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Leadership training turns tribal members into tribal leaders

Leaders are not expected to be perfect, but with some training, those leadership skills can go to the next level.

From July 25-28, approximately 45 Tribal members had the opportunity to participate in free leadership training. Held at the Native Learning Center, the 4-day event focused on increasing the understanding and awareness of effective leadership principles. Every day focused on a specific topic regarding the theme.

The Native Learning Center created the leadership training to provide Native American community leaders and members with interactive leadership training. Quechan Indian Tribe member Ron Sheffield, who has been an instructor at the Native Learning Center, instructed the event. With decades of leadership experience as a student, doctor of philosophy and author, he has worked with countless tribal communities to better their skills. The training is for everyone in the community who wants to better their leadership skills, not just those in active leadership positions.

“You don’t have to have the title of a leader to recognize that in a split second, the community may need you,” Sheffield said. “In that moment, I want that person in the room to feel confident that they can stand up and say, ‘Hey I got this and we will be OK.’”

All courses taught during the training are highly interactive. Participants engaged in classroom settings, as well as individual leadership coaching. Each day of the training targeted on a specific topic, including leadership theory, identity, culture and synthesis. After being placed into smaller groups the first day of the event, attendees were able to discuss and create projects related to each topic as a large group and on a more individual basis.

As Sheffield explains in much of his speaking engagements, the fundamental concepts of leadership theory can easily be traced through the lineage and qualitative story telling within Indian Country. This was a common theme throughout the training and is what made this opportunity so significant for Tribal members.

“I’ve understood the general modern day idea of a leader and I’ve attached those elements back to data that exists in Native America,” he explained. “Whenever we got to a place where the core underlying tone of that leadership concept or theory is Native, we talked about it. I want the students to get the greatest benefit of a fully-understood, digested and respected academic background.”

As part of this deeper understanding, participants had to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. According to Sheffield, multiple moral topics were discussed that can cause sensitive reactions. He said that the only way to get a firm grasp of the topic is to address basic elements, and not all of those are comfortable to discuss.

“Moral dilemmas are a bit touchy, but I want them to be a little uncomfortable and touchy on purpose,” he explained. “When you’re uncomfortable, you learn. We learn only when we’re slightly uncomfortable.”

Georgette Smith, executive director of the Native Learning Center, said that Sheffield has made a significant impact in previous trainings and is not only an amazing instructor, but also has outstanding qualifications. She further said that the training is a great opportunity for Tribal members who are interested in sharpening their leadership skills, expanding their networks and fostering unity across Tribes and Indian communities.

“Leadership training for our communities is a commitment to the advancement, promotion and development of the cultural, educational, social, economic or political welfare of our American Indian people,” Smith explained about leadership. “Leadership is more than a position or a role, it is actually a part of an intricate journey that we are making whatever our career path may be, weaving exceptional parts of ourselves together for the betterment of our Native American people.”

This is the first time the community has held a leadership training event. If it is successful and the community is interested, the Native Learning Center will likely offer the course again.

“My internal objective that anyone who attends this course walks away and questions…When you have knowledge, you have power,” Sheffield said. “Power is something I want to deliver carefully, calmly, but most assuredly, to Native America. I want Indian Country to know how powerful it truly is. The only way that can happen is through some very basic knowledge…and the bulk of it comes from our native families.”

Li Cohen
When she isn't drinking a [probably excessive] cup of coffee, Li is reading and writing about local, national and international news. She can also be seen running around NYC in preparation of marathon season and travelling to new lands. Make sure to check out her work at, send her an email at and follow her journeys on Twitter (@WritingLiYakira) and Instagram (@LiYakira).

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