October 2008 Archives

Addressing crime on Indian reservations has been big news lately.  Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chairman, Byron Dorgan (D-ND) said,

"We are seeing crime levels on some Indian reservations reach epidemic proportions.  Studies predict that more than one in three Native American women will be raped in their lifetimes, and two in five will be victims of physical abuse.  Drug traffickers are targeting Indian reservations as safe havens because of the lack of police presence and the disjointed system of justice that is in place."

At the United Tribes Tribal Leaders Summit (September 3-4, 2008, which I attended), a session on Law Enforcement and Jurisdictional Issues was held.  I listened to tribal leaders talk about the crime issue, and I heard a young Native American representing the BIA talk eloquently of his efforts to fight crime on Indian Reservations.

It was heartening to know there are attempts being made to restore law and order on Indian reservations.  However, what is never mentioned is the lawlessness that exists in some non-typical areas.  Let me explain.

As a member of our Law and Order Committee for three years, I became familiar with the most common types of crime on our reservation; public intoxication, assaults, DUI's, etc.  I also became acquainted with issues that are not commonly classified under Law and Order; policies and procedures not being followed, court orders not being obeyed, no follow-up on complaints, school concerns not addressed by social services or Tribal Court, nepotism, favoritism, abuse of authority - the list goes on.  In fact, most of the "law and order" issues we dealt with on our Law and Order Committee were of these non-classified type infractions.  This led me to realize how little law and order we have on our reservation.  When I was asked to speak as a member of the Law and Order Committee at the monthly meeting of the General Assembly, this realization led me to say, "We don't have law and order on our reservation."

In my opinion, the lawlessness that exists in these non-typical areas contributes to the root causes of common types of crime in the news today.  Here is an example of one non-typical type of lawlessness that adds to more common types of crime rate on Indian Reservations; the unfair selection of homes for people on the waiting list.  Most reservations are in desperate need of housing.  It is not uncommon for a reservation to have a need for 300 - 500 additional homes.  While there are good housing administrators out there, politics often influences who will receive a home.  Many times a member of the tribal council or his/her relative will receive a house even though the individual is not on the waiting list (or way down on the waiting list).  This type of unethical selection for homes is really disheartening for our young people, some who have been on the waiting list for years.  Many of these young people are still idealistic and look up to tribal leaders and expect them to be fair.  What kind of message does it give these young people when the "official list" is ignored in favor of a person with political influence?  Unethical and cowardly decisions make them realize that if they want to get ahead, they also must be willing to be unethical.  Alas, another courageous and ethical young tribal member will be lost to the "dark side" of reservation politics.

I have been in DC attending an Impact Aid conference.  During one noon break, I had lunch with an Ojibwa woman from Minnesota.  When professional Indian people get together and talk, the conversation sometimes turns to ethical issues in Indian Country.  Like most Indians who live on a reservation, I am good at identifying unethical actions prevalent in the workplace on reservations, and like most people who talk about unethical issues, I have not had any real solution - until now.  My company's Tribal Leaders With Character training program and the coming Tribal Leaders Institute workshops do offer a solution.  However, to effectively address a problem, you have to understand the causes.  With that in mind, here is what I told my companion.

When a free-roaming, freedom-loving people such as our ancestors are defeated militarily, and placed in the confines of a small space like a reservation, they lose much of who they are.  We lost our customs and culture that kept peace and harmony in tribal villages.  Alcoholism and other social ills have created a dysfunctional atmosphere that plagues us to this day.  Lying, stealing, and cheating one another, which was unheard of 150 years ago, have become commonplace.  Abuse of all kinds has begun to occur on a regular basis.  Our ancestor's values of courage, honesty, perseverance, and generosity have been forgotten.  However, early in the formation of reservations, most of these social ills had been confined within extended families.

Then in the 60s, President Lyndon Johnson declared his "war on poverty" that he called The Great Society, and federal funding began to trickle into the reservations.  At first, other than creating a few more jobs, the impact was minimal.  Even so, it did not take long for a few astute unethical individuals to realize the potential that would come from controlling this new source of funding.

Because our people knew nothing but poverty and paid no attention to unwanted government, they did not take notice of the early signs of corruption.  By the time they began to sit up and take notice, the seeds of corruption were already well established in Indian Country.  Unethical behavior soon became the norm, and would be passed down from generation to generation up until the present.

We have children who grew up learning how to lie, cheat, and steal to get their way, and to intimidate the few ethical people who were trying to stand up to them.  What is the solution?  We need tribal members and tribal leaders to act courageously and stand up and say, "We have had enough!"  If one tribal council member or one tribal member would consistently speak up against unfair decisions in a courageous ethical manner, he/she would soon have support from other like-minded tribal members.  When this happens, children will observe this courageous leadership and grow up practicing it.

Every so often, in Indian country, we hear a story about a tribal worker having put up with enough unethical behavior so he/she speaks up in an attempt to do something about it.  We all say, "Good!  It's about time something was done to ____________.  Then we wait for the axe to fall, the person to get reprimanded, suspended, or maybe fired...  but nothing happens.  A couple of days go by, a week goes by, a month goes by, and soon the issue becomes old news.  What happened?

Perseverance, or lack of it is what happened.  Perseverance is when a person says or does something over and over and over again, a steady and continued action or statement, usually over a long period, and especially in spite of difficulties or set backs.  The person continues to draw attention to a problem over and over again until the problem is dealt with.

Our ancestors cultivated perseverance.  In fact, it was so important to them, they made perseverance one of their core values.  Back then, rules were rules of survival and if they weren't followed, the whole tribe was at risk.  Those who enforced the rules persevered in their chastisements until individuals conformed to the law.  Without perseverance, our ancestors would not have survived the world they lived in.  Their perseverance is one of the main reasons why we, their descendants, are here today.

But nowadays, anytime a tribal member attempts to rectify an unethical situation, he/she runs into a variety of obstacles such as personal attacks against their character, or their supervisor and/or the tribal council being reluctant to take action.  Often it is pure apathy, the "so what" attitude.  The "everyone does it" type of attitude.  Unless a person has a great deal of perseverance/fortitude, he/she will soon succumb to the obstacles or pressures to ethical change and give up.

Several months ago, it was brought to my attention that a certain individual was, to put it lightly, not following the guidelines of his/her office and neglecting his/her job duties.  I put together enough information to support my case that this person was abusing his/her situation, brought it to the attention of the appropriate individuals, and waited for justice to take its course.

I wasn't too surprised when nothing happened.  Our leaders are not known for their ability to make quick decisive decisions even in the face of overwhelming evidence.  What did surprise me was the identity of some of the people who did nothing.  After all, I had known these individuals most of my life, and I knew they knew the difference between right and wrong.  However, fear can be a huge motivating factor when you are in a position of authority.

Fear is the greatest enemy of perseverance.  There is the fear of losing your job, fear of losing an election, fear of people being angry with you, and fear of confrontation with angry aggressive people.  There are many other reasons why people are scared to do what is right.  One of them that can be applied in this case is physical fear.  When you have individuals who are good at and do not hesitate to intimidate others by shouting and threatening physical violence, people do get scared.

Fortunately, we have progressed enough that physical intimidation only goes so far.  Although I was not able to have the individual held accountable, I believe I laid the groundwork for those who eventually made the decision to take some action.  The latest news is the certain individual did eventually get his/her just dues.  He/she is no longer working for that particular program.  All because some individuals, myself and a few others, had the perseverance to insist on doing what is ethically and morally right. 

When a tribal member takes a courageous stand, he/she often feels very much alone afterwards.  The individuals he/she has taken a stand against usually do a good job of attacking him/her.  They yell, threaten, insult etc., and the self-esteem of the person on the receiving ends takes a beating. 

Every so often, someone will not only notice your ethical, courageous behavior, but they will do something unusual.  They  will commend you for it.  Such was the case a few days ago.  After taking significant verbal abuse at a meeting for standing on my principals, I went home and was feeling pretty low when I received an email which lifted my spirits and made it all worth while.  Below is excepts from the email:

"I respect you as a man and the life you have chosen to lead.  You represent the experiences of many of life's tough challenges, yet you have a mindset to endure and prevail.  I have told you before that I consider you a friend because of the character you portray and how that character influences the life, you lead.  To me that is a true warrior that is what a man wants in terms of the legacy he leaves behind.

Some people have criticized you because of the way you think.  Those people have no idea what it is to think that far out of the box.  To me thinking is one of the pleasures of life that goes unused by most people.  Your life experiences coupled with a formal education gives you much power in the living existence.  People are jealous of those gifts and fight those who can think in this dimension.  It's a gift you have.

It's good to know you.

Speech on Self-Honesty

A few years ago I had the honor of being the guest speaker at our high school graduation class.  Over the years, I have attended many graduations and other events when the speaker, usually a tribal member, uses the podium to express their political agenda, brag about themselves, or speak ill of other tribal members - all which I thought was bad taste considering the venue.  When I was asked to speak at our high school graduation ceremony I was determined to resist doing the same.  Here is an abbreviated version of that speech:

I want to start by congratulating Four Winds graduating class of 2006.  Let's give them a round of applause please.  

I am very proud to be standing before you as your guest speaker.  To have the privilege of speaking in front of the 2006 Four Winds high school graduates, the staff of Work Winds Community School, and community members is truly a great honor.  Because it is a great honor to speak at this event, I tried to pick a topic that would not reflect my personal animosities, and I tried to stay away from a topic that would denigrate any one individual, or group of individuals.  Instead, I tried to pick a topic that will empower at least one individual, especially one of the young men and woman graduating today, as he or she goes about their daily life.

I am going to talk briefly today about two closely related characteristics; self-responsibility, or responsibility to one's self and self-honestly.  What is self-honesty?  It is when you know your actions, habits, deeds are wrong and are willing to change them.  It's as simple as that.  While total self-honesty/self responsibility may not be possible, I truly believe those individuals who work hard at practicing these two virtues are better students, better parents, better employers and employees, and generally more successful in their lives then those who do not.

Now a person, especially a young person may ask the question, "What is self-responsibility/self honesty?"  That's a good question.  A very wise person once told me, "next time you are feeling sorry for yourself because something is going wrong in your life, try tracing what ever is going wrong back into your past, and if you are honest with yourself, you will discover that at some point in the past, you could have done something back then to prevent the wrong that is happening today."  He went on to say, "if you do that every time something goes wrong in your life, you will find that you could have prevented 90% of those bad things from happening to you.  However, recognizing the source of what went wrong is not enough."  He went on to say, "you then have to take the responsibility to change the behavior that caused your misfortunes to begin with."

Now I realize there are some events that we have no control over: sickness, accidents, and the action of other people are three things I can think of that we don't have control over.  What I am talking about are events that you do have some control over and the desire to do something about it.

Let me give you two obvious examples of self-responsibility and self-honesty.  Let's say a student misses 10 days of school and is expelled from school, or a school employee constantly misses work and is fired.  Their level of self-honesty and self-responsibility will determine how they will respond to consequences of their actions.  The individual with little or no self-honesty/self-responsibility will blame the system or someone else for the consequences of their actions, and make no changes to their behavior.  On the other hand, the students or worker who are honest with themselves will realize they could have prevented their expulsion, or firing by simply getting up each morning and going to school, or reporting to work every day.  Self-responsibility/self-honesty will cause this person to modify his or her behavior to ensure it doesn't happen again.  It's as simple at that.

When you apply self-honesty/self-responsibility to all aspects of your life, you will find out that you will argue less with family members, fellow students, and co-workers.  You will find there are less and less crises in your life, and you will change many of your habits that cause you trouble.  Self-responsibility will nip many crises in the bud because they won't have a chance to grow and become a problem.  You will find out that you spend less time feeling sorry for yourself, instead you will be enjoying yourself more because you have taken steps to keep bad things from happening to you.  Finally, your new attitude will gain you the respect of your family, friends, and community.

I would also venture to say, the greater the number individuals with self-responsibility in any given community, the healthier that community is going to be.  Absenteeism will decline in the schools and workplace.  There will be less conflict in the schools and in the workplace due to policy and procedures being followed.  The community will become safer due to its laws being followed.  All types of social ills will decline: child abuse, juvenile delinquency, alcoholism, favoritism in school and workplace.  Less and less people will depend on community services, and those who receive services will receive them based on need, not on who they are related to.

Why do some individuals take responsibility for their actions and correct their harmful behavior, and others don't?  Is it character, or lack of it?  Is it habits learned and hard to break?  Those are questions only you as an individual can answer?  Strictly speaking, for myself, I try very hard to follow the advice given to me long ago.  Moreover, I admit there are times when I don't do so well and I usually end up paying dearly for it.  But, I truly believe that I would not be where I am today; I would not be alcohol and drug free, I would not been capable of raising my sons and daughter as a single parent, I would not have returned to school and received my college degrees, I would not have my own company and I would not be enjoying my life today, if I did not try very hard to follow that simple piece of advise that was given to me so many years ago.

In closing I would like to leave the graduation class of 2006 with this advice.  In the upcoming months, as you plan your future, look for a role model that you want to emulate.  The role model you pick should be an individual who is no more then four-five years older than you, but who has their life together.  By that I mean a young man or woman who may be attending college on a regular basis, or some one who gets up and goes to work every day, a person who is not into drugs or alcohol, who has their own car, and is living on their own.  The reason say only four-five years older then you is because you will find it hard to relate to an individual who is several years or more older than you.  Older people have spent years getting where they are at and you might find it frustrating if you do not reach their level of accomplishment right away.  Instead, by emulating someone closer to your age, a young person who exhibits the trait of self-honesty, you will find you will meet you goals more quickly.  Do your best to emulate that individual and when you do, you will be pleasantly surprised to find your family, relatives and friends referring to you as a person who has taken responsibility for your life.  Thank you.


Prior to going back to school and earning my three degrees, like any other Dakota Hoksina (Indian Boy) growing up on an Indian reservation in the 60's and early 70's, I fell victim to the many pitfalls of reservation life.  I became an alcoholic while still in my teens.  As most alcoholics do to continue drinking, I stole, lied, manipulated everyone around me, and lived a life of a lie to justify my alcoholism.  

Looking back, I now realize several events took place that eventually made me look at the life of a lie I was living.  

The first was going through a six weeks alcoholics anonymous (AA) recovery program while I was in the Marine Corp.  Although I went back to drinking a couple of months after completing the program, I came out of that program with the realization I was a hard-core alcoholic.  I could no longer lie to myself anymore.  Every time I picked up a can of beer, I knew it was wrong for me.  

The second event happened several years later, when I was 29 years old.  While driving drunk, I rolled my car and ended up with a broken back.  I became 40% permanently paralyzed from my arm to my leg on my left side because of the accident.  During my long recovery period, I thought about what had happened and I could not lie to myself.  I knew it was because of my drinking.  Nevertheless, I kept on drinking.

The third event happened soon after my 30th birthday.  I began to recall my mother's words to me when I was a kid during the times when I was hung over.  My mother was always so proud of me and had high expectations for me.  She would say things like, "You're going to finish [high] school."  Finishing high school was a big accomplishment back then.  She would also say, "you are going to make something of yourself unlike those Indian men..." who fell victim to a life of alcoholism, and, she would constantly remind me of how smart I was.

Lucky for me, I was committed to treatment for the third time shortly after I turned 31.  The recent memory of my mother's words made me committed to getting and staying sober this time.  However, I was scared.  I knew the hold alcohol had on me - or I thought I did.  It was during this third time in rehab that I would hear the words about self-honesty that would literally change my life.  A counselor told me something to the effect, "When something goes wrong in your life instead of sitting on the pity pot and feeling sorry for yourself try to trace the origin of it, and if you do, you will find out that 9 times out of 10 at some point you could have prevented it from happening.  If you continue to be honest with yourself you will have no problem staying sober."

For whatever reason, the counselor's words had a profound impact on me, and I realized I was lying to myself all along about my alcoholism (and other issues as well).  Once I admitted I was truly "powerless' when it came to alcohol, I began the long road to recovery.

Several years after sobering up, I read a book titled, People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil, by M. Scott Peck. The gist of his book was that evil was a tangible force in the universe and flourished through people living the life of a lie (lack of self-honesty).  Peck pointed out how people who appeared to be living a righteous life often were, in fact, living the life of a lie.  In a nutshell, the message in Dr. Peck's book meant that you either lived a life of a lie, or a life of truth.  There is no in between.

Partly due to reading Peck's book, I ended a dysfunctional relationship and turned my attentions to my daughter and three sons.  I have never regretted that decision, and I now have many fond memories of when my children were growing up.

Do I think I, and anyone else for that matter, will ever achieve total self-honesty?  Absolutely not!  Self-honesty is a continuous, on-going process.  Some issues are easier to be self-honest with than others.

I look around me and see widespread dishonesty and many ethical violations happening in Indian country, and I am amazed at the lack of self-honesty.  We have an excuse or reason for every unethical act we commit.  What's worse is the extremes we pursue to justify our behavior and/or to avoid the consequences that would be a result of our behavior. Again, total lack of self-honesty.
What was our ancestor's view of self-honesty?  In his book, The Soul of an Indian, Charles Eastman talks about the honesty of Crow Dog, convicted of murder, and the dishonesty of his victim, Spotted Tail, a Sioux chief who came into power through deceit.  "He [Crow Dog] made no attempt to escape or to evade justice.  That the crime was committed in the depths of the forest or at dead of night, witnessed by no human eye, made no difference to his mind.  He was thoroughly convinced that all is known to the "Great Mystery" and hence did not hesitate to give himself up, to stand trial by the old and wise men of the victim's clan.  His own family and clan made no attempt to excuse or to defend him, but his judges took all the known circumstances into consideration, and if it appeared that he slew in self-defense, or that the provocation was severe, he might be set free after a thirty days' period of mourning in solitude.  It is well remembered that Crow Dog, who killed the Sioux chief, Spotted Tail, in 1881, calmly surrendered himself and was tried and convicted by the courts in South Dakota.  After his conviction, he was permitted remarkable liberty in prison, such as perhaps no white man has ever enjoyed when under the sentence of death.  The cause of his act was a solemn commission received from his people, nearly thirty years earlier, at the time that Spotted Tail usurped the chieftainship by the aid of the military, whom he had aided.  Crow Dog was under a vow to slay the chief, in case he ever betrayed or disgraced the name of the Brule Sioux.  There is no doubt that he had committed crimes both public and private, having been guilty of misuse of office as well as of gross offenses against morality; therefore his death was not a matter of personal vengeance but of just retribution.  A few days before Crow Dog was to be executed, he asked permission to visit his home and say farewell to his wife and twin boys, then nine or ten years old.  Strange to say, the request was granted, and the condemned man sent home under escort of the deputy sheriff, who remained at the Indian agency, merely telling his prisoner to report there on the following day.  When he did not appear at the time set, the sheriff dispatched the Indian police after him.  They did not find him, and his wife simply said that Crow Dog had desired to ride alone to the prison, and would reach there on the day appointed.  All doubt was removed the next day by a telegram from Rapid City, two hundred miles distant, saying: "Crow Dog has just reported here."  The incident drew public attention to the Indian murderer, with the unexpected result that the case was reopened, and Crow Dog acquitted.  He still lives, a well-preserved man of about seventy-five years, and is much respected among his own people."

The controversy over the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo reared its ugly head, of all places, at one of the reservations K-12 schools.  An individual who said he is a pro logo supporter requested to use the school's bus to transport tribal members to the Ralph Engelstad arena.  What happened when the two school boards met to discuss his request was a good example how our four Dakota values apply to a modern day situation:

1. Honesty - or lack of
• The individual said his request was not to support the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo.  However, a board member produced a flyer that stated the activity was to show support for the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo.
• The individual said he was a pro logo supporter, but later admitted he didn't really care about the logo.  He just wanted to do something for the students.
• He tried to circumvent the school's policy on who can use the bus.  Other than the school, the school's policy allows for the elderly, the veterans, and the college to use the bus.  He said he represented these groups, yet he did not have a letter from any group authorizing him to speak on their behalf.

2. Courage
• Three board members refused to be intimidated by pro logo supporters and denied the request.  
• Three board members saw the request for what it was (an attempt to drag the school and its students into a political controversy), and spoke up against it.

3. Perseverance
• When the individual made a subtle threat, that "four of the council are in favor of the logo," board members opposed to him using the bus stood firm in their opposition against him using the bus.

4. Generosity
• When the meeting was over, two of the board members who opposed the request went around and shook hands with those board members who were for it, while the individual who made the request flung one last insult as he scurried out the door.

The most troubling aspect of the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo is the total disregard of the Dakota value of honesty by some pro logo supporters.  They ignore the truth.  They are willing to misrepresent the truth; and most troubling of all ..., they know they are not truthful, yet they do it anyway.

An individual who was at the meeting said it best.  Following is a paraphrased statement of this individual's analysis of the meeting and the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo in general.  Keep in mind this individual supports the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo, which makes the statement much more powerful:
What bothers me the most about this issue is "they" know full well that they are being patronized; yet, they choose to move forward and call it, "support of the name and logo".  They attempt to cloak it as some effort or attempt to do something for kids in the form of, what he termed, free tickets and scholarships.  Where did this idea of a flag displaying ceremony come from anyway?  The article in the GF Herald does not elaborate on why the Ralph has decided to display the flags with an elaborate ceremony of some sort.  This is not a something for nothing venture here.  Since when has UND reached out to our reservations in the form of sports tickets?

No doubt, they expect to gain something from this.  They also fail to see how the issue is dividing people from and within respective tribes.  The old "divide and conquer" mentality is as active today as it was 175 years ago.  Give the Indian gifts and freebies, and he will eat out of your hand, do anything, and sign anything.

No question this is a patronization process and some people are blinded by the idea of something FREE.  They've bought right into it.  This isn't even politics anymore, it is just a plain old "Take advantage of the Indian"; we know his weakness for freebees and the spotlight.  Gifts and freebies are not always opportunities!

What happened to traditional pride and honor and the ability to stand up for one another for the sake of just simply being Indian.  I have to credit the white man for doing a good job of showing Indians "the light" only when it is for his eyes rather than those of the Indian.  "Save the man, kill the Indian" is as prevalent as it has ever been.

It is amazing how people can disguise their perception of the truth.  I may have been divided at times, but I'll be damned if I will be conquered.

I couldn't have said it better.

Erich Longie, Grand Forks Herald

Published Friday, October 03, 2008

FORT TOTTEN, N.D. -- What is wrong with Jody Hodgson, general manager of Ralph Engelstad Arena, and the Engelstad Arena people? Have they no sense of decency left in them?

I can understand their commitment to the late Engelstad, because they are being paid well. What I do not understand is why they want to drag a K-12 reservation school (Four Winds Community School) into the controversy over the Fighting Sioux nickname.

Children in K-12 grades are very impressionable. We adults should stick to the job of educating them instead of tricking them into taking a stand over a controversial issue by treating them to a hockey game.

Four Winds Community School is really two schools. K-8 is a tribal school, while grades 9-12 is a district school. The schools have their own governing boards and jointly own a $380,000 charter bus.

Spirit Lake pro-logo tribal members approached the boards with a request to use the bus to transport students and tribal members to the Oct. 5 event planned for Engelstad Arena. I am president of the district board, and in order to protect the school and students from the controversy, I opposed the idea of loaning our bus to pro-logo tribal members.

The two boards met on Sept. 28. Three members of the district board voted to deny the request, and the pro-logo tribal members will need to make other transportation arrangements.

To those tribal members who are participating in the Oct. 5 event, I ask these two questions: Who gave you the right to give permission for my tribe's flag to be displayed in the arena? Moreover, who gave you the right to sell our name?

I know the Dakota/Lakota/Nakota tribal members who comprise the great Sioux Nation and who oppose the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo did not give you permission to sell our name. Neither did Ron His Horse Is Thunder and Myra Pearson, chairpersons of Standing Rock and Spirit Lake respectively, a Herald story reported.

Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce said in protesting the sale of his tribe's land to the government: Suppose a white man should come to me and say, "Joseph, I like your horses. I want to buy them." I say to him, "No, my horses suit me; I will not sell them." Then he goes to my neighbor and says to him, "Joseph has some good horses. I want to buy them, but he refuses to sell." My neighbor answers, "Pay me the money and I will sell you Joseph's horses."

The white man returns to me and says, "Joseph, I have bought your horses, and you must let me have them." If we sold our lands to the government, this is the way they bought them.

Similarly, if Hodgson and the arena people obtained permission to fly our tribal flag and keep the nickname and logo, "... this is the way they bought them."

Erich Longie

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