The Road to Finding Great Tribal leaders

James Mills

In the last 25 years, I have crisscrossed this country of ours countless times. I am not sure how many reservations, tribal comminutes and native villages I have been to, but I am sure it numbers in the hundreds

And all through these 25 years, I have seen and met great tribal leaders; leaders who are inspired to do the right thing for their communities; leaders who put their self-interests and the trappings of power as temptations to be avoided at all costs. Conversely, I have seen and met some not-so-great leaders. But the great stand out. They make the lasting impression.

I have achieved some success in Indian Country on issues of leadership, enrollment, elections and a variety of tribal governmental issues. And for that I am grateful to everyone I have met, the great, the good and the not so good because they have all helped to educate me.

So, how did all of this happen? How did I get from where I started, an accountant and administrator by trade, and an avocational musician, to where I am today?

The greatest by-product of all this traveling and years of being on the road was the education I have received. I did not get it from a book, or from college, or from any single person instructing me on how to do this or that, I got if from the thousands of people—good and bad—that I have met throughout the years. Yes, even the bad have something to teach; they teach you what not to do. And for me, it has been an education second to none. I learned the art of outstanding leadership from the great examples of people like Homer Mandoka from Huron Potawatomi, my dear friend Eli Hunt from Leech Lake who passed away last year, leaving an enormous vacuum in his wake. With tribal enrollment, I learned from the greats like Tina Notah from Gila River, and Nancy Garcia from Tohono O’odham and so many others who have inspired me to be at my best. And to all of them I am forever grateful.

When you work as a leadership trainer, and the people you work with go away with a better understanding of their roles as tribal leaders, the rewards are many. Seeing someone go back to their tribe and make the kind of changes that actually makes a difference in people’s work and lives, that is the greatest reward of all.

When you work with Tribal Enrollment, you are bound to make a lot of friends, and perhaps a few enemies along the way. You can never please everyone. But I have always tried to do the right thing and I believe overall it shows in the wake of my work. Many enrollment departments that were dysfunctional are operating well today. Many now have sound and practical policies and procedures to follow and are moving into the unknown future with confidence and the courage required to make the changes that in the long run, will benefit all tribal members. All of these people, are indeed great tribal leaders and I salute them all. And my search for great leaders continues…

From 1990-2007, James Mills was the founder and President of DCIAmerica, one ofAmerica’s leading training organizations serving the needs of clients throughout Indian Country in the United States and Canada. Mr. Mills is the current president of Creating Stronger Nations and is focusing on the drafting of governing documents, leadership and governance issues for tribal organizations.

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