Spiritual Leader, Drum, Dr. Vermillion, Dr. Ressler, Ms.
Desjarlais, Graduates and your families, Tribal Chairman Murphy, Tribal
Council, Board of Directors, Faculty, Staff, Dignitaries, and Guests.
It is with great pleasure and
humility that I stand before you today. I came to share a message of
congratulations and encouragement for the graduates. Today is your day. You
have worked hard and sacrificed your time, energy and resources to get here. I
am sure as you think back on your academic journey, you recall hardships that
you endured and the sacrifices you made. And, your families recall the
decisions and sacrifices you made. There were times when you had to make the
choice between recreation and studying. Obviously, you studied.
I feel a
special connection to Standing Rock. I share grandchildren with some of your
families. We share a granddaughter with Daisy Cadotte. Her name is Natalie. Our
son, Danny, is married to Spring Left Hand's daughter, Courtney. They have two
children, Elliot and Karsen. And Lynn and I lived her for six years. You might
say we honeymooned here. We came in 1965. We did not have children when we
arrived. We left 5 ½ years later and we had four children. And, of course,
during those six years, we found lots of friends. Some are in the room today.
I belong to a book club made up of
Indian people from across the state. We read good books and come together to
discuss them. One of the books we read was called The Genius of Sitting Bull - Thirteen Heroic Strategies for Today's
Business Leaders. It is a book that relates how one of your heroic leaders,
Sitting Bull, out smarted Custer and it outlines the leadership strategies he
used. As I thought about the graduates, I realized that a message about
leadership is very appropriate for tribal college graduates because you are the
future leaders of this tribe. And, this being Sitting Bull College, I felt his
accomplishments are appropriate to explore. Today I will use the 13 Heroic
Strategies used by Sitting Bull when he defeated Custer to provide a framework
as you move to the next level and on to leadership positions here at Standing
Rock using the education you have received here at Sitting Bull College.
The first strategy Sitting Bull used was to...
1. Create Commitment:
outcome of the battle of the Little Big Horn was a result of the two leaders'
basic attitudes toward commitment. Sitting Bull lead through commitment to
others. Custer led through commitment to himself.
Example: As I
searched for an example of creating commitment at Standing Rock, my thoughts
rolled back to the beginning of your college in 1971-1972. At that time, I was
the State Talent Search Director that was headquartered out of the University
of Mary. In that role, I had the good fortune to work with the creation of
Turtle Mountain Community College and I worked with the people at Standing Rock
who were developing your college. Here are some of the people who I recall were
involved in those very early years:
Minard White who became your first President, David and Bob Gipp, Jack
Barden, Emma Jean Blue Earth, Jerry Silk, Glen Eagle, Tom Buffalo Boy, and Melvin
White Eagle who was your chairman. We had a similar crew at Turtle Mountain. I
spent time mainly with David Gipp and Jack Barden in those early days scheming
and planning for how we might launch these two tribal colleges that became
remarkable tribal institutions of higher education.
Message: To the graduates I suggest that when you have the opportunity
to do something for your tribe, create commitment and figure out how to help
all of the people in the way the founders of Sitting Bull College created
The 2nd strategy used by Sitting Bull was to build
trust. As you prepare to become leaders, think about how you will build trust
among your stakeholders.
2. Build Trust: Sitting
Bull had to build the trust of the Sioux Nation as he brought the chiefs
together to fight Custer.
share another example. It was in the Fall of 1971 and no one had money in those
days. We had found a friend at Pine Ridge named Birgil Kills Straight who was
working there to create the Oglala-Lakota Tribal College. He contacted me to
tell me there was going to be a tribal college organization meeting in Seattle
at the National Indian Education Conference. In those days most people didn't
have travel money. Our two North Dakota groups lacked resources to get to that
meeting, so I bought myself a plane ticket and flew to Seattle. You can imagine
the trouble I got into at home when Lynn found out I drained our bank account. When
I got to Seattle, I followed people around the meeting and just couldn't get invited
to the tribal college meeting that was happening until I met Pat Lock. She
directed me to Gerald One Feather from Pine Ridge. He told me that they wanted
to advocate for Title III implementation funding for four tribal colleges and
they wanted to give two planning grants--one to Standing Rock and the other to Turtle
Mountain. After some serious discussion, Gerald and the Title III people at the
conference agreed to consider all six of us for implementation grants. Gerald
asked if we had proposals. I lied and said "Yes. They are ready to go!" He told
us to show up in Phoenix in two weeks with our proposals and we were in. I got
in touch with David Gipp and the people here to share the good news. We got our
proposals together and showed up in Phoenix. Stanley Red Bird from Rosebud and
helpers led a yuwepi ceremony. I remind our leaders that the tribal college
movement, before any money was laid on the table, was created through ceremony.
They are sacred institutions. As a result, Standing Rock Community College,
which later became Sitting Bull College, and Turtle Mountain Community College
became two of the six original tribal colleges that formed the American Indian
Higher Education Consortium.
message: I offer this to the graduates as an example of trust. Lots of
us trusted one another as we took our first steps. We did not second guess one
another. This is an example of how trust can help build dreams. As you build
dreams, you may have to trust the people you work with.
3. Increase Power: When we review the third strategy
used by Sitting Bull, you find a desirable leadership strait. He empowered
strong leaders, tapped their strengths, and together they defeated Custer. He
believed that only weak leaders hoarded power. He studied the Sioux Chiefs and
used their strengths where they were needed. Crazy Horse became the fighter; Red
Cloud helped to reinforce the culture and traditions of the Sioux; Gall
provided the planning and structure for the effort; Four Horns kept the
initiative sensitive and personal for the people.
Example: Looking at
Sitting Bull College today, your leader, President Dr. Vermillion, possess this
trait. She has three Vice Presidents who are the best at what they do and Dr.
Vermillion will tell you that she has confidence in their leadership. Dr.
Koreen Ressler is known as one of the most competent leaders of academic
programs among tribal colleges. Other tribal colleges call her when they have
questions; Julie Desjarlais is known as a hard working savvy Student Services leader
who is among the best among tribal colleges; when she sees a way to address the
success of students, she is on it! Leonica Alkire has a reputation for knowing
finance and runs an enviable business office and she is called upon by tribal
colleges and organizations to train others. Dr. Vermillion knows Sitting Bull
College increases in power when each leader is allowed to apply their skill and
message: When you are in positions of leadership, remember that
Sitting Bull spent time fitting the task at hand with the person most capable
of carrying out the plan. This might not be your best friend or your cousin. And, don't hoard power. It won't
4. Live the Experience of Your
In strategy four, Sitting Bull made
an effort to understand the people--their fear, anger, and willingness to put
their lives on the line as the military put more and more demands on the
people. Living the experience of the people helped him understand how they
would react to the stress of the pending battle and he was able to help them
face the hardships they would endure.
I would like to use one of your
tribal members as an example of someone who assessed her situation and made
some right decisions based upon what she knew about the reservation system. In
about 1965, I was working here in the BIA employment assistance office and kept
hearing about one of your tribal members--Marie Claymore-High Eagle. What
struck me about this young person was that she was a single mother who had moved
with her four little boys to Aberdeen, SD to attend a business college. Shortly
after I arrived here, I heard she was graduating and coming back to Standing
Rock to accept employment at the BIA. The day she reported, I went over to
introduce myself and we became friends immediately. I knew I was meeting a
special person. She had met the challenge. I can only imagine the hardships she
faced as she put these little boys in school, found baby sitters, dealt with
illness, lack of resources, and loneliness. Yet, she did not give up. She
stayed right there knowing her sacrifices would make life better for herself
and her children. Marie went on to hold some very impressive positions in her
career and everyone who works with her says she is smart and hard working.
Today, Marie is the Administrative Officer at the McLaughlin Clinic.
message: Graduates, if you are a single parent who wants to transfer to
a college away from the reservation, I would suggest visiting with Marie. She
is aware of the challenges you face and may have good advice for you. Or, when
times get tough, think of Marie and how she did not give up and went on the
have a great career.
5. Be a Healer: In
strategy five, Sitting Bull gladly accepted his role as protector and healer.
He lived with the people and had their respect.
Example: To move
our people forward we must take responsibility for protecting and healing
within our families and communities. I
remember some very strong women from the day when I lived here. Marilyn
Keepseagle, Shirley Plume, Leona Claymore, Margaret Teachout, Margie Dunn,
Philomine One Feather, Alvina Grey Bear, Elaine St. John, Elsie Martin, Theresa
Martin, Eunice Gipp, Zona Thunderhawk--these are some women that I admired. They
got involved and were not shy about having input into what was happening.
message: Graduates. Think
about your leaders and I think you will identify those who are just plain
caring and nice people. They use their positions to help the people. Now, hold
that thought. When you are in that position of leadership, protect, heal the
wounds, and help those you serve.
6. Communicate on Many Levels:
6 addressed effective communication which was essential as Sitting Bull
communicated with other tribes and camps prior to their trek to Montana and
throughout Little Big Horn immediately prior to the encounter with Custer. It
was vital to the success of the mission.
Example: How do we
communicate our message today? It isn't always verbal. When I travel to the
facilities at Sitting Bull College, it communicates the value for students and
staff held by the college leaders. When funding and accreditation agencies
visit your campus, they use the facilities as one indicator as they evaluate
your college. Your college facility message is a positive one--one that
demonstrates hard work and commitment by those involved.
message: To the graduates I hope you will always appreciate the
college. Your administrators work very hard to provide the facilities and
services to help your tribal members achieve. They sometimes make it look easy
and we end up thinking that just anyone can do their job. But, believe me. I've
worked at a tribal college. This is a hard job that requires many hours of
commitment and dedication. If you have an opportunity in the future to support
the college in some way, I hope you will be there to help.
To be successful, you must think strategically.
7. Think Strategically: Strategy
7 required thinking and planning strategically. We have all heard of strategic
plans and we don't often think of Sitting Bull as a strategic planner. Sitting
Bull planned for the welfare of you in this generation. Custer planned for a
moment of personal glory (and failed).
Example: If you
review the strategic plan of Sitting Bull College, you will see that their
science department goals are being met by a highly qualified staff. The four PH D's in your science department
are an example of putting together a team that is capable of strategically
meeting your instructional needs in science--Dr. Gary Halvorson, Dr. Jeremy
Guinn, Dr. Mafany Mongo, and Dr. Dan Buresch. And, I believe Linda Different
Cloud also joined this team. It is always great when our tribal members are
part of a successful effort. Linda brings traditional knowledge into the
research program which is unique. The work done by this team is recognized
throughout the tribal college movement not just for their instruction, but for
research. I am very impressed with how Sitting Bull College has teamed with
your tribe to answer environmental questions. This is what research
universities do all over the world. They team with their communities and
stakeholders. It is very impressive that it is happening here on the Standing
message: If you are going to move an idea forward, do the necessary
planning. As Sitting Bull College moves towards becoming a research university
for your tribe, think about what they are doing. As this unit grows, more jobs
will be created in the future that will enable more of your tribal members to
work in research and more of your tribal members will seek PhD's in order to be
here helping to answer reservation questions for your tribe. When you think
about the questions we have on our reservations, we realize that there is a big
job waiting. This is an area where jobs can grow on the Standing Rock
Reservation for those of you who go on to a master's degree or doctorate. The
field is endless. Here are some research questions: For education researchers: Why
do some students stay in school while others drop out? For business majors: What
are the purchasing trends of the people on the Standing Rock Reservation? For
Social Science majors: What characteristics contribute to positive self-esteem
as the tribe seeks to combat suicide among young people? For agriculture majors
studying the environment: If you supplement your cattle's diet with a type of amino acid
and nitrate can you reduce the methane gas produced without jeopardizing the
cattle's productivity or the quality of their meat and milk? Remember graduates. Research is waiting for
you to help answer questions for your tribe. But, you must plan your professional
career by using strategies that will help you achieve your goals.
We don't often think about the strength of our competition. We
just want to win. But, ....
8. Respect Your Competition: Sitting Bull respected the enemy
in strategy 8. He studied them and knew what he was up against when the
fighting started at the Little Big Horn.
colleges in their infant stage, were not respected by mainstream colleges and
universities. Those who were affiliated with us wanted to micromanage us. Those
who accepted our students in transfer picked student transcripts apart. But,
look at Sitting Bull College today. You are a fully accredited tribal college
that offers five bachelor's degrees and a special education endorsement in
message: Look at the graduates in this commencement. Think about where
you will be 20 years from now as a result of your hard work and commitment. Think
about where the Standing Rock Reservation can be when you apply your skills to
the needs of the people here. One more thought and recommendation for everyone
in this room. Respect the thinking and initiative of your young people. The ND tribal
college movement was started by a bunch of 25-year olds, many who did not have
college degrees. Look at the bright young people among these graduates. Give
them the opportunity to pursue dreams for your tribe. They are eager to move
you into the future. Allow them to dream. Don't limit them to the same ideas and
dreams of others. Allow them to come to your organizations and agencies and
practice what they know. Graduates, you had that opportunity to do community
service while enrolled at SBC. Continue to help where you are needed in your
Nothing defines a leader better than when they face a major
challenge, or as it was for Sitting Bull, when he faced the enemy.
9. Redefine the Rules of Battle: When you look at how Sitting Bull
positioned the leaders--Crazy Horse, Gall, Red Cloud--he was consciously redefining
the rules of battle which was his ninth strategy. He concentrated on turning
the enemies' strengths into weaknesses.
Bull College applied this strategy in the early days. I remember sitting in a
meeting at NDSU last year where President Vermillion related her experience as
a student at Standing Rock Community College. She related how she and two other
students walked with their instructor, Jack Barden, through a building looking
for a room to meet. Not finding a place, they sat on the floor in the hallway
and Dr. Barden commenced to hold class. It would have been easy for Jack to
tell the students that they could not meet because they didn't have a
classroom. But, he redefined the rules. He redefined the rules of battle for
higher education on the Standing Rock Reservation. And, Dr. Vermillion and the
other students knew how bad they wanted an education. When they sat on that
floor in that hallway, they redefined the rules.
message: Graduates. You will have opportunities to move forward with
limited resources. Our tribes do not have resources to address all of our
problems. Don't be afraid to redefine the rules, if it will get the job done.
Don't stop working on a good project because you lack resources. Redefine the
rules as Jack Barden and his students did that day when they chose to sit on
Another characteristic of an effective leader is to know the
10. Know the Terrain: In strategy 10, Sitting Bull took pains to learn
about the terrain--the Little Big Horn. His awareness was dependent on
identifying changes and adjusting his warriors in that terrain. He set
standards of communication with all chiefs to assure that everyone worked
together. It was necessary and contributed to success of the mission.
Example: As one of
the six original tribal colleges and one of the founders of the American Indian
Higher Education Consortium, Sitting Bull College was aware of the tremendous
challenge ahead. Your board members, staff and faculty were continually
reminded of higher education terrain. Funding and accreditation became the
pathway on the terrain. Faculty, staff, and students became the stakeholders. The
Tribal Community College Act of 1978, the National Science Foundation Tribal
Colleges and Universities Program, Title III, Dept. of Ed Vocational Education
Program, American Indian College Fund, Land Grant Status, state appropriation
for non-tribal students--these are examples of funding opportunities that
evolved through the involvement of Sitting Bull College leaders with the other
tribal controlled colleges from across the country. Those leaders who worked on
funding knew the congressional and government terrain. Accreditation of your
certificate programs, associate degree and bachelor's degree programs
demonstrates that your leadership knows the terrain of higher education.
message: The graduates in this audience will be called upon to do great
things in the future and the word of advice from all of us is to know your
terrain. Know what you are up against. Don't demand things because no one will
care. But, when you begin to negotiate and contribute as an equal, you will
find that doors will open. People will respect what you know and appreciate
what you want to do. They will figure out whether or not you know your terrain
and know what you intend to do. Sharpen up before you get to that level.
How about those Warriors?
11. Rightsize your Forces: Sitting Bull knew that to defeat
the Bluecoats, he had to put the right people in the right place at the right
time. He knew he had to mobilize his forces in ways appropriate to meet the
Example: As I
thought about this one, I recalled back in the day when Everett and Dalbert
Chasing Hawk, Bill Kuntz, Bob, Bill and Darrell Eaglestaff, Wyman Archambeau,
Kenny Walks, Kevin Claymore, Courtney Brown Otter, Roger Goodreau, and Albert
Gipp (I apologize if I forgot someone) were the right sized force for Fort
Yates High School. They were the biggest basketball talent in the state when I
was here. They broke state scoring records that may still hold today. And, in
later years there were comments from guys they played against that called them
the most feared team in the state. My friend, Marie and I didn't miss a game
and we traveled through many storms to see our team play. When Everett brought
that ball down the floor and shook his head from side to side, no one knew
where he would go. But, his team mates were waiting and the points flew up on
message: If you are going to be a force in anybody's world today, you
have to have the right combination of talent working toward your goals. Sitting
Bull College has this force present today. From Boards, to the President, to
the faculty and staff at Sitting Bull College, this tribal college has achieved
because they embraced this strategy. Look around you. This is not one person
doing it alone. It is a team of people working together to get the job done.
And look at the graduates. The same can be said for each one of you. If the
graduates close their eyes, they will see in their minds eye the force behind
them that helped them to succeed. This is a good lesson to carry with you into
It is difficult to think that a leader can welcome a crisis,
but in strategy twelve...
12. Welcome Crisis: ...when Sitting Bull's camp was attacked at the
start of the battle of the Little Big Horn, he fought back with confidence. He
knew he had prepared his people. The warriors stood their ground while the
women and children escaped. Sitting Bull rang out words of encouragement to
those in his camp and they drove Reno and his men back. As Custer approached,
Sitting Bull turned to Crazy Horse to help fight. When the battle ended, the
Sioux people had defeated Custer and the other Bluecoats. The heroic leader
learns to control his or her emotions and view any crisis as a natural part of
an effort. The heroic leader remains calm in a crises and trusts that the strength
of the organizations staff will carry it through.
Example: Does this
sound like your college? It appears that way to those of us who observe you.
Did you know that it is easier to manage a crises when you anticipate that a
crises can and will occur? This is another good lesson for students. Think
about Marie when she was in Aberdeen. She was ready to face the tough challenge
because she had her team organized. She will tell you that she had to call on
her parents, Sam and Leona Claymore more than once. And her brothers and
sisters were there to help, as well. She did not fear a crisis. She did not
enjoy having problems or issues, but she was ready.
message: Some of you will transfer to universities next year. Or some
of you will choose to stay here and enroll in one of the four-year degree
programs. Whatever your plans, anticipate that things can and will happen. A
child may get sick. You may lose a child-care provider. Your financial aid
might be late. Grandma might become ill. How will you handle a situation such
as the one I have described? If you anticipate that a crisis can or will occur
and if you plan for what you will do in that crises, you will be in a better
position to deal with it.
The last heroic strategy attributed to Sitting Bull was his
ability to measure the results of what occurred. Today, we call this evaluation.
13. Measure the Results: Sitting Bull knew that the future of his
people did not end with the bodies of the soldiers and Custer on the
battlefield. Sitting Bull's greatest genius, then, may have been his ability to
establish a clear vision of what it meant to be a tribal member here and his
ability to set aside self-interest and address the complexity and challenges to
your tribe. He left a legacy of leadership that you as a tribe can emulate.
I want to ask that you recognize your college as a good example of tribal
leaders establishing a clear vision for the tribe. The college seeks to provide
access to a post-secondary education for the tribal members by offering
certificates, Associate Degrees and Bachelor's Degrees. In addition, the
college seeks to offer GED programs for those who dropped out of high school
and research to help answer questions for the tribe.
message: Graduates. Now that you have achieved your educational goal,
the tribe and your families share your success. Some of you will join the labor
force and apply your skills to a job. Others may choose to continue your
education. Whatever you choose to do, remember that you are from a tribe that
had one of the greatest leaders--Sitting Bull. You graduated today from a
college that chose him as its namesake--Sitting Bull College. And he left you
with an example of leadership that you can emulate into the future as you go
forward to do great things!
I have reviewed the 13 leadership strategies Sitting Bull used
to defeat Custer. I have given examples of these traits as I have witnessed
them on your reservation. And, I tried to inspire you, the graduates to apply
these strategies to your careers. We look for great things from you as a
graduating class. Congratulations and best of luck.