NNI Tribal and Direct Services Provides Governance Training to Northwest Tribal Leaders in Partnership with Evergreen State College

April 4, 2023

The two-and-a-half day training session was designed with help from a steering committee of veteran tribal leaders and was well-received by all in attendance.

Session attendees sit around a round table with a white table cloth as they work to fill in yellow note cards to present to the larger group.

Attendees work together to brainstorm ideas during a group project session of the training.

The Native Nations Institute’s (NNI) Tribal and Direct Services (TDS) program joined forces with Evergreen State College (ESC) last month to provide governance training to 30 elected tribal leaders from 11 Native nations in the Pacific Northwest region. 

As a result of ESC meetings with Northwest tribal leaders in 2022 to determine how the college could better provide for the needs of Native nations in their service area, it became clear that training specifically tailored to elected tribal council members was needed. 

The result was the genesis of ESC’s Elected Tribal Official Academy training program launched earlier this year.

Education for Elected Leaders

Attendees seated at round tables in a cabin-style banquet hall on the homelands of the Tulalip Tribe.

Attendees seated at round tables in a cabin-style banquet hall on the homelands of the Tulalip Tribe.

ESC reached out to NNI for help developing the curriculum for the first phase of their new training program. Drawing from the content the TDS team had begun compiling for an upcoming Emerging Leaders Seminar, NNI researchers and tribal governance experts constructed a custom curriculum titled Roles and Responsibilities of Tribes and Officials for part one of ESC’s new academy.

NNI Executive Director Joan Timeche and Research Director Miriam Jorgensen traveled to the homelands of the Tulalip Tribe, about 30 miles north of Seattle, to deliver the content to local tribal leaders from Washington and Oregon on February 7-9, 2023.

The content was broken out into 14 individual sessions – a mix of lectures, exercises, discussions, and small group work – presented over the course of two and a half days of training and discussion. Topics covered included “Native Nation Rebuilding: Strengthening Tribal Governance,” “Typical Duties of a Governing Official,” “Making Law” and more. Participants also brainstormed key challenges they faced and possible solutions they might implement upon their return.

According to Timeche, who has been educating tribal leaders and citizens on subjects like the roles that elected officials play in tribal governments for two decades, the need to train newly elected leadership before or soon after they take office is paramount.

“It’s a big commitment when one becomes an elected leader.” Timeche says. The seminar focused on providing the tribal leaders with knowledge and tools to address the fundamental challenges of leadership and understanding the critical role leaders play in developing their nation’s political and legal infrastructures. “NNI has found it is essential that tribal leaders have clear goals, clear rules, and clear roles to achieve their vision – and for their staff and citizens to know and understand them.” 

And, with more than twenty years working with nearly 250 tribes across North America, few institutions are positioned to provide that training like NNI’s TDS team.

Local Insight and Experience

Four tribal leaders sit at a long table with a black table cloth in front of a projector screen and next to a black podium.

A steering committee of four veteran tribal leaders help shape the course content and guided discourse during discussions.

In addition to instructional support from University of Washington Native American Law Center Director Monte Mills and Associate Director Eric Eberhard, the 2.5-day educational event also benefited from guidance and insight by a steering committee of four veteran tribal leaders from the area including Jamestown S’Kallam Tribal Chairman W. Ron Allen, Lummi Nation Council Member Henry Cagey, Tulalip Tribal Chairwoman Teri Gobin and Squaxin Island Tribal Chairman Kris Peters. According to NNI Executive Director Joan Timeche, the presence of the steering committee provided immeasurable value due to their ability to connect NNI’s content directly to the experiences of tribes in the region. 

More to Come

A snow-capped mountain rises above hills covered with evergreen trees with a rocky creek bed in the foreground.

Mt. Rainier as seen from Nisqually River near Cougar Rock Campground.

By all accounts, the leaders present for the educational session were engaged and eager to learn how to better serve their constituents. "You could tell that everybody who attended was there to learn," says Timeche, "They listened. The Participated. They asked questions. It wasn't just one-way instruction."

And that sentiment was echoed by attendees of the joint NNI-ESC session. 

“I had served on the Board for twelve years previously. I learned from former leaders and the tribal members that built our tribes. I don’t remember ever receiving formal training. It was an eye-opener and we are never too old to learn,” said Tulalip tribes board of directors secretary Debra Posey.

Other participants offered similar praise in the seminar evaluation. [It] far exceeded other trainings on leadership that have been attended,” said one anonymous attendee. “Very beneficial information to all that we as new leaders need to learn,” said another. 

Whether the content was all new or served primarily as a refresher for the leaders in the session, it seemed that the majority walked away feeling better prepared to lead their nations with renewed vigor after the training.

As a result, there have also been follow-up conversations about how NNI and ESC can work together to facilitate other trainings on things like nation building and tribal constitutions for tribal leaders in the area. 

For Native nations not in the Pacific Northwest area, NNI will be holding its Emerging Leaders Seminar in late August in the Phoenix area. If you are interested in this seminar, please contact NNI at nni@arizona.edu or visit the Emerging Leaders Seminar webpage here.