April 2010 Archives

Smoke and Mirrors

We tribal members who attend or attended UND and are against the nickname have very good reasons for wanting the Fighting Sioux nickname to go. Our first hand accounts about the "hostile and abusive" nature of the Fighting Sioux logo cannot be discredited by the pro logo side. Therefore, they ignore addressing our concerns. Instead, they conjure up many other reasons to restore the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo.

On April 18, 2010, the Forum published an editorial titled, UND logo fallout gets silly. It pointed out that the tactics used by pro logo supporters to restore a racist nickname and logo was - well silly. Apparently, this editorial prompted the use of another new strategy by logo supporters, the old "smoke and mirrors" trick, to restore the Fighting Sioux nickname.

For those who are not familiar with the term, here is Wikipedia's definition: Smoke and mirrors is a metaphor for a deceptive, fraudulent or insubstantial explanation or description. The source of the name is based on magicians' illusions, where magicians make objects appear or disappear by extending or retracting mirrors amid a confusing burst of smoke. The expression may have a connotation of virtuosity or cleverness in carrying out such a deception.

After being called "silly" by the Forum, almost every letter writer who wrote to the Herald in support of the nickname had written nothing but positive statements about us Indians. Man! I never read so many positive things about us in my entire life. Why all this sudden outpouring of "generosity"? Because it is a ruse, maybe not a conscious ruse, but a ruse none-the-less. The ruse is a softening up tactic that is manifesting itself in the form of false generosity.

Writing positive things about us is supposed to make all the problems associated with the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo "disappear." Hence, my reference to the old "smoke and mirrors" trick.

Another old ruse often used is this. "It is easier to get forgiven then get permission." This is exactly what Fool Bear, tribal member and a logo supporter, is attempting to do. On a Grand Forks radio station he said, "Trust democracy." According to Fool Bear, "democracy" on the reservation will ensure that "grassroots support" would stay strong in the years to come preventing future council members from dropping the name. He may fool non-Indians, but those of us who live on Indian reservations know how fickle tribal politics can be. Trying to predict tribal politics is like trying to predict the weather. He hopes the Standing Rock tribal council will fall for his ruse.

Frankly, I do trust democracy. It is the pro logo people who I do not trust because they are not speaking for themselves. A young lady from the Standing Rock reservation addressed both the trust issue and the democracy issue in her comment section on the Bismarck Tribune: "I find it very insulting to our tribal governance for their stance on the issue [against the logo] to not be respected. They are elected officials just like the elected officials of the State of the ND and those we send to DC. They are not free to shoot at the hip on what they feel they should vote. They have a constituency they are representing when they vote on council. They are required to attend their community meetings and vote accordingly to what their district decides on for different issues. This issue has already been voted on in these communities. This issue has gone through the democratic process. However, the people who are for the name, and it is definitely not UND, it's a third party who is at work here, a third party who has paid tribal members to push this referendum and to undermine out democratic process here on the reservation. This third party truly has no respect for Tribes or Tribal governments.

The third ruse is the claim that we are all "Fighting Sioux." No. If you are not an enrolled member of one of the many bands that make up the Great Sioux Nation, then you are not a Sioux. This outrageous claim by Fool Bear reveals how frightened pro logo tribal members are of freedom and equality. Instead, they want to be exactly like those who perpetuate a racist logo and nickname. This "fear of freedom" guides them down a prescribed role or path that the REA (Ralph Engelstad Arena) Foundation has laid out for them. This "fear of freedom" also leads them to try to silence tribal members who are against the nickname.

In my opinion, the most accurate poll to determine whether or not the Fighting Sioux logo and mascot is hostile and abusive is one that polls all the American Indians who have attended or currently are attending UND. The wrong people to poll are the Indians who never set one foot on the UND campus or in a UND classroom or the screaming fan that attends hockey games painted up and/or dressed up as an Indian.

I know I can safely say that all tribal council members would like to see younger tribal members get a college degree. In fact, many tribes provide scholarships to their members who attend college. A tribal leader's role is to insure the safety of its tribal members including those who attend UND. Why would tribal leaders jeopardize our children's safety and/or education at UND by sanctioning a racist harmful logo? This is not our way.

Who is to Blame?

This past fall the Athletic Director (AD) at Four Winds Community School resigned after he admitted to illegal tampering of a student's records.  His supporters, and he has many, were outraged, not at him, but at us, the school board and administration, for accepting his resignation (I'm the president of the school board).  Their constant harassment forced us to go to the tribal council for guidance.  At the meeting with the council, many of the AD's supporters showed up and did a very good job of intimidating the faint of heart.  At this meeting, I passed out my response (below) to one of the AD's supporters who kept insisting Rick was not to blame.  Read my response and judge for yourself if the AD should be rehired and allowed to work with student athletes again.



I read your email to me in which you expressed your concerns about our school.  You have been a long-time employee at the school, and you have a Master's in Educational Administration; therefore, I am assuming that you know any grievance you may have against a fellow employee must be filed by following the grievance process laid out in the employee handbook. 


By deciding not to utilize the grievance process in relaying your concerns to me, I am taking the contents of your email as your opinions rather than an official complaint. 


Your opinions appear to originate from your concern over Rick Smith's resignation.  Apparently, you believe that other people should be held accountable for Rick's unethical behavior.  Here is a statement that Rick wrote last year which he read on the radio, and please note Rick takes full responsibility for his incompetence.


I sincerely apologize to the school boards, the administration, staff, and students for causing great stress, humility, and displeasure.  I take full responsibility for my actions.  The oversight on the rules infraction and any other type of eligibility of our student/athletes lies solely on my shoulders.  This is a part of the Athletic Director's duties and I am the Athletic Director at the Four Winds Community School.  The Four Winds Community School has put their trust in me as their employee and I have let them down.  (Written Statement by Rick Smith to the Spirit Lake Community, March 17, 2009)


You also express concern that the board allowed the business manager to attend a national conference.  When I was elected to the school board six years ago, the school's finances were in shambles.  The business manager worked very hard, had to make some tough decisions, and now our finances are in the best shape they have ever been.  The board is not remiss if we decide to send an excellent employee to a conference.


In my six years on the board not once has anyone, including you, complained about the business manager attending the NSBA conference.  In addition, with your Master's degree in Educational Administration, I find it curious that you would request that I blame Rick's unethical behavior on someone else.  Your education would suggest that you would know better.  This peculiar request leads me to ask several questions of my own:


Are you aware that Rick had promised to write a letter to the North Dakota High School Athletic Association taking full responsibility for his actions to help us get our post season back?  He was going to ask them to not punish our boys for his failures.  Apparently, he changed his mind.  I strongly believe had Rick followed through with his promise to write a letter to the NDHSAA they would have voted to allow our boys to play in post season.  In my opinion, he deliberately abandoned our boys' basketball players in retaliation for us (the board) not letting him to continue on as coach after he resigned.  Not only did Rick's unethical action cause our sports teams to be barred from competing in post-season play, but he abandoned them when they needed him most. 


Are you part of that group that wants us to lower our academic standards so that our students can play sports?  If this is true, do you know what you are asking?  My goodness, do you realize how many people have come to me over the past six years and gave me heck because our students are not prepared academically?  And now you want us to lower our academic standards?  Why should we risk the future of all our students just so a few can play basketball?  A couple of years ago an angry parent approached me.  She said she wanted to ask Rick to look after her boy.  She went on to say that Rick let him get away with everything when he was in school just so he could play basketball and now he cannot fend for himself.  It's Rick's fault he is that way, she said.


The problems with Rick are not new.  When I was voted in six years ago, one of the first big problems we had was with the way Rick did his job.  We had at least three meetings in which people screamed and yelled at each other because Rick did not do his job in an ethical manner.


In regards to your statement, "Remember, these people, along with myself, voted you into office and all of them want something to be done."  Here is my response: The majority of people who voted for me wanted me to promote academics.  Over the past six years, the board and administration have worked very hard to accomplish that.  This is what my voters want, and this is what I will continue to do.


John, I have known and worked with you for many years.  I know you to be a good, decent person, but I have to admit, I am puzzled by your blind loyalty to the former Athletic Director and your persistence in placing Rick's mistakes on other administrators. 


This leads to two final questions: Do you and whatever group of people you represent hope to have our current administration fired whereby you can become principal and hire back Rick Smith as coach and Athletic Director? Is this why you are constantly disparaging our administration?


The bottom line is this: Not one of the individuals you mentioned in your email was involved in the illegal tampering of a student's record, which led to Rick's voluntary resignation.  Rick and Rick alone did that.  And this violation of the trust placed in him is what resulted in our boys' basketball post-season play being denied.


It is time for you and your small group of people to accept that Rick is no longer the AD, that his resignation was voluntary and final, and let it go and move on.  We--the school board, the administration, and community members--have moved on. 


cc: Board members 


Dr. Erich Longie, President
Spirit Lake Consulting. Inc.
PO Box 663
314 Circle Drive
Fort Totten, ND 58335

Fax # (701)766-4401
Cell #
(701) 351-2175 wk


Promoting Cultural Diversity

A few days ago, a person asked me what my thoughts were on cultural diversity, and how we can promote it. Here was my answer:

Cultural diversity starts with respect, high self-esteem, (moral) courage, (self) honesty and a belief in equality. In my opinion, human beings are naturally ethnocentric, and it takes all the characteristics I listed above to overcome that ethnocentrism (At some point and/or in some cases, for whatever reason, ethnocentrism morphs into racism.).

As a young man, I had no respect for non-Indians in North Dakota, mainly because of how they treated my mother (family) and me as I was growing up. At that time in my life, I didn't have the moral courage or the self-honesty to admit my attitude was racist. Although, even at that young age, I knew that racism was wrong. Due to my low self-esteem at the time and a little physical courage, I responded to every hostile action from non-Indians with plenty of hostility of my own. And I admit, I sometimes initiated acts of hostility first.

I'm an avid reader and listener. As a young man, I read dozens of books about us. I listened to many stories from my mother, aunts, and older relatives about how my parents, grandparents, and ancestors overcame adversity and survived, despite the hardships they faced, and I became extremely proud of who I was and where I came from.

When I quit consuming alcohol, my self-esteem skyrocketed, and I like to say I worked hard (and I am still working hard) to develop respect, high self-esteem, (moral) courage, (self) honesty and a belief in equality. These characteristics help me very much in understanding the need for cultural diversity.

What prevents a race from interacting with another race?

When I was a young man, I didn't have the self-honesty to admit my attitude was racist, and I openly practiced racism. At that time, I had some physical courage, but no moral courage, and as a result committed some stupid acts against non-Indians. I also had no self-respect; therefore, I had no respect for non-Indians. Due to my low self-esteem, any mention of words like "Chief," "Tonto," "Squaw," "Prairie Nigger," "Lazy Injun," etc., and yes, the "Fighting Sioux" usually elicited a strong response from me. As a result, I had very few (if any) interactions with the "other" race, and I liked it that way. Looking back, I can say I hurt race relations between the two races, and I had very few non-Indian friends, if any.

As I grew older and developed some self-honesty, I admitted my racism was (is) wrong. As my self-respect grew, so did my respect for other races, and as my self-esteem rose, I didn't have a knee jerk reaction whenever a non-Indian threw a racial epitaph at me. At the same time, my (moral) courage and my belief in equality rose tremendously, and I began to speak up, in an objective manner, against all forms of what I consider racism. The strange thing about it is instead of losing the few non-Indians friends I had, I gained many, many more. In fact, let me state this, in spite of my very vocal and public opposition to the Fighting Sioux Logo and other forms of racism, I enjoy many interactions with non-Indians:

  • I am the only Indian member of a pool team that consists of five other non-Indian players. Two of them are brothers (Hanson). I travel quite frequently with these individuals. We often share the same hotel room, and they often invite me to their homes. We have hung around so much together and for long that I am often teased as being a "Hanson."

  • Every Friday, I travel to Grand Forks and shoot pool with another non-Indian who is in a wheelchair. We have been doing this for the past 25 years, and it is now considered a "tradition" by some pool players in Grand Forks. This Scandinavian is now 62 years old, but 20 years ago, we traveled to every pool tournament in the state often competing as partners. His dad (deceased) and his brother think very highly of me, and my boys consider him an "Uncle."

  • My CPA is a non-Indian, and I consider her a personal friend as well, as I do two other non-Indians who I work with. Both are from Grand Forks. Actually, one retired and moved to St. Paul.

  • 50% of my FaceBook friends are non-Indian.

  • About a month ago, three non-Indian Democrats approached me and asked me to be on the ticket with them. I agreed, and I am now the Democratic candidate for North Dakota House of Representatives for District 23. At the beginning of our meeting, I informed them that I was a very vocal and public opponent of the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo. That didn't make any difference, and I am now a candidate for the North Dakota House of Representatives, running in District #23.

  • I was asked to sit on the "Commission to Study Racial and Ethnic Bias in the Courts" in North Dakota state courts. This commission is made up of about 60% non-Indians: state judges, and people who associate with the state courts.

  • I am invited to talk to North Dakota State University faculty on Thursday.
I could list many more examples of productive enjoyable interactions I have with non-Indians but I think you get the point.

In my opinion, people respect you not so much for what you believe in or support as they respect you for what your character is. People admire courage, honesty, perseverance, and generosity in an individual. I will be the first to admit, I did not follow these values when I was a young man. However, I would like to think I now work very hard on practicing them. Although, I am certainly not perfect. By working hard to live by our traditional values to the best of my ability, people - non-Indians and Indians alike - judge me on my character, not what my stands are on certain issues. I also judge people on their character, not what their stands are on issues. As a result, I enjoy many, many friendships and interactions with the non-Indians that we share this state with.

The Fight Drags On

It was with great interest that we watched the events unfold at Standing Rock; events that led to a petition that was submitted to their tribal chairman. As soon as it became apparent that pro-logo supporters at Standing Rock were carrying a petition to put the Fighting Sioux logo and mascot to a vote, those of us here at Spirit Lake, who oppose the use of the logo by Ralph Engelstad Arena (REA), decided to collect signatures for a petition of our own. This is something we had planned on and talked about for the last year.

Our petition expressly requests that the Spirit Lake Tribal Council hold another election to determine if the majority of Spirit Lake tribal members are still in favor of Ralph Engelstad Arena's use of the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo. We haven't been idle this past year. Since the last vote, we have been working hard to educate tribal members on how the Fighting Sioux nickname is used as an avenue for racist behavior. We know we have been changing a lot of minds.

When we presented our petition to tribal members, we showed examples of the disrespectful uses and images that always accompany the use of the logo, albeit, in the background, just out of sight of most of the public. The pictures that helped us the most were pictures of a sorority party where UND students dressed up in costumes that mimicked Native Americans, costumes that were extremely disrespectful toward Native Americans. They used gunnysacks as dresses, red paint to paint handprints on their bodies. One picture showed them in a sexually suggestive pose. ... and, NO, this was not 20 years ago, but only a few years ago.

We had hoped we would not have to carry a petition against the Fighting Sioux logo and mascot because there is too much division over the name here on Spirit Lake. The mention of the nickname often starts an argument between opposing sides. One young tribal member who was carrying the petition for us had an older lady tear the petition up in front of her face and throw it in the garbage. It was retrieved from the garbage, taped together, and will be among those signatures we turn in with our petition.

On the other hand, the ease and quickness with which we were able to collect 300 signatures was heartening. We heard positive comments to the effect, "If you had shown these pictures the last time, we would not have voted for the logo." They awaken to the fact that they are not mascots and will vote to reverse the prior decision made by our council. We will present our petition with its required number of signatures to the tribal council within the next few weeks.

Our (Spirit Lake Nation) constitution requires that a petition must have 20% of the number of people who voted in the last election sign the petition before the tribal council can accept it. There were approximately 1100 tribal members who voted in the last election. Therefore, we needed approximately 220 signatures. We started a couple of weeks ago, and we now have approximately 300 signatures.

Nickname supporters may be winning some battles, like having tribal members get petitions in favor of the Sioux nickname, and filing lawsuits. We may not be able to match you in resources, but we are more than a match for you in determination. Our determination partly stems from our desire to protect our youth and other Native Americans, who attend or will attend the University of North Dakota, from the racist behavior that always accompanies the use of the Fighting Sioux logo and mascot.

In closing, we want to make it perfectly clear to the Ralph Engelstad Arena Foundation and other nickname supporters: we will never rest until the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo is retired from the Ralph Engelstad Arena. Right now our tribal constitution gives us tribal members the right to petition to the tribal government. We will exercise that right, and will continue to petition until we get rid of the nickname. There is no doubt in our minds, we will win the war by attrition - we will keep fighting until you are worn down.


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