Tribal funding represents only a tiny sliver of overall federal spending. But the impact of the government’s automatic budget cuts, known as sequestration, will be felt immediately.
Still, Jamie Fullmer, chairman and chief executive officer of Blue Stone Strategy Group, a Native-owned and -managed advisory firm that provides leadership support for tribal government oversight and economic development, urged tribal leaders to stay in the driver’s seat and plan now for the future.
“Blue Stone can help formulate a strategy, refine any existing plans and detail what impacts the sequester may have on a particular tribe,” said Fullmer. “Just because we face challenges doesn’t mean we stop planning. As tribes, we have always faced the challenge of limited funding.”
The sequestration situation is serious. “By my count,” wrote Mark Trahant in his Austerity blog, “there will be at least $386 million in direct service budget cuts between now and the end of September” if the sequester continues. Nationally, a projected $1.5 trillion in cuts are scheduled to take place over the next decade if Congress does not reach an agreement on deficit reduction.
Cuts to the Department of the Interior alone could constitute a loss of almost $130 million to core tribal governmental functions, according to a February analysis released by the National Congress of American Indians. Reductions may hit vital tribal programs and services: housing, health care, education, law enforcement and human services such as elder support, child care and programs for individuals with special needs.
“Forced spending cuts will undermine the trust, treaty and statutory obligations to tribal governments that are funded in the federal budget,” the report stated. “Not only would it sacrifice the federal trust responsibility to tribes, but it would thwart tribes’ ability to promote economic growth or plan for the benefit of future generations.”
That is where a group like Blue Stone comes in. Its long list of services includes strategic planning, organizational assessment, community development, updating government infrastructure, economic diversification planning, tribal job creation, financial literacy and more.
Blue Stone’s team consists of more than two dozen subject-matter experts with deep experience working in Indian country. Like Fullmer, former chairman of the Yavapai-Apache Nation, many of Blue Stone’s advisors and strategists are current or past tribal leaders. They include Alvin H. Warren (Santa Clara Pueblo), Henry Cagey (Lummi Nation) and Tony Sanchez (Seminole Tribe of Florida). Others, such as Ernie Stevens Jr. (Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin Inc.), W. Ron Allen (Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe), Jack C. Jackson Jr. (Navajo Nation) and Brian Patterson (Oneida Indian Nation) provide leadership on the national scene. The Oneida Indian Nation owns Oneida Nation Enterprises, parent company of Indian Country Today Media Network.
Patterson is currently serving his third term as president of United Southern and Eastern Tribes. He has been a senior strategist with Blue Stone for four years and considers the firm to be especially responsive and culturally sensitive to its clientele.
Patterson pointed to Blue Stone’s emphasis on community visioning in relation to tribal strategic planning. Tribes, he said, don’t often have a process for aligning common goals and interests across programs, services and the citizenry. The more voices included in a plan, Patterson noted, the better for the community.
“We don’t aim to create a playbook that gets placed on a shelf,” Patterson said. “Our goal is implementation.”
This sense of social responsibility is a feature of Blue Stone’s offerings. Recognizing that tribes struggle to balance long-term strategic planning with ongoing initiatives, team leaders ask a set of questions to help tribes develop what Fullmer calls “highest and best use” planning to support the balance of current and future priorities.
Call it a checklist for a good working relationship, he said.
“We ask: What kind of society is the community trying to build? What do they hope to preserve or protect? What assets do they have to work with? What do they hope to gain? What is the tribe willing to give up?
“Blue Stone comes from a tribal perspective,” Fullmer concluded. “We strategize to develop recommendations that initiate prioritization and coordination and collaboration among tribal assets. This kind of focus can make a huge difference, especially in challenging times like these. Now more than ever, it’s crucial for tribes to prioritize.”