Tribal Leaders Gain Insight into Federal Indian Policy

Gloria Valencia-Weber Visits with AlumniTribal leaders from across the country gathered at Isleta Pueblo in late February for a two-day conference organized by the American Indian Law Center. They were provided training by numerous experts and shared their own insights into federal Indian policy and what might be expected under President Barack Obama’s Administration.

Entitled, Transitions: Building Stronger Tribal Governance, the conference featured the perspectives of three former U.S. Interior assistant secretaries and a deputy assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, along with a host of other experts.

"Tribal leaders learned how advocating for your own tribe, as an elected or appointed leader, when dealing with state legislators or U.S. congressional delegates has much more impact than hiring a lobbyist," said AILC Director Helen B. Padilla (97).

This was the second year of the conference, which drew a capacity attendance of more than 160 leaders, tribal council members, judges and executive staff, mostly from New Mexico and Arizona.

"In my practice as an Indian law attorney, I saw that some tribal leaders were not properly informed on fundamental principles of federal Indian law, or of federal and state funding processes. This put them at a disadvantage," said Padilla, a native of Isleta Pueblo.

"With proper training, tribal leaders can get a jump-start on learning about many of the topics and issues that will help them become stronger advocates and leaders of their communities," she added. "For example, if a tribal leader has never before dealt with securing capital outlay appropriations for his tribal community, how successful will he be without understanding the state legislative process?"

Other key topic areas discussed included tribal court jurisdiction, building intergovernmental relationships, understanding the federal budget process and tribal advocacy.

"The opportunity to learn from each other and to discuss these issues among themselves was key to the conference's success," Padilla said.

Established in 1967, AILC is the oldest existing Indian-managed and Indian-operated legal and public policy organization in the country serving to strengthen, promote and honor self-sustaining American Indian and Alaska Native communities through education, training and leadership. It began as part of the UNM School of Law and its offices continue to be housed inside the school.