separating business from politics

Project Pueblo: Economic Development Revitalization Project

Year

A strong economy is one of the foundations of a healthy community. Native nations use business profits and tax revenues to invest in areas such as health, education, culture, and public safety programs to meet the needs of tribal citizens. At the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, a sudden economic decline in the early 2000s forced the nation to re-examine the way in which business was being conducted on the reservation. The tribal government responded by launching Project Pueblo, a full-scale planning initiative that took a hard look at all aspects of their economy and government to find a new path forward.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

"Project Pueblo: Economic Development Revitalization Project." Honoring Nations: 2010 Honoree. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 2011. Report.

Yukaana Development Corporation (Louden Tribal Council)

Year

The Louden Tribal Council created the Yukaana Development Corporation in 1998 to address the concerns of environmental degradation and environmental justice through training and employment. Under a contract with the US Air Force, the tribally owned Corporation cleans contamination caused by a local military base and collaborates with other agencies to train Natives in environmental remediation. Given Alaska Natives’ unique political context, assertions of tribal self-governance must be creative and have broad-ranging benefits. Within this framework, the Louden Tribal Council has been extremely resourceful in marshalling the necessary resources to fulfill its twin objectives of starting a for-profit corporation and undertaking environmental remediation on its traditional hunting and fishing lands. The Yukaana Development Corporation is both improving the environment and creating new job opportunities in this rural area of the Alaska interior.

Native Nations
Citation

"Yukaana Development Corporation (Louden Tribal Council)." Honoring Nations: 2000 Honoree. The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 2001. Case Study.

Permissions

This Honoring Nations case study is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development.

Eileen Briggs: The Importance of Data and Community Engagement

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Eileen Briggs is a citizen of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and is the Executive Director of Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Ventures. She is also the Principal Investigator on "Cheyenne River Voices Research" — a reservation-wide research project including a household survey of over 800 families that has created a historic set of baseline data for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and others serving the reservation population. In collaboration with researchers at NNI, Eileen is creating a series of papers on Tribal Data Sovereignty & Governance.

People
Resource Type
Citation

Eileen Briggs, "The Importance of Data and Community Engagement," Interview, Leading Native Nations interview series, Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ,  March 03, 2015

Verónica Hirsch:

"Welcome to Leading Native Nations. I'm your host Verónica Hirsch. On today's program we are honored to have with us Eileen Briggs. Eileen is a citizen of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and currently serves as the Executive Director of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Ventures Program in Eagle Butte, South Dakota. Eileen is also certified as an economic development finance professional, is President of the tribally owned energy corporation and is a small business owner. Eileen, welcome. Good to have you with us today. I've shared a little bit about who you are but why don't you start by telling us a bit more about yourself. What did I leave out?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Well, I grew up on the reservation. I lived my young life there and then moved away and got some great experience living in other states working with other tribes in Wisconsin and Minnesota and then back in South Dakota working with other Lakota tribes in the region and it's just...it's great to be back working for my tribe, for my people and I think that I have been very fortunate to along my journey to have a lot of tools in my toolbox added as I've went along and to be able to bring them back home and gain so many more. So I just...I live there in the Eagle Butte community, our tribal headquarters and make my home there with my extended family."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. Eileen, could you please describe the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Ventures Program? What prompted its creation and what brought about the partnership with the Northwest Area Foundation?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Well, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Ventures Project is really the kind of project that I think a lot of our reservation communities sort of are in a way working towards without that kind of a title and for us it's really a larger strategic planning process that came to us through our partnership with the Northwest Area Foundation. And it's a project that's focused on poverty reduction and of course in Indian communities, our communities in particular we have very high rates of poverty for the nation and so we really had this opportunity with the 10 year poverty reduction plan to look at poverty and to stand around it together and determine what strategies and initiatives that we think would make an impact. And so what brought it about was the opportunity that the Northwest Area Foundation was bringing to the region that they serve and the Northwest Area Foundation selected Cheyenne River along with two other tribal communities in this round that we were invited in 2003 to participate in. And so we went through a process of strategic planning with an investment from the Northwest Area Foundation. That process was phenomenal in and of itself to give our reservation leadership, community members and organizations across the reservation a chance to talk to one another and to develop a strategic effort to address poverty."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. Can you please describe what the Tribal Ventures Project's purpose is?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Our purpose is specifically focused on this 10 year effort that began in 2006 to address poverty on the reservation and implement the strategies that came from the people and that the tribal council ultimately endorsed and made the focus of the plan and our efforts for the next 10 years. So our work and the mission of Tribal Ventures is to implement that plan, to take the ideas and make them into reality, to try them out. Some of them were brand new things that never existed on the reservation. All of the projects are focused on long term results and impact for our communities and were projects that weren't there on the reservation before. And it's really given us a chance to look at the kinds of ideas that came from the people and the kind of responses and designs that we would want to create for our own people."

Verónica Hirsch:

"You mentioned how the people really helped direct the Tribal Ventures Project strategies and focus. How were their opinions and their insights solicited and the incorporated into the project?"

Eileen Briggs:

"It was a very intense and really rewarding...I was able to be a part of that rewarding experience and a very focused engagement and a focus on inclusiveness. So it was a strategic effort to reach out to all of our communities. We have a very large land base, 2.3 million acres of land. And we have 19 communities on our reservation, small. 20, 25 houses to a larger city of 5,000 to 7,000 people. And we visited each of these communities and visited with our people. We sat with them over kitchen tables, had conversation, posed questions about what did they think poverty meant, talked about what ideas, what were the issues that were facing them. It really was a very...very thoughtful process of 18 months of not only going to the people in the communities and having conversation numerous times but we also engaged with tribal leadership following each round of community meetings and would share the themes that were emerging, have conversation with them and then we would return to the communities and have further conversations as well as meet with tribal organizations and programs of the reservation. And we also realized that our young population of 19 to say 30 were not really engaging in these community meetings and so we made a decision to survey them in a different way and so we conducted what was called the Young Voices Survey and we surveyed 704 young people, men and women throughout our reservation in their communities and in the larger city to get their ideas and thoughts around workforce development, education and future focus for the young people. So it was really a phenomenal process of engagement on numerous occasions over an 18 month period filtering that through systems and ultimately a core group of around 80 people participated in a...I think we were about six weeks of intensive meeting. We met every week for three hours. We had put in thousands of hours of meetings where people would basically distill this sort of idea into a tangible vision and strategic thought around what that program or that initiative would focus on. For instance, there was very much an effort around financial literacy. That wasn't the words that people said. What our people said were things like, "˜Our young people, our kids are getting taken by this money. They're getting taken,' they'd say. Like they would have a car and then they would make payments and then not be able to keep the payments up "˜cause they lost their job or some change had happened and they wanted to turn that car back. Well, obviously it affected their credit but the families were saying, "˜they're getting taken.' Or even if they're getting, they're paying really high interest rates. So we took statements like that and then a core group of people engaged in a process of saying, "˜Well, how would we...what would we design a program around to address that issue?' And that emerged financial literacy and youth development, an individual development account project. So those are the sorts of engagement that we were able to give and bring to our people to really include them in the process of creating this plan."

Verónica Hirsch:

"With the Tribal Venture Project's focus upon citizen engagement, how does that ultimately support or to what extent does that support the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe's nation building efforts?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Well, I think it's a core foundation. I think it...this project was a project of the tribal council, the tribal leadership and very intentionally focused on engaging its citizens in a process of thoughtfulness and ideas and seeing their ideas actually come together in a plan.

I don't think that we were really calling it nation building efforts in any way, shape or form at that time but it really has as I've come to understand the nation building process it really was the kind of project that people felt included obviously. It also was a process that was transparent. It was the kind of project that wasn't...had an intention of trying to rebuild trust with community members from the tribal council and so oftentimes there's sometimes contentious situations or relationships sometimes between the tribal citizens and tribal government in public meetings and these opportunities dissipated that a little bit and demonstrated to ourselves as tribal citizens and us also just within that dynamic of tribal governance and government that things could be done in a good and appropriate way. And we're really proud of our people who participated in this opportunity because they're really...it is very much indicative of our culture to come together as extended families or tiyospaye and speak about and talk about an issue and then be able to take that, send somebody with that information to the tribal leadership or whomever and this was a component of that. And I think as a foundation of our nation and our culture that I think that created a bedrock for the nation building for our people."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. Who led the Tribal Ventures Project development?"

Eileen Briggs:

"The tribal council and the tribal chairman, Harold Frazier at that time, was the lead person to ensure that this happened. He was very much in support and understood the opportunity that was brought to us by the Northwest Area Foundation and he selected a long time tribal administrator and tribal citizen who has worked with many years, her name was Sharon Vogel and she really took on the project as the opportunity of a lifetime really for our people. The chance to...a once in a lifetime opportunity to really go out and talk with our people and have a process. So Sharon Vogel was the project administrator and then I worked as a project researcher and coordinator to help with sort of the logistics and then the development of the plan itself."

Verónica Hirsch:

"To what extent did the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Council, tribal citizens and/or tribal department staff influence the project's development?"

Eileen Briggs:

"I think they were crucial. The tribal council met in with us along with the tribal chairman regularly and we had probably four to seven I think retreats with them where we would basically walk through the input that was coming from the people and then get their feedback and then as things got more refined ultimately they would provide input about the design of different programs but also the intent of the initiatives. The same for the program directors. They were all...those that were interested and obviously had a fit with this initiative, any of our workforce development efforts and our education systems, they were engaged to give their input and they were...when I talk about those thousands...thousand hours one July that we worked together on this, many, many people donated their time to be a part of designing the wording for the description for each initiative and strategy area which really is the focus of the effort."

Eileen Briggs:

"I think our tribal constitution sets the bedrock for the way the governance system works and the administration of the tribal efforts work and I think that this constitution provided for the proper oversight of the project. It also provided for just the development of the project. The tribal council was the final say to the plan. We talked about that with our tribal citizens that tribal council would have the final say but they could see where so many of our people's ideas had come into the plan that it wasn't the sort of thing where tribal council was just going to go into a side room and decide how would this investment be utilized. The constitution has a lot of challenges but I really felt like we used the...our respect for our tribal leadership and our tribal government appropriately throughout this process and I think that that reinforced the leadership and the governance structures that were...that are in place that work really well. But I also think just in general this process was so much really a self-determination type of effort. We were determining ourselves and I don't know if I mentioned this in the previous comments but we ended up with a $9.5 million investment from this Northwest Area Foundation to implement the ideas that came from our people and so this has really been a process that has been a part of trying to engage in a different way, try to self...design our own efforts and work collaboratively. So as far as policy specifically and the kind of constitutional sort of underpinnings, we really used what we had well and I think exercised the sovereignty to do things the way we wanted to do ultimately in the plan. And I just would make a last note that the way the tribal government made the decision about who would govern this project in order to ensure its sustainability and continuity was they determined to create a...delegate an authority board which they as a tribal council could do and they seated one of their tribal council members continuously on the project so they were always engaged fully in the project through their tribal council representative but they seated a board of partners who really focused on ensuring that project's success long term because we had continuity and focus."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. On that aspect of the Tribal Ventures Partnership Board, could you please describe the role of that board?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Well, the board's role was really to ensure that the project was implemented throughout the 10 year project as well as to ensure that we had designed partnership and oversee the funds that...there was of course the accountability of funds but also to ensure that we had an opportunity then policies that were fair and were not...were free of sort of political influence or situation, had some autonomy to make decisions, they were given that. And so I think that their role has been crucial to be able to focus on this and steer this course...keep it on course I should say, to move this project forward and to step back and do the reflecting about what have we learned, what has this process taught us and to have those opportunities together. And I think one of, it's not so much what their role was or their mission but I think you...we saw in our community many of our organizations, tribal organizations and nonprofits sort of sometimes working in silos and not connecting and I think this Tribal Ventures Plan in its...because it was a partnership board was to build the understanding and communication between those entities and organizations so that we can address these issues more collectively."

Verónica Hirsch:

"You mentioned that the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Council created the Tribal Ventures Partnership Board. I would like you to perhaps address what criteria were specified to create the board? You mentioned that a tribal council member remained a permanent part of the board. What other criteria were in place?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Well, there...it's a unique situation. We have a tribal council member as I mentioned. We also have two members of the community that are...well, we have members, I shouldn't say just two. But we have members of the community on the board that are living in poverty that have struggled with some of the challenges related to that. We also have partners that were key entities or stakeholders that were carrying out components of the plan that were actually sitting with the partnership...on the partnership board to help design and continue to ensure this participation. So the criteria included stakeholders as well as tribal leadership and community members."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. Realizing that the board included such a wide range of citizens who had various areas of responsibilities, can you please address how the board's creation ultimately promoted broader citizen inclusion and engagement?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Well, I think that having our community members seated on the board who had the real life experience with the challenges that our families are facing really helped us to always have that lens constantly on everything we were doing from our communications to the approaches that we were taking, the policies that were being implemented and then the kind of broader learnings that we're applying because this challenges around poverty and the struggle day to day around survival make it difficult to sort of be thinking long term so we not only got to kind of because when you're thinking and you've got a project and you're managing something, you're thinking this longer term effort and sometimes it's...sometimes you have a disconnect from the lived experience and when we have these continuous conversations and meetings, and I don't think we're so...any of our families are...when we live on the rez or with our communities we're not so far removed but you can get...you can lose sight of that and I think having that engagement together did support this project's success so far that we've seen that input available but also vice versa. Giving families and our community members that were on the board the opportunity to see a perspective longer range that maybe they wouldn't have had access to. And so when it got to the communities, when we'd do our community meetings, we would very much sort of speak to that perspective because we're rooted in it, we're right next to it, it's our friends and relatives who have informed how we approach talking about these issues, the ways and the methods that we describe, the efforts and the impact and outcomes of our work."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. What institutional support does the Tribal Ventures Project need and have?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Well, I think that we have seen over time, again, we've had a 10 year...we're running towards a 10 year, very close to that timeframe, of institution of the government, the organization, knowing what Tribal Ventures is, that we have a grant from this private foundation, we have these initiatives and I think that we've had a lot of support because people have seen the ideas that came from the people come to life, they have seen real change in their families; people getting their GED, financial education, jobs being created. We've seen the kind of policies and activities that we want to see happening in our communities, some adjustments. Sometimes they don't know that Tribal Ventures is...the investment from Tribal Ventures has helped to make that happen so I think that's one of the things that we do need is more of our story to be told and understood, the sort of what's behind the scenes. But I also think that we are very much accustomed in our tribal communities and we're no different to different federal funding sources or governmental funding and so we sort of get to look like another program–that program. And this has been more than just a program. This is really about a process and a movement towards moving our families forward collectively in a strategic effort and I think that that's a little hard to get your head around because people are just looking, "˜Well, what is your program and what can it do for me or my family or our community,' and when we're dealing with such larger issues, we...I think that's one of the things of the institution's understanding their role, the opportunity of engagement and it's sort of a living, breathing entity or organization. It's a process. I always say, "˜Well, we're not really a program, we're a project,' and it's a project that came from the people and a plan that we're seeing the results of over time."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. I want to return a bit to the role of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Council and its...I believe you mentioned previously that ultimately the tribal council decided what would be really the major focus areas for the Tribal Ventures Project. I'd like to ask what role does the council play in the day to day operation or the day to day governance of the Tribal Ventures Project?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Well, in our day to day operations the tribal government as a whole, the council doesn't play a role specifically. Because they set the Tribal Ventures Partnership Board with delegated authority on their behalf to manage this project for the duration of the funding it's really been able to create a little bit of that autonomy but also the trust and respect. So a number of things happen that do engage with tribal council. One, all of our reports go of course to our Board but they go...the same reports go to the Council and to the Northwest Area Foundation so there's a lot of transparency and communication through myself as the executive director as sort of the conduit of information and sharing but we do have a tribal council member who serves on our board. We've had three different tribal council members serve during the time period that we've been operating and our tribal council member–for instance, when we are drawing money down from our accounts into the operating, they're a signer on that so they do see every time we're drawing down, they know what we're going to use the money for so we have that accountability and transparency as far as this isn't just running its own program over there. Tribal council has some awareness and knowledge of course through...that tribal council member knows the detail of the activities and the goals and the intentions for that year and then now with this funding source. So we have some of that accountability that I see that they are involved in day to day through that tribal council representative."

Eileen Briggs:

"I think what we've needed for... I think that we've needed for the last seven or eight years is the opportunity to try these new ideas out, sort of the trust. We've needed the trust, we've needed the encouragement and the...I guess we have some level of autonomy but the understanding of what Tribal Venture's role is, what our project is and to let us do what we said we would do without distracting from that work. And we've had that and I think that that has been very remarkable. And we look for...as we look forward I think the work is really about what we need, it's really about again more conversation collectively in order for us to determine now what will we...what have we learned from this 10 years of poverty reduction efforts, what have we learned about ourselves, about our families and what direction does it give us about a future that we need to create and the kind of strategic thinking that is useful for our people. And I guess the last thing I would say about that is that I think that we have shown that strategic thinking has really been beneficial and so now the challenge is you have a different council, a different group of people so it's continuous education and conversation about what this project's intention was and what we've learned from it and then are we ready to do more strategic planning."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. What efforts have been undertaken to educate the tribal council regarding their roles and responsibilities to the Tribal Ventures Project?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Well, it's been an effort that I've taken on each new election that we have. We have staggered terms every four years so every two years I have...sometimes can have a set of new elected officials so I meet with the tribal elected officials and give them an orientation independently, just sort of walk them through what we...our purpose is, what our outcomes have been and what we intend to do. And then understand that this is a grant from the Northwest Area Foundation and that we have our responsibilities through a memorandum of agreement with them and so we just really clarify the roles of everyone very early on in their election being seated, after being elected. And the other roles that we've done is really helping as each tribal...new tribal elected chairman...we've had...this is...Harold Frazier is the chairman again so we've had technically three different chairmen in the time that we've worked this project and so again just my relationship with whomever is elected, respecting their leadership role, giving them as much information as I can so they know where we're at and just that process of seeing what we've learned. And so we do meet with them annually, the Tribal Ventures Board and the Tribal Council itself. We have a retreat and discuss this year's efforts and again our goals for the next year."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Regarding the annual meeting with the Tribal Council and the Tribal Ventures Partnership Board, how effective have those meetings been? Have...has there ever been discussion or suggestions regarding to how... Has there been discussion or suggestions regarding how to increase the efficacy of those annual meetings?"

Eileen Briggs:

"We've had these annual meetings... We've had annual meetings both on the reservation and off the reservation for Tribal Ventures Board and the Tribal Council to have conversation and my estimation of them they're very effective. Tribal council oftentimes are obviously meeting in official sessions and they don't often get to have sort of larger I would say conversations around the larger issues and just their own space to have conversations collectively. So I think we've created a space for that through the annual meetings or the project...the retreats with the council. I also think that it's given some insights to the efforts of nonprofit organizations and the role that they play in the community. It's helped to educate one another around the kind of collective efforts that we're doing. There are...there's...obviously we all work in our own little world and I think it's raised the awareness of each other's responsibilities, particularly around the kind of program deliverables and the kind of accountability that we all have and I think that that's made it really effective. And as far as feedback about when they want them, tribal council members say, "˜We need to have more of these,' so they're very interested in those. The other piece of that is really trying to have it go beyond just a presentation of outcomes and impacts but really create the space for the kind of dialogue and conversation about what are our core issues, what directions are we going and build relationships to move that way. We don't always have 100 percent participation from council but we've had I would 60 to 75 percent participation nearly every time."

Verónica Hirsch:

"What do you suggest could be done to maybe increase that participation level?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Well, we do find that if we have...it's sort of a 50/50 opportunity. If you have the retreat or the meeting on the reservation you may end up with more participation but there's sort of a distraction that happens with daily life and situations and so it's hard to stay focused. We do have council members who do not travel so I think that that's sort of our...we might have more participation if we kept...are able to keep it closer to home and been able to create that environment for focus."

Verónica Hirsch:

"What strategies have been used to engage and educate Cheyenne River Sioux citizens about the Tribal Ventures Project's process, where it is right now?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Well, we've used a number of different techniques. One.. Of course we've done a newsletter that has sort of summarized each project and given little tidbits of information. We actually hosted a radio show on our local community radio station regularly on...and it was not only just about Tribal Ventures but it was about the...looking to the future and projects that were happening on the reservation so we brought in other entities. So I think that in and of itself showed our people an opportunity to communicate about the efforts and progress of Tribal Ventures in conjunction with other progress and efforts that were happening on the reservation. So those two mechanisms through communication I think have been key. And then we've been very diligent about our communication with tribal communities that we visited in the first place. So we return to communities on an annual basis to do sort of an updates, give a report to the community so we'd give a presentation, we'd have different participants and different initiatives speak about their experience and what they got from that. Then we also held...periodically we would host a large community celebration. Again, in our culture and our way we realized that this was a gift that came to the Cheyenne River people and this...for this gift we give thanks and so we would have an annual...not annual but about every three or four years we'd give a [Lakota language] which is Thanksgiving gathering. So we would feed the people and have a celebration and at those events we sort of would do the reflecting back again of sharing about what the progress has been. So that sort of 800 people coming to a gathering is one example. And then also very small events and programs where we would present to programmed officers and departments again about what our efforts have been. And timely, trying to find places where there might be a natural intersect. And as we've come towards...we're coming towards the end, we're not completely finished with our project, recently we've used two specific tools. One has been again the community meetings so I just finished 45 presentations throughout the communities in about three months and with that we actually used videos. We designed and created these videos that helped tell the story of the strategic areas of economic, community and individual development of the plan as well as our Voices project and then the overall impact and outcome of Tribal Ventures. So these short four minute videos have been phenomenal where we've been able to interview participants, people have been able to see their relatives and see different components and parts of the reservation benefit from the efforts of the Tribal Ventures plan and I think that has been really helpful and we are seeing some momentum here for people feeling positive about the work that was done not just for Tribal Ventures but really proud of our own people for the steps that they've taken to take this path that Tribal Ventures has created for people."

Verónica Hirsch:

"You mentioned several means of engaging and updating the community on the status of the Tribal Ventures Project including the newsletter, radio broadcasts, community meetings where videos were features, the [Lakota language]. Were these various methods...were they part of a larger citizen education plan?"

Eileen Briggs:

"No. I think we were...we were looking at I think as much as it formed was our commitment to the respect we gave to our community members who gave us so many ideas in the beginning of the effort and tribal leadership and it was that continuous I guess the continued commitment to their voice and their ideas that came from the people and the respect for them that we of course needed to bring that back to them because this came from them. This came from the people so this needed to return in a good way to give them the updates, let them know what's happening and I believe that when people saw the plan when it was written that they could see themselves, they could see their families. They actually saw their quotes. We had quotes from people in there. Maybe not identified but people could see themselves in the plan and so that I guess...that commitment and respect for them was so important to us that I guess that was the underlying plan was that we would of course give this back to them, take this back to the people "˜cause a lot of times we get these grants and programs and they come and go and we don't one have the resources to do that communication to talk about the impact and the outcomes of that and so we're trying to see not only is this different money but we're trying to show our people that we can do this. We can tell our stories about what has worked, what hasn't worked and where we need to go from there and give people the opportunity to participate in that so it's not a separate effort. And I think we've modeled that."

Verónica Hirsch:

"What participation method or venue do you feel proved most effective?"

Eileen Briggs:

"I think these videos have been phenomenal. I think obviously face to face meetings. We was in a small community, Thunder Butte. It's a small community of 10, 15 houses and around 45 miles from our tribal headquarters and was there a couple of...just a couple nights ago and we were just...we got the feedback. They were participating. We had 10 or so people there and the reality was people said, "˜Nobody comes out here. Nobody comes to us and tells us these things.' So they were so appreciative of the meeting, of being face to face and then I think the videos have been just incredibly effective. They were very short and concise, positive but they didn't just gloss over things. They tried to talk about the issues that we were dealing with but in a way that people could absorb and I think that those have been really effective."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. How are coalitions built between and among other Cheyenne River Sioux tribal departments and programs with the Tribal Ventures Project?"

Eileen Briggs:

"I think it's happened in a number of ways. Obviously around areas of interest. We had a financial literacy, youth individual development account, effort there and that effort focused on a lot of young people so there were efforts to reach out to schools, connecting to that program. There was also an effort within the tribal government with their employees to increase financial education amongst employees. There has also then grown out of that a larger...we don't necessarily call ourselves a coalition but a group of people who are focused on workforce development coming together talking about just really what does a workforce strategy look like on this reservation but understanding that the basis of that is we need to understand each other. Programs and departments don't necessarily know what someone's role is, they have an expectation that's maybe not realistic or they don't realize there's an opportunity that they're both going after because there isn't necessarily communication. So I think that those coalitions or those coming together have helped to improve services, to help us to coordinate better. I don't at some level sometimes collaborate but I think sometimes you kind of go with just communication and coordination first and then you get to some collaboration over time. So that's the sort of effort that I think we've seen sort of outgrow with our partners. And I would say that the Tribal Ventures Partnership Board in and of itself is the kind of collaborative work between tribal department programs, nonprofit, community members, tribal leadership so that itself has its own dynamic that is impacting the kind of understanding that we need to have collectively to address issues like poverty and other issues on the reservation."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. Were any external partners included or approached in a type of coalition framework and when I say external I mean external to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Well, I know that we worked with the...we created a Cheyenne River Chamber of Commerce and they connected to other native chamber of commerces to do... They connected to other chamber of commerces in both native communities and non-native communities to understand and educate and make connections. We also saw the South Dakota Indian Business Alliance engaged with some of the efforts with Cheyenne River as a result of our work together. We saw with a number of the work around GED attainment. We created a very successful GED program and that has built our understanding and relationship with different organizations in the state that provide similar services to better provide services on our reservation and also to improve the kind of services needed to be provided to native people."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. I'm going to transition here and ask you to in a sense predict what... What dynamic do you think would exist within the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation among the Lakota people there if the Tribal Ventures Project did not exist, had not come into being?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Well, I moved home about the time this project emerged on the reservation so I don't have a ton of sort of previous experience but...but, I think that...we have a lot of challenges with our own trust of one another, our own sense that we can...we have great ideas but I think that we often worked in silos and I think that that was a result of very much governmental resources and scarce resources and then all of us having to sort of protect those resources. I don't think that people intentionally were trying to be territorial, I just think that you've got...that naturally started to occur. And so I think that that would have continued I think to a larger extent. And there wouldn't have been this opportunity for sort of a collective effort and reaching out to our...think of our whole reservation and not just your community or your family but we could think of us collectively. And I think intuitively we want to think of ourselves as the Lakota...Four Bands of the Lakota that live on our reservation but oftentimes when you're mired in survival and struggle and just trying to keep what you have and maintain that in the midst of much, much challenge it's difficult to think of the larger, bigger picture and I think that that's one of the things that I think has made a...we've seen an impact. And then I would just also add that the work of the tribal council over time to see that this continued on. That in and of itself... When tribal programs or funding comes and goes and you're kind of used to, "˜Well, that used to be here, it was good but it's not here anymore,' usually in three year timeframes–we had 10 years of effort and it's...we're going to be in the same boat as we look forward. Will this just end? What will we do? There's a lot of questions in front of us as a tribe but regardless of that, we've had this time to sort of stop and think together and I think that that may not have happened for...and it's hard to predict or to be able to say, "˜Well, this wouldn't have been here.' But we know that lives and resources have been changed, opportunities that weren't here before that really just made sense like, "˜Yes, we should have that,' but we never had the resources to make that happen. And we have opportunity now with our own tribal...some tribal resources that we have available now and I think this has helped to demonstrate a collective effort. Obviously I've spoken about that but I think it also demonstrates the creativity and the thoughtfulness that's necessary for effective programming and we have some resources available to us as a tribe now through some settlement money and some decisions are being made and you're hearing things like, "˜Well, we need to think that out or have a strategic plan,' and I'd like to think that Tribal Ventures would have...has influenced that but if not we may have just been acting again in a survival mode. "˜Here's some money, let's spend it. Let's not think about what...' Not that our people didn't think but I think that you just get caught up in reacting. That's all. And I think we've been able to have at least a breather and take a pause and make an effort together."

Verónica Hirsch:

"How does the Tribal Ventures Project represent Cheyenne River Sioux citizens and reflect Lakota values?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Well, one of the values is about respect itself and I think that the work that we've done with our partners is really about trying to meet people where they're at, be respectful of their opinion and position but also try to give this exchange an opportunity for everyone to have room to be where they're at but also emerge from that in a place of your own vision for yourself and I think we reflected that on an individual level and then the community's vision of itself and then our families and our whole economy really that vision. And I think that those kind of respecting...we're always kind of putting those lenses...asking ourselves those... We'll run into challenges, communities or projects that we got started really...many of them have been very successful but we've hit a lot of bumps in the road, things that didn't go the way we wanted them to, partnerships that didn't work out the way we thought they would. And we always come back to asking ourselves, "˜Well, what do our values tell us? How should we handle this? What should we do?' We had some contentious issues a couple of times and we really just felt like, "˜Well, we need to go there and just listen and talk to one another and understand each other.' And that in and of itself is a reflection of how we do business. We are very much committed to our communities, the historical and cultural connections that are in our communities and in our families and so when we approach communities even for a community meeting we'll say, "˜Well, who's the grandma in that community?' or "˜Who's the person that we reach out to?' "˜Well, that's who this is, this is the person but that's her nephew so you can him.' So we're very much going within the dynamics of our own community and respecting that process even who's cooking. We're going to make sure we ask appropriately for someone to cook for us and try to feed our people and do things in a way that is comfortable for them and respecting that and giving thanks. I think that that's something that we really focused on at Tribal Ventures is to be able to be appreciative and thankful for what we have and to be honest about the opportunities. That's another value of ours is honesty and being honest about things when they didn't go well and things when there's opportunities and challenges that we have to say, "˜We have to look at this. This isn't...' I always say to people, I say, "˜Well, no one's going to care about this place as much as we do and so we're the ones that are going to have to lead this change and have to be willing to listen to one another even though we disagree. We still have to have those conversations.' And I think that value of fortitude, of being something to stay with something is very much underpinning of the work that we've done to say, "˜You've got to stick with this and we've got to keep going with this because the children are depending on something to happen.' And so we're very much talking about values. We recently did a support of a couple of veterans groups who were going to be traveling across our reservation and elsewhere and so we supported them by creating these t-shirts and we wrote, "˜The Lakota Values,' on the back of the shirts and we said, "˜These are just words unless we live them.' And so we're sending a message around values and talking about that as well as we created this cultural mini-grants. We had small amounts of money that really were giving people opportunity to carry out their ideas that they felt would support and encourage a positive Lakota cultural value. So all kinds of ideas from horse rides for young men and women who wanted to learn about horsemanship but also our culture and our values "˜cause no one was teaching them that. So we supported that in a small way. Other projects...we're helping other community members think about the positive decisions and positive lifestyles about living this life and choosing to live in the wake of many suicides that we have in the community. So there were every ideas that came. People have really good ideas about promoting positive self-identity and our cultural values and so we put out a little bit of money to help to support food or t-shirts or something that they wanted to make it happen but they made it happen. And I think that that self-determination or that value of...that you know what you need to do and to support that and with this little bit of money...it was a little bit of a catalyst, it was an activity that we did but we found that people really wanted to talk about their values and it meant so many things to different people and yet as a group we will not move forward with any kind of poverty if we don't feel good about who we are, if we don't live the values that we have as a people and we don't talk about them. So I think just the process that we've engaged in with our community just sort of...it's embedded. It's real hard to pull it out and say "˜Oh, well we were talking about values on Thursday.' We live them and talk about them more directly with people to shine a light on it when we can but just to remind ourselves that we're Lakota, we need to be Lakota."

Verónica Hirsch:

"How do Cheyenne River Sioux citizens understand and define their tribal council's roles?"

Eileen Briggs:

"I think there's a couple of things I...my perspective is. I think that they have a lot of expectation of their tribal leadership to be their advocate, to be some sort of a social worker problem solver, to be a legislator, to be a diplomat, sort of ambassador for the tribe and those roles are a lot of different hats but I think because of our community and many other communities I'm sure face this, there is an expectation a lot in that social worker problem solving advocate role and so I think our community members sort of define like, "˜You're supposed to be my spokesperson.' And that's very much part of our traditional life ways that we have an [Lakota language] and you send someone up to be that head person to speak and so that's who's...even though we have a political process and elections now, it's still embedded in sort of who from that community are they putting up to speak for them. And so when you're up there and you're on tribal council, that is the expectation that you're going to be the conduit for any elected leader but a lot of times you're trying to help someone get their electricity turned back on which many elected officials in the United States do not have to deal with on a daily basis but I think that the expectation is very high for our tribal leadership and understanding those roles and responsibilities is really key because oftentimes your time is used up filling some of those hats and you're not able to focus on the legislative part or fix things on a policy level or legislate. And oftentimes, this is just my opinion but I think as a leader sometimes it's overwhelming–it is overwhelming and so I can... "˜Let me do the thing I think I can handle. I'll work on this electricity thing or this other problem that I think I can make changes and this is a whole other arena that I'm not as knowledgeable about or I haven't learned as much as I want to yet to really affect the kind of changes.' So I think that's the balance that we have facing our...when we look at our tribal elected leaders. But we as a people in our...what I've seen at home is that our people very much respect that that tribal leadership is a responsibility and they respect that. They don't agree with it a lot of times and that's okay. I don't think that's been the issue of not respecting it but I do think that they see that it could be better and they would like to see some changes. I think that's a larger see change and some things that can happen over time but we have made the IRA government system work fairly well on Cheyenne River because we are Four Bands of the Lakota, we have... Before the IRA government we were already doing sort of representative councils to make decisions around our area but what I've seen since then is that we realize that things could be improved and we want to make changes. But our leadership and our tribal citizens need to be clear about what all those roles are because I think we become mired in the role of the problem solver and the challenges because so many people are in survival mode."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. You've mentioned citizen participation in some of the Tribal Ventures Project's community meetings. You mentioned that community members expressed gratitude for having Tribal Ventures staff come to them and to really make a deliberate effort to engage them. Now this far into the timeframe of the Tribal Ventures Project have you noticed that citizen participation has increased in these type of community events?"

Eileen Briggs:

"I don't know that I've seen a huge increase. I think that social media has changed in the last 10 years for this reservation and I think that participation in face to face meetings you're kind of getting around the same number of people coming. It depends on the community. We were in a what I would call more traditional community of Green Grass recently. We had 25 people come. That's phenomenal. They have like maybe 20 houses there so we had a big turnout for that community and they very much are reflective of...they don't have as great of internet service there so they're very much communicating word of mouth, telephone, face to face works best for them so we have great participation. Other communities where there's a lot of technology and that, a younger population is using that. They're getting information in a different way. So I think that that's changed us a certain amount so I don't know if I've seen participation in that way in our community meetings. We have different Facebook groups that definitely have a lot of...it's a great place that you can stand behind your computer and have all kinds of opinions and ideas and sharing that happens with social media. And so I think that kind of participation is...we're seeing that but I don't know if we've seen the kind of participation that is sort of engaging to change things collectively in a face to face way quite as much. Not in my experience. But I think that we're ripe for it because we have the social media to gather people. I think our colleges are a nice central location as well, our tribal college so those are some places where I've seen a little bit more participation but they're a little bit more engaged. It's sort of indicative of the structure of education."

Verónica Hirsch:

"You've mentioned the changing dynamics of participation mechanisms. How do you think the Tribal Ventures Project can address those changes and maybe even harness some of let's say that youth involvement albeit that involvement takes place as you mentioned maybe behind a computer screen? Do you think there's a way to even using that means to somehow inspire or promote an increased level of let's say youth citizen participation?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Oh, definitely. I think that we see young people participating in their own way. We have a group of young people on our reservation currently that are very concerned about some issues–health issues, some environmental issues–and they have organized themselves to do some research and collectively try to advocate on that and it's a different arena than I work in every day but I watch that and I'm in awe that they have taken on these steps and I certainly can't speak to every detail of that but they're going to be participating in a research conference that we're going to be having in a few weeks and I just see them wanting to be engaged in something and I feel like the work that we've done with Tribal Ventures and I think the work that we see tribal programs and departments do, they...we certainly have not excluded that kind of participation so we're welcoming it, making room for it and opportunities for the kind of participation that we all need. And I would also make a comment around communication. I think that that's a critical issue in many, many of our communications that the communication is very low, trust is low, so is the sense of...leadership is low and I think we have these high incidents of sort of imbalance in our community and oppression and racism and things like that that we're facing but I guess I have done some understanding but I see this kind of thing that we should push down on some of those things that are really high but I think the work of really trying to grow and push up levels of trust and leadership and communication can naturally push those other things down in what I've come to understand. And so I really think that communication is a key component. And if I had a magic wand and I could say, "˜I would like to have every tribe have some significant communication tool consistent for just information and positive stories but the kind of information that...' We don't have that as consistently as I would like for our people because when you don't know, you're going to be in poverty, you're out of the loop, you don't know... If you're not related to the right person, you're not connected in some way, you can become disconnected and it can hurt, your family can continue to be disenfranchised I guess in a way, like struggling out there. And I guess I feel like any tools, whether it be a newsletter or radio or the sort of videos or trying to harness how we can use social media and other tools to try to communicate that that's sort of my own interest but I see other tribes... I watch the Confederated Tribe of the Umatilla. They have an amazing newspaper that they've had for many years. Well, they have some gaming money, they can support that and just understanding what did that sort of communications office of the tribe do and how much does it cost to run one and what kind of deliverables can they provide the people? There's always challenges with that but I just feel like that's a gap that's missing in our communities is communication and particularly from the government. So you have this continued disengagement of citizens because there's no communication, websites aren't updated, there isn't sort of anybody who's writing about what's happening that's good and we just like to talk about what didn't go well and, "˜Did you hear what they did?' And that's in every community but I feel like we have a gap there and that could really affect some change."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. The Tribal Ventures Project spearheaded a large data collection attempt to learn about the tribal community. What was happening at the community that made that particular project, that data collection project a priority?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Well, I think two things. One, we had a 10 year poverty reduction plan with the Northwest Area Foundation where we were really looking at the kind of outcomes and impact that we were making and trying to determine what would be the key indicators, what data points will we point at from 2006 to 2016 to indicate some kind of change. And of course we were looking at census data which is not reflective of Indian communities and is historically under representing our statistics for our families and demographics and we really felt like we were just...that was our only option and as much as we looked at other points where we could talk about participation outcomes and things around that, it really didn't really show kind of where the status of our families was at so I think that was one of the drivers behind that. And I think the other was just the overall dissatisfaction with the census and how it isn't good data for us as Indian people. And so we said, "˜Well, we have an opportunity to use some of the Northwest Area Foundation investment here under our evaluation to create this...some tools and so we made a decision to create a baseline dataset around our families. And we decided to do a household survey across the entire reservation surveying every fourth house on the reservation and up to five families in that home. And I think it has been a very remarkable effort. It's sort of like...sometimes I step back and I say, "˜Whoa! What did we do?' Because we got in deep in families. We got participation from 819 families, from 520 some households across the reservation, both native and non-native, drove every road on the reservation, used our own tribal members to do the surveying, got three attempts at every house. Our methodology is very solid and our sample size is amazingly large. But that dataset has created a baseline about lots of information. We asked over 160 some questions around land, around their home, around the demographics or the people and their household characteristics. Were people a veteran, what was their highest level of education at this point, how many children were in the house, what were their ages? We asked questions around income and expenses for their home. How much money do you spend a year on birthdays? How much money...do you...who do you trust to lend money to or who asks you to lend money? Do you trust banks? Lots of questions. And then we asked a lot of cultural resource type of questions. Do you hunt traditional foods? Do you pick traditional foods? Do you participate in cultural activities? What do you...how many times a year? Lots of questions. We asked a lot of very quantitative questions as well as qualitative questions. We asked questions about...qualitative like what do you think the hardest thing is about being Lakota today and that kind of information. 819 families participating and giving us their input and providing us what we call the Cheyenne River Voices Research Project. It is the voices of our people. It is an opportunity to now have a tool. We have an executive summary of that that we've created to help our tribal leaders have some direct feedback and what we call backup. We like backup for their...maybe your gut check says, "˜Well, yeah, of course we spend a lot of money, leaves the reservation to shop at these larger discount stores.' But what percentage of our people shop at that and we can tell that story. We have an actual number. How many people have children in their home? How many people have a cell phone? There's so many questions that we asked. We're basically sitting on...we call it a treasure chest of data and information for our people. I don't think we've even begun to understand even how we can use that because it is fairly fresh. It's been in the last year. But we are definitely seeing people saying, "˜This is a tool. This is something I can use to design program or this is a tool we can use to support grant efforts, this is a tool we can use to strategically think if we moved up or down in our efforts.' And of course we need to do the research again to survey to have some sort of comparison data and also ask similar questions that might be asked in the national survey but I think that it's really...it's changed our data, changed our data that we're used to accepting from the census. For instance, the census said, when we started this project in 2012 that we had around 6,109 people that live on our reservation within the two counties that encompass our reservation and we did...our Voices research came with 10,527 people living on our reservation. So we changed our population number and it was tribally driven data. This data was driven and...driven...collected by the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe on behalf of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, it's their data, tribally collected, the questions we wanted to ask, the kind of things that we wanted to know about our own community with our own nuances and we're so grateful to the 800 and some families that participated in the Voices research. We're so grateful. And so we've been taking that back out to the communities and sharing with them what we found out and people so appreciate that. They're like, "˜Wow, you really were listening to us.' And so we haven't even...we still have so much work to do but that just kind of gives you an overview of the Voices research and the work that we've done to really try to capture the story and be able to tell the experience of our families."

Verónica Hirsch:

"You mentioned how the Voice project permitted the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe to exercise sovereignty in data collection and arguably will be able to exercise that same measure of sovereignty in data interpretation. With that in mind, how do you think the data that has been collected can impact or influence tribal governance systems, whether it's happening currently or however far into the future?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Well, I think we can do a number of things that this sort of data collection, that we're capable of doing that, that we have...not just capable but we have the willingness and the strategic forethought to do that and I think governance systems can be responsive to those sorts of notions and that that sort of becomes to be expected. Well, we're supposed to do that, Cheyenne River is known for that, we've don't that. And I think when you talk about governance systems, systems that often obviously in high poverty, high areas of struggle and reactivity, it is very...the governmental system is only reflective of that life and experience of its people. And so I think it can only be and I think that these opportunities that we have with the Voices data, with the work of many partners in this effort has really...has a chance to influence the governmental systems. We can think through these processes, we come to expect that we should have some sort of baseline information, something to compare it to. We can help educate each other about what are the realities and then design and frankly evaluate our efforts more effectively. I think that we oftentimes are just...we're just trying to work grant to grant. That's no different than paycheck to paycheck. So we're working grant to grant and we're trying to say, "˜Well, what does this...how does this grant fit within our strategic effort? What do we want...what do we want for this population that we're trying to serve or for our future? And I think we have some sense of that but I think this data can help us pinpoint that a little bit more. I think that this data can change the governmental governance systems in a way that looks at our policies, that looks at our human capacity, human capital so to speak and see our families in a new way and figure out how do we move our families forward so that our government can move forward."

Verónica Hirsch:

"With that in mind, how can the Tribal Ventures Project excuse me, the Voices Project, really promote those in tribal government as well as tribal citizens to get onboard with this idea of data collection, of realizing its significance, its importance and its relevance to the tribal community?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Well, I think they see themselves in the Voices data. They see, "˜This is reflective, this is data that we're interested in that will impact.' I think that a lot of times our people haven't been asked, not asked relevant questions that are relevant to their life, to their own culture, to our own way of life in the middle of the prairie, wherever we live and these sorts of efforts...oftentimes data collection is often done by people from outside and that data gets collected and then carried away and we don't ever see the results of that and I think this kind of effort we're keeping at some level inside the camp and we made a lot of work to make sure that when this data was released that our own people held onto it, sat with it, looked around it themselves and there's so much more. But we know that other tribes, other organizations are interested in what we've done. We are sharing it to the best of our ability but the focus is inside the camp. And our focus is to make sure that we actually see this data being utilized to impact the changes and I think that's what will engage people because data does... Decisions are made every day that affect our people based on data and if we aren't deciding and getting that data ourselves, somebody else is going to do it and we may have nothing to do with it and I think that we are showing here that we need to be involved, we need to create, we need to drive the bus as I say. We're driving...we need helpers. I don't have statisticians on every street...every corner at home but we have helpers who can come and help make those things a reality and a partnership that can help get us what we need. But, we have to know and stop and figure out what our intention is around data. What do we need to know? What are the kind of questions that we need to be asking ourselves so we can move forward?"

Verónica Hirsch:

"Can Lakota values be employed to educate the tribal citizenry about what data is, what it is, what it does and why we care about it?"

Eileen Briggs:

"Yes, I think Lakota values and our way of life...I think we've always been data collectors as people. I think that we have over time...obviously we've survived...survival and problem solving in a survival mode is always analyzing data, looking at information. We don't call it data. We talk about stories. We know the stories and we make decisions based on the stories that we know of our families and the experiences they're having and we feel like that's reflective of the situations that we need to impact. And so we've been doing that. I think that Lakota values are really...it's not so much values but knowing who we are as Lakota and keeping...or knowing who we are and living those...that experience of historically. But this isn't necessarily new. It's a new way of doing things, a sort of a more modern way of understanding that yes, we've been collecting data a lot of times for federal programs and federal requirements for compliance primarily but not for strategic direction and I think we are in a position right now in Indian Country to get a hold of that and to take a more of a proactive and I think strategic approach to collecting that data, looking at that data ourselves. Either the data we've already been sending to wherever and understanding it and analyzing it better so we can make better programmatic and evaluative decisions but also collecting additional data. But that's a process. Data isn't a priority for everyone. They think, "˜Well, that's just the way we've done it all these years.' But that's because of the generational experience with the federal government compliance and data requirements. It's not something that we have been...that hasn't been invested in. Tribal govern...federal government has given tribal government any experience and expertise and technical assistance to develop our own data collection systems. We now are seeing where that needs to...we are wanting to make that happen and trying to go in those directions and I think that's the effort, that's the opportunity that we see that are our cultural values. We need to make decisions based on information that came from us not on information someone else is deciding about us and that's...data is power and data and power money, they all go together and we need to be sovereign of that. We need to be understanding our own data. We need to be able to design mechanisms and ways to collect that data so that we are the ones determining our future."

Verónica Hirsch:

"Thank you. That's all the time we have today on today's episode of Leading Native Nations. To learn more about Leading Native Nations please visit NNI's Indigenous Governance Database website which can be found at igovdatabase.com. Thank you for joining us."

LeRoy Staples Fairbanks III: What I Wish I Knew Before I Took Office

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Leroy Staples Fairbanks III, who serves on the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Council, discusses some of the hard stances he had to take in order to do his job well and also shares an overview of some of the major steps thatthe leech Lake Band has taken in order to govern more effectively and use its resources more wisely and efficiently.  

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Fairbanks III, LeRoy Staples. "What I Wish I Knew Before I Took Office." Emerging Leaders seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. November 6, 2013. Presentation.

"Good morning. I introduced myself this morning. Like I said, I'm Leroy Staples Fairbanks III and I'm the District 3 Representative from Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, which is in north central Minnesota. Normally how...I've seen others introduce themselves in their language and so kind of how we would say it is I would say Boozhoo, which means hello, [Ojibwe language] is I'm Fox and I'm from the Bear Clan. Our tribe is located in like I said north central Minnesota. We have roughly 9,200 band members or band citizens. This is my first term and I was elected last year in July of 2012 and I wasn't going to say my age, but I'm actually older than this young fellow here. I was elected before I was 30 so I'll just say that, I won't say my age. We have a five-person council with four-year staggered terms. I would just like to say, I would like to thank the NNI staff for inviting me to be here today to share my experiences. I don't consider this much of teaching you guys but just sharing my experiences here with you and I would also like to say Miigwetch to the tribal leaders from this reservation here for welcoming us here to this reservation, this beautiful casino and hotel.

What I'm going to start with is campaign promises. I'm going to take a little bit of a different approach to the previous presentation, which was...it was an awesome presentation, very informative, and something I wish I could have sat through before I was elected into office. But I'll start off with campaign promises. When I ran my campaign to getting into office, it was based on honesty, ethical decision making, transparency, and you have a lot of people that support that, they support you. They say, "˜Yeah, this is what we want you to do. This is who we want you to be in office.' And you get in office and things just kind of switch. Those same people are asking, "˜Well, I did help you. Can I get a job? Can I get a raise? Can I get a house? Can I get a transfer? Can you appoint me to a certain position?' And it's difficult that the people that did help you, but you just kind of return the message back to them and you ask them, "˜Why would you put me in a situation like that when all that we talked about was maintaining integrity in a position?' So during my time in office I've had to have that conversation many, many, many times of telling people, "˜You wanted us to change the way that we do the hiring and the firing and the personnel matters with the tribe. We have an HR department, we have policies and procedures that outline how all the decisions are being made and how the hiring is...how it happens and employees rights as far as being a part of the organization,' but yet they want to jump straight to the council. And so we started to change those methods on how we handled it, but still the employees will say, "˜Well...' They'll try to get you back in your office and say, "˜Well, I gave you this many votes or I helped you in this way and you're obligated to help me,' and the easy answer is, no, you're not. I won by 30 votes. I had 919 votes and the other guy had about 890 and so everybody wanted to be a part of that 29 or 30 votes that actually got me into office. The easy answer for me is that 920 people voted me into office, but I still represent the rest of the band membership and that's the decisions that I have to make. I have to make it for the band membership and I don't make it to who voted me into office. That's just a process on how you get to that position.

And I would say that I didn't dream of running for office or I didn't dream of being a council member growing up. I had a little bit of a different type of experiences growing up. And so I've had quite a few experiences, but in my experiences of understanding what tribal politics and tribal government was on Leech Lake, I kind of had a sour taste in my mouth about it. I didn't have a good outlook on it. So I didn't really envision myself as this prestigious position and, "˜That's what I want to do, I want to get into tribal office so I can help my people.' It was more or less you see some of the negative outlooks and the negative aspects of what the office was looked at as, and so that wasn't my dream. My background is in human service. I'm a drug and alcohol counselor, and so in that field you aren't really involved as much in governmental operations. A lot of the things that he was talking about, you're not privvy to that information. You focus on helping the people that you help, your client list and that's your focus and so you put so much energy towards that, but it kind of becomes burnt out. And so when you carry yourself in a certain way in the community, people say those individuals that do carry themselves in a respectful manner, they kind of gravitate and people see those traits, they see the character, they see the behaviors and they kind of look to those people. And so I would just say that I think I was blessed that people seen some traits in me that they wanted me to start moving into leadership positions.

And so I managed a halfway house for a while and the tribal council asked me to come be a part of the administrative team as a deputy director, chief administrator basically, and I did that for a few years and that was my eye opener to what was going on with our reservation. There was a lot of things that I wasn't aware of on so many different levels because tribal government encompasses everything from top to bottom, it really does. I'm not so much hands on with all the little things like this gentleman has because we have...we employ 2,500 people. We have three casinos and we have departments that kind of handle a lot of that stuff and so we aren't so hands on with everything, but there's a great understanding and a learning curve that happened as a part of that position. But it's about training and helping people job shadowing and trying to train future leaders to take over those positions. My understanding of getting in this position was I wasn't going to be here forever. It's a four-year term. I'm hoping that there's enough movement in four years that if I choose not to re-run in four years that I've done enough to try to mobilize and prepare future leaders to take over these positions, because there's some bold things happening at home and we want that to continue.

I'll say one thing though is that I went through the [Native Nation] Rebuilders program. NNI partners with Bush Foundation out of St. Paul, Minnesota and there's a Rebuilders program that focuses on tribes in a three-state area: Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. And I was a part of the first cohort and I would say that I would attribute me running for office as being a part of that program because if I didn't go through that program, it probably wouldn't have motivated me enough to see some of the success stories outside of Leech Lake that gave me a big enough push to tell me that things can work, this is how tribes are working, because when you're in the middle of the mess sometimes it's hard to see out, and so you have to kind of step back and you have to take a look at how are other tribes doing it, what are other tribes doing, can we apply that here, how can we apply it here? And that's the most of what I got out of that program is seeing...they talked about some of the reservations and economic development up here this morning and those are the things that inspired me to, 'Yeah, there is opportunity and I'm going to bring that to my reservation,' and so that's kind of what got me to wanting to run for office.

I don't have a four-year degree and a lot of elders in the community, they told me, "˜Maybe you should just wait to run for office until you have that degree on your wall because that's going to validate your work in office and people can't question that,' but there were too many signs that were coming before me. There were signs that things just were happening the way they were supposed to be happening and I even told myself when I was working for the council, "˜I don't want to be in one of those positions.' I seen the mentality and I seen the behavior and I was kind of taken aback. I was like, "˜Ah, I don't want to be in that position. I can't do some of the things that they're doing because it's not right.' And so I told myself I wasn't going to do it. I went through the program, frustrations were building because of how things were going, and I said, "˜You know what, if I'm not going to do it, I don't know who's going to.' So I decided to take that step and it was a very big step. Tribal politics on Leech Lake is...can grow...I don't know how to put it kindly, but it can get kind of messy. And so it has been kind of messy. And I would say in the last year and a half things have stabilized, things are...they're progressing. I'll touch on how important nation building is to me.

I used to fly quite a bit when I was a little bit younger in airplanes and it didn't really bother me and for some reason that flying in airplanes bothers me now. I don't know if it's because I have a Twitter account and every...twice a day you hear about plane crashes or terminals being attacked, but I have a fear of flying. The last time I flew, I flew with the Bush Foundation up to go visit Salish Kootenai last year -- it's the last time I've flown out of state, otherwise I try to drive and it's just something that I have to overcome. Bush offered me an opportunity to speak down here in March on...I don't remember exactly what the title was about...I was going to be speaking about, but I ended up skyping in the presentation and we had a little bit of connectivity issues and I felt kind of bad about that and so this is...nation building and nation rebuilding is...it's the basis of everything that I'm trying to do back home and it's that important to me that I wanted to get on a plane. And it wasn't just a direct flight, I had a layover in Phoenix, and so that's two takeoffs and two landings. I get nervous about speaking sometimes too, but my hands aren't nearly as clammy today as they were when I was on the plane. It was tough.

I had some conversations with people on the airplane about...they were asking about, "˜What is your take on the Redskins issue?' And I said, "˜I don't know. It's not something that I necessarily think about day to day.' And she's like, "˜Well, what do you think the inception of the name was? It wasn't intended to be disrespectful, do you think?' And I was like, "˜Well, I don't really know the history behind the name. I would say that it's not one of the biggest things that bothers me, but I can understand how it gets under people's skin. I understand why there's a movement to change the name because it's not necessarily the owner of the Redskins is out depicting Native Americans in a certain way, it's how the fans, how the people...you get the people doing the...with the headdress and the tomahawk chops in the arenas and that's not very respectful and there's a lot of things down that line that I don't agree with.' It's just...it's something I didn't...I was kind of taken aback by and she's like, "˜Well, I live in San Francisco and there's not a lot of Natives so I don't really get to talk to a lot of Natives and ask them this question so I just wanted to know.' That was on one flight.

On another flight, they're asking about how gaming came to be. "˜Did the Indians want it or did the federal government want to give it to the Indians? Who regulates it?' I said, "˜Well, there's a commission.' "˜Okay. Well, are you guys represented nationally?' I'm like, "˜Yeah, there's national organizations that represent gaming.' There was another lady who was kind of sitting by me and she was like, "˜I feel so bad about Indians and their addiction.' I'm like, "˜Well, what do you mean?' These are just some of those things and she asked me, "˜Well, how much money do you guys get in per capita payments at your tribe?' And I'm like, "˜We don't get anything in per capita payments because we have 9,200 band members, we live in a very remote area, and we don't generate enough to do per capita payments and I'm not even in favor really of per capita payments because it kind of promotes...it promotes dependency and there's a few tribes in Minnesota that have big per capita payments like Shakopee Mdewakanton [Sioux Community]. They have less...around 500 band members. They're located very closely to Minneapolis, the Twin Cities area and they have a lot of money and they do give money back out to other communities, which is...it's very good on their part.

I would say that in getting into office you're challenged. You're challenged by naysayers; you're challenged by people who don't agree with your viewpoints. I was challenged on my knowledge of history of Leech Lake and my knowledge of history of the Ojibwe people and Native history in general and I would say...I kind of revert that back to...because these are supposed to be the experts in the community and they say, "˜Well, what do you know about this, what do you know about this?' And I say, "˜Well, I'm still learning. I probably don't know as much as I should yet. I will though.' But I revert that back to those experts and I just wrote a column in our newspaper last month and that's basically kind of what I said to them. I said, "˜I challenge all of you history experts in the community to ask yourself what are you doing to ensure that the younger generation in our communities are learning this stuff instead of being hoarders of information.' And that's what we have. We have a lot of hoarders, because people are scared because information is power and so you have to kind of go and find all the cracks and crevices of information to empower yourself and that's basically what I've done. I'm a quarter way through the room, through the house. There's plenty and many more things that I have to learn, but I'm not going to stop. But that's what I challenged all the experts on. I challenged them to ask themselves what are they doing. And there was this one guy who one time told me, "˜Well, I went and spoke to this one class and they liked it.' I said, "˜One class, one time. We have many more band members in this area that need learning. There needs to be system changes, there needs to be systems set up so we are preparing our kids and our next generation to understand who we are, how we've become to where we're at today and how we're going to be moving forward.'

I'll talk a little bit about my first days in office. I worked with the council for two years and I thought I had an understanding of what it was going to be like on council and I guess I didn't know because my first days in office there was probably 45 people to see me...45 to 50 people to see me every single day the first couple of weeks in office and I was like, "˜Whoa!' And the basis of what they wanted to come and see me for was assistance and sometimes I feel...I'm not embarrassed to say it, but I feel bad that the state of my tribe was so dependent on...and basically it's kind of exploiting the band members about assistance, that it's their money, that I need to give you this money. That's not the case. It's not equitable distribution of resources if 10 percent of the membership are getting 90 percent of the resources. There's other percentage of band members who deserve equal access to those and so I was very taken aback. I thought it was going to be like, "˜Oh, okay, I'm going to get in there, we're going to start addressing some of the deficiencies programmatically,' that we were going to get into office, we were going to start tackling a lot of that stuff and it took time. It took a whole year to make some drastic changes as far as assistance methods go and I would tip my hat to the Salish Kootenai Tribe on their human [resource] development program, because when I flew up there last year I got to see a small snapshot of what that program is about and that is kind of something that I tried to apply back home is consolidation of assistance programs, that it's more easily accessed, for band members to be able to access services and it's not scattered all about and people are luckily enough if they catch a program who might be able to help them.

I guess...I wrote down in my notes that it might seem far-fetched to some tribes about the mentality of assistance, but we all know the power of the dollar and so it's, 'What can you do for me?' is very powerful sometimes and it's very powerful during those elections. And we have an election coming up next year and I keep talking to our council and talking to the membership that just because there's an election doesn't necessarily mean that there's an overhaul. We need to conduct business in a different way. The train doesn't necessarily need to stop and turn back and go the opposite direction because there's new council or new council members who are elected. Take what the successes are and how can you build upon those? But the communities are so split that sometimes it is drastic measures that they want to see done all the way from left to the right and right to the left and that's how progress fails. If you aren't able to capitalize on movement, you're not going to progress and that's why I would say that we are a little bit behind in development at Leech Lake. But like Ian [Record] talked about this morning, it's...you have four years and it might seem like a long time. It's not a long time. I've been in office a year and a half and it seems like a couple of months and so you want to make drastic change and people want to hit those home runs, but it's about institutions, it's about the system changes and starting with your foundation and that's a lot of what the first year, year and a half has been and I didn't think it would take that long. And so that's something that I came to terms with in being in office that government is slow; it's very, very slow. I guess in the size of government it makes the difference.

We had NNI and Bush facilitate a GANN process. They do a GANN, it's a Governance Analysis of Native Nations that we brought to Leech Lake and we focused on three things. We focused on changing our assistance methods and that's what it took -- a whole year. We changed those on July 1st so the tribal council doesn't have direct assistance. We had...prior to getting in office we had a budget, I won't necessarily say how much, but we had a budget. Each council member had their own line-item budget for assistance that was never adhered to. And so we have an emergency assistance program that basically was doing some of the same things that the council were doing, but it's very convenient if you have that money at your fingertips to try to help people. And you want to help people, but is it really helping people by giving direct assistance? Are we spending our time effectively by handing our assistance? Yeah, we're speaking with our band members, we're getting in touch with what the issues are, but we sure aren't putting enough energy towards a real solution and just providing assistance. And so that's something, that it took a little bit of change and it was very tough because there's a high percentage of band members in the communities who had that expectation of that's what tribal council does. And it's trying to change that mentality, it's been very difficult, but it's a work in progress and it's moving forward.

The second thing that we had was bylaw revision and I'm not sure of the political makeup of a lot of tribes, but in Minnesota there's seven Ojibwe tribes and one of them is Red Lake and they're kind of separate and they have their own constitution and whatnot, but the other six Ojibwe tribes in Minnesota are part of a Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. It's kind of an organization that has oversight of all the tribes constitutionally, and that's something that I would say I'm not in favor of because it's not self-determination if you have a tribal council member who is representing 1,000 people in one of the tribes and you have another tribal council member who is representing 20,000 members on the other end of the spectrum and they both have equal access and authority in the decision making of this tribal executive committee. And so it's not fair representation. And so that was the basis of what I was trying to do is revise and reform. And there is movement and through that GANN process that was one of the things that we identified is reform, but we can't reform what we can't change so there's systems that we have to make changes to first.

The other thing was you see economic development talked about this morning. And so my point on economic development in government is that they don't necessarily mix together -- he talked about it -- but there has to be a separation because at Leech Lake the tribal council is supposed, the government is supposed to be providing service and how are you supposed to be providing service or how are you supposed to be building a business and letting it invest in itself and grow the business and start more business development if your services are depleting your economic resources. And so there is a separation that needs to be made and I think you guys will talk a little bit about that here today and tomorrow, but that's another, that's the three steps that we moved on.

I will talk a little bit about accomplishments that have been there that necessarily might not have been there before getting in office: community center, a bike path. There's a bike path on a road where there's been about three deaths in the last couple of years and there's been other kids who are hit because it's kind of on a road by our casino and there's a lot of traffic that's on the road. And so we had a bike path that was put into place to try to alleviate the traffic actually being on the road and we partnered up with the county to get that going. We broke ground with an assisted living facility this fall for our elders, we secured funding for a treatment center on our reservation because a lot of the band members felt that a barrier to their success was going off the reservation for their treatment and they wanted to try to get their treatment or they wanted to heal at home. We broke ground with a $3 million library and archive center at our tribal college. We started an athletics program. This is the first year for our basketball teams at our tribal college. We broke ground with a government center last fall, a $4 million government center.

I'll say a little bit about transparency because that was basically what I was about in getting in office. With the assistance, the council had so many different ways of giving assistance, it's kind of crazy, but when I got into office I started to publish all expenses that I had authority to give, is I published those in our newspaper for them to see. It was how many...it was basically how much was being...how much was going out in resources, but it was also how many people were accessing those resources. So it could kind of give people a picture of who is really getting the assistance or who is this really benefiting and it's a small percentage of the actual membership that was accessing it though, so it kind of gives them a picture about that. I had open forums monthly. And the full council, they didn't want to do it monthly. We have quarterly meetings that we have to put on in the communities every quarter and there's a small open forum session for that and in those open forum sessions the band members kind of get riled up, they kind of...they like to build the fire prior to the open forum session so they can kind of vent and release during that time. And so I thought, "˜Well, if we do them every single month, maybe that'll kind of keep the fire from building so big and it'll allow people to say what they've got to say, it'll allow them to be heard, it'll allow them to ask the questions they really want to ask,' to alleviate from like rumors and whatnot that are building in the community that...they spread like wildfire too. So it gives them that opportunity to voice their concerns and then be heard. And so I did that as well.

The other thing that I'll say that I didn't know I was -- well, I didn't know the outcome of it -- but prior to getting into office I talked about giving back. And so that's kind of one of the things I was supposed to talk about in March when I was supposed to be down here is an endowment that I set up at our tribal college. People thought it was a political ploy and it necessarily wasn't because it came to fruition, but I basically said I was going to give 12-and-a-half percent of my gross salary to an endowment for scholarships and education at our tribal college. I got into office, I did the first installment in December, I got another installment going in December and I have people that ask me, "˜What was the intent?' I said, "˜Well, it was to challenge the other council members to see...to ask themselves what were they doing to give back in the communities.' They asked if I felt like...do I feel bad about doing it now because none of the other council members gave back. I'm like, "˜No, I don't feel bad at all.' When I first gave the first installment of the...for the endowment, there was...the act of giving I guess, it kind of...it'll multiply. And so after that, there was other community members in the community that donated either to my endowment or to other scholarship programs at our tribal college and so there was a lot that came out of it, but I think long term the success of what the act will do is...it's not necessarily to show our tribal council members to one-up them, but it's basically to show our kids and our younger generation in the community that in order to grow, everybody needs to be invested and everybody needs to give back and that was a good way of me showing that I wanted to give back because I believe education is empowering and it allows a person to not be so dependent on somebody else. Dependency doesn't breed productivity.

I got the stop sign. I could keep going, but I'll stop there because I think we're opening up for questions and answers. Thank you for allowing me to present to you guys. [Ojibwe language]."

Honoring Nation: Lance Morgan: Ho-Chunk, Inc. Economic Development Corporation

Author
Producer
Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development
Year

Ho-Chunk, Inc. CEO Lance Morgan share the lessons he and the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska have learned about the keys to creating an economic development environment capable of fostering successful nation-owned enterprises. He stresses the need for some Native nations to engage in constitutional reform in order to create that environment, in particular staggering the terms of elected officials to ensure a nation's institutional stability and, in turn, the strategic direction and advancement of the businesses it owns and operates.

Resource Type
Citation

Morgan, Lance. "Ho-Chunk, Inc. Economic Development Corporation." Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Santa Fe, New Mexico. February 8, 2002. Presentation.

Miriam Jorgensen:

"My name's Miriam Jorgensen. I had the opportunity to talk to some of you yesterday. I'm the Research Director for the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development and I'm more recently the Associate Director for Research for the Native Nations Institute. And as many have said already, that one of the most exciting projects they're involved with is the Honoring Nations program. And it's through the Honoring Nations program that I personally met our next speaker and then had the opportunity to get to know him even better through the program that Gail Christopher, your lunchtime speaker, runs, the Innovations in American Government program, because I got to do the site visit to Lance's program this past July and met with him, and he shared a lot of information about what he's up to both with the business, what the tribe is doing and about some of their ideas and goals. And that work then led, his work that I wrote about for the Advisory Committee, led to the award that he received for Innovations in American Government.

On one hand, Lance doesn't need a lot of introduction. The experience that I had with him is that he's just a remarkable guy, because one of the things that happens is that you spend just a few minutes with him and he leaves an incredibly strong impression. You feel, ‘Boy, I really know this person and I'd really like him as my friend and if he isn't my friend, I really don't want him as my enemy,' because this is one smart guy in terms of strategy, in terms of politics, and in terms of getting things accomplished. There are a couple things I want to say about Lance, that it's just a real honor to introduce Lance Morgan. He's a Harvard Law School graduate, he is a member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. I grew up in South Dakota and we tended to just kind of ignore that state down there. And he's a real family man. One of the things I really enjoyed about the visit that I made to visit his program is I got to meet his wife and one of his two daughters. He's somebody who really believes in investing in community and using his smarts to help move his community and his nation forward. He's really bright with economic development. He's a very savvy politician. He can tell many stories about how he's really stood up to the States of Nebraska and Iowa and the federal government and won his way in terms of sovereign rights for his nation and he's a real fighter for Indian issues. And the last thing I want to say about Lance is, when he takes the mic you never know what he's going to talk about. So he may talk about his winning innovation and he may talk about other things but I'm sure you're going to come away moved so I give you Lance Morgan of Ho-Chunk, Inc."

Lance Morgan:

"Wow! I'm really glad I caused something to talk about. I really appreciate that introduction. Miriam came and took the time to really spend some time and get to know us and we really enjoyed her visit. And I think it was really instrumental; our experience with the Honoring Nations program was really instrumental in us winning the Innovations in Government Award, which I think is kind of the big brother of this award, I'm not sure, but they seemed awful similar. And so I really appreciate the time and effort that everyone in Honoring Nations program...they put in on our behalf to do that. And I really appreciate coming down to do this. I've been traveling a lot lately and I was trying to think of a way that I could reasonably not come, because my family's been really pressuring me to spend more time at home, but I thought it was important to come down and share some of our stories and I really came down to talk about Ho-Chunk, Inc., but I've really decided that I don't want to talk about that all and as the time that I've spent here, just like Miriam suggested. I really only have one point to make and it's going to take about 15 minutes. I'm starting to take after my grandfather I think. What I'm going to do is generalize a lot and I kind of want to apologize in advance for that because every tribe is very, very unique and I think in order to do this without all these kind of side issues coming up or all these caveats or all these exceptions, I'm going to talk in very general terms. So I want...and I really don't want to offend anybody in this situation so I want to just apologize right up front.

Since we won the Innovations in Government Award and the Honoring Nations Award, I think we've really struck a chord and we've been visited by over 30 tribes, and we've put our information together in a package and we've sent it out to 40 or 50 other tribes. And so what's happened is, over the last 18 months, we've learned a lot of things and that's what I want to share, some of the simple insights from that. And we've really been on almost like a crash course of tribal economics. And what we've learned are really two simple things. And the first thing is something that's very obvious is that almost all the tribes are suffering from the same problems. We all seem to be having universally the same issues that we're all dealing with. And the second thing -- and this one came as a bit of a shock to me -- we were really forced to think about why we were successful. And the reason it came as a shock because I was thinking it was me and that's not the answer. And it hurt a little bit, but I'm over it now. Why we were successful, what are the reasons behind that? And what are the reasons behind some of the other tribe's reasons why they continue to struggle all the time? They had...we're not...we don't have a lot of money in our tribe and our corporation has grown to the point where we're projecting $100 million in revenues, which strikes me as absolutely insane. In 1995, Ho-Chunk, Inc. was in my apartment in the second bedroom, and so it's amazing. Our tribal casino makes $3 or $4 million a year. And how have we been able to take -- and Ho-Chunk, Inc. does nothing with the tribal gaming -- so how have we been able to go from literally zero to $100 million in revenue in that period of time? And I think it...this is why I was taking the credit, I was thinking it was me, but really it's a...we're really a product of our environment and that's what I want to talk about a little bit.

We've boiled down some of this that we've learned to a couple of really, really simple points and some of them have kind of coalesced here just in the last day doing some of these roundtable discussions. Harvard says sovereignty matters. Harvard says -- I've been saying this for years -- institutions matter. They say that culture matters. That's right, of course they matter, but what conditions in a tribe allow the development of the institutions that can effectively use sovereignty and still integrate culture? Well, in other words, the real question we should be asking is not the what -- what did Ho-Chunk, Inc. do to be successful -- is the why. Why were we successful, what was behind it? And to be honest, what we have done from a business standpoint to be successful is meaningless to this discussion because you should do something else. You should do what works for you. But the why, the why our government was willing to make such a radical change, was willing to do something we'd never done before and commit, at that point, 20 percent of all of their money to starting Ho-Chunk, Inc., everything they had, and a very poor tribe. Why were we willing to invest in that institution on a long-term plan when we were suffering from huge social problems and huge unemployment issues? What caused our tribe to make that radical decision and to also let go of that authority, that micromanagement over it, and set a system up that had a chance to kind of flourish and develop? And to me, that's really the issue.

And I didn't understand this, because Ho-Chunk, Inc. was set up in late 1994. I graduated from law school in '93. I worked at a law firm. I showed up and thought it was me, but really, as I've been there, I've realized that it was the product of a very, very long process. The tribe even tried to do this in the ‘80s and that I was...that my plan was really just the next step, was really just the next logical basis for it and the only reason we had a higher chance of success is because we had some gaming dollars; before they were trying to do it with smoke and mirrors. And so I've learned a lot. I've really been forced to think about that. We've learned that success in tribes seems to happen kind of randomly, somewhat randomly. One tribe does this here; the neighboring tribe is not doing very well. But there really seems to be two circumstances under which a tribe is successful and one of them involves kind of the really good individual, the great individual or this group of individuals, the super-motivated person. A tribe is a very unique place you get to work at because one person can make a difference there. You can...and if one person is highly motivated, they can bring others into the fold and make a difference. And I wonder, what I wonder when I see some of these programs up here, I wonder how many of them are motivated by, are the result of great individuals or great systems. And I think that if you're relying upon the great individual, it's probably a mistake because they probably don't come along that often. And so I think that you're better off waiting for number two or working on number two, which is the tribes who are successful tend to be successful because it's kind of a natural and kind of logical evolution of some of the systems that they put in place, the systems that kind of allow long-term continuity and stability. In other words, the success isn't random; it's really a predictable kind of factor in their environment if they have these systems in place.

So since the individual's topic is too hard to discuss because it's too random, I really want to focus on what I think that we learned about continuity and long-term stability. And all this is leading up by the way to the simplest of points and will be obvious soon. Most tribes are structured around their tribal council. Think about your tribal government. In the structure, the organizational structure of a tribe...I've seen lots of neat charts, but really what they are, the typical organizational chart in reality is very wide and very flat with everybody reporting up to the council, businesses, departments -- everything has to go through the council. And what that means is that a lot of times things aren't necessarily dealt with efficiently, they're forgot about, they're dealt with only when things go negatively. And it also has the additional side effect of making your tribal government incredibly dependent upon the skills and knowledge base of that tribal council. So the system is designed to funnel through the council and it's only as strong as the individuals on that council and that's a weakness, that's a weakness in my view. I'm going to back up a second here.

How can we ensure that those council members, since we're so dependent upon them, are good? And I was thinking and I want to say that I'm not an expert on this because I'm going to talk about Winnebago and what we used to do traditionally. And I'm just going to say what was told to me and I want it very clear that it's not my place to talk about this kind of thing typically. Traditionally in Winnebago, our leaders were the head of each of our clans and those leaders were selected by the women in those clans because it was felt that their concern for their family and their children automatically meant that they would pick somebody who they thought was knowledgeable...that was the best person and typically they picked the eldest person within that group, family group and the most experienced. Not always -- sometimes they would take somebody younger. It wasn't a rule that it was the eldest, it just typically was. So what we had was a system, a rational, traditional system based upon knowledge and experience. We had it kind of built into what we already did and change usually occurred at death. Not the next election. The reason we had this is because if we didn't, we would make mistakes and people would probably die. We had a cultural imperative for a rational system and that changed when the federal government forced kind of these constitutions on tribal governments and that changed the system dramatically. And when they did this, I can just imagine some lawyer in D.C. typing this up in the ‘30s, saying, ‘Well, this is a good idea', and someone said, ‘Sure, fine.' And there wasn't any thought whatsoever as to how to kind of institutionalize or introduce some of these already very rational processes that we had in place. It just happened. And we've been dealing with that for the last 70, 80 years.

The majority of tribes in our area have a tribal council that's elected every two or three years. This system is horrible, absolutely horrible for long-term continuity. I'm going to list a few things that it does and this stuff to anybody who's been with the tribe, this is not going to be earth shattering, but I think it's helpful to put it altogether. It creates kind of...these elections become all-or-nothing events and it creates a highly negative political environment on the reservation where attacking is the way to get on. There is no kind of getting on board, being part of the team. It creates a possibility of complete turnover of the elected representatives every two or three years. These new council members in this negative environment are often elected by attacking the current system. You don't get elected by praising the existing government. And so...it hasn't worked for us anyway. It used to be very...when we first started Ho-Chunk, Inc., it was very common to get elected by attacking Ho-Chunk, Inc. It was a very good way to get elected in Winnebago. It was very controversial at the time, which was almost the best way to do it. But this attack system almost forces the new council to tear down what's there. They almost had no choice. Their electorate expects it. It also leads to kind of inconsistent political strategy. You have no relationship with the local, the state, and the federal authorities. They don't even know who the next guy is. And it also hurts business dramatically. It really hurts your strategy. You have no continuity over a period of time. Business needs to be continually moving; it can't wait and stop for the election. You can't wait for the hammer to fall. You can't replace the CEO every couple of years and hope to have any kind of consistency in what you're doing. And the other thing is it also creates a lot of short-term thinking; both right after the election, you've got to make your big splash, and right before an election.

We joke that...one time we gave a dollar raise, the council did, to every employee at the casino before an election and we calculated how much that was over the period of a year and I said, ‘We only have...' I mean, you could win our election with 120 votes. We tried to work it out per vote and only a third of the employees were tribal members and it came out to an astronomical number per vote, what that cost the tribe. It was something in the tens of thousands per vote. But it was a very popular decision at the time and the tribe had money then to do that. And so before the election at least all kinds of really random short-term thinking and decision-making that has long-term implications that screws up long-term planning. And it makes it even worse when they don't...when it doesn't work and they don't get re-elected and the new guys come in and have to deal with that and tear that down and there really isn't any sense of long-term strategy in that stuff. So these tribes are in this kind of cycle, this perpetual cycle of starting over and unless the tribal electorate is incredibly rational in a very negative, in an environment that's likely to be very negative -- because that's your system for success to get elected -- unless they're very rational and elect the same people consistently over and over again, which does happen in some tribes -- some tribes they're all up for election and they reelect generally the same people -- unless they do that, the possibility of any kind of long-term cohesive strategy or continuity is very, very minimal in a tribal government that has its election every two or three years and everybody's up to bat.

In Winnebago, we're lucky and I didn't realize how lucky we were really, I mean I knew it was a good thing, but I didn't realize how lucky we were until we visited with these other tribes. We have staggered terms. We have nine tribal council members. Three of them are up for election every year and usually two or three are re-elected again. I'm going to list the nine, just the number of years that each council member has been on our council to give you an idea of what I'm talking about. And a lot of people when they get older will leave the council and they'll kind of designate some of the younger to start cycling through. It's very much a logical system, really kind of based behind the scenes on families and clan membership and stuff. But our council members are one year, three year, three year, four year, five year, five year, eight year, 14 year, 16 year and our tribal chairman is in his 16th year. And so I was going to do the math on it and do the average number of years there but I didn't have a calculator. My math skills are worse since high school. My guess is that's around six, six or seven. And what does that do for long-term strategy? Our tribal chairman was there in 1986 when we first tried to start a corporation. The Winnebago Business Code of 1986, he was there, he was behind it. So in 1993 or '94 we started again, of course he supported it. This made more sense, it was the next evolution in this process and these staggered terms, they have several kind of natural results. It reduces the kind of emphasis on the elections themselves. It prevents this kind of radical short-term thinking that we were talking about. There isn't this great push...because only two or three of them are going crazy before the election, but the rest of them can kind of hold them in. It also allows kind of naturally a long-term planning and a long-term kind of projects to continue to move forward. It automatically allows for kind of an institutional knowledge base to continue to grow. There is no starting over here. And the elections, I've never seen an election that's resulted in a firing of a key employee. I've never...because it doesn't happen that way because the rest of the people obviously support that person. And more importantly, I think it allows kind of a system where these institutions can naturally evolve because they're really focused on the long-term perspective. I think this not starting over is very positive. And I didn't know, I didn't really think about this in these terms until very recently. And I'll give you the two reasons or the two examples that popped up that caused me to start thinking why, that caused me to start thinking about the real benefit of an institutional kind of knowledge base in these situations.

And the first one was, somebody asked me recently, we have our corporation, we recently formed a planning department to go after government grants and a non-profit corporation to also bring in additional funding into our community. And someone said, ‘What made you think of that?' And the answer was, ‘Well, in '95 I was totally against it, in '96 we got a grant to do this.' So I said, 'Hey, that's pretty cool.' In '97 we didn't do anything. In '98 we got a low-interest rate loan through our own kind of efforts and we said, ‘Hey, this is a pretty good deal.' In '99, we got another one. In 2000, we got a grant to build a new office building. It was great for business because we didn't have to pay for it anymore; we got a new building. But in 2001, we learned that all these opportunities are out there that we're not tapping into. The non-profit will do it. And so one day I come back to my office on a Monday and there's a note on my computer from Friday that says, ‘Form a non-profit you big dummy.' It was to me, I wrote it because I didn't want to forget by Monday. But he asked me that question, ‘What made you think of it,' and it caused me to think, ‘Well, I didn't think of it.' It was the next step in the natural evolution of the internal knowledge base that we built up.

And the other example that integrates not just Ho-Chunk, Inc., but that integrates kind of the governmental side is, we recently just signed a groundbreaking tax agreement for gasoline on our reservation that recognizes our jurisdiction over non-Indians. And somebody said, ‘How did you do that?' And I did the same thing again. In '95 we took over the tribe's grocery store and you used to have to sign your name and write your ID number and get your refund from the state and I said, ‘We're not doing that anymore.' I said, ‘This only applies for Winnebagos,' and we said, ‘Any Indians a good Indian, we'll send you your money instead.' And so that was kind of a big deal for us. In '97, the Omaha Tribe next to us started a cigarette factory and they ruled that that's tax-free because they make the cigarettes on their reservation. I said, ‘Hey, that's pretty interesting.' In '98, they start selling gas tax-free, we supplied it to them through a loophole in Nebraska law. In '99, Iowa threatened to sue us because we were taking it to that state. So we went into negotiations, which went poorly and then they cut off our supply of fuel, which really just made me mad. And they were saying bad things about us, called us ‘shady characters.' And so we got in trouble. We called the governor and we didn't appreciate that. And so they said they would negotiate with us but they never got around to it and they didn't really...they put some feeble efforts in. And so we said, in June of 2000 after the second crack at negotiations, we said, ‘We're going to start our own tax.' And six months later we figured out a way to make it legal and essentially all we do is take the alcohol and blend it in with the gasoline on our reservation to make a charter product, similar to...and it's a manufacturing process similar to what we learned the Omaha Tribe did in '97. They made a manufacturing process and said, ‘Well, this is just our manufacturing process.' And it really threw them for a loop and we implemented kind of a political...we learned how to do that because we had a gas station business. Now, by the way, we have seven trucks and we sell 100,000 gallons of gas a day. This is like a year and a half later and we sell it to seven tribes now, but that's a different story -- all because Iowa really pissed us off.

We put together kind of...we learned how to do this from our business side but we had a legal element -- I'm a lawyer, our tribe's lawyer -- and we learned from the Omaha Tribe's legal experience in '97. And we had a growing kind of political knowledge because of the success of the tribe. And so we put together kind of a sophisticated political, legal, business-oriented strategy. We already had de facto control, we owned all the stations so we could pass any tax and apply it to us. And we offered to negotiate right off the bat. We always kept the lines of communications open. And anyway, that was in 2001, just a few weeks ago the governor signed our tax agreement that gives us, that locks in, that recognizes our jurisdiction and locks in a real good price advantage for our businesses that helps 70 of my employees keep putting food on the table. And that took years of natural kind of development both on the governmental side and both on the operational business side. And that kind of knowledge didn't just happen. People always...they come down to visit and say, ‘How'd you do it?' and really, it's a hard thing to say because it took a long time. It's a hard question to answer and this format has caused me to really think about that, how important it was to have the government stable and learning and developing relationships, how important it was for us to have a stable business environment that was learning these things and that was taking pieces from elsewhere. This strategy that we evolved would not have happened if the lawyers in a council meeting would have said, ‘Hey, we've got this problem.' They'd have said, ‘Well...' The lawyers probably would have only said, ‘This is how you'll end up in jail,' or ‘the state will do this to you,' and we probably wouldn't have went forward. But we had a business imperative to do this. We had jobs at stake, we had money at stake, and we found a way to do it using our knowledge that we had learned over a period of time and the reason we were allowed to do that is because our government is a highly stable environment.

And in summary, that's the point I want to make. In order to have any chance at long-term success, the tribes really have to structurally institutionalize continuity and that's a lot of big words in a row. But really what I mean to say is you need to change your constitution. And I'm not talking about the big changes, the ones that, the committees, the general councils, ‘We're going to go back to the old ways.' I'm talking about one simple tiny little change that will give you a chance at some of these kinds of successes. They'll be different than ours obviously, but just stagger your terms, allow your tribe the opportunity to have a chance at continuity and that will allow the natural kind of abilities and instincts and knowledge to form and flower on your reservation and that should lead to the kind of environment where these institutions develop, institutions that can take advantage of sovereignty, that get smart, that are Native American, and go forward on a cultural basis. And I realize that it's a very, very simple recommendation to make after the big introduction I got, but I think sometimes that's what you need to do, the simplest answer is the easiest. And I don't know if I have any time for questions but I'm done essentially."

Miriam Jorgensen:

"We do have time for questions, so if Lance would take a couple of questions it'd be great, so if you want to just raise your hand and pose the question to him, Lance will probably answer it. Are there questions?"

Audience member:

"Lance, in some of your fuel acquisitions and some of that, how have you dealt with kind of adverse public relations issues such as the large Petroleum Marketers Association lobbying and some other groups like that as well as the states, and you didn't mention Iowa?"

Lance Morgan:

"Oh, that's a funny question. We actually went to the...we were negotiating the tax agreement with Nebraska and the head of the motor fuels department was in our office and I said, ‘Do you want to go to a KKK meeting?' And she said, ‘What are you talking about?' I said, ‘Well, the Iowa petroleum marketers and Nebraska ones are getting together to talk about us.' And she goes, ‘Oh, I talked to them. I cleared all this up.' I said, ‘Well, let's go to lunch up there.' So we went and she's sitting...she had just said, ‘We need this information from you, I've got a report.' I said, ‘I'm not giving you that, that's going to put a gun to our head. They're going to use it against us.' And as soon as we walked in there, they started bad-mouthing Indians and they said, ‘We need to get this information. Nebraska's going to give it to us and then we can go after them.' And he said, ‘Because we could go down to the reservation and get it, but they'll probably throw you in the Indian jail. You know what that is? That's when they tie you to one of their slot machines.' And I busted out laughing. These people had no idea who I am and they're talking about they've got these lawyers and they're going to sue you if you try to say anything to them. It's basically they're just lying through their teeth to their constituents, see, and the head of the motor fuels department is sitting there. She goes, ‘I can't believe they're doing this.' I said, ‘See, this is what we're dealing with.' And so at that point she started talking in terms of ‘we.' ‘What are ‘we' going to do to deal with this kind of stuff?' And I said, ‘She's like Patty Hearst.' We were going to make her an honorary member of our tribe after that and they lost all credibility.

We took the time to educate Nebraska and then we showed them the dirty side of what we face. And the term we always use is 'jealousism,' that's our little term. It's not racism, it's jealousism 'cause they don't like it for us. We've lost our place a little bit. But we also did some other things in advance of before we started. We felt that the current taxation system was based upon the color of your skin and I think sometimes we're so used to making that distinction that we don't even think how crazy it is. You go on to the reservation, the Native American pays one price, the non-Indian pays the other. Now how in the hell is that right? Where else in America do you make a racial distinction based upon taxation? It's all about jurisdiction and it's all about...it's all about the entity. And I said, ‘We're not going to stand for this anymore' and so our PR campaign was going to be based on race. We were not going to do this anymore. If you come to our jurisdiction, you pay our tax and it sold with everybody. We had a reporter who wrote a couple weeks after we implemented our tax, on the front page of the Sioux City paper, she said, ‘A cashier...when you buy gas in Winnebago, the cashier has to determine the color of your...he knows what to charge you by the color of your skin. In Winnebago, race matters on what to charge and the Winnebago Tribe has implemented the race-neutral tax.' So we invented these terms, race-based taxation, race neutral. Republicans, they loved it. The Democrats, we give them a lot of money. So they basically backed off.

And the fact that we also were offering to negotiate...when we implemented our tax we wrote a three-page letter. The first half talked about how their legal system wasn't worth the paper it was written on and it was just very much rhetoric. And the last part talked about our strong, strong legal arguments that we put in place. The pre-emption argument, the fuel blending, the manufacturing, all these kind of things are very, very strong legal arguments on our side. We thought we had a very high chance of winning in court under this situation and at the end we said, ‘We will negotiate.' And we thought that if we said, ‘We will negotiate', that three, four, five months at least, we'd get to do this. And after a while everything died down and the state actually met with us in a very contentious relationship, contentious meeting, and when we laid out all of our legal arguments and all of the rationale behind it, they really got on board with us and then we did negotiate. The primary thing that turned the tide was we showed...on our reservation we have half the land and one third of the roads and you've got...the county got $1.6 million for excise tax money for gasoline to fix the roads and none of those roads are in our neighborhood and we got zero. So when we show our blending process and all our investment in these trucks and fuel additive things and gas stations and the people on the jobs and show how much money you're getting and how we're getting nothing, I said, ‘I can't wait to get to court with that. I said we're on a war footing.' And they said, ‘Okay.' But all this was planned. Our eventual goal internally was to get our tax agreement and that's all we wanted, that recognized our jurisdiction and we ended up getting it. But we did it with a combination of kind of PR, of political thing, of operational, of legal buffing, and it worked for us. But there was a lot of attacks along the way. But you've got to plan this out in advance.

We wrote a very interesting memo for the Sisseton-Wahpeton Tribe that balanced the business, who now have their own gasoline-blending and taxation system on their reservation. And it was not a legal memo, it was a combination legal and business memo that balanced these interests, talked about their PR strategy, talked about their legal strategy, talked about how to do this operationally, an all encompassing kind of thought process that you don't normally get in these environments. You only get those piece...tribes never quite pull those pieces together and we were lucky that we had all those pieces in our organization. And we now think strategically about how, and automatically about how to develop our sovereignty to strengthen our institutions. It's very strange, but it's kind of a natural evolution of what went on."

Audience member:

"Can you talk a little bit more about leadership in the business side of your programs and where or what is that continuity? Obviously you're a good example of continuity, but the other issue is what about other leaders within your tribe? And how is that coming with respect to, I guess, leadership development and how that works in terms of the business side of things in the different entities that you're working with?"

Lance Morgan:

"We talk about systematic approaches. We have the exact same thing on what we're doing. We have a general tribal preference of employees, but we target internally our best and our brightest. We've had every valedictorian the last several years working for us at some point, summer jobs or coming back from college. We have our own internship program. We've actually expanded to other tribes. We've had lawyers actually from a couple of other tribes come and work. They've stayed at my house and they work with us for a little while to get some insight into what we're doing. We've kind of...our internship program to me is my ability to directly nurture kind of the up and coming people. We've gotten so big now that some of our companies and departments are now going to start their internship program this year and we're just starting that so that they can have them too. We just hired one of our tribal members who just graduated, or is about to graduate from college with a computer degree to do research for us in our planning and non-profit company. And so we've kind of systemized it and now have expanded it.

On leadership on the business side, I think it's very important, and we talked about this a little before -- not here -- and I think tribes pass these corporations, they form these entities and then they just run off and they expect them to be successful. And I think the real effort needs to be when you form the entity. You have to set up principles of governance between the corporation board and the tribal government and you need to go through all the possible abilities of interaction from how do you handle your finances? How do you handle personnel? You don't want the tribe's personnel policies. You don't want to use the tribe's accounting system, you'll never get a check written; somebody won't sign it, they'll take the day off. You have to decide how you're going to send money back to the government, what you can retain. You need to do all of this stuff up front and we have a list of 10 or 12 things depending on the tribe and then once you have those, you need a leader with the courage to stick to that and hold them to it, because a lot of tribes have corporations that don't... and their CEOs are puppets and they just do what the tribal council says and they're afraid to make decisions.

I've had meetings with tribal councils where I've whipped out the long-term plan from 1994. I said, ‘Let me refresh your memory,' and I've read from it. And one of the sentences said, ‘If we did that, that would contradict the very reason for our existence.' Everyone else said, ‘Oh, yeah.' But if you don't do that up front, then you have no chance of saving it later because the tribal government is a very flexible dynamic entity. They'll adapt their mindset to whatever is politically expedient at the time, whatever they feel they have to deal with, they'll rationalize their approach to it. And so you have to stick...you have to do your homework and be willing to have the courage to stick to it and not in a disrespectful way. You don't have to do that. I have a lot of respect for our council leaders, but really sometimes you have to remind them...and since we have this kind of institutional knowledge base and memory of these things, people say, ‘Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Okay, okay. We can't do that,' and they deal with it some other way. And so it really isn't just leadership, it's planning and leadership and sticking to it over a period of time."

Honoring Nations: Loren Bird Rattler, Ray Montoya and Jay St. Goddard: Siyeh Corporation

Producer
Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development
Year

Representatives from the Siyeh Corporation present an overview of the corporation's establishment and growth to the Honoring Nations Board of Governors in conjunction with the 2005 Honoring Nations Awards.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Bird Rattler, Loren, Ray Montoya, and Jay St. Goddard. "Siyeh Corporation." Honoring Nations Awards event. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Tulsa, Oklahoma. November 1, 2005. Presentation.

Loren Bird Rattler:

"Thank you, Amy. As she mentioned, my name is Loren Bird Rattler. I'm the Manager of the Blackfeet Heritage Center and Art Gallery, a business line of the parent company Siyeh Corporation. I would like to first thank the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development for allowing us a forum to certainly showcase our successes that we've had at Siyeh Corporation back in Blackfeet Country.

With that said, I'd like to begin with the question, 'Why was Siyeh Corporation created?' First, a legal enterprise was needed to develop and operate business opportunities for the Blackfeet Tribe. This enterprise needed to be a for-profit entity that would provide an alternative source of revenue for the Blackfeet Tribe as well as create a source of revenue...I'm sorry, a source of revenue for the Blackfeet Tribe as well as create additional jobs for the local economy. But more specifically, it was to create an enterprise whose day-to-day business decisions and practices were separate from tribal politics and decision making. This process happened in four phases: analysis and bench marketing, petitioning the Secretary of Interior, the approval of that petition, and finally ratification by the Blackfeet Tribe.

In 1997 the Blackfeet Planning Department began to script plans for a for-profit company that would be semi-autonomous from tribal political influence and decision-making. The Planning Department embraced a new paradigm of thinking that would change the dynamic of how the Blackfeet Tribe would and could create and sustain profitable businesses. The first task was an analysis on the approach to economic development on the Blackfeet Reservation. During this analysis, the Planning Department began to benchmark other tribes to find out what types of infrastructure they were using in tribal enterprises and businesses. From this analysis, a new comprehensive economic development strategy was put in place to create a for-profit corporation. Many of the principles were taken directly from the concepts of 'Reloading the Dice, Improving Economic Development on American Indian Reservations,' which was found in the publication American Indian Economic Development from the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development.

In early 1999 the Planning Department drafted the corporate charter for Siyeh Corporation under the framework of Section 17 of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. Upon completion of the draft, the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council passed resolution number 10899 and shortly thereafter petitioned the Secretary of Interior. Upon approval of the petition by the Deputy Commissioner of Indian Affairs on July 8th, 1999, the proposal was sent back to the Blackfeet Tribe for ratification. During this time, a new council had been elected and inaugurated and a referendum was passed changing the structure of terms for the council from two-year terms to staggered four-year terms. Of course this created a new problem for Siyeh. We had to re-lobby a new council, that some of them serving two years, some of them serving four years in 2000. After this lobbying effort was launched, we were able to convince the Chairman of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council and therefore get the rest of the council on board. After that happened, of course the charter was ratified on January 3rd, 2001. Because of the language of Section 17 of the Indian Reorganization Act, once ratified by the tribe, it requires an act of Congress to dissolve, further limiting potential influence or potential political influence.

From the drafting of the charter to present day, Siyeh Corporation has and will continue to have struggles. In the beginning, it was very difficult getting local businessmen to serve on the board of directors simply because of the mistrust toward tribal enterprises following a number of failed business ventures. The tribal government and to a greater extent the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council's role is continually being defined and redefined with every incoming council. In the very beginning of course, there was problems with a lack of funding to get the corporation off the ground. The struggle with public perception and the old political philosophy that the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council should have the final say on all matters coupled with Siyeh Corporation's approach to problem solving presents a public relations challenge that Siyeh Corporation continues to address and remedy today.

Siyeh Corporation has five successful business lines. In 1999, the Blackfeet Tribe acquired Starling Cable Company, which was in jeopardy of losing programming. The company has increased subscriptions and offers a public access channel for community programming. In April 2000, under the threat of closure from the National Indian Gaming Commission, Siyeh inherited the Glacier Peaks Casino in Browning. Glacier Peaks Casino now operates seven days a week with exceptional revenue. Kimmie Water was created in late 2000 to deliver five-gallon water jugs to the community due to the poor quality of water with the present water system that exists on the reservation. And in 2002, Discovery Lodge Casino was created to tap into the eastern reservation gaming market. And finally, in mid-2002 with the acquisition of the inventory from the Northern Plains Arts Cooperative, Siyeh Corporation created the Blackfeet Heritage Center and Art Gallery. The center provides an outlet for local artists, artisans, and crafts people to market their work as well as advocate through programming Blackfeet cultural and traditional preservation.

Currently, there are four future projects that are being developed under Siyeh Corporation. A grocery store has surpassed its planning stage and now has a site as well as a distributor identified. The design for the store has been completed. An expansion to the Glacier Peaks Casino is underway. Construction began on a new 30,000-square-foot facility that will house 300-plus class two gaming machines, a 250-seat Bingo hall and a restaurant, lounge and gift shop. Plans have just got underway for a wireless internet business that will bring wireless internet service to rural residents of the Blackfeet Reservation. A feasibility study and business plan are now underway. Siyeh Corporation has completed an SBA 80 application that will aid in marketing Kimmie Water and integrated information technology services and solutions. It may also help with future federal contracting.

Siyeh Corporation has been instrumental in the development of the local economy. In 2004, Siyeh's five business lines paid out over one million dollars in payroll and disbursed $963,173 in dividends to corporate shareholders, the Blackfeet Tribe. Siyeh assets in the year 2000 were around $300,000 compared to nearly $800,000 today. These assets include real property, equipment, vehicles and inventory. Vicariously through its business lines, Siyeh Corporation aids in community development. By providing bottled water to community members, elders and diabetics, Kimmie Water provides a necessary resource that was lacking before. Starling Cable Television, through its community access channel number 37, provides local programming, including Blackfeet Tribal Business Council meetings, public forums, high school sports, and Blackfeet cultural and educational programming. Siyeh also helps with the cultural preservation by purchasing, marketing and exposing Blackfeet artists, artisans and crafts peoples' work. This practice in turn will allow the Blackfeet Heritage Center and Art Gallery to conduct educational workshops on traditional artistic practices. This venue, which includes Blackfeet culture and history teaches both non-Natives as well as our own youth about ourselves.

Siyeh Corporation was named after the Blackfeet warrior Siyeh or Mad Wolf. The spirit of Siyeh in the telling of tribal elders embodies independent thinking, shouldering responsibility for the work that has to be done, and taking bold action. Because of this inspiration, Siyeh Corporation will continue in its efforts to span strategically while protecting the environment, culture and tradition and will continue to be fearless, independent and true, as their motto states."

Alfreda Mitre:

"Congratulations. I had formulated three questions and during your presentation you answered all three of them, so I'll just take this time and say thank you for a wonderful presentation and I'll let the others if they have any questions to go ahead and do so."

Loren Bird Rattler:

"Thank you."

Elsie Meeks:

"So I would imagine that this was fairly controversial in incorporating a Section 17 corporation."

Loren Bird Rattler:

"Yes, it was."

Elsie Meeks:

"Well, that's an issue that I think a lot of tribes would struggle with. I guess if you could talk a little bit more about the reason that you decided to do that, because I know that that must have been a hard decision for you all to make but there must have been a good reason why you did it, and I'd just like you to expand on that a little bit because I think there's some good lessons here."

Loren Bird Rattler:

"Certainly and I'll defer that question to the economic development coordinator Ray Montoya."

Ray Montoya:

"Okay, I'll try to shed a little light on that question. One of the reasons we went with a federally chartered corporation was because in the past and up to that point in time most of the businesses were under the auspices of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council directly under tribal government and unfortunately under that structure the Blackfeet Tribe hasn't had one successful business as a tribal-owned business directly under the tribal government. And so we saw this as a way of changing that lack of success and then allowing a business to grow as it should without the lack of governmental interference."

Brian C. McK. Henderson:

"I would like to ask a follow-up question. You've basically created what in effect is a tribal holding company with a variety of different businesses underneath this one structure and if you could project out into the future and given the challenges that the tribe actually has in economic development and getting businesses going. Do you see the structure on the...under the Section 17 format helping you in the future or do you see it at some point something that you may want to actually change?"

Jay St. Goddard:

"Speaking on behalf of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council and the experience I've had as a previous board member on the Siyeh Corporation, it is a model and we expand on it and we want to keep it because it does help us for future businesses and that's one of the main reasons it was put into place. And from past experience and being a leader on the council and knowing what goes on in the political realm and views you get from your membership, I feel it's important it stays in place because it does help our economic future, because changeover in Indian Country as everyone knows happens so regularly and each time there's a change, although we're elected officials, some of them come in thinking they know every answer to economic development or there's that certain money savior out there that's going to come in and save the tribe but that doesn't happen. And with this charter being in place, I think it helps the corporation sustain its ability to prove to the community -- slowly in some ways but fast in other ways -- that this is what we needed in place for a long time, to help us be a successful tribe and business-minded people we have. We have a lot of management people under this corporation that are helping us move these projects along. But it will definitely be a future need and as a tribal leader I hope this would stay in place and it's not taken away, it stays out of the realm of politics. I'm one of the tribal leaders that fight for this corporation every day and help the other tribal leaders understand that this is needed, it's not to be tossed around every time it's brought up to vote it down again. I use that because it's...the charter under the government or wherever it's...however it was created was a great idea. It just makes it harder for a simple motion or resolution for a new council to come in and dissolve this company. That's what'll keep it successful."

Michael Taylor: Nation-Owned Businesses: Quil Ceda Village

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Tulalip Tribal Attorney Michael Taylor discusses Tulalip's rationale for taking the unique step of creating Quil Ceda Village, a federally chartered city, and the benefits this approach has brought the Tulalip Tribes.

Resource Type
Citation

Taylor, Michael. "Nation-Owned Enterprises: Quil Ceda Village." Building and Sustaining Tribal Enterprises seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. March 29, 2007. Presentation.

"Well what the second part of the presentation before me emphasized was structure. How do you structure? How do you get away from politics, if you can? And you can't always get away from politics. But I would say that, I would argue in contesting part of what was said this morning, that dividing the business operations from the politics of the tribal council is perhaps not a panacea, but it's necessary if the tribes are going to succeed with their development. In all the years that I've worked on reservations -- and I worked in the tribal facility always, I've always worked directly for the tribe -- the struggle has been how to figure out ways to deal with this problem. We need to develop our resources; we need to pay attention to taking those resources that we have and maximizing [them] for the benefit of our people and creating institutions that last, both governmental and business. And so in struggling with this problem I think I -- along with the people that I've worked with, Indian people -- have figured out a couple of ways and I want to talk about two of them.

I know I was brought here to talk about Quil Ceda Village, which I will spend most of my time on, but on the Colville Reservation, which is just south of Osoyoos, in the early '80s the tribe was faced with this problem. They had a whole bunch of businesses; they were all being subsidized by timber revenues. And when the timber market went bust, all those businesses essentially couldn't operate because they were being supplemented by timber revenues. So we established a corporation called tribal governmental, which we called a tribal governmental corporation. If you want to study this model, there's a case now out from the -- I don't think anybody else in here is a lawyer -- but this case just came down from the Washington Supreme Court, a court which has never been favorable to Indians from its inception. When it was a territorial court, before there was a State of Washington, it still wasn't particularly interested in Indian issues, and has done its best to torpedo Indian rights wherever it could. But this organization that we established back in the early '80s was eventually sued in a way that we thought it would eventually be sued. And in this court, a very unfavorable court, the Washington State Supreme Court, we succeeded in getting a very favorable decision about this form of organization and I recommend the case to you. It's called Wright vs. Colville Tribal Enterprise Corporation [CTEC]. You can mention this to your lawyers; you can get it on [Lexis and Westlaw]. In that case, the Supreme Court of Washington talks about this corporate entity that was formed on the reservation at Colville. What it is and why it maintains the powers and immunities of an Indian tribe while being sort of a half step away. And that half step is important because the half step separates business from government. And I would argue that the reason that CTEC is still around after 24 years or however long it's been is that this separation took place.

Now there have been many wars here, internal wars, but the trick here is survival and profitability. And CTEC Corporation has, over the years, maintained that separation between the tribal elected officials -- there are 14 of them at Colville, a 14-member tribal council -- and the corporate body, the leadership that's brought in essentially, some tribal members, some not, to run the businesses of the corporation, which include gaming and timber, sawmill, grocery stores, there's a recreational houseboat development -- a whole bunch of things that this entity does. There's even a kind of a bank that operates, loaning money to people. And so this entity has survived, what I think as a lawyer is, a critical test where it got sued in the state courts and the case went up to the state supreme court and the state supreme court validated what we did. And if you look at that case, every fact and every law and every ordinance that both the majority opinion and the concurring opinion use as a basis for legitimizing what we did here was thought out, it was well thought out, even though we didn't have any models or at least we didn't have any models in Indian Country to do this.

Now as we say, over the years it's not a panacea. There are mistakes that have been made occasionally. Sometimes things that you plan don't work out. But we're still making money; it's got lots of employees. If I walk down the street in Omak, the town that I lived near all those years, I run into people who I can say as I'm greeting them and walking along, raised their families by working there and/or bought off... we sold off some businesses to tribal members who started them, managed them and then said, "˜Okay, I'm ready to do it myself, sell it to me.' And as I said this morning, the charter of this entity says that the corporate board has an obligation to provide support for tribal members who want to do it themselves. And that's especially true whether it's a sell-off of a business that's been operated by the corporation and a tribal member who managed it, worked it and operated it, built it can say, "˜Okay, I've gone to the bank, they'll provide me with the money to help me buyout this business and operate it myself.' I still have a house over here so I can go to Osooyoos and the guy who takes care of my well is one of the businesses we had, a well-drilling business and now he's got a big well-drilling business in that area because one of the things that area lacks is water. It's a desert. It's part of this desert. It goes all the way up into Canada, the great Sonoran Desert.

Well, let's talk about Quil Ceda Village. Quil Ceda Village is another example of separating, but this time it's dividing government responsibilities. Today I work on the Tulalip Reservation, which is, for you folks it's a relatively, many of you [in the] area down here, it's a relatively small reservation. It's 22,000 acres and it's roughly a triangle. Over here on this side of the reservation is water, Puget Sound. We're about 35 miles north of Seattle. Up here is Vancouver, this is Interstate 5; I-5 is the eastern boundary of the reservation. And down here, if you keep going, is what? Tijuana. So that's the geography of this place. [Laughter] Why's this funny? I grew up in California. Okay. So along this I-5 corridor -- if you've ever driven it -- when you get into populated areas it's an area for development, it's a good location in other words. It's a good real estate location. And when I came to work about 13-14 years ago at Tulalip -- leaving this beautiful God's country over there at Osoyoos and the Colville Reservation for the moldy, wet side -- this area along here, the reservation boundary was relatively undeveloped. There's a little area down here where the tribe had its original casino, right in here, that was developed, but otherwise along here it was just trees, a very pretty drive on Interstate 5 along here because it was undeveloped and there was trees. Tribal council had a notion about how to develop this area and after a few years and I was there they decided to develop a particular plot of land, which is about 2,000 acres and it's right here. And one of the things that they were going to do is it was a future plan, they were going to build a much larger and more accommodating casino facility up on this part of the land. At the time I got here, this area was, as I say it was undeveloped, in fact it was a big hole. There had been a lot of earth removed from this area to build freeway overpasses and that sort of thing. The tribe sort of sold the dirt from this area. So when we went over here it was just a big mud hole, enormous puddle because it rains a lot.

Well, so I'm going to talk about the governmental side of this situation. I'm not going to talk about the business side, that's different. In practice we have developed this area quite substantially. We have a Walmart©, a Home Depot©, a great big 110- or 120-store fancy outlet facility, the casino is built in here, there are gas stations, restaurants, but we still have a lot of land that we're looking for people to come in and build and we have a lot of folks that we're dealing with on all kinds of projects. So we have a list of various people. We're trying to essentially develop this into a destination resort and right now we're building a big hotel right next to the casino. So there's a lot of talk, a lot of argument back and forth on the business side as to what this area is going to be in terms of the services and the projects that are going to be produced here in this area. But there were some problems in doing this. I'm just going to talk about two of them. One was annexation and two was taxes.

Those of you who work around cities, especially small cities -- I assume it's this way every place -- if you've developed, if you have an undeveloped area and then suddenly it begins to develop, the cities nearby will look very closely at trying to get this area into the city boundaries because it's a very substantial source of tax revenue for them. So we have a city over here, Marysville, we have one down here, Everett and then a little bit north is Arlington. And these cities have engaged in litigation and utilities warfare grabbing, like amoebas they reach out and they grab areas where there is substantial commercial development. They like that. They don't like the grab housing developments because that's just a sink of money. You have to provide services and you don't get too much back. But if you've got a bunch of car dealerships, restaurants and grocery stores and all that kind of stuff, you want to grab it. And those things tend to, they have a symbiotic relationship and they tend to clump together. So people come into this area, they spend money, they create tax revenues and so cities want these areas and they have, under state law, the opportunity to go out and grab them through an elective process of various sorts.

And we knew that Marysville, Arlington and Everett have done this in a number of places. And we were concerned that if we were successful here -- we didn't know whether we would be -- but once Walmart agreed to come, and that's another story, but once Walmart agreed to come we thought, 'Hey, somebody, some city is going to want to annex onto the reservation.' Now, can they do that? Can they move their boundaries onto the reservation? Absolutely. There's a bunch of cases in federal courts where Indian tribes have tried to stop annexation onto the reservation, all lost, all lost. They never have been successful. And we didn't want one of these cities moving in and essentially taking over the government of our area that we were going to develop. So annexation was an issue. In addition, if we were successful, we were going to produce a lot of tax revenue in this area. And the tax revenue as we know now, we thought then and we know for sure now, it would dwarf what we can get from leases and other forms of development, it would dwarf it. So we wanted to have a shot at getting the tax revenue that's derived from this area. So here's what we did. And in your materials I provided the documents, the basic documents that we did.

I talked about Colville Tribal Enterprises Corporation a little bit because I essentially followed the same pattern or I talked my client into following the same pattern, my client being the tribal council, of establishing an entity. In the case of Colville Tribal Enterprise Corporation, it was a business corporation, something to produce surplus revenues and employ people. I did it in the '80s and when this problem came up I thought, 'Well, maybe we can move over onto the government side and essentially do the same thing.' And that's what we did. The tribal council passed an enabling act, which you have in your materials, allowing them to charter municipalities themselves and we hustled it over to the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] and they said, "˜What's this?' They say that with everything. We said, "˜We're going to charter, we want to charter a municipality, and so here's the enabling act that allows how this is to be done.'

Well, we thought, if we have our own municipality here, we can at least defend ourselves on the annexation business. So that strategy...and it's basically worked. There have been no annexation, the cities around us have bought off on the fact that this is a municipality and they can't go there, they can't move onto the reservation and take this within their boundaries. And we've solidified that by making deals with them where they have agreed contractually not to do it. But that initial adoption of this entity as a municipality with its own village council. It's called the 'village council'; it's called Quil Ceda Village. It's got a big long legal name to differentiate it from cities in the State of Washington, but Quil Ceda Village is what we call it and it's the colloquial name, what people call it when they say, "˜Oh, we're going to Quil Ceda.' We now have an amphitheater over here so we're starting to bring all kinds of old rock acts and country stars and that sort of stuff here. And so now...we brought the Everett Symphony, nobody came but...I went. We have an amphitheater. So Quil Ceda, people know now, Quil Ceda, Quil Ceda, I'm going to Quil Ceda.

Anyway, we stopped the annexation. We're settled in our minds that they're not going to be able to do that and if we have an attempt to do it, we have a good case to defend it. The village council, they take care of business in here; they build the roads, they set the speed limits, they built their own sewage treatment plant. We've negotiated water transference through the City of Marysville's system because we don't have a water line. We're working on that, but we don't have a water line here. We have an agreement with many municipalities and the counties and that sort of thing for water. I won't go into that. We have to transfer that through Marysville's system to get it in here and that's what we're doing at this point. And that agreement protects us from the kinds of utility wars that these small cities get into when they fight over whose going to get this particular bid of commercial development. The next issue...we've defeated our annexation concerns and I guess one more thing about the annexation business. The leadership on the reservation, the people on the reservation and the people in Marysville especially, a century of bad blood; they went to school together, they fought each other, and so that's one of the reasons we were really concerned. Marysville is a very border town kind of atmosphere, discriminatory -- you know the story. That's changed pretty substantially now. In fact, the Marysville Tulalip Chamber of Commerce is now located in Quil Ceda Village. That's kind of amazing.

What about the taxes? We're not getting anywhere on taxes, but we have a very good case and we're putting it together. We have worked with the state revenue department, the governor, the legislature and they're just, they're getting a huge windfall here. Between $17 and $20 million a year in taxes are coming out of here and not very much of that is going into either the village council or the tribal council. The tribal council's office is over here on the water where it's pretty. In order to solidify, I think, solidify our position we used a provision of the tribal government tax status act. How many of you know the tribal government tax status act? Anybody in here familiar with it? No. Well, it's there. It was passed by Congress in 1982 and it's a smorgasbord of tax fixes that Congress thought they ought to do for Indian tribes. It makes Indian tribes more like states in terms of dealing with the internal revenue code. The tribal government tax status act has a provision in it that says that if you apply appropriately, if you create, if a tribe creates an entity that qualifies under the provisions under the tribal government tax status act, it can be given a federal designation as a political subdivision of an Indian tribe and then it has many of the federal governmental aspects of an Indian tribe. The tribal government tax status act, when you want to get on the list, and it's a very short list of entities that are designated as political subdivisions of an Indian tribe, you have to file with the Internal Revenue Service a petition for a tribal letter of opinion. [Question] There is a lawyer in the IRS in D.C. who has this responsibility to review your petition and then you have to have the Department of Interior write a letter supporting this petition. And then the two of them together will decide whether you qualify and if you do you get this letter back, which I supplied you in the materials, which says, "˜Because you qualify under certain provisions of the tribal government tax status act you're now a federally recognized political subdivision of an Indian tribe.' Well, that's part of our tax case. It will be part of our tax case, because what the state's doing in here with regard to our tax situation is causing us to lose some of the benefits that we're entitled to under the tribal government tax status act. So we have this letter and we're going to use it and, as I said, our accountant's telling us that the state and the county are getting between $17 and $20 million in taxes each year out of Quil Ceda Village and we're after that. And so we're drafting a federal lawsuit complaint.

One final comment: everything that we've done to create this entity, we've taken a bunch of cases which tribes lost, mainly from Arizona, Gila River and some other tribes who lost these tax cases. But in losing them the Ninth Circuit has laid out this prescription of what you can do to win. And so we've been following these unfortunate events in Arizona and we've tried to satisfy every one of those requirements that the Ninth Circuit has put on tribes in order to succeed in getting control of tax revenues that are derived from economic development here. And that's why, for example, every person who works for the Quil Ceda Village government is an Indian except me. My enrollment application has been pending for quite some time. Everybody from the accountants to the people who fill the potholes and paint the lines on the street, we try to employ...when we have to do a contract, like we got to get somebody to tow the cars out of the...lots of parking in the village because there's lots of activity. We've got...at this point, we're way too successful because there are two freeway accesses to this and they're backed up all the time trying to get into one or the other of the activities that's going on in here. So we've got a lot of employment, relative to what Indian tribes have, in the village. I think the village has maybe 60 employees or something like that. They're all Indian. They're not all Tulalip, but they're all Indians. We've got our police precinct down here because the rest of the reservation is benign compared to what goes on over here. So we've got a police precinct in this area that's just...there's tribal police cars that have Quil Ceda Village written on them so they know they're a Quil Ceda police car.

So that's on the government side. It's a government that's different from the tribal council. The tribal council of course controls it because what do they have? They have the enabling act that steers. One of the great things about this Colville Tribal Enterprise Corporation, other people have mentioned this, you have this tension all the time between the corporation and its employees and managers and that sort of thing and politicians. And the enabling act that sets up the ability of the tribal council to charter corporations like CTEC, which is a special kind of corporation, it's called a governmental corporation. It's not a for-profit corporation, it's not a not-for-profit corporation, it's a governmental corporation. And you'll see this in writing. But this enabling act allows the tribal council to steer, not crush, the corporation. So once the tribal council understood that, and we had a lot of close calls I'm telling you, they feel a lot better about the corporation doing things that they might be unhappy with because they know that they've got medium- to long-term control. In closing I'll give you one example of that.

When we created this corporation, we brought in a number of people; almost none of them were from the reservation. Some were tribal members who had succeeded in business somewhere else, California or somewhere. Some were not Indians who had specific experience in the businesses that we're in, like running supermarkets. So what happened here? These folks came in and saw how sloppy we were operating and they had suggestions and they had ideas about what to do. And so they started saying to themselves, 'Well, I'll take a consultant contract to help you organize your supermarkets better.' We had a guy who is a billionaire because he owns the only supermarket on one of the islands in Puget Sound and he agreed to be on our corporation, and that was great on our board because he knows a ton about how to operate a supermarket successfully. Well, he took a small contract, consultant contract to help us straighten out things at the supermarkets, which was great. And that's fine in the business community. In the business world of your corporate directory you can take a consultant contract with your corporation so long as you don't fleece the corporation. You can get paid the standard amount for doing that kind of work and that's fine. But that doesn't go on the rez. On the rez, people look at these guys coming in there and say, "˜Well, we give them all this authority and now they're taking money out of here and we don't like it.' So what's the reaction of the tribal council? Squash that corporation. What's Mike's [my] argument? Well, you don't have to do that tribal council, all you've got to do is amend the enabling act to say that people that are on the boards of these corporations can't work for them. "˜Oh, okay. So we don't have to wipe out our own economic development entity in order to squash this problem?' 'No, just amend the enabling act. Just add something to it to say that you can't do that under the tribal law.' "˜Oh, okay. Fine.'"

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

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

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

People
Resource Type
Topics
Citation

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

Richard Jack:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gerald Clarke, Jr.: What I Wish I Knew Before I Took Office

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Cahuilla Band of Indians Council Member Gerald Clarke, Jr. shares his thoughts about what he wished he knew before taking office as an elected leader of his nation.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Clarke, Jr., Gerald. "What I Wish I Knew Before I Took Office." Emerging Leaders seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. March 20, 2012. Presentation.

"Thank you very much. I just want to start by saying I'm really honored to be here amongst you. At various times you're asked to speak at various events or what have you and this one to me really matters. So I am very honored to be here and to speak with you. How many of you heard your community in the previous presentation? Raise your hand. Yeah, me too. Me too. My tribe went through what's called the GANN [Governance Analysis for Native Nations] with the [Native Nations] Institute back in April and the whole time they're going through this standard approach I'm shaking my head. Sometimes I'm laughing, sometimes I'm crying. But that's us. Right? So one of the things I would stress is you're not alone. There's a lot of us that are in a similar situation.

Just a little bit about me is I was a college professor for about ten years. I left reservation, went to college. I come from a long line of alcoholics and it was very hard for both my sister and I to stay home and to be around that and so we left and went off to college and then we got teaching jobs, both of us, at different colleges. Again, we worked; I was in Oklahoma for about ten years. And we kept our ties back to the reservation, we came home every summer, but it was just really painful for us to live there full-time and that's why we didn't. My dad was an only son and so he ran the family's ranch and when he passed away in 2003 I quit my job and moved home [because] it was always just understood that as the only son that's what I was going to do. And so that's what brought me back to the reservation back in 2003.

And so I'm going to be painfully honest with you this morning. I think there's power in truth, in being honest about the current situation. And so you can, once we get the questions, feel free to ask me just about anything. Okay, so a little bit about my tribe. In the introduction, it was near Palm Springs. It is not Palm Springs. It's 40 miles southeast up in the mountains, even farther economically. Our reservation was set up in 1875 as an agricultural reservation. The Cahuilla people, there's a variety of Cahuilla bands. We're some of the first cowboys in California. As the Spaniards settled, did the missions, they needed someone to work the livestock and that's what we've kind of done for the last couple hundred years. We have approximately 240 adult members and we have monthly general membership meetings of which between 30 and 40 people show up. That's where most of the decisions get made. We are not traditionally democratic. And that was one of the things, when I experienced this session back in April, was does your governing system match your culture? And we were not traditionally democratic. We had an inherent line of leaders called 'the net,' and that actually wouldn't have been my lineage, but what they said went. I'm very culturally involved and I like reading the old records and talking to people. One of the things that I've found that was very striking is that when the net said something, you just did it, you didn't question it or anything like that. Today, if tribal council says something, you get laughter. There's not nearly that respect that there was back in the day and so it makes me wonder. Sonny and I just met this morning, we were talking about how in America we stress that this democratically elected governing system is the system and we criticize all nations in the world who are not democratic, but I can't help but wonder if that system really fits my tribe or not. We may be looking for something different in the future.

So back in the 1910s, actually, what happened was my great grandpa Pio [Lubo] and five other men were involved with the murder of the superintendent of the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] on our reservation and they were all sent to prison. The real issue was the BIA not wanting to recognize the net and wanting to recognize their own person. And it ended up in this murder of the superintendent. They sent these men to prison and really kind of broke the chain really well that way. My great grandpa Pio actually died in prison; he never got to come back. But after that event, they imposed this Roberts Rules of Orders and this IRA [Indian Reorganization Act] kind of system. So we have five tribal council members that are elected -- chairman, vice chairman, secretary and two at-large members. These are non-paid positions. So each one of us has a job where we pay our bills and support our families, which is another hurdle I think that we struggle with. I think sometimes people think being on tribal council 20-30 years ago is the same as it is today, and there's just so much going on. I feel like I'm that guy --remember on the old like Johnny Carson [show] or whatever, spinning the plates and then you have to run back and keep them going? That's how I feel most of the time.

We have no constitution. We are a customs and traditions tribe, and that is something that is being looked at. It seems to me that we have a membership who likes to call on their customs and traditions when it's convenientand not necessarily consistently, and that has been a problem. All major decisions are made in these general membership meetings. The tribal council presents the issue, the grant opportunity, the resolution -- what have you -- and it's the membership who vote on approving that or not. Again, I said, 30 to 40 members actually show up to these meetings. So it's actually a small portion of the total voting membership who make these decisions. And I often talk about a silent majority. Our tribe I think has a silent majority who -- and this is part of the brain drain that was spoken of earlier -- we have a number of educated people within our tribe who, starting like in the 70s and the 80s, they went, got educated, they came back, they did kind of what I'm doing, got fed up and now they're off doing their own things with law firms or what have you. And so there's a silent majority who doesn't come to the meetings who has certain ideas, but it's this core 30 or 40 people who really end up making a lot of the decisions.

We could spend all day on this: ‘What I wish I knew before I became a tribal leader.' Accounting: it's important to rely on -- and I made this presentation specifically for the emerging tribal leaders -- you have to rely on your experts, your professionals trained in your field. We have a CFO [chief financial officer] and they are in charge of doing...bring an outside audit firm come in annually. They're in charge of overseeing the monthly financials. I wish I knew more about accounting, because just because they say something doesn't mean it's true. And when I got in office I found out that we were like four years behind on our annual audits and this is something that wasn't really relayed. They were saying, ‘Oh, yeah, it's going, it's in the works,' and just kind of pacified the membership, but it wasn't happening. So I wish I knew more about accounting.

Law. Tribal law. What a mess, huh? Nothing is black and white; everything is gray. It will be applied in some cases where it's convenient. And I'm not talking tribally; I'm talking the state or the feds even. And then if it's going to get kind of messy for them, they don't want to deal with it, they don't have the resources, they just don't apply it. There's no consistency at all.

Public safety. One of the things my sister and I -- whose also on council -- we tried to bring in our own tribal police and tried to get some grants to get that going, because I'm a firm believer that stability, safety, those things are core things that need to be done. In a way it's economic development, too. Who wants to come and invest in your tribe if there's no stability, if there's no safety?

ICWA [Indian Child Welfare Act]. I heard an ICWA person earlier, I forget who it was. Okay, over here. Wow! ICWA is kind of its own entity. My sister, in addition to be on council, she's our domestic violence advocate for a consortium of four tribes in our area. And when we first got in that, my belief -- okay, so you have a husband and spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend, they're beating each other up. We'll split them up, that sounds good to me. There's kids in every one of these cases, just about. What do you do with the kids? And so this ICWA thing is very, is going to be, for those of you who are just now getting on council, this is going to be something you're going to have to deal with. Hopefully some of you have your own social services programs. We don't. So the tribe really has to educate itself. We have a five-council team, so my sister has kind of picked up that ball and said, ‘Okay, I'm going to do what I can to study up and learn all about ICWA.' [Audience question] Indian Child Welfare Act, it has to do with custody, traditional tribal adoptions, all these kinds of things. It's very complicated. And the other thing -- and some of you in this room know this -- you're going to spend a lot of time educating other people about these things. The county, the state social workers, half of them don't even know what ICWA is either, and so you having to educate them.

I'm a rancher and I recently got involved with the National Conservation Resource Service about trying to get some grants for range improvements and things like that. And so I met with their tribal liaison and apparently I guess his credentials were he watched Dances With Wolves once or something, I don't know. He had no clue about tribes at all. He's the tribal liaison, so here I am teaching the tribal liaison. I went through a two-year process of trying to get my ranch registered and in the end he said, ‘Okay, all we've got to do is get a copy of your deed and we'll send it in.' And I'm like, ‘Wait a minute.' I said, ‘We don't have deeds. We're assigned on the reservation, not even allotments, assignments.' And he didn't even know anything about that, what to do. So that caused me another two years of going through all these systems, going to national conventions, and meeting with the USDA. And so a lot of time is spent educating other people.

IGRA [Indian Gaming Regulatory Act], gaming is big. I'm not a fan of gaming at all and so I allow another member of our tribal council to be more up on those things. But it's good to know. It's good to know your rights if you are thinking about gaming or getting into gaming.

Environmental protection. The important things to know... these are the things that I just brainstormed all the things that I deal with.

Taxation. Recently the Board of Equalization in California notified our tribe and asked us to give them a list of all the businesses on the rez so they could tax them. Pretty alarming when you think about sovereignty and such. And so we didn't participate. But it's good to know what your rights are in tax law.

Budgeting, making budgets. It's a constant thing that you have to deal with. Emergency management is something that is becoming more and more...you hear it more and more within tribal governments. Working with FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Administration] is a complete headache as well. You see on the news, oh, they're helping this community and that community and it's not nearly as streamlined as they try to make it. It's not nearly as, really as helpful. They're coming from a national office, coming to your community trying to tell you what your community needs or what have you and it doesn't work.

State legislature and federal legislature. I'd never been to the state capitol until I got on tribal council; we've gone and met with representatives, been to Washington D.C. as well. I will say that one of the battles we have within our tribe is that some people want to get all tied up in the little local family disputes that are happening on the reservation and don't really understand you've got to go to your state legislature if you want to promote certain laws or you want to get certain help getting certain projects accomplished. You've got to start...you've got to get to know these people. In California, we have term limits which means every two years we get to re-educate all the new people and so that again is another...I remember, ‘Get these career politicians out of there.' At the time I was like, ‘Okay, that sounds okay.' But now that I'm in politics myself, I see it's just a constant having to go back and teach them about sovereignty, about taxation issues, about gaming issues or what have you.

When I first got on council or before I got on council, I just saw, I would sit in these general membership meetings and I was like, 'Man, is anybody doing anything?' It just didn't seem like anybody was really doing anything. Once I got in office, I realized everybody's trying to do everything, and we've lost a lot of good personnel in our accounting department, tribal administrator, because you've got too many people trying to tell the employees what to do and it's really been a nightmare. And as far as a tribal leader goes, I think you have to have strength to say, ‘No, I'm not going to get involved with that. That's not my duty.' Recently, in the past year, we developed an economic development corporation, an LLC [limited liability corporation], and they elected a board of tribal members. And they're the ones that are involved with overseeing the management of the tribal business enterprises. So this is new just within the last year, and I can tell you that we have tribal council members who don't like it and who are constantly wanting to interfere with those enterprises. We do have a small gaming facility and the tribe has benefited almost nothing from that gaming facility, because when that passed and gaming came into California, a lot of unscrupulous backers swooped into Indian Country and a lot of tribes were taken advantage of and I feel like our tribe was one of those. And so this gaming facility is still open. I'm surprised with the downturn it's even still open because we are in a very rural area. It stands on this hill right where everybody can see it. It's almost a beacon of our failure. And Steve talked about [it], it's bad enough when outside people think you're incompetent, but it's when your own people think you're incompetent that it's really sad. We hope to turn that around.

And part of, I think, the turnaround is to get away from micromanagement. Let the businesses run themselves, allow your professionals to do their job. We had a tribal member who was doing a mulching project and there was some trash mixed in with the mulch and so tribal members were concerned, and they should be. We have an environmental program. We have our director who's a highly educated and trained professional. He went over there, he did a site visit, he did tests, he sent off samples for testing and he brought it back and he said that it was even cleaner than what they were claiming to begin with. The membership didn't like that answer so they...and it's like, if you have professionals, let them do their job and trust that they're doing their job. This micromanagement, it becomes very politicized. And Steve was talking about that earlier where, ‘Let's get rid of this person and let's get one of my cousins in there,' what have you. It takes strength as a tribal leader to tell your cousin, ‘No, you're not qualified. Maybe go to school and then we'll put you in there.'

It's not just a job, it's an adventure. Before I took office, I knew I'd have to go to meetings and I do think I've put on the 20 pounds, the tribal council 20 pounds, [because] I'm sitting all day in these meetings. But what I didn't know is I would be woke up at three in the morning with a car flipped over in the middle of the road or a domestic violence incident or a shooting or what have you. You can be a council member, but I think there's a difference between a council member and a tribal leader and it's all encompassing. You have to walk the walk to try to get these things done. But it's a lot more than simply going to these meetings.

Self-determination. I just put it down exactly how I believe. I should say my dad was full blood and my mom was a redhead from Texas and their marriage lasted about three years -- long enough for me and my sister -- but everything that could go wrong, miscommunication culturally or whatever. And my mom would say, ‘Those Indians,' which is a bad way to start. ‘They have all this land and they're just letting it lay and doing nothing with it.' I don't think she ever understood it's kind of nice that way, too. But one of the things...I heard all of that -- that we were lazy, that we never did anything for ourselves, we're waiting for the handout. But I've read Cahuilla people are very self-determined people or at least we used to be and when the reservation was formed, the only thing that the Cahuilla people wanted from the federal government was a paper defining the four corners of the reservation. We didn't want free housing, we didn't want any of that stuff. And my dad was the chairman in 1970 and he was trying to bring these free houses in through HUD [Department of Housing and Urban Development], or whatever program it was back then, and it got voted down. And his mom -- my grandma -- voted against it. And he was all mad [because] he was trying to help his people. But I don't think, I think the older people understood that you help yourself. And that's been a really tough struggle for me, is when is it helping your people and when is it enabling your people? That's a very hard thing to deal with. And so I heard that a lot, that we wouldn't do things for ourselves. Now that I'm in there and I'm trying to get some things going, the BIA, other federal agencies, the state, they don't want you to do any of this stuff for yourself, they really don't. This is my perspective.

My sister and I wanted to have our own tribal law enforcement and we have got nothing but criticism and friction from our county sheriff who has that coverage area. A tribal member, who is actually a cousin of mine, pulled a gun on me and my uncle in front of my house and I was able to diffuse the situation but my wife called the sheriff. Anyway, I went to bed by the time a thousand lights pull up, and I had to get up and he said, ‘Okay, we had a call about a gun.' I was just like, really? I could have been out there dead. We don't get service. We wanted to serve ourselves. And think, with the state budget crises throughout the nation, the more the tribes do for themselves the less the state, the less the federal government has to do. But they don't want it. It's easier to keep the status quo. I'm also in the process of starting our own fire department and again through Cal Fire, again in California, nothing but hurdles thrown at me to start this up because if we start answering our own fire calls on our reservation then Cal Fire can't answer them. So their call volume goes down, guess what, they get less money from the state for that station. So I go to these meetings and they're talking about reimbursements and budgets and things and I'm like what about health and safety? So keep that in mind that just because you want to do it doesn't necessarily mean that other people want you to do it.

It really has...I don't want to present myself as I have all the answers. Really, it's been a struggle and the age thing I think is also...I see some younger people in here. It's strange -- I just turned 45 years old and it's strange to call myself a tribal leader. I was always raised to respect the people older than me, the elders, and it even is spelled out in our creation beliefs. But at the same time, and this is part of that truth element, I've seen some older people who are making decisions not based on the benefit of the tribe or the whole, the community. And I'm ashamed to say that and I feel guilty for saying that -- again for how I was raised -- but I see that and I want to put that out there because it's a conflict for me in these meetings to have to go against people that are older than me. But it's something that as a tribal leader you have to deal with. Again, my dad passed away, he was my go-to guy and then another elder who was my go-to person passed away a couple years ago. So right now I'm kind of looking for that guidance a little bit. And if it's not there, you've just got to go with your gut instinct of what you feel is right I think.

Another issue is tribal time is not the same as state legislative time; it's not the same as county budget time. Our creation story tells us about the creation and nothing happens overnight, everything takes time. And when I got on council, ‘Ah, I'm gung ho, I want to get this done and get that done.' And now I see I've got to slow down and really think about things and plan and try to do what I can while I'm in there. And what I found, another thing I found is it's all about, what is it about? It's all about communication. I've sat in general membership meetings where there's like two factions fighting, but it's obvious that they both agree, they're both on the same page. Yeah, okay. But neither side kind of understands that they're both agreeing and I'm just like, wow, this is... Communication. What a rare skill, to really be able to get your point across and to have other people understand. Our meetings are horribly long and a lot of it is just lack of communication. I think it could be cut in half if it was a little more efficient and people had that ability. And it's tough; it's definitely an art. Keep it simple. Keep it concise. That sounds funny, to rehearse, but I rehearse a lot before I go into my meetings so I can present it in a way that's understandable. Because you're in the mix, you're the expert in that issue because you're the one fighting with the county or working with the BIA or whatever. And then these people come in once a month so you've got to be able to relay that.

So there's that tribal time, you've got to have patience even if you don't get something accomplished. And like the police [force] that my sister and I were trying to do, it was voted down I think [because] some people thought we were trying to be Big Brother or something as opposed to just public safety. But maybe you introduce the idea first. Maybe it gets shot down. Maybe next year, okay, let's relook at that or what have you. And if you can kind of get the current going maybe eventually it'll happen.

This was some advice that was given to me back when I was teaching in Oklahoma from a man who I respect a lot. ‘Do not expect the same of others that you would expect of yourself.' I'm not a very good delegator because I don't trust anybody to do as good of a job as I could do. But what ends up happening is I get overwhelmed and overloaded and then it doesn't get done very well or at the last minute. So trust the people around you. If you expect the same out of them as you expect out of yourself, you're going to be disappointed for the rest of your life I think. So you've just got to check your expectations a little bit, do your best, absolutely but don't expect that out of others. I think that's all I've got. I appreciate the time and I guess we'll have questions later, so I'll be happy to answer anything."

From the Rebuilding Native Nations Course Series: "The Politics-Enterprise Balance"

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Native leaders and scholars share their thoughts about how Native nations can effectively manage the relationship between their governments and the businesses they own and operate. 

Native Nations
Citation

Grant, Kenneth. "Building and Sustaining Tribal Enterprises" (Episode 4). Native Nation Building television/radio series. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy and the UA Channel, The University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. 2006. Television program.

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

Morgan, Lance. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. January 14, 2008. Interview.

Pico, Anthony. Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project for American Indian Economic Development, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. September 2004. Presentation.

Record, Ian. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Spearfish, South Dakota. April 19, 2011. Interview.

Smith, Jerry. "Building and Sustaining Nation-Owned Enterprises." Emerging Leaders seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. March 26, 2009. Presentation.

Taylor, Michael. Building and Sustaining Tribal Enterprises seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, The University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. 29 March 2007. Presentation.

Ian Record:

"Separated model, in many cases, it's a loaded term. It's saying, 'We're going to separate this stuff.' And it's really, 'How do you manage that relationship? How do you strike that balance to where, you know, the nation is ensuring that the business entity has the best chance of success and then the business entity in turn is ensuring that it's advancing the vision of the people and its priorities for the future?"

Anthony Pico:

"We have learned experience brings wisdom. The first rule is that businesses cannot compete successfully when the decisions are made according to tribal politics instead of business criteria. This doesn't mean that the tribe must abandon control, it means that the tribe must develop strategies and policies and execute oversight that guide the actions and decisions. The strategic question the Viejas council engages should not be, 'Who runs the mailroom?' but 'What kind of society are we trying to build?'"

Kenneth Grant:

"There's a real difficulty in separating the roles with government-owned or tribally owned enterprises, people wearing multiple hats at the same time. And so you're a citizen of the tribe and yet you're also a part owner of the enterprise. A council member is a, has governing responsibilities, is also an owner, is also a citizen. That collapsing of the distance between government and business often creates a lot of role confusion for tribes that is difficult to overcome."

Michael Taylor:

"Dividing the business operations from the politics of the tribal council is perhaps not a panacea, but it's necessary if the tribes are going to succeed with their development. And all the years that I've worked on reservations and I've worked in the tribal facility always, I've always worked directly for the tribe, the struggle has been how to figure out ways to deal with this problem. We need to develop our resources, we need to pay attention to taking those resources that we have and maximizing [them] for the benefit of our people and creating institutions that last, both governmental and business."

Miriam Jorgensen:

"You know, the challenge I think about the most, because I think it's the place that has the greatest fears raised for tribal council folks, for, you know, the political leadership, is the fear of just not knowing what's going on at that corporation. And that just means that there have to be mechanisms in that separated model for information flow, and a lot of times, initial documents that create corporations specify some of this information. It may say, you know, you have to have an annual report to us, and that annual report, you know, has to happen on such-and-such day, or the third council meeting of the year or whatever, but I think the most contemporary learning on this suggests that that's not really enough. What tribal councils need is some assurance that they're going to get information more frequently and probably a little bit more intimately. That doesn't mean that they've got the right to go in and ask the CEO of the corporation or the board of the corporation lots of questions every day all the time, but rather that the corporation has to have mechanisms that are both formal and informal for communicating adequately with tribal council to sort of say, 'Here's the stuff you need to know, and we'll give you more detailed information at our annual report time' or whatever. Different nations have handled this in different ways. I know that you've spoken with Lance Morgan, who is the one who told us what I think of as one of the best examples of this, is just offering the tribal council training for new councilors. Anytime somebody is newly elected that they get to learn about HoChunk, Inc. through a tour and an orientation. There are also tribes that require say quarterly reports that might be much shorter than say the annual reporting-in, but just to sort of update on here's where things are at. So whatever's going to work for that tribe that's not micromanagement and too much oversight, but actual good communication back that maintains the balance."

Lance Morgan:

"Well, managing a relationship between the business side and the political side is a very big deal. We've been doing it now for, I guess, almost 12-13 years. And when we started off, we had a formal set of rules. This is basically, the tribe would do this and the board would do this. And what's happened is that, as issues emerge, as we evolve as an entity, we continue to give more information. I mean everything's kind of slanted towards more sharing and more information rather than less. We still have to maintain certain differences, certain walls, you know. Things like keeping the tribe out of personnel issues and things like that -- just base, functional things that we have to do as a corporation. But in terms of the relationship, everything that we have done has gone towards more sharing and more information. And I think that as you do that, that's very helpful as long as you maintain the core differences, the core separations that allow you to continue to function independently."

Jerry Smith:

"The first lesson I learned is that maintenance of the separation of tribal governments and businesses is a very delicate balance. For example, tribal membership's demand for per capita could definitely affect you as a business. And, given the hands of people in a tribal governance role, they may have an agenda to get more money out of you. And from a business standpoint, we can only give what we can afford to give to the tribe. And so, political factors can come in and wipe you out. We don't go promote ourselves and sell ourselves as a service to anybody because, in my opinion, we're still learning how to do this, and if anybody tells you they're an expert at it, I'd like to meet them. I really would like to meet them. But what we continue to try to do is help when we're asked to help. And we've had tribes come to us and ask for help to do this, and the biggest challenge that I've run into in trying to help those tribes is the issue of control, and government does not want to give up that control, especially in tribes that already have ongoing gaming operations. And so, they'll commit to the idea of doing it, but once they understand that they can't go in and fire the manager tomorrow or go in there and do the things they're used to doing, they don't like it. So, you have to manage that every day. I mean, it's something that I have to manage every day. The governor doesn't have an authority to come in and take any actions within the operations on a day-to-day basis, but everybody knows that when the governor shows up on any one of our properties, I need to know immediately and we have somebody there to make sure that he's seen, he's getting what he needs. So you've got to manage that. You have to recognize who the owner is. And so, again, that's a delicate balance."