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Jan 25, 2013 9:00 AM by Samantha Ptashkin

UA welcomes Aboriginal people to study indigenous governance

TUCSON- Arizona has 22 indigenous tribes.

The Tohono O'odham Nation and Pascua Yaqui Tribe are the two Southern Arizonans are most familiar with, but over the past month another group of native people have called the Old Pueblo home.

Shane Atkinson is one of ten Aboriginal tribal leaders visiting campus for three weeks of classes about the basics of nation building principles.

It's his first time in the United States. "Just ordering a coffee in the morning is an interesting experience," Atkinson says. "We order a 'caramel' latte and we get back a 'carmel' latte."

Like the native tribes in America, stereotyping sometimes gets in the way of developing an indigenous nation in Australia. "People see them as having alcohol issues, high unemployment rates, poor education, poor healthcare," Atkinson says.

But his blue eyes and fair skin prove that nothing can be assumed.

"I live in a house just like everyone else," says Isabelle Campbell.

Campbell is from South Australia, where she leads two tribes within the Ngarrindjeri Nation. "I just want more understanding of governance and structural organization," Campbell says.

Besides taking classes, the aborigines also visited the Tohono O'odham Nation and Pascua Yaqui Tribe to see how they govern their communities. "Things like tribal courts is something I guess we really haven't even considered back home," Atkinson says.

"When native nations and indigenous communities take control of their own government, it's a much more robust infrastructure that has a much better chance of success," says Melissa Tatum, who runs the UA's Indigenous People's Law and Policy Program. "They will have a much better relationship with the government surrounding their community."

The hope is that the Aborigines leave Tucson with the tools to bridge a better relationship between their communities and Australia's government.

The program wraps up today.

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