strategic thinking

Ben Nuvamsa: What I Wish I Knew Before I Took Office

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Former Chairman of the Hopi Tribe Ben Nuvamsa speaks about his tenure as the elected chief executive of his nation, and how the governance issues he and his nation have experienced in recent years offer important lessons to other Native nations.  

People
Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Nuvamsa, Ben. "What I Wish I Knew Before I Took Office." Emerging Leaders seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. March 24, 2010. Presentation.

"What I have for you is basically a Reader's Digest version of what happened at Hopi. Manley Begay did a great precursor of the presentation that I'm going to make. I'm going to talk a little bit about the situation I got into, walked into and what happened. And I'm going to show you an example of really what happened. We talk about separation of powers, we talk about balance of powers, we talk about sovereignty and those kinds of things and I'm going to actually tell you really what happened. It's a lesson learned, and I think that's the intent of this session is to teach you how to, tell you how we can learn from this experience. With that...Manley we're 'Nation A,' Hopi Tribe, in Manley's case study. We had all the resources, we had the tribal membership and so on, but there was no strategic direction and so on and a lot of the faults that Manley spoke of for Nation A.

Let me tell a little bit about the situation that I walked into. Our former chairman was removed by the tribal council for I'll just say conduct unbecoming, and so that...he was like eight months into his term and so that required a special election. So I had really actually thought maybe not running that time but maybe the next term, but then I kind of got recruited, kind of like what the chairman here did. I kind of got recruited into it. In fact several emails and phone calls and constant barrage of these requests and I finally decided, 'Okay, let me do it,' so we did. So there was actually the national limelight on Hopi even on the Jay Leno Show. Some of you have seen that possibly, perhaps. And so the people were wanting to rebuild that credibility, the integrity of the Hopi Tribe. Because after all, we were the most traditional tribe in North America, we're supposed to be the peaceful people and all that. And there was great expectations of that new chairman, whoever that might be, to pick up the pieces and get us back on the road. So I thought that maybe with my education, my experience, and the vigor I had to step up to the plate -- not that I was going to be the solution, but I knew it was going to be very, very tough because all the dynamics that are happening in tribal politics. So that was the situation.

There was a great expectation by the Hopi people of getting this new administration, getting back and regaining the status and the integrity of the tribe. As you all know, Indian politics is cutthroat politics, but I really didn't fully grasp that we've always had this problem of the 'us against them' kind of feeling between the tribal council, the villages and the people, but I didn't realize that it was such a big division there. You also need to know that the Hopi Tribe is composed of 12 traditional villages, autonomous villages, and our constitution says they're self governing villages. So typically in any kind of government, you'll have three separate functions; you'll have the executive, the legislative and the judicial. At Hopi, we also have one important component and those are the villages. And so we've always had that conflict between the IRA [Indian Reorganization Act]-type constitution and our traditional governments. And I admire the brother, the sister tribes of New Mexico -- the Pueblos -- and how they're able to merge and incorporate their traditions in with their modern ways and the religion there, but at Hopi it was quite different.

I didn't also realize that the role of the tribal attorney played quite...it was just so significant and major that perhaps part of the problems we are encountering right now is because that attorney played a real significant role in basically shaping how the council operates and the advice that the attorney gave to the tribal council. And then there's the role of the outside interests and you keep that in mind because we talk about economic development, there are going to be companies out there, corporations out there -- and I think that as the Chairwoman [Karen Diver] talked about is -- that they're going to want that piece of the action. Well, in the case of Hopi, it was even deeper than that and it is even deeper than that and that is they're trying to regulate how you govern. And I'll talk a little bit about that later, but it was just so influential that it almost seemed to be that our council, some of our council members are kind of like puppets to these corporations and to the attorneys. And we talked, and Manley talked a little bit about that self-rule; you call the shots.

We always had our own separation of powers and balance of powers that we had, because one society would oversee the other. For example, I'm Bear Clan. At Hopi [Hopi language], which is the village leader, usually come or do come from the Bear Clan. And we don't go and appoint ourselves to be the village leader. Somebody else in another society picks that person. The One Horn Society picks that person and there is a process, a ceremony and process that then the person is then ordained, is given certain duties and responsibilities by this One Horn Society. And if that person is not functioning according to what they had prescribed to him, they will bring him down to the kiva and basically have like a performance evaluation, tell him this is how he's supposed to be. And that leader is supposed to be a humble leader. And there's a story that goes the Creator or at least the keeper of this world has this...gave this -- Joan's [Hopi language] said that he gave the people a planting stick and a bag of seeds. That's all that he gave them. What does that mean? Those are really powerful words that you go and you have to live a simple life. You can survive by what I gave you, the know-how. So that's the...and then we have certain other societies at Hopi, the kiva chiefs and so on. Their names are appointed or designated in a traditional process.

The IRA constitution was something very, very outside of our normal process and today, even today we are having problems with that. In my experience as chairman, if there's a final analysis of my experience as chairman, it would be, one of them would be the constitution and the form of government that we have, in which we have to incorporate our cultural, tribal values into those principles, in those provisions in our constitution. And I guess...so where we're at with what happened is if you don't have this balance, and if you have leaders that are sitting on the council don't have that appreciation and the need to be truly self-governing and to be truly looking out for tribal members and the long-term vision of Hopi, of the tribe, you're going to have an ineffective government. And you're also going to see how it impacts the traditional side, and it has, because the role of the [Hopi language] has been compromised, because he's supposed to be a sacred person, a religious person. Well, he's now...he has now been brought into the political circle and is appointing tribal council members to the council, which is not his responsibility and the constitution does not provide for that. And it's now filtered into the kivas, into the ceremonies and so on, where we now have conflicts and so on. It has broken apart or at least [caused] some conflicts within families and so on. And so that's really unfortunate. But those are the kinds of things that are happening.

Where is Hopi now? I think we're in a transition. We have to look at now what, who we are and where we need to be. We're at a kind of a transition happening or needs to happen from this form of IRA-type constitution that we've been living with since 1936 -- that's when the tribe adopted the constitution -- up [until] today. And look at the experiences that we gained, we've lived through and be able to fix that, so that it can be more meaningful to us in how we can operate, because I think that that's one of the real -- the things that I know that the Udall Foundation talks about and the [Harvard University] Kennedy School of Government which I've worked with before, helped out in certain projects -- is that we need to fix our institutions. We need to really look at what is our institution that we would govern ourselves, our constitutions, our codes and so on? We have to take a look at that and make sure that it's meaningful to us in how we are as a tribe. Not every tribe is the same. Therefore the IRA was this cookie-cutter thing that didn't work. It perhaps served the purposes for the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs], but it certainly created a lot of problems for tribes. So it all goes back down to governance and that's what Manley talked about. We have to fix our constitution, our institutions, so that it goes back to how we govern ourselves. What happens at Hopi and the lessons that we learned from this experience is going to define our future, and I think that's what we need to be looking at and how we need to be looking at this unfortunate situation.

The importance of separation of powers -- and I have a case study later on -- but separation of powers is this political doctrine that says that the executive, the legislative and the judicial branches of the government are supposed to be kept distinct to prevent abuse of power. So that is why it's so important that as I try to explain to you that in our traditional way there is no, there was no abuse of power because we had our checks and balances, we had this society looking over that society and we had a village chief [Hopi language] that's supposed to be a humble religious man and didn't go out and expound on what he has accomplished and so on, but a very simple man. That was his role. I guess I'll get to the case study at the end.

Basically we have learned -- if there's any one accomplishment in my administration -- we have basically learned that there is some deep, deep problems in our government and that we can learn from that and that we can shape our future from those lessons learned. In a typical democracy, the central institutions for interpreting and creating laws that are the three branches of the government, the impartial judiciary -- and you'll see what happened at Hopi -- a democratic legislature -- those are real good things, right? -- and an accountable executive. Those are kind of the principles that we have with the separation of powers and there should be a system of checks and balances, but you will see that all that went by the wayside.

The other thing is that it's so important on the rule of law that the rule of law is there. It is the most basic, in its most basic sense, the rule of law is a system that attempts to protect the rights of the citizens from arbitrary and abusive use of governmental power. I brought lawsuits after lawsuit against the tribal council. I won every case. On appeal also, I won those. But you know what, so what? They didn't care. So that's why it's really important that the rule of law needs to be complied with, because it's supposed to apply to everybody. No one is above the law.

The role of the tribal courts; it is so important. That to me is the most fundamental or the core of our sovereignty is to be able to have a court system that can interpret your laws and settle these controversies because if you have a tribal court system that is so corrupt and compromised, you're not... just basically your sovereignty is going to be wasted. And so fortunately at Hopi we had a great court system and that's continuing on. I think back in 350 B.C., Aristotle said, 'The rule of law is better than the rule of any individual,' and that's true. It's really important that you have a good court system that makes the right decisions or interprets your tribal laws the right way and make sure that the tribal council, everybody in your tribal government, complies with it. And I think that that's, to me, is the most important thing. And even though we have those decisions our people are still not complying with it. I just want to also quote that President [Barack] Obama said back when he had just gotten elected, he said, 'Transparency and the rule of law will be the touch tones of this administration.'

The other things that I think that I probably should have really honed, boned up on, is parliamentary procedures. It is so important. When you're chairman, when you're presiding over a council meeting -- you can picture this -- 22 council members all hate you, most of them hate you. And there's tribal members out there, they're probably supporting you, but they basically, they can't really say much. And these people are going to have what I call parliamentary trickery. They have an agenda and they're going to do whatever they can to trick you, parliamentary trickery. And so it is important, and you are in charge, you are in charge, know your rules. You have meeting rules, study them. Robert's Rules are only guides, but there are some good things in there that you can use. Robert's Rules are meant to protect the minority. You saw what happened on CNN just a few days ago. All these parliamentary procedures, effective use of them, and the Speaker of the House or the presiding officer right there just controlling the process as it goes through. I wish every tribal council meeting could be conducted that way so that we have some fairness. It is so...I don't know how many of you have presided over council meetings, but you have to look at body language. That person is doing some signs or they may just really hate what you said or they're sending notes or maybe nowadays texting back and forth. But you have to be so aware of all of those. So parliamentary procedures is so really important.

The art of conducting meetings, understanding group dynamics; you look at where they come from, what village they come from. At Hopi, everybody's related or maybe in Indian Country everybody's related. I'm Bear Clan and in our culture I'm a parent or father to everybody, even you. You're my children. So you have to keep those in perspective. Anticipate what the other side's going to do. Learn how to be able to strategize. Okay, this person has this objective or this person has this agenda and so on. Talk to them, say what you're proposing is going to be good for them and then maybe try to convince them. What I usually do is I have little meetings before the upcoming council meetings and try and get support. Have a legislative strategy, have a legislative agenda and that way you're not all over the place. You talk about strategic planning, that's part of it. And the chairman just said here, was it planning to plan or lack of planning is planning for failure.

I'm going to jump to some of the other things. Some of the lessons learned from this is that there is significant influence from the outside. You have to know who you're dealing with, hope America is out there. You've got your natural resources, you've got your oil, you've got gas, coal, water, land, now solar, and everybody's going to want that and they'll do whatever they can to get that, even through the state legislature or federal legislation and that's what we have at Hopi. Water rights -- it is so important to be able to have your water rights and be able to say, 'This is mine,' because it's going to be leverage you're going to use in negotiations. At Hopi, some of you know about the Peabody Coal, our vast coal resources. Our neighbors from Navajo, probably the country's richest coal deposits -- the highest quality, the low sulfur coal, very little what they call 'the cover.' So it's easily accessible for open-pit mining. Well, we are at the...we hold the cards to energy production in Arizona, California and Nevada. And so the State of Arizona plays a big role, the state governor plays a big role, Salt River Project plays a big role, the owners of the Navajo generating station play a big role including...that goes into California. The federal government, Office of Surface Mining, Minerals Mining and Bureau of Reclamation, the State of California, State of Nevada and the Navajo Nation. Know who you're dealing with and it always goes back to...some of you heard about this term economic sovereignty. What does that mean to you? It goes back to what Manley says, be able to call the shots. Talk about and protect that sovereignty but be able to say, 'This is my resource, this is my water, this is my coal, I'm going to make the decisions.' Don't let somebody else make those decisions for you.

We just recently won a major lawsuit against the Office of Surface Mining. Not as the tribe, we as the citizens. After I left office, we filed suit against the Office of Surface Mining for this life-of-mine permit that they were going to give Peabody Coal Company. The life-of-mine permit, because they were burning about 8.5 million tons of coal up in Navajo generating station, and the coal deposits were close to 800 million tons or a little over that, so that means Peabody would have access to our coal for over 100 years. That basically says to us, 'You're not going to have any kind of diversified economy, you're not going to be able to set and regulate the prices, you're not going to be able to determine how that coal is going to be mined and what's going to be manufactured from that,' and all of that. Well, Navajo was able to tax and back in 2005 figures were able to collect $20 million a year from Peabody Coal, the State of Arizona did the same, but Hopi did not. They didn't have an ordinance so we were getting no dollars. Part of economic sovereignty is going to be able to say, tax.

The other things is everything is a process, you have to go through the process and make sure that...sometimes you have to walk away from some of the battles. Choose your battles, but never lose sight of the big war that you're going to be fighting and the big picture. Be futuristic, look at the longer, some people say seven generations. Be visionary and think holistically, think and look at the big picture. And be very strategic, because if you're not strategic, a lot of things are going to or you're going to be doing things independently on your own. Take charge, you're the top elected official, but also exercise your responsibility, your authority responsibly and in the Indian way have respect, [Hopi language], for everybody.

One of the things that I think really, the teachings I had in my upbringing is what really kind of helped me survive is having a really solid foundation as a Hopi person. But my work is not done; it will continue. One more comment before I quit. In the Hopi way, our knowledge, our philosophy about a leader, a [Hopi language], is his path is like a sharp blade of a knife and you walk that real fine line; it's really sharp. If you veer one way, you're going to get hurt, you're going to get cut; if you veer the other way, the same thing. So as you're walking down that fine line, that path, you look back and make sure that your children are still following you, your people are still following you. If they are still following you, you're on the right path. But if you look back and your children are fighting and they're not there, then you have to assess yourself. 'What is wrong? Do I need to correct myself? Do I need to do certain things, or do I need to step down?' That is the teachings we have in Hopi and it goes back to management and leader, and that is you cannot -- the chairman here just talked about that -- you cannot take sides. You have to look at the big picture. So that concludes my statement, and if you want to take a look at my case study, come here at lunch time and I'll have more time to talk to you about it. [Hopi language]."

Patricia Ninham-Hoeft: What I Wish I Knew Before I Took Office (2008)

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Oneida Nation Business Committee Secretary Patricia Ninham-Hoeft reflects on her experience as a leader of her nation, and shares a list of the five leadership skills she wished she had mastered before she took office.

Resource Type
Citation

Ninham-Hoeft, Patricia. "What I Wish I Knew Before I Took Office." Emerging Leaders Seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. March 25, 2008. Presentation.

"Good morning. My name's Patty Hoeft. I'm the Tribal Secretary on the Oneida Business Committee, which is a nine-member committee that's elected every three years. We are facing elections this July, and it's my first time serving for my tribe and so I'm entering or finishing up my third year. Why I ran for tribal secretary is something that I always wanted to do since I was a kid, and I always wanted to be on the Oneida Business Committee. My mother served three terms on the Business Committee and she and another woman founded Oneida Bingo back in the mid "˜70s, and so I've always been involved in tribal politics. But the situation I inherited or stepped into when I won was very different than what I thought it would be. I thought that before getting elected that I was energetic and enthusiastic and I had big dreams and I was going to help make positive changes. I was going to help deal with the frustration that has been running through my community for the past 10, 15 years or so, and right now we're seeing that frustration I think starting to climax a bit. I'm hoping it's climaxing, and I think the frustration is just from tribal members who want more from their tribe or expect better performance from the Business Committee or the people that they elect. So I came to the job, took my oath with all of those ideas, and instead after three years I find myself in tears wanting to quit, wanting to rip out the part of me that feels Oneida and walk away from it. I feel very overwhelmed and it's been very hard and so I've been trying to search for reasons to explain why it's that way, because it's not just that way for me. My mother talked about it all through her terms, and I remember the difficulties she had -- nine years on the council -- and the people that would come up to her and asking her, "˜Sandy, you can solve this, do something about it.' And when she didn't, even me, her daughter, turned my back on her, and I find myself in that situation now: dear friends of mine feeling disappointed in what I didn't do or didn't do enough of.

So things that I wanted to talk about that I think I would have liked to have known before I ran I think start with leadership skills, and the second area are roles and responsibilities of the council itself and the importance of visioning and strategy setting. As tribal secretary, I came into a job that has a dual role. It's both a management position because I am supervising a staff and we have a specific function to carry out, a constitutional function, and that's to organize the council's meetings, take the minutes, maintain the official record, and do that not only for the council but for the General Tribal Council. And the General Tribal Council is when 75 voter-eligible members come together for a meeting and they form the council, which in the last couple of years has been setting the course for what's happening in Oneida. I'm the tribal secretary. My dual role, I have to be a manager, an administrator, and also a leader on the council, a policy maker. As the tribal secretary, I inherited the staff, I inherited a staff that was not content with their position. We had complaints about the individual performance of staff. We had complaints about the function of the office itself, that it wasn't performing. And so I came in with a vision for the tribal secretary's office based on my background as a journalist. I worked as a newspaper reporter for the Green Bay Press Gazette for a few years and covered the tribe a little bit, and always the frustration is the lack of openness and transparency in Oneida. So I really saw the tribal secretary's office and function as a way to start initiating good government ideas. How to make sure that the business and the affairs of the council, of the government, were available and open to the constituency that we served.

So leadership skills? There are five of them that I think that I wish that I had spent more time knowing more about before I took the job. They seem to be five that I stumbled across throughout the last three years that I saw myself, I think, naturally engaging in. The first is a catalyst. It's leading innovations and managing change. It's skill in motivating and promoting change. It's being future orientated and inspiring and having a vision. And I see myself when I first took office as really taking a catalyst role, coming in and changing a mindset, changing expectations and changing...challenging the status quo. And so a lot of that meant motivating others, persuading them to understand what I was seeing, and trying to persuade them to jump on and help me pursue this vision.

The next is collaboration, and that's building community through inspiration, empowerment and really working together in partnership with not just my fellow peers on the Business Committee, but also the tribal constituency themselves. And I felt, growing up in Oneida, that a lot of times things were done in a vacuum, ideas were done in a vacuum. And so this was a way to kind of try to find ways to reach out in helping people help themselves. And I think the collaboration skill is important because there seems to be, in Oneida at least, this dependency mindset, that everybody sits back and they wait for the Business Committee to solve all the problems and come up with all the answers, and it's really trying to tell people that my role as an elected official is merely to represent and reflect the will of the people, that it's up to you to organize at a grassroots level and come up with ideas and then together we will put them into action.

A communicator is the next skill, learning how to deal with interpersonal relations, how to be in a public speaking situation, and also how to deal with personal attacks, and verbal judo I think is a course that I would recommend for anyone because the attacks come from all over the place, and I've learned just recently after surviving a round of personal attacks that how I reacted really helped move it into a more positive path. And I think that starts, too, with having self-discipline over your own emotions, that you really have to hang on to your gut and have faith that it will pass and it will get better, and so that's been really important. In fact there was one evening where I stayed up I think until 3:00 a.m. searching the internet for verbal judo lessons to get through a round of attacks.

The next is just be a competent practitioner, knowing the difference between effective governance and managing and having knowledge about the tribal, your tribes' rules and processes and culture, the constitution, the by-laws, ordinances. And you also need to know the rules of the surrounding municipalities that you will interact with.

And then the last one, the fifth one, is just personal, the cornerstone of personal leadership, growth and development. These are things that I've been dealing with in a personal way and it's my tone. I came in as I said very enthusiastic, I was going to make change, I was going to challenge the status quo and I wasn't afraid to do that and I wasn't going to take any prisoners, and so my tone was very angry and harsh. And when I realized -- after coming down from some of these episodes -- that I was dealing with people who I grew up with. I was dealing with older folks who were my mentors when I was a kid and here I was using this harsh tone on them and not realizing that we all make mistakes and that we're all trying the best we can. So over the last three years -- and I'm still having difficulty with it -- is trying to temper my tone so that it's more productive and still passionate, but not so damaging. And having patience I think, where you're in it for the long haul, that the big changes I thought were going to happen I'm going to have to settle for small ones and be satisfied with that. But having patience that it will work out. And then making sure that when you make decisions that you're able to live with yourself about them and that you choose your battles wisely.

Leadership skills, and there's five of them that I think are ones that I wished I would have spent more time honing before I took office, but it's the catalyst and it's collaboration, communicator, competent practitioner, and the cornerstone of your own personal leadership and development. Then I just wish our council spent more time early on getting to know each other. When we first came together, it seemed that we spent a couple of days kind of having a really quick overview of the tribe as an organization itself, trying to see what departments and divisions were doing, but then it seemed like the nine people just broke up and everyone went their individual ways. I think it would be important that when you start that you sit down and you clarify roles and responsibilities with each other and expectations -- not just as a council as a whole, but each individual person on it. And then learning to identify the kinds of decisions that the council is expected to make, because there are decisions that the council shouldn't make, but people would like you to make them. And knowing the difference between governing and oversight and setting direction versus getting involved in the day-to-day matters and micromanaging. That's a tough one, and I think it stymies a lot of folks in knowing the difference between it. I see extremes. I see some council members who say, "˜I'm not getting involved in day-to-day matters,' and so they also throw out the responsibility of oversight. Let managers decide that. Well, there's a difference and I think knowing...talking about it upfront so that everyone's clear is important. And then group think, learning what group think is, how to avoid it, how to set up a process among your council so that it's okay to speak out and disagree with each other and that speaking out doesn't mean that you're disloyal to the group or that you're trying to shake up the balance of good feelings that everybody has, but that it's important to disagree.

Then I also wish that our council spent more time getting a comprehensive look at the organization itself and focusing on visioning and strategy, "˜cause too often today we get caught up in the bickering and the fighting and the power struggles, and it's like...it's these power and control struggles. It's like playing Monopoly with family once a year and everybody comes to the table with their own set of rules and you never get to finish the game "˜cause you're all bickering over what the rules are. It's really important I think to come together and look at the organization and find out what do we do and how are we doing and who do we serve.

There are just so many things I think in Oneida that we're responsible for as elected leaders, so many services. There's public safety, long-term care, health care, environmental protection, land use and planning, relationships with surrounding municipalities. Then you have investments, you have the annual budget and then you have the golden goose for Oneida is our gaming operation and knowing how to manage that. It's sitting down in the beginning and getting a good comprehensive look at all of that before you start off I think is important.

Bottom line is you can't do it alone, that change is slow and I wish I would have started small. I wish I would have valued relationships more in the beginning. I'm trying to go back and repair some of those things. Learning to fight the right fights, knowing when to fight is important. And visioning -- trying to get the council to focus on visioning versus managing, and really trying to answer the question, 'What do we want to be 100 years from today?' And for Oneida, we're eight miles west of the City of Green Bay, and we're surrounded by municipalities and we have a major fight with a village that lies entirely within our reservation boundaries and they just hired an Indian fighter from the CERA [Citizens Equal Rights Alliance] group. I forgot what that stands for, Equal Rights Alliance. So we've got some major battles ahead but it's exciting, I'm glad to be a part of it and I just know it will...I just have faith it will work out. Thank you."

Native Nation Building TV: "Leadership and Strategic Thinking"

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Guests Peterson Zah and Angela Russell tie together the themes discussed in the previous segments into a conversation about how Native nations and their leaders move themselves and their peoples towards nation building. They address the question all Native nations have: How do we get where we want to go?

Citation

Native Nations Institute. "Leadership and Strategic Thinking" (Episode 9). Native Nation Building television/radio series. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy and the UA Channel, The University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. 2006. Television program.

Mary Kim Titla: "Welcome to Native Nation Building. I'm your host Mary Kim Titla. Contemporary Native nations face many daunting challenges including building effective governments, developing strong economies, solving difficult social problems and balancing cultural integrity and change. Native Nation Building explores these complex challenges and the ways Native nations are working to overcome them as they seek to make community and economic development a reality. Don't miss Native Nation Building next."

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Mary Kim Titla: "The challenges facing contemporary Native leaders are daunting. Typically, they are expected to do everything from defending and expanding the sovereign powers of their nations to tackling day-to-day social issues to finding ways to improve the future of their fellow citizens. Leadership can be tough. You get blamed when things go badly and sometimes fail to get credit when things go well. Today's segment examines what Native leaders are doing and can do to rebuild their Nations and forge a vision for their long-term futures. With me today to discuss leadership and strategic decision making are Peterson Zah and Angela Russell. Peterson Zah, a citizen of the Navajo Nation, has twice served as his tribe's chief executive, first as chairman from 1983 to 1987 and then as president from 1990 to 1994. For the past ten years, he has worked at Arizona State University, where he serves as advisor to the President on American Indian Affairs. Angela Russell, a citizen of the Crow Nation of Montana, currently serves as Chief Judge of the Crow Tribal Court. She previously served as a member of the Crow Legislature as well as the Montana State Legislature. Welcome to both of you."

Angela Russell: "Thank you."

Peterson Zah: "Thank you."

Angela Russell: "Good to be here."

Mary Kim Titla: "Leadership. Peterson, you know best about that I think, and I'm sure Angela can give us her advice as well, but why don't we start out by talking about just leadership in general and how it is so critical to our Native nations as they move forward."

Peterson Zah: "I think it is perhaps the most important issue today, mainly because of all of the questions that are being raised about Native leadership. The issues that we face as Indian nations, there are questions thrown at the Indian people regarding the sovereign powers of [an] Indian tribe, the social problems that we have on our reservation, things that we never ever thought will come to the reservation is now on the reservation, mainly alcoholism, drugs, the behavior of young people at the high school. Those are very, very crucial issues in the area of education. You also have questions on land, and recently it's the administration of justice on Indian land, in Indian Country."

Mary Kim Titla: "Angela, tell me what you can advise after all these years that you've served on the legislature on the tribal level and state level."

Angela Russell: "Well, among our people, when we say leader we say '[Crow term],' which means a good person or a good man, and I think leadership is extremely important to all of our nation,s and it's important not only for the leader to have a vision for his people but as citizens of a particular nation, we need to be very supportive to our leader, but we also need to be participatory in a sense that we need to give some direction, we need to give support, we need to give encouragement. I think too many times it's easy to be very critical and to not look ahead toward the vision. You have to have goals, you have to have reachable goals, whether they're short-term or long-term. So leadership is very important, but it's a very, very difficult thing, because in the past our leaders were usually men who had many deeds, many accomplishments and that's how they became a leader. They were supported by the community, and today it's a whole different role, different dynamics, a different society we live in -- lots of challenges ahead for leaders."

Mary Kim Titla: "You said something that was really interesting to me and that has to do with criticism. As a journalist, I always like to encourage people to give me constructive criticism and you really have to have thick skin."

Angela Russell: "You do, you do. You have to be able to take a lot of abuse. But there are lots of rewards, too. I think it's a real challenge to be in government, to be in leadership, because we are like third-world countries. There's lots of needs there. We do have resources. We may not have gaming where I live, but we do have a lot of natural resources, and that puts responsibility on leadership to take a look at what can the leaders do that would be best for their constituency. Abuse is there, criticism is there, but I truly believe that with good communication, you can dispel some of the criticism that goes on. You've got to have a good media outlet so that people always know what you're doing. We get very suspicious as human beings when we don't know the full story. We want to know what's going on."

Mary Kim Titla: "Peterson, we talked some years ago about your role as President -- Chairman and President -- of the Navajo Nation, and it really is an overwhelming job."

Peterson Zah: "It really is overwhelming. I see some of our leaders today -- particularly with Navajo leadership -- those people are overwhelmed and they have so much on their plate. They have so many things to do decide and every one of them are crucial. Everything that they have on their mind is important that people bring to them. But one thing that the leaders have to learn how to do is prioritize their work, because you have all of these problems coming at you. You have to sit back and say, 'This issue has a priority over all the others,' because in the representation of your constituency you have to learn how to do that. Number two, I always say that you also have to learn how to delegate responsibilities. You have a certain amount of responsibility as the leader for Indian people, Indian communities. You also have on the other side the council, you also have the tribal courts, and they are there to take on certain issues. You have to learn how to play your role and where those limitations are and be able to have enough trust in your people to say that they'll do a good job of handling those situations and you don't need to be everywhere. And that's where learning how to prioritize your work really comes into existence."

Mary Kim Titla: "We are going through elections constantly, and a lot of times people may come across as being a good leader. But after you elect them, you realize, well, 'Maybe they weren't the leader that I thought they would be.' We make mistakes sometimes in choosing our leaders. How can tribes, tribal people protect themselves from poor leadership?"

Angela Russell: "I think it's real important for tribes to have primary elections for one thing. It's only been recently that we've had primary elections. So people just entered a race and if they won, they won. But now I think we have a little more choice and we like to have our candidates be out there and talking about policy, about their platform. I would really like to see us have our leaders address the state of our nations and that would be research: What is the status of our tribes? What is that poverty level? What is the main economic income that's coming in? What are those potentials out there? I think if we had a State of the Indian Nations, or if it was the Crow Tribal Nation, I think any candidate should address that and say, 'This is what I want to see for our people.' You've got to have that vision. You've got to be projecting what is best for your people. You've got to move away from self interest and you've got to be looking at the interest of the whole."

Mary Kim Titla: "I'm sure you've dealt with that, Pete, with especially all the different delegates and members of the tribal council that you have to deal with."

Peterson Zah: "Well, I think the key is participation. The Indian people who are listening to this program for example, the students, the young people, they should never say to themselves, 'Let the tribal council do it, let the tribal chair, the tribal governor do it.' They have to learn that this is their government, these are their leaders that they elected. They have to learn how to work with them and they also have to participate in the tribal government process. In the process of participating, then you can judge how your leaders are doing. So I believe that's very, very important, because our leaders need to be held accountable for many of the things that they do, and I guess that's why I am in education. I always believe that education can solve many, many things and some people will say and argue with me and say that education can't solve everything. But, by god, education can solve a lot of our problems. It may not solve everything, nothing ever does. But if you have an educated community, people who are aware, people that have had the experience handling the affairs of our tribal nations, then I think we're in better hand as a group, rather than just sitting back and watching the tribal government do something that isn't pleasant to the local people."

Mary Kim Titla: "You touched on what was going to be my next question, and that is the role of non-elected leaders in the community. There are many of them. Can you give some examples of how people can become more active in their tribal government? I know attending meetings would be one thing, but can you give some examples of that?"

Angela Russell: "It's important for legislators, and I was one, you need to get out in the community, you need to let people know what is on the agenda for the next session, and you really need to solicit their participation. I had a woman just a few months ago who said she was really concerned about horses that were just all over the road, dogs that were abandoned and not fed, and why were these individuals having livestock and not tending to them. And I said, 'Well, you know what you can do is talk to your legislator and by the petition route, if you get a signature of 10 percent in your district, you can promote [a] resolution and that may become law.' So I think we need to really encourage people to participate instead of griping. You can say, 'Well, you can do something about that.' Another example is truancy: A lot of kids missing school, suspension of kids from school and somewhere, somehow somebody brought together a truancy bill, and now our students have to be in school 'til they're age 18 and we are going to enforce it. In fact we're getting ready through the court to enforce that shortly. So we need to have people participate. Instead of having a gripe, let's put it into action and do something."

Peterson Zah: "I also happen to believe that those things that really make our tribal government function very well is the people who participate in a lot of those programs, because you can go out into any Indian reservation, you won't have any problem finding the problems. They're there, many, many problems. I think the role of the local people, the non-elected people, is to define some of those problems and then say to themselves, 'How can I make a difference as an individual? How can we, the two or the three of us, make a difference? Let's see if we can do something about this particular problem,' instead of not doing anything, and to do that you have to motivate the young people. In the generations of Indian people that we have on Indian land, Indian Country nowadays, students are completely different than those students that I knew when I was just a young man, and motivation has to take place among those young people for them to begin having them become active in a lot of the social problems that we have on the Navajo reservation, for example."

Mary Kim Titla: "And I'd like to see more of that, young people really taking charge in their communities. I tried to do that as a young person and I'm hearing more from young people about efforts they're doing. In fact one young lady I met recently is going to spearhead a suicide-prevention walk, and I thought that was excellent because as we know, that's a big problem in Indian Country right now. What changes do you see in our leaders today? I know you've touched on this a little bit, but from say 10, 20 years ago, how different are they?'

Angela Russell: "Well, I think that the challenges, the demands of leadership today are just monumental. We're bombarded by so many requirements, so many changes that our societies need and I guess even going back further, I really like this term of enlightened democracy, where people have information, they're educated, they can make a decision looking at all the facts. But I think Indian people have a long way to go yet because we have so much poverty on many of our reservations and it really is a luxury to be participating in government, because a lot of our people are just kind of living from day to day, making sure that they're going to get through the day with whatever needs they may have. And it's not unusual for those of us who live on the reservation and are blessed to have employment, we have a lot of people knocking on our doors, people looking for work, people just looking for money and hopefully if we ever have a secure economic base for our people, then I think that we can start having more participation. Right now, I think it's limited, but I'd like to see that expand, and I think the economic situation is really important to take a look at for all tribes, not only our tribe but other tribes, too."

Peterson Zah: "I think this is probably where we have such a big difference between leaders of 20 years ago and today. If you go back 20 years ago, even in this state here [Arizona], we have Dr. Annie Wauneka for example on the Navajo. We have Ronnie Lupe with the White Mountain Apache Indian nation. Agnes Sevilla with the Colorado Tribe. And if you look at those folks, what did they have? What did they not have, and what did they not do for example? They really didn't have the education that we now have with our tribal leaders, but they have one thing that is so important in my own estimation which is a commitment and education and the dedication that they had to their people and they were honest. They didn't have much money to work with. They didn't ask for let's say compensation for their travel. They did things where the Great Spirit told them to do things. When the Great Spirit moved them, that's when they move and they were good leaders, women leaders in this state, and they were solely dedicated to, for example, eradicating tuberculosis on the Navajo by Dr. Wauneka. And she did all of those while there were no roads on the Navajo Nation and she rode horses, she rode wagons and she used radio, she used the Navajo language to do all of those things that needed to be done. She did not have the kind of education that many of our tribal leaders today have. And so I would say probably today's leaders are less traditional than let's say they were 20 years ago, but 20 years ago those leaders, 40 years ago, you could never outdo them in traditional way of doing things. You could never outdo them in dedication and commitment. I think that's what's missing."

Angela Russell: "I think tradition is extremely important, and for many of our tribes, it's real important to speak our language and to communicate with people through our language. We have a clan system and it's important to include clan members or to give them information. I think tradition is really the backbone of our society so we need to foster that and continue it. But I think if you can deal with tradition as well as trying to develop modern ways of dealing with things, I think that's the best route to go."

Mary Kim Titla: "What about our future leaders, our young people? What advice would you have for our young people who want to become tribal council delegates or tribal chairmen or presidents?"

Angela Russell: "I think that we don't use our young people to the extent that we need to use them. I think the tribe really needs to set up internships, they need to set up fellowships, give people practical experience, have them get their feet wet, so to speak. A lot of young people come home, they may go to college with the intention of coming back and doing something and they may graduate, they may come back, and there's nothing there for them. I remember a young man who just got his degree in civil engineering and he came back and he was really excited about working for the tribe, but the tribe did not hire him. And we have other instances like that. We have to make room in our government to encourage young people to participate and to take some leadership roles."

Peterson Zah: "If you look at the three of us, we came from a family where the tradition was very strong so we were taught by our parents and our grandparents about traditional belief. Now, if you look at the young people that we have today in college, their parents are less traditional, and many of the students that we now have coming from single parents and they don't have as much tradition as what the three of us had. And I think that presents a problem because the young kids today represent a totally different set of values that they have. The values aren't the same and I think that's going to cause some problems for the Indian nation. So we have to go not only to the young people but to the parents that are raising them, and then their children. And so to some degree we're losing the tradition that helped us survive among all of the Indian nations for this long. And the young people should never ever forget that we survived as long as we had because of our traditions, because of our language, because of our culture. Those may not have dollar signs, but they were more powerful than all of the dollars that the tribe gets now, and the young people should never ever forget that."

Mary Kim Titla: "One of the things that I was interested in learning more about from you Pete is this Navajo Nation Permanent Fund. Tell me about that and what made it become a reality?"

Peterson Zah: "I was very, very lucky when I became the tribal chair back in 1983. We had an 88-member council. Most of them were traditional people and a totally different perspective about leadership and about Navajo life and Navajo goals and aspirations. The difference is that back then those were visionary leaders and during that period in the history of the Navajo tribe we won several very, very important court decisions. One of them was Kerr McGee versus the Navajo Nation, a United States Supreme Court case where the Navajo Nation wanted to tax all of the companies that were extracting minerals off Navajo land, businesses that operate on Navajo Nation. We decided what we should do is tax them, and that's been in the works with the tribe for many, many years and so finally the tribe says, 'We're going to tax all of you, as you're being taxed elsewhere, you're doing business throughout the United States.' And so we did and they took us to court. While we were in litigation during the court process, they were paying us escrow funds, the amount of taxes that they're supposed to pay the tribe. So by the time we won in 1984, it had accumulated a huge amount of money in the escrow account, so all of a sudden as a young chairman of the Navajo Nation, $214 or $216 million was dropped on my lap and my job was, what to do with the money? As you know and Angela well know, when you have a tribal council such as what we have among Indian people, they want to spend, spend, spend. And any time you raise the issue of wanting to save you were an oddball. So in my case, I decided that I'm going to go against the grain of what the Navajo Nation Council wants, which is we're going to invest all of these monies, and the one that people always hear about is the Permanent Fund. That is where you establish a permanent account and we put something like $26 million into a permanent Navajo fund and we want that to grow. Back then, from 1984 to 2004, for [a] 20-year period we all agreed that we wouldn't touch that amount of money, and then the Navajo Nation was to contribute 12 percent of its total revenues into that account each year. So you had the $26 million that was earning interest and the Navajo Nation council was also depositing 12 percent of the total revenue each year into the account and that thing grew and grew and grew. And to this day, 2006, we're almost at a billion dollars. And when we reach a billion within the next several years, that money is to be used by the Navajo people after they have a referendum vote, so it's not only up to the council to decide how that money should be used. It's going to be up to all the Navajo voters. We had hearings three summers ago and the Navajo people decided that what we should do is don't use it all. Use only the interest off that one billion. We can handle that but keep the one billion in the bank so that you'll always have money in the bank for a rainy day for example, and only use the interest. And we can use that interest just to keep the tribal government, tribal services going and not ever spend the one billion. So that was the kind of visionary leaders the Navajo council was back then, and I was just very, very lucky as a young person to be in that seat working with them when that thing happened."

Mary Kim Titla: "Sure. And Angela, you have a new constitution."

Angela Russell: "We do."

Mary Kim Titla: "Can you talk about what prompted the tribe to develop this and where did the leadership for that come from?"

Angela Russell: "Well, I think there were only a couple of tribes that had a town council form of government. We were one of them. Our constitution was actually modeled after a Moose Lodge charter, and that was in 1948, so that was the constitution we had. And with mineral development possibilities, with changes in our society, we really needed to be more business-minded, and looking at that old constitution, it wasn't going to work. We had a group of individuals that were part of a committee called the 107th Committee but they -- in discussing where the tribe needed to go -- recognized that we needed changes in our constitution and there were a number of things that they really wanted. They wanted separation of powers, they wanted longer terms for tribal officials, looking at maybe limited waivers of sovereignty. There were a number of things that they looked at and when they looked at the old constitution, it just was not going to work. It was either in conflict or it was so inconsistent that it would raise lots of problems. So back in 2001, actually even earlier than that, many of us who participated in those old councils worked hard to try to look at a new constitution or constitutional reform. I remember I had a resolution before the council -- I think it was 1973 -- just asking for a study to look at different constitutions and bring it back to the council and that was defeated. So it's taken a long time to get where we are, but in 2001 we did approve a new constitution, and that gives you the three branches of government, six districts on our reservation and we have three representatives from each of those districts. And then we have the executive branch and then we have the judicial. If we really are going to move forward into business, it's really important that we have the three branches of government, because a lot of businesses don't want to come on Indian land if they don't feel they have a right to certain things or if they believe their rights aren't being protected. At least the courts provide a forum hopefully to be fair to individuals working on the reservation. So it's new and it's pretty exciting. There are problems that we need to work out, but I think it's moving along."

Mary Kim Titla: "We could talk all day about leadership and issues that our leaders are dealing with in their own communities, but we've run out of time. So I just want to thank you for your insight and your advice. I've learned a lot today."

Angela Russell: "Thank you. It's good to be here."

Mary Kim Titla: "We want to thank Peterson Zah and Angela Russell for appearing on today's edition of Native Nation Building. Native Nation Building is a program of the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy at the University of Arizona. To learn more about Native Nation building and the issues discussed on today's program, please visit the Native Nations Institute's website at www.nni.arizona.edu/nativetv. That's www.nni.arizona.edu/nativetv. Thank you for joining us and please tune in for the next edition of Native Nation Building."

Back to the Bison Case Study Part I

Year

Thirty years after taking over the reins of forestry, recreation, wildlife and other natural resource operations on their reservation lands, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) established a reputation for environmental leadership in wildlife, wilderness, recreation and co-management. As students work through "Back to the Bison," they participate in strategic decision-making from the perspective of how CKST made decisions about their relationship to the bison and to the surrounding lands, including the National Bison Range (NBRC). These relationships bring the Tribes into the process of evaluating the science of genetics and their own traditional ecological knowledge. Modern wildlife management practices based on western science are at issue and create opportunities for lively debate. This case provides opportunities for students to build research skills by reading and evaluating articles on genetics and the role of science and traditional ecological knowledge in wildlife management...

Citation

Stumpff, Linda Moon. "Back to the Bison Case Study Part I." Enduring Legacies Native Cases Initiative, The Evergreen State College. Olympia, Washington. 2010. Teaching Case Study. (https://nnigovernance.arizona.edu/back-bison-case-study-part-i, accessed March 7, 2023)