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.
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.