The Five Biggest Ethical Issues on the Reservations

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Over two years ago, we wrote a proposal for a Small Business Innovation Research grant. As part of that proposal, we conducted a survey of leaders on several reservations asking what they considered the biggest ethical issues on the reservation. In our Introduction to Ethical Issues on Indian Reservations course, we asked this same question again to 87 people who took the course, either on-line or in tribal college computer labs. We received a total of 223 problems listed (each person could list up to five). The results are shown below.

I was surprised to see that alcohol & drug use was not higher, surprised enough that I checked the answers again, but sure enough, these were the true figures. Coming in at number one was the problem of "not working full hours being paid". Our 87 people mentioned this over 60 times in almost as many different ways.

  • "Absenteeism"
  • "being on time  leaving early   not showing up for appointments"
  • "Chronic tardiness"
  • "getting paid for unworked hours"
  • "Doing other extracurricular things rather than the intended work at work and during working hours. "

Some answers went into more than one category. For example, "falsifying time cards" was counted under both dishonesty and not working full hours.

The second big winner (loser?) in the ethical issues arena was not following policies. Examples of this ranged from simple, one-word answers to much greater detail. Some answers, like the first one below, fell into the "dishonesty" category as well. 

  • "Diverting program resource to family and friends. This practice is one of the most common and the most harmful.  Honest, decent tribal worker who struggle to make ends meet by coming to work every day are dishearten to see another tribal member supplement his/her income by using program resources to pay their family expenses when they are barely making it on their salary.  This practice is probably what turns an honest worker into a dishonest worker. "
  • "Workers not following chain of command crying to tribal council for anything if they don't get their way."
The one-word answer we heard the most? Favoritism.

I hear so many people complaining about the problems with drugs and alcohol that I really thought there would be more answers like this one.

"Alcoholism is unethical because nothing good ever came from it, and it destroys many people's lives and so many people are affected negatively from the effects of alcohol use.  About 3 out of 4 people from my reservation are affected negatively from alcohol and all that is associated with use of alcohol"

I wasn't surprised not working full hours was a problem, but I was not expecting it to come in this far ahead of alcohol. I know that alcoholism is a big problem. I wonder if it is not seen as an ethical problem but more as something else - a health problem, a unique problem in itself. Or it just may be that people are more concerned that teachers aren't in classrooms, the road crew isn't clearing the snow and the clinic has no nurses because certain people only work when it suits them.

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