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U.S. Department of the Interior
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Panel on "Walking in Two Worlds: Native People in Federal Jobs"



Joseph Hesbrook, Federal Emergency Management Agency

Jerry Gidner, Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs

Jerry Cordova, Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management


Joseph Hesbrook, Federal Emergency Management Agency

What is it like as a tribal person working for the government? We're torn because we know both sides of the issue, the problems that tribes have and that the government has. We get torn apart as an individual, because we run across these problems all the time. Some days, I don't want to do this anymore. Someone is always going to be unhappy when the situations arise. We generally get worked over in these types of situations. My tribal members will call up and ask what I'm doing. Whatever their problem is, it ends up being my problem. There is a whole issue of wondering if you are doing the right thing. I look at the new Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs (DOI) and wonder how long the honeymoon is going to last. One problem is that our allegiance is to the federal government by statute, but we are tribal people and we understand the issues. The spirit of the law is not working for the good of the tribal people.

The federal family is very creative -- they see an injustice and they want to fix it. They are going to make sure they can come up with a creative solution within the statutes.

One thing that rankles a tribe is being called a local government. It is a concern with me to see a statute treating a tribe as a local government, and it is not doing what it is supposed to do. So I work with my colleagues to educate them on how they can help. FEMA created a tribal policy in 1999. It takes a long time to educate an agency. The agency says, we have a policy, we are done. Tribal people say, so what, it is just a piece of paper. But you can't deny that the policy is written. You can say a lot of things, but you can't deny that the policy is there. You can make all the excuses that you want, but you can't deny its existence. I take that tribal policy to every meeting because I can pull it out and say, "what about the tribes?" They can make excuses, but I do have that tribal policy. It is important to carry that with you, and point out what problems are occurring. It is very important to always point out the tribal policy.

We are considered to be the experts within our department. We are supposed to know everything about the past, how tribes feel, their culture. But we don't know everything about all tribes. I certainly do not. I know what it's like to be Plains Indian. But I don't know a lot about Eastern tribes. I am not an expert on everything native. It's good to be the expert because every one comes to you, but overall, we don't always know about tribes. You may ask me about a tribe and I don't know how to even pronounce it. I ask for your understanding.

Most of us work with a reputation, because the tribal communities are very small. We go to the same meetings, we know where most people are as far as the Indian community is concerned, regardless of whether we move to another agency or not. My reputation follows me. If there is a person that works in the government, he might have a good reputation with a certain tribe. You can probably talk to a person and get him to talk or even go with you and get you in with the tribe.

Four important things: show up, pay attention, tell the truth, don't get attached to the outcome.

If you can help, help. If you can't, let them know. If you say, let me look into it, it means you aren't going to do anything. If you say, "There is no hope, there is nothing I can do," people will take that because it is true. One problem I see is that people sulk over an issue, over something they have no control over. Don't get attached to the outcome -- work hard to present what you want, but if it goes the other way, let it go.

A lot of us that work with the government have good reputations with the tribes. Take advantage of that. Just because a person is non-Indian doesn't mean he or she can't work with tribes. Many non-Indians work with tribes and understand tribes.

We need to start talking about consultation: Is it time to have a trust summit for 2005? What is the trust relationship? What is it going to be? Have times changed? Do tribes need to look at things differently? It is time. There is quite a bit of confusion as to what is the trust responsibility. Tribes are confused as well. They say, aren't you all government? They don't know where everybody stands. So I would call for a summit to clarify some of those issues. This conference is fruitful. Many of us begin things that die off, but it doesn't mean that they aren't helpful. Keep up with contacts.

Jerry Gidner, Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs

In my most recent position as Chief of Staff for the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, we talked about what our vision is. We sat at budget meetings and discussed who should get funding for an extra mile of road. We should be discussing billions.

Indian country needs to come together and decide what its own vision is and where we are going. My personal vision for the future: Native American tribes need to be united, not fighting about the past. We need to work together, work for each other as a community of nations. My feeling is that there is enough to go around. If one tribe has an economic venture, others should support it because a rising tide lifts all boats. Why aren't tribes buying large portions of America back? Why don't we buy the corporations that run America? Why don't we own 20% of AT&T? Why don't we own more of America? If tribes started a company, if the 20 richest tribes each went in on it, why couldn't we do that and build? We shouldn't limit ourselves to the reservations. We should run America. How many Native American senators have there been? We should be working to have more Natives in elected offices on all levels, President, Supreme Court, Fortune 500 companies. We should have a say. I think that would benefit us as we guide our tribes. We should lead America. We should be at the top of education. Why shouldn't our children be winning scholarships to Ivy League Schools? Why not? I think that is a conversation that the Native Community should have with itself.

Jerry Cordova, Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management

This is one of those gatherings that everyone says should happen. I'd like to start from the perspective of a Native growing up on Taos Pueblo in New Mexico. I attended a Bureau of Indian Affairs school. The U.S. expropriated all forest lands that didn't have a clear title to anyone to the national forest system. This included lands around the Pueblo. As a child, I thought I couldn't wander the forest without permission, yet the boy scouts would come marching out down the mountains, going straight through the middle of the Pueblo. I was told, in time, you will learn. It took 64 years before the tribe could reclaim those lands. It happened because of an amazing press campaign that merged churches, etc. While I was in the army, I had all of my buddies write to their congressperson to give the Blue Lake back to the pueblo. Eventually, the dream was realized.

But there was an obstinate government agent that would require our tribal leader to get a permit to allow us to go into the forest on a pilgrimage that had happened every year for centuries. It is not like that any more.

As a fed, I have seen both sides. This is what has tempered me. I consider myself a consultant on Indian Affairs within my bureau. I put myself in the position to coordinate because they have the resources. When someone wants to put in a permit to develop energy sources, it goes through the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). We try to work to the best of our ability with our sister organizations. We sign the permits; the Bureau of Indian Affairs ensures the allottees (individual Indian landowners) are being taken care of under that trust responsibility. BLM also does the cadastral surveys on all Indian lands and all U.S. lands.

When tribal leaders ask about our duties regarding tribal affairs, contracting and compacting come up. They are disappointed that we do not have the contract support dollars that BIA or the Indian Health Service has. But we want tribes to work with us through Memoranda of Understanding or in other ways. We can still conduct that government-to-government relationship in land management and other ways.

Even in the Southeast, where it was the government policy to remove every vestige of Indian occupation, the spirits of the people who lived and died still there remain. That is why we have to consult with them. They still have treaties. As James Hesbrook said, it cannot be denied that it is written. This country is honor bound to respect the fact that Indian people used to live here. They gave up their livelihood so this country could become what it is.

The least we can do is to make sure that there are no bodies buried before we turn over the first spadeful of earth. If it takes a little time out of our busy schedules, so be it.

There is a Department of the Interior policy that Natives must be taken into account in everything we do.

There will be a tribal-specific hand book that will have a section on reburial of remains. This has always been a sticking point with BLM. If we can get the policies out, that would be great.

We are trying to function in both worlds. If you grew up in a tribal community, you bring the respect to all life, the importance of clean water, clean air, you bring that to the table with you. Agency guidelines were all drafted for a purpose. In this country, Indians should not be the least of the American citizens. The federal government has a duty to consult. There should be no question in any fed's mind why we should consult with tribes. It is a duty; that means you carry it out. If you are unsure, research it and find out why it is our duty.

If you have a question, come to one of us; we may know someone who has the information you are seeking. Nobody should be confused about any aspect of dealing with Indian tribes. There are many of us around in the government, Indian and non-Indian alike, that have dedicated their lives to working with Indians.

Audience question: As to the DOI sacred sites policy, who is heading that and when do you expect that be introduced?

JC Response: I don't know who is spearheading it; it is in the immediate Office of the Secretary now. It is at a high level and should be ready to be issued.

Audience question: Can you give some specific example of where government-to-government consultation worked well?

JC Response: The fire in Los Alamos in 2000. The Forest Service burned brush, and started a huge fire. There were 6 tribes involved. The first thing was to apologize, and then ask how to fix it. There were extremes on either end. The task had to be accomplished in two years. I spent about six weeks just talking and listening to tribes on all of their concerns, not just about the fire. It turned out that the tribes didn't want to tell where the sacred sites were. We didn't go in with an answer. Because the government started out guilty for starting the fire, it was a little more humble with its relationship with the tribes. Sometimes the government comes in very heavy-handed. The tribes know that once we make a decision, there is little they can do. So the humbleness helped. Maybe that attitude needs to flow through.

This isn't specific, but is a dichotomy. At the national level, often the government thinks there has been consultation but no one else does. Consultation works best with day-to-day regional conversations. National and controversial situations make it more difficult to consult.

Any lesson? Maybe, limited by severe timeline. Often a tribe will say, there is not enough info, but if we develop beforehand, they will say there is not enough consultation.

My tribe owns land along the Rio Grande. BLM wanted to develop a recreational area, but needed the tribe's agreement. The tribe had discouraged any trespassing because this was a prime area for hunting an important bird. Eventually there was an agreement that included joint oversight, native employees, profit sharing, etc. Tribal consultation resulted in a win-win situation.

Audience question: To what extent have you used third-party neutrals in the consultation process?

JC response: I have never used neutrals, but if someone has greater expertise, it could expedite a process.

Audience response: We use neutrals in mediations of disputes. We had an issue with state, tribal, local, and DoD parties. Someone suggested using a facilitator chosen by the tribe. It certainly helped us resolved a lot of issues.

Additional audience response: We had an issue involving a sacred valley. An energy company had legally purchased the land. The National Trust for Historic Preservation stepped in. The energy company assigned the leases to the Trust. This is something that would not have come to pass otherwise because of the animus between the tribe and the company.

Additional audience response: We have looked at our experience with negotiated rulemakings with tribes. One thing we found that had always worked was to use a facilitator. The facilitator went out first and spoke with tribe and kept records. They were accountable not only to us but to everyone involved. The parties could trust the facilitator instead of each other. It upped the credibility. We might want to have a brown bag session on using facilitators in consultation.

Additional audience response: A conversation my agency has had is how neutral can we be if we are the ones working on it? In a case is initiated by a tribe, the state was reluctant to come into it. Having a team of facilitators made it a situation the state could enter more comfortably.

Audience comment: Culture, consultation, conflict. All are dynamic; all ask the same question: Hhow do we get to a better place?

Additional audience comment: Mediators spend a lot of time on the phone hearing all of the voices, all of the venting. The phone is an important tool to sift out the dirt and find a gem. Even when the outcome is unsuccessful, the relationship is enhanced. Maybe the next time they can work it out. It is not forceful. Then we have private meetings on their turf -- show common courtesy and respect. They can have better access to their resources. People also need to be able to be comfortable with their mediator. Don't be afraid to admit that you don't know what to do, look at it as an opportunity to learn more. Mediation can help people acknowledge the past, look toward the future. No criticism is allowed; we are always trying to shed egos, let each see where the other is coming from.

Comment from Sarah Palmer: The U.S. Institute is developing a Native Dispute Resolution Network. The Network consists of dispute resolution practitioners who may or may not be Native, but who have experience working in Indian Country. They may do facilitation, consensus building, collaboration. They may use their own traditional processes. The tribes are looking for people who understand tribal interests. We are having training in July of 2005.