Meet Native America: Interviews with Indigenous Leaders

January 30, 2015

Meet Native America: Brian Cladoosby, Chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and President of the National Congress of American Indians

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native people today. —Dennis Zotigh


Please introduce yourself with your name and title. 

Brian Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and president of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI).  

Chairman Brian Cladoosby
Brian Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and president of the National Congress of American Indians.

Can you share your Native name with us?

It's Spee-Pots. It means Little Bear in our language. Spots is bear. When I was growing up my nickname was Cub. An elder, the late Vi Hilbert, bestowed that name on me. It is a gift that keeps on giving. 

Where is your tribal community located? 

The Swinomish Reservation is located about one hour north of Seattle and one hour south of the Canadian border. We are about 15 minutes off I-5. We live on an island, Fidalgo Island. We have 7,000 acres of land that is about 70 percent trust, and about 3,000 acres of tidelands. 

Where were your people originally from?

Swinomish is one of the tribes who were not removed from their homelands. We have been living in the same place for generations. We are also descendants of three other bands that were removed from their lands and relocated to Swinomish: We are successors to the Samish, Lower Skagit, and Kikiallus who had to relocate to Swinomish after the signing of the 1855 Point Elliott Treaty.

What are the criteria to become a member of the Swinomish Indian tribal Community?

You have to be one-quarter Swinomish.

What is a significant point in Swinomish history that you would like to share?

There are many—when we signed the Point Elliott Treaty, the fact that we have 70 percent of our reservation back in our ownership, having taxing authority on our own lands, sovereignty, and, of course, the Boldt decision in 1974, when the federal courts affirmed our treaty rights to our historic fishing grounds. All these will have generational impacts on the Swinomish people.

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?

As chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, I preside over all Senate meetings and meetings of the General Council—which is made up of all voting-age members of the Swinomish. I am paid full time, so I also supervise all our departmental directors.

As president of NCAI, I preside at all conventions of the organization and all meetings of the Executive Committee, and I am authorized to exercise other duties delegated to me by the Executive Committee.

How is your tribal government set up?

Swinomish has eleven senators who are elected to five-year terms. Two Senate seats are up every year, and three seats are up on the fifth year. I believe we are one of the only tribes in the nation whose government has five-year terms. This was created during the Indian Reorganization Act. We currently have about 170 years of Senate experience at our council table.

How often does your government meet?

The Senate meets the first Tuesday of every month. 

Who inspired you as a mentor? 

I really enjoyed attending grade school and high school. It was a great experience for me. I had some excellent teachers as role models who had a very positive impact in my life. 

Brian Cladoosby fishing
Chairman Brian Cladoosby, fishing.  

I also had the opportunity to listen to some of the best tribal speakers in our community growing up. We are an oral tradition culture, and listening to public speakers was very valuable for me. Landy James was a Swinomish tribal member, and not only my high school teacher, but also my football and baseball coach in high school. This man was all about building up the self-esteem of everyone he interacted with, especially youth. Morris Dan, Dewey Mitchell, Richard Peters, Dave Joe—these were some of the best speakers in our community, and growing up I had the opportunity to listen to them. Robert Joe, Sr., Chet Cayou Sr., Susan Wilbur, Laura Wilbur—these were some of the senators I had the opportunity to learn from when I was elected to our Senate in my 20s.

And of course my father, Mike Cladoosby. He is the best father anyone could ask for. He prepared me for life, from raising me, to teaching me how to fish, to just being an awesome example on how to be a father.

Kel-Kahl-Tsoot, my dad’s great grandfather, put his X on the Point Elliott Treaty for the Swinomish Tribe on January 22, 1855. My father is 81 years old. When you think about it, my dad’s great-grandfather signed our treaty in 1855. My dad is still alive, and he is the great grandfather to my grandchildren. My grandchildren are the seventh generation since the signing of our treaty.

Is your language still spoken on your homelands?

We only have a few tribal members who still have an understanding of our language.

What economic enterprises does your tribal community own?

We have the Swinomish Casino & Lodgea casino, bingo hall, lodge, and convention center—and two convenience stores that sell gas, cigarettes, and alcohol. We own an 18-hole golf course. We have the Swinomish Fish Company, which buys and sells salmon, crab, and other seafood products. We sell canned salmon, and we sell caviar to Europe and Japan. Working cooperatively with Native fisherman throughout the Salish Sea and from Alaska to California, we've started the NativeCatch brand of wild, sustainably harvested seafood. We just started selling salmon jerky to a company named Patagonia. We sell salmon cat and dog food, as well. We also have a number of land leases on our reservation, with four different types of businesses.

What annual events does the Swinomish community sponsor?

We have our annual Swinomish Days in August. The festival includes canoe races, a Fancy Dance contest, and bone games. In 2011 we hosted Paddle to Swinomish, that year's Salish Sea Canoe Journey, and each other year we welcome the canoes when they travel through our waters heading to the tribe that is hosting Canoe Journey.

What other attractions are available for visitors on your land and waters?

There are many attractions within one to two hours of our reservation—the San Juan Islands, the Cascade Mountains, the Skagit River, and many other beautiful places.

How does your tribe deal with the United States as a sovereign nation?

We have a relationship with the United States that we inherited, one we didn’t ask for. With that being said, we have to communicate continually with all levels of the federal government, from elected officials to administration officials to agencies and their staff. We deal with many agencies—the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Department of Justice, Health and Human Services—and it is important that we continue to talk with them to make sure we have a great working relationship. Like all relationships, we may not always agree, but we have to agree to disagree and still keep talking in order to work things out.

What message would you like to share with the youth of your community?

Our youth have so many opportunities in front of them. This is what our elders prayed for. We give full-ride scholarships to the school of your choice if you graduate from high school or get a GED. We believe that the way to defeat poverty and drug and alcohol abuse is through education. Our youth and their parents have to want to make the choice for education.

We have experienced a lot of historical trauma in our history, and it is up to us not to look at ourselves as victims, but survivors. And as survivors we are starting to break the cycle of trauma one generation at a time. The most important message for our youth is choice. At the end of the day, your choices bring one of two things, pain or pleasure.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I have the greatest job in the world. Our Creator has blessed me beyond measure. He is the reason I am where I am right now. I have an awesome wife, Nina—we will be married 37 years in March—two beautiful daughters, LaVonne and Mary; one son-in-law, Tyler; and two of the greatest gifts God can give you, grandchildren, Bella and Nathanael. 

I have been a member of the Swinomish Senate for 30 years and chairman for 18 years. It has been a great ride. I would not be able to be president of NCAI if we did not have a stable government at home. I work with 11 senators who are in the canoe, paddling in the same direction, with the same goals in mind, to provide the best governmental services for our people.

Thank you.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to introduce myself to your readers. God bless.


Photographs courtesy of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community.

To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below. Meet-native-america
From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All photos used with permission.

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January 16, 2015

Meet Native America: Gary Pratt, Chairman of the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native people today. —Dennis Zotigh 


Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Gary Pratt, chairman of the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma

Can you share your Native name with us?

I am extremely honored to have been given my great-grandfather Blaine Kent’s name of Ahu Thaway (Black Wing). I am the great-great grandson of Frank and Emma Kent. 

Where is the Iowa Tribe located? 

The offices of the Iowa Tribe are located three miles south of Perkins, Oklahoma. Our jurisdiction covers four counties—Lincoln, Logan, Oklahoma, and Payne.

Chairman Gary Pratt, Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma
Chairman Gary Pratt, Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma. Photo courtesy of the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma.

Where was the Iowa Tribe originally from? 

History of the tribe dates us back to the 1600s when we were present in the Red Pipestone Quarry region in Minnesota. The Iowa people lived the majority of our recorded history in what is now the northern region of Iowa. The state of Iowa takes its name from the Iowa Tribe.

How is your tribal community set up?

We are organized under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act with a constitution last amended in 2008.  We are a self-governance operating under Public Law 638, which enables us to carry on a positive relationship with the federal government. We have a Business Committee that is made up of five elected positions—chairman, vice-chairman, treasurer, secretary, and council person.  All serve two-year terms. We meet twice a month as a committee. 

Approximately how many members are in your tribe?

We are small tribe with a current enrollment of 815 citizens. To become a citizen, you must have a parent on the roll and possess a minimum of 1/16 Ioway blood quantum.  

Is your language still spoken in your homelands?

One of the disadvantages of being a small tribe is that we are running out of members who are fluent in the Iowa language. We are currently working to preserve what we have and make it available to our youth and all others.

I believe tribes everywhere are beginning to understand what an amazing generation we just lost and continue to lose, and the impact they had on our survival as a tribe today. For example, last year at the Presidential Summit in Washington, D.C., I shook the hands of five Code Talkers. This year there were only two in attendance. 

What economic enterprises does your tribal community own?

We currently operate two casinos—Cimarron and Ioway—and just recently opened a new travel plaza. We also operate a medical/dental clinic that provides healthcare services to Native Americans as well as the general public. Other operations include a gallery, smoke shop, and RV park. With casinos and tribal operations, we employ over 300 people and are making a positive economic impact in the area. 

What attractions are available on your homeland?

Golden eagles
Bah Kho-Je Xla Chi provides rehabilitation for injured golden eagles (above) and bald eagles, and a sanctuary for eagles that cannot be returned to the wild. It also conducts education and conservation programs. Photo courtesy of the Grey Snow Eagle House Facebook page

I believe the one program that sets the Iowa Tribe apart from other tribes is our eagle aviary, Bah Kho-Je Xla Chi (Grey Snow Eagle House). We have developed an eagle rehabilitation program in order to protect injured eagles and increase community awareness of wildlife and Native American culture.  We have successfully released thirteen eagles back into the wild. The facility opened in January 2006 and currently houses 47 eagles.

Victor Roubidoux, the founder and director of our program and an Iowa tribal elder, is one of the leading experts in the world on the subject of eagle research. We are working with Oklahoma State University to develop a nationwide genetic research program. Our goal is one day to be able to find an eagle and have the ability to determine where that particular eagle came from—for example, from Alaska, Wisconsin, New York, or whether the bird is local. We understand our responsibility to this magnificent creature and take this responsibility seriously. We are very excited about the possibilities and direction this program is going.

Another wonderful thing to take part in here is the Iowa Tribal Powwow. The Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma will host the 30th Annual Iowa Tribal Powwow on June 19, 20, and 21, 2015. The public is invited to attend the full weekend of events. The Iowa Tribal Powwow is held at the Bah-Kho-Je Powwow Grounds in Perkins, Oklahoma, which offers facilities for traditional camping. All dance competition categories are represented at the powwow, and there are daily Gourd Dance sessions in the afternoon, as well. Arts and crafts and food vendors are encouraged to contact the Powwow Committee for more information. 

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?

My role as chairman of the Iowa Tribe is to uphold the Constitution of the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma, to seek out opportunities that lie ahead, and to understand the options when dealing with the federal and state government on the issues of sovereignty, healthcare, and gaming. The decisions are always made in the best interest of the people. 

Who inspired you as a mentor?

My inspiration and mentors have always been the elders—their stories of survival, their preservation of customs and ways, song, prayer. Family values have always been an inspiration for me to do my best and help those around me. Taking the time to talk to an elder, recognizing a veteran, or shaking hands with a Code Talker gives me my energy. It doesn’t get any better than that.

What message would you like to share with the youth of your community?

Listen to your elders, pray for your elders as they have been praying for you since you came in to this world. The day will come when you will play a critical role in the existence of your tribe. Use education as your weapon of choice. Every day seek out the opportunity to make a difference. Prepare yourself for that moment.

Thank you.

Thank you.

 
To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below. Meet-native-america
From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All photos used with permission.

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January 08, 2015

Meet Native America: Cristina Danforth, Chairwoman of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native people today. —Dennis Zotigh 


Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Cristina Danforth, Chairwoman, Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin.

Chairwoman Danforth
Chairwoman Cristina Danforth, Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin.

Can you share with us your Native name?

My Oneida name is Kwahlak^ni. It means influential, or she is able to respond, respect her. I received my name in Oneida, Canada, at the Longhouse during Midwinter Ceremony when I was 14 years old. I am Wolf Clan. 

Where is the Oneida Tribe located?

Our tribe is located in northeast Wisconsin and is adjacent to the city of Green Bay. Our original reservation boundaries of 1838 make up 65,400 acres that are home to five municipal governments and two county governments. 

Where was your tribe originally from?

The process of settlement into what is now known as the state of Wisconsin (statehood, 1848) began with the United States Treaty with the Menominee of 1831, in which the federal government ceded land to the New York Indians. The treaty was agreed to by the Menominee Indian people and the U.S. president, with assistance from the Indian agent of Green Bay. The 1831 Menominee Treaty was furthered by the U.S Treaty with the Oneida in 1838. That treaty, also known as the Buffalo Creek Treaty, acknowledges the Oneida Indians and our ancestral ties to New York state.

What is a significant point in history from your tribe that you would like to share?

The point in time for our tribe I want to share is the period of 2002 to 2005. I was serving my third term on council and my first term as tribal chairwoman. I had just finished my term as vice chairwoman, and our gaming compact was up for renewal with the state of Wisconsin; the compact was set to expire in 2003. In September of 2002 my first grandson, Calvyn, was born, and he was my motivation to get things done and move the tribe forward. We were also in the midst of mediation with the state of New York over our Oneida Land Claim Settlement. Both agreements were top priority and kept me traveling on an almost weekly basis.

The Agreement of Settlement and Compromise to Resolve the Oneida Indian Land Claims in the State of New York was established and acknowledged during my first term as Oneida chairwoman. This agreement discusses the rights retained and exercised by the Oneidas of Wisconsin and the terms of settlement and conditions that must exist in order to resolve the claim. This agreement was signed and acknowledged by a Proclamation from Governor George Pataki and Chairwoman Cristina Danforth on December 7, 2004. 

The gaming compacts were being discussed collectively by the United Tribes of Wisconsin. This delegation was formed in June 2002; I was designated as their spokesperson. In November 2002 Governor Jim Doyle was elected, and in January 2003 he was inaugurated. His first task was to meet with the eleven tribes in Wisconsin. He invited the tribes to Madison and made a commitment to the tribal leadership. He convened the meeting with the tribal leaders and then introduced his Cabinet of State Administration and secretaries. He told the tribal leaders that meeting with his staff was equivalent to meeting with him, as they were authorized to renegotiate the compacts on his behalf and with his direction. Under Governor Doyle’s leadership, the Oneida Gaming Compact was concluded in April 2003. 

The Oneida compact renewal was historic and significant: We had been operating on a five-year renewal, and the newly negotiated compact became a perpetual-term compact. It is the only compact in the country to be perpetual. The compact also now has a 4 percent regulatory fee, which is the lowest in the state. It was significant for us in Oneida so that we could fund community infrastructure development projects and secure long-term loans utilizing revenues from our gaming operations. The 2003 Gaming Compact allows Oneida to continue long-standing programming, education, and community services. 

How is your tribal government set up?

Our tribal government consists of nine elected Business Committee members who govern the tribe when the General Tribal Council (GTC)—the body composed of our tribal membership—is not in session. The Business Committee includes four officers—chair, vice chair, treasurer, and secretary. The remaining five members are at-large council members.

How often are elected leaders chosen?

A general election occurs every three years. Candidates must be at least 21 years of age and must be enrolled tribal members living within the boundaries of the reservation or in Brown and Outagamie counties. 

How often does your council meet?

Our council meets every second and fourth Wednesday of the month to conduct official business. The council also meets every Tuesday before the regular meeting to discuss items in executive session, which is closed to the public. Actions on those items must be done in open session at our regular Wednesday meeting. The council also meets with state, federal, and tribal officials on a consistent basis and is required to attend GTC meetings—the annual meeting in January, semiannual meeting in July, budget meeting, and special meetings.

How did your life experience prepare you to lead your tribe?

My leadership development came from mentors and life experiences from my family. When I was growing up, I was the middle of nine children. My family moved around a lot, and I went to several schools. Changing schools meant new friends and new teachers. This led to my experience of being adaptable. My mom raised us nine kids by herself while still attending college. So on days when I felt stressed, I would think of my mom and all her struggles as a single parent. She also expressed the need to go to college and the benefits of being educated. Her family values were passed on to us and our kids. 

Chairwoman Danforth
Chairwoman Danforth teaching tribal youth Oneida raised beadwork techniques.

The family goes beyond the immediate family and encompasses extended family as a resource for support and encouragement. Everything we do is to benefit the family, which extends to the community and the nation. Making sacrifices is necessary to promote a work ethic and setting goals. Having a vision and a purpose while realizing that all we do is for the children, the family, and our elders. 

When my mother died I was 13 years old. I told myself it was up to me to take care of myself and to do what is necessary to get by. It was the realization that I am an independent person and whether I would succeed or not was up to me. Maybe the reason I was compelled to survive as best as I could was the fact that I felt so alone that April day in 1975. It took me until I was in my twenties to realize that it is OK to ask for help. 

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?

On any given day I can be asked to address concerns from the community, corporate decisions, financial directives, or policy questions. That requires being flexible, having a vision for the people, and respecting the cultural differences that can clash with commercial aspects of our tribe—recognizing that they are to be handled with care and the balance of creation.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

When I wanted to quit college, I was inspired to continue by my husband, Paul. When I wanted to run for public office, I was inspired by my aunt Shirley Hill. When I wanted to give up on my life purpose, my spiritual helper, Ernie St. Germaine, encouraged me to seek the wisdom of the Creator. Now I am inspired by the gift of my grandchildren: Taneal, Lenna, Avary, Karmyn, Keeshon, Seanae, and Calvyn. They lighten my load with love and laughter when the responsibility of leadership demands my full engagement. 

Are you a descendant of a historical leader? If so, who?

My maternal grandfather was Levi Parker Webster. His Oneida name was Lahstohsles, meaning Chief Tall Feather. My grandfather was a vegetarian and an extraordinary athlete and professional runner. He attended Carlisle Indian School and excelled there as well. On his 50th birthday he ran 50 miles from Green Bay to Oshkosh, Wisconsin. He also did a non-stop promotional run from Milwaukee to Chicago in 23 hours. I guess that’s where I get my stamina. 

Approximately how many members are in your tribe?

Our tribal membership is just over 17,000. 

What are the criteria to become a member of your tribe?

In order to be an enrolled member, you must be at least one-quarter Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin blood degree by proving ancestry to a family member on the 1935 Oneida base rolls.

Is your language still spoken on your homelands?

Yes, the Oneida language is still spoken in the community, and several of our departments have been working on finding new ways of making the language more accessible. The Oneida Language and Speak Oneida apps were recently launched and are available for download. Language classes are also offered year round in the community. Having said that, there is still a need to create awareness for our people to begin learning and speaking the language more. Many of our fluent elder speakers have passed away in recent years, and because of that the community is going through a generational language disconnect. Lack of Internet access has also prevented many of our community members from utilizing available resources. 

What economic enterprises does your tribe own?

Oneida owns a number of enterprises that contribute to the local and state economy. Our gaming operations consist of six facilities including a new $24-million expansion and renovation of our Main Casino. Our bingo hall and three of our Oneida One-Stop convenience stores also offer gaming.

Our tribal-owned Bay Bank was founded in 1995 and provides financial services specific to assisting tribal members obtain mortgages and start entrepreneurial ventures. It is the only bank in the city of Green Bay with a HUD Section 184 Indian Housing Loan Guarantee Program, which offers any Native American who is part of a federally recognized tribe an opportunity to own a home. 

Oneida Total Integrated Enterprises (OTIE) is an SBA-certified 8(a) business that provides a number of services including environmental services, restoration and remediation, construction, engineering, and recovery to government agencies as well as commercial customers around the world. OTIE provides a training and recruitment opportunity for young Native people in the fields of engineering and construction. 

Some other enterprises include Thornberry Creek at Oneida Golf Course, Oneida Community Integrated Food Systems, and our Radisson Hotel & Conference Center, established in 1986.

What annual events does your tribe sponsor?

Oneida sponsors multiple powwows including the annual Fourth of July Powwow. We also sponsor the Big Apple Fest every September at our Apple Orchard.

What other attractions are available for visitors on your land?

I would encourage guests to visit the Oneida Nation Museum, Thornberry Creek at Oneida Golf Course, the Oneida Buffalo Farms and Observatory, and the Oneida Nation Gate at Lambeau Field, just to name a few. Our Tourism Department also provides personal and bus tours of the reservation. 

How does your tribe deal with the United States as a sovereign nation?

As a tribal government we continue to lobby Congress regarding policies that affect Indian Country. Oneida governance demands a presence in Washington, D.C., to solicit each presidential administration for our land claims in New York and for environmental, health, economic development, education, and intergovernmental affairs. 

White House roundtable
Native American leaders at a roundtable discussion with President Barak Obama in advance of the 2014 White House Tribal Nations Conference. From left to right: U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (partially obscured); Chairwoman Danforth; Chairman Darrin Old Coyote, Crow Nation; Speaker of the Navajo Nation Senate Lorenzo Bates; and President Obama. Not shown: Chairman W. "Ron" Allen, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe; Chief Phyliss Anderson, Mississippi Choctaw; Chairman Thomas Beauty, Yavapai Apache Nation; Governor Joseph M. Chavarria, Santa Clara Pueblo; Chairman Jeff Grubbe, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians; Co-Chair Jerry Isaac, Alaska Federation of Natives, Tanacross Native Village; Chairwoman Myra Pearson, Spirit Lake Nation; and Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear, Osage Nation. 
Washington, D.C., December 2, 2014.


What message would you like to share with the youth of your tribe?

Be proactive and stay involved in your local community, because issues affecting Indian Country will continue to be part of our efforts going forward. We will need educated leaders eager to learn about the laws and policies affecting our land, beliefs, economic development, governance, and the health of our people. Involvement with social media has proven to be an effective way of sharing our voices and being creative in our approach to express community values. 

Thank you.

Thank you for the opportunity to share a glimpse of the Oneida Tribe, and may the New Year bring you many blessings. Hoyan! 


All photos are courtesy of Chairwoman Danforth. Used with permission. 

To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below. Meet-native-america
From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All photos used with permission.

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December 19, 2014

Meet Native America: Paulette E. Jordan, Idaho House Representative

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native people today. —Dennis Zotigh 

Please introduce yourself with your name and title. 

My name is Paulette Jordan. I am a newly-elected Idaho House Representative.

IMG_5195 b
Paulette Jordan, a member of the Idaho House of Representatives. Photo by Lee Zahir.

What tribes are you affiliated with?

I am an enrolled citizen of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. I am also of Sinkiuse (known as the Moses–Columbia Band of the Colville Confederacy), Nez Perce, and Yakama–Palus descent.

What is a significant point in history from one of your tribes that you would like to share? 

There are many significant points of our Plateau history where our people have faced multiple battles and wars, forced assimilation, attacks to destroy and terminate our people, and dissolution of both our land base and sovereign authority. 

One particular point in history I am very proud of, and it is important to mention, is the way our leaders of both the Coast Salish and Interior Salish of the Northwest have banded together in solidarity to preserve tribal sovereignty by holding the U.S. government accountable to honor its obligation through both treaty and executive order agreements and prevent termination of such agreements.

Due to the Dawes Act of 1887, tribal lands were allotted to individuals and the power struggle continued as millions of acres of land with valuable resources were opened up for settlement. This policy was also intended to terminate reservation lands and any compensation to those seeking settlement. After the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 reversed the policy of dissolution of reservation lands, tribes still struggled with the loss of the vast majority of their treaty lands and later faced termination. It was during this struggle that our people of the Northwest gathered together and combined forces to build one unified voice to provide national and regional leadership and advocate for common interests by organizing the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians in 1953. These developments spawned relief and support by sharing resources and common interests to counter termination efforts by federal agents, as well as secure rights and benefits of tribal peoples regionally and nationally.

Combining voices led to many more protections and gains that continue to improve Indian Country by protecting and enhancing sovereign rights and strategically building upon economic opportunities.

How is your state government set up?

The constitution of Idaho provides for three branches of government: the executive, legislative and judicial branches. Idaho has a bicameral State Legislature, having both a House and Senate body of elected officials. Idaho has 35 state legislative districts—hence 35 State Senate seats and 70 House of Representatives seats. Terms for both the Senate and House of Representatives are two years. Since the late 1950s, the Idaho Legislature has been controlled by the Republican Party, and there are no term limits. 

How are leaders chosen? 

Leaders are chosen amongst each party caucus after being sworn in to office. 

Are Democrats or Republicans more dominant in your state? 

The Republican Party controls both the Idaho House and Senate with a supermajority. Currently the House is composed of 14 Democrats and 56 Republicans; the Democrats gained one seat in the 2014 election. There was no change to the composition of the Senate chamber as the Republican Party maintained their 28 seats to the Democrats 7 seats. 

Do legislators vote along party lines?

Most often officials vote along party lines, though not always. It is best, however, if both parties can come together in a bipartisan manner to pass legislation that will positively impact all of Idaho’s people.

Paulette swearing in
Paulette Jordan (in white at center) and her fellow representatives being sworn in on the Idaho House floor. Idaho State Capitol, Boise; December 4, 2014. Photo courtesy of the Idaho House of Representatives.


Are there any other Natives who are elected leaders in your state?

Unfortunately, there are no other tribal people elected to a state seat—yet!

How many tribes are in your state? Who are they?

There are five distinct tribal nations in Idaho: the KootenaiCoeur d’AleneNez PerceShoshone–Bannock, and Shoshone–Paiute.

Do you ever meet with the Native people of your state?

As a newly elected official of the state, I plan on meeting with tribes as often as possible about state legislative matters. We have to stay in communication as effectively as we can to ensure our voice is not absent on legislative policy affecting tribes.

Do the Native people of Idaho vote in state elections?

Yes, our tribal people vote in state elections. Although we have a very small percentage of the tribal population represented in my district, every vote matters and can make a tremendous difference!

How often does the Idaho Legislature meet? 

Our legislative session begins January 12 of each year and closes roughly toward the end of March or beginning of April.

What responsibilities do you have as a state representative?

As an Idaho House Representative, it is my responsibility to uphold the Idaho Constitution, keep our budget balanced, establish policy that would positively impact and seek to improve every Idahoan's circumstances, and vote. It is the most critical function of any legislator to be present, debate our positions, and make the critical votes as a voice for the people we represent.

More specifically, I sit on three standing committees of the House: the State Affairs Committee, the Business Committee, and the Environment, Energy, and Technology Committee. 

I also hold a seat on the Idaho Legislative Council, which oversees the management responsibilities of the Idaho Capitol and permanent staff of the legislature. It is comprised of the president pro tempore of the Senate, the speaker of the House of Representatives, the majority and minority leaders of each house, and four senators and four representatives—two from each party.

What is a significant point in the history of Idaho that you would like to share? 

Water is our greatest natural resource. To this day, we battle to maintain and improve regulations on environmental impacts to protect what we have for our future generations and the preservation of nature itself. 

In 1863, silver—“discovered” in the north panhandle in the Coeur d’Alene area—became a major draw to the that part of the state. It would later prove to be the nation’s richest deposit. This discovery of heavy minerals by early Europeans led to a surge of miners and a century of water discharges and air emissions from mining and smelting activities. The mining industry later left several thousand acres of land and tributaries, connected to the Coeur d’Alene Basin, contaminated with heavy metals. 

The basin is one of the largest areas of historic mining operations in the world, contributing an estimated 100 million tons of mine waste to the river system. In 1991, this led the Coeur d’Alene Tribe to begin the Coeur d’Alene Basin Restoration Project and the largest natural resource damage lawsuit in American History.

Through recent history and environmental neglect, tribal leadership came to believe that the tribe is the best steward for the future health of Coeur d'Alene Lake and the connected economy of the region. The tribe’s ownership was resolved by U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2001 recognizing that the tribe has always been the owner of the lower one-third of Coeur d’Alene Lake and other related waters. The decision led to a broad settlement, as the tribe teamed up with the U.S. Justice Department to file suit against the mines and the Union Pacific Railroad, echoing verbatim the tribe’s 1991 lawsuit. This case, has set a precedent for related natural resource cases and led to the establishment of the nation’s second largest Superfund cleanup site.

How did your life experience prepare you to lead your community?

My upbringing was through a broad community of relatives and elders and a strong set of parents. Each of these people taught me the value of respect, humility, and character, and to walk this life with compassion towards others. My relatives ensured I had access to the most valuable traditional and western education they could provide. They instilled in me the history of our people and the language and values that make us wholly unique as individual sovereign nations. 

To prepare me for the greater challenges in life, I was able to attain higher levels of learning and travel around the world. Experiencing other cultures gives us a broader connection to living and being. That connection becomes the utmost value in our life’s education—to empathize with others and grow wiser about how we can contribute to making our surroundings, if not the world, a better place to live. 

Aside from my professional career and education, both culturally and academically, my two sons have taught me the greatest wisdom of all—self-sacrifice for the greater good.

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Representative Jordan and her grandfather Felix Aripa. "Grandpa Felix, as a mentor and source of good wisdom, was one of my driving reasons to run for office from the very beginning. His encouragement can move mountains." Photo by Lee Zahir.

Who inspired you as a mentor? 

My grandparents and great-grandparents, all great leaders and chiefs along my lineage, have been a strong source of guidance and wisdom for me. Most especially my grandmothers, Lucy Covington, Emily Friedlander-Peone, and Justine Vincent. Each one serves as a guiding reminder of the value of strength in women to be strong leaders, protectors, and caregivers. My great-grandfathers Chief Moses of the Columbia and Chief Kamiakin of the Palus through their indomitable leadership have taught me strength in negotiation and diplomacy for matters affecting both business and government. 

I am extremely fortunate to have direct mentors in various areas of my life who continue to contribute in many areas of thought. My grandfather Felix Aripa has guided me from young adulthood to listen, maintain humility, and give back. He has been my greatest resource for tribal language and for understanding our land and our relationship to our environment—seeking to find balance in all of our natural resources. My mentor and uncle David Matheson has been my guiding source for business, leadership, humanity, and balance. Walking this life means more than personal gain, and through him I have learned the utmost strength in ourselves as leaders, in both business and government, is how we treat others. And I am fortunate to call Jeanne Givens, a former Idaho State Representative and Coeur d’Alene tribal citizen, a friend and mentor in the practice of public service. Through her own personal experience on the front line of state government, I have learned and continue to learn the road of internal politics. 

Last and most importantly, my mother has been a daily example for me of maintaining compassion towards others. She brings the greatest lesson and inspiration of all through her love, support, and prayer. She walks this life with beautiful humility, having overcome many challenges. She has proven to me the sky has no limits and that anything can be achieved if we truly believe with love and passion in our heart to overcome any fear.

Are you a descendant of a historical leader? 

Historical leaders I descend from include Chief Weowicht ( Yakama), father of Chief Kamiakin (Yakama–Palus); Chief Moses of the Columbia (Sinkiuse); Chief Circling Raven (Coeur d’Alene), Chief Andrew Seltice (Coeur d’Alene); Old Chief Joseph (Nez Perce), Warrior Chief Allokut (Nez Perce).

Approximately how many constituents are in your district? Approximately how many are Native?

Approximately 50,000 residents live within my district; roughly less than 1 percent are Native.

How will you use your elected position to help Natives and other minorities? 

My legislative focus, amongst other matters, will be on working to improve Idaho’s economy, build on criminal justice redesign, and strategize ways to strengthen Idaho’s struggling education system, all of which will help both tribes and minority populations throughout the state. To improve the pathway for tribes specifically, we must develop direct links of communication with tribal leadership to work on common ground for solutions to their concerns.

What message would you like to share with the youth of your Native community?

For many generations, our tribal leadership has maintained the visions of our ancestors for our future generations to have access to the greatest resources and opportunities to achieve what is necessary to build their skills, accomplish their dreams, and build a better community for those to follow. Along with this vision, by maintaining our voice as tribal people in Idaho State House discussions, we include our perspective and practices on a statewide and national level when it comes to developments in policy and appropriations. 

I also believe this is an opportunity for our younger generations to be a part of learning the many ways they can branch into other levels of government leadership. Seeing familiar faces with similar backgrounds is encouraging at any age, and being elected to leadership can inspire our youth to understand that our voice should not and does not end on the reservation or within our tribal communities, both rural and urban, throughout the U.S. 

Our tribal voice is a critical voice sorely missing in Idaho’s House and needed in all political spheres across the nation from local to national government.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

As my own mentors have guided me, I maintain my availability to support our youth to build upon their goals in career, personal life, and civic leadership. If I can be a resource, it would be my privilege and responsibility to pass on what was given to me.

Hnqwi’yqwi’yilgwes khwe sk’u’lshesh—in humble service to all.

Thank you.

Lim’lemtsh! Thank you!

To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below. Meet-native-america
From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All photos used with permission.

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Hello Paulette. I am a Shoshone-Bannock Tribal member and it is a pleasure to provide this comment to you. I responded because I saw an article you were in concerning Obama's visit to Boise. It looked very ineteresting. I wanted to ask what your thought is about the future of economics of Tribes are, since many forces may impact it. For example, the horse racing machines and gaming industries. I ask because I am the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe's Economic Development Specialist and am interested in your thougths about our future.

Regards
Tony A. Shay
Shoshone-Bannock Tribal Member

December 12, 2014

Meet Native America: Vernon Miller, Chairman, Omaha Tribe

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native people today. —Dennis Zotigh 

VM AIO PIC 2012 a
Vernon Miller, chairman of the Omaha Tribe, taking part in the Ambassadors Program conducted by Americans for Indian Opportunity. Washington, D.C., September 2010. Photo by Jeff Liu.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Vernon Miller, chairman, Omaha Tribe.

Can you share with us your Native name? 

My Omaha Thunder Clan name is Standing in the Rain.

Where is the Omaha Tribe located?

Our reservation is located in northeast Nebraska and northwest Iowa. The Missouri River runs through our reservation.

Where was your tribe originally from?

The Omaha people migrated to the upper Missouri area and the Plains by the late 17th century from earlier locations in the Ohio River Valley. The Omaha speak a Siouan language of the Dhegihan branch, very similar to that spoken by the Ponca. The Ponca were part of the Omaha before splitting off into a separate tribe in the mid-18th century. We are related to Osage, Quapaw, and Kansa peoples, who also migrated west under pressure from the Iroquois in the Ohio Valley. 

What is a significant point in history from your tribe that you would like to share?

Chief Blackbird (Wash-ing-guhsah-ba) (ca. 1750–1800) was the leader of the Omaha Tribe who commanded the trade routes used by Spanish, French, British, and later American traders until the late 18th century. He was one of the first of the Plains Indian chiefs to trade with white explorers and is also believed to be the first of the Plains Indian chiefs to openly question white encroachment.

Blackbird used trade as a means to prosperity for his people and as a way to ensure white explorers were aware that they were the guests. The Omaha were not warlike people, yet they were the first on the Great Plains to have mastered equestrianism and developed an equestrian culture around 1770 and were at one point, while Chief Blackbird was alive, the most powerful Indian tribe in the Great Plains.

How is your tribal government set up?

We are an Indian Reorganization Act tribe, and our constitution was established in June 1934. The Omaha Tribe has a seven-member Tribal Council, which governs our lands.

Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system? 

No. 

Omaha Tribal Council members with Attorneys a
Members of the 2014 Omaha Tribal Council and advisors. From left to right: Attorney Verrin Kewenvoyouma, Chairman Vernon Miller, Council Secretary Jeffrey S. Miller, Attorney Daniel Lewis , and Vice Chair Adriana Saunsoci. Not shown: Treasurer Jessica Webster–Valentino, Councilwoman Gwen Porter, Councilman Rodney Morris, and Councilman Clifford Wolfe Jr.


How often are elected leaders chosen? 

We have staggered terms. Thus every year we have at least two seats on our Tribal Council that are up for election. Members of our Tribal Council serve a three-year term.

How often does your council meet?

Our Tribal Council meets two or three days a week

How did your life experience prepare you to lead your tribe?

I am amongst those in Indian Country who have willingly decided to go back to their reservations and give back to their communities. With great pride and determination, I graduated from the University of Nebraska. I was involved in numerous co-curricular development opportunities while in college—Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity, student government, the Native American Student Association, new student enrollment orientation, and a plethora of other opportunities. One experience that helped me to realize my desire to pursue involvement in government was the Washington Internship for Native Students.

As I transitioned on to my professional career as a high school business teacher, I took full advantage of the professional associations and development opportunities. Another amazing opportunity that helped me was participating in the 2010–2011 class of Americans for Indian Opportunity’s Ambassadors Program, an Indigenous values–based leadership development initiative that has been most beneficial to my professional knowledge, skills, and practice. During the course of the program, 15 fellow Indigenous ambassadors and I met and worked with leading Native decision-makers and national policymakers, explored family and tribal histories, explored personal “medicine” or inner strength, and strengthened communications skills.

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?

To promote leadership development and community-building initiatives based on traditional Indigenous values for my people while seeking to positively impact our community, strengthen our ability to improve our community’s well-being, and reaffirm cultural values and identity, as well as incorporate traditional values into strategies for our future. As chairman and a member of the Tribal Council I am responsible to govern the tribe through action items and resolutions. The council serves as the decision-making authority on budgets and investments. We protect the health, peace, education, and welfare of the Omaha Tribe.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

I have had several mentors in my life who have inspired me. My parents are not only personal mentors, but also a huge part of my support system. I was inspired to be a teacher by my grandmother, who was also a teacher on our reservation. I have so many mentors now as chairman and a member of the Tribal Council, they are too numerous to list.

Are you a descendant of a historical leader? If so, who?

I have had several family members serve as members of the Tribal Council and have had family members serve as chairman.

Approximately how many members are in your tribe?

The Omaha Tribe has over 8,300 citizens.

What are the criteria to become a member of your tribe?

Any person possessing aboriginal Omaha blood of the degree of one-fourth or more and not enrolled with any other tribe of Indians

Is your language still spoken on your homelands? 

Yes, the Omaha language is spoken fluently by our elders and taught in our public schools on our reservation.

What economic enterprises does your tribe own?

The Omaha Tribe owns a number of enterprises that serve the community, including  Blackbird Bend Casino, Lucky 77 Casino, Omaha Nation Farms LLC, Omaha Nation Construction LLC, Omaha Nation C-Store LLC, and Omaha Tribal Wildlife & Parks.

What annual events does your tribe sponsor?

The Omaha Tribe will be celebrating our 211th Annual Hedewachi (powwow) in August 2015!

What other attractions are available for visitors on your land?

The Omaha Tribe Reservation offers gaming and a scenic overlook area, and our Big Elk Park provides hunting and lodging opportunities

How does your tribe deal with the United States as a sovereign nation?

We work on a government-to-government basis. A part of our land is in Nebraska, a PL-280 state, which complicates jurisdiction. We enforce our sovereignty through our Tribal Court and decisions we make as a tribal government for our lands and people.

Vernon Miller Peru a
Chairman Miller at Machu Picchu, Peru, with the Americans for Indian Opportunity AMbassadors Program. August 2011. Photo courtesy of the Omaha Tribe.

What message would you like to share with the youth of your tribe?

I am inspired almost daily with the tenacity the youth in our community possess. As they struggle and overcome adversity and issues in their home life, I can empathize. I have had numerous conversations with my former students to encourage them to washkoⁿ—to succeed in life. 

I take great pride in the roles with the youth in our community I’ve previously held at the school and through the Association of American Indian Physicians National Native American Youth Initiative. One message I always share is to leave your community, wherever that may be, better than it was for you.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I am constantly eager to learn and seek out development opportunities and am currently a fellow in the inaugural class of the W. K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) Community Leadership Network, marking the foundation’s re-entry into leadership development. This group of 120 community-based established and emerging leaders will develop their leadership skills over the three years of the fellowship with the overall aim of helping vulnerable children and their families achieve optimal health and well-being, access to good food, academic success, and financial security.

The first class includes 24 fellows for each of WKKF’s priority places in the United States: Michigan, New Mexico, Mississippi, and New Orleans. Another 24 fellows from 15 states and the District of Columbia will focus nationwide on racial equity and racial healing issues. During the program’s second year the national racial equity and healing cohort will provide support to the priority state cohorts as they jointly develop and implement third-year community-based and children-centered projects. As a member of the national cohort it has been my pleasure to share my experiences in Indian Country and to promote our issues and concerns.

Thank you. 

Thank you. 

To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below. Meet-native-america
From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All photos used with permission.

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