January 2010 Archives

I was so mad yesterday (January 27, 2010) when I left the North Dakota High School Activities Association meeting, I was beside myself.  There were several reasons why I was mad with the first being our school just lost a close vote to have the ban on post-season play lifted on our high school's basketball team.  Now our student athletes will be denied an experience of a lifetime - competing in a district tournament with the possibility of competing in the regional and state basketball tournaments as well.  This made me so angry, I decided to sit down and write this blog.

Our superintendent, our principal, our tribal council secretary, and I presented testimony.  Our rational for lifting the ban on our basketball's post-season play was our students didn't do any wrong, so why should they be the ones who pay the penalty.

A lively discussion ensued, and after the comment session was over, a motion was made by the superintendent from Devils Lake to lift the ban.  When the vote was called for five NDHSAA board members voted to lift the sanction, and six voted against lifting it.

As I sat and listened to the discussion by NDHSAA board members as they decided our fate, one thing became clear.  They were disgusted with the unethical acts of our former athletic director, and their contempt for him came through via several veiled comments.  It is my opinion that is what turned the tide against us and caused us to lose the vote by one board member.

As I said, I was mad when I left the meeting, but I wasn't mad at the NDHSAA board members who voted against us.  I was mad at the one person who put our school, our students, in this predicament in the first place - our former athletic director.  "There is only one person (former athletic director) responsible for this," I told no one in particular after the meeting.  "It is because of him, and no one else, that our basketball team cannot play post season," I said as I continued to vent.  "He cheated not once, but twice, and that is why we lost the vote," I said.

Those who are familiar with my blog, and/or my courses, will probably say, "There he goes again..." when they read this sentence: "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

The more I research and write about ethics, the more I see the profound wisdom in Charles Eastman's words.  Let's apply his wisdom to our former athletic director's actions and see if it fits: 

Athletic director admits to tampering with documents to change student eligibility -- after he is caught he resigns leaving others to clean up his mess and face the consequences of his unethical acts -- his supporters attempt to blame others, which leads to arguing and fighting among tribal members -- school forfeits district, regional, and state trophies won two years ago -- fighting and arguing among tribal members and school employees continues -- school's reputation is tarnished to a point where the appeal to lift the ban on post season play is denied -- our student athletes will be denied a chance to participate in the district and possibly regional and state tournaments which could have been the experience of a life time for them.

Yup, I would say it fits.

As usual it is the young and innocent who suffer the consequences.  Hmmm, I see now why Charles Eastman said, "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."

Now I am sure there will be some individuals who still idolize our former athletic director and will stand by him... and that's fine with me as long as they do not try to put the blame on any one else.  His unethical behavior has brought enough anger, sorrow, sadness, disappointment, and fighting to our community.  We don't need anymore.


Having been raised in the late 50's and 60's, when Indians and Whites didn't socialize very much, I developed a lot of stereotypes about White people.  Two such stereotypes were that they were extremely stingy and greedy.  Due to being on the receiving end of many racist actions by non-Indian North Dakotans over the years, dispelling stereotypes about White people has been extremely difficult for me.  But I am working on it.  Below is an excerpt taken from a piece I wrote about 6 years after my son, Joel, went to the Spirit World: 

"I grew up believing white people were stingy and greedy.  They didn't care for their relatives -- putting their elderly in nursing homes and letting family members and other relatives go homeless.  Here were people who I thought incapable of feeling compassion and love toward their fellow man, grieving for my son as much as his own relatives were.  They obviously loved him very, very much.  Their love for my son along with their kindness and compassion toward me made me reexamine my feeling toward them and I made this promise: 'I will never make a racist comment about the people, or the town, of Devils Lake again' -- a promise that I have kept to this day."

This past Thursday, January 21, 2010, I witnessed an event where the behavior and actions of non-Indians proved to me, once again, that my stereotypical views about them were inaccurate.  And later that very same day, I was the fortunate recipient of a non-Indian's generosity that, in my former racist way of thinking, was not possible by a non-Indian:
  • This past Thursday, I attended a State Board of Higher Education (SBHE) meeting because I had heard rumors that they were going to retire the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo.  I wanted to be there to witness history.  Although the name was not retired, I heard several board members and two UND administrators say the same things we anti-nickname Indians have been saying for years, that the use of the nickname and logo is hurtful and harmful toward Indians.  SBHE board member Haugen concluded his argument for retiring the nickname and logo with this statement: "Even if we get an agreement with Standing Rock, that is not going to change the divisive nature of this logo and that is a bigger issue with respect for individuals, for harmony in the state.  We see tribal members, family members, divided over this issue."  For the board members and the two top UND administrators to state their view publicly, a view that was similar to our (Indians against the nickname) view, took a huge amount of moral courage.  I left the meeting feeling pretty good toward my non-Indian fellow North Dakotans. 
  • I then went to meet with my CPA.  After that meeting, I went to pick up my Pomegranate (POM) Juice at the health store.  Medical research has shown Pomegranate Juice inhibits the growth of prostate cancer.  Although it is expensive, I make sure I drink 8 oz. of it every day.  Anyway, as I was getting out of my car at the health store, a non-Indian lady pulled up several parking spaces down.  When I got to the door of the health store, the lady had stepped out of her car and appeared to be heading to the health store, also.  I looked at her and reading my look she said, "You don't have to wait for me."  I replied, "I'm so slow today by the time I get moving, you will be here."  So, I waited at the door and held it open for her as she walked into the store.  Once in the store, the clerk recognized me and went to get my case of POM juice while the lady and I continued to talk.  The clerk returned, and just before she was going to ring up my POM juice, the lady told her, "Put that on my bill.  I will pay for it" (my POM juice).  I was surprised to say the least.  Why would a non-Indian lady, who I never met before I held the door open for her a few minutes ago, want to pay for my juice?  "Holding a door open for a lady is not that big of a deal," I thought.  So I asked her, "Now why would you want to do that?"  "Because I want to and because I can," she replied.  Without hesitating, I told her, "One of our (Dakota) core values is generosity, so I will accept your offer."  I then went on to tell her how my non-Indian friends had a hard time accepting my generosity because they do not understand our concept of generosity.  When I finished explaining, she said, "You will honor me if you accept mine."  So I walked over to her, thanked her, shook her hand and left with my $80 case of POM juice.


A Historic Event

     I have been on one type of governing board or another ever since 1988 when I was appointed to Little Hoop's College Board of Regents (now known as Cankdeska Cikanna Community College).  Over the years, I served on many different governing boards alongside many tribal members.

     Each board I served on was unique as each was made up of individuals from all walks of life.  Some board members were elders, others were college educated, some were unemployed and others had a long history of work.

     Currently, I am serving on the Fort Totten Public School District #30 School Board.  I was elected to this board six years ago, and re-elected three years ago.  For the past six years, the make-up of this board pretty much resembled the other boards that I served on.  This changed at our January 2010 regular school board meeting.  A change that I would call historic.

     Due to a resignation by a school board member last month, we (the school board) appointed another tribal member to serve in his place.  This tribal member was Dr. Russ McDonald.  Russ showed up for his first meeting on December 6, 2010.  As the meeting progressed, the realization dawned on me that for the first time in the history of our reservation, three individuals with doctorate degrees were on the same board, two were regular board members (Russ and I), and the other one was Dr. Wayne Trottier, our superintendent.  The superintendant serves as an ex-officio of the board.  Wayne Trottier, although enrolled in Standing Rock, was born and raised on Spirit Lake Nation. 

An ex officio member is a member of a body (a board, committee, council, etc.) who is part of it by virtue of holding another office.


     I am currently writing a course on Tribal Governing Boards, and one of the things I point out in my course is that we Indians have become familiar with governing boards only within the last 30 - 40 years or so.

     As I sat looking around the room as the meeting progressed, I realized how far we have come in a short time.  Thirty - forty years ago, many of us Indian people never sat or maybe never heard about a board.  Now, 30 "short" years later, we have two tribal members who have doctorate degrees on the same board along with a third board member from a different reservation holding a doctorate.

     It is not my intent to downplay the importance of board members who don't have a college degree.  On the contrary, I strongly believe that governing boards need members from all walks of life, especially those board members who have a rich life experience in areas other than education.  In my opinion, a good board of education has a mix of educators, parents, grandparents, and members from the working force, from entry level-positions to CEO positions.

     I am a strong believer in education, that we need more tribal members with college degrees, and I also believe that the majority of the administrative positions on the reservation should be filled with tribal members who have obtained a college degree.  Therefore, I am hoping the composition of our board sends a message to our students that obtaining a doctorate degree is not out of their reach.  And once they obtain a doctorate degree, I hope they decide to come back home and give back to our community by electing to serve on one of the many governing boards here on the rez.



During my presentations, when I talk about lying and why our ancestors considered it evil, I can see the skepticism on many participants' faces.  I can almost hear their thoughts.  Everyone lies....  It's no big deal....  No one knows when I lie....  A little white lie doesn't hurt now and then....

Granted, there have probably been many times a person has told a lie and nothing really bad happened to them.  This is probably why many people who take my course greet this comment with skepticism.  This blog will attempt to explain what our ancestors meant when they said lying is evil and a person who lied too much was put to death.  I will start with a form of a lie that is most common on the reservation and one that is the cause of the majority of the problems on Indian reservations.  This lie is called "addiction."



It is not my intent to sound like a person from Alcoholics Anonymous, but if you really examine the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous closely, you will realize that each step requires a huge amount of self-honesty to complete.  The first step an alcoholic has to take is to admit he or she is powerless over alcohol and that his or her life has become unmanageable.  Many alcoholics do not have the self-honesty to admit they are powerless over alcohol, and this is true for abusers of other substances as well - so they continue using.  The harm caused by this inability to be honest is tremendous, abuse of all kinds, missing work, low quality of work, etc....  It is understandable that alcohol was/is considered "demon rum" by some folks.



Gossip is 99% lies.  Ask anybody what they hate about working for a particular tribal organization, and they will say "gossip."  Gossip has ruined good people's reputations.  Many people have been unfairly fired because of gossip.  Gossip has prevented good people from getting jobs.  Gossip has caused a lot of unhappiness on Indian Reservations and elsewhere.



Everyone hates a cheater, and cheating is a form of lying.  If you have ever been cheated out of anything, you know what I am talking about.  Now when a whole program cheats, when an organization cheats, or an entire tribe cheats, think of the harm it can cause (This type of cheating is usually called non compliance with some type of local, regional, state, or federal rule/regulation.).



"Oh, how I hate a hypocrite" is a very common saying.  A hypocrite is someone who feigns to be something they are not, usually a liar condemning other liars, or a person with poor work habits condemning other people with poor work habits, or a politician who says, "I'm here for the people," when they are not.  Because hypocrites do not see their own dishonesty, they keep on living a "life of a lie" and continue to hurt those close to them.


These are just a few examples of how lying manifests itself in many different forms.  And our ancestors understood this, hence they put a person who lied to death.


I know many people will say, "there are times when you have to lie."  So, I googled, "Is there a time when it is okay to lie?" and there are many good reasons to lie out there -- if you want to see excuses to lie.


However, the most interesting and helpful comments I read were these two, "most lies are lies of convenience," and another person wrote, "if you do not want to lie, then don't say anything." 

So even if you think the "little" white lies you tell do not cause you any trouble, think of how proud you will be of yourself if you can HONESTLY say, "I do not lie" and not lie when you say it.


Considering I am talking about our ancestors' hatred of lying, here is an interesting and ironic story I came across that I just had to share with you.  I also added a reader's comment about how duty takes priority over lying.


If your family, with the exception of one child who managed to escape to the woods, was captured by Indians and the Indians asked you if you had any other children, having already killed the others, would it be wrong to tell them that you didn't have any others, thus lying?  One group broke from the main church to start their own church, because they felt like you shouldn't have to tell them about your other child, knowing they were just going to kill them. Thus they earned the nickname the Lying Baptists.  This was called Flat Rock Baptist Church, and later became Pleasant Grove.


Reader's comment -- Tricky one, but I feel if you have to lie for a broader betterment and good, then it should be okay.  For instance, I think it was okay for the family to lie and say they had no other kids just to save the one that ran away in the woods.  In Indian culture, we have dharma (duties) associated with each relationship that you portray, and your dharma calls for fulfilling of that duty. So here, the parents were fulfilling the duty of saving their child's life and actually saving the INDIANs from committing one less sin.



So... does doing one's duty make lying okay?




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This page is an archive of entries from January 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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