May 2023 Archives





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. Sitting on the Board of Regents, I soon became familiar with tribal politics. I saw the vital role tribal members played in the governance of those entities, how each entity governs itself, and those they served. Fortunately, the Dakota values my mom taught me were resurfacing after six years of sobriety. These values helped me recognize unethical conduct in the workplace and in tribal government.

We jokingly call this unethical behavior tribal politics. Participation in tribal politics inclines to corrupt 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. People ignore or tamper with the housing list and often award contracts to their favorite contractors without going through the bid process and paying them 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 receive help 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 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 na├»ve, 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 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. Unscrupulous tribal members often put personal differences to form coalitions to achieve their crooked goals. The membership of these coalitions is fluid, changing members depending on the issue. There seem to be one or two tribal members who stay members of these coalitions, regardless of how often the coalition evolves. This practice has slowed or halted the tribe's progress toward self-sufficiency. This is when I discovered I'm not an adept 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. However, I had one major weakness: not having the "skills" needed to become good at tribal politics, I had no friends in "the right places," and I had to find other methods to be successful. Fortunately, exposure to tribal politics led me to discover that I could predict what people would do, say, or act simply by studying them. It was a skill I honed 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 I learn their patterns of behavior. Therefore, by scrutinizing people in meetings, visiting with them, or watching them from afar, their actions and words 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 pressed to remember what happened, I can recall people's events, conversations, and past actions to the smallest detail, which helps me predict where a person stands on issues and what they will do next. All it takes is a person's mannerisms or speaking (patterns) to trigger my memory. Most people call this body language. I say it's body language on steroids. A more app 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 individuals 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 could head off trouble and resolve many crises by utilizing this ability. This unique ability kept me one step ahead of my detractors.

At this point, I had five years of sobriety, and I began to shed my self-centered Hobo Joe persona, and I grew 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 believed that if anyone should decide on an issue, that person should be me. When I observed something amiss, I usually became involved. It didn't matter what it was. Because I dared to speak up when I observed wrongdoing, I soon gained enemies and began to spend more time alone. I may have returned to the values of my youth. Still, one character defect was so ingrained in me because of 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 simply would not quit until I got even.

My motto was "Never forgive, never forget." And I often harmed myself when getting even, but I didn't care. I was like a boxer who didn't mind taking punches as long as he could land one in return. Revenge was all that mattered. Because I was in a decision-making position or seen as a person who influenced decision-makers, people often blamed me for unpopular political policy decisions I did not make because people expected that behavior from me. 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. This disreputable behavior continued until the great tragedy of losing my son caused me to examine my behavior. Still, sometimes, this need for revenge overrides all other emotions. Mom used to say, "Revenge is a dish best-served cold."

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