National Congress president addresses future tribal leaders

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OLYMPIA, Wash. - Joe Garcia, governor of Ohkay Owingeh (formerly San Juan) Pueblo and president of the National Congress of American Indians, recently addressed students in the tribal governance concentration of The Evergreen State College's Master of Public Administration program to share with them his view on what it takes to lead in today's Indian country.

Garcia talked about modern leadership techniques through the eyes of his ancient teachings. After asking permission in his own language to speak before the class, he said, ''We didn't think of technology as we think of it today but we thought of it in our own way, our traditions, our languages, and our culture. That is technology in a different form. We've not incorporated those thoughts and ideas of who we are and where we come from into solutions that are so meaningful to Indian country. We've adapted to another world and that maybe the culprit to why we don't get the proper solutions.''

He explained that NCAI leadership was founded to protect sovereign rights. ''Sovereign rights are what the Creator bestowed upon us at birth. It was not given to us by another nation. It is the driving force behind the passion. If it weren't for sovereign rights, we'd be less involved because it would be just a game. We are sovereign and we ought to act like it.''

He continued by presenting an ancient model of sovereignty depicting the core of life as tribal clans: ''This core has a protective boundary that should never be penetrated because the changes in our spiritual responsibility for life would become a mesh of oddness with no sense of realism to Mother Earth as we know it.''

These types of traditional educational tools are what Evergreen incorporates into its modes of teaching. Faculty member Alan Parker, Cree and former consul for the U.S. Senate, said, ''Governor Garcia's presentation was so powerful because his vision of tribal sovereignty is entirely unique in its understanding that if the sacred core of who we are is breached, we will all be destroyed, and it must be protected at all costs.

''What we are doing in this program of advanced studies in tribal governance equips our students with knowledge and skills that enable them to serve as leaders. Most tribal governance courses are the nuts and bolts of administration and are taught at a junior college level. The universities talk about it from a political science or history perspective as opposed to our applied learning perspective. Our students are actually engaged in the field of tribal affairs and can have a real impact in changing the course of government.''

The two-year program, first implemented in 2002, was the vision of a Quinault leader, Joe de la Cruz. He wanted a recognized institution of learning to teach his people how to govern their sovereign nations in the 21st century. Parker, along with fellow faculty member Linda Moon Stumpff, Apache, presented the idea to the State Higher Education Coordinating Board and won approval for the new degree.

According to the college's Web site, ''No other college or university in the US currently offers such an advanced degree or professional credentials that reflect in-depth specialization in contemporary tribal governance subject areas.''

Student Erin Moren, Wichita, underscored the program's intent. ''I wanted a master's program to enhance the work I do. At other schools we studied public administration using organizations and government agencies that had nothing to do with tribes. Trying to understand a system that tribes don't work in wasn't helpful. Governor Garcia's concepts exemplify how the program teaches administration of tribal governments in relationship to the federal government.''

Garcia ended his lecture by reiterating his understanding of why it is so important to have educational institutions that address the needs of the Indian minds.

''Beyond the core of sacred medicine clans is the general population of humans and other creations,'' he said. ''This has a boundary, too, that must be protected from penetration and that is the job of the people, governments and tribal governments. If we can maintain that, 'we will live forever and a day.'''