judicial independence

Northern Cheyenne Constitutional Reform

Year

The Northern Cheyenne Tribe is a sovereign nation. It is a federally-recognized Indian tribe with powers and authority to govern the activities of its members. The Tribe is governed by a Constitution and Bylaws first adopted on November 23, 1935. In the early 1990s, in order to meet the demands of the expanding population and economic growth of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, the Tribal Council determined that its constitution needed to be amended. A Constitution Revision Committee was established to facilitate this process. The Committee was assigned the task of coming up with proposed constitutional amendments, hold public hearings and present their findings and recommendations to the Tribal Council. Finally, on May 10, 1996, a set of constitutional amendments was voted and adopted by the membership of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. The amendments were divided into three parts: Governmental Reform, Separation of Powers, and Code of Ethics...

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Gourneau, Norma, and Ian Record. "Northern Cheyenne Constitutional Reform." Red Ink: A Native American Student Publication. Vol. 8, No. 2. American Indian Studies Program, The University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. 2000: 63-66. Article.

Peterson Zah: Native Nation Building: The Place of Education

Producer
American Indian Studies Program
Year

Dr. Peterson Zah, former Chairman and President of the Navajo Nation, discusses the importance of higher education in empowering Native nations' efforts to achieve their nation-building goals. He also discusses the Navajo Nation Permanent Trust Fund as an example of the strategic orientation that Native nations need to have if they are going to truly become self-sufficient.

People
Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Zah, Peterson. "Native Nation Building: The Place of Education." American Indian Studies Program, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. September 23, 2013. Presentation.

Peterson Zah:

“[Navajo language]. Thank you, Manley [Begay], for the introduction and then thank you all for being here today to share some ideas, some things that we all as Native community need to think about as well as discuss among ourselves. I really appreciate the invitation to come here.

In working with Diane Humetewa, most of you know she’s a very fine lawyer. She’s the former U.S. Attorney and now has been nominated by the [Obama] Administration to become the next federal judge here in Tucson and she’s one of these scholars that we rarely have as American Indian, Native people. And I think…and I believe what Manley says that some day you’re going to hear more about her because of her commitment to...the concept of justice and she’s that good, just really an outstanding citizen.

My talk as I understand it from little brother here says talk about nation building. I think nation building is the way to go in sovereign Indian Country problem nowadays. We’ve come a long ways where we would take an issue by itself and maybe an issue with a certain group and we try to work with that specific group in trying to resolve the issue, but we have come this far where we now have to work with other entities around that group. No problem has ever been resolved satisfactorily when groups are trying to do that by themselves. You have to work with other entities. There’s just no way around the whole idea.

When I went to Arizona State University, I wanted to increase the student population because that’s what the president wanted. He says, ‘We get American Indian students and we can’t seem to go above 672 and when we do, they leave us the next year and we need to keep them there.’ That was his charge. And then I started thinking, ‘Well, he hasn’t given me any staff or any money so this means I’ve got to do this alone.’ And I knew that I can’t do something like that alone. I’ve got to involve other people, I’ve got to reach out, I’ve got to change the concept of how people recruit students.

And so I went over to the recruitment office and I says, ‘Can you guys tell me where you recruit more students for ASU [Arizona State University]?’ And then they started going to the board and they said, ‘New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Denver, Colorado.’ And I was sitting there and I said, ‘What about Indian reservation?’ And one guy who was the director says, ‘We don’t go Indian reservations because there’s…when we drive out there, there’s nobody around.’ And the guys says, ‘I drove across from Flagstaff, Arizona, through Hopi, all the way out to Gallup, New Mexico, and I saw two people.’ And the guy was trying to justify why they don’t go to an Indian reservation and I told him, I says, ‘You know what, they’re underneath all those bushes. You have to beat the bushes for them to get up and then when they get up, you grab them by the neck and then you drag them here to the university. And when they come, make sure that you educate all the staff people here at this university to welcome them, give them a reception, a warm welcome. You people don’t do that. You don’t do that.’ And so that’s how the recruitment got started.

And for me personally instead of trying to hit the different meetings or tribal council meeting or to the school board meeting, I go to a Yeibicheii dance, traditional Navajo dances, and I grab the microphone and while the Yeibicheiis are dancing away, I’m talking about education and trying to convince the parents that any child who’s able, capable, academically inclined, have a desire to better their lot, those individuals should be given an opportunity. And so basically that was the approach that we use to get students to come to these institution because the normal process sometimes don’t work. You have to think out of the box and maybe do strange things to get people over to where you want them to be.

And so I was so happy in 2008, a Navajo student came to me and she says, ‘Mr. Zah, I want to look at your calendar.’ Look at my calendar? I thought she was there to discuss a problem that she might have and I thought to myself, ‘Well, there’s nothing to seeing my calendar with her,’ and so I opened my calendar and then she says, ‘Mark that date!’ And I said, ‘What’s happening on that day?’ It’s like, ‘Graduation at ASU.’ And I said, ‘What do you want me to do?’ She says, ‘I don’t know, but I want you to be there, we want you to be there. We, the graduating students and faculty.’ So I marked it on my calendar and that day I went over to Grady Gammage Auditorium and I was there for the graduation and I thought that…two days before the graduation I thought she might come back in, ‘And I know she wanted me…maybe she wants me to talk,’ so I started writing my speech. And being ready so that when she comes back, I’ll say, 'Yes,' and then I’m the speaker.

She came back in and I said, ‘Well, I’ve got it all written out.’ And she says, ‘Written out what?’ And I said, ‘My talk.’ And she said, ‘No. We don’t want you to talk.’ I said, ‘What do you want me to do?’ And she says, ‘All we want you to do is sit on the stage.’ And I said, ‘What’s happening?’ She says, ‘All of the work that we have been able…’ and she was one of these students that was very active. ‘All the work that we have done recruiting, retention, increasing the graduation rate, all of that, the cumulative of all of the hard work you’re going to see in May on that date at ASU graduation.’ So I went, again I wasn’t happy with our conversation. I says, ‘What do you specifically want me to do when I’m sitting on the stage?’ And she said, ‘Smile. Smile. You’re going to be happy and you’re going to be smiling.’

And what she meant was that, 'We’re going to have over 300 American Indian students graduating and we’re going to march them in from your left, they’re going to get their diploma, because there are so many of them we’re going to have some more on your right and they’re going to get their diploma and you’ll be sitting there, these are all your students that you recruited. And out of that group we’ve got 22 doctorate, 56 master’s degree,' and many, many of those students became principals, teachers. Many of the master’s degree students were in charge of programs in Navajo.

And so when you get other people involved in the recruitment that you’re trying to do, that is something that you should look at as your goal because you can’t do it by yourself, you can’t do it alone. You’ve got to get other people involved. So basically that was something that ASU enjoyed and that was the day I decided in my own head, ‘We’ll never match that again, so I’m going to resign and retire.’ So the next year I left and I’ve been in retirement for the last…going into my fourth year. I thought I was going to stay home. I even bought a rocking chair and I wanted to just sleep, but it didn’t happen that way. There’s more work at home and if you’re not connected to any program, if you’re not a tribal employee or university employee or state employee, you can do many things because you’re free. You’re free.

And so basically, with me, since my retirement, I’ve been just working out with people in trying to improve their programs; many, many of them that need political muscle because here’s what’s happening, for those of you that are American Indian students and Navajo students, particularly. We have out on the Navajo, for example, Navajo Housing Authority, Navajo Oil & Gas, Navajo Gaming Enterprise; we have all these other divisions, there’s hundreds of them. All of the young, articulate, smart Navajo students are running those projects, rightfully so, except they’re not very well versed in their own peoples’ language, lifestyle. They have a hard time communicating sometimes with the elderly people. And they have a hard time communicating with their own tribal council members so they come looking for me to re-teach in many ways, to have them re-learn this whole idea of Navajo way. And so that’s how I’m helping some of those programs and projects. You take two entities, one is the council of 24 and let’s say Navajo Oil & Gas and then I start talking to them and say, ‘These guys are into oil and gas business. Navajo Gaming Enterprise is into gaming business. They’re also now in hospitality business, whether we like it or not. They have hotels. Do we as a traditional people know all that much about hospitality business? So how do we as American Indian people explain that to the elderly people?’ And so that has been my work and the chair back at home stays there and maybe on occasion it rocks, but I’m still out there doing things that really needed to be done.

And so for those of you that are young, I would recommend that you spend less time with this little gadget here and maybe pay more attention to what your grandma and grandpa has to say because that becomes even more important. I go to these dinners sometimes with people. I never turn down a dinner with people that I’m working with because I like to eat, just like anybody. When I sit down and eat with people, there’s all these people that comes in and they have dinners with maybe their grandchildren, their siblings, sons and daughters and when I look over to that table, the young ones are all on their cell phone and their computers and they don’t talk. They don’t talk. The Navajo is following suit. They’re exactly doing the same thing and that’s why I always tell the young people, ‘When you’re with grandma and grandpa, turn them off. It won’t hurt you.’ Turn them off because they have so much to offer that sometimes we have a hard time trying to acquire through normal ways. And that’s why you have a high-paid CEO for let’s say Navajo Gaming, Navajo Oil & Gas. The Oil & Gas CEO is an engineer. He’s only maybe one of the very few, two or three, that knows how to talk Navajo that can talk still to the council, but still has problems with trying to figure out the political ways of the Navajo people.

So when Manley says this is a class or this is a talk around nation building, we really, really need to do that because Indian tribes are nations and we’re trying to build Indian nations to be like a state, not necessarily a state, but like a state and be able to learn how to operate that government. We’ve got…we came a long ways, we’ve still got some...a ways more to go, but we’re getting there and so I always like the concept of nation building. Navajo Nation years ago has taken on that task where much, much of...some of the trust funding, just trust money that we created goes into nation-building concept, so that using the nation-building concept, those trust money goes to the chapter houses and they talk about their problems, decide how they should use those monies. So trust money is beginning to really help out the Navajo people. Manley mentioned something about the trust money, let me just tell you a little about it.

For any tribal nations building a trust fund is really, really hard because there’s a tremendous need from the local community and from the local people in terms of satisfying some of those needs and you need resources. So you’re a little weird if you become the tribal chair or the president and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got to save some money.’ People look at you very funny and they say, ‘Save money? We got elected, we’ve got to deliver services so therefore we need more money.’ There’s that mentality. If you were elected you’d probably end up doing the same thing. So I was with this weird group that said, ‘We’ve got to save some money,’ because if you look at the Navajo revenues, we’re getting about 75 to 80 percent of our revenues comes from the coal and some day the coal is going to be gone. Some day the mineral resources are all going to be gone. Some day the timbers are going to be no longer there. It seems to me and it only makes common sense to save some of that money now to secure the future generation of the Navajo people and that’s why we created the Navajo Trust Fund.

Up to that time there were…it was kind of a bad word to use when you mentioned trust and the trust fund came about because Navajo Nation won a United States Supreme Court lawsuit in 1984 in Kerr-McGee v. the Navajo Nation and we went through a lot with that particular case. And I remember sitting in the council when we spent days about how we should handle the lawsuit. At that time the Navajo lawyers, there were no, well, very few Navajo lawyers, Navajo people who became lawyers. And one of your esteemed members of the faculty here, Judge Austin, was one of those young people. And when we were doing that, talking about how it should be handled, Navajo council was saying that, ‘We’ve got to get the best lawyer in the United States. We’re in Supreme Court. We want to appropriate a million dollars. So Mr. Zah, you go find that person and we’ll pay them a million dollars to defend us.’ That one thought, but I knew that there was two or three Navajo lawyers at the time. Claudine Bates Arthur was one of them, Louis Denetsosie was the other one, Herbert Yazzie was another one. And so we had few Navajo lawyers and we decided that maybe what we should do is call on a Navajo and that person can choose anyone he or she wants to handle the case with them in Supreme Court. And so we brought in the group and we interviewed them and I don’t know if there’s anyone here who knew Claudine Bates Arthur. Claudine Bates Arthur was a Navajo gal that was about that high. Her father was a Tachii’nii, so is this man here, my father’s a Tachii’nii, so is Manley, so that makes her my sister and I used to call her [Navajo language], my little sister. And I says, ‘Can you handle it?’ ‘Oh, my god, handle a Supreme Court case in the United States?’ and by that time she was out maybe five years, six years out of law school. She had a good friend, Elizabeth Bernstein who now lives here, east of us here in a community. She chose Elizabeth Bernstein. So the two of them, we used to fly into Phoenix and we had these mock trial. We selected judges or lawyers that knows Indian law and they acted as justices, four or five of them and they made their presentation. Then we had some more lawyers to critique them. We went over that, over and over so many times before we ever got into Supreme Court.

When we went into Supreme Court, I was there with Edward T. Begay, who was the vice president, and maybe one or two council delegates and we were sitting in the front row just like the way you’re sitting here. And when the United States Supreme Court justices came in, nine of them, they all sat, it was kind of scary, intimidated by those people that know justice, that knows the law so much to be sitting there. And Claudine and Elizabeth did a really, really good job in making their presentation. And at the end of that day we were so happy and some good question, good question, outstanding questions by the justices. And the one thing that I remember at my age you have a tendency to forget things, I don’t even know what I did yesterday, but I remember specifically one justice said to Kerr-McGee, who was extracting coal in the Farmington area that filed a suit against the Navajo Nation, one justice says to Kerr-McGee lawyer, ‘Your client, when they went out to Navajo Reservation out there, did they go out there on their own will? And then went and found the Navajo coal and then they went to the tribal council and asked for a lease? Or did the Navajo Nation seek them out in the community and then against their will brought them over to the Navajo Nation and had them work there to extract coal? What happened?’ And the answer was that ‘we went out there on our own will.’ ‘And are you being taxed wherever you are operating?’ They were asked that question. And they said, ‘Yeah, everywhere we go we’re being taxed except the Navajo,’ and that’s what this case is all about. So the justice says, ‘Then what makes you think that it’s okay with you that you’re paying taxes to all those other states in the other areas except the Navajo? You have to pay taxes too because they’re looking for revenues. Their people are hungry and their people need jobs.’ And that justice really went into the lawyer from the other side and I think that’s what the case really turned on. That was the last time Navajo Nation won a legal case in United States Supreme Court and that’s when we won over $177 million.

The question was, ‘When the $177 million that we got, what do you do with that money?’ I was the tribal chair. I was the most popular guy in Window Rock because the bank just turned over all that money and I was maybe, looked like you, nice, young, handsome. And I had that money and it was almost up to me and the council as to what we wanted to do. What would you do if you’re being put in that position? Just think about it. What would you do? Wanting advice, seeking advice. You know where I went? Not to New York City on the Wall Street, not to any of the money managers -- I went to my mother, who was a traditional Navajo person with sheep. And I was telling her what had happened, that we got a lot of money that we won and I said, ‘Mother, if you were me, what would you do with it? If you were a member of the council, what would you recommend?’ And she says a question back to me and said, ‘Can money be treated like a sheep?’ Uh, can money be sheep? And what she meant was this. She says, ‘I’ve been a sheepherder all my life and I have this size corral and 200 to 300 sheep can get in there. And when I have that many sheep, I can sell them, I can feed you kids. We can have mutton day and night if you have that many sheep, it won’t affect our herd.’ And she says, ‘Remember one time you were a freshman in college at ASU when our herd went all the way down and we only had 15.' 'That was a pathetic sight,’ she says. ‘We only had 15. And I told you kids, I gathered you kids, your sisters and your brothers, and I said, ‘you can’t have any mutton this year.’ That 15 has to grow back up. If we wait one year, that 15 is going to be 30. If we wait another year, that 30 is going to turn to 60 and then we’re going to be back at the comfortable level.’' Her question was, ‘Can you treat money the same way you treat sheep?’ And when I heard that, I says, ‘Ah ha, she’s talking about trust. She’s talking about creating trust fund.’ So you put money in the bank and the money will grow.

And I went back to Window Rock really, really happy, thinking to myself, ‘There’s the answer and I’d gotten advice from somebody and I don’t even have to pay her.’ And so that’s how the trust money came about and the trust money right now is almost two billion. It goes back and forth depending on the economy and what’s happened at Wall Street. And when we get over to two billion, they’ll probably get another A rating. So this time it’ll be Double A. So that’s where Navajo Nation is right now. The council has already decided to use interest earned to build the casinos. So using the, and not the principal, the interest earned, [Navajo language]. Each year they decided to use that. So just think about it this way, if you have almost two billion, let’s say you have two billion, if the interest rate is five percent, how much is that? If the interest rate is 10 percent of the two billion, how much is that? They’re using that money, but not spending the principal. So using the interest earned they were able to build the casino at Gallup, Fire Rock. They were able to build Farmington, New Mexico. What was the name for that? Northern Edge. Navajos, they always give their own name to these places. At Gallup, [Navajo language]. Fire Rock, [Navajo language]. There’s a fire, then you just sit around the fire. They haven’t given the Twin Arrow a name yet, it’s too new, but they used that money to build that and the one at Ship Rock and then now with the Twin Arrow so all that trust money, interest that they earned each year was used for that.

Why am I telling you this? We’re talking about nation building that you have that class here, that’s what the course is about. Navajo is the only tribe that I know where in the process of building those casinos, they didn’t have to go to the bank. They didn’t go to Wells Fargo. They used their own money to build those casinos. So during the grand opening, the first customer that came in and spent the money that went to Navajo into the tribal treasury. All these other casinos, I stayed at the one over here and I donated last night and that money goes over to Wells Fargo and it’s going to be like that for I don’t know how many years, 20 or 30 years. So the whole idea of trust, creating a trust fund, that’s what it did. That’s what it did. And you have to understand the principle, interest earned; the principle, interest earned. We can’t allow the council to spend and go after the principal, almost two billion. People always ask me, ‘[Navajo language]. Why are you so stingy with that money?’ They ask me. And here’s what I tell them. I tell them that ‘If we do a good job of handling this trust money and then we wait another 15, 17, 18 more years, it could be up to three or four billion. If we wait another 10 more years, it could be up to five billion and it’s just going to keep on growing. And if we don’t allow the council to spend that principal, you know what could happen? 20 more years the whole Navajo Nation can live off the interest that it earns each year and we don’t have to beg anybody for any money elsewhere. That’s what it means.’

But it took a lot of courage, it took a lot of spunk to do that because it was an unusual thing to do at the time, it still is an unusual thing for anybody to do. That was one of the things that we did during our administration. Karen [Francis-Begay] is here, my daughter. Her father took part working with me at the time to create the trust fund and we had that in mind. So it’s getting there. It’s getting there. But the thing about it is this. Every once in a while the council would [say], ‘Pete Zah out there?’ ‘No.’ [Navajo language] ‘Well, let’s go. We have $1.7 billion. Can you make a motion to get $500 million out of there?’ [Navajo language] So I guess by saying that, we need more people to safeguard, to safeguard that principal in the trust fund. I’m telling you only one trust fund. There’s 10 others. There’s 11 trust funds. So it was something new that was happening back then and it didn’t come from an individual with a big huge doctorate, university degree. It came from a sheepherder -- the suggestion, the idea. So you should never sell yourself short. Idea can move mountains. Idea is something that is a very, very powerful thing, particularly if you move it. It can move at its own pace and that’s why you’re going to college and the importance of going to college here really expands your mind so that you’re well versed in what’s going on in the world. And that’s something that I think all of the people that work with the students should realize and recognize that that’s the way to do it is to get that college education. So it’s important that you continue to work in those ways.

The other thing that I wanted to just tell you is that Navajo Nation is embarking on many, many major decisions right now, huge decisions. Because if you look at what’s happening to the coal industry, the whole nation is moving away from the use of coal to produce electricity. Right now, Navajo has a role in deciding something about the electricity. So this thing probably comes from Navajo. So if Navajo don’t want to get into that, we can go over to the light and turn it off. This electricity comes from Navajo coal, but EPA [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] is really clamping down on fossil fuel, the use of fossil fuel to produce electricity and Arizona Public Service, all of the entities like them are beginning to suggest to the Navajo people that they should sell their power plant. So you have a power plant over in Page, I think four or five units there. You have a power plant over in Farmington, New Mexico, four or five units there. Those guys who own that, all of a sudden in the year 2013 became such nice guys. They want to sell it to the Navajo Nation. They’ve been mean all these hundred years, but one day somebody told them, ‘You’ve got to be nice to them,’ and so they’re saying, ‘We’re going to sell it to you for $182 million,’ or whatever it is. What do you think about it? For me, we’re going to be buying a used car. You know what I mean? A used car that has, what? 400,000 miles on it? And that’s going to cost us a lot of money. It’s up for discussion right now and you should be able to participate and all of the other things that will go with it. So here’s what I can’t really see, EPA, if you read…last night, I read another article that came out in USA Today how all of these plants are going to be shut down and new plants, they’re not going to be allowed to build new plants using fossil fuel and that means that electricity-producing firms are going to go to the natural gas. And why are we sitting in the council talking about the use of fossil fuel when EPA’s doing what they’re doing? It just doesn’t really make any sense. So you should participate in those discussions and see where you come out with your question on the proposed activities. And as a student, as a young person, I think you should try those kinds of discussions among and with your own people.

I really like what you are doing here regarding some of the classes that you are having. The students seem to be very well engaged in what goes on, they want to learn. And then for those of you that are Native American, education is so important in your life and in our lives. The Navajo people for example have come a long, long ways going all the way back 100 years ago, even 50 years, 60 years ago. In 1940, 1945 the United States discovered that there were 37,000 Navajo people that are of school age that had not enrolled in a school, that were not going to school. Imagine that: 37,000 Navajo people not in school of school age. I was one of them. I was one of them. So United States devise a program called Special Navajo Program and they put me into that institution and I became a student at Phoenix Indian School way back in 1948. And I always tell my grandchildren, ‘That program was called Special Navajo Program, so I’m special.’ And it was a program where you went to school for five years, only five years and they gave you a diploma, a certificate that shows to the market out there in the community that you’re a good worker, you’re a good carpenter, you’re a good painter, you’re a plumber. These are all the things that you’re good at and then they give you a certificate and they kick you out of the school. So I was on that program and something like the last week of school I decided, ‘I want to go to college!’ And the teachers would laugh, ‘You want to go to college? My god, you should have decided that 20 years ago.’ But I have a little fire in me and I decided as I was walking out almost practically crying that, ‘I’m going to show these guys and I’m going to invite them some day when I’m graduating from a university. To hell with them.’ And so that challenge is important because most of the teachers there, they said, ‘You can’t do it. You’ll never do it.’ When I was graduating from ASU in 1962 getting my degree in education, I sent a personal invitation to all of these teachers that were still at Indian School. None of them came. I wasn’t disappointed, but none of them came. I’m telling you that because you can’t always depend on those kinds of things. It’s what you’ve got in here. It’s what you have in here. It’s a desire that you have to do certain things.

So when I came back on the Navajo Reservation, I knew that there were some things that really needed to be done. And from DNA People’s Legal Services Program I decided that there were some people who were asking me to run for the tribal chair and there were a lot of people that said, ‘You can’t do it.’ And I said, ‘Oh, my god, that’s what they said back there.’ ‘You can’t do it because Peter MacDonald has all the power. He has all of the money,’ and they had a magazine, they had a magazine called Mother Jones Magazine. I don’t know if you remember and they had a picture of him with holding the coal saying, ‘The most powerful Indian in America,’ and so people that found out I was running they said, ‘See, you’re not going to win.’ Well, that was all I needed. That was all I needed. So when people say that, it kind of makes me angry, makes me angry and I want to prove to them that they are wrong.

The same thing as when I went to work at ASU, there was a provost -- imagine that, a provost -- he’s in second command. One day he walked into my office, I was sitting there trying to think how I should do certain things about our American Indian program and the provost sat down, he introduced himself and he says, ‘Pete, I’ve been reading all these rules, statistics, data, and you’re in charge of American Indian programs.' 'My advice to you,’ he says, ‘is that any American Indian who wants to enroll at ASU, we should just send him away. We should send him away to a school where they can last at that school and get their degree. This record shows that we’re losing them left and right and they never stay. We’ve got one of the poorest record on Native American retention so my advice to you is instead of getting some more white hair over that issue, we should just send them away. You’ll be doing them a favor.’ That was what the provost told me. True story. The exact words. So when I heard that, I was thinking to myself, ‘Well, that’s what Phoenix Indian School told me. That’s what the election process on the Navajo, some of those people told me. Now, Mr. Provost, you’re the third one.’ So I made sure in May of 2008 when all these kids were graduating, getting their degree, I invited him. I invited him and I had him sit in the front row. I wasn’t smiling like the way the student wanted me to. I was smiling at him.

So you’ve got to have that desire, you’ve got to have that fire in you. You’re the only person that knows yourself best, when to do some of these things. And so don’t ever fall for people that are trying to shortchange you because they don’t know you. You’re the only one that knows what your capabilities are. So I just wanted to leave you with that and be able to use that. I used to be a basketball coach because I played ball at Phoenix College. And one of the things that I learned from the coach was that there are some kids you have to baby, you have to baby them and say, ‘Hey, that was not right, son.’ You have to put your arm around them, you practically have to cry for them to learn. There are some other people that you have to shake, get after them. So using that psychology, different people because of our chemistry, we get motivated in different ways by different methods. You need to find your niche and what that niche is, what excites you, that’s I think very important thing to learn in life. And that I also want to leave with you and thank you for the invitation. [Navajo language]."

Manley Begay:

"Yeah, go ahead here then over there. Go ahead.”

Audience member:

“I was just wondering, today are any of the other tribes in the state trying to do the endowment approach, do you know?”

Peterson Zah:

“The reason why I’m telling you about the trust fund and endowment is that we have Indian tribes who are into casino that are beginning to make money, not a whole lot. If you’re a member of that particular tribe, then you should encourage them that while they can, while they’re making money to create endowment funds for the nation because you’d be surprised how fast that works. That’s your security. It’s like a child having a security blanket. It’s something that I think you need to encourage them. The question over here was the endowed funds over at ASU, the one that Manley was referring to, what’s happening there is this. Sandra Day O’Connor is the person that the law school was named after at ASU and she’s doing a good job working with the university in bringing in funds to the law school. What university has decided is to use my name and raise money using my name so that they can keep the Indian Law program going in perpetuity. Any money they get, they’re going to put it into trust, and then using the interest earned they’re going to go out and hire the most prominent Indian lawyer and have them teach that course one year or two years. After the two years is up, they’re going to bring in another person using that endowed money and then they’re going to have that person give them service for another year or two years. And if you have money endowed and put into trust, that thing can keep on going forever and that’s what they’re trying to do.”

Audience member:

Last year, about a year ago, the Resources and Development Committee in conjunction with the Dine College, they hosted that 'Nation Building Summit.' And I think shortly after you wrote an editorial to The Navajo Times and I think you had cautioned people about the like -- how can I phrase this -- like the council is approaching the spending of the permanent trust fund without much planning. And so if at any point it goes to referendum and the people indeed do choose to spend that money for whatever purposes, infrastructure, development or whatever, what kind of -- from your perspective -- what kind of planning do you think the students now within their education should be focusing on if that happens?”

Peterson Zah:

“There’s 110 chapters on the Navajo Nation. There’s 24 council [members]. What she’s referring to is a year ago the Navajo Nation Committee of RDC, Resource Development Committee, the Resource Development Committee decided that, ‘When we go out to these 110 chapters, they always have some needs, whether that’s employment, whether that’s materials for the chapter house, whether that’s food for the people to eat, they always have a need,’ they said. ‘But we don’t have any money,’ they said. ‘So why don’t we ask all these 110 chapters to come in and we’ll ask each one of these 110 chapters what they want.’ Christmas in the middle of the summer, so to speak, ‘and then we’ll add up that money, however many it is, we’ll add it up and then we’ll go to…’ At that time the trust money was at $1.5 billion. They said, ‘We’ll get the numbers from the 110 chapters, we’ll add it up and that’s how much money we’re going to get out.’ And it was anywhere from $75 to $150 million. That’s a lot. $75 to $150 million and all the 110 chapters were represented, RDC members were there, the council delegates of 24, some of them were there.”

Manley Begay:

“We were there, the two of us.”

Peterson Zah:

“Well, this is a Navajo trick between him and I. I was not really invited to be there, but they invited Manley to be a guest speaker the second morning, the second day. And Manley comes up to me in the morning and he says, ‘Why don’t I speak for a little while and then when all the people come back, I’ll give you the floor. I’ll yield my time over to you and then you can speak to the group.’ So I said to him, ‘Well, if that’s what you want to do, let’s do it.’ So it was a deal, Navajo trick. And so he gets up there and the chairman of the RDC gives him the mic and he was speaking away and then he says, ‘You know, we haven’t really asked a guy who created those money and save all of that much money. Nobody’s ever asked him. He’s sitting here. So I’m going to ask Mr. Zah to come up and see what he thinks. Is this the money that we could use for what is being discussed yesterday and today? So why don’t you come up and say something.’ So he stepped down, the chair then got up and she said, ‘Okay, Mr. Zah, get up and you talk. Here your brother’s given some time. Whatever amount of time he has left, you could use it.’ Well, that was all I needed. That was all I needed and I told about how the trust money was created, how the case was handled, who handled the case and then I told them about creating an escrow fund.

I says, ‘This is…this case that we won is over taxation and we’re going to tax all the companies that operate on the Navajo Nation and we want to build an escrow account so that while the case is pending in court, they could be paying. So each year the companies can pay into an escrow account the money that they’re supposed to pay for that year. And I told the companies, I brought in the companies just like you, there were a lot of people there, the president of Peabody, the president of this and the president of this, they were all there and I told them, I said, ‘You know, you guys sued me and why don’t we have an agreement? We’re in court. Why don’t we create an escrow account over at the bank and then you pay your money into that account? If you beat me, then you take all the money back. If we win, then we get all the money. That’s a fair deal. That’s America. Competition.’ [Navajo language] And so they agreed to it. And I told that story to the people and I says, ‘You know, it’s like this, we put a bucket here. It’s raining or there’s snow and the water is dripping [Navajo Language]. The water is dripping into that bucket and all during that time when it was dripping it start building up to over $270 million and then we won and we got that money. And then we ran to the bank to put it back into trust for your children [Navajo language].'

Now this council here, they want to take the money out. It’s like taking food out of your own grandchildren [Navajo language]. Now these guys have a legal problem, the council [Navajo language].’ I said, ‘Some of them were criminally charged for misusing the discretionary fund.’ [Navajo language] I said, ‘They were using discretionary funds and they ran out of that discretionary fund so they’re looking at that. That’s what they want.’ Oh, those guys started listening and I told them, I said, ‘My recommendation is that we leave this alone until they take care of their legal problem, until the court says, ‘No, they’re not guilty’ [Navajo language]. I just don’t trust them. When they get some of that money out, they’re going to go back to that discretionary fund. There’s no use in hiding. I’m an old man, I’ve got nothing to lose. I’m your cheii’.’ [Navajo language] And that’s when all hell broke loose. And so we end that…we ended that where the people went back into their respective groups because they were having a big breakout session and they all decided that, ‘No, we don’t want to spend the money. We want to save. We want to save for our children, generations of Navajo people, not now.’ [Navajo language] These guys still have legal problems that hasn’t been cleared up in court.

That’s the way you have to be. You see that thing that I was talking to you about, the little fire inside of you, the little fire inside of you. You’ve got to have a courage to do all of this. I don’t know what they think, but from that day on I was not a popular person with the council. But that’s okay, the hell with them. I helped them. I helped them, but when they decided to deliberately mislead the people and do something wrong, somebody has to speak up. So essentially, that’s my work unfortunately right now. But it’s okay because as Navajo people say, 'The elderly people have lot of wisdom, and it’s something that we use based on our experience.' And so that’s what happened in relative to your question.”

Manley Begay:

“I attended all these sessions, these breakout sessions. My brother says there’s 110 chapters, there’s 300,000 Navajos, we have 27,000 square miles of land, we have every issue under the sun: water issues, land issues, road issues, sewer issues, housing issues, elder issues, veterans issues and the list goes on. So all these breakout sessions dealt with these issues at Navajo. So what they were doing was, ‘Okay, here are our needs: elders issues, veterans issues, so forth and so on, children’s issues, education issues,’ and they tacked on dollar amounts to them. In the half a day that $1.5 billion was gone, it was gone. And they were saying the need was even greater than $1.5 billion, which is true, but if you want to secure your future as a nation, you have to save that money. You’ve got to think way ahead, not right now, but way ahead because the Navajo Nation is going to get stronger, the grandkids are going to come, the great grandkids are going to come. You’ve got to think way ahead. You can’t just spend all this money now. So when I went to these sessions, that’s what was going on. After my brother spoke, people said, ‘Wait a minute, [Navajo language], wait a minute. Let’s think about this a little bit more clearly. Let’s not just think about ourselves, let’s think about the future,’ and that’s what happened. So everything got stopped. Now we’re beginning to see the rewards of the money being set aside. Just spend the interest, don’t spend the principal because the principal was already spent, it was gone, it’s gone. Once it’s gone, it’s not going to come back. So if it’s going to be the Navajo Nation Permanent Trust Fund, let’s make it permanent, let’s not make it temporary. It doesn’t say 'Navajo Nation Temporary Fund,' it’s a permanent fund for the future. So that’s what my brother did, put that together. Another question.”

Audience member:

“Could you speak a little bit how you went about establishing the Supreme Court for Navajo Nation?”

Peterson Zah:

“Supreme Court was something that…it was considered in reaction to what was going on at the time. This is really, really crazy. There was a suit that was filed against the tribal council and one of the judges had the case and that judge ruled against the council on an issue. So the council then decided or that particular delegate then decided to share the issue with the rest of the council and the rest of the council said, ‘Well, instead of talking about all this, let’s just get rid of the crazy judge,’ and so they did. Another issue came about almost identical, a different judge handled it this time and the tribal council lost again so the council said, ‘Well, let’s get rid of that guy, too.’ And when you start getting rid of judges like that consistently, it means you’re sending a message to the world that you have inconsistent thinking, inconsistent tribal government and that they’re not stable. It needs to be stabilized. So we created a Supreme Court where we said, ‘Council has to get out of there. They should not be doing what they’re doing,’ and so we created the Supreme Court. And they were an entity unto themselves and I ended up as an individual that chose as a chairman of the tribe…that chose the Supreme Court justice and the panel of the Supreme Court. And so now it became a three-branch government. So the courts and judicial system is one, legislative, and the executive branch. So they’re deciding on many of those issues without having to fear that the council may go after them and that was the purpose of Navajo Nation Supreme Court. Supreme Court did a lot of things. They created what they call peacemaking process, peacemaker court. Peacemaker court is another concept of…another way of settling disputes and the way the Navajos were doing it, it went over wild, all over the place, even the states were calling in the Navajo Nation tribal judges to talk to the state judges about how they’re dong theirs. It went everywhere. The Navajo courts were a consistent guest at Harvard University, Yale, Stanford, all those big law schools where they conducted some of those sessions and so…then it even got recognized internationally. So under that kind of independent court/judicial system, they did a lot. And that was the purpose for creating the nation’s court, Supreme Court, and now they’re kind of like a model to all of the other Indian tribes. And you have a situation now where the Navajo judges are people, Navajo people who have law degree that are sitting there that talks Navajo. They can go back and forth on the values of those two entities. And the outside people, the outside lawyers, now they respect the decision of the Navajo court and because they decide those issues to the satisfaction of both parties.”

Manley Begay:

“One more question.”

Audience member:

“What do you see like the, for the Navajo Nation to become like economically and financially stable and zero reliance on the government, what do you see as the biggest obstacle for Navajo Nation to get there? Is it like a mindset or is it...what do you see that…what’s preventing us from getting there, I guess?”

Peterson Zah:

“Economic development is very, very [expensive]. Any kind of economic development is expensive and it’s also hard to get into that area because how the people are holding onto the land. Young people just like you, when you drive across the reservation, you’re driving, ‘Next service station 45 miles,’ and you look at your gauge, ‘Oh, my god, I’m going to run out,’ and so you have that situation now. And the reason why that is persistent is the people who have grazing rights to the land that comes up to the highway, they don’t want gas station. Somebody was telling me seven percent of the Navajo population holds grazing permit, seven percent holds the whole Navajo Nation in abeyance for the lack of economic development. They’re hostage, holding the Navajo people hostage. And that’s a major, major problem, the land issue and I think we need to correct that in some ways. I don’t really know what the answer is, but somewhere in between just getting the reservation open and then having some concept of ownership of lands in some degree and then having the land use right or land use…yeah, land use, write program at each chapter. If you belong to a chapter, you should be able to say, ‘Hey, we have this chapter house here. We should have schools here, schools for our children. We should have housing here for us to live in. We should have business development right here, service station. We should have…that’s what we should really be doing.’ But the chapters are fighting themselves because those are the grazing permittees land, grazing right land and the first thing they say is, ‘No.’ You’ve got to have a different concept.

I like my dad, my dad who used to be at Low Mountain Chapter and this is kind of funny. My dad had a good sense of humor. He was trained as a Navajo Nation Code Talker and one day he went home, we were with him and he says, ‘I came home because I want to be with you guys and I’ve got two weeks off because after I get back to San Diego, we’re sailing to Japan. We’re ready to go to battle,’ he said. ‘And I won’t be seeing you guys for a long time.’ [Navajo language]. So he went back. Two weeks later he was back and I said, ‘Hey, what happened? I thought you were going to be gone for a year.’ And he says, ‘No, don’t you know that the war is over in Japan?’ he says. ‘The Japanese people found out I was coming so they surrendered.’ He always had a real good sense of humor, the stories about him that I’m going to tell you.

Well, he belonged to that chapter and he was a chapter officer at one time at Low Mountain and Low Mountain had no chapter, Low Mountain had no houses, Low Mountain had no roads. We had nothing. And when people in the community would say, ‘We’ve got to have a place to build our chapter house,’ all these land permittees said, ‘No. [Navajo language]. No. No. No. Keep it out of there.’ [Navajo language]. Well, my dad had a grazing permit and so he says to these people that were planning a chapter house, he said, ‘You could come over to our land where we have a permit, grazing permit,’ and he says, ‘I’ll give you that land free,’ he says. ‘And when we have a chapter house, then I want to have a road that also goes through my land, highway all the way to the other highway, connected, all on my land,’ he says. And he told the chapter people, ‘When it snows and rains, we all end up in the mud. So when that day comes, I want only my family to use that road,’ he said. ‘All you other guys, you get your truck in the mud and you stay there,’ he said. He says, ‘That’s what you’re doing. That’s what you’re doing. That’s what you’re asking for.’ So they built a chapter house on his land where he’s holding the grazing permit and they put a road through where it was his grazing right land. And sometimes you have to say that to people. Some of those people didn’t think it was funny, but he thought it was funny that people were doing that. And so that’s how those things got…we need more people that are willing and in the best interest of the community, in the best interest of nation building, who think that way. He said, ‘I’m not sacrificing a land, that’s a poor use of word, sacrificing. I’m not sacrificing.’ And then the committee member says, ‘Well, the Navajo Nation has an account for anybody who gives up the land to pay for the use of that land.’ He didn’t want any money. He says, ‘You know, the real Navajo story is, you don’t sell your mother. You don’t sell your mother for money because that land is part of the Mother Earth. It’s for people’s use. It’s for [Navajo language],’ he says. ‘And I’m not going to get paid and I’m not going to demand money to sell my mother to somebody. Use it.’ He says, ‘I’m getting old anyway.’ And so we need more people who think that way, who are dedicated 100 percent to the community and to their people.” 

Rae Nell Vaughn: So What's So Important About Tribal Courts?

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Rae Nell Vaughn, former Chief Justice of the Mississippi Choctaw Supreme Court, discusses how justice systems are critical to Native nations' exercise of sovereignty, and sets out some key things that those systems need to have in place in order to administer justice fairly and effectively on behalf of their nations. 

Resource Type
Citation

Vaughn, Rae Nell. "So What's So Important About Tribal Courts?" Emerging Leaders seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. November 7, 2013. Presentation.

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"[Choctaw language]. Good morning. And I want to thank my brother from Oklahoma for the fine music and words. [Choctaw language]. Thank you. My name is Rae Nell Vaughn as Ron [Trosper] has said and I promise, I am 21. I've worked for the tribe for many, many years in different capacities; however, this capacity as serving as a judge was the most life-changing experience and enlightening moment for me. I served as a judge for 11 years and let me tell you, I definitely came in -- as I heard from one of our colleagues yesterday -- with rose-colored glasses on.

I remember the day when one of the judges came in, and at that time I was working with the Archives Department for the tribe, and she said, "˜Come out here and talk with me for a minute.' So we stepped outside on the patio and she said, "˜Rae, what do you think about being a judge?' I was very stunned at the moment. "˜A judge? What? Are you kidding me? I can barely make a decision for myself let alone for anybody else.' And the conversation went from there. I spoke with my mother and I spoke with my grandmother and my family at that time to talk about --- and of course she was being serious -- and to talk about whether this was the path I wanted to take. No one grows up saying, "˜I want to be a judge, that's what I want to be.' I remember -- she did -- I remember talking with my children and I said, "˜It just...it was on my path.' I just didn't know that it was on my path, but did I know that I was going in that direction?

In hindsight, yes, I see all the signs of where I was going that eventually led me there and gave me the opportunity for the experience, and then building on that experience, allowing me the opportunity to work within the executive branch. And so I say that to say that a lot of the conversations I've been listening to yesterday really validate a lot of the things that I have learned throughout my career and my years of working for the tribe. And let me tell you, it's a struggle at times when you're working for your own tribe, because there's always a tendency...and I know a lot of us have a lot of war stories, I'm sure many of you do, of how there's this sense of you're more on the cross than not, especially with your council, especially with your leadership, your local leadership and it's just almost like, "˜Why am I doing this? Why am I doing this?' But at the end of the day, we know that we're doing this for our future, for our children, just as our grandparents and our great grandparents did for us.

And it's amazing as Ron shared with us his experience with Chief [Phillip] Martin, I had the great fortune of being present, of seeing the evolution of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, of Mississippi Choctaw from a point of where there was poverty and then a period of prosperity, and like every society of a rise and fall and of a dark period of leadership. So we've had the experience that many tribes have also gone through too, and now we're in another period of our history, of a renaissance, of a new leader rising. We were fortunate to have Phillip Martin, the late Phillip Martin, who passed away a couple of years ago, for over 40 years of leadership and it was an amazing time of vision and of moving forward. And at the time of his...of not being reelected, we had a new leader, and unfortunately that leader chose to lead from a base of fear and created a lot of dissention and it causes people...you get angry because you want your government to succeed, and it caused people to step forward...causes people to step forward, because you know what's right.

So what I'd like to do at this time is talk with you about tribal courts and its role in tribal government and its importance, how it's important for you as leaders to understand the role and the capacity of the court. And there's one thing I will tell you that I have learned and you'd think I would have got that a long time ago, but how your economic development and your court systems, they have to run parallel. If you're wanting to move forward, those things you run parallel.

So let's go ahead and take a look at this slide presentation. And I apologize, I don't have the glitzy slide presentation that Dr. Ian [Record] had. I really like his, it was just zooming and moving about and I only have 30 minutes and Renee [Goldtooth] is going to [be] popping that sign up at me so I'm going to go quickly so that I can allow my co-presenter to present as well. And for those of you who don't recognize it, I love to talk. I love to talk.

Our first question is what role do or should Native nation justice systems play in Native nation rebuilding? Well, the key role I think is that it exercises sovereignty, the pure exercise of sovereignty. You as a government have the right and can exercise it and develop a court system. The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians operated under a BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] court until the early "˜70s. It was around 1974, '75 when the tribe then took over the tribal court system and it was a very small court, still funded by BIA of course, but we had a special judge who was non-Indian, a law trained attorney, and then we had the tribal judge and we had one clerk. And at that time our population was maybe about 3,000 people, not a very large population. We were still having issues of the local govern...the local law enforcement reaching our lands and coming in. I can vividly remember a time during our Choctaw Fair, which is held in July, of the paddy wagon coming by and we saw...I remember clearly seeing a tribal member sitting in that patty wagon. He was intoxicated and the county police had come and scooped him up and took him out, just did it. And then we began working towards taking on our own systems.

What key components do these justice systems need to possess? Law. How do we define law? We talk about an organic document of law and document can be subjective, written or unwritten. You need customary law, you may need or may not need a written constitution, ordinance and codes and common law, very basic. We have made points to ensure that we interweave tribal law, Choctaw law. Some tribes are very fortunate to have and to maintain and to practice their customary law. Unfortunately for Choctaw, a lot of things were not written or were not passed down as they should have been, but there are key elements that we do follow, values, Choctaw values that we do maintain, but not to the extent of some of the tribes that I know that were fortunate enough to be able to continue their practice. I think a lot of the tribes east of the Mississippi encountered these types of things. But again, those are the key things that these systems need to possess.

Why is it important that justice systems be strong and independent? Justice systems work hand in hand with the executive and legislative branches, and when I say that I say that in regards to the checks and balances of each of these branches. For Mississippi Choctaw, the tribal court is a statutory court. In their constitution, there are only two branches that are recognized, but we had gone over and beyond to ensure that there was a separation of this system. Now could they continue with a court? With it being a statutory court they could easily do away with the court, but they recognized the need of a forum of adjudication of these laws and so we continue with a court system, separate but equal.

What do strong, independent justice systems require? The very first thing, which is primary, is that you would be able to adjudicate with no political interference. Now how many of you have heard horror stories of leadership calling the judge, "˜What the beep are you doing down there? Do you know that that's my brother? We better do something about that.' And the one thing, I had never had leadership, the top leadership ever call me as a judge, but I had had a councilwoman call me and she was having issues with her children in our juvenile court and of course I'm the juvenile judge, and I said, "˜You know, it's already in the system, there's nothing that can be done. I don't think we need to have this conversation.' "˜Well, let me tell you Rae Nell, don't forget who approves your budget and your salary.' "˜Yes, ma'am, I'm very aware of who does. You are one of 16. That's who approves my budget and my salary. You are one of 16.' So I know that it's challenging as a judge, as a judicial officer when you have...when you live in the community, when you're a member of the community, it's very challenging, but we stand strong trying to maintain the integrity of the system, because I want you as a tribal member to feel confident in the system. As my co-presenter and I spoke earlier, there's always going to be a winner and there'll always be a loser. That's the name of the game. There's no...there's not going to be any way where both of you are going to come out on top, it just is not going to happen. I shared with one person, "˜If you don't like what's happening in court, don't get yourself there. Don't put yourself there.'

Secondly, to have the ability to appoint or elect qualified tribal members to serve as judges, and this is a work in progress I know for many, many tribes. We have on our bench currently two tribal members who have their juris doctorate. Our supreme court has two non-member associate justices who have their JD. So we're working towards those ends, of changing the bench, the structure of the bench in order to have law trained judges.

Thirdly, a canon of ethics, that should be a given. I've always shared with our judges when we go over the canon of ethics, "˜It's there to protect you. It's there to protect you.' You always have all these different forces coming at you and to say, "˜No, I can't do that, it's a conflict of interest, it's an appearance of impropriety.' 'This is what it looks like, if it's a duck... What's the saying, "˜If it quacks, if it swims, if it does... it's a duck. A duck is a duck.''

How has your nation remade, how is it remaking its justice system to more effectively resolve disputes? Well, they need qualified personnel. That's for sure. Our code is very broad in its qualifications. However, as I said, it's an evolving process where we're working towards trying to get the best personnel on staff and that's not just the judges itself, it's the support staff. It's your clerks, it's your probation officers, it's your advocates, your lay advocates. Everyone that's involved in that system, you're wanting folks who are coming in qualified in the sense of training, experience, what it is they're bringing to the table and enhancing those skills.

Financial resources. Have you ever been in a position where you're like looking at the budget and "˜Hmm, are we going to make it to the end of the year?,' because you had that one particular case that ate up your transcription fees, that you're having to provide outside counsel for and you're like, "˜This is that big case that really damages the budget, just blows it clean out of the water.' That's where your relationship with the executive and legislative is important in the sense of the administration of justice, ensuring that you have the adequate finances to operate the system because there is an administrative part to your judiciary.

Interdependence, again, talking about the checks and balances and making sure that you have these clean relationships, because you do have to have a relationship with your executive and you do have to have a relationship with your legislative body, but to understand where these boundaries are and of what you can talk about. It's very easy to have a conversation and we're talking about a code section and everything and then the conversation goes into a particular case over an issue that's happening in the community and you're like, "˜Whoa, wait a minute, we can't go there, we can't have that talk right now.' But those conversations of the administration, of their support, those are things that you need to have and it's a balancing act, it truly is a balancing act.

So how do we maintain law and order? Well, for Mississippi Choctaw, the system as I said earlier is a much bigger system than the judiciary itself. We have court services and under the Department of Court Services you have the probation office and you have teen court. Teen court -- for those of you who are not familiar -- is a forum that's available to our juvenile delinquents after they've been found delinquent to give them an opportunity to have their sentencing given to them by their peers and it's a very enlightening process. It also gives those young people, individuals to actually see how the system works. All of the positions in a teen court setting are held by young people except for the adjudicator, the judge, which is one of the judges minus the judge that heard the case who would sit and preside over this.

And I know the very first case that they held when we began operating the teen court, they wanted this juvenile delinquent to stand on the corner with a big sign saying that this is the crime that he committed, they wanted 1,000 hours of community service work. They were just like slamming him because of the vandalism and the offense that he committed and the message that we were trying to share with our youth is that, "˜Yes, this juvenile delinquent committed an offense against a person,' but it's more than that. It's committing an offense against the entire tribe, the effect of it, from the individual and the effect that it has on that individual, the rippling effect. So it's not just one person that you're committing a crime against, it's circular, it comes right back to you as a member, a member of the tribe, a member of the community.

And then we have also other agencies that provide support to the court system. We have a victim's advocacy department or program. We have a children's advocacy program. We also rely heavily on behavioral health to participate as especially with children in need of care, to help get our families reunified. And then of course we have the healing-to-wellness court. How many of you have a Healing to Wellness Court or are aware of a healing-to-wellness court, aka drug court? I see one hand, I see two hands. It's been a very successful, for Choctaw, a very successful forum. I think all of us recognize that we do have to look at other forums to help our people. It's easy to say, "˜Well, okay, let's just find them guilty and put them in jail and let's fine them,' and then they're back again, and then they're back again because we're dealing with these symptoms, we're not really getting into the root of what's going on. And so this has been a very valuable tool for us to utilize. Also it pulls in a number of the agencies that we have available to help us help this individual help themselves.

We look at how we reflect, promote our line with our people's cultural values and why these efforts are so important. Again, it's bringing in the Choctaw values. What's Choctaw? I am a tribal member, I sit on that bench and -- I sat on that bench -- and I would listen and you take it all in and I'm able to as a tribal member, as a member of that community to be able to decipher all of this and I'm able to weigh in on, "˜What is the best path for this person?' We have a traditional form of court, which is the Iti-Kana-Ikbi, to make new again, loosely translated "˜to make new again.' I had the good fortune of meeting the former [Navajo Nation Supreme Court] Chief Justice Robert Yazzie at the very beginning of my judicial career back in 1997. A number of us who were newly appointed had the opportunity to go out to Navajo Nation and to learn, and let me tell you it was a very learning experience, meeting the chief justice and meeting with their traditional court and having great dialogue as to how you create a good system, a great system. And I'm very appreciative of the opportunities that we were able to take to sit in in a court that has a record and had a lot of things going on.

What are the other efforts? It's bringing tribal member personnel in because there's an investment there, wouldn't you agree? It's an investment having your own people working your system because that's the goal. Ultimately, for all of us as tribes, that's the goal, us as tribes, as villages, as pueblos. You want your membership running your government. That's ultimately what we all strive for. Also identifying tribal member mentors and this could be our elders, this could be people who come in with a wide range of experiences to help us with shadowing, job shadowing, having someone to talk to. I think earlier yesterday I think someone talked about they felt good about being able to finally talk with someone about this, this case, this issue, how do I resolve it. And as I said throughout this presentation, it's important to interweave your customary law, your customary values with western jurisprudence, how we make that happen, 'Choctaw-ize' it as one of my mentors always said, 'Choctaw-ize' it.

What role does your nation's justice system play in protecting, strengthening and expanding your nation's sovereignty in advancing its nation building priorities? As I stated earlier, to provide financial resources, to create and support the judiciary and the Choctaw legal community. And when I say Choctaw legal community, our tribe has made the investment of not only supporting a judicial system, but we also have an Office of the Attorney General. On the flip side of that we also have a Department of Legal Assistance, which is available for the tribal...the individual tribal member. We also have available lay advocates who come in and also practice in our court. Secondly, the respect of other judicial systems, local and federal. How many times have you heard, "˜Oh, that kangaroo court'? "˜That kangaroo court.' I have heard that so many times. Have you heard that, "˜That kangaroo court?' Have you been..."

Eldena Bear Don't Walk:

"All the time."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"All the time. It was never tribal court, it's that kangaroo court. Well, I didn't realize that we were a bunch of animals, but okay. "˜That kangaroo court can never make a decision, it was never stable, it was up and down, depended on who was leadership, you just never knew what was going to come out of there and how the heck did they come up with that decision. That kangaroo court.' That's where we need to work. And unfortunately in Indian Country, there are those systems that don't have the support or do have interference and aren't able to have the credibility and the respect of the membership.

When I say the confidence of companies to do business with the Choctaw courts by entering into contract with the tribe, what I'm saying here is that, as I stated earlier with economic development, if you have a company that is wanting to come in and do business with your tribe, the first thing they're going to ask is, "˜Okay, if we have a dispute, where are we settling it? Do they have codes? What is the law? What's the rules to the game?' And so it's important to ensure that you have those things in place. Choctaw has a mirrored UCC [uniform commercial] code that it adopted back in early 2000, a number of codes that give us the ability to do business.

And of course then there was the establishment of the Supreme Court. I spoke earlier about the inception of the tribe taking over the court and at that point we were a membership of 3,000 and we had the special judge and then we had a tribal judge and then we had a clerk. Well, as the tribe began to grow in population and economically, the leadership then saw the need to strengthen and expand the system, and then in 1997 -- and I'll back up a little bit -- in 1994 we opened our casino. So what does that mean? Boom, the economics jumped up. You had people coming on to the reservation, customers coming in, you had a lot more vendors coming into the reservation, you had a lot of other things happening on the reservation as well. So the tribe chose to reorganize the system and expand it into four individual divisions with a senior judge and associate judge. We were still operating with the lower-level court and setting up an appeal process that would allow the judges that were not involved in the case that was coming up for appeal to sit as arbitrators for an appeal. Well, that wasn't really working well.

So in mid 2000, they chose to establish a Supreme Court and this Supreme Court was made up of three judges who did not participate at the lower court, they wanted to ensure that there was Choctaw values, a Choctaw voice in there so they require a tribal member who met the qualifications of the lower court plus years of experience on the judiciary and to have the associates who sat with the chief justice to be law-trained. And it was a system that worked out very well. On the other side of that, they chose in administrating the judiciary to allow the chief justice to serve as the administrator and there's some pros and cons with that as well. Ultimately, at the end, prior to my leaving the bench, I was operating a court with a budget of $3.5 million and I had 32 staff under me that I supervised. So it shows you the evolution of the system and again it's a growing system.

Ladies and gentlemen, court systems are important and it requires support and it requires attention and it requires the type of people, good people to sit on the bench and to be an adjudicator and to render decisions that are going to be in the best interest of the people, because as you know it's collective, it's for the entire tribe.

And so I thank you for the opportunity. I'm going to now turn it over to my co-presenter and I think we will have questions and answers after her presentation. Thank you."

Leroy LaPlante, Jr.: Effective Bureaucracies and Independent Justice Systems: Key to Nation Building

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

In this informative interview with NNI's Ian Record, Leroy LaPlante, Jr., former chief administrative officer with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and a former tribal judge, offers his thoughts on what Native nation bureaucracies and justice systems need to have and need to do in order to support the nation-building efforts of their nations. 

Resource Type
Citation

LaPlante, Jr., Leroy. "Effective Bureaucracies and Independent Justice Systems: Key to Nation Building." Leading Native Nations interview series. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, The University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. August 12, 2010. Interview.

Ian Record:

"Welcome to Leading Native Nations. I'm your host Ian Record. On today's program, I'm honored to welcome Leroy LaPlante, Jr. Leroy, who goes by "JR" to many, is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. He worked as chief administrative officer for his tribe for three years from 1998 to 2001. Around that time, he was named ambassador of the tribe by the then-chairman, a great honor. And he currently works as an attorney working with tribes on a number of different, in a number of different areas including economic development and housing. Welcome JR."

Leroy LaPlante, Jr.:

"Thank you, Ian."

Ian Record:

"We're here today to talk about a couple of topic areas relevant to Native nation building and governance, those being tribal bureaucracies and then tribal justice systems. And I want to start off with tribal bureaucracies. And I'm curious to learn from you, what role do you feel bureaucracies play in advancing the nation building goals of their nations?"

Leroy LaPlante, Jr.:

"Well I think it's really important for Native nations to have a strong infrastructure in order for them to really accomplish their goals. They've got to have, I think, one, they have to have a strong legal infrastructure, but I think they have to have a strong infrastructure where they can deliver services and their programs are functioning in an effective manner."

Ian Record:

"So what, in your experience, do Native nation bureaucracies need to be effective?"

Leroy LaPlante, Jr.:

"Well I think, for one, there needs to be, I think, a good system in place: policies, procedures, ways to measure outcomes. There also needs to be a very good financial accounting so that performance on a lot of tribes function under grants, federal grants and so forth. And so there's a big need for tribes to have a way to make sure they're performing well on these grants and so forth. But you know, in my experience as the administrative officer for Cheyenne River for three years, we had the privilege of having a good tribal controller who kept us on track financially, and we had a good planning office and we had a good grant oversight. But for me, what I think was really important -- and we grew exponentially in those years that I was, that I had the privilege of working as the administrative officer -- but the key was we had a separation of roles. The administrative or the executive branch of our tribal government, we knew people respected what we did and they trusted us to do what we did. The tribal council, the legislative branch of the government, they had an understanding of their role. And I think that that's really, really key. If you can have that, I don't want to call it separation of powers necessarily, because it's more so, I really see it as the government having different roles. And I think that's what resonates with Indian people, more so than powers. So I think that was key, to have this sort of hands-off approach and letting us really manage the programs and let the programs do their work."

Ian Record:

"We've heard others who either serve or have served in positions like you did for your tribe, draw the distinction between those who make the decisions and then those who carry out the decisions. Is that essentially what you're talking about?"

Leroy LaPlante, Jr.:

"Absolutely, that's exactly what I'm talking about. And I think that if you have a tribal council that tries to micromanage a lot, I think they can get in the way of what we're trying to do. And because, you know, the daily decisions that we make in government, you know, especially when we get caught up in personnel issues and those sorts of things, it can really bog down government. And when government gets bogged down, government gets slowed down, we all know that the real losers, in that instant, are the people. And we're there to serve the people, we're there to provide services to the people, we're there to provide critical services to tribal members. So it's important to just let those programs function freely."

Ian Record:

"So what happens when -- and granted it sounds like during your tenure there wasn't a lot of this going on, but based on your experience perhaps working with other tribes -- what happens when that political interference in the carrying out of programs, in the delivery of services, and just the day-to-day bureaucracy of the tribe, what impact does it have within the bureaucracy itself?"

Leroy LaPlante, Jr.:

"Well, I think the immediate...I think there's immediate impacts and there's long-term impacts. The immediate impacts are, you get this...the services aren't provided in an equitable fashion, you have this favoritism towards certain, maybe employees where you have some...so nepotism can come into play in terms of hiring. They get...if there's this micromanaging, there's this...it can interfere with personnel decisions. And also, just decisions in terms of where these programs need to go in terms of their planning and so forth. The long-term effect that it has on it is it does affect long-term planning, and I think that if they would just let the programs function and plan out their work like they're supposed to, then things will work out accordingly."

Ian Record:

"We've seen instances among nations where formally, there was that situation where there were elected officials interfering in program delivery and administration, bureaucracy of government. They make the necessary changes and that micromanagement stops or at least is reduced to the degree where the elected leaders suddenly find that they have more time to focus on, ideally, what they should be doing."

Leroy LaPlante, Jr.:

"Well that's what I meant, Ian. I kind of misspoke on the last response to your question, but that's what I meant by the long-term effects. I think there's a short-term effect and that the interference, it prevents those programs from functioning the way they're supposed to, it prevents them from hiring the way they're supposed to, making personnel decisions the way they're supposed to, making fiscal decisions the way they're supposed to. But I think the long-term is it detracts from what their job really is, and that is to plan long-term for the tribe. To think where, you know, the bigger decisions. So you kind of have this hierarchy of needs in a tribal government; you have these everyday, daily operations. And, you know, who decides, you know, what to purchase with a particular program budget is a very small matter. But when you have legislators and tribal council members making those kinds of decisions, obviously, that's going take away from the bigger things they should be doing, which is planning for the tribe's future, creating laws that are going to be implemented for the improvement of the tribe. And so it does detract from those bigger things and those are the things that they're likely to do. And so that's what I meant by a short-term effect and a long-term effect."

Ian Record:

"And it also has a direct effect on the people who've been charge with administrating the decisions that the elected officials make, does it not? The program managers, the department heads, the administrators?"

Leroy LaPlante, Jr.:

"I think it really does, because you're hired to do a job and you want to...in terms of developing that leadership, in terms of utilizing those people for what they're hired to do, it does stunt their growth, in a sense. So that's...it does have an effect in that regard. But here's one of the saddest things that I see happening when you have talented people, tribal members that are doing these program management jobs or whatever, filling these tribal positions. I think when you get this interference from tribal council, it can get really discouraging. We hire people who are capable, we put our, everybody that applies for a tribal position through an application process, and we feel like we hire the best person. What happens I think with people, people get frustrated, they feel like they're not, [don't] have the freedom to do their job and so they end up, we end up losing I think some very talented people. So I think one direct effect is that it does maybe impact and where we have somewhat of a brain drain on the tribe. I mean, if you get hired to do a job, you expect to be able to come in and freely do that job."

Ian Record:

"So then...what role then should elected leaders play in ensuring an effective bureaucracy to carry out the wishes and priorities of the nation?"

Leroy LaPlante, Jr.:

"Well, I've never been an elected official. And, you know, I think, I don't know if I'm qualified really to speak to that. I guess I could, I guess I'm qualified enough to say what they should be doing, or what we'd like to be doing. So in a perfect world -- and of course we all know it's not a perfect world -- but in a perfect world what you would like to see elected officials do is really put the people before themselves. And put the interest of the tribe as a whole, collectively, before themselves. I think, too many times, people that are elected to tribal council or to an elected position sometimes have their own agenda. And I think it's important that -- it may be a good agenda -- but I think that it's important that they try to serve the people first and carry out those duties. Now again, elected officials have different roles. And I think it's really important. A long time ago, Indian people had different roles in our society, and you even see that today. If there's somebody in our community that makes drums, for example, that's that person's role. People respect that. And anytime somebody needs a drum, they go to that person to make a drum. And I think that those roles in tribal government are very similar, and I think that that's where we can import some of our traditional ways of perceiving what we do is that you have a role.

The problem I think, Ian, is that sometimes when people take a position in the tribe, they don't what that role is to begin with and so when they come in, I think, there should be some sort of orientation process. There should be some sort of time where they're brought in a transition period and they're saying: this is what we understand to be your role as an elected official, as an elected councilperson, as a tribal secretary, as a tribal treasurer. And you know, it's really, you know sometimes we're a little too hard on elected people because I think that we assume that they know what their role is when they're hired or when they're elected and I don't think we should make that assumption. I think we should, if we assume anything I think we should assume that they could use some mentorship; they could use some instruction.

So that person comes in, they take that elected office, and then they don't perform or they start micromanaging or they start doing something other than what we think they should be doing. But it really should come as no surprise, "˜cause they're walking into a position that they have no formal training for. And so I think that we need to really be understanding of, you know, and if you look at a majority of elected people in tribal government, they are people that don't have a lot of formal training. They are people that are from the community, that people trust, that are respected. You know, the qualifications of an elected person in tribal government is different from an elected person in state or in federal government. There's an emphasis...or in the non-Indian world, in dominant society, there's a great emphasis placed on education, there's a great emphasis placed on experience, and so forth. Maybe they were a former businessperson, maybe they were law trained. But in Indian Country, the emphasis on qualifications for elected officials is how well do they understand their culture, how connected are they in the community, how strong are their kinship units and, you know, how committed are they to helping the people, did they, how long have they lived on the reservation? And those sorts of things.

And so, I think if we're going to assume anything about people that are elected, I think we should assume that they probably could use some training. But with that, if that training's provided up front, I think what I would expect of an elected person is that they, if you're elected to council, obviously, I believe that first and foremost you need to represent your people as a whole and what's in the interest of the tribe as a whole. Set your personal agenda aside and really try to fulfill your obligations to uphold, number one, the constitution of the tribe, the laws of the tribe, and that includes our policies and procedures, and to do what's in the best interest of the people. And not just for what's going get you elected for the next term, but what's best for the people five, ten, fifteen, twenty years from now.

The other thing I would expect from elected people, Ian, is that I think we have a commitment to...as Lakota, as Sioux people -- I speak specifically to our tribe -- we talk about our [Lakota language], our lifeways. We talk about our traditions. We talk about everything we do is for that seventh generation. We try to plan that far ahead. I think it's really incumbent upon officials that are in a position to make laws, that are in a position to make policy decisions, it's really incumbent upon those elected officials to plan ahead, and to really walk that talk. Not just talk a good talk to get you elected, but really live out those core values of who we are as Lakotas. And I think that in and of itself would drastically change the landscape of tribal politics."

Ian Record:

"You made reference to this, essentially this need to plan for the seventh generations forward. And seventh generation planning, strategic planning really; when that strategic planning process has been undertaken and there's really no end to it, but when the nation and its leadership has done that hard work to forge a strategic vision, put a plan in place to get there, doesn't it make the day-to-day bureaucracy work that much easier because those people that are in charge of carrying that out, understand clearly where we're trying to head and does this decision that's performing today, does it contribute to that or does it detract from that?"

Leroy LaPlante, Jr.:

"Right. I mean it's very...you put that very succinctly. I think that that's exactly what long-term planning does. I think, when you have a strategy in terms of where, and a vision of where you want the tribe to be, you know, generations from now, everything works toward that end. And so people, it does give program managers more focus and it does...but you know, that example being set by elected officials is so critical. Because if they're setting that example, then it trickles down to your administrative personnel, it trickles down to your program managers, it trickles down to your tribal employees -- that there's this conscientiousness that what we're doing is really for the betterment of the people not just here, today, but further down the road. But in order for that to happen...we really talk a good talk. I think Indian people, we're very eloquent and I think that there are words that we have in Lakota or in our Native language, our Native tongue that when they translate to English, they're very beautiful concepts. And when the outside world hears them, they're very impressive. But do we really live by them? And I think that that is really, that's really the test. And if we do, if we're really committed to them, what you will see in a tribal government is you will see a structure. And that structure will have, it'll be a system in terms of how we go about our business. And it'll start, you'll see it in a way that we conduct council meetings. You'll see it in a way we...you'll see it in our organic document. You'll see it in our policies and procedures. You'll see it in our day-to-day operations. There'll be this structure in terms of how we go about doing our day-to-day business, and so you...and that's the infrastructure that I'm talking about. That you've got to have that infrastructure in place, because it's one thing to take a vision and philosophies in terms of how we want to be, but you got to have the practical policies and infrastructure that get us from point A to point B."

Ian Record:

"You mentioned earlier the importance of serving the nation as a whole, essentially treating citizens fairly and consistently. How can Native nations achieve fairness in service delivery and within the bureaucracy of government?"

Leroy LaPlante, Jr.:

"That's a big challenge for tribal government, because I think that tribal governments are already kind of up against the wall because they got to overcome the perception that they don't provide services in an equitable fashion. And there's always these horror stories about nepotism and all these other things that we have to overcome. You know, I think one of the ways you make sure that our services are being delivered in an equal fashion to everybody is I think you have to have transparency in your government, and I think you have to make sure that you have sound policy, and you have sound procedure. That when you draft these laws and you draft these policies and procedures, that you don't deviate from them, and I think that's the key. I tried to engage in a policy and procedure revision in my tribe, and I think the plan sat on the table for the full three years I was there. You find that you don't have the time, but the key is that you got to work with what you got, and as long as you're consistent with those policies, and they may not be perfect, but utilize them and force them, stick to them, and don't deviate from them. You've got to have a rule that you go by. And of course, and this is true with the community as well. You've got to have a rule of law where people understand that this is what's acceptable and what's not acceptable. The same thing in tribal governance, you've got to have policies, procedures, you've got to have ways of operating so that...and you've got to stick to them."

Ian Record:

"In one of the areas where we commonly see deviation, as you put it, or inequitable treatment from a policy or something like that within the tribal government is around personnel issues -- hiring, firing, other sorts of issues like that. Where should...where and how should those issues ideally be resolved? Or if there's disputes around personnel, where should those issues be resolved?"

Leroy LaPlante, Jr.:

"It's going to differ from tribe to tribe, Ian. And I think the important thing is that whatever process you set up, that it be a fair process and that you follow it every single time, and again, you don't deviate from it. When I served as the administrative officer for my tribe, there was so many things I wanted to do. I wanted to engage in economic development planning, I wanted to...there was so many other grants I wanted us to look at and really decide whether or not we should even apply for certain grants because there are some...as an administrator you don't want to apply for everything, but sometimes you do it because you have an ambitious program director who writes a grant application, but you want to be able to look through and make a sound decision to make sure it's in the interest, in our best interest. And those are those big decisions, right? And you want to focus more on areas, departments that are weaker and get them stronger. Those are the bigger issues you want to deal with as an administrator. But I spent, I would say, roughly 75 percent of my time bogged down in personnel issues. And so one of the things, I would say, is your administrator has a role. That role is to administer the programs of the tribes. I wished I was never involved in personnel issues as an administrator, because I didn't see that as my role, but council did. The problem was was that a lot of times council would get involved in that. So we had system where if a personnel action was taken, the immediate supervisor would take action. The appeal process was that you were allowed to go to a program director. If there was a department chair, that was another level in the appeal process. I was included in the process, and then of course we had an elected personnel policy board that was the final say on all personnel issues. Now, sounds like a great system, but if you add up the time frames an employee had to appeal, you're looking, you could be bogged down in a personnel issue for 45 to 60 days. And if council got involved, it could stretch out for several months. So, I think, you really want to try, what I tried to do is streamline the process as much as I could. I recommended to council on several occasions that I be removed from the process because I wanted to focus on some of the more important requirements, job requirements of an administrator of a tribal government. We had over 75 tribal programs, we were managing over 50 federal grants, we had over 600 tribal employees -- there's just a tremendous amount of responsibility. But that's the system my tribe went with, and so the next best thing is to try to train your employees, your supervisors, your department chairs, your program directors. I couldn't say much of the policy personnel board, but our HR [human resources] person did a good job of training the board, making sure they knew how the system worked. And just trying to make sure that people follow that process as closely as they possibly could and just try to get a personnel issue through that process without it getting bogged down somewhere. And if we all kind of stuck to the process and followed it according to the books it would usually go through smoothly, but the x-factor was always council."

Ian Record:

"You mentioned that your nation -- when you were working in this administrative position -- had more than 75 programs operating at once. And among many nations, the number of programs is often hard to count. And a lot of that is a legacy of federal grant programs and things like that, which some have pointed to as a major source for what is commonly called the 'silo effect'..."

Leroy LaPlante, Jr.:

"Sure."

Ian Record:

"...Where you have all these different programs kind of operating independent of one another, don't really communicate with one another, and then there's in turn, often a negative impact on the use of typically limited tribal resources. Do you see this silo effect at play in your own nation? Or perhaps have you seen it in other nations? And what do you think are some of the consequences or the drawbacks of that situation."

Leroy LaPlante, Jr.:

"Well, I don't think there's anything positive about the silo effect, obviously. I think, you'd like to see a department chair or a program take ownership of that job and really grow that program, but I think the negative downside of that is you could get a program director that is, that does become too territorial. And so it does infringe upon our efforts to be more cooperative and to share resources where we can, but more importantly I think there are some real, I guess if, I'm not sure how to put this, but there are some areas, some issues in tribal life, in tribal government that we, there's environment. There's, where I'm from it's, there's management of land resources, social services, education. And I think that what I try to do, when I was working for the tribe, is that I tried to identify those areas and the more we could get programs to work cooperatively, collaboratively, to address those needs, the better. The silo effect, as you call it, really prevents those programs from doing that and it does have...and it does have an adverse effect. The other thing I will say about the grants is that sometimes as tribes we can get too dependent on those grants. I think early in the '90s, mid-90s, in the '90s period, it was an era where there was a lot of application for grants and tribes that were good at it, you know, they were getting grants. It was, you know, if you had a good track record, it was pretty easy to get certain grants and so forth. But sometimes we can get too dependent on that. I think what you want to see eventually, and again this is where if you free up time for an administrator, in my role, you can do more of this planning where you're not so dependent upon these grants."

Ian Record:

"I want to switch gears now to another topic that you're very well versed in and that's tribal justice systems. And I think it's no coincidence that in this era of Indian self-determination, this federal policy era of Indian self-determination, we're seeing a groundswell of attention by tribes to strengthen their justice systems. And I'm curious to get your perspective on this question of what sorts of roles can tribal justice systems play in rebuilding Native nations?"

Leroy LaPlante, Jr.:

"Well I think they're critical, I think they're foundational to nation building. You know, I think the creation of your own laws, the promulgation of those laws, the adjudication of cases, the creation of case law -- all of that is so important to strengthening tribal nations. I mean, our tribal courts is probably one the most fundamental exercises of tribal sovereignty that we have -- the creation of laws and enforcing them. But the thing is the courts...if courts are effective and judges are performing their jobs in a good way, and the courts are functioning in a way we would like them, it gives the perception to the outside world that we're very good at resolving our matters in dealing with internal matters. But not only that, but we can also deal with any matter that comes through our courts on our reservation."

Ian Record:

"What, in your view, does strong, independent justice system look like? What does it need to have?"

Leroy LaPlante, Jr.:

"I think a strong independent justice system, first of all, is tribal. I think it should be tribal in a sense that it knows how to deal with tribal issues and yet it's diverse enough to handle and adjudicate all matters that come before it. I think you should have conmpetent judges. I think you should have strong advocacy for clients and it must have a way of measuring its performance. But yeah, a strong tribal system should be tribal in nature. In other words, what I mean by that is it shouldn't just be a boilerplate replication of what a state court looks like and promulgate those laws, but those laws should be traditional in nature, it should reflect our customs, it should reflect our customary law, our traditional laws, and we should know how to deal with those and inject those viewpoints in our decisions."

Ian Record:

"It's interesting you bring that up, because I've actually heard that from several other tribal judges that I've had an occasion to interview. That in many ways, the tribal justice system and the tribal court in particular is the most direct, concrete way that a tribe can convey its core values, its cultural principles, not only to the outside world, but its own citizens. Is that something that you feel is accurate?"

Leroy LaPlante, Jr.:

"Oh, absolutely. You know when you think about the types of cases that come before our tribal courts, you know you're dealing with a lot of domestic cases, domestic violence cases, family cases, so the courts have the opportunity to resolve disputes between tribal members. And so there's a tremendous opportunity for our tribal court system to really bring into that process some of our traditional ways of resolving conflict. You hear a lot of tribes speak of a peacemaking court and so we don't have to necessarily engage in an adversarial process with tribal members, but you can actually promote some sort of peacemaking where people are, where we promote restitution and restorative kind of justice, which is more in line with our traditional values."

Ian Record:

"So we touched on this issue of political interference and bureaucracies. And I'm curious to get your thoughts about political interference in tribal jurisprudence. What are some of the impacts of political interference in court cases, for instance?"

Leroy LaPlante, Jr.:

"Well, obviously, you want your courts to be able to make decisions without any fear of consequence from an elected official, tribal council. You want them to be able to adjudicate matters in a way that is just and do so freely, and without any free of retribution from anybody. But unfortunately, in instances where council do get involved, it does create some hesitation on the part of tribal judges to really deal with matters as like they're trained to do. And unfortunately, the result of that is we've seen a lot of good judges come and go out of our court system. I think that, you know, your courts are, you have to have judges with good experience, if not law trained, with great, good experience, with sound awareness of tribal law, and some experience with handling a diverse number of matters. But you know, when you have this turnover of tribal judges because they end up not being able to stick around very long because they're doing their jobs properly. It's detrimental."

Ian Record:

"So you mentioned this issue of transparency with bureaucracies, and the delivery of services. Isn't that equally important when it comes to the administration of justice in Native nations?"

Leroy LaPlante, Jr.:

"Yes it is, and I think that there needs to be a sense of predictability when people come to, when they're coming to tribal court, there needs to be this sense that they know what to expect; there's not going to be this 'kangaroo court' process. And so, you know, we want to make sure that people know what to expect when they come into tribal court, that they know they're not going to have any surprises. And I think that's...that not only has an impact upon plaintiffs and defendants in tribal court, but here's another aspect of this, it affects who practices in tribal court, you know, because one of the things we lack in tribal court is sound advocacy. You know, we don't just want lay advocates practicing in our tribal courts. One thing that lends credibility to our tribal courts is the fact that a licensed attorney who practices regularly in state court and federal court has no hesitation to come and represent a client in tribal court. We want more participation from the state bar, wherever you're at, whatever state you're in, but we want more participation from lawyers and the state bar in tribal court, because what that does is it improves the perception of our court systems, it improves the advocacy in our court systems. And so you want that transparency, you want to know exactly what to expect when they show up in tribal court, that we have consistent, strong, civil procedures that we're going to follow, criminal procedures that we're going to follow, that there are going to be no surprises."

Ian Record:

"You know, it's interesting, we've been talking about tribal bureaucracies and tribal justice systems and a lot of the criteria or components you need for each to be effective are similar, are they not? And isn't it very difficult, for instance, to have one without the other? Specifically, in our experience, we're working with a number of Native nations and it's very hard to have an effective bureaucracy, for instance, if you have a kangaroo court system, as you talked about. Can you elaborate a little bit more on that?"

Leroy LaPlante, Jr.:

"Well, I think that it is very important that you have some predictability, that you have that infrastructure, legal infrastructure, if you will, a strong tribal code where people can have a remedy for whatever, an issue that they're, a legal issue that they're involved in, that there's good procedure that we follow. Bbut in addition to that, I think it's important that we have, that we document our case law, that we...and so people know what to expect. I've received calls from people that will say...practicing attorneys that are members of the state bar that will say, "˜Is there a case on point in your tribal court on the following issue?' I'd like to be able to respond, "˜Yes, and I can get you a copy of that opinion.' And I think that that's the transparency, that's the kind of infrastructure that you want, where people can say, "˜Okay, when I go to Cheyenne River and practice law, I know what to expect when I go there.' And so yes, it's absolutely...in fact, if it's...I'm not going to say it's more important, but it is absolutely, at least, equally important as it is...to have that, those types of infrastructure."

Ian Record:

"So, to generate that infrastructure, to create that infrastructure, that takes funding, does it not? And essentially, an approach on the part of elected officials, or those who set the budget of the nation, to treat it as not just another -- the justice system, the courts -- not just as another tribal department, but as kind of a stand-alone, larger, more encompassing branch -- that may not be the best word -- but branch or function, fundamental function of government, does it not?"

Leroy LaPlante, Jr.:

"I think at least our tribal officials need to recognize our court system as a stand-alone entity that has a specific function, a very important function."

Ian Record:

"So you mentioned this need for tribes to ensure that the infrastructure's in place for the court system, the justice system overall to function effectively and essentially, act as the nation's protector, as its guardian. That infrastructure, achieving that infrastructure takes money, does it not? And perhaps a realization on the part of elected officials, or those who control the purse strings of the nation, to treat that system as more than just another department, but to actually treat it as a fundamentally critical function of government."

Leroy LaPlante, Jr.:

"Right. And it takes time to educate and to help our elected officials understand that. And I don't think it's a matter of our elected officials not knowing that it serves an essential function of government, but I think that they have to understand and it takes time to educate them that what the courts do is so vital to tribal sovereignty, it is so vital to self-determination, it is so vital to us. You know, if we want to engage in any type of regulatory authority on the reservation, you know, our courts have got to be equipped to be able to carry out, you know, adjudicating any matter. And so yeah, it takes a while to get them to prioritize, I guess is what I'm trying to say, Ian. I think they understand that it serves an important function, but for them to understand that it should be up here on the fiscal or the financial fundraising list is another matter. So, sometimes it's just about...I would like to see elected officials just take a run through tribal court and just to see what they do on a day-to-day basis. I think you have committees and tribal council that obviously understand that and who hire judges and hire tribal attorneys and they're well versed in the importance of that. But unfortunately, when you look at the tribal budget, Ian, there's just so many other needs. And how do you say...it's like trying to pick your favorite child, so to speak. It's really hard. And so that is a problem with courts. And I think one way is to maybe look at some of the available federal funding that's out there, but again that takes planning. And it's being able to have that foresight to see when those opportunities are going to come down the pipe."

Ian Record:

"Isn't it important for the connection to be drawn not just for elected leaders, but also citizens that when you have a strong, effective, independent judicial system, that empowers you as a nation to tackle those other needs through restorative justice, through healing people, through healing families and things like that."

Leroy LaPlante, Jr.:

"Yeah, and it does. I think people...the thing about the law is it doesn't get a lot of publicity. When a case is decided, even if it's an important, an appellate case in tribal court, when it's decided it doesn't get a lot of fanfare. The people that pay attention to it are people like myself, but as far as a general public, there may not be any publicity about an important case that our tribal court decided that's going to have some sort of ripple effect across Indian Country. But there is this general understanding by tribal members that the courts serve a special role, but I don't know if they really see the long-term effects of that. For example, Cheyenne River just had a case recently that went all the way to the Supreme Court. I don't know if people see that and how that impacts. And if that case would've been decided favorably by the United States Supreme Court that would've changed our civil jurisdiction authority over non-Indian people on the reservation. Unfortunately, it wasn't decided favorably, but it could've had that kind of impact. And so yeah, I think people are starting to see it more and more. And you mentioned some of the benefits. The other thing is when we have a solid court system and we have remedies, especially in civil matters, it does encourage things like economic development and corporations coming on to the reservation and things like that. So, and again it goes back to council. Is council willing to do a limited waiver of sovereign immunity so that these matters can be resolved in our tribal court? Because I think the courts are ready to do it. I think the court, I have a tremendous of confidence in our courts that they're willing to take on any issue. We have a very strong appellate court that's willing to hear these matters, but is our council...so I think that that appreciation for our court system, I think, really starts at the top. And I think our appreciation for any of this stuff and appreciation for improving tribal governments really starts at the top [with] your leadership.

Ian Record:

"You mentioned this issue of investment and the role of courts in that. How does a strong, independent justice system create an environment of certainty and competence for investors -- not just financial investors, but people willing to invest their own human capital in the nation and its future?"

Leroy LaPlante, Jr.:

"Well, I think, you just...I think the main thing is that you want to be able to, the tribal court, you want to be able to have a statement that says, or a law that says, or a code that says that matters of dispute will be resolved in tribal court. And I know, people that come into contract with tribes, they want to be able to say that if we...if things don't work out with this specific contract, we want to be able to enforce this contract somewhere. And hopefully, we can say it can be resolved in tribal court. Like I said, I don't think it's a matter of the court not being able to handle those matters, but again, it's whether or not the tribes and the tribal council feeling confident enough to be able to open themselves up to that sort of court action."

Ian Record:

"I want to follow up quickly on this issue of sovereign immunity, and this is an increasingly critical topic. What we're seeing is more and more tribes approaching that issue strategically, whereas before it was kind of this blanket response of, "˜We don't want to waive sovereign immunity because we're sovereign,' as if those two things are the same. And more and more tribes are coming up with innovative approaches and doing exactly what you say. 'We'll waive our sovereign immunity through this contract into our own tribal court system.' Isn't it incumbent upon tribes to really approach that issue in a very calculated, deliberate manner of, "˜Okay, this is a tool that we can use, but it has to be used wisely'?"

Leroy LaPlante, Jr.:

"Well, and I think, to answer...I guess I'll answer it this way. Yeah, I do think tribes need to be very deliberate with that approach and I think maybe the reluctance would be again...you got to have a competent court though. And so what I think we're seeing with some tribes, they may -- I think we talked about it today -- some tribes have considered setting up a separate business court where you might have special judges come in and hear these matters. Because I think there's this perception in the outside world that either, you know, you're typical tribal court judge can't handle a very complicated, contractual issue. So set up a separate contract court where those issues are heard by a special judge that would come and hear those matters and is well-versed in that area of the law. So there are some very unique ways that tribes can try to address this and to improve the outsiders' perception of how we conduct business on the reservation."

Ian Record:

"I want to wrap up with I guess you would call it a personal question. Last year, you were selected to be a part of the first cohort of the Native Nation Rebuilders program, which is a program that was developed by the Archibald Bush Foundation out of Minneapolis in conjunction with the Native Nations Institute at the University of Arizona. And I'm curious to get your thoughts on the program. You're almost a full year through the program now. I'm curious to get your thoughts on what the program is about, the potential for the program moving forward, and how it's empowered you to contribute to Indian Country."

Leroy LaPlante, Jr.:

"Well, I...first of all, it's just an honor to be a part of the program. It was an honor to be selected. And, you know, since I came on as a Rebuilder, you know, I've been through a couple trainings, which I thought were absolutely fantastic. I think our first training was tribal governance and, I think that, being able to participate in those courses, in those training courses, it just kind of gave me some hope that there are resources out there for tribal governments. I've been law-trained and I've taken courses in Indian law, tribal law and different other things pertaining to Indian Country. But a lot of -- like I said earlier -- a lot of our elected officials aren't well equipped to do their work. And I think a lot of our tribal officials could use a crash course in federal Indian law, a crash course in tribal bureaucracy, a crash course in tribal governance. And being a part of the Bush Foundation has exposed me to those resources and hopefully those resources -- more people will take advantage of them. My overall impression of being a Rebuilder is really is it's opened up doors, because I meet so many people from across, from other tribes. It's given me some good tools to do my work."

Ian Record:

"One quick follow-up: As part of this Rebuilders program, you were asked to go through a distance-learning course on Native nation building. I'm just curious to get your thoughts on that course and what it could bring to Indian Country."

Leroy LaPlante, Jr.:

"Well, I think it's...I hope our elected officials take advantage of it. You did a really good job of putting it together, Ian, I know that you worked very hard on that. And, you know, it's easy to maneuver your way through the online course and the material is very well researched. But what I gained from it mostly was just hearing other tribal leaders and other members of tribes and citizens of tribal nations that are doing a lot of the same work that I'm doing. Hearing their stories. I think Joe Kalt said today that he's just kind of a pipeline, where he's gathering the stories and kicking them back out to Indian Country. And I think that's a good characterization of what Native Nations [Institute] is about and what the Bush Foundation is doing through the Rebuilder program. We're taking this information, we're funneling it through, we're getting it disseminated out to the people that need to hear it. And those stories are inspirational and if anything else, what it does is it says, you know, that nation building is taking place and it's being done very effectively."

Ian Record:

"Well, JR we really appreciate your time and thanks for joining us."

Leroy LaPlante, Jr.:

"Thanks, Ian. I appreciate it."

Ian Record:

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

NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow: John Petoskey (Part 1)

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Native Nations Institute
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In the first of two interviews conducted in conjunction with his tenure as NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow, John Petoskey, citizen and long-time General Counsel of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians (GTB), discusses how GTB has worked and continues to work to build and maintain a strong, independent system of justice that is viewed as legitimate by GTB citizens. He also discusses GTB's integration of peacemaking and peacemaker courts into its justice systems as a culturally appropriate way of resolving disputes and bringing healing to the community. 

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Resource Type
Citation

Petoskey, John. "NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow: John Petoskey (Part 1)." Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. October 1, 2013. Interview.

Ian Record:

"Welcome to Leading Native Nations. I'm your host, Ian Record. On today's program, we are honored to have with us John Petoskey. John is a citizen of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians and has spent much of the past 30 years serving as his nation's general counsel. As general counsel, he participates in all federal, state and tribal litigation and administrative hearings where his nation is a plaintiff or defendant. In addition, John wrote the majority of Grand Traverse Band's statutes, published as the Grand Traverse Band Code. He also currently serves as partner with Fredericks, Peebles and Morgan LLP and is spending this week at the University of Arizona serving as Indigenous Leadership Fellow with the University's Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy. John, welcome, and good to have you with us today."

John Petoskey:

"Thank you."

Ian Record:

"I've shared a few highlights of your very impressive personal biography, but why don't you start by telling us a little bit about yourself. What did I leave out?"

John Petoskey:

"Well, I have been with the Grand Traverse Band for, as you said, a long time. Prior to that I did work for Legal Services...Indian Legal Services in Michigan and importantly, I worked on one of the leading cases on off-reservation treaty fishing and on-reservation treaty fishing that was called U.S. v. Michigan, which followed the same genesis of the United States v. Washington. And when I originally got out of law school in 1979, I was lucky to participate in the trial portion of that case as a first-year law student that had not yet gone to a federal district court opinion. So that was very gratifying and enlightening to me to see how the United States' trust responsibility is implemented for tribes. At the same time, I'm a product of my history in Michigan. My father is from Little Traverse Bay Band[s of Odawa Indians]; my mother is from Grand Traverse Bay Band. And through circumstances of history, the Ottawa tribes of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan were not federally recognized under the 1855 treaty, which was a misinterpretation where the Secretary of Interior took federal recognition away in 1871. As a consequence of that act, the state of Indian tribes in Michigan, the Ottawa tribes were desolate, and U.S. v. Michigan was the first spark of hope, if you will, by reversing that decline that the tribes had been in for so long.

After U.S. v. Michigan, I went to work at Indian Pueblo Legal Services in Northern New Mexico and I worked for, in one capacity or the other, for most of the pueblos as a legal services attorney representing poor Indians in the tribal justice systems of the Pueblos and in state and federal court. Those were largely jurisdictional cases at that time in the early "˜80s. There was a lot of assertion of state authority and state court jurisdiction for on-reservation activities. So I litigated a lot of cross motions for summary judgment of no subject matter jurisdiction and I also got to participate in some unique Pueblo-initiated procedures to resolve justice questions that the Pueblos had on their reservations, which were unique because the Pueblos have a unique system of justice that is still largely indigenously driven, if you will, from their historical experience.

After Indian Pueblo Legal Services, I went to Alaska Legal Services, which does have a totally different legal history under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. I was in a place called Nome, Alaska and I went out to villages in an area that was probably 500 miles in diameter surrounding Nome and provided legal services to remote isolated villages. And there you could see the coalescence of all federal Indian policy in a community of 150 people where you would have a traditional government and Indian Reorganization Act government and a local government and an Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act corporation board. So you'd have four layers of government for people, for a total population of 150 people. It was designed for failure, which that's a separate question, but those are items that are left out.

After Alaska Legal Services I went to work for National Indian Youth Council, where I worked on voting rights cases in the southwest turning at-large voting structures into single member districts, largely in New Mexico, in Cibola County and McKinley County. Then I also worked on First Amendment cases in which tribes were alleging that they had a right under the First Amendment to access to federal public domain law that was under the control of the federal government, but for historical reasons the tribes had ceremonial relationships with the land and their ceremonial relationships with the land were being impaired by the Federal Public Land Policies that prohibited their access in some cases or in other cases prohibited their access on an exclusive basis for some of their ceremonies that they needed to conduct."

Ian Record:

"We here at NNI know quite a bit about the Grand Traverse Band. A number of our staff have worked with the Band over the years. You and some of my colleagues for instance go way back to the late "˜80s, early "˜90s and the Band has also received three awards from our partner organization the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development and its Honoring Nations Award Program, but share with our audience a bit more about your nation, just who is the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians?"

John Petoskey:

"The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians are Indians that lived in and around the Grand Traverse Bay of Northern Michigan. Michigan is shaped like a hand. If you're from Michigan, people always say to each other, "˜Where are you from?' and they'll hold up a hand and they'll say, "˜Well, I'm from Lansing, I'm from Detroit or I'm from Gaylord.' In this case, using the hand as the analogy, Grand Traverse Band is located on the little finger. That's where the peninsula is. The historical area was a reservation that was created in 1855. Just immediately north to us is the Little Traverse Bay Band, which is located in Petoskey, Michigan. South to us is the Little River Band, which is located in and around Manistee, which is right there.

The Grand Traverse Band achieved federal recognition under the Administrative Procedures Process in 1980. It was the first tribe to go through the federal acknowledgement process under the then-developing federal regulations that go all the way back to the Policy Review Commission back to the "˜70s. When it achieved federal recognition, it had to engage in building all of the governance institutions that were necessary to establish a tribal government. Incident to that, I had met Steve Cornell when I had worked at National Indian Youth Council because he was a personal friend of Gerald Wilkinson and Vine Deloria and Dr. Cornell or Steve Cornell used to come and visit with Gerald Wilkinson and I met him initially in that time period that I was working at National Indian Youth Council.

And then after I started working as general counsel for the tribe in the "˜80s, we were engaged in the process of building these governmental institutions as a new federally recognized tribe and we had to look around for models of how to establish our tribal organization, how to establish our tribal constitution and go forward from there. And so we'd have constitutional committees drafting the constitution and we also were engaged in a fight at that time with James Watt, who was the Assistant Secretary of the Interior. And the position under the Reagan administration was that federal acknowledgement was limited to a discrete number of people on the original petition that was submitted, and our argument was that federal acknowledgement covered everybody that was eligible as a descendent from Grand Traverse Band from the last annuity treaty payment that took place in 1910. And obviously, our category that we said were eligible was much larger than the category that the feds wanted to recognize.

As a consequence, we were engaged in litigation with the federal government over the terms of our recognition, which impaired the development of some of our governance institutions, particularly our constitution, which the Interior did not ratify until after that litigation was resolved in 1986 and then the constitution was ratified in 1988, I believe. But at that time, once the constitution was ratified, we really had to come up with the procedures, if you will, for our justice institutions, for our legislative process and for our executive process. And doing research of what models to follow, I came across the Harvard Project on Economic Development and at that time, this was before the internet was widely available, we had to send away for these series of memorandums that students had written on a number of different aspects of Indian economic development and Indian governance issues. And so I basically sent away for all the memorandums and went through the memorandums and cut and paste what I thought was the best in those memorandums for GTB's situation and then went through the process of having the executive-legislature enact those provisions for Grand Traverse Band. Incident to that, I then reinitiated my friendship with Steve Cornell and Steve came up to Grand Traverse Band on two different occasions to visit and to present information and points of views on how he developed tribal institutions. Also, Vine Deloria came up a couple times because I had met and known him at National Indian Youth Council and gave brief talks to our tribal council on the historical relationship of tribal governance and the Department of the Interior and the United States. And Vine had at that time and always did have a very focused analysis of how tribal governments had been overpowered by the federal government. And so in all senses of the word, he was an advocate for strong tribal governance and he promoted that when he was speaking with our tribal council and providing advice on which way to go. So that's, in a quick thumbnail I think that's what the relationship was."

Ian Record:

"Following up on this issue of constitutional development, you said that you were one of the people charged with going out and learning what other tribes had been doing to develop governments that made sense for them and that you sort of worked to integrate the best of what you had learned from others. Was there at some point in the process a customization of some of those governing institutions to the particular circumstances, cultural values of Grand Traverse in trying to make it their own?"

John Petoskey:

"Well, yes. The process of writing a constitution is not...doesn't rise to the level of the Federalist Papers, where you have advocates writing arguments for and against different propositions that are in the constitution. In the Indian community, what that comes down to, if you will, the "Federalist Paper" analogy is a group of people sitting around working their way through the constitution occasion after occasion after occasion after occasion and bringing out their own personal experience from the community as to what will work and what will not work, and so that's what the Grand Traverse Band community did."

Ian Record:

"And how has the...in your estimation how has the constitution worked in the 25 years it's been in place? Do you feel like it's beginning to gain...it has gained widespread cultural and community acceptance?"

John Petoskey:

"Yes. The one unique aspect of our constitution that is different from other constitutions is most entities elect a tripartite system of governance where they have executive, legislature and judiciary. At the time, when we were developing our constitution, the concept of consensus through council discussion was the primary value that people brought to the table of communication of trading off what would work and what would not work. The concept of separating the executive and legislature was not high on anybody's list, and so the GTB constitution has a combined executive-legislative function, so the council meets as a group and acts by motion, ordinance or resolution and it's the majority vote of the seven on the council. There are itemized activities that the executive power has -- and the vice chair and the treasurer and secretary -- but that is still in the context of the council acting as the executive-legislative combined branch of government. So we don't have, if you will, effectively, three coordinate branches of government. We have two branches of government, the executive-legislature as one and the judiciary as the other."

Ian Record:

"Let's talk about the judiciary. I plan to cover a number of topics with you today, but first and foremost is the issue of the judiciary or justice systems comprehensively and I'd like to start big picture, and based on your vast experience in this area, what role do you feel justice systems play in a tribe's ability to exercise its sovereignty effectively, to achieve its priorities, to create a healthier more culturally vibrant community?"

John Petoskey:

"Oh, that's kind of an open-ended question. I would like to just go directly to Grand Traverse Band. In our constitution we have the judiciary as an independent branch of government with independent authority and it's recognized in the constitution to have that. The judiciary serves the function as a check on the executive and legislative actions and it also provides a forum for dispute resolution between the community and community members over behavior that is not acceptable or behavior that comes to the court to resolve disputes between two individuals.

For example, I'm thinking of family law matters, dissolution of marriages or abuse and neglect on children or cases like that, so you need a third party to resolve disputes where the question of who is right and who is wrong is an open question subject to the advocacy of the parties. I don't see the judiciary in a larger, big-picture sense that you outlined. I see it in a little-picture sense of resolving disputes and if an individual, a tribal member, has a dispute with the tribal council over the enactment of legislation or the administration of that legislation by the delegated entities that the council has set up, then that tribal council member under our system, if our constitution has the right to go into tribal court because our constitution waives the immunity of the executive and the legislature and to assert that the application of that rule to that particular person is wrong for whatever reason.

And the Section 10 of our constitution incorporates almost word for word the Indian Civil Rights Act, which is almost...with notable exception leaves out certain elements from the Bill of Rights. The Indian Civil Rights Act is modeled on the Bill of Rights and those are the, if you will, the constitutional values that the federal system has, that the state system has, and by force of this overpowering values of constitutional law from our coordinate sovereign governments, the federal government and the state government, most tribal members are familiar with the U.S. federal constitutional rights and state constitutional rights; therefore, if they have a complaint with the United...with the tribe, they frame their complaint in that context and what is not unique about our constitution, but other constitutions, also have this, is that the constitution recognizes that there's an automatic waiver for that type of cause of action by a tribal member to sue the executive and legislature alleging a violation of Chapter 10 of our constitution, which effectively is the Indian Civil Rights Act. And our constitutional members have done that a number of times.

And then we also have disputes between...we have had disputes between the executive and the judicial...the executive and legislative branch and the judicial branch and the constitution does provide a methodology for the resolution of those disputes. We have had judicial removals and it's a process of the executive-legislature filing a claim in the judiciary unit, a panel of judicial appointees are appointed to determine whether or not a judge should be removed for cause, that are established in the constitution. So when you say big picture, it's too big for me to grasp because everything that I...for myself at least, I'm not a big-picture person and look at concrete problems and how to solve concrete problems, and those concrete problems I guess do have big picture implications, but it's solving the concrete problems that I focus on at least."

Ian Record:

"Well, and that's one of the reasons we thought of you as a good pick to be one of our fellows is that in our vast experience working with tribes on the ground in tribal communities is the fact that nation building is not a top-down proposition. It really starts at the grassroots and it works from the bottom up with the problems that every day...that come up every day that tribal members face. For instance, seeking redress against the government when they feel that they've been wronged. You mentioned that Grand Traverse Band's justice system is strong and independent and NNI and Harvard Project have done a lot of research in this area and it's been pretty conclusive in terms of finding that having a strong and independent justice system is really vital to a nation's efforts to achieve its goals. And I'm curious to get your take on that finding based upon your own experience and obviously the strength and independence of the justice system was not an accident. This was a purposeful process that the tribe has engaged in over a very long period of time to build that strength, to build that independence, and I guess my question to you would be how do you see that research finding in the context of what Grand Traverse has done?"

John Petoskey:

"In the context of...well, I would support it first of all. Having a strong and independent justice system is very important. And I think Grand Traverse Band has been lucky in some of the initial judges that it had that were tribal members that served for a long time on the judicial system and the fact that they were tribal citizens gave greater legitimacy for their decisions and for the conflicts that were resolved by judicial action. When we have had problems with the Grand Traverse Band is when we have...our constitution was written in the early "˜80s and actually implemented in 1988 and the provision that we have for judicial appointments does have a proviso of appointing attorneys who are non-members, and so on occasion we have had to appoint non-member attorneys to act as tribal judges. And the argument there is, "˜Well, an attorney has training in procedural due process, dispute resolution, the framing of legal arguments for the resolution of complex disputes and is familiar with the substantive law that comes forward that regulates human relationships and governmental relationships and so therefore the attorney, even though not a member, would bring value in that position as a tribal judge,' and that argument I accept.

Nevertheless, the proviso in my experience has been that when a non-Indian, non-citizen of the tribe is appointed, there are problems that inevitably arise because the legitimacy of that judicial officer is questioned by the community. I would propose a thought experiment that people would see this analogy or this problem in another manner. For example, I don't think any tribal constitution provides a provision in which you can elect to their tribal council non-members so long as they're attorneys or that they're engineers or something else, and that's just unheard of. And so the executive and legislative branch that are made up of members has greater legitimacy for implementing a decision even if the decision is wrong because it's coming from that citizen group in that community. Conversely, when a judge who is not a member is trying to implement a decision, even if that decision is right, it has less legitimacy.

So the cautionary tale that I would have on building strong judicial departments is that you keep in mind, and I know this is somewhat of a touchy subject, but you keep in mind that those should be citizen members that are filling those positions and it lends greater legitimacy to the resolution of the problems, and maybe this is a problem just uniquely to some tribes that have that provision in their constitution for the appointment of non-Indians, but if you look at the Indian law world, all of the Indian law professors -- you could tick them off on your hand that are the big stars -- also serve on tribal courts. And so they're not bringing their membership as a member of a tribe, they're coming to serve on those courts as people that are profoundly sympathetic to Indians and profoundly conversant with the principles of federal Indian law and the principles of substantive law, but nevertheless, they are bringing the same baggage of their cultural tradition to an Indian forum for resolving disputes involving principally Indians. There's variations on that too because some of those...some people argue that tribal courts are courts of general jurisdiction so they can resolve disputes involving Indians and non-Indians and I accept that, but what I'm saying is that a citizen/member of the tribe lends greater legitimacy to the resolution of the dispute."

Ian Record:

"To me what you're really talking about are what I see as two challenges. One is there needs to be a thoughtful, strategic discussion about. 'What should the qualifications of judges be?' So for instance, obviously should they have passed the bar in the state in which the tribe resides? That's often a criteria. I think what the Navajo example and a growing number of other tribal examples teach us is that tribes really placing an emphasis on their judges having understanding of that tribe's common cultural law and being in a position to apply that. And from what you're saying that non-Indian outsiders are just not equipped with that because they haven't grown up in that environment."

John Petoskey:

"Yes. In fact there should be, and I think Navajo does this and I confess my ignorance in this, but there should be a Navajo bar exam and tribes should implement their own bar exams for the practice within their own courts. Certainly all tribes now implement admission to their bar for their court but really all that is...and I'm not saying this in a negative or pejorative sense, but all that is is motioning yourself in for admission, paying the admission fee and being admitted to the bar of that particular tribe. But, if a tribe were to develop a bar exam and it's not...doesn't necessarily have to be on the substantive elements of what constitutes a tort crime, but it would have to be on something, in the case of Grand Traverse Band, it would have to be on the substantive elements of what is the fundamental value of Algonquians or Ottawas on how you lead a good life and what is the balance in life and the aim of life that you're supposed to be doing. And there is a set of concepts interrelated that are from the tradition of Ottawas and Ojibwes that define what is a good life and what is a bad life. And being sensitive to that in the position of judging disputes in which people are arguing over and sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly over those received values, is important to resolving issues that come before the court."

Ian Record:

"I want to turn back to Grand Traverse Band and the strength and independence that you and others have worked so hard to instill within that justice system that you currently operate. What do you feel -- based on the Grand Traverse experience -- that tribal justice systems need to have in place in order to be strong and independent?"

John Petoskey:

"I know the appropriate answer would probably be an institutional structure that non-Indians are familiar with, but the realistic answer, if you...is you need people that are really bright and focused and from that tradition and that are committed to that tradition. They are people that are...that grew up in the tradition, that bring the intelligence of the tradition to the position and that are committed to that tradition, that is an answer that is sort of off-center, but you need an Indian jurisprudence of values that reflect the community that you're from and the way that those values evolve are from growing up in that community, and that's an ongoing constant process. There's no one set of values that control the evolution of the community. In my own life for example and my wife's life, our parents had a totally different experience from what it was to be Indian in the...they were both born in 1915 and grew up in a period from 1915, died in the "˜80s, their life experience was fundamentally different and their grandparents or their parent's life experience was fundamentally different and they were born in the 1870s and you stretch back. This may be a little far afield, but if you stretch back to my grandparents, who were in the 1870s, and you stretch to my children now who were born in the 1990s, you have 120 years of change that is constantly taking place, but all of them have the same common denominator of coming from the same group of people and going through that change together."

Ian Record:

"So basically what you're saying is that the folks that lead that justice system, if you will, need to be culturally grounded, right?"

John Petoskey:

"Yes."

Ian Record:

"They need to have roots in the community that are not sort of put down overnight, but come from long, sustained involvement in the community, whether it's residence or participation in cultural ceremonies, etc. But just to sort of throw out a scenario to you, so presume for a second that you have all that on the judicial side of the equation and then there's somebody, in your case the executive-legislative side of governance equation that doesn't...is not acting from those values, if you will, and places perhaps unhealthy pressure on the judiciary to act in a certain way, to sort of test that strength and independence of the judicial system. What sort of mechanisms are in place to -- at Grand Traverse -- to ensure the insulation of the judiciary from that sort of unhealthy interference and ensure that it can in fact enact the cultural values, it can actually judge cases based on their merits and mete out justice in a fair and a consistent fashion?"

John Petoskey:

"Well, this is not something that is in place in terms of institutions, but on the executive-legislature side, there are seven councilors and the councilors don't always agree with each other, but they're all from the community and they all have...they all bring their common experience from the community to their positions on the council and they disagree amongst themselves and they recognize that some of those disagreements have to be resolved by the judiciary. And if Councilor A has a position against Councilor B and Councilor A is going to try to influence the judiciary to impermissibly or in some manner that is not straightforward in the procedural process, then Councilor B is going to object to that and Councilor B is going to then use Councilor B's authority within the context of the executive-legislative branch to bring that objection forward. And so it is a self-policing method of checks and balances, of different policy positions on the combined executive-legislative council. And so in that sense, even though the value is consensus of trying to get to a consensus and once the council does arrive at a consensus, it generally goes forward from that position. Arriving at that consensus involves very heated arguments between the individual councilors as to what is the appropriate course of action and if that heated argument or those differences manifest themselves in a dispute in the judiciary then Councilor A's attempt to determine the outcome in the judiciary is going to violate the rights of Councilor B and Councilor B is not going to acquiesce to that and is going to take action against A in the context of the executive-legislative process. That's realistically the way that works. I don't know if you formalize that process in some other method."

Ian Record:

"I guess what about for instance if it's not...if it doesn't involve a difference of opinion with two council members, but say, for instance, I'm a citizen and I feel that for whatever reason that the case before the court needs to be decided in my favor and I call up one of these councilors and say, "˜You need to do what I ask and I voted for you,' kind of thing and this may not be something you're familiar with because it doesn't sound like this is a common occurrence at Grand Traverse. Unfortunately this is a common occurrence in a lot of other tribes that we've worked with. I guess is it sort of values and sort of community norms that prevents a lot of that from taking place or is there something formal within the constitutional framework that Grand Traverse has developed that prevents that sort of thing?"

John Petoskey:

"Within the constitutional framework the judiciary is independent. That's a categorical statement. The hypothetical that you posited has occurred and I am familiar with cases in which tribal members have called up councilors and say, "˜I don't agree with this court's decision because it's wrong,' and the councilors have come back to the council and said, "˜Judge is wrong in this basis, what should we do?' and other councilors say, "˜Well, it's a independent judiciary,' and you get back into the methodology that I was talking about earlier where A and B are arguing over the proper policy. We're lucky in one sense that one of our councilors is a former chief judge on our court and chief judge on other courts in Michigan. So that particular councilor is...has been in the shoes of a judiciary and has been involved in inter-branch fights between the judiciary and the executive-legislature. But we have not had extreme cases at Grand Traverse Band. I can...I don't want to...there have been cases in Michigan in which one where the executive branch and the judicial branch got into such an extreme dispute that the judicial branch ordered the arrest and incarceration of the executive branch, and typically it's the other way around. All of the hypotheticals that you've been positing involve the executive pressuring the judiciary, but in this particular case it was the judiciary that ordered the arrest of the executive over an election dispute where the holdover council was not vacating office and the executive branch was actually arrested and then the petition for habeas corpus was filed in federal district court to release the executive branch, that the judicial order was invalid. So it goes both ways I'm saying."

Ian Record:

"It sounds like at Grand Traverse there's a controlling dynamic within the executive-legislative function where if there is an individual council member who's being pressured by a constituent to interfere in the judicial function that the other council members remind that individual on the council of their role, what their role is and what their role is not. Speaking more broadly, what do you feel is the role of elected leadership in supporting the strength and independence and supporting the growth of justice systems, because for instance at Grand Traverse, your justice system has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 20 years and won an award from Honoring Nations for the incredible work it's been doing and not just building a strong and independent court system, but also making sure that that system is culturally appropriate and reflecting and enacting the values of the people. What do you feel the role of leaders are in supporting the justice function?"

John Petoskey:

"At Grand Traverse Band or in general?"

Ian Record:

"Just in general I think."

John Petoskey:

"Well, my response would be if you look at other systems -- the federal system, the state system -- there have always been disputes over the scope of judicial power in the...in federal court, in federal jurisdiction, what is the appropriate scope of federal jurisdictional power and what is the scope of its ability to resolve disputes. Justice Breyer makes a big point of this if you look at the election dispute between Bush v. Gore, it was a decision that was by the Supreme Court that was widely recognized as invalid in terms of its substantive analysis of the law, but nevertheless the whole country said, once the decision came out, "˜Well, game over,' because there's a strong judicial system and once the decision was rendered, good, bad or indifferent, that's it. Everybody folded their respective tents and went home and George Bush became president when he probably should not have been president on the substantive law basis, but a wrong decision on the merits is still a final decision and the parties respect that. And so you would hope that tribal court systems would evolve to that level of behavior where people would see that finality even for a bad decision. Of course Bush probably didn't think it was a bad decision, but they would evolve to that level of behavior that even for a bad decision, it's the final decision and you go forward. Nobody brought out the Army or guns or anything to enforce Bush v. Gore. The only thing that was done was Scalia saying, "˜Well, this case shouldn't be cited for any other precedent, just for the unique circumstances in George Bush as president.'

And the other cases, Justice Stephens and the other Justices, Stephens in particular, forcefully argued that it was a sad day for the judiciary, but they were arguing on the merits of what the decision was. Nobody was saying, "˜Well, are people going to abide by this? Are they going to follow this decision?' and ultimately that didn't even come up. The values were so engrained that everybody just followed that decision, but that was a hard-fought value because you go back to Brown v. Board of Education. When that came out, you had George Wallace standing at the entrance of a public university screaming, "˜Segregation now! Segregation forever!' saying, "˜I will not move and allow black people into this university,' and tremendous fights, killings, murders, just tremendous pain and suffering for the implementation of the Civil Rights decisions. So when you look at Indian Country, Indian Country is not something that is any different because we're all humans trying to resolve complex disputes and we're using different methodologies to resolve those disputes."

Ian Record:

"And I think it would be important for folks to keep in mind that while a lot of these justice systems are working...tribal justice systems are working to integrate, enact longstanding cultural values, the systems themselves are relatively new in many cases in that these were justice systems that were established in the "˜50s, "˜60s, "˜70s, "˜80s many of them, and it takes a long time in many of those communities for those systems to gain the legitimacy that you're talking about. Your colleague Frank Pommersheim, I had opportunity to interview him and he made the exact same point that the true test of a strong independent judiciary is, 'Do people respect the decision even though they disagree with it, particularly elected leadership?'"

John Petoskey:

"Yes."

Ian Record:

"That's the true test. They may not like the decision, they may not like the outcome but they're not going to blow the place up over the fact that they disagree with it."

John Petoskey:

"Right. That is a good test. And that...and nobody arrives at that without some pain and suffering, and that's why I brought out Brown v. Board of Education. Here you had the Supreme Court saying, "˜Segregation in education is constitutionally impermissible,' and you certainly had southern states saying, "˜It is not and we're not going to allow the decision to be implemented. Impeach Earl Warren.'"

Ian Record:

"So one of the things that in terms of how Native nations and governments and the other branches or functions of government can support tribal judiciaries...one of the things you and I were talking about yesterday was this issue of funding and what we've often heard tribal judges lament about is the fact that, "˜In our tribe the elected leadership treat us like we're just another department when really we serve a fundamental function of any society, which is to resolve disputes, which is to in many instances serve as a check on the abuse of power, the abuse of authority by the other functions of government. How important is it for leaders of nations...of tribal nations to have that mindset that the judicial system is more than just another department of government and fund it accordingly and really place an emphasis on putting the judicial system sort of at the top when it comes to allocating budgetary resources for instance?"

John Petoskey:

"Well, obviously my point is that judicial systems should be funded and the de-funding of judicial systems for political purposes should be categorically impermissible, because today's decision may be something that you support but tomorrow's decision may be something that you oppose and so the funding of judicial decisions based upon past precedent of the courts or decisions that they made shouldn't be in the equation of how you fund the judicial system. The conversation that we had was that I haven't seen any information on the relationship of how you...what the ratio is of the federal government's funding of its judicial system over its total budget, and I'm sure it could be easy to figure out, but I just haven't seen that in print someplace. At Grand Traverse Band, we have a revenue allocation ordinance and we did set up a system of funding the judicial system by a percentage of our income, our net income that we receive from various enterprises, largely gaming. At the time that we passed the RAO [revenue allocation ordinance] it was, I forget the exact number, but it was something like four percent or seven percent is going to go to the judicial system. And just through circumstances of gaming, like a lot of tribes over the last 20 years, the net income of gaming has risen dramatically like a jet taking off into the stratosphere. Those are numbers out there that everybody is family with. So we had this RAO number of four to seven percent that the judicial system received as a direct level of funding that was not to be...it was enacted by the statute and so once our enterprises took off, the amount of money that the judicial system was receiving was extraordinary. It got very high very quickly and because our enterprises were successful."

Ian Record:

"But I would imagine that as your enterprise got successful you're engaged in more commercial dealings, there's more disputes, there's the case load of the court system grows."

John Petoskey:

"Yes, yes, there is that argument, but my point is I haven't seen any good research on how you arrive at the appropriate level of funding for a judicial system. You do have the method of GPRA, of performance-based funding for projected future funding on outcomes with present resources and that's how you do programmatic funding for activities and then you have federal funding where federal priorities come into smaller communities and those are competitive grants that we look at and then you have what are called the self-governance BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs], AFA, annual funding agreements through self-governance taking over certain sections of what is known as the 'green book,' which is the budget book of the Department of Interior for funding and they have a number of formulas that are in that book based on the appropriate level of funding for different activities that the BIA is engaged in in administering an Indian reservation and just in a thumbnail in self governance is a tribe has shown that it can administer those programs just as well as the BIA through no audit exceptions, therefore they get control of that line item in the green book to administer the program or to reallocate to any other function. My point that I was getting to is that I don't see the formula for tribal court funding. Clearly funding should not be a political animal in terms of past decisions or future decisions, but there should be some formula methodology to determine what the appropriate level of funding is."

Ian Record:

"So Grand Traverse, by all accounts, has operated this strong and independent court system for quite a while that it consistently and fairly dispenses justice. What sort of messages do you feel that that sends to outsiders that interact with Grand Traverse in terms of how it does business, how it governs? Do you feel that there's been a positive ripple effect of the way that Grand Traverse dispenses justice that supersedes the reservation boundaries?"

John Petoskey:

"Well, yes. These sound like leading softball questions, but yes. Some of the things that we do at Grand Traverse is what other tribes do and some tribes do it much better than we do. I haven't looked at their site recently, but I know Ho Chunk had a very good site on their judicial opinions and we try to model our site on our judicial opinions. We set up all of our opinions into VersusLaw and into WesLaw and so they're categorized into the WesKey number system. They're available... we try to make them available... before the internet came online we did create a... all of our opinions available in the local law libraries when everybody was using hard copies to do research. We made arrangements with the county law libraries that they would have copies of our code, that they would have copies of all of our opinions that were issued. And then several years ago, it hasn't been updated, but Matthew Fletcher, who a lot of people know in the Indian law world, is a member of Grand Traverse Band and used to work at Grand Traverse Band as an attorney, assistant general counsel for about four years, and after he left he wrote a restatement of Grand Traverse Band's common law based upon all of the opinions published up until that point. And so we direct people to that on a regular basis to tell them, "˜This is the restatement of the common law as of X date. It hasn't been updated, but these are the opinions on a chronological basis that you can find that are available.' Our statutes are published online. We do have a qualified, when I say qualified, it's not as detailed as the Administrative Procedures Act, but we do have a process of legislative enactment in which we publish proposed bills for comment by our tribal members and before enactment and comments come in and the tribal council reacts to those comments either accepting or rejecting, and making appropriate decisions based on the comments and some bills as a result of that comment process have taken a long time to get through to enactment because some of the issues are extremely contentious internally with the tribe over the appropriate standard that the bill is implementing on the standard of behavior.

So I think the common denominator of what I just said is transparency throughout the whole process. Transparency throughout the judicial process in terms of the court publishing its opinions, making them widely available to individuals, the transparency of legislative acts being widely apparent to individuals. Grand Traverse Band is now going for its executive-legislative function to publish their proceedings online so that people who are tribal members...and this is an open question on whether non-members would be able to access it, but clearly tribal members would be able to, citizen members would be able to access council meetings to review what took place in the meeting and the process and procedures that were utilized in the meetings. There's discussions right now of doing the same thing for court proceedings that... of tribal court TV, if you will, to make transparency as the same value. So I think the value of transparency is something that is accepted by the majority of the participants in the political process and that has enormous benefits in a cultural norm of checks and balances, if you will, because everybody knows that everything is subject to review and all arguments are...can be developed after the fact, too, because you can look at something or you can be involved in this conversation that we're having right now, it's being recorded and later on I may be sitting at home thinking, "˜God, I should have said that or I should have said this,' and other people will have that same reaction."

Ian Record:

"Doesn't it all boil down to, when it comes down to transparency and the different ways that Grand Traverse is seeking to achieve that, is people who interface with the government, whether it's citizens of the Band or outsiders who may be dealing with the tribe commercially or may live within the community on allotment land or whatever it might be, that they understand not only the decisions that have been made, they're aware of the decisions that are being contemplated, but most importantly they're...they understand the rationale underlying the decision-making process. What is the common law that's driving this or what are the values that's driving this? Is that really at the crux of the whole thing?"

John Petoskey:

"The crux of the whole thing is not to have an indeterminate process; it's to have a determinate process that participants can enter the process at various points and figure out what happened, why it happened, what the future decision is going to be, what the arguments for and against it can be and an indeterminate process, what I see is a situation where the participants and the people who have to suffer the consequences of the decision don't know why something happened or what's going to happen in the future because there's no agreed upon procedure statutorily or there's no agreed upon cultural norm of transparency. And so it makes for an indeterminate future and an indeterminate past because the rationale for some of the decisions in the past were arbitrary, and these are words that are used in administrative law, but are arbitrary and capricious and they're not subject to analysis because they're indeterminate. And so I think the value that Grand Traverse Band is trying to achieve is a process of determinate decision making in its executive-legislative and judicial process, where participants in the process and the people who are subject to the process either as citizens or non-citizens can understand what occurred, why it occurred, and what will occur in the future."

Ian Record:

"So I wanted to wrap up with a few questions that get into a little bit more detail about Grand Traverse Band's approach to jurisprudence. We've been touching again and again on this issue of cultural values, common law, common tribal law and I'm curious, several years ago the Grand Traverse Band formally integrated the peacemaking approach to dispute resolution into its justice system. Can you talk about how that came about, what was the impetus, what does it look like, how does it work?"

John Petoskey:

"Well, the value of the peacemaking court...first of all, I want to acknowledge that Navajo Nation started with peacemaking court and I'm not familiar with the full scope of that, but I know that they had a peacemaking court long before other tribes did and brought in their values and cultural tradition to the resolutions of disputes that were involved on family relations. And at that time, our chief judge, his name is Mike Petoskey, he's not my brother, we're often confused because we're close in age and look alike. He is my first cousin. He was our tribal judge and had been our tribal chief judge for about 15 years and he was familiar with a lot of Navajo judges because he went to law school at the University of New Mexico and he had a common experience with some of these judges based upon their military experience in Vietnam and similar life experience even though these people were from the interior of Navajo, Lukachukai. So it was Ray Austin that he was a good friend with. I think Ray has published a book on the Navajo judicial systems. And Mike and Ray had been friends for many years, well, going to law school and had a common denominator even though they were widely geographically dispersed and culturally dispersed, one being Ottawa and one being Navajo. And so Mike was dealing with the types of problems that come up in Indian communities that are families-in-crisis problems and part of the way of resolving those problems in the non-Indian society under child abuse and neglect and families in need of supervision under the state model, if you look at their codes, are very destructive to the individual family unit because the resolution is, "˜This is not going to work so we're going to terminate the parental rights. We want to take the child away. We're going to sanction the parent and the family is dispersed.' I'm not saying that across the board, but that is one model that the family law in non-Indian society uses to resolve families in crisis and that may work if you have a larger group that you're...of people that you're dealing with and larger resources. But the tribe didn't have the larger resources and the group that it's dealing with is a common core of people that are related to each other across time and terminating and dispersing the family is not something that is...that the tribe wants to do, because a lot of the historical experience of the tribal members is suffering the state system of termination and dispersal of the family and then slowly finding your way back to the community. And so an alternative is to try to fix the destructive family patterns that exist within the family in question or whatever family it is. I don't have any family in question, I'm just saying this is how or what the situations that came up and the way to do that is to bring in other members of the extended family into a whole process of saying, "˜Well, what is the problem and why are you behaving in this manner that creates destructive consequences for your children or destructive consequences for your husband or wife or for your mother or father or for your aunts and uncles?' The behavior of one individual has a ripple effect like the stone in the pond that goes out into the whole community. And so the concept of peacemaking is to recognize that and to bring all of the people in the pond, if you will, that feel that ripple effect into the process to resolve that stone and to engage in dialogue, and there is a value within the Ottawa and Ojibwe tradition that all of our inter-family relationships are really community-based relationships and extend out to everybody and that a resolution of those community-based relationships of necessity involves all of these people that it extends out to because your actions today do not just impact your nuclear family, your husband, wife, mother, daughter. They also impact your aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, grandparents, and so bringing that whole group together or the principles within that group to work on the solution for that behavior is better than viewing it as a nuclear unit of a family, husband, wife, children and that's it and that as the scope of what the community was that had to be fixed. And the peacemaking court was to say, if you look at the larger community which everybody is impacted by this behavior and you try to bring the larger community into that process with the individual that is misbehaving, if you will, and saying, "˜This is what your behavior is causing to the whole community and we are here to help you to resolve that behavior,' and to bring the person back into the community by explaining what the impacts of their behavior has on the whole community. That's the fundamental concept. There's a long Indian word that I can't pronounce that my wife [Eva Petoskey] can, and so you might bring that up with her, and she has a better grasp of the language than I do."

Ian Record:

"So how in your estimation has it worked out so far, the use of peacemaking for Grand Traverse?"

John Petoskey:

"It's worked out well because it...there are a lot of people in Indian Country that are in pain and suffering for a variety of...this is sort of a leftist orientation, but of historical trauma, of what your parents and grandparents went through and so that has an impact on your present life and when I was talking about just looking at my own life, I'm 61 years old and I can look back to see my grandparents who I knew were born in the 1870s and there's been tremendous change from where my children are right now who were born in the 1990s and are in graduate school in college and going through different changes of their own, but we're all connected to this one place and we're all from this one place and we all grew up there. But the change is constant and for Grand Traverse Band since 1980 in the scale of things change has been positive for the community. The community has reasserted its traditions and reasserted its control over its community and when it lost its control over its community it lost control over its traditions because we weren't directing our lives, we were being directed by other people and so directing our lives even if it's in an impaired and fractured community is a process of healing that community and so that peacemaking court in the method that I just described is a process of resolving a lot of disputes that are very, very difficult and very difficult to resolve and that take a lot of time. It's not ever going to be perfect and it's not ever going to be over, it's always going to change."

Ian Record:

"As a final question, what I'm struck by in hearing you and others talk about the peacemaking approach is that often the western adversarial system, which is focused on punitive measures tends to focus on the symptom, which is the misbehavior whereas, peacemaking really seeks to get at the root cause of what's driving this behavior and sort of...and attacking that root cause to prevent that from happening again rather than punishing someone for what has already happened. Is that basically how it works?"

John Petoskey:

"I would say yes, but again I would say my wife has a better handle on that, but it's bringing in the community and the impacts on the community and saying to the individual, "˜You should have empathy and compassion for the acts that you're doing and the impacts on people that you have relationships with, long-term relationships with.' Sometimes they're loving relationships, sometimes they're not loving relationships, they're stressful relationships, but the point is everybody has a consequence for their behavior and those consequences are felt by the whole community and it's trying to say to the individual, "˜Your behavior affects the whole community and the whole community is here to try to tell you that to change your behavior so those consequences don't impact us,' because they do."

Ian Record:

"Well, John, we really appreciate you agreeing to serve as a fellow with the Native Nations Institute and agreeing to sit down with us today and sharing your thoughts, experience and wisdom with us. And this is part one of a two-part interview. We'll be interviewing you again this week in more detail about some of the work you've done in terms of developing Grand Traverse's legal infrastructure and I'd like to thank you for your time today. And that's all the time we have on today's program of Leading Native Nations. To learn more about Leading Native Nations, please visit the Native Nations Institute's website at nni.arizona.edu. Thank you for joining us. Copyright 2013 Arizona Board of Regents."

NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow: Frank Ettawageshik (Part 1)

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Frank Ettawageshik, former chairman of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians (LTBBO), discusses how LTBBO has set a solid foundation upon which to engage in nation rebuilding through its development and ratification of a new constitution and governance system that is culturally appropriate and capable of effectively exercising LTBBO's sovereignty. He also stresses the need for Native nations to develop and institutionalize nation-specific civics education of their people in order to create civic-minded citizens who can contribute to their nation-rebuilding efforts.

Resource Type
Citation

Ettawageshik, Frank. "NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow (Part 1)." Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 6, 2010. Interview.

Ian Record:

"Welcome to Leading Native Nations. I'm your host Ian Record. On today's program, I am honored to welcome Frank Ettawageshik. Frank is a citizen and the former chairman of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians. He currently serves as the Executive Director for the United Tribes of Michigan, and recently was chosen by the Native Nations Institute to serve as its 2010 Indigenous Leadership Fellow. Frank, welcome to the program."

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Hi."

Ian Record:

"I'd like to start off by asking you a question I ask virtually everyone I sit down with, and that is: what is Native nation building and what does it entail for your nation?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well, it has a lot of different parts to it. Some people think it's the constitution, some people think it's economic development. And those are components of it, clearly, and are very important, and maybe some of the more visible parts, but nation building to me is the, building the capacity of the citizenry of your nation to deal with change and to deal with the issues that come before it, and to do that in a healthy way. To me, you're building...a nation is wealthy, and it has true wealth as opposed to money. And, you know, economic development can bring you a lot of money, but it doesn't necessarily bring you true wealth. And the...you need wisdom to figure out how to take money from economic development, how to use a document that you've created if a constitution, how to actually have the institutions of your society, not just governmental institutions, but you know, institutions of your tribal society, of your nation, have them become strong. And that, to me that's what nation building is."

Ian Record:

"Dr. Stephen Cornell with the Native Nations Institute has framed nation building as in part the challenge of remaking a nation's governance tools. Do you agree with that statement, and why?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well, I think it's important, but you have to...the tribal government is not the tribe. The government serves the tribe. And to the extent that you have...you need proper institutions. And those institutions may be governmental institutions, but they may be institutions of your society. And you need to have them be strong in order to truly do the nation building. So it, you know the implication of the question would be if you do constitutional reform, you got, you're all done. And...but to me, I think that it's a little deeper than that. And so clearly, an inadequate governing document can be a huge hindrance towards the development of good, of proper governance. I mean it can be a real problem, and needs, you do need to have a good constitution for your government. Now that constitution, in some cases it may not be written, and you know, but nevertheless, you need to have a system of governance that's in place that the society understands and that your tribal citizenry understands and is able to use and that they feel comfortable with. Otherwise you, you can impose a system that, that for instance is not, that may be a good idea somewhere, but may not be a good idea in your community. You can't do that. You have to have something that works."

Ian Record:

"Follow-up question to that: you've obviously been central in the nation building efforts of your own nation and have gained deep insights into what a number of other Native nations have been doing over the past 20, 30 years during the course of your career working in a number of different arenas -- how do you see this question of why some Native nations have proven more successful than others in achieving, not just their economic development goals, but their community development goals? These social institution-building efforts, if you will?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Part of that is a question of leadership. You need to have the, you need to have the right combination of people together. Some, there's what, the 'Great Man theory': Does history make the great man, or does the great man make history? And I've always been a proponent of the belief that history makes the great man, or the great person, or the great leader in this case as it may be. And that it's not, it's less the force of a single personality, and it's more the outgrowth of the culture. And that when people are at the point that they're ready to do certain things, those people who can accomplish those will become apparent within their communities. And our peoples have suffered immensely. For over 500 years, our wealth has been gradually transmitted away from us, our wealth, not just monetary wealth, but the wealth of our resources, the access to our resources. Even if they're there, we sometimes, the game warden stops us from hunting so that we, for the food that we always hunted. And we have, that this loss, gradually, over the years, has been very difficult for us. We've maintained our elements of culture and items through that. But our, many of our institutions within our tribal societies have suffered at that over the years because of a lot of, just the loss of many people, say through the small pox epidemics and the measles and all the other things. We lost a huge amount of institutional knowledge within our tribal societies. And that that...that made it more difficult for us to grow –- we were in survival mode and we had to try to figure out how to pull things together to survive.

So, different communities and different tribal communities, different tribal nations are at different points in their recovery, because we are recovering. This is the first generation, or maybe the second, in our history that actually has more rather than less in most cases. In fact, in my life I've seen our tribal nation go, really this is the first generation that has had more rather than less when it comes to access to resources. When it comes to this, the community support for strengthening cultural society, strengthening cultural teaching, that we actually have more rather than less now. And that's an unusual situation for us. So in the cases of, in the case of money, we have, there's money from a casino, we have to figure out how to deal with that. How do we deal with money, how do we deal with the problems that come from a market place that moves up and down and back and forth? And how do we deal with that? Whereas before we were always on the low end of everything, we were broke. And so if the market fluctuated, we already were at the bottom, and you know, it didn't really take us much further down. But today, we actually have made advances, and so we can suffer through changes in the national economy for instance. So these are things that are, that you know that I think about that in trying to understand and learn as we look towards the future."

Ian Record:

"Dr. Cornell also...in a related question, Dr. Cornell refers to governing systems as fundamentally tools for creating the future that Native Nations want -- essentially a vehicle for strategic planning and implementation. Is that something you agree with, is that something that you've envisioned your government doing as part of its role, fundamental role?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well, the government clearly has a role for these things. You know, we have a planning department, for instance. And the planning department was really the first independent department that we created that was, that became out of the, when we started doing a modern administrative government as opposed to our traditional government. This was a, and it was important because there's financial planning and we had to learn how to do budget projections and running grants and all the other things. We also had, we had to deal with phone systems and how do you, how do you get it, deal with an expanding phone system from one to two to three to five to twenty-five to fifty to one hundred. You know, how do you deal with all of those systems. So we've had to learn to do all of that as we've had expanded offices, and as we've had expanded resources to run those offices. You know, we had an archives and records department that we had to create within the government because it was no longer possible to store our records in boxes under people's beds and in the hall closet in people's homes. We now started having fairly large collections of data that needed to be stored and taken care of. And then you have financial record keeping data that has to be stored for a long time. So we, these are kind of things we had to, you know, to figure. So yes, to those extent, we do have to, you know, you do have to have these institutions. But at the same time we have to be careful to not expect that our tribal governments do everything for people. That, that there's a, as I said the government serves the tribe, but the government isn't the tribe. And that's a very difficult thing because they, literally, the tribal citizens often actually ask us to do things that, it would probably be better if we didn't. And you know, there's a number of different things that I, that I think about in that regard that are, that I think sort of... One of them I guess I'll talk about is buying the meat for the feast, for instance.

Once we started having some money, people felt that we needed to provide the money to buy the meat for the traditional feast that we were having. And I felt that we'd had these forever, and that we should try to continue to have them in that same way. The government didn't necessarily need to be involved in that to make those things work. But we started providing the funds. And this gradually turned into providing the money to actually cater the entire feast. And we ended up having this where instead of having the women come and help cook and do a lot of the work, we had, you know, the casinos they have from...the catering folks came in and they just took care of everything. And we'd had this, and we were in a northern climate, and then we had a snow day, and very, we ended up having ten people come to this feast and a lot of people got really upset thinking, 'Well, nobody wants their traditions anymore. Nobody wants to attend the feast, nobody wants to do this and...' So it almost died because government, and for me it died I felt because government had gotten involved and started to, you know, question the date that it was held, and start to wonder who could come, and who might not, and started providing the money for this whole thing, as opposed to doing it the way that we had always done it.

So the next year when it came time to do the feast, we -- in a very long meeting at our elders lunch with the, we had just the week before the feast -- we discussed whether we, the people were right that nobody wanted to come to the feast and that we should just do away with it, or what should we do. Well then this long discussion got turned back into a potluck and got turned into everybody was coming and we had the biggest group that had been at this feast in 25 years. And that continues to this day being run that way, where we, everybody pitches in and works together on it. And it's the way it should have been. Well, that's to me a shining example of what government shouldn't do, and then what government should do. They should stay out of it. Government, in this case, got the grants, provided the funds, and built the facility in which we hold the feast. So it's a government hall that the community can use, and then the community comes in and uses it. And not only uses it for this event, but uses it for all types of other events: birthday parties, and for funerals, for state dinners, for all different kinds of things that are used in this facility. But most of the things that happen there are not government functions. Most of things are functions of the community as a whole."

Ian Record:

"So essentially what you're saying is that it's government's role to empower community and not necessarily replace community."

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Yeah. I think that's a good summation of it. And to me this is, we have to really be careful of this. When we look at what we're asked to do as a government, and also what we choose to do. And those things are, and they have to be thought through, you know. This long-term thinking about the implications of what we do have to be thought through."

Ian Record:

"Isn't part of that just the struggle with managing growth? What you're seeing, particularly with the advent of gaming, so many tribes, the amount of resources that they're receiving and then having to figure out what do we do with this? It just grows, has grown astronomically over the past 15-20 years, and it's kind of, it's been a challenge for some tribes to kinda take a step back and consider these very issues that you're talking about."

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well, the communities have a lot issues. But there are people who are quite critical of how tribes do some of these things and look at them. But I actually think that, you know, we need to look at it like this: we really figured out well how to be poor. We got that figured out really good. We know how to take a chicken and feed 30 people with it, you know. We can, we can figure out things. We got being poor figured out. But when we have money, we have to figure out how to do that. Lots of people with lots of money have a real hard time. Lot of old money families have all kinds of different issues. They're different issues than the ones of not having money. Well, as tribal citizens, tribal communities, having money is something that we have to figure out how to work with, and it's going to take a generation or two or three of four to try to work through those issues. How do we deal with not being the poorest ones on the block? How do we deal with, with not, with actually having resources that we need to allocate as opposed to just barely surviving? And those are different kinds of, different kinds of roles. So it's a natural, it's a natural issue. People who win lotteries --there's been studies done about the people who win lotteries. And most of them, after, oh say ten years, are probably worse off than they were before they won. Every now and then there's an exception, but because they don't know how to deal with the issues of having, of having money, and having access to resources. I look at it -- once again it's like I said earlier -- it's like having money versus having, taking that money and turning it into true wealth. And that's were you need to have, you need to put a lot of you effort into training people how to deal with that."

Ian Record:

"So let's talk a little bit more about that. How would you define true wealth?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"A safe, peaceful community. Where you have, you know, you have adequate education, you've got healthy people, you have adequate resources. And you can perpetuate and grow your culture. Not just talk about the way things used to be, but actually adapt and grow to the changing times and have your culture be alive, not just static, something that's in a book or something that's been studied and that...you know, so it's...to me true wealth is this. And true wealth sometimes involves having money, resources, and doing things with them. But true wealth can also be merely just good schools and safe homes and jobs. But that's, that's being wealthy, being, having a strong sense of self-worth, a good strong sense of place, not just in, in the physical place, but a place in culture, a place in history, a place in the preservation and continuation of culture and your environment."

Ian Record:

"I'd like to switch gears and turn to a topic that you're well versed in, and that is constitutions. Back in 2005, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians adopted a new constitution, and I was curious to learn more about what necessitated your nation to undertake that major step, and I guess give us an overview of what that involved."

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well, in our case, we were not on the list of federally acknowledged tribes. We felt we always had been acknowledged, but we felt that the government had somehow forgotten that; that they had neglected to keep us on the list. And so we spent 120 years in a legal battle with the United States government over this issue. And when Richard Smith went down with his ship in a storm in Saginaw Bay in 1871 in Lake Huron, he took with him the institutional memory as being the scribe at the treaty negotiations, the Treaty of 1855, Treaty of Detroit of 1855 that covered a substantial portion of the lower peninsula of Michigan, and a substantial piece of the upper peninsula of Michigan as well, in which today there are five federally recognized tribes, and a couple of others that are working toward federal recognition. And we had to fight with the U.S. Congress, with the executive branch, within the courts for all of that time. We had people who were involved in lawsuits, people traveling to Washington, all laying the groundwork for eventually us being successful in the passage of Public Law 103-324, the Reaffirmation Act for Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians and the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, both in Michigan. And this bill was signed on September 21, 1994.

There had been numerous legislative attempts over the years on things that would have affirmed our status in one way or another. There were a number of different things that happened, and there's a huge long history just behind that treaty, and behind the ramifications of it. But we spent this time working for this bill, which reaffirmed our status -- it didn't grant recognition to us, and it didn't restore recognition to us. It reaffirmed that we'd always had it, which I think is an extremely important, subtle difference. And in that bill it made sure that we be on the list of federally recognized tribes, so we'd be added to that, to the List Act, you know. And then we also were...it called for the development of a tribal role, and there was a certain timetable for that. It called for the development of a tribal constitution that, the one we subsequently developed. But it also recognized as an interim document, the constitution that we were operating under at that time that was our interim constitution, and then we were going to, we had to move forward with a new constitution.

Fortunately for us in this process, we had seen, we could learn from the issues of many neighboring tribes, and other tribes across the country, in the documents they'd had. We had very early on -- when we were trying to figure out how to work on our issues -- we had a grant from the Administration for Native Americans, and in that grant we wanted, we were gonna put on a conference, you know, a meeting for the tribe to discuss constitutions, to discuss the issues of federal acknowledgement. And we -- our attorney and I -- we were talking on the phone, and we wanted the Vine Deloria book, The Nations Within, we were discussing that book and we said, 'Well we need somebody that can really talk about that book, and talk about the issues in it. That's really what we need in the community to help move us along.' And finally one of the other of us, and I don't, never have remembered which one of us said, 'Well, why don't we just invite Vine?' And so we subsequently did invite Vine who came to our, came to the community and he -- along with a number of other people -- through the day gave discussion about constitutions and issues and laid the groundwork for helping us understand the issue of constitutions, and really what was wrong with a lot of the, what's called the boilerplate IRA constitutions that are out there, which, by the way, was pretty much what we were operating under is our interim constitution, was patterned after one of the boilerplate IRA constitutions; all of the powers in the council, and the council creates the court by passing a law, the executive and the legislative are all embodied within one institution, the tribal council. And as long as you have good people in a system like that, it works. But there are no checks and balances really. If the, if somebody, if a tribal member sues the government for something and wins in tribal court, the council can abolish the law that created the court, fire the judge, and then pass a new one and get a new judge and just keep doing that over and over until they get one that finally rules their way. That could happen, and actually things like that have occurred various places around Indian Country -– judges have been fired. So you really need a robust dispute resolution process, or a strong independent tribal court. One, and that's an important part of this. Well we discussed these things with, when Vine was there, and helped us start the process of thinking about this. And at the same time, this was prior to the passage of our reaffirmation act, Vine agreed to testify and came and gave the lead testimony for, at our hearing for, what became Public Law 103-324, when we went to the U.S. House for our first hearing on the bill.

So we had, we created a constitution committee, we worked through the grant, we prepared a draft, an initial draft that was looking at our, sort of looking at us from a theoretical point of view. This is what we'd like to see, as opposed to this is what we actually are. And then we had a committee that worked for number of years putting a draft together. Our constitutional process involved -- the development of the constitution involved -- having a committee that worked on drafts, studying constitutions from other tribes all over the country –- the good ones, the bad ones, the long ones, the short ones, the...and trying to learn from the experience of other people, as well as try to find something that fit our makeup, and our community. So we then did a public hearing, a meeting in all, not just in Northern Michigan right where our people are, but we also have a lot of people who live in the cities who would move there for jobs down in the southern part of the state. So we had meetings not only there, but also in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We had a total of eight meetings where the, sometimes we had as few as five people show up, sometimes as many as sixty would show up to these meetings where...and we wrote a transcript of the meetings, and talked about things like: if you're gonna be a judge, can you ever, can you have a felony in your record? Is there a length of time that you could go where we could consider that you might be rehabilitated? OK, if you've lived in the community, if you had a felony when you're 18, and you serve your time, and you're out and then 25 years later when you're, you know, in your 60's and you're being considered after living an exemplary life, would you be eligible to be a judge? Would you be eligible to be on the council, or to be the chairman, or...and we discussed these things with the community, and came up with, for most instances that they would be, there's the ability to be forgiven, and, not in every instance, but in most. And then we talked about what age people would have to be and what the basic criteria would be. We talked about all these things throughout the community in these discussions. And then a draft was prepared. That draft was then sent to all of the membership, one to every member. And then we then asked for written comments. We also had a meeting where you could come and give your, you could bring your written comments, you could mail them in, you could come to the meeting, and you could talk and discuss the things, ask questions, and we had it in an auditorium and had a fairly large turnout for this meeting. Then we took those, the committee took all those comments, and all those thoughts and everything, and took them back and made changes and thought it through and came up with a new draft, which we mailed out to everybody, and then did this whole process again. And we mailed, I think three times, the draft out for comments and had meetings where we put everything together. This took years; this was not something that was a matter of months. This took years to do this. And we finally ended up with a draft that was ready to be submitted to the, that was ready to be submitted to the Department of Interior.

Now the bill that we had, the Public Law 103-324, the Reaffirmation Act, it...when it called for an election for a constitution, it called for a secretarial election. So the fact that there's a secretarial election is really the only tie to this constitution as an IRA constitution, 'cause they required approval. So this was an IRA constitution only to the extent that it was required that that secretarial election. Because it really was not...this constitution that was developed was a separation of powers constitution, far from those boilerplate IRA constitutions. And it has a checks and balances within the different departments, within the different branches of government. And in addition to those checks and balances, there's also an independent prosecutor's office that, to help ensure this. And then there's also, not a branch of government, but a constitutional entity, the election board is also an independent body. And so these were the kinds of checks and balances that we built into this document.

Eventually we -- after considerable negotiation with the Bureau [of Indian Affairs] -- of course we, when we submitted it it was for an informal review. So we get this informal review and it took a long time. They're supposed to, there's timetables built into this stuff, but nobody ever meets those, the feds don't and, you know, the tribe, we didn't either, and so it took a long time to get this process. But eventually we got through that and negotiated through their informal review and then we got a formal document. Then we sent it in for the formal review and then we had to argue about certain points in the constitution about membership and territory and things that we had to sort of go through and deal with. And eventually we got the Assistant Secretary of the Interior to sign off saying that we were ready for a secretarial election – this was in the fall of 2004. And so the Bureau then started out to do the secretarial election, creating an election board that was our election board plus a couple members from the bureau. And they did a registration for that and then from the registered voters who registered for that election, it was about a three-quarters vote in favor of the constitution, which was...the election was certified on February 1, 2005. One of the key points to this, so that was a process of getting that constitution. It was a very long involved process, involving the community..."

Ian Record:

"A very organic process from what you're describing."

Frank Ettawageshik:

"...Yes. The next thing though, there's another important part of this constitution that I think was critical to its success, and I don't want to leave this out in terms of this point, but we...when people do constitutional reform, often the new constitution just goes into effect on that, on a particular day. Well, we were going from the old, pretty much a boilerplate, IRA-type tribal council, all authority being there, to one of different branches of government. And the people elected under an old constitution couldn't serve under this new one adequately, you know, it'd be really confusing. So when we adopted the new constitution, one of the provisions in it, was that it would not go into effect until the people were elected and sworn in to serve who would be implementing the new constitution. So it was September 21th, I mean, it took from February, it took months to have the election, to go through the process, and have people sworn in who then took office, and the new constitution went into effect. And that was a really important thing.

The other thing we did that helped with the transition that I think is...would be helpful to people is that we hired a couple of consultants to come in who had studied constitutions and had worked with tribes. We brought them, we gave them our document, and they had not been part of the drafting of the document, but we gave them our document and we said, 'We don't want to know what's wrong with this. Don't give us a detailed analysis of what's wrong with this. What we want you to do is to help us understand how to implement it. What are the things that we're gonna have to know when it comes to implementing this?' And then we hired them to come and work with the council, the newly elected council. And the day before we were all sworn in, they came in and did this training with the tribal council and with the executive offices, with all of the judges who would be carrying over, the process and...to go through this...and key members of commissions and key staff. So we had a training session on what the constitution meant. What it meant to be on a separation of powers, who was supposed to do what, how you appropriated money for instance, you do, you appropriated money through a process where you authorized the expenditure, then you appropriated the money and then you had to approve the, a budget modification where you put the money. And so those were things that we learned for instance from this, is way to keep adequate track of finances and dealing with that. And, so we went through this and we actually had a fairly smooth transition and went into this process.

So we went six months without...I attended every meeting as the, I was the chief executive elected under that first constitution. I attended every meeting for six months, all of the council meetings. They started to get a little restive about that because I'm a chief executive and I'm not really part of the council, so well, maybe they didn't really want me there. But they really wanted the chief financial officer, the CFO, and they really wanted the tribal attorney. But both of them worked for the executive now, and they, I told them, 'You can't have the CFO and the tribal attorney if you don't have me.' And they really didn't want me, so then they finally agreed, 'Okay, well then we won't have any of the people there, you know, you'll come in periodically.' And so we did, we had a table in the back where we'd come in and visit the meetings and answer questions when they had them and give them information, but we didn't attend every meeting. Well as soon as I wasn't attending every meeting, they started taking actions that didn't have input from the executive, and therefore within three weeks we had our first veto. So you know, things got interesting and we sort of worked that through where the executive exercises his prerogative with veto or with signing a bill, or letting it happen without signature. Those are all provisions of the constitution we put in.

So this is stuff that we did in the transition. And I mention one other thing about constitutions in here I think is important, and that is that a lot of people said, 'Well gee, you know, the separation of powers looks a lot like the U.S. constitution, why are we copying them? You know, we don't need to just copy them, you know we need to do our own thing, you know.' And, you know, I think of a story and I, about a project, a gift that my son gave me that he, he provided this, he went to camp, you know I think he was eight, and he made this thing, and I got it and it, it was wood burned on it, you know, and it said 'To the second greatest dad in the world.' And I went, 'Well gee, what is this? You know?' And he looked at it and he said, 'Well, but dad, you know, this other guy he said, "˜To the best dad in the world' and I couldn't copy him.' So I get a real kick out of that one. But the point is, is that, you know, we need to be careful. If something's good, just because somebody else uses it doesn't mean we shouldn't use it, particularly when they copied us when they prepared these checks and balances within the constitution of the United States. And they were, they took advice from tribes and they, they lived here on this continent and many ideas in there are native to this continent, they grew out of it. Even to the rules, the decorum in Congress and the way things are done. Many of those things came from the observation of tribal councils, of council meetings and different things. And so, you know, we've made a major contribution to the way the U.S. government functions. And if there's something that works, we shouldn't be, shouldn't say, 'Oh well, we can't do it cause they're doing it.' We need to say, 'Does it work and does it fit us?' And if it does, then we, we should be, not feel bad at all about taking that to use and using it to our own benefit."

Ian Record:

"Well yeah, it gets to the point of it, just because they copied us doesn't mean they own it."

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Yes."

Ian Record:

"You know, they're the only one that can use it."

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Yes. And that's...and so those are important things that we need to, that we need to think about when it comes to this. And so the constitution that we developed, that we put in place, I served four years as the first chief executive under that. I left office last August now -- in 2009 -- and it was, you know we're in, so now we're into a new administration and was, as with anything there's gonna be pushes and pulls. There's constantly, there's a, always a tension. With checks and balances, part of what that is is a certain tension between the different departments. And that's really sort of designed that way. And if there's a little bit of tension it's not a bad thing. But you, you know the executive authority for instance, the council, is really nervous about not exerting executive authority often, and really a lot of what they'd like to do is executive, and like the U.S. Congress tries to assert legislative authority, I mean executive authority and there's constant pull between the executive and the legislative, and that same thing is true within this kind of a document. You're gonna have that, and you're gonna have a court that will have to decide if one thing, if you've gone too far or not. But it's really important and what's...

The other thing that's important about a separation of powers constitution for me is that it's cumbersome, it's slower. And because it's slower it gives time for people to watch what's happening, to think about it, and the tribal citizenry can get involved. And if they don't like it they can let you know. You want something that takes, something has to be posted for 30 days before you can act on it for instance. You need things like that in there to give people time. Even if very few of them actually take the time, they need to know that they can, and they need to -- for those people that are interested -- they need to have that opportunity to do that in order to feel comfortable that the government actually is doing what they like and is a reflection of the community. When things can happen overnight without any notice at all, it's bad. And the other thing is you have to be able to notify people what's happened. People need to understand what the law is. A council can sit around passing laws all the time, but if you've got several thousand members, and they can't all attend the meetings, and if they have no way of knowing what the law is, you can't very well pass a law and then go out and arrest somebody for not following the law, unless they've had an opportunity to be involved in that, to understand what it is, unless they truly consent to that.

So if a law gets passed that they don't like, you need a mechanism within that constitution for them to remove it, for them to take it to a referendum. And if you have an inactive government that is not doing what the people like, you need the ability to have initiative, so that they can initiate laws through action that's outside of the council and the chair if they feel that they need to. And so these are kinds of things that, that give people the peace of mind that the government isn't totally out of control, and it's something that they can have access to, and that truly the government serves the people as opposed to the government being the people."

Ian Record:

"I want to follow up on a couple of points you raised during your description of the reform process, or not the reform process, actually the development process involved with the new constitution at Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, and that is this issue of separations of powers. And you described very early on that separation doesn't necessarily mean non-communication between legislative and the executive branches of government, or the executive and legislative functions of government, that you need to have that communication so that each side is making informed decisions, and that separation doesn't necessarily mean there's no interaction between the two."

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Yeah. Yeah that's...you have to have a method for communication, and you need to...I think that it's, one of the things that I advocate for is when there is a law that's going to be held, that's going to be, that's being considered, that the legislative body hold a hearing on it and call in the executive to be witnesses at that hearing to ask questions about how something is working, ask questions about how this new law would work if it were passed, get opinions about whether they think it would work. Because if...it's one thing to out of, out of the air to sort of create a law that you think works, but when you, if it's, when it's implemented through the executive side, you can't have something that won't work that is, you know, you can, you can't sort of force something to work, you need to know if there's some likelihood that it's going to work. And so you may not, you may have executive function, executive people who don't like the law because it may be going to do away with their job, or it may be you're going to create more work for them, or it maybe going to make them do something that they don't like. But that's not enough reason to not pass the law. But if you pass a law that has one part of government doing one thing, and the other part of government undoing it, you need to understand that, you need to know what the implications are from how things are going to work. And so it's a good idea to have public hearings, to have this debate, and to have a longer debate over the legislation so that you have an idea how it's going to function. And plus things take a while to implement.

An example of this: we passed a notary public law, and this particular law was one that took...we built an implementation period into the law and there was a lot of communication back and forth between the executive and the...you know we gave a markup back to the legislature to look at, to think about it, and we went through the different things that would be necessary to consider. And we thought a six-month time period to implement it would be fine. So we set out, once it was passed, to get the surety bonds for notaries, and were assured that that wasn't going to be no problem, a couple of different companies told us there'd be no problem, they did that regularly. And then we had to get embossers and stamps. Well this was a tribal notary law, so when we went to get the companies to do it they said, "˜Yeah, we'll do that send us your stuff.' And we sent the stuff and they said, 'Oh, wait a second, you know, where's your state stuff?' And we said, "˜Well, this is not a state, it's the tribe.' Oh we can't do that. And one after the other, they were falling by the wayside, saying, "˜You know, they couldn't do it.' So we had to actually find a company that...and we found one eventually who said, well see this is a tribal law and this is, you know, we showed them, we talked about the constitutional issues and all this, and they, and they understood, they finally got around to understanding it. So eventually they agreed to pay us $50 for us to license them in order to produce our stamps and embossers. And part of the thing was is they realized, they said, 'Now how many tribes are there?' We said, "˜There's over 500.' They said, "˜Oh, maybe we could do this.' And so we have one company who agreed to do this. We think we're the first tribe in the country to actually have our own notary public law this way, because we couldn't find anybody who would produce the stamps and embossers until we worked with them. Then when we went to get the surety bonds for the notaries, the companies who assured us they could do it suddenly realized they couldn't do it because all of their stuff was for state authorized notaries and they had, they just couldn't figure out how to deal with it. We finally found a company who...it took months. We had to get a six-month extension on our six months to implement the law because this took so long and we finally found a company who, an executive there had just returned from a seminar on insurance and one on dealing with tribal sovereignty issues. And he was really intrigued, and he came back the next day and got this call from us and he said, "˜You know, let's try this.' And so he set out to develop a special form, and all the different things.

So we have, we developed a product, which we think is unique in the insuring for tribal notaries. And there's now ten notaries licensed at Little Traverse, within our tribal jurisdiction, for notarizing documents. The average person needs a notary once or twice in their life. This isn't a big, sexy thing for tribal sovereignty. It's not something you're going to get headlined on a paper and all these other kinds of things, this isn't it, but exercising sovereignty is not just those big things. Exercising sovereignty is all the grunt work. You know it took years to develop the statute to get the council in the right mind to think it would be something that needed to be passed. And then it took some of the tribe people in tribal community said, "˜You're doing what? You know, why would we need to do that?' And you know, but we eventually got people around to the idea that it was as good idea. It's an exercise of sovereignty and it's part of good governance for us to be doing these things. So this took a lot of communication back and forth between the legislature and the executive. And it's an example of a law that worked, and we -- not only did we do this -- but we also notified the governor's office of the state, said we're doing this, and her attorney, and we talked through all of that. You know we have regular meetings with the executive office of the state, annual meetings in Michigan, and we, because we were, we did these things, we didn't surprise anybody with what we were doing, and now that's the way we function, now we got this going. But that, that one law is an example of the utilization of the provisions within the constitution for the passage of a law, and the implementation of it, and how it worked. And I think it's a good example of good communication and, you know, making things, doing some of that grunt work and the assertion of sovereignty."

Ian Record:

"Really what you're talking about, on one level, is education: education of internal to the government then also education of the citizenry. And I wanted to follow up on that point. You know, we've seen...NNI works with a number of Native nations on the issue of constitutional development, constitutional reform, and we often see tribes either fail during the constitutional reform process, never make reform happen, or they encounter a lot of problems after they've ratified a new constitution, or reformed one because of this issue of education. Doesn't the education challenge only begin with the new constitution? Isn't there an ongoing education process that has to take place? Because, you know, it's one thing to change a document on paper, it's another thing to change the political culture, which has been at work in the community often for 60, 70, 80 years.

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well...there's, you know, we evolve as a society. One of the things I can think of is, when I was young, if someone was drunk, the police officer often would say, "˜Give me your keys. Get in the car.' And he'd drive them home, and leave the car sitting beside the road. And, you know, that was something that was fairly common. Today, that's far from the way things happen, you know. I mean today, we as a society, we have ceased to sort of look the other way at that issue, and have really focused on it as a negative thing within our society, and all the ramifications of driving and drinking. I have, you know, we're doing major educational campaigns on TV, we do this all across the country. And, so as a, the United States as a nation has really, the culture has changed as to how we deal with that. Well, the same thing happens when we're looking at how we deal with our institutions within our government structure, you know. The question that I have is, for people, is how often have they attended a township board meeting, or a county commission meeting, or a city commission meeting, or the state legislature, or the U.S. Congress. The average citizen, there are many, many citizens who never attend any of those meetings, ever. Live their lives and do just fine, they're fine, productive members of society and very successful and whatever, and they've never attended any of those. And yet, when we look at our tribal governments, we often, you know we get so wrapped up in our tribal governments that we start to try to make them into everything. Once again as I say, "˜Not the tribe, the government being the tribe, not the government serving the tribe.' And so citizens of our tribal nations often demand of their elected officials things that they wouldn't demand of elected officials that, from other places that they live, other communities that they interact with. And they, in so doing the, we get very little education about how to function.

What education and the way government works in our schools, usually, is all based on non-Indian governments. I was involved in a project for a textbook printed for the state of Michigan, or I was one of the people interviewed and part of the development of this for fourth grade. And this was the best textbook that we'd ever had up to this point because, and it's a major publisher and it was put together in a way that a number of schools throughout the state are using it now, it's titled "˜Michigan.' But what it did is it, Indians didn't disappear after the first paragraph, or the first chapter like we often do in books on history of the state. But we made it to about the middle of the book in the first edition. Second edition is about to come out and my understanding is we make it clear through the end of the book in this one. But people actually are going to understand when...kids will hear that we have constitutional governments. They'll hear that tribal governments exist today, instead of the question...I used to do a lot of speaking to fourth-grade classes and different places around the state of Michigan. One person said, "˜How long have you been an Indian?', question like that, and uh, 'What do Indians eat and where do you eat it?', and things of this sort. Of course they, there's certain stereotypical answers to those questions that they'd like answers to, but...it's because we need to address those issues, and so that as people become adults they understand that tribal governments are governments. We're not clubs, we're not associations, we're not part of history and long gone -- we actually exist and are around and have a major effect. We are, have far more visibility in the economic world because of the casinos and employing a lot of people these days. But far more than that, we have an effect on the way the environment, environmental issues are dealt with. We have an effect on law enforcement, we have an effect on the various social programs and things that are going on. Tribes have a major effect within their communities for both their citizens and for the non-tribal citizens as well.

And so today, things are much different than they once were, but we're still suffering from this lack of education about who we are. I once got the door-knocker award, which was literally a brass doorknocker still in its package from the Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes for, we have an impact week every year in Washington D.C., and I went to that meeting and we would hold a breakfast where we'd talk and we go out on [Capitol] Hill and do meetings on the Hill, then we'd come back and we'd talk about what we'd done and, the sort of a summary of what we'd done and what things we need to do. I got the award because I'd taken a copy of the U.S. constitution. I had a lot of meetings. I was very energetic. And I took a copy of the U.S. constitution and I went in and I talked to the staff in all the offices I went to and I asked them if they'd ever read the Commerce Clause. Did they understand what, about treaties? It's sort of like 'Indian 101' in a way, the basics of Indian law relative to the constitution. And a huge number of the staff, a college-educated staff in the U.S. Congress, did not, had never read the Commerce Clause, with the idea of looking at tribal sovereignty through it. They didn't understand what it meant. They didn't, they never looked at the thing about treaties being the supreme law of the land, and understanding that meant Indian treaties. Never understood those things. And so this kind of education at that point is necessary. So what do we need in order to make our tribes work? Our own citizens are a product of this same sort of general education system that doesn't teach much about Indian law, Indian societies. And if nothing we're sort of curiosities and different things. Very little is that taught. So not only do our own citizens, as a product of this other education system, but they also need to understand their own government. They need to understand their own constitution. Nowhere are those classes taught. You know, they don't have a, you can't go and just take a class on the tribal constitution, and very few tribes have anything like this. So I've read, and I know other people who have advocated for tribal civics classes. We need to try to make sure that this is done.

One of the things that I feel that helps with this is I proposed a educational standards act for the tribe that would lay out what some basic goals were for different levels of say, elementary education, secondary, post-secondary, adult, you know, adult continuing education. What kind of things should we expect from each of these different age groups, and what...once we set some goals, then how do we achieve those goals? And one of the things that we did at Little Traverse that was done by, funded through the tribal council, but done by a number of different members of the community, is we created a video called "˜Journey to Sovereignty' that talks about the process of getting a reaffirmation bill passed and goes back into time, back into the history of why it became necessary to do it in the first place, and then how we went about doing it, and interviews with people. And it sort of told the story while the people were alive and we've got a record of it. And then we made a copy of that and mailed it to every tribal member, whether they were one month old or eighty, whatever, everybody got one. And then we continually show that at our hotel. We have the Odawa Channel at our hotel, and we show that video, a 'Four Directions' video. We have anther video on the history of the operation and some of the tribe. And we just have these showing in continuous loops so that, as a way to educate those people who are our guests who come to visit the tribe, but also for our own citizens who spend time there. And we periodically show these at other events just as a way to help people understand some of the history. Well it's things like that video, and other types that will be the tools that we need to actually get an educated citizenry about our systems.

So how does our system work? This is a long answer to your question, and I'm eventually getting back to your question here, that we need to have a mechanism for having an educated citizenry so that when we make changes in our governments, they understand what they're doing, they understand, you know, what this is likely to be. Once we made changes, as we implement them, they'll understand what those are. So we need education. It's like bringing in the consultants and helping educate the people who are about to serve under the new constitution. That seminar, that one-day training we had really helped move us through the transition. Now there will be, you know, we since have had others where we've brought people back in and looked at it again. And I'm sure that there will be continual training as we look at the documents and try to help them, and then look at our laws and see what laws we need to pass. We've had similar training when it came to dealing with the issues of Violence Against Women [Act, VAWA], and the personal protection orders and safety, issues of...we needed a victims rights act, we needed a, to strengthen a bunch of different laws. And we had a training where we brought in and talked about what we needed to do to work on this. We've had other trainings when it came to the implementation of, for instance the Adam Walsh Act, which by the way I just heard just recently that there are only three governmental entities that are compliant with the act, and it's overdue: one state and two tribes that have become compliant in the implementations of this federal law in the protection of children. But we're continually trying to do this through education. But as a basic form of this, we need to have this civics education. Each tribal nation needs to have a nation-specific course in how this is taught. We need to have general ones that help educate larger groups of people. We need to make sure like...I think there ought to be one of these in every law school. Every law school ought to have a class on dealing with sovereignty issues and dealing with tribes. Because many of those attorneys are going to end up serving before a tribal court somewhere, having to actually not just be a member of the power of Michigan, in the state of Michigan or in another state, but they're going to have to become members of the bar of different tribes in order to serve before those courts. And they need to understand what that means. So, you know, there's a need for an educated citizenry as a whole, and I think that this kind of training and education needs to not just be at the tribal level for our citizens, but also needs to be in the general public education as well."

Ian Record:

"If you could summarize for us, perhaps the three or four highlights of your new constitution -- the one adopted in 2005 -- in terms of perhaps what are the most important components within the constitution that advance your Nation's nationhood?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well, it would be easy to say, the separation of powers, the branches of governments and things, but I actually think that there are other components that are important here. The first one is a declaration of rights. It's like a bill of rights, but it's actually incorporated into the constitution. That is an important part of this constitution. A second part of the constitution I think that's important is the assertion of the inherent rights, and the fact that we acknowledge that others may have inherent rights, other peoples may have inherent rights. And this document lays out a process, which eventually could result in like a state department, or diplomatic relations with other nations, other nations being other tribal nations, or foreign nations to the United States, or, for instance, relations with the United States itself. You know, they all want to see, check with us to make sure that we're recognized. And when is the last time a tribe asked the federal government to apply for recognition before it's government? And I think that the reciprocal is equally true, and I think that that's something that we should do. We need to realize that that's a two-way street; it isn't just the one-way street. There are tribal organizations who the only way that you can be a member of those organizations is if you're a federally recognized tribe. Well, if you, if you're looking at that, you're basically, the organization is giving up to the federal government the right to decide which among the tribes are going to be able to be members of this tribal organization. As opposed to making that decision asserting their sovereignty and making that decision their own government.

Now it's real easy to say this from a, just a, it's a simple assertion, it's a simple bunch of words. It's a lot of work to actually have to figure out who you're going to have, what other governments you're going to have relations with, and not, and what the criteria is for doing that, and how you choose when you're not choosing just federally recognized tribes. You know, a state-recognized tribe may, and we've had state recognized tribes come to Little Traverse and ask for diplomatic relations, asked us to recognize them. We've had non-recognized, either by federal or state, tribal governments come to us and ask us for acknowledgement. And we have yet to actually work through the mechanisms of that, but one of the important things in this constitution is it lays out the groundwork. It lays out that the basic part of that we will recognize other governments who acknowledge us. And so, I think that's one of the most important parts of this. Because the document, the document itself lays out how we're going to relate to other governments. And I think that's critical. And so those are, those are some of the really important points I see is that there's that, the bill of rights, and then of course the delegation of authority, which in our case is to separation of power branches, different branches. But you could have a constitution that did these previous things, and then set up a different system. This works for us, it doesn't necessarily, wouldn't necessarily work for every tribe. And there may be others that are at different places in their development, different places in their history, that they feel that a different form of government would work. This isn't the only one that works, but this, the document itself, that assertion of inherent sovereignty and the ability to acknowledge other governments, and interact with them, is a fundamental part.

Now the most important part I think in the end of the constitution, that is there, is the statement, the flat assertion of the importance for, that the government is charged with protecting our heritage, our history, and our language -- that these are things that...it's a lens through which we have to look at the rest of the actions and the rest of the constitution. It isn't something that is merely an afterthought or, if you have time do this, or maybe you can do this you know if you get around to it. It's...this is the basic charge to the government so that we have to look at a, when we create a new department, is it furthering these ends? And that's something that, because it's there in the document, it's a tool that our citizenry can measure the effectiveness of their elected leadership as to whether they're doing what they wanted them to do or not."

Ian Record:

"This gets, this is a good segue into another question I wanted to ask, and your statement that you just made merges rather well with the statement I want to share with you that was voiced by a fellow tribal leader who's nation had recently developed a new constitution. He said and I quote, "˜The new constitution is our long-term strategic plan.' So how do you see that statement?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well I think that it, I would look at it that the new constitution, I mean this constitution for us is like the, vision statement and the mission statement. It isn't necessarily the plan. It lays out the fundamentals through which you then would develop your plan. And so to, I would sort of carry that a little further in that, that it clearly sets out, you know, the vision for what the tribe should be, and what the tribe is, and what the people want the tribe to be. And that's the important, an important step. And then, you know, the mission, and it's sort of how you're going to do it is laid there. But the actual specific objectives, you know we were fairly careful to not put specific like objectives and things of that sort into it because those may change over time. We wanted something that would last, not something that every twenty years you'd have to get a new constitution."

Ian Record:

"I wanted to follow up also on this point of culture. Essentially this is, as the culture, the history, the language, the heritage of your people being the lens through which your government would be organized in through, in the lens through which it would decide key matters, and who would decide those key matters. How does you nation's constitution express your people's culture, identity, and goals?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well, it expresses it through a preamble. And I don't have the words memorized, but it lays out the, who we are, it makes a statement of who we are, it makes a statement of what we, what we wish things to be, you know, to perpetuate our culture. And, so we have that section in the preamble, but then it also, there are directives to the government. And not just the preamble that sort of lays out the general tone for the document, but then there's the, this directives to the government and each, that the government's directed to do these things and to perpetuate the language and to protect the youth and protect our elders and to further the safety and to protect the right to work of our members and things of those sort. So we have these things that are built right in, and there's directives to the government. And those things are...we're directed to protect our heritage and culture. And so instead of...heritage and culture and spirituality blend and, but to the extent that we also have freedom of religion within the document so that it's not just, we're not, we promote our heritage and culture, but we tolerate and we're directed that if we have people who are choosing other paths, that we, that they're acknowledged, and their right to do that is acknowledged within our document as well.

So the government has to work on -- like the video that I described earlier -- it helps to protect our, get people understanding what different people in our tribe have done. I mentioned earlier that educational standards act, to me that's an essential part of meeting the constitutional responsibility of protecting our heritage because we want people to know what that is. I ask this question, 'How many of a tribe's citizens can name five chiefs from the 1800s and tell you a little about their lives, what they did? Now how many can name five presidents and tell you a little bit about those presidents?' So, the answer is many more to the second and very few to the first usually. Occasionally there are exceptions, but this is something that we need to try to fix. We need to have people understand who we are because, when I mentioned earlier there's a, we need to have a strong sense of place. And that sense of place is, it's multi-dimensional when you think about a sense of place. A sense of place isn't just the rocks and the trees and the streams and the things, you know. It isn't just that physical place, it isn't your home, or your town. But your sense of place is also your understanding of where you fit into your society. How you fit into your culture. How you fit into the history. And how you fit into your society, and where you fit in your language, where you fit in your, in, how you fit between the past and the future. You know? That interaction between them, that sense of place, that strong, assured sense of place is an attribute of a healthy individual. And as you have healthy individuals, you then have a healthy society. And so we need to try to help do things that foster that strong sense of place. And I believe that this constitution for Little Traverse helps to lay that out. We made every effort we could to make sure that those things would be part of that so that the government would actually; we could measure the success of a government.

When you do, when you work on documents like this, when you work on things like this, you have to prepare for when you're not going to be there. So, you know, you help pass laws so that, if need be, when you're no longer in the, an elected official, you can sue the government if you wanted. You need to make sure that there's, that there's, you know, the ability to do that. You need to make sure that you have the ability to initiative if a government becomes unresponsive and needs to be moved. You need to make sure that you have these things. So you have to build in all these safeguards to make things work well. And so, part of good governance is planning for your own obsolescence."

Ian Record:

"We've heard one leader describe that as, 'Mmy job is to make myself dispensable.'"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Yeah. I think that's a good way to put it. I like that."

Ian Record:

"I wanted to...you mentioned this early on in the discussion about this interim constitution that you had prior to the passage of the public law that reaffirmed your status in the, at least in the minds of the federal government, as a sovereign nation. And then the new constitution and the difference, inherent between those in terms of dispute resolution, in terms of a, your tribe's, your nation's justice system."

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Right."

Ian Record:

"Can you do a quick compare and contrast between the strength and independence of your court system of your dispute resolution within your nation, within the interim system, versus your current system."

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well, the first constitution, which was actually was a document that involved, and it initially, in its very early incarnations had some of the very typical language where every action within it required approval from the Bureau [of Indian Affairs], okay. You know, so that was a pretty typical of some of the early ones. And so by the time that we actually had it in place so that we were using it at the time of the passage of the reaffirmation act, so it became our interim document, we'd removed all those sections about approval of the Bureau on our legislation. But some constitutions, every single law, every single action that's passed by the council, had to go to the Bureau for approval. They'd have to analyze it, look at it, and when it came back signed from the Bureau then they'd, then they'd become law. Well, you know, that, we didn't have that. But we did have this thing that, with the judiciary, we passed a law that would create a court under the old constitution. And consequently we hired the judge. And the judge worked under contract through this, the law that we passed and, had we chosen, had we disliked the judge we could have fired the judge. And, or dislike a decision that the judge made we could have. The fact that we didn't meant that we respected the fact that we needed an independent court, and we needed to stay out of the court's affairs. But, you know, had things, you know, we certainly had the ability to do that under that old constitution. And that, you know, that isn't a really strong, it doesn't give...

If you're signing a contract with a company that you want to do business with, and the contract requires that you go to tribal court, and you -- because you want to assert sovereignty -- and there's no guarantee that the court will look like the current court. There's no guarantee what the court will look like at the time that the dispute would be taken to them. Or you could change the appearance and the operation of the court during a dispute, during the resolution of a dispute, it makes it a lot less comfortable for someone to acknowledge the sovereignty of your court, and to want to come to your court. And so they're going to demand that you have a waver of immunity, and that you take everything to federal or state courts because they don't have confidence in the tribal system. Your own citizenry have less confidence in the court itself when the court changes or is subject to change that quickly. So under the old system I, it was fairly weak. And it was judicial reform, I think is critical for government development, and probably is the fundamental reason why many constitutions are looked at in the first place. Even if nothing else is changed in them. To have an independent court is a move in the right direction.

Well, under the new constitution the judges are appointed, they're nominated by the executive, and then the nominee goes to the tribal council who holds hearings and talks to the people and asks them in-depth questions like, you know, what do they believe about different issues of constitutional law and, you know, what are they, you know, they ask them the same kind of tough questions that they get asked at any, you know, cause they realize that they're, if they approve the judge the judge is going to be there for a while and, and will have an effect, those rulings will have an effect on the tribal law.

And so as a chief executive, I have nominated, my nominees sometimes were approved, and my nominees were sometimes rejected, and I'd have to go back to the drawing board, come up with someone else. But once the judges were appointed under the new constitution, once they're appointed, there's a trial judge, an associate trial judge, and then three appellate justices. So the judiciary is five appointees. The judiciary itself, after they're appointed, are the only members who can remove a judge. Now, petitions can be brought from other places, I mean the citizens can bring a petition, the council can petition, the executive can petition for removal of a judge. But once a complaint's made, the other members of the judiciary meet to decide if the complaint has merits, and they've had to develop their rules on how they deal with all of this, but they're the ones who remove a judge. So the judiciary polices itself.

Now they also have terms so that an executive can choose to not re-nominate somebody as their term ends. And even if they were re-nominated, if the, if people brought pressure to bear on the council to say we don't like this person, we don't think he should approve this nomination, they can do that. So that's the mechanism for getting rid of a judge and for dealing with the...dealing with the court. All of those are important parts of the process to, for people to have faith that the court will actually do what you think it's going to do. And our court actually developed to the point where we, we had a youth drug court that was part of the court system. And the process that we did through that was so well accepted that we had local state judges who were assigning people to this from their own jurisdictions, as opposed to just our own. And they would be, attend these programs. And so there's those kind of issues. Because of the strength we've had in terms of developing the judiciary, and because of the strength of the constitution and the things that we've put together, we have cross-deputization agreements with two counties.

Our reservation is, resides, is part of two of the counties in the state of Michigan, and we have cross-deputization agreements with both of those sheriffs. So not only have our officers been sworn in by those sheriffs as deputies, but the sheriff and his deputies came to our courtroom. And when we first did this, I administered an oath to them to uphold our tribal constitution, and our tribal laws. And we had a detailed agreement on how we would exercise that, you know. They couldn't just come in on their own. They would come in, there's a protocol for how they come in when they need to, or when we back each other up. And so we developed seamless law enforcement that was to the betterment of health and public safety for not only our citizens, but for the non-tribal citizens who are a part of the whole region in which we live."

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." 

Richard Jack: Engaging the Nation's Citizens and Effecting Change: The Lac du Flambeau Story

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Native Nations Institute
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Richard Jack, Chairman of the Constitution Committee of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, discusses some of the struggles that he and his fellow committee members have encountered as they engage the Lac du Flambeau people on the topic of constitutional reform and the need to regain true ownership of the nation's governance.

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Jack, Richard. "Engaging the Nation's Citizens and Effecting Change: The Lac du Flambeau Story." Emerging Leaders seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. October 11, 2012. Presentation.

Richard Jack:

"It's been really engaging for me to be part of a process that's so dynamic and so exciting. We did a lot of research on where we needed to go as a nation. We did a lot of research on the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Ho-Chunk Inc., a whole slug of models that were actually introduced by the Native Nations people and so we began this whole process of adopting and adapting. When we first started engaging, we got into a whole series of bad investments that pretty much bankrupted our tribe and there were some...people wanted accountability, they wanted retribution is what they wanted because things got bad. But we're here now and so we had to take a real hard look at what got us there and start exploring some ideas on where we were going to head as a nation. Well, we needed constitutional reform in the worst way because there was a lot of gray areas and things that weren't addressed. Our tribal council still today has not adopted any formal rules of procedure but we have a stable government. That is critical to moving the conversation forward and that was a process. It was a very challenging process and it took a lot of community activism to get it rolling. People were very concerned about our children, our future and 'How are we going to pay for it all? All our money's gone.'

Some of our tribal leaders wanted to hire out the process of reform to some lawyers and we as the constitution committee took offense to that. We needed to be the owners of our future. We needed to be the owners of our destiny. So when we took a hard look at sovereignty and...these guys were pricey, too. They don't come cheap. And they told us straight up to our face, with the council in attendance, that, 'We'll write the document for you and if you want to do community education that's fine, but essentially we'll just do it for you and we'll go on and we'll figure out some other ways that you can pay us to develop your judicial system and your legislative system.' And so they were kind of happy with kind of the way things were moving. And then some other things had hit the scene and we stepped back and we started engaging our council in some real engaging conversations about just taking that ownership. So we were granted leave to conduct a series of educational forums at our convention center twice a month, three to four hours long. And like many processes, how do you encourage that? So we got kind of a little creative and so we said, 'Well, we're going to do a little free play along with the whole scenario but you won't be able to utilize that until after a three- or four-hour session.' So that was real successful. So we began.

And one of the things that had happened, over time when we actually got through actually the fourth article of our constitution, and some other things that occurred in between, some more crises were developing within the tribe. So we had to spend a couple sessions educating the community. By our own law we had...our kids were being shipped all over the country, dysfunctional family systems, a whole series of things that we're all aware of as Native people -- drugs, alcohol. They have an impact on our community. So we had this educational process and by our own law we had to adjust our ordinances so that ICW [Act, Indian Child Welfare Act] could...but we had to educate a whole lot of people. We had to educate our council on all the processes that were involved and it was pretty successful. So we developed an ordinance that now ensures that our descendents will be taken care of. We will assume jurisdiction over them as a nation, as a people.

So that started a whole new discussion when we got back to the work of constitutional reform. We were about five months into the process and my uncle, he passed on, and he was...he just kind of absent-mindedly wanted to question -- because we have all these strategy sessions and we have all these think-tank sessions discussing this, that and the other thing on how best to proceed. And he asked the question of the audience and there were three council members in attendance at the time. And the question was, 'How many of you believe you are wards of the government?' And we had a couple hundred people in attendance at that particular session. And over 300...over three-quarters of the audience raised their hand, all three council members also. So we just kind of looked at each other and, 'Where do we go from here?' So we kind of continued on with our discussion about one function of the government or another and continued that process. But we had to go back to the drawing board. We had to start with the fundamentals all over again and how do we do that. So those are some of the things that I kind of mentioned yesterday about the paradigms that we have to challenge, entitlement, the victim, the ward and what are the good ways to do that.

At the same time that we were going through this economic turmoil, we also had a rise in gang issues in the community and so the discussion now moved to, 'What are we going to do about the youth?' I see one of our young people here from Red Cliff who's deeply engaged. This is kind of what we did. We combined it with that purpose for 'why do we have government?' and we encouraged that discussion of a thought process that extends far beyond our lifetime and the foundations that we need to ensure them a future. So aside from the economic discussion, now we were entering into coalitions that were so meaningful. I didn't realize it. A gentleman had approached me a year ago to be part of our Tribal AmeriCorp program and I got interviewed for like two days. And I was saying, 'I'm up to my ears in what I'm doing right now. How am I going to do what you want me to do?' He said, 'You're pretty much doing whatever this job requires and our focus is prevention.' And I have a document back here, been worked on for about a year now through the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council and it's about prevention. And one of the things that's encouraged in this book is culture. It's essential to what nation rebuilding is all about. And that whole document, it centers on culture. Culture is prevention. That's where that's at and the tribe, we got the tribe to buy a facility, an eight-bedroom facility and also another facility to start an elder-guided youth camp all summer long. We're just on the threshold of this. But it took a long time to convince it because we were losing a lot of kids. There were emergency meetings in our communities, death, a lot of deaths, wrongful deaths. So it kind of moved things along and in terms of reform. A lot of community involvement. We had to outsource to a specialist to help come and guide us.

So it began a whole new look at how we approach community development. And one of the things that really came to light was the two approaches that one's working and one doesn't, kind of like the format Stephen uses. And one was called the needs-based approach and one was called the asset-based approach. And when we took a look at it, a hard look and looked at the economics of our local community we found that we had at that time about $20 million that were flowing through our community dealing with people's deficiencies. Now some of our analysis of our community, we had a community that already has about $300 million that flows through it and I mean flows through it -- it doesn't stay. So when we were taking a look at that whole picture, I said, 'What's wrong with this? We've almost got 50 percent people that still are living under endemic poverty. This is a seriously bad-looking picture.' So we had to start taking that picture apart. We have a school budget that's about $120 million. Our planning department that works for three tribes pulls in another $120 million. Our tribal casino and tribal operations and the grant sources about another $80 million. But none of our people were qualified. We have an unskilled job force. We have to outsource all our upper management people. It was pretty discouraging when we started to take a hard look at the picture.

So we had a referendum vote, we had a new council come into office, every two years we have a turnover in our council. So they forced a referendum on us to see whether or not we want to go ahead and go forth with the constitutional restructuring. They had it on a Sunday. There were no public hearings, there were no mailings like we were promised to get all this good stuff out, so it took us...and it made us think, 'What are some of the things that we could do immediately to help our government meet the needs of its people.' So where we encouraged take a hard look at policy and procedure and possibly looking at enacting it into some kind of legislative process. We don't have yet an independent judiciary so we're looking at that whole process on how that could be set up. Our current thing is we got in touch with the Bureau [of Indian Affairs], they have to operate under a whole new set of [regulations] now and they have to render technical assistance to you. So we found a one-time funding opportunity through [Public Law 93-] 638 dollars that allows us to have a constitutional analysis done and I really like the use of lawyers. They seem to have a profound effect on councils and just...it's like their word is 'God's law' and it just...so we educate the lawyers and they come...they go in there and tell them exactly what they hear from us. But it's magic, it works. So we use them to the best of our ability.

There was one other anomaly that we kind of looked at and I know you all experienced this at some point in your career in Indian Country and this happened not too long ago, maybe eight, nine years ago. We had a young gentleman who worked for the tribe most of his life but he was running the roads department. He needed some vehicles so he got the three estimates that he needed, got himself on the agenda, went to the tribal council and was turned down flat. But he's been a longtime guy and he lived in the community a long time. He's a great observer. So he goes back to work, gets this white guy that works for him, dresses him in a suit and tie, gives him the very same three estimates, gets back on the agenda. Not only did he get the two vehicles, they wanted to know what more they could do for his program. We have a lot of discussions. I talk to a lot of educators, psychologists and anybody I can to help me with this whole process, to understand human behavior, to understand a lot of things and as a strategist I suppose I said, 'Well, how do we use this to our advantage? It's important that these things get accomplished and do the ends justify the means?' So I took it upon myself to encourage my committee to...'Well, let's get a white guy to be the head of our community economic development department and begin the discussion. We'll feed him all the information, he'll feed it to the council.' And by god, it happened. It happened exactly that way.

So these are some of the things that we need to challenge as Native people and it has to happen through an education process. We have to understand terms like "internalized superiority," "internalized oppression," those things we use on our own people that we've learned from a colonial presence here. These things impact us in ways we are beginning to understand. They impact our children. We were talking the other night about, 'We don't really have history in our public schools.' What we are engaged in as a community, and it takes a lot of people, is we now have maybe nine teaching lodges, seven sweat lodges; we have fasting camps. So the rebirth, it's not rebirth because people have been doing this all along and now we're trying to bring them together to have more of an impact on our youth. As Mr. [John] Barrett was sharing some of the ancient history of our people, we tried to bring those people here to share with our youth. Much of our culture came from, the dreams of what we practice in our culture, came from the dreams of children and that's interesting. So when we were looking at the neuroscience of human biology, we find that children have these extraordinary number of neurons in their brain and the more connections that you make with them at an early age, the more that sticks with them. This is an extraordinary thing.

We had a new person in our education director, our education over...since we began this whole reform thing has like expanded exponentially into a crazy, crazy, crazy thing. So we're...we've got a workforce development now. I think we have 120 students. It just...we have the first time in three years we passed a budget and this goes back to the accountability thing. After people started waking up to the fact that they really do have some power over their people that they put in there to represent the community's interest, a lot of accountability things. We've had record numbers of people that are running for council. We've had extraordinary participation in council meetings reminding our people why they were put there and why we need them to be stronger and more focused on what our Nation needs. So we're exploring.

Now the latest development and it's probably the most exciting thing is we separated business from politics. We copied the Citizen [Potawatomi] people. We adopted and we adapted a successful model and we're moving forward with that. We've got an all Indian board but now we're utilizing real world people like J.P. Morgan, like anybody else who can come in and educate our people on how to do these things with best practices. And the model is, once we're successful, all this money's going to go back to fund your 501(c) 3's, your community things, all these things that your community needs to move forward, the educational processes. It's just exciting.

I want to thank the Native Nations people because it gave for me a road map putting this together. It gave me a way to understand without all the emotion and without all the anger to look at a real solid way of proceeding. And it doesn't have to be all done that way. What I've learned is that education has to go in hand, tandem with whatever changes that you want to move forward on. These are the things that I encourage and it's not easy for me because I want things to happen quickly. It can't happen fast enough. But I'm more accepting of the process that education needs to have its flow, the way it needs to flow out and creating the environments for our youth to experience a meaningful dialogue, a meaningful experience in how we're going to look forward and make these things happen for our people. So I guess I got the sign. But I want to thank the Native Nations Institute for allowing me to be part of this and I...they do so much and we...Stephen [Cornell] invited us down to some of the constitutional things and it's had an extraordinary impact. People know now that these are some solid things that we can move on. Let's do it. [Anishinaabe language]. That's the word we use, let's do this. [Anishinaabe language]."

From the Rebuilding Native Nations Course Series: "Giving the Justice System the Support It Needs"

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Native leaders and scholars share some critical ways that Native nations can support their justice systems to ensure their effectiveness.

Native Nations
Citation

Hershey, Robert. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. October 6, 2010. Interview.

LaPlante, Jr., Leroy. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. August 12, 2010. Interview.

Pommersheim, Frank. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. August 11, 2010. Interview.

Pouley, Theresa M. "Reclaiming and Reforming Justice at Tulalip." Emerging Leaders Seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. March 26, 2008. Presentation.

Vaughn, Rae Nell. "Tribal Justice Systems in the 21st Century." Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. September 16, 2009. Presentation.

Vaughn, Rae Nell. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. September 15, 2009. Interview.

Rae Nell Vaughn:

A lot of courts in Indian Country are set up the way we are. They’re statutory courts, and sometimes aren’t given the respect that they should be given. Let me assure you, tribal court is not a program. It is not a social program. It is a forum that is established to protect the people and enforce the law. But for whatever reason, and there are many I’m sure, there continues to be this tendency of a perception that these are just programs. Tribal court is nothing more than a program like social services, like legal aid -- it’s just a program.

Theresa M. Pouley:

Your law and justice system must be part of the whole tribal system. You have to be prepared as tribal council people, and tribal judges have to be prepared to stand shoulder to shoulder with their elected officials to say enough is enough, to say that it’s time to help our relatives heal.

Frank Pommersheim:

You’re involved with human beings, and I think from most tribal points of view is that they don’t want to cast those individuals out, but they want to try to hold on to them and work with them and try to reintegrate them into the community. And to do that, you need resources and capacity. And in the real world, that means having adequate law enforcement, having a fully-scaled tribal court system, having institutions that can help offenders who have been convicted or pled guilty. I think that those things are really, really important.

Leroy LaPlante, Jr.:

I think, at least, our tribal officials need to recognize our court system as a stand-alone entity that has a specific function, a very important function. What the courts do is so vital to tribal sovereignty. It is so vital to self-determination. It is so vital to us. You know, if we want to engage in any type of regulatory authority on the reservation, our courts have got to be equipped to be able to carry out adjudicating any matter.

Robert A. Hershey:

First and foremost, freedom from political interference. I think that’s pretty well-recognized, right? Qualified judges who receive the adequate training to deal with all manner of cases, because there’s an escalation of the number of cases coming in front of tribal courts with an escalation of the population on the reservations. And then there is escalation in the complexity of cases that come before it. So, independence, adequate training, adequate funding for programs, adequate court staff, technology that supports this.

Rae Nell Vaughn:

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 -- 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 you, judicial system, what does that say of the leadership?

From the Rebuilding Native Nations Course Series: "What Strong, Independent and Legitimate Justice Systems Require"

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Native leaders and scholars discuss what Native nations need to do to create strong, independent and culturally legimate justice systems.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Fineday, Anita. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. August 5, 2010. Interview.

Jorgensen, Miriam. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Spearfish, South Dakota. Apil 19, 2011. Interview.

LaPlante, Jr., Leroy. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. August 12, 2010. Interview.

Laverdure, Donald "Del". Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. August 12, 2010. Interview.

McCoy, John. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Cambridge, Massachusetts. September 18, 2009. Interview.

Tatum, Melissa L. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. January 25, 2012. Interview.

Vaughn, Rae Nell. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. September 15, 2009. Interview.

Yazzie, Robert. "Why the Rule of Law and Tribal Justice Systems Matter" (Episode 3). Native Nation Building television/radio series. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy and the UA Channel, The University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. 2006. Television program.

Leroy LaPlante, Jr.:

“I think a strong, independent tribal justice system, first of all, is tribal. I think that it should be tribal in the sense that it knows how to deal with tribal issues. And yet it’s diverse enough to handle and adjudicate all matters that come before it. I think you should have competent judges. I think that you should have strong advocacy for clients. And it must have a way of measuring its performance. But yeah, a strong tribal system should be tribal in nature. In other words, what I mean by that is, it shouldn’t just be a boilerplate replication of what a state court looks like and promulgate those laws. But those laws should be traditional in nature. It should reflect our customs. It should reflect our customary law, our traditional laws, and we should know how to deal with those and inject those viewpoints into our decisions.”

Melissa L. Tatum:

“I don’t think I could draw you a picture of a strong and independent court system, because they can take so many different shapes and many different forms. I can tell you what the support beams are, and then the way the drywall and the paint and the decorating is going to be different. And the support beams may be put together in a different way to form shapes for different tribes. But you’ve got to have an independent judiciary, you’ve got to have the funding to be able to resolve the disputes, you’ve got to have someone to make a connection between the past and the present, and you’ve got to have the capacity to solve the disputes the community brings before you in a way that everybody accepts as legitimate. And that’s what a strong and independent court system looks like. Now that may be a peacemaker system, that may be an Anglo-style adversarial court, that may be a hybrid of the two. That may be, you know, the court may be in a single-wide trailer; the court may be in the most absolutely beautiful, technologically up to date building. But it can take a wide variety of forms. Its function is what’s critical.”

Miriam Jorgensen:

“I think that we oftentimes trip immediately to saying, ‘Oh, that justice system has to be a sort of Western-style court system.’ And in fact, I almost always find myself using the word court. But, it doesn’t have to be a court with the judges and robes and the bench and all that kind of stuff. It has to be a dispute-resolution mechanism that’s effective and efficient and transparent about the way decisions are made, and that can hold people to those decisions. But it can be as indigenous as you like. It just has to be one that works to meet those standards.”

Donald “Del” Laverdure:

“I think it needs independent decision-making authority without political interference, first and foremost. Secondly, I think it needs to be fully funded. My experience among tribal justice systems -- and I have served on a handful and also helped create a number -- is that they need the funding to have the staff, the clerks, the recorders, the people keeping track of the files. It’s absolutely critical for all of the day-to-day functioning. The third thing, I think, for them is to apply that nation’s law according to how they view it. And I think the Navajo Nation really has emerged as a leader in fundamental or Diné  law in their statutes, interpretation of those, and it’s widely accepted by the community. I think we’re making steps there. It’s always two steps forward, one step back. And I think if we have all of those markers that it’ll be the institution that we need to be independent and stable.”

John McCoy:

“They have to be independent. They have to be independent and not worry about political consequences. So consequently at Tulalip, the court system comes in, here’s the budget. So normally, without hesitation, they say, ‘Okay, here’s your money.’ They can’t tell them how to spend it; they just give them the money. And then the court administration then takes care of the budget. So you have to give them that autonomy.”

Anita Fineday:

“Well, you need to have a few things. Number one, you need to have independence from the tribal council, from all elected officials, whoever they may be. And this is a struggle in Indian Country, as we all know. It routinely happens that tribal judges are replaced if they issue a decision that is really unpopular. And so the tribal court needs to be independent, and it needs to have adequate funding. That’s the other thing that happens is I’ve seen tribal councils say, ‘Well, we’re not going to get rid of the judge, but we’re going to cut off all funding to the tribal court.’ So no one is getting paid any longer. So you need to have an independent stream of funding. You need to be independent of the elected officials. And you need to not fear that if you issue a decision that’s unpopular, that you’re going to lose your job.”

Rae Nell Vaughn:

“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 ironclad so that you can’t -- it won’t be unraveled. And there you go, you’ve lost more jurisdiction.”

Robert Yazzie:

“When Navajos go to court, they expect certain things to happen. One is to say [Navajo word], which means ‘my mind will become at ease’ when this problem that I have is addressed. And people look for a satisfied result. And so when people feel confident with the court system, especially establishing a relationship with the judge, knowing that the judge’s role will be carried out to bring peace to the problems at hand.