I know this will be controversial but sometimes we need to think outside the circle to come up with more viable solutions. The biggest problem in Indian country is not a lack of resources. Now some of you may be thinking you have really lost it now. How can that be? Of course with more money we would be able to solve most if not all the issues we deal with be it poverty, poor health, inadequate housing, the high rates of incarceration, the breakdown of the social fabric of our communities and the list goes on.
After forty years of working with many Tribal and urban Indian communities I have come to the conclusions, and the research bears this out, that the three biggest reasons some our communities are basicall where they were forty or fifty years ago is because they lack a vision, leadership and political will. These three are all connected and if you are missing one you generally will not have the other two.
The vision is very important and along with this I would add a mission statement and core values. No vision, no development is one of the principles of a community development process developed by the Four Worlds Institute and I would certainly agree with it I included the picture for the Kalispell Tribe above as they have a very clear vision for their Tribe and they also have a 100 year strategic plan they follow. We see more Tribes going with longer visions and mission statements and while it may be challenging to predict trends this far out it will give you a solid roadmap for where you want to go and how to get there. As I have written before the vision must come from the people. You need to include as many as possible in the process and by engaging them they will be inspired and they will be ready to follow the vision once it is set in place.
Leadership is the second area. Often times Tribal leaders are elected to their positions and they may have little or no prior experience in a leadership position at this level. The first year can be overwhelming and if they are on a two year terms by the time they learn the ropes they are running for re-election. Many attend two or three day trainings on Tribal leadership but without followup and additional learning opportunities they may not be where they need to be. Leaders need to be knowledgeable in many different areas. In addition to knowing about Tribal sovereignty and grants and contracts they need to make sure they are operating according to ethical principles. All Tribal leaders should also know about servant leadership so they are always mindful of what is in the best interests of the people and not their own personal agendas. This is why in the Tribal Transformation Process we have a five day institute to train Tribal leaders on all these issues and much more. I would also recommend having a mentor for those who are new to the Tribal leadership role. In every community there are a number of former Tribal leaders who have tremendous wisdom and they can serve as a guide for those who are new to the position.
Political will is in very short supply in a number of Tribal communities I have worked in. In many cases Tribal leaders know what needs to be done and yet they refuse to do it. One example I will give is a Tribe that has had two assessments on how to overhaul their human resource policies and procedures so that Tribal politics is removed from the process. The policies and procedures were revised and the Tribal council did not approve them. One of the reasons Tribal leadership fails to act is they think that protecting the status quo is the best option. They need to be enlightened so they can change this practice. When Tribal leaders learn to take the right actions for the right reasons it is a win/win for all. Now instead of family members and their friend receiving political patronage the entire Tribe benefits from their leadership.
Once you get all your systems in alignment and then you have these three elements in place: A clear vision, strong leadership and the political will to make tough decisions, the organization will go from a state of crisis to one of stability or you may advance from being good to great. Your key programs will become self sustaining and you will no longer be hustling for money as the money will flow to you. Everyone loves a winner and when you go from the scarcity model to the abundance mentality you realize there is more than enough for you and the Tribal members you serve.
For more information on the Tribal Transformation Process which can show you how to develop your capacity in these areas contact Willie Wolf at email@example.com If you are at the NICWA conference in St. Paul on April 3-5 you will see a presentation by Willie Wolf and Ryan Champagne on the topic of Moving from Silos to Circles: The Lac Du Flambeau Experience where we will share much more on this exciting change process.