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Sustainability for Tribal Organizations and Communities

Every Tribe can achieve the goal of self determination and become truly sustainable. This can even happen if you are from a remote Tribe with very limited natural resources. Of course some of you may be thinking no way and my response is WAY. Actually there are a number of ways this can be accomplished and I wanted to share some of these strategies with you.

It all starts with leadership which needs to start at the top but it should be permeated all the way throughout the organization. One of the most important tasks of effective leadership is to develop a vision for the Tribe. And then once this is in place you develop a mission statement which will include your core values. This is a very powerful process which will provide you the guide for where you want to focus your efforts. Once you have your mission statement in place the policies and procedures will flow from the mission. These need to be clearly stated and they need to meet the current legal requirements.

The next step is to come up with a comprehensive strategic plan. This needs to include voices from all the communities within the Tribe and should be conducted from someone who is familiar with the community or similar ones. If you hire an outside consultant to do the entire plan for you the result may be a document that looks good on its face but if they haven’t asked the people what they see as the real issues in the community, it will have limited value. The solutions to all our problems in the community come from the people. Once you have a strategic plan in place you can create individual work plans for each staff member. This will give the staff a concrete plan on the goals they should focus on individually and as a work unit.

If you are a Tribe with limited resources, which is describes many Tribes, you need to take full advantage of technical assistance that is available from virtually every single government agency. They will send out consultants who are very knowledgeable about Tribal communities and who have specific expertise in the area you need help with be it natural resources, human services of tribal administration. Having been a sub contractor for a number of government agencies as well as other funding agencies I have always been surprised at how many Tribes do not utilize the resources that are available to them. In some cases you may not know what you don’t know but if you have a vision, a mission and a strategic plan in place it will be much easier to identify what the gaps in services are.

I want to focus on two programs that I feel are not utilized the way they could be. One is the Tribal Rights Employment Ordinance. It is vital that your Tribe have one and most do now. If you don’t contact the national TERO office and they will help you develop your code or you can just ask one near you. Many Tribes that do have TERO do not fully utilize the authority you have under this important act. If fully implemented it can make a major difference in your community in terms of increased revenue through taxes on businesses on the reservation, employ significantly more members of the Tribe and provide much needed training for Tribal members to become managers.

The other program that I am a big fan of is the Public Law 477 program which is funded by the Department of Labor. There are about 60 Tribes that currently have this in place. It provides a way to integrate up to 13 different Tribal programs so they are under one reporting system and one budget. It gives those Tribes that have it much more flexibility and you can focus more resources on a particular area such as TANF, Economic Development or Early Childhood to name a few. I don’t know of any Tribe that has all the programs that are elgible under their 477 program. Often times there are turf issues which keep this from ocurring. One Tribe that saw a 30% increase in their employment within two years after they became a 477 program and while you may not experience those results you begin to see the potential it has.

A lot of Tribes are interested in developing a wrararpound program for their social services, human services and juvenile offenders. Very few Tribes have what would be considered a true wraparound model. However, more and more are receiving training on this model and are in the process of developing it. If you have a comprehensive wraparound model in place it will greatly increase your efficiency and effectiveness. It will also create many more opportunities for billing. Some Tribes have significantly increased their third party collections once they have the wraparound model implemented. The Administration for Children, Youth and Services offers free technical assistance for wraparound and you should take advantage of this valuable resource. And of course the most important reason to have the wraparound model is it will allow you to coordinate your services and better meet the needs of your Tribal members.

A number of Tribes operate from what I would call the scarcity model and they are always trying to find additional resources. It is important the that the Tribal organization develop the capacity so you can respond to the resources that are available for you to pursue at the local, state, federal and private foundation level. If you can not afford a grantwriter for your program or the Tribe as a whole you will need to develop this capacity internally. You can hire people who have this ability so be mindful of that in the hiring process. Another option is some grantwritiers will write the grant for free if you allow them to do the evaluation for the project. A lot of Tribal colleges and community colleges have classes on grantwriting so take advantage of these as well. There are more resources out there than there are good ideas. Once again this is why it is so key that you have a vision, a mission statement and a strategic plan in place which will give you a roadmap for what your service gaps are. I have known some Tribal organizations that pursue $$ that are not in alignment with their vision and even though they may be successful in obtaining the grant it is often times not successfully implemented as the community was not involved and it did not address their needs.

I know of a small Tribe in California that is very remote and does not have a casino. They have a vision and a clear mission statement. Their strategic plan is for 25 years. Their Tribal chairman shared with me they make sure any new tribal council member fully understands what the vision is and as a result they always have a smooth transition when leadership changes. They have developed an eco-tourism business which has been very successful. Also, they have a agreement with the forest service which has been very helpful in having access to their sacred sites. There are other Tribes with similar conditions who have achieved sustainablity or are well on their way to reaching this goal.

The future is very bright in the 21st century for Tribal communities. Yes we do face many challenges but there are solutions to every one of them. Sustainablity and self determination are achievable goals and I have no doubt that more and more Tribes will continue to exercise their Tribal sovereignty. As the Oglala leader Crazy Horse stated 150 years ago, “We must seek our vision as the Eagle seeks the bluest part of the sky.”

For more information on a training related to this topic see “Achieving Self Determination” at www.redroadleadership.us

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