Native Nation Building TV: "Tribal Service Delivery: Meeting Citizens' Needs"

Native Nations Institute

Guests Eddie Brown and Karen Diver discuss tribal program and service delivery across Indian Country. They examine the unproductive ways services and programs have been administered in many Native communities in the past, and the innovative mechanisms and approaches some Native nations are developing to maximize limited financial and human resources and improve the delivery of programs and services to their citizens.

Resource Type

Native Nations Institute. "Tribal Service Delivery: Meeting Citizens' Needs" (Episode 7). Native Nation Building television/radio series. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy and the UA Channel, The University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. 2006. Television program. 

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

Mary Kim Titla: "Like so many aspects of Native life and policy, service delivery in Indian country is in a state of transformation. The era of self-determination, now moving into its fourth decade, has seen an increasing number of Native Nations taking control of programs and services once administered by federal agencies. Today's show looks at the changing state of service delivery in Native communities and the complex challenges Native Nations encounter as they work to ensure that the needs of their citizens are met. Here today to discuss the issue of service delivery in Indian Country are Karen Diver and Dr. Eddie Brown. Karen Diver, an enrolled citizen of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, is Director of Special Projects at Fond du Lac. She also was a founding member of the American Indian Community Housing Organization. Dr. Eddie Brown is an enrolled citizen of the Pasqua Yaqui Tribe and is affiliated with the Tohono O'odham Nation. He is the Director of American Indian Studies at Arizona State University. He previously served as Executive Director of the Tohono O'odham Nation's Department of Human Services and also worked in the U.S. Department of the Interior administering federal programs to Native communities. Thanks for being with us today. A primary role of Native Nations' governments is to deliver social services to their citizens. How has this role changed?"

Eddie Brown: "Mary Kim, over the last 30 years, I think you've seen a tremendous growth of tribal governments providing their services. Under the Indian Self-Determination Act, it allowed for the first time tribes to contract out the operation and administration of programs, and since that time you've seen everything from law enforcement to education, social services -- all of the basic kinds of services that the Bureau of Indian Affairs provides an opportunity then for tribes to take over and administer those. That has also occurred within the Indian Health Service as well. So you've seen programs like the CHR program, psychological services, alcohol and substance abuse, all of these now being offered by tribes where before they were all being administered and operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Service."

Mary Kim Titla: "Karen, would you like to add to that? What have you seen?"

Karen Diver: "I've seen governments really focusing on the breadth of services that they have to provide as governments. First, of course, really looking at how do we meet the human day-to-day needs and provide a safety net for our members and over time really blossoming and growing into looking at a full range of government services, everything from resource management to zoning and land use, community development, workforce development efforts in really a broader spectrum of providing a continuum of care and good governmental services at all levels, much like county and local governments did before for their citizens."

Mary Kim Titla: "Now, really traditionally these services have been designed and administered by the federal government, many of them of course still are. How has this affected the quality and quantity of services in reservation communities?"

Dr. Eddie Brown: "I think from the data that we have thus far, it has shown that not only are tribes able to administer but they're able to develop programs that are more in tune with the individual tribal needs so that the tribe has developed its management information systems and its administration systems, but it also has put in place programs that directly respond to that community's needs and has tied in then the cultural element as well of how to provide services in the most appropriate cultural way."

Mary Kim Titla: "As we know, all of the tribes and Native communities are very unique. So one blanket program just doesn't work for everybody, and I think everyone's discovered that over the years. Karen, why don't you talk about what's happening in your community."

Karen Diver: "We are located about 20 miles from the closest urban area, which distinguishes us a little bit from other Anishnaabe tribes in Minnesota who are very, very rural. We have an urban population as well as a rural population, so our challenge is how do we meet a broad geographic area, but with needs that are much different? For example, housing issues are much more scarce, a scarcity of resources on reservation, we have access to more ancillary services and complimentary services in the surrounding metropolitan community, so to speak. So we've really seen our tribe looking at inter-agency agreements with local government entities, non-profit organizations to help complement what we do, and then on reservation, really looking at what is the infrastructure we need in service delivery and continuum of care that we need to develop to meet our citizens that are reservation residents."

Mary Kim Titla: "And you touched on something that really leads into my next question, and that is some of the challenges that Native communities experience trying to make these federal programs fit their community needs. Can you expand on that a little bit more, Eddie?"

Eddie Brown: "Yes, I think it's very difficult when you're trying to work with a policy -- that one policy fits all tribes -- knowing the diversity, and so tribes have had to struggle and be very creative of how they've been able to take the funding and assure that that funding is meeting the basic community needs, but at the same time are fulfilling the federal obligation and responsibility that is set out in the rules and regulations. So again, a real challenge, but one in which the tribes have proven themselves to be up to."

Mary Kim Titla: "Can you give an example of that?"

Eddie Brown: "Well, one of [them] has to do with social services, looking at not only federal but state social services as well. How do you coordinate those programs and make them work together? Under the TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] situation, where tribes for the first time in history were responsible for or capable of administering their own TANF services, where before they were administered by the state. The tribes have taken those and developed those in a way that really met the need of the federal government but also tied in and allowed them the kind of flexibility that they needed to provide the service. So here is a situation where a federal program was given to the tribe but also with the flexibility to allow the tribe to develop and have perhaps even a little more flexibility than the states do in determining the eligibility as well as service delivery."

Mary Kim Titla: "Okay. Karen, how are you handling that? It sounds like you've done some really unique things in your community to really make these federal programs work."

Karen Diver: "Part of what's been successful at Fond du Lac is -- just as Eddie was saying -- really using our own people and other Native people who have been educated in those fields to deliver those services in a culturally competent manner. Social capital on Native communities is obviously a challenge and trying to get our kids graduated from high school through college so that we have access to those resources within our own community. Integrating outsiders into that in a way that is healthy for both sides makes non-Indian service deliverers feel a part of our community and welcome, building their cultural competency and welcoming them, and at the same time really providing opportunities for mentoring and growth opportunities for our own Band members. That being said, what we see happening in service delivery for us has been well regarded in surrounding governmental units. We have Treatment as a State designation for air and water quality -- the first tribe in the nation to get that designation -- and that required not only working with local law enforcement agencies, but the Department of Natural Resources, the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency], for them to recognize that we had capacity within our tribe to have a regulatory function. We had to have everything from laboratory services and monitoring to permitting processes and the ability to comment in a really technical way on air- and water-quality issues. So building our infrastructure in that way not only through the systems of government, but also through the social capital, has taken my tribe 25 years and it's something that we're still striving for today to improve our own delivery and our own capability, but then also using resources wisely both in terms of employment and education."

Mary Kim Titla: "So you've touched on some of the challenges. What are some disadvantages or costs for tribal communities, Native communities when they rely heavily on these federally funded programs?"

Eddie Brown: "Well, I think as we mentioned before, when you've got federal regulations that you've got to respond to and they're saying, 'You can have these dollars, but here's what you've got to do and here's the limitations on how you use those dollars,' have always limited the tribes in their creativity and the ability to put the dollars where they need to be. I think that has been the major limitation so that when the Indian Self-Determination Act was passed and allowed tribes to take over that, even though that there were still some strong regulations, tribes had more flexibility than they have ever had before. Now over the last 30 years now the Indian Self Determination Act has been amended that allow tribes even greater flexibility. You have then your Indian Self-Governance that allows for block grants, types of funding to tribes that allows them even greater flexibility to match the kind of need with the kind of service. So again, very exciting and it's been a very exciting time, but as mentioned by Karen, it has taken a long time because we've had to start almost from ground zero and establish those systems in place in which states and counties have had at least a hundred years to do."

Mary Kim Titla: "The infrastructure and really building that infrastructure. Can you talk about more what's happening in your community? It sounds really interesting."

Karen Diver: "Actually, not just in my community. Some of the challenges I see for some of the northern tribes that are very rural is that they're really funding themselves and focusing areas of growth on those programs and service delivery options that are fundable, and so you see growth in those areas without some long-term stability, because it is chasing those dollars a little bit. One of the things that is trying to be highly promoted in some of these communities is, what is the strategic vision for this tribe? Where do they want to be in five, 10, 20 years? And letting that guide their funding option because they're funding a whole vision rather than just a program. And that's a challenge for my tribe as well as many others of saying, 'We're a baby government, what do we want to be when we're a grown-up government?' And how do we not rely on indirect cost allocations from grants to fund basic infrastructure, but how do we be real targeted and real thoughtful in where we want to go and sell that overall vision rather than just a program idea."

Mary Kim Titla: "You talked about vision and it appears to be that there's this movement really among Native communities to gain control of how they administer these programs and what do you think has fueled that movement?"

Eddie Brown: "Well, clearly the Indian Self-Determination Act, the idea that tribes are sovereign nations and that they do have the right to establish and run and determine their own destiny, and part of that destiny is to develop your own vision, as Karen mentioned. So you see that many of us, many of the tribes are moving from an idea of, 'Well, let's see what the government has to offer,' to the idea of, 'Let's determine what our vision should be.' The Yavapai Apache Nation, for instance, here in Arizona is clearly an example of a tribal community that has developed a 25-year vision, that has put together a strategic plan and that has a clear vision of where they want to go because of the strong leadership there within the council and I think are really reflective of many tribes today that have said, 'We are no longer just going to look at our problems, we're going to look at what we want to be. Then from that, we will determine how we need to get there.'"

Mary Kim Titla: "Karen, do you see significant innovations in service delivery out there? What are tribes doing that's different?"

Karen Diver: "I know for the Fond du Lac tribe, we've seen great success with our foster care-licensing system and a lot of our child welfare programs, where the tribe has become the primary driver of Indian child welfare cases and developed the infrastructure where local county social service agencies and child protection units really defer to our tribes to handle child welfare cases involving Native children. And with our foster care-licensing system as an additional part of that, we can assure a steady stream of families, Native families, culturally competent families, so that we're accomplishing both goals of maintaining identity and culture as well as child protection and the safety of the children. And that was one of our biggest innovations in our human services is really getting surrounding governmental units to say, 'They know better than we do on this issue and by working with them we'll provide a better service to their band members,' and it's been well-regarded in Indian Country and often duplicated."

Mary Kim Titla: "Any other examples that you can think of, Eddie?"

Eddie Brown: "Well, I think on the broader scale, tribes have been forced to re-look at the way they're structured and organized. Before, with all the different federal funding, you had many different small programs all running and operating independently. So you see tribes across the nation now re-examining the way they're structured, reorganizing it to fit the needs of their community. So it starts way up at the top of the administration, even re-evaluating their constitutions as to how they're organized and structured governmentally. So you see that works all the way down to the direct service delivery of services for children and working with families. So you see the impact has been from the very top to the very bottom within tribal communities."

Mary Kim Titla: "And what about this cultural aspect and tribes really going back to their very beginnings and integrating some of that into these delivery services?"

Karen Diver: "We see that very much so in northern Minnesota, language preservation being real key, total integration into birth-to-five-[year-old] services through Head Start and continuing through K-12 education and ending up with our tribal and community college, where we have a teacher cohort agreement with the University of Minnesota to graduate fluent Native speakers who also have teaching credentials. So that lifelong learning aspect in access to language to culture services for not only the children and the students but for their families really is a model that wouldn't have been found through federal government delivery [of] services, and it makes for families a much more comfortable environment for those families who are getting over boarding-school experiences. They now own their educational delivery system and it feels safe for them and their children and strengthens that bond of community."

Mary Kim Titla: "We're going to stick with what Fond du Lac is doing in terms of really overseeing virtually all of these services offered in your community. What led to this and how is it working?"

Karen Diver: "We were one of the first tribes to follow Public Law 638, where we can control our own programs -- started in the late 70s and early 80s. I believe that the cultural competency in programming drove it, that federal programs weren't always successful in meeting our needs. I believe job creation was also a part of it, that we wanted to be able to have services provided by our own Band members and not by outsiders. It's been enormously successful. Since then our capacity to deliver programs by developing effective systems of government, administration has allowed us to take on more opportunities, so I think that once tribes are able to move into that arena they quickly gain the experience, the social capital, the staff they need to take those programs to the next level and really round them out to meet a variety of needs."

Mary Kim Titla: "Now, Eddie, you've spent a long time wrestling with social service delivery issues at both the tribal and federal levels. In your experience, what are the major challenges tribes face in this area?"

Eddie Brown: "Well, one is just figuring out how to work with the federal government and state government, and so I think that's one that has moved forward a great deal as tribes have become more experienced in handling working with the federal government and most recently now beginning to develop inter-governmental agreements with the state that recognizes the sovereign jurisdictional issues of both parties. That has been tremendous. Perhaps now when you look at [it], it's building a good solid foundation of making sure that you have your regulations in place. When we talk about foster care programs or child welfare programs, they have a lot of rules and regulations and standards to ensure the protection of the child as well as the parents. Those kind of things, having good regulations in place, hiring competent staff, providing training for those staff, pulling together management information systems that allow them to track and to evaluate the kind of program or the impact of the programs that they're having. I think all of this, it's a tremendous challenge for an administrator today at a tribal level, because there are so many things that need to be done with limited dollars and a growing expectation of tribal members toward the tribal council to begin to act in a full essence of what a government is and that is a government's role is to care for the wellbeing of its citizens."

Mary Kim Titla: "And with leadership changes, I'm sure that that's also a challenge. Every three or four years your leadership changes and sometimes that has an impact on maybe where you proceed."

Karen Diver: "Very much so, and it's often said that politics is personal and no more so than in Indian Country, because those are your families, your clans, your nieces and nephews, and when they have needs that they view as critical and they're standing in front of you, it's sometimes very difficult for tribal leaders to think big picture and to say, 'Is my decision for the good of the all and do I sacrifice the good of the one, or vice versa?' And I think that's a constant struggle for tribal councils, it's a constant struggle for our government in terms of social capital, to make sure that our tribal leaders are really focused on what is good governmental function, and how do we make sure we have the service delivery systems to meet those basic needs and the individual needs in a competent way? Turnover in tribal government has affected a lot of the northern tribes recently, and I think that with programs like the Udall Center and Honoring Nations through Harvard, that it really shows best practices in governance and really holds up models for tribal governments to learn from."

Mary Kim Titla: "Why don't we get back to Public Law 638? I'm not familiar with that. Could you explain that a little bit more and how Native Nations have used this to assume control?"

Eddie Brown: "The impact, of course, is if someone comes to you and offers you an opportunity to not only bring a tremendous amount of federal funding to your community but also allowing you the flexibility to run and make your own decisions. I think tribes over the past 30 years are saying, 'We can do it better and we can show you how to do it better,' and [in] many situations have been very, very successful at that, to the point that now other departments within the federal government are understanding that they need to also loosen the regulation to understand that the tribes can run and operate programs. So it's really provided, I think, a celebration. At this recent NCAI [National Congress of American Indians] conference, basically it was the celebration of 30 years of Indian Self-Determination, because that piece of legislation has probably had more impact in the strengthening of tribal government in the last 100 years than any other previous legislation."

Karen Diver: "I think it's also providing ongoing challenges. Definitely celebration. What I see on a regular basis is tribes can set their big vision through their 638 contracting, but then through program delivery through the federal government, for example through Head Start for example, comes with its own set of regulations that is often in conflict with the direction set from 638 plans that are submitted to the federal government. So trying to merge big picture with service delivery that comes with a separate set of guidelines aside from its governmental functions I think can be a day-to-day challenge for tribes, but it is one that they are being creative about solving."

Mary Kim Titla: "And that was going to be my next question about limitations and how 638 in many ways being a trial-and-error process. Is that true?"

Eddie Brown: "Well, I don't know if it was so much as a trial and error as the idea of, 'Let's see if the tribes can handle it and if they can handle it, then we can see about making some more amendments to loosening and so forth.' So it has been very important therefore when tribes took over programs that they made sure that they could operate them and not retrocede or return them back to the federal government, because if in fact tribes failed, it would in fact maybe prove to what many people thought is tribes are not capable of operating as governments and running their own services. If anything has been proven in the last 30 years, it's that tribes are very much capable, they can do a better job as we've indicated. So while it is a challenge -- and today I look at perhaps administrators working within tribes have the greatest challenge than administrators in other forms of government. Having been involved in state government and federal government and comparing the challenge at a tribal level, I consider the challenge there at the tribal level much greater than what's experienced at states and federal governments because they are breaking new ground. They are having to develop from the ground up, they're having to look at the cultural as well as the more technical management information, etc., which makes it all the more exciting when we see tribes succeed particularly at the level that they're succeeding."

Mary Kim Titla: "What about need versus jobs and going after federal programs based on a need for jobs and not based on whether there's really a need for the service in the community?"

Karen Diver: "I would actually put it a little different way. We see a need for a service and we'll look for funding to fill it, and then it's who to fill those positions with, and we have Band-member preference in hiring, as do many tribes and really looking at what are the qualifications we need and how do we balance the need of our members to have jobs, because we do have high unemployment with the needs of the clients that need to receive the service, and which one should be more important. And I think it's a constant struggle for tribes to say, 'What are the minimum standards for this position and what are we willing to say to our Band members to get them?' And it's a constant educational process of saying, 'We value you, we need your input here at the tribe. There's other ways for you to be involved. We have training available, so that you can reach that level.' And workforce development systems on tribes of looking at coaching, mentoring, additional education so that over time our Band members are qualified to fill those positions is, I think, one of the highest priorities in Indian Country right now."

Mary Kim Titla: "Eddie, are you seeing anything different?"

Eddie Brown: "No, I completely agree. Making sure you have good training. If the goal is to hire tribal employees or tribal members to be employees, the idea is that they've got to do more than just meet minimum qualifications, which is [a] requirement under the Indian preference law, so that we want people that not only meet the minimum qualifications but we want to make sure that we provide training so that the employees can grow as the program grows as well."

Mary Kim Titla: "Now what about the various programs that exist and how important is it for each department head or for these programs really, the people that work in them, to communicate with each other?"

Karen Diver: "Very much so. We had a recent example on our reservation where we're trying to develop supportive housing and rather than just give people a house, it doesn't necessarily take care of all of their other needs that resulted in their initial homelessness -- whether it be chemical dependency, mental health issues, lack of jobs and training where they weren't marketable for suitable living wage employment. So we can't look at a band-aid approach of, 'You're homeless, we're going to give you a house.' We really have to look at a continuum of care to meet the multiple needs of people who really looked at several generations, multiple generations of oppression, and for those gaming nations, gaming jobs don't necessarily fix all of the hurt that came with it and the social ills that resulted in the form of chemical dependency and mental health issues. So developing continuums of care to really allow our Band members and tribal nation members to be self-sufficient means working across those borders of program lines."

Eddie Brown: "Clearly. And you've seen tribes like the Tohono O'odham Nation, Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community that have re-looked at how services are being offered and then restructured, realizing that many of the same people were working with the same families and in some ways providing some duplication of services, where if they just restructured their organizations and maybe integrated the services more, that the services provided will not only be more effective but can be done at a much lower cost as well, so that you've seen tribes lower the cost as well as improve the effectiveness of their service."

Mary Kim Titla: "Thank you both so much for being with us. You've both provided some great input and hopefully some food for thought for Nations that are out there and can improve what they're doing now. Thank you so much for being with us today."

Dr. Eddie Brown: "Thank you."

Karen Diver: "Thank you."

Mary Kim Titla: "Native Nation Building is a program of the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy at the University of Arizona. To learn more about Native Nation Building and the issues discussed on today's program, please visit the Native Nations Institute's website at Thank you for joining us and please tune in to the next edition of Native Nation Building."

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