15 Native changemakers join Rebuilders Cohort 11

Deanna StandingCloud: Rebuilder, Trailblazer

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 or (651) 571-0826. We’re also on the web ( and social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram).

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

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! 

2019 Native Nations Tour

Early next month, our executive director and members of our program team will hit the road on a Native nations tour, a journey that will take them to all 23 Tribal nations in our region. They’ll travel thousands of miles in order to gather data on how we can best support the 23 Native nations located in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

Back in 2016, Native Governance Center Executive Director Wayne Ducheneaux II completed a similar tour: we used the information collected during Wayne’s trip to guide the creation of our initial programming. Because we strive to support Native nations in strengthening their sovereignty, we believe strongly in gathering direct feedback from our Tribal partners. Program Manager Apryl Deel-McKenzie noted, “It’s important to us as an organization to listen to the nations that we serve and assess their needs from an inclusive, community-based approach.”

Creating Relevant Programming

During the upcoming tour, our staff will visit with Tribal leaders to learn more about what’s working for them, the most significant challenges they face, and how Native Governance Center can best support their work. We’ll use the data collected during these visits to inform the development of a survey, which we’ll also use to determine Tribal leaders’ needs. Our ultimate goal is to identify key strategies to infuse into our programming so that it remains relevant and useful to Native leaders across our service region.

Program Director Jayme Davis said the following about the tour: “This tour will help us further build out our Tribal Governance Support programming. We’ll directly implement the knowledge we gather so that we can continue to support Tribes in a way that best fits their unique needs.”

If you’re a Tribal leader or a Native Nation Rebuilder, we’d love to meet with you! To set up a meeting and/or to receive more details about our visit to your nation, please contact Apryl Deel-McKenzie, Native Governance Center Program Manager:

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

Nation Building Celebration Registration Now Open

Join us for our 2018 Nation Building Celebration! We’ll focus on community engagement strategies for strengthening sovereignty and have speakers from across Indian Country talking about how they engage their communities. Register today!

Need to Know: South Dakota Tribes

In this post, we take a look at nine Native nations that share geography with South Dakota.

Need to Know: Minnesota Tribes

Our “Need to Know” blog series explores important Tribal governance-related concepts in detail. In this post, we take a look at the Native nations located in Minnesota. (This is the first in a series of posts on Tribes in our region.)

Did you know that Minnesota is home to eleven federally-recognized, sovereign Native nations? Tribal governments, state governments, and the federal government all have their own definitions of what it means to be a Native nation. Some Tribes have recognition at both the state and federal level. Others are recognized only by the state and/or other Tribes.

What does sovereignty mean? Tribes have varying definitions for what it means to be sovereign. At Native Governance Center, we define sovereignty as:

the inherent right of Tribal nations to govern themselves by establishing systems that organize their society, offer programs and services to their citizens, and work with other governmental entities on a nation-to-nation basis


Anishinaabe Nations

There are seven Anishinaabe and four Dakota nations located in Minnesota. The Anishinaabe nations include the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa,Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, White Earth Band of Ojibwe, and Red Lake Nation. Originally, all seven were established by treaty; the federal government considers them to be separate nations. With the exception of Red Lake Nation, the Anishinaabe nations in Minnesota are joined together in a federation of Tribes known as the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (MCT). A federally-created entity, the MCT provides a centralized governmental structure for the six bands. Each band also has its own Reservation Business Council that serves as a decision-making body.


Dakota Nations

The four Dakota nations located in Minnesota are as follows: the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, Prairie Island Indian Community, Lower Sioux Indian Community, and Upper Sioux Indian Community. The four Dakota nations are located south of the Twin Cities, while the seven Anishinaabe nations are located to the north.

To learn more about Minnesota Tribes, visit the Resources page on our website for a list of all the Tribes in our region.

Nation Building Celebration Scheduled for November 2018

Mark your calendar for our 2nd Annual Nation Building Celebration!

Each year, we host a Nation Building Celebration; a gathering that brings together Tribal leaders, grassroots Native leaders, local and state lawmakers, and members of the general public to network, learn, and gather resources related to leadership and nation building.

This year’s Annual Nation Building Celebration will focus on community engagement strategies for strengthening sovereignty!

The convening will take place on November 9, 2018 at Mystic Lake Center in Prior Lake, Minnesota. On the evening of November 8, 2018, we’ll host a Rebuilders Dinner at Mystic Lake Center to celebrate and honor our Native Nation Rebuilders.

Stay tuned! Registration information will go live in summer 2018.