PHOENIX -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District hosted a series of meetings and training sessions the week of Dec. 3 to Dec. 7.
The 17th Annual Consulting with Tribal Nations training lasted from Dec. 3-5 and was held at the Federal Courthouse downtown. Errol Blackwater, director for the Department of Land Use, Planning and Zoning and the Flood Task Force, Gila River Indian Community in Arizona delivered the opening blessing on the first day of the training.
The District held the 9th Annual Tribal Nations Community of Practice meeting ran from Dec. 5-7 at the Arizona-Nevada Area Office. Kathy Bergmann, the LA District’s tribal liaison officer, handled the preparation for the entire week’s meetings.
“The training meeting helps prepare Tribal Liaisons for their work with tribes,” she said. “Training included helping them understand the Indian perspective and covers the Corps’ Tribal Policy Principles.”
The Tribal Policy Principles are:
- Recognition of tribal sovereignty
- Federal relationships with tribes are government to government
- We honor out trust responsibility to work for the benefit of tribes
- Consultation prior to decision making
- Protection of cultural and natural resources
- Promotion of growth and economic capacity.
“It’s important for all of us in the Corps, not just the tribal liaisons, to recognize that these are Corps policies and not just guidelines,” said Quana Higgins, a lead planner in the LA District. “We need to be sure that we’re dealing with tribes in a proper and respectful manner. It’s just the right thing to do and I’m glad we had the opportunity to meet as a group of tribal liaisons for this important training.”
Training included discussion from other seasoned liaisons. Cynthia Kitchens, the Tulsa District’s tribal liaison discussed her District’s Tribal Support Program. She went over the construction support process and discussed other ways the program offers assistance to tribes through the International and Interagency Services program.
“The work the Corps does out there is very important for the community,” Kitchens said. “The program does significantly improve the quality of life for the members of the tribes and the communities around them.”
Kitchens also discussed ways tribal liaisons could improve their relationships with tribal members. Among the suggestions, Kitchens recommended Corps members treat the tribal princesses members of the tribe might bring to meetings with great respect and talk with them. The princesses are young girls brought as part of the official party. She also recommended Corps members take the time to talk with tribal elders who attend functions or meetings with the Corps.
“They are special to the tribe and the tribe brought them for a reason,” she said. “Take the time to talk with them. It shows you recognize their significance and it’s a sign of respect.”
Corps liaisons from across the nation also had the opportunity to hear from local and area tribal representatives from tribes in Arizona, California and New Mexico about the Corps can best meet the needs of the tribes and how the tribes interact with the Corps and other federal agencies.
“One of the big difficulties I have when I meet with some agencies is that I almost have to prove that I can interact with them intellectually,” said Dr. Selso Villegas, Water Resources director for the Tohono O’odham Nation, which has land in Arizona and in Mexico. “Mutual respect is key in any relationship. You’d be amazed at what you can get accomplished if you just treat people with respect.”
This year’s meeting marked the first time the Corps brought together a Tribal Panel of tribal representatives who shared their ideas on how the Corps of Engineers can improve the way it participates with tribes. The panel included representatives from the Santa Clara Pueblo of New Mexico, Campos and Pechanga Bands of California, Hopi Tribe, Tohono O'odham and Navajo Nations, and Gila River Indian Community of Arizona.
After the meetings with the tribal members and Corps team together were completed, Bergmann had the Corps CoP gather at the Area Office for another series of meetings. The CoP meeting opened with a challenge from Jim Balocki, Director of the International and Interagency Services program at Corps headquarters in Washington, DC. Balocki challenged the liaisons to use the I&IS program as a vehicle to facilitate projects among tribal nations.
During the CoP meeting, participants spoke on several topics including impediments to working with tribes, a discussion with HQ Office of Counsel, Aaron Hosytk, on legal issues, regulatory issues and a presentation on Gregory Canyon. Members of the team also discussed linear projects and the challenges they present for regulatory, and a listened to a presentation on Job Classification and Certification.
“The CoP meeting brings together Liaisons from across the US and is meant to help them understand the breadth of the work they are intended to do,” Bergmann said. “Participants work together on dealing with impediments, and share ideas on how to do a better job.”
Bergmann said the meetings throughout the week were successful because several of the new tribal liaisons told her how much they had learned. She said a disappointment of the week was that several of the speakers were unable to attend due to illness. In addition, the new conference regulations made it impossible to partner with a tribal sponsor and required using a federal venue. The venue did not have internet access which would have allowed others who were unable to travel to participate via a web meeting or similar tool. Even so, Bergmann said the series of meetings were a huge success.
“They help us support the District Commander’s motto of “Building Strong and Taking Care of People!” by allowing us to learn how we can do a better job of supporting our tribal partners and meeting our Trust responsibility to them,” Bergmann said. “Information presented in the meetings from our team members and from our invited speakers informs those of us in the District of the many ways we can serve tribes and how to interact with them appropriately.”