Protocol When Working With Tribes
(adapted from document that can found in original form on the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council website at: http://www.mniac.org)
Understand the unique relationship between American Indians and the United States government. It is a political relationship – not race based.
The history of this unique relationship is relevant and important to working with a Tribe.
There are over 500 federally recognized Tribes – each with its own history, culture, and language.
Remember that American Indians may be suspicious of outsiders and outside ideas.
Do not assume one Tribe or one leader speaks for all. Take the time to find the key players.
Those you consult with might not be able to answer questions immediately. They may need to think about it and consult with others.
American Indians object to being ‘consulted’ or ‘studied’ by people who have little intention of doing anything in response to their concerns. Be prepared to negotiate, to find ways to accommodate the Tribe’s concerns. Be prepared to respond with reasons why the advice may or may not be followed.
Meetings with Tribal council officials and Tribal program staff should, if possible, be conducted between the same levels of officials.
Most Tribal governments are not wealthy and it may be difficult for Tribal officials to attend meetings or to exchange correspondence. Also, Tribal governments in general do not have large support staff to assign to meetings, follow-up, etc.
Formal notices or invitations should be addressed to the Tribal Chairperson and/or the appropriate Council Representative or Committee, with the respective Tribal program Director copied in on the letter.
Do not rely solely on written communications. Follow-up written correspondence with telephone calls, faxes, or in-person contacts.
Traditional authorities often do not relate well to written communication and may find face-to-face consultation more appropriate.
Understand that there are different ways of communication. Seemingly extraneous data may be reviewed and re-reviewed. During negotiations, prepare to discuss all aspects of an issue at hand simultaneously rather than sequentially.
Respect Tribal Council representatives as elected officials of a government.
Like all business relationships, honesty and integrity are highly valued. A sense of humor is appreciated but generally, serious, business-like behavior is appropriate.
Always shake hands when introduced, meeting with someone or departing. It is customary to shake hands with everyone in the room.
If possible, arrange meetings with refreshments and/or a meal. This is a cultural characteristic that is still strong in Indian country.