In the 1980s First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) was on the ground in tribal communities and the work was “aimed at building tribal self-sufficiency through programs that are both economically viable and culturally sensitive,” according to the First Nations 1986-1987 Biennial Report.
The First Nations Financial Project, as the organization was then called until the name was changed to the First Nations Development Institute in 1991, focused on six major program components: Technical Assistance, the Oweesta Program, the National Policy and Advocacy Arm, the Marketing Program, the Research and Data Bank, and the Tribal Commerce and Enterprise Program, which was later renamed the Tribal Commerce and Enterprise Management Program, or TCEMP. The six programs were seen as a wheel. The field sites were at the hub and were supported in movement by the spokes, which represented the six organizational components of First Nations, as outlined in the 1986-1987 Biennial Report.
Meeting the Need
TCEMP was conceived by First Nations in 1981 and then launched in the fall of 1984. The program was generously funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York with $264,250 from January 1985 through June 1987. The TCEMP fellows would attend Yale University for two years, then enter a year of service working for their tribal communities after graduation.
“The skilled management of natural and economic resources is a serious need of tribes today. Indian people need high-level training and education to be able to take over the business of directing and managing the reservation economy,” noted a quote from the Biennial Report.
Sherry Salway Black served 19 years as the Senior Vice President of, and on the boards of directors for First Nations and First Nations Oweesta Corporation. She holds a master’s degree in business administration from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. In 2016 she received a Special Distinguished Leadership Award from the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). She retired from NCAI in 2015 after seven years as the director of the Partnership for Tribal Governance.
Salway Black is Oglala Lakota and recalls the early years of TCEMP as exciting and energizing.
“The fellowship program was one part of First Nations’ overall strategy and focused on building capacity to manage Native assets. The master’s in public and private management (MPPM) at the Yale School of Organization and Management (YSOM, now the School of Management), offered a unique education that fit more closely to reality in Native communities – the “public and private” nature of Native economies. Students must know business and policy to overcome the structural barriers in reservation economies,” said Salway Black.
The TCEMP lecture series at Yale gave the fellows insight into reservation economic development, while connecting them with key policy and business leaders. The lecture series covered topics ranging from Indigenous international issues, to credit and finance, to rural business development and land consolidation focused on reservation economies.
Yale TCEMP Fellows
The TCEMP fellows each had to apply to Yale and be accepted into the rigorous and challenging program. The first TCEMP fellows who attended the program in the fall of 1986 were John Apple, Oglala Sioux Tribe, South Dakota, who assisted First Nations as a local organizer in the development of the Lakota Funds; Bruce A. King, Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin, who after graduation worked for First Nations as the first director of the Oweesta Program; Russell Red Elk, Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, Montana; and Leonard M. Harjo, Seminole Nation of Oklahoma.
According to the 1986-1987 Biennial Report, Harjo interned for Citibank in New York over the summer of 1987 and reviewed statutes and policies affecting the banking industry in Oklahoma. He completed TCEMP and graduated with a master’s degree in public and private management from Yale in 1988.
“Remember during that time period tribally owned businesses were just beginning to emerge. The law field was getting crowded, I knew if I had an MBA I could work just about anywhere in Indian Country. I tried a part-time MBA program, but soon realized with a family the only way for me to do it was to go to school full time,” said Harjo.
The experience at Yale was invaluable and challenged the fellows. Harjo also had additional responsibilities and commitments as a single father raising a four-year-old daughter while in graduate school. Born and raised on his grandfather’s allotment in Wolf, Oklahoma, Harjo left home for a period to attend his junior and senior years of high school at a prep school in the East. This experience prepared him for his undergraduate years at Harvard, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics, focusing on economic development, in 1979, and eventually Yale. Harjo could have landed a job anywhere, but he returned to Oklahoma to fulfill his year of service to his tribe and focus his energies on developing the tribe’s economy.
“It (TCEMP) gave me the confidence to take on the challenges we often face in Indian Country, and to not be afraid of them. Our people, Native people, do not always have the confidence to succeed, even when they are capable. This lack of confidence often means that we don’t assume responsibility for overcoming challenges in the workplace when things simply need to get done.”
Harjo held many positions, from tribal planner to director of economic development, and was appointed the first director of the Seminole Nation Development Authority. Harjo did whatever was needed for his tribe for the next 20 years. Fast forward to 2009, and Harjo decided to pour all his experience and leadership into a larger role and was elected the Principal Chief of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma in the fall of that year.
Chief Harjo credits TCEMP with providing him with the skills he needed to tackle the challenges his tribe has faced. He sees tribal members having to make the choice to find work outside the reservation due to a lack of professional skills needed to take advantage of job opportunities or to advance on the reservation, which leads to a loss of human capital, culture and community.
“A strong economy employs all people and maintains a community. But it is hard to maintain a culture and a community when people have to provide for their families. For culture to thrive, economies have to thrive. This is the hardest challenge for a tribe,” said Harjo.
TCEMP Minnesota Bound
After the first class graduated from Yale in 1988, TCEMP moved and was based at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota (UMN) located in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. First Nations felt the Yale campus did not have the Native support the students needed to succeed. The University of Minnesota campus had more Native students enrolled, and a large Native community in the area which provided cultural support for the students. Fellows also took classes at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at UMN for their policy education. The Carnegie Corporation of New York continued its support from 1991 to 1994 with a $96,000 grant for the three years.
Since its inception, TCEMP supported 14 students with a graduate-level management education across two major institutions. There were four fellows who started the original program at Yale, with two graduating. Ten students attended the University of Minnesota program, with eight graduating. Three of the eight UMN graduates were considered apart of the TCEMP program, but were supported by funding outside of the Carnegie grant.
One UMN TCEMP fellow supported by the Carnegie grant was Terry Mason Moore, who is from the Osage Nation. She graduated from the UMN Carlson School of Management with a master’s degree in business administration in 1992. Moore had already obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Management from Northeastern State University, and a Juris Doctorate degree from the University of New Mexico School of Law before being selected as a TCEMP fellow.
“Looking back, I wonder how I was able to do it. I had small children when I went to Minnesota, ages three and five. My fellow mate, Aurolyn Stwyer (Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and 1992 TCEMP alum) had a young son. This was before computers, so we had to write everything down, read real books, manage a home, and daycare. We had real challenges, but we leaned on each other, and others in the same situation in the Native community on campus and in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. We developed a network and support to be able to succeed and graduate,” said Moore.
After graduation Moore worked in the area of Indian child welfare. Later, she joined Kurt Bluedog’s law firm in Minneapolis and worked on commercial transactions and the business side of tribal gaming. She felt good about building on and combining her business and law degrees to assist tribes, and a number she worked with in the early days of gaming are doing well today, such as the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community in Prior Lake, Minnesota.
Watch for the May-June issue of Indian Giver, where we’ll feature profiles of Chief Harjo and Judge Terry Mason Moore.
She and her husband, Ted, who is an artist, and their four children returned to Oklahoma in 1999, and Moore went to work for her tribe, the Osage Nation. In addition to being an attorney, she served as a tribal judge for 22 years, the Assistant Principal Chief of the Osage Nation, and tribal council member, vice chair of the Osage Tribe Gaming Enterprise, and as the Osage Nation Gaming commissioner. Currently she is serving as general counsel to the Office of the Chief.
TCEMP’s Relevance Today
Both Mason and Harjo agree that a program such as TCEMP is still needed today. Chief Harjo sees tribal members every day who would benefit from the higher education and professional development. He says it’s especially needed by the smaller tribes.
“Some tribes don’t have the luxury to develop people internally over a period of time. There are probably only about 50 tribes who have that ability to hire someone at an entry level and train them over a period of years. For the rest of us, the individuals we hire are asked to perform at a high level instantly – often with little or no training or mentoring from within the tribe. There is still as great a need as before in expanding Native economies, to develop Native professionals capable of working in the public and private sectors,” said Harjo.
Moore sees the lack of business skills among the younger Native people and the need for another TCEMP.
“The need is real. There are a lot of attorneys, social service professionals and artists. But there is a need for young people to study finance, loans, mortgages, banking and credit unions. We need professional people to staff those higher-level positions. We need to utilize our own managers and tribal members. We need to grow our own.”
Editor’s note: portions of this article previously appeared in the First Nations Financial Project Report, 1986-1987 Biennial Report.
By Mary K. Bowannie, First Nations Communications Officer