financial audits

Gerald Clarke, Jr.: What I Wish I Knew Before I Took Office

Native Nations Institute

Cahuilla Band of Indians Council Member Gerald Clarke, Jr. shares his thoughts about what he wished he knew before taking office as an elected leader of his nation.

Native Nations
Resource Type

Clarke, Jr., Gerald. "What I Wish I Knew Before I Took Office." Emerging Leaders seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. March 20, 2012. Presentation.

"Thank you very much. I just want to start by saying I'm really honored to be here amongst you. At various times you're asked to speak at various events or what have you and this one to me really matters. So I am very honored to be here and to speak with you. How many of you heard your community in the previous presentation? Raise your hand. Yeah, me too. Me too. My tribe went through what's called the GANN [Governance Analysis for Native Nations] with the [Native Nations] Institute back in April and the whole time they're going through this standard approach I'm shaking my head. Sometimes I'm laughing, sometimes I'm crying. But that's us. Right? So one of the things I would stress is you're not alone. There's a lot of us that are in a similar situation.

Just a little bit about me is I was a college professor for about ten years. I left reservation, went to college. I come from a long line of alcoholics and it was very hard for both my sister and I to stay home and to be around that and so we left and went off to college and then we got teaching jobs, both of us, at different colleges. Again, we worked; I was in Oklahoma for about ten years. And we kept our ties back to the reservation, we came home every summer, but it was just really painful for us to live there full-time and that's why we didn't. My dad was an only son and so he ran the family's ranch and when he passed away in 2003 I quit my job and moved home [because] it was always just understood that as the only son that's what I was going to do. And so that's what brought me back to the reservation back in 2003.

And so I'm going to be painfully honest with you this morning. I think there's power in truth, in being honest about the current situation. And so you can, once we get the questions, feel free to ask me just about anything. Okay, so a little bit about my tribe. In the introduction, it was near Palm Springs. It is not Palm Springs. It's 40 miles southeast up in the mountains, even farther economically. Our reservation was set up in 1875 as an agricultural reservation. The Cahuilla people, there's a variety of Cahuilla bands. We're some of the first cowboys in California. As the Spaniards settled, did the missions, they needed someone to work the livestock and that's what we've kind of done for the last couple hundred years. We have approximately 240 adult members and we have monthly general membership meetings of which between 30 and 40 people show up. That's where most of the decisions get made. We are not traditionally democratic. And that was one of the things, when I experienced this session back in April, was does your governing system match your culture? And we were not traditionally democratic. We had an inherent line of leaders called 'the net,' and that actually wouldn't have been my lineage, but what they said went. I'm very culturally involved and I like reading the old records and talking to people. One of the things that I've found that was very striking is that when the net said something, you just did it, you didn't question it or anything like that. Today, if tribal council says something, you get laughter. There's not nearly that respect that there was back in the day and so it makes me wonder. Sonny and I just met this morning, we were talking about how in America we stress that this democratically elected governing system is the system and we criticize all nations in the world who are not democratic, but I can't help but wonder if that system really fits my tribe or not. We may be looking for something different in the future.

So back in the 1910s, actually, what happened was my great grandpa Pio [Lubo] and five other men were involved with the murder of the superintendent of the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] on our reservation and they were all sent to prison. The real issue was the BIA not wanting to recognize the net and wanting to recognize their own person. And it ended up in this murder of the superintendent. They sent these men to prison and really kind of broke the chain really well that way. My great grandpa Pio actually died in prison; he never got to come back. But after that event, they imposed this Roberts Rules of Orders and this IRA [Indian Reorganization Act] kind of system. So we have five tribal council members that are elected -- chairman, vice chairman, secretary and two at-large members. These are non-paid positions. So each one of us has a job where we pay our bills and support our families, which is another hurdle I think that we struggle with. I think sometimes people think being on tribal council 20-30 years ago is the same as it is today, and there's just so much going on. I feel like I'm that guy --remember on the old like Johnny Carson [show] or whatever, spinning the plates and then you have to run back and keep them going? That's how I feel most of the time.

We have no constitution. We are a customs and traditions tribe, and that is something that is being looked at. It seems to me that we have a membership who likes to call on their customs and traditions when it's convenientand not necessarily consistently, and that has been a problem. All major decisions are made in these general membership meetings. The tribal council presents the issue, the grant opportunity, the resolution -- what have you -- and it's the membership who vote on approving that or not. Again, I said, 30 to 40 members actually show up to these meetings. So it's actually a small portion of the total voting membership who make these decisions. And I often talk about a silent majority. Our tribe I think has a silent majority who -- and this is part of the brain drain that was spoken of earlier -- we have a number of educated people within our tribe who, starting like in the 70s and the 80s, they went, got educated, they came back, they did kind of what I'm doing, got fed up and now they're off doing their own things with law firms or what have you. And so there's a silent majority who doesn't come to the meetings who has certain ideas, but it's this core 30 or 40 people who really end up making a lot of the decisions.

We could spend all day on this: ‘What I wish I knew before I became a tribal leader.' Accounting: it's important to rely on -- and I made this presentation specifically for the emerging tribal leaders -- you have to rely on your experts, your professionals trained in your field. We have a CFO [chief financial officer] and they are in charge of doing...bring an outside audit firm come in annually. They're in charge of overseeing the monthly financials. I wish I knew more about accounting, because just because they say something doesn't mean it's true. And when I got in office I found out that we were like four years behind on our annual audits and this is something that wasn't really relayed. They were saying, ‘Oh, yeah, it's going, it's in the works,' and just kind of pacified the membership, but it wasn't happening. So I wish I knew more about accounting.

Law. Tribal law. What a mess, huh? Nothing is black and white; everything is gray. It will be applied in some cases where it's convenient. And I'm not talking tribally; I'm talking the state or the feds even. And then if it's going to get kind of messy for them, they don't want to deal with it, they don't have the resources, they just don't apply it. There's no consistency at all.

Public safety. One of the things my sister and I -- whose also on council -- we tried to bring in our own tribal police and tried to get some grants to get that going, because I'm a firm believer that stability, safety, those things are core things that need to be done. In a way it's economic development, too. Who wants to come and invest in your tribe if there's no stability, if there's no safety?

ICWA [Indian Child Welfare Act]. I heard an ICWA person earlier, I forget who it was. Okay, over here. Wow! ICWA is kind of its own entity. My sister, in addition to be on council, she's our domestic violence advocate for a consortium of four tribes in our area. And when we first got in that, my belief -- okay, so you have a husband and spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend, they're beating each other up. We'll split them up, that sounds good to me. There's kids in every one of these cases, just about. What do you do with the kids? And so this ICWA thing is very, is going to be, for those of you who are just now getting on council, this is going to be something you're going to have to deal with. Hopefully some of you have your own social services programs. We don't. So the tribe really has to educate itself. We have a five-council team, so my sister has kind of picked up that ball and said, ‘Okay, I'm going to do what I can to study up and learn all about ICWA.' [Audience question] Indian Child Welfare Act, it has to do with custody, traditional tribal adoptions, all these kinds of things. It's very complicated. And the other thing -- and some of you in this room know this -- you're going to spend a lot of time educating other people about these things. The county, the state social workers, half of them don't even know what ICWA is either, and so you having to educate them.

I'm a rancher and I recently got involved with the National Conservation Resource Service about trying to get some grants for range improvements and things like that. And so I met with their tribal liaison and apparently I guess his credentials were he watched Dances With Wolves once or something, I don't know. He had no clue about tribes at all. He's the tribal liaison, so here I am teaching the tribal liaison. I went through a two-year process of trying to get my ranch registered and in the end he said, ‘Okay, all we've got to do is get a copy of your deed and we'll send it in.' And I'm like, ‘Wait a minute.' I said, ‘We don't have deeds. We're assigned on the reservation, not even allotments, assignments.' And he didn't even know anything about that, what to do. So that caused me another two years of going through all these systems, going to national conventions, and meeting with the USDA. And so a lot of time is spent educating other people.

IGRA [Indian Gaming Regulatory Act], gaming is big. I'm not a fan of gaming at all and so I allow another member of our tribal council to be more up on those things. But it's good to know. It's good to know your rights if you are thinking about gaming or getting into gaming.

Environmental protection. The important things to know... these are the things that I just brainstormed all the things that I deal with.

Taxation. Recently the Board of Equalization in California notified our tribe and asked us to give them a list of all the businesses on the rez so they could tax them. Pretty alarming when you think about sovereignty and such. And so we didn't participate. But it's good to know what your rights are in tax law.

Budgeting, making budgets. It's a constant thing that you have to deal with. Emergency management is something that is becoming more and hear it more and more within tribal governments. Working with FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Administration] is a complete headache as well. You see on the news, oh, they're helping this community and that community and it's not nearly as streamlined as they try to make it. It's not nearly as, really as helpful. They're coming from a national office, coming to your community trying to tell you what your community needs or what have you and it doesn't work.

State legislature and federal legislature. I'd never been to the state capitol until I got on tribal council; we've gone and met with representatives, been to Washington D.C. as well. I will say that one of the battles we have within our tribe is that some people want to get all tied up in the little local family disputes that are happening on the reservation and don't really understand you've got to go to your state legislature if you want to promote certain laws or you want to get certain help getting certain projects accomplished. You've got to've got to get to know these people. In California, we have term limits which means every two years we get to re-educate all the new people and so that again is another...I remember, ‘Get these career politicians out of there.' At the time I was like, ‘Okay, that sounds okay.' But now that I'm in politics myself, I see it's just a constant having to go back and teach them about sovereignty, about taxation issues, about gaming issues or what have you.

When I first got on council or before I got on council, I just saw, I would sit in these general membership meetings and I was like, 'Man, is anybody doing anything?' It just didn't seem like anybody was really doing anything. Once I got in office, I realized everybody's trying to do everything, and we've lost a lot of good personnel in our accounting department, tribal administrator, because you've got too many people trying to tell the employees what to do and it's really been a nightmare. And as far as a tribal leader goes, I think you have to have strength to say, ‘No, I'm not going to get involved with that. That's not my duty.' Recently, in the past year, we developed an economic development corporation, an LLC [limited liability corporation], and they elected a board of tribal members. And they're the ones that are involved with overseeing the management of the tribal business enterprises. So this is new just within the last year, and I can tell you that we have tribal council members who don't like it and who are constantly wanting to interfere with those enterprises. We do have a small gaming facility and the tribe has benefited almost nothing from that gaming facility, because when that passed and gaming came into California, a lot of unscrupulous backers swooped into Indian Country and a lot of tribes were taken advantage of and I feel like our tribe was one of those. And so this gaming facility is still open. I'm surprised with the downturn it's even still open because we are in a very rural area. It stands on this hill right where everybody can see it. It's almost a beacon of our failure. And Steve talked about [it], it's bad enough when outside people think you're incompetent, but it's when your own people think you're incompetent that it's really sad. We hope to turn that around.

And part of, I think, the turnaround is to get away from micromanagement. Let the businesses run themselves, allow your professionals to do their job. We had a tribal member who was doing a mulching project and there was some trash mixed in with the mulch and so tribal members were concerned, and they should be. We have an environmental program. We have our director who's a highly educated and trained professional. He went over there, he did a site visit, he did tests, he sent off samples for testing and he brought it back and he said that it was even cleaner than what they were claiming to begin with. The membership didn't like that answer so they...and it's like, if you have professionals, let them do their job and trust that they're doing their job. This micromanagement, it becomes very politicized. And Steve was talking about that earlier where, ‘Let's get rid of this person and let's get one of my cousins in there,' what have you. It takes strength as a tribal leader to tell your cousin, ‘No, you're not qualified. Maybe go to school and then we'll put you in there.'

It's not just a job, it's an adventure. Before I took office, I knew I'd have to go to meetings and I do think I've put on the 20 pounds, the tribal council 20 pounds, [because] I'm sitting all day in these meetings. But what I didn't know is I would be woke up at three in the morning with a car flipped over in the middle of the road or a domestic violence incident or a shooting or what have you. You can be a council member, but I think there's a difference between a council member and a tribal leader and it's all encompassing. You have to walk the walk to try to get these things done. But it's a lot more than simply going to these meetings.

Self-determination. I just put it down exactly how I believe. I should say my dad was full blood and my mom was a redhead from Texas and their marriage lasted about three years -- long enough for me and my sister -- but everything that could go wrong, miscommunication culturally or whatever. And my mom would say, ‘Those Indians,' which is a bad way to start. ‘They have all this land and they're just letting it lay and doing nothing with it.' I don't think she ever understood it's kind of nice that way, too. But one of the things...I heard all of that -- that we were lazy, that we never did anything for ourselves, we're waiting for the handout. But I've read Cahuilla people are very self-determined people or at least we used to be and when the reservation was formed, the only thing that the Cahuilla people wanted from the federal government was a paper defining the four corners of the reservation. We didn't want free housing, we didn't want any of that stuff. And my dad was the chairman in 1970 and he was trying to bring these free houses in through HUD [Department of Housing and Urban Development], or whatever program it was back then, and it got voted down. And his mom -- my grandma -- voted against it. And he was all mad [because] he was trying to help his people. But I don't think, I think the older people understood that you help yourself. And that's been a really tough struggle for me, is when is it helping your people and when is it enabling your people? That's a very hard thing to deal with. And so I heard that a lot, that we wouldn't do things for ourselves. Now that I'm in there and I'm trying to get some things going, the BIA, other federal agencies, the state, they don't want you to do any of this stuff for yourself, they really don't. This is my perspective.

My sister and I wanted to have our own tribal law enforcement and we have got nothing but criticism and friction from our county sheriff who has that coverage area. A tribal member, who is actually a cousin of mine, pulled a gun on me and my uncle in front of my house and I was able to diffuse the situation but my wife called the sheriff. Anyway, I went to bed by the time a thousand lights pull up, and I had to get up and he said, ‘Okay, we had a call about a gun.' I was just like, really? I could have been out there dead. We don't get service. We wanted to serve ourselves. And think, with the state budget crises throughout the nation, the more the tribes do for themselves the less the state, the less the federal government has to do. But they don't want it. It's easier to keep the status quo. I'm also in the process of starting our own fire department and again through Cal Fire, again in California, nothing but hurdles thrown at me to start this up because if we start answering our own fire calls on our reservation then Cal Fire can't answer them. So their call volume goes down, guess what, they get less money from the state for that station. So I go to these meetings and they're talking about reimbursements and budgets and things and I'm like what about health and safety? So keep that in mind that just because you want to do it doesn't necessarily mean that other people want you to do it.

It really has...I don't want to present myself as I have all the answers. Really, it's been a struggle and the age thing I think is also...I see some younger people in here. It's strange -- I just turned 45 years old and it's strange to call myself a tribal leader. I was always raised to respect the people older than me, the elders, and it even is spelled out in our creation beliefs. But at the same time, and this is part of that truth element, I've seen some older people who are making decisions not based on the benefit of the tribe or the whole, the community. And I'm ashamed to say that and I feel guilty for saying that -- again for how I was raised -- but I see that and I want to put that out there because it's a conflict for me in these meetings to have to go against people that are older than me. But it's something that as a tribal leader you have to deal with. Again, my dad passed away, he was my go-to guy and then another elder who was my go-to person passed away a couple years ago. So right now I'm kind of looking for that guidance a little bit. And if it's not there, you've just got to go with your gut instinct of what you feel is right I think.

Another issue is tribal time is not the same as state legislative time; it's not the same as county budget time. Our creation story tells us about the creation and nothing happens overnight, everything takes time. And when I got on council, ‘Ah, I'm gung ho, I want to get this done and get that done.' And now I see I've got to slow down and really think about things and plan and try to do what I can while I'm in there. And what I found, another thing I found is it's all about, what is it about? It's all about communication. I've sat in general membership meetings where there's like two factions fighting, but it's obvious that they both agree, they're both on the same page. Yeah, okay. But neither side kind of understands that they're both agreeing and I'm just like, wow, this is... Communication. What a rare skill, to really be able to get your point across and to have other people understand. Our meetings are horribly long and a lot of it is just lack of communication. I think it could be cut in half if it was a little more efficient and people had that ability. And it's tough; it's definitely an art. Keep it simple. Keep it concise. That sounds funny, to rehearse, but I rehearse a lot before I go into my meetings so I can present it in a way that's understandable. Because you're in the mix, you're the expert in that issue because you're the one fighting with the county or working with the BIA or whatever. And then these people come in once a month so you've got to be able to relay that.

So there's that tribal time, you've got to have patience even if you don't get something accomplished. And like the police [force] that my sister and I were trying to do, it was voted down I think [because] some people thought we were trying to be Big Brother or something as opposed to just public safety. But maybe you introduce the idea first. Maybe it gets shot down. Maybe next year, okay, let's relook at that or what have you. And if you can kind of get the current going maybe eventually it'll happen.

This was some advice that was given to me back when I was teaching in Oklahoma from a man who I respect a lot. ‘Do not expect the same of others that you would expect of yourself.' I'm not a very good delegator because I don't trust anybody to do as good of a job as I could do. But what ends up happening is I get overwhelmed and overloaded and then it doesn't get done very well or at the last minute. So trust the people around you. If you expect the same out of them as you expect out of yourself, you're going to be disappointed for the rest of your life I think. So you've just got to check your expectations a little bit, do your best, absolutely but don't expect that out of others. I think that's all I've got. I appreciate the time and I guess we'll have questions later, so I'll be happy to answer anything."

Jason Goodstriker: Addressing Tough Governance Issues

Native Nations Institute

Former Blood Tribe Councilor Jason Goodstriker discusses how his nation went to great lengths to instill financial transparency and accountability to its governance system.

Native Nations
Resource Type

Goodstriker, Jason. "Addressing Tough Governance Issues." Emerging Leaders Seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. March 26, 2009. Presentation.

"Thank you. Good morning, everybody. Great to be here and thanks, Manley [Begay]. You're very kind and congratulations again on last night. I've put in a lot of years myself and I know about getting over the hump. I was just coming down here to the group to be...I was excited about speaking. And then I see a lot of my relatives here; these are the North Blackfeet from Siksika. And Vincent and I have been friends. And it's just like that; just when you get a chance to get out of town and be far away, somebody from home shows up. It's good to see all of my friends here. We have...I've got to start with a joke. So we were talking yesterday about people that can remember back. And these three Indians were sitting there talking to each other about how far they can remember back. And the first one says, ‘I can remember back to going to residential school, when they took me and brought me there.' And the second guy, ‘Ah, that's nothing.' He said, ‘I can remember back farther than that. I can remember my grandfather holding me and giving me my Indian name.' And the third one says, ‘That's nothing.' He says, ‘I can remember going to the powwow with my dad and coming home with my mom.' I can't tell jokes like that at the powwow; since there's no kids here. Chief [Michael] Mitchell and I were able to go golf yesterday, with the kindness of the group here. And so we were able to go out. And I was telling him, I said, ‘Chief, why don't we switch presentations? What I would have known now and that type of thing.' And I said, ‘I'll just go up there and I'll talk about nothing but booze and women.' And that was kind of what we were joking around about on the course. But anyway, there's great stuff that I think I would encourage you to do.

And I'll tell you a little short story about a friend of mine; he's a colleague. He's one of the chiefs out in the Atlantic. And Rick Simon is one of the regional chiefs that I served with. How many of you can shorthand? I know there's some people in here that can shorthand, maybe one or two people. You know how to shorthand? Anyways, it was a little skill that they taught many, many years ago for a lot of people that were in media. And Rick Simon went to journalism school. So when he was elected -- and this goes back to the early '90s -- when he was elected he used to sit there -- and right up until now he's still sitting as the Atlantic chief -- and he would shorthand verbatim in black notebooks, his journals. And he has word for word what all was spoken in every major Canadian political event, all of the assembly meetings, everything. He has it word for word written down, who said what and at what time. And he has about 50 volumes of this of just handwritten notes. And I asked him, ‘What are you going to do with that?' And he says, ‘Oh, I have plans.' But for those young leaders that are here, you'll always think back. And I moved, my wife and I, we moved to Calgary and I looked back at all my old notes. Keep the good stuff. Keep the good stuff around and you'll reference that in the future. You'll go back to that stuff and you'll think about, ‘Geez, what was I going through then.' And write down notes. Take notes. Take good notes, even if it's a small journal. That's one advice. Second advice I would say, always, always, always -- never forget -- bring business cards, everywhere. You never know who you're going to run in to, whether it's on a plane or in a hotel lobby or wherever it is, always bring business cards; don't ever not bring them. A couple tidbits.

Anyway, excuse me. While we get going I want to run through this real quick. And this is just a presentation that I'd done at an auditing. I have finance background. I have an accountant and a few people that I've traveled with that have been part of that. I'm in this, the Haskin School of Business in Calgary right now, and like Manley mentioned, this is only my first semester taking a couple courses. I'm an arts and science guy going into the MBA. And the MBA, I don't have no B Comm, I don't have no Management or anything like that. All of the stuff that I learned is from the street. And so it has its pluses and its minuses. I don't know if you've ever seen the movie Back to School with Rodney Dangerfield. That's me. So they kind of go through the theory and then they look at me, ‘How does it really work out there?' So we go through the bit.

Most of these speak for themselves. The context of the audit; when it comes down to the audit and financial process, there's a lot of -- in fact this morning I was talking with a tribal official up in Montana and she said that there was a lot of mishandling. Everybody seems to love this discussion of Indians mishandling money, especially when it comes down to big money and all that. And it just seems to be a vacuum of a microscope. Well, that's not always the case. And you look at this. I don't work for the New York Stock Exchange. I didn't come down here to bash Americans. I want to come back again. The context, look at else who has problems: Conrad Black, AIG, Lehman Brothers, Freddie Mac, the treasury. And what it all amounts to is trillions of dollars in losses, rescue packages; they're big. And when it comes back to how we build this, it really -- there's a slide that's coming up -- and what it is it's laying the foundations and the base for many of the doings that you're going to do.

What else has happened in we discuss many of these items here, I'd like to point out that setting the foundation for the community is important enough that we go about and we've got to establish the relationships of your community with not only itself -- it's a healing process -- but also with outside communities and your towns -- the little racist towns that we all grew up with in the area. You have to bridge those, make those bridges, make those inroads and that's quite important, which kind of leads to where it is our involvement was. There's many, many things that have been mentioned a little bit. The United States and Canada coming out...back in the day, in the old days of Indian leadership, especially in Canada, it's written out what the delegated powers of chief and council are. And for the most part, pre-1960s they were talking about fence lines, they were talking about cattle projects, they were talking about agriculture, they were talking about a lot of simple things, but they were difficult and they didn have their challenges. As you ramp up the experience to today, you look at your authorities and what you have to decide over: health, education, social service, the safety nets, economic development. So you're dealing with a gamut of things and you have to be that much better prepared, which makes it quite a challenge for all of the new and the young leaders here today. And I don't need to tell you all about that.

So one of the things that I...(See, I get paid by the slide. That's why I put lots of them in here.) In terms of the auditing process -- and these are again just helpful notes and I would encourage you just to look at them as we, as you head home, head on the plane, but I'll kind of build it all the way up to page eight, if you look at it, cleaning up. And what's the easiest thing to do when it comes to the process here? It's an important concept. Tomorrow and today's walls are built by foundations and the foundations is the finance process. It is traditional, it is language, it is culture, it is having foundations of who you are as people, but when you look at it through a finance point of view you have to build the integrity of your people through the finance process. And that's the language that the Bureau reads, that's the language that funding grant people read, that's the language that the government and banks and loaning organizations -- they all read that. And so when you're prepared and you're designed properly, the dreams of economic development, the economic development projects, if you need a line of credit to do a budget overrun for one of your departments, you have to have the financial integrity all there and together. And that's, that can be quite a challenge because you've got to build that house almost by hand and brick for brick. It's exciting work; it's tough work. And the case study that... We never think about ‘we're in governance.'

Ten years ago, when I was in office, I never thought, ‘Well, this is a governance thing. I want to do it this way and I hope that it's going to get done.' What happened was is we had a $5-6 million project -- we were partnered with another group, they had $5-6 million in, the federal government had $4 million in on this project -- and it tanked. The year before I was elected in 2000, in 1999 the telecom market blew out. And so we had a $14-15 million project that was in our face. Anyway, I had nothing to do with that and I took office. So here I am. I put this project into receivership, wasn't popular. [I] went to the Band meeting and oh, they came in on me big time. ‘You...!' And I was just sitting there kind of taking it all in. And it wasn't fun, it wasn't easy. So I was thinking: there's got to be a better way to deal with this.

Now in most finance processes with communities, whether it's Bureau or reporting, all that mechanism, it always comes back to the audit -- audit, audit, audit. So on the money side -- when it comes to the audit and the discussion of this -- those Band meetings, you sit there and everybody's kind of coming in on you and you're discussing money spent. Well, I was sitting at home watching TV and the Canadian government was just getting ready to present their budget. And I was thinking of how to transfer interest. How is it that I can transfer interest? [Because] as one of the minor chiefs, I was made chairman of finance. So I was sitting there and watching and sure enough I thought, ‘Okay, I'm going to do it this way.'

So I went into the finance meeting. I said, ‘Let's make a budget speech. Let's make a budget speech and let's create this.' ‘Okay.' So 27 departments, we had $140 million to decide. And it's changed dramatically since then but these are 10-year-old numbers. So we had all of the millions of dollars, so we -- and this is the regular budget process where everybody submits their budget, then there's two percent that's discussed. And what happens is you decide, you cut here, you add there and then you make it process. The old way, in council chambers -- and we even used to smoke. When I was still sitting, when I first was elected you could still smoke in council. I don't know if many of you can today. But it's a smoky room, maybe there's one woman in there and you pass the budget and everybody kind of grumbles and they walk away. Well, I never figured that that was good enough. And so transferring interest and transferring ideas was we started to concentrate on the budget.

So the budget process, we got it passed. And just like the Canadian Parliament, I put on new moccasins -- like the finance minister puts on new shoes -- and the speech from the throne comes through and I said, ‘Okay, here it is,' counted my votes -- never bring anything to a council unless you know where your votes are -- counted my votes -- I knew it was all there -- I had a seconder so the chair turned it over to me, cameras went on and I started reading. ‘Tomorrow's education is a priority for the Blood Tribe members and because of that we see this design and that design and we are dedicating to this budget year $5.6 million. Health is the priority of the future...' and it went on and on and on and on. So there's a budget speech and right at the end -- as if I wasn't dancing enough -- right at the end I put, ‘and God save the Blood Tribe, the Blackfoot Confederacy, and God Save the Queen.' And that's how most budget speeches end. So they kind of end like that. And that was exciting enough for me. But on top of that we took it to the streets. So we voted it through. The council liked it; we voted it through. And to this day, it's still the process that exists.

So we rounded up the media, not just the tribe, the whole media around southern Alberta, Calgary. So they have satellite trucks, big scrum, five, six cameras and we released the budget. So the white people were like, ‘What are these guys doing?' The Bureau people were like, ‘Wow!' They couldn't think of it and they couldn't think of how much words to put behind it because there we were front and center outlining the money that we're dedicating to this, to health, education, Ec. Dev., Ag., all of the line items. And so that night, just like they would be reporting the Canadian budget, they were reporting our budget. And on the teleprompter, they're flashing $5.6 million, $7 million, $10 million, $12 million and it's going on and on. And people are like, so that's what's going on on the reserve. And it diffused all of the anger related to audits. So as that would come to an end, that's how we transferred -- instead of thinking about the old, think about the new. I never thought that I'd be in Arizona ten years later when I designed that, and never thought it was governance, but it ended up being something like that. But it's being creative.

So in the end, I just wanted to say that there is a finance crisis going on right now. If you built a house of bricks, you're going to...because one thing Indians we know how to do, we know how to be broke. And maybe that's what we have to teach the world through something like this that we've experienced over the past year we have lessons that we can help better with. So again, just on the final page, final slide I just wanted to, there's my contact information. I do have cards. I'll be again open for questions, but I'll wrap it up right here and I'll just say that one of the involvements of our group, Treaty 7, and it's an idea that we brought forward and we've passed it. NCAI [National Congress of American Indians] is the thing down here; up north it's the AFN [Assembly of First Nations]. But more than that, we have a big, major, major, major gathering in July and I want to invite you to that. I have contact information -- 633 chiefs in Canada, one million Indians in the land north of the 49th, and [in] July we're voting in our new national chief. I don't know if the current one is going to run again. I served with him. It's going to be in Calgary and we're anticipating about 5,000 Indians, right after the stampede. So after the cowboys are gone, the Indians will be there. Again, thank you and that's all I have to say." 

Ned Norris, Jr.: What I Wish I Knew Before I Took Office

Native Nations Institute

Tohono O'odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris discusses some things he wished he knew before he took office as chairman of his nation, and shares some strategies that have worked for him as he works with his fellow leaders and the O'odham people to strengthen their nation.

Native Nations
Resource Type

Norris, Jr., Ned. "What I Wish I Knew Before I Took Office." Emerging Leaders Seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. March 23, 2011. Presentation. 

"Wow, Chairwoman Miles. I cannot disagree with anything that she shared with us today. That is so...everything that she said has been so true about leadership. And I'm sitting here and I'm listening to you and I'm listening to her comments and she's kind of going into a little bit more of her experience in those situations and I'm like, "˜Wow, I thought I was the only one that had that kind of an experience.' And I admire you. You may not want to do it again, but you need to do it again. You need to do it again. Your people need you in that way.

Well, I wanted to start out with a quote. I usually try to do that, starting out with a quote and ending with a quote. And the quote that I want to start out with, people ask me over time -- like Rebecca [Miles] said -- I serve my people, started in 1977. My first job with my nation was the assistant director for our children's home and I've served in some capacity since then and continue to serve today. And people over years have said, "˜How do you do what you're doing? How do you get to where you're at? How do you become the success that we see you at or being?' And I don't know the answer to that, but there's a quote here that I wanted to share with you. It says, "˜There are no secrets in success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.' Preparation, hard work, and learning from failure. And that was Colin Powell who is attributed to that quote. And when I think about the question, when it's asked, "˜How do you become the success that you are?' I knew in 1977 when I took my first job with my nation that I wanted to do the job that I'm doing today. I knew in 1977 when I came out to my people and I saw the situations that we were faced with that I wanted to do the job that I'm doing today. And so consciously and subconsciously, you kind of prepare yourself over the years. And there are things that happen in your life, there are definitely things that have happened in my life that probably wouldn't, shouldn't have given me the opportunity to serve in this capacity that I'm serving as chair of my people. And we think about some of those things and we think about what are we doing, how do we prepare ourselves to lead, how do we prepare ourselves to lead a nation, and what does that even mean?

Somebody asked me when I was preparing to go to my first day in my capacity as chairman of the nation, of the [Tohono] O'odham Nation, and they said, "˜So what does a chair do its first day?' And it kind of -- as Chairwoman Miles had indicated -- you kind of come into this thing not really knowing exactly what it is -- in my term -- I got myself into. So what does a chair do on his first day? I don't know what a chair does on his first day. I've never been in that situation before. So I go into my office and I sit there, I sit in the office and I'm looking around, my wife's with me, one of my grandsons is with me. And I kind of look around and I think to myself, "˜Oh, my goodness, what did I just do? What did I get myself into?' And the reality of this whole leadership thing, this whole Chair of the Tohono O'odham Nation, chair of a people that's 28,000 members strong, chair of a land base that's 2.8 million square acres in size, and I thought to myself, "˜Wow, what is this? What am I going to do?'

And so I think everything that Chairwoman Miles has said, you've got to begin to think about, 'Okay, what is the condition of the O'odham Nation as I'm coming into office?' And she talked about campaigning for change. One of the things that Vice Chairman Isidro Lopez and I did when we campaigned, and to date this creative time of year is campaign season for us, because my term as chair will end unless I'm re-elected in May, in a couple of months now. But when we were campaigning for this office, we were campaigning not for change. We were campaigning not to say, "˜We promise you this, or we're going to do this when we get into office, or we're going to address these kinds of issues when we get into office,' because I knew in doing that, I knew in running for this office that I don't know what it is going to take in order to make those kind of changes. People are going to remember the commitments that you make. People are going to remember, "˜Well, you know, you said when you were running you're going to get rid of so-and-so. Four years later, they're still here, why haven't you done that?' No, we can't do that. You can't campaign on the platform of change in that way.

And as other comments were made, you're establishing your leadership. So what does that mean? So you establish leadership and as a leader you're a problem solver. What kinds of problems...and there's a lot of things that you inherit in the office from previous administrations. There are things that you realize need to be addressed or there are things that the previous administration has done that you want to try and continue. And regardless of who started addressing that particular issue, you shouldn't be so concerned that people are going to say, "˜Well, the only reason he's doing it is because Chairperson So-and-So started that.' If you believe in your heart that that's the best way that you want to move forward on that particular issue, why reinvent the wheel? Why go back and say, "˜Well, you know what, I didn't agree with that administration so we're going to do it this way,' and it all ends up accomplishing the same task, the same thing. It makes no sense.

So one of the single aspects, the [most] difficult single aspects of my job was thinking that after some 30 years of service before being elected as chairman, that I knew everything. Because in getting into the office, I realized, after 30 years, Ned Norris, you don't know everything about the government, the tribal government. You don't know it all. Yet, in the back of my mind thought, "˜I've got 30 years of service, man, I'm going to come in here and I'm going to do a bunch of stuff,' not realizing that that bunch of stuff that I want to do isn't going to happen overnight. So that was difficult for me thinking in my mind, in the back of my mind that I was going to be able to make the kinds of decisions and make the kinds of changes that we needed to make because my 30 years was going to help me do that, and it didn't. And so I guess that was probably one of the surprising, unexpected aspects of my job as well, with what I do as well, is coming to terms with the fact that you don't know it all. And your 30 years of experience -- granted, yes, will help in many ways -- your leadership, your direction, but you don't know it all.

I think there are a lot of of the questions was, 'Were there topics, for example financial literacy, federal laws that you had to play catch up?' As I was introduced, I spent some 14 years as a tribal judge, as a non-attorney tribal judge and in my different academic experiences and different work experiences I've come to understand federal law, tribal law, state law and so on and so forth and how it works or how it doesn't work. And then in my experience a little over ten years working with our gaming enterprise, I really began to understand this whole concept of making money -- foreign concept to us as Native people because we've never had any money. We really never had any money to make and so I think that those experiences really helped me better understand the nation's finances.

And let me share this story with you because it was kind of a lifesaver for us, the Tohono O'odham people. But I don't know how many of you take time to read your audits. Sometimes... we get audited every year, many of our nations do; you have to anyway. And how many of you take some time to read your audits? I guess that's one of the first things Vice Chairman Lopez and I did when we got into office. My gaming experience said, "˜Okay, what have our audits told us the last five years?' So I said, "˜I want to see what those audits look like so let me have those audits for the last five years.' And I started looking through these audits and I started to see that there was always this ending balance of $5 million, $10 million, $15 million that appear to just be sitting there as a result of an audit. And so I asked our tribal treasurer, I said, "˜What is this dollar figure here, what does it mean? Go back and reconcile those years of those audits and come back and tell me what those dollar figures are.' And the treasurer did that. The nation, the Tohono O'odham Nation, when we came into office, we were spending more money than what we had. We were in a deficit where, and for historically the Nation has always been in a deficit spending more money than what the general revenue fund had. But what the treasurer came back and found out was, you know what, that's unobligated money from the previous fiscal years. That's unobligated money from the previous fiscal years. And what he ended up finding was $60 million of unobligated money from previous fiscal years. And I thought, 'My goodness! Jackpot. Jackpot. We can redo the budget, we can put ourselves in the black and we might have a little bit of money to start addressing some of the issues, some of the things that we wanted to address during our administration.'

We got elected in May of 2007, four-year term's coming up May of 2011. The recession hit. One year into our administration, our revenues, our projected revenues of 'X' millions of dollars from gaming was up here, just about a year after our first year of our administration was now plummeting down to here. And so what we've been able to do is survive these last three years on that surplus of revenue. And so I share this with you because I think having an understanding of big financial situations, financial structure, I think it's critically important to a tribal leader to understand. And even if you don't understand it, you've got resources I would hope within your tribal government that will help you better understand those. I've worked for my tribe for years and we had to make sure we understood where every single penny was. I'd get an invoice across my desk for $2,000 or $3,000 and I'm saying, "˜Where the heck are we spending $2,000 – $3,000 on?' In the gaming business, I'd get invoices across my desk and I was going to pay a single bill $20,000 - $25,000 and I'm like, 'My goodness, what are we spending this money on?' But that's not uncommon in that particular industry. And I'm not suggesting that we not make sure that we hold ourselves accountable. We have to hold ourselves accountable, but we need to understand big finance. We need to understand that, that's critical.

In addition to Chairwoman's comments, is there anything you wish you had done differently? When you get into office and when I got into office, I had every intention of making my presence available to our O'odham public -- to those villages, to those districts, to those communities. I wanted to be able to go out to them and just sit in the back of the room in their community meeting or their district meeting and listen to what and do that on a regular basis. And after...and over the years I'd comment, 'Once you get into office you get sucked into this hole and you can't get out.' Well, I got sucked into that hole and you don't realize it because you've got an enormous amount of issues that you're having to deal with. You've got an enormous amount of decisions that you need to make. You've got an enormous amount of direction that you need to establish that you just get so overwhelmed that that simple idea of going out to the communities and meeting with the folks and keeping that contact and sitting in the back of the room listening to what they have to say, it sort of went away, unintentionally. So I think in that respect what I would do differently is you've got to make time to be able to do that. You have got to make the time to sit back and go to the people that you've been elected to serve regardless of whether or not those people are in your support or not.

One of the things that, last things that I want to share with you, based on your experience, what skills, values and knowledge do leaders need to possess in order to lead effectively? One of the things that I got, I got a gift from one of our banks not long ago and the gift is a Harvard Business Review's 10 Must Reads in this book here, On Leadership. It says, "˜If you read nothing else on leadership, read these definitive articles from Harvard Business Review.' And I thought to myself, what does Harvard Business Review know about tribal government? What do they know about the Tohono O'odham Nation? But I took a look at the stuff in this, the ten articles, and I was really impressed with how much, at least the authors, in some of those articles knew about leadership. And one in particular was an author by the name of Daniel Coleman. He's author of Emotional Intelligence, 1995 and the co-author of Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence, Harvard Business School 2002. And what I liked about that particular article is because, is that what Coleman distinguishes in great leaders from merely good ones. He talks about that and he talks about emotional intelligence and he talks about five skills that enables leaders to maximize their own and their followers' performance. Maximize their own and their followers' performance.

Let me talk about those skills [because] he talks about self-awareness as one of those five skills of emotional intelligence. In self-awareness you've got to know one's strengths, you've got to know one's weaknesses, you've go to know what drives that individual and you've got to have self-awareness on what impacts that has on others. That's one of those emotional intelligences that he talks about. Another one is self-regulation -- controlling or redirecting disruptive impulses and moods. Motivation is another one. Relishing achievements for its own sake. Relishing achievements for its own sake, not for your sake but for the sake of the achievement itself. Too many times we get leaders that come into office and say, "˜Well, I did this, I did that.' Everything's, "˜Me, me, me.' In my humble opinion, that's not a leader, because in my opinion my role is to help and provide direction and to take on those challenges that we face as tribal leaders and tribal communities, to try and take on the challenges of addressing those issues and coming to some resolution in some way.

Our campaign four years ago ran on the theme 'working together.' In O'odham [O'odham Language], "˜all of us together.' And that's what we wanted to do, that's what we wanted to bring to the table, the idea that we were going to re-establish those bridges that were no longer there between the other governmental entities within our nation, within the O'odham Nation. Our legislative, our executive, a lot of times didn't see eye to eye. We wanted to re-establish those relationships and I think we've done a pretty accurate job at that, four years later. But one of the other emotional intelligence skills is empathy, understanding other people's emotional makeup. Empathy: understanding other people's emotional makeup. And the fifth one that he talks about, Coleman talks about is social skills. Building rapport with others to move them in desired direction. Building rapport with others to move them in desired direction. Think about those. When I read that article, I thought, "˜My goodness, this guy wrote my article before I could.' But something to think about.

And I'm going to ahead and leave you because I think I've used up all my time. But I want to leave this thought with you, this quote. And it says, "˜The best executive is one who has sense enough to pick good people to do what he or she wants to get done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them when they do it.' Think about that. We're not micro managers, we're leaders. We're directors. We bring in people around us that are going to serve the agenda that we want to accomplish, that are going to be able to address those challenges, those issues that we face as tribal leaders. Let them do their job, but hold them accountable. Let them do what you ask them to do. If I'm going to be meddling in what I'm asking them to do or if I directed them to do, why do I need them? So thank you. Thank you for listening. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share these thoughts with you. Have a good one."