Why I Would Vote for Willie Davis
I was impressed with Willie before I even met him. I was at a conference for CANAR (the Consortia of Administrators for Native American Rehabilitation) and some of the people from the Turtle Mountain Vocational Rehabilitation Project were talking about this counselor, Willie. The director of the Turtle Mountain project, Donna Thomas, had a reputation for running one of the best organized VR programs on any reservation and the staff were recognized as being extremely committed. I thought,
"If these are the kind of people who are impressed with him, this Davis guy must really be something."
Then, I met him. The funny thing is, no one had mentioned Willie used a wheelchair. His character - commitment, competence - stood out so much you kind of forgot the whole disability thing. It was really secondary.
But let's talk about that because it does reveal something about his character. When he was a teenager, Willie was a pretty good athlete, all set to go off to the University of North Dakota. Then, he was in a car accident which left him paraplegic (I think that's the correct term).
Correct term or not, the point is, many people in this situation would have used the excuse to feel sorry for themselves, blame other people or society for not being accessible, go on disability, stay home and that would be the end of it. I've seen the same story written that way many times.
Well, I guess Willie didn't like the ending of that story so he wrote his own. He went to the University of North Dakota anyway and graduated. He had the usual jobs people have when they graduate, worked in administration at the tribal college, for tribal housing for a while. Then, he found his real calling working for the vocational rehabilitation program, helping young people move from high school to work or college.
He became politically active, supporting getting his tribe to adopt the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Turtle Mountain Reservation implemented full inclusion of students in special education before it was required by law (thanks in large part to Gaylene Belgarde) and then the tribe followed a decade or so later by adopting ADA, in large part because of Willie Davis.
I've heard Willie say many times,
"It's about the cause, not the applause."
Whether it is for Native Americans or individuals with disabilities, Willie has always had that same ethic of working for the good of the people who is paid to serve and not to get more recognition or prestige for himself. When he received the Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor of the Year award he told me that he was a little embarrassed because he felt the award should rightly go to the whole program and recognize all of the people who worked for the tribal members.
In years of working with Willie, he has always spoken with moral authority. He speaks the truth even when it might make people uncomfortable. His biggest issue has been getting people jobs - that's how he came to work with Spirit Lake Consulting, Inc., which has hired many people over the years on different reservations. One of his interests in getting us to come to TMCC was that we would pay stipends to participants who were project testers, pay for meals at the college cafeteria - in short, bring business on to the reservation.
Now, Willie is exploring business development opportunities for the reservation.
Gee, someone who is honest, respected, hard-working, focused on bringing jobs. I don't know if America is ready for a person like that to hold public office - but I'd like to find out!
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