A friend called me up a couple of weeks ago to ask me this question; how should he respond to tribal workers who accuse him of being a "White Man" when he tries to hold them accountable at work? He had heard about our course, Introduction to Ethical Issues on Indian Reservations, and thought maybe I could help him.
"Good question," I thought. Over the years, some of my biggest challenges were tribal workers who missed or tried to get out of work due to their "being Indian."
It was a Friday evening, and I was in a pool hall shooting pool when he called, so I gave him a quick answer. We Dakotas follow four values, which are: courage, honesty, perseverance, and generosity. When people are hired, they give their word (honesty), they will be at work on time everyday (perseverance), and they also agree to follow the job description presented to them at the time of their hiring (honesty). If they break their word, then they are liars and thieves (putting 40 hours on their timesheet without actually having worked 40 hours).
My friend's phone call reminded me about a tribal worker who accused his supervisor of acting like a "White Man" because the supervisor tried to hold the worker accountable. The worker said something to the effect, "You follow me around like a "White Man."
A couple of months ago, I ran into an old acquaintance who was really impressed with my Introduction to Ethical Issues on Indian Reservations course. He told me, he had recently switched jobs, and was having a hard time putting up with his staff's poor work habits; missing work, coming in late, taking smoke breaks every hour, spending a lot of time visiting with one another, etc. Finally, in exasperation, he told them, "I am reducing your hours from 40 hours per week to 20 hours per week!" They also accused him of acting like a "White Man."
This individual also teaches part-time at the local tribal college, where he said he runs into the same circumstances. When he has tried to hold students accountable, he has been accused of acting like a "White Man." One day in class, he told his students, "Today, I am going to be a White Man, so I want you to hand in your assignments, pay attention, and no, I am not loaning anyone money or giving anyone a ride." We both had a good laugh when he finished telling me that story.
It is really unfortunate that some tribal workers try to use their "Indianness" as an excuse to get out of work and/or miss work. Our ancestors were some of the hardest working people of all time, who never shirked their responsibility. They lived and prospered by religiously following the values of courage, honesty, perseverance, and generosity. The men never complained when they had to go out and hunt; neither did they complain when it was their turn to guard the camp or go to war. Likewise, the women never complained when the tipis had to come down to move to the next camping site, nor did they hesitate when it was time to haul water and pick berries.
All employers want is for their workers to come to work on time every day, come to work every day, and actually work while there are there. Supervisors are not "White Men" simply because they hold tribal workers accountable to this very common standard. One very important fact all tribal workers need to keep in mind is this, every day they are not at work it means another worker has to do their work. Every day they miss work, their fellow tribal members do not receive needed services, or the work does not get done, which in turn creates more problems. If the standard of living is going to improve on tribal nations, then the work habits of its workers have to improve.
Closing note: I have since talked to my friend who called me a couple of weeks ago. I explained to him how our courses will help him (and other tribal workers) deal with what I call tough reservation work issues. Long story short, he eagerly agreed to sign up for our next course, Managers and Traditional Native American Values.