May 2010 Archives

I am working on getting the course, Orientation for Work and Personal Ethics for Tribal Workers up on the web and I am very frustrated by how well it is going.

That probably sounds strange, so let me explain. My frustration is that this is something I would really like to share with everyone who is interested, BUT, Erich and I have to pay our bills, feed our kids (well, I do, his kids are grown). My point is, we can't give away our work for free but I want to !

Of course, most organizations have a training budget and can afford to pay for training. With Erich, Willie and other Spirit Lake employees living on the reservations where training is offered, it is certainly more affordable than flying in a consultant from Washington, or flying a group of employees to San Diego. (Whether the employees would rather be flown to San Diego, that's a whole different story.)

Here is a short example from the beginning the section, "Your Family"

"Several years ago, I was an "Even Start" Director.  The Even Start Program helps families in the following areas: early childhood education, adult literacy, parenting education, and interactive parent and child literacy activities.  As the director, I was responsible for orientation of families into the program.  I started with the premise that all parents love their children.  Following this premise, I said most parents will not continue to act in a harmful manner if they TRULY understand how their behavior and/or lifestyle is harming their children.  After all, I reasoned, what parent would deliberately harm their child?  For example, if I could show parents the negative impacts sleeping until noon could have on their children, I figured they would change.  Right?  Next, is the orientation I did with Even Start parents:.... "
So ... now you know my goal for the next year, trying to find a way to make our ethics training accessible to as many people as possible.
The following excerpt comes from the Tribal Leaders' Institute course, "Introduction to Ethics on American Indian Reservations"...

In her book "The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse", Marianne Jennings discusses

Myth #1: There Is Nothing To It

Those who fall victim to this misconception believe that changing ethical performance is easy.  They are seriously mistaken.  Acting normal can be a tough task, as you've probably discovered when you tried to do the right thing in the face of peer pressure or were punished for telling the truth.  At times, you will be called upon to put aside your self-interest to meet the needs of others, to stand alone, and to endure criticism.  You could risk losing your job because you "aren't a team player" or because you have to bring organizational wrongdoing to the attention of outside authorities.  (Johnson, 2007)

student and teacher

I can think of examples on two different reservations. Both of these individuals tried to take a stand against unethical behavior, enforce policies and procedures.  In one instance, a tribal judge stood up against attempts by the tribal council to interfere in court cases.  In the other, a school administrator tried to enforce policies and procedures.  Teachers who came late or were unprepared for their classes were reprimanded.  Students who skipped class and swore at their teachers were warned and then suspended.  Both of these people ended up losing their jobs.  There were no accusations against them of being incompetent or unethical.  Simply, people went to the tribal council or others over their heads and complained that they had lost a court case, been fired or their child been suspended.  When the time came for renewal of these two individuals' contracts, they were out of a job.


I had not worked on that course in over a year and had not given this story much thought until I came across it today. The first time I read it, it was merely a story.

Well, a few weeks ago, I resigned as a board president. There had been no accusations of me being incompetent or unethical. Simply, a number of people wanted positions for which I did not believe they were qualified and I refused to appoint them to those positions or give them promotions I truly did not believe they deserved. When people threatened and attempted to bully me, I refused to back down. Our versions of "Joe the Tribal Worker" and "John the Board Member" made deals with enough people to have me removed as president. Rather than agree to work with them, I resigned.

So, is the moral of the story here that ethics doesn't pay? No, I think that the moral is, as the title of that section of the Introductory course states it is a myth that there is "nothing to" ethical change.

I had a great many well-wishers call or email and tell me what a great job I had done as board president and how disgusted they were with the actions of  "Joe" and his comrades. I also had several call to "cheer me up". While I appreciated their efforts, the truth is, I did not need any cheering up at all.

I know that I acted as ethically as I could throughout the situation. Some people suggested that I could have compromised more and kept the position. This is true and it was my decision NOT to compromise. Those people who argued that I did the wrong thing, that I let down the organization by refusing to compromise my principles so I could stay "in power", I respectfully disagree. I think those kinds of arguments, although they may be truly well-meaning, are how people justify unethical behavior.

It is like Erich says in another part of the course,

"Lying and stealing is wrong. It isn't that complicated."

Promoting people who are unqualified is wrong. Putting people in positions they did not earn over other people who DO have the qualifications is wrong.

My choice was to be president of a board the majority of whose members were dishonest, self-serving and cowardly or to walk away.

So I walked.

And it feels great.