Ingenuity in Indian Country
WHEN THE HONORING NATIONS PROGRAM began, staffers worried if there was enough going on in Indian Country to sustain a robust awards program. As the national initiative celebrates its 10th anniversary, there's no lack of ingenuity.
Since 1990, American Indian tribes -- both those with gaming industries and those without -- have been growing at three times the rate of the U.S. economy, according to U.S. census data.
"Indian Nations are serving their citizens in really meaningful ways," says Amy Besaw, director of Honoring Nations."Tribes have grown in their sophistication. Tribal enterprises have helped build better schools, better roads, and better safety for their citizens."
For example, in the case of one recent honoree, checkerboard jurisdiction between the city of Flandreau, South Dakota, and the Santee Sioux Nation resulted in an ineffective approach to law enforcement. The tribe partnered up with local police and the legal community to create a jointly run Public Safety Commission. The result has been a 100 percent increase in DUI arrests and an increase in crime reporting.
Honoring Nations is a program of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development (HPAIED), a brainchild of Kennedy School Professor Joseph Kalt and Stephen Cornell of the University of Arizona, founded in 1987. Housed at the school's Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy, the project seeks to understand and foster conditions under which sustained economic development is achieved.
Since 1824, Native Americans have been governed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (and before that by other U.S. governmental entities) in what Kalt describes as a relationship of "simmering hostility." HPAIED believes the linchpin for success in Indian Country is self-governance and self-determination, while honoring tribal sovereignty and culture.
"Sovereignty has proven to be the only federal policy
that has worked to begin to turn around decades of social injustice and poverty in indigenous people," says Kalt. "It improves accountability and decision making. Tribal leaders are now responsible for their people, rather than Washington."
After years of neglect, the Lummi Nation took over its sewer and water treatment from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The tribe serves 5,000 residents and operates four wells and two storage reservoirs, along with two wastewater treatment plants.
The goal of the Honoring Nations awards program is to celebrate successes and to share lessons learned with other nations. But the ideas are flourishing beyond the 560 Indian nations in this country.
In Chelsea, Massachusetts, a nonprofit youth agency, ROCA Inc. is using peacemaking circles, a common cultural practice in Indian Country. When used in alternative sentencing, a peacemaking circle includes the victim of a crime, the defendant, families, police, and court authorities. The notion is that a crime is perpetrated against a community, and the circle works to make the community whole.
Interest in the success among American Indian nations has also been noted internationally. An awards program, modeled on Honoring Nations, has been created in Australia to address issues of sovereignty among aborigines.
"Increasing interest arises because of these successes among American Indians about how to operationalize -- in a culturally appropriate way, in their own constitution, in their laws,
in their programs. Local buy-in matters." says Kalt. "This is a question of interest from Africa to Iraq." -- MDM
To learn more about Honoring Nations, go to http://www.ksg.harvard.edu/hpaied/hn_main.htm