a group of folks from the Native Nations Institute and we got to talking about a wide array of governance topics, and one of the things that you touched on in describing your job is the challenges of your job, not just the professional challenges but the personal challenges and the amount of time that you have to dedicate in order to do your job well and to serve your people effectively. Can you talk about some of the challenges of being a leader of a Native nation and perhaps some of the more unique challenges of being a leader of a Native nation?"

Richard Luarkie:

"Sure. In most cases people that end up in these types of positions have ended up in these positions because they've pursued it, they campaigned, they declared candidacy, those kind of things, and in our tribe that's not our process. As I mentioned previously, it is the authority of the people to decide who will be nominated and ultimately who will be selected. But the responsibility that comes with this...mainstream society you hear Democrats and Republicans battling about who's right, who's wrong. They're focused on ideologies and egos and not the people. For us as Native nations leaders, in particular to Laguna, in our tribe the teaching is that the Governor also carries a traditional title which is Father, '[Laguna language].' And in that role, it is a tremendous responsibility. If you can liken...not only has the good Lord given the men the incredible privilege of using his name as Father, but he has placed upon the shoulders of fathers an incredible, incredible responsibility and that's the responsibility of caring for children. And in our teachings, the Governor is also the Father of our people, of our community. This is a humbling balance because the children, '[Laguna language],' I love them unconditionally and I respect them unconditionally, whether they agree with me or not and that is an incredible challenge. That aside from even my own children. I love them like my own children and when somebody challenges you and questions you, it is an incredible reach for strength to be able to not attack back but to say, ‘Thank you for your advice' whether I agreed with them or not to say, ‘Thank you' and move on. So it is those things that I think are uniquely challenging about a Native nation, because we're taught that our role is not about credibility, about visibility, about, ‘I'm better than anyone else', it's about humbly serving and doing the best for the wellbeing of our people."

Ian Record:

"So for a leader of Laguna to lead in the way that the core values of the people dictate, it's incumbent upon you and your fellow leaders to...you said love all of your people unconditionally. And doesn't that in practice in terms of the day-to-day operations of governance mean that you need to treat everyone the same and treat everyone equitably and fairly and essentially govern consistently so you're not playing favorites, you're not privileging one group over another group or one family over another family?"

Richard Luarkie:

"That’s absolutely the case, and I think that's the reason why you end up with challenge because some folks think that I'm not being...I'm not favoring them, so therefore I may have the perception that I'm not treating them the way I'm treating everybody else but that's not the case. I really...I think that in serving in these kind of roles, fairness is objective, it's...or not objective, subjective and I believe that I have to be consistent. I have to be...I have to be focused on the quality of my care, if you will, of our people. And so it is difficult to demonstrate love, to demonstrate respect when mud is thrown at you, but I think at the end of the day that's why prayer is so important, a reliance on the Higher Power is so important so that renewal can be given."

Ian Record:

"And doesn't part of that caring for your people unconditionally and caring for all of your people and treating them fairly across the board, doesn't that sometimes mean you have to say no for the betterment...you have to say 'no' to that one person for the betterment of all?"

Richard Luarkie:

"Absolutely, and that's why I used the analogy of a father. With our children, there are times that maybe they want to go to the movies, they want to go hang out with their friends, and you've got to say 'no' and they're going to be upset with you. It's no different in this environment. Sometimes our people may want a new facility, but we're going to have to say 'no' because we don't have the revenue to support it. It's not that we don't want it, it's that we need to make sure that we don't do things to just appease and gain favoritism. We have to do our actions with responsibility because when you take money from one source that means something else is impacted and you have to be aware of what the impact is going to be."

Ian Record:

"So you mentioned earlier that the way that Pueblo of Laguna does things, particularly with respect to how it chooses its leaders that you don't campaign and that the sort of...the common understanding of the people of community is that people who are openly seeking the office of leadership, that's going to be frowned upon. Can you...and you mentioned in previous discussions that the common phrase translated to English is, ‘You don't chase it.' Can you talk a little bit more about that and how that came to be and perhaps its roots in traditional Laguna governance?"

Richard Luarkie:

"Sure. We're taught from very early stages, from the men folk that attend village meetings, that attend public...that we have responsibilities, obligations in our community to do our part to contribute. And it's during these times that the older men that have been in these positions remind that we should not chase these positions, we should not boast. A term they use is '[Laguna language].' It literally means, ‘Don't pound your chest, don't show off.' That it's literally up to the people to decide who should be in these positions. With communication, with sincerity, with prayer it is believed that our Creator will put the thought in our minds as to who might be the best person to lead at this time and so those individuals that are of consideration, their names are put forth by the people, not themselves. We do not have in our policy, in our ordinances at Laguna...individuals are not allowed to declare candidacy nor are they allowed to campaign. If they do either, they're disqualified. It is truly up to the people to decide. And so boasting is not something that is looked on kindly, and I believe that when those things are done, our community reminds, ‘Here's why you shouldn't do it,' whether it's in the village meeting, whether it's officials reminding, they remind that boasting is not an acceptable approach, that it is the people's authority to determine who will sit in those positions."

Ian Record:

"So you...as I mentioned at the outset in the introduction, you've been Governor for going on two years now, but before that you served in other leadership positions within the Pueblo, and I'm sure that those previous positions that you held leading up to becoming Governor helped prepare you. And I think that's part of the process that Laguna has long had in place to sort of have people move up through the leadership system and ultimately assume the highest position there is, but looking back now are there certain things that you wish you knew...that you know now that you wish you knew back then before your first day as Governor or the things that kind of came as a surprise to you and said, ‘Wow, I didn't really expect this' or ‘If I had to do it over I'd maybe prepare a little bit more in this area'?"

Richard Luarkie:

"Well, in our Pueblo, in order to get into positions, there is a traditional process as you're referring to. The traditional process is that an individual normally will start out as a town crier. That's the individual that goes around and makes announcements to the village members that there's a meeting tonight, there's ditch work tomorrow, there's whatever the case may be. And so that role is not only for the messaging, but also to get to know the community for that individual. The second step up is the mayordomo, the village officer. That role the individual is responsible for land assignments, family disputes, those kind of things and that role obviously takes care of those functions but also is intended to...for the individual to learn a little more intimately the people. Then the next role up is the council role and that council role, because now you have these first two steps, you have a broader perspective, so now you're able to see a bigger picture. So maybe the people may consider you to go to the council. Then we have what we call a 'staff officer,' which is analogous to the mayor of the village and it's that staff that is I guess analogous to the cabinet of a Governor. And so...and at that point then, once you serve in that role then you have the opportunity if the people so see it may ask you to serve as Governor, secretary, treasurer, the broader positions. So that's the training ground and...I'm sorry I lost my train of thought on that."

Ian Record:

"That's good. I was talking about what do you wish you knew before you took office."

Richard Luarkie:

"And so those are the training steps to getting into these positions. Based on that, it gives you a great understanding and a great grounding for community. But one of the things I wish I knew more of before I got into office was the history, governmental history, policy and the implications of the impositions of federal policy and what has framed Public Law 93-638, what has framed the Indian Civil Rights Act, what has framed all these other elements that have come into play. It would have been much more I think enlightening to come into this office on day one having a better handle on those things, because you deal not only with local issues, but you're dealing with state and federal issues. And much of the state and federal issues are defined by federal policy, so it would have been great to have a better handle on that element."

Ian Record:

"And don't...following up on that, a colleague of mine once said that, ‘To be a leader you need to be as much an educator and a student as a decision maker.' How do you see that statement, that it's not just when you achieve that position of responsibility as governor, as chairman, as councilor, whatever it might be? That it's not just about making decisions at that point. It's about continuing to learn and continuing to teach the people in the community and learn from them and also learn these other things that you've alluded to, like the federal policies and what they mean for your nation in particular."

Richard Luarkie:

"I couldn't agree with that statement more. I believe it's absolutely critical to educate not only your community but your council. Your council needs to understand what they're deciding on so that they're able to articulate back to the community the whys of the decision. But also in those decisions that require community input, it's absolutely critical that your council's able to articulate to the community what they're needing and why. And so as that feeds back up to the ultimate decision, the Governor or leadership position needs to be able to frame that information in a manner that the council can understand, they can understand it to be able to articulate it, that the community can be able to take that articulation and make sense of it and make a recommendation back to the council, ultimately to the body that will make the decision. So it's absolutely important to be able to educate. But it's also important to be able to sit and take the time to ask the questions and that as a leader, ‘I don't understand. Can you explain to me a little bit more before I put it to my council? Is there some additional information that can be provided?' So in a leadership role, that's where I think the humbleness and humility come in to be able to make sure that I'm able to understand and I'm able to learn what the issues are so constant learning and constant educating are...they go hand-in-hand in this role."

Ian Record:

"And isn't it one of your core teachings, the core values of Laguna traditionally for their leaders to make sure that they don't make ill-informed, hasty decisions, that you actually take that time and you make sure you fully understand the issue before you decide upon it? And I would imagine that's more crucial than ever given the complexity of the governance challenges that Laguna faces in the 21st century."

Richard Luarkie:

"In our environment, in our council environment, you often hear the reminder '[Laguna language].' This means, ‘Do it properly, take your time, be diligent.' It doesn't mean sit there for six or eight months. It means be analytical, be objective in your decision making. Turn the stones that you need to turn but be...do it properly. And so I believe that for us, decision making and being able to frame decisions in a manner that is diligent is critical for us. So those are all very important elements for us in our decision making."

Ian Record:

"Isn't it difficult though for some leaders...I think there's a feeling among some leaders and perhaps some people in the community that if you happen to become a chairman of a tribe or a councilor of a nation that you're automatically supposed to have all the answers and so you shouldn't be asking questions, you should already know this stuff. Obviously, that's not the way things operate at Laguna, and from what you're saying it sounds like that there's not embarrassment with asking questions to get a better handle on, 'What's the issue we're facing and what's the best decision to choose?'"

Richard Luarkie:

"Yes. I very much agree that for Laguna that's why it's so important that those reminders go out, ‘Don't pound your chest, don't chase these things' because when you're of that type of a personality, arrogance, 'I know it all,' it's difficult for you to ask for help. But when you're humble and you serve with humility, then it's easier to say [Laguna language], ‘Help me. Guide me here, I need a little bit more information.' We also have a system that at Laguna where former leadership...it's not a situation where I go and try to undo everything the former governor did or previous governors. But instead I take what they've done and I continue building on it and I draw on them to help me keep moving it forward. So whoever comes behind me, I'm going to do the same to help them. So there's that perpetuation, that continuance of support from former leadership in moving our efforts forward."

Ian Record:

"In fact that's a good segue into one of my other questions about leadership and that is, what is Laguna's approach to mentoring the future leaders or people that are coming up that traditional leadership process pipeline, if you will? For mentoring them to be as prepared as possible for when they become governor one day or become lieutenant governor one day. What does Laguna do to mentor them, and then when there's that transition period, when one group of leaders is getting ready to give way to another group of leaders, is there a process for transferring of knowledge there?"

Richard Luarkie:

"Well, on the mentoring piece, one of the things that I think is really critical is that process I explained earlier with the town crier, the mayordomo, that's real important, because it gives you an understanding of community but also at those times when there's ditch work, when there's village work, the men are sharing information and that's one of the best times for young people, the young men in particular to get this information. But on a more formal side, one of the things we've been doing in particular to our administration has been...we've been including our young people in meetings, we've taken them on trips with us, not just for the fun of going on a trip but actually sitting in and engaging on presentations. As an example, we had some junior high students that went with us to Washington, D.C. and they presented to Congressman Udall, to Congressman Lujan on some very pertinent issues like housing, recreational facilities for our youth, suicide. So we're engaging them so they see the relevance of our work as well as the relevance of their education to the work. So it's very critical that we begin to expose our young people to the issues now as opposed to waiting to the point of time they're in office or whatever the case may be. And I think it's equally important that we grow these young people not to just be tribal leaders, but to be good people that are knowledgeable about their community and are respectful not only to their community but to themselves. So those are really critical elements. And so that is I think important on the mentoring side. On the transitioning of leadership, it's equally important to be able to sit with outgoing leadership, incoming leadership and to be able to develop that bond and that relationship that says, ‘As we go out of the way and you guys come in, we fill in the back to make sure we can continually help you.' So it's not a, ‘I got all the information from you now and I'm going to go lay on the beach.' That's not the case. It's, ‘Now I'm going to be able to help you from behind and I'll support you.' So it's a transition of support, and so that is very critical in how we develop our leadership, how we transition initiatives, continuity is critical for us."

Ian Record:

"And I'm assuming it does wonders for the government's institutional memory and the ability to sort of not only get things going, but sustain them as you mentioned where you're not...you're able to build upon the work of your predecessors because you're able to access their knowledge and their expertise in an ongoing way."

Richard Luarkie:

"Right. Right. We don't have a system that's made up of Republicans or Democrats or Independents or whatever. We have a system that's Laguna and we're Laguna and this is what we're supposed to do for our people. And so it's a system of continuity, a system of consistency, so it definitely helps in the continuation of initiatives."

Ian Record:

"And do you think that Laguna would have been able to develop the robust, diversified economy it has without that governance system in place?"

Richard Luarkie:

"I don't believe it would have been able to do that, because you need...you need not only the consistency in leadership, but you need to have trust from the government to the businesses and the economy that's being created and you can't get that with inconsistent leadership."

Ian Record:

"So you've touched on some of the keys of being an effective leader, of being a nation building leader if you will, things like not being afraid to ask questions, to make sure you make educated decisions, be an educator of your people so that they're onboard with what's going on. What are some other things from your experience that nation building leaders do, that effective leaders of nations do?"

Richard Luarkie:

"Well, one of the things that I think is so critical is back to that element of not being afraid to ask for help, whether it's from the Native Nations Institute, whether it's from tribal member Joe Blow, ‘Can you help me clean this ditch' to whoever, I think humbleness and humility is a major element in nation building. Education of self and community is critical. As I mentioned earlier, we're nations, we're not minority groups. We are nations and we need to understand the responsibility to being a nation and in order to do that, we have to know...we have to be educated. And I mean education, not just formal education with a degree, but education in identity, education in community, education in spirituality, education in language. Our language identifies who we are, it's so very critical that we have language. So all those elements combined together are pieces that lend to nation building and are pieces that we should continually ask for guidance in, that we should continually seek to strengthen, those are areas that as a nation builder we should have as cornerstones. But at the heart of it is our core values, the ability to respect, to love, to have discipline, to have obedience in how we conduct ourselves. Those are things that as nation builders we should not be afraid to ask our people to do. But the most important element of that is for us as leaders to demonstrate that desired behavior. So asking for help is one of the biggest things that I think we need to be able to do, then of course implement. Implementation is key, and I see many tribes...and Laguna we've done it as well, where we've done research, we've done analysis but when you don't implement, it's all for naught. We have to implement but with implementation comes responsibility. So it loops back around to who can help us best implement."

Ian Record:

"And with implementation you need capacity, don't you?"

Richard Luarkie:

"That's right."

Ian Record:

"And that means that...what a lot of Native nations struggle with is getting beyond this sort of legacy of colonialism if you will that the leaders are expected to do it all and so a lot of leaders have this mindset of, ‘If anything's going to get done in this nation, I've got to be involved in it' versus ‘I'm going to make sure as a leader that we build up our institutional capacity through qualified people with the skills and expertise that we need to get the job done.' Is that something that you wrestle with? It sounds like you guys deal with that relatively well, but is that still a challenge?"

Richard Luarkie:

"It definitely is a challenge and even for Laguna we've...since 1962 we've had a formal scholarship program, so many of our tribal members, we have had our bachelor's degrees paid for by the Pueblo because way back when our elders saw the importance of education and established a scholarship fund. So as a result of that, scholarships have been available. I'm a recipient of that. My bachelor's degree was paid for by our tribe and many others. And so capacity building was very, very important from an early stage and still is. But I think one of the things we're realizing now is that capacity building is not only important on the formal side and the technical aspects but on the community side. We have to not...we can't lose focus of who we are. We have to know who we are and if that means relearning pieces of who we are, we need to do that. So in...with the community education and formal education coupled together, that makes for a strong nation in our own capacity. And I think it also goes back to even those fundamental blessings that our Creator has bestowed on many of us as Native people and that's the blessing of competency. We have some smart people. We have intelligent people, but we have to get confident in our own competence. We have to be confident in each other. We have to respect each others' competencies and where there's weakness, let's help them get strong. And so that is a major element in nation building, being able to respect the competencies of one another and to draw on it. There's many instances that as opposed to going down the road and finding a consultant we may have it right here or if we don't, maybe the next tribe over does, but we don't seem to draw on one another and that's where I think it's going to be a major element as we go forward into the future for tribes to recognize that competency that we've been able to develop."

Ian Record:

"I want to draw together a couple of themes that you just alluded to. One is this confidence in competency, the competency of your own people and not just folks within...that are working within tribal government but people out in the community. And another thing you brought up was that you can't be afraid to ask your people for help and one of the things that we see a lot of tribes struggle with is...and this is really a legacy of the sort of dependency mentality that colonialism seeded in so many Native communities, where the government is expected to do everything and that in many instances they'll essentially subsume the role of what the community is supposed to be doing on its own. And so...what we've heard a growing number of tribal leaders advocate for is, 'We need to get back to an understanding of tribal civics,' if you will, 'that is rooted in the reality that the government is not the nation, the government of the nation is not the nation itself, but the government supports the nation as the nation acts as the nation, as it acts as a community.' I've heard you discuss, for instance, the dynamic of ditch work in your community, where citizens of your community are expected to contribute to the life of the nation and they're expected to play a valued role. Can you talk about how important that is and how empowering that is for you in your job?"

Richard Luarkie:

"Absolutely. Everybody needs to understand their role. Even I, serving currently as governor, when ditch work is called, the village officers, the mayordomos are in charge of ditch work. So when I go to ditch work, I'm under their authority. They tell me when to get out of the ditch, when to take a break along with everybody else. Just because I'm the governor doesn't give me the authority to jump out of the ditch whenever I want. I'm under their terms until they release us for the day. And so I think the understanding of role and where the authorities lie is absolutely critical, and I think that's empowering because we recognize and we understand how important community teaching comes back into play because you may have...in our community you might see a person at the local gas station that's pumping your gas and cleaning your windshield but in our community that may be a very high religious leader. So understanding and respecting role is critical, because you don't know who you're working with at times and you have to respect those that are in authority. And I think that brings empowerment to the community because it reminds about respect for leadership, it reminds respect for mother and father, for grandma and grandpa. So I think that it's definitely a key element to nation building because that's the part that gets forgotten. It's not about money, it's not about policy, it's not about law, it's about getting along. That's critical."

Ian Record:

"I wanted to touch on now a quote that I've heard you share a number of times -- watching you present to other tribal leaders and perhaps future leaders of Native nations -- and that is you say that when you were chosen to lead your nation that you were not given great power but you were given great responsibility. And that's a fundamental concept that I think a lot of not just leaders of Native nations but leaders of all nations struggle with is really conceiving in a proper way what it is that they were chosen to do, exercising responsibility versus exercising power. Can you explain what you meant by that comment and why it's critical for leaders of Native nations to approach their leadership authority with that mindset?"

Richard Luarkie:

"To me, when this world turns, when a deer runs, when a salmon swims, when we wake up in the morning, when our heart beats, all those things are powered by the same source, our Creator. To me, that's where the power lies. I am a human being. When the people put me in office, they didn't give me any power, but they gave me tremendous, incredible responsibility to take care of them, tremendous, incredible responsibility to protect them. That's my job. The power resides with our Creator and it resides with the people. The minute I start believing I have power, I've lost, I've gotten weak because that comes from selfish, ulterior motives and that is from...when you begin to lead and make decisions with selfish, ulterior motives, you leave your people behind, you leave your children behind and that is not the role of a leader."

Ian Record:

"So it sounds like from everything you've shared with us that the...through the existence and the practicing of Laguna core values, that there's pretty strong deterrents in place to prevent just that kind of behavior that you've talked about, those selfish, ulterior motives from influencing the decision making of a leader at Laguna. But if and when those issues do arise, when someone's leading in an unethical way for instance, how does Laguna deal with that? What's the process that's in place for sort of restoring that person to a place where they're acting in a good way or if necessary punishing them or removing them from office if that's the approach that you take? Can you talk a little bit about how Laguna deals with that issue?"

Richard Luarkie:

"Sure. Laguna is like any other Pueblo or any other tribe in this nation, we're not perfect. We have our challenges and we have those individuals that challenge. And for Laguna, one of the ways though that we deal with that type of a situation is that it is the responsibility of the leadership to remind of proper behavior, of proper conduct. In our community we have village meetings on Thursday evenings and at these village meetings the community also has the opportunity to remind, ‘Here's what we expect of you, here's what we don't expect of you in your behavior.' If the problem is serious enough, we have the ability to call what we call 'general meetings,' where we invite the whole community and we present the issue and it's the people then that have the authority to say, ‘Joe Blow, you've come this far, thank you for your service. We're going to relieve you at this point.' Or they can say, ‘Sit there and listen to us for the next several hours and we're going to remind you of why we put you there and what we expect of you.' And at Laguna, I don't think our system is a system of immediate penalty, ‘Let's throw the guy out, let's throw the gal out.' But instead, ‘Let's nurture them, let's correct them, let's remind them in hopes that they won't do it again.' And they include the community in those situations, so it's just not the officers and a couple people sitting there, it's the community. So not to...not meant to embarrass the individual, but so that the individual knows the community knows and the community helps them back to that teaching of, ‘It takes a village to raise a kid,' no different in this environment. When an official maybe has gotten out of line, it takes the community to remind them and get them back in line."

Ian Record:

"I want to switch gears now to the issue of strategic orientation which is one of the, what the NNI and Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development Research has found is one of the five keys to effective nation building, this issue of having a long-term strategic vision of where you want to head as a nation and then governing towards that vision and not just governing from day to day. I had a chance in advance of this interview to sit down and go through the Pueblo of Laguna's website and I noticed that among other things that the Laguna tribal council is charged with advancing five strategic priorities aimed at enhancing the quality of life of the Laguna people and those included health, education, financial stability, infrastructure and workforce excellence. And I'm curious to learn from you, how did the tribal council arrive at those priorities and what role did the Laguna people play in determining those priorities?"

Richard Luarkie:

"In 2006, that was a transition year for us, the end of an administration. In 2007, we had a new administration come in and when that transition meeting happened, there was probably five, six pages of priorities and single spaced, 10-point font, and there was no way that we could accomplish or even make a dent in all those priorities. So what the Pueblo council did at the time is took a step back and said, ‘Okay, of these what are those common areas and how is it that we begin to group these elements so that it's more manageable?' And it's at that time that our tribal council had the first real interaction with the Native Nations Institute. The Native Nations Institute actually worked with us to frame, at a two-day retreat in Santa Ana Pueblo at the Tamaya, to frame what those priorities might look like and why we needed to prioritize. And so as a result of that we came up with our initial set of priorities which are the ones that you've just read off. And so that became our long-term target, and during that process to finalization we also had community meetings, one being a large meeting that was held at the Route 66 Casino, where we invited our tribal members and a large number of our people came and weighed in on these priorities, and as a result at the conclusion of the meeting, validated that these are the priorities and that they also indicated that these will be the priorities until there is a significant dent if you will made in the priority to where we can move it off and we can give emphasis to something else. It's been a great strategic process because...on a couple fronts because when we got to meet with our Congressional delegation, they don't see something brand new every time. We bring them the same thing but with an update. It's helped us in particular to infrastructure. Because we've put a big emphasis on infrastructure, we have a $70 million project under way right now, so as a result of that infrastructure has come off and now housing has been put on. So housing was a close tie with infrastructure in the initial go-around, but the logic came that, ‘Well, in order for us to have more homes, we need infrastructure. So if we put homes there first and we don't have the infrastructure to support it, it's a waste.' So now that we have these projects going in all six villages, it's huge for us. This is the first time our whole water and sewer system has not only been revamped, but it's been replaced, brand new piping and we're also running to two of our outlying villages that have never had natural gas. You would think in this day and age, 'Wow!' But...and as a tribe as progressive as Laguna, those two villages are just now getting natural gas. So infrastructure has had a significant impact. It's not that we're going to give it less attention, we're still going to give it attention, but this strategy of keeping focused on some core areas of development has definitely helped us."

Ian Record:

"And doesn't it make your job on one level easier, or more clear I should say, when you know you've got these strategic priorities in place, that these are points of emphasis above all others and that the community has signed off on this and they're clear on these as the most important things that we need to be doing, that when you deal with those day-to-day decisions and those fires, that it's a lens through which to say, ‘Is this going to get us closer to these five goals?'"

Richard Luarkie:

"Right. Absolutely and it not only helps us make significant impact and get community buy-in, but when new leadership comes in, new council members, new administrations, if they've been participating in the community, they know what the priorities are, so it lowers the learning curve for leadership coming in."

Ian Record:

"I want to switch gears and talk a little bit about economic development, which of course is related to strategic orientation but as you know, Laguna is well known throughout Indian Country for its methodical development of a diversified economy, and I'm wondering if you can give us a little bit of background on how...what compelled Laguna to pursue the building of a diversified economy?"

Richard Luarkie:

"Laguna's economy's interesting...for me, it's one of the areas that has intrigued me and as I look back on it, from the 1950s we had one of our first large tastes of economic development, although prior to that we tasted economic development with the coming of the railroad in 1885 when our tribal leaders negotiated right of ways in exchange for jobs for our tribal members. So that was our entrance into the wage-earning era in 1885, so we entered that very early. In the 1950s, we entered into mining with the Anaconda Uranium Mine. We had the largest open-pit mine in the world, and that generated significant revenue royalties to the Pueblo. And the challenge for the tribe is that over those years they didn't diversify their economy. We were for almost 30 years at near full employment and then in 1981, the uranium prices fell out so we went from nearly full employment to almost 72 percent unemployment. And the only thing we had at the Pueblo was a Chevron gas station and a local store, so there was no way that could absorb the employment requirements. So there was a period of time that was very difficult for our community and as a result of that, the tribal leadership at the time -- not out of strategy but out of reaction and trying to get people back to work -- created a bunch of community make work projects, building walls, and fixing windows and those kind of things. But in that process, they also began the effort to build Laguna Industries, Laguna Construction Company, federal 8A companies that eventually grew to multi-million dollar firms. But it was out of reaction so that our people could get back to work. And so as a result of that, that laid the foundation for Laguna to get into the position that we will not allow this to happen again. So the diversification happened in a manner that said, ‘We need to look at different industries but we also need to be able to allow those businesses to grow.' So as a result of that, our Pueblo government took the position that we will not be engaged in the day-to-day operation, but instead we will structure a Section 17 corporation. So as a result of structuring a Section 17 corporation that allowed for the establishment of boards, board of directors, who served as the interface with the entity. The board works for the shareholder which is the government and they're the ones that oversee the entities for us so the government does not get involved in the day to day activity and interfere with the decision making of the business. So that allowed for expedited, more strategic growth of our companies. And right now we're at a point in time where diversifying of our economy is so very critical, where now we've put an emphasis on entrepreneurship, because it shouldn't be just the tribe creating businesses, we need to allow our community members to build businesses. Many tribal members say, ‘Governor, why is it that our tribal budget keeps increasing?' And my answer is, ‘Well, that's because when our economy's not strong there's more reliance on the government. When our economy is strong, the reliance comes down and our costs go down.' So we're working to build this piece, and so right now the Pueblo is focused on developing our entrepreneur base, looking at ways we can partner with other entities to help diversify our economy and find new revenue streams, but also be able to stabilize that in a manner that doesn't get us back to those early-1980 days."

Ian Record:

"Isn't the Laguna...the lesson that you learned, isn't that instructive for other nations who...many of whom are putting all of their eggs in one basket with gaming and the very real prospect that at some point down the road gaming may no longer be an option for them?"

Richard Luarkie:

"Absolutely, and for Laguna that is something that we're so very aware of right now because...and sensitive to because of that 1980s experience, but we realize from the gaming reports for New Mexico, the gaming compacts, they've pretty much stabilized, so you don't see any significant growth in any of the gaming venues there in New Mexico, so that tells us there's been some stabilization and the market's pretty much saturated. But we also have to be able to figure out, 'How do we use gaming as a tool to develop and diversify our economies and not make it just one basket?' And so that's where it's so important that tribes and tribal gaming establishments need to focus on, 'How do you build the shareholder equity?' But it's just as important from the shareholder, the tribal government to recognize when the revenue share comes that we don't just blow it, that we figure out how do we grow it, how do we...we have to focus on our balance sheet, not on our income statement. We have to be balance-sheet focused and building that asset base."

Ian Record:

"You alluded to the creation of a Section 17 corporation and the sort of policies that Laguna has put in place to keep the politics and the government side out of the day-to-day operations of the businesses. Can you talk about some other ways that Laguna government...some other things that Laguna government has done to create that positive commercial environment at Laguna?"

Richard Luarkie:

"One of the things that Laguna has been working on quite diligently has been the...we hope nobody ever ends up in it but the dispute resolution arena, tribal courts so that we're able to work with companies that come from the outside, but also there's companies internally that have disputes, that they can come to a competent court and be able to address those issues. So to know that there's going to be fairness and objectivity in dealing with their cases. But I think also beginning to look at how is it that we support local entrepreneurs at a real basic level. When there's tribal events going on, we have what...we've implemented a policy that says, ‘We will go to our tribal member-owned businesses first.' You must go to a tribal-owned business first for catering or those kind of things. So it's that kind of policy that we're developing to help promote entrepreneurship. We're looking at ways of investing in our own companies like our Laguna Development Corporation. We're looking at ways of investing in housing. How is it that we can get a return on investment by investing in our own housing department to construct homes? And because right now many homes at Laguna...people that qualify for homes, it's all based on low income. But when you have an economy that's growing and getting stronger, you may not qualify because your income is above the threshold and so that leaves many of our people out. The other piece that we see is many tribal members are now buying trailer homes because they don't qualify for low income and they're keeping their trailer homes, so that tells you they're paying their bills, their credit's good so that's a good thing. And so it's really important that we're able to start reinvesting in our own entities and our own organizations to help build our economy, because if we don't have homes there, people leave. When people leave, so do their paychecks, which means there's not that money coming back into our local economy. So it's important that we build homes there."

Ian Record:

"So switching gears, I'd like to discuss tribal administration, tribal bureaucracies and I'm curious from your well-informed perspective, what do tribal bureaucracies need to be effective? What makes Laguna's governmental bureaucracy work well?"

Richard Luarkie:

"I think for Laguna it's...we have a system that's based on...sorry I lost my thought."

Ian Record:

"So what makes Laguna's governmental bureaucracy work well?"

Richard Luarkie:

"For Laguna, I believe what makes our system work well, our bureaucracy work well is the ability to authorize those that are in decision-making roles like directors and supervisors to make certain levels of decisions. That way everything is not coming to the governor's office, everything's not coming to the chief of operations. And so when you can begin to build quality staff, great systems, the system will take care of itself and you don't have to sign off on every little document. So having that type of environment in place is very critical and I think definitely helps with the bureaucracy. On the tribal side, same thing with the...on the tribal government side, same scenario where the tribal council has delegated to the governor's office and to our staff officer level certain signing authority so we don't have to take everything in to tribal council. As an example, we just had a request for filming. There's a movie that's going to be filmed at Laguna starring Jennifer Aniston and they wanted to come and film for two days. And it was two hours per day, so as opposed to taking that into council, that's something that the Governor's office can just sign off on. So it allows the council to focus on the big issues and not have to worry about, ‘Do we authorize somebody to come film for two hours' and we end up debating that for two hours. So it becomes critical when you can begin to delegate certain responsibilities out. So that helps in our bureaucracy."

Ian Record:

"And doesn't that free you up then as Governor to focus on the bigger-picture stuff like those five priorities we mentioned earlier and really focus like a laser on those and not be sort of distracted by those smaller sorts of decisions that ultimately need to be carried out by those that you've hired to carry out those kinds of decisions?"

Richard Luarkie:

"Absolutely. Absolutely, because on those larger priorities, many times funding is required, large amounts of funding, so it allows me to spend my time with those funding agencies, with those congressional people, with the folks that can help us identify and capture funding as opposed to sitting in the office and signing off on a stack of access permits or whatever the case may be. It allows us to get out and do what we need to do as tribal leadership."

Ian Record:

"We talked earlier about this issue of fairness. How does a Native nation, how does Laguna achieve fairness in the delivery of programs and services to its citizens which as you know is the centerpiece of any tribal bureaucracy?"

Richard Luarkie:

"As I mentioned earlier, fairness is subjective. To me, what I think is so absolutely critical is the consistency and the quality of delivery of those services. I believe that for us, we have to be able to make sure that our people have a process they understand, they follow that process and the services are delivered within the context of that process. If we can do that consistently, then I think we've not only impacted the bureaucracy, but we've affected in a positive way the quality of service. One of the things that we're working to overcome is the reliance on tribal government, in getting our people to do some of the work themselves. We've had instances where tribal employees have called the tribal department, public works as an example, to have public works do basic changing a light bulb for them. And for us it's really critical that we educate our people on, ‘Here are the things that you can do yourself, here is what we can do to help you as a tribe. We need to meet one another halfway.' And so I think education, consistency in process, education of that process are key elements to being able to provide fairness, if you will, to our community members."

Ian Record:

"So consistency -- it sounds from your perspective -- is based in rules, it's based in processes that are clear, they're consistent, they don't change, right?"

Richard Luarkie:

"Right."

Ian Record:

"So I'm assuming like you don't...you don't find yourself spending a large part of your day dealing with personnel grievances, right? There's a process for that."

Richard Luarkie:

"There's a process, yep."

Ian Record:

"So can you perhaps take a minute or so and describe how that works at Laguna cause I know this is something that a lot of other elected officials in Indian Country spend their time on is deciding personnel disputes that perhaps is not the best use of their time."

Richard Luarkie:

"Right. For Laguna we have a process where if an individual personnel has a personnel issue, an individual disagrees with the decision, they can appeal to their director of that department. If the director upholds that decision, the individual can then appeal to the chief of operations. If the chief of operations upholds that decision, the final step is that person can appeal to the governor's office and the governor and the first and second lieutenant are the appellate team, if you will. And so they have three steps before it even gets to the governor's office and so if it gets to the governor's office...and those are few and far between. In my...in these two years, I've seen maybe three grievances and when it comes to us, it's understood that our decision's final. It doesn't go anywhere from there. But we also have the opportunity to sit with the individual or individuals, hear their case out, but at the end of the day when we make our decision, it's final. And so that's our process at Laguna and for us, we really emphasize for those employees within the context of a process we put in place called 'Workforce Excellence' to really be able to work within the context of our core values with their supervisor, with their directors in addressing the issue. And so in turn the supervisors, directors are directed in the same way. ‘Work with your employees in the context of our core values and within policy of course and try to address the issue there before you elevate it to the next level'. And so we've been pretty successful with that approach and we've not had to deal with many grievances up to the Governor's office."

Ian Record:

"So one of the...as we mentioned earlier one of the strategic priorities of Laguna is health and I'm curious, what are your administration's goals, what is the Laguna government's goals for creating a healthy Laguna community and what steps is it taking to make those goals a reality?"

Richard Luarkie:

"Well, for Laguna one of the things...and we're not unique to other tribes. One of the major challenges we have is diabetes and obesity. It's just rampant and so for us being able to do community activities that promote healthy activity, that promote healthy eating has been a major emphasis for us. From a policy side looking at how is it that we can begin to partner with other groups that will allow for us to offer better, higher quality health services. Those have been some of the major initiatives that we've tried to move forward. We've partnered with our local or our sister Pueblo, Acoma Pueblo in...through an MOU [memorandum of understanding] to address our health care issues. So trying to draw those partners in at a larger level has been important for us. And so those are some of the steps that we've taken to address the health care issues in Laguna. The other piece of that is again back to the economics and looking at how is it that we're able to create more jobs, we're able to create a diversified economy so that our people don't have to travel long distances for work, that they can be there at home and hopefully that contributes to their health as well, not only their own physical health but the community health."

Ian Record:

"So what do you see for the future of Laguna? What do you hope that all of your hard work will lead to down the road? What will your nation look like 25, 50 years from now?"

Richard Luarkie:

"That's a neat question. A lot of times I've seen people say that's hard to answer but to me, in 25 years I envision a community of hearing our language, I envision a community of collaboration, I envision a community of family and in my mind, it's not pie in the sky but those are things that are very practical that we're already doing, we just need to do it better and we will do it better. And I think if leadership can reinforce core values as the reason why, we will be experiencing those things. I see a community with more children, I see a community where our elders are once again engaged, but I also see our children being mentored by our elders. We're at a point in time where we see this thought process of when the governor or staff officers, officials call a meeting of the community, younger people say, ‘Well, how come I have to go? Why do I have to be there?' And then you have individuals like former Governor Daly who's 94 years old saying, ‘Governor, tell me what I need to do and I'll do it.' I see this piece becoming strong again and us recognizing what our responsibility to our contribution is. I see that in 25 years."

Ian Record:

"Well, Governor Luarkie, we really appreciate you sharing your thoughts, wisdom and experience with us. It's been certainly an enlightening experience for me and hopefully it will be for our viewers and listeners as well. Thank you."

Richard Luarkie:

"Thank you."

Ian Record:

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

John McCoy: The Tulalip Tribes: Building and Exercising the Rule of Law for Economic Growth

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Former Manager of Quil Ceda Village John McCoy discusses how the Tulalip Tribes have systematically strengthened their governance capacity and rule of law in order to foster economic diversification and growth. He also stresses the importance of Native nations building relationships with other governments and non-governmental partners in order to achieve their strategic goals.

People
Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

McCoy, John. "The Tulalip Tribes: Building and Exercising the Rule of Law for Economic Growth." Leading Native Nations interview series. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, The University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. September 18, 2009. Interview.

Ian Record:

“Well I’m here with John McCoy who is the general manager of Quil Ceda Village, which is an economic development entity of the Tulalip Tribes in Washington, and he also serves as representative for District 38 in the State of Washington legislature. I’d like to thank you for being with us today.”

John McCoy:

“I’m very happy to be here.”

Ian Record:

“I’d like to start by asking you a question that I ask of virtually everyone I sit down and chat with and that is, how would you define Native nation building and what does it specifically involve for your nation?”

John McCoy:

“Native nation building is providing whatever particular tribe it is the tools in order for them to govern themselves and provide tools like economic development for self-sufficiency.”

Ian Record:

“How about for Tulalip, what does that involve for you, that process that you just described?”

John McCoy:

“Well, at Tulalip we began a number of years ago. In the ‘80s our chairman at the time, Stan Jones, was very instrumental in getting the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act passed in 1988. And so with that act then, tribes started to move to build these casinos so that they can get resources to do economic development. So at Tulalip, we opened our first casino in ‘92, but we had a bingo operation that opened in ‘82, then a casino that opened in ‘92 and we began the process of diversification. And so consequently, through that diversification, we created Quil Ceda Village, which is a federal city that we created with the help of the federal government. And so that established our economic base and the need to start diversifying, because gaming could go away at the stroke of a pen on any day, any time, so we needed to diversify. So we’ve been on a quest, if you will, of diversifying our economic base. Right now, the base is primarily retail and gaming, but we need to do other things, technical, biomed, biotech, anything along those lines. And so I am working to attract those type businesses to Tulalip. So this is a long-term process, that is our vision and our goal and every now and then we’ll meet to adjust the goal. We don’t change the goal, we adjust it, and then figure out what we need to do for the next five years to get to that goal.”

Ian Record:

“So you mentioned that Quil Ceda Village, which has become the economic engine along with gaming for the Tulalip Tribes and specifically moved it down this path of economic diversification, which as you mentioned is critical to sustainability because you don’t want to be in the situation where you have that one economy or that one industry that you’re relying solely on. How did Tulalip Tribes come to the point where it said, ‘Federally chartered city, this is the way to go,’ because as far as I know, you’re the only tribe that has a federally chartered city?”

John McCoy:

“Yes, we do. In fact, there are only two federal cities in the United States: Quil Ceda Village and Washington, D.C. We’re the only two. Back in ‘94, summer of ‘94, we had a general council meeting and out of that general council meeting they told the business manager, who was me, that I was not to do any development on the interior of the reservation, I could only do development in the northeast corner of the reservation along I-5. So with that in mind, I started looking around at the properties up there in the northeast corner of the reservation. Well, at the time, a very large chunk of it was taken up by Boeing. Boeing had their test facility out there where they tested engines, where they did the shooting the chicken into the windshield, testing the covers off missile silos; they did all kinds of interesting things out there. Well, that lease was to lapse in 2001, but they had the option, their option, to extend it out to 2011. So looking at everything that had been done, and I talked with the council and they basically told me, ‘Politely ask Boeing to leave, that we need that property for our economic development.’ So I began the discussion with Boeing and they agreed that they would leave in 2001. We actually...they started their cleanup and dismantling their facilities out there and they discovered that they actually could leave by 1999. So they actually left, but they still paid us for the two years left remaining on the lease, which was nice of them. And then we proceeded about the development of Quil Ceda Village. Well, a reservation attorney and I had been having numerous conversations about, ‘How should we structure this? What would be the most advantageous to the tribe?’ And our reservation attorney, a lot of folks know Mike Taylor, he’s quite an innovative guy. And so he came and he said, ‘Well, this has never been done before and I’ve done a lot of these business deals and structures and everything.’ He said, ‘Let’s try a federal city.’ And I had to think about that, right, because no other tribe had done it. The Navajo had done one, but it was purely within their own bounds and for their own reasons; ours was to attract off-reservation businesses on to the reservation. So our structure was totally different than the Navajo model. So we created this federal city. We had to get approval of the IRS [Internal Revenue Service], Department of Justice, and Department of Interior, and that’s a very long story, but anyway, we got it done. And so we created the city and we did that for a couple reasons: to position ourselves to be able to employ our own taxes -- and a lot of folks just don’t understand tribal governments. You say 'tribal government' and their eyes roll back in their heads. They just don’t get it. They don’t...whereas almost every tribal government in the United States is structured like a state government, everybody understands state government, but for some reason when you say tribal government, they just lose it. So we created the Consolidated Borough of Quil Ceda Village and called it a municipality. Then everybody was okay with that, they understood that. And so we created a charter, we created ordinances, and we put them all online. So anybody can go to the Quil Ceda Village website and see all our ordinances and our charter and our leasing procedures. Our leasing procedures were very important because then potential tenants could go online and see what the process was, have their attorneys look at it, and then we could work on a deal. So we had something that they could see and that it was a process and they understood the process. So there was no mystery there. The only hang up that we get is that we have a very aggressive -- progressive, not aggressive -- progressive court system and so any disputes we have in the contracts they’ll be done in tribal court. Well, a lot of them balk at that. We’ve had some tenants that we really wanted, wouldn’t come in just because of that fact, but I also reminded them that their court system was hostile to me. So it’s not a good environment. I said, ‘Our court system is very progressive.’ And in fact, in ‘94 I went to West Law and asked them if they would post tribal ordinances and opinions and court decisions and all that; [they] didn’t want to talk to me. Three years ago, they come to the door, ‘Would you join us?’ And I said, 'Naturally, we’ll join you.’ And so now our opinions, ordinances and decisions are posted on West Law so that everybody can see our track record. And a number of other tribes are doing that also, which is very good for Indian Country because now everyone can see how the courts are functioning and they can have a degree of basically a predictable outcome and that way tribes will then get full faith and credit. So that’s the big deal, full faith and credit.”

Ian Record:

“So you made reference to the charters, the codes, the ordinances, the procedures that you guys had to put in place to make this very innovative approach to economic development work. Can you speak to perhaps some of the other legal infrastructures, the other political infrastructures and perhaps the capacities that you guys had to put in place to really pull this thing off?”

John McCoy:

“It was very deliberative because we had to plan everything and put it in sequence. We had to come up with a ‘governmental structure’ for the Quil Ceda Village. And so what we did is that Quil Ceda Village is a political subdivision of the Tulalip Tribes, but it has three council members. Those three council members govern what goes on in Quil Ceda Village. And so once we established that, then we got our charter done and then we started employing our ordinances. Now we employed ordinances as we need them because me as a state legislator understand that too many ordinances become an encumbrance. And so I’m trying to address some of those issues in the state government. But in Quil Ceda Village, because I have some control over it, we only issue ordinances as we run into problems or if we anticipate a problem, we see something coming down and then we’ll create an ordinance and then we’ll post it. And it’s done...that process is just like any other municipality. They have to have two open meetings and then...before the passage of the ordinance. They are public meetings. All our meetings are posted online. So we put all those in place and we’re functioning like a government. We do everything else that any other municipality does. We take care of roads, traffic lights, street lights, water lines, sewer lines and we also have a state-of-the-art sewer plant.”

Ian Record:

“You mentioned your tribal court system and how progressive it is. We’ve had occasion to bring one of your judges, Theresa Pouley, down to some of our seminars with tribal leaders and she takes them through a very powerful overview of the incredible work that they’re doing there in the court system. Can you talk about that court system and specifically what prompted Tulalip to essentially reclaim the function of justice, providing justice to the tribes? Because previous to the establishment of the current court system that was something that the State of Washington largely had control of.”

John McCoy:

“Right. For a tribal government to operate effectively, they need all the tools in the tool bag in order to be effective in the protection of their sovereignty, the treaty protections and those issues. So in ‘94, Mike Taylor again, he said, ‘John, we need to get the state to retrocede.' So I took that up and I went to Olympia and created legislation. It took me a couple years to get it passed, but they finally passed it. I kept reminding them while I was lobbying them saying, ‘There’s seven other tribes that already retroceded so you’re just adding us.’ But there were some tense moments of some very conservative-viewed people that didn’t like that idea that law enforcement, tribal law enforcement could arrest somebody. So that happened on both sides of the aisles, it just wasn’t any one party. So that took a little bit of work on my part, but we got it done. So then that allowed us to open up and create our own law enforcement department. Well, when you’re going to be doing things in law enforcement, you need a court system. So we started building the court system along with the law enforcement. We built them together. And so our court system has gotten quite progressively, like I’ve said. They do the standard court proceedings, but we also do the one step further in bringing in our culture. We have an elders' panel that reviews and works with first time offenders. So these are non-violent crimes; violent crimes have got to do the normal process, but the non-violent crimes, the elder panel will do an intervention and they will work with them and hopefully help them to see the error of their ways and that they start making the appropriate decisions. So that’s actually been quite effective and so we’re quite proud of it. And so because of the notoriety we got from our court system being honored by the Honoring [Nations] Program, we’ve had tribes from around the nation come in to see our courts and we’ve also had Afghan come to our court to view it. And one of their...the professor that...the UW professor that brought them up, through his wife, who is a state legislator, had informed me that after the visit to our court system the Afghan judge said, ‘Well, your western law’s okay, but we like that tribal court better.’ So that was quite a feather in the hat.”

Ian Record:

“And your court system over the past several years has really begun to produce some pretty dramatic results in terms of its ability to combat crime through the alternative methods, through the restorative justice approach than the predecessor did it, and it’s the kind of standard western punitive approach to justice.”

John McCoy:

“Right.”

Ian Record:

“Isn’t that right?”

John McCoy:

“Yes. So that’s why I, down in the state legislature I talk about those things down there. Why, these first-time offenders, why do we got to throw them in jail? Why don’t we have an intervention program? So the state had been doing drug courts, which were good. Unfortunately, this last session there were some budget cuts and a few of the drug courts got cut. But we need to do more of that. Tribes know how to do it. They’ve been doing them for millenniums and that’s how they...that’s what their court system was, intervention and trying to show them the error of their ways and start making more appropriate decisions. So there’s...I say that our non-Indian friends, I tell them, I said, ‘Don’t you get a little envious that you don’t have any culture? You have none. Whereas we have some culture, we have some history that for millennium and we did things like that.’ So to me it’s the right approach. That’s how it should be done. Just take the first-time offender. Most of the time it’s a young person, young people they think they’re indestructible. The world is their playpen and basically they do the right things and then for maybe 30 seconds out of their life they did something wrong. If it’s non-violent, we should intervene and help them work through that, not throw them in jail because if you incarcerate them, where are they going? They’re going in with a bunch of other bad people that really do bad things and they give their stories to this person and they pick up some more bad things to do. So let’s keep them out, let’s intervene first. If it doesn’t work, then you do the other methods.”

Ian Record:

“So just how critical are tribal justice systems overall, which include the court, law enforcement, etc., just how critical a role do they play in rebuilding Native nations?”

John McCoy:

“That is all part of the structure. That is how you...how you use and deploy, implement your sovereignty. Those are tools. This is how it leads to self-sufficiency. You have control of your destiny. You are making tribal governments make the rules. They just need a court system to help them follow the rules that they wrote, which is only appropriate because that’s what everybody else does, so why not us? So law enforcement and court systems, health systems, family services, those are all integral parts of a tribal government in order to be self-sustaining and self-governing.”

Ian Record:

“A follow-up question to that about justice systems: what role do they play in terms of supporting a Native nation’s efforts to create a strong economy, a strong sustainable economy?”

John McCoy:

“Law enforcement gives your customer base a sense of safety, that there’s somebody here to protect me when I’m there. At Quil Ceda Village during the normal week, we get over 30,000 visitors a day. During the weekend, it’s over 50,000 a day. So the mere presence of the law enforcement vehicle cruising the parking lots and the streets and everything gives everybody a sense of safety, that they’re protected and that they can come here and enjoy whatever the amenities are and not have to worry about being harmed.”

Ian Record:

“The research of the Native Nations Institute and the Harvard Project has found that in fact, justice systems are a critical pivotal factor in whether a Native nation can create a strong economy, one that can stand the test of time and I’m curious to know, the Tulalip Tribes are one of those regarded as having a very strong, a very independent, empowered court system. And so from that experience, I was wondering if you could speak to what you feel are the requirements of a strong, independent court system. What does it look like, what does it require? Granted it may, because of cultural reasons, it may look a little bit different from place to place, it may employ different methods, but in terms of organizationally, functionally, institutionally, what does a strong independent court system require?”

John McCoy:

“Again, you hear me say tools a lot. This is a tool. Naturally you need your judges, experienced trained judges. You need your court clerks and that they know how to run the court so that the judges can do what they do and don’t have to worry about the administration; so you need a good strong administrative section. You also need public defenders because not everybody can afford an attorney; so you need public defenders. And then, we like to think all judges judge and sentence the same way. Well, they’re human beings and on occasion they make a mistake and so consequently you need an appeal system. So you have to have an appeal system in place so that something could be appealed. Now after that appeal, if you still don’t like it, well, then that’s when you move to the federal courts. So there is redress, you have protections of public defenders, you have your prosecutor and then they all are independent. They make their decisions, then you have the judge making their decision or the jury, yes, we have juries and we have an appeal system. So that’s what really makes it strong. You have all the elements, everybody knows what their job is and they just implement.”

Ian Record:

“And doesn’t that then require tribal leadership, particularly legislators who are setting a budget, to treat and fund those justice systems as a full arm of the government and not necessarily as a program? We often hear tribal judges for instance lament the fact that ‘Where I work, they treat us as just another program,’ versus something larger and something more encompassing.”

John McCoy:

“Right. They have to be independent. They have to be independent and not worry about political consequences. So consequently at Tulalip the court system comes in, here’s the budget. So normally, without hesitation they say, ‘Okay, here’s your money.’ They can’t tell them how to spend it, they just give them the money and then they...the court administration then takes care of the budget. So you have to give them that autonomy. Same with law enforcement, you’ve got to do the same with law enforcement. ‘Here’s your money, now you go do your job.’”

Ian Record:

“And I would assume that holds true for not just the justice systems, but the other critical functions of tribal government...”

John McCoy:

“Yes.”

Ian Record:

“...where leadership has to, at some point, say, ‘I’m going to delegate this authority to you to carry out the long-term goals of the nation.’”

John McCoy:

“Right. So that’s where the leadership, the elected leadership, their role is set policy, their role is not day-to-day administration. They set policy, then let their organizations function. Trust them, they’ll do the right thing.”

Ian Record:

“I want to turn back to economic development for a bit. And the NNI and Harvard Project research over the past few decades has clearly shown that rules are more important than resources when it comes to building strong economies. So for instance, you can be a nation with tremendous resources, perhaps natural resources, human resources, financial resources, but if you have a lousy set of institutions or rules, you’re going to be hampered in your ability to move your nation forward. Whereas, on the flip side, you may be a nation that has limited resources, but if you put in place a really good environment of rules you can really leverage those limited resources and begin to grow your nation and move it forward. Is that something you see and perhaps one of the reasons why Tulalip has paid such great attention to this issue of rules?”

John McCoy:

“That is correct. When I first came home in ‘94, I had gone off in the Air Force for 20 years and then I worked for a large computer firm for another 12 and then I came home. The rules and regulations and policies that were in place at the time were for a government of maybe 75 people or less. But when I came home in ‘94, we were up to just a little over 200 and so...and then policies, procedures and ordinances hadn’t been updated and so they were unwieldy, they were difficult to use for a larger organization. So we set about changing those. The first one we had to do, which was the most glaring, was a new human resources ordinance. That had to be done, it was accomplished, had input from lots of folks, and so it’s a good ordinance. The only issue that I might have with it, its management is guilty until proven innocent. Everything is on the employee. So anyway, it causes the managers to be really on their toes making sure that they’re doing things right. So in that process there’s also an employee grievance system, you need that. So you need some sort of dispute resolution in there so we have a very good dispute resolution process. So the rules are published and they’re out there for everybody to follow. When someone new comes onboard, they’re given a copy. ‘Here’s your copy of the human resources ordinance,’ and we make them sign a receipt for it so they acknowledge that they got it. Now we can’t make them read it, but it’s there for them. So then there was other ordinance, the ordinance of setting up the courts, the ordinance setting up the law enforcement, those had to be accomplished and then those things that they needed to make them function. So setting up strong policies is a necessity because you need predictability. Back running...when tribes were very small, employees of two, three, 10, 20, 30 people, well, you can run it like a mom-and-pop grocery store. Well, now, tribal governments are big business. They can’t be run like a mom-and-pop grocery store. You need processes in place to remove as much of the political atmosphere as possible so that they can function with reliability and respectability.”

Ian Record:

“So from what you’re saying, those are essentially vital to the efforts of the Tulalip Tribes and other Native nations across Indian Country to move from the days when they largely relied on a dependent economy, if you will, where they’re heavily reliant on outsiders for instance for federal appropriations and transfers to get by to essentially a situation where Native nations themselves are in the driver’s seat of economic development. So it’s those codes, it’s those institutions that you talked about. Are there any other vital pieces to that puzzle of moving from that dependent economy to a productive self-sufficient economy that you can share with us?”

John McCoy:

“Sure and it’s quite simple, it’s education. One of the things that I helped Dr. Alan Parker set up, and there are a number of [them] like at the University of Arizona, that you have these classes where you put in tribal government like the Master's of Political or Public Administration. At Evergreen State there’s, I think it’s two weeks of total immersion into tribal government as part of public administration. So that way when a tribal member gets an MPA, not only do they get exposed to the non-Indian type processes, but they get exposed to good practices in Indian Country so that they understand what their role is. So education is extremely important. At Tulalip, any tribal member that wants to go onto continuing education, whether it’s into the trades, community college, four-year university, graduate school, we pay for it.”

Ian Record:

“I want to start off with a general question, which is how does collaboration or building those relationships that I just mentioned empower Native nations to advance their strategic priorities?”

John McCoy:

“Okay, as you remember your history, we’ve been here for millennia. So we’ve always been here and we’re not going anywhere. Well, they’re not going anywhere either. So we have to learn to work and play together and you do that through collaboration, by working with the surrounding communities in solving the common problems. And we do, we have common problems. So for it to be a successful endeavor, then we need these collaborations not, like I said, we’ve got our own law enforcement, we have our own courts, but we still because we interact with non-Indians, we still need their law enforcement and their court system because when we catch a bad guy on the reservation who’s non-Indian, well, we’ve got to turn them over to the state court. So we have an MOU in place between our law enforcement and the Snohomish County Sheriffs that says, if we apprehend a non-Indian, we turn them over and they have the full faith and credit of the law officer that did the apprehension that his testimony in court will be valid. So in that process if we have to put an Indian in jail, well, we don’t have our own jail so we need an agreement with the county to incarcerate our person their jail and pay for it. So court system, same thing, working with cities on water agreements, sewer agreements. So we have a lot of common issues that we need to address and being able to work so that we build a trustful relationship because if everybody around us hates us, then it’s going to be difficult for your economic engine to work. So you have to work hard. It’s okay to say, ‘I’m Indian and this is my land,’ but we need your help and support. So you have to educate them about yourself so they know who they’re working with and then you can build these collaborative relationships.”

Ian Record:

“We see the sentiment out there in Indian Country and I think we’re seeing it less and less, but that tribal sovereignty means you need to insulate yourself and you need to kind of be those islands within surrounding hostility and therefore if you enter into some of these MOUs for instance with the state jurisdiction or local municipality you’re somehow relinquishing your sovereignty by doing that or by compromising your ideal solution if you will. But aren’t in fact those sorts of initiatives that Tulalip Tribes and many other tribes are taking more and more, aren’t those in fact an expression of sovereignty because you as a tribal government, as a nation are making that sovereign choice to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to engage this group. We’re going to engage this group, we’re going to develop this relationship in order to advance our strategic priorities’?”

John McCoy:

“That’s correct. At Tulalip, we view these collaboration efforts as strengthening our sovereignty. We’re not creating... Yes, in essence we’ve created an island, but it’s a seamless border because we’ve cross-deputized our officers; they can go on and off the reservation. In fact, yesterday the Washington State Supreme Court, even without an agreement, a tribal law enforcement [officer] can continue a fresh pursuit off reservation and that was a decision yesterday by the Washington State Supreme Court. So yes, in essence, if you want to look at a political boundaries and things, yes, it’s an island, but it’s how you employ it by collaborations, agreements, then those are just lines that can be crossed easily back and forth. And in Tulalip’s opinion, it strengthens our sovereignty because we’re getting recognition of our borders, of our jurisdiction.”

Ian Record:

“And it’s ultimately about solving problems. And I know from my research on Tulalip that you’re undertaking these sorts of efforts not just with other jurisdictions, but with other parties in order to solve problems, other private interests and a great example of that is the anaerobic digester plant. I hope I pronounced that correctly. This project that you developed working with some traditional adversaries, the local dairy farmers, who you, previous to this project, had battled for years on the issue of water and water quality. Can you talk a little bit about that project and how it came about and how it’s serving the interests of the nation?”

John McCoy:

“Okay, well, the dairymen actually came to us through our Natural Resources Department and they came to us and to me and we began the discussion. And we put it together because it was the right thing to do. We didn’t want any more animal waste going into rivers and streams. Well, how do you do that? Well, your farm’s got to be big enough to where you put it out on the fields and plow it under and enrich the earth, but they had more dairy product than they had land. So what do we do with this? Well, so we decided to work with the dairymen on this project. So as what I had to do, we had to find some land near the dairymen. Well, out there near the dairymen is the Monroe State Penitentiary. Well, they had what they called an honor farm, which was the dairy farm that provided milk for the prison. Well, that turned out to be not as cost effective and so the Monroe honor farm was decommissioned. So what are we going to do with the land? Well, we went to the state and said, ‘The tribe...’ -- now this was before I was elected -- and asked, ‘Can we have the land because you’re getting ready to declare it excess and in the rules, state and federal, tribes are at the top of the list to get excess property and we would like to use it to build an anaerobic digester on it.’ So we take the cow manure out of the system and we create methane gas, which we’ll filter, which will drive a turbine engine to generate electricity.’ So we started that process. Then I got elected and helped pass the bill to make it happen. So as long as that property is used for alternative energy, we can have the land, but if we do something else with it then it reverts back to the state. And it just so happens, I was approached by students from Seattle University that want to go out and do some algae experiments, which is alternative energy. They don’t want to do the traditional turning algae into a bio diesel; they want to look at other processes for algae. That’s a great idea so I said, ‘Yeah, we’ll do that.’ So we’re setting that process up in place right now. But the anaerobic digester is up and running. I had to change map metering law that allows for a generation facility that’s not on the dairy farm, but the dairy farms still get credit for the electricity that’s generated and so we got that law changed. Naturally, it was for the entire state not just for Tulalip, it’s the entire state. So a number of jurisdictions have enjoyed that map metering process and they’re quite happy with it. So the dairymen reduced their electrical cost because they’re generating electricity, then we’re also creating from the solids that are left, we take out, mix it with a little dirt, bag it up and sell it as fertilizer. So it all gets used.”

Ian Record:

“And the revenue from that is, from my understanding, being plowed back into some of your natural resource restoration programs.”

John McCoy:

“Yes.”

Ian Record:

“Because the ultimate goal, from what I understand, is that you want to improve the water quality of the local watersheds in order to bring the salmon back or at least have them come back at a much greater rate.”

John McCoy:

“Right. We’re doing a number of infrastructure projects for salmon enhancement like the membrane sewer plant that we installed. We just had a study done that gave us a draft of it from the University of Washington and Western Washington University that the output does remove pharmaceuticals including disruptors, birth control pills. And so with these reports done, now we should be able, be permitted to discharge straight into streams and rivers because the output exceeds federal drinking water standards. It’s actually too warm for salmon and it’s actually too clean for salmon, so we’re going to put it into a wetland to cool down and get a little nutrients and then let it flow into streams and rivers. And because of that plant that we put in, we convinced the city of Seattle to change their Bright Water Project over to a membrane technology. And other jurisdictions around us have come and visited and looked at it and said, ‘This is great, we’re going to go this direction.’”

Ian Record:

“So you’re becoming a model not just for other tribes, but other governments everywhere.”

John McCoy:

“Yes.”

Ian Record:

“That’s fantastic. I wanted to finish up with a short discussion on your experiences, trials and travails, as a state legislator. Being a Native American and a state legislator you’re in a very small group, but a growing group.”

John McCoy:

“Yes.”

Ian Record:

“And I was curious to know, get your advice perhaps, on what Native nations and leaders can do to advance their priorities through the state legislative arena. You have experience on both ends of the spectrum, both as a tribal leader and as a state legislator. What advice can you give them in terms of perhaps advancing more effectively their priorities in that arena?”

John McCoy:

“Well, my advice to them all is to create a governmental affairs office to where these folks just work on policy, that they work with legislatures, with county governments, with other city governments because you need to touch them all because they pass laws that infringe on the tribal sovereignty. So you need to be there to educate them so that they modify their law to where it does no harm to the tribal sovereignty. They’re not doing, my personal opinion, 99 percent of them are these laws that infringe on tribal sovereignty is done out of ignorance, not maliciousness. It’s out of ignorance. Once you inform them, educate them on the issue, then they adjust their language to where they do no harm. So they need to be at the city level, the county level, the state level and we’ve always done the federal level. So we need to get down into the state level. This last year, New Mexico passed, codified their agreement between the governor and the tribes on how they’re to interface with one another, they codified it. And I was still in session and I got the email saying they codified it. I said, ‘Why didn’t I think of that because we’ve got the same thing.’ So this year I am going to try to move legislation to codify Washington State’s Centennial Accord, which is our version of the framework on how the governor and the tribes interface with one another. So I want to codify that. The only thing different that I’m going to do in my bill is that I’m going to add a legislative interface. New Mexico didn’t and I’ve talked to their New Mexico legislators and they say, ‘Yeah, on second thought maybe we should have added that,’ so they may add that at a later date. But I’m going to start off with the legislative interface and I want to set up a committee that meets during the interim, not during session, during interim on the tribal issues and what pieces of legislation they may see. Now this committee that I want to set up is only made up of chairs of committees because they control what legislation goes through. So if you get them indoctrinated, educated on what the tribal issues are and what legislation they’re going to move, then they’ll have the background on it, why it’s needed and so it should help move these things through. When I first went to the legislature and I went through freshmen orientation, it was five days long and at the end of it I raised my hand and I said, ‘Where’s your Indian Law 101? You’ve got 29 tribes in the State of Washington and you did not have one word about Indian Law 101.’ So, I convinced the chief clerk, ‘You need Indian Law 101 in your freshman orientation,’ and now it’s part of the freshmen orientation. It’s not on the Senate side. I’m still working on them, but I’ve got to get that one done over there, too.”

Ian Record:

“This sounds really fascinating what you’re talking about with this education of the decision makers, the outside decision-makers that make decisions that influence tribes in a variety of ways. Would you recommend as well though that Native nations begin to think more aggressively when it comes to cultivating members of their own nations to actually pursue the sorts of positions that you currently hold in the state legislature? Isn’t there a direct role that they can play as well?”

John McCoy:

“Oh, yes. Whenever I’m at NCAI [National Congress of American Indians], NIGA [National Indian Gaming Association], NIEA [National Indian Education Association], I’m talking to everybody. ‘You need to run for office. You need to get more people in the state legislature, on county commissions, need them there.’ So in Washington State in Whatcom County, there’s a Native American on that. There’s three of us in the state legislature. There’s one running for city council in Pierce County. So they’re starting to run, it’s coming up. When I got elected in 2002, there were only 23 of us nationwide. Today, there’s almost 80 of us. And I happen to be chair of the National Caucus of Native American State Legislators. So I am proud to see it grow. About 25 to 30 are very active in the caucus. This is a non-partisan caucus, so we have both parties are in there and we just talk about tribal issues and how do we work with our counterparts on getting legislation passed. And I think we’re becoming very effective at doing that. So we continue to grow. The organization also includes Native Hawaiians because they have the same issues that we do, but they don’t have their sovereignty yet. That’s being worked on. But anyway, so we’re interfacing, we’re helping each other with legislation and I personally believe it’s a valuable tool now and we need more.”

Ian Record:

“Well, John, I really appreciate your time. This has been quite an education and thank you for sharing your experience and your wisdom and your perspectives with us.”

John McCoy:

“Yes, thank you. I really enjoyed it and everything connected with your organization, NNI and Honoring [Nations] Program. Great programs, I love them and I can’t speak high enough of them. You guys are doing a great job, too.”

Ian Record:

“Well, thank you.”

NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow: Jamie Fullmer (Part 2)

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Jamie Fullmer, former chairman of the Yavapai-Apache Nation, shares what he wished he knew before he first took office, and offers some advice to up-and-coming leaders on how to prepare to tackle their leadership roles. He also discusses what he sees as some keys to Native nations developing diversified, self-sufficient economies that can be sustained over time.  

Ian Record:

"So, Jamie, you served two terms as chairman of your nation. I was wondering if you could share with us what you wish that you knew before you took office that first time."

Jamie Fullmer:

"That's a great question. There's a lot of things I wished I knew before I took office, but when it gets right down to it I think that politics is a unique and challenging role, because in essence you're a public servant to the community, but you also have responsibilities as a public figure. And so I think one of the initial challenges was not recognizing how much of both of those things took of my time and my life and so had I known that before I would have been able to prepare for it before getting into office. But it consumes you rather quickly and your time becomes very precious because you have few moments of time to yourself and you have few moments of time when you're not expected to be in the public setting. And so with that said, I think that's the first thing I wish I had known before taking office. I think the other thing is, having never been involved in politics, not really knowing the process of any of the formal processes of running government, and so it was kind of a 'learn and lead at the same time' process, and if I would have been able to know initially what kind of steps I could have taken I might have been able to do some homework and really have a good feel of how to move the legislative process forward, how to take advantage of team building opportunities early on, and then also I think learn more about how to better enhance the institutional framework of information sharing. Not only being able to have access to it, but having everybody else have access to it so that we were on the same page when we were dealing with political issues or community issues or economic development issues in that sense."

Ian Record:

"So you mentioned time management and we've heard this from other tribal leaders that that's one thing that you just...you can't anticipate in many respects coming into the job. I remember Peterson Zah, former chairman and president of the Navajo Nation, said once that that really puts the onus on you as the tribal leader to first prioritize your work and then in those places where you can, delegate your work to those people that are within the administration of government who've been hired to do those sorts of things."

Jamie Fullmer:

"Sure. The delegation issue is sometimes challenging, because even in the delegation process you have to meet and learn and get to know the staff and they may not be staff that you've chosen. And some political systems have a system where a new leader comes in and they're able to choose their executive team. Our system wasn't like that. The executive team that's in place is what you work with and it's really a council decision to choose those folks. Of course the chairman has a say, but if there are people already in existing positions you'd like to hope...especially in my case, I believed that the chairman before me had good sense of who they wanted. And so if they felt it was good for the nation, I respected that I could keep that same frame of thought. That challenging part though is getting to know who has the skill sets in different areas. They might have a certain title, but they might have skill sets in other areas that are a good fit for delegation of duties. And I think the other process in that is that there's the time management issue, it's also important to have good support staff to help manage the front end, the telephones, the documentation that comes in in stacks daily, and kind of arranging a schedule that helps you to meet not only your daily priorities, but also to address any of the community issues that come up where members want to have some time with the chairman in the office, and then arranging that with the travel that's necessary to do business on behalf of the tribe. So you live in a suitcase part of the time and then when you're home, you're really relying on others to keep you on track and on task."

Ian Record:

"What advice would you give them? It's somebody that's never served in an elected office before -- what advice would you give them as somebody who's either considering running for office or say they do get elected and are getting set to take office, what advice would you provide?"

Jamie Fullmer:

"I think the best advice I would give in starting out is [to] remember the promises that you make you have a responsibility to keep. And so I believe that part of the political process is one of the challenges we face, because there's so many promises made in the pursuit of getting elected -- both in Indian Country and we've seen a lot of promises going on right now during the election season at large -- but when you get into office you are only a part of something that's much bigger than one individual and you can play an important part and you can play a very important role in the advancement of your nation, but the advice I would give them is, "˜Be aware and take the time to learn what the struggles are, take the time to learn what the system needs to help it move forward, and before you make any promises to the community, take the time to learn if those promises can be met.' And I think that's an ongoing challenge, so that I thin, that's an important part. It's also valuable and what I would tell the person is, be ready to commit your time. You're raising your hand and swearing an oath to your people, to your nation, and to God that you're going to follow through to the best of your abilities and it's a challenge to give the best of your abilities all the time. And so I think you need to figure out at the front end how you deal with your down time and how you deal with your low moments so that you can keep a good presence about you as a leader."

Ian Record:

"You mentioned the fact that keeping promises is really important once you take office, the promises that you make maybe on a campaign trail or as part of your platform to get elected, and you began to touch on this. Doesn't that make it your job to be very careful about what promises you make and really think strategically about the promises in terms of are they promises to maybe just a certain portion of the citizenry or are they promises to the entire nation, because as an elected official are you not representing the entire nation?"

Jamie Fullmer:

"That's a challenging question, because I think that obviously you serve your entire nation, but many tribes are organized where there are clans and there are familial priorities that take place, there might be village priorities, and so you may be really wanting to get in to address those issues. And depending on if it's a council position, that might be your role as a district councilor or as a village councilor, and so you do go in on those points that you're prioritizing. So with that said, I think the way that I reached out to the community was through goals. I had set goals based on what I had heard that the community wanted and that I felt like could be achieved in the period of time of the term in office or at least get some headway on historical processes that had gone on that hadn't been completed. And so there were some things that were challenges that I felt that I had the skills to help address and to put closure to that other leaders and other councils long before me had established and put into place and then there were other issues that had been initiated over time that I felt like needed to be at least started to being addressed. And so, rather than making promises because it's too difficult to make a promise, it was goals that I had set for myself and for our nation that if I were elected I would work on those goals."

Ian Record:

"And those two different terms send very different messages to your citizens, to your constituents don't they?"

Jamie Fullmer:

"I believe so because the goal is something you work toward, a promise is something that you try and keep."

Ian Record:

"Yeah. And you also mentioned this approach that you took when you took office which was continuing the priorities and the initiatives of previous administrations and that's not an approach that every tribal elected official takes. In fact, we've seen many that take the exact opposite approach. And I was wondering if you could talk about the difficulties you ran into with that or if it made your job easier, the fact that you were building on the momentum that had been generated before you came along."

Jamie Fullmer:

"I think there's a point that's important. Really for me it wasn't about having the credit for getting anything, it was having our nation have the credit. And so my role was as the chairman, in my opinion, was to go in and assess our government, assess our enterprises, assess our community, assess our programming and look for areas that I could help strengthen it. And it didn't matter whether I was to start it or if it had been started by somebody else. It was obviously a priority to the community if it was already in place. And so maybe those needed to be updated or changed or some of the structures needed to be adjusted, but the idea wasn't to do any of that with the intent of getting credit for it. It was doing that because it needed to be done and accepting on the challenges that the community had set upon me about getting...there were certain priorities that they wanted addressed and so I felt it important to address those that I could."

Ian Record:

"You've been working with a number of tribes across the country, particularly in the Southwest and Pacific regions, on diversifying their economies. In that capacity -- in working with other tribes and also based on your experience with your own nation -- I was wondering if you could paint a picture for us of what you believe a full-fledged Native nation economy looks like."

Jamie Fullmer:

"Sure. One of the challenges, the initial challenge that I see is that people have a different viewpoint of what 'economy' means. There's a lot of different arenas that are placed around the idea of an economy, but from a governmental perspective and from a societal perspective, that economy is a tumbling effect whereby, when revenues come into the system, those revenues advance themselves throughout the system. And I'll give an example: money generated from gaming comes to run the government. There should be something...then the government pays its employees and then those employees use that money to buy goods and services or pay bills. And so from an economic point of view, your ambition is to keep the money that's generated in a nation in that nation as long as possible. And so from that point of view, the economies are built to create more opportunity and generate more cash flow and protect the money that has come into the nation and keep it there for awhile. With that said, economic development is the process by which tribes create those kinds of business enterprises that will generate that opportunity.

And a lot of times, what gets confused there is the idea of economy has taken on, at times, the viewpoint of small business development. And I am definitely for small business development, I think it's a central part of an economy, but there are also other ways that generate economy, like creating infrastructure creates a baseline to build small businesses on, building housing creates opportunities for people to stay in the community so that they can pay and live in the community, which creates another set of economic values. You also bring in your, you keep your talent pool localized when you have job and work opportunities for those folks; they don't have to move away to go get a decent job. And so there are a lot of things tied to economy but I think the...my idea as a strategist and what I do with my company is we really focus on where the tribe's at and its structure, because economies are really tied to strong structures and institutionalized systems. They're really planned out and thought because there's a lot of money at stake in any type of venture -- business venture, enterprise development venture, acquiring businesses -- and so government is usually a reactive type of system, most bureaucracies are reactive in nature because they're political and business is more proactive in nature because it's usually driven by goals and end-production processes. You want to reach a certain budget, you want to reach a certain level of profit, you want to reach a certain level of job creation. And so with that said, there's more planning that takes place at the front end.

So from a tribal perspective and looking at tribes as nations, as sovereigns with the ability to create whatever they'd like, economic development to me takes on a number of scenarios. One is developing a strong government of laws, which include economic development, commercial laws, corporate laws, zoning laws, taxing laws, any other kind of law that can benefit the nation as a government. With that said, then you also have to have the legal system that can enforce those laws. A solid legal system is another key component to a strong economy. Another piece to that as well as that is the ability to create opportunities for individual members within the tribe to build business and so creating programming that will raise the initiative to have small business and entrepreneurship in the community. Those are other opportunities. And the government itself being proactive in supporting and promoting business within the community really takes on another level of public relations and commitment to helping to share information about the tribe and the tribe's capabilities and abilities, because many times when tribes are trying to develop an economy they want income and finances from other places to come in to generate more income locally. And so if you're looking for investors or partners or joint venture opportunities, it's very important for a tribe to recognize that they're going to be scrutinized by outsiders if they choose to take that path."

Ian Record:

"So really what you're...within this discussion of laws and institutions and structures and infrastructure, you're really describing essentially an environment-based approach to economic development and not just a venture-based approach to economic development, where you as a tribal council are trying to figure out, "˜Well, what business are we going to get into?' But really what you're saying is that tribal leaders need to be focusing on, "˜Let's create this environment for economic opportunity, whatever that opportunity might encompass.'"

Jamie Fullmer:

"You are exactly right with that point of view, because the environment is where the government has the most control, creating the laws, creating the systems, creating the policies that guide the direction. With that proper environment, the tribe or its members or private investors who come in to do business in the tribe have an opportunity to actually be successful because the environment is an environment of success. And so with that thoughtful planning at that -- in the environmental process -- it allows your economic development arm or your planning arm or whatever a tribe calls it, some call them 'authorities' and some call them 'enterprises' or 'boards,' it allows that arm to really do a good and effective job, because first of all they have something that they can go and promote and secondly, it challenges them to stay strategic in their thinking. If you have a specific zone where commerce can happen, you know the limits and the boundaries of where to do the commerce. It's just one example."

Ian Record:

"I also wanted to follow up on another point from what you were just talking about and that is you were describing this tumbling effect that you should be building towards in terms of how you structure your economy and you mentioned this point where the tribal government, for instance, or the nation raises revenues through gaming or whatever other enterprises it may have. It may, for instance, collect taxes on sales by citizen-owned businesses, whatever the form of revenue might be, comes in the tribal government, it funds that government, it pays the salaries to those tribal employees and then you mentioned those employees go out and buy goods and services. And this is where the research shows, this is where that tumbling effect tends to stop in so many nations because there aren't places on reservation to spend money on goods and services. Isn't that really one of the biggest challenges that Native nations face is creating those on-reservation outlets for consumer spending?"

Jamie Fullmer:

"There is that challenge, but I think in that challenge there's also a broader challenge that we many times in Indian Country all over America don't view the value of us buying from each other, doing business with one another, purchasing goods and services from tribal members or Indian-owned businesses, because that's part of a larger economy, the Indian Country economy. And I believe that when Indian Country comes to terms with adding that type of value and seeing the value in really committing to ourselves and our own success that we will have the ability to create a very powerful economy, sub-economy in the United States. But breaking that down to the individual level and the individual tribe, if the money that is made from whatever enterprise the tribe has only comes in and it goes directly out, it only benefits the tribe in that one sense. If that money were to come in, for example...an example that's challenging, but that some tribes have done would be a valuable one is a bank where people, where the money's made and then they store their money in the tribal bank. Well, now the tribe has access to use that money to do other kinds of investment and lending and create another revenue stream. A mall that has groceries and services that the community and the employees of the tribe would use is another way because you create...the money stays in the community, people spend it there, and you create more jobs with the same original money that was brought in, but it has now doubled its value. And so the ambition of a tribe should always be to see how they can vertically integrate the economy so that it will...there's an opportunity for it to stay there and it can be broken down in a number of arenas. Tribes buy all kinds of different products and goods and services. It would seem reasonable that they are able to create business opportunities for themselves as a tribal government owning enterprises or for membership and buying and selling those goods and services from individual Indian tribal members or other tribal enterprises or their own tribal enterprise."

Ian Record:

"You're working with the American Indian Business Network, which is an initiative of the National Indian Gaming Association on this issue of Native nations and Native citizens 'buying Native,' and really on a more macro level where you're talking about an Indian country-wide proposition, where it's not just Native nations and people buying internally within their own nation but actually buying from other nations. So I was wondering if you would talk a little bit about the motivation behind that project and how it's taking shape so far."

Jamie Fullmer:

"Sure. I'm real proud of National Indian Gaming Association's commitment to developing the American Indian Business Network firstly because they are very close to a very powerful economic tool for Indian Country -- which is gaming -- and they see the value in tribes diversifying their economies. With that said, the American Indian Business Network was created by NIGA as a separate entity owned and operated by NIGA to develop a network whereby tribes could partner and do business with one another, that they could promote and establish a way to sell their own products and services of their tribal-owned businesses that they have and then also to look at partnering with other Indian businesses and also really for the small business owner or the entrepreneur that tribes would consider purchasing goods and services from those Indian-owned businesses. And with that said, with all of those levels of involvement and investment, we're really ultimately helping Indian Country, all of Indian Country by doing that because all along that chain, that food chain, Indian households and Native American families are being fed. And so we're really being more self-serving and self-sufficient, but not only that, we're also able to help the non-Indian economy because many of our employees are non-Indians, many of the businesses that we have are in partnership with non-Indians, there's a lot of non-Indian investment in Indian Country, and so the idea is not to exclude people or to make it exclusive, but to make it inclusive where Indian tribes, their enterprises, their buying power and their selling power gives a value to sharing resources across the country in one form or another, which could lead to a number of different opportunities. But just the concept is a very powerful one where we're not just looking, we're not just saying, "˜I want to take care of my tribe.' We're saying, "˜We want to take care of all tribes,' not by saying we're going to have to spend all of our money on other tribes, but by saying that we're willing to commit to buying Indian goods and services when they're at the same quality and level of the non-Indian goods and services."

Ian Record:

"So it sounds like a rather immense, untapped economic opportunity that will have kind of transcendent benefits not just for Native nations, but for the larger economy."

Jamie Fullmer:

"I believe so, yes."

Ian Record:

"I would like to talk about another topic, broach another topic that's rather sensitive in a lot of Native communities, particularly among those who have experienced this newfound wealth and prosperity through gaming, and that's the issue of per capita distributions of tribal revenues. Yavapai-Apache Nation has a per capita distribution policy where it distributes a certain portion of its revenues to individual citizens, I believe on an annual basis, is that right?"

Jamie Fullmer:

"Yeah, that's correct."

Ian Record:

"On an annual basis. And I was wondering if you could talk about how Yavapai-Apache Nation went about developing the policy, what it took into account when developing that policy, and how the policy and how the process of distribution actually takes place."

Jamie Fullmer:

"Sure. The per capita distribution and obviously the tribe's process of distribution was created for the membership -- and I won't get into any details to that because it's not my place or my authority -- but the distribution process was established because the community itself, as shareholders of the casino enterprise, felt as though there should be some distributions of that wealth. And the leaders over time had made commitments to doing that. When I got into office, it was very apparent that that was one of the things that was a priority to the people to get done. And so I made it one of my top and I think it was my first major initiative to move forward in office. The idea behind it was is that if we viewed the tribal membership as owners or shareholders of a corporation or a major enterprise -- which they are -- we viewed it much like a stock program in a private corporation whereby every year when business enterprises do well they might give their shareholders a revenue, a dividend, where they're sharing the dividend and that's how we really viewed it, that there's a percentage taken from the casino revenues and distributed to members each year at the end of the year based on the profit. And so with that said, I think the challenges; there were a number of challenges.

The first one is that when we put it together, there's the challenge of going through the process with BIA, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs takes its time in approving these kind of things, and so that was a challenge. And then internally the debate was, "˜How do we treat the dollars with respect to the individuals? Do we just give it to the adult members, do we give it to all members, is there any parameters that we want to put around the money?' Because it's not a lot of money. The council members at the time said, "˜We'd like to get the program started and we'd like for it to be shared and provided to all members.' With that said, we had to create a minors' trust program and so in that trust, there's an accountability of the money that comes in each year and how it's preserved for the individuals until they turn 18, which is the age that we gave and those dollars are accounted for by a separate accounting system. And I think the protections that we put into place or the monies don't come in through the tribal government, they go directly from the casino to the per capita account and then the money is distributed from there. And so that is helpful, too, to protect the integrity of the separation because it was approved, it was agreed on in our revenue allocation plan with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and so we really stay steadfast to that. And at the time, when we rolled it out, I think the challenge was is the people I'm sure wished that it was more than what it was and then I think the next challenge is that as we moved along we learned more about it because we would say, we would just...when we started, we wanted to get it out. And then along the way over the years we would kind of adjust it as needed, but the first year, the first issue was, "˜What if you turn 18 in the middle of the year? Do you get the money at the end of the year or do you have to wait?' And so that was one challenge. And then the next...so we had to set some timeframes on. If you turn 18 by a certain time during the year you are eligible for the dollars at the end of the year. So that was one challenge.

And I think another challenge was in dealing with elderly issues, that it might affect their Social Security benefits, and so we did try and find ways to manage that as well. But because it's young -- I think it's only been in place around four years or so now, maybe five -- but it was, we knew that we would have to work out some kinks and I think when it will be an impactful decision making down the road will be for those very young people that were maybe not even born or born when we started it that they'll have 18 years worth of revenue saved for them and at that point they may want to start considering some...putting in some safeguards for the individual, some requirements for them to get their money and those kind of things. But I think all in all, there's a lot of different positions on whether per capita is good or whether it's not good. I think in our case, because we viewed it as a distribution based on a shareholding, we had a little different viewpoint on it. Our ambition wasn't to subsidize the individual's life, it was to share in the overall profit of the, in our case, the casino. And so my own self, I have my own mixed emotions about whether it's good or bad, because I'm more in line with that the funds could be better spent providing programming, but I also recognize that the whole idea of gaming was to create an opportunity for quality of life of members. And so as you know and as we all know, every little bit counts, especially these days with everything being so expensive. And so if we create job opportunities, we create education opportunities, we provide social programming, and we are able to give distributions to help enhance the quality of life, then it's a positive thing."

Ian Record:

"You touched on a couple of the issues that the Native Nations Institute -- which recently published a policy paper on per caps and what Native nations needs to be thinking about as they develop their policies -- you touched on a couple of these critical issues. One of which is, when you issue a per capita distribution -- for instance particularly one that may fluctuate based upon the performance of the businesses or the enterprises from which the revenue for those distributions is coming from -- you have to be careful about what that's going to do to the eligibility of certain of your citizens for programs that they rely very heavily upon like Social Security."

Jamie Fullmer:

"The other challenge to that is if you expect...if you receive this much the year before and you only receive this much the following year, nobody's really happy about that. So one of the challenges as well is just growth, population growth. If you have a set percentage that you give and even if you make more revenues, if you have more births or enrollments in the year, it's still going to decrease the total payout. And so sometimes people assume that we are making less money when in fact, we're making more money, but we're growing faster than the money's growing."

Ian Record:

"Yeah and that's...I believe Native Americans are the fastest-growing population in the United States. That's going to be a huge challenge for those nations that issue per capita distributions moving forward, is it not?"

Jamie Fullmer:

"I would think so, and I'm not real privy to any other distributions and values, but I would think that just that natural growth, something's got to give. If you've got a limited amount and you're growing here, well, something's got to give, whether it's programming or actual dollar distributions or both. It really depends on how well the tribe is planning for the future and that growth."

Ian Record:

"And it really gets back to this issue that we talked about earlier in our discussion about citizen education really, that you have to...because these issues like per capita distributions, these governing decisions that you have to make or at least lead in as elective leaders that you have to educate the citizens about what exactly all of this means. For instance, why is the per capita distribution amount down this year, or what does it mean when we're doing a performance based per cap or a profit based per cap based on a percentage of the revenue versus a flat amount every year?"

Jamie Fullmer:

"That is again another struggle area because not everybody understands money, especially in the context of being one piece of a percentage. And it's challenging for those that understand money and so it's even more challenging for those that don't, and I'm talking about the percentages and how the common person in their thinking, they think about themselves and, "˜Hey, my check's less than it was last year. We must be making less.' That's the common sense approach to things, but when you look at the bigger picture and you realize and recognize that, as you said, if it's performance based, if the performance isn't as good, it's going to go down. If the performance is as good and you've grown and your membership has outgrown the dollar amount, it's still going to go down and so there might be two reasons that it's going down, two very different reasons. One is maybe a not so good of a reason, the other one is a good reason. Having great performance and growing as a nation is what we hope to do. So again that leads into the whole idea of diversifying where tribes should be considering, how do they create other opportunities, not just for per capita, but if the tribe itself is growing and continuing to grow then all of the programming is going to be effected: the education programming, the health care programming, the social programming, how the governments are staffed, staffing issues, the space allocations, the building sizes. You can go on down the list all the way down to the size of the pipes for sewage and water and it's not a bad thing to grow, but it's an expensive thing to grow and I believe that's one of the challenges, getting back to the challenge of the finances, is the common citizen doesn't take that into account. And sometimes when you lay it out there and it is statistically done and drawn out, it's hard for people to really connect to how those statistics affect the future growth."

Ian Record:

"So it seems to be two things that jump out of what you're saying about trying to meet that challenge or fight that struggle is strategic thinking and planning first of all: anticipating what the demands are going to be on tribal governance and tribal administration moving forward with the rapidly growing population, the strains that's going to put on programs, services, infrastructure, etc. And then it's the issue of not just citizen education, but education in laymen's terms, that most every citizen can understand."

Jamie Fullmer:

"Financial education is a very important next step for Indian Country, well, the whole country, but when we focus on Indian Country, that's a great next step because tribes have gone from over the last several decades, many of them were very poor and there was a lot of poverty. There still is a lot of poverty. I don't want to take away from that, but for those tribes that have been able to climb out of poverty, now they have to learn how to protect their wealth. It's not just a matter of generating it, but how do we protect it once we've generated it because it is very easy to spend. They always say, the more money you make, the more money you spend. It's very easy to spend the money when it comes in because there are always needs and there are always wants that people believe are needs and so there's a never-ending demand for services and programming and opportunities for members. But at some level, the institution, the government, the Native nation government needs to look at how do we prepare for our future growth. So they have to do some trending, they have to investigate their current size, they have to investigate their future needs, whether it's land needs or water needs or space needs, they have to look at the need for civic buildings and growth in that area and then they need to look at what kind of enterprises do we need to do. A couple of things: bring in more revenue to the tribe itself and bring in more opportunity for the tribal members. And so that isn't just increasing per capita, it's increasing the quality of life per individual. And that's I believe most of our goals as leaders is our ambition is to create a quality of life for our people that is comparable to what's around us."

Ian Record:

"And ultimately, as a nation, it's really about promoting independence and self-sufficiency not just as the collective, but among individuals."

Jamie Fullmer:

"Sure. I think there's a little bit of I guess it would be backlash at times when a tribe becomes wealthy, people get angry about that. And it's really challenging in America that's supposed to be a country that is proud that people can go from poverty to wealth and they promote it in every other major arena and every other major setting, but when Indian tribes become wealthy, there seems to be a backlash that we don't deserve to be as wealthy as the other individuals that have wealth. I think that's another challenge that we face is we're still viewed as...that we may still carry on some of this second-class citizen status when we're well beyond that in the 21st century."

Ian Record:

"I wanted to wrap up with...first of all, I want to get your response to a quote and this is a quote that we heard first from, we've heard it from several tribal leaders, but we heard it from one in particular, Chief Helen Ben from the Meadow Lake Tribal Council up in Saskatchewan, and this really gets it back to this issue of governing institutions and she said, "˜My job as a leader is to make myself dispensable.' And really what she was getting at is, "˜My job as a leader,' and she expounded upon this, "˜is to put our nation in a situation where we have that infrastructure,' that you've been talking about, 'that environment in place of rules and policies and codes where when I leave office not everything falls apart.' There's a sense of stability and continuity there. And I was wondering if you could address that issue with respect to your own nation and what's going on in that respect."

Jamie Fullmer:

"I think that my nation has been around for a long time, and there's been a lot of strong leaders and it's traditionally and culturally appropriate for us to have strong leaders. I think there's a balance between leadership and having a strong institution. Ultimately, I believe you need both because you can have a great institution, but if there isn't leadership steering it and keeping it moving and accepting the challenges that come up, then it can also stagnate. So I don't think that leadership is ever indispensable in my opinion. I think that leadership is a necessary part of everything that we do. With that said, a strong institution sure makes it a heck of a lot easier to be a strong leader and because you know what it is that you're wanting to accomplish and you know how to put to work the institution so that it can bring about the changes that the people want and need. And I think finally -- in my own nation as I said -- my ambition as the chairman was just to be a part of the growth, the ongoing growth, and I've never seen myself as anything more than that, never wanted to be more than that. That if I could say in my life that I contributed to my nation's growth in some way, then I feel like I have done my responsibility, and that holds true throughout my life. I feel like I can offer those same kinds of contributions to Indian Country as a whole and that's why I do what I do as the owner of Blue Stone Strategy Group. But back to the whole point of, I do believe that you have to have leadership, but I also believe that if you have a capable institution that you can plug folks into leadership roles, and as long as they have the necessary skills and ambition that there can be successes."

Ian Record:

"So in a nutshell what you're saying is that good governing institutions essentially empower the leaders to be effective."

Jamie Fullmer:

"I believe so. And there are those magnanimous figures out there that can, they don't need all of that around them to make it tick, but most of the people that sure does empower them to make wise and thoughtful decisions as opposed to reactive and crisis-oriented decisions."

Ian Record:

"Well, Jamie, we really appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to be with us. I've certainly learned a lot and I think Native nations and leaders across Indian Country will learn a lot from your thoughts and perspectives on not only what your own nation has been doing, but what's going on in Indian Country. We'd like to thank Jamie Fullmer for joining us today on this episode of Leading Native Nations, a program, a radio program of the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy at the University of Arizona. To learn more about Leading Native Nations, please visit our website: nni.arizona.edu. Thank you for joining us." 

Honoring Nation: Lance Morgan: Ho-Chunk, Inc. Economic Development Corporation

Author
Producer
Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development
Year

Ho-Chunk, Inc. CEO Lance Morgan share the lessons he and the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska have learned about the keys to creating an economic development environment capable of fostering successful nation-owned enterprises. He stresses the need for some Native nations to engage in constitutional reform in order to create that environment, in particular staggering the terms of elected officials to ensure a nation's institutional stability and, in turn, the strategic direction and advancement of the businesses it owns and operates.

Resource Type
Citation

Morgan, Lance. "Ho-Chunk, Inc. Economic Development Corporation." Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Santa Fe, New Mexico. February 8, 2002. Presentation.

Miriam Jorgensen:

"My name's Miriam Jorgensen. I had the opportunity to talk to some of you yesterday. I'm the Research Director for the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development and I'm more recently the Associate Director for Research for the Native Nations Institute. And as many have said already, that one of the most exciting projects they're involved with is the Honoring Nations program. And it's through the Honoring Nations program that I personally met our next speaker and then had the opportunity to get to know him even better through the program that Gail Christopher, your lunchtime speaker, runs, the Innovations in American Government program, because I got to do the site visit to Lance's program this past July and met with him, and he shared a lot of information about what he's up to both with the business, what the tribe is doing and about some of their ideas and goals. And that work then led, his work that I wrote about for the Advisory Committee, led to the award that he received for Innovations in American Government.

On one hand, Lance doesn't need a lot of introduction. The experience that I had with him is that he's just a remarkable guy, because one of the things that happens is that you spend just a few minutes with him and he leaves an incredibly strong impression. You feel, ‘Boy, I really know this person and I'd really like him as my friend and if he isn't my friend, I really don't want him as my enemy,' because this is one smart guy in terms of strategy, in terms of politics, and in terms of getting things accomplished. There are a couple things I want to say about Lance, that it's just a real honor to introduce Lance Morgan. He's a Harvard Law School graduate, he is a member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. I grew up in South Dakota and we tended to just kind of ignore that state down there. And he's a real family man. One of the things I really enjoyed about the visit that I made to visit his program is I got to meet his wife and one of his two daughters. He's somebody who really believes in investing in community and using his smarts to help move his community and his nation forward. He's really bright with economic development. He's a very savvy politician. He can tell many stories about how he's really stood up to the States of Nebraska and Iowa and the federal government and won his way in terms of sovereign rights for his nation and he's a real fighter for Indian issues. And the last thing I want to say about Lance is, when he takes the mic you never know what he's going to talk about. So he may talk about his winning innovation and he may talk about other things but I'm sure you're going to come away moved so I give you Lance Morgan of Ho-Chunk, Inc."

Lance Morgan:

"Wow! I'm really glad I caused something to talk about. I really appreciate that introduction. Miriam came and took the time to really spend some time and get to know us and we really enjoyed her visit. And I think it was really instrumental; our experience with the Honoring Nations program was really instrumental in us winning the Innovations in Government Award, which I think is kind of the big brother of this award, I'm not sure, but they seemed awful similar. And so I really appreciate the time and effort that everyone in Honoring Nations program...they put in on our behalf to do that. And I really appreciate coming down to do this. I've been traveling a lot lately and I was trying to think of a way that I could reasonably not come, because my family's been really pressuring me to spend more time at home, but I thought it was important to come down and share some of our stories and I really came down to talk about Ho-Chunk, Inc., but I've really decided that I don't want to talk about that all and as the time that I've spent here, just like Miriam suggested. I really only have one point to make and it's going to take about 15 minutes. I'm starting to take after my grandfather I think. What I'm going to do is generalize a lot and I kind of want to apologize in advance for that because every tribe is very, very unique and I think in order to do this without all these kind of side issues coming up or all these caveats or all these exceptions, I'm going to talk in very general terms. So I want...and I really don't want to offend anybody in this situation so I want to just apologize right up front.

Since we won the Innovations in Government Award and the Honoring Nations Award, I think we've really struck a chord and we've been visited by over 30 tribes, and we've put our information together in a package and we've sent it out to 40 or 50 other tribes. And so what's happened is, over the last 18 months, we've learned a lot of things and that's what I want to share, some of the simple insights from that. And we've really been on almost like a crash course of tribal economics. And what we've learned are really two simple things. And the first thing is something that's very obvious is that almost all the tribes are suffering from the same problems. We all seem to be having universally the same issues that we're all dealing with. And the second thing -- and this one came as a bit of a shock to me -- we were really forced to think about why we were successful. And the reason it came as a shock because I was thinking it was me and that's not the answer. And it hurt a little bit, but I'm over it now. Why we were successful, what are the reasons behind that? And what are the reasons behind some of the other tribe's reasons why they continue to struggle all the time? They had...we're not...we don't have a lot of money in our tribe and our corporation has grown to the point where we're projecting $100 million in revenues, which strikes me as absolutely insane. In 1995, Ho-Chunk, Inc. was in my apartment in the second bedroom, and so it's amazing. Our tribal casino makes $3 or $4 million a year. And how have we been able to take -- and Ho-Chunk, Inc. does nothing with the tribal gaming -- so how have we been able to go from literally zero to $100 million in revenue in that period of time? And I think it...this is why I was taking the credit, I was thinking it was me, but really it's a...we're really a product of our environment and that's what I want to talk about a little bit.

We've boiled down some of this that we've learned to a couple of really, really simple points and some of them have kind of coalesced here just in the last day doing some of these roundtable discussions. Harvard says sovereignty matters. Harvard says -- I've been saying this for years -- institutions matter. They say that culture matters. That's right, of course they matter, but what conditions in a tribe allow the development of the institutions that can effectively use sovereignty and still integrate culture? Well, in other words, the real question we should be asking is not the what -- what did Ho-Chunk, Inc. do to be successful -- is the why. Why were we successful, what was behind it? And to be honest, what we have done from a business standpoint to be successful is meaningless to this discussion because you should do something else. You should do what works for you. But the why, the why our government was willing to make such a radical change, was willing to do something we'd never done before and commit, at that point, 20 percent of all of their money to starting Ho-Chunk, Inc., everything they had, and a very poor tribe. Why were we willing to invest in that institution on a long-term plan when we were suffering from huge social problems and huge unemployment issues? What caused our tribe to make that radical decision and to also let go of that authority, that micromanagement over it, and set a system up that had a chance to kind of flourish and develop? And to me, that's really the issue.

And I didn't understand this, because Ho-Chunk, Inc. was set up in late 1994. I graduated from law school in '93. I worked at a law firm. I showed up and thought it was me, but really, as I've been there, I've realized that it was the product of a very, very long process. The tribe even tried to do this in the ‘80s and that I was...that my plan was really just the next step, was really just the next logical basis for it and the only reason we had a higher chance of success is because we had some gaming dollars; before they were trying to do it with smoke and mirrors. And so I've learned a lot. I've really been forced to think about that. We've learned that success in tribes seems to happen kind of randomly, somewhat randomly. One tribe does this here; the neighboring tribe is not doing very well. But there really seems to be two circumstances under which a tribe is successful and one of them involves kind of the really good individual, the great individual or this group of individuals, the super-motivated person. A tribe is a very unique place you get to work at because one person can make a difference there. You can...and if one person is highly motivated, they can bring others into the fold and make a difference. And I wonder, what I wonder when I see some of these programs up here, I wonder how many of them are motivated by, are the result of great individuals or great systems. And I think that if you're relying upon the great individual, it's probably a mistake because they probably don't come along that often. And so I think that you're better off waiting for number two or working on number two, which is the tribes who are successful tend to be successful because it's kind of a natural and kind of logical evolution of some of the systems that they put in place, the systems that kind of allow long-term continuity and stability. In other words, the success isn't random; it's really a predictable kind of factor in their environment if they have these systems in place.

So since the individual's topic is too hard to discuss because it's too random, I really want to focus on what I think that we learned about continuity and long-term stability. And all this is leading up by the way to the simplest of points and will be obvious soon. Most tribes are structured around their tribal council. Think about your tribal government. In the structure, the organizational structure of a tribe...I've seen lots of neat charts, but really what they are, the typical organizational chart in reality is very wide and very flat with everybody reporting up to the council, businesses, departments -- everything has to go through the council. And what that means is that a lot of times things aren't necessarily dealt with efficiently, they're forgot about, they're dealt with only when things go negatively. And it also has the additional side effect of making your tribal government incredibly dependent upon the skills and knowledge base of that tribal council. So the system is designed to funnel through the council and it's only as strong as the individuals on that council and that's a weakness, that's a weakness in my view. I'm going to back up a second here.

How can we ensure that those council members, since we're so dependent upon them, are good? And I was thinking and I want to say that I'm not an expert on this because I'm going to talk about Winnebago and what we used to do traditionally. And I'm just going to say what was told to me and I want it very clear that it's not my place to talk about this kind of thing typically. Traditionally in Winnebago, our leaders were the head of each of our clans and those leaders were selected by the women in those clans because it was felt that their concern for their family and their children automatically meant that they would pick somebody who they thought was knowledgeable...that was the best person and typically they picked the eldest person within that group, family group and the most experienced. Not always -- sometimes they would take somebody younger. It wasn't a rule that it was the eldest, it just typically was. So what we had was a system, a rational, traditional system based upon knowledge and experience. We had it kind of built into what we already did and change usually occurred at death. Not the next election. The reason we had this is because if we didn't, we would make mistakes and people would probably die. We had a cultural imperative for a rational system and that changed when the federal government forced kind of these constitutions on tribal governments and that changed the system dramatically. And when they did this, I can just imagine some lawyer in D.C. typing this up in the ‘30s, saying, ‘Well, this is a good idea', and someone said, ‘Sure, fine.' And there wasn't any thought whatsoever as to how to kind of institutionalize or introduce some of these already very rational processes that we had in place. It just happened. And we've been dealing with that for the last 70, 80 years.

The majority of tribes in our area have a tribal council that's elected every two or three years. This system is horrible, absolutely horrible for long-term continuity. I'm going to list a few things that it does and this stuff to anybody who's been with the tribe, this is not going to be earth shattering, but I think it's helpful to put it altogether. It creates kind of...these elections become all-or-nothing events and it creates a highly negative political environment on the reservation where attacking is the way to get on. There is no kind of getting on board, being part of the team. It creates a possibility of complete turnover of the elected representatives every two or three years. These new council members in this negative environment are often elected by attacking the current system. You don't get elected by praising the existing government. And so...it hasn't worked for us anyway. It used to be very...when we first started Ho-Chunk, Inc., it was very common to get elected by attacking Ho-Chunk, Inc. It was a very good way to get elected in Winnebago. It was very controversial at the time, which was almost the best way to do it. But this attack system almost forces the new council to tear down what's there. They almost had no choice. Their electorate expects it. It also leads to kind of inconsistent political strategy. You have no relationship with the local, the state, and the federal authorities. They don't even know who the next guy is. And it also hurts business dramatically. It really hurts your strategy. You have no continuity over a period of time. Business needs to be continually moving; it can't wait and stop for the election. You can't wait for the hammer to fall. You can't replace the CEO every couple of years and hope to have any kind of consistency in what you're doing. And the other thing is it also creates a lot of short-term thinking; both right after the election, you've got to make your big splash, and right before an election.

We joke that...one time we gave a dollar raise, the council did, to every employee at the casino before an election and we calculated how much that was over the period of a year and I said, ‘We only have...' I mean, you could win our election with 120 votes. We tried to work it out per vote and only a third of the employees were tribal members and it came out to an astronomical number per vote, what that cost the tribe. It was something in the tens of thousands per vote. But it was a very popular decision at the time and the tribe had money then to do that. And so before the election at least all kinds of really random short-term thinking and decision-making that has long-term implications that screws up long-term planning. And it makes it even worse when they don't...when it doesn't work and they don't get re-elected and the new guys come in and have to deal with that and tear that down and there really isn't any sense of long-term strategy in that stuff. So these tribes are in this kind of cycle, this perpetual cycle of starting over and unless the tribal electorate is incredibly rational in a very negative, in an environment that's likely to be very negative -- because that's your system for success to get elected -- unless they're very rational and elect the same people consistently over and over again, which does happen in some tribes -- some tribes they're all up for election and they reelect generally the same people -- unless they do that, the possibility of any kind of long-term cohesive strategy or continuity is very, very minimal in a tribal government that has its election every two or three years and everybody's up to bat.

In Winnebago, we're lucky and I didn't realize how lucky we were really, I mean I knew it was a good thing, but I didn't realize how lucky we were until we visited with these other tribes. We have staggered terms. We have nine tribal council members. Three of them are up for election every year and usually two or three are re-elected again. I'm going to list the nine, just the number of years that each council member has been on our council to give you an idea of what I'm talking about. And a lot of people when they get older will leave the council and they'll kind of designate some of the younger to start cycling through. It's very much a logical system, really kind of based behind the scenes on families and clan membership and stuff. But our council members are one year, three year, three year, four year, five year, five year, eight year, 14 year, 16 year and our tribal chairman is in his 16th year. And so I was going to do the math on it and do the average number of years there but I didn't have a calculator. My math skills are worse since high school. My guess is that's around six, six or seven. And what does that do for long-term strategy? Our tribal chairman was there in 1986 when we first tried to start a corporation. The Winnebago Business Code of 1986, he was there, he was behind it. So in 1993 or '94 we started again, of course he supported it. This made more sense, it was the next evolution in this process and these staggered terms, they have several kind of natural results. It reduces the kind of emphasis on the elections themselves. It prevents this kind of radical short-term thinking that we were talking about. There isn't this great push...because only two or three of them are going crazy before the election, but the rest of them can kind of hold them in. It also allows kind of naturally a long-term planning and a long-term kind of projects to continue to move forward. It automatically allows for kind of an institutional knowledge base to continue to grow. There is no starting over here. And the elections, I've never seen an election that's resulted in a firing of a key employee. I've never...because it doesn't happen that way because the rest of the people obviously support that person. And more importantly, I think it allows kind of a system where these institutions can naturally evolve because they're really focused on the long-term perspective. I think this not starting over is very positive. And I didn't know, I didn't really think about this in these terms until very recently. And I'll give you the two reasons or the two examples that popped up that caused me to start thinking why, that caused me to start thinking about the real benefit of an institutional kind of knowledge base in these situations.

And the first one was, somebody asked me recently, we have our corporation, we recently formed a planning department to go after government grants and a non-profit corporation to also bring in additional funding into our community. And someone said, ‘What made you think of that?' And the answer was, ‘Well, in '95 I was totally against it, in '96 we got a grant to do this.' So I said, 'Hey, that's pretty cool.' In '97 we didn't do anything. In '98 we got a low-interest rate loan through our own kind of efforts and we said, ‘Hey, this is a pretty good deal.' In '99, we got another one. In 2000, we got a grant to build a new office building. It was great for business because we didn't have to pay for it anymore; we got a new building. But in 2001, we learned that all these opportunities are out there that we're not tapping into. The non-profit will do it. And so one day I come back to my office on a Monday and there's a note on my computer from Friday that says, ‘Form a non-profit you big dummy.' It was to me, I wrote it because I didn't want to forget by Monday. But he asked me that question, ‘What made you think of it,' and it caused me to think, ‘Well, I didn't think of it.' It was the next step in the natural evolution of the internal knowledge base that we built up.

And the other example that integrates not just Ho-Chunk, Inc., but that integrates kind of the governmental side is, we recently just signed a groundbreaking tax agreement for gasoline on our reservation that recognizes our jurisdiction over non-Indians. And somebody said, ‘How did you do that?' And I did the same thing again. In '95 we took over the tribe's grocery store and you used to have to sign your name and write your ID number and get your refund from the state and I said, ‘We're not doing that anymore.' I said, ‘This only applies for Winnebagos,' and we said, ‘Any Indians a good Indian, we'll send you your money instead.' And so that was kind of a big deal for us. In '97, the Omaha Tribe next to us started a cigarette factory and they ruled that that's tax-free because they make the cigarettes on their reservation. I said, ‘Hey, that's pretty interesting.' In '98, they start selling gas tax-free, we supplied it to them through a loophole in Nebraska law. In '99, Iowa threatened to sue us because we were taking it to that state. So we went into negotiations, which went poorly and then they cut off our supply of fuel, which really just made me mad. And they were saying bad things about us, called us ‘shady characters.' And so we got in trouble. We called the governor and we didn't appreciate that. And so they said they would negotiate with us but they never got around to it and they didn't really...they put some feeble efforts in. And so we said, in June of 2000 after the second crack at negotiations, we said, ‘We're going to start our own tax.' And six months later we figured out a way to make it legal and essentially all we do is take the alcohol and blend it in with the gasoline on our reservation to make a charter product, similar to...and it's a manufacturing process similar to what we learned the Omaha Tribe did in '97. They made a manufacturing process and said, ‘Well, this is just our manufacturing process.' And it really threw them for a loop and we implemented kind of a political...we learned how to do that because we had a gas station business. Now, by the way, we have seven trucks and we sell 100,000 gallons of gas a day. This is like a year and a half later and we sell it to seven tribes now, but that's a different story -- all because Iowa really pissed us off.

We put together kind of...we learned how to do this from our business side but we had a legal element -- I'm a lawyer, our tribe's lawyer -- and we learned from the Omaha Tribe's legal experience in '97. And we had a growing kind of political knowledge because of the success of the tribe. And so we put together kind of a sophisticated political, legal, business-oriented strategy. We already had de facto control, we owned all the stations so we could pass any tax and apply it to us. And we offered to negotiate right off the bat. We always kept the lines of communications open. And anyway, that was in 2001, just a few weeks ago the governor signed our tax agreement that gives us, that locks in, that recognizes our jurisdiction and locks in a real good price advantage for our businesses that helps 70 of my employees keep putting food on the table. And that took years of natural kind of development both on the governmental side and both on the operational business side. And that kind of knowledge didn't just happen. People always...they come down to visit and say, ‘How'd you do it?' and really, it's a hard thing to say because it took a long time. It's a hard question to answer and this format has caused me to really think about that, how important it was to have the government stable and learning and developing relationships, how important it was for us to have a stable business environment that was learning these things and that was taking pieces from elsewhere. This strategy that we evolved would not have happened if the lawyers in a council meeting would have said, ‘Hey, we've got this problem.' They'd have said, ‘Well...' The lawyers probably would have only said, ‘This is how you'll end up in jail,' or ‘the state will do this to you,' and we probably wouldn't have went forward. But we had a business imperative to do this. We had jobs at stake, we had money at stake, and we found a way to do it using our knowledge that we had learned over a period of time and the reason we were allowed to do that is because our government is a highly stable environment.

And in summary, that's the point I want to make. In order to have any chance at long-term success, the tribes really have to structurally institutionalize continuity and that's a lot of big words in a row. But really what I mean to say is you need to change your constitution. And I'm not talking about the big changes, the ones that, the committees, the general councils, ‘We're going to go back to the old ways.' I'm talking about one simple tiny little change that will give you a chance at some of these kinds of successes. They'll be different than ours obviously, but just stagger your terms, allow your tribe the opportunity to have a chance at continuity and that will allow the natural kind of abilities and instincts and knowledge to form and flower on your reservation and that should lead to the kind of environment where these institutions develop, institutions that can take advantage of sovereignty, that get smart, that are Native American, and go forward on a cultural basis. And I realize that it's a very, very simple recommendation to make after the big introduction I got, but I think sometimes that's what you need to do, the simplest answer is the easiest. And I don't know if I have any time for questions but I'm done essentially."

Miriam Jorgensen:

"We do have time for questions, so if Lance would take a couple of questions it'd be great, so if you want to just raise your hand and pose the question to him, Lance will probably answer it. Are there questions?"

Audience member:

"Lance, in some of your fuel acquisitions and some of that, how have you dealt with kind of adverse public relations issues such as the large Petroleum Marketers Association lobbying and some other groups like that as well as the states, and you didn't mention Iowa?"

Lance Morgan:

"Oh, that's a funny question. We actually went to the...we were negotiating the tax agreement with Nebraska and the head of the motor fuels department was in our office and I said, ‘Do you want to go to a KKK meeting?' And she said, ‘What are you talking about?' I said, ‘Well, the Iowa petroleum marketers and Nebraska ones are getting together to talk about us.' And she goes, ‘Oh, I talked to them. I cleared all this up.' I said, ‘Well, let's go to lunch up there.' So we went and she's sitting...she had just said, ‘We need this information from you, I've got a report.' I said, ‘I'm not giving you that, that's going to put a gun to our head. They're going to use it against us.' And as soon as we walked in there, they started bad-mouthing Indians and they said, ‘We need to get this information. Nebraska's going to give it to us and then we can go after them.' And he said, ‘Because we could go down to the reservation and get it, but they'll probably throw you in the Indian jail. You know what that is? That's when they tie you to one of their slot machines.' And I busted out laughing. These people had no idea who I am and they're talking about they've got these lawyers and they're going to sue you if you try to say anything to them. It's basically they're just lying through their teeth to their constituents, see, and the head of the motor fuels department is sitting there. She goes, ‘I can't believe they're doing this.' I said, ‘See, this is what we're dealing with.' And so at that point she started talking in terms of ‘we.' ‘What are ‘we' going to do to deal with this kind of stuff?' And I said, ‘She's like Patty Hearst.' We were going to make her an honorary member of our tribe after that and they lost all credibility.

We took the time to educate Nebraska and then we showed them the dirty side of what we face. And the term we always use is 'jealousism,' that's our little term. It's not racism, it's jealousism 'cause they don't like it for us. We've lost our place a little bit. But we also did some other things in advance of before we started. We felt that the current taxation system was based upon the color of your skin and I think sometimes we're so used to making that distinction that we don't even think how crazy it is. You go on to the reservation, the Native American pays one price, the non-Indian pays the other. Now how in the hell is that right? Where else in America do you make a racial distinction based upon taxation? It's all about jurisdiction and it's all about...it's all about the entity. And I said, ‘We're not going to stand for this anymore' and so our PR campaign was going to be based on race. We were not going to do this anymore. If you come to our jurisdiction, you pay our tax and it sold with everybody. We had a reporter who wrote a couple weeks after we implemented our tax, on the front page of the Sioux City paper, she said, ‘A cashier...when you buy gas in Winnebago, the cashier has to determine the color of your...he knows what to charge you by the color of your skin. In Winnebago, race matters on what to charge and the Winnebago Tribe has implemented the race-neutral tax.' So we invented these terms, race-based taxation, race neutral. Republicans, they loved it. The Democrats, we give them a lot of money. So they basically backed off.

And the fact that we also were offering to negotiate...when we implemented our tax we wrote a three-page letter. The first half talked about how their legal system wasn't worth the paper it was written on and it was just very much rhetoric. And the last part talked about our strong, strong legal arguments that we put in place. The pre-emption argument, the fuel blending, the manufacturing, all these kind of things are very, very strong legal arguments on our side. We thought we had a very high chance of winning in court under this situation and at the end we said, ‘We will negotiate.' And we thought that if we said, ‘We will negotiate', that three, four, five months at least, we'd get to do this. And after a while everything died down and the state actually met with us in a very contentious relationship, contentious meeting, and when we laid out all of our legal arguments and all of the rationale behind it, they really got on board with us and then we did negotiate. The primary thing that turned the tide was we showed...on our reservation we have half the land and one third of the roads and you've got...the county got $1.6 million for excise tax money for gasoline to fix the roads and none of those roads are in our neighborhood and we got zero. So when we show our blending process and all our investment in these trucks and fuel additive things and gas stations and the people on the jobs and show how much money you're getting and how we're getting nothing, I said, ‘I can't wait to get to court with that. I said we're on a war footing.' And they said, ‘Okay.' But all this was planned. Our eventual goal internally was to get our tax agreement and that's all we wanted, that recognized our jurisdiction and we ended up getting it. But we did it with a combination of kind of PR, of political thing, of operational, of legal buffing, and it worked for us. But there was a lot of attacks along the way. But you've got to plan this out in advance.

We wrote a very interesting memo for the Sisseton-Wahpeton Tribe that balanced the business, who now have their own gasoline-blending and taxation system on their reservation. And it was not a legal memo, it was a combination legal and business memo that balanced these interests, talked about their PR strategy, talked about their legal strategy, talked about how to do this operationally, an all encompassing kind of thought process that you don't normally get in these environments. You only get those piece...tribes never quite pull those pieces together and we were lucky that we had all those pieces in our organization. And we now think strategically about how, and automatically about how to develop our sovereignty to strengthen our institutions. It's very strange, but it's kind of a natural evolution of what went on."

Audience member:

"Can you talk a little bit more about leadership in the business side of your programs and where or what is that continuity? Obviously you're a good example of continuity, but the other issue is what about other leaders within your tribe? And how is that coming with respect to, I guess, leadership development and how that works in terms of the business side of things in the different entities that you're working with?"

Lance Morgan:

"We talk about systematic approaches. We have the exact same thing on what we're doing. We have a general tribal preference of employees, but we target internally our best and our brightest. We've had every valedictorian the last several years working for us at some point, summer jobs or coming back from college. We have our own internship program. We've actually expanded to other tribes. We've had lawyers actually from a couple of other tribes come and work. They've stayed at my house and they work with us for a little while to get some insight into what we're doing. We've kind of...our internship program to me is my ability to directly nurture kind of the up and coming people. We've gotten so big now that some of our companies and departments are now going to start their internship program this year and we're just starting that so that they can have them too. We just hired one of our tribal members who just graduated, or is about to graduate from college with a computer degree to do research for us in our planning and non-profit company. And so we've kind of systemized it and now have expanded it.

On leadership on the business side, I think it's very important, and we talked about this a little before -- not here -- and I think tribes pass these corporations, they form these entities and then they just run off and they expect them to be successful. And I think the real effort needs to be when you form the entity. You have to set up principles of governance between the corporation board and the tribal government and you need to go through all the possible abilities of interaction from how do you handle your finances? How do you handle personnel? You don't want the tribe's personnel policies. You don't want to use the tribe's accounting system, you'll never get a check written; somebody won't sign it, they'll take the day off. You have to decide how you're going to send money back to the government, what you can retain. You need to do all of this stuff up front and we have a list of 10 or 12 things depending on the tribe and then once you have those, you need a leader with the courage to stick to that and hold them to it, because a lot of tribes have corporations that don't... and their CEOs are puppets and they just do what the tribal council says and they're afraid to make decisions.

I've had meetings with tribal councils where I've whipped out the long-term plan from 1994. I said, ‘Let me refresh your memory,' and I've read from it. And one of the sentences said, ‘If we did that, that would contradict the very reason for our existence.' Everyone else said, ‘Oh, yeah.' But if you don't do that up front, then you have no chance of saving it later because the tribal government is a very flexible dynamic entity. They'll adapt their mindset to whatever is politically expedient at the time, whatever they feel they have to deal with, they'll rationalize their approach to it. And so you have to stick...you have to do your homework and be willing to have the courage to stick to it and not in a disrespectful way. You don't have to do that. I have a lot of respect for our council leaders, but really sometimes you have to remind them...and since we have this kind of institutional knowledge base and memory of these things, people say, ‘Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Okay, okay. We can't do that,' and they deal with it some other way. And so it really isn't just leadership, it's planning and leadership and sticking to it over a period of time."

Helen Ben: Nation-Owned Businesses: The Meadow Lake Tribal Council

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Former Meadow Lake Tribal Council (MLTC) Chief Helen Ben provides an overview of the various enterprises owned by MLTC, an intertribal organization formed for economic development purposes.

People
Resource Type
Citation

Ben, Helen. "Nation-Owned Businesses: The Meadow Lake Tribal Council." Building and Sustaining Tribal Enterprises seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. March 29, 2007. Presentation.

"I'd like to thank you for inviting us I guess -- Vern [Bachiu] and I -- to your seminar here. It's nice to be here in this country like Vern indicated. Back home the snow is up to this high, so it's really a lot different for me to be able to wear a short sleeve shirt during this time. One of the things that I think that the bio here indicated is I've been involved in the education field for quite some time and that's the background that I come from. I'm Cree from Makwa [Cree language]. You didn't slaughter the name; it was actually very well done. The spelling is quite hard and it actually indicates, it says Makwa Lake and if you change the pronunciation just a slight little variance on pronunciation from Makwa [Cree language] to Makwa [Cree language] you're saying 'Makwa Lake' or 'Makwa nail.' So just a slight little change there and that's what it indicates -- the language that I come from. But anyway, I'm glad to be here and I'd like to thank the elder for doing a prayer for us. It's nice to have that. Back home we also do that, we always ensure that we always start off with a prayer because that's something that's important to us.

I'll just go into my presentation here right away here and hopefully I can see the screen quite well here. So we have been invited here to come and talk about our tribal council a little bit so we'll give you some background on that. Our vision is to create some health through our programs, create wealth through our business and create good governance through our political arm. We're involved with some forestry interests. We'll give you a little bit of run down on that, a little bit of history on that. We own a sawmill, which is named Norsask, and we're also in partnership in terms of Mistik, a forest management license that we are part of. We have some challenges in terms of ownership and we've been asked to lift our corporate veil and to speak honestly about some of our businesses and some of the challenges that we're experiencing with our tribal council.

A general description of MLTC (Meadow Lake Tribal Council): MLTC is the political program and service and corporate organization of nine First Nations in northwest Saskatchewan. And there you have a map that sort of indicates Saskatchewan as a whole there and the shaded area, the light shaded area, is where our tribal council lands exist. MLTC's goal is to achieve economic and social parity with the overall provincial population. We're composed of nine Meadow Lake First Nations, which we'll refer to as MLFNs, and MLFNs are signatories to either Treaty Six, Eight or Ten. We're composed of four Dene and five Cree [nations] and our population is approximately 11,000. We experience many of the developmental challenges common to most Canadian First Nations and our population is quite young. We were just talking about that yesterday, Vern and I, as we were flying in. We talked about our numbers and between the ages of 15 to 25 our population is 40 percent. So that's actually quite a huge number.

Good governance in creating health in political governance. Our first purpose is to protect and enhance the treaty rights of our membership. When they came together to form the tribal council, that was the first mandate, and we set up a government-type structure to govern our tribal council. And we also provide a lot of programs. We offer a full range of services such as things in health, education, etc., to our communities. Creating wealth through our corporate development -- resource development -- we have concentrated on participating in the resource development opportunities in our traditional territories. Some of our area of course is comprised of quite a bit of forestry area so we've been able to do that. We own a number of businesses. We own or have investments in ten businesses altogether and we own and operate our own investments. The following chart shows these businesses and will indicate some of the solid lines where we have some 100 percent ownership and some broken lines indicating investments and that will be on a short slide after this. Our gross sales: combined, our businesses have total sales of between $50-60 million. And we have a strong reliance on forestry, which is our main business interest and has been for quite some time. So 75 percent of what we do is in forestry.

This is our business investment structure that we have. These are some of the businesses that we're involved with. In forestry, we own 100 percent of a stud mill, which is Norsask Forest Products, and along with this we also have a forest management license and we own 50 percent of that. Meadow Lake OSB, which is located in Meadow Lake, which is where we're located, we have an option to buy 10 percent. Right now we have a one percent share on that. In energy, we have Polar Oil and what it is is a diesel and home, heating fuels, fuel cells that we provide to some of our northern communities and Resource Development, Inc., which are natural gas storage facility in the south area. Transportation, Northern Trucking 100 percent, we own 100 percent of that and what it is is a wood shipping trucking business that is an offshoot of our major business, our Norsask Forest Products. West Wind Aviation, 25.5 percent of that, and it's an air charter service that's located in Saskatoon and what they do is they provide air charter to the northern mines and so forth. Value-added agriculture, Ceres MLTC Fertilizer, 50 percent ownership in that one, which processes and markets ammonium. La Ronge Wild Rice Corp., which is -- one of our northern communities is La Ronge -- and we own, we have a little partnership with them, 21 percent. We process and market wild rice. Real estate, we own a warehouse within our lands in Meadow Lake. Hospitality, we have some shares within that also, Western First Nations Hospitality, 10 percent, and that's some Super 8s [motels] within Saskatoon, PA [Prince Albert], surrounding towns.

So our main focus is our forestry, the Meadow Lake Sawmill, and we'll give you sort of a brief history of this. Meadow Lake Sawmill owned and operated as a government-owned company. When it first started, it was an inefficient mill and it was losing approximately $2 million annually. In 1988, the government changed and the new government wanted to privatize the mill. So they approached the employees who then formed the company to buy 50 percent of the mill. They approached MLTC and they offered to sell us the remaining 50 percent. It was a new company [that] was formed, Norsask Forest Products, and a $3.2 million forestry license came with the sawmill. It produces 110 million board feet annually with an annual allowable cut of 400,000 of soft wood.

Some earlier challenges: there's always some challenges that come with a business sometimes. So some business challenges that we had to overcome, buying a mill. One of the challenges that we had was bringing together the unionized employees and nine First Nations to buy the mill. Of course this is not a recipe for business turnaround that you could learn from the Harvard Business School. So there was quite a few challenges that we had to go through with that. Turning around a money-losing sawmill was also another thing. This sawmill was losing quite a bit of money annually. So we invested heavily in the modernization of the mill and we hit a decade of high lumber prices and we had unrestricted access to U.S. markets. So we produced lumber in Canadian dollars and sold in American [dollars].

Some business successes, and this was probably the first thing that was really looked upon as the leadership at the First Nation level. The first dividend payment -- first time in history our communities have received a payment from somewhere other than the government from the tribal council investment. So it was really a turning point for us and it created a prosperity cycle. It created a cycle of prosperity as illustrated in the following chart. This chart here indicates our prosperity cycle. We started off with our forests, our lands and our traditional territories. There was some offshoots, some contracting out to First Nations. We had people out there at land base who were actually getting million dollars worth of equipment to do some of the work that we were doing with our forestry. There were some milling of course that happened with our mill there. And then some spinoffs, our Northern Trucking spinoff, who would haul some of the residual, the wood chips and so forth to other places. And then in the end, what it provided for our community was some community benefits. Those profits -- when accrued back to the communities -- they were reinvested in things like housing, some youth programs, some recreational programs and so forth.

Corporate success enhances political goals. Our forestry license falls within our traditional territories and that area here, the one in the red, is part of our traditional territories. We have been able to gain significant control over our traditional lands and forestry, which is a political objective through corporate means. So Mistik utilizes a system of co-management boards, which enables local people to have a say. They have a say in things like annual cutting plans, exclusions and contracting benefits. Legal structure challenge: in 1988 we held our interest to a limited corporation. We struggled to find a way to hold our interest free of income tax and we saw a limited partnership as the means to provide the liability protections and exemptions from income tax that we were looking for. We wanted to insure that there would be no liability back to the tribal council or any programs and services. So there was that link, we needed to make sure that that link wasn't there. After a decade of ownership, the employees were looking to sell out their interest. And then in 1998, we became 100-percent owners of the sawmill and we reorganized into a limited partnership to be more tax efficient.

There has been of course some governance challenges, as there always is sometimes. Board of directors, we have strict banking comments given that our leverage buyout in 1998. One such comment was it required our board to be comprised of independent directors. So it was a discipline that has proven very important and valuable to us and it has worked really well. We still maintain a board of independent business people and the political leadership today. There is a tension between those chiefs who see their role on the board as putting the needs of their community before the needs of the business and it's an ongoing challenge. There is an ongoing tension in the ownership of the sawmill and one of the problems is the fact that if a chief is a director, if he, is he or she representing the needs of the business or the needs of his or her constituents? And you always have that problem. Do they put their business hat on or do they put their community leadership hat on? And that's always a challenge because sometimes, in some cases, those are conflicting roles.

Ownership challenges: managing expectations. MLTC sweared the initial investment in the mill on behalf of the nine MLFN owners. The mill appreciated rapidly and we were starting to see some dividends back to the communities. We undertook a leverage buyout secured only by the sawmill and the mill was able to earn substantial income, which was used as follows. Some of that was used to pay down the purchase debt, reinvest in capital expenditures, and make substantial distributions to the owners. The trouble was that in this scenario, the tribal council ended up doing the work and bearing the risk, and there's of course some political risk that we also bear along with that. The individual owners, the First Nations, came to expect that this was the normal way of doing business and we have missed out on opportunities to diversify by distributing too much income to the owners. So that's one of the problems that we always have is we need to retain some money so we can reinvest for new businesses and so forth. But the demand sometimes at the First Nation level is so great that we end up having to shell out some of that money in terms of dividends.

So going forward, some of the business challenges: We need to continue to manage our business through the worst forestry, markets and decades so we can survive until times get better. We're the only sawmill that has survived in Saskatchewan. It's very difficult times for sawmills across the nation right now. There's a downturn of course of demand and it's really affecting us. Ownership issues, there are seasons to politics. While we have faced difficult issues amongst the owners, it appears that the chiefs are prepared to find a solution. And basically they're prepared to come together and continue working together and we're looking at doing some political renewal along with some corporate renewal and we've been in that process for quite some time. Succession planning: We need to develop and execute succession plans for how we will replace key management. Over the past few years, we have proven that we can do that. And some of the leaders that have been there, some of the managers that have been there have been for quite some time. And when they've been there for quite some time, part of the process you need to insure is that there is some succession planning that happens through time. And in fact Vern is actually one of the individuals that will be leaving us as an organization after awhile and setting up his own business. And we're looking at doing some succession planning there to insure. And in some cases, it may be what we would of course like to prefer is that we trade some of our own First Nations, but in some cases you don't have those individuals. So you may need to look out and have a plan in place where you do some of that planning as you go along and training as you go along. So diversification, we need to capitalize on the opportunities around us and diversify our business interests into other resource sectors. And actually we're well positioned right now to overcome some of those challenges and to continue to grow and prosper.

We have a few challenges in place, but we also have some doors opening in our area right now. I don't know how familiar you may be with the oil and gas and what's developing in our area. In the Fort McMurray area in the northern Alberta area they have a lot of success in terms of oil and gas development. And in fact that door is opening for us in our area, in our traditional territories. Some of our northern communities, there's some drilling that's happening right now and those doors are going to be opening. In fact they are looking at hiring a lot of individuals. So the challenge for us now is looking at our population, our population base of 40 percent of our youth and looking at training them and making sure that we're making those connections with some of the job opportunities that will be there. So those are some of the challenges that we have and these are some of the logos of our First Nations. And its nine First Nations that we work with and I work with nine chiefs at the table. And I've got some very good experienced chiefs at the table and I've been in this for just slightly over a year, a year and a few months so it's actually very exciting for me, too."

Lesley Kabotie: The Inherent Challenges of Building Reservation Economies

Producer
Native Nation Rebuilders Program
Year

Lesley Kabotie (Crow), owner of Kabotie Consulting, provides an overview of the fundamental challenges facing Native nations as they work to rebuild their nations and communities through the development of diversified, sustainable economies on their lands.

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

Resource Type
Citation

Kabotie, Lesley. "The Inherent Challenges of Building Reservation Economies." Native Nation Rebuilders Program, Archibald Bush Foundation. Cloquet, Minnesota. July 11, 2012. Presentation.

Lesley Kabotie:

"So one of the things when we're talking about nation building that people don't understand is it's really kind of ethereal. It's kind of out here in the universe and big concepts and yeah. But bringing it home, what does that mean to me in my everyday life when I wake up? What does that mean to me? And most of us, hell, even if we're educated we grapple with that. But here's something that I want to share with you that I share with tribal leadership in communities all the time because it's about context and it's about understanding the parameters. When we're talking about nation rebuilding or nation building, what does that look like? And this is about economics. This is particularly about the economic reality that we live in in this country whether anybody wants to be agreeable to it or not, it is the reality. And this is something that is easily replicable and I encourage you all to share this with your communities.

So we have over here the public sector. This is our economy and it's made up of three economic sectors. And over here we have the public sector and at the federal level, this is the federal government, at the state level this is the state government but at the tribal level this is also the tribal government. The public sector is responsible for putting up the infrastructure that allows us to live together as a community: power, roads, water systems, all of those kinds of infrastructure. So this is about the infrastructure. The private sector, and this is the things where our capitalistic society comes from. The private sector concerns itself with the sale of goods and services; we go shopping, the sale of goods and services. So the public sector is financed off of taxation of the private sector. The money derived from the taxes off of this sector are what pay for roads, water systems, all of those kinds of things. Now here's what it looks like in Indian Country. So over here, let me finish this, you have the third sector also called the non-profit sector. The non-profit sector concerns itself with all those things in our community that fall outside the interests of the sale of goods and services and systems. So we have our women and children programs, and our animal programs, our veterans programs, our Boys and Girls Clubs, all of the things that are about the social well being that fall through the cracks that our government can't handle and that private sector doesn't concern itself with. Now here's what this picture looks like in Indian Country and here's why economic development has multiple dimensions that people need to understand. This triangle is what makes the American economy -- even when we throw billions of dollars away -- this triangle is strong, structurally. It's strong. We can throw millions and millions of dollars away but it's triangulated and that's what makes our American economy really strong.

This is what it looks like in Indian Country. Our tribal government, we finance that off of the sale of our natural resources mostly, non-renewable natural resources mostly. So in Crow Country we sell our coal, that pays for our tribal government and our infrastructure such as it is. Our tribal government system is probably financed, I'm going to be really liberal here and say, I'm going to say it's about 65 percent...whoo! This is off of our coal resources. The only taxation we do in Crow Country is off of the development of our TERO taxes, which is every 15 years when the highway gets rehabbed, we're going to tax the heck out of them. That's where our resources are. In my community we have...we used to have a bakery, a bank, a gas station, a restaurant and a hotel. Now we have one lady who sells pop and suckers out of her home to the kids in our community. Our entire tribal reservation economy on the sale of goods and services, I'm going to say we are developed 30 percent and that's being very liberal. This is how much our economy has developed along this spectrum. So when we talk about fragile economies, we talk about the potential collapse, this is in Indian Country where these are. Across our entire reservation, I did a survey, there were historically about 32 non-profits formalized in the last 50 years. Right now active there may be...maybe four. So when we talk about nation building, nation rebuilding, to me it's kind of like the rebuilding element of it is about reclaiming our own sense of sovereignty as individuals. That's where the rebuilding comes back. But when we're talking about nation building, we're still trying to get a handle on this system and to not only control it but to activate it and make it work for us.

So when you're talking about the kind of enterprise that you're talking about, you're talking about using resources from the tribal asset base, which is influence and power to law make, you're talking about creating a nexus here to start driving this to evolve more. There are other opportunities too where tribal leadership may create a nexus here but the objective is to create...in the American system there's a whole...the federal government has given the private sector incentives to donate to the non-profit sector. That's what a 501(c)3 tax status is. It's the federal government saying, "˜Here you go, we can't give you money but we're going to give you this certificate that will incentivize them, go for it, get after them. If they will give you money, we will give them a break.' That's how this works to stimulate the flow of resources through that. Most people can't picture...when we're talking economic growth, they can't picture, and you know as I'm saying this, this is really liberal. Is our tribal economy developed this far? Probably not. The real line is probably maybe down here."

Audience Member:

"And you have coal, many of us don't."

Lesley Kabotie:

"I know. We can't all be Crows. [laughter] I'm sorry. But this is the picture that people have to understand because it eliminates our propensity towards fearfulness and reactive decision making because if you already have the legal structure to facilitate this, you already have the basis for being able to make headway. What you have to make an impact on is people's ability to wrap their head around, "˜What are you trying to make us do?' "˜I'm trying to make you open the gate here and put some resources in so we can start doing this.' Now one of the things that is also an issue here, like for example other nations are considering around the issues of diabetes. Diabetes is killing us. The magnitude of the epidemic of diabetes, if it doesn't get your limbs lopped off so that your quality of life is terrible, our children as young as four and five years old are getting diagnosed. One of the side effects of diabetes is sterility. We're talking about what's the trajectory of our population. We're in a major crisis here. What some other nations are considering is, "˜how do we finance if healthcare comes into tribal sector over here and the cost for care of one diagnosed adult and the subsequent health issues comes up to $900,000 per year for care and we have 10 individuals in our community with diabetes, we already spent our coal money on the care...' What are we going to do when healthcare falls into this? One of the things that is being discussed is, "˜What would it look like instead of taxing cigarettes that we start taxing pop, chips, all the crap that's killing us and we put that money into prevention?' What's the obstacle here? Tribal members saying, "˜What do you mean you're going to tax me? I'm tax exempt.' So most of the hurdles, and we all know this and this is why...kudos to Bush and to NNI to say, "˜We're talking about nation rebuilding, you don't need to just be god at understanding how to move the systems. You better be good at understanding how to move the people because the people will either shut you out or open the door for these systems to evolve the way that they can.' And sometimes it means taking the risk being the innovator and the risk taker to push people to understand this.

I find this simple little drawing far more effective in stimulating the meaningful conversations around, "˜What are we going to do?' We have the power to do this. We have the power to hook up with the Boys and Girls Club and empower them and try and get some more action over here. Sometimes what we see is our tribal government is mistakenly thinking, "˜We're not going to let them get half a million dollars because that's coming away from us.' What they don't understand is that half million will come from people who will never write the tribal government a check, ever, ever, ever. Why are you depriving your children and your veterans and gardeners from access to resources that the tribe will never be able to give them? It's all about context, it's all about context and I find that this is really a helpful graphic in just...people, when you see it right, we're all like, "˜Of course, because it's totally comprehensible. Just show me the stinkin' picture.' And that's what this is about. You can all replicate this and I encourage you to do so."