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A Non-Working Lifestyle

Dr. Longie at honor ceremony

Dr. Erich Longie

Many people we know on reservations have a non-working lifestyle. One article in an academic journal stated that people on the reservation are engaged in a 'non-market' lifestyle because they are involved in cultural activities. While it might fit some people's romantic view of Native Americans that people are not working because they are singing at pow-wows or dancing with wolves, from my experience, this is just not true. They get up in the morning and go check their mail up at the Blue Building. Maybe they drive with their cousin to the IHS clinic, then sit and wait with her to keep her company. They go over to a friend's house to visit. A non-working lifestyle is a series of habits, and habits are hard to change. Once those same people get into a working lifestyle, that will be a habit, too, and they will look back and wonder how they used to live the other way. I know, because I used to live that way for a while when I was younger.

It's not one good strategy that is going to jolt them out of that. It may be a combination of strategies. I find that the most effective way is to just get friendly with the person and to convey your values in a non-threatening way, "Gee, I won't be able to make it to the basketball game because I have to work on Saturday."

Be courteous. Most of all, listen to them. A lot of them try to fool you. They tell you what you want to hear, "Okay, I'll go to the casino and apply for a job", when they have no intention of doing it. Or they will say, "Yes, I already started on that job application," when I know they really didn't.

Be patient. The staff members who get discouraged are often the optimistic bright-eyed ones. They think they are going to come in and care about people and there will be dramatic changes. There may be dramatic changes, but not right away.

Yes, you do have to care, but you show that caring not by saying it every day, but by your actions. Some of the same staff members who complain about their clients don't come to work every day. I have had arguments with my employees who feel that is unfair. Their clients are late, miss appointments and yet, if the staff member is not there or is half an hour late, if the client complains to me, I take their side.

Hypocritical? No, because you are supposed to be the role model. I am not saying it is okay for your clients to be late, miss appointments or not complete the paperwork they are expected to do. What I am saying is that the fact that your clients may not do it is no excuse for you to exhibit the same behavior you are trying to change.


Next page, hopelessness, difficult workers and a blast of reality

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