practices crystallizing into rights (PCIR)

We Are the Stewards: Indigenous-Led Fisheries Innovation in North America

Author
Year

This paper offers an overview of the current state of Indigenous-led fisheries management in the United States and Canada. It summarizes major trends in Indigenous-led fisheries innovation in North America and presents common keys and challenges to the success of these efforts. It chronicles three cases that demonstrate the ingenuity, resourcefulness, and tenacity of Native nations in exerting substantive management authority over the fisheries on which they have long depended.

While re-establishing and protecting Native nations’ rights to manage fisheries is critical, the question of what Native nations do with those rights, once regained, is also important.This paper suggests that internal institutional factors often play a critical role in Native nations’ efforts to develop, implement, and monitor innovations that advance their vision for sustainable fisheries. Finally, it provides other Indigenous peoples (in North America, New Zealand, Australia, and elsewhere) food for thought as they work to increase decision-making authority over fisheries, develop and sustain fish resources, and ensure the economic, physical, and cultural benefits of those resources.

Resource Type
Citation

Record, Ian. "We Are the Stewards: Indigenous-Led Fisheries Innovation in North America." Joint Occasional Papers on Native Affairs No. 2008-01. The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, The University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. 2008. JOPNA.

Frank Ettawageshik: Exercising Sovereignty: The Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians

Producer
Indigenous Peoples' Law and Policy Program
Year

Frank Ettawageshik, former chairman of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians (LTBBO), discusses how LTBBO has systematically built its legal infrastructure in order to fully and capably exercise the nation's sovereignty and achieve its nation-building goals. He discusses some of the specific laws and codes LTBBO developed and why, and he also stresses the importance of Native nations building relationships with other governments on their own terms and in furtherance of their strategic priorities.

Resource Type
Citation

Ettawageshik, Frank. "Exercising Sovereignty: The Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians." Indigenous Peoples' Law and Policy Program, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 15, 2010. Presentation.

Frank Ettawageshik:

"It's really nice to be down here enjoying your nice weather and to be down here and to be working with the Native Nations Institute. I've had a lot of years, a lot of times over the years that we've been in touch with each other at different conferences and other places, but never really had a chance to be here and to work on, sort of as Ian said, reflecting and thinking about Native nation building, as we were way too busy doing it and we were working so hard on a lot of different things that it sort of boggles the mind in a way when you think about the full scope of what that means when you say 'nation building.' The first thing that a lot of tribes think about when they think of nation building is they think of economic development and they think of how does that reflect because they think you need...of course you need money for the projects and things that you do and there are some people who focus on the economic development part to a great extent. And to me, economic development is not nation building. Nation building includes a component that's economic development and you need to think of it in that way. And that's really the way that we thought about it.

As the tribal chairman, I was the one whose picture was in the paper and who got quoted all the time and things of this sort, but there was a large group of dedicated people who were of a common mind or at least common direction -- maybe not always agreeing with each other -- who worked towards trying to develop an effective tribal government and to find ways to strengthen our community. And while we were doing that, one of the important things that we think about in that process is that we had to have...we had to keep ourselves rooted in our culture. We needed to have our ceremonies. When we had a community meeting, we always made sure that we had the community eagle staff there in the carrier and we had a drum, we carried a ceremony, a pipe ceremony at the beginning of the meetings and we did things like this that would help use the best of our heritage to help strengthen what we were doing in a way that it helped bring people together of one mind and it helped add a solemn nature, a serious nature and to help use the gifts that we'd been given in our culture, traditional culture, that would help keep us focused. And we did that, that was a big part of what we would do, and of course as years went by in the development of our constitution, we made sure that we supported freedom of religion, which was that we clearly have within our tribal community we have several different methods of expressing our traditional culture with different lodges, a Bedouin lodge, a Wabeno lodge, the independent people of different sorts that are involved in the tradition, but we also have Catholics and Protestant sects of various sorts and the Native American Church, we have some Muslims, we have some atheists and as you look through this, when the government's there, the government represents all of the people. And so we have to find ways that we can honor and respect everyone at the same time, as making sure that we keep the central identity of our nation through our culture and history, keep that as part of what we were looking at.

So what I wanted to talk to you a little about today was how we went about doing that, some of the things that we think are important and ways that...things that helped me as a leader to think through these things and to keep an idea of what's important. And I'll tell you what often happened in my office. Someone would come in and they'd be running and they'd be saying, ‘Oh, my god, BLANK is happening. What are we going to do about it and how can we take care of this?' And it's just the biggest crisis in the world. Well, the way I would deal with that is I'd say, ‘Take a deep breath,' and I'd say, ‘Well, is anybody going to even care about this next week?' ‘Well, maybe next week.' 'All right, now how about if they're going to care about it in six months?' And we'd try to put it in perspective. If it's an earth-shaking thing that really is going to be big, yeah, but most of those day to day emergencies are distractions. They can get taken care of in a fairly comfortable way.

Being in the legal office, the legal office was often the center of much of this activity. As the tribal chairman at our tribe, my office was in the west wing of our tribal administration building and right next to me was the...the office just in the hallway next to me is the general counsel and the vice chair and executive assistant and other staff. But I regularly worked with the attorneys, the tribal attorneys, and I would regularly consult and talk with them, but I never forgot what one of the elders taught me and that is, ‘We don't work for the attorneys, the attorneys work for us.' And in the legal education that people get, they're going to learn a certain perspective and yet, being a member of the bar and being a member of...an officer of the court and these things, you're going to have, say of a state bar, you'll have a certain perspective on the law and there are certain things that you can ethically advise, but being a tribal leader there may be times when that line of thinking doesn't fit with the exercise of our tribal sovereignty. So I've had occasion where our tribal attorney...we were at a meeting, we were talking, the tribal attorney said, ‘Say this,' and I looked at it and thought about it for a minute and I stood up and I said exactly the opposite and then I sat down and I said, ‘Now make that work.' That's the thing that is important for tribes is to help keep that perspective, understand where the center of their reality is and for us.

There's a story that I tell about a tribe that's not in the too-distant past, had opened a casino and it was a small casino and they didn't have a vault. They had a safe that was in the back room and their one tribal police officer was there and this happened to be in a non-280 state, which is another important factor to think about. But the safe got broken into and the casino manager came in the back room and the tribal chairman was there and their one police officer who was the chief of police, he was there, and they were all looking around they were saying, ‘Ah, what are we going to do?' And the police officer said, ‘Gee, somebody better call the cops.' Where is your center of reality? Where do you think this? And in a tribe, that center is within the tribe's nationhood. That's where it needs to be. And it's in the exercise of the tribe's sovereignty. And often our own staff, sometimes their head isn't there, sometimes our own council members have a hard time with that. They'll say, ‘Gee, will they let us do that?' That's a question that I've heard often when talking about something that the Bureau wants to do or something that somebody else wants us...

And what I have focused on throughout my career and as I've come to understand -- bringing all together teachings from various elders and from other people that I've spoken with over the years and other tribal chairman that I learned from over nearly 20 years in office -- the way I've come to understand it is that you're either sovereign or you aren't. You're not three-quarters sovereign or a little bit sovereign. Somebody can't make you a little bit more sovereign or somebody can't make you a little less sovereign; you either are or you aren't. And as a nation, as a tribal nation, expressing that sovereignty and exercising that sovereignty is really what your task is and functionally every sovereign is negotiating the exercise of their sovereignty with the other sovereigns around them. The United States just signed an arms treaty with Russia. It's an exercise on the limits of their sovereignty with each other, just signed. It's got to go before legislative bodies for approval, but that's an exercise of sovereignty. About three years ago, the Sioux St. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, the Bay Mills Indian Community, both on the United States side of the St. Mary's River at Sioux St. Marie, Michigan and Sioux St. Marie, Ontario, and the Batchewana First Nation and the Garden River First Nation that are on the Canadian side of that river, the four of them signed a treaty. Now, the United States does not recognize our authority to sign treaties and yet these tribes have signed a treaty called the St. Mary's River Treaty and they formed the Anishinabek Joint Commission to work on cleaning up the river that they live on that has gotten so polluted that at times they have an advisory against touching the water -- not just not drinking it and not just not swimming in it, but touching it. There were people who were getting sick just having a picnic in their yard next to the river and this was the Native people who used to swim, used to drink the water, felt that it was important to work with each other. They signed a treaty with each other to do this. It's an exercise of sovereignty; it's an exercise of how they're going to be working together on things. So I think that this whole concept of dealing with sovereignty is something that people have a hard time getting their heads around often.

So I ask this question: we get interns that would come to the tribe, we have a couple legal interns every year who would come to the tribe to work, and when they came I'd bring them in my office. They'd be introduced to the chairman and I'd say, ‘I've got a question for you and I want you to think about it and come back and answer me next week.' I'd say, ‘When the Supreme Court of the United States issues a ruling that limits tribal sovereignty, I want you to explain to me how that limits our sovereignty.' Of course the answer is, ‘It doesn't limit our sovereignty in any way at all.' We're either sovereign or we aren't sovereign and the Supreme Court cannot take our sovereignty away like that, but the Supreme Court can make it so that the federal government and all of the political subdivisions of it all the way down to the counties and the townships around us that they have a harder time recognizing our sovereignty and they can make it really difficult for us to exercise our sovereignty. And that is the trick, that's the key thing that we have to think about as tribes is how do we and what do we do that protects the exercise of our sovereignty and that in doing so, how does that actually build our nation?

So we thought about a lot of this and one of the things that we did is we worked on lawmaking as a big central focus. One of the first laws we passed was a legislative procedures statute. We passed that because we wanted to lay out the process under which we would develop laws and it required that we...this required a posting period so that we'd have to post them so we couldn't just move into a meeting, put something on the agenda and pass it and 20 minutes later the whole law of the land, of the nation had changed. We needed some transparency, we needed the population of our tribal nation to have access to the process and to have input and so we wanted to slow things down a little bit. So we passed a legislative procedures statute. We passed a resolutions and regulations procedures statute. We did a number of different things that would help lay out how we would function within the confines of a constitution. We had...in doing this, we also realized that it wasn't just enough for us to be exercising our sovereignty in these ways internally, but we also needed to have ways that we dealt externally with those people around us. We had to deal with counties and townships, had to deal with the local sheriffs, we had to deal with the State of Michigan, we dealt with the...our international policy dealt with all of the tribes around us as well as these other governments and we had to find ways to...in which to sort of regulate or set these things up, how we would work. From the early days, we had a constitution that had been recognized. And I guess I should digress a minute here and let you know that our tribe had not been on the list of federally recognized tribes. We spent about 120 years in a legal battle with the United States over trying to figure out our existence. We felt we existed, they weren't so sure about it, and we spent a lot of time dealing with this. And in 1994, after several legislative attempts and other type court cases and other things, Public Law 103-324 was signed by the President and that reaffirmed our tribe's federal relationship. It didn't grant recognition, which would have implied that we never had it, it didn't restore it, which would have implied that maybe we had it and they took it away, but it's a reaffirmation act. It reaffirmed that we'd always had it, which was our position and that's the way the Congress passed that law.

Two tribes, Little Traverse and the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians just about a couple... about three hours south of us down along the Lake Michigan shoreline, we were both on the same bill. And when that bill passed we had an interim constitution in place. It was not really the regular IRA boilerplate constitution, but it was a constitution that had all of the authority in a single body and that the tribal council, the tribal chairman was a member of the council. The tribal chairman voted on everything that came before the council, as well as chaired the meetings, and between meetings, the tribal chairman was the chief executive officer of the tribe and implemented all the actions of the council. As long as you had a good tribal chairman, there wasn't an issue with that, but if you were to not have that or have somebody who wanted to abuse the authority, that's a lot of authority in one place. And there were no real checks and balances. The chairman controlled the gavel during discussions and could either lengthen or shorten discussion on things, could help set the agenda and so it worked pretty well, but the possibility of problems was great.

And when the bill passed, we had the interim constitution and it called for the creation of a new constitution or for us to have a vote on a constitution. We started a committee. It took us nearly 10 years in the development of a constitution when we adopted [it] and I had printed in this little booklet form. The constitution for the tribe was adopted on February 1st, 2005. And this constitution is a separation of powers constitution: it divides the executive, legislative and judicial into separate branches and talks about how they're going to interact with each other. But right up front in the document is something that makes it, I think, is the thing that really makes it more us as our nation. And that is, it directs the government through opening directives, it says that we are to promote our Indian language and our Indian culture at every...every law we pass is supposed to do that. All the ways that we set up programs and everything, we're supposed to be looking at this, at governance through that lens and that says right in the constitution. The other thing it says is that we recognize that our right of self-governance is inherent in a sovereign people and we also recognize that there are other sovereigns and we pledge to recognize them as they recognize us. It's the essence of a state department or a secretary of state or something that is a way of acknowledging the other sovereigns around us in what we do. And the constitution goes on to spell out a lot of other things, how things work, but it's been a really solid document to help us through, help us in our growth. And my personal belief is that it's a good constitution and that it really moves the concept of nationhood ahead in a very positive way.

There's a website at [www.]ltbbodawa-nsn.gov. It's our tribal website and on there we have a thing called the Odawa Register and in that we have, each branch of government has a section and we have all of our tribal code on there. We have our constitution, we have our regulations, we have pending regulations and pending statutes. All of this stuff is posted for us and our tribal citizens and the rest of the world for that matter to look at and to give input on. And the local newspaper has discovered this site and is now readily making use of it in writing articles about the tribe, which some of the tribal citizens are a little upset about thinking, ‘This is our business, why are they writing about it?' but actually, I welcome it because I think that it...what happens to the tribe is so important to what happens to the community around us that reads this paper that it's important for them to be aware of the proceedings of our meetings; the laws that we're considering, what laws we pass and things of that sort. So that's a little about the constitution and sort of how we brought that into being and the fact that we did things within the constitution; we also lay out a territory.

And our territory, just like us, was not on the list of federally acknowledged territories. In other words, if you go...if you look up reservations, you'll find that we do have a reservation, but it's only about 500 of the acres that we own. We own around...between 700 and 800 acres of a 216,000-acre reservation. This is the tip of the lower peninsula of Michigan here, this little map and this is just on the Lake Michigan side. There's a red line right here that outlines our reservation and this is the blow-up of that. If you notice, this is just like a state map. We got a regular map printed to help show our territory and to talk about the things that were important. And we pass these out to the local police and other people, even though it's not on the list of federally recognized reservations, we have asserted that in our constitution and we assert that in our laws and we believe that eventually this will come to pass, that it will be on the list of federally recognized reservations. It came from the Treaty of 1855, this particular boundary. So we printed something that actually shows where our territory is.

Some of the laws that we've passed are important. We have a criminal code, we have an Indian child welfare code, we have a lot of the things that are the everyday sort of meat of what it takes to be the government in Indian Country, the things that we work on, but we also have a lot of other laws that we've done. One of them is we passed corporation codes for the creation of corporations under tribal law and we have our own department of commerce and within that we have the ability under our corporation codes to create tribally chartered corporations that are owned by the tribe, individual tribal members can create corporations under our law, and we can create non-profit corporations under our law and we've done all three so far. And we have a tribal corporation called Waganakising Odawa Development and I'm the president of that board. And that's a tribally owned corporation that was created under our law. We also have a couple of tribal member corporations, one of which is a dessert business, another one is an IT business. These are individual members who have gotten...have functioning businesses under the tribal law. We also have a non-profit corporation under our law that is the Northern Shores Loan Fund. It's a CDFI, community development financial institution, through a program with the Department of Treasury and it's a revolving loan fund to help people be involved in business. And these are things that we've created. It has a 501(c)3 tax exempt status from the IRS and is set up for working to help people with business plans and do things to help them get into businesses. That's one of the laws that we passed. Of course, when you're doing all of that, you need something else -- this is like a jigsaw puzzle. The next thing we needed was we needed the comprehensive commercial codes and what we needed the most was article IX, Secured Transactions. And with that, we've adopted that. We have plans in the future for others, but we needed to have that as we were getting more and more into business and we've adopted that, but then we also did some other things.

We did...it's my belief that we're the first tribe in the country to have a notary public law. Now you don't need notary publics very often, most people go through their lives and need one...maybe once or twice, tribal government maybe needs it a little more often, a few times a month, where you have something...but people think that it's not something that's really...that is every day for people. But if every time you notarize a tribal document you go and do it under the authority of the state that you're within, through a state-licensed notary, somehow that detracts from the assertion of nationhood and the exercise of sovereignty. And so when you have a right to govern yourself, you also have a responsibility to govern yourself and responsibilities are not always easily met. Sometimes they're difficult. And it took several years to develop this notary public law and it got passed. I had a six-month time period within which to implement the law. So we called up an insurance company and said, ‘We're going to need to get insurance,' the surety bonds for notaries. And they said, ‘No problem, we do that all the time.' And I said, ‘Well, it's the tribe calling.' And they said, ‘Oh, no problem. We can do that.' So we didn't worry about that. Then we started trying to get someone to print our stamps and the embossers for us for doing notary. Well, we went to several companies and once they found out it was the tribe doing it, they couldn't do it. And we went...I spent about two or three months looking for companies. And finally we found one who we talked into doing it and they said, ‘Now how many tribes are there?' We said, ‘There's over 500.' He said, ‘You know, maybe we could do this.' And this was one of the smaller companies that does this and I think they're thinking there's a lot of business out there. And so we got that agreed.

So then we went to get the insurance for the people who'd applied, the surety bonds, and even the large Indian companies couldn't do it because all the product that they had was for state-authorized surety bonds for state-authorized notaries. And we spent months trying to figure this out. And finally we...one of our tribal members is married to a woman who's an insurance agent who specializes in hard-to-insure things and she...took her about 17 hours to come up with somebody who thought they could do it. Ironically, it's a company called First American, it's in Boston and it's not Indian, but they have an Indian in headdress as their logo, but this company had...some of the executives had just been to a seminar somewhere and at that seminar they had talked about tribal sovereignty and they got real interested in that. And then a phone call came and gave them an opportunity to work on it. They were real excited about it. And so we worked out over about another two months, worked out all the forms and all the things that were necessary to create this product. And we now have tribal notaries. We have 10 notaries, I believe, at the tribe. And while we were doing this, we didn't just sneak this in under the radar, we had meetings at the governor's office and with the governor and her deputy legal advisor who is the liaison to Indian Country, we told them what we were doing and said, ‘This is what we're doing, it's what we're working on and we're going to have this in place in a few months.' So we didn't just sort of try to blindside anybody with it and we now have this law. How often is it used? I don't know how often it's used, but I can tell you that this kind of work is not the big, sexy exercising tribal sovereignty kind of things where you're going to the Supreme Court and winning a big case or you're off doing the fishing rights or hunting rights or some big thing with this. This is one of those little grunt-level things that happens that just...it's a part of the everyday exercise of sovereignty that's important in nationhood.

Some of the other things that we have, I have some copies of regulations. These regulations have the force of law under our law and these regulations were promulgated by our natural resource commission and they are hunting and fishing regulations in response to a consent decree that we have in a lawsuit U.S. vs. Michigan hunting and fishing rights case that has been an ongoing case for years. The Great Lakes portion had been settled and there's a limited time consent decree. The first one was 15 years, the next one is 20, in how we exercise our rights. In court, we won the fact that the right existed on the Great Lakes. Then there's a...court has continuing jurisdiction through consent decrees on how we're going to exercise those rights. On the inland portion, that hadn't gone to trial and it started to heat up just a little just a few years ago and we decided that...we were on our way to court, we were doing depositions and everything, but we decided for one last round of negotiations to see if we could settle it. Lo and behold, we actually settled it. In the discussions for this major case, it was one of the major rights cases across the country, we anted up in the discussions by agreeing to not put gill nets in inland lakes and streams and we agreed to not commercialize our inland harvest. We weren't going to shoot deer for sale on the market. The state anted up with a stipulation. They agreed to stipulate that our right existed forever and be a permanent consent decree. So we put that stuff on the table and then we started to talk and we talked for a long time. There was 30, 40 of us in a room at a time and the tribes and plus the...we have a very unique animal in this case that's called litigating amicae. They haven't joined the case, but they have this special status and it's the Michigan United Conservation Clubs and Upper Peninsula White Tails and the various sport groups around the state that had an interest in this, and they had this special status in this case. Well, they had representatives in the room as well and we, at any one time during the long negotiation we had, there were times when one or another party was the one that left the room all red faced and in a huff over something and eventually we just kept talking and we gradually worked it through to where in the end, there were certain things that we had given up. Both the state and the tribe had given things up, but we also each won way more than we would have won if this had gone to court. And the problem with court is you have absolutely no idea how it's going to come out. You make your best case, you do your best shot and you don't know for sure what the judge is going to say or what a jury's going to say, and plus you don't know how it's going to go on appeal because almost every one of these cases that goes to court ends up running up to the Supreme Court and frankly, tribes have not actually had a real good experience in the Supreme Court lately.

So those are some of the things that we worked on. We worked on these regulations, we did all this, we passed laws and we worked on the implementation and enforcement of those laws. Another law we passed was a law against patenting, patents. Let's just say this right, I got my tongue tied here. But against patenting genetic material. Now, why would we do that? Because we heard all these...the various stories that have occurred around with Indigenous people and their genes, personally their own genes as well as the genes from our traditional foods. The wild rice case up in Minnesota was one that just really raised our concern because there had been strains domesticated and were being grown in paddies and those genes were drifting off into the wild and when people were selling wild rice somebody was, they started to want a cut of that sale from the wild rice because it had those genes in it from the patented versions. We felt that this was a danger to our traditional foods and so what we did is we passed this law. Now our jurisdiction is fairly small. In many ways in the grand scheme of things it's more of a show of intent and an exercise of sovereignty than it actually has effect because very few people are going to be patenting genetic material, but it also prohibits our government from cooperating in any venture where there will be a patent issued from our territory and our jurisdiction. So those are...that's another way that we went about working on things with our laws.

One of the more interesting laws that we passed -- this came from one of our council members Fred Harrington who...this was very good and it's called the Application of Foreign Law. Now if you've looked at Indian law and you've looked at various issues and you look at how there's a chart that's published by the Department of Justice that has which law and which person and which jurisdiction and all of these things and it's a great big chart on whose, which law applies to whom and what part of Indian Country and who's got...I mean it's really complicated. And there are clearly times when within our own jurisdiction, for us, there are people who aren't under our jurisdiction and yet we have to deal with them. And we've actually been working on a cross-deputization agreement with the local county, but we wanted our officers to be working under our law not just working with the county law or county authority. And so we passed this law that said, 'Anybody who's physically within our jurisdiction who isn't subject to our law has to follow state and federal law, and therefore our officers can enforce that law following our own law. It's a subtle point, but I think it's really important and that is an example of the kind of things that our government has put forth. We're a...I think about the kind of issues as we work toward things and we're taught to consider the consequences of our actions through a time period long enough to encompass seven generations. Now that's something that...I first started talking with people from the office of the governor and they were talking about things and they talked about a long-term plan that was seven years. And I said, ‘Well, you know, we've got something to tell you. Our long-term plan is generational, multi-generational and we're to think about that and to have that long view.' Well, the other part of that is that each one of us is someone's seventh generation. What did they do that got us, for instance, us in this room? What did they do that got us here? What things...where did they move, what did they study, what kind of things...where's our propensity for understanding things, for higher education, what are the things that got us to this room and what are we doing that seven generations from now will be echoing down through the generations for people at that point? So we're sort of in the middle of this continuum.

We talk in Indian Country a lot about balance. And we have balance in the medicine wheel and the four directions and we try to make sure that we maintain ourselves in balance, balance and harmony. And we try to make sure that a substantial amount of what we do restores harmony, restores that balance. Well, we're also in balance between the past and the future and we need to keep a balance there. If we just look...I was out at Sabino Canyon here last...just last weekend and I got to looking at the mountains and it was just...oh, they were incredible and I tripped on a stone in the path. You've got to be looking ahead of you, but at the same time you've got to be looking up. If you just look ahead of you, you miss everything, all you see is a path. And so we have to be careful how we do these things in terms of how we balance our vision. If we just look to the past and all of our answers and our salvation's in our past, we miss what's happening right in front of us as the world's unfolding and if we just look at what's unfolding without any comprehension of where we've been, we also miss the richness of our own sense of place within that past and future, within the four directions, within our, the growth in our communities and all of those things. So it's very important to have this vision and what I look at is in a vision is that what...the vision for tribes is to be a healthy community with healthy individuals and have healthy institutions and to be at peace and to be at harmony and that's the goal, that's the center, that's where we try to go to and that all of these documents, all of these things I've talked about, the regulations, the constitution, the maps and all these things, these are all tools to help us achieve that, but by themselves they don't achieve it. We have to balance ourselves between these different things that have a tendency to pull us and distract us in different ways.

I've had sort of a general talk here about things and I had one other document I didn't hold up and that's a U.S. Constitution. As a tribal chairman, I virtually always carried one of these because too few people who are in Congress and in other places in government, they've never read it looking at it through, ‘What does this mean to an Indian? What does it mean to the Indian nations?' The Commerce Clause, Article VIII, things that are really fairly, that are fundamental to the U.S. federal Indian law and how it relates to tribes and that relationship. Very few people actually understand that, even ones who you would think would need to. So I carried one of these, I carried our tribal constitution, I carried maps with me, all of these are things that help outwardly show people what it is. When I handed somebody one of these, what did it say to them? It says we're a constitutional government, and that means a lot in terms of people understanding things. So I'll be glad to take questions and discussion here and I'll do my best at what I can answer."

Audience member:

"Do you have any provisions under your corporate codes that allow you to take trust, to take land into trust under a corporate status for the tribe?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"No, not specifically. We talk about taking land into trust through the constitution and that...we don't take it into trust, but we put land in trust. But we have never...we don't have something that allows the tribe to hold things in trust and that's something that we don't have in there. There's been a lot of talk about land and land reform in Indian Country. The fact...one of our big problems in growth is the lack of inter-generational transfer of wealth, which most often is done through property in non-Indian society and that's something that is a big problem in Indian Country. We're missing that step because we don't have a private sector economy for the most part in Indian Country, but there's a lot of talk about how we might look at that and change that. I talked a lot with a number of individuals over the years and the Indian Land Tenure Foundation has done some work in this regard. I know there's a lot of people thinking about it. Maybe that's something that the folks in this room might work on some day and help us resolve."

Audience Member:

"If you're a federally recognized reservation, are you subject to the Major Crimes Act?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well, our 216,000 acres is not acknowledged as a reservation, but our trust land, which is the smaller ones, are acknowledged as that. So we are subject to the Major Crimes Act when it comes to that, when it comes to the casino, the tribal administration building, tribal housing, the various parcels. We're buying our reservation back one little piece at a time as we work on things, but we are subject to Major Crimes and so...but we have something unique also in our district in that the U.S. Attorney has developed a misdemeanor docket for non-Indian offenders on trust land and this is throughout the whole western district of Michigan, which includes a lot of tribes and our casinos and so we...someone commits a crime that wouldn't have risen to the level of federal prosecution, but it's clearly a crime, urinating in the parking lot for instance at the casino, which is something that people bring up, but all kinds of different things that fall into this. We now have a way to write them a ticket that they can pay a fine through this, as opposed to having to go and appear in federal court for these, if they choose. If they want to fight it, they've got to drive three-and-a-half hours to the closest federal court and go to court. So we have...this is sort of a...not every area has this and our U.S. attorney who is one of the ones that was fired, by the way, of that group that was fired, Margaret Chiara, she really worked hard to put this together. Other questions?"

Audience member:

"You talked about when you tried to develop the notary public and you talked to the governor and they seemed to be pretty receptive to that, but can you talk about some of the strategies you and your government went into when you came up against factions or individuals in state or local government that seemed to be opposed to y'all expanding sovereignty or exercising that sovereignty?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"We've done some real interesting intergovernmental relations over the years in Michigan, one of which is under the previous governor. This current governor is nearing the end; she's in her last year of two four-year terms. And actually -- Jennifer Granholm's the governor -- she's on that short list of people that is being looked at as a potential Supreme Court Justice, but she's...yeah, which reminds me. I've got a letter here from the Native American Bar Association that was written to the President, this is a copy of it, informing him about the lack of Native people in the federal court system as court clerks in the Supreme Court or as Supreme Court justices and it's very well written and hopefully it will be well received, but I thought it would be good since I was coming here today to pass that out. But some of the things we did is we passed a tribal-state accord with the governor. All the tribes in the state signed this along with the governor and it acknowledged the sovereignty of the tribes pledged to work together and pledged to create a tribal-state forum, which was a monthly staff level phone call at which things could be worked out so that any issue...It's basically a safety valve in case there are any issues.

So anyway, that's the first thing that we did. And then, through those monthly calls, we were able to head off a lot of issues like the ones you're talking about. Probably one of the big issues was that we had game wardens in the state who really didn't like the fact that Indians had ‘special' rights. And so any time they could, they would push the envelope. Well, we'd reached an agreement with the governor's office and through the director for the [Michigan] Department of Natural Resources that, while we were working on the U.S. v. Michigan case, it was a government-to-government issue and they weren't going to pop individuals who were hunting with proper licenses from the tribes. So I got a call. A 14-year-old hunting deer for the first time with his dad got his first deer and the game warden took the deer, took his rifle and they were all upset. Well, I had a phone number. I called it and it was the phone number of the liaison to Indian Country that was through the Department of Natural Resources. He was on his deer blind in his mom's back 40 up in the Upper Peninsula and I called him. I said, ‘Jim, this is what just happened. We've got a problem.' Jim said, ‘Okay, just a sec.' And he got off the phone and he made a couple phone calls and he called me back and said, ‘Don't worry, it's all taken care of.' The guy got his deer back; he got his rifle back. It took a couple days, but they had gutted the deer and they kept it refrigerated, they'd done all the things that they needed to, but we were able to deal with things like that and we built these safety valves in.

There's a liaison to Indian Country in every single department in the state. The list is published, these phone numbers are available to people on the state website. If you go to Michigan.gov and you go to the governments, there's a bunch of different things there, but go to governments and on the state government page there's a link to tribal governments. And as the page opens up, there's a link to all the tribal websites and all of the agreements that we have done with the state are on there, which includes the Tribal-State Accord, a water accord on how we're going to mete [out] unshared water resources, an economic development accord and addendum to the initial economic development accord that was done the next year. Each of these are the results of a summit meeting with the governor that happens annually where we all get together. And as usual in summit meetings, we don't actually do the work at the summit meeting. It's done all year and the summit meeting is, we're all together, the chairman and the governor sign the document and there's photographers and we share pens and all this stuff. It's a photo op and it ices the cake, but the cake's already baked, is basically what we're talking about here. But all of these agreements are there including the most recent one, which is an accord on climate change issues that we signed nearly a year ago now. And this one, they create meetings like with the...the water accord created a meeting that happens twice a year with the tribal...at the staff level between the tribe and the state on how to deal with shared water issues. And we are meeting at the end of this month with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, as furtherance of the economic development accord that we passed. We've had the director come to speak to the United Tribes of Michigan meetings. We have a variety of things where we're working together and we've just tried to establish how do we do this. And what happens when we have people that don't agree, we try to make a political climate in which it is more difficult to disagree than it is to sit back because they're there still...but they're not the ones that are leading the discussion. And we also do our very best to convert them to the fact that...I say to, and unfortunately, I don't know if anybody here's from Ohio, but I pick on Ohio quite a bit. I say, ‘Poor, Ohio. Every time they have to do anything environmentally and stuff, they've got to go to the EPA all by themselves.' Michigan has 12 federally recognized tribes, so 13 of us go to EPA together to work on the issues. And the tribes have access to resources that the state doesn't and vice versa. Together we can really get a lot of stuff done.

And so actually, this idea has not only taken root within the people that we deal with in our communities, but they actually come to us now. We had a local governmental entity come to us and inquire about us putting a piece of land in trust because they wanted to do something with the land that they couldn't do under their law, but they thought maybe we could. We couldn't do it either, but nevertheless it was such an amazing turn about that I was blown over by that. But those are some interesting things in the working relationship with other governments around us. Other questions?"

Raymond Austin:

"Could you talk a little bit about you as a customary law, customs, traditions and tribal government operations not necessarily in court decision making, but the overall structure of the government itself? That's one. And two, can you say something about attorneys working with Indian tribes? What are their responsibilities, duties and all that to not only the tribal council, but the chairman, the president or whoever and what their roles would be? Sometimes you have general counsels that are overbearing, they come up with policies or they draft laws on their own and then they give it to the tribal council. The tribal council merely rubber-stamps those things, that type of thing. How should attorneys work with tribes in your view?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well, let me answer that last, second question first in that I reiterate what I said initially, is that the attorneys work for us, we don't work for them. And that's a difficult thing for some people to think through, but the other one is that we have to when we're passing laws and you're thinking about sovereignty, the attorneys may be the drafters, but they're not the ones...they make the draft or they find the words to make happen what their bosses, the legislators have said. ‘We want it to say this.' They might not be able to find the right words to say it, but then the attorney's job is to help draft it so it says that. And as you said, there are...we worry about activist judges. Well, there are activist attorneys as well who really work hard at trying to get certain points of view across and at times there are a number of things that you get a tribal council of lay people who sort of get awed by the attorney and say, ‘Well, the attorney said this. It must be true.' Well, attorneys are trained to argue either for or against a particular point and they may or may not believe that point, but the job is to do the best you can with what you've got to win the case whether you agree with it or not. I used to be a debater in high school and we debated on the affirmative for the first half of the year and then we'd switch and we'd be the negative and we'd switch that in the middle of the year because we'd heard all the good arguments from the other side and now we could argue that side pretty well. I learned that.

That's the problem we have a lot of places is we don't, people aren't...what they really don't understand, and this is the thing I think that happens a lot for the tribes is that the elected officials and perhaps the citizenry don't have a really good understanding of how their government works. And one of the projects I've been working on here is developing a good strong outline for civics education for tribes, sort of a subheading of ‘How to Get the Most out of Your Elected Officials,' some way to help people understand what the roles are so that they know better what their powers are and how they can be expected to act. And I think that in the absence of people knowing that, it leaves room for attorneys to actually take those actions as you described and I've seen it happen some places. I've had...I don't, as you might hear or suspect, I really have not had that problem because I wouldn't tolerate it. I knew what we needed, I knew what I would want and I would argue quite strongly for it without letting someone just write something that we rubber stamped. I was sort of dealing with the second question first, but I've forgotten the first one."

Raymond Austin:

"Culture in governance?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Oh okay, yes. To me, one of the ways that I deal with culture and how it relates to governance is I've worn a ribbon shirt almost every day of my adult life. I've worn a ribbon shirt when I was the only one and out of a thousand people in the room that was wearing a ribbon shirt. When I mow my lawn, I wear an old ribbon shirt because I've got to wear them out. And the thing is that I've always tried to make sure that I let people know that I was Native and that I was proud of it and that this was an important part of the things that we did. When we meet with the governor, the State of Michigan does not allow prayers before their meetings, but every single meeting that they have with Indian people starts with a prayer. They concede to us to do an opening prayer and we do that because we feel that that's an important part of us all being in the room, we need to come together as a mind. We feed people. This is part of our culture. You get a bunch of us together, we always eat. Well, we make sure that if the state or the other agencies, these people love to come visit us and have the meeting because we feed them. When we go to there, they're so embarrassed that they'll personally go out and buy some donuts and coffee just so they'll have something because the state will not spring for any of those, any refreshments or anything at their meetings. And so we make sure that they understand these elements of our culture and understand these elements of protocol.

I think it's important to sort of let people understand that we try not to make rash decisions, we try not to jump into things real quickly, and it's impolite actually to do so. It sort of implies that we're not actually giving careful consideration to the thoughts of the other side. So sometimes it takes a longer time in dealing with us and we've done some trying to understand that culture, understand how we bring that into our governance. I mentioned that we start our meetings, our community meetings with the drum, with songs, with the eagle staff being brought in, with our tribal flags, with the pipe ceremony and that this is something that we do in those big community meetings. But we also, when I was the chairman, I carried my personal bundle with me into the room even though I didn't open it in the council meeting [on] a regular basis, but I had it with me because to me it was sort of something that helped root me where we were.

We have an opening at the meetings for a smudge. We try to do everything that we can in our, within our community to...let's look at this way: in the architecture of our tribal administration building, we incorporated our culture. And in doing so, what it is, you walk in...even though the driveway comes in from the south and at most big buildings you'd turn the building so that it would face the driveway, we faced the building east because that for us is the direction we need to face with the building. And, there's a big octagon center that's got a big vaulted ceiling in it. And in the center of that is a circular area that has a fire pit in the center that's right on the earth. The architect said, ‘Oh, we'll just build some concrete, we'll fill it with sand.' We said, ‘No, we won't. We're going to have undisturbed earth right there where we can build a fire and that's going to be the center of this building.' And there are no offices in this big center building. It's open. We have a kitchen, we have a receptionist and we have a little meeting room and bathrooms and other facilities and things, but this is a commons area in which we meet, it's the center of the people, it's ceremonial and then off the north facet we have a two-story office building in which there are our tribal police, our environmental services laboratory and offices, the computer lab and the education department, the archives and records and the accounting department and the tribal administrator. All these are in this north wing. In the south wing is the tribal, first of all, the tribal council and tribal court chambers, we share it. And then all the court offices and the probation officer and all that are in that south wing. The west wing of the building built on the west facet of this octagon is on the south side of the building are all the executive offices for our government. The north side are all the legislative offices. And this building, as you walk in it, it's an education in the way our government functions and it's an education in our traditions in that around that fire pit we have tile in the floor that are the four colors for the four directions.

We've had meetings in there where we had a gathering of the eagle staffs from throughout the Great Lakes Basin and there were 17 staffs and 21 pipe bundles that were all in there in that circle as part of the ceremony. We've had the Attorney General of the United States come in and we had a meeting where we hosted him in Indian Country in Michigan. We've had the Governor's Interstate Indian Conference with all the different state governors and their staff of places where they have tribes in their states, they have this organization that they meet, they came and met. We've had the Kiwanis and the Rotary that come and meet from the community in this place, but this building itself lets them understand elements of our culture. Every time they see it, we get a chance to explain it and every time a staff member walks from one wing to the other, they come to the heart of the community on their way through. Other thoughts?"

Stephen Cornell:

"I was just wondering how these assertions of nationhood and of sovereignty have been received at the sort of level of local publics. You're in an area of the country where there at times have been a great deal of tension between local constituencies and you've mentioned the state, but I was wondering what have these, how have these been received by local people, including the people, you're in an area of mixed population. I'm just wondering what impact this has had in your relations?"

Frank Ettawageshik:

"Well, we're in an area where there -- within my lifetime -- there were signs ‘No Indians' in some of the bars and there were places that we really couldn't go. Nobody would have thought that they were being discriminatory, but we certainly have lived within this knowing that there were things that they couldn't do. Early in my tenure, an Indian student came to the school in Petoskey drunk and they pulled all the Indian kids out of class and breathalyzed all of them. So a couple of people and I went into the school to the superintendent and said, ‘Listen, either you and us are going to get to know each other really well as we go to the Supreme Court and we sue you and seize all of your assets or you're never going to do this again,' and they've never done it again. They straightened out and they realized they shouldn't. So we managed to go through that, but we have had those certain kinds of tension.

One of the initial parts of tension in this is I got...early on in our, after the reaffirmation bill was signed in 1994, I'd say about '95, maybe '96 or so, I got a letter from a local prosecutor who said, ‘Dear Frank, this is to inform you that your police officers are impersonating police officers. It's illegal for them to be on the road with lights and with emblems on their car. It's illegal for them to...' Most importantly, he said, ‘It was illegal for them to have the chip in the radio that allowed them to pick up police frequencies.' And so he said, ‘You have 10 days to deliver those to me.' So I wrote him back a letter, ‘Dear Bob, you know where those cars are and you're welcome to come get those chips anytime you want, just be prepared for a visit from the U.S. Attorney as soon as you're done.' And so he called the U.S. Attorney and within several months actually, he had signed off on a limited deputization with our officers, but before long we actually had a full cross-deputization [agreement] where the sheriff and the deputies from two different counties had came before me in our tribal courtroom and took an oath to uphold the tribal constitution and all of our laws, and our officers were sworn in as deputies with the county so that we had seamless law enforcement. So that's one way that things have happened.

We gave people the map and we've showed them the constitution and a lot of them didn't realize that we were a constitutional government. And there are tensions, but we've also done some tremendous things. One of the things that we did that...we are either the only tribe or one of just two or three that got the ‘The Great Read,' ‘The Big Read.' There's a program through the Humanities Councils and the Arts, I forget. It's through the...it was some agency through the National Endowment for the Arts on 'The Big Read' and we got a grant for it. Some of the other recipients were like Maryland Public Radio got one of the grants and things like that. Well, our tribe got one and we worked with the Great Lakes, the Little Traverse Symphony, we worked with the library in town, the college and various other people and we put together this thing where we all read To Kill A Mockingbird. And we had programs throughout every place and the tribe was the lead agency on this working with the others in terms of comparing what our situation was with the situation in To Kill A Mockingbird and the story from that. And these are the kind of things that we've done with the other agencies in town to help people understand where we're at; it helps to get rid of a lot of the tension. And those are things that we've done both in big and small ways that have tried to deal with that tension. It still exists and we have individuals who would be a great detriment to us if they were the one in charge, but nevertheless this thing works quite well. I think my time has arisen; actually the timekeeper has risen from his seat. And so with that I want to thank you all for the opportunity to speak with you today."

NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow: Rae Nell Vaughn (Part 2)

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Rae Nell Vaughn, former Chief Justice of the Mississippi Choctaw Supreme Court, shares how her nation methodically re-integrated Choctaw core values into its administration of justice, and how Mississippi Choctaw's creation of a fair and efficient justice system is paying social, cultural, political and economic dividends. 

Resource Type
Citation

Vaughn, Rae Nell. "NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow (Part 2)." Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. September 22, 2009. Interview.

Ian Record:

"So the term 'Choctaw self-determination' is the motto of pretty much everything that the Mississippi Choctaws do. And I was curious to learn from you: how exactly does the tribal justice system, the court system that you were for a long time a part of, a reflection of that motto 'Choctaw self determination'?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Self-determination, in and of itself, has been key for Mississippi Choctaw. It's been the driving force of who the tribe has ultimately become, this very progressive tribe providing so many different services and outlets for the people, but it's so much more than that. It comes down to the very individual Choctaw member as to how you guide the people individually towards their destiny of being a successful people. There have been a number of areas in which self-determination has been very evident, one being the court system in and of itself. Within the court system, there could have always been the easier way of just allowing the tribe to go with state rule actually and just using the state system. What's the point of setting up your own court system? But just the mere exercise of sovereignty and having the ability to create your own laws and to develop your own court system is the very essence of self-determination and within that allowing your tribal members themselves serving in different capacities as a judge, as a bailiff, as a law enforcement officer, even as an attorney again only further defines for tribes and this tribe in particular self-determination. It's the mere exercise and expression of it."

Ian Record:

"So back in 1997, the court system underwent a significant revamping and strengthening, and it came at a critical juncture where Mississippi Choctaw had grown tremendously since the "˜60s and early "˜70s, particularly with their economic development initiatives and had come to this point where it said, "˜If we want to continue growing, we've got to do this.' Can you talk a little bit about that, and are you of the opinion that Choctaw could not have become what it has today if it were not for this strong and independent court system?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"I think that the continuing development and evolution of the court system was key to every aspect of the tribe in regards to its development. The tribe in its forward thinking knew that with the growth of the population, which was very dramatic, it jumped significantly after 1994 once the gaming doors opened of our casinos and then we began generating more revenue and our population, the membership increased dramatically. Currently, we're at close to 10,000 members versus back in the early 19th century when we were less than 1,000, so it's been a very significant jump. And with the increase of population obviously comes with it social issues, social ills, offenses committed against property and people, civil matters, civil issues as the tribe in its economic growth begins venturing further into business, and those issues of litigation with those businesses ultimately will land within the well of this court. So because of that, it was key for -- and I believe was the government's vision -- to strengthen and provide to the court system the ability to execute justice properly and at a much higher standard. And again, the tribe could have just said, "˜Let's just follow the state motto. Let's just hire state judges and let's just go from there,' but they didn't. They knew again -- going back to self-determination -- how key it was to have tribal members sitting on that bench. Granted, the bench itself was very diverse. You had non-Indians, you had non-tribal members, and then of course tribal members sitting on this very large diverse bench, and the ability to have that exchange for those who weren't members of the tribe to teach them Choctaw customary law, culture, and of the people and of the community and the area, and how important and significant it is to just maintain that body of knowledge and it continues today, which I'm very grateful for."

Ian Record:

"So with respect to this, 1997 -- that seemed to be the watershed year in which the tribe made a very calculated decision to say, "˜In order to manage this growth, in order to continue to grow, we have to expand the powers, the jurisdiction and the authority of our court system, equip it with what it needs to be able to carry out justice,' as you say. So there's an expansion in terms of the types of cases it takes on, in terms of the kinds of skill sets that it's bringing into the court system, etcetera, but also during that time there was a concerted effort underway to more fully incorporate Choctaw values as you mentioned into the court system. Can you talk a little bit more about that and specifically discuss this project that you were involved with, which was documenting those core values in the form of oral histories provided by your elders? Maybe talk a little bit about how they've worked to inform the incorporation of those values into the court system."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"I believe that it was a lot of hands of fate that guided me into where I ultimately ended up serving as a judge, which I was very honored and humbled by being asked to do this. I worked in various areas within tribal government of the 23 years that I worked. I worked in the health area, in education and in the cultural center area, and all of these experiences, I believe, prepared me for that. So having said that, giving you that backdrop, once I got into the position as judge and ultimately serving as the principal judicial officer for the system, there were different projects that I felt would help us retain a lot of what we and who we are as tribal people in regards to what this thing was called, 'customary law.' Well, what is it? For the common person on the street looking at the general provisions of the codes, it's there, but what is it/. It wasn't tangible; it was an abstract thought, customary law. So how do we make that more concrete? And so with that I began looking at different models. Well, what's out there in Indian Country? What information has been generated and collected for the respective tribes? And I saw different models and I thought, "˜We can do this. We can do this here at Choctaw.'

And so we initiated what we call the Indigenous Law Project and this project basically...the original objectives of this project was to gather as much information from our elders concerning customary law, issues such as probate, disciplining of children, the structure of our society and how important -- being a matrilineal society -- those duties and responsibilities of individual members of the family and how important those things played in the role of the family, but not only the family, the community and the tribe as well. Now we weren't as fortunate as a number of the tribes west of the Mississippi to have been able to maintain and continue practices of traditional ceremonies and clan systems and things of that sort. However, there were few aspects that we continued to carry on that we needed to document. Now it goes against what normal translation would be in the sense of oral history, passing it down orally from one generation to another. Unfortunately, society has given us other opportunities with technology, unfortunately and fortunately, because the unfortunate thing is that we're not practicing this oral history, we're not sitting down and talking as a family. We're too busy texting one another half of the time. And so it seemed to me that the best thing to do is put the technology...benefit from this technology and use it. And so we initiated a number of interviews for, I believe, about three summers of just collecting interviews. And what I got away from the information or the exchange was how willing the elders were wanting to sit down and talk. Of course it was warming them up, putting them in front of a camera and the mic and all of this and of course we'd ham them up a little bit. "˜Well, you're going to be on TV,' and all of that. "˜You're the next movie star.' And so once they warmed up and you began asking questions, all of the outside distractions faded away and they went right into it and to be able to go back and pull all those memories and all of what they have been taught, that sense of pride of, "˜I'm proud of who I am and this is who...this is what I was taught and I'm so glad I'm able to teach you.' Now I did get my hand slapped at one point because I was asking my auntie, my great aunt, a question and she said, "˜You should know this.' I got put in my place real quick. "˜You should know this,' and as I sat there and I thought, of course I sat up a little straighter after she did that, but after I thought about it, I said, "˜Yeah, I do.' I had to go back and think because we weren't having that sit-down and we weren't having those opportunities without all the other distractions going on, of just sitting down and talking. And that's what we don't do anymore.

And so I say all that to say this: we got a wealth of just raw information, just conversations, and then...so what do we do with this? We begin extracting values out of each of these interviews and we're able to construct this circular...and we put it in a...we intentionally put it in a circular model because it's never ending. Our core values are never ending. And we developed about 12 core values and I can't think of each of them right now, but I do have that information, but it all centered around the family. It all centered around the family and one of the other objectives that I had...I had another project within the cultural center was, "˜Well, okay what do you do with information? How do you get this information across to the audience, the target audience you're shooting for here?' And so I looked at this project two-fold. One for the practitioner, the attorney that's coming into the court who may be arguing a child custody case and not understanding the matrilineal society rules as it were. And so there's a document that he can cite as he argues in court. Of course obviously -- if all things are equal with both parties -- society dictates...the tribe dictates traditionally that children would go into the custody of the mother. Discipline would continue with both sides, but the mother's brother, the uncle of the children also stepped in and took a role as well, whether it be a division... dissolving of a marriage or just within disciplining children. And so having that documented in a court opinion is very significant because it lays out for you customary law and it's there in black and white.

But the other objective, again two-fold, is how you use this information and we're always looking at... again, and it just... everything interweaves with one another, self-determination, and it's getting this information to the younger generation. "˜Well, how do we do that? How do you use this tool and where do you use it?' The most ideal place to use it was within the school system and we're fortunate enough to have a tribal school system. And so the next phase of this project was to develop a curriculum to incorporate this information into the school system starting at the very earliest level of elementary school, because you're in elementary school pledging allegiance to the flag -- to the [United States of America] flag. You're learning about presidents, you're learning about government, you're learning as you move along civics and your duty and responsibilities as a citizen of the United States of America, but what about your duties as a tribal member, talking about the importance of voting, the responsibilities of a leader, as chief, your council? Do you know exactly how many members are on your council? Do you know exactly how many and why there are three council members in one community versus only one in another? These are the things that need to go hand in hand with the instruction of state government, of local government and how state, federal and tribal all interplay with one another, and we don't have that, unfortunately, across the boards, across Indian Country really, you really don't have that. So my intention was using Indigenous law, this project, to relay what customary law is, but also incorporating information about government, tribal government, the judiciary. Because if you look at tribal government, Choctaw tribal government, we are so different from the U.S. government because we're a two-branch government. And, well, why is that? And then it goes into the IRA [Indian Reorganization Act] constitution, it just...it just dominoes in information. And that's what's key. And so that was one of the projects that I initiated there as well.

Another project I initiated, again, and it interweaves with self-determination is the internship program, which was very important for us because we were looking at...with every tribe you want to have as many tribal members in professional positions as possible. We're a membership of almost 10,000 and there's only so many Choctaws and not everybody wants to be a doctor, not everybody wants to be an attorney, not everybody wants to be an accountant, but you also needed to provide a place for career exploration to say, "˜Well, maybe I might not want to be a judge, but I might want to be a probation officer or I may want to be a paralegal or I may want to be an attorney or I may want to be a judge or I may want to be a court administrator,' but giving them that opportunity. So I set up this project during the summer and it was a three-tier project. It started with your...the high school students, your juniors and seniors. We partnered with Boys and Girls Club. They have a leadership component to it called 'Keystone Club' and we opened it up to those individuals if they were interested and then of course to just the general population of that age group if they were interested to come in.

And we also had the second tier, which were college students who may be interested, and of course opening it also up to law students just to have an opportunity to see Indian law in action at the local level. It was a 13-week project. I partnered with a program called Youth Opportunity Projects with the tribe, which helped us with funding because money's always an issue and kids need money for the summer. So that was an incentive. We also partnered with a number of universities, Millsaps College, Southern [University], Mississippi State [University], Bellhaven [University] for those students, Memphis State University. For those students who were coming in at the college level, I didn't want them to waste this experience, and if there was an opportunity to utilize the internship program for them as well to gain benefit, I welcomed that. But also it provided us this window of opportunity to educate even the colleges as well, and so it's been a really great thing to see this thing progress. We've hit some dips here and there. Again, not everybody is wanting to go into the legal field, but we've had a number...we had a really large number.

Two years ago, we had maybe about four individuals going through. And then the year that the Edgar Ray Killen case was ongoing -- that was that summer of the 40th anniversary I believe, if I'm not mistaken, of the slaying of the three civil rights workers. That was just so important and a part of their internship program was to go and sit in that hearing and listen to testimony and to see...to look across the well of this courtroom and to see a diverse jury sitting there of African-Americans, of just the members of the community, which you would never have seen 40 years ago, obviously not. And to listen to testimony and to hear what had happened during that time, for them it's just...it's history, but it's something that people of my generation...I was born in 1964 and the things that I experienced growing up in the South during that time, not knowing how much of an impact it was going to have on me later once I understood, "˜I'm being denied service.' And so I want the young people to understand how difficult it was for the tribe to move forward, to get to where they are. They had so many different obstacles. And again, all these projects -- the Indigenous Law Project, the internship program, teen court -- all of these different projects have recurring themes of, 'Remember where you've been, how important your role as a tribal member is to our society.'"

Ian Record:

"You mentioned teen court, which is what I was going to ask you about next, as well as some of the other initiatives that grew out of the 1997 reform and particular initiatives that incorporated consciously the Choctaw values that you've discussed. So tell us a little bit about teen court and specifically, why was it developed, how does the process work, perhaps how does it engage those young people and work to teach them the value of their role in moving the nation forward?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"It's very interesting how teen court developed because we were in pretty much temporary housing and we were very limited in regards to detention space and we were seeing more and more of our young people getting into trouble at various degrees of severity and some of them very minimal, but still required some type of sentencing of sorts. And we weren't making an impact simply because our young people have been desensitized. "˜So I'm going to go to jail, so what? I'll go do my time, I come out.' And then secondly, because we weren't able to house them on site, on the reservation, we were having to use outside facilities that made it even almost more enticing. "˜Hey, I got to go to Scott County and be with the really tough people,' and that type of mentality. And so we were struggling, we were struggling. And within the youth code, it said that using detention was the very last alternative, but that's all we were using and we needed to find some mechanisms of using other alternatives to help deter juvenile delinquency.

And we were looking at other models. I'm real big about "˜look at a model.' There's no sense in reinventing the wheel. If something is working somewhere else, let's pull it in and let's pull pieces out to see if we can 'Choctaw-ize' it as it were and make it our own. So we investigated a number of models of teen court, a diversion program, which gives the youth court the opportunity to of course allow the juvenile delinquent a sentencing, but it's more so by his peers. The way the process starts out is the juvenile delinquent is brought before the court, goes through adjudication. If the court finds the delinquent...the juvenile delinquent of the offense, then if the judge feels that this is an issue that can be handled in teen court, then the case is then transferred into teen court. Teen court is more of a sentencing court of the teen's peers. Also we have members of our teen community who come in and serve in different capacities, as prosecutor, as defense counsel, bailiff, members of the jury panel, but the only adult that's in there is the judge himself or herself -- I've served as a teen court judge -- and the diversion coordinator. Those are the only adults that are involved, as well as the party's parents who are coming in. And so they go through this process, the go through the hearing, the case is presented to the judge again, but the jury ultimately decides.

And it was very amazing to watch the process when we set up a mock hearing or it was even the actual hearing, the actual first hearing. We'd gone and done some training with them and gave them the tools of what they needed and then we had an actual case. Well, they came back with a very severe sentencing. I can't recall exactly what the offense was, maybe breaking and entering or something of that sort, but they were given multiple hours of community service, they were going to write this letter of apology, they wanted them to stand at the corner of an intersection and say, "˜This is my offense,' and everything. And so we had to kind of reel them back in and say, "˜Let's really think about this.' And so when we initiated it in early 2000, it was very slow going because it's like, "˜Oh, what is this? Do I want to be a part of this? Is this geeky or what?' But as it moved along, people got more involved in it and we had more young women who were involved in it and we were really pushing hard to recruit young men, and eventually it's grown now. I went to their banquet last month and they have a total of 80 active members of teen court.

One of the other components within the sentencing of the juvenile delinquent is that he or she is to also serve three terms within a setting so if during a semester that there's three cases, that individual has to come after he's completed what he has to do for his sentencing, he's got to get in there and serve as a juror too, which was initially done by design to get him on the right track, him or her, on the right track basically and get them involved in that process because I want young people to see the other side of the bench. I don't want them to be only...their only point of reference is standing in front of the bench. I want them to know what happens behind the bench and so again, giving them that opportunity. Do some of them take it, they do and then they just kind of...either they embrace it or they don't, just like with anything else. But it was always good to see when you had success stories in that regard, because we know nationally that normally children who enter into the youth court arena eventually move into the adult criminal court setting, and you try really hard to get them out of that track of sorts. And so that was an alternative that we looked at, "˜Well, what else can we do?' Because obviously traditional form of court was not working, the adversarial form of court was not working. They were getting desensitized. It wasn't having an impact. So what do we do? And that's one of the things under my leadership I continuously looked at, "˜What are other alternatives that we can look at to help curb a lot of the offenses that are going on within Indian Country to create healthy communities locally at Choctaw and across Indian Country and so several different programs began cropping up. One of them was Healing To Wellness which..."

Ian Record:

"I was just going to ask you about that."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Yeah, which was just phenomenal for me because we have such a high rate of offenses that were committed under the influence of alcohol. So what do we do? All we were doing basically was having this revolving door of people just coming through, domestic violence cases, public drunk, DUIs, so many different things happening and we recognized it was revolving around alcohol abuse. And so what do we do? So we looked at this model, we applied for an implementation...planning grant and we went to a series of trainings and found that this model meshed with the core values of this tribe and we eventually were able to receive a grant to start us off for three years. That grant has no longer, now has ended and we're no longer under that funding source. However, we presented to the tribe once our three years was up, "˜This program has ended and we really want to continue it.' And that's one of the issues that tribes face all the time is sustainability. And so how do we sustain this?

Well, we were able to present to the tribe how successful it was and that we were able to hit all the benchmarks that we had proposed in the grant. And a lot of...because it's a multi-disciplinary approach where an individual may be a first offender of DUI or alcohol-related crime and the judge feels that this may be a case that's prime for Healing to Wellness and then we'll transfer that case over into that program. It's a year-long process, which means the individual has the opportunity to opt in or opt out with it if the judge wants to transfer this over because they may say, "˜Forget it, I know I'm not going to be able to do this, let me pay the fine, let me do my jail time and let me move on.' But then you have those people who are really ready for change or who may be at the crossroads of their life and say, "˜I do need help and I do want to change.'

And so the individual then enrolls into this program and they have a multi-disciplinary team that works with them on a weekly basis and they go through the rigors of the program itself. Yes, they're required to meet with their probation officer, they meet with a behavioral health person, the judge is also involved, the Healing to Wellness judge is also involved in this. So you've got about maybe six to seven people that come together once a week, they review cases and then they have all the individuals, it's a group effort where they all come in and they go over what was the expectation for the week, what they were supposed to do, did they accomplish those things and then if they didn't, there are penalties and you're not able to phase -- it's a four-phase project -- you're not able to phase out so it just takes longer for you to move through the program.

And at the end of it, I've gone to a number of graduations. It's always been very emotional for these people because they see where they were going and they now know and have the keys basically because for them if they were...if this was a really big issue for them, dealing with alcoholism that it was going to be a day-to-day process. And so having those relationships developed with people in behavioral health was going to be more key for them, but we also recognize that we would have to cut the tether and that they themselves were going to have to make good choices. And so it was really...it was a really good exercise for them and for us as professionals within this area and also as community members to see this happen, because you want success, you want them to be successful and you want them to have the success not only for themselves, but for their family as well, because you know that there's a lot of them that come from very dysfunctional homes and they're the primary person who's bringing the income in and how important it is too, if not for yourself for your family, as well."

Ian Record:

"So these sorts of initiatives, the Healing to Wellness court, the teen court -- those are directly geared towards restoring health within the community and then there's the challenge of handling all of your relationships with outsiders that particularly grow out of economic development and all the commerce that involves outside entities, whether they're vendors, whether they're employees who are non-tribal who live off the reservation, whatever it might be. So when you guys really moved forward full bore with your economic development you had to be ready. And so you've put in several rules, policies, institutions within the court system, within tribal government to ensure that your justice is prepared for that challenge to meet the growth, the challenge of managing that growth. And I wanted to have you talk about a few of those and first off are a couple of things internal to the court system itself and that is the qualifications of judges. Can you talk about the qualifications that are mandated in the Choctaw tribal code for judges, how they're selected, approved, removed, and what sort of requirements do they need to be able to sit on the bench?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Well, the process itself, this...the judgeships are appointed positions. They are nominated by the leadership, by the chief, presented to the tribal council, the council then confirms them, but you have a list of qualifications that helps you filter through those individuals who may be interested or who you feel that might be qualified and able to sit on the bench. There's an age requirement, 35. So that tells you I'm over 35. You have to have a minimum of two years of college, a tribal member, which is key. One of the other requirements that -- because we had to have on the bench law-trained judges -- was that the chief has the ability to waive the membership. And so that's how we were able to have non-tribal members sit as well as non-Indians sit so that we could be able to provide, again to be able to handle the types of cases, the complex cases that would be coming in in regards to commercial law and civil jurisdictional issues on this bench. And so we were able to strengthen our civil division to be able to handle the types of cases that we anticipated coming before this court.

Another thing that the court did or the council did as well, which was earlier on in the mid to late "˜80s, was incorporate a canon of ethics. Initially that was set up primarily for the judges. And again, I think at that time it was more of setting the code up, "˜So let's get some models,' and so there never really was any deviation from the ABA's [American Bar Association's] canons of ethics. So they're pretty straightforward and mirror exactly what ABA states as well. Back in, I believe it was early 2000 or the late "˜90s, because the...no, it was the early-2000s era, because our system was growing, our staff was growing from a staff of prior to reorganization of maybe five to six people to now a staff of 32 people -- 12 members on the bench and support staff -- we felt that it was very important for them to also understand what it was to serve as a judicial officer and that they too needed canons of ethics to follow as well, although those should be inherent as just being people of the court and understanding why we're there, but we felt that they too were a part of this larger system of justice and needed to also have these canons as well. And we also shared with them, "˜It's not to hinder you. It's to also protect you because you will have other forces coming at you,' and so, "˜No, I can't. That violates my canons of ethics.' There you go, it's a shield. And so we incorporated and put that through the process of review with the Judicial Affairs Committee, which is the legislative oversight of the system and eventually brought it before the full council for approval and it was approved. There continues to be challenges because of where we sit within the organization of government, serving as a statutory court. Well, then you also are bound by your administrative personnel policies and that lack of understanding. Well, there are these things called canons of ethics and it's like this, what do we do with it kind of thing. We haven't really had any violations of canons of ethics on the judicial side of it, so we have not ever initiated any kind of mechanisms of removal, but the code is clear. If there are clear violations of the canons of ethics, that is grounds for removal and there is a process within the code, but beyond the language within the code, there isn't actually step-by-step processes, which was, as you know, there's a long laundry list of things to do and you just can't get to all of them. And so that was one of the other things that needed to be looked at. Well, you have this body of law, but there are no processes to...once the mechanism is triggered, what do you do? And so that was one of the other areas that needed to be worked on and hopefully they will at some point get back to that."

Ian Record:

"So there's this issue of the court ensuring its own integrity, essentially building those shields against either corruptive behavior, self-interested behavior -- whatever it might be -- and then there's this issue of, "˜Well, how do we help to neutralize any political impulses that may come from outside forces to actually interfere in the court's jurisprudence?' And so, specifically, there's a couple things that have been put in place to help mitigate against those impulses specific to the council and any behavior they may exhibit. So there's a couple things that you guys have put in place. Can you talk about those things? How has Choctaw worked to try to control any sort of political interference from the outside?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Well, even you as a judicial officer get inundated with a lot of ex parte[communications]. As I shared with you earlier in our conversation, as a judge you don't have the ability to just blend into the general populace; you can't. You've got people you see at the grocery store, at the post office, down the street at the gas station while you're pumping gas for your car and then someone will come up and say, "˜Hey, this is what's going on. Can you help me?' Or you have families that are in crisis and the only thing as a judge you can say is, "˜I can't help you, you need to get an attorney, you need to get advice from an attorney.' And that's one level, but then there's the other level of when you have tribal council crossing the line and wanting to apply pressure at making changes of decisions or in regards to possibly constituents in incarceration and things of that sort.

And I want to believe that council members are coming with good intentions. It may be the man who is the only person that works in this family of five and he's gotten picked up and he's got to serve 30 days in jail, which means the possibility of his...of losing his job is great, which means there will be no income coming in and so you have the councilman that is saying, "˜Can you reconsider, can you make this change?' And so I want to...all of these issues put it in the light of they're really looking at the best interest of the constituent. That may not be so, I also recognize that as well, and the code is clear in regards to tribal council members. They're not allowed to come into court and practice as an advocate. They cannot come and represent a tribal member within court. Just the mere presence -- and that was hard for them to understand -- because just the fact that you're sitting in the well of that court can be perceived as applying pressure on a judge because the judge is not naí¯ve; he knows why you're there. You don't come to court every day to sit and watch tribal court in action simply because you don't have anything to do. And so just the appearance of it really would...the messages are sent. And so having that in place, as well as not allowing council members to sign bond or post bond and bail for individuals in incarceration was also another body of law that they put into place. That was really hard for them to understand, that you can't...you're just not allowed to..."˜I can't accept your money,' you're just not allowed to do that. And what it also provided was this means of insulating the two bodies, the judicial body and the legislative body, from that appearance of impropriety. It's a hard call because you're shifting, your code and your law is shifting in such a way that you have all these very specific things and it's like, "˜Why can't I do this? I'm trying to help the people.' And the unfortunate thing is that you may be doing a disservice for them by not allowing them to pay the price, the consequences of their actions because it's obviously detrimental, possibly if this is a habitual person who are not making change. They need to go through the process; maybe we get them into Healing to Wellness.

There are just...you've got to allow the process to take place, you can't interfere with process because that's the entire premise of this sovereignty, is allowing process to take place to allow us to interpret law and to perform and to render decisions. And if you're not happy, another thing that we also put into place was strengthening the supreme court, because initially it was set up as a court of appeals with the lower court judges serving as the reviewers of the case minus the division that the case came out of and it didn't quite work well. And so because of all this growth and the economic development, the population and everything, the idea was, "˜There needs to be a higher tier of court totally separate from the lower court.' Has it worked? It has worked. Has it had problems? Yes, it has had problems because we're still trying to figure out the role of the chief justice because even internally that role of the chief justice, which I struggled with every day, was the fact that I served as the principal judicial officer. I had two roles: I was the judicial officer, the chief justice for the supreme court, but I also was the court administrator over all of this system. And so you had issues of conflict at times whereas, okay, there's a complaint coming in from a judge on a particular case; procedurally, as their supervisor, administratively, I would receive these complaints. And so we had to look at another means of getting this information around so that someone else can be a reviewer, but then as a supervisor how can I get in there and evaluate performance if...you might have a judge that just sits there and sleeps through the entire session and then just drops the hammer and says, "˜Guilty!' And so how do you do that? And it was a constant struggle. We looked at a number of models, and the unfortunate thing is we weren't ever able to execute a way that I could administer fairly without that appearance of becoming involved in cases that had the potential of moving into the supreme court and that continues to be a struggle because you certainly -- and again, I'm real bad about talking out of both sides of the mouth -- you certainly don't want to have a rule for everything. You've got to be able to use some judicial discretion in judgment."

Ian Record:

"So there's this challenge internally of building a strong and independent court system, demonstrating it in practice, and then there's the further challenge of having to serve as an advocate for that system and go out and actually educate not only your own community but outsiders to say, "˜Hey, you need to take us seriously. We're a strong and independent court system. We can provide fair and effective justice to not only our own members, but outsiders as well.' You and your colleagues within the court system have made a concerted effort over the years to advocate for the court system, to build those relationships with outside entities, intergovernmental relationships that have really served the tribe and the court system very well. Can you talk about some of those?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Yes, that's always a challenge when you're having to lobby for the court. It's a juggling act because again, it's that relationship and you're presenting to your council who approves your budget of the activities of the court, the increases of the docket and, "˜Well, why do you need this much money? All you're doing is sitting there and providing justice.' Well, it's so much more than that with operations and looking at other alternatives and means to provide wellness to the community. Going to the area of education, that is what is key because people don't understand the system and it's a very...it's not a difficult system, but it is a tedious system because you have to go just...my question always is, "˜What happens when the paper hits the window of the court? Where does it go because that is not only paper, that's a party, that is a person, that is an issue that is happening out in the community. What happens to it? Where does it go?' And it goes through so many different steps and council members, the legislative body, just really doesn't understand why it takes..."˜Why does it take so long? Why does it take so long to get the case before the judge?' And so it's educating them. We initiated a symposium back in 2001 and we had tried to do this on an annual basis for our practitioners, but also for the general public to understand Choctaw justice, the judicial system and the legal community itself and to help them navigate through it and to also bring to them very specific issues such as issues of gaming, the latest cases that are coming before the Supreme Court, where they are and the impacts they may have on us individually as tribes. We also looked at a topic of economic development and the importance of having our practitioners prepared for maybe minimal cases in the sense of you may have a salesman coming through the tribe selling his wares and for whatever reason it doesn't work out and it ends up landing in court, all this commercial information. And then also, whenever we had new laws that were put into place, this was the forum to get that information out and also for them to have their bar meeting. No, it's not a very large bar, but we also wanted to keep in touch with them to let them know what was happening because as an attorney you're going through the daily rigors of it and it's pretty...it's the same stuff over and over basically of what they're dealing with and so it's just preparing them for whatever may pop up and then when you least expect it, it happens, a membership issue, possibly a challenge -- things of that sort. And we also provide for the council an opportunity to have a summit to sit down and talk with them during the session of things that they may want to...and this is more in closed doors so that...I've always believed if we've got issues that we have to deal with that, let's deal with it here at home because we certainly don't need it out in the public. One, there in the community because then it questions the trust of the system, but two, out in greater society because then it really may reflect a negative connotation of this thing called 'justice' on the reservation. And so if there are issues or problems, let's hammer it out here, let me know what may be an issue or problem and also we can also reciprocate with that and share with you what some of the challenges that we may be facing. For example, as we talked earlier, this issue of ex parte [communications] or trying to get to the judge to make changes and how important our integrity as a court system needs to remain intact. And so we were fortunate to be able to have those communications, but even more so that we were able to reach out beyond our own jurisdiction to the jurisdiction of the state and that was one of the very key things that happened during my tenure with this court was the ability to open that door with the Supreme Court for the State of Mississippi.

I had this visit where Chief Justice Jim Smith and his associate Jim Waller, Jr. came down and they wanted to have a conversation. And we sat down and we talked and I shared with them what our system was all about and we...and that's what initially began the conversation and then he invited me to come in and talk with a group of municipal judges at their annual association and then we invited him to our symposium to serve as our guest speaker. We also invited the state attorney general to come in and serve as a speaker and so we've been able to have that give and take and I've always believed...it's like, "˜Well, why didn't it happen earlier? Why didn't it happen way before my time?' But I truly believe it's time and place that really plays a key role and we were both open to having this dialogue. What else has spun from that, on the federal side we're able to have...because of relationship building more so with the leadership and at the federal level we have the ability -- which we may have already talked about earlier -- having a U.S. District attorney come to the tribe and office with us one day a week to handle cases that may be going through the federal system, which is unheard of. You don't have that across Indian Country if...I'm sure it's very few, if any, that have that ability to have a U.S. District attorney come in on the reservation and sit. We also have a U.S. probation officer that comes in as well. And again, that was developing relationships, [intergovernmental] relationships."

Ian Record:

"And don't those have really powerful benefits in terms of understanding because you have these outside entities that for many tribes have long interfered with tribal justice systems and now they're -- instead of being adversary or a constant source of irritation or interference -- they're now potentially an ally, or at least saying, "˜We recognize your authority, we recognize your competence,' etc.?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Exactly and I believe that is, that's the clear message that it sends and that we are all partners now in this. And also we've experienced the same type of relationship building with the county system as well. We had two tribal members who had an issue in county court and the judge picks up the phone, and it was an issue he felt that could be handled in our peacemaking court and he says, "˜You know, I think that you could better deal with this than I can,' and he transferred a case out of county court to tribal court. And I don't...it never...for some people they just never really wrapped their mind around that, and I'm like, "˜Can you believe that even happened?' That was just something that was just really, to me it was historic, it was something you just don't...you wouldn't even think it could happen and it happened. But again, it goes back to that...the thinking that this is a stable system, this is a court system of integrity. You will receive fairness in this system. Some people may not agree with the system all the time, but they know they got a fair shot in there. And so if anything that's the clear message."

Ian Record:

"I want to wrap up with a quote from former Chief Phillip Martin and he made this statement a few years back. He was delivering, I believe, delivering a talk at Harvard and he was asked by a student, "˜Are you at all concerned that all the economic growth you've experienced has had a negative impact on your culture?' And he said -- he thought for a second -- then he said, "˜I don't know. It used to be everyone was leaving and now they're coming home.' And really what he was talking about was through this economic growth we've had an opportunity to create stability and to bring opportunities to our people. Can you comment on his statement and perhaps address specifically the role of the justice system in creating that environment of stability and opportunity?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"With the dramatic growth, you have your members coming back in, but how does this relate to the system, to the justice system? Twenty years ago, you would never have...I would never have had the opportunity to come as a tribal member and sit in a position of authority to assist our people in regards to justice. It may not have ever happened. I completed my college education. I could have easily left, but I chose not to; I chose to stay and become a servant of the tribe and to provide that service to them. And had the landscape not been such where I could have had that opportunity, it wouldn't have happened. Where would we have been had things not taken place, we probably would not have moved mountains as we have now. And so it just sounds so much like Chief Phillip Martin. "˜Yeah, they're coming back, they're not leaving anymore.' And if anything it strengthens who we are as a people. And we have so many talented people and now there's an opportunity to show that talent, for them to step up and take on these roles of leadership in different capacities. Not just the ultimate leadership but leadership within your community, leadership within the work that you're doing, leadership even within the State of Mississippi coming in as an entrepreneur, bringing employment and economic diversity to not only the tribe and the state. So yeah, they're not leaving, they're coming back and there's something to come back to and that's home."

Ian Record:

"Well, great Rae Nell. I really thank you for your time. It's been quite an education. That's it for today's program of Leading Native Nations. To learn more about Leading Native Nations, please visit nni.arizona.edu. Until next time, I'm Ian Record. Thank you for joining us. Copyright 2009 Arizona Board of Regents." 

From the Rebuilding Native Nations Course Series: "The Citizen Potawatomi Nation's Path to Self-Determination"

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Professor Joseph P. Kalt describes the dramatic rebirth of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, citing its development of capable governance as the key to its economic development success.

Native Nations
Citation

Kalt, Joseph P. "Constitutions: Critical Components of Native Nation Building." Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy. University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. 2012. Lecture.

“I’ll tell just one story about constitutional reform. On the left, you see a picture of basically the entirety of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation of Oklahoma in the mid-1970s. This tribe -, well-documented -- in the mid 1970s, this tribe had two-and-a-half acres of land, 550 dollars in the bank, and that house trailer. That’s their tribal headquarters. Some tribal members that have been out there said they remember their parents talking about, ‘The house trailer is the boxing ring,’ because there would be cycles of impeachment where the tribal chairs would be impeached or removed from office. And the new guys coming in would come in and have to physically fight to get the old guys out. And they tell a famous story , they’re proud of this story in a certain way because of what I’ll put up on the right in a second. They tell a famous story, that house trailer, one of the impeached chairs of the tribe, his son is at the front door of the house trailer, ‘Dad! They're coming to kick us out!’ So dad’s afraid of getting beat up, and he kicks the side out of that house trailer and jumps in one of those cars. And Citizen Potawatomi points out that those are the three worst cars ever built. It’s a Ford Pinto, a Gremlin, and a Dodge Dart.

And today, Citizen Potawatomi Nation basically owns Shawnee, Oklahoma. They are not only the economic engine, they are the political engine of their region of Oklahoma. And just recently, in what may be one of the most striking instances of the effective assertion of tribal sovereignty, a local town, non-Indian town has opted into the Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s court system. This is like real sovereignty when somebody says, ‘I want to be under your system of government and your court system.’ Well, this is a fascinating development. And part of story is well, how did it happen? And time and time again where you see these dramatic turnarounds, Citizen Potawatomi on the left mid-1970s, today Citizen Potawatomi Nation, engine of Shawnee, Oklahoma economically, politically, socially. They’ve taken a community -- these are Okies -- in the 1930s, this community was scattered like so many other people in Oklahoma. Consequently, they have Potawatomis all over in places you can associate with the Dust Bowl effects: Bakersfield, California; Fresno, California; Sacramento; Phoenix; other places. They now run tribal council meetings essentially with simultaneous big-screen TVs in multiple communities, and they’re building sub-headquarters, essentially. I think they’re trying to buy land in Phoenix right now to build one. I believe they’ve opened one in Bakersfield or Fresno, Sacramento, something like that. They basically used their development prowess to bring the community back together. How do they do it? Well, it's very interesting. The story they tell, and so many tribes with these dramatic turnarounds tell this story. I can’t tell you how many times , you’ve heard these famous cases of economic development: Mississippi Choctaw, Mescalero Apache, some of these places in the 1980s that started to break the patterns of poverty and dependency. And we go -- twenty years ago when I had more hair, I’d go out and interview some of these tribal chairs. ‘What’d you do to turn things around?' And I’d expect them to tell me stories about business. No. Almost invariably, they tell me a story, ‘We changed our constitution. We changed our constitution.’ There's a link here, a strong link, between economic development and constitutions. Turns out, economic development and the curing of so many of the social ills that come along with poverty, dependency and so forth -- economic development is fundamentally a challenge of governance, not resources. I go out and I go to conferences in Indian Country all the time and I keep hearing, ‘Oh, we need more resources and better training.’ It’s true, resources and training are useful; but if you can’t govern yourselves, everything falls apart."

Honoring Nations: Joseph Singer: Sovereignty Today

Producer
Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development
Year

Harvard Professor Joseph Singer makes a compelling case that Native nations' best defense of sovereignty is their effective exercise of it, and stresses the importance of educating the general public -- particularly young people -- about what tribal sovereignty is and means.

People
Native Nations
Resource Type
Topics
Citation

Singer, Joseph. "Sovereignty Today." Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development. John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. September 27-28, 2007. Presentation.

Megan Hill:

"We've got an amazing panel today, and we're going to be talking about sovereignty. And so I'd like to start it off by introducing Professor Joe Singer. He is the Bussey Professor of Law at Harvard School of Law at Harvard [University], and a contributing author to [Felix] Cohen's Handbook of Federal Indian Law.

Joseph Singer:

"Thank you. It's an honor to be here and see all of you. I was asked to talk in ten minutes about sovereignty today, which is kind of a daunting thing to do. I was thinking about this and one of the issues is, when people think about this is, ‘What is sovereignty?' The thing that's crazy about that question is, to everyone in this room, it's not a problem to figure out what that means. Everyone here knows exactly what that means. It's other people that have trouble figuring out what that means -- other people meaning the Supreme Court, mainly, a little bit the [U.S.] Congress and some of the American people. So let me just say a couple of words about that.

The Supreme Court, in recent years, has ruled against Indian nations almost all the time. There've been a few times where they've --Indian nations that have been in lawsuits before their court have done okay, sometimes won, but more or less lost all their cases in recent years. And one of the things that is important to note about that is that almost all of those losses involve relations between Indian nations and non-members, usually non-Indians, sometimes Indians who are non-members. Those are the cases that the Supreme Court is very worried about. So one thing that's actually important about this record of Supreme Court case law is that the Supreme Court hasn't really been that bad in terms of interfering with internal relations in the tribes. So in terms of relations among tribal citizens and relations between tribes and their citizens, the Supreme Court has not been so bad over the last 25 years. And that's a pretty significant thing. Sometimes law professors -- we write articles criticizing the Court -- and we sometimes tend to exaggerate the extent of the Supreme Court's attack on tribal sovereignty because we focus on all the bad cases they're deciding, and we don't focus on what's left. And what's left is actually most of what all of you are actually doing and why you're getting honored here today.

The other thing I want to say about this is, is there any way to imagine some way to change the situation? To make the United States Supreme Court more friendly to Indian nations? And the answer is partly yes and partly no. In one sense, I can just say that the answer is no, they are not going to be friendly to tribes, and that is going to be the case for the next 30 years, given how young the people are on the court, and we're all just going to have to learn to live with it. On the other hand, I do think there is one thing that Indian nations can do to affect the way the Supreme Court views Indian nations. And that's what you're all doing. That's what you're being honored for.

My reading of the case law suggests that one of the major things that influences how judges see Indian nations is facts on the ground, what Indian nations are actually doing. And by creating institutions, creating governmental institutions, economic institutions, social institutions, engaging in good governance, and actually creating institutions which are thriving and create relationships with non-Indian governments and with the non-Indian public, actually creating those institutions and having them work well creates factual, what Joe Kalt calls de facto sovereignty, which then becomes very hard for the courts to say ‘can't or shouldn't exist.' Once you actually change the facts about how the world is working, the court has to live a little bit within those facts. So, the more Indian nations can actually exercise their sovereignty and do a good job of it -- that actually creates the best bulwark you can imagine against the Supreme Court limiting your rights.

So I think this is kind of an odd thing to say sometimes because I work with the Native American Rights Fund, and we consult on cases, and the main thing we do is to tell people not to appeal to the Supreme Court. In most cases we can look at the case and say, ‘Look, they're not going to think you should win this case. Don't appeal. We want to have them not making more bad law.' This actually then means being creative and figuring out if you can't do it that way, what's the way that you can do it? Because often, even if the Supreme Court says you can't do it one way, clever lawyers and policymakers can figure out a completely other way to achieve the same ends. I just think that's the things you're being honored for are really -- the best way to protect tribal sovereignty is actually to exercise it and do a good job of exercising it. And that's what you're all doing. So what you're all doing is actually the way to defend yourselves from the Supreme Court.

One last thing I'll say, and this is quite obvious to everybody, but -- and I have no idea and I'm not an expert in this and I don't know how to solve it as a problem -- but one of the big things I think needs to be done is to educate the non-Indian public about tribal sovereignty in a better way -- I think both the Supreme Court and Congress and the American public and then school children. I'm a parent of a 15-year-old daughter, and her third grade textbook in history -- she was joking with me and she laughs with me about this, but she knows how upset I get about her history books, because I read them and they're just wrong, they're just completely wrong. They say, ‘1776: the U.S. declares independence, and then there's a Treaty of Paris in 1783,' and then 1783 – wham! The book says, ‘The border of the United States went to the Mississippi River.' And I'm like, ‘Well, you know, there were millions of people out there. The border actually didn't go for another 50 or 60 years and it took all these treaties.' And the book just says, 'Wham, the border moves all the way out there.' And I want someone to write a different history book or somehow figure out -- we've got to educate kids when they're eight years old, nine years old about the history, and somehow figure out -- there's a big education project that needs to be done about the American public. And it's partly -- forget about the Supreme Court, we want to get them when they're eight or nine. And so I want someone to figure out how to do that -- and movies, and public relations, and there's just a lot of education things that need to be done to actually transform people's understanding of tribal sovereignty.

And again, this is the last thing I'll say. The things that you're doing that are good in terms of exercising sovereignty -- I see the other major thing is not just protecting yourself from the Supreme Court by creating facts on the ground, but that also has an added benefit of educating the non-Indian public because you create institutions, you run them well, that becomes facts that get in the newspaper -- it just becomes just something which actually then, other people learn from, ‘Oh, that's what tribal sovereignty is!' It's what you're all doing and what you're doing well. So, thank you."

 

Cast-off State Parks Thrive Under Tribal Control, But Not Without Some Struggle

Year

Rick Geisler, manager of Wah-Sha-She Park in Osage County, stands on the shore of Hula Lake. When budget cuts led the Oklahoma tourism department to find new homes for seven state parks in 2011, two of them went to Native American tribes. Both are open and doing well, but each has faced its own difficulties in the transition.

Of the seven former state parks, only Wah-Sha-She Park near Pawhuska closed during its transfer to new management. From fall 2011 until spring 2012, no one could enjoy the unique Hula Lake sunsets from the park’s rocky shoreline, or camp at the handful of sites in this remote patch of well-maintained land carved into the wilderness in northern Osage County...

Resource Type
Citation

Editor. "Cast-off State Parks Thrive Under Tribal Control, But Not Without Some Struggle." Public Radio Tulsa. April 10, 2014. Article. (http://publicradiotulsa.org/post/cast-state-parks-thrive-under-tribal-co..., accessed March 17, 2023)

Laguna Now Operates Cebolleta Fire Department

Year

Officials from Cibola County and the Pueblo of Laguna have worked together for several years to better serve northern Cibola County residents in regard to public safety.

The Cebolleta fire station located in Bibo recently changed operational hands. According to Richard Luarkie, the Pueblo of Laguna’s governor, the tribe assumed operations on Jan. 1...

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Jaramillo, Donald. "Laguna Now Operates Cebolleta Fire Department." Cibola Beacon. January 7, 2014. Article. (http://www.cibolabeacon.com/news/laguna-now-operates-cebolleta-fire-depa..., accessed January 10, 2014)

How First Nations Guardians Defend British Columbia's Fragile Coast

Author
Producer
Indian Country Today
Year

B.C.'s Central Coast houses the Great Bear Rainforest, the largest intact temperate rainforest left in the world. Attracting environmentalists, tourists, big game hunters, and natural resource developers from all over the globe, this fragile and much-coveted ecosystem has been home to First Nations for over 10,000 years.

But full-time, sustainable employment is sparse in the region's scattered communities. The lack of economic options prompted seven First Nations along the Central and North Coasts–including the Wuikinuxv, Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xaixais, Nuxalk, Gitga'at, Metlakatla, Haida and, until last year, the Haisla Nation–to come together in 2000 to form the Coastal First Nations Great Bear Initiative (CFN GBI) to improve access to their traditional territories and unlock its economic opportunities.

Six years later, the B.C. government took steps to protect both the vulnerable rainforest and the interests of its First Nations, environmentalists, and industry, through Central Coast and North Coast Land and Resource Management Plans covering 6.4 million hectares of land...

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Hyslop, Katie. "How First Nations Guardians Defend British Columbia's Fragile Coast." Indian Country Today Media Network. December 16, 2013. Article. (https://ictnews.org/archive/how-first-nations-guardians-defend-british-columbias-fragile-coast, accessed July 18, 2023)