Native Nation Building TV: "A Capable Bureaucracy: The Key to Good Government"

Native Nations Institute

Guests Urban Giff and Joan Timeche explain that good governance requires effective, transparent and accountable bureaucracies. The segment demonstrates how clearly defined organizational structures and roles and responsibilities help make things work and get things done, and how their absence actively hinders Native nation governance and development efforts.

Resource Type

Native Nations Institute. "A Capable Bureaucracy: The Key to Good Government" (Episode 6). Native Nation Building television/radio series. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy and the UA Channel, The University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. 2006. Television program. 

Mark St. Pierre: "Hello, friends. I'm your host, Mark St. Pierre and welcome to Native Nation Building. Contemporary Native Nations face many challenges including building effective governments, developing strong economies that fit their culture and circumstances, solving difficult social problems and balancing cultural integrity in change. Native Nation Building explores these often complex challenges in the ways Native Nations are working to overcome them as they seek to make community and economic development a reality. Don't miss Native Nation Building next."

Mark St. Pierre: "On today's program we examine a critical aspect of Native Nation governance -- bureaucracies. We'll look at how clear bureaucratic organization roles and responsibilities contribute to effective governance and how ineffective bureaucracies can stop Native Nations dead in their tracks. Here today to explore the importance of bureaucracies are Urban Giff and Joan Timeche. Urban Giff, a citizen of the Gila River Indian Community has served as Community Manager at Gila River since 1986. As one of his Nation's chief administrators, he's been directly involved with managing incredible growth his community has experienced over the past decade. Joan Timeche, a citizen of the Hopi tribe is Assistant Director of the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy at the University of Arizona. She also spent eight years serving as Director of the Hopi Tribe's Education Department. Joan, Urban, thank you for being with us today. Let's jump right in. What is bureaucracy's fundamental task, Urban?"

Urban Giff: "Well, I once equated that to and compared it to the older customs of tribes, my tribe included as well as other tribes, in which the villages of the tribe were safeguarded by sentries and warriors that were away from the villages and they sounded the alarm in case there was danger and they were effective in safeguarding the tribe, the people, their assets. I equated that and compared it to the modern-day tribes. We still need warriors and sentries, but in the field of accounting, in the field of law, in the field of human resources administration, in the field of management, all the functions that a government has to operate under, and that we need qualified warriors in those areas and that's what will benefit the tribes. As the ancient warriors did and benefited their tribes, we still need warriors today."

Joan Timeche: "And I think the only thing that I would add to that is it's basically just trying to get the job done, whatever the council, the government, the people decide or their long-term vision, it's the everyday task of just accomplishing that."

Mark St. Pierre: "This is for either one of you. Why is an effective, efficient bureaucracy so critical to Native Nation building?"

Joan Timeche: "In the early 1930s or so, many of us were forced to adopt modern forms of government. We traditionally had very effective forms of governments and bureaucracies in place prior to Europeans, but because if we were to receive and be recognized by the federal government we had to have a new modern form of government in place. And during those times, the federal government made a lot of decisions for us, the Bureau of Indian Affairs made those decisions for us. They basically set these councils in place and they, in many cases, often served as rubber stamps and the government made all the major decisions. But as time has evolved and over the years and particularly since the '70s and '80s, tribes have begun to take a major role in determining where it is that they want their societies to be moving towards and they've become the key decision-makers. And because they're the decision-makers, it's important for them to be the one to set that strategic, long-term vision of where it is that they want the tribe to be moving towards, and having in place this effective bureaucracy that gets the job done and helps them move towards accomplishing their goals." 

Mark St. Pierre: "Urban, would you want to comment on that?"

Urban Giff: "Just to the effect of that enables the tribe to really better understand its opportunities that [are] available and can be made available to the tribe -- not just the entire tribe as a whole, but to individuals of the tribe, the families of the tribe. That's the essence of the value of having bureaucracy in place that have the knowledge to bring these opportunities and not necessarily to do it for them, but to provide the opportunity that will enable the tribal members to move on."

Mark St. Pierre: "Well, we all know that some Native Nations, some First Nations, have ineffective, inefficient bureaucracies and that those tribes find it difficult to move forward. What are some of the key ways to set up an effective, efficient bureaucracy?"

Urban Giff: "I would say that probably the important thing that comes to mind right off is to have a better understanding among all the players, all the decision-makers as to who has the resources to do what, and that's where the bureaucracy comes in. The bureaucracy are there, the bureaucrats are there because they have qualifications in their respective areas. The politicians are there because they have rapport with the voters and they have the vision for the tribe. And if you put those two together, the politicians with their vision of what is to be done, what they're striving to get done, and the bureaucracy and the bureaucrats of how it's to be done, that can't help but win for the tribe. So no one segment can do it alone. They have to work together as best as they can."

Joan Timeche: "Well, I think one thing that I would add to that, it has to do with clear a clear separation of roles and responsibilities. I was very young when I started to work for my own tribe, and to have that role delineated of what the legislature is responsible for, to what program administration is responsible for -- 'cause we're the ones that get the job done -- was very important for me because I needed to know to what extent powers, what powers I had and what I didn't have. And of course it was a very political environment, so you had to get accustomed to understanding what the rules were internally, and I think that those are two key important points, having stable rules, consistent rules so that irregardless of who the administration is at that time, the elected leadership, that there's going to be some -- when turnover occurs -- there's going to still be the same rules in place that we might be able to understand how to still accomplish our jobs."

Mark St. Pierre: "In helping looking at young people as they come up through the bureaucracy, are there things that you've done at your tribe or at Hopi to help these young administrators, these young bureaucrats achieve the skills that they need?"

Urban Giff: "What I would refer to is in the job descriptions, the written job description that delineate what that position calls for in terms of responsibilities and authorities that may be assumed by the person that's hired to handle that position, but it also identifies the qualification requirements for that position and it's really gauged against that person's educational level, experience level and what not, and the selection process would then pick the best-qualified candidate who has applied. And so it's not based on who they are related to, but really on their qualifications and what not. And it really does a lot to the ego and to the wellbeing of the individual to realize that they were chosen because of their qualifications and requirements and that they were expected and required to carry out those duties and responsibilities, however difficult they may appear. But that's where...I think it's a key thing to help the young people realize the opportunity that they could have."

Mark St. Pierre: "There's always the chance that a tribal employee, a program director for instance, might do something that would get them in trouble politically. How do you create a buffer between the bureaucracy, the people that actually run the tribal programs and the elected officials?"

Joan Timeche: "Well, I think that comes in the form of good rules and this clear delineation. I can give you one example from when I worked with my own tribe and it has to do with our scholarship program. Our education department was a K [kindergarten] through post-secondary ed programs and we...coming in as a young program administrator who'd recently completed my degree, I knew the weaknesses of our grants and scholarship program and how little they were able to support a person such as myself get their education. So because I had young staff, we decided that we would revamp the scholarship program but we had a process within which to do it. We had to go to our 12 communities within the...on the Hopi Reservation. We got their input, we prepared the rules which would govern the program, making different types of options available, setting out the rules, but we had to go back to them and get approval. And then our tribe has a standing committee, an oversight committee that then has to review and approve of it before it goes on to the council for adoption. Well, one time what happened to me and in regards to that was I got a call from the tribal chair and he asked me to report to his office. And when you get those calls, you're there pronto. They don't tell you why you're there, they just say please come to the chairman's office immediately. So you go scurrying. I went scurrying across to the other building and went in and found out that he had been approached by a family -- I'm sorry, a community member who had a son that was going to college and apparently the son had received the notice from our office that he was not going to get funded for his grant, he was not going to get a grant to go to school and she was really irate and she demanded that -- she had been a long time supporter of him, reminded him that she had a large family within the community, a large constituency which could impact his future as a politician and said, 'My son deserves this grant and I want you to get it.' And he basically told me to reinstate it, receive the grant right then. And I told him, I said, 'I can't do that. I have these rules that were recently adopted, we set them out. Let me go back and find out what the situation is about the student.' Well, I went back, came back later on that day and found out that within the rules, we have some basic criteria. You have to have a C average, you have to complete the required number of credit hours. He was a full-time student, so it was 12 credit hours per semester. He'd received funding from us before, but he didn't fulfill those criteria so we put him on probation, allowing him to receive another semester of funding to be able to meet it at the end of the two semesters. It still didn't work, so we told him, 'Go back to summer school, bring your grades up, meet our criteria again and we'll re-fund you.' But he did not comply with our rules so we had to say, 'Sorry, you're not eligible until you bring up your grade point average and complete your credit hours.' And I tried to explain this to the chairman and he said, 'Go out and do it or I'll fire you.' And I says, 'I'm sorry, I can't fund this student.' I says, 'I have too many students out there who are probably in the same boat and if I fund this student, it's just going to open the flood gate for everyone else and our rules will have no meaning at all to that. All they have to do is go to the tribal chair, complain a little bit, cry a little bit and get their funding reinstated and then out the door goes our rules.' Why have rules if you're not going to follow them?"

Mark St. Pierre: "So did you get fired?"

Joan Timeche: "No. Luckily I didn't, but I was forever on his black list for his term and he actually ended up getting re-elected for a second term, so it was very difficult years for me."

Mark St. Pierre: "Urban, at Gila River how do you create that, in a sense, protection for your bureaucrats that are doing their job?"

Urban Giff: "Well, one example comes to mind. This happened years ago, and we had a project that an old building had to be demolished and so we looked for somebody to do it and we had two community members that were interested and were willing and were able to do it and one of them was selected and the other one was not. The other one who was not went to our tribal lieutenant governor -- or vice chairman as other tribes call it -- and expressed concern about it as why that other person was selected. The other person, we happened to have gone to high school together, and I was the one that had to do that so I got called into the lieutenant governor's office with that complaint and I said, 'Well, yeah, I can understand that, but his quoted price was higher than the other one.' He said, 'Are you sure?' I said, 'Yes. I had them submit written quotes on what they were going to charge.' And he said, 'Do you have them?' I said, 'Yes, I do.' I went back to my office and brought it back. I think that was a big relief to the lieutenant governor because it was based on comparative prices on it and there was a considerable difference in the cost. And so he had the ability to be able to go back to him and tell him why, and the individual that went to the lieutenant governor knew that he had submitted a written price and he should have known that it probably was the outcome, but he complained and I think that reassured the lieutenant governor that these bureaucrats probably are worthwhile."

Mark St. Pierre: "You've been in the same position with your tribe since 1986 and we know that tribal governments turn over, that the politicians and the elected officials turn over sometimes in some tribes once a year and other tribes every two years and other tribes four years. Is there a role in administration providing continuity for tribes?"

Urban Giff: "At Gila River, what we have is we have staggered terms for the council. So of the 17 members, we have one-third up for re-election or their terms end every year, so at no time is the total tribal council going to change over. But that's kind of a little bit different situation with the other, the governor of the tribe and lieutenant governor because they're elected every three years. What that does though is that provides the opportunity for the staff, the bureaucrats to provide that continuity because all the staff are hired employees of the tribe and aren't subject to political appointments and they're hired and as long as they do their job and don't get fired because of cause -- that's the only way they can be fired. They can't be fired for personality difficulties or whatever else, so that's what provides us, our tribe, the stability that's there and I think that has worked for us. And also I think, well, Pimas just generally get along okay."

Mark St. Pierre: "Native Nation bureaucracies have grown in both scope and function over the past three decades as their Nations have moved to expand their development objectives. What are the implications of this fairly rapid growth?"

Urban Giff: "I think one of the things that comes to mind when you talk about rapid growth and development of the tribe is that it really has to be determined ahead of time before you start on that process of development as to how far the development is going to take. If it is not done, any new program or department that's established is going to identify other needs that before were not possible or were not visible because there was nobody there doing that work, and it's going to create and it's going to cause other things to grow. So there really needs to be a time where the decision-makers -- and I call the politicians the decision-makers -- that have the vision as to where they want the tribe to go, how far they want the tribe to go as far as the tribal government. But also as a part of that, there needs to be a place and a way in which the abilities [of] individual members and families need to be acknowledged and encouraged and fostered so that the individual members can start doing some of the things that is not being done because they didn't have the opportunity or whatever the case might be, or maybe they didn't have the knowledge of how to do it -- that is provided to them. So give them a hand up not a hand out. So that's something that I think the politicians really could be beneficial to their tribes by so doing and identifying the vision."

Joan Timeche: "I'd just like to add to that, too, because we work with a number of tribes across the nation and what we often see is as a result of this quick growth you see organizational charts that are flat, all of the departments end up reporting to one entity and it's usually, if they don't have a chief administrative officer like they do in Gila River's case, it ends up being the chief executive officer of the tribe and the growth is haphazard, everyone ends up having their own turf, they don't share, there's often a lack of communication, they don't connect. They may be serving the same client populations, the targets. Their services may be the same and oftentimes they don't communicate with each other. We were working recently with a tribe here in the southwest on strategic planning and we called like service programs to come together -- in this particular case it was their tribal enterprises -- to talk about what they would like to see happen within the nation. And as we were going through the meeting, there was an observation by one of the program directors there of the enterprise that that was the first time that they had met, ever assembled together all their ten tribal enterprises in one meeting place, and they were learning that they had common goals and they had common marketing strategies and yet had never talked to each other before. And that's one of the results of the fast growth, and if you don't plan it effectively and set up these clear roles, that's one of the things that can happen.

Mark St. Pierre: "In looking at bureaucracies, the type of bureaucracies that a tribe has -- whether it's effective or ineffective -- sends messages to the tribal members. Can you comment on that for a minute about how tribal people see their government in relationship to the bureaucracy?"

Urban Giff: "The tendency -- and I guess maybe it's human nature -- that occurs, the bureaucracy will start to looking at the procedures and the process and lose sight of the people that it's intended to serve, and you find that happen very quickly that if they're concerned about crossing this 'T' or filling in this block and what not, and it really just puts the community member to feel second place to that form or to that process or to that step-by step-procedure, and that's where the bureaucracies kind of hurt themselves by not relating to the people. And yet the people are the primary purpose of why bureaucracies exist. And so without constantly being reminded about that and being alert to those things, that can cause difficulties, and the community members can take it so much and then they start complaining and start...and cause a bigger problem. So that's part of what I would suggest that really needs to be considered."

Joan Timeche: "And that perception isn't just internal. It can go to the external markets and the people that you deal with as well. Let me just relate to you one story that I experienced. In our Head Start program, we ran five Head Start centers across our reservation and our reservation is very expansive. One time I had my program director for Head Start come to me and tell me, 'Joan, Joan, you've got to help me.' She said, 'Shamrock just called' -- and Shamrock delivers all of our milk and dairy products -- 'and they called me and they said they are not going to deliver any of the milk and we're down to our stock in all of our Head Start centers here. They're not going to deliver. I have to have a check in hand to be able to pay them. Otherwise they're not even going to send the truck out at all. I have to guarantee that they will get it.' And she said, 'I've been calling our finance office, I've called treasurer's office trying to find out where the check is, and it's buried in some stack of papers somewhere, and I can't get the check.' Well, what ended up happening is Shamrock wasn't going to come because they weren't going to get paid. I couldn't guarantee that they would get a check in hand at the time that they delivered, and we tried to call our local stores. We had two little markets on the reservation and in a very remote area, that's not a lot of milk when you're trying to serve hundreds of children. So what ended up happening is after that we had to go internally within the administrative departments and find out what the reason was, and Shamrock was going to go and tell everybody within the Flagstaff community, the Northern Arizona community, 'Do not do business with the Hopi tribe because you will not get paid for 60, 90, 120 days.' And we couldn't afford to have our vendors talking that way about us 'cause we were such a remote community. We had a reliance on those external vendors. So it's that perception of ineffective bureaucracies that also gets sent out there as well."

Mark St. Pierre: "Urban, would you want to comment on that?"

Urban Giff: "I guess just part of it -- we've had the same experience at Gila River from time to time, and a part of that I think is it's the bureaucracies sometimes get bogged down in procedures and processes and not the end result. The end result is the primary thing that should be the focus of everything and how you get to that end result of pay your bills on time and what not. So sometimes that creates problems on it I think."

Mark St. Pierre: "How in your experience does the culture of the people themselves reflect how a bureaucracy should operate?"

Joan Timeche: "In many communities, if the people don't believe in the system, whether it's the government or the rules set in place and how decisions are made, they're not going to have any respect for it at all and that's what it boils down to. They'll just totally disregard it. In many of the communities that I'm familiar with, particularly here within Arizona, a lot of the decisions are made at the local levels and if your bureaucracy, your tribal bureaucracy, doesn't account for decision-making at the local level that then transforms into what happens at the central government level, you're in a real bad situation if it doesn't account for that. My community is like that. Decisions are made at the village level and there are several large communities within Arizona -- Navajo is the same way with all of their chapter administration. So people have to believe in the system for it to be effective and for it to work."

Mark St. Pierre: "Well, that kind of leads to another question. What happens to tribal bureaucracies when you have outsiders dictating aspects of tribal administration and measuring outcomes, for instance a lot of grant programs that are designed in Washington by people who've never been to Gila River or have never been to Hopi?"

Joan Timeche: "Well, what happens there then, again, is the decisions are made external to the tribe and the end-recipient of the services doesn't get what they need or maybe they might get it, but maybe it'll be in a very different form than they had thought that it was going to be in or at a much later date and time. So I think it's very important that the tribe assume responsibilities. And a lot of times we, because there are federal strings that are attached to these federal dollars, we often don't think that we can change the regulations which we have to operate within, but that's an opportunity for a tribal government  there to exercise its sovereignty. It can set its own rules, it can create its own ordinances to be able to administer, and then it can then tell that funding source that, 'Here's our code, here's the way we believe it to be done, and we want you to take a look at it.' And you'll see that in many cases it often meets or exceeds what the federal government is doing. You see that a lot with environmental protection codes that tribes adopt. Many times they're much more stringent than what the federal government might have imposed upon the tribe."

Mark St. Pierre: "Urban, would you want to..."

Urban Giff: "Yes, I'd like to add and that is that like from the federal level, Congress passes a law, a bill, and it has certain statements in there and the intent of that law is very crucial. Then the appropriate agency then develops regulations on it and then that's applied to the Indian tribe. The tribes have become accustomed to going by, 'That's what they said, they want it done...' but yet have found that it not always meets the needs of that tribe, and now it's realized that if it's stated one way in the regulation, that can be changed and you don't have to go all the way to Congress to change it, because that can be changed at the department level and it's maybe just a matter of...and it doesn't change the intent of the original legislation. And so that's the area that really is important and the more recent trend is before the regulations are completed, there should be some consultation with the tribes to make sure that it captures what the tribes are in need of and how they can best fulfill the need. The difficult thing, of course, is that there are so many tribes and each one may have different approaches to the same regulations under the same statute. But that's a challenge that's worth pursuing, because otherwise it becomes a disservice to the tribe that may not have their needs met because the regulations have a certain process or certain statement of how it's to be done."

Mark St. Pierre: "When tribal bureaucracies grow and they reflect federal programs, grant programs, needs that are perceived and then one need begins to identify another, how does the tribal bureaucracy prevent becoming a dependency agency for tribal members? In other words, how do we know when a bureaucracy has assumed some of the responsibilities of an individual family or an individual tribal member and in fact increased dependency?"

Urban Giff: "That's part of the elected, the politicians, the politicians and their vision of how they want their tribe to prosper and whatnot. And what I... personally I'll use that term to describe, there's a lot of rhetoric and a lot of discussion by all of us about tribes, especially politicians, about self-sufficiency and about self-determination and that type, but yet there's very little actual applying that at the local level to provide each individual member or a family their abilities to be self-sufficient and to self-determine. And so that's kind of a difficult thing to do probably for the elected officials, because they're relying on their constituents for the elections is to put forward the ideas that they need to do for themselves and not expect the tribe, the tribal government to do everything for them. But I think that's the only way that the self-sufficiency and self-determination can really be realized."

Mark St. Pierre: "We want to thank Joan Timeche and Urban Giff for appearing on today's edition of Native Nation Building, a program of the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy at the University of Arizona. To learn more about Native Nation Building and the issues discussed here today, please visit the Native Nations Institute website at Thank you for joining us and please tune in for the next edition of Native Nation Building."

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