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Tribal planners aim for training and certification
30 OCTOBER 2006

BISMARCK (UTN) - You've heard the saying that "failing to plan" amounts to the same as "planning to fail." Some people who do planning for a living hope to avoid that problem when it comes to their own profession.

      A group of tribal planners is promoting a program of training and certification for people in their line of work. They see it as a necessary first step to improve reservation economic development.

Kenneth Greywater Sr.
Spirit Lake Tribal Planner Kenneth Greywater Sr., Fort Totten, ND, foreground, listens to discussion about a certified training program during a session for tribal planners at United Tribes Technical College. UTN photo Dennis J. Neumann.

      Two dozen planners launched their idea at the "Tribal Planners Certification Training Program," October 23-27 at United Tribes Technical College. It would be the only formal training program in the country designed specifically for planners in the tribal setting.

      "Tribal planners do go to training sessions offered by national economic development organizations," said Barbara Schmitt, director of the United Tribes University Center and coordinator of the tribal planners training program. "I've taken the economic development and planning courses and they focus only on the city, county and state aspect."

      Schmitt said she found nothing in any educational program that offers an understanding of the tribal experience.

      "No comprehensive training or teaching materials about tribes," said Schmitt. "Nothing about the government structure or sovereignty or their situations as it regards economic development and planning."

      Tribes are unique when it comes to the kind of economic conditions they face, according to Schmitt. Most have little to work with in terms of existing business or community infrastructure. Access to financing can be complicated. The numerous programs and projects that tribes are involved in present a dizzying array of guidelines, regulations and reporting requirements.

      Tribal planners are forced to become "Jacks of all trades," said Schmitt, as they try to respond as best they can to the needs of the tribe.

      "As a tribal planner you're not just dealing with planning questions," said Kenneth Greywater Sr., a planner with the Spirit Lake Nation, Fort Totten, North Dakota. "You're involved in grant writing, construction, administration, and a whole lot of other things."

      The move toward training and certification started several years ago when North Dakota tribal planners began meeting to discuss mutual concerns.

      "Structurally there isn't much difference between the work of planners in the mainstream and tribal planners," said Greywater.

      The difference is in who tribal planners deal with and how much is expected.

      "Planning should be planning," said Greywater. "We should do it and be able to turn over the results to someone else. Doing it all from start to finish is not the best use of tribal planners."

      And then there's the problem of who gets hired into tribal planning offices. Elected tribal officials occasionally succumb to the temptation of rewarding someone with a job. This, so called, "dumping" of unqualified personnel is another reason for pursuing professional standards.

      With training and certification, tribes would have a way to get better trained planners who could meet professional standards.

      "They have professional credentials in other lines of work," said Greywater. "An approved process for training in this job is just a good thing that would bring more credibility to the work of tribal planning."

      Those attending the session at United Tribes began work on forming the curriculum and standards for a certificate or degree granting program through UTTC. Represented were 16 of the 30 tribes in Denver Region VIII. Those present receive funds from the Economic Development Administration to support tribal economic development personnel.

      EDA support would be needed for the training and certification program, which could be offered online and through tribal colleges coordinated by UTTC.

      Tribal planners hope that a certified program will bring more recognition to their work and improve the status of their jobs, and result in more success as they develop the infrastructure and economy of tribal communities.


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