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Native Report – Season 11 Episode 4

Native Report – Season 11 Episode 4


On this edition
of “Native Report,” we attend the National
Training Program and the Society of American
Indian Government Employees. We learn about SAIGEs
Native Youth Track, designed to help Native students learn
about careers in the Federal government. Come down the
see Prairie Island and see what our history is. We interviewed the Prairie
Island Indian Community President, Ron Johnson. We also learn about
leadership in Indian country and hear from our elders on
this edition of “Native Report.” Production of “Native Report”
is made possible by grants from the Shakopee Mdewakanton
Sioux Community, the Blandin Foundation, and the Duluth
Superior Area Community Foundation [MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to “Native Report.” I’m Ernie Stevens. And I’m Rita Aspinwall. Formed in 2002, SAIGE is
the first national nonprofit organization representing
American Indian and Alaskan Native,
Federal, tribal, state, and local government employees. SAIGE hosts a week-long
national training program that focuses on
professional development and leadership. [BIRDS CHIRPING] For three days, Federal, state,
and local government workers plus college students
from across the United States are on the Prairie
Island Indian Community to attend the Society of
American Indian Government Employees National
Training Program. Our first training conference
was in Fort Lauderdale, and it was only 75
people that came– very small group– and
the next year was 150, and then it continued to grow,
and we just continue to evolve. Wherever we go,
we try to connect with our tribal communities
and hold our events in tribally owned
facilities and work with that particular tribe. So we’ve been to different
parts of the country. We’ve done that for
a reason and that’s to expose our attendees
to the different tribes. We’ve been to Alaska, we’ve
been to Washington State and Florida, across
the United States, and it’s an eye-opener for a lot
of people because, of course, they always classify
all of us as the same, and they find out that
it’s not the same. And so I think we’ve done a
lot of growing since that time, and we’ve got a really
great team of workers that were all volunteers. And we all work
together closely, and we’re all
professional, so we all work collectively together. In my particular agency, which
is Department of Interior, there’s a lot of interactions
with Indian Nations and natural resources and
Tribal Trust and so on. And in becoming more
educated about these things, as I was spending more time
working in the government, I realized that there were
a lot of Federal workers whose responsibilities
in their jobs involved dealing
with Indian tribes and with their resources,
and they didn’t necessarily understand what the Federal
Trust responsibility relationship with
tribes really wass– what it meant, what
their role was, how they were supposed to be
doing their jobs to effectively implement the Trust
responsibility. There was a certain
point in 2000 where our local Federal
Executive Board would not allow us to do our own
Indian trainings anymore. They wanted to do one big
diversity training that encompassed all the
minorities and we’re like, well, that’s fine. We’ll participate
in that, but here are all the reasons why an
American Indian trainee is different. And it had to do with
the Trust responsibility, with the Trust resources,
pretty much all land-based. No other minorities
have those issues. It was in 2000, after
many email exchanges, that a group of
government employees decided that a nonprofit
should be formed. That status was
acquired in 2002. It just reached from people
from all different parts of the country, all
different Federal agencies, all different walks of life. I am so grateful
for all the people who’ve been involved with
SAIGE over the past 12 years or so– 14 years. We are here to really
promote American Indians, Alaskan Natives, not only
within the Federal workforce but also just to
know the topics that are of interest to Indian
people and to be able to go back your organization and say
this training is really unique and, because we
work with tribes, we really need to get
people to these trainings to learn what we
need to be doing. How do we interact
more effectively? I know it’s going to be a
wonderful week of really fabulous training. Each day offers different
breakout sessions, and they always
have a noted guest speaker at their luncheons,
such as Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs,
Kevin Washburn. Native American Veterans
of the Armed Services also have their own
track that addresses topical and timely issues. What is the Warrior Society? What is that? Well, the Warrior
Society is an inner group within SAIGE for our veterans
and current military members to join, to be able to
network and share ideas and share programs
and information, that are more particular to
veterans and our Ogichidaa, or warriors. By having a Warrior
Society and having members that either served or
are currently serving, we can help create
networks and help them find jobs or
employment or learn how to get schooling to get
employment in government. So we act as a network, and then
we also act as a support group amongst each other to
also share on health issues and veteran’s programs
that maybe not all veterans or currently serving
individuals are aware of, some which are our countrywide
and other ones which may be a little more
focused on Native veterans. The reason we formed the
Warrior Society is because there was no other nationwide
society or program that we were aware of, and so we
decided to form this group and try to build our membership
that everybody could feel welcome to, no matter
where they were at, which branch they served in,
what tribe they belonged to, but if they fit the
criteria of being a veteran, and if they were either
American Indian– you don’t need to
be Native American, but if you are Native
American or Alaskan Native, it’s even a little
more beneficial to you. We have a place for you. You can find that
camaraderie, you can find that network that may
benefit you and benefit those around you by joining SAIGE. Everybody has had gifts
that they’ve brought and have enriched the
organization so much, that it’s just a joy to watch. And every year it just
touches my heart so much, because I know that
we can support them and that we are
strong and there’s a place for them
with us in SAIGE and that we can help
make their lives better, and that’s really gratifying. [MUSIC PLAYING] As a clan mother,
I try to be kind, I try to help
others learn, I try to be open and approachable. And I also come from
history and influence from those colonizations that
everyone else has gone through and also from hurts and
things I’ve had to heal from. So certainly I’ve had to deal
with that within my own self. So the job really makes you
grow and heal as you come along and meet up with your
own– what is it– lacks, or my own problems that I carry. And we all have them,
we’re all human. It’s quite interesting
to be human, because humans are so
flexible and can understand from so many different
directions about life and about ways. And animals, they kind of
naturally know what they are, know who they are, and as
humans, we don’t always flow into that so well. And it’s funny, when they have
discussions about environment and stopping destruction because
people will lose their jobs. That’s a big thing always,
but when you think about it, humans are the most
flexible of creatures. We can always find another job. We can always build our
skills so we can find work. [MUSIC PLAYING] Each year, as a part of their
National Training Program, SAIGE sponsors a
Native Youth Track designed to provide
Native American students with an opportunity to learn
about careers in the Federal government and the positive
role Native employees can play in helping agencies better
fulfill the Federal Trust responsibility and honor
the unique Federal tribal relationship. For this select group
of college students, their involvement with the
Society of American Indian Government Employees
may prove beneficial when it comes time to think
about a career, specifically one with the Federal government. We had our first conference. There was one student there. We have 51 students
today for the conference, and those are all students
who were on a scholarship. What we do is we pay
for their airfare– I have one girl from
Barrow, Alaska– and then we pay for the
airfare, we pay for their hotel, we pay for the conference
fee for them to come. So it varies from
student to student. I think because they’re
our next generation. Those are the ones who are
going to be hopefully government employees for the
next generation. And I think they
need to know what it’s like to work for
the Federal government, know what opportunities
are there for them. A lot of times, the
students don’t even know what’s available to
them, and that’s important. So when they come to SAIGE,
they have different components. One is I have a leadership
training component where they learn about leadership
skills and how to apply it in their
community and at school, and then we have a
component where they learn about the Federal government. We’ll have different agencies
speak to them about what opportunities are available,
or maybe they don’t even know with whatever major
they’re in that maybe there is a job for them in
the Federal government. The conference offers
students the opportunity to explore careers within
the Federal government. It is also an
opportunity to learn about other Native
nations and possibly a bit about themselves. One of the seminars
was that we got together and we were to discuss our
issues on our reservations and, come to my
surprise, a bunch of our Native American
people have the same issues, the same issues that
we have on Navajo. And it really surprised
me, and there’s so many different issues on
our reservation, so big. But as these young
men, we can do something– or young
people– we can do something at the grassroots
level to start. So I decided from Sehli,
Arizona all the way to Kayenta, my hometown
where I grew up, I decided I was
going pick up trash, and I was going to go
through Chinle and all these main towns,
because that’s kind of where I hitchhike through. And so I planned it for 16
days, and it was 96 miles, and we picked up
trash for two weeks. It made me feel like I was
actually making a difference, and that’s kind of
the biggest thing that this conference
has done for me, is showed me that I’m not
just some little Native American from this res town. I can actually be somebody
and do something with my life. My first time here, I
was very apprehensive. I was kind of scared,
I was very shy. I kind of sat in the
back and just observed what went on, and then
probably about two days later, I was up doing everything
with everybody else. I was mingling with a lot
of the members of SAIGE, and you’ve just got
to get out there, and you never know
unless you try. These members give
you so much motivation to want to keep going forward. You meet a lot of younger kids
that it’s their first year here, and you’re giving
them that motivation, and they’re giving you
the same thing back. This whole conference just
gives you that step forward and that little push to become
an actual number of the Society of American Indian Government. You want to go
out there, and you want to work for our people. It makes me want
to give it my all. These future leaders also
heard from participants who shared what they have
learned while attending past conferences and how
SAIGE influenced their career decisions. Last year I had the opportunity
to present to the Youth Track as well as an
opportunity to present during the main conference,
and then this year I was able to work with
the Youth Track as well. So my understanding, the
way that SAIGE is built was– or for Youth Track, it
was to get some of our kids involved in order to get them
involved in some of the degree programs that they
need to be in for now, so that way they’re ready
whenever they do graduate to go into some of these
jobs that will be open, because a lot of our people
that have been in some of these higher ups,
they’re beginning to retire, so we need more
people to be involved. I really owe a lot to SAIGE. I feel like it really
kind of helped shape me, and I would really
just encourage anyone to be able to take advantage
of every opportunity. If not here, there’s
other programs out there, but if you
get a chance to be able to be a part of SAIGE. What I hope is that they have
the confidence, first of all, to know that they can
accomplish their goals, and sometimes that confidence
just comes from a speaker, it may come from myself, it may
come from another government employee. They’re at the point in
their life and thinking, do I really have–
am I really able to do this, am I
able to do my career, am I able to do the goals? I can even see the students who
have accomplished their goals and are out there
working right now and have gone beyond what
they expected they would be. If you talk to some of
those students they say, you know that little
conference I went to at SAIGE? That’s just what I
needed to get through. It’s just the confidence
that I needed to know, maybe I can do this. There are so many students–
I can go by and tell you the names and stuff, who
have accomplished so much, and they will tell you that
SAIGE is that one conference that helped them, that they
were able to apply what they’ve learned into their own personal
life and into their community. [MUSIC PLAYING] I’ve been sitting here
for 48 years in this title, as the clan mother asked me
if I could come back and help, and I was in New
York at the time. That was a big sacrifice. That was a big sacrifice. You know, if your partner or
your wife isn’t agreeable, then you have a problem. So the sacrifice with
this kind of leadership is really serious, because
you’re always away from home. You’re always travelling. So your kids, where’s dad? When’s he coming home? Big sacrifice, and it’s
for your whole life, so you really have to be
careful when you say I’ll try. And that’s about all
you can do, but I think the genius of the
system is the woman’s choice. The genius is the
woman’s choice, because she’s choosing
this person for something that a man would not
choose the woman for. I made a choice. Then the balance comes, of
course, from the consensus– not a vote, a consensus. And so if you agree, then our
younger brothers, the Cayugas, the Oneidas, and the Tuscaroras
will pick the time, the place, and the speakers. They all gather at
the Great Condolence, and this person will now be
judged by the Sixth Nation. And they can say no,
and if they say no, then you’ve got to
go all the way back, and it’s going to be
harder the second time. So the clan mother’s got
to make a choice that’s going to be a solid choice. [MUSIC PLAYING] One band of the
Mdewakanton and Sioux have lived on Prairie Island
for countless generations. Today, the Prairie
Island Indian community is Goodhue County’s
largest employer and an important contributor
to Minnesota’s economy. We sat down with Council
President, Ron Johnson, to learn more. It is the opening
session of the Society of American Indian government.
employees National Training Program and President Ron
Johnson of the Prairie Island Indian community welcomes
conference attendees. The reservation is located
in Southern Minnesota along the Mississippi River. We’re about 960. More than half of that
is young youth under 18. We’re about, I’d say about maybe
460 or maybe 450 on the adults here. So we have a little
boom in youth here, but it’s great that we’re
seeing the tribal communities growing here. We are offering land
assignments back. We did do a couple expansions
up on the upper island. We have Dakota Circle
and [INAUDIBLE] Circle, which are
almost full, and we’re going to open up
another development soon here that tribal
members are coming back home, and that’s a great thing to
see here at Prairie Island. My parents brought
me in this world. I was born here in Red Wing, but
we ended up moving to Florida, because he was educated under
the BIA, and a lot of people don’t understand that,
is that if you’re educated under the BIA,
it’s educate and relocate. So we had to move
to Florida, and that was very tough to move
from our home here. And we stayed there
for about 23 years and then came back here, home. Tribal elders have
approached me and said, we would like to see you
run for Tribal Council and see if you can bring
some of your knowledge. I have a marketing
and management degree, and I came back to
serve for the community and also to give my commitment
back to the community, as they gave a commitment
to me to be here today. It’s been a roller coaster
ride, but it’s been a great one, and it’s been a
learning experience. I’ve learned so much. NCAI, I was co-chair of
the Homeland Security along with Robert Holden. He was a part of NCAI,
and I would work with him. And I believe there’s a
chairwoman out of Arizona that was co-chair with me on
Homeland Security issues there, and we moved forward. Now, today I deal with the
nuclear issue with the tribe. As you see that there’s Xcel,
NSPs nuclear power plant 600 yards from
tribal lands here, so it is a concern to
the tribe and make sure that everything is in place. And not only with the plant,
I work with NRCs Region 3 and also with NRCs headquarters
out of Rockville, Maryland. The storage of spent fuel rods
at the Redwing Nuclear Power Plant is one issue President
Johnson and the Tribal Council must deal with. Another is the issue of
Indian gaming in the state. There’s hurdles, and
you get those hurdles, and there are multiple hurdles. For instance, you have
the internet gaming, which has come up, or you
don’t know the future of gaming in the state of Minnesota. There’s always talk of
expansion in gaming. So it makes us stay on
our toes, to not only work with other tribes in the
state here but also work with the state legislators
and the governor. You want to make sure
that you protect that. I always say this,
it’s hard for tribes because we have a
compact by the state, but the Federal
government has regulations over what we do as tribes
through consultation and the NIGC and
IGRA and all that. So in the State of Minnesota,
we have to carry that with us, and I always say walk
lightly with that and not upset any, to where
if an expansion of gaming does come, what does the
future hold for tribes in this State of Minnesota here? So I think that
the hardest thing is when you have turnover
in the state legislators, there’s new incumbents
that come in here aren’t educated on
Native Americans and what our culture
and our customs are, so I think there’s a barrier
between culture entities here. So we need to break
those barriers. As you know, we’ve
got a nuclear power plant that is 600 yards
from the tribal nation here. The concern is that,
along with that, it’s been in operation
for 40 years. It’s just re-licensed to extend
another 20 years of operation. As the plant
produces power, it’s producing waste through
the spent fuel rods. Spent fuel rods are
then off-loaded and put into dry cask containers and
they are, right now today, are building up on the ISFSI,
which is the Independent Spent Fuel Storage out there. So the concern is
the tribal nations, when is that going to move? There’s Yucca Mountain, there’s
the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, which is Federal law, is
out there to remove this waste and, until that happens,
the concern to the community is how much longer is that
waste going to reside here? Now, the most recent issue
is Bakken crude trains are coming through Prairie Island. The rail runs right
through Prairie Island. That’s another concern
that we’re worried about. So there’s kind of like– now,
these are hurdles and barriers that we see, and I
just want to– need to take pay attention, not
only for Prairie Island, but other tribal
nations out there. It’s time for the
Federal government to step up and do their
fiduciary responsibility and take care of, not only
Native Americans, but everybody in this great country living. Being the leader of a
native nation is a big job, but President Johnson always has
time to offer a bit of advice for the young people
of Prairie Island. First of all,
respect your elders. Second of all,
respect your parents. In Indian country,
it’s tough when you have those outside barriers
that you’re trying to control. I think the best thing is to
take a deep breath, let it go, and be a family. That’s all I can say,
without really saying you should do this, this, this. I think that those
three values would equal one word– it’s called respect. Come down and see
Prairie Island, see what our history is. It’s rich, it’s in depth, and
there’s a lot of history here, and we have close to 100 head
of buffalo that we raise here. We offer tours. I know a lot of school
groups have come down and toured our Buffalo pasture. We’re bringing
back the cultural, not only for the dancing,
for the drumming, but also the language. So that’s something
that has gone away, and we hopefully can
refurbish that and bring it back and make it even stronger. For more information about
“Native Report” or the stories we’ve covered, look for us at
NativeReport.org, on Facebook, and on Twitter. Thank you for spending this time
with your friends and neighbors in Indian country. I’m Ernie Stevens. And I’m Rita Aspinwall. Join us next time
for “Native Report.” Rita Aspinwall is an enrolled
member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
and has a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work. Ernie Stevens is a member of
the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and serves on the
Board of Directors for the American Indian, Alaskan
Native Tourism Association. [MUSIC PLAYING] Production of “Native Report”
is made possible by grants from the Shakopee Mdewakanton
Sioux Community, the Blandin Foundation, and the Duluth
Superior Area Community Foundation. [MUSIC PLAYING]

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