Tribal Government & News

Summit assesses state-Tribal relationships

11.30.2011 Dean Rhodes State government

LINCOLN CITY - The posting of national, state, military and Tribal flags opened the Government-to-Government Summit on Nov. 15 at Chinook Winds Casino.

The Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians hosted this year's event and the flags were carried alternately by state and Tribal leaders as the Siletz drum, West Coast Boys, played to open a full day of meetings.

This was the 13th annual conference initiated by Gov. John Kitzhaber with Executive Order 96-30 during his first term as Oregon governor.

"This is far more than a statutory obligation," Kitzhaber said. "For me, it is a deep personal obligation."

One theme that speakers returned to again and again was the value of "mutual respect and trust," in the governor's words.

Developed over time, state and Tribal governments have each recognized the extra work required to continually train leaders and staff members who take over leadership positions.

"How do we bridge the gap when we have changing Tribal Council members and changing state officials?" asked Delores Pigsley, chairwoman of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians. "How do we set in policy the way we're going to work together?"

"It is up to us to continue to work on these relationships," said Grand Ronde Tribal Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy.

And related to that was an oft-cited criticism that state policies often fail to reach local level state employees.

"We've grown a lot in last 25 years," said Burns Paiute Tribal Council member Charlotte Roderique. "In the last 15 years, (96-30) has made it easier to work with state agencies. A drawback: maybe the state people aren't as informed about the bill as they should be, but program by program, it is different."

"There is a disconnect," Kitzhaber said, "between people on the ground and agency directors."

Other summit themes included Tribes' unsuccessful efforts, over almost 20 years, to fund a state position dedicated to Tribal Education. The position exists, but was defunded in the early 1990s, said Tribal member and Tribal Education Department Manager April Campbell. What that means for Tribes, she said, is "we're missing out on having a voice in state policies that affect our Native student population."

The position would keep Tribes informed as the Oregon Education Department considers policies affecting Tribes, specifically, said Kennedy, "an Indian Education specialist at Oregon Department of Education that would assist in revising and implementing the American Indian/Native Alaskan Indian Education State Plan (for Oregon)."

"Unfortunately, with Oregon in this difficult budget situation, it always comes down to funding," said Grand Ronde Tribal member and Tribal lobbyist Justin Martin. "While everyone agrees about the importance of this position, we also know and understand the economic problems that Oregon is facing. We are hopeful that at some point in the immediate future our cooperative efforts with the Department of Education will lead to a creative solution to get something done."  

Health care is another area of concern to Tribes, Kennedy said.

"We appreciate the work Dr. (Bruce) Goldberg (director of the Oregon Health Authority) has done, but it is a two-tier program. It must allow Tribes to be on equal footing." Kennedy said Tribes are looking for "one vehicle for compacting dollars available for Tribes. Pass through dollars should be treated as pass through."

Tribal leaders brought lists detailing successes and failures in their Tribal relations with state agencies.

On the Oregon Health Plan redesign, Kennedy reported in the list she submitted to Kitzhaber, "State held a committee with stakeholders, community partners, but Tribes were not included in the initial conversation and committee until well into the process after Coordinated Care Organizations were decided on. The Tribes didn't get to express any concerns or issues until after decisions had already been made. Because a large number of Natives have OHP and also use Tribal facilities, it does have a large impact to Tribes. It would be helpful when the state has conversations, planning, coordinating and collaborations that Oregon Tribes are consulted and brought in from the beginning."

"There seems to be a clear priority to use federal funds for state projects," said Kennedy. "Tribal funds come from those federal dollars; we'd like to see a portion go to Tribes."

In that regard, Kennedy reported, "Our experience with state parks has been less favorable. We have applied twice to the state Recreational Trails Program to develop trails open to the public. There seems to be a clear priority to use the funds for state projects. … The RTP funds come from federal dollars. We would like to see a portion of those funds going to Tribes."

"It is critical," Kitzhaber said, "that we rethink our models and make sure they still make sense."

On the other hand, there are bright spots throughout the government-to-government relations.

Lincoln County Commissioner Terry Thompson said that the county's relationship with the Siletz Tribe is "one of the greatest relationships."

When getting started years ago, Thompson said, "We had to find common ground, so one of the first things they did was take negativity out of the room. One of the big steps forward, we took the lawyers out of the room."

Cottage Grove Mayor Gary Williams, who said his people had "only been in Oregon for six generations," described that city's work with Natives as "incremental, small steps," such as "naming streets with Native American names."

Many Tribal leaders had high praise for the Oregon Department of Transportation in its government-to-government responsibilities. In fact, Kennedy reported to Kitzhaber that she thought it would be a good idea to "evaluate the model used by ODOT and look at expanding this to other agencies."

ODOT, she said, "meets with Tribal staff at least twice yearly (outside the cluster meetings), they send an overview of projects well in advance of this meeting so Tribal staff aren't overwhelmed, they take good notes at the meetings and make sure they understand Tribal concerns, and most importantly, they follow up on these concerns to make sure they are addressed in the actual projects."

And, in fact, there were many areas where Tribes in general and the Grand Ronde Tribe in particular had high praise for the government-to-government relationships.

In the area of Vocational Rehabilitation, Kennedy reported, "We have established and maintained a great working relationship with our state counterparts."

In the Natural Resources area, "The Youth Conservation Corps remains a great partnership," she reported. "The cluster meetings have been beneficial."

The tables at the conference were set up so that people in related areas sat together. Like many at the conference, Grand Ronde Tribal member and Tribal Natural Resources Manager Mike Wilson has been impressed with government-to-government opportunities to network.

"We talked about lamprey work, water quality and climate change - how the tribes and state can work together on issues of importance such as these," Wilson said.

In Culture, Kennedy reported that the state Medical Examiner "worked well with Tribes to create the training video for human remains."

Tribal school curriculum has been updated to reflect the Native experience, she reported, but "there are almost no school districts offering that as a part of their fourth-grade units. As such the state is not fulfilling this need."

With the Oregon Youth Authority, she reported, "For the past 10 years we have maintained open dialogue regarding the care and custody of our Tribal youth and all incarcerated Native youth in Oregon. We have developed a tracking system and notification system for Native incarcerated youth. We have developed transitional services for Tribal youth coming out of incarceration."

For adult inmates, however, Department of Corrections' Religious Services Administrator Gary Sims said that the picture is not so pretty. His perception is that "once you've fallen in many Native communities, you've disgraced the community and should not be re-installed. The biggest challenge is to get the Native community to volunteer with inmates and/or with their own particular incarcerated Native people."

And for unaffiliated Natives, the situation is worse.

"The drugs, the pornography or what have you, they are the symptoms, not the problem. The problem is acceptance, respect, accountability, honor and being of value," he said. "They look out and all they see is darkness and a lack of hope for their future."

"We want to define winning not as just beating another guy," said Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli (R-John Day), "but achieving an objective that respects the other side."

Citing some of the most contentious areas, Kitzhaber said, "I hope we can crystallize those and make some measurable progress. We're reshaping our relationship as we go forward."

The summit was attended by a host of Grand Ronde Tribal members and employees, including (beyond those mentioned) Tribal Council members June Sherer, Chris Mercier and Toby McClary, as well as Tribal Attorney Rob Greene, Tribal member and Director of Program Operations John Mercier, Health Services Executive Director Mark Johnston, Assistant Executive Health Services Director Allyson Lecatsas, Public Affairs Director Siobhan Taylor, Tribal member and Cultural Resources Manager David Lewis, Tribal member and Tribal Council Executive Coordinator Brent Merrill, and Tribal member and Self-Determination Coordinator Janell Haller.

The summit also was attended by a host of statewide elected officials, including State Treasurer Ted Wheeler; co-Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives Arnie Roblan, Coos Bay; Sen. Alan Olsen, Canby; Representative Julie Parrish, Tualatin/West Linn; Lincoln County Commissioner Terry Thompson; and Cottage Grove Mayor Gary Williams, who is also head of Oregon League of Cities. Cylvia Hayes, the state's first lady, also was in attendance.