Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Power vs. Leadership on the Reservation

Moving home to the Rosebud in July 2013 has brought so much of what I have learned about leadership to fruition.  My experiences have largely been working and living off-reservation for the past 16 years, with a couple of years mixed in on-reservation as well.

Some issues are the same, including the prevalent fear that many on the reservation have of returning Urban Indians like myself.  My assumption is that with outside education and experience, we bring about some type of "invisible threat" to the institutions and establishments on the reservation.  This breeds itself into rejection in many ways, shapes, and forms.  For example, I am very interested to find out soon if I will make it onto the Tribal Education Committee.  I applied two weeks ago.  Clearly, I am qualified to serve in a leadership role in my Tribe, with a bachelors and masters in education, teaching experience, and over twenty years of experience in the education field.  However, with all of the knowledge and experience behind me, I anticipate rejection and not being selected.

This brings to light the issue of power.  Power on the reservation is in the name of power.  It has no other precedent except status quo.  Status quo is maintained by whomever can remain the quietest and support the popular view, however much detriment it may bring to the people.  It runs quite the opposite of off-reservation life.  Off the reservation, a community is empowered by strong people who have a good background and much to offer in the field of education.  The community is strengthened by people with applicable experience; people who have walked the walk and talked the talk, and who have proven themselves to be good leaders outside of his/her own peer group or familiar group.

Power is for power's sake.  It is for the introduction of "I am the Director of ______."  Or, "I am the President of _________."  Micromanagement and asserting one's chest out full of the ability to chastise, berate, and criticize is often the mode of business.  It is a system full of power for the sake of being powerful.

All would be well, IF the children in our community had high school and college retention rates as high as those in successful communities.  It would be well if the balance of power were teaching students what they needed to know to be successful in a four year college education.  If the system of power for power's sake worked, we would be working, instead of hiding behind an unemployment rate of over 70-80 percent.  Our people would have money outside of the few days per month they are able to buy things that they needed for their families and homes.  Power for power's sake is power in a vacuum.

Leadership is lacking.  Leadership is what leads a people out of despair, out of poverty, and out of cultural disintegration.  Leadership is what people do who don't desire power, but who use the power they have for the good of a common goal, and work hard to equalize the world they live in for the constituents they represent.  It is not the idea of taking credit and leading with full charge of "don't question me" power.  It is as Nelson Mandela defines a leader... Someone who leads from behind and allows others to take credit for things they have done if necessary.  Leadership is taking the front line in the face of danger only, to shield people from the rampant abuse of power that lead to the problems that oppressed and impoverished a society of people for generations.

It is a somber moment to sit and reflect on the imbalance of power on the reservation.  It is a sad feeling to see the people who suffer, and those who go without.  It is hard to imagine a reservation beyond the statistics when power is power, and any challenge to the status quo is unpopular.

However, the last time that I checked, popularity might win an election, but it doesn't change failing systems, failing economies, or an oppressed and impoverished group of people.



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