November 2009 Archives

     Every now and then, I get somewhat discouraged because people are not knocking down my door wanting to hire me to conduct my ethics courses.  But stories about unethical stories keep pouring in, mainly about the abuse of power by tribal administrators, tribal board members, and tribal council members.

     For example, there was a recall hearing on a tribal council member yesterday.  Apparently, a lot of people showed up.  I didn't go because I overslept.  It turns out it would have made no difference if I did go because the tribal chairperson refused to let the tribal members vote on the recall. 

     As I said, I wasn't there, so I don't know exactly what happened.  What I do know is that elected officials serve at the will of the people, not at the will of other tribal council members.  If the people want to vote to remove them, they simply have to get enough people to sign a recall petition, turn it in, and it is the tribal chair's responsibility to hold a vote - not to decide whether or not there is a sufficient reason(s) to hold a recall vote. 

     Now, if people were appointed to the council, then the rest of the council would have the legal and moral authority to remove another council member.  But, like I said, the people elect council members, and only they have the authority to remove or keep them.  For whatever reason, our tribal chair refused to allow a recall vote, thereby disenfranchising tribal members of their right to recall an elected official. 

     Years ago, when I was on the Law and Order Committee, in response to a question, I stood up in front of the General Assembly and said, "We do not have law and order on this reservation.  We have people who are being picked up for DUI, drunk and disorderly conduct, etc., but we do not follow and/or enforce our own laws."  If what I heard yesterday is to be believed, we did not follow our tribal constitution on the recall process - hence no law and order. 

     Then there are still the usual on-going stories about tribal workers not showing up for work and falsifying timesheets, etc.  However, just when I was totally discouraged that the Tribal Leaders Institute was not making any head way, I got a couple of phone calls that changed my mind. 

     The first phone call was from a young lady here on Spirit Lake.  She told me about how she and several of her young friends sat up late one night last week talking about the lack of ethics among Spirit Lake tribal workers; and they meant everyone, from the janitor to the tribal council.  They had a plan, sort of, for how they wanted to change things.  I listened to her and gave her some advice, some of which was to take my course, Introduction to Ethical Issues On Indian Reservations.  I surely hope she (they) follow up on their concerns. 

     The second phone call was from a tribal member from another reservation.  He has been reading my blogs and decided to not only seek my advice, but to have me come down to his rez and help him and a group of people get organized to stop the unethical behavior on their reservation.  I explained to him I do not get involved in other reservations' politics, but if he and his group would take my introductory course on ethics, they would learn all they need to know about how to make positive changes on their reservation.  He said he would get back to me in a couple of days. 

     These two phone calls reminded me of another phone call I received a couple of weeks ago.  A BIA line officer is going to hire me to train many of her employees, board members, and hopefully a few tribal council members on ethical workplace behavior.  There will be two other presenters assisting me at this training. 

     Maybe the Tribal Leaders Institute is having more success then I thought.  Maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel.

The Passing of a Relative

I am sorry to say, a close relative of mine, an older cousin, passed away recently.  I was on my way to Las Vegas when I received the news.  I was shocked and saddened by the news because my cousin was still fairly young.  She was sixty-six years old and appeared so full of life the last time I saw her, which was a couple of months ago.  And although it had been years since I had sat down and visited with her, I still thought of her as one of my favorite cousins.

My cousin was ten years older than I and grew up in Fort Totten, while I grew up in Crowhill.  When I was between the ages of 10 - 14, I would often walk from Crowhill to my aunt's home in Fort Totten, a distance of about four miles.  My aunt's home had electricity; and therefore, a TV, my main reason for going there, and we didn't.  Plus, most of my aunt's older children had left home, and there were nine of us in our one room log cabin; so it was good to get away once in a while.

It was during this time that I got to know my cousin fairly well.  She always was glad to see me and made sure that I had something to eat and a bed to sleep on.  When I got older, I used to baby sit for her.  She always paid me well and made sure she bought my favorite snacks.  Although she was several years older then me, she always treated me as an equal.  Throughout the years, every time I went to visit her, she was always glad to see me and treated me exceptionally well.  She was one of the nicest and most generous persons I have ever met.

So, when I heard the news of her passing, my first impulse was to turn around and go home, and I almost did.  After all, she was one of my favorite cousins.  But I realized I should be home in time for her wake and funeral.

As it turned out, I did return from Las Vegas before my cousin's wake and funeral.  However, I was scheduled to go to Rapid City to attend a language conference, which would mean I would miss Linda's wake and funeral if I decided to go.

Unfortunately, times have changed.  Now business and professional commitments often supersede personal commitments.  When I returned home from Las Vegas, I immediately prepared to go to Rapid City.  Feeling bad because I would not be at both my cousin's wake and funeral, I had my daughter order flowers.  I also had her buy some food to "help out" the family feed that is part of the wake and funeral.  Finally, I wrote a short speech that I asked my daughter to read at the funeral for me.

I left for Rapid City feeling somewhat mollified that I done what I could.  However, I could not stop feeling bad that I was going to miss both my cousin's wake and funeral.  The bad feeling persisted the first day of the conference.  Finally, I thought, "My God!  She is my first cousin, and we grew up together.  Why am I here instead of at the funeral?"  Unable to answer that question, I suddenly felt ashamed of myself and decided to leave for home.  It was 5:45 p.m. when I started packing my bags, and by 6:15 p.m. I was on the interstate east of Rapid City heading home.  I put my cruise control on 80 mph and only stopped twice.  When I arrived at the funeral the next day, I paid my respects to Linda then visited several of my relatives who had traveled long distances to attend the wake and funeral.

I do not know why I considered skipping my cousin's wake and funeral.  Have I forgotten our "old ways" that missing a cousin's wake and funeral is no big deal to me anymore?  Was the conference so important?

I realize now that I need to practice the values that I grew up with.  Had I done that, I would not have considered missing my cousin's wake and funeral.  I am glad I changed my mind and was there to see her leave on her journey to the Spirit World.  As close as we once were, as good as she treated me, it was the least I could do for her.


A Salute to Spirit Lake Veterans

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to speak for Veteran's Day (today).  I must have been mistaken on the time and/or date because when I went to the Fort Totten Rec a little while ago to give my speech, no one was there.  Not one to let a speech go to waste, here is what I wrote:


When I was just 21 years old, my friend, Dan Cavanaugh, told me he was signing up for the Marine Corps.  "I am going to Fargo for a physical," he told me, "Why don't you ride along?"  I had recently been fired from the Sioux Manufacturing Company (SMC) and had nothing else to do, so I went along.  All the way down to Fargo, Dan and the Marine Corps recruiter kept asking me to "at least take the physical."  I laughed at them and said, "Even if I did take a physical, I would probably sign up for the navy anyway."  Anyway, to make a long story short, I ended up taking a physical and somehow ended up in the Marine Corps.


I am now proud to say that I am a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, and I view my graduation from Marine Corp boot camp 35 years ago, back in 1974, as one of my greatest accomplishments.


When I grew up, almost every house I went into had a picture of a family member in an armed forces uniform.  I know my dad and at least two of his brothers, my uncles, were in the service.  I had several older cousins who were in the service, one who was killed in Vietnam.  His name was Roger Alberts.  My aunt's husband was in the Marine Corps; and, in my generation, several cousins were in the service, so was my brother, who was in the army; and, I was in the Marine Corps.  My family is typical of Indian families.  I know there are a lot of families out there who have just as many family members, if not more members, in the service as we do.


We Indians, veterans today, descend from a long line of warriors.  Our ancestors were the bravest, greatest warriors of all time.  When it came to going out to battle the enemy, they didn't know what fear was.


A report to the President by an Indian Peace Commission, written in 1888, had this to say about our ancestor's courage:  "When the Indian goes to war he enters upon its dreadful work with earnestness and determination.  He goes on an errand of vengeance, and no amount of blood will satisfy him.  To force he yields nothing.  In battle he never surrenders, nor does he accept capitulation at the hands of others.  In war he does not ask for or accept mercy."


American military leaders soon recognized our ancestors' courage, determination, and fighting spirit and for over 200 years have welcomed us into their armies.  Today, it is well documented that, historically, we Native Americans have the highest record of service per capita in the United States when compared to other ethnic groups.


Not only were our ancestors brave warriors when they fought against other tribes, but once they joined the white man's armies, they fought bravely in his wars as well.  They served with distinction and courage in the Revolutionary War, in the War of 1812, and they fought on both sides during the Civil War.


Due to their heritage, they were often given the dangerous job of scouting the enemy.  Indian Scouts were active in the American West in the late 1800s and early 1900s, accompanying General John J. Pershing's expedition to Mexico in pursuit of Pancho Villa in 1916.  Native Americans from Indian Territory were also recruited by Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders and saw action in Cuba in the Spanish-American War in 1898.


It is estimated that more than 12,000 American Indians served in the United States military in World War I.  American Indian soldiers were widely recognized for their contributions in battle for France.  Four Native Americans were awarded the Croix de Guerre, while others received the Church War Cross for gallantry.


At the outbreak of World War II, record numbers of Native Americans enlisted in the armed forces of this country in defense of their homeland.  More than 44,000 American Indians, out of a total Native American population of less than 350,000, served with distinction between 1941 and 1945 in both European and Pacific theaters of war.  This is a whopping 13% - 15% of the total population!  The war also started a huge migration of over 40,000 Native American men and women into the cities to work in ordnance depots, factories, and other war industries.  According to a documentary on PSA, Native American soliders were the first to cross the Rhine River into Germany.  These battle hardened soldiers along with newly recruited Native Americans fought in the Korean conflict.  The Native American's strong sense of patriotism and courage emerged once again during the Vietnam era.  More than 42,000 Native Americans fought in Vietnam, more than 90 percent of them volunteers.  Think about it; at a time when many Americans were resisting the draft, 90% of the Native American population in the armed forces volunteered to fight in Vietnam.  Native American soldiers saw military combat duty in Grenada, Panama, Somalia, and the Persian Gulf.


As the 21st century begins, there are nearly 200,000 Native American military veterans.  "Estimates from the Veterans Administration and the Census Bureau suggest that in the 1990s there were 160,000 living Indian veterans. This represented nearly 10 percent of all living Indians--a proportion triple that of the nonā€Indian population--and confirms once again that Native Americans play an important role in the U.S. military" (


Why is there such a huge disproportionate representation in the military by Native Americans?  The reasons behind this disproportionate contribution are deeply rooted in our proud warrior tradition.  Most Native American warrior societies have these values: courage, strength, honor, pride, devotion, and wisdom.  These qualities make a perfect fit with military tradition, and once in the military, Indians have always shown a willingness to engage the enemy in battle.


I also want to mention that we Native Americans, more than any other people, honor those who have served in the armed forces.  I remember a story an older tribal member from Fort Berthold told me when he came home after serving in Vietnam.  He said that there were close to 200 family members, relatives, and tribal members waiting to greet him when he stepped off the plane.  His friend and fellow soldier, who was a non-Indian, was amazed at his reception.  Years later, I think it was right after the first Gulf War, there was a powwow held at United Tribes and all the Native American families across the nation who had lost a son or a daughter were invited.  I still remember the sorrow I felt for the families as I stood in line to shake their hand.  But, I also remember the pride I felt in being a Native American by simply observing how every one at the powwow showed their support for these families and stood in line and shook their hands.


I remember when I came home on leave, I was invited to a powwow.  An older cousin went up to the announcer and told him I was home on leave.  The announcer immediately had a drum group sing an honor song for me.  Flanked by two older veterans, I slowly walked around the gym while people came out and shook my hand and gave me money.  It was one of the proudest moments of my life.


In closing, as long as there is a battle to be fought, a war to be won, you can bet Native Americans will be there, right there, in the front lines.  I am proud to be a Marine Corps veteran, and I am also proud of all the Spirit Lake veterans.

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

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