This summer the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota has taken a stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which when built would convey thousands of gallons of crude oil across the Dakotas, Iowa and Illinois, across sovereign Indian nations. Standing Rock is a sovereign nation and argues that they should have been consulted prior to any approval of the pipeline. According to the National Congress of American Indians, “Self-government is essential if tribal communities are to continue to protect their unique cultures and identities. Tribes have the inherent power to govern all matters involving their members, as well as a range of issues in Indian Country.” The current issues with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Dakota Access Pipeline are a good example of how the tribe can exercise their sovereign rights and why these rights are so important to the tribes.
To further their effort, a group of youth from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe embarked on a 2,000-mile long spiritual relay run from their home in North Dakota to Washington, DC with the intention of delivering a petition to President Barack Obama containing 160,000 signatures opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline. At that time, the US Army Corps of Engineers had approved the development of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would run beneath the Missouri River and along other historically significant sacred sites. The river is the main water source for the Standing Rock community. The tribe is concerned about contamination of their only supply of drinking water and the destruction of ancient burial grounds.
As these events continue to unfold, I find myself contemplating how I am engaging tribal communities in my work as a program coordinator. I am challenged to consider how sovereignty affects the development of partnership. While reflecting on the experiences I have had, I am able to identify some of the strategies that have been used to develop the partnership between the educational institution I work for and the tribe in which I am trying to build programming:
Offering resources and opportunities
Rather than saying, “This is what I can do for you,” I say, “This is what resources and opportunities are available.” This approach opens the door to discussing how the programs may take shape in the community and allows the tribe to maintain control over what opportunities they wish to pursue.
Both the tribe and educational institution have policies to inform how they operate. At times, these policies don't align. When this happens, the policies are discussed in ways that identify what will work better and how we can navigate the policy together.
Joint decision making
Each side of the partnership has needs and it is important to respect those needs by keeping an open-dialogue and allowing decisions to be made together. When an aspect of the program needs to be changed, improved or better supported, partners must consult each other before making decisions.
Have you developed programming with a new or diverse population? What strategies did you use that succeeded?
American Indian youth programs
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