September 2009 Archives

My first experience with forums was when we (Spirit Lake Consulting) started a forum on our website.  If I remember correctly, our first forum was about developmental disabilities.  I admit I wasn't too impressed with it.  After all, who really cares what a person who you will never meet and who is not using their real name writes?

What I didn't realize at the time was a person's interest in a forum depends on what the topic is.  Annmaria was interested in the area of developmental disabilities, and I wasn't.  Therefore, Annmaria had to consistently remind me and our other employees to post comments on our forum.

This changed somewhat when our new project, Tribal Leaders With Character, was funded, and we started a forum on "Ethics in Indian Country."  I created two fictional characters, Joe - The Tribal Worker, and Susie Sainte.  Joe was a composite of all those unethical tribal workers who weary us on a daily basis because of their unethical behavior, and Susie was a composite of all those behaviors ethical tribal workers exhibit, workers who many people believe do not exist.  There were many interesting comments about these fictional characters, although Joe, The Tribal Worker, received more attention than Susie did.

When our Tribal Leaders Institute began, we started a new forum titled, Tanyan Wowunkdakapi, which means "good conversation" in Dakota.  It was interesting at first, and most of the comments did not cross over the line to bad taste.  But it soon became monotonous, especially when no one would respond for long periods of time.  My interest soon waned, and now I very seldom read the forum or post comments on it.  I realize that I am going to have to put more effort into posting on Tanyan Wowunkdakapi if I want it to be effective in helping to address ethical issues in Indian Country.

My interest in comments on news articles began when I read what people wrote in response to the Fighting Sioux nickname articles.  At first, I eagerly read the comments; however, I soon became disgusted with most of the them.  Because people do not have to use their real name when they post, they post the most vile, mean spirited, racist comments toward Native Americans, an action I consider most cowardly.

A few times I posted a comment, and I had to endure a barrage of insults directed back to me.  One reason I posted a comment was Dorreen Yellowbird, a respected elder in Indian Country, wrote an article, and commentators just wrote very mean and evil things towards her and about her.  I was taught to respect elders.  Therefore, I could not sit by and let an elder be disrespected in such an awful way -- so I responded, and again had to endure insults.

A few weeks ago, while viewing a reporter's blog for the Grand Forks Herald, I read a comment about me, and it wasn't good.  I responded in kind, and because I signed my real name, as opposed to a fictional name, I felt it gave me the upper hand, so to speak.  After a couple of exchanges, the person soon quit commenting, but others were glad to take "his" place.  I did not hesitate to answer all sensible questions or comments, and I ignored all the right wing ones.  I actually began to enjoy myself, and I tried to keep my comments as respectful as I could, which was hard to do considering the mean spirited replies in return.  Again, I felt I had the upper hand because I signed my real name.

The Grand Forks Herald has since shut down its comment section on articles about the UND Sioux nickname due to the poisonous nature of the comments.  So my questions are, do the comment sections on newspaper articles do more harm than good?  Are forums effective in addressing serious issues?  Should persons be required to use their real names when commenting about other persons?  I could ask more questions, but I think you get the point.


In his article, Are We a Nation of Liars, Frank J. Ranelli (2008) writes, "Not only have we become a nation of liars, but also we have become a complacent populace all too unwilling to challenge and champion for the truth, while we drown in a sea of hypocrisy and lies. When treachery and deceit are now the norm, it would rightly appear that, 'In an age of universal deceit, telling the truth is [truly] a revolutionary act'."

Today, I had a discussion with Annmaria about cheating.  She told me she was recently involved in a situation where it would have been very beneficial for her and many others had she been willing to cheat.  However, when it came right down to it, she just couldn't cheat.  "I just couldn't do it," she said.  "So now what?" I asked her.  "When good people lose their job and the organization goes to hell, are you going to feel guilty that you didn't cheat?"

Why couldn't Annmaria cheat?  The answer lies in Charles Eastman's (Dakota, 1858 - 1939) statement about liars, "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."

Charles Eastman's statement may sound a bit harsh, but if you really think about it in the context of the four values our Dakota ancestors lived by (courage, honesty, perseverance and generosity), Annmaria's reluctance to cheat, although she would have benefited greatly, makes perfect sense.  

Honest people know that one lie leads to another and another and another... so Annmaria intuitively knew that even one lie would jeopardize her character.  Here is an analogy.  I have not had a drink of alcohol for 25 years, but I know that if I take one drink, I will want another and another and another and soon everything I have worked for would be down the tubes.  This makes me deadly scared of alcohol the same way honest people are scared of starting to tell a lie.

Today, several of us who are on the same side of an issue, attended a meeting with our governing body.  As we were waiting for the meeting to start, an elderly tribal member, who is on the opposite side of the issue, walked up to us and informed us he wanted to attend the meeting, "for his class" (his side).  Knowing the person, I suspected he was lying, but I could see no way to tell him no.  Sure enough, once in the meeting, the person asked to speak.  He started off his statement with a lie, "I am not for or against...."  when he had spoken up several times "for" the issue in the past.  Then he made several other statements that were lies....  This is an example of how one lie easily leads to another and another.

Wait a minute, I thought we were talking about cheating, not lying?  Actually, the two are one and the same.  To our ancestors, the value of "honesty" meant more than not telling a fib or two.  It meant, playing a game honestly; it meant not shirking one's responsibilities; it meant helping one another; it meant sharing; it meant being fair; and most of all, it meant living up to one's potential.  Therefore, "A person who was capable of lying..." simply could not be depended on in all aspects of tribal life, which in turn endangered the tribe.  Therefore, the person was put to death. 

If we are indeed a nation of liars, as Frank Ranelli contends, then how does an honest person like Annmaria survive?  By watching old Clint Eastwood movies.  Just kidding.

Actually, one of the reasons I liked watching Clint Eastwood movies was because his character, Harry Callahan, did not worry about ethical behavior.  Harry Callahan was a "good guy" and unlike Annmaria, he did not mind doing bad things to bad people.  Remember, "Go ahead, make my day"?  It did not bother Harry to beat up people, break laws, or shoot people as long as the bad guys got what was coming to them.  Why were Harry Callahan's actions so appealing to so many?  Because we all wish we could do wrong while doing right.

In all seriousness, I do not have a good answer to the question, "How does an honest person survive in this world?"  Probably the best answer I can give is to surround yourself with honest persons.  Or, in Annmaria's case, stay out of organizations that are run by dishonest people.  I know that is not a very good answer, but that is all I have for now.



Ranelli, Frank J.  (2008, February 16).  Are we a nation of liars?  The Smirking Chimp.  Retrieved from:

A couple of months ago, a friend from another reservation told me about a car accident on her reservation that killed a young mother and two of her children.  The young mother left behind a husband and two other children.

Having lost a 17-year-old son (Joel) in a car accident, my heart immediately went out to the father and two children who survived.  My friend, knowing my interest, kept me informed on how the man was handling his loss.  Last week, when she told me the family was in tough shape, I asked her, "Do you think it would do any good if I talked with him?"

To be honest, I admit my reason for wanting to visit with him was partly selfish.  It would give me a chance to talk about Joel.  Although it has been eight summers since Joel went to the Spirit World, I miss him just as much today as the day he died, and I jump at a chance to talk about him.  Talking about him, as anyone who has lost a close family member knows, is very therapeutic.

My friend sent me an email asking when would I have time to meet with this young man.  I told her Sunday evening.  Sunday, I drove to her home reservation, and she took me to his house and introduced us.  Having never met the young man, I wasn't sure how to go about "counseling" him, and I got off to a tentative start.  However, we soon became comfortable with each other, and I felt I made some good suggestions and observations.

I had to watch myself to make sure I did not focus on stories about Joel too much. Therefore, I made sure I asked him questions that led to him talking about how he felt.  He talked about his wife several times, what she liked to do, what their plans were, and how empty his world was without her, and how hard it was on the two surviving children.  It was very hard sitting there listening to him.  I actually could "feel" his tremendous grief, and it took a toll on me.  I had to stop myself many times from getting up and giving him a hug.  He didn't appear to be the touchy feely kind.

We visited for a couple of hours and when we were finished, I called my friend who came over and ate supper with us.  My friend had told the young man how to prepare ''nine can soup," and I wondered what it was going to taste like.  Surprisingly, it was very good and I told my friend to send me the list of cans she used in the soup.  An old bachelor like me is always interested in simple ways to cook good tasting meals.  The young man fed us moose meat sandwiches as well, and it was very good.  When I finished eating, I stood up to leave and shook hands with him.  He told me I helped him a lot, which made me glad I made the trip.  I felt emotionally drained when I left.

I feel so sorry for him because I know from personal experience he has a tough, tough road ahead of him.  I plan to stop in and see him next time I am on his reservation.

An hour into the trip home, I began to feel good.  I took that as a sign something went right. 

Coincidently, my oldest son, Erich Jr., who's mother passed away recently, came over to visit me yesterday right before I went to visit the young man who lost his wife and two children.  Erich Jr. was his mother's only child, so they were particularly close.  He has been on sick leave from his job ever since his mom died and needed financial assistance, so I helped him out.

Having been raised by his mother, I did not have the chance to get to know Erich Jr. really well until he turned 18 and began to visit me.

We had a long talk, and I told him about how bad I felt when I heard his mother had died, although it was almost 30 years since I had been close to her.  I told him the star quilt I left on the "give away" table was my best star quilt I had, and I had wanted it to cover her casket when they buried her, but I felt I did not have the right to make that request.  I told him things about our relationship that I never told him before.  Finally, I told him I would help him purchase a head stone for her grave.  He left promising to visit me more often.

It was an emotional but fulfilling weekend.


Powwow Week(end)

It is good to be home after spending several days in Bismarck attending the Tribal Summit's workshops and watching the powwow and the festivities surrounding it.  As I said in my previous blog, I enjoy attending the Tribal Summit, the powwow, and other activities. 

This year, there were several great speakers on the agenda: Cecilia Fire Thunder for Great Plains Women's Society; Ernie Stevens Jr. for the National Indian Gaming Association; the luncheon keynote speaker, Larry Echo Hawk, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs - U.S. Department of the Interior; and Coach Dale Brown who gave a rousing speech on Self Determination.  Two presiding chairs that I thought did an excellent job were: Ron His Horse Is Thunder, Chairman - Standing Rock, and our very own Myra Pearson, Chairwoman - Spirit Lake Tribe.

I was particularly impressed by the speeches Larry Echo Hawk and Coach Dale Brown gave.  Echo Hawk's speech was about civic responsibility.  He talked about how hard it was for him to accept the position of Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs due to the time it would take away from raising his grandchildren.  He reminded us of how the historical legacy of the position toward Indian people was never very good, another reason why he was undecided to take the job.  He worried that he would not be able to do the job justice.  However, what it came down to was he could not refuse the call to public service, and the chance to have a positive impact on the nation's First Americans.  It was a great speech; touching, emotional, exposing the inner turmoil he went through when deciding whether or not to accept the position.  I am sure he will do a great job as Assistant Secretary.

Coach Dale Brown gave a great speech also (I have to admit I wondered why a famous coach would agree to speak at a little old Tribal Summit.  Little did I realize, he is originally from Minot, ND).  He talked about my favorite subject, Indian Self-Determination by practicing the value of honesty and courage.  When he finished with his speech, I went out in the hall and waited for him to come out.  Lucky for me, I had a chance to meet him.  I asked him for a copy of his speech, and he told me he only had notes.  He then handed me his card and promised to send them to me if I contacted him.  I sent him an email this morning, and sure enough a couple of hours later, I received several emails from him containing information on speeches he had made.  Boy, talk about keeping his word.

As usual, the Summit ran on Indian time, but I was pleasantly surprised to observe that most of the participants who showed up on time and stayed until the end were tribal members from Spirit Lake.  It was great to see our tribal representatives attending all the sessions, also.

Although I enjoyed myself, as usual, I am pretty sure this will be the last Tribal Summit I will attend as long as I am self-employed.  The sessions are great, but the down time, or wasted time between the sessions is time that I could spend working for my company.  In addition, the summit started on Wednesday, which means spending five days in Bismarck, something I no longer want to do.  Of course, I could attend the summit and leave Friday, but that would mean I would not be able to attend the powwow.  Maybe, I will attend the powwow and not worry about attending the Summit.

Running a company, even a one-man company such as mine, takes all my time.



Powwow Time

Today, I am leaving for Bismarck, North Dakota to attend the 13th Annual Tribal Leaders Summit held at the Bismarck Civic Center.  The Tribal Leaders Summit is part of a weeklong celebration held at United Tribes Technical and Training Center (UTTC) located just south of Bismarck.  The celebration centers around the UTTC powwow, which draws in as many as 10,000 dancers, singers, and spectators who travel from all over Indian Country to attend this event.

The UTTC powwow is the biggest powwow in North Dakota, and many tribal people from North Dakota's four Indian reservations look forward to attending this annual event.  Although the powwow does not start until Thursday, many powwow people leave for Bismarck as early as Monday or Tuesday, probably to get a good spot to set up their tents.  This leaves the villages here on Spirit Lake looking like ghost towns.

Those of us who will be attending workshops during powwow week will leave today or tomorrow depending upon what day the workshop starts.  The Tribal Leaders Summit starts tomorrow and ends Thursday afternoon.  Many other workshops start on a separate day but most of them end on Friday or Saturday morning.

It is a good time to see the tribal council members from the various tribes and hear them speak.  In years past, I heard some really good oratory from the tribal leaders and other presenters.  It is also a good chance to see old friends and meet new ones.  One might say, it is a good time to catch up on all the gossip.  Sadly, every year I hear of some acquaintance that passed away or is in ill health.  Fortunately, there is much more good news than there is bad news.

I plan to take my laptop with me wherever I go so I can show the Tribal Leaders Institute (TLI) to interested individuals.  Last year, many people I talked to about the TLI were interested, however, TLI was just starting and I had nothing concrete to show them.  This year, I will be able to show them the two courses I developed (Introduction to Ethical Issues on Indian Reservations and Managers and Traditional Native American Values, a course on courageous and ethical management).

Now that I have two courses completed, I am hoping some tribal leaders (council members, administrators, supervisors, etc.) will do more then just compliment me for addressing a tough issue that no one else wants to address, but be willing to retain my services to conduct my course on their reservation.  Based on the feedback I received from over 100 tribal members who have taken my courses thus far, tribal leaders who solicit my services will not be disappointed.



The Tribal Leaders Institute project has completed its first year.   Overall, I am pleased with the results.

The purpose of the
Tribal Leaders Institute is to develop and validate a suite of research-based training courses/workshops designed to reduce ethical violations that cost tribal organizations hundreds of millions of dollars each year. At the end of the first fiscal year, all tasks have been completed as scheduled in the original work plan in the funded proposal.

Thus far, two on-line courses have been designed, developed, and piloted. They are titled, Introduction to Ethical Issues on Indian Reservations and Managers and Traditional Native American Values, a course on ethical and effective management. Numerous training materials have been developed including course assignments, Powerpoint presentations, a Tribal Leaders wiki, and podcasts.  A community bulletin board has been developed.  A listserv receives a monthly newsletter begun in January.  Weekly "updates" were begun in August.  A project twitter account was begun in July.  Two blogs are updated at least weekly.  Several activities were identified by participants as having produced desirable outcomes including: blogs, forum posts, class discussions, and the monthly emailed newsletter.

One problem encountered was some users had greater difficulty in navigating the website than others.  There was significant diversity in familiarity with instructional technology, with some users having no experience using web browsers.  Following laboratory testing with a pilot group, web pages were redesigned to maximize ease of navigation for novice computer users, while being still appropriate for those who are computer proficient.

Both on-line and computer-integrated training have been offered for the introductory course.  Computer-integrated training has been offered for the managers' course.  Across all sessions, retention has exceeded 95% for the two computer-integrated courses.  Retention has not been as high for the online option, approximately 40%, reflecting the experience of other organizations, which show a higher attrition rate in online offerings.  Increasing this retention rate will be a focus in year two.

During sessions of the introduction to ethics course, 107 participants  completed the assignment, "Name the biggest ethical issues on the reservation today."  Respondents, who could give up to five issues, provided a total of 229 responses.  Only two of the participants did not answer this question.

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The success stories to date include commercial sales while the product is still in the pilot stage, and significant contracts and endorsements including a Bureau of Indian Affairs line officer, a Head Start program director, a tribal judge, and the numerous individual cases where tribal members' work ethics were changed for the better.

I (Dr. Longie) traveled to Fort Berthold where I did a brief presentation explaining, not only the content of the introductory course, but all the features of my company's website that are used for the course: blogs, forums, library, filing cabinet, and wiki.  After the presentation, one Head Start employee approached me and complimented me on my presentation.  She was particularly impressed by my solution to stem office gossip.  The solution I presented came from my ancestors, the Dakotas.

The Dakotas believed all creatures are equal.  Of all these creatures, the Creator gave the power of speech only to us humans.  Therefore, we should not commit a sacrilege to this gift the Creator has given us by gossiping about other people.

In contrast, the Head Start employee recalled an earlier training she attended where the presenter told the audience to put a rubber band around their wrist and when they wanted to gossip about someone to use that rubber band to snap themselves.  "As if ...," the employee said scornfully, when she finished telling the story.

Dr. DeMars and I are part-time workers on this project.  Dr. DeMars holds a teaching position at the University of Southern California.  Working on this project has had a profound impact on both of us.  I always start my presentations off with this announcement: "We all could learn more about ethical workplace behavior, including me.  Every time I present this course, I learn something new about myself.  Ethics in the workplace is an ongoing issue.  Every day we are faced with decisions that challenge us ethically."

As a result of this project, Dr. DeMars and I have become more outspoken in our immediate communities on the issues of ethical workplace behavior.  The evidence of this is in our blogs.  Our blogs express our efforts, our frustrations, and our wishes on how to bring more ethical practices into the workplace.  The project has met with early commercial success in terms of mandated training for reservation personnel and sales of on-line training while still at the pilot stage.  Data collected in the first year has been extremely useful in refinement and further development of our design for the second half of the project.

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