strategic planning

Closing the loop and advancement are key to developing tribal workforces

Year

Distilling lessons learned from that endeavor, PTG identified 15 strategic considerations that tribal leaders, workforce development staff, and other decision-makers must tackle as they craft workforce development approaches capable of achieving their definition of what “success” looks like for tribal citizens and the nation as a whole. These mission critical aspects of workforce development have a direct bearing on the ability of tribal workforce development approaches to make a transformative, sustainable difference. The following explores two of those considerations: closing the loop and advancement.

Resource Type
Topics
Citation

NCAI PTG. 2018."Closing the loop and advancement are key to developing tribal workforces." Indian Country Today. September 11, 2018. https://newsmaven.io/indiancountrytoday/opinion/closing-the-loop-and-ad… 

Trust Resource Management (Salish and Kootenai)

Year

For more than three decades, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) have been building capable governing institutions and taking over management of resources and programs previously managed by outsiders. Recognizing that self-management both allows the tribal government to determine its own priorities and has positive bottom-line effects, CSKT is a leader in incorporating tribal values into natural resource management and in delivering first-rate services to its 7,000 citizens.

Resource Type
Citation

"Trust Resource Management." Honoring Nations: 2003 Honoree. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 2004. Report.

Permissions

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

Hopi Education Endowment Fund

Year

In a pursuit to ensure growth, protect assets, and meet the present and future educational needs of the Hopi Tribe, an ordinance establishing the Hopi Education Endowment Fund was approved. Taking advantage of IRS Code Section 7871 allows for tax deductible contributions made to the Tribe to support Hopi educational initiatives. By investing in the human capital of their greatest resource–the children–, the program is not only ensuring and growing financial access to higher education for their citizens, but also promoting the Hopi concept of "Sumi’nangwa"–coming together to do things for the benefit of all.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

"Hopi Education Endowment Fund". Honoring Nations: 2006 Honoree. The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 2007. Report. 

Permissions

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

Hopi Jr./Sr. High: Two Plus Two Plus Two

Year

Developed in 1997, the Two Plus Two Plus Two college transition program is a partnership between Hopi Junior/Senior High School, Northland Pioneer College, and Northern Arizona University. The program recruits junior and senior high school students to enroll in classes (including distance learning courses) that offer concurrent college level credits. Upon graduation, students enrolled in Two Plus Two Plus Two can earn up to thirty transferable credits to any state or out-of-state accredited community college or university. The Program has led to a growing demand for math and science courses by students within the school and to increased college enrollment. Two Plus Two Plus Two is helping Hopi students attain advanced educational degrees and, in so doing, is empowering them with technological and academic skills that they can bring back to the rural reservation.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Topics
Citation

"Hopi Jr./Sr. High: Two Plus Two Plus Two". Honoring Nations: 2000 Honoree. The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 2001. Report.

Permissions

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

Sovereignty and Nation-Building: The Development Challenge in Indian Country Today

Producer
American Indian and Culture Journal
Year

The Indian nations of the United States face a rare opportunity. This is not the occasional business opportunity of reservation legend, when some eager investor would arrive at tribal offices with a proposal guaranteed to produce millions of dollars for the tribe--although such investors still appear, promises in hand. Nor is it the niche economic opportunity of gaming, although that has transformed some tribes' situations in important ways. This opportunity is a political and organizational one. It is a chance to rethink, restructure, reorganize--chance not to start a business or exploit an economic niche but to substantially reshape the future. It is the opportunity for nation-building.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Cornell, Stephen, Joseph P. Kalt. "Sovereignty and Nation-Building: The Development Challenge in Indian Country Today." Joint Occasional Papers on Native Affairs No. 2003-03. The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy, The University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. 2003. JOPNA.

Seizing the Future: Why Some Native Nations Do and Others Don't

Year

Both research and the experience among Native nations daily drive home the conclusion that the so-called "nation-building" approach holds the keys to self-determined social, political, and economic development for indigenous communities. This approach emphasizes the critical role of asserting rights of self-rule and backing up those assertions with governing institutions that are legitimate in the eyes of the people and efficient in their operation. This study examines the question of why is it that some Native nations seize upon the nation building strategy and take effective control of their futures while others do not. We find that foundational change in a community arises when the external and internal conditions a people face interact with their interpretations of their situation, producing a new, shared "story" of what is possible, and how it can be achieved. The keys to changing a community's "story" are found in proactive decisions to alter internal and external situations, acquire concrete knowledge of the feasible, build on the community's cultural assets, and exercise leadership--especially in educating the people in a new vision.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Cornell, Stephen, Miriam Jorgensen, Joseph P. Kalt, Katherine A. Spilde. "Seizing the Future: Why Some Native Nations Do and Others Don't." Joint Occasional Papers on Native Affairs No. 2005-01. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, The University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. 2005. JOPNA.

Jim Gray and Patricia Riggs: Citizen Engagement: The Key to Establishing and Sustaining Good Governance (Q&A)

Producer
National Congress of American Indians
Year

Presenters Jim Gray and Patricia Riggs field questions from audience members about the approaches their nations took and are taking to engage their citizens and seed community-based, lasting change. In addition, session moderator Ian Record offers a quick overview of some effective citizen strategies that the Native Nations Institute has encountered in its work with Native nations across the country, and leaves audience members with some questions to consider as they assess how their nations are engaging their citizens. 

This video resource is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of the National Congress of American Indians.

Resource Type
Citation

Gray, Jim. "Citizen Engagement: The Key to Establishing and Sustaining Good Governance (Q&A)." 70th Annual Convention & Marketplace, National Congress of American Indians. Tulsa, Oklahoma. October 15, 2013. Presentation.

Riggs, Patricia. "Citizen Engagement: The Key to Establishing and Sustaining Good Governance (Q&A)." 70th Annual Convention & Marketplace, National Congress of American Indians. Tulsa, Oklahoma. October 15, 2013. Presentation.

Ian Record:

“You know, one of the things that really sticks out for me having worked with the Pueblo over the last several years is this use of focus groups and I was honored to be part of one such focus group that they convened about three and a half years ago. It was real interesting. They brought in a mix of folks: tribal leaders, leaders of the Pueblo, employees of the Pueblo, and just your average Joe citizens. And I remember when we were doing this focus group, one of the citizens became very emotional because she said, ‘This is the first time my Pueblo has actually asked me what I think. They actually care about my opinion and my view on where we are and where we want to head.’ And basically what she was saying is, ‘I have a voice and I matter.’ And I think that’s really the theme that I hear out of both of these wonderful, ongoing success stories is about restoring the voice to the people and figuring out not just about hearing that voice but, 'How do we actually actualize that in the governance of the nation? How do we put that into practice?' And that’s really what she’s staying up here. It’s not just garnering the tribal information, the voice of the people, but actually using it. How do we actually use that, how do we actually put that into play, how do we actually make that real, not just today, but into the future?”

Mark Macarro:

“My question is for Jim. Glad to see you used a movie quote, by the way. My question’s about the…I guess in the process of trying to reach a consensus or actually maybe it wasn’t the consensus point, it was the point where you tried to get moving past the status quo. Was there a rationalization by the head rights people that we shouldn’t do this because this is our custom and tradition, this is what we do, this is all we know and it’s who we are? But this is really a question about planting the flag of custom and tradition and using that as a reason for resisting the change. Did you encounter that in particular?”

James R. Gray:

“Oh, yeah. We really did and I would say the biggest part of it was tied to…what I wanted to make sure came across very clear was that the form of government that in 1906 the federal government imposed on us was not one of our choosing. We had a constitutional government before that and we had a three-branch government. We had our court system, we had law enforcement, we had all the elements of jurisdiction in place, and because of other reasons, the United States government abolished that unilaterally, illegally, as a part of their effort to try to bring all the tribes under allotment for statehood and breaking up the tribal land holdings was very difficult for the Osages because the full-blood faction would not ever gonna go along with allotment and it’s a historical fact that there was a lot of Osages enrolled out of nowhere, just suddenly started showing up as Osages. Another election was held, the next thing you know we went from having 1,000 Osages to 2,229 Osages. The new council that got in tried to fight it. In 1911, I think, the unilateral authority of the Indian agent at the time obliterated the members and installed interim council people because they weren’t going along with what was expected of them by the Indian agent.

I think the Osages by that time, when the oil was discovered and the money started coming in and the Osages started getting murdered in large numbers, most of them were people with numerous head rights that in today’s dollar were valued at a million dollars a year, much like the per capita distribution for Pechanga citizens. No, I’m just kidding. What I was saying was that there was what they called the 'reign of terror.' It was one of the first cases the FBI actually investigated was the complete and utter wipeout of Osages to get their money. It’s a historical fact. My mom was an orphan in 1925. My dad was an orphan in 1928 and my dad and mom’s stories aren’t unique in the Osage storyline. And you hit the period of time when they weren’t even allowing Osage women to participate in Osage elections. So not only were you…had to be Osage to have a head right, but you also had to be an Osage man to be able to participate in elections. Osage women could get a head right, but they couldn’t vote. All those changes occurred after World War II, so there was a steady drumbeat of slow but sure progress, but at the same time knowing that if Osages pushed too hard, there was going to be consequences: wipeout of your tribal council, the complete indifference of the BIA while your own citizens’ homes were being blown up and murdered on the street. My great grandfather, Henry Run Horse, was taken out in the countryside and shot in the head. These are common stories. Every one of these stories as tragic as they were resulted in Osage losing another head right.

In 1978, the tribal council was able to get to the U.S. Congress to amend the 1906 Act to make sure that no more Osages would be able to, no more non-Osages would be able to inherit any part of an Osage mineral estate again. So we had to go 70 plus years into that period of time at which we probably lost maybe a fourth to a third of those head rights during that period of time to what are now defunct oil companies, non-Indian spouses who’ve moved on and married on and still collect a head right check. Jean Harlow, the famous actress, some Osage fell in love with her in Kansas City and he died unfortunately, willed his head right to her. Unfortunately for her, she died shortly after that, didn’t have any heirs. IIM maintained Jean Harlows’ estate for years. These kind of stories are just…the Catholic Church owns several dozen head rights. Non-Indian wealthy landowners in Osage County own many head rights. Businesses like Phillips Petroleum Company own head rights. If Osages were a little reluctant for any radical change even as late as 2004 and ‘05, I have to give them some credit, because living memory of many of these people seeing all these changes occur and it was just a matter of getting to a moment of crisis, and that crisis was that last original allottee mark. Nobody knew the answer to that question when the last allottee died and in 2004 when [President George W.] Bush signed the bill into law, we only had one left. So if there was anyway to kind of get past that point to go forward and really move it, it was that critical issue, in my opinion. There may have been other people with different opinions but that was one of my [observations].”

Ian Record:

“Next question. I think we had the lady in front. Minnie, did you want to…”

Lenora Hall:

“Hello. My name’s Lenora Hall, I’m from the Smith River Rancheria in Northern California where the redwoods are. I’m just wondering, you went from -- this question is for Patricia [Riggs] -- you went from 68 acres to 78,000 acres. Did you have any, how much of that 78,000 acres is in trust now? What have you done? Are you buying land and seeking trust status with it? Because I seen a lot of them had economic enterprises on them, which are real lucrative and stuff and so I’m wondering what the status of your land is.”

Patricia Riggs:

“Well, we went from 68 acres that was conveyed into trust to 75,000 acres. 70,000 of those acres are a ranch and it’s not in trust. We’re working for it to be put into trust, but from those 68 original acres in trust we have something like 3,700 acres in trust. So we’ve got quite a bit of land into trust. One of the places that we put back into trust is an area called Waco Tanks and it’s a mountain. It’s a mountain that is sacred to us and unfortunately we couldn’t get all that mountain, it’s a state park, but we were able to get the back side of the mountain and put that back into trust and all our residential areas are in trust as well. The ranch is a working ranch, but there is also some significance as far as traditional places and where we go to gather different plants and things and hunting as well.”

Ian Record:

“Other questions? Sherry, go ahead.”

Sherry Salway Black:

“So Pat, and this is for both, but Pat you talked specifically about measuring impact and evaluation, like how do you know you’ve been successful? So I would ask that in the sense of how much are people participating now? So you’ve done the education, you’ve done the focus groups. So for your citizens, do you have high percentage of citizens voting in elections? So just again, how are you measuring your citizen participation on an ongoing basis?”

Patricia Riggs:

“Well, one of the things that we don’t measure officially, but participation in cultural events and ceremonies, I would have to say it’s more than doubled. We used to maybe have 50 dancers, now the line is so long and getting really hard, because we actually jog kind of through the streets and it used to be a short little jog, but now it’s so long you can barely jog. But the other thing is we also measure impact as far as how much more revenues are coming to the tribe, how much more taxes are coming to the tribe, how many more people are enrolled in college and coming to tribal meetings and things like that. So I’ve just pretty much learned to count everything, even when I’m participating in ceremony, I’m counting.”

Jim Gray:

“Shortly after the constitution was passed we had that kind of deer-in-the-headlights look on ourselves after the election was over and we were all sworn in it’s like, ‘Okay, now what do we do? We’ve been fighting this battle for 100 years.’ We got together and I put my cabinet together, it was the first time a chief got to put a cabinet together in 100 years. So a lot of new stuff was occurring and I realized there was a sense of historical importance in all the little things that I was doing in establishing new protocols for the executive branch, little things mattered in terms of how we addressed ourselves and how we separated the political appointees from the career employees and started drawing those distinctions in HR [human resources] policies. But I think the thing that really I recall the most was a desire to go back into the communities again, and this time not for a constitution that would require a referendum vote, but for a general direction to give us a plan, a strategy plan, and Pat used the term master plan, but a plan nonetheless that everyone had some ownership in. And we kind of brought back the old bunch of government reform, we brought in a bunch of new people that had been left out of the process before and we went back out there with what we called the 'Team of Teams' and we asked for a million dollar budget. Congress gave us half of it with the conditions of seeing certain things happen within six months and we all had to be very careful, but very specific at how we did this. And so we generated a strategic plan that would last for 25 years generally combined into six areas; education, health care, economic development, mineral and natural resources, governance and justice, and cultural preservation. And in each one of them they had a set of projects, in each six of those categories. And each one of those six categories were bunched up into three different categories of short term, midterm, long term. So each one of them had about 50 different projects assigned to it, everything from going after your water rights to establishing citizen input, citizen rights like a bill of rights kind of process to establish stronger justice systems. We didn’t have an AG [Attorney General] office at the time so there was a lot of institution building that called for…that came out of that. Updating our entire master campus plan, which was going to be a huge undertaking, because that campus had been a hodgepodge of trailers and metal buildings that we got from CDBG grants 30 years ago that we’re still using them and they leak like a sieve and their constant care of maintenance is just draining the tribe’s properties budget. So it took us years to kind of draw these conclusions about revitalizing our language program, revitalizing all these different categories, compacting our health clinic, taking greater control of the mineral estate. There was just this…but we wouldn’t take on anything big unless we went back out and talked to the communities again. And that’s how this whole thing kind of became part of what I believe is a new expectation that our citizens have of their tribal government. ‘If you’re going to do anything big, you better come out and talk to us.’ That seems to be the attitude now and I think that’s stuck.”

Audience member:

“I was wondering, how do you…you have a significant part of your membership out in the world, you said there’s Osages everywhere. So how do you communicate with them? How do you get them involved? That’s part of your whole thing is involvement.”

Jim Gray:

“Well, there’s one thing that has happened in the last 10 years that I think we all to some degree have become more familiar with and it’s social media.”

Audience member:

“Yeah.”

Jim Gray:

“Obviously we have people’s addresses, they get the newspaper every month. That was the traditional way. The advent of our expansion of our tribal website, [we were] able to put archived audio of council meetings and videos of special events that the tribe would undertake that anybody who wanted to can participate. It was kind of a one-way communication to them.”

Audience member:

“And did you say that your meetings are open?”

Jim Gray:

“Yes.”

Audience member:

“Oh, okay. So anybody in the world, any Osage in the world or non…?”

Jim Gray:

“Anybody.”

Audience member:

“Anybody can tap in and listen to your meetings?”

Jim Gray:

“…which that 'anybody' part has been the subject of a lot of debate too but…”

Audience member:

“Yeah.”

Jim Gray:

“…The thing is that in this day and era where we live it’s impossible to live on an island. You’re just going to have to embrace the fact that everyone’s going to know your business eventually. There’s so many public records, public documents, there’s Freedom of Information Act laws in our tribe, anybody can apply for them. And the tribal newspaper being an independent body can go get things and disclose it in their newspaper, which everybody can get. They’re members of the AP [Associated Press], it could be picked up. There’s just…don’t fight it, just accept it and go on.”

Audience member:

“Do you have council members who live in different parts of the world that can be on the council or do you have to live within the service area of the Osage?”

Jim Gray:

“We have election of councilmen at large, so the top six in staggered terms get elected and then another six in another staggered term get elected. There’s been a lot of discussion about district voting. When I told you we had a referendum vote before the big vote, that was one of the questions and the people by a large margin voted for at-large votes.”

Shawn Bordeaux:

“Good dialogue. I hate to break it up here. Especially for Pat, but Chief Gray, please comment as well. I’m from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota and I work at a tribal college, Sente Gleska University, and we have engaged with our 20 communities about 130 miles by about 50 miles. We have five counties that we have roughly a million acres in and when you look at a map it just shows one of the counties and a lot of the development happens in that county and my question is about priorities. We have 135 hours of comments from when we went out as a tribal college and filmed, as you’re doing, all the ideas that people have and now the question is it’s a tug-o-war. When you’re a very big community, do you take care of the neediest first or do you develop where the revenues will lead to other opportunities to go to the bank and to continue to develop? I’m just kind of curious. You did a really good job of taking the flyer failure, I had to say it, but we have that problem, where some people don’t show up and I like your strategy of going to the little groups, but how do we get this tug-o-war…? How do we get past there where we say, ‘Okay, you guys, you’re coming in 30 years. We know you’re farthest away from the tribe, but you’re not going to be developed first.’ So I’m struggling trying to figure out how to help our community to set a priority list.”

Patricia Riggs:

“Well, as far as housing is concerned, that’s a real priority for us, but we’ve determined different ways to bring housing to the community. Of course we have HUD [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development], but then it becomes very limited because we have this group of people that don’t qualify for HUD, but yet they can’t get affordable housing. So one of the things we did is we tried to diversify the way in which we brought housing to the community and we brought investors to do the low-income tax credits units. We also have housing, but then council is also, what they’re doing is some of the HUD housing that’s already paid off, they’re buying that back from tribal members who may be elders and then they’re reselling it to other tribal members. And we also have…we’ve started to…we’ve contacted the BIA and HUD to do the low income, not the low income, but the guaranteed loans. So we’re also looking at different ways to…maybe some of the elders, move them out of housing and bring in an elder center, but also bring in more housing around our ceremonial areas because what…so that’s one of our priorities is to rebuild our ceremonial areas in the places that were once villages around the ceremonial areas, because in order to protect our ceremonial places we need people there. So that’s one of the ways that we prioritize. Eventually what we want to do is rebuild some traditional houses around our ceremonial areas, bring the elders back there. But then we’re also thinking about, as far as priorities, the places that make the most sense for us are the places that are going to fill in those gaps where our original land base, in the core. We’re calling it the 'core' of our community. So we determined that that was going to be a priority for us. And then also to build either through commercial areas -- we know that it’s coming, so we’re just thinking, 'Why not do it ourselves?' And some of what you saw there was some of the boulevards that are closest to our community. So what our plan is is to invest and then be able to reinvest for more land acquisition, even if we have to lease to retail areas and things like that. So our priority for us is to protect those places that are most traditional and the core of our community and then to move outward and to fill those little gaps as well.”

Jim Gray:

“Real quick. One of the things that we were very blessed with at the time of our constitutional reformation was the fact that simultaneously, while that was going on, we were opening casinos at a very fast pace and getting a lot of people to work, creating a lot of jobs. In 2002, there was like 200 full-time employees at the Osage Nation. In 2006, there was about 900. In 2010, there was about 1,800. During that period of time, a lot of Osages came back because there was something to come back to -- there were jobs. Not just casino jobs because the money that was leaving the casinos and going to the tribe, the tribe would invest in expansion of a lot of programs, specifically the education program, scholarships. So the benefits of the tribe that spilled out into the communities, no matter where you were, you were an Osage, in New York City or California or Washington State, you were eligible to apply for a college scholarship program. If you met all the criteria of making the grades and getting yourself accepted into state-recognized schools, different types, private schools too, but couldn’t match the kind of funds that other tribes were giving because there was like 12 -- by the time I left office, I think we had 1,000 kids in college somewhere around the United States. Before we may have had a few hundred kids in college and they were getting like $300 a semester. Well, now we’re giving them like $5,000 a semester and that’s almost enough to cover all your expenses. Almost, depends on where you’re going, but it covers a big chunk of it. So the more we were able to bring the resources back out of the communities, simultaneously as their political rights were becoming more involved, questions of accountability and participation and eligibility became more part of the social media conversations. And I can promise you between that, the language program, which just blossomed in the last 10 years because the tribe was putting a million dollars a year into the program that we just invented on our own and the kids that got to take Osage language in the public school system were speaking it in the hallways and classes. There was one story in Skiatook where I’m from where the quarterback was Osage and he’d taken those classes and he convinced his linemen to take Osage that weren’t Osage. And his cadence in Osage was good for at least one to two offside penalties every game. All of a sudden people started getting the benefit and there was this swagger, this confidence that didn’t exist before that you had the political rights and the financial resources to actually exercise and were going on at the same time. And when that was going on we didn’t have any trouble filling up a room whenever we did something.”

Ian Record:

“Thank you panelists. One final round of applause. We only have a couple minutes left and I wanted to wrap up with just some food for thought as you leave. My colleague Minnie is handing out flash drives courtesy of NNI as a show of gratitude for your attending the session today. It’s got some really good information about some of NNIs current initiatives. I wanted to share with you some strategies we’ve seen have been effective and again you see a lot of these coming through the comprehensive and multi-faceted approaches that Osage and Ysleta del Sur have been pursuing there in citizen engagement.

And really what I want you to think about when I roll through these is really the challenge incumbent upon all of you is how do we re-instill a sense of tribal-specific civics in our community? How do we get our citizens to want to actively engage their governance in a constructive way where they feel like they’re contributing to the present and future of the nation? So things like high school classes, community college classes, community meetings to discuss tribal government, tribal history, tribal law, a series in the tribal newspaper, ongoing series conveying the messages and themes that you want to get across to begin to inspire your people to participate, youth councils. That’s a huge movement across Indian Country, where we’re seeing this emergence of youth councils to try to get the future generation of nation leaders oriented in the right way figuring out how they can contribute. Tribal government handbooks, history courses for tribal government employees -- Cherokee is a leader in this area -- focus groups, as Pat’s nation has used so effectively, and then one on one. I think the challenge facing everybody in this room is to think about how do I begin to move our citizen education and engagement work forward on my one on one interactions with my professional colleagues, with the citizens I run into at the grocery store to either start a new conversation or change the existing one to something that’s more productive that’s pointed towards moving the nation forward, to breaking through some of these barriers and sort of things that keep us in place. How do we keep that moving forward?

And then finally some things to think about. Think about citizen engagement not as an event, but as a process. I think what particularly Jim said and what you see from Pat’s visuals is that you really need to conceive of this as a permanent part of your governance challenge. This is not something you just do when you have a big referendum vote; it’s something you need to do all the time. You need to institutionalize it as a governmental priority and fund it accordingly. You need to pay people to help you do this work. It’s not just about the elective leadership going out and doing the messaging and getting citizens engaged. You need an actual governmental apparatus to carry this work out. Know all of your audiences. You saw that with Pat’s presentation. You have to know who you’re trying to reach. You need to know how they learn. Do you know how your young people learn? Do you know what sort of social media they’re using? Do you have a presence on that social media? Are you speaking to them through that mechanism? If not, you need to think about, 'How do we begin to do that?' And we’re seeing some tribes begin to develop social media policies because they realize, as Jim said, it’s a part of life; it’s a fact of life. You’ve got to figure out how do we take advantage of this. Develop a holistic approach to tribal civics that demands that everyone teach as well as learn. That’s why Indigenous societies were so vibrant traditionally is because everyone had a role in imparting the knowledge of the nation to carry it forward. It wasn’t just the job of government, it wasn’t just the job of formal education systems, it was the job of everybody. Keep up with and capitalize on new technology, just talked about that. And finally, track your citizen engagement activities and their effectiveness. Pat made that point crystal clear. So you’ve got to assess what you’re doing and figure out, 'Is there a way we can do it better?'"

Robert Yazzie: Traditional Principles of Leadership

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Former Chief Justice Robert Yazzie of the Navajo Nation Supreme Court provides an overview of the traditional Diné governance system and specifically the leadership principles that Diné leaders relied upon to make sound, informed, strategic decisions in consultation with and on behalf of their people. He offers a convincing argument for Native nations to consult their traditional governance systems in order to meet the challenges they face today.

People
Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Yazzie, Robert. "Traditional Principles of Leadership." Emerging Leaders seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. November 6, 2013. Presentation.

Ian Record:

"I have the great pleasure of introducing Robert Yazzie, who is...who I've known for many years through his affiliation with the Native Nations Institute. He's been one of our longest serving members of our International Advisory Council. He's a real major figure in the area of tribal justice systems, and in fact I think Rae Nell [Vaughn] and Eldena [Bear Don't Walk] may reference the Navajo Nation Justice System tomorrow because they're really viewed...that system is really viewed as a leader in the process that many Native nations are engaging in in terms of reclaiming the function of justice in their own communities and returning it to a position where it's culturally appropriate and culturally relevant and reflective of culture. And Robert was one of the main architects of that movement, to make that justice system work for the Navajo people in a Navajo way. And we have the great honor...it was interesting, we see Robert a couple times a year and after the last time we saw him he mentioned a desire to come and speak to leaders such as yourself about what he calls the ‘traditional principles of leadership' and basically how you work to instill your own core values in the actions and decisions that you make as leaders, again, whether you're an elected official or just a decision maker within your own community, within your own family, within your own nation. So with that I'll turn the floor over to Robert. He's going to present for about 20 minutes or so and then we want to leave a little time at the end of his session for some questions."

Robert Yazzie:

"[Navajo language]. Anybody here? I have a humor to share with you just as an opener. When we say '[Navajo language],' we always say, ‘Goodness be unto you.' And so I had a solicitor when I was the sitting chief justice, he used to -- he's a white guy, used to see his Navajo wife every weekend. They would go to drive three hours to Albuquerque and when they meet they'll say [Navajo language], hugs and kisses and everything. So around 8:00, she would tell him, ‘Hit the hay.' And then over the weekend when she gets mad at him, she'll say, ‘What the hay?' I know that would get you going. Thank you for the cake. Good for my sugar level.

I would like to talk about the principles of Diné leadership and I want to talk about the definition of how Diné leadership can be understood in terms of its definition, in terms of its qualities, and also the challenges and experience of Diné leadership yesterday and today. So for purposes of achieving a better government, the question is, ‘Can the modern day leadership incorporate the traditional principles of governance from the past?' I think that's a very important question on our table.

So what is leadership? Studies of political systems show a scale of differing patterns, from absolute authoritarian leadership to leadership that's only persuasive. Some leaders exercise command with force and others only persuade. Most form of western leadership are based on the notion of power, to back up a command. In other words, leadership in that respect usually means power, control, authority and coercion. Diné, traditional Diné leadership is not about power, it's not about control or coercion, but a recognition that words are powerful through influence and persuasion. Persuasive leadership is based on compliance with the command or advice of a leader such as a wise uncle or other relative out of respect.

The Navajo word for leadership is '[Navajo language].' I think the concepts really teach us a lot, so I'm going to be talking about concept as a way to understand something about leadership, traditional leadership. So the Navajo word for leadership is '[Navajo language],' which in essence means 'a planner' and it comes from a word base means ‘speaking' [Navajo language]. The word for ‘planning' is '[Navajo language],' refers to talking things out to make a plan. The Navajo word for ‘leader,' '[Navajo language]' arises from power as a speaker and the word for ‘planning,' '[Navajo language]' is about problem solving and discussing plans. An elder would say '[Navajo language],' that it is about learning how to think, '[Navajo language],' learning how to use your thinking when the [Navajo language]. The [Navajo language], the leader uses those elements of thinking and planning as tools for leadership.

We generally understand that traditional leadership is based on possessing wisdom and the ability to speak, create plans for successful outcomes and results, create respect that compels people to follow. It's something like his or her word is law. So given that brief definition, we can ask the question, ‘Well, what are the qualities, what are the characteristics or traits of leadership and how does one get the qualities of leadership and earn respect?' So when we look at the thinking of the leader or for anybody for that matter, we look at two things that are opposites. The simplest way of saying it is you have something good, you have something bad. That's the centerpiece to your thought...to your thinking. So in that respect, our old system of government last seen in operation 1859. '[Navajo language]' means ‘the peaceful chief.' '[Navajo language]' is more of the opposite of a good peaceful chief. '[Navajo language]' means ‘firm.' It could mean something very rough as well. So looking at those concepts helps us to understand the Navajo leadership definitions and qualities according to the early style of leadership we call '[Navajo language].' So if you can imagine a circle, imagine that you have 12 leaders sitting toward each other, one representing the peace, one representing the war. So as I said, that was last observed in 1859.

So the two kinds of leaders traditionally, '[Navajo language]' or 'war leaders,' and the '[Navajo language]' or 'peace leaders,' the word '[Navajo language]' relates to decisions that are prompt, powerful and aggressive. That's the person's characteristics. The speaking done is for...the speaking to that...for that quality is for war. So the ability to immediately evaluate a situation and to speak to a plan to...and speak to a plan of immediate and aggressive action is necessary. Individuals get a reputation of being successful warriors. The word '[Navajo language]' comes from the word '[Navajo language]' basically means 'understanding of something good.' Understand [Navajo language] as a state of perfection. One definition is that [Navajo language] is that state of being where everyone and everything are in proper place relating and functioning well with everything to achieve a state of harmony or perfection. That requires a kind of speaking to achieve a perfect state that is wise and successful.

So Justice Austin who I used to sit with, Raymond D. Austin, who was Associate Justice when I was Chief Justice and after he retired he went to...went back to school. He was a law school graduate and he was a member of the Arizona Bar. He went back to the University of Arizona to earn a...to do his dissertation in Navajo common law. So he has come up with a book called The Navajo Nation Courts: The Common Law and in his book he talks a lot about the duty of a [Navajo language], the duty of a leader, which is to maintain [Navajo language] as a perfect state of condition and he said that could be the theory, but in terms of practice, the leader would identify a problem, a [Navajo language], and that leader has the obligation to engage himself or herself in what we call '[Navajo language].' In English is to say, ‘Think for the people to find the problem.' Identify the causes of the disruption of the state of [Navajo language] and once you have done that, then the challenge in one is to restore [Navajo language].

Individuals who want to be leaders do not appoint themselves. The status is earned. The western notion of advancing one's own name for political office by election makes no sense. Election in a traditional sense is spontaneous and based on necessities. For example, there may be plans for spring planting over a winter fire. So there would be talk of when to plant, who could read the stars to know when that is done and other matters that call for leadership guidance. So people who talk about what would be the best...who would be the best person to guide the planting season; that is a way leaders were chosen.

I served as the Navajo Nation court judge and the chief justice for the Navajo Nation Supreme Court for 19 years. As Navajo judges, we are considered as successors of the traditional [Navajo language], peace chief, because we are chosen for our individual qualities. Traits that make a difference in being a good leader include adherence to the duty of promoting harmony and order and treating people with fairness and humility. [Navajo language] of the past and today are looked upon as role models and the respect for our decision depends upon our personal integrity. Humility is a personal value, which prompts people to respect us judges for our decision not for our position.

One of the traditional terms for leader is that person is slightly higher than others and it reflects the view that leadership and the acceptance of its authority comes from those who conduct themselves well. It comes from individuals who speak well, plan well, show success in community planning or those who can talk the goods in for the people. Humility is not simply self-effacing behavior, but behavior that is consistent with competent leadership that is tempered with humility. Leadership is not for the self, but for the people. The people [are] the source of that power.

What is the traditional Navajo process for planning and decision making for leaders? The way of achieving [Navajo language], the good things, is by talking things out. As I said, the Navajo word '[Navajo language]' means 'to talk,' is related to leadership because of the common expression, as I said, words are powerful. Words of great leaders are powerful because they speak solution into reality. Navajos believe thoughts become action in words and that words create action or reality when they are spoken. Thinking becomes speech become action. That is the thought system where thinking and intuition drive words and speaking. Speaking in groups is planning and action is the result of thinking and planning. The Navajo word for leader '[Navajo language],' which arises from power as a speaker and the word for planning '[Navajo language]' is about problem solving and discussing plans. And there's a word, I'm sure that you have your own word for this concept, called '[Navajo language].' It's a very important concept in the past traditional practice of leadership. '[Navajo language],' which is 'talk things out.' It involves having free discussion among the leader with his people, with the community to clarify relationships, to identify problems and disputes and provides for a method of planning and making decisions. [Navajo language], talking things out process requires that reciprocity, doing things for each other in return, is about his or her obligation to what we call '[Navajo language]' and [Navajo language] is a concept that really can't be translated into English and I believe you have the same...the same experience is true with your language. That one word cannot be said, while '[Navajo  language]' means respect. '[Navajo language]' can mean many, many different things, even a book won't satisfy a good explanation of what that word means, but at best '[Navajo language]' is something like treating people with respect, compassion, reverence. So [Navajo language] or talking things out requires that reciprocity be practiced to ensure there's equal and equitable treatment for the people.

And there's another word that is very important as well, '[Navajo language].'Can you all say that? [Navajo language]. Not today? [Navajo language] is one of the practices for [Navajo language] and as I said, it's understood as knowing how to treat people with dignity and respect. The [Navajo language] as a [Navajo language] is always expected to act as though you have relatives. If you walk around, talk around, walk around and talk as if you have no relatives and the people would always say, ‘That person is forgetting about his or her obligation through [Navajo language].' A [Navajo language], a leader is always expected to honor his obligation through the concept of [Navajo language]. Talking things out with the people helps a leader to learn about ideas, expectation and recommendation of the community. An important aspect of making effective decisions by a leader is being well informed of the issues and concerns of the people. To be informed is to know what the people want. I think that is probably your experience as well when you observe Navajo Nation tribal council in session. Not everybody is there to know...to fully know what the people want, because the more you observe sometimes the more you find out the leader really needs to understand what the people are thinking and what is it that they're concerned about.

The other part, the other issue that was discussed is transparency and it's something that is really difficult to translate from English to Navajo, but at best you can say in Navajo, we say '[Navajo language],' means you can't hide your plans. '[Navajo language],' it means to make clear your plans. [Navajo language] requires transparency, a free flow of information, a duty to communicate, to make known the issues at hand. Planning for action can be transparent except for war way planning so that everyone who is affected can see what is going on and have an opportunity to have a say. Navajo tradition requires energy and good will when putting plans into action so that good intentions reflect positive energy [and] will produce a good result.

What are the challenges and experience of leadership in Navajo country? In 1989, we had a major crisis. The Navajo Nation government was, were nearly as a whole was nearly put on its knees. The Navajo Nation Chairman Peter MacDonald was accused [of] bribery and kickbacks and the Navajo Nation Council proceeded to put him on administrative leave for accusation and for other serious criminal allegations. He refused. He told the Navajo Nation Council, ‘You have no legal basis.' And he was right, but the matter was put before the Navajo Nation Council on a certified question and the Navajo Nation Supreme Court came back with a response and said that...he says, ‘under traditional method of selection of leaders, people choose their leaders [Navajo language] based on trust and confidence. If a leader breeches the trust by wrongful acts, the people would simply walk away.' This practice was what justified the council action to remove Chairman Peter MacDonald from office.

I think one of the questions that really bothers a lot of us is that when it comes to decision-making, how effective are the leaders in making a good decision? I think here's where we can involve the question, ‘Does traditional Diné leadership make a difference in the modern day?' And we talk about the problems we have on the...in Indian Country, that at times the atmosphere towards leadership can be very negative. And you look at the situation in Indian Country, people are living the hard life, frustrated, overwhelmed with trying to make things...trying to make ends meet and because there are no jobs, no money, no educational opportunities people are suffering from domestic violence. People cannot help but feel that leadership is inefficient, ineffective. So here's where we are asked the question, ‘If we were to do something a little different,' for example, look at the question, ‘Do the principles of Navajo traditional governance have a role in this scenario?' That is to say, does the traditional Diné leadership make a difference in the modern day? And sometimes when we need to respond to that kind of question we always talk about journey narratives, we always talk about Twin Heroes.

Twin Heroes were out to help save the people when the bad energy, the bad monsters began to take its toll on human lives. People really struggle, people were suffering, people were living with chaos and disharmony and so when we look at these narratives we can say that there was...that the Twin Heroes came and helped the people in many, many ways. They destroyed almost everything, all of what we called '[Navajo language],' the bad energy. But there were some who say, ‘Please save us. We can help the human race to live a quality of life.' But there are certain type of [Navajo language] that have no mercy on humans and so when the Twin Heroes, before killing the monster, the father, the Sun said, gave instruction and said to carefully study and observe the movement and behavior of the monster. Before you make the attack, thinking before you make the attack is a value that advises leaders today to carefully observe the problem before taking any sort of action. So it's telling us that where there's chaos is to really study the problem, understand the problem before you proceed to say, ‘What are the alternatives?'

So one of the things that we're trying to do within the Navajo Nation is to make some changes. I have a proposed legislation here before the Navajo Nation Council and it's about creating a uranium commission that would help to clean up the abandoned mines. We have so many... so much abandoned mines that it's causing a big risk. It's already causing a lot of health problems and people have died from it. And I was told, ‘Well, could you help us? Could you design a legislation that touches upon the fundamental law of the Diné?' And so it took me a long time to think that when we look at our tribal code, we see a lot of incorporation of state law, federal law and I think the emphasis should be, now that most of our kids are going to law school and are coming back to establish their practice, I think the emphasis is to take seriously and to say, ‘How do we develop our Indian thinking and use it as a tool to craft legislation?' So when I thought about this in terms of creating a commission and I thought about the leadership of that commission, that this leadership should be guided by the fundamental law of the Diné, and also the leadership also should be informed about the laws that we have, the laws from the time of creation. The laws from the time of creation is telling us about what is the natural law, '[Navajo Language]'? Natural law means laws that come from the earth and the universe and that itself, the natural law was like planting the seeds, planting the seeds to develop other forms of law.

For example, we have what we call traditional law, custom law and common law. So the medicine people sat down and said, ‘Well, the natural law should be something that is coming from the water, from the air, from the fire, from things that grow on earth. They have their own independent existence. We are...we come from those elements and then as such we should observe a relationship that is one of respect.' Everything that we learn from those elements we say that '[Navajo language],' means everything is related, we're all related in one way or another and as such we are the elements of nature and the elements of nature is us. So in that respect, we can't dominate those elements and the only thing we can do is to clearly understand that from the time those things were put in place and the time we were created is what the holy people did and said to us, ‘This is the law and I put it in your hand. [Navajo language] in the holy way I put it in your hands. Now you shall become the stewards to take care of these elements. These elements, you take care of them, they'll take care of you.'

So those were the thoughts in terms of creating a commission. I know that a lot of us are concerned that what is it that we should recover from our past? There are sources already that we can learn about, that we can apply, that we can work with and if we proceed to do that, it's amazing how much that can be done, it's amazing how much of an influence it has on the kind of thinking we have. It'll change the paradigm. Like you said, this is the way Navajos handle it, this is the way the Mohawks handle it, this is the way the Blackfeet handle it, is what we will be saying if we were to proceed down this path. And I think a lot of us learn, know our language. And this legislation is talking about a story as an approach to develop a law, but it's not a matter of talking about the story. The story should be to say, ‘How do I use this material to develop something for this modern day? How can I develop this as law so my kids in the future can say, this is the law of our grandfather and our grandmother.' A lot of us are up in age, we are the grandmothers, we are the grandfathers, and a lot of grandmothers and grandfathers say, ‘I have no idea, I have no clue about the creation story.' When the grandkids are asking questions, the response is, ‘I don't know.' But it's not simply that we can't just say, ‘I don't know,' because I know that a lot of us Indian people know a lot about our past and if we take the time to share that and say, ‘How can we revive those? How can we learn to articulate those teachings so that they sound like law in the statutes, in case laws?' Thank you."

 

James R. Gray: Rebuilding Osage Governance from the Ground Up

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

In this informative intervew with NNI's Ian Record, James R. Gray, former Principal Chief of the Osage Nation, details his nation's effort to design a new constitution and government from the ground up, and provides an overview of the thorough education and consultation process the nation developed to ensure that its new governance system reflected the voice and enjoyed the support of the Osage people.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Gray, James R. "Rebuilding Osage Governance from the Ground Up." Leading Native Nations interview series. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, The University of Arizona. Cambridge, Massachusetts, September 17, 2009. Interview.

Ian Record:

“Well, I’m here with Chief Jim Gray, who’s chief of the Osage Nation. Thank you for being here today.”

James R. Gray:

“Glad to be here.”

Ian Record:

“We’re here today to talk about Native nation building, governance, and specifically what the Osage Nation is doing to not only rebuild this nation, but build a healthy community for its citizens. I’d like to start by asking you the same first question I ask everyone I sit down and chat with and that is, how would you define Native nation building and what does it entail for the Osage Nation?”

James R. Gray:

“To me, the definition of nation building has to do with setting up a structure of how a nation does its business. And there’s a lot of different ways governments do that around the world. I think in our case, we had to go back to our past and our history and understand that we’ve always had some form of institutional governance that predated the Europeans. We wanted to capture as much of the theme of that as much as we could in the modern era that we live in. And so in terms of how we integrate nation building is that we really did try to understand as a nation, how you do business with other governments, how you take care of your own people, how you make decisions, how you resolve conflicts, and how you provide some measure of accountability for your citizens? And in the process of that, nation building is the foundation upon which we build these institutions, but that’s the purpose.”

Ian Record:

“The next question I’d like to ask you, ask for your view of a statement of a fellow tribal leader who once said, ‘The best defense of sovereignty is to exercise it effectively.’”

James R. Gray:

"I think that’s an excellent point. I think a lot of tribes -- certainly during the last century -- really operated under the notion that if you stay quiet, you stand under the radar screen, they’ll leave you alone. And I think what is happening in the last generation of tribal leaders and tribal governments is that they’ve kind of broken out of that model and have taken the initiative to the states, to the federal government, to the communities in their area and say, ‘You know, we have the ability to help solve community-wide problems. We have the ability to address the social problems that we have in the community. We now, in other words, instead of blaming somebody else and just operating under the radar screen, we’re taking just the opposite approach, which is taking the fight to the streets and taking the...using the sovereignty of the nation to create programs and departments and initiatives that actually address the needs of our community.’”

Ian Record:

“It’s interesting you mentioned this issue of going back and really taking a look at your culture and seeing what from your culture you can incorporate into your modern governance. The NNI and Harvard Project research has found that for Native nation governments to be viewed as legitimate by their people, which is absolutely critical to its success, that they must be both effective, and also culturally appropriate. How is Osage trying to tackle that challenge?”

James R. Gray:

“Well, I think we borrowed quite a bit from some of the research that you all have done over the years and looked at it from our standpoint about how we would go about trying to effect the kind of institutional change that had to take place at Osage and realizing that for a hundred years that we did not have that right and we did not have that capacity to do that and we did not have the support from our own community to even try. When we endeavor to try and go down that road to recognize that the United States and their efforts to reaffirm the inherent sovereign rights of the Osages to make these decisions for themselves through legislation, it empowered us in a way that we weren’t really fully grasping what exactly we had accomplished immediately. But after some reflection, we realized we had a blank slate. We had an opportunity to remake Osage in a way that made sense for us. And realizing that so many other tribes have traveled down this road before, we felt like we could maybe not, and certainly that wasn’t the point, was to copy what any tribe had done, but to learn about the process and realizing that, ‘Let’s not devote ourselves to a whole lot of time on certain outcomes. Let’s devote our time to a process that is inclusive of all Osages that includes Osages on the reservation, of the reservation, those that are full blood, mixed blood, those that have head rights, that don’t have head rights, that are educated, that are not educated, employees, department heads, programs. We tried...we cast the widest net possible to include all the voices of the tribe in to this conversation about what kind of government you wanted and realizing that that effort was not going to be something that we were going to be able to predict accurately what that outcome was. But if we did the process right, it wouldn’t matter.”

Ian Record:

“Dr. Cornell of the Native Nations Institute and the Harvard Project has often framed the process of nation building as centrally a process of remaking that nation’s governance tools. And based on everything I know about Osage, that’s precisely what you guys are doing.”

James R. Gray:

“Yeah, everything from...going from a one-branch government to a three-branch government clearly indicated to us that what the Osage people were saying is that they did not want a...they wanted checks and balances and they wanted accountability and they wanted some attention given to the needs of the people through a process that they were maybe familiar with by living under the United States democracy or the state democracy where they live, that it was something familiar with them that they knew that if we set up this way, then we knew that our money would safe, we knew that there would be certain responsibilities on elected officials. We knew that communication was going to be more important than it had ever been in the past, two-way communication. And so the effective marching orders that we got from our own people was to build a system of government that was focused heavily on accountability, focused heavily on getting people with the right ethical backgrounds to actually do the work of a public servant. And to create institutions that actually had powers, and it wasn’t a power based on personality, it was a power based on law. And these were dramatic changes from where we’d been for the last hundred years, but that’s what they want, and that’s the government that’s been created for us. And so building those, taking those words and put them into action has been the work of the last three years of building institutions, separating our business from politics, and ensuring that every citizen, no matter where they live, is legitimately involved in the political process of the tribe.”

Ian Record:

“And building that government really took a major step forward in 2006 when the Osage Nation ratified a new constitution, entirely new constitution and a new system of government. And I guess without going into too extensive historical detail, but for perhaps a general overview of what prompted the Osage Nation to undertake reform in the first place?”

James R. Gray:

“I think the idea that Osages in the '90s had a taste of what political empowerment meant, especially those Osages that did not have an interest in the mineral estate, the 'non-shareholders' as they called them back home. And the non-shareholders outnumbered the shareholders by a two-to-one ratio by that time. And given the unfortunate fact was, is that a fourth of Osage head rights had been willed out of the tribe over the years. And it wasn’t stopped until the early '80s, I believe, that they actually amended the 1906 acts to prevent any further head rights from going out of the tribe. Because often time, before that, an Osage would marry a non-Osage and if they died earlier, then they could put it in their will that that spouse would get their head right. And then that spouse would remarry someone else and then they would have kids and those head rights were gone, they never came back. So a fourth of the value of Osage mineral state has gone out of Osage hands over the years and that created a bit of a problem, too. So you had a really odd situation in the early part of this decade where the vast majority of the Osages weren’t even part of the tribe, they weren’t considered members, they did not have any political rights, they couldn’t vote, they couldn’t run for office, and there was no hope that they were ever going to. And still, the head right issue was something that I think is still part of us today, it is still a protected property right of all the individuals who had head rights before, still have those head rights now, myself included. And the thing that I think is probably the biggest challenge for us was to ensure that that head right was going to remain intact and we weren’t going to lose any more. And while we may not be able to get those head rights back under the normal way in which we had lost them, there seems to be a growing sentiment among our people that we need to redefine what being Osage is. And that included recapturing our culture, recapturing our history, and providing other programs and job opportunities and educational benefits and health benefits to all our citizens. And at the time, we were building casinos and we were making money and really we were never in a position to actually, independently fund these kind of things either. So we had an interesting cross section of a cultural renaissance that’s been going on for the tribe over the last 25-30 years, where our ceremonial dances are populated at a level that we’ve never seen before and a resurgence of reclaiming our culture and our language and our history and our ancient history, combined with the financial resources to defend issues that are important to us and advance issues that are important to us and address the problems in our community. We have the ability to reorganize our government. So all these things came at once. So the fact that all that happened in the last seven years is pretty remarkable, it is. And it’s almost historic in a sense that if you can imagine what a historic moment is while you’re living it, it’s kind of hard to, but at the same time, it’s kind of...it’s like watching the wall fall down in Eastern Germany. You knew something big was happening. You knew that that wall wasn’t going to go back up. You knew that this change was permanent. Now it may not look the same 20 years from now than it does right now, but that change means is that the dynamics of what the Osages are going to be like and what kind of government they’re going to have is going to be up to the Osages and not somebody else.”

Ian Record:

“Following up on that, if you can paint a picture for us of what the previous constitution system of government looked like and how decisions were made, how the government functioned. Why was it deemed, ultimately, why was it deemed inadequate?”

James R. Gray:

“I think I touched on some of that already when I talked about the fact that it disenfranchised a great number of our citizens. But between the years of 1906 and 2004, the Osages -- well 2006 -- the Osages for those hundred years lived in a...what they call an imposed system of government. That means it wasn’t one of our creation, it wasn’t one that we had, would’ve picked for ourselves if we had the right to do that. The Indian agent at that time abolished the tribe’s 1881 constitution, opened up the rolls, and had a ratification of sorts, of a new form of government that was eventually passed by United States Congress in 1906 called the 1906 Osage Allotment Act. But it did so much more than just the allotment. I mean yeah, it did an allotment, but it did a whole lot more than that. One of them was is that it defined who an Osage was. It defined what rights the Osage had. It defined what powers their Osage tribal government was to have, which was an eight-member elected council whose primary function was to approve oil and gas leases and oversee the allotment of the lands on our reservation. And over the years...and of course there was a chief and an assistant chief who served basically a formal role. It wasn’t a title that actually endowed any authority except to break a tie, and that was it. And we had chiefs under this system; I think we’ve had eight or nine chiefs over the years that have served in that capacity. And there was always an attempt by an element within the tribe to reform out of that and going back to the 1950s. And throughout the years they had always tried to break through and tried to get the attention, but like I said, when you’ve tied the membership of the tribe to collecting a per capita check every quarter, tying those two issues together as a legal issue, you can see how difficult and literally impossible it was for the tribe to achieve any kind of reform even though their heart ached. You had to die in order for your children to be a part of the tribe. There was something almost morbid about it and it wasn’t anything that we created. And realizing that so many head rights had gone out of Osage hands over the years that by the time I came around and the 31st council came around in 2002, there was a growing appeal from our own people that said, ‘We need to fix this membership issue.’ And ironically, it was the biggest wholesale election upset in tribal council history. You’d have to go all the way back to 1912 to find a period of time when the entire council lost their job in one election, and the chief, and the assistant chief. I think only one person survived and she was the rebel. So as it turned out, you ended up having a brand new slate of people coming into office with a mandate, if you will, of reform. And so during that period of time, it became real obvious to me that that was the first thing we took up when we go into place was to address this membership issue and the sovereignty issue of actually finding a way to be able to get out from under the structure. And we realized that we couldn’t go to the courts, we could only go to Congress, and that was the message we received from the appeals court ten years earlier or eight years earlier when they made that decision. That this is an issue for Congress to fix, not the courts, and so we did that. And as far as the government structure and how it operated, basically over the years, we had become the so-called de facto government of the Osage Tribe because there was nothing else there. So we became administrators of federal grants, federal programs, and different departments of, whether it’s title six or 477, NAHASDA, we ended up being the de facto entity that would receive these funds and administer these programs, but even a benevolent dictator is still a dictator to a lot of the people who had no role in selecting them or electing them. So the vast majority of Osages that received benefits from the tribe utilized their CDIB number in terms of determining population, things like that, service area. And even though we were in charge of administering, we knew that this was inherently flawed. That you’re trying to represent a group of people that had no role in putting you in office and they outnumber the people who did by a two-to-one margin. So it didn’t come as a big surprise, but it is remarkable in a sense that we did grow out of that through what limited democracy we did have through an election. Through selection of eight people and a chief and assistant chief who ran on the issue of reform at a time when that would’ve been unheard of 50 years earlier.”

Ian Record:

“So the election happens and then constitutional reform begins to unfold. And I’m curious to learn more about the approach that the nation took in commencing with constitutional reform, what process it employed.”

James R. Gray:

“Yeah, we realized that probably the best thing that, the smartest decision that the 31st Council did, and if I recall it was a unanimous decision by all members, that we wanted to create a government reform commission. We didn’t want any elected official who was holding office at that time to have any role whatsoever in sitting on that commission, or anything like that. So we instituted a very interesting approach that what we will do is we will nominate people that we believe are effective representatives, that have open minds, that have the capacity to learn and listen, and make sure that they conduct a process that is fair and open and inclusive as possible. And so everyone got to put like five names, including the chief and the assistant chief, and we put them all in the box, and then all of us in a secret ballot, voted our top five. And so we had this very elaborate election, selection process that nobody knew who their favorite was, there was no coordination, it was all done right there at the moment. And everyone picked their top five and put it in a hat and then the secretary went around and started putting the names on a grease board, started putting names, lines next to each one of them. And effectively, we put together the top ten individuals that were in that commission, were the ones that were selected. And some of them are elders, some of them are cultural leaders, some of them are successful business people, there are people that have backgrounds in government, the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs], there was lawyers. It was a very interesting cross section of many, many Osages that I felt really did capture the historic significance of it immediately upon getting installed into that office.”

Ian Record:

“So what major challenges, we often hear about constitutional reform taking place throughout Indian Country and some sort of process, some sort of dialog at least. And we often hear that the reform actually doesn’t happen for a variety of reasons, and I’m curious to learn from you what sorts of challenges or obstacles did Osage encounter during the reform process. What things did you perhaps not expect or said, ‘Oh we’ve got to be very methodical in how deal with it if we’re going to keep this process moving.”

James R. Gray:

“I’ll tell you one story. This happened about five months into the commission’s work and after a series of meetings that the commission had, and like I said, these people come from a very broad cross section of Osages. And as you may imagine in their initial meetings, they didn’t know each other, some of them didn’t like each other, some of them didn’t understand each other and there was all those usual feeling their positions out. And I think it became real clear that after a series of meetings over those first few critical months, they weren’t getting much done. And at one meeting they got up and they said, ‘You know, we’re probably going to have to go back to the council and tell them we just can’t do it.’ And this one little lady that sits on there is the vice chair, her name’s Priscilla Iba, you’ve had her to your events before. I remember this to this day. If there was ever a Patrick Henry of the Osage Nation it was Priscilla Iba who just stood up and this nice little meek librarian at the City of Tulsa Library who spent her whole life working in that field and very serious, very earnest, but taking the seriousness of what she was being asked to do by her people and realizing that she had to get up and say something and she is, she’s very introverted. She’s not the kind of person that’s going to go...she’s not that...she’s just very quiet and meek and very careful with what she does. She’s earnest and genuine; she’s got a heart of gold. She got up there and talked to all those other commissioners and she just put her little foot down and said, ‘I am not going to be a part of something that fails. We are going to roll up our sleeves and we’re going to get this done.’ Now she said a lot more and I wasn’t there, but the word I got back from several different people at that commissioner’s [meeting] that had told me later on that, ‘it was that speech by that little woman is what made me stick it out.’ Now I can imagine that there has been situations like that with other tribes where they felt like they just hit a wall because they couldn’t get through some of these initial personality issues or feeling the weight of the responsibilities so much that they just shut it off and say, ‘Look, this is too big for us.’ You can easily see how people can come to that conclusion. But it took real courage and it took somebody on that commission who was just like them to get up and say what had to be said. That little speech turned that whole room around and they got serious and they got busy and they got back on track and they finished their job.”

Ian Record:

“Did you also encounter during the process, I guess, blowback from community members who may have been either comfortable with the status quo or who just were kind of wary of such a fundamental systemic change as you guys were undertaking?”

James R. Gray:

“Yeah, we had that, and they had their opportunity to say their piece during that process, but it seemed like there was such a momentum that even all the members of the council who, in the waning months of their term, because we’re talking about this constitution was ratified in March of ‘06. So we’re talking like February of ‘06. There was some members of the council who were getting calls from some people who felt like, ‘We don’t need to do this.’ And they started echoing their sentiments in the council chambers. And I felt like, if we were to have another election with just shareholders voting, which was just a few months away, that I really didn’t think that this change was ever going to happen. And I said, ‘You know, it may not be the perfect governing document and it may need to be amended, but the bottom line is that there’s people out there in our tribe, your relatives, my relatives, our relatives, our friends, our neighbors, the people in our community, they’re expecting to vote in this election and we have an obligation to give them something. But if you’re going to stop the commission from having this referendum, which is what they were talking about doing, just shutting it down, then you’re going to have a civil war here. And I really don’t think we have to go that route, that way.’ As a matter of fact, I made it very clear in that tribal council meeting that if we don’t do this and we don’t allow the people to vote on their constitution, then in three weeks I’m announcing a constitutional convention here in Pawhuska and whoever’s in the room’s going to be the ones that draft that constitution and that’s what we’re going to have. But we’re going to have a constitution one way or the other. And I know I get the heat too from people having second thoughts and questioning whether or not we’re doing the right thing, and all this stuff. And whenever you are at that moment of critical mass, you got to go back to why you even did it to begin with. And you've got to restate all those reasons why we did this. Why did we go to U.S. Congress to get the law changed? Why did we start a government reform commission? Why did we want to go listen to what everyone else had to think about what their government was? And why did we want to write it down? Why did we did we put it in the constitution? Because it allows people authenticity of knowing that they’re efforts actually translated into something real. To abandon the game at this juncture would’ve set this nation back a generation and it would’ve been very, very difficult to get us back to that day where we were at that point. And I think something happened. It was one of those kind of moments where I think people really kind of come to grips with the fact that we’re going to have to go forward, especially when I knew they were going to do a constitutional convention where...it was funny. But I really do think there was some hesitancy right there towards the end. But at the end of the day, two-thirds of the people voted in favor of it, and it passed big. And that constitution enabled us to go forward and have the elections and do all the rest of the stuff that we needed to do since then.”

Ian Record:

“This is a follow-up question. I’ve been struck by some of the tribes that I’ve worked with on the issue of constitutional reform about the rush to reform. The problems are so immense. And there’s been a consensus reached in the community that the main reason for a lot of these problems, or at least part of the problem, part of the reason for these problems is we have an inadequate constitution and system of government. We got to change it. But what we see in a lot of communities is that there’s not even a basic understanding of how the constitution affects peoples’ daily lives. And is that something that you guys struggle with, of this not only public education around reform and public’s input of reform, but actually, even before that saying, ‘Here’s what our constitution says, here’s how that translates into your daily life, here’s how it keeps us making good decisions,’ etcetera, etcetera. Is that something you guys encounter?”

James R. Gray:

“I think in practice, once we had the constitution because unlike other circumstances that you all probably encountered where some of the tribes are struggling with the process of amending their IRA [Indian Reorganization Act] constitution or in Oklahoma’s case, Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act, constitutions, and realizing that we were specifically exempt from those two laws, but that was because of the way the 1906 Act had tied those two issues of per caps and membership together. That we didn’t fit neatly into those categories that the other tribes did that allowed them to have some measure of self-governance. But even over time when they had to amend it or change it, it was still, you’re going to the Bureau for the approval and you still had to play the subject to the larger federal system that, what they were willing to allow, what they weren’t willing to allow. And so that always held a lot of tribes back. And in our case, we had an act of Congress that was our IRA and as a result, it made it very, very difficult for us to do it through the normal channels of changing the CFRs or something like that, because once we went out and started talking in the community, before we went to Congress we had a 90-day hold on a resolution. That was all we could pass, we could not pass laws; all we could pass was resolutions. And in that resolution, we wanted to go to U.S. Congress and amend the 1906 Act to allow everyone to participate without messing with the head rights. And I wanted to wait. I wanted to have some public comment. I wanted to have some meetings with the community. And we got some feedback from them and they said, ‘Don’t stop there. Yeah, go ahead. Fix the membership. Do what you have to do, but let’s get our sovereignty back while you’re at it.’ And that was the surprising thing. That didn’t come from the council, that came from the people -- a stack of written documents that were written to us by Osages living all over the country that wanted to see us change -– wholesale change. And in the practice of doing that, we had something to bounce back from. And maybe it was easier to change an existing constitution, maybe it was harder; I don’t know. All I know is we went from an act of Congress on provisions of what our governance was to a constitutional government. So we went from having really no constitution, to having one. And so that process, like you pointed out, became the challenge of this government, which is say, ‘Look, the power of the principal chief’s office is not embedded in my personality,’ which had been in the past, what power the principal chief had for a hundred years. It wasn’t based on any law that said, ‘You have the right to veto. You can do this. You can do that.’ There was no statement of authorities other than the fact that I broke a tie. And that 31st Council, I think they passed over 2,000 votes. I broke five ties and not one of them were good. They were...when you got a divided council like that, you’re going to make half the room happy and you’re going to make the other half mad. You don’t win those things. If you’re the chief, that’s a lousy spot to be in. And so realizing that that was the only authority I had, this constitution empowered the executive with CEO-like authority in our tribal government; to represent the nation, to speak for the nation, to actually have the power to veto the legislation and do things like that. So the education process of our own people, realize that even though this is what they wanted, they said it on paper, seeing it in practice was a completely different thing, was a concept that was foreign to not only the tribe, the people, but the program directors who operated services for the tribe, the process of reporting responsibility to the chief was not something they had to do before. Now they do. And there’s all these other communications that have to back and forth between the two branches of government.”

Ian Record:

“So you undertake reform, you complete it, and you essentially produce an entirely new system of government. And I was wondering if you can talk about perhaps, the three or four major features of that new constitution and system of government, how they differ fundamentally from the previous systems.”

James R. Gray:

“I say the biggest change obviously is the membership, the definition of who a citizen is. Anybody who is a lineal descendant of that original roll that was done in 1906 is a member of the tribe with no more rights and no less rights than any other citizen. Those fundamental principles shifted the balance of power in the tribe, it shifted the politics of the tribe, it shifted the priorities of the tribe in such a big, big way that I don’t even think now I could really grasp how significant of a change that was because for so long we were just completely focused on the price of oil. Because if you weren’t increasing the price of oil, your political future was bleak because the future hope of any tribal elected official was that there was always going to be oil and gas production to ensure a healthy head right check every quarter. And people voted based on how they did during that time they were in office. So even though the tribe had very little control over the price of oil, our political fortunes were totally tied to it, but it dominated the politics of the tribe, it dominated what we felt was important. It identified who the representatives were going to be. And so for the longest time, I can tell you that that was probably the biggest significant thing because once we went a one-man, one-vote government, the whole priorities changed. Language, culture became very important; jobs, economic development became very important. Diversifying an economy out of a total reliance on oil and gas became very important. Education became incredibly important. Health care became very important. Even though we did some of that all on the way during all those years, it never became a mandate like it became with this new government. Because you had all these different people who had all these different interests at work here. The second thing, I would probably have to say is the structure that the minerals council, which is now an independent agency within the tribe that still does the oil and gas leasing responsibilities, and their elections are by shareholders. So that’s the one vestige of the old government that we went with, that we kept intact. And those individuals continued to interact with the BIA and their regional offices and the oil and gas industry. They still do their oil and gas summits. They still do the communications directly to the shareholders. And the shareholders will still continue to be the voters in those elections. So that’s the other significant thing. I think the third thing, and of course there’s other, but I think to stop there would be the empowerment of our tribal court and the executive branch. Basically the tribal court...the courts, the executive branch and the legislative branch all resided in the tribal council for a hundred years. All three of those functions were all there. When we broke those things up into three individual parts, no one was more powerful than the other; every one of them had a role to play. The thing that is probably the most significant thing is realizing that to all those elected officials that serve on the legislature, they felt like this was a diminishment of the old tribal council’s authority because they could not jump in the middle of a court case, they could not come in and overstep the chief and direct a program and actually run a program. I made it real clear, if you just look at the constitution, you look what people said, they didn’t want 12 program directors, they wanted 12 legislators that were going to be in charge of protecting the purse of the nation as well as passing law or enacting legislation and realizing that that was one full-time function that was never given enough attention in the past because we never had the power to make law. So the legislative branch had a massive education program that they had to undertake to understand how laws are written, how the committee systems work. They had the National Society of State Legislatures come in and give them training and there was just this amazing fundamental shift. And those were probably the big three.”

Ian Record:

“So we’ve already touched on this issue of citizen education and engagement, and I was wondering if you could speak a little bit more about that particularly with respect to its importance in the constitutional reform process. If you could talk a bit about the steps that you guys took to ensure that the peoples, the voice of the people would be incorporated fully into this new constitution system of government. The voice of the people came from a lot of different sources, and some of it came strictly as shareholders interested. Some of it came as residents in the housing community. Some of them came as residents in our three villages. Some of it came as a form of an employee club kind of wish list of the things they’d like to see done in the tribe. Some of it came from the little Osage clubs that built up over the years like in Southern California, Northern California, Texas, and New Mexico and Arizona. There’s Osage organizations of people who live out there that they get together and socialize. All of them participated in involvement in one level or another in communication to myself and other elected officials about how they wanted the government run. As far as the process goes ongoing, me and the assistant chief went on the road a couple of times over the last few years to go back and just say, ‘Hey, did we get it right, are we still doing...here’s where we’re at right now, here’s what’s going on, here’s the challenges before us today. Anybody got any questions?’ And of course with the blogs and the internet becoming a source of, ‘Hey, did you hear what the chief did’ kind of stuff, a lot of times I’ve spent on the road trying to just knock down rumors and things like that and realizing that some of the stuff they hear is coming from the least informed individuals in the tribe. And so naturally, they latch on to any kind of conspiracy theory and things like that so it becomes...communication is becoming more and more of an issue. And the method by which we communicate is through our tribal newsletter and our tribal website. The tribal newsletter has gone through a lot of fundamental shifts and changes. We’re trying to create, by Osage law, a fourth estate that actually, there will be an independent newspaper that will report on news of the Osage Nation free of any interference from the tribal congress or my office and the courts and realizing that that is a truly remarkable achievement for any tribe, especially a new democracy like ours. But recognizing that once Osages got a taste of democracy, they want the whole meal, they want an independent press, they want the structures in accountability, the treasurer of the Osage Nation has to issue an annual report. There’s all these fundamental calls for action to insure accountability because the Osages have never really seen the tribe have this kind of money before. We have seven operating casinos today generating $200 million a year in economic activity. We’re the largest employer in Osage County by far. We’re the largest employee of non-Indians by far. We do a lot of charity; we do a lot of community outreach. We have outstanding agreements with the state and federal agencies, local communities, municipalities, school boards, county commissioners, drug courts with the district courts. We have a lot of relationships that we’ve created because the priorities of the nation had changed.”

Ian Record:

“So you mentioned it’s been three years since, a little over three years since the new constitution was passed and new system of government was created. I’m curious to learn what sorts of growing pains you’re encountering as you continue to build and expand and strengthen this amazing system of government.”

James R. Gray:

“I think the biggest challenge for us is communication. I think we have to be better at communicating to each other. We need to be able to do constructive debate. I think that sometimes in a tribal political environment, or even in politics in Washington or at the State Capitol, you’re going to run into elements in our community that are more on the fringe of responsible discourse. And I think the...combine that unbridled right of free speech that is now in our constitution with the access to the internet, with the access to the blogs, with the personal agendas being advanced by a lot of different folks, some of it worthy of attention, some of it not. I’ll leave it up to the reader to decide what’s important. Communication, clear, open, a degree of transparency that not only provides for assurances and accountability, but also, accountability and transparency with a certain caution that you are going to protect the rights of the individuals, you are going to preserve personnel files, you’re going to preserve health records, you’re going to preserve the Social Security numbers that are contained in our enrollment list in our membership office. So there’s an obligation that we have an open records act, that we also have an obligation of creating a privacy act to go right along with it just so that we balance out the needs of the individuals against the needs of the tribe and the responsibilities both have. And there’s a lot of work to do in this area. There’s a mountain of work to do in this area. And probably right now we’re just struggling through the simple little petty power politics that happens with a new tribal, a new government of any kind. So unfortunately we’ve been digressed a bit by some of those side issues, but the primary function of the tribe is to take care of its people. And the institutions that the nation has are all there. We have a mandate from the people to protect and preserve our culture and language. We have a mandate from the people to create jobs and economic diversification. We have a mandate to the people to ensure the protection of the Osage mineral state. We have enormous beneficial financial resources from our gaming operations. All seven of our casinos are paid for and they’re all just bringing in money right now. And so we’re at a point now where we can reinvest those dollars in all different kinds of ways, reclaiming our history and being able to tell our story because we’ve never been able to do that. Going back to setting up systems of accountability to ensure the compliance is done for federal and state and tribal laws that have overlapping jurisdiction in our communities, making sure that whenever we hire someone, that they are allowed due process rights. And so political hires are separate from all that. Everyone else -- just like in the federal government system -- has their own employee protection rights. They have it in state governments as well because those employees are career employees. They’ll be there long after I’m gone still doing their job. And they should be, if they’re going to commit their career and their family to living in Pawhuska and working for their tribe and working at capacity, that at the very least, the tribe owes them a commitment to assure that their pension is not going to get jacked with or their personnel rights are not going to be destroyed. And they’ll be expected to do a good job and if they do a good job, they’ll be financially rewarded for that. There’s a lot of things that’s put upon all of us to build this nation up right, and it’s an enormous challenge. It’s something that I did not really anticipate fully until I actually had to roll up my sleeve and actually get in the business of doing it.”

Ian Record:

“Well it’s probably good you didn’t fully anticipate it or you might have had second thoughts. Equally impressive, from our perspective, as the constitution is the comprehensive strategic plan process that you guys embarked on directly on the heels of the ratification of the new constitution. As if the constitutional reform wasn’t exhaustive enough, you said let’s do comprehensive strategic planning for the entire nation. Why did the nation decide it was so important to take that step at that time?”

James R. Gray:

“I came up with this idea actually when I was campaigning for chief in 2006, when I was running for re-election. And I was sitting back there at all the political forums and I would just sit in the back row and usually I would let everyone else go talk first. One day I just sat there after going to about my 15th or 16th one, you hear the same speeches from the same candidates who followed me at all the other events that we went to and I took a note pad and I just started putting a dollar amount next to every campaign promise that was being made by every elected official. And so when I got up there and spoke, and at this particular event I spoke last, and I said, ‘Well, because of the casinos that we have right now we probably generate about $25 to $35 million annually...,’ that was the existing numbers that we had at the time, ‘...of revenue, of which about $20 million of it is spent on government operations. So that leaves us about $10 to $15 million that we get to save, invest, reinvest, create new program services, build, buy land, do all this other stuff; all the things that you’ve been hearing. I just want to let you all know...,’ and I was just talking to everybody in the room and I said, ‘...I just added it up, there’s roughly from when you add the oil and gas refinery to the, we want to build our own lake, we want to buy all our land back, we want to...and all of a sudden you start putting an actual dollar number next to this and I’m sitting here looking at about three-quarters of a billion dollars of campaign promises. And I just told you we only get about $10 to $15 million a year. Now, how are you going to prioritize the stuff that you know you could do now against the stuff that you want to do, but you know it’s going to take a long time to get there and realizing that there’s going to have to be some kind of prioritization of ideas that need to be implemented under this new government?’ And so after I got elected, and I was talking to our senior planner after I gave my speech, after I was inaugurated the second term, I said, ‘How many tribal leaders do you know of when given the opportunity to give a speech to this audience on this occasion would use it to give a policy speech?’ And I said, ‘I feel like I missed the opportunity here to do something really grand,’ but unfortunately all I talked about was strategic planning and realizing that with limited resources -- but significant -- it was necessary for us to prioritize what we wanted this government to do.”

Ian Record:

“And I know that in this strategic planning process, the Osage Nation essentially followed this same inclusive comprehensive approach to getting the citizens’ input.”

James R. Gray:

"I think we used that as an element of the process. Like I talked to you about earlier -- that I wasn’t really interested in the outcome. I just wanted to make sure that everyone had enough ownership into that thing that they felt like that’s their plan too. It’s not my plan; it’s the people’s plan. We drove that home again and again and again. I said, ‘Look, you’re going to be the one...we already know what our past is. We’ve seen, we’ve lived through it, and we know it from shared stories that we’ve had, oral traditions and things of that nature. Today we’re here to talk about the future and we want you to write it. And as an Osage citizen newly endowed with inalienable rights to pursue that goal is the focus of this work.’ So we walked everybody through it and it created such a tsunami of excitement, enthusiasm, optimism, political engagement that we have never seen before from the citizenry because they really did take that seriously. And we didn’t just go once. After we did the initial round of the town hall meetings we came back, we brought together a group of Osage citizens that were program directors, elected officials, judges, employees, community leaders, cultural leaders, elders, people who lived off the reservation, and we brought them all back to go through the results of all those town hall meetings and consolidate these projects and these ideas and notions of governments exercising their sovereignty in all these different ways, broke them down into six different categories. And then we broke them down even further into projects and we rewrote basically what we felt was probably the appropriate way to put it back out to the people in the form of a survey. And we asked them, ‘Based on these descriptions that you’ve told us, how would you rank the most important ones?’ So they were given the opportunity to yet again provide additional input. After we got the feedback from those surveys we were able to break them down in the six categories -- economic development, environment, education, health care, government and justice and minerals and natural resources -- and in those six categories, it had specific things that they were supposed to do. We listed all the programs and departments and institutions of the government in a different grid and depending on what the project was it indicated which program department was responsible for carrying it out, which one would support, which one was going to lead and so we had our marching orders. It gave us such clarity as to what was going to happen and how we were going to get there. That was the remarkable achievement and that’s why it was so much more of a valuable management tool, as was the constitution was for the people. The constitution gave you the road map, the strategic plan put you in the car and filled up the tank, who gets on the bus. I mean it was...in other words, you had to get that first and then you build upon it all these other things. And part of that strategic plan was to give us some sense of direction, that with this government, we can achieve all these things. And that became the major accomplishment out of that whole process.”

Ian Record:

“Doesn’t also, too, make your day-to-day challenge, your daily challenges as an elected leader that much easier, when you have that strategic plan to use as a guide to make those decisions to decide whether to put this fire out or not, or put that fire out or not?”

James R. Gray:

“Right. Like I said, it’s an excellent management tool because you know what your priorities are. You walk in the door every morning to go to work. You know what you’re going to do. Now, there’s uncertainty all the time in this business as a tribal leader. You never know what’s going to happen. There could be a water leak in the casino that forced [you] to close it. I mean you deal with the crisis of the day, but once that has been addressed, then you have all this other stuff that’s already been laid out for you. And our challenge right now is getting our employees and our directors in a structure, an employment structure that rewards their hard work, that doesn’t just reward quit and stay, that rewards accomplishments, that puts the programs on a performance-based management tool. All these things came right out of strategic planning. Then we realized, it’s not going to be easy getting some of these individuals that worked under that old system their whole careers to switch to something brand new without the necessary trainings. So we had to invest a lot into their education on working in teams and understanding the performance-based budget, and understanding how to draft their budgets. For years, the CFO [chief financial officer] did everyone’s budgets. And when I came in, I tore that thing down and really, I said, ‘Look, if you want to be paid as a director, then I think you should know what your budget is.’ So with all the assistance and providing from the accounting and taking them to classes and getting software installed on our computers, all the directors did their own budgets, and it was a major accomplishment. I mean these kind of changes don’t happen overnight. You have to really invest in education and training of getting your people motivated. And that’s that old saying, just because someone has the right degree, from the right school, that had X amount of years in the workforce, if they’ve got a lousy attitude, they’ll never work out. If you’ve got someone with just the bare minimum educational qualities, with just the bare minimum of work experience, but they are so on fire to do a great job, you can do so much more with that individual just because their attitude’s changed. And my job primarily is to keep people fired up about this and acknowledging our successes whenever we have them and reward these guys. And so the real challenge for us is to take the strategic plan off the paper and put it into a service and put it into program and put it into action. And so that’s the process we’re in right now. We’re doing this massive reorganization of the employee structure. How we pay, the merit pay system, all the things that we’re doing with training and education, working in teams, breaking this up into divisions, and getting ourselves out of that old tribal council mentality that any of these [Osage] Congressmen can come into your office and tell you who to hire, who not to hire, who to contract, who not to contract with, where you’re going to put your desk to where you’re going to order your pens from. That kind of micromanaging is gone and so they’re empowered with those responsibilities, but if they’re going to have the responsibilities here’s the parameters and here’s the training you’re going to get.”

Ian Record:

“So we were just talking about your...this issue of leadership and how the new system, the new constitution and the new system of government has essentially empowered you to do your job better, to manage more effectively, to administer the decisions the [Osage] Congress makes more effectively. I’ve heard the challenge of being a tribal leader described as drinking from a fire hose, in terms of trying to manage all the pressures that you face on a day-to-day basis and forge ahead on behalf of the nation, moving the community forward. And I was wondering if you could speak to that challenge and how, perhaps, what advice you would give new leaders as to how to handle that load, forge ahead and actually make a difference in the long run.”

James R. Gray:

“I think in my situation, because for four years I didn’t have that kind of responsibility, and in the last four years I have had that kind of responsibility, it became real clear to me that chief of the Osage Nation under this government has a lot more responsibility to communicate. There’s a lot more communication responsibility both internally and externally. I think we have a duty, more than anything else to let people know, certainly those that live within the Osage Nation, but aren’t Osage, that we’re not out to get them or we’re part of the community; we’re a good corporate entity that does a lot charity, that does a lot of community projects, that does a lot of outreach, that does a lot of outstanding agreements with municipalities and county governments and state and overlapping federal agencies that have a variety of different kinds of jurisdiction here, that interact with the tribe, that there’s an external component, almost like a secretary of state application. And if you don’t do that, if you’re not paying attention to that, that stuff can kill you as a tribal leader if you don’t take care of those things. So you’ve got to have someone that’s paying attention to that so that you can meet those obligations. Internally, like I told you before, the work that we’re engaged in right now of building, creating building blocks of institutions of governance that...in fact, contracting and employment policies and our due process rights of individual citizens and employees, whether they’re Indian or not, have enormous implications upon the tribe to have some kind of adequate procedures in place, whether it’s by law or by administrative procedures. In the effect of actually trying to create a nation that has all these moving parts and all these gears of information coming in and out, you can really tell where the gaps are because you end up spending more and more time on certain issues, the same issue over and over again. And so you’ve got to have a good, quality internal staff that actually manages the programs, anticipating the next big fight or dilemma or challenge or obstacle, and be able to look around the corner a little bit and try to prepare for that. Then you have the outstanding issues that you can only achieve by litigation, that you only have to achieve by getting legislation passed, and things of that nature. So your job as a leader is managing a thousand moving parts constantly and realizing that you don’t have the capacity to deal with all of that yourself. So the best advice I can give to a tribal leader is to hire a bunch of people way smarter than you because if they’re relying on my IQ then we’re in a lot worse shape than I thought, but at least I’m smart enough to know that if I can get some smart people to come work for this tribe and give them the resources and turn them loose to do those things, to anticipate the next fight, to deal with the crisis of the day, to implement the future strategic plan, to live within the confines of the constitution, to work with our counterparts in Congress, to work with the state and local governments in an effective manner that projects real sovereignty, one that we don’t ask permission to exercise, one that we exercise because it is inherent and to say that, but to do it is the implementation and to do it effectively with the right people and the tools that provide for the accountability and the transparency that the people expect. That is the...that, in essence, is the kind of thing that you have to do as a tribal leader.”

Ian Record:

“Well Chief Gray, I really appreciate your time. Thank you for sharing your experience and your wisdom and your perspectives on Native nation building with us.”

James R. Gray:

“All right. You’re welcome."

John McCoy: The Tulalip Tribes: Building and Exercising the Rule of Law for Economic Growth

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Former Manager of Quil Ceda Village John McCoy discusses how the Tulalip Tribes have systematically strengthened their governance capacity and rule of law in order to foster economic diversification and growth. He also stresses the importance of Native nations building relationships with other governments and non-governmental partners in order to achieve their strategic goals.

People
Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

McCoy, John. "The Tulalip Tribes: Building and Exercising the Rule of Law for Economic Growth." Leading Native Nations interview series. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, The University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. September 18, 2009. Interview.

Ian Record:

“Well I’m here with John McCoy who is the general manager of Quil Ceda Village, which is an economic development entity of the Tulalip Tribes in Washington, and he also serves as representative for District 38 in the State of Washington legislature. I’d like to thank you for being with us today.”

John McCoy:

“I’m very happy to be here.”

Ian Record:

“I’d like to start by asking you a question that I ask of virtually everyone I sit down and chat with and that is, how would you define Native nation building and what does it specifically involve for your nation?”

John McCoy:

“Native nation building is providing whatever particular tribe it is the tools in order for them to govern themselves and provide tools like economic development for self-sufficiency.”

Ian Record:

“How about for Tulalip, what does that involve for you, that process that you just described?”

John McCoy:

“Well, at Tulalip we began a number of years ago. In the ‘80s our chairman at the time, Stan Jones, was very instrumental in getting the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act passed in 1988. And so with that act then, tribes started to move to build these casinos so that they can get resources to do economic development. So at Tulalip, we opened our first casino in ‘92, but we had a bingo operation that opened in ‘82, then a casino that opened in ‘92 and we began the process of diversification. And so consequently, through that diversification, we created Quil Ceda Village, which is a federal city that we created with the help of the federal government. And so that established our economic base and the need to start diversifying, because gaming could go away at the stroke of a pen on any day, any time, so we needed to diversify. So we’ve been on a quest, if you will, of diversifying our economic base. Right now, the base is primarily retail and gaming, but we need to do other things, technical, biomed, biotech, anything along those lines. And so I am working to attract those type businesses to Tulalip. So this is a long-term process, that is our vision and our goal and every now and then we’ll meet to adjust the goal. We don’t change the goal, we adjust it, and then figure out what we need to do for the next five years to get to that goal.”

Ian Record:

“So you mentioned that Quil Ceda Village, which has become the economic engine along with gaming for the Tulalip Tribes and specifically moved it down this path of economic diversification, which as you mentioned is critical to sustainability because you don’t want to be in the situation where you have that one economy or that one industry that you’re relying solely on. How did Tulalip Tribes come to the point where it said, ‘Federally chartered city, this is the way to go,’ because as far as I know, you’re the only tribe that has a federally chartered city?”

John McCoy:

“Yes, we do. In fact, there are only two federal cities in the United States: Quil Ceda Village and Washington, D.C. We’re the only two. Back in ‘94, summer of ‘94, we had a general council meeting and out of that general council meeting they told the business manager, who was me, that I was not to do any development on the interior of the reservation, I could only do development in the northeast corner of the reservation along I-5. So with that in mind, I started looking around at the properties up there in the northeast corner of the reservation. Well, at the time, a very large chunk of it was taken up by Boeing. Boeing had their test facility out there where they tested engines, where they did the shooting the chicken into the windshield, testing the covers off missile silos; they did all kinds of interesting things out there. Well, that lease was to lapse in 2001, but they had the option, their option, to extend it out to 2011. So looking at everything that had been done, and I talked with the council and they basically told me, ‘Politely ask Boeing to leave, that we need that property for our economic development.’ So I began the discussion with Boeing and they agreed that they would leave in 2001. We actually...they started their cleanup and dismantling their facilities out there and they discovered that they actually could leave by 1999. So they actually left, but they still paid us for the two years left remaining on the lease, which was nice of them. And then we proceeded about the development of Quil Ceda Village. Well, a reservation attorney and I had been having numerous conversations about, ‘How should we structure this? What would be the most advantageous to the tribe?’ And our reservation attorney, a lot of folks know Mike Taylor, he’s quite an innovative guy. And so he came and he said, ‘Well, this has never been done before and I’ve done a lot of these business deals and structures and everything.’ He said, ‘Let’s try a federal city.’ And I had to think about that, right, because no other tribe had done it. The Navajo had done one, but it was purely within their own bounds and for their own reasons; ours was to attract off-reservation businesses on to the reservation. So our structure was totally different than the Navajo model. So we created this federal city. We had to get approval of the IRS [Internal Revenue Service], Department of Justice, and Department of Interior, and that’s a very long story, but anyway, we got it done. And so we created the city and we did that for a couple reasons: to position ourselves to be able to employ our own taxes -- and a lot of folks just don’t understand tribal governments. You say 'tribal government' and their eyes roll back in their heads. They just don’t get it. They don’t...whereas almost every tribal government in the United States is structured like a state government, everybody understands state government, but for some reason when you say tribal government, they just lose it. So we created the Consolidated Borough of Quil Ceda Village and called it a municipality. Then everybody was okay with that, they understood that. And so we created a charter, we created ordinances, and we put them all online. So anybody can go to the Quil Ceda Village website and see all our ordinances and our charter and our leasing procedures. Our leasing procedures were very important because then potential tenants could go online and see what the process was, have their attorneys look at it, and then we could work on a deal. So we had something that they could see and that it was a process and they understood the process. So there was no mystery there. The only hang up that we get is that we have a very aggressive -- progressive, not aggressive -- progressive court system and so any disputes we have in the contracts they’ll be done in tribal court. Well, a lot of them balk at that. We’ve had some tenants that we really wanted, wouldn’t come in just because of that fact, but I also reminded them that their court system was hostile to me. So it’s not a good environment. I said, ‘Our court system is very progressive.’ And in fact, in ‘94 I went to West Law and asked them if they would post tribal ordinances and opinions and court decisions and all that; [they] didn’t want to talk to me. Three years ago, they come to the door, ‘Would you join us?’ And I said, 'Naturally, we’ll join you.’ And so now our opinions, ordinances and decisions are posted on West Law so that everybody can see our track record. And a number of other tribes are doing that also, which is very good for Indian Country because now everyone can see how the courts are functioning and they can have a degree of basically a predictable outcome and that way tribes will then get full faith and credit. So that’s the big deal, full faith and credit.”

Ian Record:

“So you made reference to the charters, the codes, the ordinances, the procedures that you guys had to put in place to make this very innovative approach to economic development work. Can you speak to perhaps some of the other legal infrastructures, the other political infrastructures and perhaps the capacities that you guys had to put in place to really pull this thing off?”

John McCoy:

“It was very deliberative because we had to plan everything and put it in sequence. We had to come up with a ‘governmental structure’ for the Quil Ceda Village. And so what we did is that Quil Ceda Village is a political subdivision of the Tulalip Tribes, but it has three council members. Those three council members govern what goes on in Quil Ceda Village. And so once we established that, then we got our charter done and then we started employing our ordinances. Now we employed ordinances as we need them because me as a state legislator understand that too many ordinances become an encumbrance. And so I’m trying to address some of those issues in the state government. But in Quil Ceda Village, because I have some control over it, we only issue ordinances as we run into problems or if we anticipate a problem, we see something coming down and then we’ll create an ordinance and then we’ll post it. And it’s done...that process is just like any other municipality. They have to have two open meetings and then...before the passage of the ordinance. They are public meetings. All our meetings are posted online. So we put all those in place and we’re functioning like a government. We do everything else that any other municipality does. We take care of roads, traffic lights, street lights, water lines, sewer lines and we also have a state-of-the-art sewer plant.”

Ian Record:

“You mentioned your tribal court system and how progressive it is. We’ve had occasion to bring one of your judges, Theresa Pouley, down to some of our seminars with tribal leaders and she takes them through a very powerful overview of the incredible work that they’re doing there in the court system. Can you talk about that court system and specifically what prompted Tulalip to essentially reclaim the function of justice, providing justice to the tribes? Because previous to the establishment of the current court system that was something that the State of Washington largely had control of.”

John McCoy:

“Right. For a tribal government to operate effectively, they need all the tools in the tool bag in order to be effective in the protection of their sovereignty, the treaty protections and those issues. So in ‘94, Mike Taylor again, he said, ‘John, we need to get the state to retrocede.' So I took that up and I went to Olympia and created legislation. It took me a couple years to get it passed, but they finally passed it. I kept reminding them while I was lobbying them saying, ‘There’s seven other tribes that already retroceded so you’re just adding us.’ But there were some tense moments of some very conservative-viewed people that didn’t like that idea that law enforcement, tribal law enforcement could arrest somebody. So that happened on both sides of the aisles, it just wasn’t any one party. So that took a little bit of work on my part, but we got it done. So then that allowed us to open up and create our own law enforcement department. Well, when you’re going to be doing things in law enforcement, you need a court system. So we started building the court system along with the law enforcement. We built them together. And so our court system has gotten quite progressively, like I’ve said. They do the standard court proceedings, but we also do the one step further in bringing in our culture. We have an elders' panel that reviews and works with first time offenders. So these are non-violent crimes; violent crimes have got to do the normal process, but the non-violent crimes, the elder panel will do an intervention and they will work with them and hopefully help them to see the error of their ways and that they start making the appropriate decisions. So that’s actually been quite effective and so we’re quite proud of it. And so because of the notoriety we got from our court system being honored by the Honoring [Nations] Program, we’ve had tribes from around the nation come in to see our courts and we’ve also had Afghan come to our court to view it. And one of their...the professor that...the UW professor that brought them up, through his wife, who is a state legislator, had informed me that after the visit to our court system the Afghan judge said, ‘Well, your western law’s okay, but we like that tribal court better.’ So that was quite a feather in the hat.”

Ian Record:

“And your court system over the past several years has really begun to produce some pretty dramatic results in terms of its ability to combat crime through the alternative methods, through the restorative justice approach than the predecessor did it, and it’s the kind of standard western punitive approach to justice.”

John McCoy:

“Right.”

Ian Record:

“Isn’t that right?”

John McCoy:

“Yes. So that’s why I, down in the state legislature I talk about those things down there. Why, these first-time offenders, why do we got to throw them in jail? Why don’t we have an intervention program? So the state had been doing drug courts, which were good. Unfortunately, this last session there were some budget cuts and a few of the drug courts got cut. But we need to do more of that. Tribes know how to do it. They’ve been doing them for millenniums and that’s how they...that’s what their court system was, intervention and trying to show them the error of their ways and start making more appropriate decisions. So there’s...I say that our non-Indian friends, I tell them, I said, ‘Don’t you get a little envious that you don’t have any culture? You have none. Whereas we have some culture, we have some history that for millennium and we did things like that.’ So to me it’s the right approach. That’s how it should be done. Just take the first-time offender. Most of the time it’s a young person, young people they think they’re indestructible. The world is their playpen and basically they do the right things and then for maybe 30 seconds out of their life they did something wrong. If it’s non-violent, we should intervene and help them work through that, not throw them in jail because if you incarcerate them, where are they going? They’re going in with a bunch of other bad people that really do bad things and they give their stories to this person and they pick up some more bad things to do. So let’s keep them out, let’s intervene first. If it doesn’t work, then you do the other methods.”

Ian Record:

“So just how critical are tribal justice systems overall, which include the court, law enforcement, etc., just how critical a role do they play in rebuilding Native nations?”

John McCoy:

“That is all part of the structure. That is how you...how you use and deploy, implement your sovereignty. Those are tools. This is how it leads to self-sufficiency. You have control of your destiny. You are making tribal governments make the rules. They just need a court system to help them follow the rules that they wrote, which is only appropriate because that’s what everybody else does, so why not us? So law enforcement and court systems, health systems, family services, those are all integral parts of a tribal government in order to be self-sustaining and self-governing.”

Ian Record:

“A follow-up question to that about justice systems: what role do they play in terms of supporting a Native nation’s efforts to create a strong economy, a strong sustainable economy?”

John McCoy:

“Law enforcement gives your customer base a sense of safety, that there’s somebody here to protect me when I’m there. At Quil Ceda Village during the normal week, we get over 30,000 visitors a day. During the weekend, it’s over 50,000 a day. So the mere presence of the law enforcement vehicle cruising the parking lots and the streets and everything gives everybody a sense of safety, that they’re protected and that they can come here and enjoy whatever the amenities are and not have to worry about being harmed.”

Ian Record:

“The research of the Native Nations Institute and the Harvard Project has found that in fact, justice systems are a critical pivotal factor in whether a Native nation can create a strong economy, one that can stand the test of time and I’m curious to know, the Tulalip Tribes are one of those regarded as having a very strong, a very independent, empowered court system. And so from that experience, I was wondering if you could speak to what you feel are the requirements of a strong, independent court system. What does it look like, what does it require? Granted it may, because of cultural reasons, it may look a little bit different from place to place, it may employ different methods, but in terms of organizationally, functionally, institutionally, what does a strong independent court system require?”

John McCoy:

“Again, you hear me say tools a lot. This is a tool. Naturally you need your judges, experienced trained judges. You need your court clerks and that they know how to run the court so that the judges can do what they do and don’t have to worry about the administration; so you need a good strong administrative section. You also need public defenders because not everybody can afford an attorney; so you need public defenders. And then, we like to think all judges judge and sentence the same way. Well, they’re human beings and on occasion they make a mistake and so consequently you need an appeal system. So you have to have an appeal system in place so that something could be appealed. Now after that appeal, if you still don’t like it, well, then that’s when you move to the federal courts. So there is redress, you have protections of public defenders, you have your prosecutor and then they all are independent. They make their decisions, then you have the judge making their decision or the jury, yes, we have juries and we have an appeal system. So that’s what really makes it strong. You have all the elements, everybody knows what their job is and they just implement.”

Ian Record:

“And doesn’t that then require tribal leadership, particularly legislators who are setting a budget, to treat and fund those justice systems as a full arm of the government and not necessarily as a program? We often hear tribal judges for instance lament the fact that ‘Where I work, they treat us as just another program,’ versus something larger and something more encompassing.”

John McCoy:

“Right. They have to be independent. They have to be independent and not worry about political consequences. So consequently at Tulalip the court system comes in, here’s the budget. So normally, without hesitation they say, ‘Okay, here’s your money.’ They can’t tell them how to spend it, they just give them the money and then they...the court administration then takes care of the budget. So you have to give them that autonomy. Same with law enforcement, you’ve got to do the same with law enforcement. ‘Here’s your money, now you go do your job.’”

Ian Record:

“And I would assume that holds true for not just the justice systems, but the other critical functions of tribal government...”

John McCoy:

“Yes.”

Ian Record:

“...where leadership has to, at some point, say, ‘I’m going to delegate this authority to you to carry out the long-term goals of the nation.’”

John McCoy:

“Right. So that’s where the leadership, the elected leadership, their role is set policy, their role is not day-to-day administration. They set policy, then let their organizations function. Trust them, they’ll do the right thing.”

Ian Record:

“I want to turn back to economic development for a bit. And the NNI and Harvard Project research over the past few decades has clearly shown that rules are more important than resources when it comes to building strong economies. So for instance, you can be a nation with tremendous resources, perhaps natural resources, human resources, financial resources, but if you have a lousy set of institutions or rules, you’re going to be hampered in your ability to move your nation forward. Whereas, on the flip side, you may be a nation that has limited resources, but if you put in place a really good environment of rules you can really leverage those limited resources and begin to grow your nation and move it forward. Is that something you see and perhaps one of the reasons why Tulalip has paid such great attention to this issue of rules?”

John McCoy:

“That is correct. When I first came home in ‘94, I had gone off in the Air Force for 20 years and then I worked for a large computer firm for another 12 and then I came home. The rules and regulations and policies that were in place at the time were for a government of maybe 75 people or less. But when I came home in ‘94, we were up to just a little over 200 and so...and then policies, procedures and ordinances hadn’t been updated and so they were unwieldy, they were difficult to use for a larger organization. So we set about changing those. The first one we had to do, which was the most glaring, was a new human resources ordinance. That had to be done, it was accomplished, had input from lots of folks, and so it’s a good ordinance. The only issue that I might have with it, its management is guilty until proven innocent. Everything is on the employee. So anyway, it causes the managers to be really on their toes making sure that they’re doing things right. So in that process there’s also an employee grievance system, you need that. So you need some sort of dispute resolution in there so we have a very good dispute resolution process. So the rules are published and they’re out there for everybody to follow. When someone new comes onboard, they’re given a copy. ‘Here’s your copy of the human resources ordinance,’ and we make them sign a receipt for it so they acknowledge that they got it. Now we can’t make them read it, but it’s there for them. So then there was other ordinance, the ordinance of setting up the courts, the ordinance setting up the law enforcement, those had to be accomplished and then those things that they needed to make them function. So setting up strong policies is a necessity because you need predictability. Back running...when tribes were very small, employees of two, three, 10, 20, 30 people, well, you can run it like a mom-and-pop grocery store. Well, now, tribal governments are big business. They can’t be run like a mom-and-pop grocery store. You need processes in place to remove as much of the political atmosphere as possible so that they can function with reliability and respectability.”

Ian Record:

“So from what you’re saying, those are essentially vital to the efforts of the Tulalip Tribes and other Native nations across Indian Country to move from the days when they largely relied on a dependent economy, if you will, where they’re heavily reliant on outsiders for instance for federal appropriations and transfers to get by to essentially a situation where Native nations themselves are in the driver’s seat of economic development. So it’s those codes, it’s those institutions that you talked about. Are there any other vital pieces to that puzzle of moving from that dependent economy to a productive self-sufficient economy that you can share with us?”

John McCoy:

“Sure and it’s quite simple, it’s education. One of the things that I helped Dr. Alan Parker set up, and there are a number of [them] like at the University of Arizona, that you have these classes where you put in tribal government like the Master's of Political or Public Administration. At Evergreen State there’s, I think it’s two weeks of total immersion into tribal government as part of public administration. So that way when a tribal member gets an MPA, not only do they get exposed to the non-Indian type processes, but they get exposed to good practices in Indian Country so that they understand what their role is. So education is extremely important. At Tulalip, any tribal member that wants to go onto continuing education, whether it’s into the trades, community college, four-year university, graduate school, we pay for it.”

Ian Record:

“I want to start off with a general question, which is how does collaboration or building those relationships that I just mentioned empower Native nations to advance their strategic priorities?”

John McCoy:

“Okay, as you remember your history, we’ve been here for millennia. So we’ve always been here and we’re not going anywhere. Well, they’re not going anywhere either. So we have to learn to work and play together and you do that through collaboration, by working with the surrounding communities in solving the common problems. And we do, we have common problems. So for it to be a successful endeavor, then we need these collaborations not, like I said, we’ve got our own law enforcement, we have our own courts, but we still because we interact with non-Indians, we still need their law enforcement and their court system because when we catch a bad guy on the reservation who’s non-Indian, well, we’ve got to turn them over to the state court. So we have an MOU in place between our law enforcement and the Snohomish County Sheriffs that says, if we apprehend a non-Indian, we turn them over and they have the full faith and credit of the law officer that did the apprehension that his testimony in court will be valid. So in that process if we have to put an Indian in jail, well, we don’t have our own jail so we need an agreement with the county to incarcerate our person their jail and pay for it. So court system, same thing, working with cities on water agreements, sewer agreements. So we have a lot of common issues that we need to address and being able to work so that we build a trustful relationship because if everybody around us hates us, then it’s going to be difficult for your economic engine to work. So you have to work hard. It’s okay to say, ‘I’m Indian and this is my land,’ but we need your help and support. So you have to educate them about yourself so they know who they’re working with and then you can build these collaborative relationships.”

Ian Record:

“We see the sentiment out there in Indian Country and I think we’re seeing it less and less, but that tribal sovereignty means you need to insulate yourself and you need to kind of be those islands within surrounding hostility and therefore if you enter into some of these MOUs for instance with the state jurisdiction or local municipality you’re somehow relinquishing your sovereignty by doing that or by compromising your ideal solution if you will. But aren’t in fact those sorts of initiatives that Tulalip Tribes and many other tribes are taking more and more, aren’t those in fact an expression of sovereignty because you as a tribal government, as a nation are making that sovereign choice to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to engage this group. We’re going to engage this group, we’re going to develop this relationship in order to advance our strategic priorities’?”

John McCoy:

“That’s correct. At Tulalip, we view these collaboration efforts as strengthening our sovereignty. We’re not creating... Yes, in essence we’ve created an island, but it’s a seamless border because we’ve cross-deputized our officers; they can go on and off the reservation. In fact, yesterday the Washington State Supreme Court, even without an agreement, a tribal law enforcement [officer] can continue a fresh pursuit off reservation and that was a decision yesterday by the Washington State Supreme Court. So yes, in essence, if you want to look at a political boundaries and things, yes, it’s an island, but it’s how you employ it by collaborations, agreements, then those are just lines that can be crossed easily back and forth. And in Tulalip’s opinion, it strengthens our sovereignty because we’re getting recognition of our borders, of our jurisdiction.”

Ian Record:

“And it’s ultimately about solving problems. And I know from my research on Tulalip that you’re undertaking these sorts of efforts not just with other jurisdictions, but with other parties in order to solve problems, other private interests and a great example of that is the anaerobic digester plant. I hope I pronounced that correctly. This project that you developed working with some traditional adversaries, the local dairy farmers, who you, previous to this project, had battled for years on the issue of water and water quality. Can you talk a little bit about that project and how it came about and how it’s serving the interests of the nation?”

John McCoy:

“Okay, well, the dairymen actually came to us through our Natural Resources Department and they came to us and to me and we began the discussion. And we put it together because it was the right thing to do. We didn’t want any more animal waste going into rivers and streams. Well, how do you do that? Well, your farm’s got to be big enough to where you put it out on the fields and plow it under and enrich the earth, but they had more dairy product than they had land. So what do we do with this? Well, so we decided to work with the dairymen on this project. So as what I had to do, we had to find some land near the dairymen. Well, out there near the dairymen is the Monroe State Penitentiary. Well, they had what they called an honor farm, which was the dairy farm that provided milk for the prison. Well, that turned out to be not as cost effective and so the Monroe honor farm was decommissioned. So what are we going to do with the land? Well, we went to the state and said, ‘The tribe...’ -- now this was before I was elected -- and asked, ‘Can we have the land because you’re getting ready to declare it excess and in the rules, state and federal, tribes are at the top of the list to get excess property and we would like to use it to build an anaerobic digester on it.’ So we take the cow manure out of the system and we create methane gas, which we’ll filter, which will drive a turbine engine to generate electricity.’ So we started that process. Then I got elected and helped pass the bill to make it happen. So as long as that property is used for alternative energy, we can have the land, but if we do something else with it then it reverts back to the state. And it just so happens, I was approached by students from Seattle University that want to go out and do some algae experiments, which is alternative energy. They don’t want to do the traditional turning algae into a bio diesel; they want to look at other processes for algae. That’s a great idea so I said, ‘Yeah, we’ll do that.’ So we’re setting that process up in place right now. But the anaerobic digester is up and running. I had to change map metering law that allows for a generation facility that’s not on the dairy farm, but the dairy farms still get credit for the electricity that’s generated and so we got that law changed. Naturally, it was for the entire state not just for Tulalip, it’s the entire state. So a number of jurisdictions have enjoyed that map metering process and they’re quite happy with it. So the dairymen reduced their electrical cost because they’re generating electricity, then we’re also creating from the solids that are left, we take out, mix it with a little dirt, bag it up and sell it as fertilizer. So it all gets used.”

Ian Record:

“And the revenue from that is, from my understanding, being plowed back into some of your natural resource restoration programs.”

John McCoy:

“Yes.”

Ian Record:

“Because the ultimate goal, from what I understand, is that you want to improve the water quality of the local watersheds in order to bring the salmon back or at least have them come back at a much greater rate.”

John McCoy:

“Right. We’re doing a number of infrastructure projects for salmon enhancement like the membrane sewer plant that we installed. We just had a study done that gave us a draft of it from the University of Washington and Western Washington University that the output does remove pharmaceuticals including disruptors, birth control pills. And so with these reports done, now we should be able, be permitted to discharge straight into streams and rivers because the output exceeds federal drinking water standards. It’s actually too warm for salmon and it’s actually too clean for salmon, so we’re going to put it into a wetland to cool down and get a little nutrients and then let it flow into streams and rivers. And because of that plant that we put in, we convinced the city of Seattle to change their Bright Water Project over to a membrane technology. And other jurisdictions around us have come and visited and looked at it and said, ‘This is great, we’re going to go this direction.’”

Ian Record:

“So you’re becoming a model not just for other tribes, but other governments everywhere.”

John McCoy:

“Yes.”

Ian Record:

“That’s fantastic. I wanted to finish up with a short discussion on your experiences, trials and travails, as a state legislator. Being a Native American and a state legislator you’re in a very small group, but a growing group.”

John McCoy:

“Yes.”

Ian Record:

“And I was curious to know, get your advice perhaps, on what Native nations and leaders can do to advance their priorities through the state legislative arena. You have experience on both ends of the spectrum, both as a tribal leader and as a state legislator. What advice can you give them in terms of perhaps advancing more effectively their priorities in that arena?”

John McCoy:

“Well, my advice to them all is to create a governmental affairs office to where these folks just work on policy, that they work with legislatures, with county governments, with other city governments because you need to touch them all because they pass laws that infringe on the tribal sovereignty. So you need to be there to educate them so that they modify their law to where it does no harm to the tribal sovereignty. They’re not doing, my personal opinion, 99 percent of them are these laws that infringe on tribal sovereignty is done out of ignorance, not maliciousness. It’s out of ignorance. Once you inform them, educate them on the issue, then they adjust their language to where they do no harm. So they need to be at the city level, the county level, the state level and we’ve always done the federal level. So we need to get down into the state level. This last year, New Mexico passed, codified their agreement between the governor and the tribes on how they’re to interface with one another, they codified it. And I was still in session and I got the email saying they codified it. I said, ‘Why didn’t I think of that because we’ve got the same thing.’ So this year I am going to try to move legislation to codify Washington State’s Centennial Accord, which is our version of the framework on how the governor and the tribes interface with one another. So I want to codify that. The only thing different that I’m going to do in my bill is that I’m going to add a legislative interface. New Mexico didn’t and I’ve talked to their New Mexico legislators and they say, ‘Yeah, on second thought maybe we should have added that,’ so they may add that at a later date. But I’m going to start off with the legislative interface and I want to set up a committee that meets during the interim, not during session, during interim on the tribal issues and what pieces of legislation they may see. Now this committee that I want to set up is only made up of chairs of committees because they control what legislation goes through. So if you get them indoctrinated, educated on what the tribal issues are and what legislation they’re going to move, then they’ll have the background on it, why it’s needed and so it should help move these things through. When I first went to the legislature and I went through freshmen orientation, it was five days long and at the end of it I raised my hand and I said, ‘Where’s your Indian Law 101? You’ve got 29 tribes in the State of Washington and you did not have one word about Indian Law 101.’ So, I convinced the chief clerk, ‘You need Indian Law 101 in your freshman orientation,’ and now it’s part of the freshmen orientation. It’s not on the Senate side. I’m still working on them, but I’ve got to get that one done over there, too.”

Ian Record:

“This sounds really fascinating what you’re talking about with this education of the decision makers, the outside decision-makers that make decisions that influence tribes in a variety of ways. Would you recommend as well though that Native nations begin to think more aggressively when it comes to cultivating members of their own nations to actually pursue the sorts of positions that you currently hold in the state legislature? Isn’t there a direct role that they can play as well?”

John McCoy:

“Oh, yes. Whenever I’m at NCAI [National Congress of American Indians], NIGA [National Indian Gaming Association], NIEA [National Indian Education Association], I’m talking to everybody. ‘You need to run for office. You need to get more people in the state legislature, on county commissions, need them there.’ So in Washington State in Whatcom County, there’s a Native American on that. There’s three of us in the state legislature. There’s one running for city council in Pierce County. So they’re starting to run, it’s coming up. When I got elected in 2002, there were only 23 of us nationwide. Today, there’s almost 80 of us. And I happen to be chair of the National Caucus of Native American State Legislators. So I am proud to see it grow. About 25 to 30 are very active in the caucus. This is a non-partisan caucus, so we have both parties are in there and we just talk about tribal issues and how do we work with our counterparts on getting legislation passed. And I think we’re becoming very effective at doing that. So we continue to grow. The organization also includes Native Hawaiians because they have the same issues that we do, but they don’t have their sovereignty yet. That’s being worked on. But anyway, so we’re interfacing, we’re helping each other with legislation and I personally believe it’s a valuable tool now and we need more.”

Ian Record:

“Well, John, I really appreciate your time. This has been quite an education and thank you for sharing your experience and your wisdom and your perspectives with us.”

John McCoy:

“Yes, thank you. I really enjoyed it and everything connected with your organization, NNI and Honoring [Nations] Program. Great programs, I love them and I can’t speak high enough of them. You guys are doing a great job, too.”

Ian Record:

“Well, thank you.”