Excerpts from the Foreward to

“Working in Indian Country”

First and Second Place Winner in the 2012 CIPA EVVY Book Awards

Foreward by Gerard A. Baker—Mandan-Hidatsa

Doe-shaa (Greetings),

When I started working with the government over thirty-four years ago, being a new college graduate and a member of the Three Affiliated tribes of North Dakota on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, I never thought too much about the relationship between tribes and federal agencies and if they knew how to “talk” to one another. I soon discovered that most Government leaders had no idea of how to establish Government-to-Government relations with tribes.

I can still remember sitting in some meetings regarding tribes, where the tribes were not even present, and my thought was, as usual, “We Indians are not even invited to the table, but they are making decisions for us!” I was not paid too much attention to in those meetings as a young seasonal with no experience, but the government officials thought it was great, as I was an Indian—as if my presence alone was all that was needed. It was evident at that time that the U. S. Government leaders had no idea, nor was there too much concern about, “getting it right.”…

As I look back on it now, it was the best time and I do believe that I truly heard and learned from my elders many things including how to communicate with these elders. I would use these lessons later in my government career when I, too, would have to work with tribes. I later realized that these elders, the elders who would sit and visit with my father and mother, were the same Indian leaders that had to communicate with the government and deal with their procedures. These elders were the leaders in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s, and I also realized their lessons were not available to most of those government workers at that time. Now, Larry Keown’s Working in Indian Country brings out those much needed lessons in a straight-forward discussion using his experiences, his mistakes, and his successes…

Larry has learned the hard way, which in this case, is the best way to learn. He is a non-Indian (a white guy), but in all of my years of teaching these very subjects, from an Indian side I may add, I have never run across a person who has captured these abilities and knows how to present it so we can all continue to learn from it.

I have realized that over the years it takes someone like Larry and his experiences in working with Indian leaders in Indian Country, to bring that across to others. Through Larry I have learned that we all need to take a different approach and maybe listen in a different way. He talks about his mistakes and what he learned from them, and how he used his lessons to work with Indian leaders. Now he is passing it on in a very educational and practical and positive manner. He accomplishes this the way most American Indian leaders do, to the point and with explanation…

As I read and re-read this book, each time it was more and more like sitting in our old log house and watching and listening to the elders, learning from them how I was to approach and visit with them with all the respect and honesty they deserve. It is not easy when you first work with tribes. You are coming into a very different world, especially if you did not grow up that way. Larry gives rock-solid advice—this is a guide and a message—that now is the time to understand and acknowledge the necessity of working with tribal people on their terms. If you really do want to create a working relationship that is honest and productive, it is time to understand the American Indian people, to not only be able to work with them, but to work with them on their terms.

—Gerard A. Baker—Mandan-Hidatsa
Retired, National Park Service, Assistant Director of American Indian Relations and Superintendent, Mount Rushmore National Memorial

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