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Northwest Tribes Honored for Good Government

January 14, 2011

UMATILLA, Ore. - State governments and tribal governments have a lot in common. Both have people who need jobs and services, and fewer dollars to provide them. In Oregon, there's at least one place where government seems to be working - and working well.

The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, whose business holdings include the well-known Wildhorse Wildhorse Casino and Resort on tribal lands near Pendleton, recently received a national award for good government. Harvard University cited the tribal government's free transportation system as an example of economic development that works.

The commuter bus routes crisscross northeastern Oregon and southeastern Washington, from La Grande to Walla Walla, explains Jim Beard, Confederated Tribes planning director.

"It allows the tribes to optimize their investment in job creation - getting the tribal members to the workplace - as well as it's used as a recruiting tool to bring in businesses to our industrial and business park."

The award is part of a Harvard program called "Honoring Nations" that recognizes people's problem-solving efforts through their local governments.

Megan Hill, director of Harvard's Project on American Indian Economic Development, says other types of government can learn from the Native American examples she sees across the country.

"Successful native nations, like the Umatilla, in their daily work benefit not only their citizens, but the whole community. When tribes take over their own programs, like the public transit system, they consistently outperform anyone else."

Beard has no specific hints about governing for contentious state legislatures. From transportation to education to salmon recovery, he says the tribal board just sees a need and makes it a priority - with a focus on looking ahead.

"They rely heavily on planning and visioning. The board sets out a course of action and then they turn it over to the staff and let us successfully implement it without micromanaging the programs."

This is the sixth national award in a decade from the Honoring Nations project for the Confederated Tribes, made up of members of the Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla tribes. Information about the project is available at

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR