Working Effectively with Tribal Governments

Cultural Orientation and Working with Tribal Governments

Tribal representative speaking while federal representatives listen at meeting

General Tips for Working More Effectively with Tribal Governments

The following tips will help you as you interact with tribal representatives (continued):

Be aware that tribes, like other governmental bodies, experience changing priorities with changing administrations.

Understand that your priorities may not be the same as the tribe's priorities.

In all of your work, ensure that potential impacts to tribes and tribal resources are considered. Consult with and involve tribes whenever government activities could affect their people, land, resources, and/or rights.

Try to respect confidentiality and the right of a tribe to control information it deems sensitive, but understand that sometimes federal laws do not permit government officials to maintain confidentiality. Ask about the tribe's position on the confidentiality of information prior to documenting the information or taking possession of materials the tribe may consider sensitive. Be honest with the tribal representatives if you are not certain that you can provide the level of protection the tribe desires to have. Seek counsel from other federal officials who are familiar with strategies that may allow you to use information while still respecting the tribe's confidentiality concerns.

When appropriate, plan your tribal visits so that you have flexibility to participate in any social or cultural events that you may be invited to. Such participation will help build your cultural understanding and foster positive relationships.

Clarify your role and authority to tribal leadership and officials to avoid raising unrealistic expectations, or making commitments that cannot be fulfilled.

If you are unsure of how to handle a particular situation during your visit to a tribal community, contact your agency's tribal program director or tribal contact for advice.

Be aware of your cross-cultural communication skills, and keep in mind that they can be improved by:

  • Being open-minded. Keep your opinions flexible and be receptive to new ways of thinking and seeing the world.
  • Listening and observing.
  • Demonstrating sensitivity and respect for different cultures. This is critical to the building of effective working relationships.

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