November 2008 Archives

How Do You Feel?

For those who have been monitoring this website, you may have noticed that the number of blogs posted has diminished this past week. I was diagnosed with prostate cancer a couple of months ago, and I have since been busy taking steps to combat my cancer.

The love and concern shown to me by my family, relatives, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances have been overwhelming. Hardly a day goes by without someone asking me, "How do you feel?"  Due to the frequency of the inquiries and the length of time it takes to respond to them, I will start referring people to this blog when they ask, "how do you feel?"

A couple of weeks ago, I went through an operation to remove my prostate, and however, after the doctor made the incision, he found microscopic traces of cancer cells in my lymph nodes. The way I understand it, my prostate cancer cannot kill me unless it has reached one of my vital organs (heart, liver, lungs, etc.). The doctor told me that my cancer had not. What is troubling, however, is my PSA level was 26.8. A PSA level of 20 or more is usually a strong indicator that cancer has spread, hence the radiation treatment. However, other than microscopic traces of cancer in my lymph nodes, there are no other signs that cancer has spread. But I do not know for sure; only time will tell.

After my operation, the doctor sent me to the Altru Cancer Center. I met with Dr. Winchester, and he told me I would have to undergo 37 radiation treatments. Because I am from out of town, he made it easy on me by letting me pick the times of the 15-minute treatments. In preparation for my treatments, I had my body tattooed (among other things) or mapped so technicians would know what area of my body to expose to radiation. We agreed my radiation treatments would start on November 17, and I will have a total of 37 treatments with weekends, Thanksgiving, and Christmas days off.

November 17, the date of my first treatment, has come and gone, so I have already started my radiation treatments. My weekly radiation schedule is Monday afternoons at 4:00; I spend Monday nights in Grand Forks; my Tuesday treatment is at 9:00 in the morning, after which I drive home. I return Wednesday afternoon for a 4:00 PM treatment, then spend the night in Grand Forks. Thursday, my treatment is at 9:00 AM, and I drive home. Friday, I return for my final weekly treatment at 4:00 PM.

Two colleagues of mine, Dr. Garl Rieki and his wife, Dr. Judy Rieki, have generously offered me the use of their spare bedroom in their basement (at no cost to me, I might add) until December 10, when they move to Minneapolis. After that, I will rent a motel room for the remaining four weeks of my treatments.

I have done much research on prostate cancer, and what I found makes me highly optimistic. First, I am not alone. Most men, if they live long enough, most men will experience prostate cancer. Second, most prostate cancer is slow growing and highly curable. Third, many friends and acquaintances have told me they know someone who has prostate cancer and is doing well. My old friend and mentor, Dr. Berg, who came to visit me last week, reminded me he had prostate cancer and received radiation treatment for it. That was 20 years ago, and he is still reasonably healthy.

Naturally, I wanted to find out my chances of surviving prostate cancer, so I searched the web for statistics.   Here are excerpts from an article titled, Prostate Cancer Key Statistics, from the American Cancer Society, 2008.

I felt much better about my chances of survival after reading this article - of course, there is still the uncertainty of not knowing if my cancer has spread to other parts of my body.

This past week I was invited to speak at a pow-wow about my cancer. The other two speakers were cancer survivors. When they finished, I stood and spoke. I have tried to recreate my speech below. Although I have added to what I said at the pow-wow, the central message is the same. Here is what I said.

I am honored to speak today. The other two speakers talked about surviving cancer. Because I was recently diagnosed with cancer, I cannot talk about surviving cancer today. Maybe in five years, I will be able to.

My first reaction to discovering my cancer was shocking. My subsequent reaction was disbelief and denial. I thought it couldn't be true. After reality set in, my immediate thought was a quick trip to the doctor, and everything will be all right. However, when I went online and read up on prostate cancer, I realized I still had to undergo an operation to remove my prostate, which would result in all kinds of nasty side effects. The doctor did not take my prostate; instead, I would undergo radiation treatment. The surgeon removed 25  lymph nodes during the procedure and sent them to the lab.  Two lymph nodes had microscopic traces of cancer

The hardest part was telling my children. What I dislike most about my cancer is not the fact I might eventually die from it or the side effects that result from it, but the sorrow and sadness it has caused my children. I am not scared to go to the Spirit World. Why should I be? My son, my mother, and my relatives are there. However, I understand my children love me very much. My children are taking the news hard. They expect me to live forever.

I think my children did not understand my reaction, or maybe my lack of response, when I first discovered, I had cancer and then my seemingly calm acceptance of the news that it had spread to the lymph nodes. But they do not understand that when I grew up, most adults did not live past sixty. So, I never expected to live long, either. The way I see it, if cancer kills me, I will be living out my average life span. I do not want to go to the Spirit World until I have lived another 15 - 20 years. However, due to a broken back, I am partially paralyzed on my left side, and my disability may worsen as I grow older, something I dread. So what are a few years, more or less, when you're old?

A saying goes like this: "Life is a bitch, then you die."  Well, my life hasn't been a bitch. Sure I had my ups and downs, but the Wakan Takan has given me a wonderful life and many blessings, and I can't complain. I have four wonderful children and many beautiful grandchildren. I have been a third-grade teacher, a GED instructor, a tribal college academic dean, and a college president. I was the first Spirit Lake tribal member born and raised on the Spirit Lake reservation to receive a doctorate. Four years ago, Dr. AnnMaria De Mars, my sister, April, and I founded Spirit Lake Consulting, of which I am now the sole owner. I can't and won't complain now that I have cancer. To feel sorry for me and get angry is to disrespect the Creator and all the blessings he has given me throughout my life.

I want to say I have received nothing but positive support from my family, friends, relatives, and tribal members. Indians are the most generous of all people. Their kindness, sympathy, and generosity are overwhelming. How can I feel sorry for myself with so many people demonstrating their support for me?

In closing, I have a firm belief in Wakan Tanka. Wakan Tanka does not make mistakes. My faith in Wakan Tanka helps me accept the good with the bad. I enjoy life when it is good, persevere when life is rough, and my faith in Wakan Tanka will help me accept whatever direction my cancer takes.

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today.

I am happy my radiation treatments have started. I am anxious to put them behind me. 


I remember preparing for and attending the College Board of Regents meetings first as an Academic Dean (five years) and then as President (five years).  There were some good years, when the respect between regent members and me was high, and then there were the years when it was not so good.

Since then, I have sat on the other side of the fence, as a board member, many times.  The majority of the problems I encountered as college president and as a board member could be contributed to a lack of trust and respect between the governing board and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

In order for an organization to maximize its potential, there has to be absolute trust and respect between the CEO and members of the governing board.  Unfortunately, due to human nature, this is very hard to achieve, and in Indian Country other factors make it virtually impossible.

It all comes down to this . . . who makes the decisions, the governing board or the CEO?  The more trust and respect there is between a governing board and its CEO, the more the governing board is inclined to let the CEO make the decisions.  The less trust and respect between the governing board and CEO, the more the governing board is inclined to make the decisions.

Then, there is the personality of the CEO.  He/she may be the kind of administrator who is okay with the governing board making the majority of the decisions.  He/she will offer very few recommendations, and instead, will continuously ask the board, "what do you want to do?"  In my view, this CEO's education, knowledge, and experience are being wasted.

Then there are administrators, like me.  As academic dean and then college president, I very seldom asked the governing board what they wanted to do.  Instead, I would prepare my case, recommend a course of action, and ask for their approval or disapproval on what I wanted to do.  Simply put, when people would ask me what I did to earn my president's salary, I would promptly say, "I earn my money by making tough decisions."

What do you think?

Over the past twenty plus years, I sat on many different tribal boards and committees (and non-tribal boards as well), the College Board of Regents, the TERO Board of Commissioners, the Law and Order Committee, the District School Board, and many ad hoc committees.  I also attended board meetings as a guest or I was placed on the agenda for some reason or another.  

It is my opinion most tribal boards do not follow Robert's Rules of Order, or if they do, they follow it very loosely.  This lack of structure allows, among other things, some meetings to run several hours. Unless a board/committee meeting is intended to last several hours, most board meetings should last 2 - 4 hours at the most.  Meetings lasting several hours is a sign of a dysfunctional board.

Four years ago, I was elected to the state school board.  New board members are not sworn in until all old business is taken care of.  At my first meeting, I sat and waited for the "old" board to wrap up old business.  Because there was only three items under old business, I thought, "this shouldn't take long."  Boy, was I wrong!  Five hours later, the board finally acted on the third item on the agenda.  I was finally sworn in.  The election for officers was held, and I was voted in as board president.  The first words out of my mouth were something to the effect,  "We are not going to sit here for 5 hours every time we have a meeting.  Our meetings will last no longer than 1 - 2 hours."

For the past four years, I kept my word, in spite of fierce opposition from board members who appeared to be willing to talk as long as it took to get their way.  At first, my approach to moving board meetings along was simple.  If we spent more than 15 minutes on an item, I would suggest we wrap up the discussion and move on.  This usually elicited a howl of protest from the board member (or members) who wanted to keep discussing the issue, and at times a verbal confrontation would ensue.  A few times, I would end up asking the board to take a vote on whether or not we wanted to move on.  Fortunately, the vote was always to "move on."

Then, at a National School Board Association (NSBA) conference, I attended a workshop conducted by Jim Slaughter, who is a Certified Professional & Professional Registered Parliamentarian (I can't remember the title of the workshop).  His approach was to use Robert's Rules of Order to address the problem of a meeting lasting several hours.  Probably the most important thing I learned from this workshop is no board member has the right to hold the others hostage by demanding to talk until he/she gets his/her way.  Jim Slaughter had several hand outs, one of them titled, Parliamentary Motions Match-Up, that is based on Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (10th Edition).  Assuming a board is willing to follow Robert's Rules of Order there are several motions a board member may make to move the meeting along:

1. Move to Amend, which will place a limit on the time or number of speakers.
2. Move for a Parliamentary Inquiry that allows a matter to be sent to a smaller group to consider and report.
3. Call for a Point of Order that will end the debate immediately.
4. Move to Recess that allows a member to ask a question relevant to business (but not procedure)
5. Move to Limit/Extend Debate that will allow modification to another motion by adding, deleting, or changing words.
There are always two sides to an issue.  The next time I attended a NSBA conference, I went to a workshop titled, Effective Meetings: A Balance of Democracy vs. Efficiency.  How a meeting is run depends on what you value.  According to the presenter, efficiency is a value where time and tasks are driving factors.  It enables the board to do a lot of work in the least amount of time.  Democracy can guarantee that everyone has a say, but democracy does not guarantee you will get your way.  I admit, when it comes to boards and committees, the majority of the time, I value efficiency over democracy.  Listed below are concepts that support efficiency, democracy, and civility:

1. Concepts that support efficiency:

      • Consent Agenda
      • Call the Question
      • Motion to Reconsider
      • Postpone Indefinitely
      • Motion to Adjourn
      • Motion to Recess

2. Concepts that support democracy:

      • Approving the Agenda
      • Sequencing the Agenda
      • Rearranging the Agenda
      • Appealing the Decision of the Chair

3. Concepts that support efficiency civility:

      • No one speaks a second time until everyone has had a chance to speak once
      • Question of privilege (may we turn up the heat?)
      • Point of Order (A request to enforce the rules)
      • Dignifying, not demonizing, comments made by fellow board members and comments by the public

In my opinion, as a board member, regardless if you support the concept of efficiency or the concept of democracy, you should support the concept of civility and organization.  You do not attend a board meeting representing yourself; instead, you attend meetings with the knowledge that you are representing the constituents.  Insisting on getting your way, disrespecting and/or ignoring the opinions of fellow board members, pushing your personal agenda, advocating for your best friend and/or relatives, and not accepting the majority vote of the board are examples of board behaviors you do not want to exhibit.  These actions as well as resorting to tactics such as talking out or talking down to other board members and creating chaos by ignoring Robert's Rules of Order does irreparable harm to the organization you are appointed to represent. 

Courage - A Traditional Value

Our ancestors could not have survived without courage.  They needed courage in battle, courage in hunting, courage in enforcing tribal laws and customs, courage in facing the elements, and courage when making decisions that would impact the well-being of the entire tribe.

A man could not be a successful hunter, scout, warrior, and leader if he did not have courage.  Courage was important in the roles women played in tribal society as well.  Although an enemy war party might strike at any time, the women would leave the shelter of the village and go pick berries and other vegetables, haul water, and do other tasks.  They had to have the courage to turn their sons over to an older relative as they became of age to become a warrior.  Finally, they had to have the courage to stand quietly as their young sons went on the warpath for the first time.

In all Native tribes, courage, whether it was moral or physical, was essential.  Native American Indians honor courage/bravery.  Here is an excerpt from Dorreen Yellow Bird's column in the Grand Forks Herald titled, Tradition, ritual at a solder's funeral.

In the 1870s, a Hidatsa man called Scar Face went up north with six warriors and ran into a larger group of enemy Crees.  The Crees were behind a wagon and shooting at them.  The Hidatsa man knew it was death for them all.  So he ran low, zig zagging toward the Crees.  This gave the rest of the band a chance to find cover.  He was killed, but he Crees, who usually scalped their enemy, didn't scalp him.  Instead, they brought out a white Hudson Bay blanket - prized during that time - and laid him on it.  They honored him because he was brave, Mandan said.  That is true of all Indian people:  "We honor bravery."

Another example of bravery, here is a story about a father who was willing not to plead for his son's innocence, but to take the punishment meant for his son:

TICHOU MINGO, an Acolapissa Indian of the Osage nation, and their most expert hunter, killed a Choctaw, 1756.  The French demanded his death.  His father arose in council and offered himself in his son's place, in a touching plea, at once accepted.  My son is dying valiantly, but since he is young and vigorous, he is more capable than I to feed his mother, his wife, and four small children.  He must live in order to take care of them.  I am at the end of my life.  I have lived enough.  I wish that my son may live to be as old as I am so he can raise my grandchildren properly.  I am no longer good for anything.  A few years more or less will make no difference.  I have lived like a man; I want to die the same way.  That is why I am going to take the place of my son.

Is fear a new Indian tradition?

How could I propose such a thing when this Tribal Leaders Institute is based on my tribe's proud tradition of courage?

Here's why ...  One of our favorite tactics to accomplish our goals is to use fear rather than fairness and decency.  We organize family, friends, and attack anyone who disagrees with us to frighten them into giving in to our demands.  We use fear to the extent that most tribal employees do not speak up when they see someone committing a wrongful act, because of fear.

Everywhere we look, we see the results of fear.  Policies and procedures are ignored.  Nepotism and favoritism is rampant throughout our work places.  People are fired without due process.  We have a high unemployment rate, yet a huge number of our jobs are filled with non-Indians, and/or non-tribal members.  Tribal members and tribal leaders alike are afraid to speak up due to fear.

Gus Lee and Diane Elliott-Lee view courage as so essential to leadership, they wrote a book entitled, Courage: The Backbone of Leadership.  They found that we tolerate unethical acts at work and look the other way when we observe character failings because of our lack of courage.  The Lees also say courageous leaders inspire ethical behavior from their workers because they first require it from themselves.  Great leaders from Aristotle to Sir Winston Churchill deemed courage "the first of all human qualities."

Our ancestors were prideful people.  They would give up their life to prove their courage.  Little Crow, at the beginning of the Great Sioux Uprising, told his warriors, although he believed going to war would mean the death of all of them, he would join them on the warpath because he was no coward.

We need tribal workers and leaders who are proud to be known for their moral courage as opposed to known for their ability to ride the fence.  Which reminds me, I remember a tribal member who served on the councils for many years, yet I never heard him/her say "yes" or "no".  He/she always avoided a direct answer.  I don't know, maybe that individual is proud of avoiding giving a direct answer.  How about you?

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from November 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

October 2008 is the previous archive.

December 2008 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.