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What Is An Indian Tribe? Some Answers to Interesting Questions

Traditional Paiute Home and Elder, Fallon, NV

Traditional Paiute Home and Elder, Fallon, NV

Today I decided that I wanted to take a few minutes to address some of the many questions that I receive as a tribal leader from people unfamiliar with Tribe and tribal governments.  I’m doing this because there always seems to be misconceptions that are then applied to all Tribes and its people and I hoping to clear up issues from my perspective, as well as the truth especially to my own Tribe.  So below are three of most common questions with my own personal response.

  • I thought Indians were supposed to live in teepees? This question comes up a lot from visitors from different countries.  First and most important this is the 21st century which means that most people on Tribes live in regular homes like everyone else.  Second and equally important not all Tribes lived in a teepee (this was primarily the Plains Indians) – here in my area my people traditionally lived in tule huts which was made up by the tules that surrounded the Carson Lake area.
  • Aren’t you all rich from your tribal casinos? In reality there are only a few Tribes in the country where casino revenues have made their members and their Tribe financially sufficient.  For many Tribes which are remote and away from population bases casinos are not economically viable or if they do have them they primarily cover their operation costs and provide some to support tribal programs.  Here in Nevada the situation is far from ideal since it is already a gaming state and there is no “captive” population to build a large successful casino.  For most Tribes, including my own, poverty is very common with most of our members living far below the poverty level.
  • I hear that Tribes don’t pay any taxes? This question implies that Tribes are freeloaders when nothing if further from the truth.  Tribes, just like all other governments in this country, are not taxable due to their status as governmental entities.   Most Tribes in the country that have businesses on their lands typically charge the same level of taxes as the jurisdictions they surround.  For my Tribe which has businesses in two Nevada counties we charge the same sales and use tax rates to everyone – Indian and non-Indian – who patronize our business and like any other business these taxes are remitted to the local Tribal government to support programs and services.  Additionally tribal governments and its members purchase most, if not all, their supplies (groceries, building materials, etc.) from local businesses providing millions of dollars in revenues and taxes to these merchants and local governments.  In reality, a tribal government is not different from the state or federal government which operates to provide for its members and residents (only that we have treaties that assist in our relationship with the federal government).  While some Tribe did lose in wars between the U.S. regarding our sovereignty, most Tribes entered into treaties with the federal government to stop hostiles and were supposed to be binding agreements which were broken leading to many of the news that people may hear about trust responsibilities that the U.S. has with Tribe or broken promises.  It should be noted that we are only group of people that have unique relationship with the U.S. which was denoted in the U.S. Constitution itself.

There are a number of other questions that I may follow-up on in future blog entries, but I would like to hear from others who have comments or questions of their own that they would like answered about Tribes and their governments.  Today I wanted to cover three that I hear the most about.  So if you got a question, send me a comment or an email and I’ll try to answer it.


Don’t People Know How to Interview? Frustrations from an Interviewer

Today I was part of an interview panel for a director position in our tribal government.  This position is very important to the health and welfare of families, especially children who are abused and/or neglected.  When our Human Resources Department advertised for the position it clearly set out that this was a director level position, the salary level, duties/responsibilities, and minimum qualifications.  Since the Council hires all director positions, the top six candidates were submitted for an interview with us and let me tell you I was really disappointed.

My disappointment and frustration stemmed from that either many of the applicants barely met the minimum qualifications and had no clue of how to answer basic questions regarding the positions, to candidates who called and asked that their interview be rescheduled because they didn’t feel up to an interview, to how some of the people dressed for the interview.  Based on these three things that occurred I’m going to give my opinion on same basic tips if you are going to interview for a job (I know that there are others, but these three issues really bothered me).

  1. Know the Position You are Interviewing For. I think that one of the main things that drive me crazy is when a person is interviewing and has no clue about the organization, what the job details, and can’t even answer basic questions about a position.  If your answer to a large amount of the questions is going to be “I don’t have any experience or knowledge of that area” then maybe this isn’t the right position for you.
  2. Attend Your Interview. Most people who are interviewing people have busy schedules and have set aside time to be a part of the process so plan on going to your interview (if you are actually qualified).  This means being there at least 15 minutes before your scheduled time (not at the exact time or a few minutes after).  If you are doing your interview by phone make sure you have a good connection and not driving on the road.  If your interview is done over the Internet (like Skype) be sure you know how to use the program and can troubleshoot connection issues (don’t try to fix the problem when we contact you or expect our IT Department to get on the phone with you to configure your computer).  I understand that sometimes emergencies come up and you may need to ask to be rescheduled, but make sure it is an emergency not just cause you are not up to interviewing that day or you couldn’t make arrangements (child care, transportation, etc.) to attend.
  3. Dress for the Interview. You would think that this is common knowledge among interviewees, but I guess not.  It doesn’t matter if you are interviewing in person or via the Internet, if you are going to be seen by the interviewer (a single person or a panel), please (No, PLEASE) try to dress in an appropriate manner, especially for a higher management level position.  Coming into an interview wearing sweats or a T-shirt with questionable imagery/language doesn’t create a positive opinion of you (even if you have the best answers in the world).  First impressions are very important so if you want to be treated like a viable candidate for position, try to dress the part.

I don’t know everyone else’s opinion on this subject, but when I spend nearly 4 hours sitting in a conference room waiting on people to show up, or show up and either have no idea what the job entails, or who look like they just got out of bed, don’t expect to be getting a call back either asking for a follow-up interview or a job offer.  When I spend more time talking with our interview panel about what’s going on versus actually talking and meeting with candidates, something is wrong.

And in the end – after four hours of sitting around in a non-productive session – we had to decide to go back and re-advertise the position.  I was wondering if there are other people in positions who make hiring decisions face some of the same things that I went through today and how they try to address this to try to get quality applicants?  For me I would rather have a small group of quality interviewees rather than a large group of non-qualified people.  Okay this ends my pet peeve blog for today and I hope to hear from anyone who has faced or is facing the same thing I just went though.

Reflections on What Could Have Been (or If I Could Turn Back Time)

28352282_mOver the last few months I’ve written a few blog columns on my upcoming future (with some soundtrack music added), a few sessions of a leader’s conference, and issues relating to upcoming campaign and politics.  I did sprinkle in a little shop talk with grant information and some life lessons of mine (prioritizing and taking vacations).

Recently, though, I’ve been thinking back about various events and situations in my life and wondered where I would be if things had gone differently.  With my graduation by the EMBA program at UNR, I wondered about what if I had completed by education after I graduated from high school how my life would be different now.  Or friendships and relationships that were lost over the years due to bridges being burnt by each side and the regrets from that.  Or the biggest one if I hadn’t lost both my parents in a car accident when I was about 9 years old and how that really changed the course of my life.

Well I don’t have a time machine so what good does thinking back really do.  For me I found out that thinking about what could have been distracts me from what I really should be focusing on – where I am going next.  The past is gone and done and these past events are not changing so you learn to accept what has happened for better or worse.

I think that looking back and thinking about what could have been (or regretting choices that were made or occurred) is more a symptom of feeling that may be something in your present life that you are looking to change.  Change doesn’t always have to be some major thing in your life – it could be something small such as a routine (like setting aside one day a week for something you want to do).  I believe that when we are looking back and thinking about what could have been its really something inside us that is saying “hey let’s try something different”.

I really don’t know why I decided to go philosophical for this blog column, but writing this blog has become a way for me to put into words the jumbled mess that is going inside my head.  I know a change is coming in my life in the next few months so maybe that’s why I’m been spending a lot of time thinking about the past.  Usually I try to add a question or comment to get people to get involved but this time I really don’t have one and I think this blog may be more for me to write out something to help me clear my own mind as I move forward.

I think, though, I will end this blog with another soundtrack (don’t know why but music seems to be a method for me to relate to topics and ideas).  This time, though, I’m not including a country music group but rather an 80’s group (I know I’m old but this decade had some great music) – “Forever Young” by Alphaville.  This song brings me back to my graduation and despite is dark tone it reminds me to keep looking forward.

Eureka Nevada Bound! Fitting Some Fun around Work & Home Life

Bow Hunting (Copyright: redav / 123RF Stock Photo)

Bow Hunting (Copyright: redav / 123RF Stock Photo)

I know that most people have a hard time taking time off and going for a vacation from work and home responsibilities because either we have too much stuff going on or in some cases our work has almost become impossible to escape (with the ongoing use of smartphones and social media that keep us connected).

I wish I could say that I was different but I fall into some of the same categories above I mentioned.  But for one week out of every year I get the ability to leave it all behind – not necessary by choice though.  You see in a couple of weeks I head out for my annual deer hunting trip and get to spend a week up in the mountains around Eureka, Nevada where there is almost no cellular service (and most of the time the signal I get only allows for limited text messages).

Prior to becoming an elected official (or a politician if I have to use the word) I wasn’t that worried about disconnecting from everything and heading out into the wilderness.  But since I was elected and my responsibilities greatly increased I noticed that every time I went out I would be getting numerous texts to call the office or that I had to check my email.  For the first two deer hunting seasons I kept hopping on my quad and running down to find the one spot I get some service on my smartphone to keep up.  That changed though last deer hunting season.

I realized that I wasn’t the only one who could handle matters and that’s way I had a designated person in my office to handle the day-to-day affairs while I was gone.  I also realized that the stuff that was supposedly some important where primarily matters that were important to one person but could have waited till I got back to address (but the person didn’t want to wait).

So last year that’s what I did and though there were some mad people when I got back I had to realize that everyone needs a break from work (or home) to not only retain their sanity, but to recharge themselves.   So here are my tips for handling vacation and work/home issues.

  1. As Nike says just do it – Taking work or home issues with you is just going to distract you from enjoying yourself and to be honest there is probably very little you can do if you are outside the area. Most issues can wait till you are back and most of us probably have a person we have delegated to handle the day-to-day matters so let them do it.
  2. Disconnecting Won’t Kill You – I know most of us feel nervous if we don’t have any connection to our work/home but sometimes you got to let that go and enjoy yourself. Technology is a great thing by keeping us connected but it also makes a slave to it if you are unable to separate yourself every now and then.
  3. Have Fun – Sounds simple but I know that I was stressing every now and then when I was disconnected and out on vacation about the what-if’s that might be occurring.
Roberts Creek, Eureka, NV

Roberts Creek, Eureka, NV

Basically in simple terms let it go, enjoy yourself, and tell yourself that the issues you are concerned about will still be there when you get back and you can address them at the point, but for now you got family and friends that probably would like to have you around and enjoying yourself instead of staring at a screen for your vacation. Let me know your thoughts or tips for separating yourself from work/home issues and going on a vacation.

(P.S. if any readers are familiar with the Eureka, Nevada area let me know of any good areas with creeks around.  I usually camp out in Robert’s Creek area but looking for a new camping spot – preferably near the Diamonds or Newark area.  Okay that ends my bit of scourging for personal information for this blog).

Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war

This verse is from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (1601) and is a statement made by Anthony after Caesar is murdered and he realizes that this will lead to war.   This may seem like an odd choice for a blog on being a tribal leader (and perhaps any other time of blog entry).  Being a leader for a Tribe is mainly a job focused on meeting the needs of tribal members, managing the daily administrative and political affairs of the Tribe and its community, and handling the duties associated with each member’s office (for me that is being Treasurer).

A Community Divided Against Itself & a Brief Respite from War

But every two years our Tribe has its elections for the governing body – the Tribal Council – and those who are up for election that year face another roll if they run for office again.  Being an incumbent in a typically small community where family relations dictate more who wins an election rather than qualifications and accomplishments.   As our election draws closer this verse from Julius Caesar reminds me how personal and intense election campaigns can become.  For a number of years we have luckily avoided many negative campaigns that in the past turned ugly in terms of personal attacks and a candidate and even their family members to violent acts by tribal members against other tribal members.

Something Evil This Way Comes

This title from an old movie has reawakened old feelings and memories of our past election.  I sense that this election cycle will see us return to our old methods of tearing each other down instead of trying to work together to make a better community for our people.  This sense of dread I feel comes as that one of the main individuals who initiated and coordinated these types of campaigns in the past as returned to our Tribe and places on running for office (a person who has a personal grudge against me for something because a close family friend beat him in one of our elections in the 1990’s).

This is a person who is more interested in revenge rather than what is best for the tribal members and the community.  But I am also keenly aware of the fact that negative campaigning does work – if it didn’t it would be such a common tactic used by most campaigns in this country.  This brings me to the question and dilemma that I face as I approach the start of our two-month campaign window.

Taking the High-Road or Climb Down in the Sewer

So now I must prepare a re-election campaign with a realization that there are dark clouds on my Tribe’s horizon.  Do I ignore this man’s negative campaign and focus on what I have done and the positive results, as well as my outlook for my position and the future of the Tribe or do I return to the old cycle and prepare my own negative campaign as well and damn the consequences, or do I develop a campaign using both approaches?

This is the decision that I face and, believe me, it’s a lot harder that one would think.  Everyone thinks that the high-road is always the best and I have always believed that.  But when you are in a struggle for your future, as well as the future of your family and community is there a time when you must cross that line and fight fire with fire.  Cry “havoc” and let slip the dogs of war reminds me that while I am normally a person that believes that focusing on the positive is the best way to approach any situation that I also realize that there is a war brewing and there will be casualties in this election.

Just Because You Can Fight Does that Mean You Should?

I know myself better than anyone else and realize that I should I choose to enter that arena I am well-prepared for that type of battle.  A war is not something that I want but I am more than capable of taking that low road just as many people are (there is a dark side in most people sad to say).  But because I can do it does that mean that I should do it?

What Are the Priorities in Your Life?

I don’t know about anyone else, but for me my life seems to be a constant whirlwind of activities – from my full-time job as Treasurer, my volunteer service on my Tribe’s economic development corporation, my personal life, and my classes with the MBA Program. With all of these areas tugging at the limited amount of time I have in a day, sometimes certain activities either have to suffer because I can’t give my full attention or some items get overlooked completely.

I’m one of those people, though, that will still try to get everything done regardless how much I spend on them and that tends to impact me in ways that probably aren’t good – lack of sleep is the main one (though I remember being in my 20’s and being able to go out all night long and then go to work or school with maybe an hour of sleep – guess age has a way of telling you to slow it down).

Recently though two things happened that have reminded me that sometimes I need to be willing to say either no to certain stuff or realize that despite my desire that I need to prioritize what is important to me (either for that day or week). Today and tomorrow my niece is playing her final softball tournament for possibly the rest of the year and also today is a mud bug event that my brother spends all year looking forward to. Well these two events are occurring today and my brother choose to go to his daughter’s game because even though there may be some other tournaments he could watch her at, he decided that her event is more important than his event. Second while I was doing some tweeting for one of my MBA classes, I ran into a quote that made me stop and take a second to think about what my priorities are. The tweet was:


What I learned in the past 24 hours is that I need to find the right balance for me to handle everything that is going on and come to the realization that nobody can do it all and if you try to you’re only going to fail or hurt yourself or those around you. Sometimes, though, in determining what your priorities are there is something that going to be left out in the process but accepting that fact will make the decision a bit more acceptable (but it may not be easy). I also learned that determining what your priorities are going to be is not a long-term plan, but rather should be looked at as your life determines (for me this means setting my priorities on a daily basis).

The final thing that I learned is not to try to set your priorities (on whatever schedule you use) while you’re in the middle of one of your activities because that will only muck it up and not allow us to look at everything going on in an unbiased approach. This is why, like Kyle Idleman said, you need to being with some solitude and silence (more than likely in the morning before everything starts happening) and for me this is probably where I will find the realization of what my priorities will be for that day.

Sound likes a lot work and it probably will be, but I think this type of an approach will better serve all of the activities in my life and probably enhance them in the end. I know that myself and my other colleagues in MBA program have experienced the issue of balancing one’s life when there is so much going on, but I’m hoping that this new approach will prove to be successful to me.

If someone though has a comment on it or has stumbled upon a better process I would love to hear about it.

Writing a Grant? Tips from Someone Who Has Been in the Trenches

This topic may be a little off-course from my other rights, but there’s a reason – my mind went blank on a tribal leader topic, basically writer’s block kicked in (when you don’t have anything or can think of any good topic to write about).  Everyone has run into it at least once.  I’ve ran into this a lot of times though being a professional grant writer in my past which got me thinking on how I wrote grants and I how was successful at that.

I’ve written over 300 proposals grants over a 15-year period with a success rate of 75%-85% (my last estimate of the value of the grants which I wrote and were awarded is over $100 million).  I have also had the opportunity to serve as a grants reviewer for various agencies to conduct peer reviews of some grants written on behalf of other entities.  Both writing and reviewing have allowed me to develop some quick tips on writing a good grant (mind you there are a lot of tips from people out there, but these have served me well over the years).  I have a number of tips focusing on various parts – beginning to end – but I’m going to focus on three that I use overall.

  • Choosing Your Battles.  This simply means identifying the grant with the best opportunity for your entity and sometimes leaving other ones behind.  Let’s say you have two grants before you:  both require equal investments of time but one is for $25,000 for one year and that other is for $100,000 for three years. Off the top of your head it seems that the $100,000 grant would be the best opportunity and it may be, but have you considered what you believe your chances of success are with each one or if one is more competitive than the other.  If your chances are slim to none on the big grant, why would you invest a lot of time into that and get nothing versus getting the smaller grant with a better chance of success.
  • Know the Weighted Value of Sections.  Read through the proposal and write down for each required section the page limit and the value/points assigned in relation to the entire grant.  This is very important because I’ve seen people invest large amount of time and effort into a project summary and then realize that is 2-3 page too long and have to gut it to make it fit or others that have developed a summary that is outstanding but it only represents 5% of the score.
  • Creativity and Appearance Do Count.  I’ve heard a lot of people say that it’s not the appearance it’s the content that counts.  This only partially true because you may have the best idea in the world but if your proposal looks dull, unprofessional, or haphazardly put together it is going to reflect on the abilities of your organization and whether you are truly capable of managing a program.  It doesn’t take to look to format sections, add page numbers, add some creative elements, etc. that will improve your proposal’s look and trust me after reviewing a number of grants it really does make a difference.  Great project ideas do stand out but so do the ones that include design elements – so why not have both a good idea and a creative/professional looking document.

For me if you are writing a grant just remember that you are trying to convey a vision and goals of a proposed program to people that may have no idea who you are or where you organization is from.  Never assume that anyone nothing anything about you and write from that viewpoint.  I’d be interested, though, to hear from anyone else on some tips that use to help them in writing, especially grant proposals.

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