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MPA Student to Present Shared Governance Findings

Hannah Ticoras
October 9, 2013

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Alex Wesaw, a second year Masters of Public Administration student at the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, will present the results of his internship with a Native American tribal government at a conference in November.

Wesaw, a citizen of the Pokagon Band of Powatatomi Indians, spent two summers as an intern in the Pokagon government in southern Michigan. In one experience, Wesaw helped create an apprentice program to train citizens in carpentry as a way to fight high unemployment and to provide much-needed construction work on many homes.

His paper on his experience and research on the Pokagon Band -- titled "Respect, Reciprocity, and Interdependence: Hallmarks of Tribal Governance" -- will be part of a panel on "New Persepectives on Governance and Accountability" at the 42nd annual conference of the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA), to be held in November in Hartford, Conn. The paper is co-authored with Judith L. Millesen, Associate Professor in the MPA program.

Like more than 500 other recognized tribes in the United States, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians is a sovereign entity, separate from state or local government. However, because the tribal government is not able to provide every service for the tribal community, outside sources must be called in to assist.

Wesaw's research focuses on reciprocity and interdependence between tribal governments and external government entities. One example is the apprenticeship program Wesaw helped to create during his internship with the Pokagon Band's Human Resources Department. It was a cooperative effort between the Pokagon government, which provided the funding; Southwest Michigan College, which provided the training; and the US Department of Labor, which certified the program so that the individuals who went through it could work outside the tribe as well as within it.

Another example is the Pokagon Fund, a 501 (c) (3) private foundation  separate from the Pokagon Band. The board of directors includes two members of the Pokagon Band Tribal Council, and members of the local area governments. The Fund provides grants to non tribal organizations and food pantries in the New Buffalo region in Michigan. The fund is supported with money from tribal-owned gaming establishments.

"We operate in a way where we're looking out for everyone," Wesaw said.

Wesaw was active in the Pokagon government before his internship, serving as a member of its Youth Council. Wesaw is also co-president of the National Congress of American Indians Youth Commission, and sits on the board of directors of the National Indian Child Welfare Association. Wesaw interned with the tribal government's human resources department from June 2011 to August 2011 and again from June 2013 to August 2013 with the Band's Government Manager.

When asked about his future plans, Wesaw said, "Right now my next journey isn't certain yet ... I would like to earn my Ph.D., but I am also looking into some service programs that I could take advantage of in Washington, D.C., to not only give back to the Native American Indian community, but to the entire community as well."

No matter where Wesaw goes, his care for the lives of the people there will always follow.

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