Episode 11 | Building Hope in Native American Communities

Jan. 25, 2018

Show Notes:

In this episode Chuck is joined by the Executive Director of the Nebraskan Commission on Indian Affairs, Judi Gaiashkibos, who is a leader on Native issues. She is an enrolled member of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, and she serves as a board member of the Nebraska Rural Development Commission.

The mission of Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs is: “to join representatives of all Indians in Nebraska to do all things which it may determine to enhance the case of Indian Rights and to develop solutions to the problems common to all Nebraska Indians.”

She shared the history of the native people of Nebraska and emphasized the importance of forward-thinking leadership, diversified economies and pride of place.

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Full Transcript:

[0:13] Welcome back to Catch Up With Chuck, [0:15] this is a periodic broadcast we do [0:17] from the Rural Futures Institute [0:19] at the University of Nebraska. [0:21] Sorry we missed last week, had a blizzard [0:23] going on around here, and so we had to check out, [0:26] but we’re back live. [0:28] I’m Chuck Schroeder, I’m executive director [0:30] of the Rural Futures Institute. [0:32] And you know, at RFI, we believe that leaders [0:36] are known not so much by their title, [0:39] but by their vision, their ideas, [0:42] their energy, their passion, and their engagement [0:45] and collective action. [0:47] Joining me today is a friend, a genuine leader [0:51] who demonstrates those qualities in spades. [0:54] She works on behalf of Native peoples [0:57] and Native American communities in Nebraska and beyond. [1:00] Judi Gaiashkibos is the executive director [1:03] of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, [1:06] and she’s someone who has really invested generously [1:10] of her life, and her talents, and her career, [1:14] to solve problems, and win respect [1:17] for Native people and cultures in a lot of places, [1:20] so Judi, welcome, we’re delighted to have you today. [1:22] Thank you Chuck, it’s an honor to be here. [1:25] Well listen, we wanna get a picture of Indian country, [1:27] and Nebraska and the Great Plains, [1:30] but you have such an interesting story yourself. [1:32] I want you to tell our viewers a little bit [1:34] about your background, your education, [1:37] and what got you into these leadership roles.

[1:40] Okay, thank you, Chuck. [1:42] It’s a journey, as all of us have journeys in life, [1:45] and so I will just tell you that I am a member [1:48] of the Ponca Tribe in Nebraska. [1:50] And I descend from Chief Smoke Maker. [1:53] And my grandfather was the last chief of the second rank [1:56] of the Ponca Tribe prior to our termination. [1:59] He was born in 1878. [2:01] And my mother went to the Genoa Indian School, [2:04] a school, one of those military schools that was, [2:08] the purpose was to kill the Indian and save the man. [2:11] And then she went back to the reservation [2:13] up along the Niobrara, where Standing Bear was, grew up, [2:18] and she was on the tribal council. [2:20] So I descend from a legacy of leaders, [2:24] from my mother to my grandfather, [2:26] to great-great-grandfathers. [2:27] On my Santee side, my grandmother came down. [2:31] She was born in 1890, and she came down [2:33] from Morton, Minnesota, to the Santee reservation. [2:37] So then going forward, my mother left the reservation [2:41] and moved to Norfolk, Nebraska. [2:43] So I grew up first generation off reservation. [2:46] I’m an urban Indian. [2:48] And I went to school in Norfolk, Nebraska, [2:50] and then I eventually received my bachelor’s and master’s [2:53] from Doane University in Lincoln [2:55] as a nontraditional student and single mother, [2:58] and I now am a trustee at Doane University, [3:01] so that’s kind of my journey from the Genoa Indian School [3:06] to up to today, and I have two daughters [3:09] who both graduated from the University of Nebraska. [3:12] One is a teacher, and the other one [3:14] then went on to law school in New York, Columbia Law School, [3:17] and she practices international law at Akin Gump, [3:20] and Indian policy is her field, [3:24] and water law is her specialty. [3:25] So it’s really, the arc from the Genoa Indian School [3:30] to kill the Indian, and then ironically, [3:32] my daughter is advocating on behalf of Indians, [3:35] and my life work, for the past 22 years, [3:38] has been to serve our Native people [3:40] in the whole state of Nebraska. [3:42] And so I just really am blessed and honored, [3:45] and feel that it’s sort of natural [3:47] that I came from those leaders, [3:49] and of my 10 brothers and sisters, that I’m the one [3:52] that’s now providing a voice for our people.

[3:56] Sure, and what a legacy you’re leaving as well [3:59] through your family, Judi. [4:01] So, you have been with the commission for those 22 years? [4:05] Since 1995. [4:07] Prior to that, I worked for the Ponca Tribe [4:08] as our first NAGPRA person that dealt [4:12] with the return of human remains. [4:14] Our tribe was restored in 1990, [4:16] and that’s the same year that the federal law was enacted, [4:20] and the state of Nebraska was the first state [4:22] to have human remains protections. [4:24] Well, that’s a proud story that you’ve had a big part in. [4:29] Well listen, you represent an important segment [4:32] of Nebraska’s culture, our economy, and our history. [4:37] Native people and communities are not homogeneous. [4:40] They have differences. [4:42] They have complex and differing histories, [4:45] some of which you’ve just described, [4:47] as well as varying contemporary challenges [4:50] and opportunities, and simply ways of viewing the world. [4:53] Give us a picture of Indian country [4:55] in Nebraska a little bit.

[4:57] Well, I think a lot of Nebraskans don’t realize [5:00] that Indian people are in their communities, [5:03] and they really have no clue. [5:05] More Indian people live off-reservation than on-reservation. [5:09] And so, like myself, they’re urban Indians. [5:13] We have three land-based reservations in our state [5:16] where the offices are headquartered. [5:18] So headquarter tribes, the Santee Sioux have a reservation, [5:23] the Omaha, and the Winnebago. [5:25] The Winnebago were forcibly brought to Nebraska, [5:28] as the Santee Sioux were. [5:30] The Ponca Tribe, the story of Standing Bear, [5:33] we were forcibly removed, but luckily, [5:36] we’re able to come back home. [5:37] But then we’re terminated in ’62. [5:39] So we went from four reservations to three, [5:42] and many Nebraskans don’t know that. [5:45] The picture, numbers-wise, we’re small in numbers, [5:49] and so when you see these different maps [5:53] and statistical stories on the news, [5:55] it’s usually diversity is not Indian people, [5:58] it is African Americans, Asians, and Hispanics. [6:01] We are not even on the radar screen. [6:04] Yet we’re the first people, so that’s unfortunate. [6:07] But we really feel like today in Nebraska, [6:11] good things are happening, maybe not as fast [6:13] as all would like, but we’ve made progress [6:17] from when I started in 1995 until today. [6:21] The footprint has grown, we have changed [6:23] some of the negative stereotypes. [6:25] We have so many of our young people [6:26] that are going to the university, [6:28] and other colleges, and graduating in all fields, [6:31] so we are very proud of our young people, [6:34] and the legacy, and it’s great.

[6:37] Well listen, thinking of success stories, [6:41] one of the most dramatic success stories [6:44] with Native Americans in Nebraska would be Ho-Chunk Inc., [6:47] owned by the Winnebago tribe. [6:50] Lance Morgan is a well-known figure around the state [6:53] who’s really not only driven that entrepreneurial venture, [6:58] but has been a spokesperson for that work. [7:03] So, talk a little bit about what’s going on there, [7:06] and what that might mean for other elements [7:10] of the Native community in Nebraska.

[7:12] Okay, Lance Morgan is really a great Nebraskan, [7:15] a hero for all of us, and he went [7:18] to the University of Nebraska, [7:20] and then to Harvard, he’s an attorney. [7:22] We’re very proud of Lance, and he’s just [7:24] a great spokesperson. [7:26] Throughout Indian country, throughout the whole [7:28] United States of America, he has received [7:29] many awards from Harvard. [7:31] What they’ve done in that rural community up on Highway 77, [7:35] is something that our state should be very proud of, [7:37] but oftentimes, isn’t really touted as much [7:40] as I think it should be. [7:42] But you think, they have a tribal college, [7:44] they have a hospital, they have a roundabout, [7:47] how many rural towns in Nebraska have a roundabout? [7:51] They have done so many great things [7:53] through Lance’s leadership, and they have internal stability [7:57] where the governance has been allowed to [8:00] guarantee the success, and that’s often, [8:02] in Indian country, many times, internal challenges [8:07] sabotage the project. [8:08] So I think Lance has lent support to other tribes [8:12] in Nebraska, and they look to him, he partners with them, [8:16] and provides a lot of leadership abilities. [8:19] The Ho-Chunk Nation has received a lot of assistance too [8:22] from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux, [8:24] another tribe in Minneapolis who have been very successful. [8:27] My Santee relatives, so. [8:29] I think that Lance will continue to do great things. [8:33] And how they did that was through Indian gaming dollars. [8:37] Our state doesn’t have gaming, [8:38] but other lands extend into Iowa, [8:41] and Iowa does allow for gaming. [8:43] So in the beginning, it was exclusive Indian gaming. [8:45] Then, the Las Vegas people came in, [8:48] and we have those casinos. [8:50] But the Winnebago tribe was very forward-thinking, [8:54] they invested through lands in Ho-Chunk, [8:56] they diversified their economy. [8:58] That has put them in a position to be able to [9:01] continue to grow, and they have contracts [9:04] all over the United States, federal contracts. [9:07] They don’t just rely on jobs there. [9:10] The money comes back. [9:12] You want new dollars to come into communities. [9:14] You can’t just make money off of the people there. [9:18] So with tribes and the tax structures as it is, [9:21] that’s a challenge. [9:22] So yes, Lance is super, super great, [9:25] and we think that he’s done a magnificent job [9:28] that other rural communities in Nebraska could look to.

[9:32] I also think the Santee Sioux Nation, [9:34] that’s another example of a community [9:36] that’s kinda off the beaten path, [9:39] that have done good things. [9:40] My 12 years in Oklahoma included [9:43] a good bit of work with the Chickasaw Nation, [9:45] and others that makes me think, [9:49] every time I look at Ho-Chunk Inc., two things, [9:51] number one, while there was strong leadership, [9:54] there was also an effort to develop other leaders [9:57] within the group that are coming along, [10:00] taking responsibility for, number two, the diversity [10:04] that they’re starting to create in their economic models. [10:07] So it isn’t just gaming that would be relied upon, [10:12] but actually building out, and then consequently, [10:15] the community is strengthened with healthcare, [10:17] with education, those things that really do, [10:20] we know, spell long-term viability, [10:24] and a thriving capacity for a rural community, [10:26] so I think it’s been a great story.

[10:28] Well listen, so that’s one of the most dramatic stories [10:32] in Nebraska, but there are other communities [10:36] where Native leaders have said, [10:39] “You know, we’re not okay with where we are. [10:42] “We think we know where we wanna go. [10:45] “We wanna do some things together [10:47] “to enhance education opportunities, [10:49] “economic development opportunities, [10:51] “building upon our cultural values, [10:54] “but moving toward a stronger community.” [10:56] Talk about some of those efforts [10:58] that are maybe a little less well-known, [11:01] less spotlighted, than Ho-Chunk.

[11:03] Okay, I’d go back to the Santee Sioux Nation, [11:06] because they are way up in northeastern Nebraska, [11:10] and you have to drive 12 miles off the highway [11:13] to get to the reservation, so that is really [11:16] an isolated community, but they have a tribal college, [11:19] which is part of the Omaha Nation Tribal College, [11:22] Nebraska Indian Community College. [11:24] And so the Santee were able to most recently [11:27] develop a golf course. [11:29] And it’s a beautiful golf course that is designed [11:33] like some of the greatest golf courses [11:35] in the whole United States. [11:36] And what’s unique about that is they’ve been able [11:38] to take their cultural values and infuse them [11:42] into the various holes. [11:43] I’m not a golfer myself, but the summer we went up there, [11:45] and we had a tour, rode around on the golf course, [11:48] and the sand traps, is that what you call them? [11:50] Yes, yes. They’re shaped [11:51] like a bear foot claw, they have a fox, [11:56] different symbols that are culturally special [12:00] to the Santee Sioux Dakota Nation. [12:02] They also have at each hole, when you’re there, [12:05] standing around visiting with your colleagues, [12:07] you can read these kiosks that tell about [12:10] what the significance of that particular sand trap is, [12:15] and you learn more about the tribe’s culture. [12:19] So I think that’s a really awesome way [12:21] of bringing your culture into, also, [12:24] activities that help you to be strong warrior people [12:28] through good health. [12:30] So they want their young people, [12:31] golf is something that Native people can do. [12:34] We also can go to college. [12:35] We can do all the things that other people do. [12:38] And there’s nothing wrong with tribal people [12:40] being successful, and I’m so proud of my Santee relatives, [12:44] that through the leadership of Chairman Roger Trudell, [12:47] who’s been there a long time, through gaming dollars, [12:49] they have a Class II casino, because they’re in Nebraska, [12:52] they can’t have a Class III casino. [12:55] They had for a while when I first started [12:57] under Governor Nelson, a non-compacted class, [13:00] sort of like a Class III casino, [13:02] but there, I think, is an example.

[13:04] The Ponca Tribe has tried to develop without a reservation [13:08] some tourism through the story of Standing Bear. [13:12] They have an earth lodge over at Niobrara, [13:14] and some new sculpture pieces that they’ve created, [13:19] and they’re doing a lot of innovative things. [13:22] And then if you go down to the southern part of the state, [13:25] the 19.5 miles of the Standing Bear Trail [13:28] that the tribe took too from the Nebraska [13:30] Trails Foundation. [13:32] That’s a good example of a partnership, [13:34] and it’s a win-win for the state of Nebraska, [13:37] and it’s also helpful to all the communities along the way, [13:41] whether that’s Beatrice, down to Barneston, [13:44] and for the Ponca Tribe. [13:46] And that too promotes healthy living. [13:48] Riding bicycles, golfing. [13:50] So for our children and going forward, [13:54] we want our people to be successful in a holistic way, [13:58] that we can be educated, but that we don’t have [14:00] to give up who we are. [14:02] That we can stay connected to our tribal values [14:07] of respect for place. [14:10] We love Nebraska. [14:11] We love the Cornhuskers, but we also love [14:14] our Dakota stories, and all of the other, [14:18] the Winnebago, the Ho-Chunk, those stories. [14:21] And so that’s what’s really great about working [14:23] at the Indian commission, that I can be a part [14:25] of working with the legislature, the governor too, [14:29] through the 150 celebrations to make sure [14:31] that those stories were told. [14:32] On Centennial Mall, we’ve just redone that, [14:34] $9 million project, there’s a footprint [14:37] of Native presence on that mall. [14:40] And wherever possible, that’s what I try to do, [14:43] is to bring the voice of the first people, [14:45] and in a proud, good way that can benefit the whole state.

[14:49] You’re always bringing people together, [14:51] and I have to tell you, one of the reasons [14:54] I wanted to have Judi on this show [14:56] is that she’s very deeply involved in a project now [14:59] that really has captured my imagination, [15:03] and that’s the restoration of the Dr. Susan LaFlesche [15:06] Picotte home and hospital in the rural community [15:09] of Walthill, Nebraska. [15:11] Some of you, I know, have read UNL Professor Joe Starita’s [15:16] book Warrior of the People, that tells this fascinating [15:20] story of Dr. Susan and her life, ’cause she not only [15:24] was the first Native American medical doctor, [15:28] but she was just a genuine hero in so many ways. [15:33] So, Judi, I know you’re helping to lead that effort [15:36] for that restoration, I want you to talk [15:38] a little bit about what’s going on there, [15:41] and what some of your dreams are for that great project.

[15:44] Wow, that is something that I’m really enjoying [15:46] working on, and we have so may great Nebraskans [15:49] that are joining the team, if you will. [15:51] Back in the day of Standing Bear, [15:53] there were all the people in Omaha that helped, [15:56] the newspaper people. [15:57] And when we just recently did that trail, [15:59] we worked with Ross Greathouse and Lynne Lightner. [16:01] So when I was working with Ross and connecting them [16:03] to the Ponca Tribe, I said, Ross, [16:05] when you’re done with this, I’ve got another project [16:07] I need you to help me raise money for, because I– [16:09] This is your story. Yes. [16:10] I visited with Omaha tribal folks. [16:14] And Joe’s book, the story’s out there, [16:16] but the hospital is in such a sad state of affairs. [16:21] Dr. Susan built that hospital with $23,000 [16:24] of money that she earned, no federal funds, state dollars, [16:27] private donors, but it has deteriorated. [16:31] So Ross said, sure I will. [16:32] So now we’ve put together a team of people, [16:34] and we are going tomorrow over to Fremont, [16:38] that’s our location that the tribal members [16:40] come down from Macy, and then people from Omaha. [16:44] We have a team right now of Gary Bowen from BVH, [16:47] he’s an architect that’s giving in kind, [16:49] another colleague at his firm as well, [16:52] and then David Levy signed on as an attorney [16:54] to help us pro bono. [16:57] Let’s see, Dr. Bruce Sheffield is a retired pediatrician, [17:01] he’s a part of the team. [17:03] Mary Hines from Omaha, and we’ve got a young Native girl [17:07] out of Omaha at UNMC that’s joined on. [17:11] So it’s growing, we’ve raised about $30,000, [17:14] we need to raise at least $1 million, [17:16] so if there’s anyone out there that’s listening [17:18] that would like to lend support, [17:19] and our goal is to restore the hospital [17:23] to what it looked like back in the 1900s. [17:25] Dr. Susan only lived to be 50, but that hospital, [17:29] she was so ahead of her time, forward-thinking, [17:32] and we want to reestablish it as a museum of sorts [17:36] to tell the story of Dr. Susan, but other stories as well, [17:39] bring in visiting, maybe have artists in residence, [17:44] have art exhibits.

[17:46] I was at MONA yesterday, and I was thinking, [17:48] we could partner with MONA and bring things from there. [17:50] We also want to have a purpose, so we may have [17:53] some medical outreach there, a clinic, perhaps. [17:58] The Omaha Tribe has totally bought into this, [18:02] they’re onboard, they have given us support financially, [18:05] so I think our goal is, in two years, [18:09] to have raised the money, and to have that hospital [18:12] restored as a place where people can come, [18:16] and the local community of Walthill can be proud of, [18:19] and it will be something that tourists coming in [18:22] to Omaha, Nebraska, can get in their car, come over, [18:26] and they can visit that, and see, [18:28] the German people wanna know about Indian people, [18:30] and they can learn about Dr. Susan, [18:32] go to the reservations, go up to Ho-Chunk, [18:34] see that beautiful village that was created, [18:37] then drive over to Santee, go golf, [18:39] go over to the Ponca Tribe, [18:41] see some great things over there. [18:43] And so, through the Dr. Susan hospital, [18:46] I think we’re gonna tell a lot of other stories, [18:48] and it’s really fascinating, and I hope that [18:51] it’s something that we can accomplish [18:53] in my time yet here at the Indian commission. [18:56] Well, I think it’s a very exciting project.

[18:58] Listen Judi, we’re running out of time, [19:00] but you are one of those special human beings [19:01] that we have the opportunity to get to know [19:04] at the Rural Futures Institute. [19:05] Your sparkling talents and your intellect, [19:10] you could’ve been successful anywhere, [19:11] you could’ve gone to New York, LA, Hong Kong, [19:14] and invested yourself. [19:16] We’re awfully glad that you chose to invest yourself [19:19] here in Nebraska, and in this region. [19:21] You’re really a special citizen in this part of the world, [19:24] we’re glad to know you. [19:25] Anything you’d like to add today? [19:28] No, I’d just like, echo what you say, [19:30] that this is a beautiful place to live, [19:32] and the older I get, I have four grandchildren now, [19:34] and a fifth due any day, that place is important, [19:37] and I can see why Standing Bear’s son [19:39] wanted to be buried back along the Niobrara, [19:42] and I’m just really blessed that I get to serve [19:45] all the tribes and all the Indian people, [19:47] and all the citizens of the state, [19:49] and I don’t really wanna go anywhere else. [19:52] This is a good place to live. [19:54] Nebraska is a wonderful place.

[19:56] We’re glad you’re here. [19:57] Well listen, we want you to stay in touch [19:59] with the Rural Futures Institute through Facebook, Twitter, [20:02] Instagram, I understand, and as well as our [20:07] recently-revamped website that we think you’ll enjoy. [20:12] We’ll be back in weeks to come, [20:14] talking to other real people, looking at real places, [20:17] success stories that demonstrate that [20:19] thriving rural communities are a legitimate best choice [20:22] for worthwhile living. [20:23] Thanks for joining us.

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