WMU introduces new tribal governance certificate

Contact: Kayla Lambert

The tribal governance certificate was announced at an event held at WMU on April 13 where special guest Bryan Newland, assistant secretary of Indian Affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior, spoke. (Photography credit: Johnathan Moulds)

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—With the launch of the region's only graduate certificate in tribal governance, Western Michigan University is giving students the chance to expand their knowledge of Indigenous culture, government and sovereignty while also establishing a closer relationship with the local Indigenous tribes of southwest Michigan.

With a 12-credit curriculum offered entirely online, the certificate equips students with a deep understanding of tribal peoples' legal and cultural background, their relationships with local, state and federal government, and hands-on experience in addressing economic, managerial and societal challenges of tribal governments. The credits can also be applied toward the Master of Public Administration degree.

The program is an extension of Western's partnership with the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians (or Gun Lake Tribe), Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi and Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, initiated by the 2019 land acknowledgement that recognizes the campus' historical and current location on the land of the Ojibwe, Odawa and Bodewadmi nations.

“When we began partnering with (the tribes), we wondered what type of things WMU could do to support them,” says Dr. Matthew S. Mingus, incoming director of the School of Public Affairs and Administration. “It’s designed the way it is for them, and other individuals connected to them, to have an opportunity to get advanced college credit while developing professionally. But we expect the audience to grow beyond tribal members.”

The program will give current tribal members, and other individuals who work with them, the opportunity to gain knowledge about tribal sovereignty and functioning, emphasizing the importance of education for administrative and tribal council roles.

“Being a treaty tribe means that at some point, the U.S. government literally acknowledged and negotiated treaties with the tribe, indicating that they have their own governmental sovereignty,” says Mingus. “They’re constantly involved in intergovernmental negotiations with the local, state and national governments. This certificate is one way to support the tribes.”

“Implementing a certificate program in collaboration with three tribal nations allows the opportunity to provide tribally endorsed resources to increase capacity building within our communities,” says Sam Morseau, who is one of the professional instructors of the program and a member of the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi. “Students can engage with various tribal entities through subject matter experts and content endorsed by each tribal nation.”

The certificate requires courses such as Foundations of Federal Indian Policies (PADM 6301) and Tribal Sovereignty Through Self Determination (PADM 6302), as well as other elective courses focused on economic diversification and public management to ensure a well-rounded context.

“We are currently planning cohorts which will include government, gaming and economic development corporations within each tribal nation,” says Morseau. “This will promote a collaborative approach and environment to explore best practices in policies through the creation of service-learning projects.”

The program is open to applicants who have completed a baccalaureate degree. The certificate can be earned on its own or as a part of the Master of Public Administration degree program, allowing its students to have the flexibility of choosing their own path. The certificate is open to application for anyone interested in learning more about tribal governance.

“It has been an honor to see this dream come to fruition,” says Morseau.

Individuals interested in learning more about the program can visit its website, or contact Mingus for more details.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.