"The future leaders of Indian Country."
At this year’s Graduate Program Ceremony, 22 students are making history. They belong to the first Master of Tribal Administration and Governance (MTAG) class, the only graduate degree program in the U.S. that trains people specifically in the best management practices for tribal governments. It focuses on tribal sovereignty, federal Indian law, leadership, ethics, tribal accounting and budgets, and tribal management (strategic, operations, project and human resources.) Uniquely, MTAG was designed for tribes by tribes.
“We did not start out with the ideas for MTAG, they came from Indian Country,” says Tadd Johnson, director of graduate studies and chair of the American Indian Studies department at UMD.
The MTAG program began in the fall of 2011, after two years of extensive consultations with tribal administrators, tribal leaders, and tribal organizations at national conferences and throughout the Midwest. These meetings affirmed that there is a need for partnership between tribes and a university to assist in training tribal administrators.
Brian McInnes, an assistant professor in the Department of Education, adds, “I really see this program as a good way in which UMD has been responsive to the community. It is a product of tribal consultation.”
The MTAG graduates are an accomplished group, consisting of tribal members from throughout the Midwest, including three executive directors of Indian tribes, the tribal liaison for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, and several managers running programs on area reservations. Johnson says, “These students are the future leaders of Indian Country."
In the past, the Bureau of Indian Affairs administered tribal programs, but over the last few decades federal laws passed encouraging tribal governments to run their own reservations. Johnson explains that tribes can now pair up with universities to better educate tribal administrators, putting UMD’s MTAG program on the cutting edge. “The Master of Tribal Administration and Governance program is a steppingstone that shows we have the capacity to do this,” says Tiger Brown Bull. An Oglala Lakota from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, he says his 12-hour drive to UMD was “totally worth it.” Brown Bull starts law school at Michigan State University this fall.
Corey Strong will also graduate from MTAG and echoes Brown Bull’s praise of the program. As the executive director of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, he could immediately implement what they were learning. For example, his class discussed the government sequestration, which prompted Strong to think of a proactive plan for his tribe. “This allowed us to minimize the negative impacts,” explains Strong.
Like Brown Bull, Strong made MTAG a priority. He works full time, coaches basketball and baseball, and is involved with Boys and Girls Club, but he says it was absolutely worthwhile, even when it meant staying up until midnight doing homework. “ If someone has any intentions of seeking a management position or working in tribal government, MTAG will prepare you to do a good job in Indian Country.”
You would think that Joseph Nayquonabe would solely credit 10 years in the marketing department of Grand Casino and getting an M.B.A from Carlson School of Management for his recent promotion. But actually, he says his jump to CEO of the economic development arm for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe happened largely because of his participation in UMD’s MTAG program.
Through MTAG, Nayquonabe was able to better understand some of the challenges faced by tribal government, “It’s easier for me to relate to the elected officials and add value to the discussion.” Nayquonabe has a long-term interest in being a tribal leader. In the meantime, he’s been quite busy diversifying business for the Mille Lacs Band. He orchestrated the purchase of two hotels in St. Paul and, fulfilling the need to create jobs and further his tribe’s economic development, started Sweetgrass Media, a state-of-the-art digital print shop.
Story written by Lori C. Melton, firstname.lastname@example.org