Since its humble beginnings in 1990 as a one-person lobbying shop in Washington, D.C., over the course of 25 years, Kauffman & Associates, Inc., (KAI) has expanded to a 65-member firm with offices in Spokane, Washington, and on Capitol Hill.
The Native American, woman-owned business provides support to tribes; tribal organizations; foundations; private-sector businesses; and regional, state and federal agencies. KAI’s expertise spans diverse specialty areas, including public health, education and economic development.
Amidst celebrating the firm’s 25 successful years of affecting change, implementing programs and communicating messages across Indian country, founder Jo Ann Kauffman, a member of the Nez Perce Indian Tribe, took time to speak with Indian Country Today Media Network and reflect on the firm’s greatest achievements and its ongoing projects.
For Kauffman, getting to work “on the cutting edge of issues in Indian country is exciting and a great privilege. I continue to be amazed and thrilled every day,” she told ICTMN. “I don’t think it’s ever become mundane to me. Everyday I’m thankful and grateful for those opportunities.”
KAI currently has about 40 active contracts across a variety of sectors. “Over 25 years, we’ve not chased after contracts that don’t offer the potential of having positive benefits for tribal and other vulnerable communities,” Kauffman said. “Our motto at KAI is: ‘We do work that matters.'”
Among the firm’s proudest victories, as well as some of its continuous work, are four key efforts:
1) Spreading Awareness About Health Insurance
KAI is leading a national communications campaign centered around the Affordable Care Act to encourage American Indians and Alaska Natives to enroll in Medicaid and Medicare services or apply for health insurance coverage.
KAI develops messages that resonate in Indian country and helps to connect Native Americans to health insurance options. “A lot of people think the Indian Health Service (IHS) is health insurance, but it’s not,” Kauffman said. “If you don’t have the insurance, you can’t access services that IHS might not provide. Or if you have some catastrophic need that IHS doesn’t have funding for, you’re kind of stuck if you don’t have insurance. We’re trying to get that message across Indian country.”
Among KAI’s efforts has been a viral social media campaign that involved Native-created artwork projected across iconic city landscapes around the country. People weare encouraged to photograph the themselves with the art on buildings and monuments and post the images to social media with the hashtag #NativeArt4Health to raise awareness of Native health disparities and the benefits of enrolling in healthcare coverage.
“NativeArt4Health made a big splash with social media,” Kauffman said. “Our challenge was to reach American Indians and Alaska Natives who don’t normally go to the Indian Health Service (IHS) or tribally operated clinics. We were looking for those people who wouldn’t receive information specific to the American Indian community otherwise. The project was a lot of fun.”
Among Kauffman’s proudest moments during KAI’s 25-year history has been the firm’s successful effort to facilitate a consensus across tribes for the authorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA) in 2000, and the subsequent renewal of the IHCIA inside the passage of the Affordable Care Act. “That was a big one,” Kauffman said.
2) Surveying Tribal Court Systems for the DOJ
KAI is conducting a major, national survey of tribal court systems for the Department of Justice (DOJ). “The survey is the first of its kind,” Kauffman told ICTMN.
The in-depth survey will help the DOJ understand the activities and capacities of tribal court systems. KAI had an 87 percent response rate of all tribal courts—an astoundingly high response, considering the 20-page survey takes several hours to complete, and “given the fact that it’s not mandatory, it’s completely voluntary,” Kauffman said.
KAI encouraged and challenged tribal courts to complete the surveys, and they heeded the call to action. “The survey is very comprehensive so it likely required a collaborative effort within each local tribe,” Kauffman said. “Kudos to tribal courts that submitted responses, because it’s not an easy task. We’re very happy about the response rate.”
Survey questions ranged from the number of staff and the volume of cases to the engagement of public defenders and how tribal court cases are handled. The goal is to provide a snapshot of how tribal court systems operate to shed light on what’s working and what could be improved over time.
Under the Tribal Law & Order Act, the federal government is charged with collecting data on tribal court systems, so it can better target, support and enhance the capacity of tribal courts. “You need to have a base line. This survey serves as the base line for what is out there,” Kauffman said.
KAI will be wrapping up its report to the DOJ on survey results by the end of the year. “It’s my understanding that the DOJ will continue to do this survey in the future to better understand the capacities of tribal courts,” Kauffman said.
3) Supporting Native-Led Solutions to Alcohol and Substance Abuse and Youth Violence Prevention
KAI additionally continues to work in areas of alcohol and substance abuse and mental health. One of KAI’s longtime clients is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Dr. Iris PrettyPaint, an enrolled Blackfeet member and descendent of the Crow Nation, serves as both the Administration for Native Americans (ANA) Western Regional Director at Kauffman & Associates, Inc., in Spokane, Wash., and as a subject matter expert for the SAMHSA Tribal Training and Technical Assistance Center. “She’s a well-known expert on Native youth resilience and working with tribal communities across the U.S. to turn the tide on substance abuse and youth violence,” Kauffman said.
KAI helped SAMHSA establish a national program called Native Aspirations in 2005. It provides a planning framework, training, technical assistance, and small grants for communities at the highest risk for youth violence, bullying, and suicides. The project empowers communities to draw on their own cultural traditions and strengths as they come together to grieve and heal, develop prevention plans, and implement evidence-based interventions against youth violence, bullying and suicide.
“KAI developed a model, called Native Aspirations, based on the notion that tribal communities have the wisdom and knowledge to solve the problems that they’re experiencing,” Kauffman said. “Native Aspirations provides a way to solve the issues of alcohol and substance abuse and youth violence, and offers resources to mobilize positive efforts within communities. Through Native Aspirations and SAHMSA, we work with 65 tribal communities, addressing suicide and youth violence prevention.”
“Native Aspirations is an approach that instills hope,” said Dr. PrettyPaint in a KAI-published blog. “When a community embraces the belief that ‘We can do it,’ positive change begins to occur.”
In the below video, Dr. Iris PrettyPaint addresses the 13th Annual National Indian Nations Conference about “Cultural Resilience: Finding Hope from the Inside Out”.
4) Promoting Youth Health Education
“I’m also really proud of our work in the area of diabetes prevention with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),” Kauffman told ICTMN. “We helped them to get the Eagle Books series out to Indian country.”
Eagle Books is a children’s book series that brings to life Native-inspired animal characters of wisdom, such as Mr. Eagle, the tribal elder who teaches traditional ways of health, Miss Rabbit, and the clever trickster Coyote. The trio engage Rain That Dances and his young friends in the joys of physical activity, eating healthy and embracing the knowledge of their elders.
The series is written by Georgia Perez, who resides in Nambe Pueblo in New Mexico, and includes original Native watercolor paintings by Patrick Rolo (Bad River Band of Ojibwe) and Lisa A. Fifield (Oneida Indian Tribe of Wisconsin).
Developed by the CDC Division of Diabetes Translation’s Native Diabetes Wellness Program, in collaboration with the Tribal Leaders Diabetes Committee and the Indian Health Service (IHS), the four Eagle Books are Through the Eyes of the Eagle, Plate Full of Color, Knees Lifted High, and Tricky Treats.
Thanks to KAI’s assistance and promotion, more than 2 million Eagle Books have been distributed worldwide.
Reflecting on the Past, Envisioning Future Potential
“When I first started my business, I have to admit that I was very anxious and concerned that I wouldn’t get the right opportunities,” Kauffman admitted. “I really didn’t have the confidence of a businessperson. I had this desire to do this work, and I hoped that it would all work out. There’s not a lot of role-modeling of successful business owners in Indian country. I wasn’t sure what I was doing in the very beginning. I couldn’t even get the credit to finance the copier or the computer in the early days.
“To see it grow to where we have the opportunity to purchase office buildings, equipment, to hire the right people, get contracts and do this work continues to amaze me. We’ve also had the opportunity to work with wonderful people along the way. Over 25 years, you get to cross paths with people who have a great passion for tribal communities and who are trying to make a difference.”
Kauffman specifically referenced some of the amazing tribal leaders she’s been fortunate enough to work closely beside from KAI’s beginnings to today: Billy Frank, Jr. (Nisqually Indian Tribe, Washington State), Rachel Joseph (Lone Pine Pauite-Shoshone Tribe, California), Julia Davis-Wheeler (Nez Perce Tribe, Idaho), and W. Ron Allen (Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, Washington State).
“It’s really heartening to see that Indian country is in such good care and good hands with passionate tribal leaders,” Kauffman said.
While Kauffman takes pride in KAI’s rise as a mover and shaker in Indian country and on Capitol Hill, her eyes remain on the horizon. She’s continuously excited about new endeavors and new ways to tackle old problems plaguing Native communities.
“Today with new technologies and social media, it’s fun for me to see how Indian country—even though we’re a small population within a large country—how much we communicate with each other and get messages out and get organized,” Kauffman said. “There are lots of opportunities for Indian country to make great strides socially, educationally and environmentally through social media.”