February 2010 Archives

Well, it is over. I never thought I would be around to bury my younger brother, Mark, but on Saturday, February 21, 2010, we did.

My sister, April, who had discovered Mark's body, mentioned when she found him, he looked really peaceful. Mark had really struggled with his demons for the last couple of years, and it showed on his face this last year of his life. When his casket was open, and I went up to view the body, I thought he looked really peaceful, too.

After they closed the casket, Mark's preacher conducted the service, and he mentioned how he knew Mark during his (Mark's) better times, and he talked about how Mark struggled with his problems in the last couple of years. As preachers tend to do, he said there was a lesson or a message in how Mark died. When he finished, I stood up and spoke:

I mentioned how various people talked about knowing Mark at different times in his life. "But, I knew him my whole life... his whole life," I said. There were ten of us in our family. I was the fifth one, and Mark was the sixth one. We had shared a single mattress together, which we had to sleep sideways on up in the attic of our log cabin. We ate oatmeal, cheese... commodities together. I talked about how we had the same sense of humor, how we read the same books; we liked the same food... People would come up to me and mistake me for Mark all the time. "I am not Mark," I would say. "I am not 6'3", I'm 5'11", and I don't weigh 300 pounds I weigh 225 pounds. Maybe, it is because we share the same Spirit or our Spirits are so close that when people look at us they are seeing his Spirit mingled with mine and mistake me for him," I said. I mentioned how he helped me out when my son, Joel, passed away several years ago. He would let me talk for hours on the phone with him during that time. He was very generous with his time. I mentioned his generosity toward my son, Marshall. Right after Joel died, he gave my son, Marshall, two to three hundred dollars when Marshall had to go on a trip (Today, Marshall's mother, Leona, reminded me that Mark gave each of us $200 when our son, Joel, passed away. "He must have been one of those quiet ones who never tell anyone when they help someone," she said.). Finally, I said, "People have talked about the circumstances of his death, and at first it bothered me, too. But, you know what? One morning, I woke up and realized it didn't matter, not knowing how he died (or why) because knowing would not lessen or increase my grief for him. It doesn't matter to me anymore," I said.

After I spoke, my nephew came to the mike and spoke. He recalled how Mark went all the way to Carlsbad, New Mexico, to pick him up -- just like that -- when he needed a ride to North Dakota. Next, a lady stood up and spoke fondly about Mark. Then, two members of the drum group (one who is our relative) came up and sang a beautiful prayer song in front of his casket. Then, Mark's sister-in-law spoke about how Mark came into their family. Then, the mother of a man who Mark pulled from a burning car at the risk of his own life came up and said a prayer. Finally, a Marine who is a member of the local VFW club said a prayer for Mark in Dakota.

Several of Mark's wife's family drove from Bozeman, Montana, and a couple of them came from Minnesota, which I thought was very nice.

During the Giveaway, we made sure all his wife's family who came down received a gift. We actually had enough gifts for everyone. After we had given away all the gifts, we had a round dance, and almost everyone participated in it, even the White relatives from Minnesota and Montana. It helped lighten everyone's mood. I have to say, us brothers and sisters of Mark put aside our petty differences and worked together planning Mark's wake and funeral. We showed each other a lot of mutual respect and love, which helped us cope with the hurt of losing Mark. And, I was so proud of my children (especially my daughter, Angie), and my nieces and nephews. For those of you who have not attended a Native American wake and funeral, there is a lot of work that needs to be done prior to the services. Our children are all young adults, now, and their help in getting ready for the wake and funeral was invaluable. They did a lot of the legwork for us older ones. I have to say, they respectfully listened to us elders and did what we asked them to without complaint. In spite of burying my beloved younger brother, Mark, it was a good weekend in some ways.

Now on the first of every month, when I pick up a rose and go out to my son's grave, Joel's grave, I will be taking two roses with me -- the second one will go on my younger brother's grave.

Lies, Liars, and Leaders

If you are in a leadership position, whether on a tribal council, serving on a tribal board, or a CEO, you always have to be aware of liars and the lies they will tell you.  It is very easy to be fooled by their cowardly lying tactics because they are so good at them.

In tribal politics, liars have an advantage over honest tribal members.  Liars are better politicians because they have no shame or pride as opposed to honest tribal members.  Liars are able to schmooze tribal leaders (CEOs, tribal board members, and tribal council members or members of their family) without batting an eye; even though they may not like the tribal leaders they are schmoozing.  On the other hand, honest tribal members have a hard time schmoozing anyone - well, because they are honest.  They can't bring themselves to act insincerely.

Is it a form of lying when a liar schmooze's a tribal leader?  I think so.  First, he or she is not sincere when they are schmoozing a tribal leader.  Insincerity is a form of lying.  A schmoozer will probably make a lot of flattering comments that they don't mean to a tribal leader.  They will laugh at jokes that they don't think are funny and give the impression they really admire the person, when they really don't.  In addition to lying, this type of behavior is also called deceitfulness, false pretenses, and hypocrisy.

Ask any former tribal council member or former tribal board member and they will tell you, they don't have as many friends (schmoozers) and not nearly as many people coming up to them and telling them how terrific they are as they did when they were elected/appointed to a tribal official position.

So let's say you are a tribal leader, and there is a big fight in one of the tribal organizations.  At a social event, one of the individuals (let's call her Ann) who is on the losing side of the fight, makes it a point to say hi to you and your spouse.  Ann has never made any attempt to talk to you or your spouse before.

At first you may think it is no big deal because this has happened many times ever since you became a leader.  However, half way through the event, Ann walks over to your table and strikes up a lively conversation with you.  She is very animated.  She hangs on your every word.  She laughs at all your bad jokes.  She constantly praises you, and she agrees with everything you say.  During the course of the conversation, she hints at the problem she and her cronies are having with other tribal members.  When you remain noncommittal, she moves on to your spouse and visits at length with her.  When you and your spouse return home that night, your spouse immediately begins to tell you about Ann and the problems she is having with some no good, crooked, mean tribal members who she works with and could you help her out?

What would you do?  After all, Ann is your constituent, and she has every right to come to you for help.

Before you answer the question, let me tell you a true story.  A few years ago, a friend of mine told me Duke (not his real name) told her that I was not as good of a politician as I thought I was.  Duke was referring to a couple of issues that did not go the way I wanted them to.  Unknown to Duke, I was pleased that he viewed me as an unskilled politician.  Here is why...

Although the correct definition of a politician or political leader (from Greek "polis") is an individual who is involved in influencing public decision, in Indian Country, the title of politician immediately conjures up an image of someone like my fictional characters, Joe, The Tribal Worker, or John, the Tribal Board member.  Both Joe and John are unethical, cowardly, and have no loyalty to anyone except to themselves, and they will make up any lie to get their way.  This is how many tribal members view their politicians.  So, I was glad I was not identified as a good politician.

Let me get back to my question: What would you do if a tribal member who had never made any attempt to make small talk or to socialize with you in any way all of a sudden treated you like you were his or her long lost friend, simply because you were in a leadership position and he or she wanted your help?

Here is what I would do - nothing.  Why?  Because I do not like to be taken for a fool!  If that person thought I was dumb enough or gullible enough to fall for insincere flattery, than they do not know me very well.

On the other hand, if a person came into my office or approached me in a sincere, honest respectful manner and told me of his or her concerns, I would take the time to listen closely to his or her concerns.

Unfortunately, many tribal leaders are too cowardly and/or unethical to worry about doing the right thing when a liar comes to them and tells them nothing but lies.  Instead, they weigh the liar's political clout against the political clout of the individual(s) the liar is complaining about.  If the liar has more clout, tribal leaders often audaciously promise to support the liar without regards to fairness or worry that they might be taking action against someone who is innocent, or that a leader's support for a liar might not be what is best for the organization and/or tribe.

So tell me, are you the kind of leader who will listen to and support a liar?

Divide and Conquer

What happened to pride, honor, and the ability to stand up for one another for the sake of just simply being Indian?

I was against the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo before I attended the University of North Dakota.  While a student there, I observed it didn't take long for Indians indifferent to the nickname to realize what I already knew, that there is no sincerity behind the honor and respect the nickname and logo are supposed to represent.

As a doctoral student at UND, I tried very hard not to be drawn into discussions about the Fighting Sioux issue.  I learned early on those types of discussions didn't resolve anything, so I usually kept quiet when the subject came up.  However, occasionally a comment would be made where I just had to respond.

I remember vividly a class where a couple of Native Americans were arguing with several non-Indians about the logo.  One non-Indian scornfully asked, "Why do you guys always blame us for something that has happened 150 years ago?"  Interrupting him, I replied, "Because you are doing the same things to us today that was done to our ancestors 150 years ago."

One of the "things" I was talking about is the divide and conquer tactic that works so well with some Native Americans.  In 1887, the Dawes Act was passed because of this tactic.  Many of our ancestors were against the Act, but unscrupulous officials promised more annuities, education, etc., to gain support.  This divided our ancestors.  The Act passed resulting in over 80 percent of reservation land being "sold" to non-Indians.  The promises made were forgotten, and many of our ancestors starved.

The same old divide and conquer tactics that have historically worked so well against Indian people are now being used on Standing Rock.  It is my understanding that six of the eight districts on the reservation have overwhelmingly voted against the logo and nickname.  Now Tom Iron, who is known to represent the Ralph Engelstad Arena (REA), and his followers are attempting to divide the tribe by collecting signatures to override the people's wishes.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council's official position has been against the nickname since 1992.  It reaffirmed that stance in 1997, 2001, and 2005.  Ironically, Tom voted against the name in 1997 and 2001 when he was on the council.

One aspect bothers me most with divisive strategy.  Tribal members have to know full well that they are being patronized; yet, they choose to cooperate with the REA.

It is amazing how people can disguise their perception of the truth.  What do they expect to gain?  Paid tuition for their spouses, children, and grandchildren?  Free Fighting Sioux shiny leather jackets?  A chance to stay in nice hotel rooms and receive a significant travel allowance?  Is this why they fail to see - or worse, choose to ignore -- how the issue is dividing people from and within respective tribes?

This isn't even politics anymore.  It is just plain old, "Take advantage of the Indian."  It is a matter of a few trying to exploit our weaknesses with bribes of freebies and promising the spotlight.  Gifts and freebies are not always opportunities!  Apparently, non-Indian logo advocates believe if you give an Indian gifts and freebies, he will eat out of your hand, do anything, sign anything.

The old "divide and conquer" mentality is as active today as it was 150 years ago.

Why doesn't Tom Iron and his band of followers get a petition that has some significance and real-life meaning for tribal members?  It would be nice if they fought so hard for and carried around a petition for more jobs for tribal members, more housing, better health care.

This vote is about a name that will not improve the quality of life for even one tribal member.

I am not against this issue simply because I am Indian.  I am against this issue because exploiting my tribe, my people, and my culture for the sake of a collegiate hockey team is simply wrong.


Remembering Courage - A traditional value

Note: This blog was first published August 4,2008 but in response to a request, and because I believe that courage is needed more than ever in our current environment, I am re-publishing it today.

Our ancestors could not have survived without courage.  They needed courage in battle, courage in hunting, courage in enforcing tribal laws and customs, courage in facing the elements, and courage when making decisions that would impact the well-being of the entire tribe.

A man could not be a successful hunter, scout, warrior, and leader if he did not have courage.  Courage was important in the roles women played in tribal society as well.  Although an enemy war party might strike at any time, the women would leave the shelter of the village and go pick berries and other vegetables, haul water, and do other tasks.  They had to have the courage to turn their sons over to an older relative as they became of age to become a warrior.  Finally, they had to have the courage to stand quietly as their young sons went on the warpath for the first time.

In all Native tribes, courage, whether it was moral or physical, was essential.  Native American Indians honor courage/bravery.  Here is an excerpt from Dorreen Yellow Bird's column in the Grand Forks Herald titled, Tradition, ritual at a solder's funeral.

In the 1870s, a Hidatsa man called Scar Face went up north with six warriors and ran into a larger group of enemy Crees.  The Crees were behind a wagon and shooting at them.  The Hidatsa man knew it was death for them all.  So he ran low, zig zagging toward the Crees.  This gave the rest of the band a chance to find cover.  He was killed, but he Crees, who usually scalped their enemy, didn't scalp him.  Instead, they brought out a white Hudson Bay blanket - prized during that time - and laid him on it.  They honored him because he was brave, Mandan said.  That is true of all Indian people:  "We honor bravery."

Another example of bravery, here is a story about a father who was willing not to plead for his son's innocence, but to take the punishment meant for his son:

TICHOU MINGO, an Acolapissa Indian of the Osage nation, and their most expert hunter, killed a Choctaw, 1756.  The French demanded his death.  His father arose in council and offered himself in his son's place, in a touching plea, at once accepted.  My son is dying valiantly, but since he is young and vigorous, he is more capable than I to feed his mother, his wife, and four small children.  He must live in order to take care of them.  I am at the end of my life.  I have lived enough.  I wish that my son may live to be as old as I am so he can raise my grandchildren properly.  I am no longer good for anything.  A few years more or less will make no difference.  I have lived like a man; I want to die the same way.  That is why I am going to take the place of my son.

Is fear a new Indian tradition?

How could I propose such a thing when this Tribal Leaders Institute is based on my tribe's proud tradition of courage?

Here's why ...  One of our favorite tactics to accomplish our goals is to use fear rather than fairness and decency.  We organize family, friends, and attack anyone who disagrees with us to frighten them into giving in to our demands.  We use fear to the extent that most tribal employees do not speak up when they see someone committing a wrongful act, because of fear.

Everywhere we look, we see the results of fear.  Policies and procedures are ignored.  Nepotism and favoritism is rampant throughout our work places.  People are fired without due process.  We have a high unemployment rate, yet a huge number of our jobs are filled with non-Indians, and/or non-tribal members.  Tribal members and tribal leaders alike are afraid to speak up due to fear.

Gus Lee and Diane Elliott-Lee view courage as so essential to leadership, they wrote a book entitled, Courage: The Backbone of Leadership.  They found that we tolerate unethical acts at work and look the other way when we observe character failings because of our lack of courage.  The Lees also say courageous leaders inspire ethical behavior from their workers because they first require it from themselves.  Great leaders from Aristotle to Sir Winston Churchill deemed courage "the first of all human qualities."

Our ancestors were prideful people.  They would give up their life to prove their courage.  Little Crow, at the beginning of the Great Sioux Uprising, told his warriors, although he believed going to war would mean the death of all of them, he would join them on the warpath because he was no coward.

We need tribal workers and leaders who are proud to be known for their moral courage as opposed to known for their ability to ride the fence.  Which reminds me, I remember a tribal member who served on the councils for many years, yet I never heard him/her say "yes" or "no".  He/she always avoided a direct answer.  I don't know, maybe that individual is proud of avoiding giving a direct answer.  How about you?

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

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