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Wisdom of the people:
Potential and pitfalls in efforts by the Comanches to recreate traditional ways of building consensus

by Broome Benjamin J.

published in The American Indian Quarterly
University of Nebraska Press, 2001-01-01
Article contains two mentions of the Bahá'í Faith: here and here

Like many tribes, the Comanche community in Oklahoma has struggled for many years with infighting and lack of adequate participation by tribe members in the governance process. As a way to help create a more positive climate and restore a greater sense of harmony in the tribe, the Comanches implemented a participatory strategic planning process aimed at restoring more traditional ways of building consensus on important issues. This process, first introduced in February 1990, was used extensively during a two-year period that began in February 1992. (1) During this time relations among tribe members gradually improved, with individuals becoming more involved in tribal affairs and more community projects getting off the ground. However, when a new tribal chair was elected and the participatory consensus-building process was no longer used, infighting returned to the tribe, perhaps more vehemently than before. Overall, the Comanches' experience suggests that the reestablishment of culturally appropriate means of involving tribe members in the affairs of the tribe can help overcome divisiveness in Indian nations. It also demonstrates that new institutions, however compatible with community values, must be sufficiently nurtured for a considerable period if they are to become an established part of community life.

Typical of many tribes in the United States, the Comanches felt themselves divided and often paralyzed in deciding major issues, partly because of the clash in values between their traditional culture and the premises of their contemporary government processes (which are based for the most part upon modern European-American understandings). In order to overcome the problems caused by that cultural dissonance, the Comanche community, with the assistance of Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO) and Oklahomans for Indian Opportunity (OIO), decided to utilize a collaborative process for tribal decision making they called TIMS, or Tribal Issues Management System. (2) In several cases where it has been used, TIMS, by providing a method of broadly inclusive decision making, has made contributions toward overcoming grid-lock in tribal decision making. (3) If implemented with appropriate support and sustained over an appropriate period of time, it offers a promising model to other tribes.

The Comanche are one of four Indian nations in Oklahoma with whom the TIMS process was initially applied, and they have gone further with it than any of the others. (4) So far as we know, no other Indian nation has developed a similar process, although many tribes have been discussing how to incorporate traditional values and ways in their decision making. For example, in early 1998 the Navajo Nation acted to decentralize many aspects of government to its 110 local chapters, even as it was working to improve the quality of many chapter meetings by finding ways to incorporate relevant traditional values in contemporary governance. (5) The Southern Utes have increased the number of their general tribal meetings to once a month and have instituted monthly sessions for individuals who have concerns about tribal government and services to be able to meet with the tribal council. (6) We understand that a few Indian nations have adopted the Bahá'í "consultation" method of decision making, which is essentially a consensus decision-making process. (7) In this article we will examine the TIMS process in greater detail, describing its application by the Comanches, and provide an evaluation of its potential for application in other tribal situations, as well as the pitfalls that can occur if the process is not properly nurtured.


Traditionally, tribal and band societies in North America functioned by using inclusive ways of building community consensus that balanced individual and community needs and concerns. (8) Although each of the tribes had its own particular culture and way of governing, in most tribes and bands (so far as is now known) seldom were decisions made without involving those who were concerned with the issue or affected by the decision. Usually issues were discussed until consensus was achieved. (9) Leaders functioned primarily as facilitators, consensus builders, and announcers of decisions. (10) In general they had little or no decision-making power of their own, though they did exert some influence. Leaders were chosen on the basis of their high moral character and ability to represent the people and lead for the long-term interests of the community as a whole. (11) These communities maintained a sense of unity by promoting cooperation, honoring diversity, and fostering mutual respect. (12)

Today, many tribal and band societies in the United States suffer from considerable factionalism and disharmony. Among the several factors that contribute to today's disharmony is that the form of government adopted by, and in many cases imposed on, a great many Indian nations by the U.S. government is not compatible with their traditional cultures. (13) Traditionally, direct participation in deciding about community affairs was a major source of each person's identity as a community member. The current practice of holding elections that create "winners" and "losers," and the election of councils that make decisions rather than announce decisions made by the people as a whole, are frequently divisive. Election losers often feel that they have been rejected by the community, that their honor has been impugned. People who are not included in the making of a decision, even if they are invited to a meeting to state their opinions to the decision makers, tend to feel left out. Indeed, today many people are in fact left out, since their interests are not effectively represented. It is important to note that the exclusion of people from the governmental process is a result of the nature of the system itself and, in general, not because particular leaders happen to be in power.

The development of current forms of tribal government has taken place in many stages over a considerable period of time. (14) More than half of the federally recognized tribes have governments that were organized under the guidelines of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act of 1936, or the Alaska Reorganization Act of 1936. Some tribes, such as the Crows and the Yakimas, have organized themselves through their own tribal agreements. Most tribes have an elected governing council of some kind (using a variety of names) that often combines legislative with executive (and sometimes judicial) authority. A few nations, including the Onondagas, some Pueblo groups, many smaller bands in California, and most Native communities in Alaska, continue to use more traditional forms of tribal governance.

The problem of the inappropriateness of the more widely used current general form of governance has taken on greater significance since the 1960s. Prior to that time tribes and tribal governments had little autonomy, and much of the function of the elected council members was to act as brokers for the tribe and its members in dealing with federal officials first and with state and local officials second. The Civil Rights movement and the War on Poverty both led to an increase in the authority of tribal governments to make significant decisions in the affairs of Indian nations; this authority generally continues to expand. (15)


The Comanches' experience with tribal government is unique yet representative of the general pattern described above. The Comanche people call themselves Nununuh, meaning "The People." (16) It is believed that the Comanches lived in the mountains in small, autonomous family bands prior to the coming of the horse, which made life on the Plains quite feasible (17) The Comanches became extremely skilled horse people, adept at buffalo hunting and masterful as warriors. At first alone, and then supported by their Kiowa allies, they became "Lords of the South Plains" living in bands across what is now Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. (18)

Social life involved a balance between strong autonomy for the individual and participation in the cooperative life of the people. (19) In terms of social organization, the Comanches were organized into a number of bands each having from fifty to fifteen hundred people (with mid-nineteenth century total populations estimated as twenty to thirty thousand). (20) Each band made important civil decisions by consensus at council meetings of the men (though women occasionally attended meetings and spoke on rare occasions). (21) Elder men, respected for their wisdom in community affairs, generosity, kindness, and (to a lesser degree) courage and physical fitness, had considerable influence. The most highly regarded among them would be considered their leaders, one of whom would become the band leader, or in European-American terminology, the "Peace Chief" of the band. No formal process existed for choosing the band leader; he became so by consensus over time and would cease to be the band leader if he lost the respect of the community. On matters of importance he had no authority to decide anything, but could influence decision making and mediate (but not arbitrate) disputes. His main job was to facilitate for the community in finding and maintaining consensus and harmony. On minor daily matters he could make decisions, but anyone who did not like a decision ignored it, and if enough people did so he would no longer be a leader. Military leaders, who were separate from and subordinate to civil leaders, did have considerable dictatorial power when leading a war party. But they could only become and remain war leaders as long as men would join, and remain with, their parties.

This limited authority of leaders, combined with a strong belief in and practice of individual autonomy, did not lead to serious disruption in Comanche affairs. For practical purposes the people needed each other, and the culture emphasized collaboration based upon mutual respect. Public opinion and consensus were major forces in a society with a strong emphasis upon honor. To a high degree the Comanches valued themselves by the extent to which they could contribute to the well-being of the community and be recognized for doing so. Active participation in the community, rather than simply one's birth, defined one as a Comanche. Even today, being "a real Comanche" is an active relational concern, and not just a biological matter, as is the case generally among American Indians. (22)

The encroachment of whites onto the Plains effectively ended traditional Plains life for the Comanches by 1875, when the Comanches were confined with their Kiowa and Apache allies to a reservation of close to 3 million acres in southwest Oklahoma. (23) The reservation was disbanded in 1901 when each Comanche was given 160 acres. (24) Although Comanche life and culture has undergone considerable change since 1875, the relational sense of "being Comanche" and a strong cooperative sense of community have persisted along with other elements of the traditional culture. (25)

Comanche governance has also continued in a way that is particular to the tribe, yet consistent with the general pattern of tribal governance in the United States. Following the placement of the Kiowas, the Comanches, and the Apaches on a single reservation, the three tribes combined efforts to lobby for economic and other interests through the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache (KCA) Business Committee, until the Comanches withdrew in 1966 to form their own Comanche Nation.

The Comanche Nation was formally established under its current constitution in 1969 to provide a way for the Comanches to manage their own funds and programs, allowing them to participate more actively in the politics of Indian affairs and in the Anglo economy. (26) At that time the Comanches largely adopted the previous BIA-style KCA Constitution to their own situation. (27) To be a member of the Comanche Tribe (as of 1991) a person had to be a direct descendant of a Comanche who received an original allotment of reservation land and had to possess 25% Comanche blood. The Comanche population of 8,690 (as of 1991), with a majority of them under the age of forty, is divided geographically. (28) Approximately 4,500 Comanches live in Southwest Oklahoma, primarily in four communities: Lawton, Apache, Cache, and Walters. There also are sizable concentrations of Comanches living in Texas and California. (29)

The governing body of the Comanches is the tribal council, which consists of all tribe members eighteen years of age or older. In 1991 there were approximately 6,100 eligible voters. (30) The tribal council elects seven members at large to staggered terms on the Comanche Business Committee. These include a chairman, vice chairman, and secretary-treasurer, who also serve as officers of the tribal council. Terms are for three years, and an individual may serve only two consecutive terms. The members of the business committee can be removed by vote of any officially called Comanche meeting (such as a general council meeting) at which 250 or more tribal members are present; the business committee must receive approval of such a meeting to make a long-term commitment of tribal resources. (31)

The business committee's primary role is to regulate some important aspects of Anglo-Comanche economic relations. It does not play a major part in directly regulating Comanche-to-Comanche relations. (32) The committee is a combination executive and legislative body that oversees a staff, headed by an appointed tribal administrator who manages the daily operation of tribal programs. The Comanche Nation operates a number of social service programs and shares ownership of two businesses with the Kiowas and the Apaches.

The committee's main problem in carrying out economic projects, aside from difficulty in arranging adequate financing, has been resistance to forming and maintaining enough consensus to support long-term development. (33) This is partly because of continuing difficulties many Comanches have in acquiring sufficient resources for everyday life, but it is also because of the inappropriateness of the BIA form of government for Comanche culture and society. The primary problem seems to lie in the elected nature of the council. This difficulty is compounded by having all the council members elected at large, so there is no direct representation of the geographically dispersed communities. Foster reports "there is considerable alienation among Comanches with respect to taking an active part in tribal government [as opposed to talking about tribal politics]. Rumors of scandal and wrongdoing by tribal officials are common. In a recent election for tribal chairman, less than one forth of the eligible Comanche voters cast ballots." (34) Moreover, because the use of elections with winners and losers runs counter to traditional Comanche culture, "there is a tendency for tribal leaders voted out of office to spend the rest of their lives being obstructive to leaders in power, no matter who the current leaders are. ... These dynamics are not unique to Comanches, but are present in every tribal community attempting to make these imposed institutional structures work for them." (35)


TIMS was developed over two years during the course of meetings involving Native Americans from a number of tribes. TIMS is based on a group design process aimed at identifying and resolving complex issues through consensus, originally developed through the efforts of John Warfield and his colleagues at George Mason University. (36)

Following the initial development of TIMS, the Comanche Business Committee invited AIO and OIO to assist the tribe in setting up a TIMS process as a complement to its normal governance procedures. The invitation from the business committee and the active support of the tribal chairman were extremely important for legitimizing the process. The institution of a design process of this kind is likely to be seen as a threat to the status quo and opposed by the tribal leadership unless the leadership understands the advantages of introducing the process and is actively involved with it as it is carried out. If the process develops successfully with the support of the council, it can strengthen the position of the members. As harmony and consensus are created in the tribe, and tribal members no longer are or feel left out of the political process, complaints about tribal government and officials can be reduced even as they gain positive support. Moreover, as tribal members become empowered by participation to take charge of creating their own future and to focus less on receiving services, they tend to expand tribal resources. Infighting on the part of tribal members tends to give way to a return to focusing upon how each person can contribute to their community and make the nation strong again. (37) Evidence supporting the above analysis is given by the Comanche experience with TIMS and is well supported by extensive research in workplace participation. (38)

There are, of course, risks as well as opportunities for business committee or tribal council members in deciding to initiate a process like TIMS, just as there are with the making of any political decision. If the process works badly its supporters may be blamed. If it works well, it might give rise to new leaders who challenge and even replace members of the committee or council, even if sitting members support the new process. This can happen, although usually supporting a politically successful program enhances one's position. In the Comanches' case, three members of the business committee who were not involved in the TIMS process were replaced in later elections by tribal members who were involved in and had become active advocates for it, particularly at the local level where they built strong bases of support as representatives of their local communities. In addition, the more harmonious atmosphere created by the TIMS process was a major factor that allowed the tribal chair elected after the initiation of TIMS to be the first in a decade to be reelected for a second term.

A related point is that both the principle of inclusion upon which TIMS is based, and the necessity for developing broad support for it throughout the tribe, makes it essential that all identifiable groups within the tribe be represented in the process from the beginning. Failure to be inclusive destroys the integrity of the process, and will usually undermine its legitimacy and lead to its demise (as can be seen in numerous workplace cases where improperly executed employee participation programs have been short-lived). Inclusiveness in the Comanches' case was guaranteed by inviting to the first session representatives from the four traditional rural Comanche communities (Lawton, Apache, Cache and Walters), the newer urban Comanche communities, members of each living generation, tribal staff and employees, former council members, members of old political divisions, among others.

In general terms, the TIMS process begins with a problem definition phase that enables the tribe to develop a deeper understanding of its current situation. It then moves on to a second design phase that leads to a clearer vision of the tribe's direction for the future. In a third phase the participants proceed to define activities to bridge the gap between current reality and the desired future. This is followed by the assignment of roles and responsibilities for carrying out those activities. These steps help the tribe create a vision of its own future and then empower itself to become that vision. The process is an ongoing one, moving back and forth between general meetings (usually involving members of the tribal council, or business committee in the Comanches' case, and selected community representatives), and local meetings in each participating community, so that the results of all the forums are aggregated into a common vision statement and program. Once the first round of planning is completed, the tribe begins a new cycle to update its vision and program, or to extend planning to new areas of concern.

TIMS is based on facilitated group interaction, is guided by trained group facilitators, and is supported by computer assistance. The process is designed to aid group participants with diverse viewpoints to get below the surface of discussion to explore the deeper logic of issues. Throughout the process, the group sits in a circle, and each person in turn has the opportunity to respond, or to pass, until everyone feels that they have contributed all that they wish at this stage. (39) With this process each person becomes the center of the circle in turn, so that all have an equal chance to participate without having to fight to be heard, and all statements are valued as a contribution to the overall discussion.

Before this kind of consensus decision-making process can be undertaken successfully with any group, sufficient team building needs to take place to help participants feel adequately connected to the group and its purpose, so that they will trust each other and the process enough to participate openly and freely. (40) Thus, the opening part of a TIMS session among tribal people calls for a locally appropriate ceremony to be carried out. This is the first of several mechanisms that recognize the critical role that tribal identity and tribal values can play in discovering new ways out of complex and deeply rooted problems. Gift giving and public recognition of service in the interest of the tribe are appropriate additions that add to strengthening tribal identity. Blessings, Pipe Ceremonies, and prayers go much deeper than the typical greeting or statement of welcome. For tribal participants, their attention is drawn to their common bond and all that it means. If outsiders are involved, the ceremony tends to elevate the status of tribal identity and values and places participants in a mode of mutual respect for one another.

The bonding necessary for a successful process can also be enhanced by calling on each participant to track his or her kinship ties to the rest of the group. Cross-links between individuals and their inherent relational obligations immediately begin drawing the group together and help make tribal values and tribal identity become the focus of the group's attention. Often the strongest component of the tribal vision statement developed by the process is the continuation of "the people." Group identity is synonymous with being tribal, and where group identity is strong, the preservation of the group and its value system become all important. The reiteration of kinship terms calls forth those values and practices that set the group apart and helps bond the group around a common cause.

In addition, asking participants to express what being a member of the tribe means brings forth a deep affirmation of cultural values, often expressed subliminally. These values, if captured and clarified, become a useful reference point during all the subsequent steps of the process. In many TIMS sessions as much as one-third of the time spent together has been devoted to these preliminary activities, whose chief function is to bind the participants together into a single collaborative group. It tends to create a spirit of optimism about the potential for overcoming the immediate set of problems, given all that the participants and the tribe have overcome in the past. It is important to implement these bonding activities at the beginning of the process, but it is especially important to do so before generating options for dealing with problems that the group has identified.

In many tribes much of the discussion that takes place during the early stages of public meetings involves a strategy by various participants to position themselves and establish a role in the group. This is partly a reflection of the importance of honor and of the relational sense of identity of traditional tribal cultures. It is also a reflection of the importance of feelings in Native American cultures, and the fact that many people feel strongly about the issues under consideration (or background issues related to the discussion). Until they have the opportunity to vent their feelings, many participants will not be able to engage in open discussion and consensus building. Since TIMS forums separate the identification of issues from the generation of new options for dealing with those issues, and since each participant is awarded an opportunity to address the group in turn, posturing and venting become integrated and become acceptable parts of the process without interfering with the more creative process of identifying alternatives which takes place later on in the forum.

Two supporting roles are extremely important in TIMS forums. First, a tribal elder or visionary leader will from time to time interject statements, such as a historical overview, to keep the sights of the group high as the participants deal with a myriad of complex local problems that are very present in their everyday lives. These statements provide periodic reminders of the achievements and perseverance of the tribe and the meaning of tribal membership and tradition, and they work to maintain the momentum of the session. Second, the facilitators play a key role in empowering the participants to take ownership of the process, for the success of TIMS in developing consensus and harmony rests on the ability of the participants to fully and actively come together as one, with full respect for the diversity of views and experiences of each member of the group. This is a delicate task, and facilitators need to be active enough to make sure the participants are clear about how the process works and provide adequate guidance to keep the process proper and in balanced motion without ever being perceived as controlling it or deferential to any person, position, or outcome. This means especially that outside facilitators, who serve initially as consultants to commence the process, truly act as empowerers and at the appropriate time let go of the process, training local people to replace them so that the process fully belongs to the nation. (41) Similarly, the outside facilitators, while requiring the invitation of the tribal council or its equivalent, need to be clear that they are acting as consultants to the tribe as a whole (and the participants as a group) and not to the members of the council as individuals.

The underlying point is that the process must be established and operated in a way that gives ownership to the participants. There are numerous cases of supposedly participatory processes that have failed to meet their potential because inappropriate processes or personnel were used, or because appropriate participatory attitudes and skills were not developed. Even worse are instances where pseudo-participatory processes have been applied in deliberate attempts to manipulate people. (42) However, appropriate care in establishing and maintaining the process can lead to very positive results in empowering the group and the larger community to meet issues in ways that are extremely representative of all who are involved. Because the process is based upon mutual respect, with each participant being given a chance to be truly heard and have his or her concerns included in the deliberations in very supportive ways, the tendency of the process is to promote increasing levels of discussion and the generation of a greater number of views in a civil discourse that tends to reduce antagonism and infighting. Moreover, since the focus of the dialogue is upon mutual problem solving, rather than on fighting for position, the process tends to be more creative as it encourages participants to react positively to, and build upon, each other's ideas (that is, to produce synergy). Such a process helps build community harmony, not in the sense of limiting the range of expression or of channeling discourse along narrow lines, but to the contrary, in producing a polyphony of diverse voices by working positively and creatively with conflict to harmonize the interests of each, so far as is possible, for the well-being of all. (43)


The first Comanche TIMS session was held at Lawton, Oklahoma, in February 1990. (44) A broadly representative group of fifteen active participants supported by fourteen observers and nine staff members took part in the two-and-a-half-day meeting. Initially, participants were engaged in identifying the major issues faced by the tribe and exploring the relationship among these issues. This process resulted in a "structural map" or "problematique" that graphically portrayed the participants' views of how these issues related to one another. The group's relational structure portrayed many of the points of conflict in the community as significantly influenced by the tribe's structures and government forms. As noted earlier, many of these structures were imposed upon the tribe by the U.S. government beginning prior to the termination of the reservation and extending into the 1960s. After completing the problem analysis, the participants worked together to propose thirty-nine options and initiatives for dealing with the issues in the problematique. They also identified key organizations and individuals who could be given responsibility for carrying out the initiatives.

This initial TIMS session revealed an underlying circle of concern, composed of three main areas intimately related to all the important issues in Comanche communities. First is the question of identity. Who are we and what will it mean to be a Comanche by the twenty-first century? How does the blood quantum requirement for tribal membership relate to who we are? Second is the issue of government and constitution. How do we institutionally structure ourselves so that our institutions make sense in Comanche terms? Third is the problem of communication-participation-contribution. How can we enable every person in our community to make a positive contribution to the life of the tribe by being both responsive and responsible? Not being able to do so "makes tribal people crazy" and circles back around to negatively affect their self-esteem and identity. In addition to identifying these important concerns, TIMS gave the Comanches a way to address these issues both in terms of process and concrete initiatives that extended from the first through the entire unfolding of TIMS meetings that have taken place to date.

As the closing comments of the participants make clear, the first Comanche experience with the TIMS process was successful in building a spirit of collaboration based upon mutual respect. One tribal elder said, "we managed to disagree without being disagreeable," and it was generally appreciated that the disagreements, the differences in perspective, contributed significantly to the generation of better ideas. Overall the session created a sense of vision among the participants for the future of the tribe and produced a set of concrete plans to begin to realize that vision.

The Comanches built upon the success of the February 1990 planning session with a series of tribal TIMS meetings that were soon coordinated with local meetings in each of the four communities. The local meetings operated on the TIMS principles of consensus but did not necessarily follow the format of the more formal TIMS sessions. Thus tribal level issues were discussed back and forth between the local and tribal meetings until a broad consensus could be built, while local meetings undertook their own community planning and issues resolution. The tribal level meetings sought ways for the Comanche Nation to overcome the barriers to effective governance that were raised in the opening meeting, and developed a general plan for moving successfully into the future. In a number of cases the tribal-level meeting invited community meetings to take on tribal functions. The most important of these was the Lawton community launching a tribal-wide consultation process of reviewing and developing revisions of the Comanche constitution. They also set up three tribal displays in libraries. The Cache community undertook the restoration of their cultural center, generating support from four agencies in the process. In addition they organized an evening of Comanche hymn-singing. (45) The Walters community developed collaboration among the city, the county, and the tribe in planning an innovative community center for the area. They also organized several community dinners. The Apache community, after demonstrating grassroots support through a petition drive, succeeded in obtaining Comanche business council approval for requesting an extension of the tribe's JTPA program into southern Caddo County (rather than relying upon the program from the Kiowa Nation), and it appeared that this would meet federal approval.

At the tribal level, four meetings were held from 26 March to 28 September 1991. (46) As with the first tribal TIMS meeting, the participants were very enthused about the process. Two of the closing comments from the second meeting are indicative of participants' feelings about the process. (47)
"I'd like to say that I'm really impressed. I really feel honored to be here because these are the concerns that I've had for a long time and they're not even voiced by most of us because you're not always able to say something for fear of stepping on someone's toe or saying something that's not reflecting something that you really feel, and someone misinterprets what you say a lot of times. And I just really appreciate being able to deal with these things. I just feel the oneness that I've always wanted to feel about my culture. Taking our skills and applying them back to the Tribe and all these things are real good in that to me it's like some of the traditions that our Tribe held like the Seven Arrows and the Four Directions. In the last few days we heard views with a lot of directions, ... Sometimes like Roland, you know, he sees some things so big and can't do anything but with all of us working together coming from different directions like that, we all begin to see things from this point of view, things from that point of view.... This kind of helps us experience those kind of other things, like we might not of been able to see things in that kind of way. When I expressed myself, he was able to see it from a different point of view and accept it and see it in a different light. And with this, we're able to bring that back to our culture and we're not stuck in society's frame in going about things. We're getting back to the way our forefathers did things, processed out ideas and things. And I'm real glad to be able to be a part of this and I think we can conduct these meeting like Ben can and I think we can really do a great success with this program, with this process, out there in the communities and corporate it in our governments and it can really help our communities and our tribal members."
As the tribal level meetings unfolded, the individual communities continued their own deliberations. Meanwhile, the Comanche Tribe obtained funding from the Administration of Native Americans to train a Comanche facilitation team to insure that the process could continue to go forward properly without the need of outside assistance.

The increased community participation brought about by the institutionalization of TIMS led to the participation of over three hundred tribal members at the next general council meeting, the largest turnout seen for a considerable time. Meanwhile, three of the community participants in the tribal-level TIMS sessions were elected to the business committee, strengthening the newly initiated process of liaison between the business committee and the communities, and among the communities. At the same time, the Tins process was expanded to include Comanches living in Norman and Oklahoma City, and began to include Comanches living in concentrated numbers in other urban locations around the United States. In June of 1992 the four communities formalized the two-level TIMS process in "Comanche Community Participation Units Articles of Voluntary Association," which was officially made part of the tribal governance process in a resolution of the Comanche Business Committee of n July 1992. A direct product of the ongoing process was the development of an internal list of tribal and community resources and a national external list of resources that can be drawn upon by the tribe.

In general, issues that were taken through the TIMS process with broadly supported action plans developed for their resolution easily gained approval of the tribal council. In contrast, issues that have not been considered in broad community discussions (but which have been by the Tins process) continue to be difficult to build a consensus around, making it hard for the business committee to take any action on them. This is illustrated by the business committee's rejection of four successive proposals from the tribal council on economic development which appeared to be substantively strong, but for which there had not been broad participation in their development. (48) This experience of the business committee, along with the calmer political climate resulting from the initiation of inclusive community dialogue contributing significantly to the next tribal chair being the first to be re-elected to a second term in at least a decade, indicates the potential of the process to provide a means for ending deadlock in tribal decision making and to begin to lower the level of acrimony within the community, particularly relating to its political affairs.


Rebuilding a sense of community and promoting active participation in tribal governance is not a task that can be accomplished overnight. Experience with participatory measures in other settings suggests that the full establishment of a process like TIMS requires considerable time. The building of trust in the community necessary to transform long-existing bitterness and infighting into generally harmonious relations can only take place when there has been a consistent period of good experiences in dealing with community issues. In the case of the Comanches and their experiences in working with TIMS, the reactions of participants, the spread of support for working with the process, and the unfolding of events indicate that movement toward such a change in feelings and ways of relating was beginning to occur among the Comanches by the end of 1992, about three years after it was first introduced in the tribe.

Examining the period during which TIMS was actively employed as a vehicle for community involvement in tribal governance processes, it is clear that the process served as an important means for promoting the re-establishment of Comanche values in several ways. First, it helped re-introduce consensus decision making, reviving traditional values about discourse and governance. "We rediscovered the joy of working together and valuing everyone's contribution. ... We discovered the Comanche version of demosophia, or collective wisdom, the wisdom of kinsmen, which for us has always been the locus of true leadership, as expressed in persons who manifest that wisdom in their words and behavior." (49) Second, the enthusiasm for the renewal of traditional ways experienced in TIMS generated proposals to incorporate the process more widely in the discussion of community affairs and to revise the Comanche constitution to more accurately reflect traditional values. Third, it became clear that the preserving of traditional culture, including the Comanche language, was a function of tribal governance. A number of projects were initiated to work towards that end, including the establishment of a program for youth and elders to exchange ideas and the creation of a Comanche Historical Society.

Based on these results it appears that consensus decision-making processes like TIMS are well-suited for the Comanches' situation. To the extent that the process was relied upon, it helped bring back a sense of "Comancheness" and a restoration of a feeling of individual dignity among the members. It fostered mutual respect and provided a means for all members to contribute positively to the well-being of the tribe. As a creative vehicle of empowerment, TIMS provided a way to deal effectively with issues for the mutual advancement of the members, the communities, and the tribe as a whole in a way that allowed the Comanches to interact more effectively with the contemporary world.

Although TIMS had a profound impact on the Comanche community, bringing a return to accepted community values that have for some time been missing in community life, the process was not established well enough by the end of the three-year period to allow it to continue without strong support from the tribal chair. Unfortunately, the tribal chair elected just after the TIMS process had been officially recognized had little appreciation of the process. Thus he did not replace the tribal facilitators or the TIMS process liaison when they resigned, and he made no use of the process during his tenure as tribal chair. As his first term was relatively uneventful, the improved climate created by the application of TIMS allowed him to be reelected. Early in his second term, however, two important issues arose that he believed needed prompt attention. Thus he developed his own controversial proposals for dealing with them without broad consultation.

In the first instance the tribal chair initiated plans for the building of a tribal casino. In the second he attempted to create an HMO in the face of a possible closing of the tribe's hospital. The latter action was threatening to some of the hospital's employees who began to complain to others that the chair was attempting to kill the hospital; this ignited a round of gossip heavily laden with innuendo. Objection to being left out of the process was particularly voiced by those in the local communities who were now used to participating in the consideration of major issues in their local meetings. Whatever the chair's concerns may have been about the necessity for quick action in the two cases, his initiating the projects without prior consultation with the Comanche community though TIMS (or an equivalent forum) created a great deal of stormy controversy and raised considerable suspicion of the motives of those involved in developing the proposals, as was typical of Comanche politics prior to the launching of TIMS. Although three of the four local communities were continuing to use their versions of the TIMS process for the discussion of their affairs as of early 1999, the lack of broad community discussion at the tribal level was marked by an even more disharmonious tribal politics with more raucous community infighting than had existed prior to 1990. In January of 1999 an attempt was made to improve the situation by restarting the TIMS process at the tribal level. However, the election of a new tribal chair shortly thereafter did not lead to a continuation of the effort.

With no structures in place for TIMS to remain in operation after the initial period of its application by the Comanches, many of the positive changes brought about by the process quickly disappeared. Infighting returned, and many tribal members discontinued their active involvement in tribal affairs. Although specific accomplishments from the TIMS sessions cannot be taken away, particularly for many of the individuals whose lives were touched by their participation in the process, the quick return to the disharmony that had characterized the tribe's affairs raises questions about the wisdom of investing considerable time and energy into a process like TIMS if it is so difficult to sustain. Perhaps at the case level the answer to this question is debatable. It can be argued that the long-term situation of the Comanches is no better off today than it was ten years ago before TIMS was first used in the community. However, when evaluated from a process level, the experience of the Comanches leads to a more optimistic assessment of its potential.

The central element learned from the Comanches' experience with TIMS is that such processes are congruent with the traditional core value system of the tribe (and of most traditional American Indians), in which there is a close identification between working for the good of the tribe and a sense of personal worth. The initiation of TIMS provided tribal members with a means to act consistently with those values and to feel good about themselves, about each other, and about the tribe. The cutting off of that vehicle for self-realization that occurred when opportunities for participation in tribal affairs were withdrawn created frustration and negative personal feelings, which led to suspicion, anger, and various forms of negative behavior including backbiting and sometimes vicious infighting. The comparison between the behavior of tribal members and the ability of the community to act when opportunities to participate were provided through TIMS, versus when such opportunities were not available, is strong evidence of the value of such processes for Native Americans who retain their traditional values.

Based on the Comanches' experience we believe that consensus-based problem-solving methodologies such as TIMS, if properly adapted to each particular situation, can provide a useful vehicle for the development of other tribes and bands, particularly those that suffer from the imposition of Western forms of governance that are not compatible with traditional Native American values. Several members of other tribes have participated in or observed the TIMS process and commented upon its broader applicability. Former Winnebago Chairman Reuben Snake, a facilitator at the February 1990 TIMS meeting, commented that the process is a good match for traditional problem-solving strategies because traditional people continue to be holistic systems thinkers favoring the inclusion of many ideas into solutions rather than one idea overpowering another. (50) Stanley Paytiamo, former governor of Acoma Pueblo, said that the TIMS process enables a group to accomplish in two and a half days what it takes traditional decision makers two and a half years to accomplish. (51) Overall the record indicates that TIMS-type processes can be useful to the tribes and tribal people in recreating a sense of unity and ability to act in a collective manner as they move into the twenty-first Century.

    (1.) LaDonna Harris, letter of 15 July 1990, providing a report to the participants of the February 1990 meeting, in which several points were assigned to Americans for Indian Opportunity for followup. This report, and other documents concerning the process, are available from LaDonna Harris, AIQ, 681 Juniper Hill Rd., Bernalillo NM, 87004, phone (505) 867-0278, fax (505) 867-0441.

    (2.) TIMS is described in detail in Benjamin J. Broome, "Collective Design of the Future: Structural Analysis of Tribal Vision Statements," American Indian Quarterly 19.2 (1995): 205-28.

    (3.) For descriptions of how TIMS has been used with other tribes, see Benjamin J. Broome and Irene Cromer, "Strategic Planning for Tribal Economic Development: A Culturally Appropriate Model for Consensus Building," International Journal of Conflict Management 2.3 (1991): 217-33; and Benjamin J. Broome and Alexander Christakis, "A Culturally Sensitive Approach to Tribal Governance Issue Management," International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 12 (1988): 107-23.

    (4.) After its initial development, the TIMS process was first used in design sessions with the Apache, Cheyenne & Arapaho, and Pawnee Tribes of Oklahoma, in addition to the Comanche. Results from these sessions are reported in Broome, "Collective Design of the Future," 205-28.

    (5.) Action was taken through the Navajo Nation Local Governance Act, p. 26, in "Navajo Nation Code,: revised 28 April 1998. The Office of Navajo Government Development has been developing alternative means for local chapters to improve the quality of their meetings, for which coauthor Stephen Sachs has been a consultant since 1997 and who has begun a process of sharing ideas for improving local meetings and governance among chapters.

    (6.) Southern Ute Drum, 4 June 1999, p. 2.

    (7.) In a May 1996 discussion at the Bahá'í office in Victoria BC, it was reported to Stephen Sachs that several Alaskan and Canadian west coast tribes had adopted the Bahá'í method of consultation. This is in essence a modified form of consensus decision making. Though it is undertaken with an elected council formally deciding issues by majority vote, a strong element of the process is that the decision makers gain a full overview of the issues from all perspectives by listening carefully to the views of all parties. See John E. Kolstoe, Consultation: A Universal Lamp of Guidance (Oxford: George Ronald, 1985). See particularly the dedication, chaps. 2.3, and 5, and pp. 81-83, 153-59, 169-72, and 175-80.

    (8.) Sharon O'Brien, American Indian Tribal Governments (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989), chap. 2; Stephen M. Sachs, "A Transformational Native American Gift: Reconceptualizing the Idea of Politics for the Twenty-first Century," Proceedings of the 1993 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association (Washington Dc: American Political Science Association, 1993).

    (9.) Ibid.

    (10.) Sachs, "Reconceptualizing Politics," pp. 1-3; O'Brien, Tribal Governments, chap. 2; James R. Walker, Lakota Society, Raymond J. DeMallie, ed. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982), pp. 17-18, 23-32; and ibid.

    (11.) Ernest Wallace and E. Adamson Hoebel, The Comanches: Lords of the Plains (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1952), chap. 9; and O'Brien, Tribal Governments, p. 17.

    (12.) Sachs, "Reconceptualizing Politics," p. 1; E. Adamson Hoebel, The Law of Primitive Man (New York: Atheneum, 1976), chaps. 5, 7; and O'Brien, Tribal Governments, pp. 37, 40.

    (13.) LaDonna Harris, Letter of 15 July 1990, pp. 1, 4-6 and fig. 1; Benjamin J. Broome, "Promoting Greater Community Participation in Comanche Tribal Governance: Planning Sessions held 26-28 March and 13-15 May 1991" (Fairfax VA: Department of Communication, George Mason University, June 1991), p. 11 and fig. 1. For a broader discussion of factionalism in Indian communities see, Stephen M. Sachs, LaDonna Harris, Barbara Morris, and Deborah Hunt, "Recreating the Circle: Overcoming Colonialism and Returning to Harmony in American Indian Communities," Proceedings of the 1999 American Political Science Association Meetings (Washington DC: American Political Science Association, 1999).

    (14.) The history of this development is outlined in O'Brien, Tribal Governments, parts 2 and 3.

    (15.) Ibid., pp. 86-90; and Morris W. Foster, Being Comanche (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1991), p. 138.

    (16.) Wallace and Hoebel, The Comanches, p. 4.

    (17.) Hoebel, Law of Primitive Man, pp. 128-29.

    (18.) Wallace and Hoebel, The Comanches, chap. 1; Hoebel, Law of Primitive Man, p. 129; Foster, Being Comanche, pp. 38-52.

    (19.) Hoebel, Law of Primitive Man, pp. 128-42; Wallace and Hoebel, The Comanches, pp. 22-24 and chap. 9.

    (20.) Wallace and Hoebel, The Comanches, p. 31.

    (21.) Hoebel, Law of Primitive Man, chap. 9.

    (22.) This theme is found in Foster's Being Comanche, chap. 6; and Sachs's, "Reconceptualizing Politics." For Lakota examples see William Stolzman, SJ, The Pipe and Christ (Chamberlain SD: Tipi Press, 1991), particularly pp. 138-39; and Walker, Lakota Society, pp. 5-6.

    (23.) The Comanche signed a number of treaties with the United States between 1834 and 1875. The reservation was established under the Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867. See The Comanche Indian Tribe (Lawton OK: Comanche Tribal Office, 1991); Angie Debo, A History of the Indians of the United States (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970), chap. 12; and Wallace and Hoebel, The Comanches, chap. 12.

    (24.) For a discussion of the reservation and post-reservation periods, see Wallace and Hoebel, The Comanches, chap. 12, and Foster, Being Comanche, chaps. 3 and 4.

    (25.) The persistence of a relational sense of "being Comanche" and "living in a moral community regulated by a regard for mutual esteem" (p. 167) is the main theme of Foster's work, Being Comanche.

    (26.) Foster, Being Comanche, pp. 137-39.

    (27.) Ibid., p. 113; and Benjamin J. Broome, Alexander Christakis, and Jackie Wasilewski, "Designing the Future of the Comanche Tribe," Report for the Comanche TIMS Process, 21 March 1990.

    (28.) These figures are taken from BIA statistics of November 1991 as reported in Broome, "Promoting Community Participation," pp. 1 and 14 n.3.

    (29.) Broome, "Promoting Community Participation," pp. 1-2.

    (30.) Unless otherwise noted, information on tribal government is taken from Broome, "Promoting Community Participation."

    (31.) Foster, Being Comanche, p. 161.

    (32.) Ibid., p. 204 n.79.

    (33.) Ibid., p. 138.

    (34.) Ibid., p. 60.

    (35.) 15 July 1990 letter of LaDonna Harris to participants in the TIMS process.

    (36.) This design process is called "interactive management" in the published literature. For an overview of interactive management and references to Warfield's work, see Benjamin J. Broome and David Keever, "Next Generation Group Facilitation: Proposed Principles," Management Communication Quarterly 3.1 (1989): 107-27.

    (37.) The phenomenon of empowering the membership by engaging them in a participatory process as a source for strengthening the community, increasing the effectiveness of the leadership and the community in reaching its goals and objectives, and increasing the support for the leadership has been demonstrated repeatedly in private, nonprofit, and public work organizations that build successful team processes. For a discussion of these points see John Simmons and William Mares, Working Together (New York: Albert Knopf, 1983); Paul Blumberg, Industrial Democracy: The Sociology of Participation (New York: Schocken Books, 1968); and Stephen Sachs, "Building Trust in Democratic Organizations," Psychology 31.2 (1994): 35-44. For more on strengthening the influence of managers (leaders) through increasing participation in which managers are supportive participants, see "Worker Participation and Influence in Industrial Plants in Five Countries," in "Participation and Self Management" vol. 4, from First International Sociological Conference on Participation and Self Management, held at Dubrovnik, Croatia, 1972 and 1973.

    (38.) Sachs, "Building Trust," and "Concerning the Interest and Goal Structure in Participatory Work Organizations," Second International Conference on Participation, Self-Management, and Workers' Control, Paris, 1977.

    (39.) Sitting in a circle is a relational requirement for the process to help enable participants to see themselves as equal participants, and to be able to see and speak to each other easily. The circle may often be around tables arranged in a horseshoe configuration.

    (40.) To operate successfully all participatory processes require the building of trust among participants: trust in each other, in themselves, and in the process. It is important to develop trust at the very beginning, to launch the process on a proper footing. As it continues, a good experience with the process itself, supported by occasional timely intervention, tends to increase the process of trust, or team building. In this and a number of other ways the TIMS process is similar to most other consensus decision-making processes, including workplace participation processes. A considerable body of literature on this topic exists. See, Sachs, "Building Trust."

    (41.) Though larger tribes will be able to have their own facilitators, smaller tribes may find it useful to develop a common pool of facilitators among several tribes.

    (42.) For examples of how participatory processes, that when appropriately and honestly applied, benefit employees while increasing organizational effectiveness, are sometimes misused, see Michael Parker, Inside the Circle: A Union Guide to QWL (Boston: South End Press, 1985); and Guillermo Grenier, Inhuman Relations (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988).

    (43.) Polyphony, as used by J. S. Bach, is a harmony produced by the interaction of equal musical themes, as opposed to the more usual approach to harmony in Western music in which secondary themes ("harmonies") blend with a main or dominant theme. The former is a democratic or egalitarian approach to harmony while the latter is as an oligarchic or hierarchical approach.

    (44.) Reported in LaDonna Harris letter of 15 July 1990.

    (45.) The Comanches have their own Protestant churches. See Foster, Being Comanche, pp. 120-22.

    (46.) These meetings are reported in Broome, "Promoting Community Participation"; Benjamin J. Broome, "Designing the Future of the Comanche: Report of Planning and Design Sessions Held in Lawton, Oklahoma, 11-12 July and 27-28 September 1991," Department of Communication, George Mason University, Fairfax VA, 1991; "Comanche Combined Structuring Forum: Lessons Learned," AIO, Washington DC, 1991; and LaDonna Harris, "Comanche Governance Community Involvement Project: Demosophia: The Wisdom of the People, Final Evaluation," AIO, Washington DC, 1992.

    (47.) Broome, "Promoting Community Participation."

    (48.) Harris, "Final Evaluation," p. 2.

    (49.) Demosophia, or "wisdom of the people," was used as a term for the TIMS process because one of the designers and facilitators of the process, Alexander Christakis, is Greek. This is an example of Comanche inclusiveness; LaDonna Harris letter of 15 July 1990, pp. 9 and 11.

    (50.) LaDonna Harris letter of 15 July 1990.

    (51.) Ibid. Stanley Paytiamo was part of the Indian leadership group that participated in the first interactive management session conducted with tribal leaders, held at George Mason University in 1986. After experiencing the IM process, these leaders recommended that it be applied with Native American issues generally, and some invited AIO and George Mason representatives to hold sessions in their tribal communities.

    LaDonna Harris is a leader in the area of civil rights, the women's movement, environmental protection, and world peace. She is known for her advocacy on behalf of Native Americans, and is founder and president of Americans for Indian Opportunity.

    Stephen M. Sachs is a professor of political science at IUPUI. He is coordinator of the Native American Studies Association and coeditor of Native American Policy Network Newsletter.
Benjamin J. Broome is a professor in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication at Arizona State University, where he teaches courses in intercultural communication, group facilitation, and conflict resolution. He has worked extensively with Native American tribes, with the Cyprus conflict, and with Greek-Turkish relations.
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