UMD's Master of Tribal Administration and Governance is first of its kind


More than two years in planning mode, the first-of-its-kind Master of Tribal Administration and Governance (MTAG) degree program at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) is ready for its inauguration next fall.

American Indian leaders from tribes across the country will have the opportunity to pursue coursework in various classes that include tribal sovereignty, tribal accounting and finance, federal Indian law, leadership and ethics. In addition, tribal language and cultural elements will also be weaved into coursework throughout the program.

"UMD was one of the first institutions of higher learning in the country to recognize that American Indian studies was a unique discipline," said Tadd Johnson, chair of the American Indian Studies Department and MGAG program director at UMD. "Since 1972, UMD has taught generations of students the importance of the history, language and culture of Native Americans. Now, we are taking another bold step."

Johnson, an enrolled member of the Minnesota Ojibwe Tribe – Bois Forte Band, is a 1985 graduate of the University of Minnesota Law School. He has served as a tribal administrator, a tribal attorney, a tribal court judge and has taught numerous courses on Federal Indian Law and American Indian History. From 1990-1995, he served as counsel and staff director to the United States House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources in the Office of Indian Affairs and the Subcommittee on Native American Affairs.

During the Clinton Administration, Professor Johnson was appointed by the president to chair the National Indian Gaming Commission. He has served as a faculty member of the National Judicial College, has served on the Board of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, and is co- producer and co-host of the PBS program "Native Report."

"This program will prepare students to apply their skills to manage the daily realities of tribal governance," Johnson said. "There is no program exactly like this."

What makes this program unique, Johnson explains, it that virtually all of the tribes in Minnesota provided feedback to program coordinators that emphasized a "hands-on" approach rather than the traditional theoretical method.

The program seeks to train future American Indian tribal leaders and managers through coursework grounded in ethics. It focuses on tribal governance and the management issues encountered on a reservation as well as the complex relations among tribal, state and federal governments.

University of Minnesota Duluth Alum and Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Chairwoman Karen Diver also provided practical insight for administrators to access the program’s curriculum and goals. Equipped with a master’s degree from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Public Administration, Diver conferred with administrators and faculty prior to establishing the program, Johnson said.

The curriculum includes classes on principles of tribal sovereignty, tribal budgets, finance and accounting, principles of tribal management, federal Indian law and leadership and ethics.

Students in the program may already serve as tribal administrators, council members or tribal leaders. The curriculum is based on the roles that tribal administrators, leaders and professionals play in formal and informal situations that support tribal sovereignty and self-determination. Traditional language and culture is an important thread throughout the program.

The two-year program, which begins in fall 2011, features face-to-face meetings at the UMD campus once every three weeks. Interaction with experts in each area of the curriculum will include special guests as well as UMD faculty, staff and students. The classes at UMD are offered from Friday night until Saturday afternoon. In order to accommodate and support existing commitments to families and home communities, a portion of the program will be offered online.

"The low-residency schedule was essential to allow American Indian tribal members from throughout the Midwest to attend," Johnson said.

Brian McInnes, assistant professor in the Department of Education, played a significant role by designing the Leadership and Ethics course, which he will teach. UMD is the only university in the country to offer this unique masters program focused on tribal leadership development. Dean Paul Deputy and former Associate Dean Tom Peacock of UMD’s College of Education & Human Service Professions played a key role in the early meetings of the concept.

The program scope was developed by UMD through extensive consultation with tribal governments throughout the Midwest from 2009 through 2010. Johnson and Rick Smith, director of the American Indian Learning Resource Center, spent months meeting with leaders of American Indian tribes.

College of Liberal Arts Dean Susan Maher also has been actively involved in the development of this program. She is especially impressed by the support from the American Indian community.

"In October 2010, the 35 tribes of the Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes passed a resolution specifically supporting the program," Maher said. "All of the tribal governments from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa are advocates for this new offering," Maher said.

Chief Executive Marge Anderson of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe said, "UMD developed this program by asking tribal governments what was needed."

Barb Brodeen, executive director for the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, agreed: "The Bois Forte Band is pleased that the degree program reflects our ideas and wishes."

Assisting the tribes and students was an important goal. "Many of our talented young people would like to work in Tribal Government," said Billie Mason, commissioner of education of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa.

"Thanks to UMD’s collaboration with Indian leaders and educators, this new degree program will provide the training and development both current employees and students need to effectively serve their people and build a career."

Smith noted that the elected leaders of tribal governments frequently come from the ranks of the tribal administrators: "UMD may be training some of the next generation of tribal leaders under this program."

Johnson also noted that the collaboration between UMD and tribal governments "will continue in the days and years ahead as the needs of Indian country change."

The university is recruiting students for the first cohort to begin in August 2011. Students interested in the new program should contact Tadd Johnson. Although the deadline for applications was April 1, late applications will be accepted through June 15 Johnson said.

To apply for the program, contact:

Tadd Johnson

116 Cina Hall

1123 University Drive

Duluth, MN 55812-3011