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Working Effectively with Tribal Governments


Cultural Orientation and Working with Tribal Governments

Nez Perce woman elder

Cross-Cultural Communication

Demonstrating Respect

In your work as a federal employee you are representing the federal government. Remember, many historic federal polices toward Native Americans resulted in a general distrust toward government officials, making it especially important that your interactions with tribes are carried out in a thoughtful and respectful manner. Tribes are sovereign nations, and should be treated accordingly.

Respect can be demonstrated in many ways.

  • Be willing to admit limited knowledge of tribal culture, and invite tribal members to educate you about specific cultural protocols in their community. When in doubt about something, don't assume. Rather, ask respectfully.
  • Understand that certain objects, such as feathers, beadwork, artwork, medicine bags, etc., may be sacred, and should not be touched.
  • Do not take photographs without permission.
  • If you are unsure of the appropriate attire for any meeting or event, ask your tribal contacts for guidance.
  • Listen and observe more than you speak. Learn to be comfortable with silences, or long pauses in conversation. In tribal communities, any interruption is considered highly disrespectful, and may undermine your credibility.
  • Federal jargon, acronyms, and standard operating procedures that are commonplace for federal employees may not be familiar to tribal members. Therefore, adjust your presentation accordingly. Educate, but don't patronize.


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