January 2015 Archives

   First of all, I want to thank Native American Parent Committee for inviting me to give testimony on the significance of the eagle feather. Receiving an eagle feather is one of the most important events in a young person's life. It's a custom of ours that has been passed down for hundreds of years. The other speakers did an excellent job of explaining the significance of an eagle feather so I won't spend my time covering what has already been covered.

   Instead, I want to talk about Indian Education and how it has evolved over the years to where it reached the point we are at now, standing here before you requesting permission for our Indian students to wear an eagle feather, or an eagle plume, or a beaded graduation cap during graduation ceremonies.

   Over the years I have held many positions in education; I was a 3rd grade teacher, Adult Basic Education Instructor, Tribal College Academic Dean, Tribal College President and an administrator for an Early Childhood program. I love education and I promote it tirelessly. I see it as a way out of the poverty that is so prevalent on our reservation. But, there was a time when I hated education and everyone in it. Why? Because, it did not respect me for whom I was as a person. It tried to make me into someone that I wasn't. It wasn't until I attended a tribal college where our culture was incorporated into the curriculum that I embraced the White man's education. Let me tell you a little about Indian education and maybe you will understand why we are in front of you today, requesting that our highs school seniors be allowed to wear eagle feathers during their graduation ceremony:

    For the past 150 years, when it came to education of Indians, your education system's main purpose was to eradicate our culture and to make White men out of us. At first it was successful, but with devastating results. Without our culture we lost our kinship systems that held our families together, we no longer practiced our values of courage, honesty, perseverance, and generosity and our reservations became a very hard place to earn a living. However, a few of us who remembered our culture began to teach it to others. As a result, today our culture is strong and vibrant, and getting stronger every year.

   Sending Indian students to boarding school was the first attempt to stamp out our culture. We were told to forget our Dakota values of generosity, tolerance, honesty, and compassion and were taught the importance of acquiring private property and material wealth, two values that were the total opposite of what we believed in. We had to cut our hair and wear white man's clothing, we were given English names, we were taught to use knives, forks, spoons, napkins and tablecloths. We spent countless hours marching to and from classes, meals and dormitories. The boarding schools hoped to produce students who were economically self-sufficient by teaching work skills and instill values and beliefs of possessive individualism, meaning that you care about yourself and what you as a person own. This was directly opposed to our kinship system where being a good relative, who looked after the young, the elderly, the less fortunate, was the most important thing in our lives.

   I went to boarding school in the late 60's during my high school years. It was a non-Indian school located 30 miles off the reservation. We boarded a bus on Sunday and came home Friday evening. Expectations were low. We, along with some Caucasian students who were treated as outcasts were segregated. We were all put in the same class and academically we were always behind our fellow classmates who were in different classes. We weren't encouraged to join any extra-curricular activities except sports.

   When I returned for my senior year I neglected to cut my hair like I did every fall before I returned to school. I had enough of following the White man's ways as far as my personal appearance was concerned, so I didn't cut my hair. At the end of that week, on Friday, right before school let out I was called to the principal's office and told to cut my hair or not to return the following week. I returned to school anyway, without cutting my hair and after a stare down between the principal and myself, I was sent to class.

   At our school reunion this past summer a fellow Maddock alumni who was a grade behind me told me how they used me as an example the year following my graduation. Apparently, several non-Indian boys grew their hair long and when they were told to cut it they pointed out that I was allowed to have long hair. They won their fight, by using me as an example. Through Facebook, I am now in contact with several of my former classmate, classmates that I barely spoke to while in high school. Many of them say they wished there was some type of diversity program when we were in high school, for now they regret not getting to know us Indians better.

   When tribal colleges were started they demonstrated that we Indian people didn't have to give up our culture to do well in school. Incorporating our culture into the curriculum is the norm not the exception. As a result, we have now reached a point where we have doctors, lawyers, engineers, nurses, etc., all because our tribal colleges realized we don't have to give up our tradition to become successful in the White man's world. For many of us, walking in two worlds in now the norm.

   It's not like we are totally against your system...in fact we have assimilated into the mainstream to the point that we now consider it our system also. As you have required, we have learned your language, we wear your clothes, we eat your food, and we go to your schools, most of us are willing to walk in two world with the majority of our walk in your world, but in our hearts we are still Dakota, Ojibwa, Hidatsa, Mandan, Arikara etc., we are still Native American with our own beliefs and spirituality that have existed for thousands of years. Not allowing our students to wear an eagle feather or bead their graduation cap is akin to the church not allowing pious parents to baptize their child because of the type of clothes they wear.

We have grown to respect your world, we learned your values, we try to excel in your education system, yet you do not make the effort to learn about us, and why our culture is important to us. For example, you say you are honoring us by displaying all kinds of Indian logos and mascots and dressing up in Indian regalia at their sports events, events where alcohol is consumed, where our customs and sacred regalia are mocked and ridiculed, all which is very demeaning to Indian people. Now you have a chance to really honor us Indians by allowing our youth to incorporate parts of their traditional regalia into their graduation gowns, but you won't.

   To put it another way, you allow racist behavior at sport events, while preventing our youth from proudly displaying bits of their cultural heritage at the most important event of life up to now. It just doesn't make sense.

   I think it's time for the your educational system to meet us halfway. What harm is an eagle feather, or an eagle plume, or a beaded graduation cap going to do? It's against your policy? Put aside those policies and procedures that are preventing our youth from participating in your activities simply because there are Indian and are different from you.

  After all an educational system is supposed to make students feel welcome and accepted. Should these students be denied their right they will leave their school with a bad memory, something no self-respecting educator would want. Thank you for listening to me.


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This is a story about hard core bachelor who made a vow after his divorce to never to give his heart to any woman. It was a promise he kept for close to 30 years. He was an intelligent, stubborn, shy, 63 years old ndn man who was a secret romantic at heart. He grew up in extreme poverty on a ndn reservation. Despite his Dakota upbringing by his strong Dakota, mother he fell victim to the pitfalls prevalent on his reservation and lived a drunken life of worthlessness. At the age of 31 his Dakota upbringing resurfaced and rescued him from his sordid life of chronic alcoholism. Once sober he embraced his Dakota values and rapidly made up for lost time. Eventually he obtained a doctorate degree in leadership and made valuable contributions to his community and family. His relatives loved him, his friends admired him, and even some who only heard about him respected him. 

However, even though sobriety radically changed his behavior, a dark side remained. He continued to punish his enemies severely and at times treat people with little, or no respect. These conflicting personalities caused people to either admired him, or to hate him. 

This is also a story about how a woman's nurturing  patience, unwavering love, strong faith in The Creator, and the wisdom to see what no one else could see, and how she was able to lead the stubborn, troubled ndn man from his lifelong path of self-destruction onto a road of loyalty, forgiveness, and emotional well-being. 

 At very young age the ndn man developed a couple of beliefs that would plague him throughout his entire life: 1.) he thought he was smarter than most people and 2.) he was convinced that rules did not apply to him.  As a result, he grew into a reckless and impulsive man who acted without thinking about consequences. People would often say to him, "Why did you do that?" And he would reply, "Idk. I just wanted to see what would happened, I guess?"  He carried this behavior into all aspects of his life until he had refined it into a science. 

For many years this vain, selfish and obstinate man, did not care who he hurt with his careless actions. He was not a mean person, but he didn't hesitate initiating punitive actions against people who he believed had wrong him.  As, a result he soon made many enemies both in his professional and personal lives. 

While some aspects of this behavior were instrumental to his brought gaining recognition and respect in professional, tribal, and social communities especially as he advocated for the causes both off and on the reservation, it caused great injury in with his personal relationships with women.  

He did not care. 

Shortly after his divorce, his boys came to live with him full time. They did not care for any of his girl's friends which caused problems with his relationships since he always put his sons ahead of any woman. By the time his youngest son graduated from high school he had become a full fledged, committed bachelor. He saw no reason to change as there were always plenty of women available.  

 Sure, he recognized that he probably messed up a couple of good opportunities to settle down, but he saw no advantage to pursuing a committed relationship. 

Then, seemingly our of nowhere, he met a woman unlike no other. 

From the moment he first saw her he realized here was a very special woman. Her voice was so soft and sexy, she was strong and independent, her laugh was spontaneous, and she was so beautiful he found it hard to look directly at her. Once he started dating her he effortlessly treated her with more respect than any other woman he had been with. Without realizing it, he began to change his bachelor ways; he cut back on going to lunches with other woman, he turned down requests to meet with other women, and he stopped interacting with female Friends on Facebook. He honored her this way, not because he had to, but because he wanted to.  Seeing her happy quickly became very important to him. 

 While chatting with a friend, who was a psychotherapist, she used the word "impulsivity" when diagnosing his behavior after reading his blog about driving through North Dakota blizzards: 




When he asked her what it meant she said, "death wish, comes to mind". He took it as a joke, but he looked up the word as he does with all new words he learns. He posted its definition on his Facebook page as a joke, but at the same time he reluctantly admitted that it described him to a "T". This troubling realization foreshadowed things to come. 

 "Impulsivity (or impulsiveness) is a multifactorial construct that involves a tendency to act on a whim, displaying  behavior characterized by little or no forethought, reflection, or consideration of the consequences."

Around the time psychotherapist friend made these troubling observations about him, his relationship with the woman of his dreams began to turn serious.   

Predictably, one day his impulsiveness led to him to say some very mean things to the woman he was beginning to love so deeply.  It was not the first time his impulsiveness caused him to inadvertently hurt her deeply and he asked himself a familiar question, "What the hell is wrong with me?"  It was a question he had occasionally asked himself when a relationship did not work out. 

This time, he associated his behavior with the definition of impulsiveness and a light bulb went off in his head.  He began to realize that just maybe there was something serious wrong with him that contributed to his problems in his relationships with women. 

Later, while driving to see her his thoughts kept returning to his impulsiveness.  He recognized he was in serious trouble, because he realized he could not control it. Up until then he never tried to control what he now realized what was his extreme impulsive behavior.  He also realized he was sort of arrogant of it and this worried him even more. In fact, it scared the hell out of him because he knew it could eventually destroy his relationship with the woman of his dreams, if it had not already.  The longer he thought about it, this realization began to sink in: because of his uncontrollable impulsiveness, he had not only hurt her, he had hurt his past girlfriends as well.  

He desperately wanted to change his destructive behavior so he did what he always did when faced with a difficult decision: he turned to The Creator for help.  He prayed for strength to change his destructive conduct, for he did not want to lose this woman who had captured his heart with her compassion and understanding.  She was much more special than all the others. 

There are times when a person undergoes an incredible (and sometimes frightening) spiritual experiences that move them emotionally, intellectually, and deep in their soul. Indeed, during treatment for alcoholism the ndn man had witnessed an alcoholic young man's transformation from a horrible person to a repentant, sorrowful, individual, literally right before his eyes. It was truly amazing. 

 After he prayed, tears started to fall.  The tears he shed were regret for hurting her, for being such a horrible, mean, old man, who sabotaged many relationships by not caring about the women he hurt.  The torrent of tears he shed amazed him.   

 After he stopped crying he felt as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders.  Deeply affected by his "breakdown" he started to take a close and honest look at himself and he did not like what he begin to see.  He was stunned when he finally realized just how horrible of a person he had become. 

He realized he could not undo the hurtful behaviors, phobias, and fears of 30 years overnight.  However, once, he identified his problem, he was confident he would be able to overcome his impulsiveness with The Creator's help once he put his mind to it.   He promised to start off by respecting her strengths, being sensitive to her limitations, to love her unconditionally, and to treat her better than he has treated any woman. 

He believes this miracle came about simply by being in her presence. His cowardly, lying, cheating ways withered and retreated when exposed to her honesty, generosity, compassion and love for him. Her virtuousness awoke his inherent decency that he had long suppressed and the fight for his soul begin. 

 Should he be able to change for the better he will do his best to keep her happy as long as she wants to keep him around.  Whether their paths remain as one, or diverge in the future the bliss he has experienced with her will always warm his heart until the end of his days.   End of story. 




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This page is an archive of entries from January 2015 listed from newest to oldest.

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