relationship building

Paulette Jordan: Engaging the Nation's Citizens and Effecting Change: The Coeur d'Alene Story

Native Nations Institute

Paulette Jordan, citizen and council member of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe in Idaho, discusses the importance of Native nation leaders being grounded in their culture and consulting the keepers of the culture (their elders) so that they approach the leadership challenges they face with the proper mindset and tools. She also shares a story about she helped to mobilize tribal citizens and non-Indians in her community to support a tax levy in order to preserve adequate funding for local public education.

Resource Type

Jordan, Paulette. "Engaging the Nation's Citizens and Effecting Change: The Coeur d'Alene Story." Emerging Leaders seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. November 7, 2013. Presentation.

Herminia Frias:

"Our next presenter is Paulette Jordan and she is a tribal council member from Coeur d'Alene Tribe and she is going to be presenting her experience in citizen engagement and effecting change."

Paulette Jordan:

"Well, good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for having me. I really appreciate this opportunity. It feels like a homecoming because I was here back in 2009, right Renee [Goldtooth]? And so it feels like home, and I really do appreciate the hospitality and the good nature that I've always been given. I started out here for the Emerging Tribal Leaders Seminar just when I was just elected on to the tribal council. And so it's always a learning process, but you just have to run and go. There is no college or any type of education that you can go through really to really prepare you for tribal leadership. It's one of a kind, it's all on its own. You can go and get any specific degree and your MBA, your doctorate, whatever, your law degree, but none of that really prepares you for the challenges of what you're about to face when it comes to the people with domestic violence issues or meth issues -- as we heard here -- and housing issues. There's always a concern and how you manage that with your own people really is based on how you base your culture within your own heart and your empathy to understand your people and not judge them.

And so that's always been my big learning thankfully being raised by the elders, they've always said, "˜As long as you hold your heart out in your hand, that is how you approach your people,' and so that's always been my strategy is just to listen first and foremost and so that's why I come here to you all and offer myself just more so as a student. So whenever someone tries to put me up on any pulpit or anything like that I just say, "˜I'm just a humble person. I was just someone who was just raised on the reservation who just wants to come back and help make my community a better place.' And so whatever title or whatever someone wants to put on you, you just have to remind yourself where you come from and that's one thing my [Coeur d'Alene language] always said. So all the challenges that I've faced, even the ones that I'm going to be facing tomorrow and the next day and the next day after that, I have to remember my grandmothers and they always said to never forget where you came from.

And I mention that because I've pretty much learned over the years where the necessary places for us as tribal peoples. Now how many in here are tribal leaders, sit on your tribal councils, your tribal government? We've got some good representation here. As tribal leaders, what I've learned is we face a lot of conflicts, a lot of challenges, and in those approaches we have to build relationships. It's your job and your duty and your responsibility not only to build a relationship with your people but those surrounding communities, whether you live within a certain county, within a certain state and just being in the U.S. You have to go and meet with the President, with the Congress, with your city council, with your county commissioners, etc. and you have to develop those positive relationships for your people. So you have to be able to communicate to express the nature and the value of your citizens. And so for me, coming in as a young tribal leader learning that we had to promote our own people, promote our own issues, they're all unique, but to me as a Coeur d'Alene woman coming in, the vested interest in me was that we had to tell our story so that our concerns would be addressed at home and that meant building these relationships with the non-tribal community. And so that's what I've been doing and that's been my goal. That's also the reason why I ran for a state representative position in the State of Idaho as a Democrat in a very Republican state. But the point of doing that was in a very racist state, we live 30 miles south of a KKK [Ku Klux Klan] compound. So Idaho is a very not only Republican state, but very white supremacist-natured state, so we have to deal with these issues. But it's...everyone, every state has their issues so no one's better, no one's perfect, no one's more challenged than the other. But that's something I raise today because that also helps to build up [to] what I'm about to get to.

And so I talk about how the white supremacy group comes in and why it is that I decided to step up to some of these challenges, because each and every day I've learned -- whether I worked in D.C. or came back home and worked or even sitting on the tribal council -- that it always comes down to not just telling your story, but being those rooms, the meetings, doing the work, getting there to tell the people, the non-tribal people that this is what you're about, that you're not here to be an enemy, but more so a friend and how you can work together, how you can build those partnerships. Not just for you and that other person in the room that you're sitting across the table from, but for your communities at large and how that's going to benefit both the tribal and the non-tribal aspects.

So that was one of the first challenges that I've faced being on the tribal council and I just wanted to reflect that, because to me for us to get better as communities we have to look at who our friends are and that has to be everybody. We can't just think, "˜Oh, we're sovereign nations, we're going to move forward on our own.' That's not going to happen and that's really more of a pie-in-the-sky and wishful thinking but in all reality, yes, that's great, we're sovereign nations and let's act as such. Let's practice our traditional ways, let's continue to get out there and dig our roots and gather our berries and hunt our game and our wildlife, but yet still we have to know that we are one aspect in the larger picture and we are a small function in the greater world. But as my uncle always says, "˜We could still be a leader in this world based on how we walk our talk even as small nations.' Something I wanted to share, he's one of my greatest mentors, I probably should [have] mentioned this before, but I wanted to share that, how he has always stated to me that "˜the dollar is not the Almighty.' And again I'll say that, "˜The dollar is not the Almighty.' '...And that we must always remember to be humble before the Almighty God, to take care of our children, our elders, our people, our employees and our communities, to walk our talk and lead by example and in doing so,' he said, "˜we can improve our societies and show the world who we truly are as a nation. Our humanity is all that matters at the end of the day and how we look upon one another as relatives.' And he stated, "˜Once we can understand why and what it is we hold sacred, we can truly move mountains.' And so that is a quote that I wanted to share with you from my own uncle, who really helped advise me to the business woman, the leader that I am today.

Still, I just consider myself again a student, so I'm constantly learning from my elders. But it's always stated that you have to talk to your children. Arlene [Templer], she mentioned how you have to mentor each other, you have to mentor your children into these stages. Consult with your elders, your statesmen, your tribal leaders to build this historical knowledge to help prevent you from making the same mistakes that they made and then learn from their experiences because they all have great ideas, but people tend to write them off and want to move them into elders' homes when that should never be the case, that yes, they're in their golden years, but it's golden years for a reason. They're these treasures within our society that are the greatest resource that we have and I've seen within every tribal community that people tend to think more so towards and lean more so towards the western society and less to a cultural education. And so the problem with that to me is when we go all the way back to the United Nations, we talk about the Indigenous rights and the whole purpose of us fighting for that is basically to keep ourselves as a unique society within the world, to have this general understanding that yes we exist and we have these rights as Indigenous peoples, but to have those rights you have to practice those rights. And so that's the whole point is if you're going to practice it, then really walk your talk and go out and do those things of your people, your traditions and then teach your children.

And so with that being said, we have to be the change that we want to see. So I have a story to share and I know I was asked to come in and share some of my stories and I said, "˜Well, there is one recent one that really kind of strikes me that I think would be good for people to know,' because I've kind of been sharing this up in the northwest quite a bit. People ask me, "˜Well, geez, Idaho...' for example, is 47th in the nation when it comes to education, we're 49th in overall ranking. We're just poor as it can be, but again it's a Republican state. We have so many challenges to deal with, but one is education, but to our tribe, to the Coeur d'Alene tribe, we value education as the utmost priority. So to me, it became a problem when the school district within our reservation cut funding and then they were going to close that school when that school teaches around 70 to 80 percent of our students who are tribal students. So just to give an example of how we can engage our citizens and how we can unite with one another for the common good is what I'm getting to here.

It started with a levy, and I'll try to do my best to keep the story short because it's a long one, but it started with a levy. And basically the state said, "˜We're going to cut funding to the school and most of the schools throughout the state,' but our school was the only one who failed the increased funding basically to keep the school open. So it was going to lose its accreditation, lose its sporting programs, lose kindergarten, preschool programs, cut teachers and even good, great teachers, ones who were dealing with math or language arts, music, primary functions I would think for young development. And when that was going on, the tribe wanted to play a role, but the tribe played a role in more of a political sense. For me, I was just coming off of my own state campaign and I felt really worn out because to me it was a challenge's more about educating people to again, telling our story, what tribes really are, how we impact our local economy, socially and economically. And again, we're the number-one employer in the region, so we do quite well, but we don't brag or boast about it -- that's just not our way -- but we like to have other people tell that story. So again, the whole past six months of my life was spent trying to tell our story and educate people about the good that we do and how we want to work together to provide better resources to grow the economy, to create more jobs, to better the educational system, and to help those within even our smaller rural communities.

So after all this was going down and then the levy comes up, we thought, "˜Okay, everyone will vote for the levy. Why not, it's supporting our children, supporting education?' But then that failed and it failed miserably and the tribe became frustrated, the local non-tribal community was extremely frustrated, and sadly people were just ready to give up: the teachers, the students, everybody. So people were thinking, "˜Okay, where do we go next? Where do we go from here?' In a small community where that's checkerboarded [land] tribal and non-tribal, you get a lot of people thinking about their lives. What are they going to do next, where do we go, do we move, do we find a better school system? And this is a reservation and us Indian people, we don't just up and move to where we find a better life. This is our land; we have a sacred relationship with our land. So we don't just call it quits and move on and pack our trailer and go. We have to find a way to make it work. So a lot of the non-tribal people, they knew my plight and what I was trying to do and so they had approached me, the superintendent, the principal, and a lot of the teachers and I was kind of shocked by that, but they came to me and asked me...again, I'm just a tribal citizen in the community and they said, "˜Help us. We need your help. You know how to get out to the people and we think you can unite because we're going to need tribal and non-tribal votes to get this levy passed.' So you can imagine I was burned out and I really don't like politics. I really don't. I didn't like those forums and debates or really getting into the issues, but I do love helping the people and if I know that it's going to better the people overall, that makes me feel good about things.

So when I said to that superintendent of the district, I said, "˜Well, give me a week. I'm going to be here and there, but I need some time to think about it because I'm also a mother, too, and I know this is going to be another commitment and I already have a full plate.' So it came down to basically me seeing the school board panic. They panicked and then they had to cut everything and I felt bad for that school board and a few of them were tribal and I thought, "˜This is what they have to deal with. They have to deal with the state legislature who cut educational funding and it's trickling down to the people.' And so the rural county, the rural society, they're having to put the economy on their shoulders. So these are people just like you and I who have bills and families to feed and they...everyone has issues, they have a real...reality, basically to deal with. And so whatever that was, I thought, even my neighbors. I looked at their struggles and I thought, "˜It's just tragedy overall if we do nothing about it.' So this is what it comes down to, how do we engage our citizens?

So what I did was talked with all of our local folks. We had our education director, talked with our chairman. Basically I had to make this a grassroots effort and turn it into a community-wide, strong movement because they all had to come together. I said, "˜Even our students are willing to help and our teachers are willing to help, our elders, our tribal leaders, anyone and everyone needs to get out and vote.' But they're not only just responsible to vote. They have to get up and show up to these meetings and keep everyone educated because that was the reason why the levy lost in the first place. It always comes down to how you educate, how you tell your story and the people said, "˜Well, I don't really want to go door knocking. I don't really want to have public meetings. Why should we do this?' And I said, "˜Well, let's talk about John Deer, for example, who is a local business owner. He voted 'no' because he thinks that you want to basically bear this burden on his back as a local property owner. You're going to increase his taxes. Whether that's a minimal tax or a large tax, it's a tax and a local business owner does not want to be taxed any further than they already are.' But how do you tell that story? I says, "˜Well, speak from your heart. I'm teaching these young students here to tell their story and how it applies to their neighbors in that community.' I said, "˜And I learned going door...' It's really humbling to go door knocking, by the way, if anyone's done that or not. But I learned that if you want to win these elections and tell your story or have a vote in the broader forums, you have to get out there and tell people who you are and why you're running or what you're there for and how you can help them. And so I said to these students, "˜You're not here for yourself, you're here for your neighbor and you're here for their future because you are their vested interest. They're investing in you and you are the future.' I said, "˜When I went to school, my elders...' as much as I wanted to go back home to the reservation, I stayed in private school, but I said, "˜Only because I knew that my elders would always be with me,' and I knew that when they said, "˜Your education belongs to us. Your dedication, everything that you do belongs to the tribe,' I wholly believed in that. "˜So what you're doing today, this belongs to your community and you're bringing that back to invest a greater interest.'

And so that's what the youth said. They understood that. They said, "˜Yeah, we know, we get that.' And then they told their stories from their heart and that's what it came down to and that's, I think, how we won because this is a happy ending because people were ready to give up and call it good and throw in the towel and move on. And then of course the tribe is stuck footing the bill because people thought, "˜Well, the tribe obviously should be expected to pay this bill. We should be able to hold up that fourth leg to keep it standing.' But it's not the tribe's responsibility. We don't have a leadership arm in the school district. It's the state and it's a state-funded school, but the state was not doing its job and it was withholding money from local communities. So to me that's a travesty, but also it's against the law because they were not upholding an Idaho State Supreme Court decision and it's a law that every child in the State of Idaho is guaranteed a free and good public education. So they weren't upholding the needs of the people and again, it's not the tribe's responsibility, but the tribe was willing to do whatever was necessary. But I said, "˜Wait a minute. This is not the tribe's responsibility, but we're all about community here. We want to build up our community just as the next person.' And so a grassroots effort -- you have to really get out there and tell your story if you want to make change. And so being the change you want to see is about walking your talk, sharing your message, being that voice. Each and every one of us has a vision and we are blessed to have those visions because not everybody is granted that ability.

You're here again for a reason, so you just didn't stumble through that door and decide, "˜I'm going to listen in on Paulette and Arlene here.' You have a good reason to be here. So I'm hoping this story is helpful because to me that really opened my eyes, because when I was in that room I was directing the command center at the last day on voting day and I didn't have the tribal council or the chairman, I was...I said, "˜You know what, this is best left aside from all politics. This is about the children.' So I put the children at the helm and I said, "˜This is their doing. They're the ones who got out and educated the community. They went door to door,' as shy as they are, some of them are the most shy people, but I think after that experience it's going to turn them into strong nationwide leaders because they are young warriors. And I said, "˜You have just been inducted into basically what is kind of like our Indian Way Leadership Academy. You have stood up and counted coup against this levy.'

And so that day was neat because in our tribal headquarters we had all of our youth, we had a lot of our tribal citizens, we had non-tribal people and the most amazing point of the day to me was when we had some non-tribal ladies joking with our tribal people and they were joking like we were all relatives and I've never seen that before. I've never seen tribal and non-tribal and again, we still have a lot of race issues, we still have that line there that we need to get rid of, but I think that line is not as bold as it used to be after that moment. And so for those race relationships we really helped one another, and I think that people will remember that day and they'll see that we came together for each other's children. And so people are starting to see that tribes are not enemies but we're friends and we want to be good relatives and good neighbors to one another and so we showed that by example. And so again, we walked our talk that day.

That was the story I was asked to share and I wanted to come down and express that much to you and I do hope you take something from that. But again, it is...engaging your citizenry is about being humble and having that vision and really I think having diligence and just being honest with your people about what the issues are and what the concerns are. Really tell them, if there's a problem, you have to tell your elders and your people and not be afraid of that backlash because, yeah, they're going to criticize you and I know it's hard to take, but just realize it's constructive criticism that will help you in the long run. I know I would, as the youngest person of the council, I used to develop and hold elders' meetings and I was the elders' liaison and the elders were considered the tough ones of all the bunch in our community. And so they said, "˜Oh, put Paulette over there, she can talk to the elders.' And they thought they were setting me up good "˜cause I was the young one and I got vetted for that job. And I said, "˜Well, I see that as an honor and a privilege. Thank you.' And all the elders of the council, they're all in their 60s, 70s, and so here I was at 28 and so I really seen that as an honor, but my first step was to engage them wholly and we had an elders' listening session and yes, that first session was great. All they wanted to know is that they were being listened to and that you were going to do what they said and not just throw it into the wind. So I followed up after those listening sessions and we had them yearly and so they became very productive. And I thought, "˜I wish we did this more often.' But I would have them once yearly and so trying to keep that tradition going. But that's all it's about is talking to your people and not being afraid to be disciplined and you know how that finger may be waved in your face or challenged in some way or form. So thank you. I appreciate this time again and I appreciate all of you having me and listening to me, especially after that good lunch we had. [Coeur d'Alene language]."

Honoring Nations: Justin Martin: Enhancing Government-to-Government Relationships

Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

Justin Martin, Former Director of Intergovernmental Affairs at Grand Ronde, discusses his nation's relationship in previous years with the state government, and how Grand Ronde was able to build and sustain success over time in the state's legislative arena.

Resource Type

Martin, Justin. "Enhancing Government-to-Government Relationships." Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Sante Fe, New Mexico. February 8, 2002. Presentation.

Andrew Lee:

"Our last morning presentation is from a man who's always on the go, Justin Martin, who's the Director of Intergovernmental Affairs at Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. He's done a fantastic job and I know working with Kathryn [Harrison] and his team and Nicole [Holmes], they've just done a great job and being recognized as a sovereign and just making a ton of headway with state and federal interactions, so Justin Martin."

Justin Martin:

"Thank you, Andrew, for that kind introduction and thank you all for having us and being here today. I'm going to talk not so much about my program today, I'm sure you've all read about that in the report. Today I'm going to focus a little bit on state-level politics and our journey through the past five years with the state-level government and how we were able to build some success in that level. I'm actually going to talk specifically about some numbers today, because I've approached this from a very general perspective over the past couple days, and then talk a little bit about what got us to the level that we are today with respect to being able to effectively promote our sovereignty.

First, before I go into that I'd like to take a quick moment to, as Andrew mentioned, to thank Kathryn Harrison, who as I went through this journey over the past five years, I've been fortunate personally to work with several mentors. Some of the best lobbyists at the Oregon level; a man that's been in the building for 45 years, one of the best public relations/public affairs persons in the Pacific Northwest. And then finally Kathryn, as a mentor to me, I have been able to learn from your vision and your guidance and your commitment, and most of all, Kathryn, your perseverance. And those are lessons that I will take with me for the rest of my life, so thank you very much for that. It has been a blessing to go through this journey with you for five years. Also I'd like to thank my sidekick, my partner in crime, Nicole Holmes, who is the other half of the Intergovernmental Affairs Department -- a whopping number of two employees in that department. We were able to steal Nicole from a state representative, which I wouldn't recommend to a lot of folks, but he was a very big fan of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and realized her value to this tribe. So, Nicole, thank you for all your help and all your work over the past three-plus years.

So with that, a little bit about this journey. I am a tribal member and how I came to be in this role is in 1995, a state representative went to the tribal council and asked if there were any young Native Americans interested in coming to work for a state representative in the legislative process. My grandfather was on the council at the time and gave me a call and said there's a man in Salem that's interested in having somebody come and work for them. So I saw this as an opportunity within my curriculum at school to go and do this. As I mentioned yesterday, my background is public policy and public administration. So that's what got me into the legislative process. It was a generous offer by a state legislator and one that allowed me to start to create some of those personal relationships at the state level that in turn wound up getting me to Grand Ronde. Another nice side of that is I was able to then, when I went to work for the tribe in '97, to create a relationship with my grandfather who I did not have a relationship with growing up. Him and my grandmother had been split up for the 26-some years that I had been alive so that also in and of itself has been a wonderful experience. He is retired from council and moved on but again, I've been able to build that relationship; a relationship with some of my culture and heritage that frankly, I didn't pay much attention to growing up. The Grand Ronde Tribe was a tribe that was terminated in the ‘50s. So for the first 14 years of my existence, the tribe did not exist in terms of federal recognition.

So, a quick kind of history of Grand Ronde: 26 bands originally were moved to the Grand Ronde Reservation in the 1850s. That was originally a 69,000-acre reservation. Through termination, that went down to two-and-a-half acres in the 1950s and then again, through perseverance and commitment of some of our elders, we were able to be restored in 1983. Kathryn was a big part of that, also Congresswoman Elizabeth Furse, who wasn't a congresswoman at the time, played a big role in that. We were recognized in name only and did not get any of the reservation back until 1988, a separate act of Congress. The 1988 Reservation Act in which we got about 9,800 acres of contiguous timberland back in which to sustain our government. So from that time until the onset of Indian gaming in 1995, that is how we operated. So with that onset of Indian gaming came all kinds of new issues with respect to the state.

So as I told you a little bit earlier, I'm going to talk specifically about some of the state-level programs that we've been able to get involved with and have some success with. Right before 1997, we signed a permanent compact with the State of Oregon for our gaming facility that opened up several avenues and several concerns. So in the 1997 legislative session when I came aboard with Grand Ronde, we saw about 39 legislative measures that had some potential impact to Native American tribes in Oregon. Out of that 39, about 19 of them were considered damaging, what could have an adverse...a potential adverse affect on the tribe. So we went to work and we went to work trying to educate elected officials to let them know exactly how this would impact the tribe and we were able to successfully defeat all those.

So in the time between 1997 and 1999, this is the nice part of what we've been able to do, we can actually start to quantify some of the success of government relations, which is very, very difficult to do. In the '99 session, we saw only three potentially damaging measures. So that went from 19 to three in about a two-year period. Well, how did we make that happen? We hit the road, we started educating elected officials. This is kind of where my program comes in, we started communicating, we started educating, we started cooperating with the communities, we started making contributions and yes, those are political contributions in the form of dollars, but again those are other contributions in the form of being community members getting involved in the community making things happen there. And then finally we started to create a presence, a presence where people knew if they were dealing with Native American issues, they were going to have to talk to Grand Ronde and the eight other tribes that existed.

So now we can kind of follow this journey again and quantify it even more so in the '01 session and in the '01 session we did see about six measures that were potentially damaging. So you might say, ‘Well, Justin, you went from 19 to three, that's quite a remarkable feat but then you went back up to six potentially damaging pieces of legislation in ‘01.' Well, we've also been able to widen the scope of legislation that we have tracked. So on a percentage basis, it's about the same percentage of damaging legislation that we saw in '99. But the really effective number that I think, out of those six potentially damaging measures that were introduced in the recent '01 session, not a single bill got a hearing. And to even keep something from even creating a public discussion or some public sentiment is truly a win in and of itself. I would rather have 10 potentially damaging measures that don't see the light of day than even one that could create some kind of public swell. Not only was that the effective part of the '01 session, but we saw something that we hadn't seen in Oregon I don't think ever.

We were able to pass, and I say we, this is not just Grand Ronde, I like to believe that all the tribes working collectively were able to pass six pieces of positive legislation. So you look from 1997 where everything was negative, negative, negative and how does this affect...we were able to effectively make a complete turn, 180-degree turn and now we're passing positive legislation. And one of those, for a quick background, Oregon, I think, is a real progressive state. We have had a progressive governor that has looked at creating state-tribal relationships that go beyond just the everyday legislature and just beyond everyday state-level programs. There was an executive order in 1996 encouraging state-tribal relations, and that included one summit every year, that included individual cluster groups for tribal agencies and state agencies to start working together. Some of those cluster groups are natural resources, environmental resources, public safety, health, education and finally economic development -- a wonderful, wonderful program. But what happens when the current governor is gone? So we looked at that collectively as tribes and said, ‘Why don't we do something about this executive order? Let's pass some legislation and put this into statute.' And that's exactly what we did. Senate Bill 770 passed the legislative session this year essentially guaranteeing that we will continue that government-to-government relationship throughout the future no matter the administration, whether they're Native friendly or not. Again, just a landmark piece of legislation, one that we're very proud to have passed. Some of the other pieces of legislation, Senate Bill 690, a Native American Teaching License Certificate Bill, which allows elders to go back into not only Native schools but public schools and teach the language. It effectively took away the barrier that said you have to have this college degree and this teaching certificate because we don't want to lose what these elders can offer at this time. Just a wonderful bill. Some of the other bills, both a statutory bill and one that sent a message to Congress was the deletion of 'squaw' language from Oregon geographic board names. We passed that both in statute and within our memorial, just a wonderful message to Native Americans throughout the state. And then finally the creation of local mental health authorities on reservations in areas that even the community, non-tribal members don't really have access to mental health care. Now they can begin to get those services and also look at some alternative funding methods combined with tribes, again, in those areas that are outside of the metropolitan areas.

So how did we do this? How did we get to this point where we were able to totally turn a negative situation to a positive situation? And I've heard from some other folks that other states aren't quite that progressive and that, obviously, is understandable. And some of the questions on the panel yesterday talked about kind of volatile environments, how do you start to make a difference? Well, what Grand Ronde did, what the vision of the tribal council did is said, ‘We need to be involved, how are we going to do that?' and then went and they worked with outside professionals. We went and we hired again that best lobbyist, we went and we hired that best public relations manager, we hired the best marketing firm, but council said, ‘We're not just going to do that and we're not just going to put that in the hands of somebody that doesn't understand the Grand Ronde way, doesn't understand what the Native way of life is all about. So we're also going to take from these people what we can in the way of education and experience and we're going to start to create it for ourselves.' And that's where I have personally been fortunate to be brought into that. But that also carries over in every department within our government. So we've been able to utilize that external expertise, not only utilize it out there, but to utilize it internally to learn from it and become stronger and in the future we'll be able to do that for ourselves. Now, when you go out and you look to contract with somebody, make that a part of the deal because, you know what, we've got a good issue and that's something that professional lobbyists or professional public relations persons, that's something they want to work with. You as a tribe will be a feather in their cap as far as a client. That's out there. Do it on your terms because you're the one that's ultimately responsible for protecting that sovereignty and again, effectively promoting it. You're not giving up jurisdiction, you're not giving up your sovereign rights, you're finding a more effective way to deliver that message because some of these external professionals open doors that we would never have had a chance to open five years ago. Get that in, start to create those relationships at the grassroots level and you're going to be that much more effective.

So that is some of the success that we've had at the state level. I've also been having some side conversations with folks. What are some of the other really successful things that you've seen? What we have been able to see is sentiment that says, ‘Okay, the Oregon State Lottery's about $900 million per biennium for the state.' But every voter that sits in those rooms wonders, ‘What do they do with the money? What are they doing with the dollars?' But, what we've seen, almost two out of three voters in these focus groups is Grand Ronde. What have they been able to do with the dollars? What have they been able to do within their community? As soon as you ask them about, ‘Well, what about the other gaming that goes...? What about the other gaming product in Oregon? What about Indian gaming?' and the first thing you hear is, ‘Well, they're giving something back to the community. They're delivering dollars. They funded LifeFlight, they funded OMSI', which is the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. ‘They work in conjunction with the Oregon Food Bank. Those guys are going it right'. And when you hear that your government, a small tiny tribal government is doing things the right way, that's when you know you've been effective, that's when you know you're changing public opinion, that's when you know the grassroots has taken effect, that's when you know you've been able to sway public opinion because, you know what? We're all on the right side of a good issue. We're not pushing anything bad here and once you educate people to that fact, and I've seen it a million times, it clicks. 'Why don't they tax...why don't Indians get taxed?' 'Well, we're paying for services outside. We contract with Polk County, we contract with Yamhill County. We don't have our own water; we don't have our own sewer.' It clicks. People go, ‘Oh, that's why'. Or we seeded LENA. ‘Oh, that's why. I didn't think about that 'cause that's not what I hear in the newspaper.' So get out there and educate, grassroots. It sounds simple and easy and it is because again it's getting down to the lowest level of building personal relationships. Once you find something in common -- and I think we can all find things in common with other folks -- you can make it happen.

So with that I'm just going to close by telling a little story. Again, I think, Kathryn, when I first started, I was about three months on the job and Kathryn wasn't feeling well and she was to give a speech about the Grand Ronde history in front of a bunch of state agencies. She said, ‘Justin, I'm not feeling very well, can you do this?' I thought, ‘Oh, my god. Okay, you've got Kathryn Harrison, who's again a model of perseverance and understands and has been through that, and then you've got Justin Martin, an urban kid from Salem that has been working for the tribe and really doesn't have a grasp about that. What the hell am I going to talk about?' And so I went over...on my way over and I started trying to formulate this speech, which I was going to give in about 40 minutes and started thinking about, ‘What can I talk about?' And I looked to the right to that two-and-a-half acres when the tribe was terminated and thought about my great grandmother who I was very fortunate, again to be able to spend about 21 years of my life with before she passed in 1992. So I started thinking about her a little bit and I turned left -- and if you guys have been to Grand Ronde, you eventually come up on the casino, which is huge and then I looked at that and I thought, ‘Boy, that's really impressive'. And then I kept driving a little bit and I started thinking, ‘Well, boy, I wonder what my great grandmother would have thought, my Grandma Cora. Boy, she would have really been impressed by seeing that building.' But then about 15 miles down the road I started thinking, ‘Would she really have been that impressed? Well, no, would the bright lights or that great big building have impressed my grandmother? No. Would the five restaurants with all the fancy food or all the money and all the fancy machines, would that have impressed my grandmother? Well, no. What would have impressed her?' And so a little further down the road I started thinking, ‘Here's what would have impressed her. We've been able to do something at Grand Ronde that hasn't been able to be done in that area. We're starting to bring people back home, people that had to leave the reservation because of assimilation, failed assimilation policy. We're able to bring them back home. We're able to start turning their lives around through programs in health care and education and housing and elder pensions and elder care. We're able to bring back that community, we're able to make our members more self-sufficient and best of all we're able to give them some hope.'

So thank you all very much for hearing me today. And again, you can make a difference at the state level, you can make a difference at the federal level, and you can make a difference at the local level, just get out there and meet some people and make it happen. Thank you very much."

Miriam Jorgensen:

"We've got a few minutes to take maybe a couple questions for Justin if you have them so let's go ahead and take a few."

Audience member:

"I'll restrict my 50 questions to one, Justin. Could you talk about your relationship with other interests in the state, being a small population group in Oregon? Undoubtedly you need additional support in order to get your legislation passed. And also there are a lot of issues in the state that aren't specifically native issues, but which affect Native interests very much. I imagine employment policies or health policies or TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] policies and so on. So what's you're relationship with other lobbyists and interests beyond the Native community?"

Justin Martin:

"Great question. Thank you for asking. We start to see...I think you start to see a spread and this gets to where my program really focuses on presence. So not only are we a government presence, but now we're starting to be a presence in the business community, now we're starting to be a presence in the non-profit and the charitable community, and we're able to utilize not just political contributions to our advantage. So say we start to build some partnerships in that community, we start to build partnerships in what we call regional problem solving where in Yamhill County, Polk County, the tribal government, and then the local governments start to work together in a consensus fashion to be able to make those things happen. That also happens like I said in the business community. You start garnering support and you start working side by side with some of the big business interests. So okay, it's not just Grand Ronde, a small tribal government. They've got that right, they've got...we need to give them that respect. It's also Grand Ronde, the largest employer in Polk County. So okay, we don't have a lot of votes to deliver say in an election or we don't have a lot of individual contributors to certain programs, but look at our workforce. And they're going to go out in their communities and back to their homes and spread the work about Grand Ronde. So it becomes...again it's kind of this groundswell of grassroots, but it's also in other areas that we would never have thought possible and that's not just politics, that's employment, that's in natural resources, cultural resources. People start to look to the tribe as experts in each and every one of those areas."

Honoring Nations: Charlie O'Hara: Developing Productive Government-to-Government Relations: Swinomish Cooperative Land Use Program

Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

Charlie O'Hara discusses the Swinomish Cooperative Land Use Program and the importance of developing productive mutually beneficial government-to-government relations.

Resource Type

O'Hara, Charlie. "Developing Productive Government-to-Government Relations: Swinomish Cooperative Land Use Program." Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Sante Fe, New Mexico. February 7, 2002. Presentation.

Andrew Lee:

"Our final presentation from an Honoring Nations winner today is Charlie O'Hara, who's going to be talking about developing productive government-to-government relationships. Charlie's from the Swinomish Tribe in Washington State, which is about 80 miles north of Seattle. And they deal with a problem that many of your nations face as well, which is how to deal with checker-boarded reservations and how that impacts land use planning. In 2000, the Swinomish Tribe won an Honoring Nations award for their cooperative land use program. It's really a model that I know lots of folks around the country have looked to for inspiration in developing good sovereign-to-sovereign relationships on reservations that are highly checker boarded. Charlie, good to see you here. Ready to hear and learn from you today."

Charlie O'Hara:

"You notice Andrew tilts the mic the whole time to accommodate his six -oot height. Thank you very much. I generally don't need a mic that much.

Let me first start off by saying that I'm a recent employee at the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community. And the work that was done to actually gain this award was done by my predecessor, and much of the credit goes to the tribal senate. Fortunately, I have my tribal chairman here, who can correct me when I make some errors in this presentation, but he and his predecessors deserve much of the credit because this was really a process that took place over a long period of time. It was roughly 15 years, I believe, in terms of the tribe's recognition of the issue and that is the land-use regulation in a checkerboarded reservation and how to best deal with that. The tribe took the position that they had land use jurisdiction over all lands on the reservation. Of course the county's position was, ‘No, you only have land use regulation over the trust portions of the reservation.' So there was a disagreement obviously.

There were options. They could have gone to litigation. The tribe and the county instead chose to try to work out through cooperative agreements a mechanism for dealing with this disagreement. Initially there was a period of mutual education where, through extensive meetings, there was actually a building bridges process that took place of some rather intense workshops to mutually educate both the county and the tribal members regarding each other's concerns, each other's issues in how they might seek some way of accommodating those kinds of concerns. Eventually, out of that process there was an agreement reached as to some basic understandings of the different approaches and how they might be bridged. Ultimately, it ended up with a cooperative agreement that talks about sharing responsibilities for dealing with land use regulation on the fee lands within the reservation. The tribe still exercises complete jurisdiction over trust properties, but it shares responsibilities with the county on the fee lands.

So for example, let me give you an example of how that works. If an individual is going to get a clearing and grading permit, for example, he has a choice of either going to the county or to the tribe. We have mutual processes...similar processes and that individual can go to either place. If he comes to the tribe, I have five days to forward that permit application to the county. They then have 15 days to respond and tell me if there's a problem with it. Likewise, if he were to go to the county, I would have that same opportunity. My response...I might have an issue, for example, because of concern over cultural resources in that particular area or other specifically tribal kinds of concerns. But basically, we use the same UPC, we use the same codes in other words, and we share expertise in a variety of areas. That's kind of the guts of the thing. I'd like to kind of talk a little bit if you don't mind about some of the more abstract aspects of government-to-government relations and effective government-to-government relations.

There's basically three types of relationships you can have with the outsiders, the non-Indians, and that seems to be isolation, litigation or adversarial kind of relationship, or some kind of cooperative relationship. All of them have their applications. In other words, some of them have our appropriate but different kinds of situations. Let me give you an example. For example, on certain cultural practices, isolation may be the best approach where a tribe has no interest in sharing a particular, whether it be ceremonies or practices, with non-Indian community. Isolation, in that case, would probably be the best kind of approach. And quite honestly I think that's probably the approach, is that fair to say at Swinomish with the smoke house? No interest in what the county's doing or anything else. It doesn't impact them. Litigation is often, too often probably, a situation where it ends up being the only avenue in order to protect essential tribal rights and so litigation becomes the only method of resolving an issue. The problem with litigation is often that it's very costly both in terms of financial resources as well as staff resources, it's lengthy, and you never know what the outcome is. It's a crapshoot in other words. And one of the other parts of the problem with that kind of an adversarial relationship is it tends to color other issues and you may be litigating only on one issue but all of a sudden you find that negative atmosphere spreads out over other issues that you're trying to deal with and so it gets less than productive in that sense. Cooperative relations, on the other hand, can be productive, but there needs to be in those cases perceived balance of power relations. Too often, you see groups pulled into cooperative or collaborative situations where the power isn't equal and, I would argue, that those are difficult situations for tribes to be in. One situation for example that I particularly don't care for is those kinds of cooperative or collaborative efforts where tribes are viewed as another stakeholder. Often, the situations involve trust responsibilities, treaty rights, other things where tribes are not just another stakeholder. And in those cases it really requires a defined government-to-government relationship and tribes shouldn't be treated as just another stakeholder. So I guess my point is that each of these approaches have their application.

The Swinomish Tribe has a culture of respect for all people and a willingness to try to find a cooperative way of working through issues. It's probably the most respectful group of people I've ever had the privilege to work with and I really enjoy that opportunity. The cooperative relationships can be the most productive however, when that perceived power relationship is balanced. And that can often require a lengthy mutual education process and that's often necessary. And that's the process that the tribe went through with Skagit County so that they could both understand their issues. Often we feel that our issue is the right issue and whoever we're talking with, their issue doesn't have value. Typically for cooperative relationships to work, there needs to be some kind of mutual respect development. Like I said, cooperative relationships can be most productive, because like the adversarial relationship it can spread and it tends to resolve other issues.

I want to allude here for a minute to Jon Cooley's remarks about the cooperative agreement with [U.S.] Fish and Wildlife. In a prior life, I worked with White Mountain Apache Tribe as well, and so I had the opportunity to work on that issue. And just because it's a nice thing to talk about, that statement of, what actually turned out to be a statement of relationship developed out of a meeting between the chairman of the White Mountain Apache Tribe and the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; one-on-one in a neutral location with a ground rule that no lawyers were allowed. Interestingly enough, that meeting was brokered by Joe Kalt. Joe Kalt recognized the conflict that the tribe was in with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and I happened to be seeing him and he asked me, ‘Do you think Chairman [Ronnie] Lupe would meet with Molly Beattie?' And fortunately Chairman Lupe agreed and it was a most productive meeting. The interesting part of that though was that we had been thoroughly engaged in a conflict situation; we had been spending all of our resources fighting with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. When the statement of relationship concluded, all of a sudden the whole thing changed and we were working hand-in-hand in the field, doing things on the ground to improve the situation for endangered species. So it was an interesting experience. But like that experience, it rested on an agreement to disagree. The Chairman emphatically stated that the Endangered Species Act does not apply on Indian lands. Molly Beattie said, ‘I have job is to implement the Endangered Species Act. We don't agree.' They said, ‘Fine, we don't agree, but let's set that aside and see how we can move forward.' Likewise, in the case with the Swinomish Tribe and Skagit County there was an agreement: ‘We don't agree on who has jurisdiction over fee land, but let's set that disagreement aside so we can move forward productively.' Those kinds of mutual respect and agreements to disagree are necessary for cooperative relationships because you're not going to agree on everything.

I guess I'm going to try to close. But currently we're involved right now in both the litigation and the cooperative relationship mode and it's going to be interesting to see how that works out. But the one interesting fact, although it's rather contentious litigation and it has to do with treaty rights and endangered species and natural resource management and the tribe protecting those rights, nonetheless the cooperative agreement regarding land use regulation has stood up and it is still a touchstone that we go back to to demonstrate that on some things we can cooperate and we can proceed in a cooperative manner.

So I guess in conclusion, I guess effective government-to-government relationships require mutual respect, they require some level of technical expertise whether it be on fish and game issues or whether it be in the case of land use planning. In the case of the statement of relationship, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognized that the White Mountain Apache Tribe had really good wildlife biology program and management program. In the case of the Swinomish Tribe, they recognized that they had good land use planning and good policies in effect. Those are kind of important, that technical underpinning of those agreements. Third, there has to be a consistency of policy. In other words, when you reach an agreement, then that agreement has to be maintained. It can't be re-read, redefined for every issue. Fourth, there needs to be open communications. That's one thing that we really need to work on is continuing communication with Skagit County. Often, if you don't have an issue, you don't communicate. And then when you have a negative issue the communications can really go sour quickly. Finally, for any of these things to work there has to be political will. If you don't have the will of the senate or in our case the tribal senate or in most cases tribal councils, these things won't stand up. And really, when we talk about what does it take for exemplary governance, it takes a lot of political will on the part of the elected leadership of tribes. Thank you."

Joseph P. Kalt:

"Charlie, as you know, the purpose of the Honoring Nations program is to provide a mechanism by which tribes can learn from each other. And as you know, the Swinomish example is now being used explicitly. I was at Nez Perce just 10 days ago and trying to provide examples to other situations in other tribes to learn from your successes. I have two questions about this; basically it's one question. Is it working? Specifically, two parts to this: one of the things that's been done so much at Swinomish is something that we see nations around the world doing when they don't share a government. That is they both think they're sovereign, they both assert their sovereignty. You all have used these techniques of ‘You have .3 members, I have .3 members and we'll pick a neutral' and that's actually very common in governments around the world is the sign of the exercise of sovereignty. I'd like to know whether that specific mechanism, how it works and then secondly I'd like to know more generally, are these cooperative agreements working? Let me tell you why. When I talk to you or I talk to Ned, one version is, ‘Wow, man it's nothing but trouble. We're negotiating all the time.' And I don't know whether to interpret that as they aren't working or is it like me complaining, ‘My university doesn't work, this thing called doesn't work at all because I'm fighting with my dean.' Well, of course it works at one level. So in other words, does it work? And when I hear you say it doesn't work, does that mean it's not working [unintelligible]?

Charlie O'Hara:

"Let me answer the first one first, which is, ‘Does that mechanism set-up of the advisory group work?' We haven't had an issue of enough significance to call it into being. Quite honestly, that's a shortcoming and I'll take blame for that because we really should be working that group in the event that we do have a big issue. We're likely to have one fairly soon."

Brian Cladoosby:

"Let me add just a little bit. I'm Brian Cladoosby. I'm the chairman at Swinomish. Now, this board is set up: if I as a fee-land owner give a permit, bring it to the county, the county sends it to Swinomish and Swinomish says, ‘No, that goes all against everything that we want to do at Swinomish,' then it goes to the deal board. The deal board hasn't had to hear any of these...Swinomish hasn't denied, county hasn't denied. So basically the board...everything that we do is so unified as far as land use that this board hasn't had to have been used in the couple years since it's been set up. So, in a sense, they're there in case we appeal within the county issues or the county appeals to things that we issue. So the board is there, but we haven't had to use it."

Charlie O'Hara:

"And in answer to the second part of that question is, I guess it depends on what day you ask me because sometimes you're optimistic and sometimes you're not. Right now, for example, the's what's called the buffer case, meaning that the tribes have been pushing farmers in Skagit County to create bigger buffers on streams to protect salmon habitat. That, of course, cuts into the farmland so you've got farmers up in arms and they tend to be the political power brokers in Skagit County. And so it's very contentious. The tribes have gone to court; the tribes have won consistently in court. The county has tried to get the tribes to back off that position and used a number of mechanisms, intimidation in holding up fee-to-trust applications and a number of other arm-twisting mechanisms. But, surprisingly, it has not affected the land-use agreement and we've had a couple of issues arise, particularly one most recently involving cultural resources or the potential of cultural resources being on a piece of property that was being developed. And the landowner, being a particularly contentious person that claimed he had a cultural survey done, and there was nothing there. So the tribe said, ‘Fine. Show it to us.' He refused. The county then said, ‘Look, if you don't show us this survey, we're not going to go forward.' And so he reluctantly turned it over to the county. He wouldn't turn it over to the tribe. The county then turned it over to us and everything worked out okay. But the point was that it was tested and it worked. And so I guess I'm feeling optimistic today so yeah."

Audience member:

"Let's turn the question around another way. One supposes that good relations between potentially conflicting groups need to be constantly renewed. So are you actively thinking about ways to show as you're doing just today that it's working and celebrating the cooperation that exists against the day when you may have a conflict and you'll need to draw upon the reserve of good will that you're hoping to build up."

Charlie O'Hara:

"Probably not enough to be quite honest with you. But, for example, we've shared like breakfasts with the Skagit County permitting people and brought our cultural resources planner there to explain cultural resource issues and how they can be better sensitive to when they may run into cultural issue resource issues when they're doing projects. We've participated jointly in some conferences but it's never enough. It's something that has to be continually worked."

Good Practice Guide: Indigenous Peoples and Mining


It is important that companies take the time to properly understand the communities they work with including their particular context, concerns and aspirations. This Guide aims to assist companies to achieve those constructive relationships with Indigenous Peoples. 

Native Nations
Resource Type

"Good Practice Guide: Indigenous Peoples and Mining." International Council on Mining & Metals. London, United Kingdom. 2010. (, accessed May 23, 2023).