15 Native changemakers join Rebuilders Cohort 11

Deanna StandingCloud: Rebuilder, Trailblazer

Native Nation Rebuilder: Teresa Peterson

We sat down for an interview with Cohort 8 Rebuilder Teresa Peterson (Upper Sioux Community) to learn more about her education advocacy work and her new book project, Grasshopper Girl. Teresa is actively involved across Native communities and has a long track record of building bridges between communities.

Native Governance Center (NGC): Tell us a little bit about your background, family, and community.

Teresa Peterson, Cohort 8 Rebuilder

Teresa Peterson (TP): I am Sisitowan Wahpetonwan Dakota, and I am a citizen of the Upper Sioux Community. My family resides on the bluff of the Minnesota River Valley, which is southeast of Granite Falls, or the Upper Sioux Community. I live between Upper and Lower Sioux. I speak about the land because it has significance. Where we’re at is really close to an original Dakota campsite–it’s a beautiful area.

Professionally, most of my work has been in Dakota or Native communities. I served as the Tribal Vice Chairwoman of the Upper Sioux Community back in the early 2000s. I’ve worked in both public and charter schools in service to our Native students. More recently, I served as Tribal Planner: first, at the Lower Sioux Indian Community, and then later, in my home community. Today, I continue to work in all different sectors of the Native community. And then I do quite a bit of work with foundations working in, or in service to, Native communities.

NGC: What linkages do you see, if any, between culturally-focused educational curricula and Native student success?

TP: We know from research and literature that people can learn better—you know, it’s how our brain works—when we build on experiences and who people are. Our individual and personal lens is really how we see the world. So for Native communities, it’s not just that individual, but it’s also that community lens. Our cultural ways have to be part of the learning process. To do otherwise really creates separateness and disconnect.

I’ve done some of the research around that. I had the fortune of working with Dakota Wicohan and the University of Minnesota Morris as part of my research and dissertation. We developed this curriculum, and we piloted it in a school with a high Native population. And we wanted to know, does Indigenous-developed curriculum influence a sense of belonging? That’s an actual thing you can measure—sense of belonging. And when I did the literature review on this, I noticed a lot of correlations between sense of belonging and academic success, socioemotional wellness, and health. People have to feel connected to what they’re learning about or engaged in. They have to make some sense of it. So, absolutely, there are linkages, and we know this through research.

NGC: What challenges do Native students in your community face? What are some of the most valuable assets that Native students bring to the classroom?

TP: I really think that we need to think about education differently. To me, what we really need to do is ask young people. We need to ask Native students: what is it that they need? Our education systems are antiquated. I think, innately, our Native students have understood that for a long time. How do you make it relatable? When we know what our gift, talent, or strength is, and when we have people to help support and nurture that—to me, this is what schools could be doing. Not everyone is the same, but everyone has a gift they can share, which creates interdependence. And we have to quit thinking about independence—and I know we have a lot of dependency that’s tied to our paternalistic, history with the government. That still has remnants in our community. But how do we get to that place that really nurtures interdependence, so we all work together really well? When we strengthen that gift that the creator has bestowed upon each one of us, that’s when our community will live well and be more in balance.

NGC: What advice do you have for someone who is just starting out in the field of education and hoping to make an impact?

TP: I think one thing that has helped me is to really listen to young people. Spend some time listening to them. [During my research], we found out that our system of teacher training models is a setup. Because people then think that they have to be the expert. And then, we have a lot of teachers that go through the training and still don’t feel confident teaching the material. And so then they just choose not to do it. So, I feel like, coming into the field and knowing that your role is not to be the expert. And not to dump all of this knowledge into young people. But rather, how can we light a passion for learning in young people? How can we light that fire for them?

NGC: Would you like to add any additional information to this interview?

TP: Tom and Betsy Peacock started Black Bears and Blueberries publishing company. They wanted to create a space for emerging Dakota and Anishinaabe writers and illustrators. [My book] Grasshopper Girl is one of the first books they published. I mean, literally, it just got published maybe two months ago. So, the book is a story within a story. The story has a Dakota trickster in there. And it’s a story my mother heard growing up. And my grandpa heard growing up. My dissertation is all about storytelling, right? And sense of belonging. And so, to me, when we know who we are and where we come from, no matter where we go, we belong. That’s kind of the path I’ve been on is learning more about my ancestral stories because they impact who you are.

Empowerment through Social Media

Cohort 8 Rebuilder Jacob Davis (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians) harnesses the power of social media to get things done. As the Tribal Programming Director for Prevent Child Abuse North Dakota (PCAND), he uses digital advocacy tools to build a network of supporters with a shared vision for improving the lives of Indigenous people. Jacob explains, “Social media is essential in the digital world and provides us with an access point to create conversations within a large population of people.”

Photo of Jacob DavisIn 2016, PCAND offered Jacob the chance to create a new position within the organization. He developed a position focused on providing Indigenous families with community-driven resources. As Tribal Programming Director, he works with three of the four Native nations in North Dakota to empower Indigenous children, families, and communities to thrive.

Jacob sees interconnections between his specific focus area and broader issues, including food sovereignty, economic development, and trauma. As such, he appreciates that his work allows him to incorporate several of his passions into his day-to-day responsibilities and online advocacy campaigns.

He also believes strongly in the need for the presence of Native voices in the social media realm; initiatives succeed when Indigenous voices tell Indigenous stories. “To give a story justice, it has to be shared from a personal perspective,” Jacob states. “In order to bring truth to the message, it has to come from the voice of the people that it impacts.”

Jacob is a skilled digital communicator, but his work does not come without challenges. He admits that he oftentimes encounters “crabs in the bucket”-type lateral violence in online spaces. This happens when individuals direct attacks toward fellow community members working toward the same goal, rather than at the actual source of their oppression. Jacob notes, “Creating messages that cannot being taken out of context has been the hardest part of utilizing social media. Being aware of the potential for lateral violence has to be a critical part of the process.”

Despite these challenges, Jacob has hope for the future of the digital world. He encourages young people to use social media to highlight their accomplishments and struggles. This can help them gain experience with best practices for navigating the exciting, yet challenging, social media realm. In addition, he urges young people to seek out support and guidance for when the going gets tough: “Please know that surrounding yourself with people that believe in you is the most important building block of success.”

This article was originally published in our Spring 2019 print newsletter. Sign up to receive the print newsletter in your mailbox twice a year! 

Telling Our Own Stories: Rebuilder Vi Waln

Cohort 7 Rebuilder Vi Waln (Sicangu Lakota) is Editor-In-Chief for the Lakota Times, an award-winning, Native-owned newspaper that operates out of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. We interviewed Vi to learn more about her role with the Lakota Times and her advocacy for more Native voices in the media.

Native Governance Center: Tell us a little bit about your background, family, and community.

Vi Waln: I am a Sicangu Lakota Tribal citizen, otherwise known as the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. I grew up on the Rosebud Reservation here in South Dakota. Today, I live in the He Dog community where I was raised. My community is named after Chief He Dog. I have a bachelor’s degree in Lakota Studies from Sinte Gleska University and a Master’s in Mass Communication from South Dakota State University.

NGC: What makes the Lakota Times stand out from other media outlets?

Photo of Vi WalnVW: The Lakota Times has been in circulation for fifteen years. I think we stand out because the majority of our writers are Lakota. Our main focus with the paper is our young people. And we try to showcase them as much as we can every week. Connie Smith, the paper’s owner, and I have had conversations about how we want this newspaper to be positive. And we’ve taken criticism for it. But we will run the positive stories before the negative stories. Because you could pick up any paper in the country and read all about the negative things happening. You can look on the internet and see all the negative news. Go on social media, look on TV—the majority of it is bad. So we want to focus on positive things.

NGC: Why do you believe it’s important to have Native representation in the media?

VW: Well, I believe we have to tell our own stories as Native people. Most of our Tribes come from an oral tradition ancestry. But we have to be willing to evolve with the times. I see many non-Indian journalists out there attempting to write about the Lakota. And when I call them out on it—sometimes, they’re offended when I tell them that a Native person should be writing those stories. But, I continue to advocate for Native writers to write our stories. We’re the only ones who can offer a true perspective on our communities.

NGC: Do you see a link between your current work and nation building?

VW: My work is definitely linked to nation building. Columns I write every week address issues that our people are facing on our reservations. So, I always come to the computer thinking, if I can affect change through my writing, then all my hard work has paid off. If one person changes their behavior for the good after reading a column I wrote, then I believe that’s nation building.

This article was originally published in our Spring 2019 print newsletter. Sign up to receive the print newsletter in your mailbox twice a year! 

Rebuilder Cante Heart’s Historic Campaign for Rapid City Council

Cohort 9 Rebuilder Cante Heart (Rosebud Sioux Tribe) hopes to get elected to the Rapid City Council in June. She joins four other Native women running for municipal office in Rapid City—an unprecedented number. We sat down with Cante to learn more about her candidacy, what inspires her, and her motivation for seeking public office.

Native Governance Center:  Give us a little information on your background, family, and community.

Cante Heart (pronounced chun-tay): I was raised by a strong Lakota woman. She taught me to always try to help my people in any kind of way possible. Even though I didn’t grow up on the reservation, I was always thinking of ways I could do this. Early on, I was instilled with Lakota values. And we kind of moved around a little bit, but Rapid City and South Dakota have always been home to me.


NGC: Tell us about your candidacy for Rapid City Council (District 5). What inspired you to run?

CH: I’ve always wanted to run, and I’ve always wanted to be a leader for my community. So, what started it is, I wanted to inspire my community to get involved as far as voting, as far as stepping up into leadership positions. And I felt that if the younger generation could see a familiar face, or, you know, could identify with me, then it’d inspire them to get involved, too. And so, basically, I’m doing it for the up-and-coming leaders who need to be recognized and need to be taken seriously, too.


NGC: Why do you feel it’s important to have Native representation in local governments?

CH: It’s important to make running for office and running for leadership positions the new norm for our people. And also, to make voting the new norm. Because we’re the original inhabitants of this land, so we should also have a say in what goes on to shape the future of our community—whether it’s municipal, or statewide, or on a national level. Our population makes up at least a fourth of the city, and every year we bring in so much revenue due to the events that go on, like the Black Hills Powwow and Lakota Nation Invitational. You know, there are all of these surrounding reservations that do their shopping in Rapid City. It’s been home to us forever. Our representation on city council needs to reflect our population. So if our population is ¼ Native, then our city council needs to be, too.


NGC: What advice do you have for other Native women running for public office?

CH: I think they should do what’s in their heart. And to not let anyone’s opinions bring you down. Because if your mind is in it and your heart is in it, then you can never lose. Our ancestors are behind you 100%, and to never take no for an answer. If you have the heart to do it, and the inspiration and the support, you can do anything.


NGC: Do you see any intersections between the Rebuilders program curriculum and your candidacy?

CH: I definitely get most of my inspiration from my Rebuilder family! They inspire me because of everything they’re doing in the community. They set the tone for being a leader. I think the Native Nation Rebuilders leadership program was a huge inspiration, and it’s kind of the foundation that made me want to run.

Native Nation Rebuilder: Brian Dillon

Brian Dillon is a Cohort 9 Rebuilder, an enrolled citizen of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, and the Community Liaison for the Vice President of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. We sat down with him for an interview to learn more about his experience in the Rebuilders program, his views on economic development strategies for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, and his passion for youth development.

Native Governance Center:Tell us a little bit about your background, family, and community.

Brian Dillon: My name is Brian Dillon. I’m a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. I live in Parmelee, South Dakota with my wife, Janice, our daughters, Dari and Jesyka, and our granddaughter, Haelyn. Parmelee is one of the 20 communities on the [Rosebud] Reservation. I also have daughters, Jory and Halana, and a grandson, Aiden, that live in Rapid City, South Dakota (off-reservation, but within our historical lands). My wife and I both work for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. I work as the Community Liaison to the Vice President, and my wife is the Tribe’s Insurance Officer. Together, we’ve worked 36+ years for our Tribe and our members. I was elected in 2014 to a three-year term on our Tribal council as a representative for the Parmelee community. Shortly after that, I became the Community Liaison, which is the position I hold currently.

Native Governance Center: Do you see any intersections between the Native Nation Rebuilders curriculum and your work? If so, please explain.

Brian Dillon: Every day, I reflect upon the nation building training I’ve received thus far and the ideas and support that I’ve gained from my fellow Cohort 9 members. The most important aspect of nation building for me is the identification of the key players involved in the development of ideas, approaches, and direction in my work. It’s really helped me to understand that a top-down approach is not going to work. The standard approach is not going to work. It can help you arrive at a decision, and it can set a direction, but I think that’s one of the reasons why a lot of the Tribes have so much change every time there’s an election year. The continuity doesn’t stay intact because we didn’t get the buy-in from the local community—the grassroots people, the highly-educated people, the people with a lot of knowledge, and the people with a lot of work experience. We’re not reaching out to them, currently. We’re trying to make a decision and say, ‘Here, now you figure out how to get it done.’

As a previous elected leader, I had a few people who would quite explicitly state, ‘We’re going to make sure that you don’t get re-elected because you didn’t do what we wanted you to do.’ All I had to do was find out what they wanted me to do in the first place! But I didn’t have that thinking process. I really didn’t, prior to coming to [the Rebuilders program]. For a lot of the Native Nation Rebuilders in our cohort, the first training that we had was such an emotional release. It was, ‘Oh my God. Why was I so neglectful?’ And after we got done with the first training, I talked with some of my cohort members over email. We knew this stuff. We just didn’t allow ourselves to do it because it’s not the norm.

Native Nation Rebuilder Brian Dillon

Cohort 9 Native Nation Rebuilder Brian Dillon (Rosebud Sioux Tribe)

Native Governance Center: If you could name three economic development goals for your nation, what would they be?

Brian Dillon: I’d like to see REDCO (Rosebud Economic Development Corporation) further broaden and develop their government contracting ventures. We’re one of a few Tribes that have a government 8A status, so we’re able to intercept some of the work that’s going to be done in the federal market with federal programs before it’s put out to bid.

Another thing that I’d like to see us do more of for economic development is to broaden and increase our food sovereignty initiatives. We started out with a small garden, and as we’ve broadened, we have now a farmers’ market back home in which people can participate and bring their goods for sale. It shows that we have the ability and capacity to do this here at home, rather than to rely 100% on the store.

Finally, I’d like to see our e-commerce project get off the ground. When I was on the Tribal council, we joined a coalition with about seven other Tribes; we all came together and wanted to start our own consortium for e-commerce because we were generally unhappy with the way that it had been structured with other Tribes. We did it formally—our coalition is recognized in Washington—so we’re able to speak as a unified group. The idea was initially to have a call center where we could do a couple of things. One was to do short-term loans, and the other was to be able to sell goods and products that are done on our reservation, whether it’s star quilts or anything to do with arts and crafts.

The crazy spin on it is that according to current federal law, we’re not able to provide these services to anybody within our state or on our own reservation. Let’s say you made a call. It would come to us initially, but the activity that you’d be requesting would be done by another Tribe. And you wouldn’t even know that you were talking to somebody somewhere else. And this ability is only available to Tribes. I really think that if it went through, we’d probably increase our workforce by about 100 positions. If we followed the model used by the other Tribes we’re working with, we could potentially be at about 350 employees in five years. When our Tribe has a fluctuating poverty level and unemployment rate—our unemployment rate currently sits at about 85 percent—that’s very important.

Native Governance Center: What issue facing your community are you most passionate about addressing?

Brian Dillon: There are many social and behavioral issues that our youth and young adults face back home. And I think it’s collectively the same on many reservations. We have a high degree of utter hopelessness felt by our youth and young adults. They oftentimes do not have a safe environment to escape to, so the hopelessness just keeps growing—it becomes contagious to the point where they start harming themselves. I’d love to see a youth wellness center complex built on our homelands. This would give our youth a nucleus, a facility that they could call their own. A safe place with 24-hour access for those who need a positive environment for whatever reason. This would decrease the hopelessness that often leads to dropping out of school, joining gangs, running away, and committing self-harm, including suicide.

My wife and I for the last 15 years have been heavily involved in youth activities. It’s an individual passion of mine. I can just imagine what our society might look like and what our members might do if their negative and extra energies were channeled into activities in a productive and nurturing environment. This facility could provide that for them. Their outlook on life would most definitely improve.

Brian Dillon (left) and Levi Brown (right) at a Native Nation Rebuilders session in Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota

Native Governance Center: Looking ahead, what are you most excited about accomplishing in the next year? In the next five years?

Brian Dillon: When I was a program director for the Tribe, I was involved in strategic planning. It wasn’t really strategic planning—it was just my ideas. At the time, five years seemed like an eternity to me. But it’s not. It takes about five years for any initial action to have a real value assigned to it. You can gauge success anywhere along the way, but if you don’t give it about three to five years, you’re probably stuck in that same standard approach-type thinking.

In the next year, I’ll be working with my fellow Cohort 9 [Rebuilders] from Rosebud. All five of us have decided to come together and work on one activity. I’d like to take what I’ve learned as a Native Nation Rebuilder and convey that to the youth in all 20 communities. We’re going to focus on getting buy-in from the youth. And it’s not to say that we’re not going to get buy-in from the elders, but we’ll take kind of a different approach. First, we’ll get the youth buy-in. And the youth are going to go home and talk to mom and dad. Mom and dad are usually the ones that are my age or younger and are kind of the missing link in this thing. And they’re not going to know what to say, so they’re going to usually reach out to the elders in their family to gain that information.

It’s going to work its way up so that it’s not the older people—the elders or the adults my age—telling the youth, ‘This is what you need to do.’ I know that when I was a youth, I hated it when they’d say, ‘You need to do this.’ But if our youth can grab ahold of this information, rationalize and internalize it, and then spit out a product for us to hear, that will be mind-blowing when we do it on a broad scale. Then, just maybe, we can start cultivating nation building-minded young men and women, and they’ll eventually be in those leadership roles.

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

Applications now open for Cohort 10 Rebuilders!

Are you interested in becoming a Native Nation Rebuilder, joining over 150 Native leaders from across the region? The Rebuilders program is for Native citizens in our region who have a passion for learning about innovative Tribal governance practices and ways to take these ideas and approaches to their own Native nations to make a positive difference. Apply today!

Need to Know: North Dakota Tribes

Our “Need to Know” blog series explores important Tribal governance-related concepts in detail. In this installment, we take a look at the Tribes located in North Dakota.

North Dakota is home to five federally-recognized Tribes. (If you’re curious to learn more about sovereignty and what it means to be a Native nation, see our previous post on Minnesota Tribes.) Native Americans make up 5% of North Dakota’s population; almost 40% of the Native population in North Dakota is under the age of 20.

An Overview of North Dakota’s Five Native Nations

The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians is the largest Tribe in North Dakota, with over 30,000 enrolled members. Over 16,000 of these enrolled members live on or adjacent to the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, which is located about 25 miles from the United States-Canadian border. Members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians are Anishinaabe and are primarily members of the Pembina Band of Chippewa.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is the next largest, with approximately 16,000 enrolled members. The Standing Rock Indian Reservation spans the border between North and South Dakota and is the fifth largest reservation (land area) in the United States. Standing Rock is also the birthplace of Sitting Bull, a notable leader who fought against the United States government’s efforts to erase Native culture and steal Native land. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is comprised of both Lakota and Dakota people.

Spirit Lake Nation and Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate are the two Dakota Tribes in North Dakota. Spirit Lake has about 7,200 enrolled members, while Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate has about 13,000. The Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate call the Lake Traverse Indian Reservation home, which is largely located in South Dakota; a small portion occupies part of the southeastern corner of North Dakota. The Spirit Lake Indian Reservation is located in east-central North Dakota.

Finally, the Mandan, Hidatsa Arikara Nation (also referred to as MHA Nation or Three Affiliated Tribes) has over 12,000 enrolled members who are primarily Mandan, Hidatsa, and Sahnish. (The Arikara call themselves Sahnish, which means the original people from whom all other tribes sprang.) While the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Sahnish people all reside on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation together and have shared culture and histories, they’ve also retained their individual cultures, histories, and Tribal relationships.

The North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission

Cohort 1 Native Nation Rebuilder Scott Davis directs the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission. The Commission is a state agency that serves as a resource center for Tribes and seeks to improve state-Tribal relations in North Dakota. It took an historic step toward improving relationships by hosting the Strengthening Government to Government Relationships and Partnerships Conference in January 2018. The conference, the first of its kind in North Dakota, drew more than 300 Tribal, state, and federal officials with the goal of rebuilding relationships between Tribes and the state in the wake of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

To learn more about North Dakota Tribes, visit our Native Nations Resource Page.