October 2008 Archives

Not-just-tribal ethics

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As the technical specialist on the new Tribal Leaders Institute Project, I have read a lot of information lately about tribal ethics. To give you a sneak preview, Erich has written a lot about the four Dakota values of honesty, generosity, courage and perseverance. He and I were discussing an incident completely unrelated to any tribe, except possibly the Northern Cheyenne - I became president of the United States Judo Association this week.

In explaining how it came about, I invoked the four Dakota values as well as other aspects of the in-progress Tribal Ethics course. Erich wanted to know if not all of the people in the organization were completely above-board how did I end up being president anyway.

Honesty - first of all, there are a good number of honest people in the USJA. I like to believe that a lot of them voted for me. When our corporate counsel was asked about who becomes president in the case of a resignation, he rendered an honest opinion, backed by references to precedent and by-laws.

Law and order  - although this is not one of the four virtues, it is a topic discussed at length in the ethics courses, on the Tribal Leaders Council and on the Spirit Lake Forum. The USJA has a set of written by-laws. One of the points Erich makes over and over in the five courses in the Tribal Leaders Institute is the necessity of having written policies IMG_0651.JPGand procedures, due process and job descriptions. We have even started an electronic filing cabinet that includes sample letters to employees who have violoated policies, sample attendance policies and other documents. The USJA by-laws clearly stated in more than one location that the vice-president succeeds the president.

I really want to emphasize this key point - have written documentation made it EASIER for our corporate counsel who is an honest, law-abiding person to make the right choices and have those backed up.

Courage - Sometimes I think maybe a person can have too much courage. I have never been reluctant to say or do what I thought was right. Sometimes that gets me into trouble, but that's a blog for another day. In this case, though, I knew I was right and was not about to back down. Was that unpopular with some people who would have rather had someone less outspoken, more male or just not me as president? Sure. Did people say unflattering things about me and others who supported me? Yep. Some people who supported me because they thought it was right had to have the courage to stand up to their friends.

Erich is always telling me that a key, very important feature of the Tribal Leaders Institute is that it is TRIBAL, that it is focused on the problems, challenges and opportunities unique to reservations. He is right about that.

Not to disregard his message, but the fact is, values and teachings that have lasted thousands of years, probably have somewhat universal application.

Oh, and what does judo have to do with the Northern Cheyenne? Senator Benjamin Nighthorse Campbell, in 1964, represented the United States as a member of the Olympic judo team. So, now you know the rest of the story.