February 2009 Archives

This is the first part of a two-part entry ...

    As a 54-year-old Dakota, born and raised on the Spirit Lake Nation, reasons for my opposition to Indian logos and mascots started in my childhood.  My mother did not learn to speak English until she was nine years old.  Born in 1922, when racism against Indians was rampant, she did what she had to, to survive in a "white man's world."  However, she never relinquished her "Indianness" as some did to make it easier to cope.  She was happiest when visiting (laughing and joking) with her sisters or other tribal members in the Dakota language.  In spite of the extreme poverty she lived in, she was proud of who she was.
    "We're Sioux," she would proudly say.  "Never be ashamed of who you are," in reference to those Indians who, for whatever reason, tried to forget they were Indian and acted, spoke, and lived like the "white man."  She instilled in me the pride of being an Indian, and as a result, I was against the logo even before I was aware there was a logo.  It is this pride in who I am that enabled me to obtain three degrees from UND, in spite of racism I encountered there.  Contrary to what some may think, encountering racist behavior spawned by the logo made me even more determined to succeed.  "I have just as much right as anyone to attend UND," and I was darned if I was going to let a few racist yahoos stop me from reaching my goals.
    What has been most perplexing to me is why Native Americans who support the Fighting Sioux logo think racism does not exist in North Dakota, or they are frightened as to what will happen if the logo is retired.  Then, I read Paulo Freire's book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and I began to get a glimmer of understanding why a few of them support the logo.  When they try to emulate non-Indian logo supporters by wearing "Fighting Sioux" clothing, the following quote, taken from chapter one of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, comes to mind:  "The oppressed want at any cost to resemble the oppressors."
    Not long ago, a new acquaintance, a Chippewa Indian whose mother is from White Earth Indian Reservation, but who has lived the majority of his life in Grand Forks asked me, "Erich, what is it with you guys?  I went to school at Central when it had the Redskins logo.  I had a lot of pride when I played sports."
    I explained to him how my mother had instilled her pride of being Sioux in me.  When I finished, I asked him this question: "If I called members of your tribe welfare dependent, FAS babies, free cheese, ignorant, prairie niggas, etc., etc., people and then said, 'Oh, by the way, we want to use the Chippewa logo to honor you and need your support,' what would you say?"  As he stood thinking about it, I said, "Where's your pride, man?"
    Finally, he said, "I see your point."  After thinking about it some more, he said, "See . . . I never had someone like your mother when I was growing up."  A couple of weeks later, he told me I owed him $20.  Puzzled, I looked at him and he said, "I paid $20 for a UND shirt that I'm never going to wear."  We both had a good laugh.
    My new friend is an example of the decent good-hearted logo supporters who honestly sincerely think they are honoring us, but who have arrived at the conclusion that all rational, decent people come to: The logo is highly offensive to thousands of Native Americans and should be retired.  After hearing the facts, many logo supporters, Indian and non-Indian, have changed their minds.  Our young children, once they mature and are educated on the subject, will also oppose the logo.  Our numbers will continue to grow while the logo supporters will continue to diminish.  What will be left is a minority whose support of the logo is code/cover for racist thinking and actions against Native Americans.

The Taking of a Relative

A friend from another reservation once told me, "Indians are always in mourning."  The statistics bear this out.  Indians have the shortest life span and are more likely to die from automobile and other accidents.   

Last week, a young man, Mark Fassatt, who was a friend of my sons passed to the Spirit World.  He was only 24 years old.  Last night, I attended his wake and I attended his funeral this morning.  The young man had many friends, so there were a lot of people at his wake.  

Right after he had passed away, a cousin of mine came up to me and reminded me Mark or his brother, Monty, (who are twins) had my son's name, "Joel," tattooed on his arm.  Joel, who was a close friend of Mark and Monty, went to the Spirit World almost eight years ago.

Due to their friendship with my son, Joel, and to show our sympathy and support for Monty in his time of great sorrow, we decided we wanted to do "something" for him.   What we decided to do was to invite him into our family in remembrance of his friendship with my son Joel.

Taking of a Relative.  I do know that there is a proper ceremony that is conducted when one person takes another as his/her relative (brother, sister, mother, father, grandfather, grandmother, niece, nephew).  However, in this case, we did not have time to follow the proper protocol, so I improvised.

After consulting with Monty's mother, we agreed I would make the announcement during the wake.  During the wake, after the services, my family and I went up by the mike where I took the mike and said this:

"A couple of weeks ago, in the middle of the night, I heard someone come into the house.  I keep the door locked, so I thought it was one of my sons.  I went back to sleep.  Later on, I got up to go to the bathroom, and I noticed two guys sleeping in the living room, one on the couch and the other on the EZ chair.  Curious, I went over to look; it was Mark and Monty.  Ever since my son Joel died, Mark and Monty would show up at my house every now and then, usually late at night looking for a place to sleep.  They would stay for a couple of hours after they woke up and then leave so I was not concerned.  Mark and Monty were close friends with my son, Joel, when they were little kids.  They spent a lot of time together, boxing, biking, or just hanging around.  They were heart broken when Joel died.  They cried long and hard at Joel's wake and funeral.  They also started to visit me after Joel died and their visits brought me a lot of comfort.  I want to apologize to anyone who feels what I am doing is inappropriate... I am going to take Monty as my son and as a brother to my sons.  Now I know there is a proper ceremony to "take a relative" and I will do that in the near future.  I just want Monty to know he is now part of my family."

With that, my cousin and son put a Star Quilt around Monty, and I asked the drum group to sing an appropriate song.  While the singers were singing, people came up and shook our hand, many telling me "it's a good thing you are doing, Erich."  

This morning, my son Marshall told me Monty asked him when would the "official" ceremony be?  I told Marshall as soon as I can arrange it.

I hope my family's action will bring some small degree of comfort to Monty and his family.  I know he and his brother brought me a lot of comfort when my son went to the Spirit World.  

Although I am saddened by Mark's death, I am also proud of my sons and relatives who took part in the activity - I am proud to be a Dakota.

Should You Live Like a Hermit?

During discussions with individuals (friends/relatives) who are addicted to one substance or another, they often state their main gripe, which is this:  "It is my life, so why doesn't everyone leave me alone and let me live it the way I want to?"  Good point - or so it would appear.

My response is, "if you want everyone to leave you alone, then you should live a hermit's life."  When they ask why, here is what I tell them.  "I don't bother you when you are high or drunk so you should not bother me when you are high or drunk either.  The next time you are broke, homeless, in some kind of trouble (jail, bills), or need some assistance of some kind, remember you wanted people to leave you alone.  You want me to leave you alone when you're high or drunk and I will, but I want you to leave me alone when the consequences of your addicted lifestyle catches up with you.  For that to happen you will have to become a hermit."

My point is, when my actions impact those around me, then I am responsible for insuring those actions do not harm others, especially those who are close to me and/or love me.  This is called self-responsibility.

It is quite easy to say alcoholics and drug users have no self-responsibility.  Their very actions make the point for us.  However, there are many of us who are not alcoholic and/or drug users that could practice more self-responsibility.

To younger people, self-responsibility would mean getting and keeping a job, a driver's license, owning a car, moving out of their parents' house, not partying all night, and practicing safe sex.

To individuals in leadership positions, self-responsibility means being honest with your constituents, making honest and courageous decisions, showing up for work every day, and treating everyone fairly.

The older I get, the more I realize how important self-responsibility is to me.  Most of my adult life, it never bothered me if I went to bed around 2 or 3 in the morning.  I would still get up, go to work, and be productive.  The older I get, the harder I find it is to get up at the same time.  I need more sleep.  When I do get up early without going to bed earlier, I am pretty much useless due to being tired all day.  I also am finding out I don't have the patience I used to have with the hassle caused by my irresponsibility.  So to me, self-responsibility means getting to bed early enough, and getting up early, paying bills on time, keeping appointments, not making promises you have no intention of keeping (I'll call you later, let's eat lunch this week), eating more healthy foods, exercising and treating others respectfully.

Although it is possible, it is hard to reach a level of success without a high level of self-responsibility.  Without self-responsibility, your life will probably be filled with all types of inconveniences caused by your irresponsibility, especially if you are in a leadership position.  Successful leaders are the ones who have the respect of their workers (I said "respect" not "liked" by their workers).  The quickest way to lose respect is to appear irresponsible in some aspect of your life.

I think the ultimate goal would be to teach children self-responsibility at a very early age.

Honorable Spirit Lake Tribal Council Members:

When the Fargo Forum, Grand Forks Herald and Lloyd Omdahl and many other supporters of the Fighting Sioux Logo spoke out in favor of retiring the logo, we had thought the ghastly, unpleasant issue was finally laid to rest. But no, a desperate, last ditch effort by Jody Hodgeson and the Ralph Englestad Foundation, working through tribal members, are demanding that you hold a referendum on the logo issue.

Before you hold a referendum please take the following into consideration:

Ø  First, by far the most important issue at stake here is our sovereignty.  What precedent will a referendum on this issue set?  Who will be the next group to come in and pay money to tribal members to put something on the ballot?  If another group wants something done on this reservation, they will know that they do not need tribal government; they will just side step them and get the people to call for a referendum.  They will hire their "champions" to get out the vote.  Outsiders will then control the tribal government.  How will our tribal sovereignty survive under this system?  

Ø  Second, when any election occurs, the public must be made aware of what they are voting for or against.  Before an election, the tribal government should assume the responsibility and cost of presenting all sides of a political question to tribal members.  Not doing so would make a mockery of tribal government because one side in this issue has access to tremendous economic resources while the other does not.  Should the tribal government allow such a one-sided election, it would show the entire non-Indian world that if you want something in Indian Country, even the government, just buy it.  The tribal government stands for nothing.  If you insist on holding a referendum, conduct it fairly by holding public forums where each side gets up and presents.

Ø  Third, at the very least, the Tribal Constitution suggests that to have a referendum vote, the basis must be action or anticipated action by the tribal government.  In this case, the tribal government hasn't done anything that can be the subject of the referendum.  It is just an outside group trying to get an election over their issue, an issue that hasn't been considered by the tribal government.  No legal basis exists for a referendum vote.

Ø  Fourth, who will pay for this tribal vote?  The tribe will naturally?  Does the tribe believe that this North Dakota issue is a worthy enough cause to consume limited tribal resources?  Worst, if the entities that want the vote are willing to pay for it, they are paying to control tribal government.

Ø  Fifth, according to our tribal constitution, a referendum requires 20% of the voting population.  Why does this group not have to go out and obtain those signatures?  Over 900 tribal members voted in the last election.  Is it possible these tribal members know they cannot obtain 190 signatures?

Ø  Sixth, you should at least consult with tribal members who have actually been students at UND and hear their views concerning their experience at this school as the result of this logo.  Having people who have not knowledge of what actually has been going on deciding an issue is just wrong.  

Ø  Seventh, as leaders is it your responsibility to listen to both sides before you make a decision.  There are over 4500 tribal members living on our reservation.  How is it that a small group of tribal members were able to convince the Tribal Council to hold a referendum?  We tribal members, who actually attended UND could go out and recruit elders and other tribal members also, however, we will not take advantage of our elders nor will we take advantage of tribal members who have no idea what the controversy is all about

Ø  Eighth, why not wait until after the next election which is only three months away? With three members of our five-member tribal council up for re-election in May, it would seem appropriate to wait until after the election.  For that matter, our tribal council's four year terms are staggered, which means every two-years the issue will become a campaign issue.


In my last blog, I promised to answer the question, "Who is an Indian?"  In the meantime, because I am still researching my answer, I will submit this blog, Indian Time - Is It a Con?

I have to admit, to a large extent, I fully take advantage of "Indian Time" when it suits my needs.  However, having spent the last two years writing about, talking about, and promoting a return to the four values of courage, honesty, perseverance, and generosity, I am slowly taking an honest look at my use of Indian time.

I am currently in Bismarck attending a North Dakota School Board Association (NDSBA) conference.  What is markedly different about this conference is the majority of the board members show up for session on time and do not leave early.  Take this morning, for example; I thought I would arrive 20 minutes early so I could pick the table I wanted to sit at.  Much to my surprise, all the tables were already taken.  I had to stand and wait until the hotel brought more tables.

Maybe I should explain who comprises the membership of the NDSBA.  I would say the majority of them are from small towns or school districts.  Coming from an agricultural background, these individuals have a life long habit of getting up very early in the morning (There are a smattering of board members from the major cities of Minot, Devils Lake, Grand Forks, Bismarck, and Fargo.).

When I attend this conference, I have to be on time (not on Indian time).  And you know what?  Being on time is not too bad.  It is great to be early.  You have time to get yourself some refreshments, sit where you want, relax, and watch everyone else come in.  

Back to my question, "Is Indian time a con or is it just an acceptable excuse to use if you are always chronically late?"  Many times, I waited impatiently for someone, and they laughed it off as being on Indian Time (I felt like choking them).  Many times, I hurried to a community event or activity only to sit there and wait because of Indian Time.  To be honest, there were times, I am sure, when I used Indian Time as an excuse because I had no good reason for being late.

And that is what Indian Time is  -- just an excuse...  We Indians have come a long way from the days when the BIA ran everything and made all the decisions for us, from the days when we had to send young men and women hundreds, thousands of miles from home to receive an education.  We now control our own destiny; we will decide our future, not the BIA, not the state, and not anybody else.

Now is the time to end an antiquated practice that is no longer harmless and/or funny.  In fact, the continuing use of Indian time will only hold us back from making progress in all areas.

It's time to stop conning ourselves.

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This page is an archive of entries from February 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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