The program—administered by the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development—rewards tribal organizations for strengthening the schools, courts, and infrastructure of sovereign Indian tribes.
The winning programs——seven of which received “High Honors” and a $10,000 grant——were selected from applicants representing 41 tribes and seven inter-tribal organizations, according to Honoring Nations Executive Director Amy L. Besaw.
“[These programs] show good governance over multiple areas,” Besaw said.
Honoring Nations, which was created in 1998, is the only awards program that recognizes best practices across Indian tribal governments, according to Besaw.
The awards’ emphasis on self-sufficiency has led to “a change within Indian nations themselves” as focus shifts from membership to citizenship, she said.
Besaw cites two High Honor award recipients—the Professional Empowerment Program (PEP) and the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council—as examples of innovative programs that strengthen Indian nations.
PEP is “a therapeutic approach to people who either are at risk for losing their job [or] have been terminated,” Joyce Country, a social worker with the program, wrote in an e-mail.
She also emphasized the program’s unique approach to job rehabilitation.
“The curriculum is based on Emotional Intelligence,” she wrote.
According to Country, PEP has strongly impacted the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate nation in South Dakota “by providing a resource to people to help them achieve success.” She said that PEP plans to use its $10,000 grant to upgrade its equipment.
The Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council—an organization representing 62 indigenous governments across the northwestern U.S. and Canada—was created by “the largest treaty in history between tribal governments,” said Alaska region Director Robert A. Rosenfeld. Although the group lobbies to protect the Yukon River and its watershed, Rosenfeld said the Council’s focus is one of empowerment as well as environmentalism.
“We’re a unified voice that brings the voices of indigenous governments to the decision-making tables,” Rosenfeld said.
Rosenfeld plans to use the $10,000 award to complete and distribute a documentary film chronicling the organization’s birth and growth. He said he hopes the project will encourage other organizations to replicate its model.
He also said that he hopes that the award will provide an opportunity “to develop a long-lasting relationship” with Harvard.
Rosenfeld said that undergraduates should be excited about Honoring Nations’ potential and about contemporary Native American affairs in general.
Besaw was also enthusiastic about the future of these nations.
“They are still building their societies in real, meaningful ways,” Besaw said.