MHA Nation Final Two – Write it out. Paper Debate. Published MHA Times 10.13.14

Damon Williams (top left) and Mark Fox (bottom left) agree to a paper debate with me (right)

Damon Williams (top left) and Mark Fox (bottom left) agree to a paper debate with me (right)

I’ve done a good share of work at getting policy around issues developed and getting people to elected office. This world, especially in tribal politics can be one that is most polarized, charred earth landscape I have ever experienced. In the world of tribal politics much can be done in four years and all that can change with a new administration. The prevailing narrative in tribal elections is very much a good vs. evil fight where there is profound mischaracterization of the other and side stories of why candidates are not good enough to lead.

In the middle of this arena is an enormous number of our members who our educators, parents, students, common people who want a different conversation about governance, for whom a new form of leadership is critical. Chairman Candidates Mark Fox and Damon Williams hope to take on this role. Are they ready? We need leaders who will move past the polarized and articulate and fight for new possibilities. We need leaders who are not afraid to name power, who seek solutions with community, who read history and who pay attention to what the data is telling us about who is and is not thriving in our current governance system. We need leaders whose deepest commitment is to those with the least power and the most to lose—our CHILDREN. These leaders must be brave.

Voters made their decision during our tribal primary on the top two candidates. Both are attorneys, both are family men, both who have vowed a commitment to the people of the great Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation. I for one, have not made a decision as of this writing. I had a few questions for our chairman candidates, narrowed down to six questions. I want to thank Mark Fox (MF) and Damon Williams (DW) for providing responses given word limits and deadlines. I know if the opportunity to give voice to these questions, the candidates would be willing. These answers are unedited. Thank you again for responding and good luck gentlemen in the general election.

  1. What are three priorities you believe would have the greatest impact on improving the lives of all of our members?

MF:     Although we have many needs to prioritize and address on Fort Berthold, I share the following.

  1. We have to develop and utilize tribal resources and revenue in the most effective way to improve the standard of living for ALL our membership; regardless of who you are or where you live. Too many of our people have been ignored or “left out” when it comes tribal policy or benefit programs. We will soon have enough revenue to LEAVE NO ONE BEHIND! This should mean increased assistance to help our people deal with day to day life, and the difficulties they face. By properly managing our resources, the tribal government can provide free of charge important things such as education, health care, and basic necessities. Using our resources more effectively also means protecting and preserving for future use the tribes most valuable resources: the land, water, and our people.
  2. Improve our tribes’ current fiscal management system, assure accountability to constituents, and maximize return on investment to generate additional revenue we can then utilize for beneficial programs and disbursement to members of our nation. We must design and implement an effective means of assessing the needs of our people and then prioritize our expenditure policy to meet those needs! Through communication and input by the people, our Tribal Business Council will fiscally manage our assets in the most positive and impacting manner. In simplest terms: we cut the waste and improve how our government spends our tribal revenue on behalf of the people!
  3. The third and most important priority is to change and REFORM our tribal government! Our current system of government is plagued by mismanagement, corruption, and self-dealing activity as a direct result of TOO MUCH POWER IN THE HANDS OF THE FEW! We must change how our government operates by increasing the number of those responsible for making decisions, incorporating true separation of powers (3 branches) and checks and balances, while establishing a government that is more deliberate and transparent, responsive to the needs of the people, costs less to operate, and prioritizes revenue expenditures for direct benefits (e.g. peoples fund, per capita payments, affordable housing, etc).

DW: One of our main priorities is to complete is an overall and detailed analysis of the Tribe’s finances. We must know where we are at financially in terms of both tribal revenue and expenditures. After completion of the analysis, we must institute a change in our overall budget policies to move most our current revenue into special trust accounts for future generations. Historically, the Tribe has operated within a funding system where most of our revenue was derived from the federal government. In that system, we had to spend 100% of our funding in order to qualify for the same funding in the next fiscal year.

Today, we are moving beyond the federal-only funding system to one where most of our funding is generated by oil and gas tax revenue. We can still save and invest sixty (60%) percent of our oil and gas revenue for the benefit of our future generations while maintaining a general fund budget to meet all our current needs. We must create special trust accounts to fund critical tribal programs: education, healthcare, housing, elders, veterans, infrastructure, environmental, cultural preservation and future community projects. These trust funds will generate interest income in perpetuity to meet those critical needs that we as a tribe hold as sacred and vital. Further, we will protect the Special Trust Accounts from the tribal council intrusion through use of a provision that requires a referendum vote of the people to utilize the Special Trust Accounts for any other purpose.

The second priority is a true revision of the Tribe’s Constitution. In the past and in the current election, the Chairman / candidates have dictated to the members what the changes to the constitution and our government should be. Their own egos and personal interests motivate these proposed changes, and those changes to our government system are representative of the true will of the membership. As Chairman, I will have the first Tribal Constitutional Convention where all members can participate whether in person or remotely via available technology, and they will decide what our constitution should be. We will utilize experts in constitutional law and tribal constitutional revision to serve as facilitators to the membership in their deliberations. We can begin with the 2006 Draft Constitution that is already in existence. In the first quarter of 2015, the Tribal Constitutional Convention will convene and the people will discuss issues that have promised by the past and current Chairman and candidates: separation of powers, referendum, enrollment, representation, delineation of the actual powers of tribal business council, protection of individual and landowner rights and others.

After the First Convention has reviewed, discussed and approved each Article of the Draft Constitution, we will send out the new draft to each enrolled member for review and comment. After a sixty (60) day review, the Tribal Constitutional Convention will reconvene and go over the comments / issues. At the end of the Convention, the members participating will vote to move the finished document out to the entire membership for a Secretarial Election. If the Secretarial Election approves the proposed Constitution, we will have a new Tribal Constitution by the end of 2015. This is the only way we will have real reform of our government and we will finally see the birth of the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation.

 

The third priority I am proposing that will have the most impact on all our members is the return of the minerals beneath Lake Sakakawea back to the heirs of the original Allottees. When our lands were flooded in 1950’s, our members and our tribe lost much of our identity and we were irreparably harmed socially, culturally and economically. The return of those mineral interests back to the heirs will give back what does not belong to the Tribe. We cannot treat our own members in the same manner that the Federal Government has treated us as a Tribe and as Indian people.

  1. Our citizens often debate oil production on a scale ranging from the financial benefit of least restrictive drilling efforts to prioritizing environmental protection as the primary goal. Do you believe there is a balance, and if so, what does that balance look like?

MF:      I am a staunch advocate of what I refer to as “Responsible Development” for oil and gas production on Fort Berthold. By sitting down with the oil industry and figuring out together how to continue development in such a way as to least endanger the environment and ensure that our children and grandchildren have a safe and healthy place to live!!! Fossil fuel development in western ND has a limited life, and we must demand that oil industry respect the fact that our people will be living here long after the oil is gone! Those who wish to continue business with our tribe and reservation must understand that they must make long-term commitments to invest in protecting our land, water, people, and way of life! Acceptance by industry of our people’s desire to protect our environment not only guarantees a place to live for our younger generations, but will ensure that long-term oil/gas development will continue because we are doing it RESPONSIBLY! This is the BALANCE we must have, which will allow our people to continue to enjoy royalty as well as other economic opportunities, without sacrificing the beautiful land we call Home!

DW: As a government, we have a duty to use our regulatory authority to ensure the responsible development of the Reservation. We cannot continue to enact ordinances and regulations without proper study and technical knowledge. The membership should demand a Chairman who understands what and how tribal laws & regulations should work, but also that person have an understanding that we must balance the tribal interests with the individual interests of the tribal membership at large.

One of the most fundamental flaws of our current government is that there is no remedy against the tribal government for when the government harms an individual member. You cannot regulate and harm the membership with impunity without ruling our tribe as a dictatorship. In meeting and talking to our membership on and off the reservation, they have shared their concerns, distrust and overall disgust of our tribal government and same old recycled leadership. We can only protect our people and our lands with a Chairman that is untainted by political favors to the past administration and industry influence. We must have a Chairman who doesn’t speak in half-truths and misrepresent themselves for personal or political gain. We must demand a Chairman who knows the law and is willing to make all those who work for the people to act in a fair and lawful manner.

  1. Many families on our reservation have been disrupted by intergenerational trauma and substance abuse. What do you view as the best way to help our families and communities to be empowered to take ownership of breaking the cycle of dysfunction? Are there programs already doing this work?

MF: Some programs have been doing a good job for decades, and we need to commend them and support their continued efforts. But the advent of the oil boom has brought additional hardship and burdens in contending with our nation’s problem with substance abuse. To date, our tribal government has failed in responding to this latest challenge. Our tribal nation’s revenue increases daily, but currently our government does not prioritize at a level necessary to combat substance abuse and make an actual difference! If I’m elected, this will change! Not only will we strategize and improve effective outreach and prevention, but we will focus on major initiatives such as building our own Drug Treatment Center and supporting programs that have a significant impact to reduction of drug and alcohol abuse! But it starts with the tribal government itself and leading by example of the change we seek! This includes mandatory drug-testing, starting with the Tribal Business Council, and all those who are employed by our doing business on behalf of our nation!

DW: The only way the tribal government can really begin to empower and assist in healing our people is to allocate real resources to combat these societal issues. We can use our resources to employ more trained law enforcement and station those officers in our communities. We can improve our court system to allow for alternative sentencing in order to give our at-risk membership a chance at improving their lives.

We must build a modern treatment facility on our reservation that can begin the healing process of those addicted members and their families. It begins with a real understanding of what is happening to our members and a desire to make actual change happen. We must move back to a humble style of leadership that encompasses an approach of bring all our members back to the Path of the People instead of the type of governance that is driven by an ego driven “me” first mentality.

Most of the employees in the tribal programs that work in those areas are trying to meet the demands of those positions: law enforcement, tribal health, social services, CHR, mental health and Tribal Court. However, those programs need to know both financially and morally that we support them and their efforts. It seems tragically ironic that the past and current management of the Tribe talk about supporting those departments and their employees, yet consistently fail to support them and their efforts year after year. All those agencies except for key political appointees are underfunded and underpaid by the Tribe and at times crucified for doing their jobs. If we are going to really tackle these issues for the betterment of our members, we must remember that those front-line individuals need our support and encouragement each and every day because the jobs they do are not easy and often emotionally draining. We owe each of those individuals who work in those departments a great deal of thanks for their commitment to the their jobs and their communities.

  1. When there is such a rapid rate of change it should be no surprise that the MHA Nation’s citizens will question our elected leaders about the measure of their communication and accountability. Regardless of who votes for you, you will be everyone’s leader if elected. What actions will you take to respond to the curiosity and inquiries of the citizens to maintain their confidence in fulfilling your duties?

MF: Communication and accountability to its constituents is at the core of what is necessary for good governance! It is the responsibility of the Tribal Business Council to keep our membership informed as to ALL aspects of what our government is doing! Transparency is essential to this process! Tribal members should have the opportunity to understand our tribal budget (and participate in its formulation), revenues received, expenditures made, government actions contemplated, and all business activities being conducted or proposed! This responsibility can be supported by quarterly financial reports, broadcasting and recording of all TBC meetings for those who cannot attend, community forums, and dissemination of information by publication and internet! This will help build the confidence of our people in our tribal government system, as well as address their basic right to be informed!

DW: We begin by actually communicating with all the membership as to how our governments operates by disclosing the annual budget and quarterly statements as to how our tribal funds are be utilized. The level of secrecy used by our past chairman cannot work when we are now dealing with billions of the people’s money instead of just hay bales and tribal vehicles. The Chairman must realize that he works for the people and the people do not work for him.

As Chairman, we will provide a referendum vote provision that will protect each of the Special Trust Accounts we create to provide funding in perpetuity for our critical programs. If the current or future leadership of our tribe attempt to borrow, encumber or use any of the interest income or principles of the Special Trust Accounts for any other purpose without the membership’s approval, the people will be able to stop such actions through injunction or lawsuit. We must protect ourselves from ourselves when we are dealing with the amount of money the Tribe is forecasted to receive in the coming years.

The Tribe must also provide a referendum approval process to allow the membership the right to approve any expenditure or investment that exceeds a certain threshold. Large investments or purchases that use the membership’s money must have their approval before any type of action is approved by the Tribal Business Council or entered into by the Chairman. We must engage real expertise to help protect and make our tribal revenues grow for the benefit of all current and future tribal members.

Finally, we will enforce the ethics ordinance upon all elected and appointed officials. As a licensed attorney, I must follow all laws, whether state, federal or tribal. Personal & professional ethics and simply refraining from potential conflicts of interest should not have to be written into laws for our Chairman to act and govern appropriately. As an attorney, I have had to operate under a stricter set of rules then our Tribal Ethics Ordinance for my entire career. I will advocate that all our leadership adhere to a higher standard of ethics to regain the trust and confidence of the membership.

  1. There are two ways to look at self-determination. One is simply under PL 638 where we have a trust relationship with our federal trustee. The other is our ability to exercise our ancestral rights of self-rule to identify, organize and act as a nation. What changes, if any, in our current system of governance would you support making?

MF: It is my position that we need to radically-change our mind set and perception as a tribe what “self-determination” means for our people! We must continue to hold the federal government’s “feet to the fire” to fulfill its trust obligation, to compensate us for what has been taken away from us as an indigenous nation. But we must also accept the fact that the federal government will NEVER take full measure to reestablish what our nation once had, but lost due to failed federal policy! Our government and people must stop waiting for rectification to happen!

We must begin to take BOLD steps to become a nation whose future depends on itself and not others! That means re-gaining and re-assuming our OWN economy, especially in light of the recent oil/gas development that exploded on our lands! We must position ourselves to export our own products and commodities to outside markets, and generate our own energy by incorporating and developing technologies for RENEWABLE sources! We must learn to grow and consume our own food including mass farm products and processing our own beef from local tribal ranchers! And we must take sound measures to establish our own credit and financial systems of capital, while spurring opportunities for individual tribal business development! We must become the leader and prominent example to Indian Country in what it means to be a sovereign nation that truly determines the course of its own growth and prosperity!

DW: We must seek a balance between our legal rights as a Sovereign Indian Nation and those responsibilities owed to us by the Federal Government. It is too easy to just say we are sovereign and ignore the huge debt owed to us by the United States. We cannot disregard all resources available to our Tribe in order to address all issues affecting our membership and our lands.

The lack of sufficient federal funding and the real impact of societal problems on Fort Berthold require the Tribe to appropriate its own funds to address these issues. We need more qualified law enforcement to help protect our people and our communities. We also need to treat those who protect our families with their lives as valuable members of our communities. We need to build and operate a full-scale drug and alcohol treatment facility on the reservation to help treat and heal our at-risk membership. We need to protect our lands through real environmental regulation and enforcement. We also need to protect and encourage the preservation of the language and culture of all three tribes. All these activities and others will require sufficient tribal funds to address immediately and into the future.

At the same time, the federal government also must bear some or most of those costs with regard to our lands and our people. Healthcare, Environmental and Criminal enforcement, Illegal Drug enforcement and any current federal duty must be enforced to its statutory and legal mandate. We must continue to push, demand and litigate if the federal trustee does not meet its legal duties to us as a Tribe and Indian people. We cannot let the federal government forget what is owed to our people.

  1. Governance includes how we organize ourselves, how we make decisions, how we settle disputes, creating the rules of law, and how this aligns with our core values as the MHA Nation. What kind of manager of governance will you be? and What are indicators that we should look for to measure the success of our tribal government?

MF: My ability to manage relies heavily on cost effectiveness and efficiency! Only through strong organization and constant due diligence can we avoid the wasteful spending that plagues many governments! This means decreasing or eliminating government expenditures on what our people deem as unnecessary or unimportant! Efficiency comes into play where we strive to meet government responsibilities without excessive costs, duplication of services, and having a comprehensive plan and strategy on how to maximize tribal development and implement beneficial services to the people! Basic indicators of government success would include such things as reduction in crime, unemployment, and homelessness! Indicators would also include an increase in businesses owned by tribal members, increased participation in effective tribal programs, fewer members living in poverty, and decreases in negative impacts to our environment!

DW: As Chairman, I will push our Tribal Business Council and our tribal employees to follow all laws and regulations as we have that legal duty to the membership to operate in an ethical and lawful manner. I will allow our program directors and administrators to manage their departments without creating a dictatorship type of government that we have all suffered under during the last four years. I will eliminate the “management team” of political enforcers who only served one person and not the entire tribal business council. Anyone who is willing to work hard for the entire membership will have opportunities with our Tribe and our tribal entities.

We have to move beyond our current style of government that creates an ego driven chairman and move back to one where success is not just measured at election time but how the lives of all members are improved and protected. We must have a government that is fiscally responsible and transparent so all members are fully engaged and informed as to what is happening with the membership’s money. We must be truly proactive and engaged when we regulate and manage the affairs and lands of our tribe.

Leadership and success of the Tribe must be measured in how the much the people who need the most help are treated and provided sufficient opportunities to improve their quality of life. The success of our Chairman should be measured in how many people he can truly help and how he was able to do that without sacrificing his integrity, character and his own identity. We cannot rely on the same recycled “good old” boy type of Chairman who tells you what he will do or what he has claimed to have done. We need a Chairman who looks to the people for guidance and counsel. Our success will be measured by lives of our future generations and how we as Indian people collectively worked to change our quality of all our lives.

Cowboy and the Sinner hit up Little Shell Powwow. Native Vote. Published MHA Times 8.15.14

Ryan Taylor on his North Dakota ranch.

Ryan Taylor on his North Dakota ranch.

George Sinner (right) with his dad, former ND governor George "Bud" Sinner Sr.

George Sinner (right) with his dad, former ND governor George “Bud” Sinner Sr.

Another election year, another Little Shell celebration seeing what seems to take place every two years; the presence of awkwardly toe stomping political candidates asking for our votes. If you were enjoying that roasted corn, cold lemonade or other powwow indigifare you may have seen them. First up was George Sinner who is a candidate for United States Congress. Sinner isn’t new to North Dakota politics. George is the second oldest of ten children of the George Sinner Sr., who served as ND governor from 1985 to 1992. After 35 years as a small town banker, from Casselton ND, George Jr., ran for a Senate seat in the state legislature, in which he was elected in 2012. As a banker, George Jr. helped small business grow, farmers to continue their industry, and young families buy their first home. George cares about people, and that’s why he decided to run for the sole Congressional seat in the United States House of Representatives.

As George addressed the Little Shell Celebration on Friday, he spoke of how important the Native Vote is. In not so many words, he did his best to lift up the role we have played in electing leaders who make decisions at the federal level that affect tribal governance.

Speaking to local voters on the east side of the arbor, Mr. Sinner acknowledged how our local history is rooted within our MHA cultures. He supports increased funding for tribal education, improving our criminal justice system, and access to quality, affordable housing in western North Dakota. Furthermore, measures to improve the Violence Against Women’s act to ensure better prevention efforts and victim support. George speaks highly of those who serve and have served our country, and the need to increase non-VA facilities for our Native veterans is a priority for him. As we shared food and laughed over a fire, local voters got to meet this candidate who is relatively new to our part of the state. George may not have his side step down, but his presence alone at our celebration appeals to our better angels, to think about putting a Sinner in the United States House of Representatives.

Strengthening his Hidatsa language skills Taylor made his rounds of the arena visiting with voters. The emcee introduced him as the “tall guy with the white hat” and Taylor greeted us with his best Norwegian. Taylor, a better dancer than your typical cowboy, is a former state senator and is the Democratic Non-Partisan League (Dem-NPL) candidate for North Dakota Agricultural Commissioner. Taylor is a fourth generation rancher who authentically permeates the values of family, community and hard work. He meets you with a smile and a handshake and sometimes a greeting in our own language! He’ll even leave a room with a heavily Norwegian-accented “maacigiraac”. Never without his boots and hat, Mr. Taylor truly embodies the North Dakota neighborly spirit that drives him to serve his people. For years as a state senator, Mr. Taylor championed language and cultural initiatives, and increased funding for higher education that includes our tribal colleges. Similar to his run for governor in 2012, Ryan speaks to the opportunity out here in the west and how working together will result in the best way to handle the growth. Taylor points out that North Dakota Native communities have taken a priority during his legislative career and would continue to do so as Agricultural Commissioner. Our voices have been counted amongst Mr. Taylor’s closest advisors when working with issues affecting Indian country.

The office of Agricultural Commissioner has more power than you can imagine. ND has a legislature that meets every two years, so our government has allowed the Agricultural Commissioner along with two other members, the oversight of permitting and other issues critical to the oil industry. Something we voters at the MHA Nation need to pay attention to. Agriculture and Oil play the biggest roles in our local economy and our votes will matter in this race. A vote for Agricultural Commissioner is a vote for our economy. As a candidate, Taylor has said “We want the oil, but we also want productive land when it’s all done.” Taylor has promised to look at his role if elected as Agricultural Commissioner with a critical eye.

Another Little Shell celebration passed, another dance with political candidates. Who will appeal to your better angels? Who is currently, actively courting our votes? A cowboy as Agricultural Commissioner, and a Sinner for the House of Representatives.

 

 

 

Campaign Courtship. Time to Dance. Published MHA Times 7.29.14

It is that time again. Election season. Campaigning, the typical courtship of those who want to be elected leaders and those who will cast a vote in exchange for leadership; sometimes a change in leadership and sometimes a vote to maintain leadership. As someone who has worked on local, statewide and nationwide voter courtship before, I can tell you it’s a very personal investment of time, talent and money; an investment that shouldn’t be blind. As with any courtship you want to get to know the candidates. Find out what you can. Do they reflect the values of your idea of a leader? Do you trust them? Are they incumbents with a record that shows that we, the people are a priority? Are they candidates making promises? Do they have a plan that will work? Does the candidate work well with others? After all, this is a democracy, our elected leaders have to work with others. Are the candidates capable? Are we voters, capable?

Just as in any other courtship, some candidates just want to feed you and give you shiny objects. Don’t get me wrong, feeding me is good, so is the occasional shiny object; that is kind of expected in NDN country. However let’s not get distracted to the point that we fail to see the candidate for who they are. You know how we get when we find out we elected someone we didn’t really know how they stood on the issues we care about. Some of you get pretty crabby when a courtship goes sour. We become like scorned companions, mistrustful and blaming until the next election cycle at which point we get vengeful and point fingers, blaming anyone who dares step up to civic responsibility for our unhappiness. Ok, maybe I’m going overboard – but my point is how about we NOT do that this year. Don’t settle for a candidate who gives you indigestion; make sure your hearts are compatible. We’re looking to elect leaders so that we can ensure a road to benefit the public good.

A functioning democracy is critical to the goals and civic mission of governance. If we are to have a governance structure we believe in and trust, we need to be involved. Too long have we been left out of the political process and now that American Indians are proving to be the deciding win factor for candidates, we need to establish long-term political participation in tribal, local, state and federal elections. Democracy is something we can’t take for granted. Remember when we were left out of the process? Didn’t pan out the greatest for us historically. Good governance thrives in an environment where people are participating in and trusting the process. We have a long way to go before we get there, so let the courtship continue. It’s time we all get on the dance floor, engage and vote.

Voting matters. Your vote matters; both to the health of our sovereign nation’s governance system, and to the people who participate in our system. Voting carries a civic benefit to those who participate. Studies have shown that typical voters are invested in their communities, concerned with their peers, are more informed about issues and processes, and have a greater sense of their ability to impact the world around them. Whether or not you cast a vote, you are participating in this system. Not voting is a form of participation in a way that benefits someone or some system, including those you disagree vehemently with. We, as citizens of this nation, should vote. No one should be left off the dance floor.

In this great courtship, the currency is our vote. Either you give it up for the values and work for what you believe in, or you throw it aside to the status quo. What you do is your choice. I’m here to tell you, your vote will matter. As election season heats up, I’ll be here to bring you more information on the process and on the candidates. I’m looking forward to the next couple of months. MHA Nation, it’s time. Let’s dance.

RAIN DROP

You tell me you are like a raindrop in an ocean

You told me of a raindrop that falls into the ocean saying to itself “Am I a raindrop in an ocean?” or “Am I the ocean?”

You said that you would be the ocean

I know you though you say you know yourself.

I know you.

I think, that you are more as a raindrop who could if you wished

you could invoke the force of an ocean and at least,

at least you are a part of the ocean, separate your bounty restricted in the vessel that keeps you

If you are the rain drop in the ocean perhaps I am the vessel

Just as every blade of grass has its space to grow

So does the raindrop in the ocean

The earth and blue sky accommodate the blade

Just as the earth and blue sky accommodate the ocean

But a raindrop that can invoke the ocean

I will accommodate you

You can trickle down me or drown me

I’ll stand my own

For every raindrop falls and flows

To find a home in solid ground

Let me take you

Let me hold you

For your pain your love

For mine

You can flood

I can hold whatever you bring

Letting you flow and grow, as currents change across terrain

With greater love

Even the ocean a raindrop can tame

rainoceanimages

76 – Happy Birthday Papa ~

485039_10151296715507327_1132879907_n If my dreams would allow I’d travel to the time where you held me close till I fell asleep. I could feel you carry me to my bed and place me down gently. I’d travel to the time that I’d hear you wake before dawn and I would follow you around silently as you prepared to go to the railroad in the morning. You’d pack your lunch, walk to grab your boots, turning around you’d place your finger over your mouth to ensure I stayed silent as I watched you. After you grabbed your coat, your lunch and bag you’d pat me on the head or leave me in the dark telling me to go back to bed. I watched as you left the house and would sit on the couch or go back to the comfort of my shared bed.

we were a family then. A family that was happy. I used to remember everything you said, all the things you did and I held onto those teachings, emotions, hurt and pain for a long time. I remember seeing you in the hospital room, aged. I was heavy hearted as I would comb and braid your hair, or wipe your mouth. You were so frail, changed from the strong man who my dad once was. I didn’t know then, what I know now about your life.

I knew I was going to lose you that December day and I remember thinking about what you used to promise me when you wanted me to do something. “do the dishes and I will dance at your wedding” “clean your room and I will dance at your wedding” “sweep the floor and I’ll dance at your wedding”SCAN0015

At 15  I was angry, and sad. I thought back to gardening. I tried to recall the memories that were good so I wouldn’t think about the anger. I remember hot summer days by the river fishing. I remember cool summer evenings digging in the dirt planting. I remember fried meals and middle of the night road trips. Strawberry Lake, Spirit Lake, White Shield and the cold wind blowing us around in an open pickup bed, piled under blankets and sleeping bags so we could all fit.

Cold December night I sat with you, wiped the blood from your mouth, held your hand as the relatives came to say their goodbyes. I held your hand as I watched you take your last breath and I remember we all prayed. We said the  prayer as we let you go into the cold December night. Your battle was over, your life lived, your time complete.

Your friends still call me your daughter. We recall the life you lived, the choices you made and the children you shaped.

Happy birthday papa ~ We remember you this day. Love the little girl.

FM Area Foundation Brunch comments. For Cher ~ Thank you for inviting me.

Well, this is really an honor for me. I spend a lot of my time on the road in our communities. Low income communities, on and off the reservations. Places where there is a great deal of hopelessness and apathy. So being here today to talk about my experiences is a welcomed opportunity. Here I can say things that may have an impact on our world, a world within our own reach as individuals, and that hope makes this opportunity very energizing.

I love to think that saying things here will give value, meaning and power to the stories of my experience, and that my experience will then affect the actions of those of us gathered here.

I shouldn’t be standing in front of you today. I don’t come from any significant background. My story is actually quite ordinary. I come from a German Russian farmer’s daughter who fell in love with a Native American rebel. Their love, an improbably love – not welcomed by either of their families. They persevered and had six beautiful children. Ridiculously good looking children.

When I say, I shouldn’t be standing here today, that I shouldn’t be here. I say this, because growing up in my community, I felt different. I never felt I was a peer or a friend to the kids at school, I knew our family was different. In a classroom of Adams, Kelly’s, Michaels and Johns, a name like Prairie Rose Seminole very much set me a part, and I was treated as such. Oh Prairie Rose, she’s that native girl. That’s right. I’m Northern Cheyenne and Arikara and I was proud of that. But even in my pride of heritage, I never felt like a whole person.

Identity is important and understanding identity amidst the variety of messages and world views of those around a young child, started a complex journey.

So, I want to talk about the power of identity. I grew up in a multicultural home. My mother, who is a strong, beautiful woman, faithful to her church and of service to the community. My dad, another strong individual, faithful to service to the community, both standing up for causes that would shape my path in life. I saw my parents struggle with their companionship and how they would raise their children in a more tolerant world. My parents were tough, and loving, and it wasn’t until I started school, I understood that they were poor, and if they were poor, I was poor.

We grew up in the Madison neighborhood, or as we called it growing up, the Ridge, the Golden Ridge. There were families who were poor and families who weren’t. I knew I was poor because I got free hot lunches. I would get tickets to use instead of money and the other kids would notice that, standing in the lunch line, my bright yellow ticket ready to give to the lunch lady. I could hear the whispers, saying I got a ticket because I didn’t have money.

As time went on, my parents marriage problems got worse. My father started drinking and eventually they got a divorce. Poverty and its symptoms started to win. My mother working 3, 5 jobs at a time, my father drinking, winding up in prison. My older siblings starting to act out, drinking, drug abuse started within the home. We stopped being a family. We started to just exist within proximity to one another.

Gladys Ray a community elder with twin granddaughters about the age of my twin sister and I. She was doing work within the schools along with the Indian Ed coordinator, Renee Wood. They did their darndest to impact the trajectory of native students living in Fargo. It was no secret that we had a high drop out rate, alcoholism, drug abuse, suicide, homelessness in the native community. I just didn’t see it, I didn’t see it till it started happening to my family and when Gladys or Renee would talk about those issues, I was embarrassed to admit that they were talking about people like me. Poor, native kids who’s life path was most likely drop out, prison, early pregnancy, addiction, prostitution or worse.

I was 11 when I started working, 12 when my parents got divorced, 13 when my father was sentenced to prison, 13 when I started to really pay attention to my environment. I was sent to an all native boarding school, run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Within my first year there, my sister had started using drugs and smoking, my younger sister was jumped and beaten by a group of girls. Beaten because she was different, and I surprisingly was the star student. The only reason I was a star student was because my public school education was much better than the 6th grade curriculum they were teach us as 8th graders. My 8th grade teacher Mrs. Biewer was a large German Russian woman who absolutely LOVED that I was one of her people. She did something, that as a lost kid in a dark, hopeless place, I wasn’t used to for a long time. She believed in me. I looked around and made a choice that I didn’t want to represent any of those stereotypes that we, as a family were becoming. I saw how hard my mother worked, my dad was in prison, there was nothing I could do about the choices of those around me, but there was a choice I could make. I could be sober. I could try to be sober.

I believe its true that it only takes one person to affect the path of a person, whether it is a positive or a negative path, that choice is up to us.

My mother took us out of the boarding school, since it was pretty violent. My sisters continued to use, my brothers followed suit and I tried to not put myself into any situation that would allow me to make those decisions. I threw myself into outlets that allowed me to have a voice. I was succeeding in some small way because people were placing value on me as a person. My identity was at risk. Everywhere I looked people failed because it was acceptable for them to fail. Poverty and its symptoms were winning. If I tried and failed it was almost as if it was an expectation for me to fail, and that made it ok. I was struggling with this concept that I don’t have to be anyone because of poverty, or being native, because very few people believed in me. I missed Mrs. Biewer’s hopefulness. I didn’t understand it fully at the time, but back in the city at a public school, where I was lost in the crowd. Teachers didn’t pay much attention to me until American Indian Heritage month came along, then they asked me about being native, what my experience was.

I remember one of my teachers in high school put up the 10 little Indian poems in October, and I raised my hand in class and said it was offensive. She made her point that she wasn’t taking it down. So I wrote a poem about 10 little English teachers. She said it made her cry and during American Indian heritage month, November she went out of her way to schedule a native expert to come in and talk to the class.  The expert was a Norwegian woman who canceled twice and never did show up.

Identity is important. It is our story, and we should own our story. Growing up, I didn’t own my story and I fell into the traps of the expectations, or lack of expectations of those around me. I didn’t graduate from high school, I’m a drop out got my g.e.d. Out of my mothers 6 children, only 3 of us have high school diplomas. 3 of us have started college, 1 of us has a masters degree.

Identity is important. I want to admit something to you. I’m 32 years old, and I’ve been sober my entire life. I don’t say that to be virtuous, I say that because there is power in identity. When we start to understand that we create our identity through our commitments, our actions. We create the kind of identity where we can say to the world, to the world within our reach at least, that things don’t always make sense, and that you can do things that you don’t think you can do.

I was surrounded by stereotypes and it was because I had a little ignition of a spark that I could be different, and its ok to be different.

I was 15 when my father died in prison, and it was then that I made the commitment to learn how to be a family. It took a few years, when I was in my 20’s for me to be intentional about that commitment and now 10-13 years later my siblings are sober, we actually like each other, and I know that if ever I need them, they will be there for me.

We’re still poor, but we’re happy. In my work now, just as Gladys and Renee did in my youth, I am out there trying to instill a little hope in the world. I see death, I see grief, I see suicides, addiction and a lot of darkness. And in those moments I feel most human, because of the unknown influences around those experiences. In our communities dealing with symptoms of poverty, grief, injustice the systemic acceptance of such things….we want and dream of all kinds of things, but mostly, what we need is hope. An orientation of our minds and hearts, the acknowledgement of our being in a hopeless place, knowing that we are a witness. We are fully human when we see ourselves in these moments and we are hopeful. Hopeful that our actions will make a difference. It is hope that is missing when our young people are making the choices to end their lives.

I believe that as native people, as poor people, our identities are at risk. We fall victims to the politics of apathy. No opportunities for us when no one cares about us. When we don’t care about our realities we don’t see the opportunities for us to break the cycles of poverty and all that comes with it. We love the escapes of reality, or we are ignorant to the facts that there is suffering, abuse, degradation and marginalization happening in our communities. We need to talk about the poor, and integrate into our lives the understanding that our actions, our beliefs are shaping the community we live in.

I believe in the goodness of humanity and our collective actions.

Gladys Ray once sat me down and told me she was proud of me. She encouraged me to take risks, because to make change happen, you have to be brave, sometimes you’re alone, sometimes there are people with you, but its those risks that really make a difference.

We are having courageous conversations everyday. Lives are being changed because of philanthropy, and opportunities to nurture success of individuals. Ultimately our humanity depends on everyone’s humanity. I’ve learned very simple things doing the work that I do. I’ve come to understand and believe that we are more than the expectations of others. We are more than just a detail of who we are. I am Northern Cheyenne and Arikara. I am German Russian, I am poor, but that is not all that I am. That is not all of who I am. and because of this understanding there’s this basic human dignity that must be respected for all people. I believe that in our community, our state, in this country, the world – that the opposite of poverty is not wealth. The opposite of poverty is justice.

When we realize that our existence has an impact on others, we can leverage that relationship to work collectively to make a better and just world.

I am a better person because someone had a different expectation for me, and I made a commitment to that expectation.

I’m asking all of you to make a commitment to spread a little hope in your part of the world.

Many thanks for this opportunity.

Waygoshted. Thank you.

 

My Light in You ~ (sharing again )

In a dream I was shown a vision. I was being lifted and carried into a sea of people. Some who I knew, others I did not.

Each person had a light about them and behind each person, there was a door.

Each door was open. Open to pleasant trails or more difficult journeys.

Some seemingly inviting, others not so much.

The light around the people shown brighter in some than in others. Although, there was never less than the dimmest of lights and then those lights that were obvious beacons for any who would follow.

As I was being carried away, I realized that the doors were not behind the people, they were the people Each person an opportunity, a lesson, a piece of life.

Experience, friendship, joy, sorrow, hope or pain.

In my dream I didn’t understand and I closed my eyes. In the darkness I could still see all the lights, some near, all around, ones that would drift, others in lines or spiraling in a group, those bright and those barely a glow.

I opened my eyes and in the doors I saw a reflection. Reflections –not just of me, the reflections of myself in the humanity of others.

Reflections of me, within the tendencies of others.

In this sea of people, reflections, others seemed to be someone. Someone I used to know, used to be, have yet, or never will become.

Seeing strangers as family, as strangers become family.

Hearing the voices, laughing, sharing, crying, screaming, whispers saying see me, save me, help me, hear me, love me, know me. Know me.

I began to drift. Drifting higher away from the people.

Again I closed my eyes, scared for a moment.

Darkness, silence, I could see all those lights again, all of them shining in the darkness.

I saw mine shining, warming me from the inside. Barely contained within me. I was comforted. I opened my eyes. As I my light shown, we came together, my light made stronger by the light within you, your light stronger by the light within me, we, stronger by the light within others, we’re never really alone.

Together, connected in this soul of humanity. We are of the same breath. Drifting among the lights, doors and reflections I was grateful. It was a comforting to be, to know that which is in all others, is within me, to know that we are within all others.

However dark, however joyous, together, alone, to carry on, in all this that we call life.