EDCUtah is highlighting a Utah community organization or multicultural resource group each month. This is part of an effort to inform our investors about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) best practices and resources in Utah.
To celebrate Native American Heritage month in November, we spoke to Dustin Jansen, division director, and James Toledo, program manager, for the Utah Division of Indian Affairs.
What is the mission of the Division ofIndian Affairs?
DJ: First, it’s helpful to understand the background. Utah is home to eight distinct tribal nations; each with a unique heritage. They include the Confederate Tribes of Goshute, the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, the San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe, the Northwestern Band of Shoshone Nation, the Skull Valley Band of Goshute, the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe – White Mesa Community, and the Navajo Nation.
Utah Indian Tribes are sovereign, and this sovereignty predates the U.S. Constitution. When foreign governments began landing on these shores, they recognized Tribes as political entities. They entered into government-to-government relationships by making treaties. Later, when the Constitution was written, the only time the Tribes were mentioned was in the Commerce clause – enumerating as one of the powers of the Legislative Branch of the Federal Government the right to trade with states, Tribes, and foreign nations.
With this Federal recognition of Tribal sovereignty, the State of Utah wants to be respectful of that sovereignty and work together to build effective partnerships with all Utah Indian Tribes.
Our mission is to promote and facilitate positive intergovernmental relations between the state and Tribal governments. We do this by helping State agencies and nongovernmental organizations connect with their tribal counterparts or other organizations with similar goals and values. By helping these parties work together, we ensure a healthier relationship with our tribal partners.
Share an example of the State and theTribes working well together.
DJ: Tribes have the ability to make laws and help their people within their own communities, but many things overlap Tribal and state responsibilities – for instance, roads and public health.
In 2014, Governor Herbert directed executive agencies to produce a consultation protocol and to appoint a Tribal liaison to interface with the Tribes. We work really hard to connect these State Tribal liaisons with their Tribal counterparts to help these governments communicate, cooperate, collaborate and consult with one another.
Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) has a big role. UDOT is constantly working on building and maintaining roads, including roads that run through reservations, so they have to stay abreast of Tribal laws and boundaries and to stay in contact with Tribal Councils. That requires a healthy relationship.
These consultation protocols have worked really well for the Department of Health and the Division of Emergency Management during the pandemic, helping them to distribute PPE, testing, vaccines, etc. The only way that worked as smoothly as it did is because we were able to connect these Tribal Liaisons from State agencies with their Tribal counterparts. Fortunately, some agencies like the Department of Health and Division of Emergency Management have been proactive in building positive relationships with their tribal government counterparts.
JT: An interesting fact about COVID -- Native American communities in Utah have higher vaccination rates than the state in general. We’re pushing toward 75% vaccination rates in many areas. In our culture, we believe strongly in honoring our elders, and one of the ways you honor elders is by caring for your elders. There are many multigenerational homes in Tribal communities – and they’re recognized for their cultural value, not necessarily financial.
Our elders are our libraries, our wisdom keepers. As native people, we have an oral history. We pass our history down in stories. That’s how I learned about my culture and my family history. When the pandemic hit, only a handful of people possessed the knowledge or had the language, so it became an elevated priority to make sure those elders stayed safe.
How are we doing on Broadband?
DJ: The pandemic showed us that not just in Tribal lands, but throughout rural Utah, there were deficiencies when it comes to the internet. Getting broadband out to some of those areas is just quite expensive.
When the schools were shut down during the pandemic, they sent out Chrome books and other gear, but a lot of kids in Tribal areas just didn’t have Internet. So, they tried sending the students out with Hot Spot devices, but the data plans were so small that one teacher could use up all the monthly data with just one class session.
So, kids would have to have their parents drive 30, 40, even 60 miles into town for a signal. On some reservations where internet infrastructure isn’t developed, some students would say, “If I can climb on top of the mesa, I can get a good signal to get my homework done.”
The state is trying really hard to get broadband out to everyone. Not just for education, but for teleworking. Governor Cox has an initiative to widen teleworking within the state.
JT: As one example, just before the pandemic there was a project with the Utah Education and Telehealth Network (UETN) expanding broadband to schools and health facilities through the southern part of San Juan County, including the Navajo Nation. They’re still working on securing right-of-way and funding to finish the project, but there has been progress.
How do employers reach Native American talent?
JT: About 60% of Native Americans in Utah live in cities throughout the state. That’s partly because there’s not a lot of work on reservations.
DJ: But reaching Native American talent is going to take a conscious effort. Utah Valley University for example drives to reservations for recruiting events at Tribal fairs. Events like that are where you should advertise your job openings. You should also go to social media sites where Native People are:
· Tribal Governments – in Tribal newspapers and classified ads
I’d also encourage you to use our office. Six times a year we have a Utah Tribal Leaders meeting. On that committee are elected representatives from every Tribe. The committee meets to hear state reports from different agencies but also to hear about opportunities that can benefit their communities.
You can go present and say, “This is our company, this is what we do, and this is how we’d like to work with Tribes.” It’s a very broad stroke introduction to the Tribes, but it can be effective if you follow up. Once you’ve been introduced, you can reach out to each of the Tribes individually.
JT: We also host The Governor’s Native American Summit typically in July or early August. You can become a sponsor and run an ad in the printed program, or you can do an exhibitor table booth, or just buy tickets to attend.
How can EDCUtah investors learn more about and support Native American communities?
JT: We’ve worked with the Utah Office of Tourism to connect them with entrepreneurs and small businesses who are offering cultural tourism experiences that teach visitors about Native American history and culture. One example of that is a family in the Monument Valley area who has developed an opportunity for visitors to stay in a traditional Navajo Hogan, enjoy traditional foods, take a guided horseback tour, and understand not only our history as a Native people, but the fact that we’re still here and still relevant today.
DJ: We also work closely with museums – including a lot of “mom and pop” museums around the state – to carefully curate and maintain objects of cultural and historic significance. A big part of that is repatriation.
We have non-Indians today who, when grandpa passes away, they find artifacts, or in some cases a skeleton – an actual skeleton – in the attic from people who used to identify themselves as “treasure hunters.” That’s where we step in – to find the best way to respectfully return these artifacts to the Tribes or, with consultation with tribes, how to appropriately display them in a museum.
We’re very grateful for the museums in Utah that are trying to educate themselves on best practices, and for the descendants of treasure hunters who want to return those artifacts back.
For more information on all the programs, visit https://indian.utah.gov/.