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M.A. Program in Tribal Governance Goes Online in 2014

The University of Minnesota Duluth's master of tribal administration and governance program will be accessible to all of Indian country online in 2014

On May 16, 2013, the University of Minnesota Duluth graduated its first 22 students from the master of tribal administration and governance (MTAG) program. Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn spoke at the commencement exercises of the first MTAG cohort.

Armed with in-depth knowledge of tribal law, sovereignty, leadership, strategic planning, human resources, operations and project management, these graduates personify the vision of regional tribal leaders and elders who were consulted on the design of the program. The critical role of tribal consultation not only ensures that the academic needs of tribes are met, but also creates a partnership that solidifies the program’s legitimacy and relevance throughout Indian country.

Tribal Consultation and Collaboration

Developed by UMD through extensive consultation sessions from 2009 to 2011, ideas for the MTAG program came from tribal administrators, tribal elected officials, and tribal organizations in Minnesota and throughout the Midwest. Tribal governments shared their ideas and affirmed that there is a need for partnerships between Indian tribes and universities to assist in training tribal administrators. Tribal input led UMD to the conclusion that tribal governments need and want an applied degree—one that deals with the daily realities of reservation life. When the program plan was completed, the Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes, which includes the 35 tribes of Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, executed a resolution of support for the MTAG program.

Brett Groehler/UMD

Kevin K. Washburn, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs for the U.S. Department of the Interior, delivering the featured commencement address at UMD’s graduate program commencement ceremony held May 16, 2013.

Program Design

The program seeks to train future American Indian tribal leaders and managers through coursework grounded in ethics. It focuses on tribal governance and the management issues encountered on a reservation as well as the complex relations among tribal, state and the federal governments. The curriculum includes classes on principles of tribal sovereignty; tribal budgets, finance and accounting; principles of tribal management; federal Indian law; and leadership and ethics.

Students in the program may already serve as tribal administrators, council members or tribal leaders. The curriculum is based on the roles that tribal administrators, leaders and professionals play in formal and informal situations that support tribal sovereignty and self-determination. Traditional language and culture is an important thread throughout the program.

Online Format

The original two-year program, which began in the fall of 2011, featured an online format as well as five face-to-face meetings at the UMD campus a semester. Interaction with experts in each area of the curriculum includes special guests. The classes at UMD were offered from Friday night until Saturday afternoon. In order to accommodate working professionals and support existing commitments to families and home communities, a large portion of the program was offered online.

“The low-residency schedule was essential to allow American Indian tribal members from throughout the Midwest to attend,” said Professor Tadd Johnson, director of the MTAG program.

Brett Groehler/UMD

“The MTAG program has been the perfect vehicle for me to learn about tribal administration and governance while still being able to commit the necessary time to stay active with my family life, my work, and my community involvement. The program design has been successful in improving both my breadth and depth of knowledge in Indian law, sovereignty, tribal management, and ethics,” said Joe S., Nayquonabe, MBA University of Minnesota, MTAG University of Minnesota Duluth.

The Future

The MTAG program will be taking the bold step of making it accessible to all of Indian country through the Internet.

“We have had scores of inquiries from individuals on reservations from North Carolina to the Southwest to Alaska Native villages,” Johnson said. “We believe that by going completely online, we will enable a lot of folks to enroll in the MTAG program across all of Indian country that otherwise could not.”

Applications for the MTAG cohort that begins the in the fall of 2014 can be found online at

RELATED: Mastering Tribal Governance

Ed Minnema is an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth and teaches in the MTAG program.