September 2008 Archives

A few years ago, when my best friend of over twenty years met my new husband, she asked,
"So, does she still re-evaluate her entire life every day?"

My husband laughed and said,
"At least, sometimes two or three times a day."

Today, I read an article by Alexander Astin where he discussed the change in attitude of college freshmen from the 1970s to the present. He said that, while, in the 1970s, the goal of most college students was to develop a meaningful philosophy of life, that the current generation of college students is far more likely to give their motivation for college as "To make a great deal of money."

I have never understood that motivation. Don't get me wrong, I am not living in a mud hut and going hungry. Still, the attitude that whoever has the most stuff has the better life is one that has always confused me.

Regularly, I go through my house and throw things out. The photo above is the "before" picture of my third daughter's trophies. Today, she threw a lot of them in the dumpster. She said,
"What matters isn't something somebody gave me. What matters is the training and that I was the best at that tournament at that time."

Yes, I was one of those college students in the 1970s, and I do think a meaningful philosophy of life is more important than making a whole lot of money. Figuring out what is important in life matters more than having more toys than the neighbors.

If what matters to you is understanding life, determining what you value, and you spend a lot of thought and effort over the years, I don't think you will come to the conclusion that,

"What is really important to me is having a new SUV. In fact, I think I will lie on my timesheet, take home equipment from work and put my three kids on the payroll so I have enough money to get it. Yeah, that's the true meaning of life, a shiny red SUV. "

Maybe if, as Astin recommends, we put more effort into our "interior" life than our exterior of what we own and what we wear, we would lead more meaningful, ethical lives.

As my husband and friend can attest, I am still working on the real meaning of life. Once I have it down, I'll post it here.
Today, Erich was talking about a non-Indian friend of his who mentioned using the traditional Dakota ethics in solving a problem she had in her own life. I got to thinking about how the principles in the Tribal Leaders course are really universal. Let me give you an example very far from the reservation.

In my spare time, I volunteer as a judo coach. I was also, when I was much younger, the world judo champion, and the third of my four daughters competes internationally. In fact, she just won a bronze medal in the Olympics in Beijing.

One national judo organization, USA Judo, had a member of its board of directors,  who has had multiple athletes sign notarized affidavits, some of them depositions sworn under oath, saying that he had provided them drugs and had sex with them when they were  sixteen years old and younger.  I have personally read no less than SIX affidavits by athletes stating that this person gave them drugs and/or had sex with them.

Years later, as often happens in molestation cases, more people came forward. They were told "You had 180 days to file a complaint and you didn't do it."

Think about that a second... so if you are molested at age twelve or sixteen years old you have six months to come forward or the person gets off scot-free !

You can read a great deal more about this case in one of the many articles by the New York Times:

Claims of molestation resurface for judo official

Judo official resigns amid claims of molestation

and there have been literally hundreds of comments on it on the main Internet message board for judo,
The Judo Forum

After the first article in the New York Times came out, as reported by the Associated Press, the board member in question resigned.

At some point, you would think that the organization, USA Judo, would conduct an investigation. Seriously, imagine yourself Joe Board Member. First, you get several affidavits saying that your fellow board member has molested young athletes and provided them with drugs and alcohol. What do you do? What USA Judo did was require that the young athletes provide sworn depositions under oath and fly thousands of miles to testify in person.  Some of the athletes happened to actually be at the event were not even notified a hearing was being held. When they did not show up (in some cases, they were literally a hundred yards away), the charges were dismissed for "lack of evidence".

Years later, when more people came forward saying they had been molested or had knowledge of other players being molested they were told

"We have received no written documents."

When they received written documents, the board members then said,

"We have no complaints filed under oath in accordance with our procedures"... and so on.

Why does this happen? I believe it falls on what is one of the foremost values discussed in the Tribal Leaders training - courage .

As Jim Thompson, founder of the Positive Coaching Alliance says in his (rather long) podcast on ethics in youth sports, - "As hard as it is to stand up to your enemies, it is even harder to stand up to your friends."

Even after Fletcher Thornton resigned from the Board of Directors after articles appeared in HUNDREDS of publications about the many allegations of drugging and sexually molesting athletes, his fellow board members and the Executive Director of the organization continued to hide behind technicalities.


My belief is that they are afraid. They are afraid that they will be liable if they admit there was a cover-up years ago. They are afraid that after thirty years on the same board that Fletcher will have some "dirt" on them. Fletcher has bullied and blustered a lot of people, just like much of the problems Erich discusses in the tribal leaders course. People are intimidated.

Courage is hard. People are scared. They are scared they will lose their jobs, that unethical decisions they have made over the past few years will become public. Why not just cover it up? The victims were already harmed, nothing the board does will un-molest them - right?

The Cost of Cowardice

The U.S. has never won a medal in the Olympics in judo until this year, in China. Who won it? My daughter, Ronda, who was the person who posted on the Internet the latest revelations about Fletcher Thornton .

What about the rest of the sport? The week before the Olympic Trials, USA Judo was still calling around the country trying to find enough people to even compete. In the recent junior world trials, to select the team for the junior world championships, there were only THREE people competing in the 90 kg (198) pound division. They could not find more than three men in America under age 20 who even wanted to TRY to compete for the U.S. in the junior world championships. There was ONE woman in the heavyweight division.... and so on.

If your organization is unethical, you may not get sued. You may not be closed down like Enron and have your CEO imprisoned. What probably happens more often is that people vote with their feet, like happened to the judo organization. They don't organize protests or go to board meetings to demand your resignation. They simply go do something else - basketball, soccer, gardening.

Can this happen on the reservation, too? It's unlikely that people will go to another reservation, right? Unlikely, but not impossible. More likely, they decide to work with another organization. If the Head Start program is unethical, those motivated, capable parents you want to support you go work with the elementary school where they also have a child enrolled, and volunteer there instead. How many programs on the reservations have failed because  of lack of community support, lack of participation, lack of volunteers?

What happens to unethical programs? Sooner or later, support is withdrawn and they fail.

If you are lacking in the ethical values, people may not stand against you, but they certainly won't stand for you.
judo forum Camp - 2008 058.jpg

I was reading an article on the Cherokee Nation constitutional convention today. It was part of the very, very, very extensive resources on the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development. I have to admit that I had an ulterior motive. As a volunteer, I am the vice-president of the United States Judo Association. There are several judo organizations and in a nutshell I can just say that the larger and more formal they are, the more dysfunctional they are. The official governing body that selects the Olympic team has a board member who has had complaints of sexual abuse, sexual harassment, been charged with carrying a concealed weapon, and this person for years, while all of this was going on, oversaw the ETHICS COMMITTEE! I thought perhaps reading up on political science could provide me suggestions on how to work with these organizations and develop some kind of ethical behavior.

As I read the article by Eric Lemont, Overcoming the Politics of Reform:  The Story of the 1999
Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma Constitutional Convention
, I have to admit that I became progressively more discouraged about my own volunteer organizations. It isn't that Lemont's article was a story of failure. On the contrary, the challenges overcome by the efforts of members of the Cherokee nation were great. Many times, I found myself nodding in recognition of the complete disregard for policies, procedures and any sense of fair play in the tactics that brought about the constitutional crisis. My discouragement came from the realization that this was such hard work and just such a long, time-consuming process.

After reading this article, I read the latest post on Dr. Longie's blog, Dakota Hoksina (and don't make fun of me if I spelled that incorrectly, my grandparents immigrated from islands in the Caribbean, which is about as far from Sioux as you can be without leaving the planet or moving to China).

Anyway ... Erich's point in his blog is it takes effort to be ethical. He made the point explicitly that Lemont made implicitly, that is, it's hard to bring about ethical change. It can make you unpopular. It can require changes in yourself. Ethical change is hard and it's a long process. It is not a matter of simply reading a book on Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

When I faced up to the realization of the effort and commitment change in these volunteer institutions would required, I began to ask myself, "Do I want this change badly enough to devote this time and effort? Would I be better of spending my time on different causes?" For example, there is an organization called Circle of Friends that the students in my graduate course on research and statistics will be evaluating as a community service project. Maybe I should volunteer at my child's school or my church.

Here is the point, the question I asked myself and you need to ask yourself:

"How important is ethical change in this organization or community to me REALLY?"

Do you care enough about a dysfunctional school board to try to change it? If not, what DO you care enough about?

I don't believe there is a single right answer to that last question. The only wrong answer I can think of is, "Nothing." 
I'm Back, Did You Miss Me?
After having retired, laying on the beach, starting another company and taking another job, I am back. What happened? Well, as often happens in corporations, I retired and was hired back part-time on a subcontract.  I will be the technical specialist on the new Tribal Leaders Institute.

Traditionally, stealing, dishonesty, and disrespect toward elders were not socially acceptable in Indian country:
"Among the Dakotas lying and stealing from other tribal members was a capital offense. A person who was capable of lying was believe to be capable of committing other cowardly crimes against the tribe and was put to death to prevent the evil from doing more harm. If a person stole from another tribal member he was forever after called Wamanon (thief) and this distinction followed him for the rest of his life"

(1911The Soul of the Indian: An Interpretation  by Charles A. Eastman)

Over $2 billion dollars are appropriated each year for the Operation of Indian Programs by the Department of the Interior alone (H.R. 5386, 2006). This figure does not include billions of dollars that come into each reservation through grant funds from other agencies, private philanthropy, the $14.1 billion (Abrams, 2003) brought in from tribal gaming or other tribal enterprises. Much of this money never reaches its intended recipients, being lost through expense accounts being used for personal benefit and payment of individuals for hours they did not work. Ethical violations are costing tribal organizations hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Most of these costs are not in large-scale embezzlement or kick-backs on multi-million dollar contracts. Small violations on a large scale are what bleed money from tribal and federal funds.

"A staple of storytelling in Indian Country has to do with political interference in business activity.  Over and over one hears of voided leases, hired or fired cousins, politicized management, and enterprises drained of funds by tribal council interference." (Cornell & Kalt, 2005).

Just think what could be done with millions of dollars more in funding. If those ethical violations could be reduced by a very significant amount, it would be like giving every reservation several extra grants.

In a nutshell, that is what the Tribal Leaders Institute is all about. My part of it will be to create the technical side - wikispaces, podcasts, forum, blogs, web pages, while Erich's will be the content. It should be fun.

Stay tuned for further information.