The Native Governance Center's Celebration of Nation Building

Kim Tilsen-Brave Heart

Facilitator Kim Tilsen-Brave Heart leads attendees through an interactive exercise during the “Rez Café” portion of the conference.


We are inspired and humbled by the conversation and community participation in the Native Governance Center’s first annual Nation Building Celebration. This year’s convening focused on those who inspire and lift up Native nation building through great partnerships in the name of sovereignty and self-determination.

The agenda showcased strong inter-Tribal partnerships throughout our region in the food, wellness and energy sectors. It was a great opportunity for Tribal officials, Native organizations, and others who work in Native communities to network and connect with each other.

We were honored with an opening prayer presented by the Drum Tinta Ottonwe Youth Drum Group from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.

MN State Rep. Peggy Flanagan opened our convening with a discussion of the need for cross-sector partnerships and strengthened self-determination. She shared examples of the work the Native American Caucus is doing in the Minnesota Legislature to make sure Native issues are called out and resolved in bills that are presented for debate. She asked Tribal leaders to reach out to the Caucus to highlight issues of concern to their Tribal communities to ensure Tribal voices continue to be heard. She also reminded us why we do the work that we do; while we want to make a difference today, it is also about protecting our future for the generations to come.

Rep. Flanagan was followed by other strong Native women leaders, with a panel led by Crystal Echo Hawk presenting initiatives in Indian Country aimed at improving the lives and strengthening the cultural connections of our children, youth and families. Crystal shared the Healthy Children, Healthy Nations initiative – a partnership between the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community’s Seeds of Native Health, Better Way Foundation, and the Center for Indian Country Development – designed to strengthen Native early childhood development and nutrition efforts in Minnesota. We also heard from Jewell Arcoren, director of Wicoie Nandagikendan Early Childhood Urban Immersion Program, the first indigenous urban preschool immersion program created in Minneapolis, whose mission is to connect young Ojibwe and Dakota children with their Native language and culture which has many benefits to the children and their families; and Barb Fabre, director of the White Earth Child Care/Early Childhood Program, whose mission is to provide high-quality, culturally based child development support, services, outreach and advocacy for children, families, child care providers and community on or near the White Earth Reservation to help their children succeed.

Monday afternoon we learned about the Oceti Sakowin Power Authority (OSPA), an initiative bringing together seven Native nations to create a Tribally-owned power authority. Not only is the project slated to become one of the largest wind power developments in the nation, but it will also create green jobs and stimulate local economies. Native Governance Center board member and Cohort 1 Rebuilder Tracey Zephier facilitated a panel discussion with Oglala Sioux Tribe President Scott Weston, Cheyenne River Tribal Councilman and Cohort 3 Rebuilder Ryman LeBeau, and OSPA general counsel Jonathan Canis.

Chief Judge Lorrie Miner wrapped up the first day with an entertaining and inspirational talk about the Lower Brule Wellness Court, one of many Tribal Healing to Wellness courts in the region offering low-risk offenders the opportunity to take part in a diversion program. Tribes and prosecutors work together to offer alternatives through a “Wellness Court” so that Tribal citizens avoid a felony record and are not prevented from being productive members of their communities down the road due to poor decisions made in their youth.

Former U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (N.D) kicked off day two with a keynote highlighting positive accomplishments in Indian Country and looking to opportunities in the future. He shared the work of the Center for Native American Youth (CNAY), a policy program of the Aspen Institute founded by Sen. Dorgan upon his retirement from the U.S. Senate. CNAY believes all Native American youth should lead full and healthy lives, have equal access to opportunity, and draw strength from their culture and one another.

Cohort 7 Rebuilder Nikki Pieratos, Project Director for the new Center for Indian Country Development, shared CICD’s strategic priorities in the areas of land use, business development, housing and homeownership, and education in Indian Country. CICD was created to provide leadership for the Federal Reserve’s work and research in Indian Country.

Our final session of the convening was a lively and thought-provoking “Rez Café” session led by Cohort 1 Rebuilder Kim Tilsen-Brave Heart. Participants discussed questions about innovative partnerships, unique Tribal initiatives, resource needs, Tribal priorities, and how the Native Governance Center can be helpful in their work.

We closed our time together with prayers sung by Aaron Lightfeather, a Minneapolis resident and Seine River First Nation citizen who teaches traditional Ojibwe drumming and singing to Native youth in Minneapolis.

Chi-miigwech and Pidamayaye to all who participated. We can’t wait for next year!

We’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below about your experience at the convening or what you’d like to see included in future events. And if you’d like to help support our work, visit our GiveMN site and give today!


Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin with Minnesota State Representative Peggy Flanagan


Photo of Nikki Pieratos

Cohort 7 Rebuilder and CICD Project Director, Nikki Pieratos speaks on the CICD’s strategic priorities and partnerships.

NGC announces Program Manager, Jayme Davis


The Native Governance Center (NGC) would like to announce the addition of Jayme Davis to our team as Program Manager. Jayme is a citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, a member of Cohort 7 of the Native Nations Rebuilder Program and comes to NGC after most recently working for the Turtle Mountain Community College in Belcourt, ND as the Tribal and State Grant Director.

We are excited to have Jayme join the team and she will start in the office January 4th, 2017


4,186 Miles and Counting

The Native Governance Center is entering the fall season with no sign of the tempo easing. Our infrastructure continues to take shape. Rebecca Stratton and Lauren Kramer joined the team adding incredible talent to support to the nation building cause. NGC’s board is engaging us in strategic planning. We held a successful launch event in August drawing representatives from 20 of the 23 tribes in the region. A partnership agreement was finalized with the Native Nations Institute so they will continue delivering nation building services in the region. And, we recently announced the selection of 25 remarkable individuals to make up the 8th Cohort of the Native Nations Rebuilders Program. Read the press release announcing Cohort 8.

One of the summer highlights was Wayne’s 4,186-mile road trip to introduce himself and NGC to the tribal leaders in the region. Many of you monitored his travels through the pictures posted on NGC’s Facebook page. I joined him during a couple segments of the trip where we connected with elected leaders, Rebuilders and allies. At milepost 2,786, heading through Red Lake, Wayne and I had lunch with Cohort 1 Rebuilder Sam Strong and Bush Foundation Fellow Floyd “Buck” Jourdain.

Photo of Sam Strong and Buck Jourdain

Sam was updating us on Red Lake Nation’s development activity to serve the Nation’s citizens. Buck was sharing insight to his project as a Bush Fellow. As Buck drew our attention to the power of the drum in native societies, almost simultaneously, Wayne and I were struck by the analogy of the drum to our work.

Any time we hear the drum we stop, listen for the source, and are drawn to it. Like Sam and Buck, our elected leaders, citizens, communities – whether individually or collectively – are responding to the sound of a drum. They want to celebrate, heal, protect what needs protecting, change what needs changing, and provide for the wellbeing and future of their Native nations.

At NGC we are not the source of the beat of the drum but we are drawn to it. We want to be a place for the responders to help expand understanding, exchange knowledge, make connections, and clarify strategies as they work towards the outcomes that matter to their nations.

The best answers to any issue tribes face are those that come from within. NGC doesn’t provide the agenda, we don’t point the way, we don’t tell anyone what to do. Our approach mirrors the sovereignty and self-determination that tribes possess and you find it in our mission statement that “assists Tribal Nations in strengthening their governance systems and their capacities to exercise their sovereignty.”

We might get lost in our nation building jargon from time to time. That is why it is so refreshing to be on the road meeting with leaders like Sam Strong and Buck Jourdain. We look forward to being a partner as you remind us to think of our work in ways that matters most to our heart.

Jaime A. Pinkham (Nez Perce)

Senior Advisor

October 17, 2016


Announcing Native Nation Rebuilders Cohort 8

Native Governance Center and Bush Foundation Announce Eighth Cohort of Native Nation Rebuilders

25 Citizens from 12 Tribes Join Program to Strengthen Skills, Serve Native People

Click Here for Full Press Release

Executive Director Begins Tour of Tribal Nations

NGC Executive Director Wayne Ducheneaux has begun a whirlwind tour that will see him visit the 23 tribes in South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota between June 29th and August 11th prior to the Native Governance Center Launch Event August 15th and 16th at Mystic Lake Casino. Wayne says, “I feel it is important to continue the spirit of the work of the Bush Foundation by getting on the ground with tribes to try and assess where we can be of assistance in their missions improving governance.”

Ducheneaux has already had nation visits with the Lower Sioux Indian Community, Shakopee Mdewakaton Sioux Community and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. Senior Advisor Jaime Pinkham will participate in some of the visits along the route as well.

Here are the upcoming dates for the tour:

July 8th – Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
July 11th – Crow Creek Sioux Tribe
July 12th – Lower Brule Sioux Tribe
July 18th – Oglala Lakota Nation***
July 19th – Rosebud Sioux Tribe
July 20th – Yankton Sioux Tribe
July 21st – Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe
July 22nd – Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate
July 25th – MHA Nation
July 26th – Spirit Lake Sioux Community
July 27th – Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa
August 2nd – Red Lake Nation
August 3rd – White Earth Nation***
August 4th – Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe ***
August 5th – Bois Forte Band of Chippewa***
August 8th – Grand Portage Band of Chippewa***
August 9th – Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa***
August 10th – Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe***
August 12th – Prairie Island Indian Community***

***denotes tentatively scheduled

Wayne Dupuis (Cohort 3 Rebuilder) Running for Chair at Fond du Lac

Wayne Dupuis, Cohort 3 Native Nation Rebuilder, was recently interviewed by Northland News Center to discuss his platform as he runs for Fond du Lac Band Chairman. Here is a link to the interview: Wayne Dupuis Interview.

Wayne faces off against Kevin Dupuis in the June 14, 2016 contest. Wayne is one of many Rebuilders either running for or holding elected office within the 23 Tribal nations we serve. We will feature more Rebuilder updates in the near future!

Photo of Wayne Dupuis

Lakota Country Times Features Vi Waln (Cohort 7 Rebuilder)


Viola Waln, a Native Nation Rebuilder from Cohort 7, shares an excellent op-ed piece with the readers of the Lakota Country Times in the article linked below:

Waln states in the article, “I experienced that natural high on the trip home from the first session with my colleagues last December. I had learned so many new things in a short time. I wanted to come home and change the world.”

You can also read a more detailed article on Vi’s experience at Spearfish Canyon Lodge for Cohort 7’s second session here: Rebuilders Meet in Spearfish Canyon.

Photo of Viola Waln

NGC Announces Rebecca Stratton as Program Director

The Native Governance Center is pleased to announce that the search for a Program Director has ended with Rebecca Stratton coming on board officially May 16th, 2016. Rebecca comes to us after spending the past eight years working for the Shakopee Mdewakaton Sioux Community as a Program Assistant within their Tribal Administration. She has also served her nation as a member of the SMSC Gaming Enterprise Board of Directors, SMSC Gaming Commission and the SMSC Scholarship Selection Committee.

Rebecca brings a depth of knowledge and breadth of experience in working with native nations and is a member of the 2nd cohort of the Native Nations Rebuilder Program now run by the Native Governance Center.

NGC Announces the hiring of Lauren Kramer – Operations Coordinator


The Native Governance Center is pleased to announce the hiring of Lauren Kramer as our new Operations Coordinator. Lauren comes to us after finishing her Master’s degree in Women’s and Gender Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. While in attendance there she also completed a graduate portfolio in Nonprofit Studies through the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

Lauren has experience working for a variety of Native nonprofit organizations including the White Earth Land Recovery Project, Mashkiikii Gitigan, and most recently, Great Promise for American Indians.

Her official starting date will be May 16th, 2016.

NGC Board Member Jodi Gillette Receives Honorary Doctorate

Photo of Jodi GilletteNative Governance Center Board member Jodi Gillette will be awarded an honorary doctorate from Black Hills State University, Saturday, May 7, 2016 at the 171st Commencement Ceremony.

Jodi, an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, will also present a special lecture Friday, May 6, 2016 at 1 p.m. in the Clare & Josef Meier Recital Hall at BHSU.

We here at NGC would like to congratulate Jodi on this latest milestone. Read the full article about Jodi’s award: BHSU – Jodi Gillette Honorary Doctorate.