University of Arizona
NNI | Harvard Project | Udall Foundation |


COURSE: Constitutions

Native Nation Building: An Introduction
Remaking the Tools of Governance
Constitutions: Critical Components of Native Nation Building

Course Instructors:

Dr. Manley Begay, Faculty Chair, Native Nations Institute
Dr. Stephen Cornell, Faculty Associate, Native Nations Institute
Joseph P. Kalt, Co-Director, Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

Estimated Learning Time: 15 to 18 hours
Deadline to Complete Course: Nine (9) weeks from date of enrollment
Price: $225.00

Course Study Guide

This course explores how Native nations are reclaiming their governance systems and creating governance tools that fit their cultures and meet their challenges. It examines the critical role that constitutions — whether written or unwritten — play in defending sovereignty, affirming identity, strengthening culture, and developing sustainable economies. Featuring the firsthand perspectives of more than 60 Native leaders and scholars, it surveys the wave of constitutional reform sweeping across Indian Country, and spotlights several Native nations that have reformed their constitutions in order to strengthen their governing systems and achieve their priorities.

List of Native Leaders and Scholars


By the end of this course, students will understand:

Native Nation Building

  • The basic political and socioeconomic challenges facing Native nations today
  • Why the Standard Approach is a failed recipe for successful Native nation building
  • The five components of the Nation-Building Approach and why Native nations who choose this approach are better able to achieve their development goals

Remaking Governance

  • What governance is, and why it is important
  • The relationship — and differences — between self-determination and governance, and the challenges they present
  • The breadth and diversity of traditional Indigenous governance systems
  • How colonial policies impacted Indigenous governance and governments, and the contemporary legacies of those policies
  • The fundamental difference between self-administration and self-governance
  • How Native nations are remaking their tools of governance


  • The constitution — whether written or unwritten — is the fundamental organizing system of the nation.
  • Many Native Nations are reforming their constitutions in order to move from self-administration to true self-governance.
  • Effective constitutions address cultural identity and citizenship and provide capable institutions of self-governance.
  • They also clearly define who has what powers, rights and responsibilities, and how disputes will be resolved.
  • The current wave of constitutional reform reflects the diverse cultures, political structures, needs and priorities of Native nations.


Native Nation Building

  1. What is nation building? 

  2. What explains the success that some Native nations have had in building sustainable, self-determined economies? 

  3. What are the fundamental differences between the Standard Approach and the Nation-Building Approach, and why does one work so much better than the other? 

  4. Why are capable governing institutions so critical to successful nation building? 

  5. What role does and should culture play in rebuilding Native nations?

Remaking Governance

  1. What is the relationship between self-determination and governance?
  2. What is governance? How is it different from government?
  3. Where does governance fit in the life of your nation?
  4. What impacts did colonialism have on Indigenous governance systems?
  5. How and why are Native nations reclaiming and remaking those systems?
  6. Where does governmental legitimacy come from? How do Native nations achieve it?
  7. Does the present design of your Native nation's government provide adequate tools for meeting the challenges the nation faces?
  8. If not, what steps should the nation take to equip itself with more effective governing tools?


  1. What is a "constitution" For the purposes of this course, how does the Native Nations Institute define it?
  2. What are the fundamental purposes that Native nation constitutions should serve?
  3. What role can and does a constitution — whether written or unwritten — play in Native nation rebuilding?
  4. What are the common ingredients of effective constitutions?
  5. Why are a growing number of Native nations reforming their constitutions? What are the common themes of their reform efforts? What are they seeking to change?
  6. What are the key choices that Native nations should consider when engaging in constitutional reform?
  7. How are Native nations strengthening their governance systems through constitutional reform? What are the practical lessons other nations can learn from?

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Native Leaders: Constitutions:
Reflecting and Enacting Culture and Identity