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2020 Campaign Trail: How to Talk about Sovereignty

For the first time in history, United States presidential candidates will hold a forum specifically focused on Native American issues

Here at Native Governance Center, we center all of our work on Tribal sovereignty. On the rare occasion when political figures decide to put Indian Country on the agenda, they apply a deficit lens and propose only surface-level solutions to centuries-old problems. We believe that it is imperative to focus on the root causes behind the issues impacting Indian Country and acknowledge the key role that Tribal sovereignty and governance play in Tribal nations’ ability to thrive.

If we were to provide candidates with a set of recommendations on how to talk about Tribal sovereignty on the campaign trail, here’s what we’d say:

  1. Tribal nations are independent, sovereign nations. The United States Constitution (Indian Commerce and Supremacy clauses) establishes this. See Why Treaties Matter for more.
  2. Native nations are resilient, despite facing widespread invisibility. They’re stronger than you think.
  3. Tribal governments that align with Native culture and values are more likely to succeed. The research proves it.
  4. Strong Tribal governments facilitate positive economic development outcomes, both within Native nations and in surrounding communities. See success stories from Honoring Nations for more.
  5. Native nations are invested in rebuilding their governments and strengthening their communities on their own terms.
  6. Tribes govern themselves with constitutions. Constitutions can be written or oral.
  7. Many Tribal constitutions are not based on Native values and governance systems that have historically worked for Native people. For example, the Indian Reorganization Act imposed non-Native constitutions on many Tribes.
  8. To succeed, Tribal “consultation” must be a truly equal partnership where both entities are heard and respected.
  9. Partnerships work. Tribal-state and Tribal-county collaboration have resulted in positive outcomes for both Native and non-Native governments.
  10. It is a mistake to ignore Native issues on the campaign trail. Candidates should address Indian Country regularly, not just at “Native” political forums. Native people notice when their concerns are tokenized.

Want to learn more? Reach out to us at hello@nativegov.org or (651) 571-0826. We’re also on the web (nativegov.org) and social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram).

You can also download a PDF of our ten points here: How to Talk about Sovereignty.

Cohort 10 Rebuilders Announced

21 citizens from 14 Tribes join program to strengthen leadership skills, serve Native communities

(St. Paul, MN – October 8, 2018)Native Governance Center is pleased to announce that 21 citizens from 14 of the 23 Native nations in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota have been selected for the tenth cohort of the Native Nation Rebuilders program. Rebuilders are emerging and existing Native leaders looking to build leadership skills and nation building knowledge. Over 139 Native leaders have graduated from the program during the past nine years. With the selection of Cohort 10, Rebuilders now represent all 23 Native nations located in the three-state region.

“One of the most important roles of Native Governance Center is to empower leaders from across Indian Country,” said Wayne Ducheneaux II, executive director of Native Governance Center. “The key way in which we do that is through our Native Nation Rebuilders Program, which equips Native leaders with governance knowledge and organizing skills so that they may positively impact their communities.”

The Bush Foundation launched the Native Nation Rebuilders program in 2009 in response to the guidance of Tribal leaders. In early 2016, the Bush Foundation transitioned delivery of the Rebuilders program to the newly-created Native Governance Center, a Native-led nonprofit organization that supports Tribes in strengthening their sovereignty.

“Rebuilders gain a deeper understanding of native nation building and leadership in a cohort format,” said Native Governance Center Program Director Jayme Davis. “This allows them to form supportive relationships that continue years into the future. Armed with an understanding of nation building principles, Rebuilders share this knowledge with their communities and contribute to the long-term success of their governments, economies, and people.”

Rebuilders will come together for four structured sessions during which they will also develop action plans to share knowledge with community members and their respective Tribal governments. The sessions involve partner organizations and individuals with expertise in nation building, organizing, and issues specific to Indian Country. National partners include the Native Nations Institute, the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, and Parrish Digital.

The Cohort 10 Rebuilders’ names and Tribal affiliations are below. The next round of applications for the eleventh cohort of Rebuilders will be announced in the summer of 2019.

Native Nation Rebuilders Cohort 10

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe

Kathy Aplan

Julie Thorstenson

Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa

William Blackwell, Jr.

Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe

Benjamin Benoit

Lower Brule Sioux Tribe

Rebecca (Agleska) Cohen-Rencountre

Lower Sioux Community

Justice Wabasha

Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation

Thomasina Mandan

Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe

Valerie Harrington

Oglala Sioux Tribe

Angela Koenen

Dallas Nelson

Kiva Sam

Prairie Island Indian Community

Blake Johnson

Melanie Urich

Red Lake Nation

Charles Dolson

Cherilyn Spears

Deanna StandingCloud

Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community

Melinda Stade

Spirit Lake Nation

Natasha Gourd

Alicia Gourd-Mackin

Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians

Michael Laverdure

White Earth Nation

Nicole LaFrinier