An institute at the University of Arizona is focused on rebuilding government structures in Native nations by research and outreach offered through online courses and more.

The UA Native Nations Institute has been working toward its goal of helping the Native governments for nearly 30 years, looking at why some nations are more successful than others at achieving their goals, said Ian Record, director of the Rebuilding Native Nations courses. The goals could be economic, cultural, or social goals, he said.

The series of courses offered is an outgrowth of research from the institute, alongside other organizations, Record said.

“Really this is a culmination of a lot of that research, and trying to bring the research back to the communities that need it most, and those are Native nations,” Record said.

The courses are offered online and on DVD, keeping in mind those who live in very rural areas with limited Internet connection.

The videos incorporate Native voices, Record said.

“Some of the faculty that teach the module are native, but we wanted to make sure that folks could hear from their peers, people who are on the ground making positive changes happen,” he said.

Robert Williams Jr. is a professor of law and American Indian studies at the UA, and is also a part of the project as a teacher. He teaches the role of tribal courts in strong native nations.

“The research done by the Native Nations Institute and the Harvard Project clearly shows that the tribes that are the most successful in community development and a whole range of factors have strong, independent judiciaries,” Williams said.

The courses focus on how tribal leaders, and the whole range of people in the tribal justice system, can contribute to that process, Williams said.

Record said the only policy that has ever worked in the past is self-determination in tribal governments.

“What we’re seeing is an incredible movement towards diversity in Indian country as Native nations begin to shed the systems of government that were imposed upon them by the federal government,” Record said. “It’s really a wonderful thing to watch.”

The courses try to get some tribes “out of their box,” and to work on innovation, Record said.

Ashley Grove is University of Arizona journalism student and intern for Arizona Public Media