Oyate Leadership Network

What is Oyate?

The Oyate Leadership Network (OLN or ‘Oyate’) originated over ten years ago as an outgrowth or next stage of Tiwahe’s existing AIFEP grantmaking program to connect and resource our community members and organizations to their next stages of growth through a cohort-style learning community to where they connect with other Native leaders to learn from each other’s strengths, unique experiences, and leadership practices.

Unlike AIFEP, Oyate (Dakota for “The People” or “Nation”) is statewide, and we have alumni representing most of the eleven tribal nations in Minnesota, as well as other cities with large Native populations like Duluth and Bemidji. OLN is to be the connective tissue for Native leaders, but also other Native leadership networks that already exist across the state (and beyond).

Oyate is being revitalized to respond to the many widespread requests to do more as a keystone organization for Native leadership within Minnesota and help establish what “Indigenous Leadership” means with our communities, deepening avenues to reconnect or deepen cultural practices and traditional teachings. Responding to more recent requests from other Native organizational leaders, Oyate will also include regular sessions to share strategies and models for restorative and culturally centered work cultures and organizational structures, relationship management with people at different places in their healing journeys, and more.

How can I get involved?

Your voice is important to us. If you would like to learn more, join a future learning session, or contribute to uplifting Indigenous leadership in Minnesota, please contact us at [email protected].

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Why Oyate?

People from the majority culture have extensive networks of peers, mentors, leaders, teachers, and professionals to turn to throughout their lives. These networks of opportunity and of knowledge need to expand for Native peoples in a context that serves our unique cultural and leadership needs. OLN, in relationship with other Native and POCI networks, co-generates social capital to bring visibility, opportunities, and resources to Native peoples across ages and experiences. OLN recognizes that we are all leaders in our families and communities at different times and in many varied capacities.

Tiwahe wants to see OLN supporting an active and growing community of alumni, entrepreneurs, Native language practitioners, educators, wisdom-keepers, creating connections and resources. We want our Native leaders to “have a relative wherever they go” and to participate reciprocally in the network as it is an infinity loop for exchanging talents, knowledge, and opportunities.

OLN is being rebuilt with our Dakota and Anishinaabe at the center of program design because our people flourish in spaces and systems that are relational, restorative, and recognize our spiritual needs. With past alum, our Wisdom Council, and others, we developed a working Indigenous Leadership Change Theory, that captures the collective vision for Oyate:

“We will provide culturally grounded leadership development opportunities to Indigenous people of all ages from around Minnesota, recognizing they bring a range of skills and experiences into this network. We will work in a complementary way with the existing array of leadership programs serving our community. If we do these things in a good way, we will have added strength to our community, which has an existing abundance of intergenerational leaders.

Through this program, participants will become more connected culturally and professionally within and beyond the American Indian community, and this interdependence will be valued. This widespread, networked Indigenous leadership will contribute to a more vibrant and healthy community.”

What is happening now?

In 2022, we met with over 100 community advisors to get initial feedback on the previous OLN model and to begin understanding how it can be envisioned to closely align with the goals and needs of our Native communities. We also created a visualization based on the feedback we received to show that OLN will be intergenerational and fluid to meet people where they are at. This means that Tiwahe is including Native youth as advisors and leaders for the first time in our programming.

We wanted to pilot a cohort to begin learning about the needs of some of our emerging Native leaders. In 2021, Tiwahe provided funds towards Mni Sota Fund’s Ozhigin Fellowship. In October 2022, we became co-partners with Mni Sota Fund to launch the second cohort of Ozhigin Fellows, eleven Native entrepreneurs from across different industries within the Twin Cities region.

The Ozhigin Fellowship supports Native leaders through business development, injecting capital, networking, and through professional development. While Mni Sota Fund provides an ala carte version of technical services, Tiwahe will do the same in the untouched areas of what is means to be both Native and a businessowner. We’ll be exploring topics like “Reconciling the Dichotomy of Indigenous Capitalism,” healing money trauma, or how to be a good Native supervisor. This builds capacity and confidence in Native entrepreneurs to surmount systemic barriers and has ripple effects through Native business and family ecosystems.

An Ozhigin Fellow recently shared that although he works in academia and other professional circles, he carried an “empty hole” in his heart until he filled it with Ojibwe culture and language.

What’s next?

In 2023, we’re continuing our outreach and feedback sessions, expanding into tribal communities across Minnesota and re-engaging existing Native leadership networks. We are assembling an Oyate Advisory Council that represents different geographies and experiences to co-develop the programmatic details for OLN. By year-end, we’ll have our Oyate Evaluation Plan & Recommendations finalized and a full-time Oyate Program Manager to implement the recommendations and start establishing network activities.

Responding to requests from other Native organizational leaders, by 2024, Oyate will include regular sessions to share strategies and models for restorative and culturally centered work cultures and organizational structures, relationship management with people at different places in their healing journeys, and more. We will also hold these sessions in tribal communities within Minnesota.

Guided by our Wisdom Council, we are planning community conversations and feasts in 2023 and regularly going forward to gather and share ideas for how to respond to the evolving needs and innovations in our urban and tribal communities.