November 2007 Archives

I see smart people

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Yes, we are an Indian-owned company based on the Spirit Lake Nation, providing training, research and evaluation for programs run by disability services, schools, colleges, tribal governments and businesses.

We are also, though, a technology company that offers on-line learning, statistical programming, research and database design. As such, we are always interested in staying ahead of the curve. In my personal blog, I have been known to rant about the over-abundance of stupid people on the Internet. Today, I want to talk about the opposite, really great, intelligent blogs that I have come across lately.

The 463 blogs on tech policy. Obviously, people who are interested in tech policy will most enjoy this blog, but it has more than the subject (which does happen to interest me) to recommend it.. While policy can be deathly dull, especially when taught by some of the professors I have met, it is also what shapes the future. I have a keen interest in the future because I intend to spend the rest  of my life there
I also like the writing style of this blog, where they manage to be intelligent without being impressed with themselves, example -- the detritus of the Second Annual Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is being disassembled and packed away. (Ed note: Detritus? WTF, who is this McGuire guy?)

This blog also has a link to several others I found interesting. As much as I like the blogger interface. I have found a higher proportion of blogs of interest to me outside of blogger. Am I just searching incorrectly? Or is blogger really turning into MySpace for grown-ups?

Maybe the best thing about The 463 is that they had links to other blogs that were just as interesting

The Technology Liberation Front is another blog I am going to add to my 'to-read' list. They're opinionated. I like that. Sometimes their opinions are a bit obvious, e.g., venture capitalists are looking for killer-apps and not modest investments. Other times, e.g., their criticism of Citizendium versus wikipedia make me think about an issue in a way I hadn't really considered before. It's like being involved in an intelligent conversation without having to go to the effort to converse. If you have never felt like that at the end of the day, then you probably aren't working hard enough.

The Technology and Democracy Project is a perfect fit for me as it includes a bit of everything, from how criminals could hide their on-line activity to regulations of cable companies (I skipped that article) to the increase in broadband access, which is a very relevant point for one of the grants we currently  have in progress.

So, those are my recommendations for blogs of the day. Read each of them and you may find yourself a little smarter by the end of the day, although I can't guarantee it.

Our Split Personality

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DrD.jpgWe have been planning for the last several months to split the company and go our separate ways. Oddly, the most current attempted revision of our website made it clear that a separation is inevitable. We are always trying to look at our products and services as our customers might see them. In this case, I started with the menus on our home page. We have the Caring for Our People training project for staff serving people with disabilities. We have the Family Life and Disability Series designed for people with disabilities and their families. Then, we have the Individualized Education Plan training, for parents, on guaranteeing their child's rights in special education.  I set up a tab for "Disability Staff". I set up a second tab on the menu for "Family" and a third for "People with Disabilities". So far, so good, right.

Next, we have the courageous leadership project, for training managers, new employees and entrepreneurs for business success in Native American communities. Then, we have the Ethical Training for Indian Nations project. So, I could create a third tab that says "Small Business"  or put them all together under "Leadership".

This would make sense if we were talking about leadership specifically in disability programs or ethics in disability services, but we're not. The Ethical Training Project is focused on developing more effective reservation programs and businesses through education in ethics, everything from working eight hours for eight hours' pay to not hiring your girlfriend. The Courageous Leadership project is related, discussing evaluation of employees, helping employees with no work experience to adjust to a business environment, starting a business - and how all of this requires discipline, honesty, courage and respect for oneself and others.


It is becoming clear that, over the years, we have gradually diverged into two separate businesses. One of those is focused on on-line education, parent education and working with people with disabilities and their families. The second is targeting leadership training with an emphasis on ethics.

So, rather than spend the time revising the website, I decided to leave it as is until we  split up in a few months. Then I will have the new company site with Family, Educators, Students with Disabilities, Library and Student Union.

The Spirit Lake Consulting site will then have:
Leadership Training
Small Business
New Employees
Business Library (including reference and forms)
Meeting Room

Rather than try to merge two disparate companies into one, I think it makes more sense to split and have two companies that function well in their areas of expertise. A farmer explained it to me this way,
"Sometimes it's a mistake to combine two successful business ventures. It's like when you cross a thoroughbred race horse with a sweet little donkey. All you end up with is a jack-ass. You'd be better off recognizing and accepting the differences."

I think we are on the right path, as much work as it will be in the months ahead. I think our other option is to end up as a couple of jack-asses, and no one wants to do that.

According to Marianne Jennings, 99% of employees surveyed believe that they are more ethical than the majority of their co-workers. Our own research at SLC certainly bears that out. Whenever Erich goes to a reservation and discusses our new course on Ethics the same thing will always happen. First, someone will say

"The Housing Board really needs this ethics training. Boy are they unethical."

When he talks to the housing board members, they'll say,

"The Tribal Council really needs this. You just won't believe some of the decisions they make."

Talking to the tribal council, we hear,

"This is something the Project Directors could use. Some of them really need training in ethics. It's a big problem."

It's always someone else's problem. There are many aspects of this situation I don't understand. First of all, if these are such big problems and you know about them and you haven't done anything - doesn't that make you part of the problem? Everyone likes to point at the boss who is charging the tribe for days he doesn't work or took a computer home that was tribal property.

I am having difficulty  writing up the by-stander portion of our Ethics course because I am trying to find a way to not make it sound too accusatory. I do understand that it is hard to speak up, to stand up, particularly when no one else is doing it. When you really are the most ethical person in a room, it can be a pretty lonely room (Erich has also written about that, which I need to find some place to include in the course).

Yes, it's hard, but it's not impossible.

As we say over and over in our course, major ethical violations don't occur in a vacuum. If someone is taking thousands of dollars in tribal funds or program funds, putting unqualified relatives on the payroll, missing work 50% of the time and still getting full pay, they need a lot of other people to turn a blind eye to it and pretend it never happened so they can get away with it.

I have to give Erich credit that he is really committed to trying to establish an Ethics education program on the reservations. He will be meeting with the Spirit Lake TERO Board at 5 pm November 13, on November 20 with the Spirit Lake Tribal Council, on November 21 with the Tribal School Board. He has already had one meeting with the Three Affiliated Tribes and is planning more, along with traveling to  Turtle Mountain and other reservations.

Why? This is from the home page of our Ethics course:

Ethical violations are costing tribal organizations hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Most of these costs are not from large-scale embezzlement or kickbacks on multi-million dollar contracts. Small violations on a large scale are what bleed money from tribal and federal funds. If we are ever to move from 'survival' mode to 'success' mode in Indian country, we need to address these constant, daily ethical ''cuts" to our funding that are bleeding our tribal nations. We need to heal ourselves.

We write a lot of grants here at SLC. It is expensive, time-consuming and the grants don't always get funding. If we could cut half of those small violations and increase the percentage of money going where its supposed to go and being used how it is supposed to be used, that would be millions of dollars, equivalent to getting several new grants.

AND it would be what the most ethical person in the room would do.

As I was writing our latest quarterly report for the RUSH grant, I found myself laughing out loud, something that doesn't usually happen when you write government reports. The disconnect was just too funny between the ways that textbooks and government offices expect research to be done and how it really happens on the reservation. I learned in graduate school that people are supposed to be assigned to an experimental group (in our case, who receive training) and a control group (who fills out the same tests but receives no training). Everyone is supposed to be treated the exact same way, come in at the same time and leave at the same time, getting the exact same amount of training. Here is the reality - people come in when they do. Some come late. Some leave early. A few people both come late AND leave early. People assign themselves to the experimental group or the control group because if a person doesn't want to attend the training then there is nothing anyone can do about it.

Erich and I had talked a lot about the differences between what really works and how things are 'supposed' to work in conducting research and publicizing the results of that research in a way that it benefits the community. So, when was asked if we would be interested in giving a webcast on working in Indian communities, we were all set.
Yes, we can all get along, those in the field and in academia. (I even included a picture of Erich with a faculty member from UND as photographic evidence.)

In fact, rather than ordering us to do research following a diagram (like THAT'S going to happen!) the nice folks at the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory recommended that we do a webcast on what we have found works and doesn't work. It will be a challenge for Erich and I to reduce all of those differences we have talked and laughed about down to an hour and a half. It will definitely be something different than their typical webcast, but I think we will all enjoy it and actually learn something.

Research and Dissemination in Indian Country: Indianonish, Email, and Other Surprises

a webcast by Dr. De Mars and Dr. Longie through the National Center for the Dissemination of Disability Research will be held on December 14, 2 p.m. Central Time.

To read more about this webcast,  click below

Or, go to this link to register

It is open to the public and free.
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We can gain a lot by listening to young professionals, as they haven't yet learned not to be brutally honest. Twice in the last month young people have said these exact words to me.

"No one cares about Indians."

Once was at a recent conference in California. With Native Americans, as with every other group, California dominates by sheer numbers. There are over 20 million people in California, more than the population of many countries. While Native Americans are a much greater percentage of the population in North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Arizona and a whole bunch of other states, California is the state with the largest actual number of American Indians. Still, another young woman at the same conference commented,

"When people in this state see 'native' they just kind of skip over it as not applying to them. The schools, early childhood programs, social service agencies, are all concerned about Latino children that make up 30, 50 or 80 percent of the population at that school. They don't think about the two Indian kids in their school, or that tiny school out in the desert that has 97 American Indian kids in it."

The same is true at the national level. In researching the "digital divide", that is , the difference in access to technology by race or social class, I have been reading a lot of publications lately from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. In their tables broken down by race under American Indian, they often have "not  enough information for statistical analysis."

Call it the middle child syndrome, growing up overlooked, but I find this situation intolerable. There are 2.5 million people in this country who identified themselves as American Indian in the last census. This isn't counting the 1.6 million who identified themselves as Indian and some other race. I am not so sure about them. At yet another conference, we were having a drink after the meetings and one of the people from Spirit Lake asked a gentleman we had just met, who was obviously Native American, what tribe he was from. He laughed and said,

"Well, ma'am, even though every other white person you meet says he is part Cherokee, I really AM part Cherokee!"

Even leaving all of those people whose 'grandma was a Cherokee princess' out of it, 2.5 million is a whole lot of people to ignore. As our president, Erich Longie, said in our latest edition of Miniwakan News, there is a world of difference between complaining about a problem and planning to solve it. So, here is what we are doing this month:

  • I am writing a report to Southwest Educational Development Labs, funded through a NIDRR award, on the use of information technology by people with disabilities and their families who live on reservations. This report will include recommendations on effective means of reaching those families so they can receive the services that are their rights under federal programs but which many families are unaware are even available.
  • Erich is presenting sessions on Special Education Rights at New Town High School on November 14 at 5 pm (couldn't have much more of a specific plan than that) and again at the Eight Mile Elementary School in Trenton (date to be determined soon)
  • I am completing the on-line course, Ethical Training for Indian Nations which will be offered to tribal programs in the next couple of weeks.
  • Erich and I are preparing three articles for publication; one on information technology use by tribal members with disabilities, a second on experiences with disability services of reservation families and a third on effective and ineffective means of disseminating information on residents.
  • I am preparing a presentation for a teleconference/ webcast with NCDDR on working in Indian communities.
Every time we do a presentation, publish an article, submit a report, a few more people, at least for a time, start thinking about the challenges and lessons to be learned in American Indian communities. Here is what I know now as an older professional. We make big changes happen a little at a time.