By Vi Waln
The Native Nation Rebuilder Program seeks to inspire, equip and connect citizens from 23 tribal nations who want to strengthen tribal governance. The Native Governance Center and the Native Nations Institute offer a curriculum to assist tribal citizens in improving their leadership skills. This month, 18 more Native Nation Rebuilders reached the halfway point of a 2-year commitment.
Last summer, I tried to get people from my tribe to apply for the Rebuilder program. Unfortunately, many brushed it off because they were under the impression that it was limited to people seeking to run for tribal council or other elected positions. It’s true the Rebuilders Program will help you bring a fresh approach to tribal government.
Yet, an important aspect of the Rebuilders Program is learning how to become a better leader. Leadership is lacking in Indian Country. Our people would do well to participate in a process like the Rebuilders Program. It’s an excellent way to build leadership skills.
Rebuilders also refine their teamwork skills. Tribal nations are composed of a group of people who claim citizenship in their tribe. It only makes sense that we would do better working as a group toward the common goal of improving the life experience for our people.
Today, many of our people are disillusioned with tribal government. The Rebuilders program encouraged me to look forward and think about ways to strengthen tribal governance. Our young people need us to encourage them to get involved in tribal government. Getting involved in your tribal government doesn’t have to be a bad experience.
Our young people will soon be the new blood seeking election as tribal officers or tribal council representatives. As it stands today, we do nothing to prepare them for this phase of tribal life. There are only a few tribal government classes offered to students attending high schools and colleges on our reservations. This has to change if we are serious about improving tribal government.
We have to take steps to see that tribal governance courses are offered as a regular part of the curriculum in our tribal and public school systems operating in Indian Country. Many of our elementary school students will recognize George Washington’s name, but they have no idea who the first tribal president on their own reservation was. Furthermore, many tribal high school and college students don’t know who their sitting tribal president is.
Tribal citizens who have completed the Rebuilders program have the responsibility to share their teachings publicly. It is up to this small army of Rebuilders who reside in the Great Plains area to find innovative ways to share their knowledge with others. Rebuilders who work in local schools and colleges must find ways to educate the students they work with, about their own tribal government.
Today, our tribal governments are being operated in such a state that our young people lack the burning desire to get involved. They don’t want to be a part of the dysfunctional, and often corrupt system, we currently call our tribal government. I don’t blame them at all.
As adults and tribal leaders, we all have to work to empower our young people with skills to affect change in the systems currently in place at our tribal headquarters. We’ve all witnessed what the standard approach has done to our tribal governance systems. The Rebuilder approach is a new way to work on improving how tribal government operates.
Tribal citizens want change. This change will happen when we empower our young people by providing them with the skills to improve their own tribal government. Change is slow. Still, we have to get the wheels of change rolling today if we want our future leaders to lead governing systems that work for all our people.
We have to start somewhere. One way to introduce the importance of tribal governance to our young people is to create an activity or project they would be interested in participating in. The Lakota Nation Invitational is one annual event where a tribal governance track could be introduced. There are enough Rebuilders out there to make this happen.
It’s up to all of us to find a way!