June 2016 Archives

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This blog was inspired by, of all things, a post I read on Facebook the other morning.  The post was about a young lady's revelations about what she truly wants out of life: 

"Big revelation for today brought out by stress-laden solstice Kafka dreams. I want out from under my own admonishment that I have to strive to accomplish something exceptional or remarkable in my life in order to somehow justify my right to exist.  I'm tired of even trying to identify the eternal carrot.  I'm not going to write a great book, go back for my master's degree, become famous, or solve any of the world's big problems.  I might not make more than a small ripple of difference ever again.  And that's okay, because enough is enough is more than enough.

I'm ready to step off the carousel, take a breath, and have a look around.  Life is beautiful, just as it is."


Knowing the young lady who posted these words her momentous declaration came as a shock.  It was a stunning revelation from a person so young, so gifted, and seemly so motivated.  She already is a shaker and a mover in her community and I expect her to become even more important in the years ahead.  However, at the youthful age of 32 she just made a declaration that she; wants out from under her own admonishment that she has to strive to accomplish something exceptional or remarkable in her life in order to somehow justify her right to exist. 

Do I believe her?  Absolutely.  In the short time I have known her I have come to recognize she means exactly what she says.  Do I believe this will this be the end of her growth as a human being, both personally and professionally?  Absolutely not! I still predict many significant achievements for her.  At a young age she somehow discovered how not to stress about how, or when, these achievements are going happen, which I think is amazing.  

Her epiphany reminded me of my own journey through life.  Unlike her, I wasn't striving to accomplish any lofty goal(s) in my life, I just wanted to survive:  Thirty-two years ago I returned home from the Veterans Hospital in Fargo, ND.  I had just completed an alcohol treatment program.  It was my second time in Fargo VA's alcohol treatment program, and my third time overall in a treatment program.  Sioux Manufacturing Corporation (SMC) quickly hired me.  I selected the graveyard shift (midnight - seven) to keep me busy at night, and I'm a nightwalker anyway.  For the first time in my life I had a steady income.  I had a job, good car, wife, two sons, dogs, a cat, and I had started bootlegging on Sundays.  Bootlegging brought in lots of extra cash so I had plenty of jingle to walk around with.  Life was finally looking up after so many years living an alcoholic lifestyle. So when the Dean of Students at our tribal college approached me and asked if I was interested in enrolling in a teacher training program I flat out told him, no, I wasn't interested.  The Dean was also my tanhan (brother-in-law) so he persisted.  I finally asked him, "Why me, Al?"  He replied, "Because only two students at the college have a GPA over 3.0 and you're one of them."  I was surprised when he told me that, because while going to college the last two years I was drunk most of the time and barely remembered the courses I enrolled in.  I had broken my back a couple of years earlier and was partially paralyzed on my left side so I returned to school simply to receive my veterans' benefits.  Now that I was sober and had a job, going back to college was the furthest thing from my mind.  Then he said, "You will get a full scholarship with a stipend of $163.00 every two weeks."  Long story short, I went on to UND after completing another year at the tribal college and 20 years later I graduated with a Doctorate in Educational Leadership.

I probably was the least motivated person from Spirit Lake to receive a college degree.  When I complete one level of education, I had no desire to move to the next level. As I indicated in the previous paragraph I went to college only because I broke my back. And, I returned to college simply to receive a stipend.  After I obtained my teacher's degree I had no plans to further my education. But, circumstances conspired against me and I found myself going back for my Master's. Getting a Master's was way more than this old ndn had ever planned on doing so it took several of my friends to convince me to go on to get my doctorate.  Even with my friends encouraging me to go I would not have gone had not UND's Educational Leadership Department begun recruiting students for a doctorate degree in Educational Leadership around the same time.  I applied, was accepted, and seven years later this reluctant ndn graduated with a doctorate in Educational Leadership. Similarly, I was content working at SMC when I got out of alcohol treatment. Once I became a teacher I had no plans to do anything else, I loved teaching.  I became Academic Dean simply because I was in the right place at the right time, as was the case when I became College President.

My point being, unlike the young lady whose post prompted this blog I had no plans whatsoever to go to college. Also, unlike her, I felt no pressure to go out and become rich and famous. I met the young lady through Facebook. She sent me a friend request which I ignored and promptly forgot about. We have a mutual friend who interceded on her behalf and we became friends. Once we became friends I found out she sold duck eggs so I purchased some from her as an excuse to meet her.

Although there is 30-year age difference between us we quickly became friends. Our personalities are very similar; she strongly values her own opinion over others' as I do, but I call it arrogance; she often ignores societal rules and I do too, but I call it, "My don't give shit attitude"; we both don't suffer fools easily; and she's drawn to helping, sticking up for, and supporting the outcasts and underdogs in society as I am; and gossip about us does not bother us.  She could have been a white, female, Hobo Joe (my don't-give-a-sh_t, alter ego), but she wasn't raised on a Rez in the 1960's and 70's like I was.  We both overcame tragic accidents; she suffered 3rd degree burns to the chest, arms, and face, when she was twenty years old and still suffers from the effects, and I broke my back and remain partially paralyzed on my left side; she too lost both parents while they were young, and I lost a son.

She performed the first gay couple marriage in the county, she raises ducks, horses, cats, and chinchillas, she is the director of economic development for the city, is a professional fitness trainer, president of a museum, so when she shocked everyone with her post, "I might not make more than a small ripple of difference ever again.  And that's okay, because enough is enough is more than enough.  I'm ready to step off the carousel, take a breath, and have a look around.  Life is beautiful, just as it is."  I decided to write a blog about it:

Maybe I am not that all surprised with her post as I see a lot of similarity in her outlook on life and mine.  Although she grew up in all-white rural small town North Dakota in the 80s and 90s and I grew up in the isolated, poverty stricken, rez in the 60's we are more alike than we're different. What struck me most when I met her was I recognized certain Dakota values in her upbringing. She is generous, she respects all people regardless of religion, race, or creed, and she has courage to do what she believes in, not what society thinks she should do. Although not a spiritual person per se her beliefs parallel our Dakota spirituality  

What did surprise me is this. It takes many people a lifetime to learn what she has learned, to stop the merry-go-round, and get off it before you lose your soul.  Most people never do.  While I have been contemplating retiring I just can't pull the trigger.  I'm too scared to get off the merry-go-round.  Heck if a 32-year-old young lady can do it, there is no reason why I can't also when the right time comes for me to retire.

Thirty-two years ago, after 15 years of a hardcore, alcoholic lifestyle, I started work at SMC without any plans other than to survive.  However, The Creator had other plans for me. Likewise, I'm sure the young lady's destiny will include many great and awesome deeds.


Dad, I Hardly Knew You

I never knew my dad, he and mom split when I was a toddler. I did see him over the years and once when I was about 12 years old I actually spent several days with him. I would see him fleetingly over the years but never spoke very much with him. During my Hobo Joe years, I ran into him several times at different locations. We both were inebriated during those times. The last time I seen him was at Tribe's powwow in 1988. I had heard he had quit drinking for some time. We talked for a while and then he made an unusual request; he asked if he could stay with me. I had been sober and divorced for several years and living by myself when he made that strange request. I declined, as I was not quite convinced that he would stay sober. He died a couple of months later. Although, he did not raise me he influenced my life in several ways; 

I was shooting pool in Devils Lake's infamous Colonial Bar when an old guy who was watching came over and remarked how good I was. He added, "Your dad was a damn good pool player too".  My girlfriend at the time and who stayed with me for quite some time after that told me later, that from that time on I became fixated with pool. 

My dad and his brothers were known for their hunting and shooting skills. Although not much of a hunter myself, I bought my son's rifles at an early age and encourage them to hunt because I wanted them to be like my dad. I taught them to offer tobacco when they make a kill. Marshall and Ryan are now good shots and good hunters. 

Mom, and other old timers have told me, "Your dad was a handsome man. Women were always after him." That could be why I enjoy the company of beautiful women so much. 

Lastly, and most importantly, my dad was a gentle soul. He was not a fighter and he lived in times where fighting was common. The times I was with him I never heard him speak in anger about another person. He was always in a good mood, laughing and telling joke and/or humorous stories. And, he truly loved me, my sister Becky and my brother Mark. 

Unfortunately, he grew up in as era when alcohol was common as meth is today. Once infected with alcoholism it hounded him until his premature death at age 65. A few years short of age 65 myself, I find myself wishing I had made more of an attempt to get to know my dad. And, I now I realized I loved him also...sorry it took so long to admit that, dad.    

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Let The People Decide

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According to a recent article in the Devils Lake Journal, "A vote to allow alcohol to be sold at Spirit Lake Casino has been postponed by the Spirit Lake Tribal Council."  The article goes on to say, "The reason given for the vote's postponement was cited as needing "further review.'"  I am of the opinion that this issue does not need further review.  We should hold a vote now and settle the debate.

Alcoholism is a terrible affliction.  No one is more aware of this than I.  I grew up in an era when alcohol was the drug of choice on the reservation .  I had the misfortune to fall victim to its devastating effects as young man.  It was only after a dozen years and three stints in two different rehab facilities that I finally overcame my addiction. 

Opponents of legalizing the sale of alcohol on our reservation have good reason to fear alcohol and its damaging effects.  Everyone who lives on the reservation is directly, or indirectly, impacted by negative effects of alcoholism: Broken homes, a high rate of alcohol- related illness and deaths, alcohol-related fatal automobile accidents and high rates of fetal alcohol syndrome are among the many dysfunctional consequences of alcohol abuse.

My question for opponents of the sale of alcohol on our reservation is; why is our reservation suffering from the devastating effects of alcohol even though the sale of alcohol is prohibited on our reservation?  A follow up question if the ban is not effective now and never has been, what makes you think it will be effective in the future?  And, how is worrying about the sale of alcohol helping our community's alcoholics?  Right now our services offer very little in alcohol prevention and treatment.  One would think our focus should be offering useful programs for those in need.  


In my opinion, prohibition has NEVER worked.  It may work for a few individuals for a few hours, a few days, maybe even years, but in the end if an alcoholic wants to drink nothing in the world is going to stop him or her.  I know; I grew on this reservation and for many years I was a hard-core alcoholic.  The ban never slowed me down even a little.  Not with the reservation being 60 miles long and 40 miles wide with numerous roads and trails connecting it to the outside world.  Prohibition is the least effective way to prevent, stop, or help an alcoholic recover.  Maybe, it is easier to support a ban, than it is to hold the alcoholic responsible for his or her behavior especially if that person is a relative.  And, does supporting a ban help people feel that they are actually doing something to combat alcoholism?  In actuality, it does nothing of the kind.  It's sort of like people who go to church on Sunday but behave in an unchristian like manner all week.

If a vote were held today I would vote YES to allow alcohol sales on the Rez.  However, my yes vote would be contingent on a tribal council resolution that 100% of the profits would go towards the building, staffing, and the operation of an addiction treatment facility here on Spirit Lake.  And, the facility would treat people with other addictions as well.  We have tribal members addicted to meth and pills who would also benefit from a treatment facility.

This issue has been debated for years and years.  It is time for all the people to decide, not just the tribal council members, whether the sale of alcohol on the reservation should be approved.

I am willing to accept the will of the people.  If the majority votes to continue to ban alcohol sales on our reservation so be it.  But, I do think we need to bring closure to a discussion that has been going on for as long as I can remember by letting the people decide.  Therefore, I urge our Tribal Council to let the people decide by holding a vote on the issue. 

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