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The University of Minnesota Duluth
BRIDGE - Summer 2007, Volume 25, #1
UMD alumna Karen Diver was elected chair of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. In her new position, this 1987 economics graduate now heads a tribal government that employs between 1,600 - 1,800 people and has assets of over $300 million.
Diver, Fond du Lac's first woman chair, is prepared for the job. Most recently she served as the director of special projects for Fond du Lac, and before that, she was the executive director of the YWCA in Duluth.
One significant opportunity, and possibly the event that prepared Diver most for her new position, was her participation as a Bush Foundation Leadership Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. There she received a Master in Public Administration degree in 2003. As a student in the Harvard American Indian Economic Development Project, she studied best practices in governance and economic development in Indian Country.
As Fond du Lac's chair, Diver serves on the reservation business committee, often called the tribal council, along with five other members. Her plan is to work with the other tribal council members to bring those "best practices" to the tribe. "Fond du Lac has experienced exponential growth in the last 20 years, and for the most part, the community just hung on for the ride." Fond du Lac's businesses have flourished. The largest employer in Carlton County, the tribe owns the Black Bear Casino, the Fond du Luth Casino in Duluth, a construction company, a propane company, a gas station, a convenience store, a hotel, and a golf course.
"Fond du Lac is looking at a $119 million expansion to Black Bear Casino," Diver said. "We're tearing down and re-building the casino, adding a convention center... and a family-friendly hotel." It's a huge undertaking, but it promises to bring more employment and revenue to the tribe.
The growth has brought more families back to the area, and that has meant a housing crunch. "We've done well as a tribal nation and now it's time to do long-range strategic planning for the future," Diver said. More people, more businesses, and more job opportunities mean that the tribe needs to achieve a higher level of governance. "We can't govern the same way we did in 1985," said Diver. "The tribe needs transparency, accountability, community awareness, clear policies, and a strong structure."
Workforce development is important to Diver. "The tribe is committed to hiring our own members to work in our businesses," Diver said. Education is a strong community value at Fond du Lac. "I'm proud of our schools," she said. Fond du Lac cares for and educates its children from birth to the second year of college and they do a lot with little money.
Karen Diver has a passion for Fond du Lac, possibly because she had to live away from it for so long. Her parents, both tribe members, moved in 1960 as part of a relocation program, and Diver was raised in Ohio. A scholarship to UMD brought her, and her daughter, Rochelle, back.
Life was not easy at UMD. Diver remembers taking three buses in the morning to get her daughter to daycare and herself to class. Some of Diver's dedication to advocacy for others is because she knows what it's like to rely on welfare and how hard it is to achieve success when you don't have resources.
Diver is the only Native woman and one of only several Native Americans to graduate from UMD's Labovitz School of Business & Economics.
Diver says she wouldn't have made it through UMD if it hadn't been for the Anishinabe Club. "I was a single mom. I wouldn't have survived without the support of the Native kids," Diver said. "They helped me believe that I could make it at UMD. When I had problems, the Anishinabe Club helped me solve them." Staff even helped with emergency financial support. Diver's best friend now is an American Indian woman that she met in the Anishinabe Club. "It meant a lot to me that UMD hired staff and teachers from the Native community," Diver said.It doesn't surprise Diver that she is working at Fond du Lac. It was always her long-term plan to provide leadership for the tribe. Diver searches for a way to balance the past "200 years of poverty and oppression," with a future full of growth and economic success. She wants good things for her people: jobs, housing, health care, and education. "We want a better life for our kids," she said. And it's important for her that Fond du Lac maintains its strong culture. Balance is the goal. "That's the sweet spot," Diver said.
University of Minnesota Duluth master's degree alumna Maureen Cisneros was elected in March 2007 as the student at-large representative to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents. Cisneros graduated this spring from the UMD Masters of Advocacy and Political Leadership Program (MAPL).
Cisneros said she received support from family and friends who helped her through the process. That help was especially important because Cisneros gave birth to a daughter two weeks before the election.
Classmates, faculty members, and alumni in UMD's MAPL program, including the program's founder and director Wy Spano, contacted legislators in support of Cisneros. Friends and former co-workers on the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities campus, where she worked as an admissions counselor, were also part of her team.
"Wy Spano and the rest of the MAPL faculty have been incredibly supportive throughout the whole process," she said. "Now they're helping me find the perfect job -- something that uses my skills and gives me a little flexibility so I can care for my family, too."
She's eager to start work as a regent .
"I'm interested in hosting listening sessions for students on all the campuses, and staying in touch with students that way, so I can bring their concerns to the board," she said.
Cisneros has a unique viewpoint. "I'm willing to bet there has never been a regent who knows as much as she does about the process of getting low income and minority students into higher education," said Spano. "She has practical experience going from high school to high school to recruit Hispanic kids and others to get a college education. Sensitivity to that issue is important to bring to the board. Most regents, while they are wonderful folks, come to the job from a position of financial and political success. Maureen will be a fresh voice."
The University of Minnesota Board of Regents is the governing body of the University of Minnesota. Its 12 members are elected and serve without pay. Eight members represent the state's congressional districts, and four members are elected at large, as is a student representative. The student member must be enrolled in a degree program at the University of Minnesota at the time of election. The six-year terms are staggered so that four regent positions come up for appointment every two years.
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