traditional Indigenous governance

Theresa Arevgaq John: Alaska indigenous governance through traditions and cultural values

Year

Theresa Arevgaq John is a well known Y’upik cultural advocate and Associate Professor in Indigenous Studies and the Department of Cross-Cultural Studies at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and has intimate knowledge about cultural practices within Indigenous governance.  She advocates for balance between the various forms of governing structures, maintaining strong ties to Native languages, and linking traditional Native practices to community well-being and governance roles.

 

 

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Native Nations Institute. "Theresa Arevgaq John: Alaska indigenous governance through traditions and cultural values."  Leading Native Nations, Native Nations Institute, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, November 15, 2016

For a complete transcript, please email us: nni@email.arizona.edu

Stephen Cornell, Introduction to Native Nation Building, Alaska Tribal Government Symposium

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

An overview about Native nation building and the ability for Native communities in Alaska to rebuild their Native nations. 

Native Nations
Resource Type
Topics
Citation

Native Nations Institute. "Keynote Address: Introduction to Native Nation Building." Alaska Tribal Government Symposium. Fairbanks, Alaska. November 15, 2016 

Transcript available upon request. Please email: nni@email.arizona.edu

Honoring Nations: Sovereignty Today: Q&A

Producer
Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development
Year

The 2007 Honoring Nations symposium "Sovereignty Today" panel presenters as well as members of the Honoring Nations Board of Governors field questions from the audience and offer their thoughts on the state of tribal sovereignty today and the challenges that lie ahead.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

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

Ethel Branch:

"Hi. Thank you all for speaking. It was really inspiring to hear all of your words. I guess my question is -- My name's Ethel Branch. I'm a student at the law school. I'm Navajo from Arizona. My question is, Indian policy, federal Indian policy has always suffered vicissitudes going back and forth from an era of termination, extermination, whatever, and switching to an era of revitalization, empowerment of tribes. We've been in self-determination for now over 30 years. Do you see a shift in the tide? What direction do you think the next era is going to go? If you could give insight on that, I'd really appreciate it. Thank you."

Floyd "Buck" Jourdain:

"Geez, I feel like Billy Madison up here. Anybody who's seen the movie, you know what I'm talking about.

Self-governance. We're a self-governance tribe and we no longer have a BIA agent and all that, we deal directly with our appropriations through the tribe. And it's [an] experimental thing that several tribes took on, but we feel it's working to our advantage; we're using it in a good way. And one of the things that we notice with the non, the tribes that are still under the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] -- they do get preference over us, so we have to really fight and arm wrestle every year; appropriations, negotiations, hearings. And it's almost like sometimes there's a safety net there that we need to grow away from. Self-governance is a good thing if it's used in a good way, and it's used correctly, and you have good leadership, and people are really on top of it. I think we just need to pry away from that old era and get away from that. And if it doesn't happen, then you'll see tribes, kind of, falling back into that, which is a dangerous thing.

Like I talked about today, the climate. You talk about the energy push in America, George Bush and the big oil companies. One of the things that -- our tribal treasurer goes to D.C. and brings back these horror stories about, 'There's going to be another huge cut. The [Department of the] Interior and BIA is going to cut, cut, cut, cut, cut.' And you have all these issues in your Indian community. You have methamphetamine, you have homelessness, you have poverty but, 'Hey, here's the answer to all your solutions! Let us come in and build a power plant on your lakeside and that will really help you guys out and get you out of this state.' So right now it's been rights of ways issues, those are huge -- people wanting to build power lines and roads across our land so they can -- tourism can explode and those types of things.

So I think that tribes need to really grasp it, emphasize self-governance, and really use it in a good way, and be aggressive with it. And I think that if more of them start moving in that direction you're going to see a lot of self-sufficient tribes out there doing some pretty good things."

James Ransom:

"I wanted to stand up. I know some of the people over here can't see us over here. I just had two comments on the question.

A trend that I see happening and which is real obvious is one, stay out of court. That cannot be overemphasized right now. Anything that gets to the Supreme Court is going to be an erosion of sovereignty. You can almost be guaranteed that.

What that tells us though is we need to refine our diplomacy skills and we need to negotiate solutions to issues on the local level, on a state level, on the federal level but in a way that is protective of our communities. And again, that talks about responsibility. We need to work on that and bring that back.

I think that's going to be the key to the future is exercising our responsibilities in ways that non-Natives -- the larger society -- can understand and appreciate."

Michael Thomas:

"I can only agree first of all with what's been said in terms of our own responsibilities and how we should not allow a perpetual federal trust responsibility to us to foster dependency. And frankly, the 30 years of the [Indian] Self-Determination Era has, in my mind, fostered as much dependency as self-determination. And frankly, I think that self-determination can be an excuse for modern governments to avoid their trust responsibility to each and every one of the people in our tribal communities. And so it's a balancing act. I think that we will see the lip service toward self-determination continue, but I think that you'll see the pendulum swing back and forth between whether these people are walking the walk or simply talking the talk.

As you watch the composition of our Supreme Court change, the advice about staying out of court becomes more and more relevant. And that is the kind of long-term pendulum swing that we as Indian people can appreciate but the average American cannot. The reality is, unless you are subject to those swings in constitutional interpretation, and Supreme Court composition, and federal Indian policy, and all the other things that create the storm of politics within which we must live, you're not going to get consistent outcomes.

And so that responsibility that both other tribal leaders here have emphasized is critical. Because it's a different approach to say 'They will never fully meet this trust responsibility, therefore we must...' than it is to simply cry over and over and over, 'Meet your trust responsibility, meet your trust...' We end up putting our people in a victim's position, when the reality is that we have all we need to protect and advance our people even in the absence of that fulfilled trust responsibility. I think an increasing recognition of this by tribal leaders can only lead us to good places."

Ben Nuvamsa:

"I'm very humbled to be here among you leaders. Thank you for your teachings and validation of what I also believe in. Chief Ransom, as you spoke, I feel like you were talking about us.

At Hopi, we're going through a tremendous change. I agree with you, wholeheartedly, that along with sovereignty comes responsibility and accountability, and if we can exercise that in the correct way -- hopefully we don't get to the point where somebody tells us what sovereignty means to us, like the Supreme Court. Our constitutions that we have adopted, the IRA constitution -- at Hopi we're very different because of our traditional ceremonies that we are very still actively involved in, in that -- and our values are much different than what an IRA constitution puts forth. And that really creates some problems for us, that we have two different cultures always conflicting with how we operate. And I think that in the situation that we're in, we need to go out and we need to re-evaluate that constitution. And many tribes have done that. I guess what I'm trying to say is that good, bad, or indifferent, however our constitutions are, we need to interpret those in our Hopi ways, in our tribal ways, what does that mean to us in our local customary practices. That's what's going to sustain us forever. I think that's where we're at.

I'm also very humbled to be with a group of our representatives here that are very knowledgeable in our tribal government. Mr. Kuwaninvaya has been on the council for a long time and I look to him for guidance. He's very astute about when we get into a debate at the council -- and he has this unique knack to put things in proper perspective, and he brings our traditional values, our knowledge, and interprets that debate into how we are supposed to be. And it seems like it really clarifies the whole debate. It's very simple. Go back to what Hopi is. Go back to what our beliefs are. And I think that's what sovereignty means to us is who we are as a people, and what our beliefs are, what our customs are. And we speak our language; our language is what sets us apart also. That is our sovereignty.

And so I just want to thank you for the thoughts. We also have certain principles that you talked about. Sumi'nangwa. Nami'nangwa. Kyavtsi. Respect for one another, coming together as one people, putting our heads together and working together. Those are principles and kind of visions that we have, high bars that we have to achieve. But I think that's the kind of a process that we're in right now and we'll need to get to that point. And I just want to thank you for your words of wisdom all of you."

Regis Pecos:

"Thank you for that, what I think is a really profound question. If we go back into the past and reflect upon that time of federal policies dealing with extermination, and where that moved to assimilation, and where that moved to termination, and then the more recent federal policy that defines this time as the era of self-determination, we really are at a critical juncture to be asking some very critical questions with regard to, 'What are we doing differently now, when we are in control, from those times when we weren't and we were critical of that subjection to those federal policies?' Because if we're not careful, I think that we potentially become our own worst enemies at this particular time and juncture in our journey through life.

I really think that this next wave, to answer your question, really is going to be a return to the core values. And that the definition of sovereignty is really going to come back to be defined, redefined, internally and outwardly. And I think part of the celebration, with something as profound as what we've heard all of today, are the incredible redefining of approaches that is coming from and dictated by our return to those principles and core values. I think in this next wave it's going to be part of a process and an evolution that is using the core values to redefine the strength of tribal governments, and the sovereignty and the power of our peoples to define, outwardly, the interrelations of intergovernmental relations, if you will, but defined for our purposes. So that, as we take a circle, and in it are the core values of our land, our language, our way of life, our people, our resources, our water, our air that sustains that spirit of living, to examine the way in which we either are making decisions with governance and our jurisprudence that moves us away from the core values or reinforces the core values; and where decisions are made that's moving us away, how we're contributing to make fragile that institutional framework that otherwise creates for an operation from a position of strength. And if all we're doing in this time of self-determination is simply replicating programs with no conscious thought about how the replication of programs is moving us further away from those core values or reinforcing core values, or the way in which economic development is viewed, to either be supportive and compatible with the core values or moving us away from the core values, and something as critical as education -- If we see education as the means and the process that was never intended for us, but how we find that to be necessary in developing our skills to deal with their external forces, to protect the internal workings of our nations, it becomes critical at this very point to really look at ways in which we strike a balance. And as our young people and our trust for the future are being schooled in the formal education institutions, we really have to be mindful in terms of what we're doing consciously in redefining our own blueprint for the teachings, from a cultural perspective, so that in the kind of challenges from this point forward, we really must operate from that position of strength, that is, articulating our relationships with other governments from those fundamental principles encompassed and defined by those core values.

So I think in this next wave, it's going to be about our redefining relationships with other governments based upon the articulation and the full utilization of the core values moving from within, outwardly, as it's never been done before. And if we're not approaching it in that way, the gaps are going to become greater and wider. And if language and culture is not the focus of what we do in creating the next generation of leaders, ask ourselves, 'Will they have any opportunity to argue the spirit of sovereignty from any other context or perspective?' Because when that happens we're going to be reduced to everything we don't want to be reduced to, as simply political subdivisions of someone else's sovereign governmental framework, different than what we want to do -- to come from within that context that sustains that spirit, that is defined by everything the Creator gave us and blessed us with, that sustains that spirit of living from a totally different perspective, which means that we have to create our own institutions. So that for all of us who've gone through the experience of a formal education, it doesn't take us to move back through a process of being reeducated in the principles of those core values.

So I think in this next wave, we have to be conscious about creating our own opportunities and institutions to strike the kind of balance that results in the kind of training that is necessary for young people to have that kind of balanced perspective, moving the core values as we define the way in which we're going to preserve that sustained spirit of living using those core values."

Michael Thomas:

"Definitely very well said. I would only add one piece, to what frankly, I don't think any of us could say better, which is that one of those core values we have to emphasize, in addition to that which separates us...is our foundation, our language, our culture, our values, the history, this dirt that we are from and of -- the interconnectedness value that we were all given as well is horribly underplayed. As important as all of those things that make us distinct tribal communities are, equally important are the things that bind us from one to the other, the interconnectedness value that every last one of us was taught by our elders is one that we don't walk often enough. It's an area where the way I say it to our council, it's an area where we are not matching our lips with our moccasins. It sounds wonderful, but to really emphasize the interconnectedness means that we would fight less within each of these tribal communities.

And frankly, I've never been to a tribal community, and I've visited several hundred in my life, that is startlingly different from another. As a matter of fact, when people come to Mashantucket, I tell them, 'Don't be confused by the cars and the houses. This is the res.' It might be a little bigger or a little prettier -- same issues, frankly. Wealth has intensified some of those community, social, cultural issues that we face. We're thankful to have the means to deal with those things, finally, but we've got to emphasize connectedness, because all of the other things bring us into our own individual boxes. And everything in this American culture is so individualized and so disconnected from anything, that what that value of 'the connectedness of all things' is one of the most important traditional values we should keep in mind and turn into the action that Regis articulated as well as anyone could. Thank you."

David Gipp:

"Regis, I think you summed up quite a few things today, at least from our perspective and from the tribal perspective, and where we're going hopefully. Let me jump to the next question. And it's a question for you, and other leaders, and everyone here, I think. And that's the question that our Assistant Secretary is posing and he's talking about modernizing the BIA. I don't know if you heard his remarks this morning. And I thought some of them made very good sense as compared to what I heard you say out in...which was the introduction of that thought. And I know you're running around the country trying to get ideas of what that means as well, at least that's what I hear. Comes that question, and that's part of what you have raised is, where are we going to go with this? And how are we going to deal with this? Because the immediate question is, now we have a new trust office that's been put in place, and it's supposedly doing all of these wonderful things for us in terms of managing our trust resources, and being accountable, and somebody mentioned the word transparency, and perhaps we'll see this someday from the U.S. government and truly see what they've been up to all these centuries. But the other issue is, what happens with the rest of the functions within the Bureau of Indian Affairs? Particularly as our tribal nations assume more of these, I'll just say, jurisdictional issues and more of the issues that relate to sovereignty and who and what we're all about. What happens to the government in the meantime, and the U.S. government? And what role does it play? And how will it play that role? And where do we put it in its place, if you will, as we talk about this new, if you will, evolution that's beginning to take place? And I think that's a very real question, because the government can surely be, as we know, stand in the way and create even more problems than it has in the past. Or it can be, indeed, potentially a partner, if we make it a partner. And how do we do that?"

Oren Lyons:

"Sovereignty is the act thereof. No more. No less. And it's a French word. It talks about kings. It talks about absolute monarchal power, absolute. That's what sovereignty comes from. But we came to understand it to mean control of your own future. When we talked this morning about the landing of our brothers here, and not too far away from right here, and they saw the Indian come standing out of the forest. And they looked at him and the word was, 'We'll never tame that man.' And all they ever saw was a free person. That's what they were looking at, was a free person. And that's what we all were at one time. And it's absolutely [certain] that we have to go back to our original teachings to move into the future because they're fundamental, they don't change. Principles don't change. Everything else changes, but principles do not. So as we move forward, we've changed as well. I would imagine that if we were to talk to our counterparts 200 years ago, if they walked in here, they wouldn't know who we were. They'd say, 'Well, whatever happened to our people?' We change. And 100 years or 200 years from now, we'd look at what's in the future and we'd say, 'Well, whatever happened to them?' But if you keep your principles, the main core principles, you can change all you want and nothing changes.

And so I think that it's true that there's going to be outside forces, this global warming is no joke. It's going to break economies. It's going to break world economies. They're just not going to be able to stand it. They're not going to be able to be spending all their money on wars and fighting because they're just going to be talking about survival. So commonality comes back. The discussion is about water, it's about land, it's about resources. When you talk about sovereignty in a contemporary sense, you're talking about jurisdiction. Who has jurisdiction on your land? And that will tell you how sovereign you are. And so jurisdiction is a very important discussion. How do you maintain that?

The courts have always been unfair but they're extremely unfair these days. I agree with you, it's a very difficult time. There's not been fairness in this country to us, there never has been. Racism is still here, it's still rampant, doesn't take much for it to come up. It does not take much for it to pop right up and look you in the face. So we're in a time, I guess, where we're going to see momentous changes. And so the spiritual strength that comes from our elders and comes from our nations and our old people, they always talk about the old people. I always remember Thomas Banyacya saying, 'Well, the old people said...' I always liked it when he said that because he was talking about our elders and how they instructed us and how they always looked after us. It was never a question about leadership then.

The problem with today's leadership in Indian Country is the system that doesn't allow you any continuity. You're there for two years, and then you have an election, and you fight each other for two years, and then you start again, and two years later you're -- it keeps you off balance. The traditional system, the old system, where the chiefs were there for life, I'm one of them. I've got 40 years on the bench, so to speak. I've seen a lot, talked to a lot of leaders (Nixon), most of them one time or another. Bob Bennett, I knew Bob. All of them actually -- how they had a short time, problematic time, but meantime back home, back home where we live, things remain kind of constant. You do what you can do, but I think the core values are just what we're going to depend on and we have to just get back to that. The ceremonies that Jim [James Ransom] was talking about as a guideline -- ceremony is what kept us going, ceremony is what makes us unique, it makes us different from everybody. If you were to ask who we are, we're the people who give thanks to the earth. That's who we are. And we do it all the time. And we still do it. It's important and we were told as long as you're doing it, you're going to survive. When you give it up, you won't. Simple as that.

So we're coming into times, hard times. We've had changes. On September 13th [2007] the United Nations adopted the Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. And for the first time in the history of this world they recognized us as peoples with an "s." We fought 30 years for that. Up to that point, we were populations. Populations don't have human rights. Peoples do. That's why we had such a problem. Well, 143 countries voted for us, four voted against us. We know who they were. But the question is why? The question is why? And you have to really inspect that for a reason. We know each other. We've been sometimes allies, sometimes antagonists, but we know each other very well, especially the Haudenosaunee. Those 13 colonies were about as close to Indian as you're ever going to get, Grand Council, the whole works, instructions from our chiefs, democracy. Democracy is from here. It didn't come from overseas. It was here all the time. We were all democratic.

And so we're coming to a crux and it's a tough one. We're involved in it because we're people; peoples, I should say. That was really a benchmark. Now the problems that we had in that final document, we'll be battling in the next 30 years I suppose, if we have 30 years. That's the question. This global warming is extremely fast, it's coming and it's coming faster than you will think. In 2000, we gave a speech at the UN and we warned them then. We warned them then. The ice is melting. It took them seven years to respond to that, but seven years lost. Time's a factor now. We really don't have the luxury of another 100 years. We're going to see stuff very quickly and we best be ready, as leaders, as responsible people. It's coming now. You can't be red, you can't be white, you can't be yellow, you can't be black. You're people, you're a species and the species is in dire trouble as a species. There's nobody in charge of our fate except ourselves. Human beings have their own fate in their hands and how they act is how it's going to be. So they're looking for instructions and right now the long-term thinking is coming forward and the values are coming forward -- our values. And I say that collectively, because I know we all have the same -- I know that. I've traveled into ceremonies all over the place. It's all the same. It doesn't matter what language. It's the same. That's going to come back again. Now whether we can survive, collectively, is going to be up to us. It's just going to be up to us. That's all. So leadership is now coming forward and I think Indian nations have that opportunity. And the stuff that we're doing right here is kind of what you would call getting in shape. You're getting in shape, flexing yourself, getting back to where we used to be, getting in shape for the big one.

And I'm just really pleased and honored for this collection of humanity: common people, common cause, and we have to work together for survival. That's the way it's going to be. Unity -- that's what the peacemaker said. Your strength is in unity. One arrow you can break, arrows bound together in a tight bundle is strength. That's what we're doing. We're binding the arrows, getting ready. We've got to take care of each other and help our brother. He's in a lot of trouble and when he's in trouble so are we. There's no way to run. You have only one Mother and when you make her mad you're in trouble. And that's where she is right now. You can't make war against your Mother and that's what's going on in this world, and not without a consequence. So I know next year, when we have the meeting again, there'll be more examples of our abilities and our strength and who we are. It's coming forward and I'm pleased to see that.

I just want to say one more thing about sovereignty. In May [2007], in Halifax, Canada, they played the World Games Box Lacrosse Championships, world championships. And Iroquois Nationals won all through the week and came into the semi-finals and we defeated the United States 14 to 4. And we moved in to play for the gold on a Sunday and we were defeated by Canada by one goal in overtime. And I would say bad call from the ref in there, too. But it was our flag, it was our anthem, and our nation and our boys and they did do well. [Thank you]."

Megan Hill:

"Thank you, Chief. I've been honored and humbled to have been in this room with so much wisdom."

Honoring Nations: James Ransom: Sovereignty Today

Producer
Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development
Year

Former Saint Regis Mohawk Chairman James Ransom provides his perspective on what sovereignty means today, and stresses the importance of using traditional Indigenous teachings in modern Native nation governance.

People
Resource Type
Topics
Citation

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

Megan Hill:

"Next, we're going to hear from Chief James Ransom from the St. Regis Mohawk. As we know, Akwesasne Freedom School is a 2005 [Honoring Nations] honoree. Chief."

James Ransom:

"Thank you. I wanted to thank you for the opportunity to speak, and it truly is an honor to be here. I wanted to recognize David Cole from our tribe's economic development staff. He is also here, and you had already met Elvera earlier. Just as introduction to myself, I've been on tribal council now for four years but I've been working for my community for 29 years in different capacities. Akwesasne is pretty unique. We're an international community, half in Canada and half in the United States. And I've been fortunate to work for the tribe, prior to becoming Chief, to also work for the Canadian Recognized Council, as well as to -- I've spent five years working for the Confederacy itself. So I've kind of had a unique life experience of seeing all of our governments in action in different capacities.

What I want to talk about is, to share with you my perspective on sovereignty first. I think that I view it as inherent, as either you have it or you don't. There is no gray area about it. Someone else can't give it to you, and I feel strongly that someone can't take it away from you. I think that the Supreme Court just doesn't get it. They can only suppress it, but it keeps coming back. I think it was [Justice John] Marshall, on the Supreme Court, that called us 'domestic dependent nations,' as you heard this morning. Tell that to, as you heard this morning, tell that to Israel, tell that to China, tell that to Australia, who are looking to us for help today. That's not dependent on anybody. I think that the key to why sovereignty can't be taken away from us is because it's about responsibility. It's about our responsibility to live in peace and harmony with each other. It's about our responsibility to live in peace and harmony with the natural world. As Oren [Lyons] said this morning, it is about our responsibility to ensure that there is going to be a seventh generation.

The one thing that I've learned over the years about it is that it can become the longest four-letter swear word that I know when somebody abuses it. Particularly when individuals defend inappropriate actions by hiding behind it, that's the danger for us. The other thing that I've learned is that if you don't exercise then you can be pretty certain that somebody is going to try to exercise it for you and to your detriment. I wanted to talk briefly about the origins of tribal sovereignty in particular, and I think that -- I've heard a lot of the presentations today -- and the common theme that I keep hearing, resonating, is we need to look inward, we need to look at our culture. And I think the same holds true for sovereignty, that's the key to it. And for the Haudenosaunee, in particular, and I think for all tribes and all nations, we need to turn to our traditional teachings to answer the questions about the origins of sovereignty. And I think that when you're talking about responsibilities that our ancestors knew their responsibilities long before sovereignty was even a word, and that they embodied these responsibilities in the traditional teachings.

For us, you can see it in some of our teachings, like the Thanksgiving address, like the two-row wampum treaty belt, and they serve today as valuable guides on how we should conduct our relationships with others. And when you look at your teachings, look at the principles that underlie them. For us, I think that these principles are based on simple, but powerful words that are just as practical today as they were hundreds and thousands of years ago. For example, in the two-row wampum, there's three principles. The first one is [Mohawk language], or peace, and peace requires action. It doesn't just happen. It means that we have to work at it to achieve it. It means we need to be communicating with each other, always working to maintain the peace. The second principle, we call it, [Mohawk language], or a good mind. And what that means is that we set aside our differences and instead we try to bring our minds together as one and focus on our common interests rather than our problems. The last principle is [Mohawk language], or strength. And strength arises when our words and our actions match. That's what integrity is, that's what ethical conduct is.

In terms of sovereignty today, I thought it was important to set that backdrop to talk about it today. In that, if we look at Indian Country, we are approaching an economic crossroads. Some are already there, some are fast approaching it, others have a ways to go. And I think that the message I try to give on that is that now, more than ever, we need to make sure our decisions are rooted in our traditional teachings. I think it can make the difference as to whether we control our decisions or whether our decisions control us.

I wanted to give Akwesasne as an example to try to convey the message. We've had more than our share of problems, we've had 100 years if not more of industrial pollution. We've seen the destruction of our traditional lifestyles. We have health problems today from this pollution that weren't there before. In terms of education, in the 1950s, we turned over the responsibility of educating our children to the state and the public school systems. Internally, we've struggled as a community. We've struggled in particular to come of one mind as a community.

As I said, we're one community that's international, but we've become a community divided, and it's more than just the border dividing us geographically. Today we have three Mohawk governments. I sit on the elected council on, quote, 'the American portion.' We have an equivalent Canadian federally recognized government on the northern portion of the community, and we have a traditional government, and we [have] a couple of others that are trying to claim to be governments as well. I think to say that we haven't always gotten along is to put it mildly -- anybody who knows our community. If we look at our surrounding area and our region, locally and regionally, we have similar stories to others. We've been marginalized over the years, we've been viewed as being irrelevant, unimportant. We've got the St. Lawrence Seaway and the associated hydroelectric project in our backyard, but we have none of the benefits of that. We certainly have the environmental harm. Our local school district that we send our children to has an arena, has a swimming pool, at one time it had a planetarium, all built with Indian dollars because our students were going there.

So that's sort of a little bit of the past, but today, we're a community in transition, and that's where I want to bring back the traditional teachings. In that, particularly the last 30-40 years, I think we've seen a return to those traditional teachings, an enhancement of them to guide our community. If you look at some of the examples, I don't know if people are familiar with Akwesasne Notes. That newspaper, I think, really was a big part of the renaissance in terms of traditional teachings coming back into our community, and that thinking being reinvigorated. The Akwesasne Freedom School in 1979, and that institution being established. It's literally wrapped in traditional teachings, both in the Thanksgiving address and in teaching in the Mohawk language. What Elvera didn't talk about is the influence the Freedom School has had on the public school system. And what we've been doing the last 10 years in particular is taking back responsibility for the education of our children. I think that we send the majority of our students to a public school system and today over 60% of the students in that school district are Mohawk. It's the only school district in the entire state of New York that has a Native American student population that's the majority. Today, five out of the nine school board members are Mohawk. The curriculum is now incorporating the Thanksgiving address into it. You can go to the school and the Haudenosaunee flag flies alongside the Canadian and American flags, and it has carried over into Onondaga territory and the other territories as well. You can go to graduation now and you can see Mohawks in traditional clothing as an alternative to cap and gown at graduation -- it is a powerful visual sight. If you look at [the] environment, that we've been using the teachings to change relationships with state and federal officials and with industry. We've been using them to explain how we've been harmed from the pollution. We've been able to, by doing this, force -- literally force -- hundreds of millions of dollars of environmental cleanups. We're also using the teachings to restore our agricultural base. We are now planting original Haudenosaunee heirloom seeds in our community. We've planted thousands of black ash trees to support our basket makers. We've now developed an environmental assessment process based on the Thanksgiving address. I think that going forward from here for Akwesasne, and I think for Indian Country, is we need to develop a positive vision for that seventh generation that Oren [Lyons] talked about. In Akwesasne, what that means for us is getting control of our infrastructure.

Right now, we're in the process of forming a tribal electric distribution company and we've convinced the local company to leave our territory and allow us to buy them out and take it over. We're working with the Mescalero Apache, and we hope to form a tribal telephone company. We're working to heal the rift in our community, and that's probably the most daunting task we have. The reason is that, I think it's a trust issue in that the years of distrust work against us and it takes years to build trust. And when I talked about the last principle of [Mohawk language], or the strength, what I've seen is that when our words and actions don't match, it can take years to repair that damage. That being said, I believe our community is well positioned going forward. There is a lot of cooperation going on in the community that wasn't there before. We held a referendum on land claims in 2005, first time in the history of Akwesasne that we held a referendum on the southern portion and the northern portion on the same issue, on the same day, at the same time. And in that same time period, the traditional council held a similar debate over the issue. All three councils came out and the community literally came out in support of the settlement. That's the power of working together. What's changed probably most significantly is how the outside community views us. And I think that we're now getting our respect from our neighbors, our non-Native neighbors, that's been missing for a long time. And in fact we're becoming recognized as the economic hope for the region.

So I wanted to share this perspective with you and again I want to thank you for the opportunity to speak."

Honoring Nations: Michael Thomas: Sovereignty Today

Producer
Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development
Year

Former Mashantucket Pequot Chairman Michael Thomas provides his definition of what tribal sovereignty means in the 21st century, and stresses the importance of Native nations examining and reconnecting with their traditional governance principles as they work to exercise sovereignty effectively.

Resource Type
Citation

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

Megan Hill:

"So I'd like to introduce our next speaker, Chairman Michael Thomas. He's the Chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation. And he's representing our New England region. Thank you."

Michael Thomas:

"Thank you, and thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak to the folks at Harvard [University and] to the elders in the room. When we think about what sovereignty today means, rather than focusing upon a definition, which many will do, and frankly, given how often it is tortured and twisted, they probably should do, I want to talk you today about some of what sovereignty means in a connective sense. Not the definition of sovereignty, but what does sovereignty mean in terms of what it creates for us. And from the standpoint of a tribal leader, sovereignty, first of all, means equal parts of authority and responsibility. And we are, as tribal governments, becoming more responsible as time goes on with the authority that sovereignty affords us. There have always been places where -- although we don't talk about these things publicly very often -- sovereignty has been used against the very people in the tribal community from whom it originates. And we have to, increasingly, examine our own tribal government systems so that we can provide for our people all of the things that we would have provided in traditional governmental forms, but provide them through these modern mechanisms, often forced upon us by Relocation-Era policy or other eras of policy that you all in this room are as familiar with as I am. And for us, at Mashantucket Pequot, it has meant government transparency and accountability. And I want to talk about those things, and talk about how important those things are, and talk about how traditional those things are. These are not modern, democratic, American things that are creeping their way into tribal governance. These are things that are traditional, values-based, Indian things that are creeping their way back into tribal governments, if you approach it from the right perspective.

And so, for us, it's meant basic government accountability mechanisms. Financial transparency. I am extremely proud of having been a part of achieving financial transparency in our tribal community. Ten years ago or 15 years ago, a tribal citizen at Mashantucket had no right to any financial information that was produced from any of the tribal enterprises that we've been fortunate enough to build or acquire. Today, any person in our tribal community goes to the clerk's office and can see the last ten years of audited financials; can see last year's spending, up to and including all of mine; can see the next 10 years of cash flow forecasts, so that they even have a good idea of what might be coming, although clearly all of those things have disclaimers on them. You don't want people in our tribal community assuming that pro formas are reality, but they should see the pro formas, they should understand what they are. They should understand 10- and 15- and, frankly, for tribes, 50-year cash-flow projections. These are things that in a normal business sense, people even here at Harvard [University], would tell you are just unrealistic. You can't do a 50-year cash flow forecast. To which my question is, why not? We're going to be here in 100 years, and 100 years after that, and 100 years after that. I don't think it's ridiculous to wonder about sustainability of tribal government, sustainability of community service delivery, over that 50-year window. From a tribal perspective, it's actually a snapshot in time.

And so we've begun to blend the traditional values that grandma taught us -- and speaking of grandma, I have to give credit where credit is due. I am a third-generation tribal leader, and proud to walk in the moccasins of my mom, who helped to establish Foxwoods way back in the day, and walk in the moccasins of my grandma, who was on the tribal council in the 1970s, before we were federally recognized. And so, I have huge moccasins to fill that I probably never can fill, but I have a whole lot of fun trying to fill. And if we remember our community roots, we always come back to the same traditional values. Sometimes, being governments and seeing ourselves as modern governments, actually pulls us away from the traditional values that make us who we are. And so, the reality is that most of what we need to succeed in life as tribes, as people, as human beings, our grandma taught us when we were three, or four, or five [years old]. I spend the vast majority of my time in this de facto CEO role that you see many tribal chairmen assuming in this modern era, teaching business executives five times as smart as I am the basics that their grandma taught them when they were five [years old]. And when we get through those, then I begin to teach them the ones my grandma taught me when I was five [years old]. And that's the layer they need to finish their perspective and serve a tribal community fully.

And so, I think increasingly, one of the things that sovereignty today should mean is an examination of the separation of powers in tribal governance. The reality is that yesterday's model, where, well, I'll say it to you all the way I say it to the folks in the family at home -- yesterday's model, where the next nut in my position has to be a de facto CEO, and the chief of an Indian community, and the mayor of a small place where you want an economy and you want community activities -- it's just becoming increasingly unrealistic that any individual leader or even group of seven leaders -- seven is our traditional tribal council number, we went away from that for awhile at the behest of the state government, and in the last 15 years or so we've been back to the traditional number of seven -- but for seven people who only must achieve popularity in the tribal community in order to be where we are, this presents challenges for us as tribal people. And I do believe in the principle that -- given the time and the resources -- frankly, we are as creative at adapting and overcoming what is in front of us as any group of people on the face of the Earth. And so, too, can we examine our own government structures with that same set of glasses on.

So, I think tribal sovereignty today means, frankly, the continuing defensive effort that our parents, and our grandparents, and their grandparents, fought before our time. But, just as excitingly, the new opportunity for us to examine ourselves in the mirror and reconnect ourselves with the values that we were all given by our grandma. To reconnect ourselves with the true meaning of representation as tribal leaders, not just leadership as tribal leaders, is what I hope sovereignty is beginning to mean today. Thank you all very much."

Political Autonomy and Sustainable Economy

Year

A unique attribute of Indian political ways was noted early on by colonial observers. Indians, Indigenous Peoples more generally, were engaged in everyday political action as full participating community members. Every person had the right to be heard. Decisions were made through discussion and caucusing–an Indian derived word. Indian orators worked to persuade others to adopt a specific position and arrive at agreements...

Resource Type
Citation

Champagne, Duane. "Political Autonomy and Sustainable Economy." Indian Country Today Media Network. May 23, 2015. Article. (https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/history/events/political-autonomy..., accessed May 27, 2015)

Richard Luarkie: Choosing to be Bitter or Better: A Perspective from a Pueblo Upbringing

Producer
TEDxABQ
Year

Pueblo of Laguna Governor Richard Luarkie shares his rich Pueblo upbringing, a deep tradition of contribution to community, and inspiration to live a great life. Richard has a passion to contribute to global economic and community advancement using his Pueblo cultural values and teachings.

Native Nations
Citation

Luarkie, Richard. "Choosing to be Bitter or Better: A Perspective from a Pueblo Upbringing." TEDxABQ Whispers & Roars. TEDxABQ. Albuquerque, NM. September 6, 2014. Presentation. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2UcwBQSfF8&list=PLsRNoUx8w3rO8s-H4FO9cf..., accessed October 19, 2023)

Tradition and Governance: Ron Thomas

Producer
National Centre for First Nations Governance
Year

Ron Thomas from Haudenosaunee / Six Nations talks about Haudenosaunee traditional governance, and the challenges of removing the Indian Act and replacing it with more traditional governance. 

People
Resource Type
Topics
Citation

Thomas, Ron. "Tradition and Governance: Ron Thomas." National Centre for First Nations Governance. Canada. 2012. Film. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-MgYKvIWPs&list=UU6Kmkt3MUlLgGT4vN4NVKWQ&index=8&feature=plcp, accessed September 18, 2012).

Tradition and Governance: Georjann Moresseau

Producer
National Centre for First Nations Governance
Year

Councilor Georjann Morreseau of Fort William First Nation talks about the challenges of teaching Fort William youth about traditions and governance. 

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Moresseau, Georjann. "Tradition and Governance: Georjann Moresseau." National Centre for First Nations Governance. Canada. 2012. Film. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j6blVZGGasI&feature=plcp, accessed September 17, 2012).

Tradition and Governance: Chief Richard Gamble

Producer
National Centre for First Nations Governance
Year

Chief Gamble of Beardy's and Okemasis First Nation says that tradition and spirituality are a way of life and might be captured in a constitution so that First Nations can develop laws that are based on traditional values. This would be a way to undo the Indian Act and make way for more traditional governance. 

Resource Type
Topics
Citation

Gamble, Richard. "Tradition and Governance: Chief Richard Gamble." National Centre for First Nations Governance. Canada. 2012. Film. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvmzVtZ-Hno&feature=plcp, accessed September 17, 2012).