Floyd "Buck" Jourdain

Floyd "Buck" Jourdain: Constitutional Reform and Leadership at the Red Lake Nation

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Native Nations Institute
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Floyd "Buck" Jourdain, Chairman of the Red Lake Nation from 2004 to 2014, discusses his nation's constitutional reform effort and the supporting role he played in helping to get the effort off of the ground. He also talks about how comprehensive constitutional reform will empower his nation's elected leaders to effectively tackle its biggest problems and identify and then achieve its strategic priorities. 

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Jourdain, Floyd "Buck." "Constitutional Reform and Leadership at the Red Lake Nation." Leading Native Nations interview series. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Walker, Minnesota. July 9, 2014. Interview.

Ian Record:

Welcome to Leading Native Nations. I’m your host, Ian Record. On today’s program, we are honored to have with us Floyd Jourdain, Jr., a citizen of the Red Lake Nation in Minnesota. Floyd, otherwise known as ‘Buck,’ served as Red Lake Nation Chairman from 2004 to 2014. An advocate of Native culture and living drug and alcohol free, Jourdain has spent the past three decades working as a counselor, community organizer and educator. Buck, welcome and good to have you with us today.

Floyd Jourdain:

Miigwetch. Thank you.

Ian Record:

I’ve shared a little bit about who you are, but why don’t we start off by having you tell us a little bit more about yourself. What did I leave out?

Floyd Jourdain:

Well, you didn’t leave out much I suppose. It’s a good nutshell there. I grew up on a reservation, Red Lake, northwestern Minnesota and was educated there, graduated from high school, went off to college for a couple years and got involved in chemical dependency and recovery programs, and working with youth and youth councils and those type of things. Started studying sociology and racism and trying to combat those type of social factors in Indian Country, and then somehow it led me to be the chief of the tribe. I don’t know how it happened, but it did and I was the chairman for 10 years.

Ian Record:

We’ll talk about that, your tenure as chairman a bit later. What I wanted to start off talking about though is constitutional reform. In August 2012, the Red Lake Nation approved a plan to review and revise its constitution. That’s an effort that’s still unfolding, it’s very early on in terms of its, in terms of the process. From your perspective what prompted the nation to go down the reform road?

Floyd Jourdain:

Well, it’s been a topic of tribal elections every two and four years. You hear catch phrases like 'separation of powers,' 'constitutional reform,' and candidates never really elaborate on that or what it is and people are left with this big question mark. I think that finally somebody came along who said, ‘This is something that really needs attention.’ I think my background in studying political science had something to do with that and also the culture of the tribe and the history and the treaties and our government structure and how we’ve evolved over time. So leading up to it, it just fell right in step with some of the things I was interested as a tribal leader, so I was right from the early on get-go interested in pursuing that.

Ian Record:

So you were chairman at the time that this effort, this initiative was formally given the green light by the council. And I’m curious, what role did you play in your capacity as chairman in terms of getting this movement going, to getting this effort off the ground?

Floyd Jourdain:

That’s one of the advantages of being the chairman is you’re able to carry out some of the vision and some of the things that the people are wanting to see happen. Over my lifetime, I’ve seen some political train wrecks and tumultuous times that had to do with the constitution within our tribe and others and being able to instead of pointing planners in the direction of saying, ‘Well, hey, let’s get some immediate things going.’ No, let’s try to embark on something that’s long range and constitutional reform is one of those things. It was a priority when I came into office and actually before that I was dabbling and studying it and going to school studying political science and those type of things. So I was pretty excited about finding some people who were interested in taking that on and then just letting them go.

Ian Record:

You talked about finding some people and letting them go. From what I’m hearing, there was a sense of your own place and how the extent of your involvement could be perceived by certain folks. Did you have any sense that, ‘I need to be careful about just how fully I as the chairman, as the chief elected leader of this tribe, get involved in the reform of the nation’s constitution and government?’

Floyd Jourdain:

Indian Country can be so divisive, especially when it comes to politics and you have to be respectful of someone’s, what you perceive as a bad idea at one point was somebody’s good idea and to build something lasting. You don’t want to have your name tied to, directly to it. And I think empowerment is key by planting that seed, finding the right people to carry it out, support them, step back a ways and just kind of guide things from the peripheral -- if you’re allowed to do that -- because at some point you do more harm than good if you’re directly involved in especially major efforts that are going to be carrying on for quite some time regardless of who the political leaders are.

Ian Record:

Was part of your role being like a source of information for folks who were curious about what’s going with this, ‘Tell me more about this,’ and sort of giving them the 411 on what this constitutional reform initiative is all about and who is in charge of it and things like that?

Floyd Jourdain:

Yeah. Prior to coming to office people would come to me and say, ‘Well, what’s all of the big, what’s all the fighting about?’ And usually it was two political powerhouses fighting over who’s going to control the jobs and gaming and housing and who’s going to do the favors and control everything. And they would say, ‘Well, why are they doing it? How are they allowed to do that?’ And so a lot of the educating of like my family and friends and younger people, youth council, those people; so I was doing a lot of teaching back then about how governments work, in particular tribal governments because not only looking at tribal constitutions, but also the United States Constitution, European history and how all of those...American history affected us. Yeah, those, the education is a huge, huge piece of getting people to understand, ‘Why is there this dysfunction happening? There’s got to be a reason.’ So I’ve always been fascinated by prying and finding out why something happens or why it’s happening and not being satisfied just with that, but now what’s a good strategic way to do something about it?

Ian Record:

It sounds like you had a supportive role to play, you had an information-sharing role to play, also with a keen sense that you have to allow the people to take full ownership in the process. From what I know about the Red Lake constitution reform process, that seems to be the top priority: this has to be ultimately an expression of the people’s will and not, as you’ve sort of alluded to, to be assigned or attached to one political leader. Can you elaborate a little bit more on this sort of mindset that went into that?

Floyd Jourdain:

Well, I can speak for my tribe when I can say the tribal chairman has always had a huge target on them and people come after the chairman, I don’t care who it is, and the same goes for a lot of other tribes as well. And so the chairman, if he gets behind something, a lot of times it’s, of course his supporters are going to say that’s a good thing, but then the other people are going to say, ‘Well, hey, this is something that we’re opposed to.’ You want to get as many people involved and empowered and be neutral and you’re exactly right, we just have to give it to the people and let the people take ownership of it and make it their own. The effort itself is, you basically cut the cord and watch it grow. And I think that’s a good thing because regardless of who the leader is, then the effort stays strong, it stays connected with the people, it has a grassroots feel to it and they will keep it moving. It takes on a life of its own and I think that’s a very, very strong way to go about approaching government reform.

Ian Record:

So can you describe in a nutshell the approach that Red Lake, the structure it created to shepherd this reform movement along, sort of at a macro level?

Floyd Jourdain:

The structure, well, we were hoping to,  I’ve seen like piecemeal efforts in the past to do constitutional reform and usually it’s the people in power will fix a little piece or this or that that’s going to work to their benefit and people were like, ‘Well, what was that all about?’ and it was never fully explained. So by putting together a team of people who are able to have this fervor and this interest and this energy to go after this and not only educate themselves on it, but to go out directly into the community in a strategic, planned out, chronological order, that’s been really effective. And starting with education: ‘What is constitutional reform? Why are we doing it? What is, I’ve heard about it, but I really don’t understand a lot about it.’ I think finding the right team and the right people and just letting them do their thing has been a good approach.

Ian Record:

Isn’t part of that challenge of getting the people engaged, you mentioned making them understand what constitutional reform is, but isn’t there a piece prior to that where you’re actually trying to make the argument, ‘Here’s why the constitution matters to you as a citizen of this nation,’ or, ‘here’s how revisiting and strengthening it can actually improve your life and the life of those yet to come’?

Floyd Jourdain:

Yeah, I believe so. Just basic rudimentary government. A lot of this new generation coming up, some of them have had a misperception that we’re really steeped in tradition and language and we’re carrying on a tradition that has been there for hundreds of years when actually we’ve recreated a template of somebody else’s stuff that has very little to do with our tribe at all -- our identity, our language, our philosophies and our culture and any of that. So I think that’s where a lot of it starts is that people just don’t have any idea. And elections are, I see it as an opportunity to educate people because people will go out there and they’ll say, ‘We need a separation of powers and we need term limits and we need this and we need that.’ And then people are scratching their heads, ‘Is this a bad thing or why are we, ?’ So I think it’s really important to, again I can’t emphasize enough with youth councils, high schools and alternative schools and charter schools to educate at that level. Because in Indian Country I didn’t read anything about any of this stuff until I was like two years into college and on most reservation schools you have public schools or you have BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] schools; they don’t teach this stuff. We don’t know anything about it until we get a little older, but what’s encouraging is the next generation coming up, you see they’re more advanced in their thinking, they’re learning about federal Indian law and they’re fascinated by language revitalization. They’re educated at a whole other level now with social media and access to technology. It’s pretty fascinating digging through card catalogs to find out about the Marshall Trilogy and you’re two years into college. Now these young people on youth councils and they’re saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got this thing going on on federal Indian law, would you be interested in coming to speak?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, sure!’ Whoa, I wish I would have had that when I was younger because there was no such thing."

Ian Record:

Card catalogs. We’ll have to explain to our younger viewers what that is.

Floyd Jourdain:

Yeah, it was cumbersome and a lot of work.

Ian Record:

You’ve alluded to this and I want to talk a bit more about it, but in the vision statement for the Red Lake constitutional reform initiative -- which is overseen by a reform committee that represents a broad cross section of people in your community -- but the vision statement for this initiative and for this basically the charge of the committee is in part to strengthen the ideas of self-governance in its constitution. Can you talk a little bit more about that, about how the current constitution doesn’t truly and perhaps fully enact notions of self-governance and in particular Anishinaabe Ojibwe self-governance?

Floyd Jourdain:

I think self-governance is inclusive of the people and that’s one of the things that’s been lacking. Elected officials --again I can speak for our tribe -- have no job descriptions. Nobody knows what they do. They’re not required to really do anything. You get on the tribal council, you’re elected to that position and there’s a misconception of what the role of a tribal leader should be. So basically we’re saying, ‘You write our job description for us. What are your ideas, what is your vision, what do you think a tribal leader should do? Is it to control all the housing and the jobs and bring all their political people in and do this and that and do favors and comps and all this kind of stuff?’ No, that’s not what a tribal leader is supposed to be doing. ‘Well, it doesn’t say they’re not supposed to be doing that.’

So in our particular situation, there’s job descriptions for the three executive officers: the chairman, the secretary and the treasurer, but the representatives, nothing. There’s nothing in there that says what the chiefs are supposed to be doing. There’s no criteria, there’s no qualifications that they’re supposed to have, there’s no code of conduct, ethics, no bill of rights and under that particular arrangement the people are detached from government; there is no empowerment. And I think with constitutional reform, it’s going to allow people to say, ‘These are the expectations of our nation. We expect better. We expect a higher level of representation. We expect to raise the standards of our tribe and what our nation is aspiring to be.’ And with a lack of that, you can do anything. You have these elections every two and four years, there’s a lot of upheaval, there’s no accountability. You have people perpetuating a system that is...basically contributes to sometimes, unfortunately, chaos and a loss of any potential and progress. So I think those are important. You just call it what it is.

When you start to point those things out, people will [say], ‘I had no idea. I thought a tribal council member was supposed to be the director of our gaming,’ or, ‘I thought they were supposed to oversee. I thought we could go to them and get money from them and those kind of things.’ So minus that, you get these people who are, they become almost in a sense sometimes enablers and they perpetuate it after awhile. I don’t know if it’s a sense of, ‘People are relying on me, they’re dependent of me, they need me,’ and next thing you know you lose focus. Our nation needs leaders and our job is to be, set the direction of the tribe, the vision to move our nation forward and be forward thinking. We’re supposed to be looking over here, not just right here and I think that that’s a huge part of constitutional reform is, ‘What are these leaders doing? They get bogged down in all these other things and what about us?’

I ran for office and I was a younger person and there was a lot of squabbling and fighting and the constitution was, ‘Oh, well, this person here is doing this and that one, we’ve got to have a recall and we’ve got to get this one out of here and we’ve got to, ’ and there was a lot of finger pointing back and forth and anger and emotions and tempers flaring and people marching around with petitions and all this kind of stuff and people were like, ‘This is crazy. What’s going on?’ Meanwhile, we had youth suicides and crack cocaine was infiltrating Indian Country, enormous, ridiculous amounts of diabetes with youth and juveniles and chemical dependency issues and joblessness and homelessness. But then you have all of these people fighting over, citing the constitution. ‘They’re not doing this, they’re not doing that, according to the constitution.’

So those are things that I think will contribute greatly to healthier communities, to more effective leadership, better education, better systems and it’s a huge, huge undertaking, but it’s one that has to be approached in a manner where you can just continually pass the torch, pass the torch, pass the torch. Sometimes it might take generations. It’s nothing something I don’t think that will happen really fast, but it’s something that definitely is happening now.

Ian Record:

So in this process of redefining self-governance and what that means and people are taking a full participatory role in that redefining process, how valuable is it for -- and it sounds like this is what the Red Lake constitution reform committee is getting the people to really focus on -- but how valuable is it for people to go back and realize and investigate that, ‘Hey, we as Red Lake, we had this self-governance thing figured out a long time ago. In fact, that’s the reason why we’re still here and maybe if we more fully examine the key principles that served as the foundation of that traditional governance system, there’s things that we can bring forward and make it more ours, make it more Anishinaabe.’ Is that a current you’re starting to see taking root within the community as sort of a topic of conversation?

Floyd Jourdain:

I think it is, because incorporating the language and culture into tribal courts, into tribal leadership, into education and melding that into a governmental instrument that’s effective for everybody is something that’s going to be, greatly enhance the quality of life for everybody. And the Anishinaabe philosophies and those principles and ways of living, they were minus a lot of the, how do I say, suppose ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ and ‘getting a leg up on somebody’ all the little catch phrases. But yeah, it was, that is not reflected in the constitution that we have now. There’s absolutely nothing in there that pertains to Anishinaabe values, traditions, language, anything. And in fact, one time I was listening to a college president at a tribal college say, ‘When our elders wrote our constitution, they were thinking about us,’ and I had a copy of the constitution and I was flipping through it going, ‘Our elders didn’t write this.’ This was a college president. It was one of the boilerplates and I was like, ‘Well, they might have adapted it or basically modeled after it, but an Indian person didn’t write this. I know that.’ I didn’t say anything, but it was, so we really have come a long way from the way we, our traditional customs and systems were applied to leading a nation.

Ian Record:

You mentioned who wrote the constitution and that’s a topic we often see a lot of general understanding among people who are concerned about constitutional reform and the inadequacies of their current constitution in Indian Country. They’ll say things like, ‘We’re an IRA tribe and we have an IRA boilerplate constitution.’ But what we’re seeing I think in a good way now more and more is that more tribes are going back and gleaning the origin story of their constitution, going beyond just analyzing the words on the page, but saying, ‘What was going on at the time that this constitution was formed? What can the elders tell us about who was in charge and how, just how dominant the BIA or some other outside entity was in the formation of this document?’ Because as you said about Red Lake’s constitution, in most instances you can read this and realize in a heartbeat that this was not written by an Indigenous person or this does not reflect the voice of an Indigenous person. This was obviously someone else’s product. And it sounds from some of the video work that the reform committee’s doing that that’s precisely where they’re focusing is, ‘We’ve got to bring to the people a sense of context for where this constitution came from.’

Floyd Jourdain:

Well, some of the, at one point there was dozens of people on the tribal council and of course there was one central figure, again. Somewhere along the line you see just where respect was lost for chiefs, a total disregard for tribal chairmen and they were viewed more as adversarial people and maybe coopted by outside entities and not basically viewed as a person. This is a person who’s looking out for all of us. I went to NCAI [National Congress of American Indians] in Tulsa, Oklahoma several years ago and a young man stood up there in general assembly. He said, ‘I really got to hand it to you tribal leaders, especially chairpersons.’ He said, ‘My dad was on a council for many years and we saw what he went through as a family, what affect it had on him and on us as a kid growing up in a home of a tribal leader, and the toll it took on him and how much he poured into it. I really got to hand it to you. It takes a unique breed of person to step up to the plate and take the arrows in the back and take the bullets from the front.’ So the fight is out there, but you’re just getting hammered from fighting. Sometimes it’s so, so hard to try to do things for the people when a lot of times you’re perceived as somebody who is not looking out for their best interest, regardless of how much progress, what you’re doing.

So those definitions I think again really need to be re-evaluated and that’s where the lack of culture, the lack of, like in our language: [Anishinaabe language]. That’s, ‘There’s a man standing out in front of his people.’ All the people are here and there’s a man standing out there. That’s my Indian name that was given to me by an elder many years ago. I wasn’t a chairman then when I received that name, but somehow it happened for me. That’s part of our traditions and our teachings. I believe that the Creator up there has a plan for all of us and things do happen for a reason. So just the, how that factors in, the leaders are chosen not because he’s going to promise me a raise. Leaders were chosen because you say, ‘Well, this leader has a good heart and I know that he’s going to give everything that he can for the people.’ That is lacking in constitutions now so I think that the, if you connect those two together, then they’ll perceive tribal leaders to be more as human beings and more of caring individuals and not so much, ‘We’re fascinated by watching this individual topple,’ or ‘we need to get our guy in there.’ And then sometimes unfortunately across Indian Country, you have some pretty good things going on that are toppled because of an election and then later on the people are like, ‘Oh, geez, maybe we shouldn’t have, ’ And sometimes there’s others who need to have the next one come in and take over.

Ian Record:

So it sounds like in talking with some of the other folks that are involved with the Red Lake reform effort that it’s beginning to take root and more and more people in the community are beginning to get engaged, the turnout at some of the community meetings has been really strong, people are beginning to share their aspirations for what a new constitution and ultimately a new Red Lake future will look like or should look like. But I assume that you’ve observed,  I assume you’ve observed some challenges. Has there been some blowback to this reform effort? Are there people that are perhaps looking upon it negatively for whatever reason? And is that to be expected and perhaps how do you see the reform effort sort of dealing with those sorts of challenges?

Floyd Jourdain:

I think some of the people who are actually assigned to do or appointed to do the reform effort too, they have their own renditions or their own ideas and, some of the things I’ve seen is, ‘Well, we need to create new policies for human resources,’ and, ‘the programs need to be, ’ which has absolutely nothing to do with constitutional reform. And there’s others who have their own idea, who want to impose their own vision and not the collective of the people, Anishinaabe. Some want the language incorporated in, succession, those type of things and others have just adamantly said, ‘Well, you know what, I don’t know about that. I think this is, we don’t know if we trust this. This has worked up to this point so far.’

As far as the leadership, some of the leaders are like, ‘Hey, great. Anything that’s going to take away power from one individual,’ like the old Lord Atkins and immortal law, absolute power corrupts absolutely. If power’s concentrated in one figure for a long period of time, eventually the individual will become corrupt and those type of things. And so those type of things have been talked about is term limits and so there’s, it’s good healthy discussion. All of it is really, really good healthy discussion.

Some of the drawbacks I think from the leadership is that, ‘Well, geez, if we do this, does that mean we’re not going to have the power that we had or we’re not going to be as effective and what is our job then? The people elected me to provide for them and do this and do that and they have expectations of me and if I’m in a position now where I don’t do those things for them anymore, then I’m probably not going to be around here for very much longer.’ So the education piece also starts to radiate out to the leadership where they start to see that empowerment is a good thing for the nation, but it might necessarily be a good thing for them if they’re of the mind that they want to hold on to power.

And one of the things that I experienced being a younger chairman coming in, there was no Chairman 101 and all of the tribal council members who were there, they were not falling over each other to come and educate me on what it’s like to be a tribal leader. I don’t think they had expectations of me being there very long. So why are we going to do that?

So a lot of it is, you can go to school, you can get educated in American Indian history and law and federal Indian law, policy, sovereignty, treaties. You can study tribes all over the place, but when you walk into the office on day one, it’s like all of that is like, ‘Oh, okay. Well, that's not really what I’m doing here. The people have expectations that are aside from that.’ And a lot of times leaders come in and they see it that way. It’s like, ‘Well, hey, I’m here to satisfy people.’ And those are the ones that, they’re a little more resistant to empowering and allowing the nation to grow.

Ian Record:

You touched on one of the major challenges that I think a lot of tribes get sort of a cold splash of water in the face or a wakeup call is when they actually ratify new constitutions, there’s sort of a sigh of relief. ‘We cleared that hurdle,’ and then it hits them that now the hard part comes. ‘We’ve actually got to implement this thing.’ And part of the challenge then is you’ve got to educate not only the people about how the new government works, but you’ve got to educate your leadership about what their role is and how that role may have changed. And from what you’re saying, it sounds like that means that people have to take a whole new approach to how they govern, how they make decisions, how they view their role, how they interact with their constituents. It’s potentially a completely revolutionary process, right? And from what I’ve heard, Red Lake is considering comprehensive reform and not what you’ve talked about that’s happened in the past where there’s sort of these piecemeal little changes here and there, but we’re looking at the whole thing.

Floyd Jourdain:

Right. Yeah, I think it is, a more comprehensive approach is why just change one tire when you can change them all and the leadership taking a look at, ‘Well, if this happens, ’ And I give one example where a tribal council member said, ‘Well, then what are we supposed to do? If we’re not running the programs and we’re not overseeing the businesses and we’re not calling all the shots here, ? The people elect us to do these things and so then what are we supposed to do?’ So you can see how far reaching the influence of tribal leaders can be when they do not have a specific set of duties that they were elected to do. And changing that culture, it is a process and it would be like a fish out of water. They walk out of the ocean, they’re on the beach and they say, ‘Oh, yeah, this is not good. I can't adapt to this.’ Two minutes later they’re going to want to run back in the water. So it’s again passing down, and our elders teach us this. They say, ‘The knowledge that you have acquired in your lifetime, you have a duty to pass that on to the ones that are coming. Because you’re connected to your children, your grandchildren and just because you might be in the position you’re in right now, doesn’t mean you’re always going to be there. You might flop over tomorrow and take everything with you. So you have a responsibility to educate the ones coming up.’

So I’ve always been fascinated by demographics and numbers and political science and statistics and watching trends, especially in Indian Country with the generations coming up in the education systems that are happening. They are going to inherit everything. We have a massive reservation, hundreds of thousands of acres of woodlands and lakes and lands and resources and a government system that is very fragile. I had an elder one time tell me, ‘Buck, it’s really refreshing to know that some of these younger people coming up or even some of the older ones that we’re not really in tune with what is going on, now they’re getting interested, they’re getting involved and that makes me feel good as an elder because I know I can go off to the Happy Hunting Ground, lay my head down, knowing that our tribe is in good hands and it’s moving in a positive direction.’

Ian Record:

One of the issues that Red Lake has been focusing on in early stages of the reform effort deals with whether and how to remove the Secretary of Interior approval clause from its constitution. Why the attention to that specific issue do you think?

Floyd Jourdain:

I think that’s always been like a myth that we have to check with the Great White Father every time we do something. And over time with Red Lake, the sovereignty and the uniqueness of the government there, they’ve always maintained that, ‘Hey, we really don’t have to check with anybody? Do we really?’ And whenever there was a political fight going on, one party would say, ‘Well, hey, you guys can’t kick me out of here. I’m going to tell the Secretary on you.’ And then finally one group said, ‘Go ahead.’ And nothing happened. So I think over time is a misconception that just because we basically modeled ourselves after an IRA constitution that we had an obligation, a congressional mandate or something from the Department of Interior that, ‘Hey, you can’t do anything until you check with us,’ and Red Lake didn’t do that. So we haven’t been checking with the Secretary of Interior all of these decades, why should we start now?

So I think over time the Band itself, I don’t know if it’s lawyers or historians or chairpersons or whoever said, ‘Well, let me check that out.’ They checked it out and they said, ‘Well, no, it’s not in fact true. We don’t have to get the consent of the Secretary of Interior for anything.’ We have some code of federal regulations. We did away with those. We’ve done some things with business and courts and done some amendments over the years and there was no tribal chairman sending a, or secretary sending a letter off to the Department of Interior. So I think that’s an easy start and it is a start, I think just to get something going. Let’s do this, just to get the momentum going to say, ‘Look, we’re going to eliminate that from our constitution. It’s something we know we can do. It’s a slam-dunk for us. So let’s start there.’

Ian Record:

And it sounds to me like that’s a productive approach to take is to, in knowing that there’s going to be some really controversial issues, constitutional issues that are going to come whether it’s blood quantum or citizenship criteria, what have you, that you’ll ultimately have to deal with.

Floyd Jourdain:

Well, removing the Secretary of Interior clause is important because it also, that’s pretty monumental in itself because at one point, being a self-governance tribe, the Red Lake Band had certain agencies that had federal employees on the reservation for so many years. And those federal, Band members who work for these federal agencies -- IHS [Indian Health Service], BIA and law enforcement, nurses, what have you -- they were like, ‘We don’t want to be under the tribe. We like our government jobs. We want our pensions. We want to be under that safety and security net.’ And the Band has always maintained that at some point we have to strive for self-determination and self-sufficiency and we have to manage our own affairs and at what point are we going to pull ourselves out from the cover of this almost a demeaning subsidiary of the federal government itself.

Ian Record:

I know it’s still early, but looking forward, what in your view, when all’s said and done, will success look like for Red Lake in terms of constitutional reform? If everything goes right from your perspective and the process reaches its fruition, the outcome will be successful if what?

Floyd Jourdain:

I think if you have a new generation educated on the tribe, treaties, history, the role of government and also have a comprehensive plan and diagram of what the nation should, a healthy nation should look like. That in itself would be a huge, huge victory for the people. The empowerment is important and the education and the empowerment of the people is important because there’s certain things that people want. They want to be healthy. They want to be safe. They want clean water. They want land. They want their leaders to be looking out for them and they want their children and the generations coming up to preserve what we have: our culture, language and our traditions and our land. And I think that’s important and if we have a document or a guiding, some guiding principles and rules that not only the people have to go by, but also the leadership has to go by as well and that’s tempered, is balanced, it’ll build trust, it’ll build stability in government. It’ll be, it’ll contribute greatly to building an economy, strengthening our tribal courts. Because otherwise, if you have, there are no definitions, then you have a lot of the dysfunction that happens in Indian communities.

Ian Record:

I’d like to switch gears now and talk about governance and leadership and the relationship between the two. We’ve talked about leadership a lot already, but just recently, in May 2014, you lost in your bid for another term as chairman of the Red Lake Nation. I was following that election closely and was struck by how graciously you accepted your electoral defeat and in particular how you worked to ensure a smooth transition from your administration to your successor’s. In fact, at the council meeting just on June 10th, just about a month ago, where you handed over the reins to the incoming chair, you were quoted as saying, ‘Anything I can ever do, Mr. Chairman, I will be here for you.’ I wish I could say that is an approach commonly taken by outgoing leaders in any government including Indian Country, but unfortunately it’s not. I’m curious. Why did you take that approach that you did? It sounds like it comes from some of the teachings that have been imparted to you earlier in life, but maybe if you could just elaborate a little bit more on why did you take that approach?

Floyd Jourdain:

Well, you’re right, a lot of that come from my parents, my mom and my dad, my grandparents. And embarking on leadership prior to being an elected tribal leader, I was also a mentor for youth and I worked for youth programs and trying to help people with their personal struggles with addictions and those type of things. So to keep hope alive and to keep dreams alive and to keep a positive attitude, I think that’s important. I’ve served as a conduit between one generation of people, our elders who are starting to leave us now, and the next generation coming up. So to keep that transition going and realizing that our lives are so short, that there’s value in supporting someone who’s coming in and continuing.

And like I said, there was no 'Chairman 101.' Now you can be surrounded by thousands of people and be the loneliest person on planet earth. And I know what that feels like. There’s very few people who know what that feels like and one of the things I spoke to in that inauguration as well was holding the weight of the people. It can be grueling and there are rewards, but there are times when you really have no one else to look to. ‘Who can I talk to about this? Is there anyone that,  Well, there’s Buck over here or there’s maybe Bobby [Whitefeather] and there’s like on this entire planet there might be one or two people that know what I’m going through that hopefully I can call them and consult with them or maybe they can help me with an issue.’

So I think it’s important to keep those doors open and when you’re talking about a nation, there’s a momentum that’s building, there’s a new generation coming, there’s, and a lot of times we like to think that, ‘Oh, geez, just because I’m out of here, I’m going to kick down the house of cards. They won’t have me to kick around anymore.’ It doesn’t work that way. The tribe will go on. The people will go on. The progress, that’s one of the scary parts about leadership is that everything that we’ve built, hopefully it won’t get all dismantled and then we’ll go back several decades to where we were before. I think people like to think that that’s going to happen, but I like to believe that we are good people, all of us.

These campaigns, they can be brutal, they can be ugly. The people a lot of times, it takes on a life of its own that they get so caught up in all of these things and at the end of the day, tribal leaders, though, they don’t wish each other harm or, we don’t want the next ones coming in to do bad because if they do bad, then we all do bad. So I think it’s just something that was taught to me was that, ‘Don’t go stomping off muttering and hanging your head and kicking a can.’ Just, you move to the next chapter and hopefully another door will open.

Ian Record:

So I’m curious, I know it’s, you’re what about two months now into your post-chairman existence, but how do you conceive your role now as a former elected official in terms of nation building and contributing to some of these nation-building initiatives like this constitutional reform effort that’s currently underway? Because you spent 10 years building up an incredible knowledge base. Not just in terms of about the needs of the people because you’re a public face and people come to you and share their problems and share their aspirations, but also because of your knowledge of how your current system works, the governance system and perhaps what could be improved. How do you view your role now that you’re no longer in the position of chairman?

Floyd Jourdain:

Well, the transition is tough, especially if you go from 100 miles an hour to 20 overnight. And you go through certain stages of, ‘What’s my role now? I’ve been doing this for so long.’ I think passing that on is what I talked about. There wasn’t anybody that I could come to and say, ‘Well, I’ve run into a huge, huge situation here. Who do you turn to?’ So all of those experiences, the life experiences and the knowledge and all of the things that have happened over time, I think it’s important to share that with people, whether that be teaching or writing a book or just being in the community maybe as an elder or trying to get involved more again in the grassroots just to pass on what it is, in a good way, to pass on to the next generation some of the things that they otherwise wouldn’t know.

Ian Record:

Well, Chairman, we really appreciate you taking some time out of your retirement, your hopefully short-lived retirement, and sharing your thoughts and experience and wisdom with us.

Floyd Jourdain:

Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity.

Ian Record:

Well, that’s all the time we have on today’s program of Leading Native Nations. To learn more about Leading Native Nations, please visit the Native Nations Institute’s website at nni.arizona.edu. Thank you for joining us. Copyright 2014 Arizona Board of Regents.

From the Rebuilding Native Nations Course Series: "Defining Sovereignty"

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Native leaders offer their definitions of what sovereignty is and what it means for Native nations in the 21st century.

Native Nations
Citation

Barrett, John "Rocky". Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. March 28, 2009. Interview.

Fullmer, Jamie. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. June 17, 2008. Interview.

Harjo, Suzan. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. September 11, 2008. Interview.

Jourdain, Floyd "Buck." Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Red Lake, Minnesota. July 2008. Interview.

Mankiller, Wilma. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. September 29, 2008. Interview.

Ninham-Hoeft, Patricia. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. March 26, 2009. Interview.

Pierre, Sophie. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Phoenix, Arizona. October 21, 2008. Interview.

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

Sophie Pierre:

"We have a choice! We have a choice. We can continue to go down that self-pitying kind of road, blaming everybody else for our problems, or we can take control of it. We chose to take control of it."

Wilma Mankiller:

"The definition of sovereignty is to have control over your own lands, and resources, and assets, and to have control over your own vision for the future, and to be able to absolutely determine your own destiny."

Jamie Fullmer:

"Sovereignty is an unwritten rule. It's there. You express it by what you do to grow and, within that though, what you claim is based on the structures that you develop. So, in the modern sense, as the nation moves forward, the process and the ideal of sovereignty is: we are here; we express ourselves; we accept the challenge and responsibility of governing and seeing our own path forward."

Suzan Harjo:

"Sovereignty is the act of sovereignty. We, as Native nations, are inherently sovereign and whatever we do to act sovereign is the definition of sovereignty. When something is inherent, it's inherent. You are who you are from the inside out and it's not something that is over-layered, either in law or in policy, and it's not something that the Europeans brought from Europe. It is your language -- speaking your language is an act of sovereignty."

John "Rocky" Barrett:

"A government without law, and the willingness to enforce that law, isn't really a government. That's the ultimate act of sovereignty -- not only enforcing a law, but being willing, as a people, to put themselves under the rule of law, is the ultimate act of sovereignty."

Floyd Jourdain:

"With tribal sovereignty, a lot of the time you see in the media, you see in the public, the term sovereignty come when tribes are on a defensive. We shouldn't have to protect our tribal sovereignty. We should be out there using our tribal sovereignty in a good way to advance our interests, to bring more resources to our communities, and not wait around until every two and four years (when the state and the federal elections come along) and all of a sudden we have to defend ourselves against interest groups, against sporting organizations, and those types of things. No, we need to use our tribal sovereignty in a good way -- proactively -- to use it to advance the interest of our tribal nations."

Patricia Ninham-Hoeft:

"I think too often people think sovereignty is when you can pound on your chest and proclaim that the things that you are doing are because you can do it, because you're a sovereign. But in today's world we have so many different relationships and so many different communities that we interact with that we don't live in isolation anymore. We have to work together, we're interdependent with places -- not just in our own backyard but around the globe -- so sovereignty, if you exercise it effectively, starts with understanding that it's a tool to building a community. It's not the end result. Because I hear that so often from tribal leaders: 'The goal for our tribe is to make sure that our sovereignty is strong.' And I think, 'that's not the end result. The end result is, how do you use your sovereignty to build a strong community?'"

Jamie Fullmer:

"Sovereignty, I believe, is best expressed when we ask not what we can do, but why can't we do it? The question we can ask is: why can't we do it? We're not asking: can we do that? We're asking: why can't we do that? You know, have others prove us wrong and not have to prove ourselves wrong first."

Sophie Pierre:

"I think what it really means was explained by a chief who has since left us. His name was Joe Mathias. He was chief of Suquamish. And he always said that exercising sovereignty was that, "˜the people who were going to live with the results of a decision, are the people who make the decision.' And to me, that's what sovereignty has always meant. We are responsible for our own lives, we make our own decisions, and we're the people that suffer the consequences of those decisions."

Honoring Nations: Sovereignty Today: Q&A

Producer
Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development
Year

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

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

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

Ethel Branch:

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

Floyd "Buck" Jourdain:

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

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

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

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

James Ransom:

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

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

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

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

Michael Thomas:

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

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

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

Ben Nuvamsa:

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

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

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

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

Regis Pecos:

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

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

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

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

Michael Thomas:

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

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

David Gipp:

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

Oren Lyons:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Megan Hill:

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

Honoring Nations: Floyd "Buck" Jourdain: Sovereignty Today

Producer
Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development
Year

Red Lake Band of Chippewa Former Chairman Floyd "Buck" Jourdain defines sovereignty as the aggressive and proactive exercise of a nation's sovereign powers, and illustrates how his nation takes this approach in advancing its own priorities and dealing with other sovereign governments.

Resource Type
Citation

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

Megan Hill:

"I'd like to introduce next, Chairman Floyd Jourdain from the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians. The Red Lake Walleye Recovery Program is a 2006 honoree, and we heard from them earlier today. Chairman Jourdain.

Chairman Floyd Jourdain:

"Boozhoo. I hope I don't talk too loud in this. I'm a really loud person. I wrote a speech in the last two minutes -- he inspired me. He's really good. I like him.

[Anishinaabe introduction]

This is why I'm so mixed up because one, [Anishinaabe], that means 'lead runner,' a person who is leading all the people running, and [Anishinaabe], means 'there is a man standing there,' that's why I'm so mixed up, I'm standing around and I'm supposed to be running! I need someone to come slap me upside the head every now and then, 'Lead us!' you know?

I'm honored to be here, on behalf of everybody back home. This is a pretty big deal for us, and Alan [Pemberton] did a nice job this morning. Our tribal treasurer, Darrell Seki, is seated over here. He is here also representing our tribe. And Alan's mother is here, his beautiful mom is here taking pictures for us. So, it's good to see her.

We've talked about a lot of sovereignty issues. Red Lake is a huge reservation, there are 10,000 members, we have about three-quarters of a million acres of pristine woodlands, lakes, lands, resources, and it's something that I was able to -- honored to be able to serve as the chairman there. We've been around a long, long time. There's a lot of Ojibwe nations. In Minnesota, there's a thing called the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, where all of the Chippewa tribes are like a conglomerate, joined together. Red Lake is not a part of that structure, and that goes back historically to our chiefs. We came from a system of chiefs and hereditary chiefs that govern by consensus. We moved into the agreement era, and from there we moved into where we had a chief executive, and surrounded by chiefs. At one point there was like 45 people on the tribal council. In 1959, we went to an elected form of government. Now we have four districts, two [representatives from each district], and three executive officers: the treasurer, the secretary, and the tribal chairman, who some also, a lot of the older people, still consider to be the chief of the tribe, the principal chief. So it's a position that is very complex, there's a lot to know.

And one of the things that I'd like to talk about today, which Mr. [Michael] Thomas touched on, is the education of the next generation, the next wave of people who will protect and defend our tribal sovereignty. And we just think of it as something we've always done. Red Lake did not want to be a part of the other tribes because we respected the other tribes. We knew what was going on in the 1800s with the massacres and those types of things. We knew that the government that was overseeing this country was very serious, with a very serious and dangerous agenda, so we made sure that we were very well prepared, and we consulted with our people, we consulted with our ceremonies, and we tried to do the best that we could to retain what we had as Indian people. As a result of that, we, like Alan said today, we hold in common all of our land. There are no landowners -- one hundred percent owners [are] 10,000 people. Imagine owning every tree, every fish, every aspect of the tribe. So everybody is watching everybody all the time. They are watching us right now. But we were the first in the nation. We like to see our sovereignty as a proactive use of it. We were the first tribe in the nation to have tribal license plates. We wanted to license ourselves, to have our own [Motor Vehicle] registration department, and we did that. Of course the state objected, we fought in court, we won that [case], and we set the precedent for the tribes in the United States with the license plates. We're very proud of that. We've battled in the courtrooms, Supreme Court, major cases involving members taking eagle feathers for ceremonial purposes. We've gone to war in court and we won those battles, because that was never taken from Indian people, we never gave that way -- our right to hunt and fish on our lands.

Now, we're trying to educate a whole new generation of people on the complexities of this modern era. We're in a very dangerous and volatile position right now as tribes. So rather than getting on the tribal council and saying, 'I'm going to bring home the pork for my district and I'm going to fix a road, or I'm going to build houses, and do those types of things,' we also -- because we are not subject to the laws of the State of Minnesota, we have to watch the State of Minnesota and interact with them while at the same time they are attempting to erode our tribal sovereignty and access our lands and impose their laws over us. The national government, [we're] very astute -- we're professional, we have law firms in Albuquerque, D.C., lobbyists there that work, and we have tribal members who are constantly feeding us information on Supreme Court appointments, legislation that's passed through, and so we work closely with a lot of people who are a lot smarter than us to let us know what's going on, because all the tribes are joined by the hip.

And we're -- it's funny, I went up to the grocery store today, and I saw this little clock, and I said, 'What is that little clock for?' And it said 'George Bush Countdown.' And the seconds are going, you know, and it was counting backwards -- I'm going to get one of those before I leave and it put it on my desk when I get back to the office.

But a good example of us proactive with our sovereignty is the fisheries, interacting with the State of Minnesota, the federal government, and the fishermen on our reservation. And we said, "Well, we're not going to sit around and wait for something bad to happen to us. We're going to initiate this ourselves. We don't need to be told to save our walleye. We don't need to be told to try to put businesses together. We don't need to be told to educate ourselves on how to run business. We're going to do those things ourselves.' So, I think it's a good way to go. And I really like what the Harvard Project is doing. I've been going to the website for several years now. Before I was chairman, I was reading some of the stuff when I was taking classes. It's really good that someone out there is trying to make sense of all of this. It's pretty complex.

So another example was on March 21, 2005. Some of you may recall that we had a horrible tragedy on our reservation, where we had a school shooting there. Several people lost their lives. And being a community [where you hardly ever] see white people -- they come, they work at the hospitals, some of them are teachers. We're one hundred percent Indian people. So when you see an army of news trucks and people coming on to your reservation who want access and feel that they should have access, and they say, 'How dare you restrict us from your tribal lands?' Again, we didn't wait around. We called the best resources that we have and said, We have to have a protocol. How are we going to handle this monumental tragedy? What's our plan? How are we going to do that?' And when people came to the reservation, sure enough, it happened that way. They got there, they wanted to run around the reservation and see blood, guts, gore and all this stuff. And we said, 'Well, absolutely not. We have a media pool, We have a place where we're doing press conferences. We have a designated area for you there. We'll be more than happy to help you out and accommodate you in any way.' They said, 'No!' They despised the fact that Indian people had a structure, were educated, had laws, and they had to abide by them. They said, 'That's ridiculous! This is the United States of America. Who the hell do you think you are?' So [we said], 'We're the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, and you are on Indian land, and you follow our laws.'

So we do take the boats and the planes and those kinds of things, like Alan talked about, and even though there's laws out there and there's Congressional acts that say we can't do those type of things, we beg to differ. We test that. We've always been cutting edge. And if someone enters into our tribal lands and if they do not act accordingly, we do reserve the right to kick them the hell out. We've always done that. In fact, under the former Tribal Chairman Roger Jourdain, there was a passport system that was implemented through the Red Lake Band. He said, 'Well, if we can't exercise our laws on these people, then we're going to, ourselves, tailor a passport system and a protocol where they will have to report to the tribal government center, declare their intention here, let us know who they are, and they will have to have permission to go around our Indian lands. If they do not have this passport, there's the line, we'll help you across it.' So that's one of the things that we've used our sovereignty in a good way, and the State of Minnesota really has a lot of issues with that because, when we had this stuff going on -- I use the example, I think, of Canada. When you cross into Canada, near the Minnesota border there, you have to go to customs. They ask you, 'Do you have weapons? Do you have alcohol? Do you have anything to declare? Do you understand that if you come into Canada and you break any rules, that there will be consequences to pay?' And you say, 'Yes, understood, we'll abide by the laws of Canada.' Fine, they let you go. But if you raise heck up there, they're real tough on people with DUIs and that kind stuff. They won't even let the Indians in there, now we have to swim across on our own land. But you have a price to pay.

So I think, from the tribal leader perspective, when we come to D.C., we expect to be treated as such, because our forefathers respected each other that way. They saw each individual Indian nation like these leaders who are here today, these men out here today. I went out and I greeted these tribal leaders that are in the room, at least the ones that I knew. (I'm sorry, this is the first time I've met you, I've always wanted to meet you, and it's good to finally see you my brother.) So that's the respect, and that's the way we also think as Indian people. We are a government. We are a sovereign. We're not a municipality, we're not a corporation, we're not a township. We are Indian people, each and every one of us. And it has to be respected and used in a good way. Thank you very much."