March 2009 Archives

Three Spirit Lake Tribal Council positions are up for election with the primary election held next month.  The three positions are: Fort Totten District Representative, St. Michaels District representative, and the Secretary/Treasurer position.

There are over 10 tribal members competing for each position.  This is the most candidates running for a position that I can recall.  It is a good thing.  I take it as a sign that more and more people want to become involved in the governing process here on the reservations.

All too often, we tribal members are quick to blame tribal councilmen when something goes wrong.  We forget that we are the ones who elect individuals into these positions.  Therefore, any criticism of them is actually a criticism of us.

In the next couple of weeks, I hope to be visited by candidates vying for Fort Totten District (my district) and the Secretary/Treasurer positions.  My vote will definitely be influenced by a visit from the candidates, and the conversations I have with them.

Key words I will be listening for from the candidates are: accountability, separation-of-powers, due process, etc., etc.  I will be evaluating them as to whether or not they have the character: courage, honesty, perseverance, and generosity, to follow through with their campaign "promises".

Back to our responsibility as voters, I was having a conversation with a close acquaintance the other day as to whom we should vote for.  I listened in amazement to this individual as he/she ran through a list of "qualifications" this person wanted the "best" candidate to have.  The qualifications were basically: dishonesty, cowardice, corruption, etc.  Finally, I asked this individual, "Are you saying you will only vote for a person who legalizes drug abuse?"  Naturally, the person's response was no.  But that was not an honest answer.  This individual did not want a person elected who would promote "law and order" on the reservation.  A person with real courage, honesty, perseverance, and generosity would be the last person my acquaintance wanted to see elected.

Say the type of individual my close acquaintance want does get elected.  My acquaintance then would be the first person to criticize this person when he/she governs in a dysfunctional manner.   

It is up to us voters to elect a person who has REAL courage, honesty, perseverance, and generosity to lead us for the next four years.

Last week, I had the opportunity to do a presentation on my Tribal Leadership Institute at the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. I presented to eight (8) BIA schools.  I explained our website features and how they worked.  I also talked about the five courses we are planning on developing. I then spent some time going over our first course, Introduction To Ethical Issues On Indian Reservations, which is completed. 

I received several comments and questions after the presentation.  One lady said she enjoyed my presentation, but disagreed on what I was doing.  Another person was more interested in my website than the content of my course, and another person asked why I was picking on Indians when the rest of society is just as, if not more, corrupt than Indian Reservations.   

However, a good sign that people were interested in the message of the Tribal Leadership Institute occurred when several asked for my card (I didn't have any) after I finished. One person told me she was going to speak to a director of a program to inquire if I could come train the rest of the administration.  "I like the way you talked about gossip," this person told me, "We had ____________ come in, and ____________ said, 'put a rubber band around your wrist, and when you gossip about someone, sting yourself.'  As if...," the person went on to say.

What I said about gossip was taken from the book, Waterlily, by Ella Cara Deloria.  Ella Deloria said something to the effect that speech is sacred.  Of all the creatures the Wakan Tanka (Great Spirit) made, he gave the power of speech only to us humans, and we should not abuse it by talking ill of other people.

However, I kept to the central message of the Tribal Leaders Institute, which is, you cannot be an outstanding worker, supervisor, CEO, or other type of leader without incorporating courage, honesty, perseverance, and generosity into everything you do.
Because most of the people attending the presentation were in a leadership position, I talked about courageous and ethical leaders versus cowardly and unethical leaders.  One of the aspects of leadership is how do you react when you make a horrendous mistake?

I said, "If you are a courageous and ethical leader, you will immediately take responsibility for your mistake."  By acting courageously you will ensure no one else is mistakenly blamed for your mistake.  Furthermore, you will apologize for your mistake as soon as you find out you made it, and announce to the appropriate parties what you will do to ensure it does not happen again.

Cowardly and unethical leaders will avoid taking responsibility for their mistakes at all cost.  They will try to shift the responsibility to their supervisor or fellow worker.  Usually, they try to shift the blame to a fellow worker who has the opposite leadership characteristics (courage, honesty) as they do.

One thing is certain; you cannot be a cowardly, unethical leader and make ethical, courageous decisions.

I finished by asking: "What type of leader are you?"

The Problem

Some time ago, during a conversation with a non-Indian friend about corruption on Indian reservations, he said something to the effect, "We have corruption too, but you guys (Indians) are much more open about it."  When I thought how brazen some tribal employees (staff, supervisors, administrators, and tribal officials) were (are) when committing unethical acts during working hours (and after), I had to agree with him.
Here is what one tribal member said about corruption on his reservation after returning home to work:
"... well after working on the reservation for a while, I found out differently.  Instead, wherever I worked in [a] key position, I found corruption, nepotism, and contempt for authority and out right theft.  I've always believed when a person even steals one penny from a tribal program, that person steals not from the program, but from each and every member of the tribe.  Nothing is being done to correct the problems.  Corruption, nepotism, and outright theft still exist.  Our 'tribe' does nothing to protect the whistle-blowers.  People still live in fear, and the outspoken people on this reservation are marginalized and blacklisted."  (Turtle Mountain Times, June 25, 2007)
In her weekly column, Dorreen Yellow Bird had this to say about tribal members and tribal councils:
"Just before each election of a new tribal governing body, I have hope.  I'm optimistic about our tribal leaders.  After a few years, however, the ruts made by the previous councils turn out to be too deep, and the new council slips and slides for a while, then drops right back into those old ways again.  We also need to look at ourselves as tribal members when we point the blame finger.  We are as responsible for the successes and failures of the tribal government as is the government itself.  After all, we voted them into office."  (Grand Forks Herald 09/23/2006 Tribes, tribal councils need reform)

As Native Americans, we have strayed far from our traditional values, and have not fully accepted Christian beliefs either.  This is why some of us may participate in traditional ceremonies, but not actually practice our traditional values of courage, honesty, perseverance, and generosity.  Many of us who proclaim to be Christian practice Christianity like some non-Indian Christians do -- go to church once a week, and forget about Christ's teachings the rest of the week.

Actually, Christ's teachings and Native American values are remarkably similar.  According to Charles Alexander Eastman, Dakota spirituality and Christianity was one and the same.  From 1858 - 1874, Eastman, a Woodland Sioux, was raised by his grandmother until he was 15.  He had first-hand knowledge of the life, language, culture, and oral history of the Dakota.  He was then educated at Dartmouth and Boston University medical schools.  This is what he said:  "It is my personal belief, after thirty-five year's experience of it, that there is no such thing as 'Christian civilization.'  I believe that Christianity and modern civilization are opposed and irreconcilable, and that the spirit of Christianity and our ancient religion is essentially the same."  (p. 24, 2008, Eastman)

The biggest consequence of not practicing our traditional value of self-honesty is we cannot tell the difference between ethical and unethical behavior in ourselves.  All our problems stem from this malady.

I will devote the next issue of our newsletter to this subject.  If you are not on our mailing list and wish to be, contact us and we will put you on.


Members of the Committee,

I have had time to fully digest and reflect on the conversation we had during our conference call on February 26, 2009 and the media reports of that conference afterwards.   I have arrived at the conclusion that our discussions or intentions are bordering on unethical and/or immoral for the following reasons:

1.    We are blatantly ignoring the wishes of The Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council and Spirit Lake Dakota Nation Tribal Council who have long refused to meet with any delegation to discuss the Fighting Sioux Nickname and logo.  They are both sovereign nations and it is time we respected their wishes.  Any more attempts to contact them will be extremely disrespectful to those tribal governments and the tribal membership.  It could be construed as harassing, bullying, and persecuting, to say the least.

2.    The make up of our committee has cast a cloud over its purpose that questions the integrity of the process.  The majority of the committee's members are strong pro logo supporters, including, with the exception of myself, tribal members who favor keeping the name.  The other (neutral?) parties represent the highest positions in the state (Governor's Office and Senators' office).  It sends the impression that we will get what we want regardless even if it means strong-arming the tribes from both within and outside the committee.

3.    We are missing representation from a key group, the Indian students who are currently attending UND.  There should be at least three Indian students on this committee (Having one student who is in support of the name and logo on the committee does not alleviate this concern.)

4.    What we are doing is damaging race relationships between Indians and the citizens of North Dakota.  All you have to do is click on the "Comments" section under a new story on the Fighting Sioux Logo and you will see some of the most vile, disgusting, racist statements toward Native Americans.  I have a lot of non-Indian friends and acquaintances.  When this issue does come up with my non-Indian friends, it puts a strain on our friendships.  When it comes up with my many non-Indian acquaintances, the discussions often deteriorate into insults and name-calling.

5.    We know members of the committee are involved in what I view as subversive, behind the scenes, efforts to influence Spirit Lake and Standing Rock tribes, to pressure the tribal councils into holding a referendum on the issues (Letter to Tom Iron from Jody Hodgeson, General Manager Ralph Engelstad Area, dated January 20, 2009).  This action may very well involve the paying and the receiving of funds and should be halted immediately if we precede any further.

6.    Our efforts will lead others to believe we do not care or feel any compassion for the tribal members of these two tribes.  Already there has been considerable animosity generated between friends, relatives, acquaintances, and colleagues on these reservations because of outside parties attempting to influence tribal members on this issue.  What we are attempting to do will add fuel to this fire, surely instigating more internal strife between the tribal memberships of these two tribes.

I know I will be criticized for my position and writing this letter  - so be it.  Some may say, "If you don't like what the committee is doing why don't you resign from it"?   First of all, it is not my nature to resign simply because someone may want me to.   Second, Chancellor Goetz appointed me, he can un-appoint me if he so desires. Otherwise, I do not have any plans to resign from the committee.

In closing, as a member of the Spirit Lake Dakota Nation, as a proud alumni of UND, as a proud citizen of North Dakota and the 21st Century, I recommend we immediately cease and desist any and all efforts to influence the tribal councils and the tribal membership on any decision regarding the Fighting Sioux logo.  It is the ethical and moral thing to do.

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