Erma Vizenor, Alumni Leading Our Community

Erma Vizenor

Chairwoman, White Earth Nation | Elementary Education, General Education & Educational Administration

"If you want to be successful in life and accomplish the goals you set for yourself, be prepared. Be prepared the best possible way you can."

Watch what Erma has to say about being a good leader.

How well did MSUM prepare you for your leadership role?

I started at MSUM in 1968 when Moorhead started a minority recruitment program called Project Equality. I gave myself one quarter to make it. At the end of the first quarter I had two Cs and two Bs. The next quarter I was on the dean’s list and stayed on the dean’s list until I graduated. I had many wonderful professors, instructors and support staff. So MSU prepared me very well academically.

What advice do you give someone preparing for a job interview?

Examine yourself. Ask yourself if you fit into this place. Will you be satisfied here? Will you contribute all of your gifts and talents and strengths here? And whenever you talk to people, be positive. Always be positive.

How do you cultivate an environment where people feel free to contribute their ideas?

What everyone looks for in this world is to be treated fairly and to know there is a system of justice. So I am a policy person. I believe in good, fair policies; not that those policies are engraved in stone because in changing times we have to examine them. But I believe good policies should be followed.

What challenges do you face as a leader?

Times change and economics change. So I deal with an ever-changing environment and pick and choose my battles every day. If I took everything on I’d crash and burn. So it’s setting priorities and persevering. When I was in a reform movement for five years on this reservation, at one time we were down to three people. Did I give up? No. Persevere.

What are your goals as tribal leader?

Erma has been on the reservation almost her entire educational career. She has two post-graduate degrees in administration and she has been an administrator in tribal government for 17 years. The following are her goals (and the personal vows she made to herself) as tribal leader.

  1. Create an environment of stability
  2. Build structures (infrastructure) the tribe can be proud of
  3. Heal the tribe – physically, socially and spiritually
  4. Work hard – be the highest principled, most honest and fair leader this tribe has ever known

How do you encourage the tribe to embrace economic development?

The foundation to economic development is education. You have to have a trained workforce. I know of very few jobs and careers that have any promise without at least a high school diploma. In my recent state of the nation address, I said White Earth has had a relationship with Minnesota State University for over 30 years, and during those 30 years White Earth and MSUM have graduated more than 300 American Indians with bachelors and masters degrees. So education is important.