Category Archives: Native America



During the course of each of our lives we hear many things that cause us to listen. Some of these things are helpful, some disastrous, and between all that is conflicting advice. Take for instance, the concept of forgiveness. I have always been told by my elders to forgive people for their wrongs and accidental slights – no matter what these were. Few people have gone so far as to advise that, in addition to forgiveness, “to pray for them”, or “forgive, but don’t forget”. I’m sure I’m not alone in this confusing matter, so I’m going to briefly share what I think about it.

Forgiveness, at its very core, harbors the assumption that people will cross you, people will do you wrong, hurt you, use you, amongst all other manner of negative things. This means that forgiveness exists because people are capable of harm – directly or indirectly, and sometimes both ways.

Secondly, forgiveness assumes a therapeutic role – in that there is marginal benefit for victims and a vague notion that is to befall those unforgiving people. Resentment, negative expectations, deteriorated social relationships, spiritual stress, ailments, and sometimes deep-seated cultural morés, such as distrust in the “white-man” – or some such things – can be traced to unforgiveness.


So, here I am, discussing forgiveness – an idea that most of my loved ones proclaim I should adopt, yet, they have such difficulty themselves with forgiveness. (This is not to say they are sociopaths.)

Perhaps the world I want to see doesn’t have forgiveness at all; a world where there are no people whose words trespass against anyone, and that acts are no longer harmful; eliminating all of those things that typically trigger the need for gifting or asking forgiveness. Of course, that’s not a reality; however, just as forgiveness does, we can also act upon our world in ways to preempt forgiveness: we can work to eliminate forgiveness. This idea may seem, at first glance, tricky, for us Indigenous people, having carried so much pain about the world in which our ancestors lived, a world near universally lost. But, if we can change our approach to how we are affected by others, we would do some real good for our next generation – freeing them from the weight of all that could have been.






ACCORDING TO A FEW EXPERTS, leadership is defined as, “the ability to get work done with and through others while winning their respect, confidence, loyalty, and willing cooperation” (Greer and Pkunkett, 2007:261). That definition implies quite a broad set of traits. A number of you might have all of these, and at the same time, not really grasp that leadership is part of your heritage, it’s in your veins.

Leadership is a consequence of complex interactions, whether psychological or social; and we all know history has created complex socio-psychological situations for Native People. The notion that leaders possess a specific set of traits traverses cultures. While all cultures do not share a universal idea of what every leader looks like, or acts like, there is a set of universal traits that all leaders do have. Let’s look at 5 of them, here.

Leaders are trustworthy. Leaders uphold a reputation for integrity, are less likely to be engaged in risky ventures, cheat, or conduct affairs that could place others in danger. Being trustworthy, that people trust your judgment is the first trait of a leader.

Secondly, Leaders act out of concern for others. Leaders are not loners, they are inherently part of a social group. So it is the people of the group who agree on leadership. It’s one thing to declare oneself a leader, and another when people treat you as one. If you are greedy, or otherwise unethical, people will see that. Leaders keep the greatest good in mind, rarely, if ever acting in self-interest. Think of the 19th Century leader, Chief Joseph.[1] Chief Joseph thought it best that his small tribe survive, instead of continually sending the dwindling men and boys to die fighting against the technologically advanced settlers ever moving westward into Nez Pierce country. Fighting was senseless by the late-1800’s. The millions of settlers weren’t going anywhere. Chief Joseph recognized that the numbers were clearly not on his side and so he acted on behalf of his people: advocating for a reserve. Acting out of concern for others, is primary, and must be in the heart of a leader.[2]

Thirdly, while leaders must be intelligent, not every intelligent person has the ability to explain things clearly . Thus, leaders must not only know the important issues at play, but need to also have the ability to clearly explain them to others. It’s through explaining and clarifying issues that consensus is developed. Consensus equals followers or disciples, and building a consensus is derived from the ability to explain important things clearly.

Leaders have to possess courage to proclaim a particular course of action. What’s the point shouting that there is such-and-such problem, trying to get people to listen without also providing the solution? Solutions don’t fall from the sky. Leaders will have taken the time to ponder about consequences. It will be from those variables that leaders must decide the most appropriate course of action. Otherwise, what you have is a clairvoyant. A clairvoyant is not concerned with outcomes, they simply report what’s going to happen next!

Finally, a leader will be scrutinized when things get tough. When water and food are scarce, or when buildings are burned down, the leader must have already developed in herself the determination and will to persist a course of action, but remain flexible enough to know when a change of direction is needed. Changing course can be both psychologically and socially difficult. Consider how Chief Joseph must have felt when he desired true freedom for his people, that he desired to fight on, but that his people were few and hungry. He had to inform his people – many of whom already knew – that it was in their best interest to settle, so that the Nez Pierce would live on- albeit on a reserve.

For sure, leadership is a social necessity. Leadership takes on unique shapes provided by the cultural and situational settings. For the Indigenous of America, leadership is part of their heritage. However, in movies and other popular media, Indigenous Americans are romanticized as as mostly Sioux-Indian males – sitting around a nighttime fire (inside a teepee) bickering about issues, perhaps passing a pipe while a drum beats into the night. On the contrary, most American Indigenous leadership hed councils in vastly different places. The Caddo Tribal leadership met in grass structures; and the Iroquois, in longhouses.

Notably, the Iroquois, or “People of the Longhouses”, (Kannonsionni ) are known broadly as the Six Nations (Haudenosaunee).The Six Nations include the Seneca, the Cayuga, the Oneida, the Mohawk, and Onandaga – and later, the Tuscarora. Today, this Six Nation Council is known as the Iroquois League.[3] Each of the Six Nations have representative leadership who are selected by the clan mothers of each Nation. These 56 chieftain leaders (Hoyenah) make up The Great Iroquois Council.[4] This ancient council is nearly 600-years old. According to the best contemporary archaeological evidence it is stated to have began around the year 1450.[5]

Throughout half a millennia we can trust that the clan mothers made sure that their selections to the Great Council possessed the 5 traits discussed here and that historically, there were undoubtedly difficult decisions made by these elected Hoyenah (chiefs). More difficult still, was that courses of action taken by the council had to be unanimous. Imagine the kind of leaders it takes to create unanimity? That’s the heritage in your veins. That’s the kind of leader you are.


1. Nez Pierce Chief,
2. “In 1885, Chief Joseph and his followers were allowed to return to the Pacific Northwest to settle on the reservation around Kooskia, Idaho. Instead, Joseph and others were taken to the Colville Indian Reservation far from both their homeland in the Wallowa Valley and the rest of their people in Idaho,” ibid.
4. “The Grand Council of the Iroquois League is an assembly of 56 Hoyenah (chiefs) or Sachems, a number that has never changed. Today, the seats on the Council are distributed among the Six Nations as follows: 14 Onondaga, 10 Cayuga,  9 Oneida,  9 Mohawk,  8 Seneca,  6 Tuscarora”, ibid.
5. Dean Snow states, “the archaeological evidence does not support a date earlier than 1450,” ibid.
Greer, Charles, R. and W. Richard Plunkett. (2007). Supervisory Management, 11th Ed. Pearson/Prentice. Hall. Upper Saddle River, NJ. 07458
Images, public domain customizations

Our Social Imperative

Our Social Imperative

I WAS NOT ALIVE DURING THE SIXTIES; a turbulent time for the minority of America. The seeds of social equality in America were sewn over a hundred years earlier, and it was during the middle of the 20th-Century when we began to harvest fruits of our sacrifices, when our solidarity began to be felt by justices of The United States Supreme Court (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954; Gomillion v. Lightfoot, 1960; Boynton v. Virginia, 1960), and in the actions of leadership (Civil Rights Act of 1964).

This period began with such great potential.

Again, I wasn’t alive then, but I have immersed myself in the light of that period: I’ve read Malcolm X’s biography, read Doctor King’s letters from his days as a political prisoner, and watched documentaries of gunfire, riots, and bigotry mar this otherwise great period. I am a fragment of that generation, a generation that came out of the ashes, tears, and triumphs of the civil rights era. I am proud of that fact.

So you might understand it was no accident that I cried during Obama’s initial inauguration. Inside, my soul sang loudly that old Sam Cooke tune about being born by the river… but I was crying happy tears. I felt energized, that finally, as a minority, I witnessed the energy behind grand historic progress, that I had a small taste of that harvest that Doctor King dreamt about. I am proud of that, also.



I believe, as a nation, we need more moments like that. Moments that prove we are at our best when we work together and acknowledge that personal progress is in fact, correlated to the progress of our neighbors.

As cultural beings, we set aside special days and months to remind us that true success, our true strength is inextricably bound to how well we treat and celebrate others. Nearly every American holiday, does not exist for us to celebrate individuals, they aren’t there to remind us of the fleeting benefits of individual success. Nearly every holiday exists to remind us of the importance of loving other people and celebrating the bonds of our shared humanity. Most major religious tenets or ethics are based on the same idea: celebration of caring for other people.

It remains my hope, that as we journey through 2016, anticipating another grand inauguration, that when we are able, we give a helping hand to people who need it; that along our way, we donate a talent or skill we may possess to make someone’s life easier – if only for a few moments a week. In celebration of this special month stop by and check on your parents and grandparents; promote the value of what it means to have been a part of their lives. We can never forget how far we’ve come. Participate in your community, be nice to people, and you will enjoy a great, productive year.

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Ks. 347 U. S 483 (1954)
Boynton v. Virginia, 364 U.S. 454 (1960) Racial segregation in all public transportation illegal under the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887.
Civil Rights Act of 1964
Gomillion v. Lightfoot, 364 U.S. 339 (1960) Electoral districts drawn to disenfranchise blacks violated the Equal Protection Clause

KEEP MOVING: A Moment with Joy Harjo

ARTIST IN MOTION: Miss Native American (2013~14), Sarah Ortegon

Searching for Home

STANDING ROCK RESERVATION IS NOT A TOURIST ATTRACTION; however, it is a place reeling from the unintended effects of history, yet remains home to thousands of Sioux. Kristen has survived Standing Rock, but not without her share of bumps and bruises.
Despite turmoil, a home is difficult to leave. If all one knows is alcohol, emotional and drug abuse one believes it’s typical. Kristen herself had been left with her two sisters in the car while a girl, as mom and dad drank in a bar. She knows the pain of home.

”That’s how dad died, drinking. So drinking was not my thing. I first left home for job corp. at 16, and had not experienced methamphetamine until 18. I used to be a runner and sometime enforcer when asked. I loved to fight. I tried the drug and it has been an uphill battle since then.”

Part of Kristen’s strategy to break the cycle of poverty, drugs, and alcohol was to head to Rapid City, S.D., a new place, greater opportunities. Through it all, she managed to keep all that’s important to her: her boys, Ashton and Logan, a healthy mind, and renewed faith in God.

”My parents, the rez, exposed me to many things. Others’ alcoholism profoundly affected me, my sisters, and my kids, too. I still don’t know where my youngest sister is, but she’s not in a good place. I know what it’s like for alcoholics, but for female meth addicts it’s scarier. Some women steal, lie, con, and prostitute themselves for drugs.
I pray for them.”

Alcoholism is a creeping disease, like meth addiction.

”Some don’t realize the time gone by, years and money wasted until it’s too late to make a difference. One of my major regrets
is losing education. I am a pretty good artist, so while Standing Rock was rough, and we were poor, I learned to paint and craft from my dad. I’ve done tattoos for 20~plus years, so home is still with me, you know. I try to mentor young girls from home and help them cope and understand how bad stuff affects a woman and how to cope.”

Women are especially vulnerable to drug addiction and abuse. Humans were not meant to undergo such trials. Yet, through all the victimization and pain and loss. We still drink, still chase drugs.

”I support myself through craft, making dancers’ outfits, and tattooing. My second tat ever was on my mom. (laughs) I broke apart a Walkman and someone showed me how to construct a tat gun and I began tattooing; sometimes even to get/stay high, so my home is always with me.
I recall we had an outhouse, we had to fetch water, we were poor…”


Life continues, even when you don’t live it. Remaining sober is not a unique challenge, it can very well be ones greatest.

”Anymore, I exercise, go for walks, or read scripture to occupy my mind. Sensitivity to loud/sudden noise, nervousness, suspicion of others are ever present effects from my personal fight with meth. I think about it at times, but I’m wiser, my boys deserve me, and I don’t want to end up a zombie. I do pray a lot and drink water when I feel down. My son likes to smudge (marking with the black ends of burned sweetgrass, for prayer). He smudges the cat, too!” (laughter)
We’re going to be baptized soon, so God and spirituality is a great part of my recovery and lifestyle.”

Kristen’s keys to success.

”Hearing yourself speak heals you; talk to someone immediately. Maybe an elder. If you don’t have someone you can absolutely and genuinely trust, find them. Expressing yourself makes a lot of changes…and you have to stay away from old places and those types of people.”

Thank You, Kristen. Blessings to you.

When He, the spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth…from him you will receive what He will make known to you.” (John 16: 13~14)

Support Kristen’s effort, order regalia at:

Closer to Deviance

Deviance seems straight~forward
 of a term that one can
discern the behavior within a social setting  without too much thought.

For instance, green, mohawked hair deviates from the typical style we see in  everyday life,
except for, say on…oh, St. Patrick’s Day  or Halloween, a green~spikey doo will blend into our surroundings because
celebration is expected behavior.

Moreover, is that green hair
example really the ‘it’ of deviance? No, deviance takes many forms, such as a criminal, genius, or an artist (the latter two examples
are among positive concepts).
The amount  or degree of deviance
from the ‘norm’ provokes action and evokes emotion, confusion, and
possibly punishment.

Deviance is not really what is
interesting phenomenologically,
deviance really allows us to
understand the comfort levels of
those around us, including opinions, preferences, and tolerances.

Deviance, as phenomena, have also  allowed humans to flourish for
nearly two~hundred~thousand~ years!
After all, we recognize ‘outsiders’ (basically, difference) which has
helped us to survive. Simply imagine
the alert sent through one’s small community if a strangely~dressed group of people stumbled into the area?

Finally, deviance can also be  used as a tool of abuse, by the
common tactic of labeling others.
This labeling action draws its strength from taking advantage of
our survival interest to notice deviance, labeling inappropriately alerts us to novelty even when danger may not exist, labeling deviance
is to pray upon our fight~or~flight system.
The next time you hear a label or notice deviance, describe it to yourself.

Personally, I say deviate as positively  as you can. Become the  best athlete or scholar you are
able to. Remember, though,
not deviating correctly, may have
life~altering consequences.

Plan your deviation!

%d bloggers like this: