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Connecting Tribal Leaders

Vivienna Orcutt
November 16, 2017

MTAG student Vivienna Orcutt puts the skills she's learning at UMD to the test.

Taking the red eye flight to the nation’s capital from rural California was no small trip for newly elected tribal leader and graduate student Vivienna Orcutt. With only two hours of sleep, the Hoopa Native took the opportunity to have her people’s voice heard. Undaunted by the massive Department of the Interior building, which covers two city blocks, Vivienna entered the long corridors, lined with art and sculpture. Here she passed grand murals painted by Native American artists in the 1930s. "I contemplated that these halls may have once been used in plotting the American Indian Wars," she says.

The first meeting of the day was with a deputy commissioner at the Bureau of Reclamation. Vivienna was prepared. Coursework in law and collaboration with her cohorts in the Master of Tribal Administration and Governance (MTAG) program at UMD had helped her to develop the knowledge and confidence that she needed.

I learned that as a tribal leader, you have to be versatile, useful, and ready to advocate for tribal nations at a moment’s notice,” Vivienna says.

In this moment, the delegation representing the Hoopa Valley was to spend the long day advocating, attending hearings and hand-delivering messages to members of the U.S. Congress. For someone coming from a mountainous rural area with a population of around 3,000, this was no small task. Vivienna was more used to the towering redwood trees and calm streams of northern California than to the bureaucracy of Washington, D.C.

After all was said, Vivienna was proud to report that her actions had successfully contributed to eventual amendment to the 2018 Department of Justice budget. The change increased spending on tribal justice nationwide. Her delegation had made a difference.

Why UMD?

As an elected official of the Hoopa Valley tribe and mother of two, there wasn’t too much Vivienna felt she could do to further her education. Long commutes on icy mountain roads had troubled her undergraduate experience. Other online programs didn’t quite fit her goals, schedule, or career path.

“I felt isolated, you know? However, I knew that I had a responsibility to my children and community to continue my education,” Vivienna confides.

The long time environmental advocate and volunteer wanted to do more for her community in a concrete and practical way. Proposed and existing legislation was threatening her way of life.  Vivienna was compelled to act and respond directly within the legal system, but these were complex and particular issues. She needed help to bridge the gap.

“The MTAG program just fit. It has provided the resources and opportunities to meet a variety of professionals and future leaders in Indian Country," she says. Vivienne also has help from another source. In fall 2017, she received a $10,000 scholarship from the Cobell Scholarship Fund. The Cobell Scholarship was created through a Department of the Interior settlement over the mismanagement of American Indian trust accounts.

“The MTAG connections and exchange of experiences from across the country have inspired and pushed me to be a stronger leader. One of my cohorts even visited me here in California and she got in touch with the organization that I am working with to protect the Trinity River.”

Online Classes

Today, Vivienna spends her weeks serving on the Hoopa Valley Tribal Council. Once a semester she makes the trek to Duluth. For her other classes, she connects via video conference from her home in California. Either way, she is able to participate in discussions with cohorts and UMD faculty who have real-world experiences that give life to course material.  

Vivienna looks forward to graduating in spring 2018 and visiting Duluth again. Back home, she will continue to advocate for her community and grow as a person. Whatever happens next, Vivienna has the tools and connections. She is ready.

About the Masters in Tribal Administration and Governance (MTAG)

The American Indian Studies Department (AIS) offers partially online programs such as MTAG and the new Tribal Administration and Governance Certificate. AIS also offers an all online undergraduate major in known as "Tribal Administration and Governance", and is developing a new partially online program in tribal natural resources similar to MTAG.