Heart of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe
"When Chairman Heart of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe gave us the
Dreamcatcher at the end of the retreat, I felt like I had just won
a lifetime achievement award! I think this event may have changed
my life forever," said Beverly Santicola, the organizer of the Ute
Mountain Native National Partnership Retreat.
I had the honor of facilitating this retreat with my colleagues
on April 6-10, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. I share Beverly's emotions
about this retreat because its outcomes provide a glimmer of hope
in a national crisis. As reported by Julian Brave Noisecat in his
recent article: "Native Children Are Facing A 'National Emergency.'
Now Congress Is Pushing To Address It," tribes all over the country
face "overwhelming poverty, epidemic suicide, combat-level rates
of PTSD and low educational attainment among Native youth."
The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe (UMUT) is one of three tribes that
comprise the Ute Nation and one of 566 federally recognized tribes
that are dealing with this national crisis. For more than 2,000
years, the people of the Ute Nation have lived in Colorado, Utah,
and Northern Arizona. Nearly 40% of the UMUT lives below the poverty
line, more than double the average poverty rate in Colorado. Many
tribal families are dependent on financial assistance to survive.
The average life expectancy for the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe is only
55 years of age. The UMUT faces many issues affecting Native American
communities, including teen suicides, alcoholism, rampant tobacco
use, and juvenile crime.
Beverly Santicola (65), a two-time winner of a Purpose Prize
Fellowship for helping rural people, had been working with the Ute
Mountain Ute Tribe for over four years, when she asked me to coach
her on how to help even more young people in tribal and rural communities
across the country. Beverly's dedication to alleviating poverty
stems from her own experiences growing up on a farm in the Midwest.
When Beverly was 12 years old, her father had a heart attack in
late summer, at a time when the crops on which their livelihood
depended were ready to be harvested. As Beverly recalled: "I felt
helpless -- I was too young to step in for my father. But magically,
the next day, the neighbors showed up to bring in our crops." Beverly
never forgot their act of kindness and what it meant to her family.
When Beverly learned of the tribe's crisis she wanted to bring
in partners to help - just like the neighbors of her childhood.
To kick off the partnership, which includes the UMUT, the National
Association of Resource Conservation & Development Councils,
the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and other federal agencies, she organized
the Ute Mountain Native National Partnership Retreat. The event
exceeded expectations, as it inspired the tribe to develop socially
innovative solutions to address many of their economic, health,
education, and social issues.
Here is an overview of the seven key elements of this new approach
to social innovation that we used at the retreat:
1. Walk in our Moccasins: Inspired by Chairman Heart's invitation
to retreat participants "to walk in our moccasins," we facilitated
a process of collaborative dialogue to help participants really
understand the tribe's needs.
2. Empowered Leadership: We coached tribal leaders on how to
lead the development of their own solutions instead of merely giving
3. Strength-Based Approach: The tribe created solutions based
on its passions and strengths, adapted from the methodology shared
in my book, The Boomerang Approach, rather than focusing only on
4. Partnering for Expertise and Resources: The tribe invited
powerful partners such as the National Association of Resource Conservation
& Development Councils -- an organization with expertise from
more than 1 million volunteers across the nation.
5. Visual Art and Film: The tribe invited Films by Youth Inside,
an arts organization that teaches tribal youth how to tell their
stories by making their own films. We also used graphical facilitation
to artistically capture the vision and strategies of the tribe.
As Chairman Heart emphasized, "We are visual people and understand
better that way."
6. Tribal-Led and Place-Based Solutions: The tribe took the
lead to develop solutions such as the Tour de Ute, which leverages
the natural resources and beauty of tribal land.
7. Facilitated Dialogue with Government Agencies: After the
tribe had developed solutions, we facilitated a dialogue with government
agencies where the tribe presented its plans and the agencies identified
expertise and resources to help implement these solutions.
Facilitating dialogue around tribal-led solutions has been recognized
as a new approach to collaboration between the tribe and government
agencies. Rod Robinson, Deputy Associate Director, Diversion and
Re-entry/Tribal Justice Support, at the Bureau of Indian Affairs,
who brought many of the agencies to the table, commented, "It was
a powerful experience to see so many federal agencies so enthusiastic
to partner with a tribe that is unflinchingly committed to strengthening
their community environment for generations to come." DeAnne House,
Treasurer and member of the Tribal Council, was equally enthusiastic
when she said, "It made us proud to be able to share our stories
with so many agencies and for the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe to be recognized
by the federal government."
As reports of social crisis and increased violence hound us
every day in the media, it is more imperative than ever that we
develop community-led social innovation approaches in real partnership
with government to address these kinds of issues. The Ute Mountain
Native National Partnership is a positive step in this direction.
This partnership would not have been possible without the commitment
of people from the tribe, government agencies and other organizations.
This retreat was just the beginning. I believe we have found
an innovative approach that I hope will serve as a model for other
struggling tribes, and empower them to catch their dream too.