Dwight Bero, DOVE Fellowship recipient and Master of Tribal Administration and Governance student
Dwight Bero Jr. crosses into Canada four or five times a week. Sometimes the customs officers greet him in French, sometimes in English, or, more recently, in Mohawk. He says the response from tribal members is mixed, equal parts appreciating the effort and questioning of the authenticity.
The border divides his community. Akwesasne, a traditional territory that preceded the placement of the international border, includes Ontario, Quebec, and New York. Born on the Canadian side and living on the American side, Dwight considers himself a Mohawk first, "When people ask me where I'm from, I say the Mohawk Territory of Akwesasne."
Dwight will add Duluth to his travel itinerary this year. He's pursuing his Master's in Tribal Administration and Government (MTAG) degree to empower his work in the Aboriginal Rights Research Office for the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne.
He comes to UMD as an Ivy League grad and with the prestigious DOVE Fellowship, which is awarded to select students from underrepresented groups. He's also an all-state hockey player and a lacrosse defenseman fierce enough to be drafted by the National Lacrosse League. "Lacrosse is a cultural game for us. There's a saying, 'It's not a game, it's a way of life.'" Dwight was only three years old the first time he held a lacrosse stick, and he says he loves how it encompasses his whole mind, allowing him to fully focus on the moment.
With these life experiences, one might liken Dwight's trajectory to that of a blast off, but that would be a misnomer. His approach is actually more judicious.
While at Dartmouth, Dwight minored in war and peace studies and learned the most effective path towards resolution, "When an outside force comes in, take the hearts and minds approach. You make them like you. If they like you, things go smoothly. If they don't like it, that's when conflict happens."
It's a lesson he applies to the jurisdictional issues that impact his community- navigating both federal governments, two provincial governments, and the state of New York. "We haven't had a good relationship with Canada Customs, but we're trying to change that by putting on theses trainings so that there's a level of respect." Victories are frequent, like when customs officers learn what to do when people travel with sacred objects.
Beyond its work practicalities, Dwight says he studied war and peace to propel his ultimate goal-- advancing the full recognition of his tribe's rights, which is also why he chose UMD's MTAG program. MTAG was designed for people like Dwight; it teaches the best management practices for tribal governments.
In the past, the Bureau of Indian Affairs administered tribal programs, but over the last few decades federal laws were passed that encouraged tribal governments to run their own reservations. Two years of extensive consultations with tribal administrators, tribal leaders, and tribal organizations at national conferences and throughout the Midwest affirmed that there is a need for partnership between tribes and a university to assist in training tribal administrators. “We did not start out with the ideas for MTAG, they came from Indian Country,” says director Tadd Johnson.
Tadd believes that MTAG may contribute to some high-visibility achievements for Dwight, "As with many of our MTAG students, he is on the way to becoming an outstanding leader of his Nation. It would not surprise me if he eventually becomes an influential leader for First Nation and American Indian causes in Canada and the U.S."
Dwight's not sure he wants to venture into politics, but he's already leading. He was chosen to co-chair the Mohawk of Akwesasne Community Settlement Trust, where proceeds from lost land settlements are deposited. "It's a way to give back to the community and thank them for all the support that they gave me," he says.
MTAG is available online, but Dwight would like to board the Ottawa to Chicago, Chicago to Duluth flights as many times as his busy schedule will allow. Whether it's virtual or in the classroom, he just wants to pursue more, "Continued education is needed to keep up with the ever-changing Aboriginal and Indian laws and you can always keep learning. One thing I always enjoy is learning new things, and I just want to keep going."
Story by Lori C. Melton, September, 2015
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