This icon is a rectangle with the word TribalAmerican Indian/Alaska Native Tribes

The American Indian/Alaska Native section of the toolkit provides new directors with information that is relevant to the job regarding the tribal structure and expectations.

The topic areas covered in this section are:

As you read through this section it is important to keep in mind the following:

There are 573 federally recognized tribes (Map – BIA) and 62 state recognized tribes (non-federally recognized) across the United States. Each tribe is a sovereign nation that is unique, with its own individual history, organizational structure, and relationship with the U.S. federal government. For new AIVRS Program Directors to effectively perform their duties, it is imperative that they understand the specific history, values, traditions, government structure, and expectations of their tribe. Some tribes have websites with information considered essential for the public to learn about available community services and activities.

As a new AIVRS Program Director, you can review the topics in any order that meets your needs. However, it is highly recommended that you do review every section to ensure you are acquiring the foundational knowledge necessary to be successful.

Tribal Organization

Most tribal governments have an organizational chart that illustrates the location of the tribe’s departments and programs within the tribal structure. Since each tribe has a unique organizational structure, it is important that you locate and become familiar with your tribe’s organizational chart or meet with someone who knows the structure, so you can determine the following:

  • Where Your AIVRS Program is Located Within your Tribe's Organizational Structure

It is important to understand how the tribal government is organized and how your AIVRS program fits within that organization. For example, AIVRS programs might be located in an Education Department or Division, the tribe’s Health Department or Division, the Social Services Department or Division, or the tribe’s college or university. It is also important to learn about the tribal government’s relationship with tribal members and individual communities, and to understand the line of communication to address individual and community concerns.

  • The Chain of Command Within Your Tribe and the Individuals to Whom You Report

The AIVRS program’s specific designation within the tribe’s organizational structure will inform items such as goals, chain of command, and the relationship with other tribal programs that address the needs of a target population. Most importantly, meet with your supervisor and/or department head to review your responsibilities and their expectations for the role of the AIVRS Program Director. Looking at the organizational chart, you should see a specific chain of command for the tribe’s preferred method to address program and personnel matters. For example, you might have a tribal chairman at the top of the organizational chart and division heads who report directly to the tribal chairman. The next level may include program directors who report to the various division heads. Keep in mind that individual programs may also use their own organizational chart as part of the overall management plan.

  • The AIVRS Program and Staff Roles and Responsibilities

Read and familiarize yourself with the AIVRS 5-year approved grant proposal

In order to receive the AIVRS funding from the U.S. Department of Education, each eligible Tribe must submit a five-year grant proposal application that describes the Tribe’s proposed plan to serve Tribal members with disabilities residing on or near federal and state reservations by helping them find gainful employment. The approved AIVRS grant proposal is the “blueprint” – the plan or design that describes in detail the need for the VR services, and includes specific components of the grant to become familiar with, including:

  • Specific measurable goals and objectives.
  • Explanation of culturally appropriate services to complement standard VR practices.
  • Management plan or sequential work plan relative to staff roles and responsibilities.
  • Methods for program evaluation.
  • Annual federal and non-federal budgets and budget justifications.
  • AIVRS Special Application Requirements (34 CFR 371.21 (a-k)).

It is recommended that each AIVRS program staff member be provided with their own copy of the approved AIVRS grant proposal. It is also recommended that the AIVRS Program Director schedule an annual staff meeting at the beginning of each new RSA fiscal year (October 1st) for the purpose of reviewing the previous year’s program outcomes and to develop a strategic plan for the new fiscal year. The plan should include specific, detailed strategies to address the proposed goals and objectives (i.e., number of consumers to be served under an IPE and number of successful employment outcomes). It is important to determine time commitments required of the program staff to adequately serve the proposed number of consumers and to achieve related program activities (outreach and dissemination, disability awareness days, partnership with key stakeholders).

The creation of professional development plans for each AIVRS staff member is critical to keep abreast of new VR practices, trends in disabilities, and attainment of new skills and knowledge to expand or improve VR services. It is important for you to understand the roles and responsibilities of each AIVRS staff and identify training needs through annual employee performance appraisals. Knowledge of the roles and responsibilities will help in delegating tasks and making assignments for each AIVRS program position. Positions in the AIVRS program typically include:

  • The AIVRS Program Director or Manager.
  • The AIVRS Program VR Counselor.
  • Other designated AIVRS Program positions.

The reports you are required to submit to the tribal administration//tribal council and their required contents

  • Each tribe sets their own reporting requirement for what the tribal programs need to submit to the tribe’s leadership. It is imperative that you have a clear understanding of any and all reporting to the tribe about the AIVRS program. Specifically:
    • You will need to determine the specific reports your program is required to submit and the appropriate timeline for when reports need to be submitted, including submission of program reports for tribal council review. For example, you might need to submit a monthly report, detailing the activities of the program, to the Division Head by the 15th of each month. You should also check to see if AIVRS Program Directors are required to conduct an individual presentation of program reports. Create a list of each required report and the due date for submission.
    • Always make certain that program reports do not contain confidential information that may disclose the identity of any applicant or consumer.
    • It is vital that you understand in advance the specific data required for each program report. You will need to gather and maintain accurate program and financial data to prepare reports required by the tribal administration/tribal council. To complete the reports required by the tribe, it is important that your AIVRS program’s data collection method captures all relevant data and is accessible only to authorized individuals (RSA-See Federal Reporting Section). Data collection methodologies vary across VR programs. For example, some tribes use sophisticated databases specially designed for AIVRS programs, such as DataOps and Aware, while other programs use Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and some simply use a pencil and paper method for data collection. It is important that you understand your tribe’s method of data collection and its capacity to configure electronic software into its IT system to accommodate the AIVRS program data collection and management needs.

Tribal Government Leadership

  • Determine the Tribal Government Leadership Structure

As the new AIVRS Program Director, it is important for you to become familiar with the tribal government leadership structure, as tribes differ in their composition of executive, judicial, and legislative branches and designated responsibilities and powers. This is important for several reasons: 1) your approved AIVRS grant proposal is funded by the U.S. federal government; 2) the tribe (grantee) has a fiduciary responsibility and partnership with the funding agency to ensure proper grant management; and 3) as the designated AIVRS Program Director you have certain responsibilities to your tribal government leadership to effectively manage the grant and achieve proposed goals, objectives, and outcomes.

  • The Tribe’s Chief/Governor/President/Chairman/Traditional Leader or other

As noted previously, there are 573 federally recognized tribes and 62 non-federally recognized tribes that are state-recognized. Because of the differences in tribal recognition, each tribe has a unique history of how their government structures were established to operate as sovereign government systems. As self-governing entities, tribes have their own election process to choose leaders to serve the tribe for a specified term or duration. As the AIVRS Program Director, become familiar with the appropriate method of addressing your tribal leadership. Is the tribal leader recognized as the Chief, Governor, President, Chairman, Chairwoman, or other designated title such as Traditional Leader? Today, some tribes still use a traditional leadership system that requires adherence to proper protocols in election of tribal leaders; for example, only certain clan members can hold leadership positions.

  • The Tribe’s Elected Officials (Tribal Council/Tribal Legislature/etc.)

A tribal government may include elected or appointed individuals to serve as tribal council members for a specific term. These individuals are charged with clear roles and responsibilities: represent and report to individual communities; ensure legislative, judicial, and executive functions of the tribe are carried out; and provide opportunities for tribal members to participate in programs and activities with access to tribal resources. It is recommended that the AIVRS Program Director establish a positive rapport with tribal council members and keep them informed about the needs, concerns, and priorities of the tribal members with disabilities. You should also encourage leaders to become involved as advocates for improving employment opportunities for AIVRS program consumers. Invite and involve the tribal council members to program activities such as the disability awareness day, job fairs, and partnership meetings.

Human Resources (HR)

  • The Tribe's Human Resources - Tribal

Every tribe has something equivalent to a Human Resources Department (HR) responsible for maximizing the productivity of the programs by: improving employee effectiveness; recruiting and hiring effective employees, including applicants who meet the Indian Preference criteria; terminating ineffective employees if necessary; conducting new employee orientation; developing job descriptions; developing employee compensation and benefits; and ensuring compliance with labor laws. It is important for the AIVRS Program Director to become familiar with the tribal HR policies and procedures in hiring program personnel as described in the approved AIVRS grant proposal. Additionally, the AIVRS Program Director assists consumers considered “job-ready” with the application process to apply for available tribal positions.

Specific actions you will want to undertake as a new AIVRS Program Director include:

  • Introducing yourself to the tribe’s Human Resource Department staff and developing relationships with HR personnel.
  • Establishing good communication strategies with HR staff, providing relevant information about your AIVRS program staffing.
  • Determining HR’s procedural requirements to fill any vacant positions in your AIVRS program (e.g. recruitment, hiring, and approvals).

Grants & Contracts and Accounting Departments

  • Grants & Contracts and Accounting Departments

The Tribe’s Grants and Contracts Department

The Grants and Contract Department in your tribe may be either a stand-alone department or combined with other departments, such as with the finance department. It is important to understand the structure and processes of your tribal Grants and Contracts Department, as they are generally responsible for managing and tracking all grants or contracts through the entire application, award, implementation, and reporting process. As the AIVRS Program Director, the Grant and Contracts Department can provide you with technical assistance to ensure proper grant management and compliance with mandated standards and regulations. Establishment of a good relationship with the Grants and Contract personnel is especially crucial if the AIVRS grant existed prior to your appointment as the AIVRS Program Director. The following are tips for you to work with your Grants and Contracts Department:

  • Introduce yourself to tribe’s Grants and Contracts Department staff.
  • Meet with the individual in the Grants and Contracts Department who is responsible for assisting you in managing your AIVRS grant award.
  • Develop a positive working relationship with the department staff and, as needed, provide relevant information about your AIVRS grant in a timely manner.
  • Become familiar with established processes, guidelines, reporting timelines, and methods of communication.

The Tribe’s Accounting Department

The tribal Accounting Department has key roles and responsibilities to ensure tribal programs have sound financial planning, reporting and controls, and auditing. Fulfilling fiduciary responsibilities as a grantee of federal government funding is an important function of the tribe and involves the AIVRS Program Director. Most tribes have a designated department that oversees all financial activities and use established financial accounting methods, including use of financial policy and procedure manuals. This department might be referred to as accounting, finance, fiscal management, or other names. It may be comprised of several smaller departments, with specific duties such as accounts receivable, accounts payable, and payroll.

Early on in your employment you will need to determine the financial accounting structure for your tribe, where the offices are located, and meet with the accounting department personnel who are assigned to the AIVRS program.

The tribe’s Accounting Department may manage several programs that are funded from a variety of sources, which may include federal and state government agencies, private and public foundations, and other tribal nations. The AIVRS program is a federally funded grant and the tribe, as the grantee, must agree to and comply with the applicable laws and regulations for the five-year duration of the program. For this reason, it is important that there is transparency and clear understanding between the AIVRS Program Director and the tribe’s Accounting Department about proper fiscal management and reporting program expenditures. The following are suggestions for working with your tribe’s Accounting Department:

  • Introduce yourself to the tribe’s Accounting Department staff and develop a relationship with them. Communicate openly and often, providing periodic updates about your AIVRS program. Meet periodically with the account manager assigned to provide financial management of your AIVRS program.
  • Learn the Accounting Department’s procedures and requirements to fulfill requests for procurement of program and consumer goods and services.
  • Have a clear understanding with your account manager about allowable costs for all program expenditures.
  • Develop a procurement process with your assigned account manager to purchase program and consumer goods and services in a timely manner.