June 2009 Archives

Acting Like a "White Man"

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.


As many of you know, my son Joel, left us to go to the Spirit World several years ago, when he was seventeen years old.  Over the years, I have met many parents who wanted to talk about losing a child of their own.

This is a response to one of those parents, but it is also directed at anyone who has lost a child.  Please do not take offense to anything I have to say.  I am simply being honest about how I view the grieving process, and our (my) relationship with the Spirit World.  

Before I start, let me recommend a wonderful book for you to read.  It is called Hello From Heaven.  It is a very good book for those of us who lost a child (or anyone for that matter).  The stories in it are amazing.  I was told about this book by a woman I met in DC when I went there to read grants shortly after Joel went to the Spirit World.  The woman had lost her 21-year-old son and had stumbled upon this book.  When she found out I recently lost my son, she recommended the book to me.  She also told me she met with other parents who lost their son, and at the end of one of the meetings one of the men came up to her and asked her to describe her son again -- so she did.

"Well he was sitting over there during the whole meeting," the man told her pointing at a chair.  Another interesting thing she told me was this; although she had never physically seen or touched her son after he died in a car accident, she "sensed" he was in a small college town and was very happy.  I believed her, and here is the reason why, which is also my message to those parents who lost a child:

I believe any Deity (Wakan Tonka to us) who has the power to create the the entire universe has the power/compassion to give each of us our own reality.  This is why I believed the lady when she told me she sensed her son was in a small college town.  That is why I believe my Joel is able to "communicate" with me through dreams, or a hawk flying in front of my car when I am starting on a trip, or an eagle circling over head when ever I am thinking of him, or numerous other signs.  Wakan Tonka gives us our reality (within reason of course).

I also believe and accept that there is no physical travel between this world and the Spirit World for some reason that we humans were not meant to know.  The two worlds will never intermingle.  And that is okay with me, because I know; some day I will travel to the Spirit World and will be reunited with Joel and all my relatives.  As much as I love my son, I am not in a hurry to leave this world, and my other sons and daughter, anytime soon.  

I also believe any communication with the Spirit World originates with the Creator, not with us.  For reasons we are not meant to know, he chooses who, when, and in what form this communication will happen.  As parents who lost a child are aware, these communications are never enough for those of us who lost a child.

I attended a ceremony where the spiritual leader told me to be alert because Joel would give me signs that he is with me.  I experienced many "unusual" activities after my talk with that spiritual leader, which I interpreted were signs from Joel.  Likewise, many parents may have had "visits" from their children, but perhaps they were not alert to those visits.  One of the reasons parents may have missed visits from their child is because... perhaps they are looking for a mortal being.  I know all parent who lost a child, including me, would like nothing better than to hold and talk to our children.  However, I have accepted I have no control over the Spirit World.  I have to take what the Creator gives me in regards to "visits" from my son.  And I am thankful he is giving me many signs that lets me know Joel is "with me".

Although I cannot control what happens in the Spirit World, I had a firm belief Wakan Tonka would eventually take pity on me if I ask him to show me a sign from Joel.  And he did.  I have had special dreams, which I know are about Joel, and I see Joel through his little brother's actions and the actions of my grandchildren.

Many Dakotas grew up in big cities and do not know our ways.  I believe if they study our language they will automatically absorb some of our philosophy -- which is that this world and the Spirit World are closer than the white man teaches.  When they understand is, they will see signs of their children all around them.  Granted, it will not be the same as physically holding their or talking with their child, but it will be comforting all the same.

I know Dakota parents miss their children terribly.  However, regardless of where they live, what they believe in at heart they are Dakota, learning the language will help them understand the Dakota philosophies of life so much better, and I believe will lead them to some kind of peace with their child's death.  I know this because when Joel died, I found myself turning to our traditional beliefs as opposed to turning to the Christian belief.  Our beliefs seem to offer me much more comfort and understanding of the Spirit World.

In closing, I urge Dakota parent to learn our ways and use that knowledge to understand and accept there is a barrier between this world and the Spirit World that no one will cross until death.  Also help your other children to understand their rich heritage that our people have.  An understanding of our Dakota ways will help you in many, many ways.

Pidomiya Koda  (Thank you my friend)

When I was growing up, I was very close to all my first cousins.  We were close as brothers and sisters, and we always hung out together - something that I miss today.  As we grew older, we drank a lot of beer and raised a lot of hell together.  From the time we were young children until the time we were adults, we stood shoulder-to-shoulder whenever one of us was in trouble.  Their friends were my friends; their enemies were my enemies.  I even disliked the people my mom disliked.

Back then, it was all about getting even.  If someone crossed you or your relative, you would wait for as long as it took to get even.  I remember advising my nephew, who had just moved here from New Mexico, "Never forgive and never forget, Vince."  A couple of years later, his mom told me that Vince had repeated what I told him, "Uncle Hobo said never to forgive or forget mom...."  I was proud when I heard that.  Little did I realize I was passing down my hate to the next generation.

It took me many years of sobriety to realize how harmful vendettas are and how they can stand in the way of making the reservation a better place to live.  I recall my first year teaching third grade, and how hard I had to work to suppress my feelings of dislike toward a child whose family I was feuding with.  I managed to overcome those feelings, and I worked hard to try to get along with other families that I did not previously get along with.  I realized I was a teacher and was held to a higher standard.

A vendetta basically means formalized private warfare, especially between family groups.  As I pointed out, this describes the action of families when I was young.  Today, vendetta has taken on a whole new meaning.  Today, a vendetta usually begins when a group of individuals, not necessarily related by blood, are drawn together, usually by some unethical reason, to get even with an individual who they perceive has done them wrong.  Below are two instances where this modern type of vendetta has caused two families enormous personal harm.  Believe me, having been on the receiving end of these types of vendettas throughout the years, I can tell you....  If you are not a courageous person, these vendettas will make you quit your job or resign from your position as a board member or committee member.

The first one is fairly simple.  Two young, smart, educated tribal members, who happen to be siblings, cannot get a job on their home reservation because the powers-that-be do not like their parents.  These two young tribal members are extremely hard working, talented, well grounded individuals.  They are the type of individuals/workers that reservations need badly to provide quality service to tribal members.  The other example involves a tribal program director who was fired from his/her job by the incoming chairperson due to something that had happened years before and had nothing to do with the tribe.  Without a job, this talented individual moved off the reservation and found a job elsewhere.  The story does not end there.  The daughter of the unfairly fired program director, who was an honor student, vowed never to return to the reservation once she graduated from high school.  Unfortunately for that reservation, the daughter kept her word.  She is now a college educated, highly respected, competent professional working on a different reservation.

Vendettas are often part of society's norm, however, the need to plainly "get even" with someone is often caused by low self-esteem, which I will explain in my next blog.

Sick Leave and Lying

Sick leave, or the improper use of sick leave, has given supervisors "fits" for as long as it has been around.  Back in the early nineties, I served as a board member for one of the schools on our reservation.  I remember a meeting we had with the teachers over teachers' benefits.  I had just quit teaching a year or so earlier, and I NEVER called in sick.  Sick or not, I made sure I was in the classroom every day, so I was shocked when I heard a teacher say, "We are entitled to 10 days sick leave a year, and I do not see nothing wrong [with] using them."  I immediately replied, "Many of our students miss 10 or more days a year, and if you insist on using your 10 days of sick leave, it will mean our students will miss out on at least 20 days of instruction."  But, my words didn't make any difference with the teacher.  She apparently used her sick leave whether she was sick or not - to the detriment of our students.

Using sick leave for anything other then because you are really sick is dishonest.  Dishonesty is also known as lying.  My friend and business associate, Annmaria, always says, "if you are going to go lie about one thing, you will probably lie about another."  Following Ann's logic, we can predict that a person who lies about sick leave will probably lie about other aspects of his/her job as well.  Will he/she lie about the hours at work?  Will he/she lie about the reasons he/she was late or missed work?

Without realizing it, Ann came to the same conclusion about lying our Dakota ancestors came to - lying is evil and tends to spread.  Our Dakota ancestors believed so firmly that lying was evil, they put a liar to death so the evil would not spread further.  Furthermore, our ancestors knew that "lying" was not just confined to telling a fib to your friends.  It had to do with the way you lived your life.  A lie here, a lie there ... dishonesty in one situation leads to dishonesty in another.  Pretty soon your whole life is nothing but one big lie.  

A Dr Scott Peck wrote a book titled, People of the Lie: Hope for Healing Human Evil.  Dr. Peck's belief and our ancestors' belief was basically the same.  Lying is evil, and the person who tells lies needs to be dealt with in a firm manner to protect the rest of society.  Like our ancestors, Dr. Peck realized lying was more than fibbing once in a while.  He said everything you do, from your job to you relationships, to raising your children, requires honesty.  If you were dishonest in one of these areas, the evil would spread throughout all the other areas of your life.  

My point is, next time you lie about using sick leave, remember, it can be an indicator that something is seriously wrong with your honesty, and/or life.

Whether it is attendance at work, or attendance at school/college, tribal members have problems with attendance.  From children in Head Start to tribal members elected to the tribal council, attendance is arguably the worst school/work/governing related problem on Indian Reservations.

Let's take the tribal workers first.  Tribal members from different reservations are all aware of "ghost workers"  (ghost workers are those tribal members who officially have a job, but no one ever sees them at work - or hardly ever sees them.).  The three most common types of ghost workers are:  (a) workers who have a "tribal official" sign off on their timesheet, regardless if they show up for work or not; (b) workers who simply do not ever show up for work, but somehow manage to get paid regardless; and (c) workers whose supervisor is a relative, and they show up at work periodically.

Let's do the math and see just how much harm missing one day a week can cause:
➢    8 hours away per week x 52 weeks per year = 416 hours a year away from work. 
➢    416 hours away from work / 8 hours per day = 53.2 days a year gone from work.
➢    416 hours away from work / 40 hours in a week = 10 weeks per year absent. 

This leads to the question, how can a person miss 10 weeks per year, and still say he/she is carrying out their job duties?  It is no wonder that tribal members do not receive the full benefits from dollars poured into the reservations.

Tribal workers are not the only ones who suffer from attendance problems.  Tribal schools have trouble making Adequate Yearly Progress due to excessive student absenteeism.  Back when I was a third grade teacher, a parent came up to me and asked me why her child's academic performance was below grade average.  It was the beginning of the school year, and the cumulative records were still fresh in my mind, her child in particular.  Her child had missed a total of sixty days by the time he/she had entered third grade (my classroom).  I explained to the parent how absenteeism negatively impacted academic achievement and then said, "If I can have your child in my classroom for the 60 days he/she missed, your child will not only be at grade level, but beyond."  The worst example of student absenteeism that I am aware of is two students who missed over 700 days by the time they reached the 7th grade.  Think about it for a while - missing 700 days of schools. Why would a parent allow that to happen?  Why would a student allow that to happen?  Why would a teacher allow that to happen?  Why would a school administrator allow that to happen?  Why would a school board allow that to happen?  Why would Tribal Social Services allow that to happen?  Why would the Tribal Court allow that to happen?  Finally, why would the Tribal Council allow that to happen?

How is the attendance issue affecting the reservations?  We all we know the statistics: 50% or more unemployment, totally inadequate housing, low education levels, low self-esteem, suicides, etc., etc.  In my opinion, these problems are directly related to our absenteeism at school and at work.  If we had the honesty to admit that attendance is a serious issue, had the courage to take steps to improve it, then had the perseverance to stand against those who would undermine our efforts to improve it, and if we would be generous by praising and rewarding those tribal workers who came to work everyday, and students who had perfect attendance, our children's future would be so much brighter.

We successfully completed testing the first course in our Tribal Leaders Institute, Introduction to Ethical Issues on Indian Reservations.  We had over 100 tribal members participate in live presentations of the course, and over 200 tribal members participated in taking the on-line version.  I also traveled to the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation at the request of a BIA Line Officer to conduct a presentation for administrators and board members from six schools located on two Indian Reservations.  I then traveled to a conference in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and did a live presentation for 38 conference attendees.

I always start my workshops with this statement: "Every single one of us, including myself, could benefit from an ethics course.  Ethics in the work place is an on-going issue.  Every day we are involved in circumstances that test our ethics.  I have presented this course many times, and never fail to learn more about ethical behavior each time I present it."

The feedback we received about the content of the course from the participants was overwhelmingly positive:

➢    At the end of the Sioux Falls presentation, one participant came up to me and said: "Wow!  I will say it again, wow!"  He went on to say how glad he was that someone was finally addressing the issue of work ethics on Indian Reservations.  He told me that when he was hired as a director of a tribal program, he soon became exasperated with the work ethics of his workers.  One day, he informed them he was going to reduce their work hours to 20 hours per week.

➢    A participant who took the on-line version emailed me his comments regarding the course: "Hey Dr. Longie, [I] finished your ethics course.  I enjoyed it.  I read a little here and there throughout the week when I could and I think it took me about six hours to finish.  I made sure and read all the "homework" so I think that's why it took my a little longer than [usual].  That was one of the things I enjoyed most about the course was the "supplemental literature" that you provided links to, including your own thoughts and writing, pretty cool.  I enjoyed the whole course, but I particularly liked the part on self-awareness/self honesty with the literature from Daniel Goleman and his view on "emotional intelligence."  This section of the course made me want to read more literature written by the author.

I do have to be honest and admit our completion rate for the on-line version was not very good at first for which we will take some of the responsibility.  Some of the participants had trouble navigating the course due to poor course design.  Their feedback was invaluable, and we redesigned the course making it much easier to navigate.  On the other hand, some of the early participants persevered and did finish the course.

I am pleased to report three courageous tribal members: Bev Greywater, Spirit Lake Head Start Director; June Gourd, Spirit Lake Chief Judge; and Rosy Davis, BIA Line Officer, who have stepped up and hired me to present the Introduction to Ethical Issues on Indian Reservations workshop to their staff.

  1. I trained the Spirit Lake Head Start, 10-month staff, on Friday, May 29, 2009 at Cankdeska Cikana Community College, and will train the 12-month staff on July 17, 2009 also at Cankdeska Cikana Community College.
  2. I am scheduled to train June Gourd and her tribal court staff on June 8, 2009 at Cankdeska Cikana Community College.
  3. I am working out the details of when and where I will train the personnel under Rosy Davis's supervision.

With the growing interest in our Tribal Leaders Institute, I plan to work as quickly as possible to finish our next course, Managers and Traditional Native American Values; hopefully, I will have it finished within the next couple of weeks, and have it ready for testing by July 1, 2009.

In closing, there was a common viewpoint among all the participants who attended the last live session.  I always inform them at the beginning of the course, they should change their own work place behavior first before they accuse other tribal workers of unethical behavior.  However, at the end of the course, many of them came up to me and said, "Our tribal council should take this course."  If there are any tribal council members out there who are reading this newsletter and want make to make a good impression on your tribal members, as well as learning good work place ethics, give me a call and we will arrange a training session.  I guarantee you will not be disappointed if you do.

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