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.