Thursday, March 13, 2014


Okay, so these are muskoxen.  The principle is the same.

The natural instinct of people under pressure is to circle the wagons (protect their stuff), or if they’re more inclined to be buffalos, to circle their own selves, hopefully with their heads pointed outwards.  This is so they can see what’s coming, whether it’s a predator or the future.  Because so many of the threats seem to affect us all, some resourceful people have dug in to help with ideas and practices.  One newly available on the Blackfeet rez was developed by the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy (NNI) at the University of Arizona.  If it had been developed in Blackfeet country, they could have spelled that NINA.  (Jokes.  It means “chief” or “grandfather.”  Chief Mountain is Nina-istuki.  Istuki meaning mountain.)  It’s a series of courses offered through Blackfeet Community College.  Contact Jim Kipp.

Jim Kipp

NNI has a sister organization:  the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development.  Several Blackfeet have been Harvard grads, including Darrell Kipp and Terry Whitwright.  Probably others I don’t know about.  Following are NNI’s basic considerations: 

Sovereignty Matters. When Native nations make their own decisions about what development approaches to take, they consistently out-perform external decision makers on matters as diverse as governmental form, natural resource management, economic development, health care, and social service provision.
Institutions Matter. For development to take hold, assertions of sovereignty must be backed by capable institutions of governance. Nations do this as they adopt stable decision rules, establish fair and independent mechanisms for dispute resolution, and separate politics from day-to-day business and program management.
Culture Matters. Successful economies stand on the shoulders of legitimate, culturally grounded institutions of self-government. Indigenous societies are diverse; each nation must equip itself with a governing structure, economic system, policies, and procedures that fit its own contemporary culture.
Leadership Matters. Nation building requires leaders who introduce new knowledge and experiences, challenge assumptions, and propose change. Such leaders, whether elected, community, or spiritual, convince people that things can be different and inspire them to take action.
Early Siyeh Board

That’s all good stuff and from what I know, absolutely true and effective.  They provide examples that they admire.  For the Blackfeet, it’s Siyeh Corporation, which NNI describes as follows:
“For years the Blackfeet Nation struggled to create sustainable tribal enterprises that could produce revenue for the Nation and meet the needs of its citizens for jobs and services. Many of these efforts did not succeed because of conflicts within the tribal government. In 1999, the Nation tried a new strategy. It established a federally chartered, tribally owned corporation designed to manage businesses on behalf of the government and protect those businesses from inappropriate political influence. Named after a great Blackfeet warrior known for his fearless leadership, the Siyeh Corporation today runs multiple businesses and promotes economic growth and stability while preserving Blackfeet cultural and traditional values. Siyeh is changing the economic landscape of an impoverished reservation, increasing the Blackfeet Nation's revenues and enhancing Blackfeet self-government.”

A program called “Honoring Nations” identifies these programs as finalists for an award and examples of successful  tribal programs:

Chickasaw Monument
  • Chickasaw Nation School-to-Work Program from the Chickasaw Nation, Ada, OK 
  • Comanche Nation Funeral Home from the Comanche Nation, Lawton, OK 
  • Hualapai Juvenile Detention and Rehabilitation Center from the Hualapai Tribe, Peach Springs, AZ 
  • Lummi Wetland and Habitat Mitigation Bank from the Lummi Nation, Bellingham, WA 
  • Lummi Youth Academy from the Lummi Nation, Bellingham, WA 
  • Oneida Life Insurance Plan Plus from the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin, Oneida, WI 
  • Owe'neh Bupingeh Rehabilitation Project from Ohkay Owingeh, Ohkay Owingeh, NM 
  • Pemaytv Emahakv K-8 Charter School from the Brighton Seminole Indian Reservation, Okeechobee, FL 
  • Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe Child Welfare Program from the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe, Kingston, WA 
  • Potawatomi Leadership Program from the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Shawnee, OK 
  • Prairie Management Program from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Eagle Butte, SD  
  • San Manuel Fire Department Outreach from the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, Highland, CA 
  • Scott County Association for Leadership and Efficiency (SCALE) from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, Prior Lake, MN 
  • Swinomish Climate Change Initiative from the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, LaConner, WA 
  • Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Elderly Protection from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Fort Yates, ND 
  • Tribal Ventures 10-year Poverty Reduction Plan from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Eagle Butte, SD 
  • Tribal-State Intergovernmental Law Enforcement Agreement from the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, Fort Thompson, SD 
  • White Mountain Apache Suicide Surveillance System from the White Mountain Apache Tribe, Whiteriver, AZ 
A friend from back East sends me a link to the day’s cover story in the Washington Post.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to capturing public support (and money).  One is to make the situation seem as awful as possible, and the other is to demonstrate that heroic, ingenious and effective things are happening.  Since I am a Bibfeldtian “both/and” person, I endorse both.  But it’s not enough to design programs.  They must be put into action and when the inevitable bumps come (“Bumps,” hell !! Outrage and accusations!) there has to be enough grit to stick with it.  

Three of the most successful programs on the rez have been the Catholic parochial school, Piegan Institute (which includes a Blackfeet immersion school), and Blackfeet Community College which has not just been a place to earn a degree, but a focus for serious thought and development.

Through Blackfeet Community College the classes from NNI, partly on video, are running weekly.  Let’s be real:  these classes are on FRIDAY and it’s SPRING and this winter was enough to daunt a buffalo.  It’s gonna take grit to get there and sit there and actually think.  But there will be people who can and will do it.  It’s an investment.

People made fun of BCC in the beginning.  They thought no one could teach on a muddy campus, no teacher would stick, no students would actually do the work.  They were universally wrong and BCC has managed to outlast scandal and mutiny to become a viable and credentialed community college. 

I would be very interested to see a formal autopsy of the Po’ka program, why it seemed so valid at first, then wasn’t working, and finally collapsed in legal prosecution for embezzlement sorts of accusations.  Liz Sherman and Dorothy Still Smoking were students of mine long ago and it’s hard for me to think of them as criminal or even negligent.  Their basic characters are hard-working and maybe a little too idealistic.  They were po'ka (special) themselves.  I’d like to see the structure of the organizational design, quite apart from the goals.  Corruption is too easy an accusation.

Darrell Kipp always felt that getting involved in government funding was a mistake, and I thought Dorothy -- a co-founder of Piegan Institute -- was of the same mind.  At the other extreme, getting too dependent on the personality and network contacts of one person is always dangerous, particularly if that person is not on-scene.  My personal prejudice is that many academic assumptions are self-serving, if not toxic.  I know the natural instinct will be to push Po’ka out of consciousness, but I think too many similar learning opportunities have been wasted by lack of scrutiny, fear of blame, need for secrecy. 

The Warbonnet Motel opened just in time for the winter of 1972 when the Browning teachers were trapped in their classrooms and kept sleeping bags under their desks.  Now it's only a slab.

The rez and the tribe are not the only ones to be led astray by technological bedazzlement, jargon intimidation, and lack of access to the real facts, but a good example on the rez is today’s Great Falls Tribune story mentioning “Radiance Technologies” which not only failed but left behind potentially explosive debris in a building that could have been used for classrooms.  The tribe and Montana towns might think about an equivalent to the federal GAO that evaluates deals and cost effectiveness.  It would help either restore credibility to the next miracle offer or else shoot it down before it gets started.

Live and learn!  Fridays!  Call Jim Kipp!

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