May 2023 Archives

TRIBAL POLITICS


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 TRIBAL POLITICS

 

My exposure to hardcore tribal politics began when the Tribal Council appointed me to the Little Hoop Board of Regents in 1988. Until then, I had never dealt with tribal politics. All I knew about tribal politics was when tribal workers talked about other tribal workers and the tribal council and the shenanigans they pulled. I soon became familiar with tribal politics. I enjoyed sitting on the Board of Regents. I had six years of sobriety and began to see the vital role tribal government had in the affairs of tribal entities and how each entity governs itself. And, in turn, how each entity impacted tribal members. And the Dakota values my mom instilled in me were resurfacing. These values help me recognize unethical conduct in the workplace and tribal government.


We jokingly call this unethical behavior tribal politics. Tribal politics usually corrupts the most ethical of persons. Unqualified people get hired, and those who speak up against favoritism and nepotism become persona non grata. Many workers are chronically tardy, and absenteeism is rampant. The list for housing is ignored or tampered with, and favorite contractors are often awarded contracts without going through the bid process and paid an excessive amount. Tribal members who need help from programs receive no assistance as opposed to those who "know the right people" or are "related to someone on the council" who receives assistance from those in charge of programs. 


Some believed sending a tribal member off to "get educated" would solve many of our problems. Not true. According to one elder who attended my graduation reception, "Some people get an education just to learn how to steal more," as she reverently held my doctorate diploma in her hands. Furthermore, a corrupt educated tribal leader/worker is far worse than a tribal member without education. At least an uneducated tribal worker/leader can claim ignorance. A literate person can't. They have the knowledge to understand policy and procedures, and many degree programs touch on ethics. Therefore, they realize how unethical practices can harm the tribe and tribal members. Tribal politics flourish because unscrupulous individuals think people are too dumb or scared to speak up. Not me. I'm neither dumb nor fearful to speak up. My mom and aunties taught me a strong sense of right and wrong, and my years of alcoholism taught me to recognize a con when I saw one or a lie when I heard one, and I spoke up when I encountered unethical conduct.


Maybe I was naive, but I couldn't keep my mouth shut when someone said or did something I thought was outright stupid, wrong, or dishonest, leading to heated confrontations. For me addressing tribal politics is simple, don't lie and have the courage to speak up when you encounter tribal politics, which, most of the time, is unethical behavior. What disgusted me most was the "you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours" practice of administrating or governing. The "you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours" is when one person helps another on condition that the second person helps them in return. This practice has harmed tribes in so many ways. And I'm not a good politician. I can't tell a person "Good job" when they are incompetent and unqualified for their position or look the other way when doing something unethical or illegal. With tribal politics deeply embedded at the college and throughout the tribe, I soon realized I had to stay one step ahead of those who were expert at it. I had one major weakness, I wasn't good at tribal politics, and as a result, I had no friends in "the right places." Fortunately, exposure to tribal politics led me to discover that I could predict what people would do, say, or act simply by observing them closely. It was a skill I picked up during my Hobo Joe years when I had to survive on my wits. And it was this ability that helped me survive tribal politics. 


I describe this ability as recognizing "patterns" in people's actions. Some patterns apply to everyone, and each person has their own unique set of patterns. People become predictable when they learn their patterns of behavior. Therefore, by closely observing people in meetings, visiting with them, or watching them from afar, their actions conveyed to me where they stood on specific issues, how they felt about certain things, and what steps they would take in certain situations. Even if they try their best to hide their true intentions, their pattern of behavior gives them away. This ability would not be possible if I didn't have a prodigious memory. When I'm in a situation where pressed to remember what happened, I can recall people's events, conversations, and past actions to the smallest detail, which helps me to predict with a high degree of certainty where a person stands on issues and what they will do next. All it takes is a person's mannerisms (patterns) to trigger my memory. Most people call this body language; I say it's body language on steroids. A more ap analogy is comparing it to a professional tracker. After observing minimal signs of an animal, a trained tracker can quickly discern the sex, weight, height, and movement characteristics of the animal he is tracking.


I also have excellent peripheral vision and can observe the individual in meetings and other settings without turning my head toward them. Most people are unaware of how easy their facial expressions are to read when they think no one is watching. 


Recognizing I had this ability was a factor in accepting the Academic Dean's position. This ability helped me navigate the politics that plagued the Dean's job. I was able to head off trouble and resolve many issues utilizing this ability. I could head off crises and fix many problems using this ability, and I used this unique ability to stay one step ahead of my distractors.


At this point, I had five years of sobriety and began to shed my self-centered Hobo Joe persona, and I began to grow into someone who enjoyed telling people what to do. I liked to problem-solve, and I didn't avoid controversy. One program director said I was arrogant and loved to argue. Maybe I was because I honestly believed that if anyone should make decisions, that person should be me. When I observed something amiss, I usually became involved in one way or another. It didn't matter what it was. It was because I dared to speak up when I observed wrongdoing. I soon started to gain enemies, and I began to spend more time alone. I may have returned to the values of my youth, but one character defect was so ingrained in me due to my alcoholism that it continued to influence my behavior long after I became sober. It was the need to get even. I had to get even if I perceived even the most minor slights. The need for revenge would drive me to great lengths to get even. I would not quit until I got even. 


My motto is "Never forgive, never forget." I often harmed myself when getting even, but I didn't care. Revenge was all that mattered. Because I was in a decision-making position or seen as influencing decision-makers, I often was blamed for political policy decisions I did not make or impact because people expected that behavior from me. This disreputable behavior continued until a great tragedy caused me to examine my behavior. And I did nothing to change that impression. Instead, I often promoted that erroneous view of who I was. I often express myself through my alter ego Hobo Joe whose values leave much to be desired. I do this to this day. 




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