Note: The Academy of Tribal & Local Government will be exhibiting in Booth #418 at the 66th annual National Congress of American Indians conference next week.
We seem to see the same headlines virtually every day: federally-recognized tribal governments exercising their sovereign right to create viable economic development, building roads or schools, reclaiming ancestral lands, while neighboring local and county governments raise a ruckus and file lawsuits. The unending cycle creates animosity between governments and is unhealthy for both sides.
Of course, there are always two sides to every story. In this sometimes acrimonious atmosphere, we often forget that local government officials are elected or appointed to best serve their own constituents, just as members of tribal councils, business committees and other tribal governing bodies do.
While many tribes have their own tales of conflict with local municipalities and county governments, the truth is the majority of these conflicts could well have been avoided through improved communication and mutual respect.
In the “court of public opinion” stereotypes unfortunately often win the day. Indians are typecast as greedy and even antagonistic, while local governments are often portrayed as oppressive, unfeeling, and even racist toward tribes. In 99.9% of these cases, such portrayals fall short of the truth.
That is why I have always believed, and experience has borne out, that with open communication, respect and understanding of different traditions come a decrease of prejudice, discrimination and untruths on both sides of these arguments.
That is why we founded the Academy of Tribal & Local Government with the goal of fostering and advancing communications and relations between elected leaders of governments of all levels, from Native American tribal governments and Alaska Native Villages, to municipalities, counties, townships and parishes, to state and federal governments.
The Academy offers training and solutions designed to help tribal governments find common ground and build lasting bridges of understanding with neighboring cities and towns to help them operate more efficiently and in the best interest of their respective communities.
Our Tribal Management Certificate curriculum includes courses in Indian law and history, sovereignty, intergovernmental relations, business management, economic development and public relations. We offer tribes tailor-made programs that address their goals and needs in dealing with government at the federal, state and local levels.
We also bring our expertise directly to the tribes themselves: our programs are presented on-reservations, creating a comfortable, intimate learning environment.
The Academy also focuses on the importance of internal communications by providing training in Tribal government and business management. As Tribal employees are valuable ambassadors for tribal nations, the Academy provides Tribal employees with instruction about their employer’s history, culture, constitutions and law, giving them the background knowledge to serve the Tribe effectively.
Tribal employees especially are invaluable ambassadors for tribal nations. They’re on the front lines, interacting with the general public every day and often representing the public’s first impression of a tribe. If a tribal employee is able to tell a Tribe’s story to the outside world in an accurate manner, I believe negative perceptions can change.
As the former chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, I am particularly proud of our faculty, which includes the best, and the brightest academics, legal minds and other experts with more than 200 years of collective academic and professional experience in Indian Country.
While our faculty members offer unmatched experience in Indian Country, they also are renowned in local government and public policy matters nationwide. The Academy’s custom multi-day, one day and half-day immersion seminars for municipal and county leaders include valuable insight into tribal governments, Indian law and regulatory matters, and the unique Constitutionally-protected relationship between tribes and the federal government.
We also have established the ATLG Certified Vendor Program, which will offer vendors a better understanding in areas including Native American affairs, tribal government structure, sovereignty, Indian law, cultural sensitivity, and more.
President Harry Truman once famously quipped: “It is understanding that gives us an ability to have peace. When we understand the other fellow's viewpoint, and he understands ours, then we can sit down and work out our differences.” His words are still true today.
Our nation is in the midst of a difficult time when governments on all levels must work together. The Academy of Tribal and Local Government is here to facilitate and foster working relationships and greater understanding between governments, in turn allowing them to serve better their communities.
Deron Marquez is a Co-Founder of the Academy of Tribal & Local Government and former Chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians.
NCAI heads to Palm Springs for conference