governance reform

Osage Nation Governmental Reform Initiative

Year

At the turn of the 20th century, the US government abolished the 1881 Osage Nation Constitution and imposed rules for land ownership and citizenship. Many Osage citizens were disenfranchised and the Tribal Council was granted only limited powers, which lead to years of weak government, corruption, and turmoil. Over 100 years later, the Osage Government Reform Initiative began the task of designing a new government that would better represent and serve all Osages. As a result of the Initiative, the Osage Nation adopted a new constitution in June 2006. Written by the Osage people, it has brought back into the tribal community the thousands of citizens who had once been excluded.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Topics
Citation

"Osage Nation Governmental Reform Initiative." Honoring Nations: 2008 Honoree. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 2009. Report.

Permissions

This Honoring Nations report is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development.

Diné (Navajo) Local Governance Projects

Year

Formed in 1989 by the Navajo Nation Council, the Office of Navajo Government Development works with the Diné people and their elected leaders to conduct government reform, foster the incorporation of Navajo culture and tradition into the Navajo Nation Code, and facilitate the transference of responsibilities from the central Navajo government to the local or chapter level. As a body dedicated to improving government performance, the Office played a key role in the passage of the 1998 Local Governance Act and has developed and informed numerous legislative initiatives that expand tribal sovereignty and increase governmental accountability, transferability, and efficiency.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Topics
Citation

"Government Reform, Diné Appropriate Government, Local Governance Projects". Honoring Nations: 2002 Honoree. The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 2003. Report.

Permissions

This Honoring Nations report is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development.  

Jim Gray: The Role of Citizen Engagement in Nation Building: The Osage Story

Producer
National Congress of American Indians
Year

Jim Gray, former Principal Chief of the Osage Nation, provides an overview of how the Osage Nation completely overhauled its constitution and system of governance, sharing the strategies that Osage used to educate and engage its citizens in order to ensure that their new government reflected the will of the people.

This video resource is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of the National Congress of American IndiansThe short film shown in this video resource is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of the Osage Nation.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Gray, Jim. "The Role of Citizen Engagement in Nation Building: The Osage Story." 70th Annual Convention & Marketplace, National Congress of American Indians. Tulsa, Oklahoma. October 15, 2013. Presentation.

Ian Record:

"And at this point I wanted to turn the floor over to Jim Gray. I mentioned, for those of you who are just joining us, former principal chief of the Osage Nation, that is here to tell the Osage story in terms of how they’ve approached this challenge of citizen engagement, citizen education. Jim, if you wanted to stand and perhaps just say a few words about the video that you want to lead off your presentation with.”

James R. Gray:

“Good afternoon, everybody. The video that we’re going to see is one that was produced by the Harvard Project’s Honoring Nations group. A few years ago we received one of those honors and in order to help inform everybody about what we actually did to earn it they produced this video and I think it captures some of the things that we’ve already started talking about, Ian, so go ahead and roll.”

[VIDEO]

Narrator:

“One of the boldest acts any tribal government can take is to initiate a wholesale reform process that puts their office and voting base at risk. The 31st Osage Tribal Council did just that when they set in motion the Osage Government Reform Initiative.”

The Problem:

Narrator:

“For almost 100 years, the federal government had dictated that the only recognized Osages were those listed on a 1906 roll. Only those Osages who had inherited a share in the mineral estate from someone on this roll could vote in tribal elections. This alienated 12,000 of the roughly 16,000 Osage descendants from their own political process.”

Corgus Bear:

“My father, he passed away when he was 52 and he never got to vote. My mother votes and she has multiple head rights so she has more than one vote. She has several votes. So unlike me, I’ve been registered to vote since I was 18, but I’ve never been able to vote in my own tribe’s...any election process or be any part of it, and on paper I was not considered Osage.”

Joe Conner:

“If you’re going to have a government where half, three-fourths of your citizens are speechless in terms of the official operation of the government, then you don’t have a government.”

Jaime Butler:

“There are so many smart people out there that aren’t head right...don’t have a head right and are Osage that I think would be...benefit our government.”

Narrator:

“Citizenship however was not the only way in which the federal government had limited the possibilities for the Osage people.”

Charles Red Corn:

“As much as we revere the 1906 Act, it did not give a clue about how you’re supposed to run a government and it resulted in an organism of personalities where whichever personality was the most persuasive or came up with the best game or whatever could control the council.”

Mark Freeman:

“As far as the form of government, this resolution form of government is good for one thing, you can pass a resolution one day and then do away with it the next. That’s not too good a way of running a business."

Jim Gray:

“We needed to get our sovereign rights back. That was the big issue. It became more than just a membership criteria, it became...why should we go ask permission to exercise our sovereign rights? And that’s what we’ve always done in the past and because we...after a good look around, we realized we’re the only tribe in the country that was set up this way."

The Process:

Narrator:

“In December of 2004, the Osage Tribal Council sponsored federal legislation that lifted 98 years of direct colonial control, allowing the Osage people to once again determine their own citizenship and form of government. The federal government was no longer going to hold the Osage people under a resolution style government with its 4,000 shareholders, but what instead would take its place? Because they were already occupied with the general operations of the tribe, the Osage tribal council decided to create the Osage Government Reform Commission to oversee the reform process. The first step in the process was education for the reform commissioners.”

Joseph P. Kalt:

“The first thing that emerged was, well it really wasn’t economic development, it was really social development. How do you build a healthy society?”

Kathy Supernaw:

“You might have a recommendation but you set forth all the possibilities. [Audience member: We represent what the people have told us.] Yeah. You’re taking...you’re going out and doing all these public hearings and you’re getting peoples’ opinions and then you collect all those opinions and you try to get them all in groups.”

Narrator:

“And then education for the Osage people.”

Leonard Maker:

“And in 1906, the United States imposed allotment on the Osage and imposed a government and membership standards on the Osage people.”

Narrator:

“The second step involved the collection of Osage opinions from 42 community meetings, a questionnaire, a phone survey and a referendum vote." [Voice: We’re here to figure out what the Osage people want in a constitution.]

Linda Lazelle:

“This one particular child -- although all of his ancestors was full blood Indian -- couldn’t qualify to go to a clinic or to get any social services because the government is pushing for blood quantum. That could happen to any of our children, any of them.”

Frank Oberly:

“We do need a legislative branch, we need an administrative or executive branch and we need a judicial branch because a lot of the tribes today, whenever they have troubles, it’s because they cannot enforce a law or an ordinance that they passed because the tribal council has precedence so then it just...it ends up being just a political mess.”

Narrator:

“Then the reform commission set out on the challenging task of using these opinions to write a constitution."

[Discussion]

Narrator:

“On March 11th, 2006, a vote was held to ratify the constitution."

[Discussion]

James R. Gray:

“And it’s my honor and my duty and certainly my pleasure to report the results of the referendum question. Shall the constitution be approved? Yes, 1,454. No, 728.”

[Cheering]

The Payoff:

Corgus Bear:

“Today, I’m an Osage finally.”

Joe Conner:

“Now the citizens are important.”

Jackie Butler:

“And no longer will it be a minimal council government but a government of the people.”

Hepsi Barnett:

“Research will bear out that that’s a system that will create the stability needed for a nation to prosper.”

Gregory Clavier:

“And I think you’ll see more participation, you’ll see more people getting involved and people that have a lot to offer. Osage people are all over the world basically and by doing this I think it pulls the whole tribe back together again, so I think this is a very important day.”

[END]

Jim Gray:

“There’s a lot to be said about that video because it captures a lot of what I think Ian [Record] was trying to set this...tee up this part of the presentation for me at least. But let me just start with a couple of things. One was the Government Reform Commission itself. One of the most interesting aspects of this is that when you start looking at the personality dynamics of the 31st Council, clearly I was the youngest person in the room. I was I think in my early 40s at the time and the ages ranged from...I think we had one councilman that was in her mid 30s and we had one councilman that was in his mid 80s and then we had everyone else in between, and all these different personalities and different backgrounds and different perspectives as shareholders, as someone who like our eldest person on there was 85. You saw him, Mark Freeman. He was all the way up into his mid-to-late 70s before he actually inherited a head right because his mom lived until she was in her 90s, so we’re talking about a system of government that created scenarios where the oldest person in the room was actually the youngest tribal member in the room, as bizarre as that sounds. Is there a question?

The head right is like a corporate share and the share was a piece of the Osage mineral estate, it was 1.5 million acres, still is, and it was divided up between all the original allottees that were signed up on the rolls in 1906. Each one of those allottees were given one corporate share or a head right of an interest of the royalties of the oil and gas development that occurred there. Unfortunately, one of the things that they did when they did that was that they closed the rolls. So there wasn’t going to be any more Osages because they were tying property interest in the mineral estate to political rights within the tribe. So we went all the way up until 2002, when I got elected and the council came in, we were faced with a dilemma. There was nine original allottees still alive. Our senior planner at the time, Leonard Maker, had [written] to the solicitor in D.C., asked them a question as a citizen, ‘What happens when the last original allottee passes away?’ And I think his name was...gosh, I can’t think of it now. It’ll come to me at some point during this session here. But he wrote back and said that...Verdon, Terry Verdon, that was his name. He said, ‘When the last original allottee passes away, there won’t be a federal trust responsibility with the Osage Tribe because the Osage Tribe won’t exist any more in the eyes of federal law.’

So we didn’t need any more motivation than that. We decided to go get federal legislation passed, which happened in two years, from 2002 to 2004. So once President [George W.] Bush signed the bill into law, it became law, we called a big celebration, called it Osage Sovereignty and Celebration Day and that was in 2005. In 2005 we set up the commission and as I was getting into the discussion of the dynamics of the personalities involved, the commission was selected by members of the council. We got together and we said, ‘Okay, we’re going to do a secret ballot.’ We want four people picked by each one of us and each one of us would turn in our names of people that we want to sit on that commission and they wanted them to be people with good reputations in the community, good education, good cultural backgrounds, basically model citizens that would reflect the best in all of us, and that’s kind of the way we went into it. And so the people that you saw and some of them were interviewed in that video, were the ones that did the primary work of holding the meetings, getting citizen input and trying to consolidate the broadest consensus they could to make up the constitution, the key elements that they heard from the citizens and what they wanted in it.

As an elected official who was in charge of the day-to-day operations of the tribe, we were certainly of...well, let’s say from a political standpoint as [an] elected official, I think Congressman [Tom] Cole asked me the right question at the time we were holding committee meetings on our legislation. He said, ‘Chief Gray, why would any elected official change the constituency that put him in office?’ He was bewildered by that. He says, ‘I’ve never heard of a politician do that.’ And I told him, I said, ‘The mandate for change was in the election in 2002 when basically everybody who was running ran on that issue and those that ran on that issue got elected and all those that were opposed to it got thrown out.’ And it was the biggest wipeout in 90 years of Osage elections. Didn’t think we needed much more in a mandate than that. But after the meeting was over and they turned the cameras off and the Congressional Record was over, I walked up to him and I said, ‘You really want to know why I did that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I really do.’ And I told him that my...I was watching the news one day, they were showing scenes from the period of time when the Soviet Union collapsed and I realized I had a choice because I was watching two different scenes on the screen. It was a split screen. One of them was Mikhail Gorbachev under house arrest by his own government and the other one was Boris Yeltsin holding the Russian flag sitting on a tank. And I really pretty much had my choice. Do I really want to be under house arrest or do I want to be on top of that tank with the flag. And I said, ‘But at a congressional hearing, that’s the last thing you want to put on the record about how the Russians came into power.’ We got a big laugh out of that, but the reason I bring this up is that when they counted up those secret ballots and each one of them, if there was more than one person picked, they got two votes and we just developed a consensus based without actually having to lobby or nudge or twist arms or anything like that. It was all a very personal decision among each one of us, and as a result we ended up getting the group that we did.

So as we turned them loose onto the Osage public, part of our biggest thing to overcome is, as you saw on there, there was 100 years of paternalism that was imposed on the tribe that basically split us in two. So it was not hard at all to get the shareholders or head right owners within the tribe to show up for meetings. The difficult thing was to get the non-shareholders to show up for meetings because they had any interest of expressing a political voice pretty much beat out of them as a child. And so it has taken us all these years to still, it’s still a trouble that I think still exists out there, that at a time when we really needed to hear them it was very difficult to get them to come out. And we had individual events that was targeted just towards the youth, we had big dinners, invited everyone to come, bring their families. We gave the employees that were working for the tribe special presentations. We tried every way we could think of to get them engaged. Social media didn’t exist really at that time, so we relied mostly on emails, that kind of correspondence, we used our tribal newspaper. We had to get people to update their addresses to us. It was a very, very challenging thing to do but during the process we were able to get a lot of feedback because once the momentum started, the buzz was starting and people were making phone calls, ‘Oh, so I hear they’re coming out to California.’ ‘Oh, I hear they’re coming out to Denver,’ or ‘They’re coming out to Dallas,’ and ‘They’re going to be in your...the commission is going to be in your town soon.’ So, as the word started to get out, you saw a lot more interest in participation and each week they would have regular business meetings and citizens locally would come in and express their concerns for the record. So there was never...I’d say the last six months it just took off, things were just moving really fast. They were getting a lot of good data in and they realized they hit a wall and part of it was that there was conflicts among the commissioners as to what certain fundamental issues they couldn’t achieve a consensus on.

So we backed up, instead of doing one referendum on the constitution, we basically had a mini referendum then the big one on the constitution. The mini one was a series of questions of things that there was not a consensus among the commission on; things like, how strong was the old minerals council going to be in the new form of government? Was it going to be a stand alone, was it going to be just a board within the tribe, was it going to have any other governmental functions beyond just approving oil and gas leases? Because if you read the 1906 Act, that’s all the government gave that minerals council. But as time went on, for lack of any other reason, they just became the de facto government of the tribe with all its imperfections of isolating three-fourths of the tribal members from participation as well. So we knew that that was unsustainable as an option. So as we went through that process of trying to figure that out, we had to put that back to the people and when I say to the people I meant everybody. Everyone got to participate on both of those referendums. I caught some crap for that. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to use that word, but there was just a lot of reasons for people wanting to keep it just with the head right owners. And at that point, I just realized it was -- I don’t know if you call it leadership or impatience or just determination--  that somehow we were going to allow the Osage people, all the Osage people, by lineal descendency participate in forming their own government and as many of you here probably think that, ‘Well, of course, that’s exactly what you would do,’ you would be surprised how outrageous and controversial and divisive that notion became because there were people that said, ‘Only shareholders can do the government reform.’ ‘Only shareholders can participate in the reform itself.’ ‘Only shareholders will have a say in drafting the constitution.’ And as that process seemed to permeate within the most politically organized group of the tribe, while being a minority, never really had any big answers for how and when and in what manner were the non-shareholders ever going to be a part of the tribe.

And those were the two competing issues that really was the theme that ran through the Government Reform Commission’s work. And as somebody who was in part a participate as an Osage citizen and a shareholder myself, but also as an elected official under the old form of government and as somebody who’s an advocate for change as was my colleagues on the council, you could see the obvious dynamics even within that small group. We’re like, ‘Well, maybe we should wait on this, maybe we should wait 10 years and just ease into it.’ Like I said, I snapped. I could be a next episode of that movie, that show 'Snapped,' because I just said, ‘We’ve waited 100 years for this. The United States government says, 'It’s your decision now. It’s not ours, we’re not imposing this on you anymore. It is your responsibility.'‘ So our response to getting this responsibility given to us is to give it right back or to ignore it? I just wasn’t going to accept that and I just...they were wanting to put off the referendum, they wanted to put off the vote, they wanted to keep the government in two pieces, they wanted...there were some that were advocating, ‘Maybe we need two Osage tribes.’ Because all the other options were comfortable because it didn’t require them to deal with the heavy matters of bringing some unity within the tribe, realizing that even though this was an imposed designed structure that was never meant to last more than 20 years. And by federal law we were able to get extension and extension and extension, but it was never designed to last more than a generation.

And so beholden to a structure that was never designed to last very long seemed like a dangerous option and the only way out of the mess was to continue going forward and the citizen outreach began to pay off towards the end. People started to get it, it started to click and they were starting to embrace it and they were starting to see elements of that constitution appear in early drafts that were being sent out to everybody in the mail. And once people started to get the taste for what those words coming to life actually would look like in a new Osage government, it gave you a sense of hope and inspiration and a feeling that, 'This is ours.' We had the hardest time letting go of the idea of being able to blame the Bureau [of Indian Affairs] for all the problems at the Osage Tribe, and we had to come to grips with the fact like my old friend Mark Freeman said, ‘Well, this thing lives or dies, it ain’t gonna be nobody’s fault but our own. We did this to ourselves and by god it’s a long time coming. The days of blaming the BIA for our sorry lot in life are over. We’ve got to grow up and grow out of that.’ And in a way, he couldn’t have said it better. This came from a man who by federal law and Bureau interpretation was never given his head right in restricted status. It was immediately decided that he was going to be a competent and he had to pay taxes on all the royalty that he got and he had to wait 77 years before he even got on. Well, you saw Curtis Bear up there. He got one the second he turned 18. Unfortunately, it was because he inherited his because his parents died and what a morbid way to run a government anyway. Your parents have to die before you inherit any part of the political franchise of the Osage Tribe. Like I said, there wasn’t any other tribe set up this way and at some point along the way like some victim of a hostage crisis, we didn’t...at some point after about four generations we didn’t realize that what we were living with wasn’t right. It became normal.

So when I advocated the fact that, ‘No, everyone gets to vote on a referendum, that everyone gets to participate in the government reform process.’ To try to explain the heresy of those words to a group like yourself who maybe are not even familiar with such a thing, back home it was crazy. And at that point, you just tried to do the best you could and just say, ‘Look, the only way this government’s ever going to reflect the will of the Osage people is that the Osage people participate in voting for it or voting it down. That’s the only way it’s going to last,’ because at that point we were no longer defined by our property possessions, we were defined by what was in here and that our connections were all related to the same rolls and it became something bigger than that. All of a sudden, it became a matter of people issues and not necessarily property.

And so as we got through that referendum process and the commission finished its work and submitted it for the council for final approval to be put before the voters, there was a 'cold feet' for lack of a better term of the councilmen because they had been hearing the voices of the concerned that, ‘We aren’t ready for this, we don’t need to be doing this. We need to wait, we need to wait, we need to wait.’ And because by federal law the United States government says, ‘From this point forward, August 4th, 2004, whatever you...however the Osage Nation is going to govern itself is up to the Osages.' They are recognizing the Osage Nation’s inherent right of self-determination, of what form of government they’re going to have and who are their members going to be as long, as those that were receiving an interest in the mineral estate are not affected by it.’ And that was the compromise that was made at that time because it was a Fifth Amendment issue, there was a property right interest. ‘You inherited that, that’s yours. The Constitution can’t take that away from you.’

And as the Government Reform Commission went about doing its business, according to them, that issue alone -- that was already decided when Congress passed the law, that issue was already decided before we even started the Government Reform Commission -- that nothing this new government can do can take away that head right that belongs to you. But unfortunately in all the meetings, that issue took up probably 80 percent of their time and only 20 percent of the time was spent on all these other matters. At one point, when we videotaped all these meetings, one individual citizen was beating this table and screaming as loud as he could, ‘It’s mine. It’s mine. It’s mine.’ With every ounce of energy he had, he’s beating that table. The passion of the fear that an Osage government will take away your head right was so deep and so pervasive throughout the communities of our nation, it dominated the politics of the government reform process, it dominated the process, it dominated the conversations, it dominated the agenda. And the sad part of it was is that that issue was already decided in D.C. when Bush signed that bill into law. So we had a communications issue that went far beyond the constitution.

And so when I try to explain the chronology of how we got through this process -- and as chief at the time I was looking at the end of my term -- they voted on the constitution in March of 2006. My term ended in July of that year. We had an election in June and there was a big debate as to whether or not we needed to have the election with everybody participating, so we had a communications issue there. ‘Well, of course.’ And they said, ‘Well, when does this constitution go into effect?’ It went into effect when the people voted for it. But what parts? The parts that call for a three-branch government or the part that calls for an election at the end of our terms. There was all these other little questions. Do elected officials, can they continue to serve on the gaming enterprise board? We had a corporate entity that did non-gaming businesses and there was elected officials on that board. Well, the constitution that was just passed by referendum says explicitly, ‘No elected official will serve on enterprise board.’ So what parts are in effect and which parts aren’t? And so the elected officials who were thinking about running for re-election under the new government had enormous things on their plate of having to grapple with while they’re even thinking about whether they wanted to run again. I was one of them. And so I just kept moving forward.

I use this quote because in this case it definitely applies. You know the movie John Candy was in called 'Canadian Bacon'? Ya’ll remember that? He had this great line in that movie. A group of United States citizens decide to invade Canada and that’s the comedy. He gets out, he’s got this stupid little hat on, he’s got his gun and he says, ‘There’s a time for thinkin’ and there’s a time for action and this is no time for thinkin’.’ As only John Candy can deliver a line and I was laughing to myself because I thought, ‘Osages have been thinking about this for 100 years. If there was ever a time you go for it on fourth down, this is it. This is the time you make your move.' And I had to do some subtle diplomacy with my councilmen and I had to create a boogey man of sorts.

The commission was worried. They were legitimately worried that the council was not going to allow that vote to go forward. There were two members of the council that got up and made very passionate statements that the tribe was not ready for this, ‘We want to...let’s go ahead and do another shareholder vote and another minerals council for another four years. Maybe we’ll do it after that, but definitely not now.’ And I was the only one who spoke on that council at the time saying, ‘No, we have to do it.’ And the only reason I had to do it was...the only reason I had that I think resonated was the fact that under the Public Law 091430...I can’t remember exactly what the public law was, but the government’s no longer in charge of telling the Osages how to run their tribe, their government. It’s our job now, and if you don’t like what the Government Reform Commission produced, vote it down, but if you’re going to use your position to stop the vote from even taking place, then I enjoy a certain degree of power under this constitution too, as now the executive branch. ‘I’m going to call a constitutional convention next month and whoever shows up at Wakon Iron Hall is going to decide how the government’s going to go.’ Well, the prospect of a mob deciding how the constitution was going to look like resulted in a quick vote of approval and submit it to the people and let’s get it over with. And that’s...you saw how relieved I looked when I did those results, because I didn’t know whether this was going to work. Nobody knew how this was going to work.

If you’re waiting for a roadmap to tell you exactly how everything is supposed to happen, it ain’t never going to happen in politics. Maybe you take calculated risks, you push it as far as you can, but at the end of the day, it’s all about a process, a process that involves a commitment from the governed and a commitment from the citizens. And those that are participating in carrying out the will of the people have all got to realize that this was a window of opportunity that was very unique in Osage history, that the timing, all the right people were in the right places at the time. Had this thing waited another four years, I don’t know, I don’t know.

My worry was that the day President Bush signed that bill into law in 2004 we were down to one original allottee and I did not want to wait to find out whether or not we could fight this in the federal courts and have our recognition restored, not while we had a chance to do it ourselves. And so I have enormous amount of respect for my colleagues who were just people living in a very unique period of time in tribal history to be able to build a process that would last, and realize that the 1906 Act was never meant to be a government for the Osage people. It was meant to be a way to extricate the Osages from their land and their property and their citizenship within 20 years. That’s what it was designed to do. The allotment acts that occurred at that period of time were designed to only do one thing -- to separate Indians from their land, Indians from their tribes, destabilize everything about them that was Indian. Boarding schools, all these programs came out of that era.

So it’s not so unique of a situation the Osages were in, it’s just that because of the oil and gas industry needed to have one entity they could work with that would approve their oil and gas leases so the drilling can go unabated and only have one entity to deal with probably was our saving grace. We also paid for our reservation with our sale of our lands in Kansas which gave us some property right interest even though there was some debate of whether or not Indians were human at the time I think and eligible for Fifth Amendment protections. A lot of uncertainty in the air. If you wanted to make a change for yourself and realize that this uncertainty is not satisfactory for you or succeeding generations, if you take the chance and realize the time is right and you have the people with you, you don’t need any more ammunition, you just go. You just go as far as you can and for me, I went as far as 2010 and I got thrown out of office.

I will say this though, Steve Cornell was interviewed after I left office and I really appreciated what he said because...at first I wasn’t quite sure how to take it, but after reflecting on that quote I realized that it was a very, very nice thing to say, because you’re not defined by how long you serve in office, at least I hope not. But I think you’re defined by what you get done while you’re in office, because in some ways that lasts and...because it’s not just about holding office, it’s about doing something, doing something important that you’re proud of that you can always look back and fondly remember the days that you were engaged in something important and realize that there’s...I don’t have any reason to regret any of this and I don’t, but when Steve Cornell was asked by a reporter about my experience as chief, because it made news of sorts at the statewide level that I lost and when you lose third place, you don’t have any second thoughts about, ‘Wow, if I could have only done this or done that I could have won.’ No, I think it’s better to get blown out, that way you don’t have any second thoughts. When you think about it, it’s like, ‘Okay, I heard you.’ But Steve Cornell said, ‘The thing that you have to remember is that the strength of the Osage constitutional government, one of the big questions was answered already, was whether or not it would sustain itself or was it only there as long as Chief Gray was there.’ And it was perceived by many people, in my own tribe and even outside, that this was Chief Gray’s constitution and I argued passionately that it was never my constitution. If it was up to me to write it, I would have wrote it very differently. I probably would have done something different with the minerals council, but at the same time I think that there was reason to believe that somewhere along the line the Osage people took ownership over that governing document and demonstrating the first ability to show that ownership of that governing document was to ask me to move on to something else because they put in new leadership and that constitution is still there, it is still being used, the legislative branch...and I want to recognize Speaker Raymond Red Corn back there, he’s speaker of the Osage Congress, and I want to recognize Benny Polacca who enjoys a very comfortable life in Osage Country being a reporter for the Osage News, which is one of only three newspapers in Indian Country that has a free press act and freedom of speech is governed and protected under the Osage Constitution. There are certain things that I’m really still proud of in this constitution and these are two of them right there: a separation of powers and three branches of government, a free press and the ability to exercise jurisdiction. It is one of the most, well, certainly with the work that I’m doing now with the Delawares it’s something that I’ve come to appreciate more and more each day about our own tribe because not every tribe is that fortunate and the fact that we were able to get ahead of the problem before it blew us over is probably one of the luckiest things to happen to our tribe. But with that being said, Ian, thank you very much and I appreciate the time to be here.”

LeRoy Staples Fairbanks III: What I Wish I Knew Before I Took Office

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Leroy Staples Fairbanks III, who serves on the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Council, discusses some of the hard stances he had to take in order to do his job well and also shares an overview of some of the major steps thatthe leech Lake Band has taken in order to govern more effectively and use its resources more wisely and efficiently.  

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Fairbanks III, LeRoy Staples. "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. November 6, 2013. Presentation.

"Good morning. I introduced myself this morning. Like I said, I'm Leroy Staples Fairbanks III and I'm the District 3 Representative from Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, which is in north central Minnesota. Normally how...I've seen others introduce themselves in their language and so kind of how we would say it is I would say Boozhoo, which means hello, [Ojibwe language] is I'm Fox and I'm from the Bear Clan. Our tribe is located in like I said north central Minnesota. We have roughly 9,200 band members or band citizens. This is my first term and I was elected last year in July of 2012 and I wasn't going to say my age, but I'm actually older than this young fellow here. I was elected before I was 30 so I'll just say that, I won't say my age. We have a five-person council with four-year staggered terms. I would just like to say, I would like to thank the NNI staff for inviting me to be here today to share my experiences. I don't consider this much of teaching you guys but just sharing my experiences here with you and I would also like to say Miigwetch to the tribal leaders from this reservation here for welcoming us here to this reservation, this beautiful casino and hotel.

What I'm going to start with is campaign promises. I'm going to take a little bit of a different approach to the previous presentation, which was...it was an awesome presentation, very informative, and something I wish I could have sat through before I was elected into office. But I'll start off with campaign promises. When I ran my campaign to getting into office, it was based on honesty, ethical decision making, transparency, and you have a lot of people that support that, they support you. They say, "˜Yeah, this is what we want you to do. This is who we want you to be in office.' And you get in office and things just kind of switch. Those same people are asking, "˜Well, I did help you. Can I get a job? Can I get a raise? Can I get a house? Can I get a transfer? Can you appoint me to a certain position?' And it's difficult that the people that did help you, but you just kind of return the message back to them and you ask them, "˜Why would you put me in a situation like that when all that we talked about was maintaining integrity in a position?' So during my time in office I've had to have that conversation many, many, many times of telling people, "˜You wanted us to change the way that we do the hiring and the firing and the personnel matters with the tribe. We have an HR department, we have policies and procedures that outline how all the decisions are being made and how the hiring is...how it happens and employees rights as far as being a part of the organization,' but yet they want to jump straight to the council. And so we started to change those methods on how we handled it, but still the employees will say, "˜Well...' They'll try to get you back in your office and say, "˜Well, I gave you this many votes or I helped you in this way and you're obligated to help me,' and the easy answer is, no, you're not. I won by 30 votes. I had 919 votes and the other guy had about 890 and so everybody wanted to be a part of that 29 or 30 votes that actually got me into office. The easy answer for me is that 920 people voted me into office, but I still represent the rest of the band membership and that's the decisions that I have to make. I have to make it for the band membership and I don't make it to who voted me into office. That's just a process on how you get to that position.

And I would say that I didn't dream of running for office or I didn't dream of being a council member growing up. I had a little bit of a different type of experiences growing up. And so I've had quite a few experiences, but in my experiences of understanding what tribal politics and tribal government was on Leech Lake, I kind of had a sour taste in my mouth about it. I didn't have a good outlook on it. So I didn't really envision myself as this prestigious position and, "˜That's what I want to do, I want to get into tribal office so I can help my people.' It was more or less you see some of the negative outlooks and the negative aspects of what the office was looked at as, and so that wasn't my dream. My background is in human service. I'm a drug and alcohol counselor, and so in that field you aren't really involved as much in governmental operations. A lot of the things that he was talking about, you're not privvy to that information. You focus on helping the people that you help, your client list and that's your focus and so you put so much energy towards that, but it kind of becomes burnt out. And so when you carry yourself in a certain way in the community, people say those individuals that do carry themselves in a respectful manner, they kind of gravitate and people see those traits, they see the character, they see the behaviors and they kind of look to those people. And so I would just say that I think I was blessed that people seen some traits in me that they wanted me to start moving into leadership positions.

And so I managed a halfway house for a while and the tribal council asked me to come be a part of the administrative team as a deputy director, chief administrator basically, and I did that for a few years and that was my eye opener to what was going on with our reservation. There was a lot of things that I wasn't aware of on so many different levels because tribal government encompasses everything from top to bottom, it really does. I'm not so much hands on with all the little things like this gentleman has because we have...we employ 2,500 people. We have three casinos and we have departments that kind of handle a lot of that stuff and so we aren't so hands on with everything, but there's a great understanding and a learning curve that happened as a part of that position. But it's about training and helping people job shadowing and trying to train future leaders to take over those positions. My understanding of getting in this position was I wasn't going to be here forever. It's a four-year term. I'm hoping that there's enough movement in four years that if I choose not to re-run in four years that I've done enough to try to mobilize and prepare future leaders to take over these positions, because there's some bold things happening at home and we want that to continue.

I'll say one thing though is that I went through the [Native Nation] Rebuilders program. NNI partners with Bush Foundation out of St. Paul, Minnesota and there's a Rebuilders program that focuses on tribes in a three-state area: Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. And I was a part of the first cohort and I would say that I would attribute me running for office as being a part of that program because if I didn't go through that program, it probably wouldn't have motivated me enough to see some of the success stories outside of Leech Lake that gave me a big enough push to tell me that things can work, this is how tribes are working, because when you're in the middle of the mess sometimes it's hard to see out, and so you have to kind of step back and you have to take a look at how are other tribes doing it, what are other tribes doing, can we apply that here, how can we apply it here? And that's the most of what I got out of that program is seeing...they talked about some of the reservations and economic development up here this morning and those are the things that inspired me to, 'Yeah, there is opportunity and I'm going to bring that to my reservation,' and so that's kind of what got me to wanting to run for office.

I don't have a four-year degree and a lot of elders in the community, they told me, "˜Maybe you should just wait to run for office until you have that degree on your wall because that's going to validate your work in office and people can't question that,' but there were too many signs that were coming before me. There were signs that things just were happening the way they were supposed to be happening and I even told myself when I was working for the council, "˜I don't want to be in one of those positions.' I seen the mentality and I seen the behavior and I was kind of taken aback. I was like, "˜Ah, I don't want to be in that position. I can't do some of the things that they're doing because it's not right.' And so I told myself I wasn't going to do it. I went through the program, frustrations were building because of how things were going, and I said, "˜You know what, if I'm not going to do it, I don't know who's going to.' So I decided to take that step and it was a very big step. Tribal politics on Leech Lake is...can grow...I don't know how to put it kindly, but it can get kind of messy. And so it has been kind of messy. And I would say in the last year and a half things have stabilized, things are...they're progressing. I'll touch on how important nation building is to me.

I used to fly quite a bit when I was a little bit younger in airplanes and it didn't really bother me and for some reason that flying in airplanes bothers me now. I don't know if it's because I have a Twitter account and every...twice a day you hear about plane crashes or terminals being attacked, but I have a fear of flying. The last time I flew, I flew with the Bush Foundation up to go visit Salish Kootenai last year -- it's the last time I've flown out of state, otherwise I try to drive and it's just something that I have to overcome. Bush offered me an opportunity to speak down here in March on...I don't remember exactly what the title was about...I was going to be speaking about, but I ended up skyping in the presentation and we had a little bit of connectivity issues and I felt kind of bad about that and so this is...nation building and nation rebuilding is...it's the basis of everything that I'm trying to do back home and it's that important to me that I wanted to get on a plane. And it wasn't just a direct flight, I had a layover in Phoenix, and so that's two takeoffs and two landings. I get nervous about speaking sometimes too, but my hands aren't nearly as clammy today as they were when I was on the plane. It was tough.

I had some conversations with people on the airplane about...they were asking about, "˜What is your take on the Redskins issue?' And I said, "˜I don't know. It's not something that I necessarily think about day to day.' And she's like, "˜Well, what do you think the inception of the name was? It wasn't intended to be disrespectful, do you think?' And I was like, "˜Well, I don't really know the history behind the name. I would say that it's not one of the biggest things that bothers me, but I can understand how it gets under people's skin. I understand why there's a movement to change the name because it's not necessarily the owner of the Redskins is out depicting Native Americans in a certain way, it's how the fans, how the people...you get the people doing the...with the headdress and the tomahawk chops in the arenas and that's not very respectful and there's a lot of things down that line that I don't agree with.' It's just...it's something I didn't...I was kind of taken aback by and she's like, "˜Well, I live in San Francisco and there's not a lot of Natives so I don't really get to talk to a lot of Natives and ask them this question so I just wanted to know.' That was on one flight.

On another flight, they're asking about how gaming came to be. "˜Did the Indians want it or did the federal government want to give it to the Indians? Who regulates it?' I said, "˜Well, there's a commission.' "˜Okay. Well, are you guys represented nationally?' I'm like, "˜Yeah, there's national organizations that represent gaming.' There was another lady who was kind of sitting by me and she was like, "˜I feel so bad about Indians and their addiction.' I'm like, "˜Well, what do you mean?' These are just some of those things and she asked me, "˜Well, how much money do you guys get in per capita payments at your tribe?' And I'm like, "˜We don't get anything in per capita payments because we have 9,200 band members, we live in a very remote area, and we don't generate enough to do per capita payments and I'm not even in favor really of per capita payments because it kind of promotes...it promotes dependency and there's a few tribes in Minnesota that have big per capita payments like Shakopee Mdewakanton [Sioux Community]. They have less...around 500 band members. They're located very closely to Minneapolis, the Twin Cities area and they have a lot of money and they do give money back out to other communities, which is...it's very good on their part.

I would say that in getting into office you're challenged. You're challenged by naysayers; you're challenged by people who don't agree with your viewpoints. I was challenged on my knowledge of history of Leech Lake and my knowledge of history of the Ojibwe people and Native history in general and I would say...I kind of revert that back to...because these are supposed to be the experts in the community and they say, "˜Well, what do you know about this, what do you know about this?' And I say, "˜Well, I'm still learning. I probably don't know as much as I should yet. I will though.' But I revert that back to those experts and I just wrote a column in our newspaper last month and that's basically kind of what I said to them. I said, "˜I challenge all of you history experts in the community to ask yourself what are you doing to ensure that the younger generation in our communities are learning this stuff instead of being hoarders of information.' And that's what we have. We have a lot of hoarders, because people are scared because information is power and so you have to kind of go and find all the cracks and crevices of information to empower yourself and that's basically what I've done. I'm a quarter way through the room, through the house. There's plenty and many more things that I have to learn, but I'm not going to stop. But that's what I challenged all the experts on. I challenged them to ask themselves what are they doing. And there was this one guy who one time told me, "˜Well, I went and spoke to this one class and they liked it.' I said, "˜One class, one time. We have many more band members in this area that need learning. There needs to be system changes, there needs to be systems set up so we are preparing our kids and our next generation to understand who we are, how we've become to where we're at today and how we're going to be moving forward.'

I'll talk a little bit about my first days in office. I worked with the council for two years and I thought I had an understanding of what it was going to be like on council and I guess I didn't know because my first days in office there was probably 45 people to see me...45 to 50 people to see me every single day the first couple of weeks in office and I was like, "˜Whoa!' And the basis of what they wanted to come and see me for was assistance and sometimes I feel...I'm not embarrassed to say it, but I feel bad that the state of my tribe was so dependent on...and basically it's kind of exploiting the band members about assistance, that it's their money, that I need to give you this money. That's not the case. It's not equitable distribution of resources if 10 percent of the membership are getting 90 percent of the resources. There's other percentage of band members who deserve equal access to those and so I was very taken aback. I thought it was going to be like, "˜Oh, okay, I'm going to get in there, we're going to start addressing some of the deficiencies programmatically,' that we were going to get into office, we were going to start tackling a lot of that stuff and it took time. It took a whole year to make some drastic changes as far as assistance methods go and I would tip my hat to the Salish Kootenai Tribe on their human [resource] development program, because when I flew up there last year I got to see a small snapshot of what that program is about and that is kind of something that I tried to apply back home is consolidation of assistance programs, that it's more easily accessed, for band members to be able to access services and it's not scattered all about and people are luckily enough if they catch a program who might be able to help them.

I guess...I wrote down in my notes that it might seem far-fetched to some tribes about the mentality of assistance, but we all know the power of the dollar and so it's, 'What can you do for me?' is very powerful sometimes and it's very powerful during those elections. And we have an election coming up next year and I keep talking to our council and talking to the membership that just because there's an election doesn't necessarily mean that there's an overhaul. We need to conduct business in a different way. The train doesn't necessarily need to stop and turn back and go the opposite direction because there's new council or new council members who are elected. Take what the successes are and how can you build upon those? But the communities are so split that sometimes it is drastic measures that they want to see done all the way from left to the right and right to the left and that's how progress fails. If you aren't able to capitalize on movement, you're not going to progress and that's why I would say that we are a little bit behind in development at Leech Lake. But like Ian [Record] talked about this morning, it's...you have four years and it might seem like a long time. It's not a long time. I've been in office a year and a half and it seems like a couple of months and so you want to make drastic change and people want to hit those home runs, but it's about institutions, it's about the system changes and starting with your foundation and that's a lot of what the first year, year and a half has been and I didn't think it would take that long. And so that's something that I came to terms with in being in office that government is slow; it's very, very slow. I guess in the size of government it makes the difference.

We had NNI and Bush facilitate a GANN process. They do a GANN, it's a Governance Analysis of Native Nations that we brought to Leech Lake and we focused on three things. We focused on changing our assistance methods and that's what it took -- a whole year. We changed those on July 1st so the tribal council doesn't have direct assistance. We had...prior to getting in office we had a budget, I won't necessarily say how much, but we had a budget. Each council member had their own line-item budget for assistance that was never adhered to. And so we have an emergency assistance program that basically was doing some of the same things that the council were doing, but it's very convenient if you have that money at your fingertips to try to help people. And you want to help people, but is it really helping people by giving direct assistance? Are we spending our time effectively by handing our assistance? Yeah, we're speaking with our band members, we're getting in touch with what the issues are, but we sure aren't putting enough energy towards a real solution and just providing assistance. And so that's something, that it took a little bit of change and it was very tough because there's a high percentage of band members in the communities who had that expectation of that's what tribal council does. And it's trying to change that mentality, it's been very difficult, but it's a work in progress and it's moving forward.

The second thing that we had was bylaw revision and I'm not sure of the political makeup of a lot of tribes, but in Minnesota there's seven Ojibwe tribes and one of them is Red Lake and they're kind of separate and they have their own constitution and whatnot, but the other six Ojibwe tribes in Minnesota are part of a Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. It's kind of an organization that has oversight of all the tribes constitutionally, and that's something that I would say I'm not in favor of because it's not self-determination if you have a tribal council member who is representing 1,000 people in one of the tribes and you have another tribal council member who is representing 20,000 members on the other end of the spectrum and they both have equal access and authority in the decision making of this tribal executive committee. And so it's not fair representation. And so that was the basis of what I was trying to do is revise and reform. And there is movement and through that GANN process that was one of the things that we identified is reform, but we can't reform what we can't change so there's systems that we have to make changes to first.

The other thing was you see economic development talked about this morning. And so my point on economic development in government is that they don't necessarily mix together -- he talked about it -- but there has to be a separation because at Leech Lake the tribal council is supposed, the government is supposed to be providing service and how are you supposed to be providing service or how are you supposed to be building a business and letting it invest in itself and grow the business and start more business development if your services are depleting your economic resources. And so there is a separation that needs to be made and I think you guys will talk a little bit about that here today and tomorrow, but that's another, that's the three steps that we moved on.

I will talk a little bit about accomplishments that have been there that necessarily might not have been there before getting in office: community center, a bike path. There's a bike path on a road where there's been about three deaths in the last couple of years and there's been other kids who are hit because it's kind of on a road by our casino and there's a lot of traffic that's on the road. And so we had a bike path that was put into place to try to alleviate the traffic actually being on the road and we partnered up with the county to get that going. We broke ground with an assisted living facility this fall for our elders, we secured funding for a treatment center on our reservation because a lot of the band members felt that a barrier to their success was going off the reservation for their treatment and they wanted to try to get their treatment or they wanted to heal at home. We broke ground with a $3 million library and archive center at our tribal college. We started an athletics program. This is the first year for our basketball teams at our tribal college. We broke ground with a government center last fall, a $4 million government center.

I'll say a little bit about transparency because that was basically what I was about in getting in office. With the assistance, the council had so many different ways of giving assistance, it's kind of crazy, but when I got into office I started to publish all expenses that I had authority to give, is I published those in our newspaper for them to see. It was how many...it was basically how much was being...how much was going out in resources, but it was also how many people were accessing those resources. So it could kind of give people a picture of who is really getting the assistance or who is this really benefiting and it's a small percentage of the actual membership that was accessing it though, so it kind of gives them a picture about that. I had open forums monthly. And the full council, they didn't want to do it monthly. We have quarterly meetings that we have to put on in the communities every quarter and there's a small open forum session for that and in those open forum sessions the band members kind of get riled up, they kind of...they like to build the fire prior to the open forum session so they can kind of vent and release during that time. And so I thought, "˜Well, if we do them every single month, maybe that'll kind of keep the fire from building so big and it'll allow people to say what they've got to say, it'll allow them to be heard, it'll allow them to ask the questions they really want to ask,' to alleviate from like rumors and whatnot that are building in the community that...they spread like wildfire too. So it gives them that opportunity to voice their concerns and then be heard. And so I did that as well.

The other thing that I'll say that I didn't know I was -- well, I didn't know the outcome of it -- but prior to getting into office I talked about giving back. And so that's kind of one of the things I was supposed to talk about in March when I was supposed to be down here is an endowment that I set up at our tribal college. People thought it was a political ploy and it necessarily wasn't because it came to fruition, but I basically said I was going to give 12-and-a-half percent of my gross salary to an endowment for scholarships and education at our tribal college. I got into office, I did the first installment in December, I got another installment going in December and I have people that ask me, "˜What was the intent?' I said, "˜Well, it was to challenge the other council members to see...to ask themselves what were they doing to give back in the communities.' They asked if I felt like...do I feel bad about doing it now because none of the other council members gave back. I'm like, "˜No, I don't feel bad at all.' When I first gave the first installment of the...for the endowment, there was...the act of giving I guess, it kind of...it'll multiply. And so after that, there was other community members in the community that donated either to my endowment or to other scholarship programs at our tribal college and so there was a lot that came out of it, but I think long term the success of what the act will do is...it's not necessarily to show our tribal council members to one-up them, but it's basically to show our kids and our younger generation in the community that in order to grow, everybody needs to be invested and everybody needs to give back and that was a good way of me showing that I wanted to give back because I believe education is empowering and it allows a person to not be so dependent on somebody else. Dependency doesn't breed productivity.

I got the stop sign. I could keep going, but I'll stop there because I think we're opening up for questions and answers. Thank you for allowing me to present to you guys. [Ojibwe language]."

James R. Gray: Rebuilding Osage Governance from the Ground Up

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

In this informative intervew with NNI's Ian Record, James R. Gray, former Principal Chief of the Osage Nation, details his nation's effort to design a new constitution and government from the ground up, and provides an overview of the thorough education and consultation process the nation developed to ensure that its new governance system reflected the voice and enjoyed the support of the Osage people.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Gray, James R. "Rebuilding Osage Governance from the Ground Up." Leading Native Nations interview series. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, The University of Arizona. Cambridge, Massachusetts, September 17, 2009. Interview.

Ian Record:

“Well, I’m here with Chief Jim Gray, who’s chief of the Osage Nation. Thank you for being here today.”

James R. Gray:

“Glad to be here.”

Ian Record:

“We’re here today to talk about Native nation building, governance, and specifically what the Osage Nation is doing to not only rebuild this nation, but build a healthy community for its citizens. I’d like to start by asking you the same first question I ask everyone I sit down and chat with and that is, how would you define Native nation building and what does it entail for the Osage Nation?”

James R. Gray:

“To me, the definition of nation building has to do with setting up a structure of how a nation does its business. And there’s a lot of different ways governments do that around the world. I think in our case, we had to go back to our past and our history and understand that we’ve always had some form of institutional governance that predated the Europeans. We wanted to capture as much of the theme of that as much as we could in the modern era that we live in. And so in terms of how we integrate nation building is that we really did try to understand as a nation, how you do business with other governments, how you take care of your own people, how you make decisions, how you resolve conflicts, and how you provide some measure of accountability for your citizens? And in the process of that, nation building is the foundation upon which we build these institutions, but that’s the purpose.”

Ian Record:

“The next question I’d like to ask you, ask for your view of a statement of a fellow tribal leader who once said, ‘The best defense of sovereignty is to exercise it effectively.’”

James R. Gray:

"I think that’s an excellent point. I think a lot of tribes -- certainly during the last century -- really operated under the notion that if you stay quiet, you stand under the radar screen, they’ll leave you alone. And I think what is happening in the last generation of tribal leaders and tribal governments is that they’ve kind of broken out of that model and have taken the initiative to the states, to the federal government, to the communities in their area and say, ‘You know, we have the ability to help solve community-wide problems. We have the ability to address the social problems that we have in the community. We now, in other words, instead of blaming somebody else and just operating under the radar screen, we’re taking just the opposite approach, which is taking the fight to the streets and taking the...using the sovereignty of the nation to create programs and departments and initiatives that actually address the needs of our community.’”

Ian Record:

“It’s interesting you mentioned this issue of going back and really taking a look at your culture and seeing what from your culture you can incorporate into your modern governance. The NNI and Harvard Project research has found that for Native nation governments to be viewed as legitimate by their people, which is absolutely critical to its success, that they must be both effective, and also culturally appropriate. How is Osage trying to tackle that challenge?”

James R. Gray:

“Well, I think we borrowed quite a bit from some of the research that you all have done over the years and looked at it from our standpoint about how we would go about trying to effect the kind of institutional change that had to take place at Osage and realizing that for a hundred years that we did not have that right and we did not have that capacity to do that and we did not have the support from our own community to even try. When we endeavor to try and go down that road to recognize that the United States and their efforts to reaffirm the inherent sovereign rights of the Osages to make these decisions for themselves through legislation, it empowered us in a way that we weren’t really fully grasping what exactly we had accomplished immediately. But after some reflection, we realized we had a blank slate. We had an opportunity to remake Osage in a way that made sense for us. And realizing that so many other tribes have traveled down this road before, we felt like we could maybe not, and certainly that wasn’t the point, was to copy what any tribe had done, but to learn about the process and realizing that, ‘Let’s not devote ourselves to a whole lot of time on certain outcomes. Let’s devote our time to a process that is inclusive of all Osages that includes Osages on the reservation, of the reservation, those that are full blood, mixed blood, those that have head rights, that don’t have head rights, that are educated, that are not educated, employees, department heads, programs. We tried...we cast the widest net possible to include all the voices of the tribe in to this conversation about what kind of government you wanted and realizing that that effort was not going to be something that we were going to be able to predict accurately what that outcome was. But if we did the process right, it wouldn’t matter.”

Ian Record:

“Dr. Cornell of the Native Nations Institute and the Harvard Project has often framed the process of nation building as centrally a process of remaking that nation’s governance tools. And based on everything I know about Osage, that’s precisely what you guys are doing.”

James R. Gray:

“Yeah, everything from...going from a one-branch government to a three-branch government clearly indicated to us that what the Osage people were saying is that they did not want a...they wanted checks and balances and they wanted accountability and they wanted some attention given to the needs of the people through a process that they were maybe familiar with by living under the United States democracy or the state democracy where they live, that it was something familiar with them that they knew that if we set up this way, then we knew that our money would safe, we knew that there would be certain responsibilities on elected officials. We knew that communication was going to be more important than it had ever been in the past, two-way communication. And so the effective marching orders that we got from our own people was to build a system of government that was focused heavily on accountability, focused heavily on getting people with the right ethical backgrounds to actually do the work of a public servant. And to create institutions that actually had powers, and it wasn’t a power based on personality, it was a power based on law. And these were dramatic changes from where we’d been for the last hundred years, but that’s what they want, and that’s the government that’s been created for us. And so building those, taking those words and put them into action has been the work of the last three years of building institutions, separating our business from politics, and ensuring that every citizen, no matter where they live, is legitimately involved in the political process of the tribe.”

Ian Record:

“And building that government really took a major step forward in 2006 when the Osage Nation ratified a new constitution, entirely new constitution and a new system of government. And I guess without going into too extensive historical detail, but for perhaps a general overview of what prompted the Osage Nation to undertake reform in the first place?”

James R. Gray:

“I think the idea that Osages in the '90s had a taste of what political empowerment meant, especially those Osages that did not have an interest in the mineral estate, the 'non-shareholders' as they called them back home. And the non-shareholders outnumbered the shareholders by a two-to-one ratio by that time. And given the unfortunate fact was, is that a fourth of Osage head rights had been willed out of the tribe over the years. And it wasn’t stopped until the early '80s, I believe, that they actually amended the 1906 acts to prevent any further head rights from going out of the tribe. Because often time, before that, an Osage would marry a non-Osage and if they died earlier, then they could put it in their will that that spouse would get their head right. And then that spouse would remarry someone else and then they would have kids and those head rights were gone, they never came back. So a fourth of the value of Osage mineral state has gone out of Osage hands over the years and that created a bit of a problem, too. So you had a really odd situation in the early part of this decade where the vast majority of the Osages weren’t even part of the tribe, they weren’t considered members, they did not have any political rights, they couldn’t vote, they couldn’t run for office, and there was no hope that they were ever going to. And still, the head right issue was something that I think is still part of us today, it is still a protected property right of all the individuals who had head rights before, still have those head rights now, myself included. And the thing that I think is probably the biggest challenge for us was to ensure that that head right was going to remain intact and we weren’t going to lose any more. And while we may not be able to get those head rights back under the normal way in which we had lost them, there seems to be a growing sentiment among our people that we need to redefine what being Osage is. And that included recapturing our culture, recapturing our history, and providing other programs and job opportunities and educational benefits and health benefits to all our citizens. And at the time, we were building casinos and we were making money and really we were never in a position to actually, independently fund these kind of things either. So we had an interesting cross section of a cultural renaissance that’s been going on for the tribe over the last 25-30 years, where our ceremonial dances are populated at a level that we’ve never seen before and a resurgence of reclaiming our culture and our language and our history and our ancient history, combined with the financial resources to defend issues that are important to us and advance issues that are important to us and address the problems in our community. We have the ability to reorganize our government. So all these things came at once. So the fact that all that happened in the last seven years is pretty remarkable, it is. And it’s almost historic in a sense that if you can imagine what a historic moment is while you’re living it, it’s kind of hard to, but at the same time, it’s kind of...it’s like watching the wall fall down in Eastern Germany. You knew something big was happening. You knew that that wall wasn’t going to go back up. You knew that this change was permanent. Now it may not look the same 20 years from now than it does right now, but that change means is that the dynamics of what the Osages are going to be like and what kind of government they’re going to have is going to be up to the Osages and not somebody else.”

Ian Record:

“Following up on that, if you can paint a picture for us of what the previous constitution system of government looked like and how decisions were made, how the government functioned. Why was it deemed, ultimately, why was it deemed inadequate?”

James R. Gray:

“I think I touched on some of that already when I talked about the fact that it disenfranchised a great number of our citizens. But between the years of 1906 and 2004, the Osages -- well 2006 -- the Osages for those hundred years lived in a...what they call an imposed system of government. That means it wasn’t one of our creation, it wasn’t one that we had, would’ve picked for ourselves if we had the right to do that. The Indian agent at that time abolished the tribe’s 1881 constitution, opened up the rolls, and had a ratification of sorts, of a new form of government that was eventually passed by United States Congress in 1906 called the 1906 Osage Allotment Act. But it did so much more than just the allotment. I mean yeah, it did an allotment, but it did a whole lot more than that. One of them was is that it defined who an Osage was. It defined what rights the Osage had. It defined what powers their Osage tribal government was to have, which was an eight-member elected council whose primary function was to approve oil and gas leases and oversee the allotment of the lands on our reservation. And over the years...and of course there was a chief and an assistant chief who served basically a formal role. It wasn’t a title that actually endowed any authority except to break a tie, and that was it. And we had chiefs under this system; I think we’ve had eight or nine chiefs over the years that have served in that capacity. And there was always an attempt by an element within the tribe to reform out of that and going back to the 1950s. And throughout the years they had always tried to break through and tried to get the attention, but like I said, when you’ve tied the membership of the tribe to collecting a per capita check every quarter, tying those two issues together as a legal issue, you can see how difficult and literally impossible it was for the tribe to achieve any kind of reform even though their heart ached. You had to die in order for your children to be a part of the tribe. There was something almost morbid about it and it wasn’t anything that we created. And realizing that so many head rights had gone out of Osage hands over the years that by the time I came around and the 31st council came around in 2002, there was a growing appeal from our own people that said, ‘We need to fix this membership issue.’ And ironically, it was the biggest wholesale election upset in tribal council history. You’d have to go all the way back to 1912 to find a period of time when the entire council lost their job in one election, and the chief, and the assistant chief. I think only one person survived and she was the rebel. So as it turned out, you ended up having a brand new slate of people coming into office with a mandate, if you will, of reform. And so during that period of time, it became real obvious to me that that was the first thing we took up when we go into place was to address this membership issue and the sovereignty issue of actually finding a way to be able to get out from under the structure. And we realized that we couldn’t go to the courts, we could only go to Congress, and that was the message we received from the appeals court ten years earlier or eight years earlier when they made that decision. That this is an issue for Congress to fix, not the courts, and so we did that. And as far as the government structure and how it operated, basically over the years, we had become the so-called de facto government of the Osage Tribe because there was nothing else there. So we became administrators of federal grants, federal programs, and different departments of, whether it’s title six or 477, NAHASDA, we ended up being the de facto entity that would receive these funds and administer these programs, but even a benevolent dictator is still a dictator to a lot of the people who had no role in selecting them or electing them. So the vast majority of Osages that received benefits from the tribe utilized their CDIB number in terms of determining population, things like that, service area. And even though we were in charge of administering, we knew that this was inherently flawed. That you’re trying to represent a group of people that had no role in putting you in office and they outnumber the people who did by a two-to-one margin. So it didn’t come as a big surprise, but it is remarkable in a sense that we did grow out of that through what limited democracy we did have through an election. Through selection of eight people and a chief and assistant chief who ran on the issue of reform at a time when that would’ve been unheard of 50 years earlier.”

Ian Record:

“So the election happens and then constitutional reform begins to unfold. And I’m curious to learn more about the approach that the nation took in commencing with constitutional reform, what process it employed.”

James R. Gray:

“Yeah, we realized that probably the best thing that, the smartest decision that the 31st Council did, and if I recall it was a unanimous decision by all members, that we wanted to create a government reform commission. We didn’t want any elected official who was holding office at that time to have any role whatsoever in sitting on that commission, or anything like that. So we instituted a very interesting approach that what we will do is we will nominate people that we believe are effective representatives, that have open minds, that have the capacity to learn and listen, and make sure that they conduct a process that is fair and open and inclusive as possible. And so everyone got to put like five names, including the chief and the assistant chief, and we put them all in the box, and then all of us in a secret ballot, voted our top five. And so we had this very elaborate election, selection process that nobody knew who their favorite was, there was no coordination, it was all done right there at the moment. And everyone picked their top five and put it in a hat and then the secretary went around and started putting the names on a grease board, started putting names, lines next to each one of them. And effectively, we put together the top ten individuals that were in that commission, were the ones that were selected. And some of them are elders, some of them are cultural leaders, some of them are successful business people, there are people that have backgrounds in government, the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs], there was lawyers. It was a very interesting cross section of many, many Osages that I felt really did capture the historic significance of it immediately upon getting installed into that office.”

Ian Record:

“So what major challenges, we often hear about constitutional reform taking place throughout Indian Country and some sort of process, some sort of dialog at least. And we often hear that the reform actually doesn’t happen for a variety of reasons, and I’m curious to learn from you what sorts of challenges or obstacles did Osage encounter during the reform process. What things did you perhaps not expect or said, ‘Oh we’ve got to be very methodical in how deal with it if we’re going to keep this process moving.”

James R. Gray:

“I’ll tell you one story. This happened about five months into the commission’s work and after a series of meetings that the commission had, and like I said, these people come from a very broad cross section of Osages. And as you may imagine in their initial meetings, they didn’t know each other, some of them didn’t like each other, some of them didn’t understand each other and there was all those usual feeling their positions out. And I think it became real clear that after a series of meetings over those first few critical months, they weren’t getting much done. And at one meeting they got up and they said, ‘You know, we’re probably going to have to go back to the council and tell them we just can’t do it.’ And this one little lady that sits on there is the vice chair, her name’s Priscilla Iba, you’ve had her to your events before. I remember this to this day. If there was ever a Patrick Henry of the Osage Nation it was Priscilla Iba who just stood up and this nice little meek librarian at the City of Tulsa Library who spent her whole life working in that field and very serious, very earnest, but taking the seriousness of what she was being asked to do by her people and realizing that she had to get up and say something and she is, she’s very introverted. She’s not the kind of person that’s going to go...she’s not that...she’s just very quiet and meek and very careful with what she does. She’s earnest and genuine; she’s got a heart of gold. She got up there and talked to all those other commissioners and she just put her little foot down and said, ‘I am not going to be a part of something that fails. We are going to roll up our sleeves and we’re going to get this done.’ Now she said a lot more and I wasn’t there, but the word I got back from several different people at that commissioner’s [meeting] that had told me later on that, ‘it was that speech by that little woman is what made me stick it out.’ Now I can imagine that there has been situations like that with other tribes where they felt like they just hit a wall because they couldn’t get through some of these initial personality issues or feeling the weight of the responsibilities so much that they just shut it off and say, ‘Look, this is too big for us.’ You can easily see how people can come to that conclusion. But it took real courage and it took somebody on that commission who was just like them to get up and say what had to be said. That little speech turned that whole room around and they got serious and they got busy and they got back on track and they finished their job.”

Ian Record:

“Did you also encounter during the process, I guess, blowback from community members who may have been either comfortable with the status quo or who just were kind of wary of such a fundamental systemic change as you guys were undertaking?”

James R. Gray:

“Yeah, we had that, and they had their opportunity to say their piece during that process, but it seemed like there was such a momentum that even all the members of the council who, in the waning months of their term, because we’re talking about this constitution was ratified in March of ‘06. So we’re talking like February of ‘06. There was some members of the council who were getting calls from some people who felt like, ‘We don’t need to do this.’ And they started echoing their sentiments in the council chambers. And I felt like, if we were to have another election with just shareholders voting, which was just a few months away, that I really didn’t think that this change was ever going to happen. And I said, ‘You know, it may not be the perfect governing document and it may need to be amended, but the bottom line is that there’s people out there in our tribe, your relatives, my relatives, our relatives, our friends, our neighbors, the people in our community, they’re expecting to vote in this election and we have an obligation to give them something. But if you’re going to stop the commission from having this referendum, which is what they were talking about doing, just shutting it down, then you’re going to have a civil war here. And I really don’t think we have to go that route, that way.’ As a matter of fact, I made it very clear in that tribal council meeting that if we don’t do this and we don’t allow the people to vote on their constitution, then in three weeks I’m announcing a constitutional convention here in Pawhuska and whoever’s in the room’s going to be the ones that draft that constitution and that’s what we’re going to have. But we’re going to have a constitution one way or the other. And I know I get the heat too from people having second thoughts and questioning whether or not we’re doing the right thing, and all this stuff. And whenever you are at that moment of critical mass, you got to go back to why you even did it to begin with. And you've got to restate all those reasons why we did this. Why did we go to U.S. Congress to get the law changed? Why did we start a government reform commission? Why did we want to go listen to what everyone else had to think about what their government was? And why did we want to write it down? Why did we did we put it in the constitution? Because it allows people authenticity of knowing that they’re efforts actually translated into something real. To abandon the game at this juncture would’ve set this nation back a generation and it would’ve been very, very difficult to get us back to that day where we were at that point. And I think something happened. It was one of those kind of moments where I think people really kind of come to grips with the fact that we’re going to have to go forward, especially when I knew they were going to do a constitutional convention where...it was funny. But I really do think there was some hesitancy right there towards the end. But at the end of the day, two-thirds of the people voted in favor of it, and it passed big. And that constitution enabled us to go forward and have the elections and do all the rest of the stuff that we needed to do since then.”

Ian Record:

“This is a follow-up question. I’ve been struck by some of the tribes that I’ve worked with on the issue of constitutional reform about the rush to reform. The problems are so immense. And there’s been a consensus reached in the community that the main reason for a lot of these problems, or at least part of the problem, part of the reason for these problems is we have an inadequate constitution and system of government. We got to change it. But what we see in a lot of communities is that there’s not even a basic understanding of how the constitution affects peoples’ daily lives. And is that something that you guys struggle with, of this not only public education around reform and public’s input of reform, but actually, even before that saying, ‘Here’s what our constitution says, here’s how that translates into your daily life, here’s how it keeps us making good decisions,’ etcetera, etcetera. Is that something you guys encounter?”

James R. Gray:

“I think in practice, once we had the constitution because unlike other circumstances that you all probably encountered where some of the tribes are struggling with the process of amending their IRA [Indian Reorganization Act] constitution or in Oklahoma’s case, Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act, constitutions, and realizing that we were specifically exempt from those two laws, but that was because of the way the 1906 Act had tied those two issues of per caps and membership together. That we didn’t fit neatly into those categories that the other tribes did that allowed them to have some measure of self-governance. But even over time when they had to amend it or change it, it was still, you’re going to the Bureau for the approval and you still had to play the subject to the larger federal system that, what they were willing to allow, what they weren’t willing to allow. And so that always held a lot of tribes back. And in our case, we had an act of Congress that was our IRA and as a result, it made it very, very difficult for us to do it through the normal channels of changing the CFRs or something like that, because once we went out and started talking in the community, before we went to Congress we had a 90-day hold on a resolution. That was all we could pass, we could not pass laws; all we could pass was resolutions. And in that resolution, we wanted to go to U.S. Congress and amend the 1906 Act to allow everyone to participate without messing with the head rights. And I wanted to wait. I wanted to have some public comment. I wanted to have some meetings with the community. And we got some feedback from them and they said, ‘Don’t stop there. Yeah, go ahead. Fix the membership. Do what you have to do, but let’s get our sovereignty back while you’re at it.’ And that was the surprising thing. That didn’t come from the council, that came from the people -- a stack of written documents that were written to us by Osages living all over the country that wanted to see us change -– wholesale change. And in the practice of doing that, we had something to bounce back from. And maybe it was easier to change an existing constitution, maybe it was harder; I don’t know. All I know is we went from an act of Congress on provisions of what our governance was to a constitutional government. So we went from having really no constitution, to having one. And so that process, like you pointed out, became the challenge of this government, which is say, ‘Look, the power of the principal chief’s office is not embedded in my personality,’ which had been in the past, what power the principal chief had for a hundred years. It wasn’t based on any law that said, ‘You have the right to veto. You can do this. You can do that.’ There was no statement of authorities other than the fact that I broke a tie. And that 31st Council, I think they passed over 2,000 votes. I broke five ties and not one of them were good. They were...when you got a divided council like that, you’re going to make half the room happy and you’re going to make the other half mad. You don’t win those things. If you’re the chief, that’s a lousy spot to be in. And so realizing that that was the only authority I had, this constitution empowered the executive with CEO-like authority in our tribal government; to represent the nation, to speak for the nation, to actually have the power to veto the legislation and do things like that. So the education process of our own people, realize that even though this is what they wanted, they said it on paper, seeing it in practice was a completely different thing, was a concept that was foreign to not only the tribe, the people, but the program directors who operated services for the tribe, the process of reporting responsibility to the chief was not something they had to do before. Now they do. And there’s all these other communications that have to back and forth between the two branches of government.”

Ian Record:

“So you undertake reform, you complete it, and you essentially produce an entirely new system of government. And I was wondering if you can talk about perhaps, the three or four major features of that new constitution and system of government, how they differ fundamentally from the previous systems.”

James R. Gray:

“I say the biggest change obviously is the membership, the definition of who a citizen is. Anybody who is a lineal descendant of that original roll that was done in 1906 is a member of the tribe with no more rights and no less rights than any other citizen. Those fundamental principles shifted the balance of power in the tribe, it shifted the politics of the tribe, it shifted the priorities of the tribe in such a big, big way that I don’t even think now I could really grasp how significant of a change that was because for so long we were just completely focused on the price of oil. Because if you weren’t increasing the price of oil, your political future was bleak because the future hope of any tribal elected official was that there was always going to be oil and gas production to ensure a healthy head right check every quarter. And people voted based on how they did during that time they were in office. So even though the tribe had very little control over the price of oil, our political fortunes were totally tied to it, but it dominated the politics of the tribe, it dominated what we felt was important. It identified who the representatives were going to be. And so for the longest time, I can tell you that that was probably the biggest significant thing because once we went a one-man, one-vote government, the whole priorities changed. Language, culture became very important; jobs, economic development became very important. Diversifying an economy out of a total reliance on oil and gas became very important. Education became incredibly important. Health care became very important. Even though we did some of that all on the way during all those years, it never became a mandate like it became with this new government. Because you had all these different people who had all these different interests at work here. The second thing, I would probably have to say is the structure that the minerals council, which is now an independent agency within the tribe that still does the oil and gas leasing responsibilities, and their elections are by shareholders. So that’s the one vestige of the old government that we went with, that we kept intact. And those individuals continued to interact with the BIA and their regional offices and the oil and gas industry. They still do their oil and gas summits. They still do the communications directly to the shareholders. And the shareholders will still continue to be the voters in those elections. So that’s the other significant thing. I think the third thing, and of course there’s other, but I think to stop there would be the empowerment of our tribal court and the executive branch. Basically the tribal court...the courts, the executive branch and the legislative branch all resided in the tribal council for a hundred years. All three of those functions were all there. When we broke those things up into three individual parts, no one was more powerful than the other; every one of them had a role to play. The thing that is probably the most significant thing is realizing that to all those elected officials that serve on the legislature, they felt like this was a diminishment of the old tribal council’s authority because they could not jump in the middle of a court case, they could not come in and overstep the chief and direct a program and actually run a program. I made it real clear, if you just look at the constitution, you look what people said, they didn’t want 12 program directors, they wanted 12 legislators that were going to be in charge of protecting the purse of the nation as well as passing law or enacting legislation and realizing that that was one full-time function that was never given enough attention in the past because we never had the power to make law. So the legislative branch had a massive education program that they had to undertake to understand how laws are written, how the committee systems work. They had the National Society of State Legislatures come in and give them training and there was just this amazing fundamental shift. And those were probably the big three.”

Ian Record:

“So we’ve already touched on this issue of citizen education and engagement, and I was wondering if you could speak a little bit more about that particularly with respect to its importance in the constitutional reform process. If you could talk a bit about the steps that you guys took to ensure that the peoples, the voice of the people would be incorporated fully into this new constitution system of government. The voice of the people came from a lot of different sources, and some of it came strictly as shareholders interested. Some of it came as residents in the housing community. Some of them came as residents in our three villages. Some of it came as a form of an employee club kind of wish list of the things they’d like to see done in the tribe. Some of it came from the little Osage clubs that built up over the years like in Southern California, Northern California, Texas, and New Mexico and Arizona. There’s Osage organizations of people who live out there that they get together and socialize. All of them participated in involvement in one level or another in communication to myself and other elected officials about how they wanted the government run. As far as the process goes ongoing, me and the assistant chief went on the road a couple of times over the last few years to go back and just say, ‘Hey, did we get it right, are we still doing...here’s where we’re at right now, here’s what’s going on, here’s the challenges before us today. Anybody got any questions?’ And of course with the blogs and the internet becoming a source of, ‘Hey, did you hear what the chief did’ kind of stuff, a lot of times I’ve spent on the road trying to just knock down rumors and things like that and realizing that some of the stuff they hear is coming from the least informed individuals in the tribe. And so naturally, they latch on to any kind of conspiracy theory and things like that so it becomes...communication is becoming more and more of an issue. And the method by which we communicate is through our tribal newsletter and our tribal website. The tribal newsletter has gone through a lot of fundamental shifts and changes. We’re trying to create, by Osage law, a fourth estate that actually, there will be an independent newspaper that will report on news of the Osage Nation free of any interference from the tribal congress or my office and the courts and realizing that that is a truly remarkable achievement for any tribe, especially a new democracy like ours. But recognizing that once Osages got a taste of democracy, they want the whole meal, they want an independent press, they want the structures in accountability, the treasurer of the Osage Nation has to issue an annual report. There’s all these fundamental calls for action to insure accountability because the Osages have never really seen the tribe have this kind of money before. We have seven operating casinos today generating $200 million a year in economic activity. We’re the largest employer in Osage County by far. We’re the largest employee of non-Indians by far. We do a lot of charity; we do a lot of community outreach. We have outstanding agreements with the state and federal agencies, local communities, municipalities, school boards, county commissioners, drug courts with the district courts. We have a lot of relationships that we’ve created because the priorities of the nation had changed.”

Ian Record:

“So you mentioned it’s been three years since, a little over three years since the new constitution was passed and new system of government was created. I’m curious to learn what sorts of growing pains you’re encountering as you continue to build and expand and strengthen this amazing system of government.”

James R. Gray:

“I think the biggest challenge for us is communication. I think we have to be better at communicating to each other. We need to be able to do constructive debate. I think that sometimes in a tribal political environment, or even in politics in Washington or at the State Capitol, you’re going to run into elements in our community that are more on the fringe of responsible discourse. And I think the...combine that unbridled right of free speech that is now in our constitution with the access to the internet, with the access to the blogs, with the personal agendas being advanced by a lot of different folks, some of it worthy of attention, some of it not. I’ll leave it up to the reader to decide what’s important. Communication, clear, open, a degree of transparency that not only provides for assurances and accountability, but also, accountability and transparency with a certain caution that you are going to protect the rights of the individuals, you are going to preserve personnel files, you’re going to preserve health records, you’re going to preserve the Social Security numbers that are contained in our enrollment list in our membership office. So there’s an obligation that we have an open records act, that we also have an obligation of creating a privacy act to go right along with it just so that we balance out the needs of the individuals against the needs of the tribe and the responsibilities both have. And there’s a lot of work to do in this area. There’s a mountain of work to do in this area. And probably right now we’re just struggling through the simple little petty power politics that happens with a new tribal, a new government of any kind. So unfortunately we’ve been digressed a bit by some of those side issues, but the primary function of the tribe is to take care of its people. And the institutions that the nation has are all there. We have a mandate from the people to protect and preserve our culture and language. We have a mandate from the people to create jobs and economic diversification. We have a mandate to the people to ensure the protection of the Osage mineral state. We have enormous beneficial financial resources from our gaming operations. All seven of our casinos are paid for and they’re all just bringing in money right now. And so we’re at a point now where we can reinvest those dollars in all different kinds of ways, reclaiming our history and being able to tell our story because we’ve never been able to do that. Going back to setting up systems of accountability to ensure the compliance is done for federal and state and tribal laws that have overlapping jurisdiction in our communities, making sure that whenever we hire someone, that they are allowed due process rights. And so political hires are separate from all that. Everyone else -- just like in the federal government system -- has their own employee protection rights. They have it in state governments as well because those employees are career employees. They’ll be there long after I’m gone still doing their job. And they should be, if they’re going to commit their career and their family to living in Pawhuska and working for their tribe and working at capacity, that at the very least, the tribe owes them a commitment to assure that their pension is not going to get jacked with or their personnel rights are not going to be destroyed. And they’ll be expected to do a good job and if they do a good job, they’ll be financially rewarded for that. There’s a lot of things that’s put upon all of us to build this nation up right, and it’s an enormous challenge. It’s something that I did not really anticipate fully until I actually had to roll up my sleeve and actually get in the business of doing it.”

Ian Record:

“Well it’s probably good you didn’t fully anticipate it or you might have had second thoughts. Equally impressive, from our perspective, as the constitution is the comprehensive strategic plan process that you guys embarked on directly on the heels of the ratification of the new constitution. As if the constitutional reform wasn’t exhaustive enough, you said let’s do comprehensive strategic planning for the entire nation. Why did the nation decide it was so important to take that step at that time?”

James R. Gray:

“I came up with this idea actually when I was campaigning for chief in 2006, when I was running for re-election. And I was sitting back there at all the political forums and I would just sit in the back row and usually I would let everyone else go talk first. One day I just sat there after going to about my 15th or 16th one, you hear the same speeches from the same candidates who followed me at all the other events that we went to and I took a note pad and I just started putting a dollar amount next to every campaign promise that was being made by every elected official. And so when I got up there and spoke, and at this particular event I spoke last, and I said, ‘Well, because of the casinos that we have right now we probably generate about $25 to $35 million annually...,’ that was the existing numbers that we had at the time, ‘...of revenue, of which about $20 million of it is spent on government operations. So that leaves us about $10 to $15 million that we get to save, invest, reinvest, create new program services, build, buy land, do all this other stuff; all the things that you’ve been hearing. I just want to let you all know...,’ and I was just talking to everybody in the room and I said, ‘...I just added it up, there’s roughly from when you add the oil and gas refinery to the, we want to build our own lake, we want to buy all our land back, we want to...and all of a sudden you start putting an actual dollar number next to this and I’m sitting here looking at about three-quarters of a billion dollars of campaign promises. And I just told you we only get about $10 to $15 million a year. Now, how are you going to prioritize the stuff that you know you could do now against the stuff that you want to do, but you know it’s going to take a long time to get there and realizing that there’s going to have to be some kind of prioritization of ideas that need to be implemented under this new government?’ And so after I got elected, and I was talking to our senior planner after I gave my speech, after I was inaugurated the second term, I said, ‘How many tribal leaders do you know of when given the opportunity to give a speech to this audience on this occasion would use it to give a policy speech?’ And I said, ‘I feel like I missed the opportunity here to do something really grand,’ but unfortunately all I talked about was strategic planning and realizing that with limited resources -- but significant -- it was necessary for us to prioritize what we wanted this government to do.”

Ian Record:

“And I know that in this strategic planning process, the Osage Nation essentially followed this same inclusive comprehensive approach to getting the citizens’ input.”

James R. Gray:

"I think we used that as an element of the process. Like I talked to you about earlier -- that I wasn’t really interested in the outcome. I just wanted to make sure that everyone had enough ownership into that thing that they felt like that’s their plan too. It’s not my plan; it’s the people’s plan. We drove that home again and again and again. I said, ‘Look, you’re going to be the one...we already know what our past is. We’ve seen, we’ve lived through it, and we know it from shared stories that we’ve had, oral traditions and things of that nature. Today we’re here to talk about the future and we want you to write it. And as an Osage citizen newly endowed with inalienable rights to pursue that goal is the focus of this work.’ So we walked everybody through it and it created such a tsunami of excitement, enthusiasm, optimism, political engagement that we have never seen before from the citizenry because they really did take that seriously. And we didn’t just go once. After we did the initial round of the town hall meetings we came back, we brought together a group of Osage citizens that were program directors, elected officials, judges, employees, community leaders, cultural leaders, elders, people who lived off the reservation, and we brought them all back to go through the results of all those town hall meetings and consolidate these projects and these ideas and notions of governments exercising their sovereignty in all these different ways, broke them down into six different categories. And then we broke them down even further into projects and we rewrote basically what we felt was probably the appropriate way to put it back out to the people in the form of a survey. And we asked them, ‘Based on these descriptions that you’ve told us, how would you rank the most important ones?’ So they were given the opportunity to yet again provide additional input. After we got the feedback from those surveys we were able to break them down in the six categories -- economic development, environment, education, health care, government and justice and minerals and natural resources -- and in those six categories, it had specific things that they were supposed to do. We listed all the programs and departments and institutions of the government in a different grid and depending on what the project was it indicated which program department was responsible for carrying it out, which one would support, which one was going to lead and so we had our marching orders. It gave us such clarity as to what was going to happen and how we were going to get there. That was the remarkable achievement and that’s why it was so much more of a valuable management tool, as was the constitution was for the people. The constitution gave you the road map, the strategic plan put you in the car and filled up the tank, who gets on the bus. I mean it was...in other words, you had to get that first and then you build upon it all these other things. And part of that strategic plan was to give us some sense of direction, that with this government, we can achieve all these things. And that became the major accomplishment out of that whole process.”

Ian Record:

“Doesn’t also, too, make your day-to-day challenge, your daily challenges as an elected leader that much easier, when you have that strategic plan to use as a guide to make those decisions to decide whether to put this fire out or not, or put that fire out or not?”

James R. Gray:

“Right. Like I said, it’s an excellent management tool because you know what your priorities are. You walk in the door every morning to go to work. You know what you’re going to do. Now, there’s uncertainty all the time in this business as a tribal leader. You never know what’s going to happen. There could be a water leak in the casino that forced [you] to close it. I mean you deal with the crisis of the day, but once that has been addressed, then you have all this other stuff that’s already been laid out for you. And our challenge right now is getting our employees and our directors in a structure, an employment structure that rewards their hard work, that doesn’t just reward quit and stay, that rewards accomplishments, that puts the programs on a performance-based management tool. All these things came right out of strategic planning. Then we realized, it’s not going to be easy getting some of these individuals that worked under that old system their whole careers to switch to something brand new without the necessary trainings. So we had to invest a lot into their education on working in teams and understanding the performance-based budget, and understanding how to draft their budgets. For years, the CFO [chief financial officer] did everyone’s budgets. And when I came in, I tore that thing down and really, I said, ‘Look, if you want to be paid as a director, then I think you should know what your budget is.’ So with all the assistance and providing from the accounting and taking them to classes and getting software installed on our computers, all the directors did their own budgets, and it was a major accomplishment. I mean these kind of changes don’t happen overnight. You have to really invest in education and training of getting your people motivated. And that’s that old saying, just because someone has the right degree, from the right school, that had X amount of years in the workforce, if they’ve got a lousy attitude, they’ll never work out. If you’ve got someone with just the bare minimum educational qualities, with just the bare minimum of work experience, but they are so on fire to do a great job, you can do so much more with that individual just because their attitude’s changed. And my job primarily is to keep people fired up about this and acknowledging our successes whenever we have them and reward these guys. And so the real challenge for us is to take the strategic plan off the paper and put it into a service and put it into program and put it into action. And so that’s the process we’re in right now. We’re doing this massive reorganization of the employee structure. How we pay, the merit pay system, all the things that we’re doing with training and education, working in teams, breaking this up into divisions, and getting ourselves out of that old tribal council mentality that any of these [Osage] Congressmen can come into your office and tell you who to hire, who not to hire, who to contract, who not to contract with, where you’re going to put your desk to where you’re going to order your pens from. That kind of micromanaging is gone and so they’re empowered with those responsibilities, but if they’re going to have the responsibilities here’s the parameters and here’s the training you’re going to get.”

Ian Record:

“So we were just talking about your...this issue of leadership and how the new system, the new constitution and the new system of government has essentially empowered you to do your job better, to manage more effectively, to administer the decisions the [Osage] Congress makes more effectively. I’ve heard the challenge of being a tribal leader described as drinking from a fire hose, in terms of trying to manage all the pressures that you face on a day-to-day basis and forge ahead on behalf of the nation, moving the community forward. And I was wondering if you could speak to that challenge and how, perhaps, what advice you would give new leaders as to how to handle that load, forge ahead and actually make a difference in the long run.”

James R. Gray:

“I think in my situation, because for four years I didn’t have that kind of responsibility, and in the last four years I have had that kind of responsibility, it became real clear to me that chief of the Osage Nation under this government has a lot more responsibility to communicate. There’s a lot more communication responsibility both internally and externally. I think we have a duty, more than anything else to let people know, certainly those that live within the Osage Nation, but aren’t Osage, that we’re not out to get them or we’re part of the community; we’re a good corporate entity that does a lot charity, that does a lot of community projects, that does a lot of outreach, that does a lot of outstanding agreements with municipalities and county governments and state and overlapping federal agencies that have a variety of different kinds of jurisdiction here, that interact with the tribe, that there’s an external component, almost like a secretary of state application. And if you don’t do that, if you’re not paying attention to that, that stuff can kill you as a tribal leader if you don’t take care of those things. So you’ve got to have someone that’s paying attention to that so that you can meet those obligations. Internally, like I told you before, the work that we’re engaged in right now of building, creating building blocks of institutions of governance that...in fact, contracting and employment policies and our due process rights of individual citizens and employees, whether they’re Indian or not, have enormous implications upon the tribe to have some kind of adequate procedures in place, whether it’s by law or by administrative procedures. In the effect of actually trying to create a nation that has all these moving parts and all these gears of information coming in and out, you can really tell where the gaps are because you end up spending more and more time on certain issues, the same issue over and over again. And so you’ve got to have a good, quality internal staff that actually manages the programs, anticipating the next big fight or dilemma or challenge or obstacle, and be able to look around the corner a little bit and try to prepare for that. Then you have the outstanding issues that you can only achieve by litigation, that you only have to achieve by getting legislation passed, and things of that nature. So your job as a leader is managing a thousand moving parts constantly and realizing that you don’t have the capacity to deal with all of that yourself. So the best advice I can give to a tribal leader is to hire a bunch of people way smarter than you because if they’re relying on my IQ then we’re in a lot worse shape than I thought, but at least I’m smart enough to know that if I can get some smart people to come work for this tribe and give them the resources and turn them loose to do those things, to anticipate the next fight, to deal with the crisis of the day, to implement the future strategic plan, to live within the confines of the constitution, to work with our counterparts in Congress, to work with the state and local governments in an effective manner that projects real sovereignty, one that we don’t ask permission to exercise, one that we exercise because it is inherent and to say that, but to do it is the implementation and to do it effectively with the right people and the tools that provide for the accountability and the transparency that the people expect. That is the...that, in essence, is the kind of thing that you have to do as a tribal leader.”

Ian Record:

“Well Chief Gray, I really appreciate your time. Thank you for sharing your experience and your wisdom and your perspectives on Native nation building with us.”

James R. Gray:

“All right. You’re welcome."

Sophie Pierre: Enacting Self-Determination and Self-Governance at Ktunaxa

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

In this informative interview with NNI's Ian Record, Sophie Pierre, longtime chief of the Ktunaxa Nation, discusses Ktunaxa's ongoing effort to reclaim and redesign their system of governance through British Columbia's treaty process, specifically Ktunaxa's citizen-led process to develop a new constitution that reflects and advance Ktunaxa cultural values and its priorities for the future.

People
Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Pierre, Sophie. "Enacting Self-Determination and Self-Governance at Ktunaxa." Leading Native Nations interview series. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, The University of Arizona. Phoenix, Arizona. October 21, 2008. Interview.

Ian Record:

“Welcome to Leading Native Nations, a program of the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy at the University of Arizona. I’m your host, Ian Record. Today, I am honored to welcome to the program Sophie Pierre, who for the past 26 years has served as chief of the St. Mary’s Indian Band in British Columbia. She also serves as the chairperson of the Ktunaxa Nation Council, an organization formed in 1970 to promote the political and social development of its five member bands, which includes St. Mary’s. She is the past co-chair of the First Nation Summit and a recipient of the Order of British Columbia. Last but certainly not least, Chief Pierre also serves as co-chair of the International Advisory Council for the Native Nations Institute. Welcome, Sophie and thank you for joining us today.”

Sophie Pierre:

“Thank you very much, Ian. It’s a pleasure to be here.”

Ian Record:

“Sophie, I’d like to start with a question that I ask all of the guests on this program and that is how do you define sovereignty and what does it really mean for Native nations?”

Sophie Pierre:

“I think that what it really means was explained by chief who’s since left, his name was Joe Mathias, he was chief of Squamish and he always said that sovereign, that exercising sovereignty was that the people who are going to live with the results of a decision are the people who make the decision and to me that’s what sovereignty has always meant is that we are responsible for our own lives, we make our decisions and we’re the people that suffer the consequences of those decisions.”

Ian Record:

“Okay. As a follow-up to that, how do you define a healthy Native community? What does that look like at Ktunaxa?”

Sophie Pierre:

“Well, we’re, I think that the healthy Native community is something that I can actually see coming into fruition and that’s a community where the decisions that are going to affect that community are being made right at the community level and that they’re being involved or everyone in the community is being involved in those decisions. The treaty process that we’ve been going through has allowed us, I think, that opportunity to engage our citizens in many aspects of life, not just the social programs that used to be the norm. Now we’re talking about making land-use decisions and far reaching planning for development and those are all at the community level, at the citizen level that those decisions are being made and that’s really where I see a healthy community is where the citizenry are engaged and they’re making, they’re charting their own course for the future.”

Ian Record:

“So essentially, regaining ownership in their own future and in the government that’s going to make that future happen.”

Sophie Pierre:

“Exactly. Yeah, exactly. It’s that regaining of ownership and it’s that recognition that the decisions that you make, that they’re, it’s the people who are going to live with the consequences that make those decisions.”

Ian Record:

“You are the chief, as I mentioned, of the St. Mary’s Indian Band and also Chair of the Ktunaxa Nation Council. Can you tell us a bit about the St. Mary’s Band, the Ktunaxa Nation, and their relationship to one another?”

Sophie Pierre:

“Well, the Ktunaxa Nation is the Canadian relative of our nation, which is like many Indian nations in North America, was divided when the 49th Parallel was put in and the two countries were created of Canada and the United States, because we have Ktunaxa speaking people in Montana, Idaho and in British Columbia. So we are the Canadian group of Ktunaxa and the St. Mary’s Indian Band is similar to the other four bands within our nation. Those were created by the federal government when they were creating the Indian reservations just after the country of Canada became the Dominion of Canada. And so the St. Mary’s Indian Band is one of five Indian bands within our nation council and we have, our Indian reserve lands are held in trust by the government for our use and benefit as are all Indian reserve lands in Canada.”

Ian Record:

“The Ktunaxa Nation and I hope I’m pronouncing that correctly, ”

Sophie Pierre:

“Yes, you are.”

Ian Record:

“, or pretty closely anyway, works to advance the strategic priorities of its member bands through what it calls the 'Four Pillars.'“

Sophie Pierre:

“That’s right.”

Ian Record:

“What are these pillars and how does the Ktunaxa Nation support or advance those pillars?”

Sophie Pierre:

“The Four Pillars are lands, first and foremost, are our lands and our resources, that determines who we are as Ktunaxa and we know where our lands are because it’s in those, that territory where we have place names and when I’m describing our lands, that’s, I can give the place names, sort of the boundaries of it. And it’s our people, always, it’s the people of Ktunaxa ancestry, Ktunaxa speaking people and it’s our governance and then it’s our, the sort of overall what holds us together in terms of our, I’m wanting to talk about our social programs, but I don’t want to call it social programs. It’s the umbrella that provides services to the people. So it would be like our administrative side. So those are the four main pillars. And we determined that through about two years of discussion, of conversation with our people as we started to create our vision statement and that’s where that came from because we talk about strong, healthy people speaking our language and living in our traditional territory and sharing our resources and in a self-governing manner. That is our mission statement and it encompasses the four pillars.”

Ian Record:

“The Ktunaxa Nation, on behalf of its five member bands, has for several years now been engaged in comprehensive constitutional reform and governmental reform as well, which is very different in not only process but also terminology from constitutional reform by Native nations in the United States. What does the constitutional reform process entail for First Nations in Canada and what does it really look like?”

Sophie Pierre:

“It’s different in different parts of Canada. What we’re involved in in British Columbia through the treaty-making process has made it more, has made it, I think a little bit easier for us to actually get into the constitutional reform and to, maybe not so much constitutional reform as building a constitution, rebuilding our constitutions and that’s the discussion that I talked about earlier where I related that to sovereignty where there’s an engagement of your whole citizenry in order to develop that. So now we see, as we form our, build our constitution that that is being brought back to our citizens on a regular basis so they have real input into that. And what it’s going to be at the end of the day is, well, like what constitutions are, they’re the basis, they form the basis of our government and we are looking at recreating, rebuilding the governing structures that we had as Ktunaxa before contact. We, as an Indian band, of course, have been affected by the Department of Indian Affairs and their legislation called the Indian Act. We have, and I have served as such, the Indian Act-elected Leadership. And so you had mentioned that I’ve served 26 years as a chief, that’s something that I’m very grateful for having had that opportunity, but it was through the Indian Act process where we have elections. My grandfather was the last non-elected chief in our community and he stepped away from his position and passed it on in the traditional manner in 1953, but the Indian agent came in and said that the people had to do a vote according to the Indian Act, that that wasn’t, the way that we used to do it wasn’t considered democratic or whatever. So they changed it and now we’ve been having these Indian Act elections. So the, it’s sort of a melding of the way we did things traditionally to the way that we see us being able to move forward and it’s taking the 'Four Pillars' that have been developed by our people in our mission statement and determining a way that we can bring life to that mission statement so it’s not just on a piece of paper hanging on a wall -- it’s something that we live every day.”

Ian Record:

“So what compelled the Ktunaxa Nation to undertake not just constitutional reform, but as you say, but essentially rebuilding the constitution from the ground up? So, what compelled the nation to chart that course and what have been the major outcomes thus far?”

Sophie Pierre:

“Well, the, I keep mentioning the treaty process that we’re in and that really was sort of the trigger. I think that we may have been involved in this kind of discussion anyway, but probably at a lot slower pace and probably with not as much engagement of our total citizens as we have been able to through the treaty process. I think the most exciting outcome that this, that we’ve seen is the understanding and the, I don’t want to use the word 'buy-in,' but I can’t think of what else to call it, but people really believe that whether or not we sign a treaty with the other levels of government, the federal and the provincial governments, that what we have, that what we’ve recreated for ourselves, what we’ve regenerated in terms of our own governing structure, that that is really meaningful to our people and you can speak to people just on the street and they know when we talk about constitution rebuilding, we talk about recreating our government, we talk about just governance in general, people know what we’re talking about and I find that, ”

Ian Record:

“So that part of it’s taken on a life of its own, essentially.”

Sophie Pierre:

“Absolutely, yeah. And so, I mean, that’s a really positive outcome for us. And I wonder whether or not we would have been able to have that kind of an outcome if we weren’t involved, engaged in this particular negotiation with the government, but I do make that point that we may or may not reach a treaty. In fact, our American cousins tell us, ‘Why do you want to sign a treaty with the governments? They never live up to them, so why are you engaged in this?’ But for us, it’s been a really good process for our own people of engaging ourselves.”

Ian Record:

“In past conversations, you have pointed to the act of defining citizenship or more appropriately redefining citizenship as a critical first step in the Ktunaxa Nation forging a vibrant future of its own design. How so?”

Sophie Pierre:

“Well, I think that the, one of the key elements or one of our key pillars of course are our people, and our people embody our language and culture and you don’t have a choice what you’re going to be born as. Any of our people, when they’re born, we’re Ktunaxa, just as Italians are Italians and it doesn’t matter if they marry a Chinese [person], it doesn’t change them from being Italian. Well, same thing with us. And there’s been so much interference from government in terms of our own Aboriginal identity, Indigenous identity -- and I’m talking about all governments, not just in Canada -- that I think that one of the key elements of rebuilding nations is to take back ownership of the recognition of our own people. And I know that it creates difficulty because there’s a lot of, there’s very few pure blood as you would imagine, as you could say in this day and age just because of all the interaction that we’ve had with the rest of the world. But that doesn’t take away from someone who can trace their ancestry, if you can trace your ancestry to being Ktunaxa, then you’re accepted as Ktunaxa. I’ve mentioned before that our language and culture is very important and in the Ktunaxa language the word for our ancestors is '[Ktunaxa language]' and the root word of that '[Ktunaxa language]' comes from '[Ktunaxa language],' which is a root. You talk about the roots of a tree and any kind of a plant it’s '[Ktunaxa language]' and for, when you put those two words together '[Ktunaxa language],' meaning 'our roots.' And so if you can trace your ancestry to being Ktunaxa, then that’s who you are and you’re accepted as such. So that it’s not a matter of again the government interference saying that there are certain percentages or if you’re, like we had in the Indian Act. For a while, if you’re an Indian woman and you marry someone who’s not a status Indian, then you lose your status. That’s fine, that status was determined by the federal government to begin with, but it never ever changed the fact that that Indian woman is and always will be an Indian and so will her children.”

Ian Record:

“So has that taken some getting used to among some community members, ”

Sophie Pierre:

“Sure it has.”

Ian Record:

“, who have for so long relied on that blood quantum?”

Sophie Pierre:

“Absolutely, yeah. And I expect that it will affect probably all of our people in that way wherever there’s been government interference in terms of determining who the people are. So again it goes back to your original question, what is sovereignty? Sovereignty is being able to determine who your own people are and welcoming all people that are of your blood, whether they’re full blood or one-sixteenth. If they can trace their ancestry, that’s what that word means '[Ktunaxa language],' you can trace your ancestry, you can trace your roots to whatever nationality and I think that it would be the same if you’re English or German. If you can trace your roots, there’s sort of this Pan-Canadian or Pan-American, like what is that? They really should, everyone has roots from somewhere else other than the Indigenous people. We’re the ones that have roots here.”

Ian Record:

“And in some way doesn’t that entail at least some level of cultural engagement? So what you’re saying is you have to be able to trace your roots. It’s very hard to do that unless you’re participating in that culture, right?”

Sophie Pierre:

“Exactly, that’s right. Yes. Yeah, we’re going to have Ktunaxa people that probably will never become, will never come home, will never be part of our activity of our government, of our communities, simply because they don’t choose to. Maybe they’re part Irish and that’s the roots that, that’s the [Ktunaxa language] they’ve chosen to follow. That’s fine. What I’m saying is that when a person chooses to follow their Ktunaxa [Ktunaxa language], then we have a responsibility to that person, to that individual.”

Ian Record:

“The how of constitutional reform, of government reform is as important as the what. That’s been our experience at the Native Nations Institute and research we’ve done. What process has your nation employed to ensure that the governmental reform that you’re undertaking proceeds the way you envisioned and what have been the keys to that success thus far?”

Sophie Pierre:

“Well, I think that we’ve had the fortune, we’ve been fortunate to have the acquaintance of such people as Stephen Cornell and Joe Kalt and Manley Begay. I remember that when we first started talking about this that Stephen and Manley came and spent some time with our leaders, and it was really interesting because all of our leaders and particularly the older people who maybe didn’t speak English as well, but they were all saying the same thing and they could really connect with the discussions that we were having around the necessity of the definition of our governance being formalized if you will into a constitution. Like other Indigenous people, we come from an oral culture. So when we talk about and when we have a good understanding, and particularly when we use the Ktunaxa language, it’s all in an oral manner, but you take that to the next level and you start putting that down into a constitution and it makes sense to people when you do that.”

Ian Record:

“So if you can give us a little bit more specifics about the process that Ktunaxa Nation has employed to engage in governmental reform and what is really key to the success thus far, because it’s a very difficult process. It’s confronting a lot of colonial legacies that a lot of people would just as soon not confront.”

Sophie Pierre:

“Absolutely. The main activity that we’ve done is that all of our discussions have been open and these go back again to the negotiations that we have with the other two levels of government. We chose that ours would be called a citizen-led process. Unfortunately, some of the Indian nations in British Columbia that are involved in treaty go behind closed doors and it’s their lawyers that are negotiating and then they bring something back to the people later. We knew that that’s not what we wanted, that wouldn’t work for us. It might work for other people, but it wouldn’t work for us. So we started with a citizen-driven process right from day one and so it was that engagement of our citizens from the beginning. And I’ll tell you, that wasn’t easy because the first reaction we got was, ‘Yeah, right. You’re going to ask us a bunch of questions, but then it’s going to sit on a shelf somewhere. Our input is never meaningful, our input never gets into the final action,’ but I think that the, well, not I think, I know that our citizens are very pleased when they see their own thoughts, their ideas, they see themselves as we move forward in the final documents that are coming out that are reaching fruition now and people can see the input that they’ve had. And so then of course it’s more meaningful for them.”

Ian Record:

“The Ktunaxa Nation has made a concerted effort to get its young people heavily involved in governance and governmental reform. Why is this so critical?”

Sophie Pierre:

“Because they’re the ones that are going to live with the consequences and of course that underlies this whole thing -- is they’re the ones that are going to live with the consequences. I’m going to be long gone and it’s going to be the younger people that are going to have to put this into fruition for us and for their children and their grandchildren. But I think that how we’ve done that is maybe as important, it goes back again to when you engage people to actually make them feel that their engagement is worthwhile. So that it’s young people that we’ve had out there that have been leading the meetings, they’re the liaisons that go into the community, that sit at the kitchen tables and talk with people or go into Band meetings or make presentations at nation meetings. You don’t always have the old-timers like myself up there speaking. No, it’s, the presentations are made by the people that are actually out there gathering the information.”

Ian Record:

“And how have perhaps the older generations responded? Are they inspired by the eagerness of the youth?”

Sophie Pierre:

“I think as a whole, yes, and of course there’s always some old curmudgeon that sits somewhere thinking that, ‘These kids should be listening as opposed to talking,’ but I think that you learn by doing and I think that the majority of people recognize that.”

Ian Record:

“One of the great success stories of the Ktunaxa Nation is the St. Eugene Mission Resort, which I know you’re very proud of.”

Sophie Pierre:

“Yes.”

Ian Record:

“Can you tell us in a nutshell the story of St. Eugene and how what is now the resort and a major economic development engine for your people, how that story is emblematic of the Ktuxana Nation’s effort to reclaim their culture, their identity and their future?”

Sophie Pierre:

“You’re right, we are very, very proud of the St. Eugene Resort and because, I think the most important reason is that we chose to take something that was so negative in our past and turn it into something positive for our future. I say it that way because it really was a choice. When the residential school was shut down in 1970, the oblates, the priests who ran the school, the priests from the Catholic Church who ran the school, they turned over the property to the federal government with the understanding that the federal government would then turn it over to our tribal council. And when that was done, we were a bit unsure on what we were going to do. It’s a huge building and we could have turned it into like another school or health facility, some social-type program that would always be needing an infusion of cash; [we] chose instead to turn it into a business. And so we needed to have the approval of our people to do that and there were some people that told us that we should just knock it down. They said like that was such a horrible place, they suffered so much in that building that they wanted to see it just flattened, take it off the face of the earth. However, there were a greater number of people that understood what we were saying about turning it into something positive instead of knocking it down. So we made that choice rather than knocking it down to turn it around, and it was not easy and in fact it was very, very challenging. But we persevered and we were successful and we now have two other First Nations partners, Samson Cree Nation from Alberta and M’Chigeeng First Nation from Ontario, and it’s doing very well.”

Ian Record:

“So has that decision that you talked about, has that helped at least in some measure the community to begin healing from the experiences that took place there?”

Sophie Pierre:

“Very much so. I think a lot more so than if we had just knocked the building down. I think that actually seeing what it’s become and knowing that we did that ourselves, knowing that we made that decision and that choice to do that ourselves, I think that’s just been phenomenal and it really has had an impact. And what you see now is the younger generations refer to that as the resort. It’s only my generation that refers to it as the former school. It’s something positive and that’s what we wanted to do.”

Ian Record:

“So for younger generations and those to come it’s going to mean something a whole lot different then.”

Sophie Pierre:

“Absolutely, yeah. Yeah. For them it means a place to work, it means a place to go and recreate and it just means so much more and it’s so different from what it meant to us, to my generation.”

Ian Record:

“So you’ve been a leader for quite a long time, probably even longer than you were a leader in an elected capacity, I would imagine in my interactions with you. Pretend that I am a newly elected tribal leader who has been chosen to serve his nation for the first time. Drawing on your extensive experience as I’ve talked about, what advice would you share with me to help me empower my nation?”

Sophie Pierre:

“Talk to people, always just go around and meet with your citizens and talk with them. From elders, you’re going to learn so much from the elders, you’re going to learn from people who’ve served on council and you’re going to learn what people need when you talk to the younger generations so that’s what I, when I, the other piece of advice that I always give is that being elected is a privilege and it’s something that you have to, you are taking on a responsibility and it’s not, it’s not a position of power, it’s a position of serving your people. That’s what being elected means and you can only do that well if you know what it is your people need and assuming that your people need one thing when you haven’t gone out and talked to them about it is not a good thing to do.”

Ian Record:

“That’s interesting you mention this kind of axis between power and responsibility because we hear that so often among tribal leaders of nations who are really breaking away as we like to say, who are really finding success with their efforts to rebuild their nations in a way that they see fit and not perhaps a way that outsiders see fit -- we see that axis kind of, that axis pivoting on this issue of clearly defining your roles and responsibilities and that the conversation around leaders, it’s about responsibility and not so much power is when those roles are clearly defined. When they’re not clearly defined, it’s very hard to get away from the power issue because there’s nothing to keep you from overstepping your bounds.”

Sophie Pierre:

“Yeah, exactly and I think that that’s where it’s the process that we’ve gone through just in this last little while, because things are changing for us, and we are starting to see more financial resources coming into our communities for example, financial resources which are not grants from government, these are our own revenues, our own source of revenues, and it’s imperative that we’re ready for that and that those decisions have been made on how those resources are going to be shared among everyone before it actually starts to flow and how everybody is going to be able to benefit from it. So having that kind of responsibility and understanding that kind of responsibility as opposed to seeing it as power and using it over people -- we’ve seen the results of that. I don’t want to take any community, but you’ve seen the results of that. It’s not a good place to be.”

Ian Record:

“You kind of stole my thunder with this next question already on the advice question I asked you, but one of the things you and I have talked about in the past is this issue of effective leaders not just being decision-makers but effective leaders being good educators and good listeners and really what we’re talking about, we’ve talked about is this issue of citizen engagement, that it’s not enough just to engage your citizens come election time, but that to be an effective, empowered leader you have to be engaging your citizens all the time and that comes in the form of one-on-one personal interaction to getting the word out on the internet, whatever it might be. Can you just discuss your perspective on this issue of leaders as educators, leaders as listeners and how that plays out in your community?”

Sophie Pierre:

“Well, I think that it’s important that when a person is in a position of leadership that you also recognize the, not just the responsibility but the onus that is on you to ensure that people feel confident that you’re going to be able to represent what they need both within the community and also on the outside. So I think that that’s another very important part of leadership is to be able to go into the wider society and talk about the issues that are important to you like say some of the land development that’s going on and I would think [is] affecting all Indian nations. I was listening to that, the presentation just a little while ago from Ak-Chin and how they’re taking on the development that’s going on around them and getting, and their leadership made sure that the community that has infringed all the way around them is aware that, what the outside community is doing is going to affect life in their community and I think that that is a very important part of leadership. So there’s the leadership within the community and you’re absolutely right about, that you need to have input and you need to be able to listen to everybody’s point of view. And half the time, they’re not going to agree with what you’ve said and that’s okay. You engage in those discussions and eventually come to an agreement where that everybody can live with. So you engage your own citizens internally, but then you also have to engage the people that live around you and you have to do it in such a way that it’s respectful, but it’s also forceful so that people will listen.”

Ian Record:

“So really what you’re talking about in terms of leaders as educator,s it’s not just a challenge to educate your own citizens but there’s this kind of constant challenge of having to educate those people outside of your nation that are making decisions that are going to impact your nation’s future.”

Sophie Pierre:

“Absolutely, yes. And I think that that is becoming more and more a very important part of leadership. I think it probably always has been but it has not really, it hasn’t played as prominent a role, but I think that nowadays you cannot be a leader in your community without being able to communicate with the wider society about what it is that your nation or your community is involved in, and I think that one of the very important messages to make, too, is how much our communities are part of the larger community so to speak in terms of, even just in terms of economics when you figure how much money is actually spent in the local town of Cranbrook, for example, by people from my community and how much the businesses rely on that and what would happen if we were to suddenly not support Cranbrook business anymore. I think that it’s those, that kind of being real players in the whole life of the region. I think it’s very important.”

Ian Record:

“One of your neighboring nations, the Osoyoos Indian Band, shares this, at least their leadership shares this perspective about the importance of their nation going out and educating again these outside decision-makers whose decisions impact the nation. They made a concerted effort to do that, particularly around economic development as you mentioned and the incredible ripple effect that takes place when economic development takes place in Aboriginal communities.”

Sophie Pierre:

“Absolutely. That’s the point that I always make is that when we’ve got any financial resources coming into our community, we don’t squirrel it away in some Swiss bank. We go and spend it in the local community so it’s, it makes a big difference.”

Ian Record:

“We call it the 'Walmart effect' down here in the United States.”

Sophie Pierre:

“Yeah.”

Ian Record:

“It was interesting, in preparing for this interview I happened to Google your name and one of the first links that popped up was YouTube, and I had occasion to review a video that was recently posted on YouTube about the Farnham Blockade. Can you tell us a bit about the background to that story and why you felt it so important to take part in the blockade?”

Sophie Pierre:

“Well, it’s a major development, major tourism development on a very fragile glacier and the whole development itself from the get-go has been of great concern to us because we see that it’s, the development is of such a magnitude that it’s going to have impacts not only on the environment, which it’ll have a very detrimental impact, but on the wildlife and on the people that live there. It’s going to affect us in every way possible. So we’ve always been concerned about that and we have not been able to find any reason from the studies that have been done and everything that has been given to us, we haven’t been able to find any reason to support that level of development. And the provincial government has been kind of interesting in the position that they’ve taken here, because on the one hand they say that people in the local region should be the ones to make a decision because they’re the ones that are going to be impacted by the development. But on the other hand, they do these kind of, it’s almost underhanded actions that they take, where we found out in terms of the Farnham Incident, we found out that the provincial, one of the provincial ministries had actually transferred a license that they had given to a non-profit, Olympic ski organization that trains Olympic skiers, they had transferred that tenure from this non-profit to the development, to the profit-oriented group and in a very major way they transferred this tenure and hadn’t told anyone. And so when my colleagues brought this up, the response from the ministry was, ‘Oops, I guess we forgot to tell you.’ It was just very, very irresponsible kind of actions. So I think that the government really need, the provincial government in this case, they really need to put their own actions in what they say that they’re going to do. If it’s important for local citizens to make the decisions about the areas that they live in, then they should be allowed to do so and not have the provincial government step in and decide what’s going to be in our best interest. I think we’re beyond those days, I would certainly hope that we are anyway.”

Ian Record:

“So what do you see for the future of this issue?”

Sophie Pierre:

“Well, right now I think that we’re going to have to continue to fight it, quite frankly. I don’t see a whole lot of support coming from the province, I don’t see a lot of leadership coming from the province and the local people, I think at the last count and they do it fairly regularly, it’s like 85 or 90 percent opposition by our local citizens and I’m not talking just about the Aboriginal people of which our tribal council has had a formal position that we are very concerned with the proposed development because of its size. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, as they say, to figure out that our environment is in real dire straits and you take a look at that poor glacier. It is just ravaged and they’re talking about building a resort on it so that people can ski on it in the summertime. At some point, rational thought has got to start kicking in.”

Ian Record:

“Do you feel your nation and others have a leadership role to play in that regard?”

Sophie Pierre:

“Oh, absolutely, and we are very, we very much step up to the plate with that one.”

Ian Record:

“What do you see for the future of First Nations in Canada when it comes to self-determination and specifically governance?”

Sophie Pierre:

“That’s an interesting question because the, on the one hand, our Canadian government would probably say that there’s a very large, there’s a big move towards self-determination and governance. In fact, they’ve got programs called 'Self-Determination' and 'Self-Governance.' And of course that is the exact opposite of self-determination and self-governance. However, I think that there’s a couple things that are at play that will support self-determination and self-governance. In British Columbia, we have the treaty process, which some of us are taking advantage of in that way to re-establish our own governments but then there’s, we’ve also been fortunate in some of the court decisions that have been made, the legal cases that have been made that have led the government to actually vacate areas that they assumed that they had some say, and so we’ve been able to enforce Aboriginal title, Aboriginal rights in that way so yeah, I think that that’s, that’s been sort of an interesting outcome of some of the court decisions.”

Ian Record:

“So what about your nation specifically? You mentioned earlier on in the interview about...that strategic planning has been a key for you as you’ve moved towards governmental reform for instance, you’ve got a strategic plan in place or a strategic vision of where you want to head. What does the future look like for Ktunaxa Nation and how is the nation today working to get there?”

Sophie Pierre:

“It’s our mission statement. I’ve mentioned that it covers all aspects, it covers the Four Pillars that are the Bible for us, so to speak. And so for our organizations, our governments, our elected leadership, we know that that is our path and so if the government comes along with a new program, we measure it by our mission statement. Does it fit with our mission? If it doesn’t, carry on, move on to somebody else, leave us alone. We have our path, we’ve set our sights on what our nation is going to look like and it’s going to be the embodiment of that mission statement and if other people’s actions don’t fit in with that, then we don’t become involved.”

Ian Record:

“So what you’re saying is that this mission statement, which is essentially as you’re talking about your strategic plan, it’s where you want to head long-term.”

Sophie Pierre:

“Yes.”

Ian Record:

“It gives you a basis upon which to decide matters that are before you, day to day.”

Sophie Pierre:

“Exactly, yes.”

Ian Record:

“And that essentially, does that not really empower you as a leader?”

Sophie Pierre:

“Absolutely and well, yeah, it’s actually, it makes it a lot easier I think to start, when you start juggling things and particularly as we’ve come to this place where we’re at and we’ve had to depend so much on other governments to...and other sources of resources coming into our communities, whether they’re financial resources or whatever to keep our communities moving, we’ve always had to react to somebody else’s agenda and it’s been so empowering to say, ‘We don’t have to do that anymore. We know what it is we want: strong, healthy citizens speaking our language and practicing our culture in our homelands in a self-governing manner and looking after our own lands and resources.’ It covers all those areas and so if something comes along that doesn’t fit in there, then like I said, I don’t have to worry about it. As chief, I don’t have to worry about it. And the next administration, they will find that it’s going to be a lot simpler just to follow that plan.”

Ian Record:

“Well, Sophie, I’d like to thank you very much for taking the time to join us today. I’ve certainly learned a great deal and I’m sure our audience has as well. That’s all for today’s program of Leading Native Nations, produced by the Native Nations Institute and Arizona Public Media at the University of Arizona. To learn more about this program and Sophie Pierre and the Ktunaxa Nation, please visit the Native Nations Institute’s website at www.nni.arizona.edu. Thank you for joining us. Copyright 2008. Arizona Board of Regents."

Patricia Riggs: Educating and Engaging the Community: What Works?

Producer
Archibald Bush Foundation and the Native Nations Institute
Year

Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Economic Development Director Patricia Riggs shares the citizen education and engagement strategies her nation employed in strengthening its governance system.

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

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Riggs, Patricia. "Educating and Engaging the Community: What Works?" Remaking Indigenous Governance Systems seminar. Archibald Bush Foundation and the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Prior Lake, Minnesota. May 3, 2011. Presentation.

"I'm glad to be here. I've been asked a few times by NNI to do a few presentations on our progress and the different work that we've done at Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, and I can tell you that when we started this work a few years ago it was just about trying to change our community and make Ysleta del Sur Pueblo a better place to live. We never imagined that we'd actually be serving as a model and we're very proud to be here. First of all, I just want to say that we did not do constitutional reform. You heard from Regis Pecos yesterday about the government of Pueblos. And our tribe is a Pueblo and we do have a traditional form of government. However, I've also heard other people talk about how a constitution is really how a community chooses to govern itself. So we do have a body of law with different institutions, as well as different policy and ordinances. And so that -- in addition to our traditional and our administrative council -- is the basis for our governance.

So what we did is we set out to do different changes and adopt different policies and foundational work for Ysleta del Sur Pueblo. And one of the things that we learned straight off is that we needed to basically, is -- what we coined a new word -- and it's called 'Tigua-fy.' Besides Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, we're also known as the Tigua. So we set off to Tigua-fy everything that we did. So we even came up with an acronym for...so we set out to Tigua-fy everything and the way that our project got started is our casino was closed. And it's a real long story and I know we don't have enough time to go through all of that, but basically what happened is Ysleta del Sur Pueblo was federally restored in 1987. So at the time of restoration, our tribe was pretty much living in poverty. We had an unemployment rate of 50 percent. Our poverty rates were extremely high and education, almost, I'd say more than 75 percent of the tribe had less than a high school education. And at the time of restoration 68 acres of land was conveyed into trust. Well, in the 1990s the State of Texas opened, started bingo and the lottery. So we decided that we would go ahead and open up a casino. What happened is, in our restoration act for us, as well as other tribes in Texas -- the Alabama Coushattas as well -- there was some language in our act that stated the tribe shall not have gaming that is illegal in Texas. So we operated a casino for a few years. Unemployment went down to five percent, education was on the rise, we started building a lot of housing and infrastructure and we increased our land base from 68 acres to 75,000 acres. Well, the State of Texas, they sued us and they wanted to close us down. Texas basically isn't very friendly to Indian tribes. There used to be say 150 tribes in Texas and right now there's three. And so Texas sued us and the district court sided with them, citing that our tribe did not, IGRA [the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act] did not apply to our tribe. So in 2002 the casino closed and by 2008 unemployment had risen to 18 percent. And except for our smoke shop basically all our businesses were failing.

So we decided that we needed to conduct a Pueblo economic revitalization program. So we basically set out to transform strategy, policy and the economy. This was not an easy process. I was working somewhere else at the time and the tribe called me and said, 'We want you to come back and we want you to do economic development.' And I'd never done that, so I was like, "˜Okay. So what do you want me to do?' And they basically told me that they wanted me to start a business that would bring in the same revenue as the casino. That was my job. I was like, "˜That's not going to happen, right?' So I started looking at different models and of course I ran into NNI and Harvard Project and I started looking at the different models. And so I started talking about the nation-building process and I don't think anybody really understood it or really thought that I had any kind of experience or credibility in that area. So what I started with was really the mindset, a very, very negative mindset, and I was hearing things at different meetings like 'Tiguas don't want to learn,' 'no use,' 'clients non-compliant with program policies,' 'nobody wants to participate,' 'tribal members don't want to give out their personal information,' and it just went on and on. I actually had a conversation with a former director that actually said to me that they hadn't been able to hire tribal members because they have criminal records and are drug users. And of course this was a non-tribal director so I just responded, "˜Well, I guess you should hide your purse then because it could get stolen in this room and it might be me.' So needless to say she's not there anymore. And just everybody was saying this. It was coming from directors --whether they were tribal, non-tribal -- employees, leaders, generally community members. So we learned early on that community education and engagement was critical.

In 2006, we set off to Tigua-fy nation building, and that's the year that the economic development department was established. We formed different advisory committees and task forces and started looking at best practices. So in 2007, council passed a landmark resolution which had a few bullet points and talking points about how we were going to get this started. And what they did at that point is they committed. They committed dollars; they committed time and resources to actually taking this on. So we had also by then looked at different successful models and pretty much...what happened basically is that the tribe basically had hit rock bottom. We had no clue what we were going to do next and our funds were depleting. We actually went through a financial snapshot and where we assessed where our finances were, where they had been during the time of the casino, and at the rate that we were spending at, where we would be in a few years. And what we found is that in seven years basically we'd be bankrupt unless we started to change things. And this really is what set everything into motion.

Together with tribal council and the community, we started looking at what we were going to do to increase our sovereignty as well as changing our attitude and committing. So of course success breeds success and we started learning from different tribes just as you're doing here. We looked at different tribes such as the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, the Chickasaw Nation, and the Tulalip Tribes. And then for the first time, the community -- together with different directors and tribal council -- set out to create a vision and a mission. And it went through all kinds of different processes. We worked with different groups and this is what we ended up working with. Pretty much our vision is to become a self-sufficient Pueblo and power to thrive in a modern world while preserving our cultural foundation. And surviving [in] a modern world was very important to us because the City of El Paso has pretty much grown around our reservation and we're sitting in the middle of an urban location. So we have to learn to adapt in order to deal with that. And then our mission of course is to promote self-sufficiency, improve the quality of life and promote the cultural identity of the Pueblo.

Basically it was a grassroots initiative, so all kinds of different community presentations started taking place and we had different platforms that we worked with. We knew early on that it was about institution building and that we had to assess and do strategic planning. Some of the things that came out of this like, for example, I noted earlier that we started different advisory councils and task forces. Well, this actually empowered different groups to do their work. We had the tribal elders, they decided that they were going to form their own committee with their own bylaws and charters and that they were going to have a lot of input in what happened to their programs and with their budgets. And then for the first time a tribal youth council was also established. We did different things as far as strategic planning is concerned and so we started adding different focuses, and I'll explain more a little about how the process actually took place.

I can tell you this. If you invite them, they will not come. I can't tell you how many times, the first couple times I sat and I invited everybody and "˜Come, we're going to do this nation building,' and that's what the room looked like. And it was very disheartening and thinking nobody cared. What I realized early on was that was just a wrong process. If you just go about sending a flyer, it's not going to work. We realized that we had to appeal to everybody. So we started being very specific about who we were working with for different projects. And so for different projects we targeted parents, youth, leadership, elders, directors, different programs and traditional and spiritual people, as well as the tribal enterprises. Pretty much as far as outreach with the community, don't expect anyone to come to you. You really have to go out and go to them.

And what I mean by go to them is like you get on the tribal council agenda, you talk about your platform and the things that you want to work with and do and then you also present at community meetings. Back at Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, we have quarterly community meetings that at least, there's not a specific date for them but basically earlier you heard Regis talk about reaching consensus through their Council of Principales. Well, for us, we reach consensus during a community meeting. So that was one of the places that we delivered our message as well as we would go out to the elder center and work with them. We held retreats for tribal council and directors. As I said, we had different committees and task forces and then we created things like Junior Nation Builders and we went to the day care. So we were able to present to parents there as well. And one of the things we started joking about, "˜Let them eat steak.' So we found that barbecues and steak works really well also. And then along the way we also incorporated culture in everything that we did. So basically what the lesson here was rather than just have these big broad-based meetings, we needed to target specific groups.

There was a lot of education that happened. For example, we had executive nation building in 2007 and that's when it really got started. And I won't go through all of them but we...there was very specific areas as far as education that we had to look at. It ended up all the way down to where we did things like how do you collect data? Because we had to know whether we were actually doing the right things: what the baseline, what was unemployment, what was poverty? So that years down the road we could figure out if we had actually made an impact. We also, you have that book the Rebuilding Native Nations -- we also worked with that. I'll tell you about that a little bit more in a little bit.

One of the things that we learned also early on is we need to assess and be honest and realistic. So part of the group that was working and leading the charge for change, we had college degrees and we thought like, "˜Oh, well, we know theoretical models and we're going to go show everybody.' So we had these statements like 'limited capacity building to build environment conducive to community and economic development, viability of tribal economic and business endeavors is weak.' That reminds me of, what is that movie with "˜to endeavor and persevere.' Anybody know where that statement comes from? Josey Wales, right. So I saw that movie after we had this statement I was like, 'Ah, we're kind of being cheesy here, right.' So what we realized is that we were being a little too technical for YDSP. And when it really hit me is I went to Native Nations Institute and they highlighted the tribe and they had problem statements for different tribes. And we didn't quite put it that way but what they had on their slide was "˜ineffective government.' And I can tell you, ouch, that really hurt. It was like, that's exactly what our problem is and that's what we've got to admit and move forward from there.

The other thing is we realized right away that partnerships work. Sometimes, unfortunately your tribal members don't realize that you do have credentials and you have experience and you have something to add to the tribe, but you have to actually bring people in and it really does help. So these are the different people that actually came in. I know there's somebody from Hualapai here and Judge Flies-Away is there. Also Peter Morris from NCAI, Lance Morgan's in there from Ho Chunk. We had Chickasaw come in and different tribes present to our tribe.

The other thing is a lot of intergenerational outreach happened. We needed to be informative and creative and also have fun. We actually established different games. We established different programs like we had a youth nation-building program where we taught history, governance and we also taught about the tribal economy and what was happening and had them help with the visioning process. On your top left, that was a game which we called the Tigua Road to Life and it was kind of a Monolopy/Life game but it was in the Tigua Ysleta del Sur Pueblo setting and they had to either...they had to make injections...they had to make the decisions that they either made injections or linkages to the tribal community and then also decisions in leadership. We still play that game. The kids love it. And then I found out really easily that adults love games. As you can see, they're having a great time there. So the other thing is we let everybody participate. Whatever group it was, whatever level of government they were in, they became part of the process. And we had quite a few different sessions.

We also established different educational series. One of...you can find these on our website. It's ysletadelsurpueblo.org and all one word. We also created our own strategic planning guide where different agencies followed the model. And then we also did different reports on nation building, had reports on what nation building is and put it in perspective with Ysleta del Sur Pueblo. So along the way we actually started making it in the news. And the other things is you need to identify who's going to help you with this process. We identified key opinion leaders through different boards, committees, elders and supporters. And also we also worked with Nation Nations Institute and we helped to pilot the long distance-learning curriculum. We had 48 members graduate from this course.

And in the end though, we did all this community engagement, but you have to have things to show. Tigua nation building ended up with a different code development. We did a tax code, we did an incorporation code, secured transaction code. We built different institutions such as the Tigua Inc. Development Corporation. Right now we're working on the non-profit. And we also did a lot of capacity building with the different departments. And we're also working at this time on an entrepreneurship program and resource development grants management. This process had a ripple effect on the tribe. There was one -- as I started off -- a changed mindset and raised accountability for different departments as well as the tribal government. When we changed the tax code, for example, we went from $58,000 in taxes and ended up the very next year, we had a $1 million in taxes. And part of the reason for this is the tribe had decided that it was going to wholesale adopt the State of Texas code and of course that wasn't feasible or we really couldn't enforce it. But by changing the code to a small manageable code, we were able to raise revenue through there. We did needs-based fundraising tied to our strategic plans. We went from $350,000 a year in raising funds to $3 million a year. And then we also diversified our economy through Tigua Inc. and we do federal contracting now and we are developing a commercial district.

Just a word: keep it fresh, keep the momentum up, do different things. Like for example, now we have an AmeriCorps Program where our youth in college are actually doing the nation building for us, and work with different partners as well. Make sure that you recognize individuals at all levels and incorporate culture in everything that you do. And also keep the bottom line in mind. This whole process is about actually adding value, both quantitative and qualitative value. So in the end you've got to deliver. So this our...we're building this right now, the Tigua Business Center, which is going to house economic development, the Tigua Development Corporation, as well as some tribal member businesses, and then we're also building a Tigua Technology Center that's also going to be an incubator for the tribe. It's not really the buildings; it's the things that are taking place in the buildings. Those are in a nutshell the things that we've done over the last few years. Thank you."

Hepsi Barnett: How Did We Go About Remaking Our Constitution?

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Former staff member Hepsi Barnett of the Osage Government Reform Commission discusses the process by which the Osage Nation approached the task of developing a new constitution and system of government, and also provides the complex history that necessitated their creation.

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

People
Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Barnett, Hepsi. "How Did We Go About Remaking Our Constitution?" Remaking Indigenous Governance Systems seminar. Archibald Bush Foundation and the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Prior Lake, Minnesota, May 2, 2011. Presentation.

"It's an honor to be here today. I want to...you good people get the opportunity to kind of get ‘Osage Nation Government Reform, Part 1' today, and I know that Chief [Jim] Gray is going to speak with you tomorrow. So there's a lot to tell, so I think it's going to work out pretty well. Hopefully we won't over inundate you with our 'Osage-ness,' but we're often...people often claim that we do that, so we'll try to keep it moving along here.

In terms of the Osage Nation government reform, I guess what I want to say is when we began this process...I have a picture up here, you can't really see it though, it's unfortunate, but it's a funnel cloud, something that we see often in Oklahoma. And I think that government reform lots of times is precipitated by some kind of crises. I think that's very typical, whether it be from corruption and fraud or just inability of the current structure to actually govern the people in the way that they see fit or larger issues. When it came to the Osage Nation, we actually had a larger issue and we were at risk of actually becoming extinct as a people by bureaucracy.

It's an interesting story and really to tell it, what I'll have to do is go back just a little bit and talk about the historical context of what brought us to where we were in...starting in 2003 with the 31st Osage Nation tribal council, how we began this change. When we got back, I think Regis [Pecos] touched on this this morning in terms of traditional governance; Osages had a traditional what they called Osage cosmology. I think our ancestors studied the universe and our relationship to the universe. They spent a lot of time looking at the night sky and the day sky. It was a highly complex political, social, and religious order, and it really reflected the natural order of the universe. We had an ancient clan system with 24 clans and those were divided between two moeities. The Osage's traditional form of governance really was based a lot on dualism, the dualism between the sun and the moon, day and night, sky and earth and our two ancient moeities were based on the earth and the sky. Similarly, men and women had very distinct roles. They weren't lesser roles; they were just different roles. So we had a war chief, we had a peace chief, there were lots of examples of how they used dualism as a way to structure themselves. So we existed under that system as it evolved for thousands and thousands of years.

I was just speaking with Miriam Jorgensen and she lives in St. Louis now, which was part of a vast territory that Osages lived in again for thousands of years and it was really a huge territory. I was talking to her basically saying that when Spain was a world power I believe the only tribe that they actually waged war against...declared war on was the Osage Nation. So we had a vast territory, we were quite powerful up into the 1800s. And then looking back on your American history, does anybody recall what happened in the 1800s? It really started with the Lewis and Clark expedition. They came right through Osage territory. When that expedition ended, it resulted in great change for the Osage Nation. We lost huge portions of land during that time through treaty process. We were first moved on to smaller lands in Missouri, eventually moved down into Kansas. I like to tell the story of everybody knows about 'Little House on the Prairie.' Well, in reality, it was 'Little House on the Osage Reservation.' And so during that time period, once we were moved down into Kansas settlers started moving, westward expansion started moving into our territory and as a result of that, during that time period, we ended up selling that reservation and buying our current reservation in Oklahoma. So we got cash for that and we paid cash for our reservation in Oklahoma, which were actually the very southern part of our traditional lands.

During that time period of moving and turning over big portions of our land, we were diminished quite a bit as a people mostly due to disease, small pox and the like. When Dave [Wilkins] was talking earlier about tribes that preemptively adopted a new system of governance to deal with the shifting geo-political sands of time that were going on during that period, the Osage Nation was amongst that group. We actually...there is a reference to an Osage Nation constitution in 1861. I don't have that up here because for whatever reason, this is where we have to go back and do the research, historically I couldn't find a lot of information about that, but what's clear to me is that the nation actually never governed itself under that constitution. There was a constitution, the Osage Nation 1861 Constitution, and I'm not sure if it's because it was one of those transitional attempts and there was a reluctance to give up our traditional ways during that time, but in terms of the 1881 constitution, we did govern under that constitution. Our ancestors adopted a three-branch system of government I think as a way to adapt and endure. We had already been through...we had already lost so many lands and been through so many treaties at that time. It was a great tremendous sacrifice for our people to give up our traditional ways. But they saw it as a way to endure as a people and so they adopted that three-branch system, had a separation of powers. The land was held in common, there was a residency requirement, and there was a whole body of law that was created under that constitution by Osages during that time.

One of the sort of more interesting laws I thought was that we had a death penalty, so if anybody killed somebody else on the reservation, they would suffer the death penalty. We had several laws that included for violent acts the punishment in terms of 50 lashes or whatever. But there was actually quite a foundation of law developed under that 1881 constitution. We governed under that, we had a principal chief, an assistant principal chief, national council, and a sheriff. We governed under that until 1900. It was a pretty extensive system of government. And then there...during that same period, from the latter 1880s until the 1900s, one thing that happened that really impacted the tribe greatly and that was that on the reservation that we bought in Oklahoma oil was discovered, probably the largest deposit of oil at that time in North America. And because of that, it really complicated our situation in Oklahoma. One of the things...one of the saving graces was that because we had bought that land we retained the mineral rights and we...that property was protected under the Fifth Amendment. In terms of that period of time, the nation -- when the Secretary of the Interior abolished the government under the 1881 constitution -- the nation defied that order and continued to meet as a council. They had...the only thing left under the Secretary's order was the principal chief for signatory authority to basically turn over as much of our resources as we could. It was sort of an exploitative move by the United States government.

At that same time Oklahoma was opening...getting opened up for statehood. You know the big land run in Oklahoma, you always see those Conestoga wagons and everybody's lining up to go get a piece of land. Well, it was really a piece of Indian land. And so through the cleverness of the Allotment Act they basically had divided all Indian lands into 160-acre parcels and were opening up every other one to white settlement. When it came to Osages, they had some difficulty, because we had bought and paid for our reservation and we had not treatied for it. Well, there was a treaty, but it was just a result of almost like a bill of sale really. They really honestly...we were holding up statehood and we were holding up the land run because we would not agree to allotment. We were heavily pressured to do so. All of the other tribes ended up agreeing to allotment and eventually the Osages made an agreement with the United States that we would allot our lands but we would only allot them to Osages. So they were divided up into individual parcels, 160-acre parcels. They went around at that time and everybody received a parcel of land to homestead. They went around again, you got another 160 acres, they went around again, you got another 160 acres until all of the lands were allotted to Osages.

Under that Allotment Act -- when we agreed to allotment basically the United States Congress passed an act called the 1906 Osage Allotment Act. That really impacted the tribe right up until 2006. So from 1906 really to 2006 when our new government came in, we basically were to a degree governed ourselves under the Osage Allotment Act. It created a final membership roll in 1908. There were 2,229 Osages. When I talk about our history, it's a complicated history. We're a complex people with a complicated history and part of that is that we...each member also received an interest or a head right in the tribal mineral estate. So the mineral estate itself was reserved to the tribe because the tribe had bought it and held it in common, but the royalties from the sale of the oil from the mineral estate went to individuals. So when you were allotted land you also were...received a head right to the royalties from the oil. Now you can imagine that during that time that was actually a lot of money. Literally over night during that time up into the 1920s the Osages became the richest group of people in the world. Now what that really created was a system where when there's a lot of money and it's flowing, it also brings a criminal element with it. That played out on the Osage reservation during that time period.

Before...at this point, the only way you can get a head right to the oil is to inherit it. During that time, there was not that stipulation by the federal government and as a result you had vast numbers of people coming to the Osage reservation to try to marry an Osage. And what was happening is that we would have non-Osages marry into the tribe and then the whole rest of the family would be murdered so that the only person left was the non-Osage who would then collect all of the royalties to the oil. So there was mass murder happening across the reservation during this period of time as well. I don't know if any of you have ever seen that FBI story, it's an old James Stewart movie. No, you've probably...maybe some of the elders here have seen that. There's a part of that movie that talks about when the FBI was first created really one of the first things they were sent to do was to deal with all of the murders on the Osage reservation because obviously it was a reservation, the jurisdiction went to the federal government, the FBI came in, basically there was all kinds of conspiracies going on. There were some people that were convicted of the murders. They did not serve very much time. You know the old saying, ‘If you want to murder someone go to a reservation,' well, that was certainly true during that time period. Like I said, I think this history is important because it tells you...when Dave [Wilkins] was talking a while ago and saying that we've adapted, we've endured, and we've been impacted by the different forms of government that we take on; I definitely think during that period Osages were impacted greatly.

Eventually the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] as a result of the 1906 Act promulgated regs limiting voting and holding of office to adult members possessing mineral interest. So do you see what I'm saying? At that time there were 2,229 Osages. Every one of them had a head right so at that point every one of them could vote. Basically the BIA, which we all know stands for 'Bossing Indians Around,' created a system of governance that was really based on holding property or a plutocracy. So in order to be able to vote or serve on our imposed tribal council you basically had to own royalties to the mineral estate. Well, Osages have always governed themselves and even during that time, it's like I was saying under the 1881 constitution in 1900 and that was abolished, Osages continued to defy the federal government. As we...under the 1906 Act there were always groups of Osages that tried to defy that system of governance and rule ourselves. There were folks that ran for the tribal council that were eventually kicked off the tribal council by the Bureau of Indian Affairs for trying to assert their inherent sovereign rights. We appealed to the BIA a number of times to no avail.

Eventually what happened is there were a couple of court cases where Osages basically went to district court to try to remedy the situation we were under. You can imagine as we went through several generations from 1906 up into the ‘50s and ‘60s, now the system that we were creating was a system where more and more people within the tribe were becoming disenfranchised and could not be part of the tribal government. They could not vote nor could they run for office unless they had inherited a head right. Well, if you're Osage, it's a pretty bittersweet experience because eventually because of all the Osage murders they created a law basically saying that you can only inherit a head right. So by the time you actually become a member, you hope that you're of old age, you want to keep your parents with you as long as you can, depending on how many siblings you had perhaps not all of the siblings were left a portion of the head right so you had brothers and sisters, some older some younger, that may or may not have been part of the tribal government at that time. And like I said, greater and greater number of people becoming disenfranchised.

There was a guy named Leroy Logan. I think him and six other folks basically took this to district court and what they alleged was that the federal government had acted beyond the scope of their authority in approving actions taken by the council beyond those expressly enumerated in the Osage Allotment Act. If you look at the Osage Allotment Act, basically what it said that the tribal council could do was manage the mineral state. Basically approve leases and even the approved leases was a little bit of a stretch because they could approve them by resolution but then they went to the agency, BIA, and it was really the BIA who had the final approval power. So the tribal government really could not do much. Basically the court ruled...this is where it gets really...you know when they talk about schizophrenic court decisions, this is a schizophrenic court decision. The court basically ruled that the power of the Osage tribal council was not limited to those matters specified by the Act. And how they came to that conclusion was that tribes had the ability to self-rule. But why the case was taken was because we weren't under our own self-determination at that point. We were under a system that had been imposed upon us. There were a couple of different cases. They were a little bit crazy. Basically in the Logan case, what was eventually decided or not decided was one of the things that was brought up in the appeals was that the validity of the 1881 constitution and the unconstitutionality of creating a system of government where people were disenfranchised; that was left unanswered.

So what happened in the Fletcher case was a group of Osages then took that...what was not answered in Logan, took it to court. Basically the tribal council at that time was the defendant in the case. They made a motion to dismiss based on sovereign immunity. The court ignored that motion and set about resolving voting rights because the judge at that time felt like it was such an injustice what was happening at the Osage Nation and the court established a commission to reform the constitution and system of governance. Now, it was the right idea, but you had the same thing where now the court is reforming our constitution because they think it's wrong that the executive branch had done that. It was crazy. Basically the court formed a commission, they held a referendum, a court-ordered referendum to adopt a court commissioned constitution and they opened it up to all of the lineal descendents of the 1908 rule. So that was appealed by the tribal council... Based on the vote of that referendum there was a parallel government set up. So now we had the tribal council running and we had a parallel system of government running at the same time with a president, a vice president, a national council, judiciary, where as the tribal council had continued running the way that it had since 1906 where it was basically judge, jury and executioner, so to speak. So you had these two parallel systems. You can imagine that division that caused in a tribe that was already fairly divided. Basically the appeals process finally went through and in what's considered a landmark decision pro Indian Country is that the courts upheld the sovereign immunity of the tribe. So this parallel government that had been operating for three years overnight was disbanded and abolished.

That brings us up to the...Chief Gray likes to call them 'The Fighting 31st.' We had lots of problems at that time. One of the problems, I'm going to go back to the extinction. One of the problems that we had is that we had a solicitor that had interpreted an opinion on the tribal membership and basically his interpretation, and I won't name names -- Scott Keep -- basically had decided that the only real members of the tribe were the original allottees. When the 31st tribal council was elected, I think there were four allottees still alive and based on that opinion, what that meant was that when the last allottee passed on, the tribe would cease to exist. So Osages were aware of this fact. Like I said, it created somewhat of a crises. Chief Gray, under his visionary leadership, many of the tribal council members elected campaigned on resolving the membership issue. There was a...after determining that the membership issue could not be resolved without legislative action by U.S. Congress, a plan of action was developed and allies were engaged. So we had exhausted all of our judiciary remedies and it was basically determined that the only way we could change things at the Osage Nation was to go back to the United States Congress.

Congressman [Frank] Lucas and Senator [James] Inhofe of the...you don't necessarily think of Inhofe as Indian friendly, but he took up the Osage cause so I can't say anything much beyond that. They worked on our behalf. Wilson Pipestem led the lobbying effort, helped the tribe considerably to create a strategy and they introduced HR 2912 to the U.S. House of Representatives. On December 3rd, 2004, President George W. Bush signed Public Law 108-431, which reaffirmed the inherent sovereign right of Osages to determine our own criteria for membership and our own standards for citizenship and also affirms the inherent sovereign right of Osages to determine our own form of government. The only other thing that the act really did was to protect the head right property. So that was the one caveat, that we could basically determine our own membership just like every other tribe -- this was in 2004 -- and we could determine our own form of government. It was a huge, huge...I still can't believe it actually happened. That created a window of opportunity, ended a century of conflict and division.

Basically what happened at that point was this was in December of 2004, in February there was a big celebration. That left basically 16 months, and the reason that I say that is there was a bit of a time constraint because the 31st tribal council that was in there had run on the issue of reform, they found a way to make it happen, created the opportunity, but they knew that when basically their term was up in June of 2006 that there was a very good chance that the next tribal council may undo everything that they had just done. So they created an independent government reform commission. It was comprised of 10 people, eight members, two alternates. It was completely independent. There was a provision in the ordinance that they created around nepotism in terms of the people that they appointed. They could not be related to [them]. All of the folks basically that were on the government reform commission were head-right holders at that time. The duties were prescribed in the ordinance. There was monies appropriated for them to operate. They were basically a volunteer group of commissioners. They had no glaring political aspirations at that time. And basically what they were charged with doing was hiring a staff. Actually when I came on board, they held weekly business meetings, we also held more than 40 town hall meetings. We were charged with getting citizen input, we were charged with drafting a constitution. We were charged with conducting a referendum and holding elections for the new tribal government. That was all to be done within that 16-month period, which was now really...a lot of time had gone by. When I came on board, we had about a year. We had regular mailings. We tried to do as much education on government reform as we could. We held youth summer camps where we had the kids come in, create constitutions. We conducted a nationwide survey. It was mailed out to every eligible member. When you look at this, this is...the majority of the tribe is disenfranchised. When we started this process, if you look at the blue, those were the number of people at that time that could vote or be part of the government. The greatest majority of Osages could not.

Basically as we started narrowing down and getting down to drafting the constitution after we held all the town hall meetings, there were still some issues that were very controversial. I'm kind of skimming over this, but I can't tell you...with this kind of change and with so few holding so much power, you can imagine that there was a group of people that did not like what was happening. Even though we were all related, even though most people knew that it was the right thing to do, I affectionately like to refer to them as the 'Osage Taliban.' There was a group that were digging their heels in. They did not want to see this. Every tribe has this group. And we dealt with them throughout that reform process.

The very last thing that we did before we drafted the constitution was we held a referendum. And I say that because for us at that time it made a huge difference. We felt like there were some issues that were so controversial that if we put them into a constitution we had so little time that the constitution would not pass. So we put it to a vote of the people, the issues that we found most controversial. Some of them were on membership, blood quantum, no blood quantum, I can go back but during that time before the Osage Allotment Act there were probably at least half of the Osages that were considered by the other half as not eligible for membership. So there was huge controversy. With so much money at stake, you can imagine that there were a lot of other Indians and there were a lot of non-Natives who wanted to be Osage during that time because it meant getting a whole lot of money. So membership had always been very contentious and so we put that on the ballot even though we felt like we really wanted to unify the tribe that unless that question was answered, the question on blood quantum or lineal descendency, that we would have great difficulties. Also dual membership was another issue that we addressed.

There were seven questions on governmental structure; there were two questions reserved on reserve legislative power of the people, recall, citizen initiative, that kind of thing; one question on whether to separate, structurally separate business from politics; and then the last question was probably the most controversial question and that was the question on, what would the new role of the current tribal council be in the new government? We'd gone to enough town hall meetings that we knew that they had to have a role. How...what that role would look like, basically there were two choices put on the ballot. One was to create a bicameral system of government where the current tribal council would serve sort of as a House of Lords and there would be another legislative body and then the other question was to create that tribal council as a mineral council that served as an independent agency. That was really the only close split vote. I think it really literally was like 51 percent to 49 percent. It was really, really divided. And basically 51 percent of the people that voted in that referendum wanted the Osage Minerals Council to be an independent agency. Now I don't think what they realized at that time in retrospect was that meant they would have no legislative authority whatsoever and that it would actually exist as an independent agency under the executive branch because there were only three branches of government. When they figured that out it became pretty controversial. Basically the commission hosted a legal symposium after the referendum and just to have as many Osage lawyers come in and clarify what the vote on question number eight meant in regards to the minerals council.

We then, after that clarification, we drafted a constitution. We basically edited and edited and edited and then that draft constitution was mailed to every eligible member. This is just a little thing that Charles Redcorn had written. Basically on March 11, 2006, by two-thirds majority vote the Osage Nation constitution was ratified. Yay! In terms of fulfilling our duties as the Osage Government Reform Commission, we still had work to do. Once the constitution passed we created a transition plan for the new government. We formed a minerals council election board and tribal council adopted election procedures, formed a constitutional government election board, tribal council adopted election procedures. That was way more complicated than I'm making it sound right now. I won't even get into it, but not only were we having difficulty with our Osage Taliban but the BIA was, who had pretty much ruled at Osage 400 years gave us a whole lot of trouble, too. The government basically came in on July 3rd and the Osage Nation constitutional government was formed."

Greg Gilham: Engaging the Nation's Citizens and Effecting Change: The Blackfeet Nation Story

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Producer
Native Nations Institute
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Greg Gilham, Former Chair of the Blackfeet Nation's Constitution Reform Committee, discusses the process the committee developed to move constitutional reform forward.

Native Nations
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Citation

Gilham, Greg. "Engaging the Nation's Citizens and Effecting Change: The Blackfeet Nation Story." Emerging Leaders seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. March 25, 2010. Presentation.

"I do want to commend Erma [Vizenor] for her presentation because she's hit on a lot of issues that our process up in Blackfeet Montana is going through. And we're probably, I think, a third of the way into our entire process. We started in October of 2008. We were appointed, there were five of us appointed to a committee to sit on this committee and do constitutional reform for our program. I'll get into that a little bit, but with 30 years of law enforcement experience, putting handcuffs and shackles on people, I can tell now what they go through.

Our Blackfeet Nation has a land description that I want to go over; a million-and-a-half total acres of land. Our reservation sits on the Canadian border to the north and we're adjacent to Glacier National Park to the west. 400,000 acres are owned by non-Natives on the reservation. We have 500,000 acres owned by the tribe and 600,000 acres owned by members. We have resources that we're very, very proud of on our lands and we have 136,000 acres of timber. Some of it burned in the last couple of years. We have 28 freshwater lakes and we got a real good opportunity with Glacier National Park next door to have a very good tourism set up. But because of our constitution as it is now, we're not getting anywhere. We're not building a stable government, we're not bringing in industry or tourism or business. I just wanted to relate to that. We have 16,482 tribal members, all have to fall within that quarter-degree of Indian blood, and about 9,200 live on the reservation and about 7,300 live off.

We were organized under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 and it was adopted in 1935. Less than 10 years later our tribe was so concerned about this new IRA constitution that they requested a meeting with a Senate committee to try to address what they could do about this problem constitution that they were having to abide by. They were basically telling the Senate hearing that -- who by the way showed up by train and met with our tribal government then -- and their biggest concern was, 'What can we do to get ourselves out from under this new constitution, this new structure of government?' They basically said, "˜Well, you can certainly, you're allowed to make amendments to fit what you guys would need. You necessarily don't need to get yourself out from under it.' Well, since then we've had nine amendments to our constitution. I know Erma talked about enrollment. The only amendment to our enrollment that was done was accepting that quarter-degree mandate to be a member and that was done in 1963. This governing body that we have consists of nine council members who are all elected at large throughout all the members have an opportunity to vote them in. It doesn't allow for non-residents to affidavit vote or absentee vote from off the reservation, so in order for your vote to count and elect the councilors on reservation you have to show up at the polls.

In 2008 our tribe did, through the efforts of a single councilman who has gone to [a] 'Native Nation Building' [seminar] before a few years ago, Rodney Gervais, he wanted to see under the structure of Native nation building an opportunity for the membership to look at getting ourselves out from under this IRA or reforming our constitution. So in essence he was able to convince the majority of the council that he sat with at the time to put a referendum vote on the ballot for the 2008 June election that we had. And this referendum specifically asks the membership, 'Do you want to see a change in the Blackfeet tribal government by amending the constitution and bylaws to include separation of powers?' If the tribal membership agrees to this restructuring, a committee of five persons will be appointed by the tribal council to conduct community meetings and come up with recommendations on a separation of powers, utilization of Blackfeet traditions, values and ethics and other amendments which will go to the people for a secretarial election. Overwhelmingly, the membership that did cast their vote at the polls passed this and they did want to see a separation of powers and a new reformed constitution.

Once the referendum is voted on with an approval to reform, we found out in our process that the election occurred in late June and, of course, the referendum did pass and it became law basically. Our council kind of sat on their hands and didn't formulate this committee right away. So we, in essence, lost about three months before our group was selected to begin our reform process and hold community meetings and so forth. But some of the suggestions that we found out that was important was that the council should solicit applications from the membership to sit on a committee like this. It's important that they take a good look at who they should appoint. I was very fortunate because when we have our community meetings, we don't need to ask security to show up because they basically rely on me. Selection shall be made upon closing of the application process and it should be important that each applicant vying for a seat on this committee answer a questionnaire. We found out that some of the important facets of applying for committees or boards within any tribal organization is if we can convince these folks that are making the appointments to take the time and read what these applicants are writing, as far as their commitment to any board or committee that is in place. I feel that I was appointed not only because of my law enforcement experience but because I made sure that I let them know that I was committed to this process. So some of the things I wrote down was what do you want to become a sitting member to this board or committee? Are you committed to sitting on this committee and dedicated to this process for however long it will take? What attributes or characteristics do you possess that qualify you for a seat on this board? Relate your personal, professional or traditional background and experience that would add to this committee.

When that referendum passed, I had a brother-in-law of course that was elected. It was his first time to be elected on the council. And I saw this referendum and the language that we just saw a little bit ago. And I thought, if more people would look at what was actually put in place, how our referendum read as far as restructuring and adding a separation of powers, more people would look into that and see how important a new constitution is only going to strengthen our government. Most of my career was working for our Blackfeet Nation government and you don't have to tell me any horror stories, I can certainly relate a lot to you. We do have a council that or councils in the past that have pretty much dictated what goes on day in and day out. Of course you have problems with people that hire relatives for certain things and so forth.

Some of the things I jotted down for the council was to select a diverse and dedicated group of committee members that maintain their commitment to this process. And this is important; their credibility will need to start with their appointment. Credibility is really, really important. I know that Erma talked about it in their process, in her effort to try to get this reform. Of course you have all of your naysayers and so forth that want to collectively try to stop your process, slow it down or do whatever they can. Unfortunately for our process, we're right in the middle of that right now in the last couple of weeks. It's important that the council support the effort for reform. We have nine councilmen and all nine of them are in support of reforming our constitution and that's very rare to see a consensus of nine versus none for a reform of a constitution. They basically understand the concept of Native nation building. I believe all of them have attended a session on building of Native nations. They understand how our government is functioning now and what they can see in the future as far as a new reformed constitution. They have all participated in forums and surveys regarding this reform process. The majority of them have sat on focus groups.

Credibility will take its form if the committee remains autonomous. With the support of this sitting council we have remained very autonomous and that helps with the credibility. Any political pressure or micromanaging will lower the committee's credibility perception by the membership. Early on we had run into that difficulty, but since then we've worked diligently with the council and I think we're all going in the right direction as far as a reform process. Council should support the effort by shelling over the dollars. What I mean by that is if you're committed and you have an appointed group that has to go out to these communities, has to go out to the membership, get them to buy into this reform process, it's going to take some money, it's going to take a lot of time. We were shooting initially for a six-month process of beginning our appointment and I guess it was eight months. We were hoping by the following June that we'd have something in place as far as a new reformed constitution but that was a year and a half ago now.

So far the process has cost about $150,000 and most of it is having several meetings a week with communities throughout the reservation. We have seven base communities that have a good population base and places we can meet. We try to get in touch with most of the membership, but we found out early on that education to this reform process was most important. We initially had community meetings throughout the reservation and like Erma said, very few people showed up. We were finding out that the reason a lot of them showed up is because they had never read the constitution as it sits now, they don't understand it. So why should they give their two cents when they don't understand our constitution as it is today? Well, we had to change direction immediately and hold some educational workshops.

We invited Stephen Cornell out to the reservation in January and he took part in a symposium of sorts, a conference, workshop for...all we could hold was 200 people and for the most part we were fortunate that we did get enough participation from the public in our effort to try to educate them. We educated them on a history of the constitution; we educated them on Native nation building. We pretty much related some of the efforts that we planned in the future as far as this reform process goes. We had a very, very good turnout and of course we had to shell out some money ourselves in order to be successful in this process. I think it went over very well. We had good participation; we had a lot of enthusiasm built up. Well, after this two-day event we didn't, we as a committee didn't maintain this enthusiasm and right away we were finding out that, 'Geez, that was really, really great.' So since then we've made some adjustments and we've sat down as a committee and thought of ways that we can continue our education process.

We've videotaped most of our sessions, whether it was committee meetings, workshops, community meetings, whatever and we plan on putting a documentary together since our process in 2008 began. This documentation, we're going to provide it to whomever would like to see the process that we have gone through in our steps to try to get community involvement, try to re-adjust our constitution to fit for our future generations. Our symposium workshop that we had in January, we're getting that edited and we're going to start distributing DVDs out to anybody and everybody that wants one. It was a very educational bit that we did.

Right now we have five members, I'll just go over a little bit of their background. I of course am the chairman. John Murray is the tribal historic preservation officer for the tribe. I believe he still has to get his dissertation done but he's pretty close. He said he's 63 years old. Virgil Edwards, he's a successful businessman locally. And George Kipp is the vocational education director at the community college. Linda Warden has worked with the youth in different capacities throughout the reservation. As you can tell, we had a pretty diverse group. John and Mr. Kipp, they both have a cultural and traditional background among them. Each of them respectively, they hold certain sacred bundles through our tribal program.

Once we get through with our process, which I can probably say is going to take another one or two years, we're going to present a reform constitution to the council. They'll ask for a secretarial election and that election process, it's a 90-day turnaround according to 25 CFR. I know that we were fortunate to have the Minnesota Band of Chippewas challenge the registration process that the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] mandates within their secretarial election. They felt that closing a registration process and the mail-in voting wasn't going to get enough members to vote on this issue of constitutional reform. During their request for a waiver they were granted authority to register the voters up to the day that they vote. So rather than worry about a 30 percent turnout, which made it a legal election, they were able to have 76 percent turnout because people that showed up to vote at the polls were allowed to register at the same time in order to vote. So we're in the process of using their effort to insure that we have enough votes so that we don't lose out on our effort for a long process of trying to reform our constitution and then have the membership...

Community advice is do not include enrollment changes as [part of the] process. That's what we're fighting with the grassroots group right now. They feel that our effort to throw in enrollments is going to kill our constitution reform. And it will. We've maintained that we won't bother that issue. The tribe should provide reform with an adequate budget. Although tribe remains the governing authority, they must provide committee with autonomy. Transparency, be open in everything you do. Public education is the only tool to combat apathy. This is what will mobilize the community. Committee planning and procedures, a media, public relations, get the information out. We have a website and it's under www.blackfeetvoice.org [note: this site is no longer active] and we have everything we've done, all of our research and all of our resources are available online. We have a telephone number, and that's it."

Darrin Old Coyote: Reforming the Apsaalooke (Crow) Nation's Governing System: What Did We Do and Why Did We Do It?

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Vice Secretary Darrin Old Coyote of the Crow Tribe's Executive Branch provides a brief history of the Crow Tribe's governance system, and explains the factors that prompted the Tribe to abandon its governance system in 2001 and replace it with a new constitution and system of government entirely of their own making.

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

Resource Type
Citation

Old Coyote, Darrin. "Reforming the Apsaalooke (Crow) Nation's Governing System: What Did We Do and Why Did We Do It?" Remaking Indigenous Governance Systems seminar. Archibald Bush Foundation and the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Prior Lake, Minnesota. May 2, 2011. Presentation.

"Good morning to all of you. My name's Darrin Old Coyote; I'm from the Crow Tribe. I'm glad to be here. I did a presentation at Harvard University for nation building on this same subject, and I'm fortunate to be asked to do this again. But I'm going to go through kind of a history of our government from the traditional form of government to the government we have today.

Reforming our nation's governing system -- and this is a quote that I used, ‘A constitution is a living, breathing entity of your government.' And today the question that brings all of us to this one location is government reform. Ask yourselves two simple questions to see if you need a constitutional reform. And this is the questions that we as a tribe, there was a group of us, asked: Is the current system working for us today or is it outdated? And does our current governing system reflect our unique tribal culture? And then we started from there. Getting started on reforming your government system, three main points: historical review of your government from pre-reservation to present day, and then establish lists of what is working and what isn't working in your current and past governing systems; set realistic goals for your government as a whole. And then -- this was the study I did -- the traditional form of government that we had as the Crow Nation.

There was a time when little boys would go with the warriors on war parties and they would call them Ichkaate or Warrior's Helper. And these Warrior Helpers would go on raids and warfare and then they became warriors. They were trained to become warriors. And then some, one that could run far, had great stamina would become scouts. And then scouts, they had scout leaders. And then your prowess as a warrior, they started offering pipes to the greatest warrior of the tribe and then these pipe carriers would then take war parties out. And then one would have to attain four deeds to become a chief: one was to strike an enemy in battle; two was to take an enemy's weapon in battle; three was to take a prize horse from the enemy; and four was to lead a successful war party. And then you became Baacheeitche, which is the term that we use for 'Good Man,' for the chief. And among the chiefs they would select 'Owner of the Camp' -- Aash Aahkee -- and he was the principal chief of the tribe. This was their way of...the people would choose their leaders that they would follow. After they would...if a man who had counted the four chiefly war deeds displayed outstanding qualities -- including generosity, kindness, fortitude, wisdom, and dependability -- then the people would naturally follow this man. And they would make public declarations about their choices. They say, ‘On this day, I'm going to follow this chief. On this day, I'm going to follow this chief.' Choosing a leader meant that the camp would not only be fortunate, but live well without threat from enemies and locating food -- and survival was kind of the main focus for the tribe at the time.

And it was a representative form of government; chiefs, band chiefs, and owner of the camp were the only ones to talk and vote on council. And the highest-ranking chief would convene the council and they would use tally sticks as ballots. And every time an issue came up, they would smoke the pipe and it would be lit by the man sitting to the right of the highest-ranking chief; the man sitting to the east and the south would speak first. And this was referred to as 'Smoke Talk' or Apsáalooke Ooppiilaau -- 'Crows Smoke Talking.' And that was our form of government -- the council.

The pipe was used to guarantee that individuals would speak with no interference. There was no interference from anybody and that individual would speak. And whatever he said, he was to tell the truth. And then they would pass the pipe over; they would discuss the issue. And the pipe was held in high reverence by the Apsáalooke; once lit, no one would talk except the one with the pipe. And then while each chief spoke, the person leading the discussion would place the ballots as represented by the tally sticks, either for the issue or against it. And they would place these tally sticks and at the end of the discussion all the chiefs would what they needed to say on this issue. And then they would take the majority of those sticks and say, the ones in the majority, they would say, '[Crow language].' They'd say, ‘The majority has ruled. This is what we're going to do.' And then one person didn't make all the decisions. And then all the chiefs would collectively decide on what the next steps would be on that issue.

And then there came a time when there was no longer need for intertribal warfare. There was no need for chiefs; intertribal warfare ended. Our last traditional chief was Plenty Coups, who passed away in 1932. And after the death of Plenty Coups, there were groups among the Crow that the U.S. government would consult with on Crow issues. They would just hand pick. They'd say, ‘You.' They'd see a person that had respectability among the tribe and they would pick that person. They'd say, ‘You can represent the Crow today.' And it was that way for years. And so these individuals gained...they're more for themselves than for the tribe. These individuals would go out and say, ‘I'm the leader of the Crow.' And anybody was a leader because the way we chose leaders back then was by those four deeds that they would attain to become the chief, to become the leader of the tribe, and they were well-respected. Even the term that we use today for chief is 'Good Man,' Baacheeitche, because they provided for the tribe, they looked out for the tribe. And whenever that person, that chief, was in the presence of the people there was respect. And now, the last traditional chief of Crow passed away and people were saying, ‘I want this piece of land,' and they're going off on their own and they would delegate groups from different districts.

Around this time from 1932 to 1948, we lost a lot of the land. We lost a lot of our...like our...I don't know if any of you know where Bozeman, Montana is. That was our first Crow agency and then the second agency was just west of Billings and then today we're at the third agency -- 30 million acres and today we have 2 million acres. Around that time we lost a lot of prime land. Today you see Paradise Valley; all the movie stars live there. I think Ted Turner lives right outside of Bozeman, Flying D Ranch -- largest landowner, private landowner. But that was Crow land. Because of all the chaos there was loss of a lot of land. And then in 1948, there [were] students that were coming back from Carlisle boarding school.

And then the Crow adopted a constitution at the time. U.S. government initiated an IRA (Indian Reorganization Act) asking all tribes to establish tribal business councils. But the Crow adopted their own form of government because they were a treaty tribe -- they didn't adhere to. They weren't a tribe that was placed there by executive order or presidential proclamation. They were a treaty tribe. And they adopted their own form of government, utilizing a council-type form of government to conduct tribal business because that's the way we conducted business was council-type. Every chief had a say in what was going on. And so instead of having leaders, they had every individual 18 and older -- Crow tribal members -- and they would elect four officials every two years. And then they would have councils every three months. And there was chaos. Every three months all the business of the tribe was voted on, discussed, in one day. And it came to a point where, in 1990, there was a chairman elected who stayed in power for ten years, being elected every two years with supreme powers. There was a resolution that gave authority over the tribal judge, the tribal police, kind of a dictator controlling the whole system. We were kind of a...and there was no term limits. And councils were held every three months: January, April, July and October on the first Saturday. And this was the only time business would be discussed on and voted on. And there was no continuity or stability.

There was a time when, I remember I must've been an eighth grader. I went to a council. My mom was the recorder for the council. She was taking minutes and so we would have to be there early. And in the back room, the tribal chairman and all of his staff, they would sit there and they would say, 'This is what we're going to do today.' They would line out which agenda they wanted to pass and which agenda they wanted to not discuss that day. And this was how the council was run. The chairman would sit up there and say, ‘I call this council to order.' And they would say, ‘Division of the house'; they would ask for division of the house to establish numbers. And so there'd be six individuals sitting right in front of the chairman and they would have, to establish numbers, they would have...a hundred was a quorum. A hundred tribal members was a quorum for the council. And so they'd be, they'd say, ‘All those people that are for the chairman's agenda, line up.' And they would run them through the line. Every tenth person they'd stop them and tally ten. ‘Alright, ten more.' And this is how they established numbers. And they'd say, ‘All those ones that were against the chairman's agenda, go through the line.' And the chairman would be standing there and he knew who was going against his issues. If there was a director, he knew. If there was a tribal employee...it got to the point where a lot of people didn't know what they were voting on. A lot of people were voting because they wanted leases for their cattle, they wanted tribal loans to buy a car, and there was a lot of vote buying. And the chairman would sit there and he would know who's going against him and who was for him. And they'd say, ‘On this issue...' and a lot of people didn't know what they were voting on but they'd say, ‘Let's go!' and they're all herded like cattle going through the line.

And then elections were held every two years; vote buying was the norm for every chairman ever elected since 1948. Every time a council was coming up, they would buy votes to pass their agenda or agendas; there's no self-sufficiency or business ventures pursued. So let's say a business deal would come to the Crow Tribe and they want to come by. We have nine billion tons of coal at Crow. A company would come and say, ‘We want to partner with you to produce a coal mine.' They'd say, ‘Next council, we'll vote on it.' And from the time the company got there, to the time the tribe voted, individuals would go to that company and say, ‘Give us money. We'll see that it passes,' under the table deals. And this happened since 1948. And then in 1999 a handful of young men consist...we met every night, almost every night, and talked about the problems with our government and discussed ways of reforming the government. It was election year and the majority of Crows wanted change. They were tired of this 10-year reign of dictatorship. It happened before but nobody paid attention. And then we visited with chairman candidates and discussed change but none wanted to deliver.

Change in our government system: young men went to the districts to hold hearings and gain support from the people to change the government system. The support from the Crows who wanted change was so great that chairman candidates were coming and wanting support from our group. And this group was all young people. One strong candidate with much support from the beginning impressed the group so much so that they supported the candidate and he was elected by a large majority to win the election in 2000. And the newly elected chairman promised change and he delivered in 2001. After much review and many discussions of the old '48 document and the traditional form of government, there was a provision in the '48 Constitution allowing the council to amend the constitution from time to time as needed. At a January 2001 council, the majority voted to amend the 1948 Constitution. The amendments were then written into a new document, which was then voted on in secret ballot; majority voted in favor of the new constitution in December 2001. The Secretary of Interior acknowledged the new document as the governing system of the Apsáalooke Nation.

And now we have a three-branch form of government. Chairman, vice chairman, secretary and vice secretary elected every four years starting in 2004. The legislative branch, 18 representatives -- three from each of the six districts -- are elected every four years -- staggered terms for two reps, then one rep elected two years later -- all serving four-year terms. We have one chief judge; two associates judges elected every four years. The executive branch duties is to implement and enforce all laws, resolutions, codes and policies duly adopted by the legislative branch; represent the Crow Tribe in negotiation with federal, state and local governments. The legislative branch duty is to promulgate and adopt laws, resolutions, ordinances, codes, regulations and guidelines in accordance with this constitution. The judicial branch shall have jurisdiction over all matters defined in the Crow law and order code. Stability was achieved with this 2001 Apsáalooke/Crow Nation -- constitution. There is more stability. Continuity was achieved. Business could be conducted in a more timely manner. All issues pertaining to the Crow tribe could now be discussed and reviewed before being voted on. Separation of powers along with checks and balances is now in place. Majority rule is instrumental on all decisions made by the Apsáalooke Nation.

And today, the constitution that we have, Department of Interior acknowledged it. We didn't have them approve it. We didn't have them say, ‘That's the document to use.' We said, acknowledged this as our constitution. And today every business that we do, it doesn't have to be approved by the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs], it doesn't have to go through all the red tape, bureaucratic red tape. But today we have an LLC [limited liability corporation], probably the first tribe to have a limited liability company to bring business in. We have a work first protection act that we passed, which strengthens TERO [Tribal Employments Rights Office]. We have more of...there's more businesses coming to the tribe. There's more tribes coming, more businesses coming to the Crow, because there's more stability, continuity. And so that's our constitution from traditional form of government to the one we have today -- 2001. (I saw a sign over there that said stop so I have to stop.)