Rapid City Public School Foundation

Report date
February 2017

What has been most instrumental to your progress?

At the end of this grant period, we reflect on the charge to be inclusive.
We can see how the vetting and selection of the group members for the project was critical. This decision was to include equal numbers of leaders from the Native and non-Native communities. The decision to select rather than ask for volunteers was informed through thoughtful discussions with advisors and the exploration of community sectors for membership. The selection process was lengthy, involving individual and small group meetings to gain individual commitment to start the engagement process.
Leaders from law enforcement, health care, philanthropy,education, business leadership and strong leaders within the Native community joined the group. As we have walked this journey together, we believe taking the time and listening to concerns and ideas from many groups has proved strategic.
We stated the problem (the lack of and/or broken relationships and lack of respect between Native and non Natives in our community) up front.
The composition of our group remains at about 50% Native and 50% non-Native. We included a broad spectrum from the community as representatives. "Not about us without us."
The power of collaboration has been central to our journey toward innovation. The leaders who have stepped up to be a part of this work have entered the arena as equals in decision making and ownership as we have been seeking ways to address the stated problem.
Two examples:
The first example: The two spokespersons for MOA are representative of our Native non-Native MOA composition (Marnie is a non-Native female banker and business leader and Whitney is a Native mentor,educator and cultural leader). They represent MOA as communicators of our work and are regularly challenged to react to difficult situations through joint decision-making. The result is a fair and balanced interpretation of positions on tough situations.
Second powerful example: This can be found in the relationship forged between two MOA leaders, the RCPD Chief of Police (Karl Jegeris) and a young Native leader (Vaughn Vargas). Both have benefited and have been challenged by their collaboration. Karl met Vaughn within the MOA group and he soon created a new cultural position within the force, with Vaughn at the helm. A brand new collaboration and a valued career lift for a young Native man. A win-win!
The power of building relationships through learning and working together on a level playing field seems to be critical. The relationships between people who bring a variety of resources to the table, seem to create ideas and the utilization of strategic alliances.
When people come together to learn or collaborate and the ‘playing field’ does not elevate one over another, the positive relationships built have produced positive effects. For example, we put about 35 leaders together to learn about Lakota Lands and Identities. All came as curious learners and not only learned about the history and culture, but each person learned about the thoughts and concerns of others and their own. No one was ‘better than anyone else’… we recognize we have commonalities…we have fears… we have prejudices that need to be examined…Native and non Native alike.
The Native and non-Native leaders in MOA bring networking opportunities, resources and connections to this innovative work. We were able to appropriately re-name the group and develop guiding principles for our project as a result of the marketing and communication expertise of one member and the cultural, spiritual leadership of others.

Key lessons learned

With only two years and a challenge of about 150 years in the making, it is natural to want to make a difference. The speed of change is unclear. It is tempting to imagine clear measurable goals that reflect success in relatively rapid time frames.
We have learned we need to “go slow to go fast”. This relates to the role of critical, thoughtful relationship building between diverse cultures. After all, there are 150 years of disruption and acrimony to recognize as barriers to cross. It is also natural to want a list of accomplishments reflecting change. We have learned that “change happens at the speed of trust”. This is complex and difficult work. The multiple coffee or lunch meetings may not produce immediate actionable results, but they are brewing connections,relational trust and provide a forum for sensitive authentic listening. Our convenings provide opportunities for members to develop genuine relationships and act as catalysts for the potential actionable results we desire.
We are encouraged to continue building trust through relationships. At the end of these two years we are seeing and hearing changes as a result of trust.
History Matters. Relationships matter.
The value of human capital in this complex work was vastly under rated. The heart and soul of this initial work has been collecting strategic partners to engage and commit. There are probably many approaches to create the meeting of minds and hearts to open to this sensitive conversation. We chose an approach of connecting face to face, one person at a time with careful thought put into creating the composition of the group as whole.
The coordinator of this project took on this task at the beginning and set a standard for the methodology of bringing people to the table. But, this took an extraordinary amount of time (many many coffee dates, lunches, small group meetings, etc.). This type of networking has proven successful, as about two thirds of the initial cohort remains actively involved and engaged, and these are busy high level leaders.
The devil in the details is we did not budget for a substantial enough salary to support this work. The many hours over the expected work was donated.
We will need to hire someone to guide the work as it is evolving. Much of the learning will inform the project as it moves ahead, but we will need to re-imagine the leadership creatively.

Reflections on the community innovation process

This non linear approach supported the flexibility to provide clarity (need), learn together while developing relationships (collective understanding) and then starting to generate ideas. We found it necessary to return to the need identification several times as we navigated the sensitive nature of our lack of or broken relationships. Understanding one other and our cultural differences in an authentic manner led us to a different path.

While we used the bus experience as tool, it turned out not to be the approach that defined the innovation process as we first projected. Through reflection, we moved backward to identifying and adapting our understanding of the “need”. Our need has been defined very clearly by the group by defining our guiding principles (BEAM- Bridging cultures, Educating ourselves and others, Advocating, Modeling respectful behaviors). All the while, we were building capacity by building relationships. This led us to generating ideas to address the newly defined ‘need’. Some of these ideas are being tested and implemented as illustrated by MOA's efforts to champion community events, bringing Natives and non Natives together to solve problems in many sectors.

Progress toward an innovation

We are moving toward innovation and are finding paths within the journey that are promising in terms of being effective and potentially sustainable. MOA has created a ‘container’ for Native and non Native leaders who had not previously known one another. Trust and connection can be illustrated many ways.
For example, when the Police Chief developed the concept of a Native themed patrol car, he was able to effectively consult with a Native leader about appropriate visuals, language and potential Native response.
Also, doors have been opened to connect businesses and other donors to Native initiatives and events such as the Black Hills Wacipi and the Lakota Nations Invitational. Attendance and engagement in these events are seeing a growth in non Native attendance. The CEO of Regional Health, an MOA member, bought 500 tickets to the Wacipi for his staff.
MOA is partnering with researchers, the Native community, the Mayor and City Council to share a compelling story about land once held for the Rapid City Indian School Boarding School. The story was previously published in 2014 with little interest from the community. Our partnership is creating change in sharing this story.

What it will take to reach an innovation?

Innovation is not fully achieved, however we are on our way. We are at the stage where we need to grow the MOA leadership. There is strong interest in the community and we believe we have a path that has demonstrated growth and change.
As we reflect on the Bush Community Innovation Process, we identify MOA at the stage of looping through increasing collective understanding of the issue while building capacity with existing and new leaders.
Capacity building is at the heart of our next steps. However building capacity WITH the support of nurturing of relationships is central to our trajectory.
When relationships are built, these leaders can then generate new ideas, test and implement solutions as they collaborate in an inclusive manner using resources for a sustainable future.We see Native and non Native leaders making a difference through solid relationships.
We need to select fresh capacity building experiences,select strategic new leaders, nurture these relationships while finding and testing solutions.
We also need to bring a youth component into the mix. We have a youth MOA pilot in progress, with collaboration from valued leaders who are experts in youth engagement.

What's next?

MOA applied for and was awarded a grant from the John T. Vucurevich Foundation. The goals of this grant include creating a youth MOA pilot, supporting existing collaboration and exploring expansion of MOA during the next year.We are moving forward with several projects, including addressing the needs around the RC Indian School Lands (hosting a forum, seeking development of a white paper, planning a documentary), continuing educational tours, nurturing relationships among MOA leaders, developing high level messaging and launching a new website and celebrating successes.
The MOA youth pilot is generating promising new ideas. We will need more support to broaden this effort.
We also want to grow the leadership cohort and know we need to create capacity building opportunities. Through a partnership with the RCPD, one idea we are exploring is an idea around developing a leadership institute with training. One idea is from The Museum of Tolerance as a tool to build capacity. We want to create a sustainable means of continuing relationship building and an action oriented future for our city.
We will need to secure additional resources to support this work going forward.

If you could do it all over again...

Here is advice that has emerged through out the grant period:
The value of coaching and mentorship will guide reflective practice and is critical to the evolution of the process.
When starting this grant process, we thought we had a ‘formula’ for success. We laid out a plan and thought it would work.
We had speedbumps.
We had failures.
We had successes.
We changed paths.
We needed a mirror to help us reflect, to chart a new course, and to evaluate our progress. The coaches and mentors who have been hired or who have emerged through our relationship building process are incredibly valued and central to the progress we have made.
We did not budget for adequate coaching. We have learned human capital in both the form of leadership and coaching/mentorship is essential to forward movement. Expectations for volunteerism can lead to burn out and lack of sustainability
We are grateful to the Bush Foundation for the flexibility, freedom and understanding to seek the help we needed. We realize however, we did not budget adequately.
It would be advised to seek more council from previous grantees in the grant writing process. A good idea often needs a reality check.

One last thought

As stated above, we are grateful to the Bush CIG team for the support and freedom to allow us to move through our ‘speedbumps’. We appreciate that you tolerated and supported the shift in our activities and outcomes.
We would not be where we are today if we stayed within our original plan.
Another area that would be helpful in our process is guidance in terms of evaluation. We have collected data, we have told our story in qualitative ways, but advice regarding how to present progress in a more tangible form would be helpful.
As we reflect, we are learning about the need for more human capital to guide the work. Most of the coordination has been done through volunteerism. As we move forward, we know we need more operating support, more capacity building support as well as help developing a sustainable plan for the future.
We are attaching or sending some descriptive information about our accomplishments that could not be included here due to lack of space. It is hoped this will assist in telling our story.
We believe we are on the verge of innovation.
We know we need more funds.
We hope the Bush Foundation will be interested in helping us with our dream.