intergovernmental relationship building

Arlene Templer: Engaging the Nation's Citizens and Effecting Change: The Salish and Kootenai Story

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Arlene Templer, Department of Human Resource Development Director for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT), discusses what prompted CSKT to develop the Department of Human Resource Development and how the department works to cultivate self-sufficiency in CSKT citizens and use CSKT's resources for social services more effectively and efficiently.

Resource Type
Citation

Templer, Arlene. "Engaging the Nation's Citizens and Effecting Change: The Salish and Kootenai Story." Emerging Leaders seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. November 7, 2013. Presentation.

Herminia Frias:

"I'm very pleased to be here today to introduce our panelists and moderate this session. We are going to start with Arlene Templer, and Arlene Templer is the Director of Department of Human Resource Development for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. And last year, I had the opportunity to go out and visit their nation and just see all of the amazing things that they do in their nation. And Arlene came out and presented and told us about this project she's going to share with you and we just thought, ‘Wow! More people need to know about what they're doing.' So without further adieu, her bio is in the booklet so I won't go into all that information, plus we're already starting a little bit late. Arlene is going to be our first speaker."

Arlene Templer:

"Good afternoon. I've worked for the tribe for 33 years, so it's given me a lot of background, I've seen a lot, I've tried a lot, I've survived a couple of coups. It still seems like in the tribal world, we have that crab effect where the further we get up the more people want to pull you down. So it's by perseverance and the glory of God that I sit in front of you today. The Creator put me here for a reason.

The Flathead Reservation is different than most of your reservations out there. We are 80/20 non-member. So 80 percent of our reservation are non-members. So it puts us a minority on our own Indian reservation. It's a beautiful place in northwest Montana and we own half of Flathead Lake, so it's a very pretty place. Salish Kootenai likes to be first or likes to get out there in the forefront in applying for programs and taking over programs. We're one of the first Self-Governance tribes. We have our own tribal court. We have a fantastic Salish Kootenai College, which most...I think last year, we had over 450 tribes attending our college. We were one of the first in 4E and we've contracted most of the Bureau [of Indian Affairs] programs. We used to have the superintendent and a secretary, but we don't even have the superintendent anymore. So we've pretty much contracted everything that the Bureau has done.

What I want to do today is give you kind of a practical implementation. What the tribe did in 1998 was looked around and looked at services. We were sitting at 41 percent unemployment. In Montana, you had to be 50 percent unemployment to not have the limitation on you, the five-year [limitation] on TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families]. And the tribe was applying to take over TANF at that time and applying for 477. So they created a new department and it was Department of Human Resource Development. Not a personnel department, it was human resource development. How were we going to develop our membership so that we're ready for jobs, we're ready for that home run industry that might step...come to the reservation and we're ready to stabilize families and make them self-sufficient? So they started taking programs from all other different departments. Our reservation is 1.25 million acres so we had maybe social services in St. Ignatius and we had housing up in Pablo and we had tribal health in Ronan. So we were...when people come in for services, it was, ‘Oh, you've got to go to St. Ignatius or you're got to go up to Polson or you've got to do this, you've got to do that.' We were running people all over the reservation to get services so the tribe said, ‘No, let's do an ease of service for people.' So they created the first tribal one-stop. We call it a 'one-stop' program and we were doing that before the state started doing one-stop programs. We didn't seek out their accreditation or their certification. We were already doing it. We have a tribal one-stop program.

In that one-stop, we have TANF and we run our TANF different because the tribe said, ‘We want stable families and we want self-sufficient families.' So in TANF, you have to get your driver's license, your kids have to go to school -- school participation is a must -- you have to attend mentoring. Mentoring is a 40-hour-a-week class. You come at 8:00 in the morning, you get a half-an-hour lunch and you go home at 4:30 at night. It's just like a regular job to teach people how to work. We also do drug tests. We don't base the eligibility on the drug test, but you have to do the drug test. If you fail it, it's put in your IFP, individual family plan, and you work on it. You go get an assessment and you follow the assessment rules. We have work placements. We have a problem with soft skills. We have generations of welfare, we have generations of poverty, and people don't know how to work. So we are trying to address those in the TANF. Transportation was an issue. A lot of the membership was losing their TANF eligibility because they couldn't make it to their appointments, they couldn't make it to their job seeking, they couldn't make it up to the county to make it to see their case worker. They would get up there and most of the people were hitchhiking and walk in the door and if they were five minutes late, the door was shut in front of their face. So the council said, ‘No. We're going to take the welfare from the county.' So we took the welfare and what we did was we bought two vans, started out with two little vans from TANF and we started transporting people to get to your work placements, to do your work requirements, to do the things you needed to do. And we also did assessments on those people. We found that 40 percent of the people on TANF that we brought from the county had disabilities, language disabilities, physical disabilities -- you name it, they had disabilities. Voc rehab was one of the programs we took in to DHRD [Department of Human Resource Development].

We also are very good at grant writing. I know grant writing has been a little bit negative in this workshop overall, but grant writing has set up our department. And what we did when we were grant writing is looking at grants that would enhance and train the membership. We applied for Fatherhood. We had the first Fatherhood program. It was five years and then we applied again for another three years. We've been successful both times. In the Fatherhood [program], we targeted soft skills. We have people go into work sites, we ask people not to fire them, they're called work experience placements and we work with whatever the issue is. We have a lot of our families that work in crisis. As soon as the babysitter calls and says, ‘I can't babysit today,' then they don't go to work. The refrigerator goes down, they don't go to work. The car breaks down, they don't go to work. So we're trying to work through all of those issues to make people self-sufficient. We also have LEAP [Low-Income Energy Assistance], commodities and food stamps. Food stamps, we invited the county to come down and have an office within our department, so instead of our people having to go to the county to apply for food stamps, it's in our one-stop. We gave them an office to come down and sit and have their own office in ours. So they don't have to go to the county for services anymore.

We have OCS, that's Office of Community Services, and we have all of the elder programs. And the tribe gave us a pot of money called 'Dire Need.' ‘When there's no federal dollars, there's no other dollars, there's no state dollars, we're going to give you this pot of money so that you can help the membership out.' So we've been given free reign on $100,000, it started out at $125,000, and it's to help people in emergency situations. So the council has been good to us for that. When they took all of these programs from all these other departments, it eliminated all the turf issues immediately. We still get in those little turf, ‘This is my budget, this is my money and I'm going to run it how I'm going to.' We don't have that anymore. You have one director, you have all the budgets under that person, and it eliminates all of the secretarial support for all of those different departments. It eliminates all of the support services, so we're able to save a lot of money in doing that.

After 15 years of running the department, we just now have people reaching their five-year limitation, so after 15 years. I've got an awesome TANF director. What we do is get people into work-experience placements, we get them working, we help create jobs. Up on the reservation they can do firewood, they can do post and pole, they can do Christmas treeing. Also we get per capita. We just got a recent large per capita, it was the Salazar payout of $10,000. Well, she worked with those people and said, ‘Get off the program for six months. Get off the program for the next year. Save your eligibility, you might need it.' So she has worked with people for the last 15 years doing that, so we just now have people reaching that limit. After 15 years, we're down at 24 to 29 percent unemployment depending on who you ask. So we've almost dropped that in half by putting the services into the people and making a work-first mentality. We fought a lot of mentalities. There was the government owes us, per capita, the tribe will pay for it. It was hard getting third-generation families that have never worked or third-generation families that have been caught up in alcoholism and drugs to work. We had people make that decision to be poorer. They decided, ‘No, I'm not jumping all your hoops.' What we have done is leave the door open so that when we do school clothes for kids or we do the school backpacks, we invite those kids in. We make sure that we cover all of those things.

I am the second department head. There's only been two department heads in 15 years. The first department head kept pretty much central control over all of the budgets, but she was there for probably 60 to 70 hours a week. I decided coming in that I didn't want to do that. What I did is develop nine divisions and we developed those people as division managers to run their own departments. I gave them their budgets, gave them their staff and said, ‘Okay, you guys all need to run your budgets.' The first couple of years it wasn't good. People don't know how to do budgets. People had a hard time supervising staff. But today they are all supervising, they are all doing a fantastic job.

The transportation was a tough issue. We started out with two vans and we'd seen with work-related work placements that we needed to develop a transportation system. So we applied for grants. We applied for the state grants, they have the 5311, they have JARC, they have all of their different kind of initials. We were very successful in getting those. We also got the tribal transportation grant. And then most of those state grants have these huge matches. So we were always going to the council saying, ‘I can get the grants, but you need to match them.' And second year, third year I was getting tired of going and begging for that money from the council. So I said, ‘How about if you guys let me buy the gas station?' There was a gas station that was right on our complex. ‘And I'll use the money, the revenues from the gas station, for revenues to the transportation department.' And they said, ‘Hmm.' So I wrote a couple earmarks and I was successful getting them. Senator [Max] Baucus, I wrote them to him -- both of them from him. We were able to purchase the gas station as a transportation hub. The second earmark I was able to build mechanical bays on the store. So then I was taking federal money and making it a revenue for the tribe. One of the gentlemen had asked, ‘How do you do that?' So now we are making money as a business and using the revenues to support the transportation system. Works well for us.

We also do a lot of training. I have a WIA [Workforce Investment Act] grant that does training. I have a BIA grant that does training. I have, let's see what else do I have...? Fatherhood does a lot of training. And I wrote another grant that allows us to CDL [Commercial Driver's License] training. I developed a bus system. I got 20 buses now. I need people that have CDLs. So did Forestry. They didn't have any people to take up their buses during firefighting. So did the school districts. So we wrote another grant and we will have 60 CDLs by the end of next year. We had 30 this summer. So what we do with grant writing is find the need and then go look for the grant. We're not just writing for anything that's out there. We actually say, ‘Hey, we could target that. We could bring that home and it could do this for us.' So we've been able to do that.

Lessons learned. I ran into a very strong, loud tribal member in my youth starting out. His name was 'Bearhead' Swaney. I don't know if any of you know him. He taught me very early that we are only one rung from our clients. He said, ‘In 90 days, anyone of you...' he was looking at all of us managers, ‘...would be in the same place as your clients. We're here to give them a hand up. We're here to all be successful.' And that has stuck with me from day one. That's how I work, that's how I operate, is in 90 days I could be in the same position. So help out your neighbor.

Credibility, relationships that you develop: I, over the 33 years, have developed very strong relationships with the state; I get grants from them, the federal government, the congressmen, other department heads. Senator Baucus asked me if I would come out and talk to the Senate Finance Committee on how meth is affecting tribal members on the reservation. I ran right out there and did it for him. Good things come out of relationships. I told you I got those two earmarks right up doing that as well. So make those relationships. What happens on our reservation is the tribal council is fighting with the state people over fish and game, water rights, gaming, so that there's this fight going on over the top of us and water rights right now is huge on our reservation. But us as leaders down below and the department head, I'm still reaching across the aisle to the state people, to the fed people, the people that I need to so that we can work. I'm finding those people that we can still get our job done, I can still get the grants I need, I can still bring that money home to our reservation and still allow the tribal council to do their job. So I see us once removed to be able to do that.

How do you keep the membership involved? I do this in a lot of ways. I do public hearings for a lot of my programs. I invite the public to come in and talk to me about LEAP, how could we do things different? Childcare, TANF, you name it. We have...we set a place across the reservation, we bring in cookies, we bring in drinks and we say, ‘Tell us what we could do differently.' We try to listen to the people. When we developed the Child Support Enforcement Forum, we sent out a survey. I didn't think that survey would work. The girls said, ‘Well, let's put $10 gas voucher on it, let's see how many we get.' So we did a $10 gas voucher, 500 people responded to that survey. So we really had a good idea what the people wanted. We also go to the culture committees. Boy, that can be a tough place to go. We have two culture committees. We have the Salish and then we have the Kootenai and the Kootenai is a tough place. You're going to be grilled and you're going to learn everything you probably didn't want to know about your past. We went there five times. Five times before we got that Child Support Enforcement stuff done, but we were doing code development, we were hearing what they wanted us to do and it worked for us because once we got to the council arena then, we didn't have people coming in saying, ‘No, don't do it.' I had a survey, I had a wheel showing 87 percent of the people on the reservation want this. They supported us. They were happy to do it.

The other thing that I do is allow education in my staff. I allow them... we have the college right next door, we have this beautiful bridge actually that just walks across the street to the college. There's a four million dollar bridge and it's absolutely beautiful and you walk right across and go to school anytime you want. So I encourage people, ‘Get your degrees. Continue your education.' I give them time off to do that. I say, ‘Go to school. I'm extending that hand, go get it done.' I've told my staff, ‘I've got five years left, guys. There's a couple of you in here, you can finish your degrees, you can mentor, you can do a lot of things. Get ready. Get ready.' The other thing I do is surround myself with people smarter than I am. I have a problem with writing, so I surround myself with people that know...have very good writing skills. I lack culture. I'm one of those people that grew up in a very domestic violence and alcohol home and culture wasn't passed down to us, so I surround myself with those cultural people that I need.

The questions they wanted me to answer are: What roles do tribal citizens play in rebuilding the nation? I believe that we're all there together and all we need to do is a hand up to each other to build our nations. We role model. We need to role model. I'm there at every morning at 7:00. I don't go out the door until 5:30. I don't think there's anybody in the office that can outwork me. I model every day what I expect out of my workers and I don't see anything less. I had one of my division managers come in and complain and complain and complain about a worker and I said, ‘She's just doing what you're doing.' What you model is what you're going to get out of your employees. I also try to express membership responsibility. We talk to a lot of TANF, a lot of welfare, a lot of people just beginning and I try to teach and model what you do affects us all.

Based on your experience what are some of the challenges? Some of the challenges I see are the crab effect, the pulling down of each other. I have survived two coups myself within the tribe, people wanting to take over, people wanting you out of the office, people going after you. I think with credibility and resilience and persistence and people see what kind of work you do and the grants and the funding that you can bring in, you survive.

What are the benefits to engaged citizens? If you're teaching through your programs the responsibilities, they're going to see the goals and the visions of the tribe. Also you're showing, you're demonstrating the norms for leaders. And also when I go to council, if I've done my work, if I've done due diligence, I don't have to worry about a group of people showing up and demonstrating or not wanting us to get through or wanting us to take through something touchy like Child Support Enforcement. I don't have to worry about that. I think that's all I have. Thank you."

Herminia Frias:

"Thank you. [applause] One of the things that I also remember when I went out to visit Arlene's nation was the number of people that they had employed in their top positions -- in directors, program managers -- were their own citizens and that was really impressive. Their own citizens that had the credentials, the experience to do the job, and I thought, ‘Wow, that is really good to see that they're fostering it within their nation and it's not let's bring outsiders in and have them do it because they can do it better.' It was good to see. Yeah, it's their own people that are there and we had all these people presenting and they're all..."

Arlene Templer:

"We call them homegrown."

Herminia Frias:

"Homegrown?"

Arlene Templer:

"Yeah. We just start them out in WIA or Fatherhood or whatever and develop their skills, their credentials and then we hire them."

NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow: Frank Ettawageshik (Part 2)

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Frank Ettawageshik, former chairman of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians (LTBBO), discusses the critical role that intergovernmental relationship building plays in the practical exercise of sovereignty and the rebuilding of Native nations. He shares several compelling examples of how LTBBO built such relationships in order to achieve their strategic priorities.

Resource Type
Citation

Ettawageshik, Frank. "NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow (Part 2)." Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 13, 2010. Interview.

Ian Record:

"So we're back with Frank Ettawageshik. This is a continuation of the interview from April 6th. Today is April 13th and we're going to pick up where we left off, which was talking about constitutions. And I want to essentially go back to the very beginning on this topic and ask you for your definition of what a constitution is."

Frank Ettawageshik:

"The constitution is the method by which the people inform their government how they want the government to serve them and the government is a tool of the people to achieve what they need to achieve in terms of relations to other governments, in terms of relation to how things are going to work internally. The people themselves maintain the complete power. And then they can either give or take back certain powers to the government through the constitution. The constitution also establishes the mechanism for how the tribal government, the tribal nation will deal with other nations. It sets up the parameters for how you are going to do that, "˜which branch of government has which authority?' and all of those types of things. To me the constitution is a tool of the people for how they are going to manage their government."

Ian Record:

"What key ingredients do you feel constitutions need to have in order to be effective?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well, constitutions...to me, there's a legislative function, there's a judicial function, and an executive function, and these need to be acknowledged and then the interplay between them is what the constitution does. Some tribal nations have constitutions where all of those powers are wrapped up into one body. Others have clear separations of powers, but even ones that have separation of powers the balance of those changes from one to another. So really those are important functions, I think another thing needs to be clearly you have to have an amendment clause on how you are going to amend it. You need to have some basic statements. I believe that it is extremely important to have like a bill of rights built into it. I think that's very important because those things need to be part of what our people come to expect in terms of how they are going to relate with their government. And when the people are telling the government how it's going to function they need to reserve for themselves certain rights, certain ways to protect themselves. I look at a constitution in a way as the people trying to protect themselves from their own government and I think that not only does it say how it's going to function, but it also limits how it's going to function, and guides it so that it will...constitutions that are poorly conceived or poorly written or ones that the community, the tribal nation has grown beyond, they can hamper how things will function. They can be difficult. For instance, constitutions do not require, nor does federal law require that they be adopted by secretarial election. Nor do they require that amendments be done by secretarial election, yet many constitutions throughout Indian Country require secretarial election by their own words, and so I think an important function there would be to not have that in your constitution. To me, you are either sovereign or you aren't, you are not part sovereign. And as a nation, tribal nations, sovereign tribal nations are constantly negotiating the exercise of that sovereignty with the other sovereigns around them. We may be with another tribe, another tribal nation close by, having some disputes about whose territories is whose or what...in economic development, there's room for competition and some issues. There could even be citizen issues regarding membership or citizenship. And we need to...the documents need to sort of deal with those things that are coming up."

Ian Record:

"I wanted to follow up on something you said. You talked about a number of Native nations growing beyond their constitutions. We hear that sort of refrain, particularly in the discussions of tribes who have Indian Reorganization Act systems of government that were adopted in the 1930s. They had a very different conception of the scope of self-governance, if you will. Is that something you've seen in your line of work, working with tribes both as chairman and now as executive director of the United Tribes of Michigan?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Every tribe has its own constitution or its own, either written or not written, in terms of how the government's going to function. Most of the tribes I've worked with have written constitutions and they're all different and they have...there are clearly times when you move beyond something. The United States has amended its constitution a number of times, and not always successfully. Witness Prohibition for instance, and the fact that there's one amendment that brings it in and another one that takes it out. So the fact that a government might need to amend its constitution is not unusual. Some amendments may be more far ranging than others. Some amendments are a sentence here, or two. Other amendments might be more drastic than that, but I would think that, think of it rather that the constitution is an organic document that is evolving as the nation evolves."

Ian Record:

"I wanted to pick up on a specific aspect of the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians' constitution, which was adopted in 2005, and it gets at this issue that you mentioned in the outset when defining constitutions, which is international or diplomatic relations. And explicit in your constitution is an acknowledgment of other sovereign nations and their inherent powers presuming that those sovereign nations, in turn, recognize and respect the sovereignty of your nation. Can you summarize what that clause says and give an overview of perhaps why your tribe felt it necessary to include that?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well, when you, like I said, when you acknowledge that sovereignty in yourself and in others then you have to exercise or negotiate that sovereignty with your neighbors. So what I think is here is that you're constantly working with those other sovereigns, but you need to figure out how to decide who you are dealing with and who you aren't. And so the most basic way of that is that if somebody else acknowledges you, well you can acknowledge them, but you have to have some sort of a process for that. What this clause in our constitution does is it establishes a basis for some office, or staff person, or somebody that would be akin to a state department for instance, where there's an international relations office that deals with negotiations with other sovereigns and those types of things. Those negotiations, those other sovereigns might well be the United States and the laws that they are passing could have an effect on the way we exercise our sovereignty, but the fact that, for the most part, what we have done in Indian country is that we have federally recognized tribes deal with federally recognized tribes and I think what that does is that sort of...we're letting the United States decide who we're going to have diplomatic relations with, and I don't think that is a good idea. But we have the right to make that decision ourselves, but then along with that right comes the responsibility to do it in a way that you are doing it reasonably. So then what do we do? Do we have a whole acknowledgement process, each one of us? How do we go about doing that if we're not going to sort of let someone else vet the potential list of people with whom we'll have relations. I think the whole federal acknowledgement process doesn't grant sovereignty to those tribes that make it through, instead it acknowledges that they have it and that's what it's all about. So what that means is that the non-recognized tribes also are sovereign, and the state recognized tribes are sovereign, and the federally recognized tribes are sovereign. Tribal governments have inherent sovereignty and no one gives it to them. They have it because it comes through being in this creation. Well, you still have the responsibility to do it, to do it wisely because not everyone who claims to be a tribe is a tribe and that's the difficult thing. There are examples of people who have formed...recently, there have been some prosecutions here across the United States of people who have had various money, get-rich schemes, that involve pretending to be a tribe and issuing cards and charging people for it. Those are things we have to look out for, but then that's the responsibility of a sovereign nation is to not just look inward, but look outward because threats come from outside as well as potential good things come from outside and we have to be able to recognize them and deal with them."

Ian Record:

"You mentioned or we've been discussing the constitutional mandate within your tribe's constitution to essentially engage in international relations. It places a high value on that process. Since the 1980s, there's been an incredible growth in intergovernmental relations between Native nations and various other governments and I'm curious to learn from you, what do you think is driving this growth?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"A recognition that we need to look outside ourselves and work together. I mean if you look at what has happened across the world in this time, the European Union is formed and variety of very nationalistic individualistic nations realized the value of working together. While they still have their independence and unique in their own countries, at the same time, they have a centralized currency and other things that make for a good sense. Tribes have the same kind of thing. We know that there is strength in numbers and as a matter of fact back there in the revolutionary time here in the United States, many of our leaders spoke to the Continental Congress and to the early [U.S.] Congress about the strength of working together. As a matter of fact, there is a famous speech about 13 fires being stronger than one that was given and these are the kinds of things that come from us and our understanding and we often formed alliances of some sorts with us coming together, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy for instance is one, the Three Fires Confederacy is another, and there are others all across the country where different tribes have worked together. So what kind of things have we done?

One of the examples of working together is the formation of the National Congress of American Indians back in the '40s. It was formed to combat the national trend towards not recognizing the tribes, tribal governments or saying, "˜alright the tribal governments have progressed far enough, now we can terminate our relationship with them.' And so the whole Termination era came through and NCAI, that was one of the big pushes for NCAI. One of the things that we found as we were doing some studying and I still have more to do on this, but not only was there the non-profit corporation created that is the National Congress of American Indians, but at the same time there was also a treaty written and was signed by a number of the nations that acknowledged each others' sovereignty. I mean, it's a very...it showed and demonstrated in writing, the understanding of the tribal nations that they were and still are independent sovereigns and no matter what other people may think about it. And so, I think that that was one example, NCAI.

Other examples of working together I'm going to put up, more recently, we in the Great Lakes signed an agreement called the Tribal and First Nation Great Lakes Water Accord. This was done because the states and provinces were working on the issues of bulk ground water and diversion of water from the Great Lakes and how are they going to work together to deal with those issues as they came up and there had been a succession of agreements, finally one where they would agree and create binding agreements and then it was in the creation of these binding agreements that they started work and we got wind of the things. They talked to us a little, but they always talked to us as stakeholders and we felt that that wasn't correct. They needed to talk to us as sovereign governments within the region because we had court-adjudicated rights within that region. We were the only government with government-to-government relationship through treaties and that was important that we be apart of it, so when we weren't part of it and they did treat us as stakeholders we went out and called a meeting of all of the tribes and first nations in the Great Lakes Basin. There is about 185, some are together and some are not, and so when I say about there is a couple different ways of looking at it, but it's over 180 tribes and First Nations in the Great Lakes. We ended up having representatives -- either individually or either through consortia -- we ended up with representatives of 120 tribes and First Nations at a meeting with just a few weeks notice, which we negotiated and signed this water accord. Within one day, we were at the table, invited to the table to negotiate with the states and the provinces and what they planned on signing at about a month, it took actually almost a year before it was ready to go and we managed to strengthen those documents in a way that they will help protect the environment and the waters because we plugged holes that were there that were wide open because tribes and First Nations weren't there. We also took offending language out; they managed to negotiate language to come out of these documents that didn't acknowledge tribal property rights or tribal treaty rights. So in the end there's an interstate compact that's agreed [to] by all of the governors signed it with the tribes had to agree. And then the governors all had to get the state legislature in each of eight states to pass the identical wording which was no easy trick and they got that done and it went to the U.S. Congress where there was a lobby to push this through. If the interstate compact is approved by Congress it becomes law of the land and it's a provision within the U.S. Constitution that allows it.

So this interstate compact, there was a strong lobby trying to fight it because they thought it didn't go far enough. One of the key things it didn't do is it didn't bottle water in containers, 5 gallons and less is considered a consumptive use as opposed to a diversion. A lot of people felt that it should have been a diversion if that water was bottled and shipped outside of the Great Lakes aquifers. And so nevertheless it ended up passing at the U.S. Congress and it became law, then it was an international agreement that was signed between the eight states and the two Canadian provinces, Ontario and Quebec. With parallel language, but the two provinces weren't able to sign onto the interstate compact so they created this other document that has that in it. It at least deals with issues when there is a permit for a withdrawal of a lot of water from the ground that will be vetted through a process. The tribes and First Nations agreed that we would have a parallel process to the states, rather that all be a part of one process. So we are still working on how that is going to be set up, but nevertheless we've all agreed to it. Since that was signed there have been another 30 nations sign on, tribal nations and we now have about 150-160 that have signed out of the 185. So that is an example of an international agreement working between the tribes and working across what the United States calls an international border between it and Canada. And there are others, League of Indigenous Nations is another way we're working with, not only First Nations and tribes, but also with the Maori and the Aborigines, potentially with the Indigenous folks throughout Mexico and Latin America and other places. So we're looking at what kind of things are there that we all have in common. And Indigenous intellectual property rights, our medicines and stories for instance...issues of climate change and there's substantial things that we all have in common, trade relations with each other, the ability to trade not just in goods perhaps, but to trade in ideas and thoughts. Those are things that are important."

Ian Record:

"You've been discussing international relations primarily between tribal peoples, between tribal nations. Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians has also been very active in the arena of intergovernmental relations between your band and other local governments, state governments and that sort of thing. I'm wondering if you could discuss in what areas is your nation currently engaged in that arena? I know, for instance, you have cross-deputization agreements with two counties. Maybe talk a little bit more about what your tribe is doing in that area."

Frank Ettawageshik:

"And we've come a long way from the point...quite a long time ago as the chair, I received a letter from a local prosecutor who indicated that our police were impersonating police officers and they couldn't be on the roads with their lights and they couldn't have car with emblems and most importantly they couldn't have radios with those little chips in them that allowed them to pick up police frequencies and that I had 10 days to deliver them to them. So we wrote them a letter back and said "˜You know where those cars are, you are welcome to takes those anytime you want, but as soon as you do be prepared for a visit from the U.S. Attorney.' So we called the U.S. Attorney and had a nice chat and that same person ended up signing off on a limited deputization agreement within about a year and a half after that and then we have full deputization that has been signed since then with two different counties. We worked on trying to have seamless public safety within the community. We didn't want to be a haven for people who were breaking the law on one side of a line and then crossing the other and then thumbing their nose at the police or things like that. So we worked hard to make sure that when there's a search and rescue for instance that is going on, our officers are trained and a part of the team and can help. And the public safety of the community is enhanced because they have this additional training. In addition to that, we have crowd control issues. Our officers have worked on part of the security detail for the governor when the government does the Mackinac Bridge Walk every year. And every year it's a five-mile span. Every year on Labor Day we walk the bridge. It's a huge crowd and frankly, they pull in different local people and our officers as well. We also work closely with the county and state police. One of the stories from this inter-cooperative agreement kind of thing that we've been able to do: we had the U.S. attorney general come to visit at Little Traverse. And we had all kinds of security things and there's all kind of things you have to do. We, of course, had to have a bomb dog to sweep the whole building and they have this and that and all kind of things. And as he was leaving after this meeting, and he was meeting with all the tribes in Michigan, and after he was leaving, he pulled out from our grounds and drove by Little Bear Cave and saw that there was a state trooper, country sheriff, a city policeman, and tribal police all standing together chatting right there. And we got a call from the FBI in the car with him. He got a question, 'How did we do that?' But that was part of what we tried to do, we tried to build that relationship. We also, if they come on our territory unannounced, we're not against making sure that they know that they're not supposed to do it. So if we had an investigation going on and they forgot to call us or something, we'd let them know. But likewise, if we did something that they didn't like, they'd let us know, so we developed, what we did is we built in safety valves in our relationships so that they were there if there was an issue, we had a way to deal with it right away. And so it's been a cooperative venture when the sheriff of both counties and his deputies show up and they stood before me as the tribal chairman and took an oath to uphold the tribal constitution and all of our laws, that was a pretty big step."

Ian Record:

"This case is interesting because it calls to mind this perspective or mindset you used to see more in Indian Country than you do now, but the idea that, well if you enter an agreement or develop a formal relationship with a local municipality just off the reservation, or a county or a township or something like that, you're somehow relinquishing your sovereignty because those are minor-league governments and we're sovereign nations. That -- from what I can gather -- that perspective is being replaced gradually by the perspective that when a tribe chooses to engage those other governments, in whatever way they see fit, that it's actually an exercise of sovereignty. How do you see what your tribe's been doing in that area?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well, that's exactly the way I'd put it, it is an exercise of sovereignty. An example of an exercise of sovereignty working locally is if you have someone slip and fall at your casino and they hurt themselves and they sue you, of course you've got the insurance company, but if the insurance company turns around and claims sovereign immunity every time somebody sues what are you paying the insurance for? So an exercise of sovereignty, one that helps us protect us and our customers would be [what we did] is to waive our sovereign immunity up to the limits of our insurance policy so that someone could sue and be taken care of if they needed to be, therefore getting what we were paying for when we bought our insurance. Well, that's an example of an exercise of sovereignty that works well. And governments waive sovereignty on a regular basis for things. I mean they waive their immunity but never waive sovereignty, let me correct myself there. And that exercising your sovereignty through a waiver of immunity is a responsible thing for a government to do towards its own citizens and towards the citizens of other nations with which we deal: our customers at the casino, our guests at the gas station, the customers coming by, and we have a hotel and we have conferences there, we have lots of people coming through. We have to deal with the issues of...I mean, one of the issues we ran into was within Indian Country it was illegal for anyone to carry a firearm unless there was some law that was passed that allowed it. So in the absence of it, it's illegal to have it. Well we had guests; we had the outdoor writers coming as an association. They were coming to our hotel and one of the things they were going to do was a rabbit hunt and they had all brought their guns and it was going to be illegal for them to have them in their room, to have them in their car in the parking lot, and so we had to pass a law that allowed how this set up, how this was going to happen. It was one of those responsibilities of being a sovereign that it became important to work on."

Ian Record:

"And so what you're saying is it's not just international relations, it's not just a sovereign challenge involving other governments, but involving individuals who are citizens of those governments, individuals like these sports writers and the casino patrons and so forth."

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well, ultimately it actually is dealing with the other sovereign, it's just that the other sovereign has citizens. And so as you interact with those citizens, you're interacting with that other sovereign government and you have to figure out how that's going to be done. So those are just some examples of things that we had to do that I felt are important. And ultimately, these things were things that our tribal council passed as laws and our tribal courts have worked to enforce and for the police and the courts to go through this. And so this is our tribal government at work in the process of making laws, being responsible, and exercising sovereignty."

Ian Record:

"I wanted to follow up a little bit more on intergovernmental relations. And obviously the water accord that your nation participated in is one example of many that your tribe's been engaged in developing over the course of the last several decades. And I'm curious to get your thoughts about taking collectively all those relationships that you developed, all those formal agreements you forged, how do those collectively work to advance your nation's rebuilding efforts."

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well, the prior administration to me, actually it was a four-year time period when I was not in office and during that time period, our tribe was one of the tribes that worked with the governor of the state in a tribal-state accord in which the State of Michigan acknowledged sovereignty of the tribes, pledged to work together and establish certain things that they would do. We...I came back in office, we were preparing to have, I think one of the first meetings where we'd all get together following that. And as we were preparing for that meeting, I just don't like to go to meetings where the outcome of the meeting is, "˜Well, we'll have another meeting.' I'd really like to actually have a product from the meeting. And I spoke about that and wanted to do that, other people agreed, and as a collective we developed a water accord with the State of Michigan. So this was how the tribes and the state would deal with the collective, our collective interest in the waters of the state. And the accord itself was one that's right about...it's on the heels of our tribal and First Nations water accord and it's all this, this time period is all sort of involved in the same effort. But with this one, instead of the tribes pledging to work together, we pledged to work together with the state and establish twice-yearly meetings, staff-level meetings, not elected-level, but staff-level meetings where we would deal with the issues of what came up relative to water. And of course water is part of the environment, so certain environmental things started coming in. Subsequent to that, we came up with another agreement that we put together creating an accord on economic development. And then we came up with an addendum to that, creating, establishing an agreement to do and economic development fellows program that would say, half state, half tribal –- state folks and tribal folks –- that would work say, over a couple-year period to get a cohort of participants on the same page relative to the issues of economic development in Indian Country. Well this has been a little slower to take, but it's been one that's been brewing and we have a meeting coming up in just a couple weeks from the day we're doing this interview that, where we're going to be furthering some of those issues with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

Well, those are some of the things that we did and then, we also have signed a climate action, climate accord, dealing with climate change issues, also establishing twice-yearly meetings. I served on the Michigan Climate Action Council. I was appointed by the governor to be part of that council that helped create the plan for the reduction of the emission of greenhouse gasses and all the different issues surround climate change. And we turned in a report to the governor, and part of that report recommended that the tribe, that the state negotiate and sign with the tribes a climate accord. And the reason for that is because tribes are not political subdivisions of the state and it made, it would've been really difficult to incorporate us into the state's plan, but part of the state's plan was to sign an accord with us to work out common issues. And also part of the state's plan was to work with tribal organizations to further the issues. So for instance, they send a rep to the National Congress of American Indians' meetings relative to climate change, and to NTEC, the National Tribal Environmental Council, other meetings to make sure that they're, the state is sort of on sync with those things. So that's part of how we do with that accord. So when you look at each one of these accords, you put all this together, the tribal-state accord and the water, the economic development, the climate accord, you put all that together in terms of how we've related to the state, we've...I guess I should mention a couple of other things.

We also signed a tax agreement with the state. The state realized that we probably could go to court, which other tribes had done and that it was going to cost both of us millions of dollars and the outcome was uncertain. The uncertainty was there enough for the state that they felt that it was worthwhile trying to find a way to negotiate. So we ended up with a tribal-state tax agreement that is negotiated as a whole, then signed individually with the tribes and there's slight variations in each of them, but they're all pretty much set up...the system and then that also establishes an annual meeting where we get together to talk about the issues related to the taxes in the state. And sometimes our meetings, we've actually had a couple meetings that were over in 20 minutes. We had the meeting, we all got there, and we said, "˜Boy, it's really nice not to have anything to talk about.' So we chat with each other a little bit, reacquaint ourselves and eat a donut or two and we're done. Other times, we are actually in very long discussions and I've been in both of those kind [of meetings]. But the tax agreement was basically how the state is not going to collect taxes that it can't collect and what the mechanism is going to be for that. Well, these are other things that helped establish things. So we did this without having to go to court over the issue. And we believe that we got things that we wouldn't have gotten had we gone to court, but we also perhaps didn't get some things we might have gotten. So the question is, the state, both of us benefitted and we think that it furthered our interest by doing this."

Ian Record:

"I mean, I guess overall, overall from what you're saying, is that by consistently, continuously engaging in these sorts of efforts, you send a very clear message to the outside world -- whether it's the feds, the states, local neighboring communities to the reservation -- that, "˜We're big league governments. We're sovereign nations for real.' And then there's the message that you send to your own citizens. Isn't there a strong message that these sort of actions can send to your own people?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Yeah. Well they, I think that and one of the other agreements that we did was we settled U.S. v. Michigan fishing rights case and as we worked on that the original case had been filed years ago and then it was bifurcated. The inland portion was sort of put on idle and the Great Lakes portion proceeded through court and we won the right in court and there have been a 15-year and then a 20-year consent decree that have been negotiated on how we are going to exercise that right on the Great Lakes and so we continue to work with the five tribes in the state that are involved in that. Well, the inland portion eventually got to the point where it eventually where it was heating up and looked like it was getting ready to go to trial and we actually hired our witnesses and expert witnesses and we had done depositions and we were moving towards court, but we at the same time worked and a couple opportunities came up and we moved ahead in some negotiations and we thought we try to negotiate. We successfully negotiated a settlement in the inland portion of the U.S. v. Michigan fishing, hunting and gathering rights case. Unprecedented. I believe it's an exceptional agreement in that the tribes gave up things that we surely would have won had gone to court, but those are things that we already were not likely to want to exercise ourselves and one of them was commercialization of inland harvest and also putting gillnets in inland streams and rivers. Both of those were things that we didn't think were too wise, but we could have won those rights and probably would have if gone to court.

However, the state stipulated without going to trial that our treaty right existed perpetually. It's a permanent consent decree and so this was a big deal to us. The second thing was is that they ended up agreeing that we could exercise that right on property that the tribe owned whether they had just purchased it or whether it had been purchased years before and or whether it was a part of the reservation, whatever. They also agreed to do this on private lands with permission and this is way more than we would have won had we gone to court. So we think that we got a lot of things that are very important to us and gave up things, while they are important, they also were worth it in the deal and this is without spending millions of dollars and continuing to spend. It would have been appealed; it would have been a 10-year case by the time it went on. This was a success.

Well, what did that do in the end? At the end when we got this agreement, together we had the state DNR [Departemtn of Natural Resources] touting the agreement and holding classes and seminars around the state to let their citizens know about this agreement and to say why it was such a great idea and we had tribes doing the same thing, but on top of that we also had the various sportsmen associations and the lake owners' associations that had been advising the state on the case and had been working with the state and they called it, the term was "˜litigating amicae,' which I understand is a term that the judge may have made up, I don't know at the time, but they were parties to the case and to that extent -- not parties, but they were amicae. Well, we had these groups, the Michigan United Conservation Club, the lake owners' association, and they were all promoting this so that instead of...result of this and in other states have had to call out the National Guard when they were dealing with this issue when they have really potential dangerous things going on and in Michigan when we got this settlement, everybody realized that it was going to protect the resources and it worked with minor exceptions here and there. I mean there were some tribal members that were upset and there were others. I mean we had some folks just as soon die on the sword, they would just as soon fight and lose rather than negotiate. There was more honor in that. And to me, I look at it, I wasn't worried about my honor or I was worried about that, what I was worried about is the long term. What are our great-great grandchildren going to be doing? And now in Michigan, they're going to be exercising treaty rights."

Ian Record:

"That's a great story and we're seeing more and more of those kind of stories across Indian Country because, I guess, this realization that negotiation, if done right and if done for the right reasons, can bring you much greater outcomes in both in the present and in the future than litigation. Because litigation, even if you win the case, there's this issue of enforcement can be very costly and then there's this issue of litigation begets more litigation. And then, on the flipside though, I mean you have negotiation where it sounds to me like this served as a springboard from improving relations between traditional adversaries, improving relations or perhaps dampening hostilities that had long been there. And, I mean, do you foresee this consent decree as perhaps serving as a springboard for other forms of cooperation in other areas."

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well, it's important that we sort of keep it alive. One of the things there is from this is there's an annual meeting, executive council, where all of the parties come together to deal with issues. And we have issues; we have issues. We'll have members who push things a little bit. We'll have state game wardens push things the wrong way a little bit and then we'll have to, we have to work through all those things. We'll have disputes about what actually was meant by a sentence and there will be differing views on that and those are things that have to be worked out. But in the process of doing that, we have regular relations; we worked hard and we developed a level of respect for each other and trust that we could achieve, that we were working together on an issue. It wasn't just working against each other. There are times, believe me, out of these...these were tough negotiations, these were not easy. I mean every one of us at the table, every one of the tribes, the state, I mean everybody at the table at some point or another was the one who walked away, and then came back, but everybody got upset. You don't have forty-some people negotiating every three or four or five weeks or two or three days at a time...that takes a long time. So some of those days were long days. We had some 10-12 hour days we were doing this. And so it was tough, but in the end we got something good, and these kind of agreements, building these relationships help because our tribal citizens...I'm a member of Farm Bureau for instance and I look at...we have other people that are members of Trout Unlimited and all the other groups. We have people, lake front owners that are part of lake owners' associations. So our citizens are actually a part of all these other groups with whom we were dealing and we need to strengthen those things. We need to let people know. So now when we do a fish assessments, it's just as common to have the tribes and the state out working doing the assessment fishing on a lake all together because the state's in a budget crunch and so are we, we have our equipment, when we all work together we have enough to do a big job, but just by ourselves none of us really could do that big job all by ourselves. So when we're doing the shock boat and the fish assessing and trying to explain to people that we're not killing the fish, the mortality rate is less than one percent with a shock boat that we have, those are good things and it's good to be working together on this stuff. In the end, what we're doing is we're all working toward similar goals. We aren't always going to agree, but then that's part of governance. In fact, if everybody agreed, that's a little dangerous. You need to have that, a little bit of tension in there to make sure you're doing things right."

Ian Record:

"So you mentioned the hard work that's involved with establishing, cultivating and maintaining these relationships. I'm curious, based upon your extensive experience in this area, what advice would you give to Native nations and leaders for how to build effective, sustainable governmental relationships?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Patience. One of the, probably the biggest thing I learned and one of the things that guided me is that eventually, eventually comes and that you need to work towards things. You need to be willing to work a little piece at a time. You need to have a sort of longer-term vision about where things are. I was out walking the other day on a path, and I was, I was looking up at the mountains and to my detriment, I tripped on something right in front of me. But if you look in front of you all the time, you never see the mountains, you never see the other things around you because you're paying so much attention right in front of you. You have to -- without endangering yourself -- have to be looking up as well as in front of you. I think that that's a part of the whole thing about this patience. You have to have a longer-term vision and the government itself needs to work through and think about those longer-term visions."

Ian Record:

"And doesn't that involve educating citizens because leaders? As you've often said, leaders are transitory, they come and go, and some of these efforts are multi-year, if not multi-decade to get the outcome that you've been seeking at the beginning and doesn't that require, I guess, a certain level of understanding and approval by your own people that this is a priority of the nation?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Yes. I mean, it's really important for people to understand what...like I said in the beginning when we looked at the constitution and I said the constitution is the method by which the people inform their government how they want it to work. The people need to always be aware of and remember that that is what that is and that they...so they need to understand where those things are when you have a constitution that has a focus on international relations. They need to...when you have your budget hearings, there need to be...someone needs to stand up and speak up and support that budget line item that's going to involve some international travel, some travel that needs to be done. When you have...you have to have...people need to be aware of how things work to know how to allocate resources and how to support that or detriment. One of the issues that I see across Indian Country that I think is...it's a big issue and that is that leaders who do a lot of this international work with other tribes or that are working in a basis across the country often are away from home a fair amount and that needs to be supported. But too often people think that those of us who are traveling are wasting tribal resources, that we are out having a good time, that we're enjoying things at the tribe's expense and that there is no need to be doing this anyway. And so when people are traveling often there is quite a pressure or a candidate becomes vulnerable because of being gone and traveling. So you have to balance that domestic program within your nation with the international program and you have to find out how to balance that, but with the people themselves, there needs to be an acceptance. I was recently -- after I had left the chairmanship -- I attended a conference and elected leaders were taking it on the chin pretty high at the conference over the days because most of them...there were very few elected leaders at this conference. It was almost all other folks: individual activists and former elected leaders, but lots of people were very involved in working on environmental issues, but...and so I, towards the end of the conference I got up and set my regular program aside and I said, 'Listen. You've been...you're sort of upset because elected leaders aren't here.' I said, "˜When's the last time you ever thanked your leader for attending a national meeting like this. When the last time you went to a budget hearing and demanded they put more money in there in the line item for travel so that the leaders could afford to go? When's the last time you wrote a letter or stood up and supported this outside external activity at a community meeting or in conversations in your family or things? You need constantly, if you want leaders to do those things, you can't complain because they don't. You need to actually support them when you do, that way it becomes a priority and if that's really the priority for our nations to make sure that we have this balance between domestic programs and international programs.' We have to have a populace that actually understands and supports why that is necessary, and it becomes necessary. Going to Washington, D.C. is critical for leaders because the U.S. Congress passes laws that effect...while they can't, their laws don't limit our tribal sovereignty, they certainly can limit how we exercise our sovereignty. They limit how Health and Human Services can deal with us. They can limit how the justice system deals with us. And so because of that, it's important for us to pay attention to those laws and it's important for us to know what's going on and to have the relationships necessary there that when we speak, we're not going just to build a relationship. We're going and we already are known so that we can carry through on the issues that support us. And there are plenty of people that are going there on a regular basis who are detractors of tribal sovereignty and don't support tribal sovereignty and who want to do everything they can to do away with it or limit it or whatever. And so we have to constantly be on target and work on these things and that's a very important part of that international because we're dealing with tribal nations to the United States, that's an international arrangement. We have to be very careful on how it works. So it's essential to do that kind of stuff. We also have to do that with our state government because a lot of the funding that tribes get comes from federal government, but it's funneled through the states, even though we'd like them to all have set-asides and deal directly with...so that the tribes deal directly with the feds on those things. There's a number of programs that go through the state and the manner in which the state chooses to set up its programs, how they choose to write their programs or write their proposals and their agreements with the feds can limit how they deal with tribes. So you're constantly having to pay attention to that. And you have people who, once again, would be supporters and other people who wouldn't, but for the most part you also have people that just don't know. And so it's constantly our responsibility to make sure that they do. And whatever mechanism, whether it's the tribal leader going or whether there's an ambassador, I think that we could... I think there's a time coming as we're evolving our tribal governments that we're going to actually have people that ambassadorial function may well be through an ambassador at large. Some of the tribes already have these. And I believe that this relationship with the other governments with whom we deal, we need to have staff people that can deal with that. I use an example, the recent arms treaty signed, where the presidents of Russia and the United States were together to sign the treaty. You know that the two of them did not sit down and hammer that treaty out. They had staff that were working for years on this to work together how to deal with it and may have met a couple times to iron out a point or two, but for the most part, their major thing was to have the photo op of them signing it and shaking hands to sign the treaty and that was the top of the executive functions there. And then of course it's got to be ratified, yet. Well, these are...our governments function in the same way. We have those same kind of interplay of things and...but we need to make sure that we have built in the ability to deal with other governments and that it's a very important role for our tribal nations."

Ian Record:

"I wanted to switch gears, one last question before we wrap up this interview, to tribal justice systems and specifically ask you a question about the Odawa Youth Health to Wellness Court, which your tribe established several years ago, which by all accounts has proven quite successful. I'm curious to learn more about why did the tribe establish this program? How is it structured? And how has it benefitted your community?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well, we clearly have a problem that other communities have, other tribal nations have. As to why we have it, I guess that's another whole other story, but the fact that we actually have this problem with drugs and we have problem with the youth and there are individuals who just don't seem to be able to respond to parental controls and/or other societal controls and end up being in the court system; and the court system is basically a win/lose kind of system. We've tried to develop other systems that are options and this is an option and can be chosen by someone who is before the court, by the youth and this particular thing is based around that wrap around concept where we have staff from a lot of different departments. I think there's 10 different departments, but they are all working with one youth and their parents and all focused on one case. There's responsibilities on all their parts by bringing a multi-disciplinary approach to this wrap around concept we're able to see success with individuals we had not been able to see success with other programs. This has gotten so successful that we have actually had offenders that are before the local county court who they've offered the option of coming to our program and actually people who they didn't have to assign to the program at all, the local judges have sent people to our program and has been because they recognize the success of it. So this is another way of building an intergovernmental relationship, building community relations with various institutions with whom you have to deal in the community."

Ian Record:

"And this, from what I understand, this health to wellness court is not so much focused on punishment, but on restoring health and harmony not only to the individual defender, but also to their family, to their community at large. Is that true?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Yes. And I think that that part of the approach, restoring balance is important. And I think that's true in a lot of our programs, that's one of the things we try to focus on. And we have, when you follow our traditional teachings, that whole thing of being in balance is your goal, it's the center, it's what you try to achieve, where you're not at any one extreme. No matter how that extreme may seem, as you move towards that, you're pulling away from being in balance and so something else gets out of balance. So the whole goal is to try to maintain that calm center in order to achieve that. In our traditional ways, that's one of the teachings. And so when we apply those teachings to, trying to apply them to court systems, trying to apply them to our various other social programs, frankly I'm working on how we apply the teachings of the medicine wheel to our budgets. How do we take a budget and determine whether that budget is in balance? And I think that the way we spend our money, the way we allocate our resources, can be just as out of balance as any other thing and it can be symptomatic of we might be having problems in our tribal community that are inexplicable to us. And it could be because the way we're choosing to allocate our resources is out of balance. And so, to me, this is something I'm working on and particularly now that I'm no longer the tribal chair, but I have time to reflect on these things. I want to work on that issue and try to see how that can be, that idea can be furthered."

Ian Record:

"Well Frank, I really appreciate your time today. I've learned quite a bit and I'm sure our listeners and viewers have as well."

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Thank you."

Ian Record:

"Well, that's it for today's program of Leading Native Nations. To learn more about Leading Native Nations, please visit the Native Nations Institute's website: nni.arizona.edu. Thank you for joining us."

NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow: Rae Nell Vaughn (Part 1)

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Rae Nell Vaughn, former Chief Justice of the Mississippi Choctaw Supreme Court, discusses the critical role that justice systems play in the rebuilding of Native nations and shares how the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians has worked to develop its justice system to reflect and promote its culture and meeting the evolving challenges that it faces.

Resource Type
Citation

Vaughn, Rae Nell. "NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow (Part 1)." Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. September 15, 2009. Interview.

Ian Record:

"What role do tribal justice systems play in rebuilding Native nations?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"It's been my experience that it plays a significant role in regards to tribal government. One thing that I have found within the 11 years of my judicial experience is the fact that tribal governments as a whole have had to play a role of catch-up, fast tracked. In regards to Mississippi Choctaw, we established our constitution in 1945 at a point in time where we were living in very oppressed conditions. Of course, as you know, historically the tribe was removed to Oklahoma and we're the descendants of the members that chose to stay. No federal or state recognition at that point up until the time of recognition and the development of our constitution, and it was a building process. You had a number of leaders who would step up and were wanting to form a strong government. Of course, the justice system itself came in years later, but overall they've had to try to fast track a government in order to provide the people with services, and it was a struggle, it was a definite struggle. And of course ultimately, a justice system was developed under the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs], a court of regulations, a CFR [Code of Federal Regulations] court, and that had its challenges all on its own because you have the mechanisms but not the resources to provide law and order. And your reliance was on the BIA and it was a definite struggle during the early years of this system. You had a membership maybe at that time of close to 3,000 possibly.

Now going back historically, the membership dwindled down in the early 1900s to less than 1,000 because of the influenza epidemic and here we are in 2009 and have a membership of 10,000. And you talk about a flourishing economy at some point with the successes of this tribe, but you also talk about the population growth and with it coming the social ills and influences that impact a community. And so I've seen this system evolve, even prior to my interaction with it, becoming a judge. It's grown by leaps and bounds. They started off with a staff of maybe three: a tribal member judge -- when it was under the control of BIA -- and maybe one or two folks that also participated. And to this point, once...during my tenure as a judge, we were up to 32 employees. You had 11 members on the judiciary, which is so unheard of, but for me it was a signal from the government [that], 'This is important. A justice system for this government is important and we are investing in our government and in our people to provide them a fair form of justice.' Knowing where we're at, we're located in Mississippi, and the struggles that minorities have faced, Native people have faced, has always been there, an underlying issue. And so being able to have our people be in a forum that's fair for them, being judged by their peers was the most important thing. But also it was the fundamental exercise of sovereignty, operating a system, a judicial system, which not many tribes have had the ability to do and maybe not to the degree that we've been able to do it. That's not to say that there haven't been any challenges. There are, just like there are with any system, whether it's a tribal system or non-Native system, but it's a work in progress. Codes are forever changing and you have to keep your hand on...keep on the pulse of what's happening nationally because what happens nationally will ultimately affect you locally.

And so cases such as Nevada v. Hicks, issues of jurisdiction, those have far-reaching ramifications. So having a stable, consistent, and well-educated and well-trained judiciary is very important, and those are the things that I think tribal governments really have to take a look at and recognize the investment that you're making."

Ian Record:

"And I would assume that in that understanding of what's going on nationally, it's not just the judiciary that has to understand, it's elected leadership and particularly the legislators, the ones that are making those laws to say, "˜We've got to be out front on these issues so we're not stuck in a corner one day in the near future having to react defensively to something we're not prepared for.'"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Exactly. We have to be proactive. It hits every area of government: economic development, education, healthcare. We have to be very diligent and we have to go the extra mile in making sure that we're protecting our sovereignty and at the same time being aware of what the landscape is looking like politically. There have been times in previous [U.S. presidential] administrations where they haven't been quite so favorable to Native Americans. And we may be here at a time of renaissance where there's going to be more participation, more of us as Native people at the table speaking on our behalves, on our own behalf. As a Native person, this is where I've been, this is what we've gone through and this is what we can do and this is what we want to provide for the people, because at times Native people get lost in the shuffle of all the social programs and issues that the federal government itself is dealing with. There are some tribes that are very fortunate to have the additional revenues to provide for their tribes and some aren't. How do we all work together to make sure that each of these tribes are able to have the type of support to be able to function and exercise as a government?"

Ian Record:

"Mississippi Choctaw's court system was recognized by the Honoring Nations program at the Harvard Project in American Indian Economic Development just a few years ago. And in large part it was recognized because of its ability to exercise or to be a vehicle for sovereignty for the nation. Based on your experience in that system, in that court system, I was wondering if you could speak to this issue of strong independent court systems and what those look like, what do those systems require to be effective?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"That's a very good question, because it's a challenge that all tribal court systems face. And let me say that the Honoring Nations program was such an excellent exercise for us, because as a system you're in the trenches every day and you don't realize the things that you're doing have such far-reaching impact. And so when we began this process of going through the rigors of the Honoring Nations project program, I was just so amazed. "˜We're doing so much here, we're looking at alternative resources and programs, we're trying to look at things more holistically versus using the American jurisprudence of dropping the gavel and that's it,' because we recognize that within Native communities we're going to be among one another. I'm not moving anywhere, you're not moving anywhere, we're staying in this community, and it's trying to ensure that we have healthy communities and using the justice system and possibly not just going before formal court, using our peacemaker court, using teen court, using our healing-to-wellness court, are other alternatives that are available to the membership and it goes back to our own Native teaching of who we are. We were never a people -- as with other tribes -- that all we wanted to do was fight amongst one another, but of course all of this takes place based on social influences and evolution of things and prosperity. And so going back to your question, it requires due diligence among both sides of the aisle, the legislative body, the executive as well as the judiciary. And it's a really hard balance because I'm a member of the community, I have children who attend the schools, I'm a voting member, I see people at the post office or at the grocery store, I attend ceremonies, I'm involved just as all the other judges are; simply because we put on a robe during the day doesn't mean that that robe ever really comes off, but we also have to be able to be participatory in our communities. And it is, it's a hard balance, even with your legislative body because we all know each other, we've all grown up with one another possibly or they've seen you grow up and know your mother and there's this tendency of picking up the phone and saying, "˜Hey, what's going on and do you know da da da da da?' And it is, it's a really hard balance because of the close ties and the close knitness of the community and it's that community mentality that you have. But we work diligently to ensure that the people recognize that this is a very independent justice system. Now granted, in the case of Mississippi Choctaw, we're a two-branch government. The court system is developed by statute and is controlled, maybe that's not a good word, but is under the oversight of the tribal council as well as the executive. There've been times where it's been challenging because you wear two hats. Not only are you a member of the judiciary, but you have to be an advocate for the system, and so there's that give and take, development of codes. How can I not be somewhat participatory in the development when I'm the one who uses that code in order to...we're creating law basically, and there are several instances where it's almost a gray area that you enter, but knowing what the spirit of the law is and where we are as a judiciary and what we're trying to accomplish I think speaks volumes because the people see the separation. And it's something that you have to work at every day. You just, you have to."

Ian Record:

"So in your role as advocate for the system in strengthening the system, do you find yourself compelled at certain points to say to the legislature, "˜Look, there's...I'm dealing with these...this area of jurisprudence, these types of cases are becoming more prevalent. There's nothing on the books that tells me how to interpret these cases. It's up to you to get out in front of this,' as you mentioned, "˜and develop law that I can then enforce in the court system?'"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Exactly. One case in point is the Tribal Notice Act and that's very important, especially if you have two parties coming in and there's an issue that could possibly have a detrimental impact on the tribe, maybe possibly in regards to jurisdiction. And the tribe needs to know; the tribe needs to be noticed. And so we worked towards getting that on the books and we were successful. And it's a mechanism or a code that's been used a number of times. And so things of that sort, because you recognize or the people recognize the legislative body and executive body, they're dealing with so many different issues from economic development, healthcare, education, housing. There's not one person or one area that they're focusing in on. So I would not be doing my duty if I didn't bring things to their attention that I think could provide betterment for the system and also protecting the people as well."

Ian Record:

"So you're also, in addition to your experience, your 11 years as you mention serving on the Choctaw judiciary, you've since...you left that, your tenure with the judiciary, and you've been working to evaluate other tribal court systems. And I was wondering if you could speak to this issue. We discussed this recently about some tribes, some tribal leadership not really treating the judicial function of their nation as an independent...as an independent function, as a true arm of the government, whether you want to call it a 'branch' or what have you, but rather treating it as a program. And we hear this a lot from particularly tribal judges who lament that fact that, "˜We're just considered another program.' I was wondering if you could speak to that issue and what you're seeing on the ground."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Oh, yeah. And it's not so much with the work that I'm doing, but additionally with my participation with the national organization, the judges association, as well as my own experiences with Mississippi Choctaw. There's the thinking that tribal court systems are more situated or in the organizational things as a program, and either we fund you or we don't or...there's not that understanding of the importance of justice systems and how in regards to economic development, justice systems are key. And a lot...I've heard so many war stories about how we are treated as -- I hate to use the term -- as stepchildren. We get the hand-me-down equipment, we get the little bits of whatever is additional that we can get in our budget, but what I found throughout my work and my experiences with the judiciary is the fact that there are so many good people out there in Indian Country, members of their own tribe who want to provide a forum, a fair forum for their people and they work diligently with what resources they have. Now if it was a perfect world and we were able to get all that we want, that would be ideal, but it's not and a number of tribes who don't have the additional resources struggle, and for some of these tribes it's a really challenging thing because you're also not only at the mercy of the government, but at the community as well and there...if you don't feel that support from your government, then obviously the community's not going to support you as well and those are some key things that have to happen is to have that support. 'Now you and I may argue here, but when we step out as a judiciary and as a government, we need to be unified, because each of us as a legislative body and as an executive body and whether we're a judicial branch or a statutory court, we still have to work and maintain as a stable government,' because if your leadership is bad mouthing your judicial system, what does that say of the leadership?"

Ian Record:

"What does that say to the outside world?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Exactly."

Ian Record:

"So this issue of treatment by the leadership, by the community of the justice system as a program versus something more, among those tribes that tend to treat them as the latter -- just as a program -- aren't they missing the boat essentially on the importance of justice systems as a vehicle for not only advancing sovereignty, but also creating viable economies on the reservations and pretty much all around?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Exactly, because a lender who is thinking about doing business with the tribe is going to ask, "˜I need to know about your court system. I need to know where litigation is going to take place,' and if they can't see a system that is stable and consistent, you're possibly missing an opportunity to bring strong economic development to your area and that's key. I think a lot that has to happen is education. Now again, I go back -- I recognize there's so much that tribal government has to do. They're overloaded, they're understaffed in some instances, and they're trying to do the best they can do, but at the end of the day it's important to make sure that each of your areas of government are strong and are working together and that's where your checks and balances are. It's basic civics."

Ian Record:

"One other issue we discussed recently was this issue of...this treatment of tribal justice systems as nothing more than programs may emanate in part from this sense of, "˜Well, that's where the bad things happen.'"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Oh, yes."

Ian Record:

"...That's where, kind of the social ills bubble up, that's where the kind of the underbelly of the community, the negative parts. "˜We don't want to deal with that. It's too painful,' or 'We don't...we're at a loss as to how to resolve these issues.' How do you get beyond that mentality? How do you get to a point where -- as you've told me -- where the people, the community, that the leadership will treat the justice system as a vehicle for not only restoring, as you say restoring health to the community, but also as a way to, for instance, teach the values of the people to say, "˜This is how we operate, this is how we resolve disputes.'"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"One of the bad things or the negative side of the judicial system is the fact that a lot of things happen in the well of that court and at the end of it all, "˜It's the court,' "˜It's the court's fault,' or whatever it may be because it's surfaced, it has bubbled up as you said, it's surfaced and there it is black and white, right there in the well of that court. And ultimately it's the judge and their discretion as how they rule or decide or what it is that they end up doing for that particular case, whether it be a habitual offender, whether it be a family in need, a juvenile delinquent, a vulnerable adult. All of the social ills of your community hits right there and it is challenging more so again for your legislative body and your executive because what do they do, what can they do? We've developed so many different social programs, but we're not going to cure every ill, and unfortunately a lot of those things surface through court. And as I shared with you earlier, that's why we were looking at, in regards to Mississippi Choctaw, of other alternatives. We recognize these are social illnesses. This is not working, going through formal court. Something has to happen and it also has to happen not only with the individual, but with the family: accountability, responsibility, bringing in the people who matter the most to you and who you value, who are your mentors or your grandparents, your minister, your family to sit down and talk with you, help you in a peacemaking-type situation, a circle of sorts. Healing to Wellness [Court] is set up in that very same way, that we have there at Choctaw where the offender comes in, meets with a group of multi-disciplinary team and there's a check, there's this constant check, and we've had so many success stories come through there. Is it 100 percent? No, it's not, and it probably will never be, but there is an alternative, and with the one case that you have a success in, [it] ripples out to the family, to the community, to the nation in regards to the offenses, health issues that may have come from it, all the different things. And that success just can only breed more success because if you have this individual whose gone through this process, you see the community, see that individual being successful and others who are coming before the court say, "˜I want to try that because I'm ready to make that change,' then there's that vehicle."

Ian Record:

"So I would assume under the CFR system, there's no way that you guys could have developed these restorative functions."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"There is no way, no."

Ian Record:

"So essentially by developing your own court system, by taking ownership of that critical function, you provided yourself the freedom to say, "˜What's going to benefit our community in the long run? What's the best way of doing things, because the status quo is simply not working.'"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"No, it's not working and it doesn't work in Indian Country. And what may work for Choctaw, what may work for the tribes in the east may not work for tribes in the southwest or in the west or in the northwest or in the midwest or northeast. It works for us and looking at the different models you can see things that will work. There's this term I use, "˜Choctaw-izing it' -- making it your own, bringing in Choctaw values, culture, customary law into this model and it works, and it works, and the people understand it. That's the thing, the people say, "˜Hmmmm, yes, I know what you're talking about.'"

Ian Record:

"So can you give me just a...you mentioned this term 'Choctaw-izing' it. Can you give me one example, maybe one case of how the court system applied a core value of the Choctaw people to essentially try to bring that restoration to the community?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"As I shared with you earlier, we have a teen court process and in that process the individual, the juvenile delinquent goes through the formal youth court system. Teen court is more of a sentencing type court, but the uniqueness of it is they are judged, are sentenced by their peers, other teenagers in the community. We had a particular instance where there was this child who of course offended, committed a crime against the tribe, was found delinquent. The case wasn't or the offense wasn't to the level of the judge issuing the sentence so he transferred it to teen court and it went through the process, but the uniqueness is -- and this is where the cultural aspect came in -- is we had the judge bring the mother and the grandmother and auntie because we are a matrilineal society. And before the sentence was rendered by the peers, by the jury, the women stood up and they talked and they talked with both sides of the parties who were there -- because this was a boyfriend-girlfriend, teenager-type thing -- and how it was important to respect your family, respect your parents, to listen, and if that wasn't the most empowering thing along with their peers giving them the sentencing, I don't know what would be. It was so powerful and moving. And let me tell you, people sat up and took notice and you gave respect, you listened. And that's one instance where that...we were able to have that and that was just such a learning tool for our young people to sit there and go through that and to listen. Even though they weren't the offenders, but they knew exactly, they knew exactly. It was almost like a reawakening. "˜I know this, but we don't do it all the time,' and like, "˜Whoa!'"

Ian Record:

"So in that instance, the court was not even an intermediary between the community, the culture, and the issue at hand. They were actually just a mechanism for connecting those two."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Facilitating just basically, just putting those people and things together. And it's...one thing of...and when I first entered the court system I served as a youth court judge. And the one thing I would tell our kids, when they'd come before the bench and with that attitude, being rebellious, and "˜You can't tell me what to do,' is, "˜The offense you've committed, you think maybe committed against this particular individual or this particular family or to the school, vandalism, whatever.' I said, "˜But you're not hurting those particular individuals, you're hurting the tribe, and in essence you're hurting yourself. So what has to happen here is you have to make this right and you're making it right at the end of the day for yourself.' And for some kids it didn't click, of course being rebellious and angry and everything, but for some it did. They understood. And again, you never really had a lot of successes. You had some successes and statistically Native American Country and as well as in dominant society you knew that there were higher chances of your young people moving into the adult system, but we tried very hard and that's why we were looking at all these other alternatives. Many Native communities have such small memberships, and so when you have a lot of delinquency going on, number-wise it may not appear to be a lot, but there on the ground it's epidemic and that's one of the things governments need to recognize and why it's such an important thing to make sure that you're supporting and investing in all of these types of things that keep your system, your justice system strong, consistent and stable."

Ian Record:

"So what do you see as the major challenges facing tribal jurisdiction today?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Oh, my goodness. That's something that tribes are facing all the time and it's amazing to me how we do have the jurisdiction that we do have. There have been challenges locally, and as I'm trying to think back here, we've had a number of cases that we've dealt with ourselves at Mississippi Choctaw where you have a civil matter that came before the court and they were running concurrently with the circuit court, the federal court. And it was an issue concerning a, it wasn't a loan company, a bank, it was a bank and a big problem with a salesperson going into the community and of the lender reneging of sorts -- just a really basic background of that case. And tribal members who had signed up for this service, which I believe was a satellite case, then did a class action against the lender. The party then went to the federal court, the federal court in turn sent the case back telling the parties that, "˜You have to exhaust tribal jurisdiction before you can even attempt to make it here,' which I think said a lot for not only our tribe, but for tribes in Indian Country to have a federal court say, "˜You have to exhaust all remedies before you even make it here.' Now you and I both know that that's not commonplace and I think that sent a very, very big message. Why would that have ever been decided? I think a lot of it had to do with the court itself because it was a functional court, it is a functional court, renders opinions, clear decisions and it's consistent. And I think that had a lot to do with why we were able or the federal court made the decision it made.

Now Indian Country, tribes in Indian Country are constantly faced with issues of jurisdictions and I can't speak so much for these other tribes, but just from the readings I've seen and in the issues that I've heard about, it's constant. For example, I know that there was a tribe in California that had the state come in wanting to look at employment records. If that wasn't a clear crossing of the line, a failure of respect of another sovereign, I don't know what is and that's clearly overstepping jurisdictional lines. But those types of things happen and that's where you really have to, as a government, make sure that you have the type of legal representation for yourself to protect you as a tribe because you have it coming from every angle, from every area of wanting to chip away at what jurisdiction you do have. It's bad enough that we don't have criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians and as a gaming tribe there's a lot of issues that we have to deal with and we're at the mercy of the county or we're at the mercy of the federal government and its system. It makes no sense to me. Logically, we know when, I know when I cross the boundary and I go into Philadelphia, if I commit a crime, I'm going to be dealt with in Philadelphia court. It's a no-brainer. And this is an issue that's been talked about time and time again. I know I'm not going to change it, but I'm going to give you my two cents. It sucks, it's not productive and there are people who agree. There are people on the outside who do agree that you should have the ability to incarcerate, to judge any individual who commits a crime, an offense against the tribe or this jurisdiction. And we don't have that ability. And then you have the civil jurisdiction, which is always being tested and it's just so important that when we have issues that come up through tribal court systems that as a judiciary you're giving well-thought-out opinions and it's iron-clad so that you can't...it won't be unraveled and then there you go, you've lost more jurisdiction."

Ian Record:

"And it's not just making the decisions, it's actually documenting those decisions and having those ready in an accessible fashion, and that's where it's important to build the system of justice not just have judges making decisions."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Yes, exactly. You're exactly right because you have a lot of these systems that are in varying degrees of development and I am a big believer of having tribal members sitting on the court. Unfortunately, you don't have enough people who come to the court, come to the bench with a legal background. I'm not law trained. And so it's challenging and it's a struggle. Fortunately, our tribe made investments of having individuals on the bench with the juris doctorate providing us with legal technical consultation so that we're not standing there twisting in the wind, "˜Well, what do we do?' And so we're able to have this body of law, opinions that come from this court, that are guiding tools for not only us as a tribe, but also for other tribes should they wish to use it. I know that there are different companies or organizations who collect all of these opinions across Indian Country, which is good so that there is a body of law for other tribes to go in and take a look at and look at precedent and things of that sort. And we need more of that, but what we also need to do is be able to reach out and get this information to people. As I said earlier, you have a number of people whose systems are at varying degrees, tribes whose systems are at varying degrees and there are times where I think we do a disservice. Again, I am a big proponent for having tribal members on the bench, but you also have to be able to have someone there who is knowledgeable and can understand law, the analysis, the logic and to be able to generate really good opinions and good decisions. Are we right all the time? No, not necessarily, even those who have the jurisprudence isn't right all the time, but it's based on interpretation."

Ian Record:

"So it's really important then for tribes to invest in capacity in not only of people...tribal members who eventually will be judges, but also those clerks and other people in law enforcement."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Because let me tell you, those clerks are down on the ground doing all the work and there have been instances where I have seen they have ultimately become judges and they come in with all the knowledge of working every facet of that system in the sense of dealing with attorneys, looking at orders. It's amazing to me. Some of these clerks that I've talked with in my travels would say, "˜Yeah, I knew that wasn't what needed to happen.' It's just amazing the knowledge, the experience they gain and I have seen many instances where some of these clerks did step up or were appointed to serve as a judge and made excellent judges because they had the hands-on training and going through the process of the documentation, the order development and things of that sort. So it's key, it's very key in regards to having strong judges training and education."

Ian Record:

"So backing up a bit to what you were discussing a few minutes ago and this issue of...essentially, what you were talking about was transparency and jurisprudence, that it's not enough just to make decisions. You have to make sure that those decisions are clear, that they're open to not only the citizens of the nation, but to the outside world and that they're understandable and that they're accessible. Is that what Mississippi Choctaw has done? Is that what you're seeing other tribes starting to do? Are more nations really beginning to understand the importance of transparency in jurisprudence?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"For Mississippi Choctaw, yes, it's something that we strive for; it's not cloak and dagger, it's no big secret. Whatever decision is rendered and the opinion is generated, we had a procedure where we informed all arms of government, especially if it was something that was very critical, maybe a jurisdictional issue, something that would affect the tribe. They received notice, they received a copy of the opinion, and then in general opinions that were generated from the Supreme Court, that's 101. You need to get them to see this and also there may be messages in these opinions that say, "˜Look, this is how we ruled, but if we don't make changes to the body of the law that we have, we're going to hit this time and time again. You might want to think about it, but we're not telling you...we're not changing the law, we're not going to change this piece of legislation, but we want you to think about it.' And so it is, transparency is important. Again, going back to the issue of where tribal courts are and the varying degrees they are, those more established courts such as Navajo Nation have a large body of opinions and a body of law there that you can...I tap into it. I've tapped into that as well as Eastern Band of Cherokee -- your bigger, more established systems. And so you have that transparency there, but again it goes back to where the systems are in development."

Ian Record:

"I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about an ever-present dynamic in tribal jurisprudence and that is tribal politics and there's a reason why you're laughing. I assume you know exactly what I'm talking about."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"It's the bullseye right there."

Ian Record:

"But I wanted to get your sense of what you've seen in terms of the impacts of political interference in tribal jurisprudence and dispute resolution and essentially how far-reaching those things can be."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"There are many tribes that face this very question of political interference. And it's a hard line to walk, it really is. I think a lot of it has to do with who you are as a person and your integrity and what you yourself are willing to allow and not allow. And at the end of the day, just like I tell my children, "˜If it's an issue that you're really passionate about and you know this is what you need to do, sometimes you're standing by yourself,' and as judges that's ultimately what we end up doing is end up there standing by ourselves and telling whomever it may be, "˜No, you cannot cross this line.' Are there ramifications for those choices? Yes, in some instances there are. And that's unfortunate because of the messages that it sends not only to your community, but -- again as we talked about earlier -- to the outside world. If an individual makes a decision and in the eyes of the government it's perceived as a bad decision and it possibly wasn't in favor of what they wanted and they make sweeping change, who is going to want to step up and serve if there's the possibility of failing to comply or abide by what they're wanting. When you step up and become a judge, all of what you may have supported or your political views all fall by the wayside. Your primary concern is the interpretation of law, dealing with that case that's before you, that's it -- not what the politics are because they cannot be influential, they cannot be influential to what you're doing because if that's the case, then why have a court? Why not let the tribal council run the court? They want to, I know they do, but it's again checks and balances and the maintaining of independence. And I see it time and time again. I've heard so many war stories."

Ian Record:

"Yeah, we see some tribes that still have, particularly with those tribes that have Indian Reorganization Act systems of government where the standard constitution said, "˜The council can create a court system as it sees fit,' essentially and..."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Oh, in our code it does state that. It says, "˜If funds are available,' and I thought, "˜Well, what does this mean?' But for the time that that code was developed, that's again going back to, "˜Well, is this is a system or is this a program?' It's clear even in our general provisions, "˜If funds are available, we will operate this court.'"

Ian Record:

"Yeah, some of those IRA [Indian Reorganization Act] systems you still see to this day where the root of appeal of a tribal court decision is back to the council."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"And we do have that in Choctaw in some instances. Example, if there's an election challenge the court has no...there's no venue in our area. It goes directly to the tribal council once it goes through the election committee. And there is a valid challenge then it's ultimately the tribal council which makes the decision whether to say, "˜Yes, this is a void election or no, it's not.'"

Ian Record:

"You mentioned a few minutes back the messages that are...the very clear messages that are sent when there is political interference and tribal jurisprudence and I was wondering if you'd maybe perhaps talk about that a little bit more specifically because you mentioned messages not only to the community but to the outside world. What kind of messages do those send when you do see that political interference? And perhaps how does that impact the tribe in the long run?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Oh, yes. It does not put tribal government in a very good light when you have that type of interference. Sometimes it comes across as being more of a dictatorship versus a democracy. It really makes greater society doubt in the ability of that government of being able to provide for the people true leadership. And I know as a sovereign nation there have been other tribes and this is just from my travels and visiting with other jurisdictions and sharing war stories. We are under such a microscope, not only the judicial system, but the overall tribal government in Indian Country. We are constantly being held at an even higher standard. Yes, we need to be at a high standard, yes, but it appears when there's just a small hiccup or a small misstep it's magnified 100 times. "˜Well, you see, that's why we don't deal with that tribe,' for whatever reason it may be and it could be miniscule, but for the outside world it's like waiting. They're lying in wait for you to trip and fall. Choctaw itself has had its ups and downs. There's not a tribe that hasn't. We've seen successes, we've seen challenges, but we continue to persevere because of our membership. We're not going anywhere. At one point we were the third top employer of the State of Mississippi providing economic development, providing income for this state and that speaks volumes. Now we're dealing with the issues of the economy, the national economy and the effects that it's having on our tribe and we're having to act and react to those things and it's not been favorable, but we also have to be sustainable for our people and there are hard decisions that we have to make and we've made those decisions, rightly or wrongly, whatever may be perceived on the outside world, as a sovereign we have to maintain for the people."

Ian Record:

"You mentioned this issue of outsiders are looking very closely at what tribes do and in many respects they're waiting for tribes to mess up and using it as an excuse to say, "˜Okay, either we don't want to deal with them or they shouldn't have sovereignty,' whatever it might be. And I think that's really where court systems are critical because in many respects they're the most tangible connection, the most visible reflection of what tribes are doing and what tribe's abilities are, what their capacity is, how they make decisions. Is that something you've experienced at Choctaw?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Yes, very much so, very much so. We've been fortunate. Legal communities -- whether it's on the reservation or off reservation -- are small and word of mouth is very powerful. People know what's going on, whether they're on the reservation or not, they know what's going on and it's really key on how you bring these people in and how you...and also educating, educating them about what we are and who we are as a sovereign nation. One of the things that we provide as a system is a form of a bar meeting and providing them training, bringing to them things that are happening on the national level, educating them, and that's key -- going out and educating. And that's a lot of what I did as well during my time with the court. I've gone to Harvard, to Southern, to University of Southern Mississippi, to the University of Mississippi Law School, to Mississippi State [University], to a lot of the local universities within the state to talk about this very system. And they're so amazed at one, we're not just this casino that they see talked about on TV. Secondly, that there is a functional government, but what they're also very surprised at going back to what we've talked about earlier is the fact that there is no jurisdiction over non-Indians and that's always been the big, "˜Ah ha. Are you kidding me? How can that be if we're in this country of the land of the free and our constitution, our U.S. Constitution,' but that's what the cards we're dealt with. And that's how fragile these systems and governments are because I'm sure if the federal government wants to, and again looking at how governments are exercising their sovereignty or lack there of, they would be more than willing to come in there. It just says that we have to provide you with health and education, but it doesn't really say to what degree so I can...you'll take what I give you and that's where as sovereign nations we really have to be diligent about our exercise of government and of our sovereignty. We have to be. I know I sound like this...I sound like this caped crusader, "˜We've got to be. Somebody has to be at the gate and it's going to be me,' but there needs...there really needs to be more development of people who understand public service of giving back to the people and we've got to cultivate that."

Ian Record:

"So you've made references to the incredible growth of the Mississippi Choctaw's economy over the past several decades and I'll ask you a very blunt question. Could Mississippi Choctaw when it comes to economic development be where it is today if they, for instance had what's often referred to as a 'kangaroo court'?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"The short answer, no, I don't believe they could be. This system was and is, continues to be an evolving system and I think with the right leadership it was determined that there are certain things we're going to have to put in place in order to be successful and strengthening the court system was one of them. This system was taken into management of the tribe in 1985 and was operating with a very skeletal group of people and then they expanded the service. And then in 1997 there was another reorganization where they developed very distinct divisions of court. This would give the system the capacity to handle all civil matters. We had well over 1,000 people working for the tribe in the hospitality portion of it and of the industrial arm of it. The majority of these people were non-Indian. Where are civil actions going to take place? In our court if they're working for this tribe. You also had, once gaming came into play and tribal members were receiving per capita, a rush of people wanting to enroll and so our enrollment jumped by leaps and bounds from 3,000 to 4,000 to almost 10,000. And so you had to have the ability to handle all the issues that come with the economic growth and the court system and law enforcement are the people that deal with a lot of the day to day issues that come with that prosperity."

Ian Record:

"So in many ways the court system is the primary vehicle for managing growth for tribes."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"I would say so. People may disagree but I would say so."

Ian Record:

"So I wanted to ask you a bit more about this issue of justice systems and how they maintain stability in law and order and how does that... how does the justice system at Choctaw provide that for the people?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Well, we've been fortunate that the tribe has taken over, like I said earlier, management of the law enforcement division. It's now the Department of Public Services, as well as the court system itself. The tribe itself has also contributed to our legal community and I include law enforcement in that and detention as well by providing legal counsel for the tribe. We have an attorney general's office that's set up as well as a legal defense, which is the equivalent of legal aid for individual tribal members and so we have a pretty diverse legal community there. This provides for the community, for the people the ability to be represented within our system, but not only within our system, should there be issues that occur off reservation they have the ability to use legal defense to represent them as well in issues such as maybe child support type issues if it's a non-Indian and Choctaw union and the marriage dissolved and there are challenges and things may end up taking place off reservation for whatever reason. Also, the ability if they need counsel in federal cases as well because you know as well as I do that there's always challenges there where the level of adequacy of representation at the federal level. We've seen time and time again where Native people have just not had proper representation, which also dovetails into the additional work that I do as a commissioner for the Mississippi Access for Justice, ensuring that all people have the ability to have legal representation for their issues. But for the people, just knowing that there's law enforcement, there's a police officer there who is not out there on his own. There's a strong department and when I call I know they'll be here not in three hours, maybe within 30 minutes or 15 minutes depending on the location because we are managing our own law enforcement. What does that say for the greater communities? We're able to assist them as cross-deputized officers, peace officers, to assist them with whatever issues may be taking place. Again, going back to jurisdictional issues, there's always, "˜Well, where are we? Are we on Choctaw land or are we on county land? Where are we?' And so it's a tough call at times. Sometimes somebody has to pull the map out and say, "˜Yeah, well, here's the line.' And so it speaks volumes as to partnerships that have to be developed and strengthened to show stability, for them to see the stability of this system. And it spills over even into the court. We had an instance where there was an issue off reservation with two tribal members being dealt with in the county court and the court was familiar with our peacemaking, Itti Kana Ikbi, court, our traditional form of court. And he called up our peacemaker and said, "˜Look, I have this issue here. I think that it should be better resolved...it could be better resolved with you and peacemaking.' That is unheard of for a county court to turn its jurisdiction over to a tribal court. Even I was taken aback. But societies are changing and there are times of tension in race relations, yes, we recognize that. And to see something like that happen only proves more to me that we as a people, not only tribal members, but as people are changing and recognizing that we are just as capable as our counterparts are and that also signals stability."

Ian Record:

"I think in that particular instance, part of to me is them probably saying, that county court judge saying, "˜Hey, those guys do things, they do it right, they... yes, they have their own systems, their own principles that they administer justice on, but they do it consistently, they do it fairly and I have confidence in turning this over knowing that they'll resolve this dispute in a good way.'"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"That's exactly right. That's exactly right. And so that generated even more conversation and we have a very good rapport with the county courts and so there have been times where other issues, other instances have taken place, but that was just the turning point. And to be quite honest, I never would have thought I would have seen things like that happen in my lifetime. There's always been this sense of separation and I'm sure it is with other Indian tribes. "˜You're the Indian tribe, you're over there. Here we are metropolitan society. You do your own thing and we'll do our own,' but we're all members of the community, of our communities, and it's being able to interact with one another and working for the greater good of the entire people because don't forget, it's the people who are living outside that are probably working for the tribes on the reservation. So there has to be, whether they like it or not, there has to be a relationship."

Ian Record:

"Yeah, we hear this more and more often, this refrain from tribal leaders of, Native nations aren't islands and they can't act like there are. They can't exercise their sovereignty in isolation, that for them to advance their strategic priorities they're going to have to, of their own volition, build these working relationships with other sovereigns, with other jurisdictions, with other governments, with other municipalities in order to advance their priorities and create a better community."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Exactly, and I think that's what has been the successes of what has created an environment of success for our tribe, for Mississippi Choctaw, has been those relationships whether it's local, state or federal, having those relationships not only within your executive branches and legislative branches, but also within your judiciary. Maybe I was in the judiciary the fifth year of my tenure and I had the opportunity, and it was such a very moving moment, when I had the Chief Justice of the State of Mississippi and his associate justice come down. He came down to Choctaw and sat down and had a conversation with me, the Chief Justice of Choctaw Supreme Court, his counterpart to talk about, "˜How can we help one another?' And that's something that is...I couldn't even imagine that happening. And I shared with him... and we got to know one another and we've become good friends and I said, "˜It had to do with the people and the timing.' Everything just came and lined up and it worked. And so we were able...and we have and we've continued that relationship even with the new Chief Justice, that there continues to be and as well as my new counterpart, there continues to be this continuation of the relationship and it has to be. And it's good that it's now recognized."

Ian Record:

"A couple more questions here. This issue of...getting back to the issue of when you have a justice system creating this environment of stability, of law and order, of certainty, of essentially offering a fair forum for the resolution of disputes where people feel that, "˜If I need to go have a case heard, whether I'm an offender or the one that's the victim in this case, that it will be resolved or adjudicated based on the merits of that case.' Doesn't that send a pretty powerful message to not just those outside investors, but also to your own people that, "˜Hey, this is a place where I can come or I can remain and invest my time, invest my resources, invest my skills, my ideas and the future of the nation.'"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"One thing that I know people struggle with is understanding the system and once you enter in and begin going through all the different processes, they then realize how difficult it is to go through the court system per se. And it may have been designed specifically for that, because you certainly don't want frivolous actions coming before the court. You certainly don't want a manipulation of the system and so it's holding all parties accountable. And the messages that it sends to the people, I would hope, and that was always our hope, was that, "˜You will receive fairness here when you walk through these doors. You will see an individual there who is going to render justice, whether it's on your behalf or not, whether it's for you or it's not.' Of course when the person fails to get the decision they want, you have that as well. But I know that in my dealings with the legislative body, they recognize it as well and at times you have to let the community member vent. They're also your constituents and so you've got to let them vent, but also talking them through, "˜Well, this is what it is but you also have the ability to appeal,' which is the beauty of it all. There is still another forum to go to if you're dissatisfied and if it's a true error of law, then you do have another venue to go to. In some instances, most tribes don't have that luxury."

Ian Record:

"Several years ago we were talking with Norma Gourneau, she was...at the time she was the vice chair at Northern Cheyenne, and they were dealing with this issue of...the court judges were just getting steamrolled by councilors every time...they were having a big issue for instance with automobile repossessions by off reservation dealerships and these off reservation dealerships would get a default on a car loan, they'd come on the reservation to get the repo order enforced so they could actually come on the reservation and pick up the car. The tribal member who was in default would go to a council member and say, "˜Oh, I need my car.' The council member would lean on the judge, the judge would rule on the tribe's behalf. Before long nobody's selling cars to tribal members. And so what she said was they put a fix in there. They did a constitutional reform, they insulated the court from political interference and she said, "˜What I found was I had a lot more...I found myself empowered because I wasn't dealing with those issues anymore. I could now...I wasn't putting out those fires of having to interfere in the court system so now I could focus on what was really important for the tribe, which was where are we headed, where are we going and how do we get there?' Is that...do you see that as an important dynamic to have when the court system is insulated from that essentially liberates elected leaders to focus on those things?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"I wish there was more of a way to make that happen for all of us because we all deal with those...again, it goes back to what we talked about earlier -- political interference -- and again it's up to you as an individual of your integrity whether you allow it or not. Yes, they can be pretty quick to apply pressure on you. Yes, we've dealt with those types of things. It was always astonishing to me when a vendor would call and say, "˜Well, this is happening and I'm not getting service, I'm not getting the court system to react quickly enough.' And our council would be so quick to step up for those vendors and I'm like, "˜You have to allow the process to take its paces. It has to go through its paces. You can't speed anything up for anyone in particular. It doesn't matter, it just does not matter.' But yes, we have experienced in the past where because you had a number of tribal members defaulting on a lot of things, businesses begin then questioning, "˜Well, do I really want to do business with a Choctaw?' Not so much about the judicial process itself, but if I'm not going to be getting my money back or if I'm not going to get paid for whatever service I render, is it worth my time? Which is a much bigger question, but going back to insulating yourself, we as a judiciary, as many judiciaries, have canons of ethics and it depends on what those things mean to you. The legislative body as well as the executive body, unfortunately in our instance, don't have canons of ethics and...but those are to me things that are internal. You should have those types of ethics. You should know that it's not proper to go to the judge to say, "˜Change your decision.' It's not proper. You would feel...if there were clear lines of language that said, "˜No, you cannot approach the court,' then the atmosphere would be different. The atmosphere would be very different. Yes, there are tensions, there are questions, "˜Well, what's going to happen with the impact of this decision I've made? How is that going to affect possibly my appointment? Will I still be here in four years?' But if there were that...if there was the ability to have that happen where language could be developed and there were clear separations, you would be able to be in a position to judge more effectively without the fear of repercussion. You would. It's bad enough you have a lot of other things that you have weighing on you as a judge, to have that extra layer put on you and the sad thing is it's your own people, these legislative members are also your members, members of your community and of your tribe. I've heard one councilman tell me...he told me once, there was a case that was being dealt with and he was insistent on trying to get involved, to come in. And I said, "˜It's clear in the code, you can't stand as an advocate. It's clear in the code that you cannot post bond for this...bail for this individual.' And he would tell me real quick, "˜Well, out in this county I'm able to call the judge and da da da da da.' And I said, "˜Well, you know what, that's that court system, not here.' Needless to say, he wasn't my friend anymore, but that's the whole point of it. It's where your integrity lies and you have to. But again, it's also educating, educating the legislative body because of the evolution, the changes of a justice system, what justice systems mean, fairness and that, "˜No, you can't go and ex parte the judge.' It's about fairness and not so much about control. And that's the problem, it is an issue of control."

Ian Record:

"So the tribal code for Choctaw prohibits elected officials from, I guess, involving themselves in court cases in certain respects."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Yes, that's correct. If I as a tribal member would ask a councilman to come in to serve as an advocate or a speaker on their behalf of sorts, it's not allowed. They're not allowed to post bail or bond for anyone. It's right there in black and white, but they still continue to try to do that. I've always told my staff, the judges, when we look at the canons of ethics, "˜It's there to protect you so use it,' tell them that this is what the canons of ethics tell us in regards to appearance of impropriety, of political influence and things of that sort. That's what it's there for. And it's a struggle, it is a struggle and this is something that I know a lot of tribes face, a lot of judges face. It's a hard...it's a hard line to walk because again you are a member of the community, you do not have the ability to blend in with the general populace. It just doesn't happen. Like I said, for our tribe, we're a membership of almost 10,000. We have on the reservation over 6,500 people."

Ian Record:

"Do you think part of it, when elected leaders feel that impulse to interfere on behalf of a constituent, that they maybe haven't gone through the paces perhaps as you've termed it to think, "˜What's the long-term implication of my action here? Because I might be helping,' because that's their feeling, "˜I'm helping this person. I'm helping this person, but am I really helping the nation in the long run because this is going to be the ramifications of this. There's a ripple effect to what I'm doing.'"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Yes, and you're exactly right. I know in some instances their intentions are good, their intentions are good, they do want to help their constituent. They feel that someone needs to step up for them, someone needs to represent them, and maybe for whatever reason the different programs may not be able to help that particular individual, for instance, a vulnerable adult, an elderly person who may be being taken advantage of with his grandchildren taking the monthly check. And so I can see that, but when you don't allow the process to happen and if you don't follow the letter of the law, then the messages that it sends out is that, "˜Well, you can change the rules whenever you want,' and you can't do that. The rules are the rules for everyone, whether you're the community member, whether you're a member of the council, whether you're the chief, the rules are the rules. And although some people may think they might be able to change those rules; that's where the strength of your judiciary is the test not to allow those things to happen. I know within...in Indian Country those things happen where they're tested all the time. Like we talked earlier about jurisdictional issues, everyone is coming at you from different angles and let me tell you, being...living the life of a judge is not an easy thing. It's rewarding at times because you're providing a service to the people, the successes that you see make it worth all that you have to go through, but the political side of it can be at times very disheartening, very discouraging because you're having to deal with this mountain of things that are coming at you and you're trying to do the best you can do for your system. And sometimes people just don't see it the way you see it and it's trying to reach consensus with people, to get them on your side, get them to understand. Education, it's...it always goes back to education, teaching the membership, teaching the legislative body what these systems are all about and how important it is because at the end of the day that's going to be what makes you successful as a people, as a community. For me, it's always been my philosophy that tribal courts are the guardians of sovereignty. It's our job to make sure that we protect this sovereign through the well of the court, through this legal system and it's something that when you take on this judgeship, it's not about the notoriety, it's about what you provide, what you bring to the bench and the protection of the sovereign. That's the bottom line of all of this." 

NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow: Jamie Fullmer (Part 1)

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Jamie Fullmer, former chairman of the Yavapai-Apache Nation, discusses the importance of the development of capable governing institutions to Native nations' exercise of sovereignty, and provides an overview of the steps that he and his leadership colleagues took to develop those institutions during his tenure in office. He also stresses the need for Native nations to fully and specifically define -- and distinguish between -- the roles and responsibilities of elected officials and tribal administrators.

Ian Record:

"Welcome to another episode of Leading Native Nations, a radio program of the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy at the University of Arizona. I'm your host, Ian Record. On today's episode of Leading Native Nations, we're lucky enough to have with us former chairman of the Yavapai-Apache Nation, Jamie Fullmer, who since he concluded his second term in office is now serving as Chairman and CEO of the Blue Stone Strategy Group, a company that works with a variety of Native nations on diversifying their economies. Jamie, I'd just like to open with giving you the opportunity to introduce yourself."

Jamie Fullmer:

"Thank you, I appreciate that. My name again is Jamie Fullmer. I'm the Chairman and CEO of Blue Stone Strategy Group and we work with tribes doing economic development and growth strategies. As was mentioned, I'm also the former Chairman of Yavapai-Apache Nation located in Camp Verde, Arizona, and very proud to have served my nation and have completed my terms in office with the term limit in our constitution. And since then I've founded and am the chairman and CEO of Blue Stone Strategy Group."

Ian Record:

"So Jamie, I'd like to start off with just a very basic question, but a very critical question for Native nations across the United States, Canada and beyond and that is, what is governance for Native nations in the 21st century? What does it entail?"

Jamie Fullmer:

"That's a very good question. It's the question that we as tribal leaders ask, and in the modern sense I believe the ideal of governance has grown for tribal nations. The reality of governance as a tribal chairman or tribal president or governor is that you not only have to take the responsibility of being the head man of the community or head person of the community, you also have to take the responsibility of really running an intricate government with all of the nuances of any other municipality or state or federal government system. With that said, governance is really exhibiting the responsibilities of that nation, expressing the sovereignty of the nation and also finding ways to meet the challenges of the community itself."

Ian Record:

"The work of the Native Nations Institute and the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, its sister organization, has really revealed what tribes are facing these days, what Native nations are facing these days and really the governance challenge is a complicated one. As you say, it's a complex one that involves various entities that transcend reservation borders and among other things -- as the research has shown -- that it's not really about just reclaiming your rights, but what you do with those rights once you have them. It has less to do with what rights you claim than with what kind of nation or community you want to be, really enforcing that or creating that strategic vision of where you want to go as a nation. For instance, it has less to do with other governments than with your own, the sense that it's up to us to shape our future, it's not up to the federal government. We can't wait for them anymore. And then finally, it really has no endpoint. The rights that are lost or won are fought for or defended when challenged, that challenge never stops; the governance never stops. It is a constant task. So those are some of the key findings of the Native Nations Institute and the Harvard Project, and I was wondering if you could speak to that in your own experiences with that challenge at the Yavapai-Apache Nation."

Jamie Fullmer:

"Sure. The transition from the private life of a citizen of the community to the public life is a challenge in and of itself. Then the ideal of governance is learning, 'What does that mean?'

The tribe itself has been around from time eternity as we believe, and our ambition as [leaders] is to play a role in that continuance and that existence continuing on long after we're gone. With that said, governance and the challenges that are faced is based on what are the current challenges within the community itself, focusing attention on finding ways to help the people grow, to help the government stay stable, to help create economic and social resources, to maintain our future, and also to provide opportunity for our young people to be educated.

And so governance and the idea of what we claim versus what we express are important challenges because sovereignty is an unwritten rule; it's there. You express it by what you do to grow, and within that, though, what you claim is based on the structures that you develop. So in the modern sense, as a nation moves forward, the process and the ideal of sovereignty is, 'We are here, we express ourselves, we accept the challenge and responsibility of governing and seeing our own path forward.' With that said, we also have to interact with not only our community and our own issues and our own priorities and cultural concerns, we also have to face that as a dependent sovereign and in the United States we have some rules to abide by that aren't our own.

We have the United States federal government laws that govern the relationship in Indian Country that we have to address and deal with in our own communities. We also, being, a lot of times, neighbors with other regional municipalities not in Indian municipalities have to learn more about how to interact with the non-Indian communities so that we can protect our sovereignty through positive relationships and interaction and communication and dialogue. So the expression of our right of sovereignty is really one where we not only have to support what's been done in the past, what leaders have fought for and what our people have sacrificed in order for us to be sovereign in the 21st century, but we also have to recognize it's our responsibility to educate those around us.

And so really one of the roles of governance or expression of our own sovereignty is sharing with others what that means because in the mainstream systems not everyone really understands ever in their lifetime what a tribal nation or a Native tribe [is], what the relationship is with the federal government, the uniqueness. A lot of times we're placed in the same subset of a minority group, where in reality there's a constitutional relationship that predates all of us here and that relationship is bound in treaties and it's re-bound in the formation of individual constitutions that each tribe may have developed or within those trust and treaty relationships there may be a traditional government that's been formed and people have carried on the torch and forwarded down the road. And with that said though, because of that we look at the modern challenge of, of course, protecting our unique way of life, finding ways to create a safe and prosperous future for our community members and then also looking at, 'How do we continue to move forward with economic growth and expansion so that we can create a revenue base to maintain ever growing governments?'

And one of the challenges going back to my own leadership time, one of the challenges and key challenges I faced was that once you start offering services and you start offering programming, the demand for those programs and services never go away. And so you have to find ways to meet the increasing demands while at the same time manage and create a sense of accountability in how you spend the money. And so I would think that that challenge is universal for tribes and in my own tenure as chairman I saw that we would...we were growing. Our young people were growing, the population of our young people was beginning to outpace the adults -- the 18 and older population -- and that's a very positive thing, because we know that we're a nation that's growing, but with that said, the challenges and the responsibilities in the programming were changing. In other words, we would be...there were more requests for supportive programs around education and daycare and prenatal care and just a lot of other young familial issues, whereas there were still the ongoing demands and need for the elder care and providing job opportunities and resources for the adult population. And so governance is providing services that meet the needs of the people while at the same time the challenge is recognizing that there is a limited amount of resources, financial resources.

Most tribes don't have tax bases and so their resources, like my own tribe, were gained from...the primary revenue stream came from gaming, from our casino. And so with that said, a growing community, growing needs, growing programming, pretty set amount of revenue streams coming from the gaming facility. The other challenge then of governance is how do we develop economic development systems and how do we manage and create an accountability of our existing enterprises? Those two things I think are a critical path -- dealing with the realistic social issues and the ever-changing population needs and at the same time managing the expenses and finding new ways to create revenue streams. With that said, there's also an important process in there and that's the political process.

The political process in Indian Country is sometimes very complex, and a lot of times the challenges in that process are based on cultural values, they're based on priorities that have been not necessarily asked for but given to us because of federal laws and circumstances and financial limitations in circumstances, and so the political wrangling within our internal systems becomes one where we deal with trying to meet the social needs, trying to also address the governance needs, but also creating a new body of law that represents the modern time. And so many councils and leaders in this...as we move very strongly into the 21st century are facing a multitude of program differences, the challenges of a social...creating a childhood program is different than an elder program. The challenges of creating an economic base is different than managing the existing enterprises. They're still all responsibilities that lie within the role of governance.

There's another, I think, challenge and that is many tribal leaders when they come into office, they're expected to make change and they're expected to make change fairly quickly. That's maybe what ticket they ran on or what their constituents supported them on were new ideas or changing some of the old ways of thinking or making the system more accountable, and yet they're just one of more than likely a group of five or ten or sixty council delegates that might need to make the decisions. And so there's an important process in there where leaders...young leaders or fresh leaders, new leaders coming in need to take on the responsibility of learning their role as a legislator and learning their role as a community planner, but also limiting their...the natural tendency to move into trying to micromanage because that doesn't benefit the system in the long run and in fact there may be negative repercussions from that. You might lose good people, you might question areas that are really not based in fact, but are more caught into a rumor and so it's really important for tribal leaders to investigate, but to also recognize and define their role as a councilor or as a tribal leader. That is another challenge I think in the world of governance: it's making the laws and institutionalizing the laws, but also following those laws. And so that's another challenge, is that there's usually a separation between...within the government and understanding that separation and how it works is a critical path as well."

Ian Record:

"There's a couple quotes from fellow tribal leaders of yours that always stick with me and one of them is, "˜The best defense of sovereignty is to exercise it effectively.' And the second is, "˜Sovereignty is the act thereof -- no more, no less.' And really at the crux of those two quotes is this issue of building capable governing institutions, and I was wondering if you could talk just a little bit more about that."

Jamie Fullmer:

"Sure. Building capable governing institutions involves a lot of hard work. It really involves several different levels of hard work. The first one is examining the existing institution. And a lot of times when you're thrown into a leadership role, you've gone out and spent your time campaigning on issues and priorities and then when you get in, especially for new leaders, there's not really an understanding of what body of laws or what body of institutionalized policies and programming are in place, and so there's really a critical path of understanding that needs to happen for, I believe, to have sensible governance. With that said, you're asked to do that with a team of other political leaders. And I use the word 'team' because for effective governance to really take place, it involves the entire team. That's not to say that everybody and every leader agrees on every issue, it's to say that if you've chosen a republic style of government or a democratic style of government, that once there's a vote and there's a confirmation of the vote or it's voted down, that everybody respects that. And so I think governance from that level is a critical path: the actual focus on the system and the act of sovereignty, the expression of sovereignty.

One of the critical portions of that is defining sovereignty. We've always heard sovereignty...in our Indian communities we've heard 'sovereignty' -- that word -- a lot and we've heard it in a lot of different scenarios. But there's also a legal terminology of sovereignty and there's also an expression of that sovereignty. And sovereignty is indeed the act thereof, but it is also understanding that it's important for us to redefine it as time allows us. There are things that we as Indian tribes and nations couldn't do 20 years ago that we can do now because people were willing to exercise and express the sovereignty and push the boundaries. And really those leaders and those tribes that took on those challenges, those spearheads, allowed the rest of us to be able to stretch our own boundaries. And so in a sense, sovereignty of a tribal nation is really being able to govern ourselves, to define what we consider to be wrong or right, to create laws to govern that, to find ways to protect and support our people and our way of life, and also create laws to protect that.

And then I think the idea of defending sovereignty is ongoing, because even as we move forward there's always attacks to our way of life, there's always attacks on the fact that we have the sovereignty in another sovereign nation and it's challenging for many people to understand that. They don't see how or why Indian tribes have that unique relationship and it's not for us to see how or why, it's for us to express it. And so moving forward, the idea of defending sovereignty is if we create quality set of laws to govern ourselves that people understand both internally and externally, that's one way, because sovereignty is really a legal expression.

Another way that we express our sovereignty is by pressing our boundaries of what we consider to be our rights as Native tribes and as Indian people in our...both in our reservation communities and in our ancestral homelands. There might be principle-based battles that we fight in the name of sovereignty. It's not on our existing trust land, but we have an ancestral connectivity; many of those battles are fought in the sacred realm, and we have to fight legal battles to protect our religious artifacts and our sacred land spaces or air spaces. And so those are ways to express sovereignty as well.

Finally, in closing on the idea of sovereignty is...sovereignty I believe is best expressed when we ask not what we can do, but why can't we do it. The question we can ask is, "˜Why can't we do it?' We're not asking, "˜Well, can we do that?' We're asking, "˜Why can't we do that?' Have others prove us wrong and not have to prove ourselves wrong first."

Ian Record:

"You've been quoted in the past as referring to your nation, when you took office, as "˜having the form of a jellyfish.' Do you recall that conversation?

Jamie Fullmer:

"I do."

Ian Record:

"Essentially, that your nation was like a jellyfish and that it needed to gain a backbone. And I think this really crystallizes what you've been talking about with this issue of building capable governing institutions. I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about what you meant by that and how your nation came to gain a backbone during your time in office."

Jamie Fullmer:

"Sure. The idea...it was a...the way I could relate it to myself is our nation has been around forever. It has...it's full of life, it's real, it's there, but it's also caught up at the time with the waves and the currents of whatever was coming at us. And so from that point of view is that we were a reactive-based government and the idea of that is that we are very strong still to this day at reacting and handling and managing crisis, but the movement that I likened it to was going from a water creature that had to react to the flow and the ebb to this jellyfish type of flowing -- kind of being tossed and turned at times -- to a land animal that had a backbone. And the idea for me of a backbone is that structure, creating a formal structure that would help to stabilize our government while at the same time still allows us to be very fluid and withstand the things that go on. So in a sense, my explanation of that backbone had to do with formal structure, moving from a very informal system, which I think is important, and so I definitely don't want to downgrade that part of who we are, but the idea of a formal structure as a government protects our sovereignty in a number of ways, both internally it helps us to be more accountable to ourselves and externally it helps other people to understand that we're very real, that we do have it on paper, and that we do have a process for accomplishing the things that we want to accomplish. And I think the final piece to that is that the idea of that structure also allows us to move into the next stage of development as a nation, which was really looking toward the future and planning. If you have a solid structure, you can make plans to help move that structure. If you are more based on personality-driven systems, then when those personalities aren't there the structure doesn't move the same way. So I think that's a pretty clear way to express what I meant with that concept."

Ian Record:

"You stole my thunder with this next question and I really wanted to focus in on this issue of strategic planning, that when you gain that backbone as a governing system, you move...it helps you in a tremendous way in moving from this kind of reactive mode of governance where you're kind of constantly fighting fires and in crisis management mode to a kind of proactive thing where you can...you've got this basis from which to operate. Is that the experience you had at Yavapai-Apache Nation?"

Jamie Fullmer:

"Sure, and I definitely will not take credit in having any of those thoughts first and foremost. That thinking and that type of leadership had always gone on in my nation. I think what had happened at the time that I came into office is that we had gone from a major transition of a long period of extreme poverty to a decade of having, generating an initial wealth to grow. And so we had kind of like popcorn. I always...the way I express it, you have the corn on the pan and when it gets hot enough it just pops. It's no longer that small kernel of corn, it's a big piece of popcorn and I think that's...when you have that, it's really hard to manage that type of growth. So you move from 30 employees to 250 employees in a relatively short period of time. So the idea of creating the structure and the goal setting was really to help manage the ongoing, day-to-day efforts of the programming while at the same time giving us the opportunity as leaders to really take time to vision what we would like to see the future of our community. With that said, before I had gotten in office, there was an initial planning process that had taken place where the community had been involved and there had been a lot of time and effort taken to develop that, but it had gone...it didn't take hold and the plan itself was tabled. And so when I initially got into office, because I had taken part in the planning and in my role prior to being the chairman, I felt like it was a good document and it was a good foundation for us to really begin to hone in on what should be our main priorities as we look towards a long-term future. And so we moved from a long-term, 30-year visioning process to an annual and multi-year planning process with action plans and objectives to reach and a process to get there. And that included the financial goals to meet with that, so that while we were moving forward that we were also dealing with and looking at what were the financial costs of executing these plans? And so I think that for nations that are moving towards growth or have been in gaming for a while, the next natural movement or actually the next important movement is taking on the responsibility to do diversification planning and then also growth strategizing for both the long term so that the community can kind of get out on paper and on the table their priorities, and the short term so that leadership can work together to find common ground and then also common purpose in moving forward."

Ian Record:

"And also isn't it about to a certain degree the...when you have that strategic plan in place, when you've gone that community...when you've had that community dialogue about where you want to head as a nation, as a people, as a community it gives you a lens through which to make decisions?"

Jamie Fullmer:

"Sure it does."

Ian Record:

"So it provides, in a sense, provides you that context because what we've seen with a lot of nations is they experience this tremendous growth particularly in revenues through gaming or some sort of other enterprise and then they're making decisions with what to do with that revenue essentially in a vacuum because they haven't done that visioning process. I was wondering if you could speak to that a little bit.

Jamie Fullmer:

"Sure. There's a fine balance there in the community perspective as well. The challenge of the community perspective is a lot of people in their own worlds and in their own thinking, they don't take the time to look at the big picture, and yet that is the leader's responsibility is to take that time. So the individual might think in their minds, "˜Why can't we build a substance abuse clinic here,' which is a great question and it's a great challenge. The answer to that is, "˜We probably can, but it will cost this, it will take this much time, we will need to have these structures in place, these laws to govern it, these management objectives in place,' and so there's a whole list and cadre of questions and planning that needs to happen for that to take effect. The idea of that as a vision is an important thing because that can be done over time, the planning, setting aside the land, the building of the building, creating the processes for that to happen; this is one example. That can happen through a visioning process with the community. Breaking that down with the community is also very important because the community should understand that everything that you're doing takes time and it takes money and it takes resources -- human resources and sometimes physical resources and maybe land space resources. So there's opportunity cost to doing whatever you do. But involving the community at that front-line thinking process gives them the opportunity to hear the responses to some of these challenges that they raise and it also I think along the process allows them to either vent historical frustrations or create current challenges or make current requests based on what they see their own needs are and then as a group what the needs kind of come out as. There's an important balance that needs to be stricken there or that needs to be weighed out in that process, and that is that you can also turn those ongoing meetings into just dialogue, running dialogue. And so you might have meeting after meeting where you have nothing but dialogue and interaction and yet there's nothing that goes beyond that. At some point, the leader, the leaders in their seat of authority need to say, "˜We've heard enough. We've taken it all into consideration. We need to start moving forward with actually making some of this happen,' because you can actually get so much on your plate that you can't accomplish any large amount of it. I found very quickly in my term in office that I...when I initially ran for office, I had 10 goals to reach for on behalf of the tribe and I shared those goals as I was out in the community. When I got into office, I quickly found that I could not accomplish all 10 of those goals and I refined that to five goals. And I worked on those five goals my entire time in office."

Ian Record:

"And as you've pointed out before, those were goals and not promises."

Jamie Fullmer:

"Those were goals. The idea of promises is that as I said, you have to work with an entire team. It's a very big challenge as a council member, especially because you're only one vote in a group of nine or 19 or, as I said before, it could be larger, but you are a decision maker with a body of...a group of other people. As an executive branch head, you have the challenge of not only do you have to work with that team of legislators to try and get passage of budgeting and support for initiatives, but you also have to manage the government to make certain that you have the resources to reach those goals once you've set them. And so that's the...the kind of the separate challenge of the executive branch versus the legislative branch is that you have to interact with not only your team at the leadership level, but you have to interact with your team at the management level as well, and you have to find some way to get those broad, large, encompassing goals down into a management system that handles the day-to-day movement towards reaching those goals."

Ian Record:

"I want to backtrack just briefly because we've been essentially talking about, how do you manage growth, how do you ensure that growth moves your nation forward according to its own design. And the reality is that for so many nations across Indian Country because of gaming, because of other economic opportunities that they've capitalized upon, the growth that they've experienced -- particularly in the area of economic development -- has been astronomical over the past 15 to 20 years. And the challenge that a lot of them face is, "˜How do we ensure that we capitalize upon these revenues, that we move these revenues through our system into our community in a way that does in fact promote self sufficiency, promote independence not only of our people as individuals, but our people as a collective instead of simply promoting dependency, continued dependency.' I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that, about that sort of challenge."

Jamie Fullmer:

"That challenge is I think the most difficult one that leaders face, because as a political leader you find out what the community's wants and needs are and you try and promote yourself to being able to help solve some of those issues. That might be the ticket that you run on. And so when you get into office the people might say, "˜Well, we would like to have more cash distributions. We'd like to see more funding in certain areas,' and yet those areas might not be -- when you look at the system institutionally -- they might not strengthen the role of the government or the role of the family. I think the challenge that I faced is...I have a background in social work, I have a Master's in social work. And as a social worker, part of that field was community development and in the ideal of community development you want families to come together and work together to grow and to face challenges together. What happens, and what I've seen happen, is that a tribal government wanting to share the wealth, so to speak, that has been created from gaming and other resources creates programs that take the place of family. And the challenge in that is, yes, it's warranted and the people want it, but where's the role of the family in the process?

And so, in a sense, the government is taking on the role of the family member, and at times that's a positive thing and at times, I believe, that's a negative thing and that's a balance that every leader when they get into office has to strike is, what is positive? Yes, it is positive that people have more cash in their pocket to do things, to pay bills, to go on vacations, to spend more time with family, but that also can be seen as a negative because some people might view that as their way of life now. "˜I don't need to take on some of the challenges and responsibilities of self-sufficiency because I can rely on the welfare system of the tribe.' And so I think that's an ongoing challenge and every tribe is unique in its characteristics. Some tribes are more independent natured and want their people to be independent, and others are more communal in their thinking and they want the people to be really spend time in communal settings, and others are work-minded and they want to create jobs and create a working class citizenry, and other tribes are culturally based and they want to spend a lot of their time protecting and sanctifying and expressing their cultural values through ceremony and through song and dance and through commitments in that way.

And so the balance of a leader is, 'Where do we lie in that spectrum? Where do we spend our time and energy as a government and where do we spend the people's money in that? Do we spend it on making the programs bigger, do we spend it on making the programs better, do we spend it on both of those things, do we spend it on developing future economies by investing the money, do we invest the money into passive investments with just a return to protect the wealth and to grow the wealth, do we take that wealth and use it diversify our economies?' These are the real challenges of maintaining the integrity of the tribe's monies through the fiduciary responsibility of leadership. And there's no one right answer and even the answers that you think are right might end up wrong because, for example, the economy itself, the greater economy affects us and now we see slumping areas of...in business across the board, whether it's in the mainstream or in Indian Country. And so those are challenges that we have to face, too, is we don't completely have the control over it that we'd like to, and we as leaders, we listen and we learn and then we have to act. And we may look back in time and say, "˜I would have done that differently if I would have had more information, knowledge,' but that's what life's about is learning from that kind of thing."

Ian Record:

"A lot of your thoughts so far have really focused on this issue of elected leaders needing to understand the big picture, to be in a position where they can take a step back, understand the spectrum -- as you mentioned -- of everything that the tribe has going for it in terms of assets and not just financial assets, but human assets, cultural assets, natural resources, etc., and understand that big picture better than anyone else and then conveying what the options are to the people so that they can then in turn decide on a course of action that the leaders can then implement. And that's really hard when you're down in the trenches every day fighting fires or perhaps micromanaging a program."

Jamie Fullmer:

"It is really hard. The challenge of leadership is exactly that -- it's a lot of times when leaders come in they feel as though they need to know it better. They don't necessarily need to know it better, but they need to take the time to know it and they also need to trust the experts that they have on board to help guide them through some processes. That's another challenge is we need to utilize the resources and at times we need to look outside of ourselves and bring in third-party, unbiased opinions so that we can hear it as an unbiased point of view as opposed to a political point of view or a community point of view. Looking at best practices, internally it's a challenge because each of us think that what we're doing is the best way to do it, and yet if we heard it from somebody outside of us who's looking at us from the outside in, they might have a completely different idea of what we're doing and how it might make better sense to do it differently to make it more efficient and effective.

So I think the challenge of leadership is we get that feeling that we need to know it better than everybody else. I don't believe that at this point in the game, and as I look back and reflect I think it was really relying on the people that we had in place to do their job and to make certain that I was communicating the desires and the priorities that leadership developed and then also that I was executing my role of governance and management of the tribal government and tribal enterprise oversight. And inclusion was really the best tool for success in some of the things that we were doing, inclusion of the tribal council members at the governance level, at the decision-making level, and then setting the boundary of, 'We've made the decision, we've agreed upon it, now it's my responsibility to execute it using our resources.' And if we don't have the resources, reaching out and bringing in resources that understand this and do know how to do it so that we can make certain that it gets done on behalf of the people.

So the people play a major role in that the people vote in who they think are going to help that process or change that process and that's where they have the ultimate control. Then, once the people are voted into leadership roles, they have a responsibility to take action and part of that responsibility is the challenge of defining the role that is both positive and respectful of the institution. And it is a lot funner to go in and micromanage a program than it is to develop a commercial code. It's more...you get more...it's more tangible results. You get to see people move and you get to see action happen, whereas creating a body of laws that's going to impact the entire future might take months and months and months of discussion and debate and it's all in legal terminology and it's long days and hours sitting reading and discussion and debating why that law is valuable."

Ian Record:

"And not only that, but the results of it may not be seen immediately."

Jamie Fullmer:

"The results may not be seen immediately because that body of law might not even get done until the next set of leaders come in and say, "˜Let's finish this off.' And so that's the challenge of leadership is long-thinking, creating and supporting growth, and enacting laws and governance structures that will protect the nation or tribe long down the road while at the same time facing the day-to-day challenges of the fire drills and the crises that come up and the community expectations and the social and cultural priorities, and doing that in a balanced approach that respects the people's view of you as a leader, but also respects the institutional rules that have been set up for you as a leader. That is the ongoing leadership challenge."

Ian Record:

"Yeah, and it's a difficult balance. We've heard this from a variety of tribal leaders from a variety of nations talk about the position you want to get yourself to, one of the major reasons that you go through this arduous -- as you've just described -- arduous process of building these capable governing institutions, building these laws, these codes, these policies is to get yourself to a point where you as a nation, you as a group of elected leaders are sending a different message to your people about what leadership does, what it cannot do, what you, for instance, as a councilor or as a chairman are able to do for them and what you're not able to do for them. So when you say 'No,' for instance, to a relative that comes to you with their hand out for a job or something like that, you can say, "˜I can't do this for you. We have a policy in place. It's not personal, but this law, this code, this resolution says that I can no longer act this way because it's against the best interests of the nation as a whole.'"

Jamie Fullmer:

"That's a challenge in itself because it's a lot easier said than done. It can be written on paper and you can say, "˜That's the best practice,' but when the family, the individual, the group is in your office, you have to make a decision then and there. And I think that's another challenge of leadership, because leaders themselves as politicians have been voted in to make some decisions that they maybe have made promises on. And so it's just like everything else: if you give your word on something, you want to be of your word. So that is the challenge and it's an ongoing challenge, it isn't going to go away, it doesn't just happen in Indian Country, it happens in every political seat in every...at every level of government in every country in the world. And so that, I think, is unique...the unique status of it in Indian Country is most of the larger municipalities and state and federal governments, you've got a lot of buffers to go through to get to the decision-maker. In Indian Country you only have...the only buffer is usually the door, and usually the door's open and they walk in. And so that I think is a critical path that -- once you institutionalize policy -- that you also are able to follow through with that policy in a respectful way. And sometimes you need to make a crisis-call decision that goes against the policy, but that should be the exception not the rule, and it shouldn't be based on just the ideal of nepotism or the familial relationship, it should be on the merits of the problem.

There might be a crisis where...I'll give an example where something that came into my office, I'm sure it came into a lot of them. An elderly couple, tribal member -- they have no money for gas. They need to travel to a ceremony. They come to the tribe for that and you think about it and you're like, initially you think, "˜Well, why aren't you going to your family'. Well, you know that their family has no resources either. And then you're saying, "˜Well, part of our responsibility as a government is to respect...we've been promoting cultural advancement and protection of culture.' Here's a perfect example of that. So the recommendation to them might be, is that something that you can give from the cultural program since that's a cultural, I can see that as a cultural thing. If you can get the support of that director, I don't have a problem approving it, that...kind of saying that you don't have a problem, because in our particular system you had to have a director's approval and then the chairman would sign off on it. So in that kind of scenario...and it can go across the board to a child, a mother without resources. They've just moved back home, they've been away, they have no place to stay, they'd stay at the parents, but the parents already have another of their siblings and families living there. You can go from one end of the spectrum and every scenario and the challenge, and I think the reason that you become a leader is to make that decision. But those are the exceptions, those are not the rule. The rule is, "˜Well, we've got a policy for that. Here, I can help you. Let me call the director and have them come in and meet with you and then they can take you down to the right office that you need to be at.'"

Ian Record:

"A lot of what you've shared about the tremendous growth at Yavapai-Apache Nation has really culminated in changes in the community for the better, essentially translating the resources that have been generated, the financial resources generated through gaming, your other initiatives, your economic initiatives, and translating that into real-life quality of life changes at the community level. And I was wondering if you could talk about how Yavapai-Apache Nation has approached using economic development as a tool to better the quality of life for your citizens."

Jamie Fullmer:

"I think economic development is one of the critical responsibilities or arenas within the ideal governance, that as tribes grow and as tribes have the opportunity and the responsibility to develop economies that economic development within the tribe itself is one of those processes that really needs to take a priority within the tribal mindset. The end results of that are obvious on a number of levels. The first one is that when a tribe takes time to build the economic avenues within the community that creates job opportunities. And so you have opportunities for the people to take...to get work, to create their own lifestyle based on their commitments to working. And that's an immediate opportunity, but then as well once a tribe is also able to start to create a strong management of its financial resources and begin to diversify and to invest those dollars, it creates opportunities for tribes to grow and protect wealth. Now that's not say that everything that you invest in is going to be successful, and in our nation we had successes and we had failures, but I think the one thing that our nation and many other nations have been able to do is learn from those mistakes and find ways to make better systems the next time we do it. I think the key there for leadership is being willing to have the courage to try again if you fail. In every tribe, in every particular avenue there's been a failure in something.

For our particular nation, we've been fortunate in that most of what we've done in the last decade has been...we've at least had the opportunity to create jobs locally, create revenue streams to diversify from gaming and then also begin to, 10 years into this and right now we're at 13 years into it, out of the beginning of gaming, begin to diversify and to build other opportunities and other businesses. With that said, the revenue streams can also help the tribe to stabilize the infrastructure. Once an infrastructure's put in -- I'm talking about your basic piping and utilities and water systems and waste systems -- now you have an opportunity to build upon that. Once you have infrastructure in any area, you have the opportunity to begin looking at can we create a commercial corridor here? Is there opportunity to build an outlet or retail mall? What can we add value to our own...to our gaming enterprise by building? What kinds of things can we create for the membership so that they can build their own businesses? And so there's a lot of positive results that come from economic development.

The challenge is obviously always the same as the rest of the governance responsibility; what do you do today and what do you try and establish for tomorrow and how do you strike the balance between the current demands and hopes of the community with regards to developing and what do you have to really plan well for because it involves a lot of moving parts? Economic development is very challenging because you have to reach out and do a lot of planning and the planning takes a long time and people grow impatient with that. And then when you begin to build larger types of businesses or even buildings, those take years to build and so that's just the initial stage. Once you actually do the development locally, you have to look at, 'What challenges are there within the framework of the laws and the lack of laws and what kind of policies and protections are in place for a business?' So I think those are some of the challenges of economic development.

I think the other arena of economic development is trying to create revenue streams coming into the reservation community. What kinds of things can we do to not only generate wealth, but keep the wealth locally? Examples would be grocery stores and shopping stores which the tribal members themselves can use and maybe they've earned money by their job for the tribe, the government or one of the tribal enterprises, and now they spend that money in the community, which creates more jobs. And so that compounding effect is something that I believe tribal leaders need to understand from an economic point of view, that's not to say that everybody needs to be an economist, but it's to say that what's going to add value to protect the wealth that we've established, to generate more opportunities, to diversify so that we're not relying so heavily on one revenue stream. And in many nations, my own nation included, gaming is the primary revenue stream. And everybody that I've talked to in the back of their mind has the idea that we believe that gaming can't last forever. What can we do to begin taking some of the pressure off of the gaming as the main and only revenue stream? A lot of tribes these days are looking at not just building locally, but buying and acquiring businesses off reservation to start to bring that revenue stream from a different place into the reservation community and on the tribal nation's lands. And so those are very important processes for tribes to learn more about and actually very, very carefully plan and develop execution or strategic plans to actually make those things happen."

Ian Record:

"You mentioned, you touched on the importance of tribal leaders in particular again taking a step back, looking at that big picture and seeing in building...systematically building an economy, one of the things we have to attend to is the need for us to create on-reservation outlets for spending, which as you mentioned not only creates jobs, but keeps those dollars circulating within the community so they don't automatically go off reservation to the nearest Walmart or something every time you have a payday. And one of the things that your nation did recently was I thought very interesting was the creation of discounts for tribal citizens, to encourage them to spend their dollars in on-reservation, nation-owned ventures, and I was wondering if you could explain a little bit about how you went about that process."

Jamie Fullmer:

"Sure. A couple of things: because we're not an immensely wealthy tribe from gaming and gaming basically helps us to kind of run the government and take care of some of the social needs of the community and it doesn't take care of everything by any means, but one of our thoughts when I was in office was, "˜Is there a way that we can provide value to the tribal member and then also at the same time provide that same value to the tribal system?' And what we thought about was is that on our tribal membership cards we ended up putting on a magnetic strip on the back and so with that the member can use that and get a percentage reduction in fuel at the tribe's own convenience store or even the membership verification allows them to get a discount on the restaurants in our...that we own and even down to getting discount on the cement products and on some of the other enterprises that are owned by the tribe. With that said, the value is that for membership, that because you share in the value of ownership you should also be able to get some of that value back. And that's a challenging thing when you don't have enough resources to do everything for everyone, you can at least try and find ways to try and provide some sense of value to the membership."

Ian Record:

"Among the most successful nations -- Native nations across Indian Country that we've seen in terms of achieving not just their economic development goals, but their community development goals, their priorities as a nation -- among those nations you typically see or in many cases you see leaders who understand that they're not just decision makers, that their job when they come into office is not just to make decisions but then also educate their citizens about why they made the decisions they did, also engaging the citizens to make sure that they're making informed decisions that respects the community's position on a particular issue. I was wondering if you could talk about the importance of that and how perhaps you tried to implement that during your time in office."

Jamie Fullmer:

"It's definitely a principle that I believe in. I believe that the challenge for it is the amount of time that it takes to do it. As a leader -- as you pointed out -- you don't have just the responsibility of leading, but educating. And to educate the masses, it's a challenge at times, and at what level and how far in depth you go to do that is really another challenge. But while I was in office, one of the things that we instituted was a quarterly report where we would share the government's goals and objectives, the tribal leaders', the council members' goals and objectives, how we were doing with regards to creating a chart that showed our expenses of the government, talked a little bit about each of our enterprises and where we were at in the growth process with those. And the idea behind that was that at least we could share to the best of our knowledge what was going on and that information sharing would be helpful for the community so they felt they were informed. We would also hold community meetings and we'd go and present those reports. I'm proud of the new leadership that's in place now because they're still continuing on with even more assertive types of community presentations. I think they're doing it monthly, which is very good for the community and it helps them stay informed.

The challenge is always going to be that as you get enough initiatives going and moving forward that really there might be times when not a whole lot is going on because you're in a hurry up-and-wait mode and so you're not reporting anything different and then the people think that you're not doing anything. And that's some of the challenges, especially with community development and infrastructure development and when you're doing planning and law creation. A law isn't a law until it's on the books. It might take you eight to nine months, a year, a couple of years to create that law, but if it's not on the books, it isn't a law and so the people will say, "˜Well, we thought you were working on this law.' "˜We are.' "˜Well, it's taken you a year, why aren't you done?' Those are some of the challenges of what and how you share that information. But the process is still a very valuable process, because at some point you pass the torch and you hope that you've at least laid enough groundwork that if the leadership that takes over doesn't understand what's been done, at least your employees and your community understands where your community lies and maybe helps to create the expectations for the continued movement forward."

Ian Record:

"So following up on that, there's really...in building these capable governing institutions like Yavapai-Apache Nation's been doing for the past decade plus, perhaps even longer..."

Jamie Fullmer:

"Probably longer, yeah."

Ian Record:

"...There's a process of education that has to take place after those governing institutions are built, because essentially a lot of those laws, codes, rules are either filling voids in the current system of government or in the pre-existing system of government or they're overturning something that was pre-existing in that system of government and essentially, there's changing things on the books and then there's changing things in the political culture that's been long at play in the community. I was wondering if you could talk about that challenge."

Jamie Fullmer:

That again is another...you're really raising a lot of the important and difficult challenges. The institution itself has...for example, our nation has been in place since the IRA days, 1934-1936, in that period and was around before that. And so...but once the nation and the tribe had accepted and acknowledged the constitutional government and started to formulate law and create written law, there's a whole body of law that's maybe almost a century old. Some of that law is outdated; some of that law has never been utilized or worked itself into the framework, not because the tribe didn't want it to because they voted it in at some point, but because it got lost in the shuffle. I think that in this modern setting that it's important for tribes to maybe take a look at using technology as a tool to help gather information and store information. Moving from a paper system to saving information in data files that can be brought up so that during council meetings there can be a cross reference immediately to say, "˜Is there a law on the books that has to do with water rights that we've passed in the last decade and if there is, what is it?' and maybe be able to answer some questions that new lawmakers or lawmakers that have come into office recently don't have an understanding on. So I think the challenge of that institutional knowledge is that there's not a good firm grounding in communicating that institutional knowledge and sharing that institutional knowledge and transitioning that institutional knowledge forward as new leadership takes hold and takes steps to move into place. And so that challenge I think can be met by utilizing technology. Not all tribes are ready for that, but it is a tool that can be used to start storing, saving and creating collection systems that can categorize the laws so that it can be done more rapidly and in real time as opposed to, "˜We'll get back at that at our next meeting or next set of meetings or somewhere in the future.' So those issues can be addressed while they're hot, as opposed to waiting for them to go cold or transition into new leadership and it's been left out without being completed."

Ian Record:

"How important is transparency to the effective exercise of governance?"

Jamie Fullmer:

"I think transparency is a very important portion of it. And again, I always get to the idea of the piece of, how much do you share? And it's not a matter of withholding information, as much as when you give too much information it's overwhelms people. When you give the details of a process that's taken years to encompass, you've got years' worth of information to share. And so I think that in some respect, you have to look at, how much information do we share to make sense and how much information do we share to inform the community, while at the same time a lot of decisions are sensitive to the tribe itself and they don't want them open to everybody. So how do we share that in a way that is open and yet private from people that the tribe or the membership doesn't want to have included in the information chain? That's another challenge that tribes often face. And so what happens many times is bits of information gets shared in the spirit of transparency and that information can get twisted and it's just like when you go around the table and you tell one person a secret and it goes around the table and it comes back as an entirely different thing. That happens in every political system as well. And so it's important to have information, to be clear about it, to be concise about it, but also to make certain that you're protecting the tribe's interests."

Ian Record:

"And it's not just a question of how much you share or what you share, but also how you share it."

Jamie Fullmer:

"Sure."

Ian Record:

"You mentioned community meetings and that sort of thing, what other ways does the Yavapai-Apache Nation ensure transparency in government in relation to the people?"

Jamie Fullmer:

"Well, I would think that...well, when I was in office and I'm certain that they're still working on and through this, not only the community meetings, but the chairman and vice chairman share in our tribal newspaper their issues and then in the council meetings themselves, they're all held and members can go and get that information, can request a copy of the transcripts of any of the general sessions. And I think that part of that is internalizing that mechanism. Another part of it is defining how often, how much, and what kind of information gets shared. I mean, there are a lot of, not speaking of my nation specifically, but there are a lot of opportunities now with technology to share basically everything...the tribe's history, I've seen a lot of tribes have really creative websites and a lot of information on those websites that really help people understand who they are. And I applaud those tribes because I think that's an important way to do it and it seems like these days that's something that people do. They go and Google© or search, look through search engines to try and find information so that they feel well prepared and are respecting...if they have a meeting with the tribe or want to reach to them. And a lot of tribes have members that are distant from the community but still want to stay involved at least in the information-sharing process."

Ian Record:

"So from what you're saying transparency and openness in government is not just important for a nation's citizens, but also those outsiders that the nation chooses to do business with or chooses to, for instance, enter into some sort of working relationship with?"

Jamie Fullmer:

"Sure it is, and that's where the struggle of tribes that are private and confidential happens with regards to...being confidential is not the same as living in a vacuum. There's still information that you have to share, especially when you have outside business relationships, especially when you're looking to partner or to find ways to find funding for projects, and so those kinds of things...as well as safeguarding your relationship in the region that you live in. That information might be shared in a way so people understand and know what you're doing so they themselves don't get concerned of, "˜What's going on over there, they're so secretive they must be doing something wrong.'"

Ian Record:

"And that sort of mentality prevails within the community too when you're not actively educating your citizens."

Jamie Fullmer:

"That's a human issue, that isn't...I don't think that's focused on one race or another. That is the human element. We always look to the idea that if people aren't sharing it there must be something wrong with it."

Ian Record:

"One of the most important governing institutions or perhaps policies that came about at Yavapai-Apache Nation recently and that is the development of a code of ethics. Maybe give us an overview of what exactly is included in your code of ethics, the process by which the nation adopted that code and how it's played out so far. For instance, how is it enforced? What's the reception of the community been to it? How has it come into play perhaps?"

Jamie Fullmer:

"The code of ethics was really developed because it's written in our constitution that the tribal council can create a code of ethics for the policing and how the tribal council conducts itself in leading the nation. And so back again in office, this has been a couple of years ago now, we worked on building a code of ethics that included a lot of things such as conflict-of-interest issues, the discussion of how a tribal council member conducts themselves when representing the nation, the idea of information sharing, raising issues of concern when they're brought to their attention if it's about or with regards to another council member. So really it was a means to try and protect the integrity of our nation's leadership and at the same time give us a way to be fair with one another and then also show the community that there was that fairness and equity and that we were doing tribal business in a legitimate fashion. And so the code of conduct was established as a means for the tribal council to identify areas that were concerning, that had been brought up by constituents from this date all the way back to whenever it was being brought up, that were considered concern areas that tribal council shouldn't be engaged in or should be concerned about or that other tribal council members should be made aware of if that was to happen.

And so by doing that, I think that again -- since I'm not there in the last six months -- I'm not quite certain how it's working for them now, but in that first year of putting it in place, we were able to deal with a lot of issues that had come up in the past where there weren't answers and we were able to deal with them in an upfront fashion using our code of ethics to determine, "˜Is there a violation of the code of ethics?' We would let our attorney general review it if it was a legal discrepancy or if it was a conflict-of-interest issue, we would let there be a review by the attorneys and separate it from us so that there was a third-party, unbiased point of view on it, and then we would follow through with that, the recommendations on that depending on the level of severity if there was one could lead up to removal from office, but it could be a suspension, it could be just a discussion and being made aware and clarifying. The code of ethics, I think in the long run, will really help maintain the integrity of the tribe. How it was viewed by the people, I think the people, the reason that we put it together I think was a response...in response to the people's request to have some way of assuring fair government."

Ian Record:

"And I assume part of that code of ethics covered the interference by elected officials in, for instance, program management."

Jamie Fullmer:

"That's correct. It prevented micromanagement. Council members weren't allowed within the code of ethics to go and address a director. They had to do it through the executive branch using the chain of command that has been approved by the council. The organizational chart in our system is approved by the council. So they had to actually utilize that organization chart and the chain of command in order to address the issue. It doesn't mean the issues don't get addressed, it means that there's a respect for laws that leaders have put into place and structures that leaders have voted in as acceptable structure to follow through with. There are...definitely one of the goals was to prevent ongoing micromanagement if there was any. The ethics code really helped to minimize that."

Ian Record:

"We see a lot from the top down the impact of micromanagement in terms of...for instance if an elected official micromanages nation-owned enterprises, particularly for instance if it's forestry or something like that, transforming the business from one built on profitability to one run as essentially an employment service."

Jamie Fullmer:

"Sure."

Ian Record:

"We've seen that in a lot of places. I was wondering if you could talk about the impact of micromanagement by elected officials from the management end, from the program end, and what messages does that send to those people who are trying to manage the nation, who are trying to carry out those programs and those services when an elected official walks in and starts trying to run the show."

Jamie Fullmer:

"I believe that from that point of view that one of the protectors is not only the code of ethics, but the structure. Part of micromanagement comes when there's a lack of structure for people to really understand, what is your role and so they have...everybody has their own belief about what a certain director role should be doing and if there's no clear job description or policy of how that program or department runs, then it leads to, in a way, the micromanagement coming up because people are saying, "˜Well, I don't believe that's part of your authority or your responsibility,' and so that oftentimes leads to it. So one side of it is the management side, that there needs to be that structure to help everybody be on the same page. On the flip side of it, back when I was a director, the concern issues weren't so much...they didn't so much have to do with people coming in and making their complaints and making their requests as much as when a decision was made, if that decision was reversed or if a decision was made and that decision was trumped. That is very hard to run a solid program if your decisions aren't supported at the leadership level. So from a management position, if you don't have the structure in place from the management side, you're going to assume that you have certain authorities over your department and program based on your experience in running departments and programs or lack of experience in running departments and programs. So of course you develop a boundary that you think that works. What happens is you might overstep that boundary unknowingly or someone else sees that boundary as either being bigger or smaller. And so I think the challenge for management, when there is micromanagement from leadership is, should I even make the decision or why should I make the decision? If I make the decision, they'll just reverse it."

Ian Record:

"So they tend to sit back and cool their heels and not come up with innovative answers or solutions?"

Jamie Fullmer:

"I would think that's one of the challenges. I can't say that I did that. I would always move forward with the idea that I have a responsibility to run the programs as I see fit based on my ethics as a social worker, but with regards to that, if I made a decision where I told someone 'no' and they went around me and went up into leadership and that was reversed, there's not much I was going to say because that's the leader's prerogative. The challenge was is that if you're running a system and you're getting that from eight or nine different leaders that are saying, "˜Why did you do that?' "˜Well, because the other leader did that.' And so you get caught up as a manager in a political struggle or can get caught up in a political struggle and I don't believe that many managers at any level want to get caught up in that or they would have run to be political leaders themselves. When they're a manager, they just want to manage their program, do the best job they can and try and help serve the community at whatever capacity they can in their professional role."

Ian Record:

"Ultimately they want to do the job they were hired to do."

Jamie Fullmer:

"They want to do...most people that I've ever met in a professional role, they want to do the very best job they can. But without rules to do that job, there are people that make up their own rules and there are people that don't do anything. It just depends on the personality of the individual."

Ian Record:

"While we're on the topic of programs and services, the all-encompassing bureaucracy of the nation, you've stated to me before that one of the major challenges that you faced when you first came into office was kind of this unmanageable bureaucracy. And we see this across Indian Country, where a tribe's bureaucracy over the course of several decades is essentially, just this collection, this kind of assortment of programs; there's kind of this horizontal structure. We call it the 'silo effect,' where you have all these individual silos; a lot of these silos may actually duplicate services that the other one's doing. I was wondering if you could talk about what that looked like when you came into office and what you guys did about it."

Jamie Fullmer:

"Well, when I came into office we had a lot of program directors and a lot of programs. I know it was over 40, I think it was up there. The problem with that was exactly what you pointed out. There were silos. It was ineffectiveness and inefficiencies in some of those areas. And these are critical path areas: health care, human services, police and public safety, trying to find ways to provide better housing and community programming for the tribe. With that said, when I first got in office, I worked with our tribal council to try and refine the organizational chart and the tribal council was in agreement that it was too...spread out too wide and we looked at, 'Well, how do we make it more like a pyramid, like a true organizational structure?' And so we limited those program directors and brought our programming into five major programs and within the five major programs, we put all the other programs under those departments. And so now we had accountability, we had a chain of command and we had also a program where there could actually be built into it a set of policies and procedures and guidelines for how people do business. So we created the administration, the public safety, housing, economic development, and finance and everything fell under those five processes. And we did that to match our own system. They could have been...we could have called them different titles and different processes and we put some in other areas because there were better fits individual-wise not necessarily programming-wise. So we tried to make certain that we made those fits without completely disrupting the existing course of business. But it did take a little while to get used to and there was a challenge initially because people that were directors now became managers and they weren't necessarily happy about that. But in the best interest of the tribe and how business was done within the government, the bureaucracy of the government, it made things more sensible. We could call on one person and they could deal with their issue within their department as opposed to maybe there are four or five. Before, you'd have four or five people coming in to represent a case or an issue that was brought to the council. Now you had one person and it was their job to bring in who they saw fit to deal with the issue, but the council and the executive branch and the administration were only dealing with the director."

Ian Record:

"So it sounds like overall it helped to eliminate waste and make the operation of government more efficient."

Jamie Fullmer:

"Well, definitely that was our goal. Our goal was efficiency and accountability within the government. And I believe we did that. We were able to come under budget all the years in office."

Ian Record:

"And isn't it at some level about reclaiming your government because a lot of those silos...that silo effect is so often created by federal grants coming in from the outside and the sorts of requirements that they have and the structures that they mandate and that sort of thing."

Jamie Fullmer:

"And a lot of people don't recognize it, but in a way creating programming and utilizing everything under grants, you're really giving the authority to the granting party because most of those grants say, 'You have to do this, that and the other,' and when you sign the documents you've acknowledged that you're doing that. So yes, the answer to that is yes, you do get the authority back and one of the principles that we established there is that we don't create programs based on a grant. If a grant fits our programming, we'll go after it, but we're not going to create programs based on a grant. There's another key piece to this and I want to bring it up because it has to do with efficiency and that is that in our government we had a three-branch government. And so we had a court system that still, even though they were separate, they still had administrative responsibility to be efficient. And so we would still challenge them not on any of their court cases or anything like that because that was totally in the hands of the judges and the appeals court, but the way the system would run. They got a budget just like the rest of the government and they would have to tell us why they needed the funds that they needed and how they were working towards accountability and efficiency."

Ian Record:

"So you touched on it without actually saying the term, but in terms of this bureaucratic reorganization, this streamlining, this creation of accountability within that structure, this issue of kind of a wholesale shift away from the 'project mentality,' as it's sometimes referred to, to program management where a nation's programs, its bureaucracy is predicated on finding the next grant and if we have to create another program, let's do it and that's how that silo effect is created. So you were...it sounds to me like you were trying to get away from that, consciously."

Jamie Fullmer:

"Consciously, it was one of our goals is to reduce the amount of reliance on grant funding that didn't make sense or didn't meet our needs. And so we restructured our grant program to only reach out to grants that would fit in some requirements that we established. The other part to that I think as well is that when I left office we were working on...we had moved through stages of development within that and we were actually working on accountability-based budgeting, so the goals of the department would match the budget and so that there would be an accountability of you would know whether or not a department was doing well by their reporting and how it matched their initial goals that they wanted to achieve before the end of the year. I'm not certain if they're still moving in that direction, but that was the direction we were taking in 2007." 

Cass County Board, Leech Lake Tribal Council hold productive joint discussions, first in three-plus years

Author
Year

A wide-ranging conversation between Leech Lake Tribal Council and Cass County Board of Commissioners, held Friday at the new Leech Lake Government Center in Cass Lake, concluded with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two governmental units.

The MOU is designed to improve communications and cooperation between Cass County and the Leech Lake Band, specifically “to provide a framework for cooperation ... for natural resource management, community development, economic development and maintaining Ojibwe cultural life-ways.”...

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

DeBoer, Gail. "Cass County Board, Leech Lake Tribal Council hold productive joint discussions, first in three-plus years." The Pilot Independent. February 5, 2014. Article. (http://www.walkermn.com/news/article_ca9d9670-8e72-11e3-810c-001a4bcf887..., accessed February 10, 2014)