By Brett Larson, February 4, 2015
Craig Hansen, Mille Lacs Band TERO Director, was appointed interim Chairman of the Board of Directors for the National Council for Tribal Employment Rights (CTER) in December 2014.
Craig is a Mille Lacs Band member and area native who graduated from Onamia High School in 1990. After stints at St. Cloud State University and in the Twin Cities, he came home in 2004 to take a job with the Housing Department.
From there he moved on to TERO, which stands for the Tribal Employment Rights Office. His first day on the job, his supervisor dropped the quarter-inch thick Tribal Employment Rights Statute on his desk and said, “Read this.”
It was baptism by fire, but Craig proved up to the task, and aside from a two-year hiatus to pursue more education, he’s been in the office ever since. His local experience has turned into national expertise on tribal employment issues.
Craig has served on the CTER-Great Lakes Regional board since 2010 and the CTER National Board of Directors since 2012. When the former Chairman of the Board of CTER announced his retirement in December, Craig was unanimously chosen by his fellow Board Members from throughout the country as interim chair. His predecessor, Larry Ketcher from the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, worked in tribal employment rights for 40 years. Craig says stepping into his shoes is like replacing Michael Jordan on the basketball court.
As chair, he is responsible for coordinating the planning of the CTER National Convention, organizing and planning Board of Directors meetings, and networking with other TEROs and representatives from the government and the private sector. Craig works on training opportunities with TEROs across the nation . With the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs and the Federal Highway Administration he helps to make sure Band members and all TERO-eligible Native Americans are being hired for construction and other jobs.
Although he won’t rule out continuing in the role when elections are held next summer, Craig is clear about his priorities: “My work here comes first.”
What is TERO?
The Tribal Employment Rights Office ensures that contractors and businesses working on Band lands are complying with the Band’s Tribal Employment Rights Ordinance, which requires that 50 percent of positions be filled by Native Americans.
“We ensure that contracts are being complied with, and Band members and other natives are getting the opportunities to work,” Craig says. “We can’t tell companies whom to hire, but they need to hold positions open for tribal members and other natives.”
The Tribal Employment Rights statute gives the Director and TERO the right to enforce TERO, but there are certain things they can’t do. He and Lisa Ballinger, TERO’s compliance officer, can make sure contractors are hiring Band members and other TERO-eligible tribal members, but ultimately, individuals’ success on the job is up to them. TERO doesn’t protect employees who fail to show up or do not perform according to the employer’s expectations. If an employee feels discriminated against on the job, they may file a report in writing to the TERO Office so an investigation can begin.
Craig can recommend qualified applicants who are on the TERO list, but he can’t make the decision about who gets hired for a given job. He advises anyone on the TERO list — currently at 322 workers — to make sure their contact information is up-to-date. Too often TERO tries to recommend a person for a position only to find that their phone number or address has changed.
The system works like this: At pre-construction or even pre-bid meetings, potential contractors are given a copy of the TERO law and told about its requirements. “We let contractors know what they’re getting into,” Craig says.
From there, they come up with a compliance plan, which needs to be approved by Craig. Occasionally contractors balk at the idea of following tribal law, but 99 percent are willing to work with the tribe. He explains clearly to would-be contractors who try to buck the system by not complying, “You have to understand that when you’re coming to the reservation, it’s like you’re coming to another country. You need to follow the law.”
Once work begins, Compliance Officer Lisa Ballinger makes visits to job sites to take pictures, and she interviews Band Members and other TERO-eligible workers on site to ensure contractors are complying with the law and employees are being treated fairly. If contractors fail to comply, they can be fined.
There are exceptions to the law if not enough skilled Band members or TERO-eligible tribal members are available to fill open positions. According to Craig, the Band has plenty of laborers and carpenters, but is lacking electricians, HVAC installers, and other skilled professionals.
For that reason, Craig’s office is increasingly involved in training Band members to fill the jobs that are available. The TERO Office has sponsored Serv-Safe Training with Education to ensure that the food handlers at our schools are certified; Customer Service Training to Human Resources and other Departments; and Boiler’s License Trainings (partnering with the Department of Labor).
In 2015, Craig will be working more closely than ever with the Department of Labor. Revenue collected from fees and fines will be allocated to provide more training opportunities for Band members and other Native Americans.
For example, the office is currently partnering with four other Bands, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), Civil Rights Office and the Cement Masons Union to provide training to 20 people from April to July of this year. Four spots are reserved for Mille Lacs Band members — one from each district and one from the urban area, with one alternate selected from each district. MnDOT will pay for lodging and training, and TERO will provide a stipend. “If this partnership takes off, they’re open to more trainings like it,” Craig says.
Craig also works closely with MnDOT on local road construction projects. MnDOT has an Indian employment hiring provision for jobs that are on or near reservations. Craig stays in touch with the Brainerd and St. Cloud MnDOT offices to advocate for Band members and other TERO- eligible tribal members on projects stretching from Elk River to Brainerd and beyond. TERO is only enforceable when projects are located on the reservation, and the Indian Employment Hiring Provision is encouraged throughout the state. Many employees within MnDOT are nearing retirement, Craig said, so the organization is reaching out to the tribes statewide for help in recruiting qualified workers.
Craig has also taken the initiative to go beyond his TERO duties to help Band members find employment off the reservation. For example, he was named to the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) Equity Oversight Committee, which ensures that minorities and women are being hired. TERO doesn’t apply in the Twin Cities, but tribal representation on the committee was lacking. Since the Mille Lacs Band is a Minnesota Vikings sponsor, and Craig had worked with the contractor, Mortenson, on the Grand Casino Hinckley Hotel Project, he stepped in to fill the void.
Compliance Officer Lisa Ballinger is also getting into the training game. She received “Train the Trainer certification” in Flagging directly through MnDOT and has since trained 202 tribal members statewide by networking with Fond Du Lac and Bois Forte TERO Offices.
Tough but fair
Craig doesn’t believe in being unnecessarily confrontational with contractors. His method is to keep the lines of communication open. If a contractor loses an Indian employee and fails to meet the compliance plan, he would prefer they call and work with him to find a replacement than face a fine for non-compliance. “We recognize it’s a two-way street,” he says. “There has to be some give and take.”
On the other hand, he is serious about the law and about providing opportunities for Band members and other Native Americans — as his commitment to training and service shows.
In 2010, the Band sent him to a Blandin Leadership Foundation conference, which he credits for sharpening his career focus by helping him see things from multiple perspectives.
The best compliment he ever received was when he overheard a contractor describe him as “tough but fair.”
In pursuing all options to increase opportunities for Band members, Craig follows the same advice he gives to anyone seeking work: “My motto for the office is ‘Every opportunity is a golden opportunity. It is what you make of it.’”