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 567 federally recognized tribes and many additional non-federally recognized tribes that are state-recognized. 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 directors to be able to effectively perform their duties, it is imperative that you understand the specific history, values, traditions, government structure and expectations of your tribe. Some tribes have websites with information considered essential for the public to learn about available community services and activities.

As a new AIVRS 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 assure you are acquiring the foundational knowledge necessary to be successful as the AIVRS program director.

Tribal Organization

Most Tribal governments have an organizational chart that illustrates where the tribe’s departments and programs are located within the tribal structure. Since each tribe has a unique organizational structure it is important that you locate and become familiar with the 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, some AIVRS programs are located within the tribe’s Education Department or Division, while others are located within the tribe’s Health Department or Division and some within the tribe’s Social Services Department or Division. It is also important to learn about the tribal government’s relationship with tribal members, individual communities, and 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 relationship with other tribal programs who work with a certain target population and address their needs.  Most importantly, meet with your supervisor and/or department head to review your responsibilities and their expectations to fulfill the role of the 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. Also keep in mind that individual programs may also use its own organization 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 grant award

In order to receive the AIVRS funding from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Rehabilitation Services Administration, each eligible tribe must submit a 5-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 for gainful employment. The AIVRS grant proposal is the “blueprint” – the plan or design that describes in detail the need for the VR services. Specific aspects of your AIVRS grant award to become familiar with include:

  • Specific measurable goals and objectives
  • Explanation of culturally appropriate services to complement standard VR practices
  • Management plan or sequential work plan relative to staff role 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 AIVRS grant proposal. It is also recommended that the Project Director schedule an annual staff meeting at the beginning of each new RSA fiscal year (October 1st) for the purpose of reviewing the last year’s program outcomes, and to develop a strategic plan for the new fiscal year. The plan should be made to address the proposed goals and objectives (i.e., number of consumers to be served under an IPE and number of successful employment outcome). It is also 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 position roles and responsibilities for each AIVRS staff and through annual employee performance appraisals identify training needs. Doing this will provide a good idea of how to delegate tasks according to the roles and responsibilities of each AIVRS Program position. Positions in the AIVRS project 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 project. Specifically, you will need to determine:
  • The specific reports your project is required to submit. For example, you might need to submit a monthly report, detailing the activities of the project, to the Division Head by the 15th of each month. Make certain that project reports do not contain confidential information that may disclose the identity of any applicant or consumer.
  • The timelines for when reports need to be submitted, including submission of project reports for tribal council review and if project directors are required to conduct individual presentation of project reports. Create a list of each required report and the due date for submission.
  • The specific data required for each project report. You will need to gather and maintain accurate project and financial data to prepare reports required by the tribal administration/tribal council. It is important that your AIVRS project’s data collection method is capturing all relevant data, and accessible to only authorized individuals, to complete the reports required by the tribe (and RSA-See Federal Reporting Section). Data collection methodologies vary across VR projects; for example, some tribes use sophisticated databases such as DataOps and Aware specially designed for AIVRS projects. Other projects use Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and several projects 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 project data collection and management needs.

Tribal Government Leadership

  • Determine the Tribal Government Leadership Structure

As the new AIVRS Director, it is important for you to become familiar with the tribal government leadership structure as tribes differ in its composition of executive, judicial and legislative branches and its designated responsibilities and powers. This is important for several reasons: 1) your AIVRS grant is funded through 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 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 567 federally recognized tribes and many non-federally recognized tribes that are state-recognized. Because of the differences in tribal recognition, each tribe has their unique history of how their government structures were established to operate as sovereign government systems. As self-governing entities, the tribes use its own election process to choose their tribal leaders for a specified term or duration to serve the tribe. As the AIVRS project 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 its traditional leadership system that require 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 and charged with clear roles and responsibilities: represent and report to individual communities; ensure legislative, judicial and executive functions of the tribe are carried out; provide opportunities for tribal members to participate in programs, activities, and have access to tribal resources. It is recommended that the AIVRS project director establish a positive rapport with the tribal council members and keep them informed about the needs, concerns and priorities of the tribal members with disabilities, and suggest that they become involved as advocates for improvement in employment opportunities for AIVRS project 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 continual improvement of employee effectiveness; employee recruitment, hiring and termination; hiring of applicants who meet the Indian Preference criteria;  conduct new employee orientation; development of job descriptions; development of employee compensation and benefits, and ensuring compliance with labor laws. It is important for the AIVRS project director to become familiar with the tribal HR policies and procedures in hiring program personnel as described in the program grant proposal. And to assist consumers considered “job-ready” with the application process to apply for tribal positions being advertised.

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

  • Introducing yourself to the Tribe’s Human Resource Department Staff
  • Determining HR’s procedural requirements to fill any vacant positions in your AIVRS Program (e.g. recruitment, hiring, and approvals).
  • Develop a relationship with HR Personnel and provide relevant information about your AIVRS program staffing

Grants & Contracts and Accounting Departments

  • Grants & Contracts and Accounting Departments

Grants & Contracts Department

The Grants and Contract Department in your tribe may be a stand-alone department or combined with other departments such as with the finance department. It is important to determine and learn 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 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 project 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
  • Become familiar with established processes, guidelines, reporting timelines, and method of communication
  • 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

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 project 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. More specifically, staff in the accounting department who are assigned to the AIVRS project.

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 project 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 project. For this reason, it is important that there is transparency and clear understanding between the AIVRS Director, and the Tribe’s accounting department about proper fiscal management and reporting project expenditures. The following are suggestions for working with your Tribe’s Accounting Department:

  • Introduce yourself to the Tribe’s accounting department staff
  • Determine the accounting department’s procedures and requirements to fulfill requests for procurement of project and consumer goods and services
    • Have a clear understanding with your account manager about allowable costs for all project expenditures
    • Develop a procurement process with your assigned account manager to purchase project and consumer goods and services in a timely manner
  • Develop a relationship with the Accounting Department, and update them with relevant information, about your AIVRS project, as you become more familiar with the AIVRS project
  • Meet periodically with the person in the Accounting Department who will be primarily responsible for the financial management of your AIVRS project