Leading Native Nations

Ned Norris, Jr.: Strengthening Governance at Tohono O'odham

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Native Nations Institute
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Tohono O'odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris, Jr. discusses how his nation has systematically worked to strengthen its system of governance, from creating an independent, effective judiciary to developing an innovative, culturally appropriate approach to caring for the nation's elders.

Native Nations
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Citation

Norris, Jr., Ned. "Strengthening Governance at Tohono O'odham." Leading Native Nations interview series. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, The University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. February 16, 2012. Interview.

Ian Record:

“Welcome to Leading Native Nations. I’m your host, Ian Record. On today’s program we are honored to have with us Ned Norris, Jr. Since 2007, Ned has served as chairman of his nation, the Tohono O’odham Nation, winning re-election to a second four-year term in 2011. He has worked for his nation for the past 35 years, serving in a variety of capacities, from Vice Chairman of his nation to Director of Tribal Governmental Operations to Chief Judge of the Tohono O’odham Judicial Branch. Chairman, welcome, good to have you with us today.”

Ned Norris:

“Thank you very much. It’s good to be here.”

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 more about yourself?”

Ned Norris:

“Well, I’ve… born and raised here in Tucson, born at San Xavier when it was a hospital in 1955, and pretty much grew up here and spent all of my life here in Tucson, and got married to my wife Janice in 1973. And actually Friday, February 17th will be 39 years that she’s put up with me.”

Ian Record:

“Congratulations.”

Ned Norris:

“So I really appreciate that. We have children, we have grandchildren, and it’s great seeing them, and seeing how our kids have developed over the years and seeing how our grandchildren are coming along.”

Ian Record:

“Well, we’re here today to tap into your knowledge, your wisdom and experience regarding a wide range of critical Native nation building and governance topics and I’d like to start with tribal justice systems. You’ve taken on many different roles in your nation’s justice system including court advocate, child welfare specialist, and judge. And so I’m curious, generally speaking from your experience and your perspective, what role do tribal justice systems play in the exercise of tribal sovereignty?”

Ned Norris:

“As I was thinking about this, I was thinking about where we were as early as the late 1970s. For some people that’s not early, for some people that’s a long time, but when we think about where our tribal system, judicial system has developed since ’79 and forward, we have really come a long way in realizing that the court system itself plays a significant role in ensuring or demonstrating our ability to be a sovereign tribal entity. Obviously the tribal legislature’s going to make the laws and the executive side of the tribal government is going to implement those laws, but the court system really has a key, significant role in determining, in how those laws are going to be interpreted and how those laws are going to be applied. And for me that’s really a significant role in the tribal judicial system ensuring that whatever we’re doing internally with regards to applying the law as it is written by the legislature and implemented by the executive branch that it is ensuring that sovereignty is intact, that it’s ensuring that we have the capabilities of making the decisions that we need to make in order to govern our nation.”

Ian Record:

“A law professor here at the University of Arizona who you know very well, Robert Williams, who serves as a pro tem judge for your nation’s judicial branch describes this systematic effort your nation has engaged in over the past three decades or so to build an effective, efficient, tribal justice system from the ground up. Why has the nation engaged in that effort and why is that important?”

Ned Norris:

“I think that it has a lot to do with the fact that we’ve got tribal legislators over the years that have really began to take a holistic look at the tribal government as a whole and realizing that for the most part as late as the 1970s, early 1970s, our tribal judicial system was really what I would refer to as a BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs]-type system. Tribal codes were developed, but they were really taken off of boilerplates of BIA codes and so on and so forth. So I think that our leadership, our tribal council began to realize that these laws don’t always have the kind of impact that we would like them to have. And so in order for us to be able to govern ourselves and to determine our own destiny as it relates to [the] tribal court system, we’ve got to begin the process of changing the system and bringing it more up to speed, so to speak.”

Ian Record:

“And part of that I guess, regaining control of the justice function of the nation, things like making sure that you are charge of law and order, that you’re in charge of dispute resolution, that when you have a young person who has a substance abuse problem that they’re being taken care of, that issue is being taken care of internally versus them being shipped off the reservation, making the system more culturally appropriate, where the people in the community feel like this makes sense to us. Can you talk about that dynamic in the work that the nation has been doing in that regard to, I guess, make the justice system their own?”

Ned Norris:

“Well historically, I think it’s unfortunate that back then, and even to some extent even today, tribes do not have the level of resources available to address the more intricate needs of a substance abuser, an alcoholic, whatever the case may be, and so even today there are needs. There is a need to identify resources, whether it’s on or off the reservation to address that, but I think most importantly is the idea that we would be able to create the kinds of services that we’re using off reservation and bringing those services on the reservation where we’re playing a more direct role in that person’s treatment, in their rehabilitation and really looking at it like…from the perspective that this is family, this is part of our family. This individual isn’t just a member or a citizen of our nation, they are a citizen of our nation that we should take more of a responsibility to try and help within the confines of our own tribal nation, our people. And so I think when we think about it from that perspective, we begin to realize that maybe the services that we have are not as adequate or not as resourceful as we would like them to be. So we’ve got to be able to identify that and be able to identify where those voids are and bring those services into that program or create the program that…where those voids exist.”

Ian Record:

“It really boils down to the nation itself best knowing its own needs, its own challenges versus somebody from the outside that is simply just bringing in something from the outside that may not…”

Ned Norris:

“Not only that, Ian, I think that in addition to understanding that we have…we as the nation membership have a good understanding of what those needs are and what those resources are or aren’t, but also really realizing that if we’re going to bring or utilize outside resources to do this, those resources aren’t always going to be there. We’re going to be there, we’re going to continue to be there, our members are going to continue to be there and what makes more sense to us is to be able to take control and bring those services, develop those services where they lack and provide the services more directly by the nation’s leadership itself.”

Ian Record:

“One of the things that Professor Williams points to in this effort that the nation’s been engaged in around the justice system for the past 30 years is how the nation has invested in its own people, how it’s worked to build the capacity, internal capacity of its own people to provide justice to the community. Can you talk a little bit more about that? You’re a byproduct of that effort.”

Ned Norris:

“Well, I think that when we talk about investing in our own people, over the years in a more significant sense we’re…we’ve been able to establish our gaming operation. That operation has played a significant role in our ability to bring the kinds of services that aren’t there, that haven’t been there, or those kinds of services that we would for many years just dream about having and even to the extent that we’re developing our tribal members. I think, just to give you an example, pre-gaming we probably had less than 500, 600 employees that worked with the tribe and now we’ve got well over, I think it’s about 1,400 tribal employees and we’ve got a varied amount of programs that have been developed that are really beginning to address a lot of the needs that we’ve been having over the years. And not even that, the ability to develop our own tribal citizens in providing them an opportunity to train academically, whether it’s a vocational program, whether it’s a two-year or four-year college, whether it’s earning a bachelor’s degrees, master’s degree, doctorate degree, whatever the case may be. We’ve been able to provide that kind of an opportunity for our members to be able to acquire the kinds of skills that they lack academically and bring those skills back to the nation and apply those skills.”

Ian Record:

“Yeah, and I think what you’ve addressed is there’s a major obstacle for many tribes in that they’ll invest in their people, they’ll send them off to get a good education, but then it’s really critical that there’s a welcoming environment for those college graduates to say, ‘We’re sending you off to get a skill to come back and apply that skill here on behalf of the nation.’”

Ned Norris:

“Exactly, and part of our challenge as tribal leaders is making sure that we create the ability for those members to be able to come back. Too many times I’ve shared with different audiences over the years that we’re graduating more O’odham with bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees than in the history of the whole tribe, however, where we may lack in the ability to create the kinds of jobs that those individuals trained for. And so we need to prepare ourselves to be able to receive those tribal members back and provide them the kinds of job opportunities that they’ve spent four, six year, eight years in college acquiring, but also not only be able to do that, but to be able to pay a comparable salary for the kinds of positions that they’ve trained for.”

Ian Record:

“I’d like you, if you wouldn’t mind, to paint a picture. Before we went on air you were describing a little bit about what the nation’s justice system looked like when you came on board and started working within that system. Can you compare and contrast what the justice system and what the justice function looked like back in the early 1970s or mid 1970s, to what it looks like now?”

Ned Norris:

“Wow. It’s a night-and-day comparison really, because just physically we didn’t have the kinds of facilities necessary to really do… provide the kinds of justice services that our people should be afforded and we…when we talk about facilities, we talk about staffing, we talk about laws in themselves or codes, back in the late ‘70s, the early ‘80s, there was a time there that our law and order code was a boilerplate from the BIA code and I think that it took some years and some education and some effort to begin the process of understanding that this boilerplate code is obsolete in our mind and we need to begin the process of developing our own tribal codes. And so we began that process in writing our own tribal code, our law and order code, our criminal code, our civil codes and other codes and that took a process, but once we’ve done that and the tribal council adopted those codes, we started to apply them in the tribal judicial system. And so I think that when we compare where we were in the late 1970s to where we are now, the only… the concern that I have is, being a former judge -- I spent 14 years as one of our tribal judges and from ’79 to ’93 --and I’ve seen the court system develop over those years and seen how obsolete the laws were back in the late 1970s to where we were able to develop those laws. But also realize that back then in the early 1990s, I began to think about realizing the time that the court system is no longer processing and dealing with human beings, but they’re dealing with numbers. You become a number at some point, a case number or whatever because early on we came into this with the perspective that we’ve got this tribal member that is maybe committing crime, but there are a lot of factors that are contributing to why that tribal member has committed that particular crime and that we, the court system, although it has the law before it and the law may provide a jail sentence and/or a fine, the idea wasn’t always to throw this person in jail because of the crime they did, but to try and dig a little deeper into what’s really going on within that individual’s situation. Is it the home situation? Is it…was the person an abused person over a time of their life, was that person a victim of incest that just was never dealt with? And so we came to this with the perspective that the court system enforces the laws, applies the law and issues sentences, but some of that sentence has to take into consideration how can we help, how can we help this individual, how can we help the family address those issues that are impacting or having an influence in them committing the crimes that they’re committing?”

Ian Record:

“You mentioned that for several years you were a judge and so you’ve seen firsthand how the court system works and you’ve been a part of that court system. There’s an issue…there’s a major infrastructure challenge for a lot of justice systems across Indian Country. Can you talk a bit about what Native nation governments can do to ensure that their justice systems have the support they need to administer justice effectively?”

Ned Norris:

“One is, there was a period of time where the tribal legislature was what I refer to as the supreme authority on the O’odham Nation, at that time the Papago Tribe of Arizona. And as that supreme authority, there was really not a separation of powers between a three-branch system. And so, over the course of those years, early on the tribal supreme authority, the legislative authority really infringed on or encroached on what should have been an independent judicial system. And so I think, in answer to your question, tribal governments, tribal leadership should realize that it is imperative to the success of a tribal governmental entity that an independent system of judicial…a system to dispense justice is not having the kinds of influence by the other two branches of government that would impede its ability to deliver that justice. And I think that once we begin to understand that and realize that and realize that that not only does that involve the legislature not meddling into the judicial process, but it also has to involve an understanding that because in many tribal governmental entities the tribal legislator controls the purse, controls the funding, that they not use that as a basis to not fund the needs of the tribal judiciary. And I think that because the council has the authority to disperse funding resources that the courts still have to go to the council and ask and present their budget and ask for funding for infrastructure, for whatever the case may be. That there still has to be a relationship there, but I think that the tribal legislature needs to understand too that they shouldn’t use their role as a tribal legislator to deny the kinds of resources that the court system needs.”

Ian Record:

“You mentioned this issue of political interference and this is something that comes up in virtually every interview I do with folks on this topic of tribal justice systems and they all…almost all of them mention this issue of funding and how that can be rather than direct interference in a particular court case, but this kind of more subtle, insidious process of denying funding or reducing funding or holding funding hostage to…in exchange for certain considerations -- that that sends real messages and others have talked about how this issue of political interference can be a very slippery slope. That if a chair or a legislator, once they do it once for one person, word’s going to get around that, ‘You just need to go to this council person and they’ll get involved with the court case on your behalf.’ And in many respects doesn’t that distract the executive…the chief executive of the nation, the legislators from focusing on what they really should be focusing on?”

Ned Norris:

“Yeah, if we’re taking so much of our time and energy dealing with a relative’s court case and not allowing the court to apply justice to that situation, then obviously it’s taking us away from our real role, which is to provide the kinds of leadership and direction that we need to provide to run our government. So yeah, political influence, I think early on was an issue. Now, I think it’s rare. I think that we’ve educated our leadership to the extent that they understand the concept of separation of powers, that they understand that they shouldn’t use their position to try and influence a decision that the court is going to make. We’re not 100 percent, but we’re far less than what we were in the late 1970s and I think that that whole process just took a series of education and in fact, in some cases, some case law that’s already been established where the legislative branch was trying to encroach on the powers of the executive branch, we’ve had those cases in our tribal court system and those decisions are the law at this point.”

Ian Record:

“This wasn’t originally in my list of questions, but since you brought it up, I’d like to talk about the role of justice systems and the judicial branch, particularly your nation, in essentially being a fair umpire when there are conflicts between the executive function -- whether it’s a separate branch or not -- but the executive function of the nation and the legislative function. How important is it to have somebody, whether it’s your courts or an elders body or somebody, some entity that can, when there is conflict between those two functions to say, ‘Okay, let’s take a look at this and let’s be the fair arbiter here.’?”

Ned Norris:

“I think that it’s critical. I think it’s critical to be able to understand at some point in that particular dispute process that we’ve got to sit back and we’ve got to realize that as the two branches that are in dispute, is this an issue that we really want the courts to have a major role in deciding or do we want to come to terms or come to some level of understanding, try and resolve the matter before it ends up in court? I think that we should look at those kinds of issues from that perspective because once you get the court involved, the court is going to make its decisions based on the law, and the law is not necessarily always going to be the way to resolve or the way that you may… either side may want this particular issue resolved, and I think for the most part too, the court itself should realize if there’s an opportunity to resolve the dispute outside of the court, laying down the gavel and saying, ‘I hereby order…,’ that giving the parties an opportunity to resolve this dispute, whether it’s an encroachment by either branch, executive to legislative or vice versa, that we always have the opportunity to try and come to terms on resolution even if it means calling, I don’t know, I don’t want…I guess we could call him an arbitrator or mediator or a council of elders, to come in and provide some level of traditional means of resolving the dispute. I think that that’s important, but it’s important for the parties to make that decision. I’m not always open to the idea that court systems will order you to call in a council of elders or a medicine person to come help resolve this issue. I really think that that’s got to be the tribe themselves to make that decision. Over the years, the court has issued those kinds of orders and I think that they’ve worked, but for the most part I think that it’s the parties themselves need to make that determination and that decision.”

Ian Record:

“I would like to jump forward basically because of what we’ve been discussing and talk about the fact that virtually every tribe that I've worked with there’s always going to be some level of friction between the nation’s executive function and the legislative function. It’s just the nature of politics; it’s the nature of governance. And you being in that role of chairman now for multiple terms, I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about that despite your best efforts, there are times when you come to an impasse or there’s a conflict that emerges. Can you talk about how do you build constructive working relationships -- as a chair -- with the legislative branch, the legislative function of government to try to make that relationship as productive and as seamless as possible?”

Ned Norris:

“Well, I have to say that I’m proud of what my first four years of leadership has done to do exactly what you’re asking because I felt and I sensed and I heard from many council members that there was really a breakdown in the relationship between the branches. And we knew then, Vice Chairman Isidro Lopez and I, and now even Vice Chairwoman Wavalene Romero and I realize, that it’s got to be a continuous effort to build that relationship, still maintain and understand there are certain constitutional authorities and powers that each individual branch has, that we need to understand what those constitutional powers are and that we don’t encroach our authority and violate what those powers are, because once you start doing that then you begin the resistance between the two and it doesn’t make for a good working relationship. We knew coming into office four years ago, and even continuing in my second term, that we’re going to need to continue to develop that relationship and I’m comfortable that where we’re at some, almost six years, five years later that we’ve been able to have a level of understanding that decisions are going to need to be made, that decisions that even though I have authority to veto decisions of our legislature, it’s been...in four years I think I’ve exercised that power twice and -- actually three times and -- both of those times those issues have been resolved. One issue is still pending in court, but I think that in itself speaks for the fact that we have a very understanding working relationship between the executive branch and the legislature and it’s really a continuous level of communication, it’s a continuous level to understand where they’re coming from on that particular issue, where you think you’re coming from and how do you work together to resolve your differences and how and at what point do you want to compromise in order to be able to accomplish what it is you want to accomplish. I think for the most part all of us want what’s best for the people of our nation. How do we get there from here to there, we may have some differences. And it’s discussing, resolving those differences to hopefully come to a positive outcome for providing the leadership that our people need.”

Ian Record:

“I’d like to switch gears now and talk about tribal bureaucracies. In addition to serving as your nation’s Director of Tribal Governmental Operations -- as I mentioned at the beginning -- you also have served as its Assistant Director of Tribal Social Services and as a former Commissioner for its Tribal Employment Rights Office, its TERO office. What do you feel from your diverse array of experiences, what do you feel tribal bureaucracies need to be effective?”

Ned Norris:

“Well one, I think clearly the individual that has a level of authority in that bureaucracy needs to understand themselves what…where do their powers derive from and to what extent do I have any power at all? And I think the individual then taking that in the whole from let’s say the tribal legislature or… I’m constantly having to make the kinds of decisions, leadership decisions that I need to make, but I’m constantly asking myself in my own mind, ‘Do I have the authority to do this?’ And I think that that’s the kind of understanding in our own minds that we need to continue to ask ourselves, ‘Do we have the authority to do this? What does the constitution say on this particular issue? What have the courts said on this particular issue? What has tradition said on this particular issue?’ And being able to understand that in all those perspectives I think is really where we need to…it’s going to help in the bureaucracy that’s created, because to me 'bureaucracy' isn’t a positive word in my opinion.”

Ian Record:

“Tribal administration.”

Ned Norris:

“Tribal administration, there you go. The Bureau [of Indian Affairs]’s a bureaucracy, but in tribal administration, I think that if we’re going to be able to…the end result is how do we get to be able to provide the kinds of needs that our people deserve and are entitled to? And are we going to create the kinds of roadblocks…and if there are roadblocks, then how do we break down those barriers, how do we break down those roadblocks, how do we begin to sit at the table with each other? I’ll tell you, there was a point in time where -- and I think it’s with any government -- but there’s mistrust, there’s a certain level of mistrust between the tribal branches or the governmental branches and it’s needing to understand that regardless of what I do there’s still going to be some level of trust. I’ve got 22 tribal council members. I still have to accept the fact that I know there’s at least one, maybe more, of those 22 council members that don’t want to see me where I’m at today and accept that. I accept that, but that doesn’t mean that I not continue to do what I think I need to do in working with my supporters and my non-supporters. They’re still a council member, I still have to work with them, I still need a majority of council to get the kinds of approvals or decisions to do things that I need. We need each other. The council needs the executive branch and the executive branch needs the council.”

Ian Record:

“You mentioned at the beginning of your response about the importance of every individual that works within the nation and for the nation understanding what their role is and what their authority is. Isn’t that absolutely critical when you talk about say, for instance, the nation’s elected leadership versus say your department heads, your program managers and things like that? That there’s a common understanding of, ‘Okay, when it comes to the day-to-day management,’ for instance, ‘of this program, that’s not my job as an elected official. That’s the job of the department head and the staff below them.' Because that’s a major issue that we’ve encountered across Indian Country, where there’s this constant overlapping of role boundaries if you will.”

Ned Norris:

“Micromanaging.”

Ian Record:

“Yes, that’s another way of putting it.”

Ned Norris:

“Yeah, micromanagement. I think for the idea or the idea of overstepping one’s authority where it appears, or at least you’re experiencing micromanagement, I think that for some time there was even a certain level of micromanaging that was going on and attempted to be going on from tribal council members or council committees on executive branch programs and we even see a certain level of that even today, this many years later. But I think how we handled those situations really has an impact, because I think for some time, we’ve got to realize that I’m not going to disallow my department directors, my department heads or anybody in those departments to not take a meeting with the tribal council committee if the council committee wants them to be there. That wasn’t always the situation in previous administrations, but for me, the council needs to be as informed on those issues in their role as a tribal council member. I think that when we think about micromanaging, again I think that it’s really a level of communication as to how you’re going to deliver. I’m not going to sit there and say, ‘Council member, you’re micromanaging my programs and that’s…I have an issue with that.’ I think that how we explain to them that we’re going to provide you the kinds of information that you need, but as the Chief Executive Officer under the constitution I have a certain level of responsibility to make sure that these programs are doing what they’re intended to do and I will assume that [responsibility]…I will exercise that responsibility, but we’re going to keep you informed, we’re going to keep…and if it’s personnel issues, that’s a different story. That’s clearly…we’ve got to protect the employee and the employer, but I think that for the most part we…how you communicate -- I’m trying to explain this. I’m not sure I’m doing a good job of it -- but how you explain without offending is critical to the outcome. And I don’t want our council to think that I’m prohibiting our departments to communicate issues with the council, because once we start doing that then you start to create barriers there and I don’t want those barriers, but at the same time the council needs to understand that if it’s an administrative issue that is clearly within my authority as the Chief Executive Officer for my nation. I have directors, I have people that are…that I hold accountable to make sure that those issues are addressed.”

Ian Record:

“You mentioned a term that I think is really interesting, I’d like to get you to talk a bit more about it. You said, ‘It’s critical to explain without offending.’ And we’ve heard other tribal leaders and people that work within tribal government talk about the fact that the impulse to micromanage, the impulse to, for instance, interfere, for an elected official to interfere on behalf of a constituent, for instance -- it’s always going to be there. The question’s how do you explain to that person that wants to interfere, that wants to micromanage, that this is not the way we do things because we have processes in place, we have policies in place that prohibit me from doing that? That’s not to say, as you said, that we can’t have a communication, that you can’t understand what’s going on and why, or why a certain decision’s been made the way it’s been made, but we have processes in place. How critical is that to have that…I guess to have that basis upon which you can explain without offending? That there’s these processes in place that are critical to the nation functioning well?”

Ned Norris:

“Sure. I think that it’s extremely critical to be able to have a level of understanding, but a certain level of trust. I think follow-up is key. I think if you’re going to have a council member or a council committee that is raising issues that are clearly an administrative function of one of my departments, then I’m not going to leave them out of that issue because they have a reason, they have an importance, they have a constituent out there that brought the issue before them. They need to know, they need to understand and so I’m going to make…I’m going to give them the assurance that as the chief administrator, I’m going to make sure that my people are going to follow up on that issue, but I’m also going to make sure you know what we’ve done. Not necessarily what disciplinary actions might have been imposed, but how are we going to address that issue? And make sure that I get back to them and tell them, ‘Here’s where we’re at with this issue, here’s what we’ve done. I want the program director to come and explain to you where we’re at on this as well.’”

Ian Record:

“You mentioned this issue of personnel issues, which are inevitable. They always arise -- whether it’s a hiring and firing dispute, whatever it might be -- and you mentioned it’s a whole different ballgame, that that really is critical that that’s insulated from any sort of political influence whatsoever. And we’ve heard others talk about how important that is to achieving fairness within the tribal administration, achieving fairness within how the nation operates, how it delivers programs and services. Can you talk a little bit about how your nation has addressed this issue of personnel disputes?”

Ned Norris:

“Well, I have to say that I…we have a lot yet to develop. We have a system to grieve, there’s a policy, personnel policies are in place, there’s the policies outline as to how individuals grieve an employee-employer situation. And I’m not…I haven’t always been 100 percent satisfied with the system itself. And so we’re currently going through a rewrite or a restructuring of what that system should be and really all in the interest of facilitating the process in making sure the process is more friendly to both sides, the grievant and the grievee and so on and so forth, because I think that our process involves a panel of individuals that may not necessarily have the level of training or understanding of what their duty and responsibility is as a panel member hearing that grievance. And so we have a panel and an individual or individuals on that panel that may think their authority is much bigger than what is really outlined or that they may need to make decisions that aren’t necessarily related to the grievance itself and those kinds of decisions have come out and our current policy provides that as chair of the nation, the chair has the final decision over a grievance that hasn’t been resolved at any one of the lower levels. And it’s by that experience that I realize we’ve got to change the process; the process needs to be more equitable I think to not only the process, but to the grievant, the person grieving it themselves. So I think that you want to make sure, you’ve got to make sure…you’ve got to ensure to your employees that we have a system to grieve that is fair, that they have confidence in, that they have the comfort that they’re going to…they know that when they get to the process, that that process is going to move along as fast as possible, but that their issue is going to be resolved. And I think too many times we don’t get to that point, but I think it’s the process itself that needs to be looked at, but we need to develop a process that is fair.”

Ian Record:

“I’d like to talk now about a symbol of pride for your nation, and that’s the Archie Hendricks Sr. Skilled Nursing Facility and Tohono O’odham Hospice. What prompted the nation to develop this amazing, what’s turned out to be this amazing success story and what has it meant for the Tohono O’odham people and in particular, its elders?”

Ned Norris:

“Archie Hendricks Nursing Care facility was a dream for many years. I was in tribal social services when, not long after the tribe contracted [Public Law 93-] 638, those social services from the Bureau. And it was really unfortunate that too many times when our elders needed nursing care that those elders were, as a figure of speech, shipped to some nursing facility in Casa Grande, in Phoenix, in other areas of the state and literally taken away from their home, taken away from their family. And too many times, the only time that those elders came back was in a box, when they’d deceased at that facility. And too many times having our elders placed in off-reservation facilities limited or to some…and in some cases prohibited family members to participate in their care in that off-reservation facility. And it just made sense that we begin the process of creating a facility on the nation where our elders can stay home at a location that we think is kind of central to where members, family members can commute, have more easily the ability to commute to that facility and visit. Too many times…a lot of our folks don’t have vehicles. A lot of our folks pay somebody else who has a vehicle to take them to the post office, take them to Basha’s or take them to somewhere, in a lot of cases drive them to Phoenix to visit their elder in the nursing home. And even though that still is the situation today with many of our members, the drive is a lot shorter than it is just to go to the Archie Hendricks facility. But also not only to be able to bring our elders home and have that service here on the nation, but also to…it’s an opportunity to instill tradition and instill who we are as O’odham into the care of our elders and in doing that, also having the opportunity to train tribal members in that particular service. We have a number of tribal members that have gone on to earn academic programs that are now applying those skills in the nursing home. So it had a win-win situation all the way around, not only bringing our elders, but a job opportunity; an opportunity to create a program that wasn’t there.”

Ian Record:

“Obviously that success story has addressed a particular need and as you’ve shared, a very dire need. But I guess on a larger overall level, doesn’t it send a very powerful message to your nation’s citizens that if we have a challenge, if we have a need, we can do this ourselves?”

Ned Norris:

“Oh, I think that’s true. I think that that’s maybe one of the bigger messages that we’re demonstrating because even today we think about…in fact, I had some, a family member come into my office that were concerned about their child or their nephew that was in an off-reservation youth home placement and that individual turned 18 years of age and was released from the facility. Well, the concern was there was really no services that was provided to him while in that facility and so in their own words they says, ‘Why can’t we build the kinds of facilities that we did for our elders for our youth? Why can’t we bring our youth home into a facility that can provide the kinds of services that they need?’ And why can’t we? We should. We should move in that direction. There was a time when the nation operated a couple of youth homes, a girl’s home and a boy’s home. I’m not sure right now what the history is as to why that doesn’t happen anymore, but I think the bureaucracy is what I remember, was the bureaucracy got hold of the situation. It was probably a licensing issue that the Bureau required that we weren’t able to comply with and so on and so forth, but I’m not suggesting we want to run off, run facilities without being accredited in some way or certified or licensed in some way, but I think that we need to understand that if we’re going to move in that direction…and I totally agree that we need to begin developing those kinds of services on the nation, but we also have to realize do we have the capability to do that? Do we have…? We can build a house, we can build the home, we can build the facility, but do we have the resources to run the kinds of programs that it’s going to require, do we have the trained personnel, do we have the…all the requirements that you need in order to run a sound helpful service to these youth -- can we do that? I think we need to do an assessment ourselves and if we feel we’re ready to make that move, then by all means let’s start putting the…making those facilities available.”

Ian Record:

“It’s interesting you mentioned that your citizens are now thinking, ‘Why can’t we?’ and that’s a very important shift in mindset, is it not? To where…from where in many Native communities 20-30 years ago, it was always, ‘Let the Bureau take care of it. We don’t need to deal with it.’ To now, ‘Why can’t we do it ourselves?’ That speaks to this larger shift that we’re talking about, the message that it sends to the people, does it not?”

Ned Norris:

“Well, it’s…I think about former leadership and I think about leaders that have had an impact in my life and I always share this story about…you remember the TV commercial, ‘Be like Mike,’ Jordan’s Shoes, ‘Be like Mike, play the game like Mike’ and all this and that? And I have my own ‘Be like Mike’ people out there myself. I think about the late Josiah Moore, an educator, a leader, a tribal chairman, former tribal chairman of our nation. I think about a Mescalero Apache leader by the name of Wendell Chino and think about other leaders that have gone on, but have demonstrated their leadership over the years. And I think to myself that those are the kinds of leaders that have vision, those are the kinds of leaders that have fought for sovereignty, that have fought for rights of tribal governments and those are the kinds of values as a leader that I think we need to bring to our leadership. Is, how do we protect the sovereignty of our sovereign nations? And it’s really unfortunate because somebody asked me, ‘Well, what is tribal sovereignty?’ And I says, ‘Well, I don’t agree with this, but too many times, tribal sovereignty is what the United States Supreme Court decides it’s going to be in a case or the federal government,’ and we can’t accept that. We shouldn’t accept that. We don’t want to accept that. We may not be a true sovereign, but we have certain sovereign authorities that we need to protect and we need to continuously exercise and whatever rights we have as a people, we need to exercise those rights, we need to understand what those rights are, we need to protect those rights just as well as protecting our tribal sovereignty.”

Ian Record:

“Isn’t part of that process… and you’ve mentioned this term a lot, assessing, assessing, assessing, assessing. Isn’t part of that process assessing where your nation could be exercising sovereignty or where it needs to exercise sovereignty, but currently isn’t and saying, ‘Let’s push the envelope here?’”

Ned Norris:

“Sure. I think that is. I think that…I like to do assessments, I like to do that mainly because you think you might understand what the situation is and you think you might have the right answer as to how you’re going to attack that situation or address that situation, but too many times we go into a situation not realizing what the impacts of your addressing that issue is going to be and so for me, I like to, ‘Okay, I agree with you, let’s address that issue, but let’s make sure we understand what it is we’re dealing with and whether or not we have the ability to address that issue,’ because to me to do something with half of an understanding really creates, to some extent, false hope because people are going to see that you’re moving in that direction. And if you’re not able to fulfill that movement, you’re going to stop and people may have liked to have seen what you were moving on, but don’t understand, ‘Why did you stop? We had hope in that. We thought you were going to address that issue.’ ‘Well, you know what, we didn’t do our homework and we couldn’t move it any further. That’s why.’ I think that we need to be, if we’re going to make a decision as a tribal leader, we need to fully understand the ramifications of what that decision is and to the best of our ability make informed decisions about the decisions we need to make and then move forward.”

Ian Record:

“I’d like to wrap up with…I’d like to wrap up on a final topic of constitutional reform. And as you well know, there’s been a groundswell of constitutional reform activity taking place across Indian Country over the past 30 years, in particular in the wake of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975. And back in the mid-1980s, your nation, the Tohono O’odham Nation, completely overhauled its constitution and system of government. And I’m curious to learn from you, what did the nation change and why and what did it create and why?”

Ned Norris:

“Well, I had the experience of being involved in my tribal government under the old 1937 constitution and then the new 1986 constitution, and although I wasn’t as involved in the development of the 1986 constitution, I understand some of the history and that it took, and as I understand it, that whole process took some 10 years to accomplish, to be able to…there were several drafts of our 1986 constitution. The constitution committee had understandings and misunderstandings and decisions that they couldn’t come to terms on amongst themselves. So it was just a long, drawn-out process, but I think a 10-year process that was well worth it. And I say that mainly because I saw the government under the old constitution and I see it now under the ’86 and realize that even under the ’86 I don’t think that we fulfilled the possibilities under the current 1986 constitution. Going back to what I said earlier about that supreme authority under the old constitution, in many ways the council was the legislature, the executive and the judicial. And for me, you had that supreme authority under the constitution in 22 members of their tribal council. And so there were…because of that I think there were times as tribal judges or as…well, yeah, as tribal judges where we may have sat back and thought to ourselves, ‘Oh, I’ve got council person’s son or daughter in front of me in this courtroom, I better be careful on what I decide here.’ That consciousness or sub-consciousness about the fact that you’ve got a council member’s relative in front of you that you’re either going to throw in jail or you’re not going to throw in jail: ‘If I throw them in jail, then the council member’s going to come after me.’ I think there were those kinds of influences that the old 1937 constitution brought about and in different ways. That was just an example, but in different ways. And so when we…when the development of the 1986 constitution really brought on the whole concept of a government that is separated by three branches and three branches that are equal in power and authority and three branches that are clearly defined as to what that power and authority is in the constitution itself. I support that and I continue to support that. We’re going through a process now because over the last…since ’86 there have been some things that different districts and different and even I think need to be changed in the constitution. Literally, just take a look at our 1986, our current constitution and you’ve got more pages that cover the powers and authorities of the legislature than you do four or five pages under the executive branch. And so even on paper, is that truly a system that affords the level of powers and authorities that should be granted to each branch respectively. And so I think that constitution reform is good. I think that though there are still things in the constitution today that we don’t understand, that may not have been fully implemented or implemented at all, but I think that…and even educating our members on the constitution, I think, hasn’t been as adequate as it should have been. Because you look at the constitution, the constitution, the powers and authorities of the constitution is derived by the people. The people themselves need to understand the enormous power and authority they have under the constitution and they, under that power and authority, need to hold us leaders accountable for ensuring that we’re protecting not only the provisions of the constitution but protecting them as well.”

Ian Record:

“It’s interesting you bring this up. We’ve heard so many other leaders of other nations whose nations have engaged in reform, either successfully or unsuccessfully, and particularly among those who’ve engaged in reform successfully, in that they’ve implemented certain changes, they’ve had the citizen referendum and it’s passed and all that sort of thing, they’ve all discussed this sort of critical moment where you overhaul your constitution, it becomes law and everyone kind of sits back and goes, ‘Whew, that’s done.’ But it’s really not done because you’ve eluded to this challenge of not just changing what’s on paper, but changing the political culture, changing citizen’s expectations of their government, educating the people about, ‘This constitution has a very direct impact on your daily life and here’s how.’ Is that something that… a dynamic that you’ve seen in your nation in terms of the challenge that it continues to face?”

Ned Norris:

“I think that everything that you’ve just mentioned as a leader whether you’re chair, vice chair, council, whatever the case may be, we need to understand that. We need to understand that simply amending, changing, instituting a brand-new constitution on paper doesn’t solve the problem, doesn’t resolve whatever issues. Yes, it may be a better constitution in your opinion or a group of people’s opinion, but how we apply that, how we interpret that, how we educate the authorities to the people that the constitution is going to impact is a whole new process. And it’s a responsibility that we should take on as leaders to make sure that our people are… have at least an understanding of the constitution, but and I think to some extent have a working knowledge of what that constitution has to offer.”

Ian Record:

“You’ve mentioned vision and the importance of leaders having vision and you mentioned Wendell Chino and Josiah Moore. What’s your vision? What’s your personal vision for the future of your nation? And how are you working to make that vision a reality?”

Ned Norris:

“Vision, you’ve got to have visions in all aspects of leadership. What is the vision for the health area? What is your vision for the continuation of your economic development? What is your vision for the services that are delivered or that lack or that you dream about? What is your vision? And I think that one, the vision really has to take into consideration, where do you want to see your people, where are your people at now, where do you want to see your people five years from now, where do you want to see them 10 years from now? And we want to continue to educate, we want to continue to develop, we want to continue to be able to address the kinds of issues that are impacting, whether it’s a positive or negative impact on our people. We want to be able to identify a continuous identification of needs that our people have and how do we begin the process of addressing those issues, those needs, those whatever the case may be. I think that vision involves all of that and it’s not simply saying, ‘Well, my vision is that we’re going to rid the Tohono O’odham Nation of unemployment.’ That is a vision, but how do you get there? What do you…you have to…in order to have vision, you’ve got to be able to understand that there are things that are going on now that are going to impact your ability to apply that vision; and unless you understand what those issues are here, your vision isn’t going to mean anything. And so the vision might be big and it might have a bigger perspective, you want to address the health needs of…our vision is to eliminate diabetes amongst the O’odham. Great! I think all of us that have those kinds of problems on our nation want that as a vision, but how do you get there? What do you have to do now in order to address those issues? I want our kids to be positive, productive citizens of not only themselves and their families and their extended family and their communities and their nation, but I also want…I realize that there are things that are impacting our kids now that are going to have an impact on whether or not they’re going to be a productive individual. Too many times we take, we accept things, we accept things as the norm. Too many times, we accept alcoholism as the norm. Too many times, we accept drug trafficking or human cargo trafficking as the norm. That is not who we are. That is not the norm, and we need to impress on our people that those things are having negative impacts on us as a people as a whole and those things are going to have those negative impacts and are impacting our future, are impacting our ability to be the people who we are. And so the vision is being able to realize and understand those issues and make the kinds of changes in order to have a productive nation.”

Ian Record:

“Well, Chairman Norris, I really appreciate your thoughts and wisdom and sharing that with us. Unfortunately we’re out of time. There’s a lot more I’d like to talk about and I think we’ve just scratched the surface here, but I really appreciate you spending the time with us today.”

Ned Norris:

“I really appreciate the opportunity. Thank you.”

Ian Record:

“Well, that’s all the time we have on today’s program of Leading Native Nations. To learn more about Leading Native Nations, please visit the Native Nations Institute’s website at www.nni.arizona.edu. Thank you for joining us. Copyright 2012 Arizona Board of Regents.”