August 2009 Archives

Now, I am not seriously suggesting the death penalty for lying and/or cowardice.  We might have some pretty empty reservations, and a pretty empty country altogether, if we did that.  What I am seriously suggesting is that we should think about, and talk about our traditional values, and why our ancestors thought liars were so bad for the community that they actually put people to death for it.

I have a confession of sorts to make.  When I first brainstormed what was to become the Tribal Leaders Institute, I decided to use the four Dakota values - Courage, Honesty, Perseverance and Generosity - as a basis for my ethics courses, simply because I am a Dakota, and it made sense to use our traditional values to address ethical issues on my reservation.  However, I admit at the time, I really did not know how powerful those values are or the impact they had on our ancestors' lives.  And I also admit, I found it hard to believe Charles Eastmen when he said:

"Among the Dakotas lying and stealing from other tribal members was a capital offense.  A person who was capable of lying was believed to be capable of committing other cowardly crimes against the tribe and was put to death to prevent the evil from doing more harm.  If a person stole from another tribal member he was forever after called Wamanon (thief) and this distinction followed him for the rest of his life."  Charles Eastman, Dakota, 1858 - 1939

When I first read this quote I thought, putting a person to death for lying?  Isn't that a little extreme?

It has been approximately three years since the Tribal Leaders With Character project (now Tribal Leaders Institute) was funded.  After having done numerous presentations, written hundreds of pages, and participated in dozens of discussions about the four values, I am now getting a glimmer of understanding why these values were so important to our ancestors' lives, and just how powerful these four values really are.  I am realizing why a person was put to death for lying.

A lie or lack of courage back then had more potential to harm everyone, not just the person who told the lie or lacked courage.  For example, a night guard who lied about staying awake all night may not have been aware of an enemy who came in and stole valuable horses; thereby, giving the enemy thieves a valuable head start.  Or the scout who lied about locating buffalo; thereby causing the hunters to search an area devoid of buffalo for a day without finding any, while women and children starved back in the village.  ... or the war chief who lied about the number of enemies in a village.  He wanted to attack, thereby causing the death of many warriors.  When you look at lies within these contexts, you can see why our ancestors put liars to death.

And without courage, our ancestors would not have survived, it is as simple at that.  Everything our ancestors did required courage, hunting the huge buffalo, scouting the enemy, and guarding the camp, warfare, overcoming the elements - a cowardly person who also lied would not have lasted very long.

Today, courage and honesty do not carry the same meaning as they did 150 years ago. This is partly due to switching from the Dakota language to the English language.  My mom always said, "Our [Dakota] language is really descriptive..."  In other words, you meant what you said, and you said what you meant.  The English language has thousands more words than our language.  Many different words are used to describe the same action.

For example, today we use many words to describe courage and honesty.  These other words "water down" the true meaning of a term, or what the term truly meant 150 years ago.  The following are just a few examples (you have to take one of my courses to hear the rest).  Today, due to the use of the English language, we use words that downplay the true significance of the offense.

  • When a person steals from a program/tribe we use the word embezzlement, or misappropriations instead of - stealing.
  • When a tribal leader does not have the courage to make a decision, we use the word indecisive or cautious instead of using the correct word - coward.
  • When a tribal worker lies about the hours they have worked, we say they falsified their time sheet, and we never point out what that worker is really doing - stealing.

A lot of our behaviors in the workplace are just more versions of lying and/or cowardice.  This behavior is often called "tribal politics."  Examples of lying, and cowardly behavior include:

  • "Making ill-informed decisions" - due to cowardice, tribal administrators, board members, and tribal councils often do not listen to both sides of a story or get all the information about a conflict before making what is many times unfair, dishonest, and horrible decisions.
  • "Hypocrites" - Tribal workers who chronically miss work and/or are tardy, take 30 minute work breaks, two hour lunch breaks, call in sick when they're feeling perfectly fine and just don't want to work, and leave work under false pretenses (medical or some other emergency), and are the first ones to point a finger at other tribal members who do the same thing.  This dishonesty prevents them from taking an honest look at their own behavior.

An alcoholic is said to have a negative effective on a minimum of four people.  Therefore, alcoholism affects nearly every tribal member, whether they drink alcohol or not.  Many, many tribal members practice the same negative behavior as an alcoholic, one of which, is lack of self-honesty.  This inability to take an honest look at our work place behavior is one of the reasons we continue to lie about hours worked, steal from our programs, and exhibit other cowardly behavior which include, deviousness, backstabbing, betrayal, etc.  Just look around and you can see that alcoholism has had a tremendous negative impact on our communities in recent history, and now along with other drugs, continues to have tremendous impact.  Alcohol and drug abuse weakens any traditional values we may have held on to.


This is a continuation of the previous blog in which the administration was courageous and ethical and the board members were cowardly and dishonest.  In this blog, the roles are reversed, the board members are courageous and ethical and the administrators are cowardly and dishonest.

The organization has experienced a change of leadership in the governing board.  The new board members, unlike the previous board members, are highly ethical and they truly want the organization to succeed.  They don't care about the perks (travel, per diem, stipends, fraternizing with the CEO, etc.); instead they take their responsibility seriously and plan to act accordingly.  They are aware of the shortcomings of the current administration and are determined to take steps that lead to positive changes in the organization. 

The first thing they did is to stop the fraternizing between board members and the administration.  By stopping this cozy relationship, the excessive travel by board members and administration decreases dramatically.  They also make it clear that governing board members are not to and will not interfere with the day-to-day operations of the organization.  Finally, they inform the administration they are not to cater to any board member's every whim.

The next action they take is to establish goals for the CEO.  The goals include: holding workers accountable, making appropriate recommendations to the board (as opposed to waiting for the board to get involved in the day-to-day operations of the organization), insuring all employees receive due process, and following and enforcing policies and procedures. 

Next, the new board members address questionable practices by the administration.  They ensure the CEO's recommendations for employment and promotion are fair.  They cut back on the administration's travel, direct them to write monthly reports detailing the progress the institution is making, and direct them to report to work on time. 

The new board members also want to make sure all employees are to follow the chain-of-command regarding any grievance they may have against other employees.  Simply put, the grievance has to be in writing and the administration has to carefully investigate each and every complaint and listen to both sides of any complaint or accusation before making a decision and/or presenting it the board.  Finally, they instruct the CEO to enforce the consequences for those employees who violate the chain-of-command.

The new board knew if they wanted positive change, they had to model it.  Therefore, they started following Robert's Rules of Order.  This meant meetings started on time, they stuck to the agenda, did not let any one board member control the meeting, did not go into Executive Session when a tough issue came up, and they adopted a Code of Conduct for Board Members.

In a very short time, many individuals in the administration quit and were replaced by individuals who could be trusted to work toward the goals of the institution.


I keep repeating how our ancestors considered lying evil, and put to death any tribal member who lied too much.  I do that for a reason.  I consider lying, not money, as the root of all evil.  The best defense against lies is to listen to both sides of a story, and then decide what is true and not true.  Unfortunately, most individuals do not do that, and in some cases, the entire reservation suffers as a result of decisions based on lies.

I am going to create a fictional scenario where people in leadership positions are lied to, but do not listen to both sides of the story, and the organization they govern suffers as a result.



An organization finally hires an administration that is doing a good job.  The administrators hold workers accountable for their actions; they make tough unpopular decisions; and most of all, they do not let governing board members interfere with the day-to-day operations of the organization, and unlike past administrations, they do not (shockingly) cater to the every whim of board members.

This ethical behavior does not sit well with a couple of the board members who are used to interfering in the day-to-day operations of the organization, and having the administration treat them like royalty.  So when one of them is approached by a couple of disgruntled workers who... well, simply lie about the administration, the disgruntled board members jump at the chance to put the administration back in its place.

After listening to lies about the administration traveling excessively, not showing up for work, not working while in the building, having favorites, and punishing "good workers" for no reason at all, the board members are more than happy to use these unsubstantiated accusations to punish the administrators.

These board members are so glad to have a chance to put that uppity administration in its place, they don't do what an ethical board member would do, which is ask the administration for their side of the story, before they reach a conclusion and make a decision.

Instead, these board members approach other board members, and repeat what they have heard, swearing it is the gospel truth (another lie).  So without asking the administration for their side of the story, the entire board decides to punish them.  Long story short, the administration eventually gets tired of the lies, harassment, and unethical behavior by board members and quits.  

The board quickly hires an administration that will cater to their every whim and they are happy.  They are back in charge.  Unfortunately, the tribal members who are served by the organization are the ones who are ultimately harmed because the organization is dysfunctional again.  What is really sad is this: these board members, having never learned to make a decision without getting both sides of the story, do not see anything wrong with their behavior.

If you are in a leadership position, and are getting tired of all the people who come up to you with stories about how bad their administration and other workers are, try this: immediately go to the person who the accusations are about, and get their side of the story.  Then make your decision.  Once you start doing this, you will be surprised at how the number of people who come up and lie to you about someone diminishes.   

There is another scenario where just the opposite is true.  When the administration is wrong, but the board does nothing to rein them in.  That is my next blog.

The majority of us know stealing and lying are wrong.  The opposite of lying and stealing is honesty.  Let's take the value of honesty and apply it to two different situations:

You are hiking on a trail.  No one is around for miles and you find a man's billfold that has several hundred dollars in it.  What are you going to do?

If you try to find the owner of the billfold, you will automatically invoke the value of honesty.

Now let's examine all the good things that will happen when you are honest.  Say you find the billfold's owner and return it to him.  The owner of the billfold has several children, and having the money returned to him will mean he will be able to buy his children new clothes for school.  His driver's license and credit cards are in the billfold.  Getting his driver's license back will mean he will not have to bum rides from his co-workers anymore, and he will not have to call all the credit card companies to cancel his credit cards.  Most importantly, finding and returning the billfold will make you feel great.  You and the man whose billfold you returned will not hesitate to tell everyone of your good deed.  The people you tell will tell other people, and they will admire you for your honesty.  Who knows, your honesty might influence them to vote for you in the next tribal election - all this because you decided to be honest.

Now say you find the same billfold full of money, but you immediately take the money and throw the billfold in the bush.  The owner of the billfold, not a rich man, will not be able to buy his several children new clothes for school.  Imagine how his children will feel having to go to school without new clothes?  Not having his driver's license will mean he will continue to bum rides, and probably miss a day or two of work in the process.  Another person might find his billfold after you throw it away, and use his credit cards ruining his credit.  Later, a Park Ranger, recalling that you were hiking on the trail where the man lost his billfold, calls you and questions you, asking you if you had seen a billfold on the trail.  You lie and tell him no.  For a month you are stressed out because you are worried someone will find out you took the money.  To your credit, you begin to feel guilty and wish you hadn't taken the money.  As a result, you become irritable and crabby with your family.  All this happened because you decided to steal another person's money, and you were dishonest (lied) when you were asked about it.

Compare the two scenarios and you can see how honesty can make such a positive difference in your life, while dishonesty (lies) can harm your life and the lives of the people around you.  This is why our ancestors considered a person who lied as evil and put to death a person who lied (and stole) so the evil would not spread and harm the rest of the tribe.

Let me ask you these questions: Why are the above scenarios any different from tribal workers who put 40 hours on their time sheets, but work, say, 20 hours?  Is lying and stealing from tribal members evil?  Is falsifying time sheets, unethical hiring and firing, favoritism, and nepotism lying and stealing?  And if we did all this in our ancestors' time, would our ancestors consider us evil people and put us all to death?

I hope you came to the conclusion that I came to.  Tribal workers who steal from the tribe, regardless of the circumstances, are liars and stealers.  It doesn't matter if they are workers, supervisors, CEOs, or tribal council members.  Our ancestors would have considered them evil and would have put them to death a long time ago.

If we are all lying and stealing (evil), could that be the reason why our reservations are in such dire straits today (sounding like a Christian preacher ☺)?   What would happen if:

➢    All tribal workers would show up for work on time every day and work with minimal supervision.

➢    All tribal supervisors would also show up for work on time every day, and have the skills required of a good supervisor.  They would have the trust and respect of the workers they supervise!
➢    All tribal CEOs would make all higher level decisions based on fairness and honesty.  They would do all the long-term planning, they would enforce the board's policies fairly, and delegate lower level tasks to mid-management personnel.
➢    All tribal governing board members would stay in their roles as board members providing the CEOs with courageous and honest leadership when needed, and otherwise let them do their jobs.
➢    All tribal council members would lead courageously and honestly treating everyone with fairness and equality.  

If this happened, it would be a safe bet that the living conditions of the reservation would greatly improve.

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

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