Building Kinship and Indigenous Power


  • Cree Rose Dueker
    Cree Rose Dueker Program Manager - Community Engagement Chippewa Cree Tribe


  • Jacob McArthur
    Jacob McArthur
  • Deidre Whiteman
    Deidre Whiteman
  • Lexi Keckler
    Lexi Keckler

Deidre Whiteman, Lexi Keckler, and Jacob McArthur are three Native changemakers whose paths converged during their transformative leadership experience in Cohort 12 of the Native Nation Rebuilders program. We chatted with them to learn more about their experiences in the program and how they’re putting the rebuilding framework into action to strengthen their nations and build Indigenous power.

The Rebuilders Cohort Experience

The Native Nation Rebuilders program is a two-year, cohort-based leadership experience that equips changemakers with Indigenized tools and frameworks they can use to help rebuild their communities. Native nation rebuilding is the process of leaving behind ineffective models of Tribal governance, or the standard approach, and rebuilding culturally-relevant governance institutions. Rebuilders tell us their experience in the program is transformative: the curriculum is powerful, and the cohort model helps them build lasting bonds and kinship with like-minded changemakers. 

Our featured Rebuilders–Deidre, Lexi, and Jacob–connected over a shared desire to improve their nations and communities. They emerged from the program as stronger advocates for their nations and changemakers in a collective movement. When asked to describe their experience in the program, they said: 

  • “This cohort has made me feel more empowered and less alone.” -Deidre Whiteman
  • “I know things can be better. And that’s what I really liked about this: it showed me things could be better and taught me how to do it.” -Lexi Keckler
  • “It’s definitely impacted the way I view myself by giving me a lot more confidence and reminding me that I belong.” -Jacob McArthur

Creating Community Action Plans

During the Rebuilders program, each participant develops a community action plan with the goal of strengthening their nation. Tailored to Rebuilders’ strengths, gifts, and interests, the plans are as diverse as the individuals themselves. From youth engagement to civic engagement and cultural revitalization to curriculum development, each plan represents a unique vision for positive change. Native Nation Rebuilders are reshaping the future of Indigenous communities, one action plan at a time.

Lexi Keckler

Lexi Keckler, a citizen of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, designed an action plan rooted in her love for Tribal politics. She initially gained an understanding of what it means to serve as an elected leader by watching her father’s involvement in Tribal government as a teenager and later getting involved herself. Her experience encouraged her to create an action plan that would increase her community’s engagement in Cheyenne River’s Tribal elections. Lexi collaborated with Cohort 8 Rebuilder Jill Kessler (Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe) to help make her action plan a reality.  

Together, Lexi and Jill sought to provide transparent, unbiased information to community members to help foster awareness about the Tribal elections process. Lexi explains that when she concepted the plan, she wanted to help citizens understand “where to vote, when to vote, and how to vote” and “to increase knowledge within our community.” 

In addition to boosting transparency, Lexi set a goal of challenging the secrecy and drama often associated with politics. Lexi’s action plan centers authenticity and reliability while avoiding the political misinformation that too often appears on social media. To gather accurate election information, Lexi prioritized sourcing information directly from candidates themselves. She cultivated trust with candidates by encouraging them to share about their campaigns and their platforms in their own words. 

Once Lexi had this information, she and Jill shared it with the community via a dedicated Facebook page and interviews on a local radio station. They made a special point of leading with Lakota values when communicating through these platforms. Lexi explains that taking a values-based approach proved helpful when conflicts arose. She could then point to those values to encourage platform users to be good relatives to one another. 

Deidre Whiteman

Deidre Whiteman is a citizen of MHA Nation and a descendant of the Spirit Lake Dakota, Meskwaki Nation, and Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. She serves as the Director of Research and Education at the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition. Deidre is passionate about empowering young people through education. For her action plan, she designed a new curriculum that’s rooted in culture and explores the history of American Indian boarding schools and affiliated policies. 

Deidre says, “This curriculum is geared specifically toward American Indian youth. It’s not generalized. …when I specifically think of our youth, we’re not at the forefront, we’re always an afterthought. And so I didn’t want to do that in this curriculum.”

She plans to start delivering the curriculum to young people in summer 2024 in South Dakota. Deidre hopes her action plan will help create a sense of belonging for young Indigenous leaders, ensuring they feel valued and connected to their cultures and homelands. By uncovering the truth and sharing knowledge about their history, she feels confident she’ll contribute to healing and empowering future generations. 

Jacob McArthur

A citizen of White Earth Nation, Jacob McArthur’s action plan highlights the intersections between Tribal economics and Native nation rebuilding principles. He’s developed an original curriculum that he plans to deliver to students at the White Earth Tribal and Community College. 

Jacob hopes that through his curriculum, he can inspire community members to think deeply about economic development and consider using the rebuilding approach to guide the process. He previously worked as the Economic Development Director for White Earth Nation and is currently the Director of the University of Minnesota’s Economic Development Administration Center. Jacob’s action plan combines his passions for both education and economic development and is guided by his strong belief in the transformative power of higher education. 

Jacob sees the rebuilding approach as crucial to effective community leadership. He feels inspired about the prospect of encouraging early-career college students to learn the rebuilding principles and having a lasting positive impact on their leadership journeys. Jacob eagerly awaits teaching the curriculum in fall 2024, pending any final arrangements. 

He notes, “My plan for this course is to get people thinking about economic development and how we can incorporate those five rebuilding principles. I want to just kind of shift the way we think as far as how we go about supporting our community and building up our community.”

Action Plan Impacts

While Lexi, Deidre, and Jacob are currently at different stages in their action plan journeys, all of them have reported positive impacts and hope to continue seeing ripple effects throughout their communities.

Boosting Transparency

By centering Lakota values and emphasizing transparency, Lexi Keckler’s action plan has set a new standard for political discourse within her community that’s respectful and informed. 

As a result of their work, Lexi and Jill saw a substantial increase in participation and engagement around their nation’s 2022 Tribal elections. This increased level of engagement has remained since. Lexi and Jill reached a wide audience through their Facebook and radio content. The resulting increased community participation not only caused citizens to be more informed, but it also prompted the Cheyenne River Tribal government to adopt new practices that promote transparency. For example, they now provide more information to citizens about candidates and election procedures. 

Lexi explains, “We asked our ourselves, why are we as Tribal members, private citizens, providing this information? Why isn’t our government doing this? Why can’t the government and the schools educate on elections, processes, ordinances, and laws? Our Secretary’s office rose to our questions and started providing more information.”

Furthermore, Lexi’s action plan sparked discussions about the need for updating Tribal governance practices and revising outdated ordinances. By highlighting weak spots in the electoral process, such as lengthy affidavit procedures and tie-breaking methods, Lexi started new conversations about reforming governance structures to serve community needs and align with Lakota values. 

Through her dedication to transparency, accountability, and traditional values, Lexi has made a lasting impact on her community’s governance systems and civic involvement. When asked about the future, Lexi told us, “I see myself working within my community. I don’t really ever see myself leaving. While I like leaving occasionally, I love coming home even more.” Lexi sees the possibility of running for Tribal Council or an executive position in her future. She has a bright future ahead and a strong commitment to serving her nation. 

Promoting Empowerment and Pride

Deidre Whiteman hopes that by sharing truths about the boarding school era, young Native people will better understand their histories and identities. She knows that increasing awareness and providing a sense of purpose rooted in history can have lasting effects on combating stigma and feelings of disconnection. Overall, Deidre’s action plan will have a profound impact on promoting understanding and empowerment among young people, helping them embrace their history and identity with pride. 

After piloting her curriculum in summer 2024, Deidre intends to share it with others who work with and teach Native youth. Her curriculum includes information that’s important for all Native youth, in addition to opportunities for incorporating culturally-specific information. Deidre hopes communities will customize the content to best meet their needs. Her curriculum is unique because of its specific focus on young people and the important voice they bring to the boarding school healing conversation. 

Creating Leadership Opportunities

Jacob McArthur aims to shift how his community views economic development. He envisions his curriculum as a launching pad for future community leaders, equipping students with the skills and confidence to make positive impacts both on campus and in broader society. His Tribal College course includes an emphasis on creating a campus action plan, which will help students gain practical leadership experience. He hopes graduates of his course will “be unafraid to express ideas and put them into action.” 

Jacob anticipates his classroom will be a comfortable space for students to develop their voices, leadership abilities, and public speaking skills. Because White Earth Tribal and Community College serves everyone in the local community, his course will also be a means for educating non-Native students about the historical and ongoing impacts of colonization on Indigenous communities. He hopes to foster understanding and empathy, enabling students to become better allies and partners.

With plans to eventually secure a seat on White Earth Nation’s Tribal Council, Jacob’s rebuilding journey is far from over. 

Looking Toward the Future

Native nation rebuilding can be challenging. Rebuilders often must confront uncomfortable truths, challenge systems of oppression, and make sacrifices for the collective good. But, rebuilding is also highly rewarding work. Deidre, Lexi, and Jacob mentioned feeling incredibly motivated by the prospect of building a better future–not only for themselves but for generations to come. 

Additional Resources