Luann Leonard, Stephen Roe Lewis and Walter Phelps: Bridging the Gap: How Native Culture Forges Native Leaders

Native American Student Affairs

Luann Leonard (Hopi), Stephen Roe Lewis (Gila River Indian Community), and Walter Phelps (Navajo) discuss how their personal approaches to leadership have been and continue to be informed by their Native nations' distinct cultures and core values and those keepers of the culture in their communities. 

Resource Type

Leonard, Luann. "Bridging the Gap: How Native Culture Forges Native Leaders." Native American Student Affairs, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. November 14, 2013. Panel discussion.

Lewis, Stephen Roe. "Bridging the Gap: How Native Culture Forges Native Leaders." Native American Student Affairs, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. November 14, 2013. Panel discussion.

Phelps, Walter. "Bridging the Gap: How Native Culture Forges Native Leaders." Native American Student Affairs, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. November 14, 2013. Panel discussion.

Aresta La Russo:

"So to begin the program the Native American Student Affairs of the University of Arizona, they're presenting "Bridging the Gap: How Native Culture Forges Native Leaders." Our panelists are Native leaders. What I will do is they will introduce themselves and then we will begin.

I want to introduce myself. My name is Aresta La Russo. I'm a member of the Navajo Nation and my clans are [Navajo language]. I am a student here at the University and I'm over in the American Indian Studies Program. I'm a Ph.D. student there. [Navajo language].

So today our speakers are Lieutenant Governor of Gila River Indian Community, Stephen Roe Lewis; Walter Phelps, Navajo Nation Council Delegate; LuAnn Leonard, Arizona Board of Regents and member of the Hopi Tribe. [Applause] So if you could introduce yourselves panelists, that would be great."

Walter Phelps:

"Good evening. It's an honor and a privilege to be here this evening to be with you. My name is Walter Phelps. [Navajo language]. I represent...out of 110 chapters on Navajo, I represent five chapters, which is Leupp Chapter, Birdsprings Chapter, Tolani Lake Chapter, Cameron Chapter and Coalmine Chapter, so those are the chapters I represent in Western Agency in Coconino County."

LuAnn Leonard:

"Thank you. It is also an honor to be here. My name is LuAnn Leonard. I'm a member of the Arizona Board of Regents and I'm also the Executive Director of the Hopi Education Endowment Fund. I'm Hopi and Tohono O'odham. My village is Sichomovi Village up on the Hopi Reservation and my father's from a little village on the T.O. Reservation of [village name], almost near the border of Mexico. But I was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, but I've been out on Hopi for about 29 years. And my daughter Nicole is here, she's up here in the front and I have a nephew who's also here. So U of A [University of Arizona] is a very special place.

Stephen Roe Lewis:

"[O'odham language]. My name is Lt. Governor Stephen Roe Lewis and I am from the Gila River Indian Community. We're over 20,000 members and we you know, we're right off the I-10 just south of Phoenix and I grew up in Sacaton, pretty much the home spot and the seat of power for the Gila River Indian Community. We have seven districts and we have 17 council members. Please don't hold that against me, I graduated from ASU. I told my council I'm coming down to enemy territory and if I'm not back by midnight to send out a search party. But I'm really honored to be here, especially with this...real honorable fellow guests here as well, representing both the Hopi Tribe and the Navajo Tribe and as a tribal leader we work together, all the tribes in Arizona. Our paths cross and we work very respectfully as tribe to tribe, nation to nation tribes. Thank you."

Aresta La Russo:

"I want to say thank you for being here. Your presence here means a lot to our young students here who are getting their education to help their people back home. And I also want to say thank you...I want to acknowledge Karen Francis-Begay from the Office of the President, Tribal Relations for that office, and also our Native American Student Affairs Director Steve Martin -- thank you -- and also the students who have organized these events for the Native American Heritage Month, which is the month of November.

So to begin, we have 60 minutes allotted for the questions and they are structured and you have two minutes each to answer the questions. After the one-hour session for questioning, we're going to have questions and answers from the audience also. The first question: As a leader in the community, how have you handled times of criticism, opposition or failure? And give us examples of how well or not well you handled being in such situations. So if we could begin with Lieutenant Governor."

Stephen Roe Lewis:

"With a two-minute deadline I feel like I'm a pageant member or something. Thank you for that and as a...really as an elected tribal leader you really carry the hopes, dreams and values of your community, of your tribal community. We at Gila River, we're home to two tribes, both the Akimel O'odham and the Pee-Posh peoples. As tribal leaders, we are held to the highest standard and we are supposed to represent -- even though we're human beings -- in other words, we represent the best values of our community. And one of these values is that we respect the elders. That's a traditional teaching, a traditional behavioral control, societal, where the elders, their wisdom is something that you respect completely. And when you, if you're out during a tribal council meeting, you're out at a district meeting or any meeting or if an elder...with their teaching moments, when they lecture you...lecture, that also comes from our value, which is what the Akimel O'odham call our Himdag, which is our culture, our values, who we are. When those elders or who the society views as elders, when they lecture you, you take it, you listen and you respectfully take those words of wisdom. At times you're criticized and at times you may not even totally agree with them, but because of that value we place, because of those societal values that we place on our elders, you take that as a positive, you take that as a learning experience, especially as a leader. Even though you're a leader, you always have to respect your elders and there have been many times that I've been lectured and criticized and you take that in stride, you take that with dignity and then you...afterwards you try to understand why that occurred. So at least with that specific I'll lead off the discussion. Thank you."

Aresta La Russo:

"Thank you."

LuAnn Leonard:

"Thank you. Being a woman and working and living on the Hopi Reservation has been challenging. As I stated, I was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, so I'm an urban Indian by the way I grew up, but I'm a reverse transplant I always say, because usually the trend is you come from the reservation to the urban area and you stay, but I did the opposite, which is a little different. When regards to the question, when I graduated from Northern Arizona University in 1983, I worked for the Phoenix Indian Center for a couple years and then I went to the Hopi Tribe, very young. I think I was 23 years old, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, wanting to help my people. I got my first job as a college graduate and I believe I made $6.25 an hour, which was a lot at that time. So I'm working at the Hopi Tribe and I was working with parents and students and I'll give you this example of what can happen.

We had a situation with two students who -- it was during a summer program. So I sat them down, they were causing trouble because of their relationship, talked to them in a firm voice. Later that evening, one of the aunts of one of the students was very concerned and she was upset and so she called me. And I don't know if you've ever been on the phone with somebody who's yelling at you and you can't get a word in. All you can do is listen. But this woman was saying things like, "˜I know you're from the city. I know you're only going to be out here for one year, you're going to use our people and then you're going to leave. You're going to make money and make a name and then you're going to leave,' among many other things. And I was just this young kid about the age of some of you here, and all I could do was listen and at the end I was in tears, but all I could tell her was, "˜Thank you.' You grow really tough from things like that, but I see those as times when you grow. You have to accept that kind of criticism and thank them. It only makes you stronger and now, 29 years later, and I think I've done a lot of good things for not only our people, but people across Arizona. When I run into that woman, I always smile at her and she knows that what she said was wrong, but it only makes you stronger. And so I accept criticism, it's easier because of that; it's easier to accept criticism than it is to accept praise for me. It's kind of a little psychological thing."

Aresta La Russo:

"Thank you. Walter Phelps."

Walter Phelps:

"Thank you and thank you for that question. Recently I came across a comment by a lady who said that, "˜As leaders your destiny, you become your destiny and you become the backbone.' She said, "˜As a leader who has become a leader, you are the backbone.' And then she said, "˜But you also have to grow your own funny bone and your wishbone.' I thought that was a very insightful statement because I think that all of us have different backgrounds, all of us have different personalities and I get the privilege to watch my colleagues, to observe my colleagues. We have 24 council members on the Navajo Nation Council and I can see the unique personalities, the strengths and the unique personalities of each individual, each leader that's there. So it's really a privilege to see that and especially to observe that, this being my first term in office.

But I think that as a leader, you have constituents. Our people always say that we have 300,000 Navajo constituents and with the five chapters that I represent, we have a certain percentage of people and people come from all walks of life. You have to anticipate that you will get people that will support you and that will be there to cheer you on and to encourage you and tell you, "˜We're praying for you,' but on the other hand, you also will come across people that will just basically try to express their views or their issues to you in their own unique way, which may not seem like a very friendly way or a very diplomatic way, but at the same time, what I've learned to do is just try to listen, try to listen.

What is it that they are trying to say? What is it that they really are trying to express? And the other thing you have to also remember also is that voice that you're hearing, no matter how harsh and how unkind it may seem, it represents a percentage of your people. It represents a percentage of the views of certain peoples and what you try to do is you try to process that. What you don't do is take it personally and that can be a challenge. But I think that being able to listen, being able to treat them respectfully, that's all that they expect. That's all that's required."

Aresta La Russo:

"Thank you. And thank you for your leadership and thank you for all you do. The second question: I'm sure this second question -- it's about advice -- and I'm sure you have received many advice from elders, maybe your constituents. But the question is, what advice did an elder give to you to help you as a leader and probably maybe one that stands out the most? So if we could begin with Lieutenant Governor."

Stephen Roe Lewis:

"Thank you and this is my, going on my...well, I just completed my second year in my term, my three-year term. Shortly after I was elected, a veteran tribal leader from Arizona, we were talking and although he's retired now, but of the words that or the pieces of wisdom that he passed on to me as a tribal leader, especially when you're in a position where you're faced're always in an imperfect position where you don't have as much information as you might need or there's a lack of time where you're being pushed because of a certain issue that it appears or a situation that appears needs to have action. And what he told me is that there's no situation where you as a tribal leader, that you feel that you need to be pushed into making a decision right then and there. That's what he found in his many years as being a tribal leader. He said, "˜Never get pushed into or pressured into making a decision before you're ready.' He goes, "˜They can...most...99 percent of the situations that come up can at least be decided tomorrow, at least by the next day.' And so never...and I thought of that, too, and I've applied that as well because as a tribal leader, like I said, sometimes you...there are more than one side, two sides or three sides to an issue and I think that was probably...there's a reason why some of our most thoughtful tribal leaders thought about things. And although sometimes from the outside they're wondering, "˜How come they act so slow sometimes within the deliberative process of tribal governments?' But I think that was...from how...I've taken that and applied that from a day-to-day perspective as a tribal leader. I think that piece of wisdom that passed down to me, that's really served me well."

LuAnn Leonard:

"What I've learned or what I was told was in this day and age we want things instantly, especially the younger folks, but I've always been told by elders that there's a reason why things take time. And I know there's a lot of kidding about Indian time and all of that, but this really played out true and I'll give you an example.

I had a nonprofit where we...the Hopi Tribe gave us $10 million, which we have invested and it -- right now it's valued at about $21 million -- but we were changing investment houses around 2008 and what was going on around 2008? The big recession. And we were going to change from Charles Schwab to Merrill Lynch and Merrill Lynch is this giant and here we are the little Hopi Tribe. We were trying to get our agreement signed and it took months. It took months and the reason was Merrill Lynch wanted the Hopi Tribe to change our legislation, which meant changing a law which would allow them, if we went to court, we would go to state court versus tribal court and we stood our ground. And eventually after about six months, we came up with wording and we were able to -- that was agreeable to both sides. And so the Hopi Tribe, it was like David and Goliath or the giant and the little man, but we stuck with it and they...we didn't have to change our law and they accommodated us, which was great.

But the beauty of it was, all that time that...2008 hit, remember stocks plummeted, everyone was losing money. You hear about these big endowment funds that lost millions of dollars. Non-profits were hit hard, but all our money stayed in bonds, which did decent during that period. And so I've really learned from something like that. We survived that area without a big hit like a lot of these non-profits did. But it's true, there's a reason why things take time and I think something was watching over us at that period. It's really hard because, my daughter will tell you, I'm not the most patient person in the world, but there is a reason why things take time."

Walter Phelps:

"I spent about maybe a total of eight years in South Dakota. My wife and her family live near the Rosebud Reservation and we worked with this organization, basically a ministry organization and they...after several years, after a few years they wanted me to, I guess, learn the administrative part and also the leadership part. So they gave me a title, it said Learning Vice President and I liked that title. But anyway, one day, we had a big warehouse like this, it was about this, maybe a little bigger than this room here and one big garage door on one side. And we would have distributions come and people would unload stuff and when you stood in the front of that garage door there was piles of material and supplies all over. There was no organization. It was just completely packed and full.

One day, our president came and led us to that doorway and he wanted us to start organizing and cleaning it. We stood there and looked at that and just looking at it was discouraging and he said, "˜How do you eat an elephant?' I had never heard that before. And he said, "˜One bite at a time.' So I never forgot that because looking back on that, there's a lot of wisdom there because every challenge in life may seem overwhelming, it may seem very big, but you just take it a step at a time, a bite at a time and I think that there's a lot to be learned. There's patience there that can be learned. Through time you begin to understand certain things.

Recently, you'll hear this during election season. Next year is election season and I've already heard some individuals say that, "˜You know, we thought that these new leaders that came into office were going to really make some huge changes.' They said, "˜Nothing has changed. Nothing's changed. Everything's still the same.' But when you look at it from the governance level, governance is a huge ship. It doesn't alter course quickly. So once you begin to appreciate that, it's...creating systemic change, creating change that could be positive and noticeable, it'll come eventually. You have to lay the groundwork for it. I'll probably never forget that piece of wisdom that was given to me."

Aresta La Russo:

"Thank you. And so what I heard was, don't be easily persuaded when making big decisions, there's a reason why things take time and basically, one step at a time. So thank you. Your answers to these questions, for the students here, these are advices they are also taking, listening and taking with them throughout life. The third question: Being members of an Indian nation, give examples of how your cultural and traditional teachings have motivated your success. And if we could begin with Lieutenant Governor again."

Stephen Roe Lewis:

"Well, again, thank you for that question. And like I said in the beginning, as tribal leaders we are...we try to not necessarily epitomize, but we have to, at some point in our lives, demonstrate those values of what makes up our tribal communities.

For the Gila River Indian Community, and specifically the Akimel O'odham, we were historically agricultural. And when you live in the desert and you're agricultural, there's a way of cooperation, cooperation for the common good. And those...always cooperating with one another whether it's in your family, whether it's in your village, whether it's in your clan, your extended family, it's that respect, mutual respect and cooperation. And also because of our agricultural heritage, it's self-sufficiency, it's making sure that you're a productive part of your community and that you have a role to play. Because of that self-sufficiency, you have a responsibility and a role to give back and to enrich your community. And when you try's good that Mr. Phelps, Councilman Phelps was talking about, "˜Come election time...' and again, election time always comes. And there's really, there's a big difference between governance and governments on a large level and especially as a leader, your leadership skills, you have to guide your people through...there are technical challenges and there are adaptive challenges. Technical challenges, those you can read a book, there are specific skill sets that you can bring in, you can look to financial advisers, you can look to public policy experts, you can look to economists, but it's those adaptive problems where your tribe, you're going on new ground, you're trying to bring your people along, slowly bring your people along to surface an issue, surface a problem.

With our community, we have...we're looking at exactly what does culture play in our community? We have a declining percentage of those people who speak, who are fluent speakers and so you have that criticism, "˜How come it's not being spoken? How come it's not being spoken in the family? How come it's not being taught more productively as part of cultural curriculums in our schools on the reservation?' And so you wonder why, you wonder why there's that gap between what those values are and what the reality really is and as a leader you've got to bridge those. You've got to look at your people are adapting to these new changes, you've got to realize as a leader, what are the most important bedrock principles of what your culture is, what has sustained you, what has made you survive as a people all these years and use those. Use those as tools, use those as touchstones when you try to communicate to your people and you bring them along as a tribal leader. I think that's really what true leadership is.

And of course there's leadership versus authority. Your authority as a tribal leader, you have a role that's really demarcated whether it's in your bylaws or whether it's in your tribal constitution. Sometimes leadership though, sometimes you have to go beyond that role of your authority. You have to go beyond sometimes to really...if you want, if your people are stuck on some issue or stuck on some social problem, you're wondering why there are high incidences of drug abuse, those societal problems, those social problems, and how you can use those cultural touchstones, reach back into your culture, how you can use those tools to reawaken your people, to how you can use those tools as a call to action to start to focus on some of those issues. As a leader, you have to, at times, light the fire under the people. Sometimes...and you have to really gauge whether they're ready, you have to gauge how you're going to do it and in what type of a language and I'm not really necessarily talking about your traditional language or the English language, but the type of language, the type of words you use. Those can really...that's when you're really out there, when you're really, as what sometimes referred to as a leader, when you're on the line, when you're on the firing line there. You really are exercising leadership at that point. Thank you."

LuAnn Leonard:

"The Hopi Education Endowment Fund is a nonprofit of the Hopi Tribe that...where we raise money for the scholarships and grants for our Hopi students to go to schools across the United States. So some of the Hopi students here receive our money. When we created the fund, the tribe gave the first give of $10 million, which was huge because they really put their money where their mouth was. All tribal councils say education is important, but we were so proud the Hopi Tribe did that 11 years ago or 12 years ago.

So we had, I was...came in as the first director and I had an opportunity, I had $10 million, I had no staff, no office, no computer, anything at all, but I had this $10 million, which some of it I could use for a budget. And I could have put...created our office and opened it up here in Tucson, Washington D.C., someplace where rich people live and start our new office. But I felt strongly that this organization must be for Hopi, by Hopi. I wanted to create jobs on the reservation for staff, Hopi staff to run this office and be able to be productive, but also make a good wage and be able to participate in culture. And so I brought on three college-educated employees and we began the Hopi Education Endowment Fund.

We deal with culture every day as we run our non-profit. A non-profit like Make A Wish, Big Brothers Big Sisters, stuff like that, they all have different approaches toward fundraising and fundraising was a new concept for Hopi and I'm sure for Native people. But what we've done over the years, people call it, they say we 'Hopi-fy' it. For example, death is not a, not something that a lot of us talk about, but in fundraising people leave money in their wills and things like that. So what we did with us, we really don' don't plan for your death, but in our way and I'm sure some of you can relate is you plan your grandparent's and your parent's plan who's going to take over the house, who's going to take over the field, who's going to take over the cattle. They leave things like that and there's a concept called \ˈnō-ə\ in our traditions on Hopi. And so we created a \ˈnō-ə\ Society and we... so we use our culture, we kind of modernize it in different causes, but we...being Hopi and running a Hopi organization, we know how far we can go without abusing it and that's the beauty of that.

And I hope, as people, as you get educated and you go back to your reservations and start working for the people, you'll experience the same thing because it's great to be able to have a program like that that you can take great pride in. For example, we never use kachinas in any of our brochures and things like that because we know how far we can take it without being disrespectful. And our people are always there to police us. But one thing, just real quickly, that we ran across was people think philanthropy, fundraising, what is that? But when you think back, who were the first philanthropists, who were the...who was the ones who got those Pilgrims through that first hard winter? It was Native people and we all have this in each of our cultures. We all have different practices and it's our jobs as professionals to pull that out and be able to use that in a new concept. So that's how we use Hopi culture in the everyday workplace."

Walter Phelps:

"Again, thank you. I think this is a great question to try and provide examples that can help motivate...what motivated me, what could motivate maybe somebody else. I guess on one hand, when you're young, when I was young, I wanted to know what my future was, what was in store for my future, what was my purpose for being here. So I remember coming home from, after being away for several years, coming home to my community there at Luepp and we were in a meeting like this and one of our elders said, and he was talking and he said, and he was the leader, he was the council member, council member that represented our community in Window Rock and he was speaking to us and he...I don't remember what all the context of his subject was about, but one statement that he made stuck with my like an arrow. It just like pierced me like an arrow and I walked away with an arrow stuck in me for years to come. And that eventually, it eventually, those words of wisdom eventually brought me down.

But what he said was, '[Navajo language].' In other words, why should you be such a promising person, such a promising person, an individual with such potential and just be that way and not do anything with it? More or less, that was the context of that statement. And I think those words eventually made me realize that there is a purpose, there is a purpose. And if I'm going to succeed one way or another and contribute back to, as to why I'm here, I just have to say, not everybody can be a council member, not everybody is cut out to be a mechanic, not everybody can be a doctor, but if you search for it, if you search for it, pray for it, it'll come to you. I've seen people study for engineering. They spend years in the classrooms in their institutions of learning. They come back to the community. What are they doing? They're doing something totally different. They find their passion in something else.

So what you're doing today may not be what you're going to be doing maybe 20 years from now. It could be something totally different, but I guess the pursuit of that is our privilege as Americans to pursue where we find ourselves and what we find our passion to be and what brings happiness and joy to us. And to me, people ask me, "˜So what is it like? What is it like being a council member?' I said, "˜Well, I enjoy my work. I enjoy my work. It's a challenge to me. I get up every day and I want to get up and do what I'm supposed to do today. It's a joy. It's a joy to me.' I guess it's a path and it's a journey when you find...when you know that you're on the right path, you will find fulfillment and it will be a challenge and you will enjoy doing it."

Aresta La Russo:

"Thank you. [Navajo language]. I think from your speeches, from your comments, basically the principles of your culture of each tribe, we heard the words self-sufficiency, cooperation, philanthropy, giving and also the concept of \ˈnō-É™\ and we're here for a purpose. So that's to sum it up. So thank you. So we're going to go on to our fourth question and I'm sure you all have mentors. So who were your mentors that influenced you? But I guess here if you could mention a couple of them that would be great. And if we could continue on with the same line up with Lieutenant Governor."

Stephen Roe Lewis:

"Well, I think, as a leader and just as a human being, there's a process of growth, process of maturation and I've had the opportunity to go to school, to go to graduate school and you're exposed to a bunch of different...bunch of ideas, you're exposed to the great works, you're exposed to depending on your study. You can talk about Martin Luther King or Gandhi or Cesar Chavez or you start talking about even our great Native leaders in history and our great leaders within our individual respective tribes and then once you go back to your tribe, at least for me, and really take a leadership position and you start to reflect on your own personal journey.

And for me I guess I've always known this, when you start to think about those lifelong lessons and you start to reflect on, for me, on the people around you who raised you, your parents. I had the opportunity to not only spend some time with my father and my mother, but also my grandparents, your extended family. I know aunts and uncles are very important in tribal traditions as well. I know one of my uncles who was a -- and this is really kind of timely because we just had celebrated Veterans Day -- my uncle who was a Vietnam veteran and really had trouble adjusting always when he came back, but he was in the infantry, he was out there in Vietnam, out there really exposed to the horrors of war. But one thing I learned from him was that he, and from a leadership perspective, he walked point a lot for his infantry, for his platoon and he always surveyed the areas. He always...he listened, he used all of his faculties and smell, hearing, sight, just really developed those skills and tested an environment before you go in.

And I think I really want to apply that as well to leadership. You have to go in, you have to use all of your senses, you have to really understand exactly what the barometer of a situation is if you're going to go in and do problem solving, if you're going to go into a meeting and you have to reveal bad news or challenging news to your community members, to your tribal members, to tell them that there's a shortfall in funds, to tell them that the housing budget has been cut by the council, to tell them that so and so might have been terminated. And so you really...and before that, you have to, you're almost like a scout, which essentially was what my uncle was and you're always measuring what the winds of change or the winds of exactly what's going through your community. What is the pulse of your community out there, the pulse of your environment?

You can' a tribal leader sometimes, and I've noticed this, is that when they obtain these positions and thereby the people who put them in there by they separate themselves from their community, they're in their tribal office and where before they might have gone out and were among the people, now they're in meetings in their office and they're traveling a lot, maybe traveling to Washington, D.C. -- and there's no criticism about tribal leaders who go to Washington, D.C., I've been to Washington, D.C. more times than I can remember in the past couple of years -- but you can't lose that tie to your tribal membership. You have to old political axiom is "˜all politics is local' and that does go with tribal politics, at least in my experience. You really have to be attuned to what your tribal people are thinking about. You can't lock yourself up in your office once you get into office.

But I guess, going back to who really influenced me as mentors I would have to say my uncles, my aunts, of course my father and my mother. They were very instrumental. My father was one of the fact, he was the first Native American to pass the bar in Arizona, first Native American to argue and to win a Supreme Court case and it was a tribal taxation case for our tribe back in 1980. And so public service does run in my family. So you have to really reflect what type of legacies run in your family. Of course, probably public service runs in everyone's family, public service extending to veterans. As we know, Native Americans, they've always served the highest percentage of any other group in the United States. Since the war on terror over 50,000 tribal members, 50,000 Native Americans have served and of course I think we all, of course, we have an illustrious history of Native Americans who've served. I think it's obvious for the tribes here represented; they can speak about their rich history. For Gila River, of course it's Ira Hayes. He was one of the flag raisers in Iwo Jima on Mt. Suribachi and really epitomized the sacrifice of all Native Americans. So as...when you're trying to find your way, you're trying to find your call to serve, what's very important and I think what really sustains you is, what is your...the legacies that you' your family, in your extended family. What are those legacies that you can continue on and you can bring with you as a leader in whatever position you choose to attain? Thank you."

LuAnn Leonard:

"You will each need a mentor to help you grow professionally. A mentor is not only a friend, but a colleague and a friend who will, who can be brutally honest with you to help you grow and I have two mentors. The first is a U of A grad. His name's Wayne Taylor, Jr., former Chairman of the Hopi Tribe. We were in tribal government about, gosh, 20 years ago when we first met and we had dreams for our people and we were both just younger professionals and we got along very well. And when election time came about, he was the one we wanted to get into office so that we can act on those dreams. And he was a one-term vice chairman, two-term chairman and has done so many successful things. So it's been great growing up with him.

My other mentor is Yoda. I call her Yoda. So picture this. I'm young; I just got my job as the Executive Director of the Hopi Education Endowment Fund. No experience in fundraising, philanthropy and that, but I had motivation and I had a good idea of what I wanted to do. There was this lady named Barbara Poley. She's the Director...she was the Executive Director of the Hopi Foundation, which has been on the Hopi Reservation for over 30 years. She's been through it all. She was a friend, but also she was a colleague, and so I call her Yoda because I see her as the Yoda, the master, like the Jedi master. Here I was young Luke Skywalker wanting to do great things and just charging forward. But then Yoda helped pull me back telling me, "˜LuAnn, you've got to hold on. Think about this, this, this before you do this.' We laugh about it nowadays because Yoda is so ugly and everything, but she really is a Yoda and I hope that each of you find that Yoda in your life because you will need it once you get your education and go out there and pursue your dreams."

Aresta La Russo:

"Thank you."

Walter Phelps:

"Thank you. I think first mentor that will always be somebody that I will remember forever is my father-in-law. My father-in-law perhaps was one of those individuals that I will never forget. We were privileged to get to know him after I got married and not knowing that he had a short life span to live not too long after that because he got cancer and by the time they finally discovered it, it was too late. It had already pretty much eaten up his whole insides and it was too late for treatment. But the man was a leader. If there was a man among men, he was the man. The memories that I have of being with him, being around him, watching him being the leader that he was with all the people that he worked with, he was a leader. He was a great leader. And when he passed away, his funeral was just packed. People came from all over the country; from back east, from Canada, from the west, the east to the west and north to the south, they all came to his funeral. I remember one gentleman, one leader from the Sioux Nation came and he said, "˜He was a pillar. He was a pillar among us.' But when you knew him personally, he was a very humble man, very humble man. He spoke very few words. When he spoke, his words had depth and he did not waste his words. His words were...they were not fancy words or anything, but he was always to the point, very matter of fact, common sense, never an unkind word about anybody, always very respectful of all the people he worked with. It's not to say that he wasn't frustrated or perhaps angry, but he never showed it. He never showed it. And I feel like I have a long ways to go to be like the way he was. He was a very spiritual man and also he was a man who prayed. If there was someone that helped me to become the person that I am, he contributed a lot.

Today, I'm privileged to work not only with the leaders that I now work with, but I also work with former leaders, those that had those positions before me and also have worked with other leaders. And I can think of one gentleman, in fact this past Saturday I held a meeting way out in Black Falls and he just happened to come to the chapter house. He's an elderly now. He's retired and I invited him. I said, "˜Hey, would you like to attend that meeting with me and maybe...I'd be happy to drive you over.' So he said, "˜Oh, yeah. Sure. I'll...' He said, "˜Let me go talk to the war department first,' which was his wife. So he got permission and we left. But he to this day is a mentor. He has so much experience, so much experience in working with leaders, working with people at the community level and I can always rely on people like that that understand people. My father-in-law once told me, he said, "˜You'll find later on in life,' he said, "˜You'll find that it's easy to run heavy equipment, work with machines and equipment,' but he said, "˜the hardest thing to do is to work with people.' He was right. I have to say, he was absolutely right."

Aresta La Russo:

"Okay. Thank you. So the message to me, if I could reiterate, is having mentors and they guide you and as students academically and for your professionally development and someone who's brutally honest with you and who is a friend. Thank you. So we have a little bit of time. I have two more questions that I would like to ask and I believe these are questions that we as Native students have experience or know about or we wonder what are our leaders facing? So the question is, what do you feel or think are the biggest challenges facing Native American leaders?"

Stephen Roe Lewis:

"Well, I think for me as an elected leader and there's my...the governor of our tribe, in fact he's traveling back from Washington, D.C. right now. President Obama held the Tribal Leaders Summit with the White House and that's been going on for the past week and I'm sure all the tribal leaders were there. And of course I have to stay home and I have to make sure the tribe is still running.

But really what I've noticed, especially when we attend either tribal or national meetings like National Congress of American Indians and then you listen on like and you really see...this happened for Gila River, both myself and Governor [Gregory] Mendoza, we're one of the youngest to be elected to these positions. Usually you have senior members of our community who were elected, who served their professional career, who served our community and so really this is sort of a turning point among leadership among my tribal community. And then you start to see that really with other tribal communities as well. You see that up in the Plains, up in the Northwest coast and the Southern Plains, you see these tribal leaders who have...who were landmarks, who have really served in difficult times, in the "˜60s and "˜70s, '80s, and now you have this new generation of younger people, 50s and 40s and even 30s, who are being elected to tribal leadership among different tribes. And so you have this new generation that is slowly -- and it's only natural of course -- slowly assuming tribal leadership. There are new challenges, there are the...there are more sophisticated problems that you deal with. Keeping the pulse of your people is more difficult, making sure that you don't get alienated from your own constituency.

We're in the, really in the first wave of social networking. We have a lot of...I'm just constantly amazed at how many of our community members, how many tribal members, how many Native Americans who are on Facebook and all these other social networking sites. I'm sort of slow to adopt. My son who's just starting high school, he's an expert. In fact he kind of helps me with my own smart phone, making sure that I stay ahead or at least keep up with the technology. And then's kind of interesting because then we even have some of...this really occurred during our last election, a lot of our young community members, tribal members are on Facebook, are on social networking sites and then you start to see a lot of our elder community members who might be homebound, they learn from their own grandchildren how to access those social networking sites too. So you have this virtual community on these social networking sites and so that creates a whole new different dimension to governance, a whole new different dimension to communication as well. So you have all these really...we're sort of really in this important transitional stage I think for tribal leadership.

Especially as well, I think from more of a formal governance perspective I know a lot of tribes are dealing with their constitutions. You have a lot of constitutional reform going on among different tribes as well and you have tribes grappling with do they want to keep their IRA [Indian Reorganization Act] form of government, do they want to reform it to a more progressive form or do they want to also make it hybrid models to incorporate their cultural values into their tribal government. Do you want to include...because most tribes are still on that tribal council, heavy tribal government where most of the express power is with the tribal council and there's not necessarily a separation of powers with the executive or with the judicial. So a lot of tribes are dealing with that, exactly how...making those...the tribal governments, making them accountable to the people, making them valid to the people and the process about going about that. Those are very important complex challenges that I see tribes, not only my tribe, but other tribal communities going through as well."

LuAnn Leonard:

"This one's kind of hard for me because I'm not an elected leader, but I've served elected leaders as staff, assistants and have worked with many of my chairmen of the Hopi people. But just watching them and knowing what they deal with, what I've seen them facing is, it's really hard to balance progress and tradition and this is coming from one of the most traditional people in the Southwest, the Hopi Tribe, where we still have our customs. You could look at the old Edward Curtis pictures and those things are still happening today because we protect them. And balancing how do you protect that without infringing on it, jeopardizing it? That's what I see them having to deal with. There are many opportunities out there for progress for our people. There's land leases with Peabody Coal Mine, just like the Navajo have, our neighbors next to us, power lines, all of this. How do you balance for example bringing a power line in and making sure that you're not near a cultural site that's significant to your people. So having that knowledge, but also having that authority and that power to be able to make the right choices, balancing that. I see them dealing with that.

I also see them dealing with, and we just dealt with this last week, with you students. What we're finding...we had a Laguna gentleman who did his Ph.D., he got his Ph.D. from U of A. He was...his Ph.D. was on how Laguna is using their students. What we're finding...what he found and what's similar with Hopi and probably with others is you're investing a lot of money into students, but what are we doing as a tribe to help bring you guys home? Are we creating jobs with decent wages? Do we have the housing? Do we have the medical facility? I joke, we don't have Starbucks and stuff, but we have so much more to offer and it's so fulfilling to work for your people, even if you have to sacrifice. But you shouldn't have to sacrifice having to live with three families in one home and so the...what we posed by bringing this gentleman in to start the discussion, the dialogue on the Hopi Nation, was what can we do as tribal employees, as leaders of non-profits and community members to make sure our students can come back because we are losing a lot of you and we do need you back. We do want that investment to pay off and I know I have full faith that it will, but we need to have people out there I guess like in the Hopi Education Endowment Fund who's willing to take that step and start that dialogue and get people thinking."

Walter Phelps:

"Again, this is a big question. What are the biggest challenges facing our leaders, our Native leaders? I think that the... what's happening today, what's happening...what started happening a year ago in regards to the sequestration and also the government shutdown, that has brought a lot of things to surface for us. It has, I guess, basically helped us to realize that we are in very unique times of leadership right now. In past administrations perhaps it may have been a lot easier to send more earmarks home to the communities, even from the congressional level. I used to be a congressional staffer so we succeeded with a lot of earmarks, even from the congressional level into our district. This was Congressional District 1. And health care, there's so much to talk about in terms of Obamacare [Affordable Care Act], but I think that...when I really think about this what perhaps is the biggest challenge for the Navajo Nation -- I really can't speak for the other nations, but perhaps this will go across the board as well -- is sustainability and independence. That's I think our biggest challenge. We have to start pushing and working so that we can stand on our own two feet.

I come from a rancher background. My dad had cows, horses, sheep. My brother back here drove me down here, he's been a bull rider and a calf roper, very successful one, and I remember riding my horse one day out there in the field and I came across three cows. The mama cow was standing right here and the other cow was standing right next to it and then another baby calf was standing on this side. The big, probably like a...I don't know if it was a two-year-old... the mama cow's in the middle nursing off of her own two year old cow and then the baby cow feeding off the other one. So in essence there was three cows feeding off of each other, nursing off of each other and when I remember that, I think about what are we doing as a nation?

We have the federal government, tribal government and the state government; each one has resources, very limited now, shrinking every day as we speak. We're trying to feed off of each other to sustain each other. We've got to find a way...we need to find a way so that we don't have to continue down that same road because at some point in time, I don't know when, how much longer it's going to be, but the U.S. government, the last time I knew was 16 and a half trillion dollars in debt, deficit. And so I think the biggest challenge for us is how do we move from here to the next point so that we can move our nation towards more stronger and sustainable nations so that we can truly be independent and exercise our sovereignty."

Aresta La Russo:

"Thank you. So what the challenge is, keeping balance in these transitional times whether it's with technology or within the governmental structure, and also another challenge is losing students not coming home, that's a challenge, and also having Indian nations, tribal nations be sustainable and independent in getting from Point A to Point B. Thank you. So the last question is, as leaders, as community members, as tribal members, what advice would you give to students in their future endeavors as leaders of all sorts, whether within their community, whether within their educational system, whether...? Yes, there's many ways to be leaders."

Stephen Roe Lewis:

"Well, thank you and I think this is a question that brings the discussion, the dialogue full circle. And this goes to being the essence of leadership and it doesn't have to be...we have three very important roles of leaders up here. You have an elected leader, you have a leader within a non-profit setting, and also you have also another elected leader as well. Leadership means going back in whatever capacity could be a leader as an engineer; you can be a leader in the medical field. Leader means finding out exactly where your tribal community needs to either adapt to, to grow to. If there's some lack of capacity, as a leader, you could be that catalyst. You could be that catalyst to calling people to action on a certain issue whether it has to do with behavioral health, whether it has to do with diabetes, has to do with crime. There are so many ways that you can be a leader. It doesn't have to...leadership...and I think that's really...

When you talk about authority and leadership I think those are very non -- at least in my opinion -- non-Indian views. As a leader, you don't necessary have to have certain authority. You can go and you can make a change at any different part of your Indian society, of your tribal society. You don't have to be an elected leader, you don't have to be appointed, you don't have to be in a certain position. You can be an ordinary citizen, you can be in any capacity and you can exercise leadership. As students, you can...whatever gifts, natural, intrinsic gifts that you have proclivities to, whatever intellectual study that you're going to get your degree in, there are inherent opportunities to be leaders, to take that knowledge. Just like what was said, we have...and it's not just with the Hopi Tribe, it's with all tribes.

We're experiencing really a massive brain drain in Indian Country because there aren't those jobs for tribal members back home. If you're a molecular biologist, really what sort of job can you get as a molecular biologist back at Gila River, as a nuclear engineer or these very specialized fields? And I think that's why we really, as both as someone who's attaining those degrees, but also as tribal leaders, I think that's exactly where that gap is, where tribes who actually, at least for Gila River, when we are trying to educate our young people, we don't want to lose them to the outside world. We want them to come back, bring that knowledge back and what we found too is that most of our community members, if not all, they want to come back, they want to bring that knowledge back, bring those degrees back and put them to work in the community. So there just...and I hope you don't mix up authority with leadership. You can exercise and be a leader in any capacity within your tribal society."

Luann Leonard:

"I want all of you students to always remember this, that you are the lucky ones. You think about your reservations, you think about your people, you think about your high school classmates who are still there with a lot of kids, no jobs. On the Hopi Reservation, these guys are carving dolls, hoping to sell a doll to buy those diapers. You are lucky and you are privileged to have an opportunity to be at the U of A. Never take that for granted and do the best that you can so that you can use your skills to come back and help our people in some way. Some of you are going to come back and you're going to serve directly your people. Others, like he's talking about, a microbiologist who probably can't come back, but they can do research that can benefit diabetes or something that will help our people. Find a way that you can serve, find a way that you can give back because you are privileged and you are the lucky ones in this world, the reservations that we live in.

And the second thing is, I find it so amazing that in this whole world, the bahanas, white people, they...first man on the moon, first woman Supreme Court Justice, all of these...I call them the 'firsts.' They've been taken up. But in Indian Country, in your own communities, there are so many firsts left. When I was asked to be a Regent, I had to go through a Senate hearing at the State Capitol and they had to vote to allow me to become a Regent. Governor [Janet] Napolitano at that time is the one who appointed me and when they went in to make that vote, I was there and there was a bunch of people there and then they took the vote and the people left and I was thinking, I asked, "˜Why are there so many people here?' And they said, "˜You don't realize, you're the first Native American to ever serve on the Arizona Board of Regents and they have been around for 140 years. So that' just became a first.' And I say that with great pride, but I want you...I use it as an example because there are still firsts out there and each of you can find that First. Maybe you're going to be the first doctor in your community. Maybe you're going to be the first woman chairman or chairperson of your tribe. But there are still many firsts out there left for us and we should be thankful for that."

Walter Phelps:

"Again, I want to say thank you for the privilege to be here with you and spend this little quality time with you. I'm sure you have lots of questions as well. There was a statement by someone that said, "˜Why does the bird sing? Why does a bird sing? It's not because he has all the answers, but because he has a song, he has a song.' I think that if you pay attention to little details, it'll take you a long way. Just pay attention to little details. Tie your shoestring. Remember that? Button your shirt. Just do the little things, do the little things. Great people that have become great people paid attention to the little things and I think that that's very...probably the best instruction I was given. So if you see a trash can full of trash, take care of it. Don't let somebody else worry about it. If there's dirty laundry laying around, pick it up. Don't depend on somebody else to do it. That's the path towards greatness.

In my studies, I study some of the great leaders from way, way, way back. This is in the B.C.'s. Some of the greatest leaders that history talks about, you know what they were? They were shepherds, they were sheepherders. And my mom said one time, she said, "˜I used to be so embarrassed because we used to herd sheep with donkeys...' When she was young I guess they used to herd sheep with donkeys.' And she said -- my mom's a Christian -- she said, '...until one day I went to church and they said Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem.' And she said that totally changed her perspective. But what I've noticed is some of the greatest leaders were simply sheepherders and I think there's something magical in sheepherding. There's something magical in it. They're the stubbornest animals there are sometimes, but if you pay attention to them, take care of them, they'll take care of you. That's what we were told. [Navajo language]. It's your livelihood; it will take care of you. So I think that whatever it is, those little simple details in life that can really make a difference."

Related Resources


Gwen Phillips, Director of Corporate Services and Governance Transition with the Ktunaxa Nation, discusses some of the issues that the Ktunaxa Nation is deliberating as it engages the question of how to redefine its criteria for citizenship.

Sustaining Indigneous Culture: The Structure, Activities, and Needs of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums

Sovereignty, self-determination, and self-governance are primary goals of Indigenous nations worldwide and they take important steps toward those goals by renewing control over their stories, documents, and artifacts.  To better support it, a core team of Native professionals formed the…

Indigenous Leadership in a Flat World

The world is flat, so we are now told. In his recent book The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Friedman argues that since the beginning of the Twentieth century globalization has evolved at an astronomically fast rate. As a result, the world is now…