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Tag Archive for: Native American

What Coyote Stories Teach Us About Success

Among many Native Tribes in North America stories have been an important part of the oral traditions passed down over many generations. While each tribal group has stories unique to them, many times there are common themes shared by several different tribes. In the Northern Plains and Northwest U.S. these are often referred to as “Coyote Stories.”

Fox looking at the camera

Fox

While not all stories involve Coyote, he is a very important, and complex, character. Coyote is charged by the Creator with helping the people and looking after them, which he does enthusiastically. Knowing his flaws, however, the Creator asks Brother Fox to look after Coyote. Many stories are told about monsters or an evil of some kind that is threatening or killing the people. Coyote hears of this and rushes to the rescue. Inevitably, he charges full-steam into the battle with great courage and good intentions, but no plan or foresight. And, inevitably, he is killed. Along comes Brother Fox and performs some action or rite to bring Coyote back to life. Coyote then comes up with a clever and creative plan to defeat the monster.

An important aspect of Coyote Stories is that each listener is free, in fact encouraged, to reflect upon each story and find the lesson in it. These are some of the lessons I have drawn from these stories:

1) Good intentions and bold action are not enough. We often confuse action with progress. In times of crisis we tend to want to “do something.” Our first or most obvious choice of action can be counter-productive and lead to more serious problems. Careful planning, creativity and marshalling resources turn good intentions into effective outcomes.

2) Persistence pays off. Initial failure need not lead to defeat. We have all seen examples of students, businesses or clients who, having failed, need to be picked up, given some resources and encouraged to try a new approach. This initial failure is natural and not to be treated as an endpoint, but simply another stop along the path. Likewise, we, as service providers, initiate new programs, reach out to new populations or otherwise act boldly with good intentions. Often with little success. Coyote stories remind us to learn from failure, get assistance and try to come up with a better plan.

3) Each one of us is sometimes Fox and sometimes Coyote. Within each of us, and our organizations, live both Fox and Coyote. We tend to see our organizations as always playing Fox, the helper. But we are sometimes Coyote; acting boldly, making mistakes and not getting expected results. We often need assistance to plan creative approaches to solve existing problems. This is just part of the process.

Certainly, in my career I have helped many Coyotes, students who failed a class, or entrepreneurs who can’t pay the bills. But I have often relied on the assistance of organizations like the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, American Indian College Fund and American Indian Graduate Center to be Brother Fox.

An alumnus of the Gonzaga University MBA in American Indian Entrepreneurship (MBA-AIE) program, Keith Rennie (Citizen Potawatomi Nation) taught business at Salish Kootenai College. He chaired the Business Department until 2017 when he launched his business, Brother Fox Consulting. He lives and works on the Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana.

My Native American Heritage

This year for Native American Heritage Month, I have been reflecting on my own Native American heritage. I am Oglala Lakota through my father and German American through my mother – and I’m blessed with this lineage. However, since it is Native American Heritage Month, let me focus on that side.

Sherry Salway Black is an infant in her father's arms in this family photo taken in Pine Ridge Village.

Sherry Salway Black is an infant in her father’s arms in this family photo taken in Pine Ridge Village.

I was the only one of four siblings born on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota – and I’m the only one that has spent their career working with Native peoples and Native issues. I didn’t grow up on Pine Ridge – my family was part of the federal American Indian “relocation movement” from the mid-1940s – early 1960s – a policy of assimilation. After getting my undergraduate degree in Pennsylvania in the mid-1970s, I felt drawn to “return” to the reservation, to meet family I had only talked to on the phone and to see the place I was born, as many “urban Indian” young adults from relocated families did at the time. I haven’t “left” Indian Country since – working with and for Native peoples for more than 40 years.  To bind the tie even tighter I married into the Seneca Nation.

Being Native means different things to different people.  To me, it means I have a rich, vibrant network of relatives, friends and colleagues, both Native and non-Native, across the country and the world, who work for the betterment of Native peoples. To me, being Native means lifelong learning about the diverse, magnificent and resilient Native communities to better understand and assist in development.  To me, being Native means I have been blessed with financial support for my undergraduate education and my graduate degree which led to a career where I have been passionate about my work.  I’ve worked directly in communities with Native peoples and tribal nations, locally with Native organizations, and nationally with national Native and non-Native organizations and the federal government.  Being Native led me down a unique and rewarding lifelong path.

This postcard shot of Pine Ridge village was taken during the 1950s.

This postcard shot of Pine Ridge Village was taken during the 1950s.

I have received so many opportunities because of my Native heritage. Many generations of leaders, both Native and non-Native, made this possible through their work, commitment and advocacy along with sacrifices by our ancestors. What do I owe in return? Being Native means you might be eligible to receive certain benefits but these benefits come with certain responsibilities, certain obligations. The importance of giving back – or reciprocity – is so vital to Native societies.

In this month to celebrate and recognize Native Americans and their innumerable, vast and continuing contributions to this country, and in the season of giving and appreciation, let each of us, with our unique and diverse heritages, give thanks for all that we have. And do not forget to reciprocate, or give back, for your good fortune.

How AIBL Challenges and Inspires Native Business Students

American Indian Business Leaders (AIBL) was organized in January 1994 and was recognized as a 501(c)(3) organization in 1995 on the University of Montana campus in Missoula, Montana. Michelle Henderson (Assiniboine) was a graduate student in the MBA program and wrote her thesis on AIBL. She approached School of Business Administration Dean Dr. Larry Gianchetta to be the chair of her thesis committee. The original idea evolved from concerns expressed by many tribal leaders that recognized the need for business educated and business experienced tribal members to assist with tribal economic development. Michelle became the first executive director of the AIBL organization, and Larry became the faculty advisor to the University of Montana AIBL Chapter.

American Indian Business Leaders black and gold logoThe mission of AIBL is to increase the representation of American Indians and Alaska Natives in business and entrepreneurial ventures through education and leadership development opportunities.

AIBL’s vision is to become the preeminent national nonprofit organization serving American Indians and Alaska Natives by providing business and entrepreneurship education, leadership development training, and the necessary support to help young men and women who aspire to purse studies and careers in business, entrepreneurship, or related disciplines.

Today, AIBL has student chapters throughout the United States, and the chapters fall into three categories: High School, Tribal Colleges, and Universities.  Each of the chapters has a least one faculty advisor. Faculty advisors and student members can go to the AIBL website (www.aibl.org)  and click on chapters to find all the resources necessary to organize and run chapter meetings.  Each year the primary focus for the student chapters is the Annual Leadership Conference. This year our annual Leadership Conference will be April 26-28 at Wild Horse Pass in Chandler, Arizona (more details on the conference can be found on the AIBL website).

The Leadership Conference has students going to learning sessions in career development, personal development, networking, etc. Many of the corporate sponsors will be attending the conference and will be available to discuss both internships and career opportunities. We also have many sponsors interested in our AIBL students, representing well-known Indian owned businesses who have both internships and career opportunities for students. Students participate in competitions such as Business Plans and Chapter of the Year. Members of the National Board of Directors are located across the U.S. and come from industry and education. They are dedicated to the mission and vision of AIBL and will all be available at the annual Leadership Conference.

Students participate in the general session of the 2017 American Indian Business Leaders annual conference.Finally, go the AIBL website and click on conferences. You will see the students involved in all of the activities available to them engaged in life-changing experiences. You will also see the remarkable speakers that come to present at the AIBL conference. A large part of the AIBL experience throughout the academic year is the fundraising students do to pay their way to the conference, as well as preparing to do very well individually and as a chapter in the competitive events. Each year we ask a few of our AIBL alumni to come back to the Leadership Conference and share with the students what impact AIBL has had on their lives. This is always a very powerful experience for our current AIBL students!

If you have any questions, please contact AIBL Executive Director Prairie Bighorn at prairie.bighorn@aibl.org.

 

What is an ‘Indian Giver?’

Do you remember during your childhood when someone gave you something but then took it back? The person might have been called an “Indian giver.”

Horses in a field with sunsetThe term was always hurtful for me because I knew firsthand the generosity of American Indian people. At our ceremonies, it has always been a custom to have what we call “giveaways,” a tradition of honoring and respecting others by the giving of gifts ranging from blankets to horses.  Leaders were chosen in our society by how much they gave away to the people, not by how much they owned. It is a high honor to share with others.

The term “Indian giver” originated in the pre-Colonial land transactions involving the entrepreneurial Dutch and Indian landowners. The Dutch had learned to manufacture wampum — small shells used as currency and jewelry among Indian tribes — that was used for land trades. The land was then broken up and the titles were later sold in Europe to future settlers.

Native American wampum money artUpon arrival, the new settlers found Indians unwilling to honor the contracts because they believed that the transactions were only valid with the person involved in the original purchase. They were trying to do the honorable thing.

It was from these confusing first transactions that Europeans came to believe that Indians could not be trusted and therefore forced them from their lands. The Indians were merely trying to maintain the integrity of the original transaction. Hence the term “Indian giver.”

I have never known of an Indian person to give someone a gift and then take it back. All my life I have only seen generosity from people who had very little in the way of material possessions.

Indians gave the ultimate gift to Europeans: their land, which holds vast natural resources that include oil, coal, timber, minerals, water rights and rich farmland. Yet today, American Indians are some of the poorest people in America.

Native American Heritage month logoNational philanthropic support for American Indians falls far short of what is needed. American Indians languish in some of the most remote, untenable areas in the country, where poverty and despair are common. Less than 1 percent of all charitable giving goes to support Indian causes.

The term “Indian giver” is a misnomer. In our community, giving is a way of life … and always will be.

What are your plans to give this year? Natural disasters have decimated entire islands like Puerto Rico and the need to help has never been greater. Pick a good sound organization and give and then give some more.

Richard B. Williams (Oglala Lakota/Northern Cheyenne) is a passionate and committed advocate and fierce champion of Native education in the United States. From 1997-2012, he served as president and CEO of the American Indian College Fund, a national non-profit scholarship fundraising organization for American Indian students attending tribal colleges and universities which provide culturally based education and are run by the tribes. He presently serves as Indigenous Peoples Programs Consultant for the Johnson Scholarship Foundation.

3 Things I’ve Learned From the Seven Generation Money Management Game

We all know that games can be fun, even educational. But what about life changing?

student standing at a table while woman writesSeven Generation Money Management (7G MM) developed by the Center for American Indian Economic Development at Northern Arizona University with support from the Johnson Scholarship Foundation is a hands-on financial literacy game targeted toward Native American youth to increase their money management skills and to give them a basic understanding of investing, opening a bank account, purchasing a car, renting an apartment, buying a house and other life skills.

As of today, CAIED has hosted 68 7G MM workshops/trainings and has had more than 1,600+ participants.  Thus, I thought I would share three things I have learned from 7G MM and how it has impacted my life.

students around a table writing in notebooks and laughing#1 Life Happens!!!!

The one thing I have seen and also experienced is that life happens.  In 7G MM, life also happens. Let’s say you need to buy a refrigerator, the air conditioner goes out and needs to be repaired, or the stove stops working and needs to be replaced.  Yep, life happens in the game and in life.  All three of these events happened to me within 10 days.  At the time I was grateful to have had an emergency fund and it was less of a hindrance to replace and/or repair these items.  However, where is my emergency fund now ….

Student and teacher smiling#2 Investments

Growing up, I did not know much about the stock market or investments outside of establishing and maintaining a savings account.  In the game, participants have an opportunity to make investments. Some make money and some lose money.  A couple of years ago we did a family investment project.  I met up with my brother, who has been involved in investing for years.  He gave my wife, my 11-year-old and me a quick overview and then we were off to play our own investing game.  I gave my daughter $100 and told her she could invest it in anything she wanted.  She decided on Blue Buffalo.  Later that day she was talking to her aunt and her aunt asked her what she did that day.  She proudly said, “I bought stocks!”  Her aunt replied, “Why did you buy socks?”  She looked at her aunt and was very determined. “I bought stocks. I own Blue Buffalo, so whenever you buy dog food, buy Blue Buffalo, because I own part of the company.”  Today we buy Blue Buffalo!

Students with name tags standing in line at a table#3 Moving Out of Your Family Home

In the game participants are challenged to move out, whether to go to school or to experience life.  My oldest daughters are now going to college. My wife and I decided to buy a second home that they could live in while going to school.  That is where the rest of my emergency fund went (toward the down payment).  I have found that this is a forced savings account with the headaches of being a landlord.  The first year we had a pipe burst and the whole basement was flooded by a rain storm.  Fun times, but the property continues to rise in value.

Finally, your life is going to change and so will your goals.  Whether it is going to school, changing a major, to having a family with kids or changing professions, just remember life is a present. Live it!

The 5 R’s of Native Culture & Why they Matter to Business

This past month I have had the honor of visiting several college campuses where the Johnson Scholarship Foundation supports Indigenous scholars in their pursuit of careers in business and entrepreneurship. During these visits, I met some of the best and brightest future leaders of Indian Country. The next generation of American Indian business leaders will have to be better educated, more fluent in their traditions, possibly speak their tribal languages, and be comfortable both inside the dance arbor and in a three-piece suit.

students walking along a wet sidewalk

There was a time when being educated meant losing part of one’s Indian identity. There were also negative aspects associated with business in Indian Country. Many of the day-to-day business interactions were not good for our communities and this led to mistrust and the devaluation of anything to do with mainstream businesses. Having an education today – especially in business – means utilizing one’s natural Indian intellect and using that intelligence (braced with a dose of humility) to lead in an ever-more diverse American Indian environment.

Indian Country (and one had better know that is a legal term) is the last frontier in the United States. The most underdeveloped parts of the country are in the heart of Indian country and are ripe for economic development. But unlike in the past, the quintessential innocence that allowed outsiders to take advantage of Indian people and their generosity is gone. Young, well- educated Indigenous people who are savvy, well-grounded, and capable of leading their people through the next millennium are grooming themselves for the future. They are graduating with business and finance skills, and are changing the business landscape of  Indigenous communities. They are changing the negative connotations associated with business, and are negotiating a new, positive way of working in Indian Country.

United Tribes Technical College Spring Graduation on May 8, 2015

To fully develop as new leaders, our young business leaders need an advanced understanding of traditional ways and values. Matthew King, a Lakota traditional leader and perhaps the greatest American Indian philosopher of all time, once said, “Respect is the first law of Indian people.” That single concept is one of the most profound thoughts that can govern a way of life. The philosophy of a basic first law – Respect – for interacting with people is inherently simple but is extremely complex. Respect in this circle of life represents all living things: respecting animals, the earth, and especially each other. When a leader honors and lives by that single value, they will have the potential to be great leader.

Although respect is the core value of a positive symbiotic existence, there is a need to incorporate other values into a business leader’s way of life. These values can serve as guides to developing a good way to manage people.

Sherry, Greg Drummer and students

Close your eyes and using your best introspective powers, try to envision a medicine wheel, with Respect at the center. In each of the four directions, there are four other critical values, beginning with Relationships. The Lakota end their prayers with Mitaku Oyasin (all my relatives). Showing respect, the first law and value of Indian people, helps build relationships with everything in the circle of life. Honoring relationships makes good sense whether in business or in our everyday lives. Respect and Relationships go hand-in-hand.

The next direction on the medicine wheel is Responsibility. A good leader is responsible for both personal behavior and for making good things happen. A leader does the hard work, the follow-up, and will not ask a person to do something that they would not take on themselves. A leader tries not to offend others and must not be easily offended by others. Traditionally, great leaders must have a thick skin and allow themselves to be offended seven times before striking back. And when leaders strike back, they must be respectful, responsible, and considerate of relationships.

Group photo of adults

A great leader is also a great thinker, using Reasoning skills. A leader must listen to the people and use the best analytical skills and natural Indian intellect to guide his or her actions in all of their worldly dealings.

Finally, a great leader is generous. Reciprocity is critical to success. As in the past, the greatest leaders give the most. You should strive to help the neediest in your communities.

man standing next to a painted horse

My grandmothers said, “It is not easy to be an Indian. If you want to be an Indian it is the hardest way to live.” That is still true today for our leaders. They must embrace the traditional values of their people, have a well-rounded education, be blessed with a good heart, be willing to sacrifice, and most importantly, have the ability to make tough decisions in the best interest of their people without bias, malice, or sentiment. Many of our past Indian leaders were born with these values and succeeded through difficult times, albeit oftentimes by trial and error.

The American Indian business leader of the future that chooses to embrace and honor these simple values: The 5Rs, Respect, Relationships, Responsibility, Reasoning, and Reciprocity will serve the people in a good way and will have the potential to be a great leader. I have seen the future on my recent college visits and I have great confidence in our young business leaders.

Richard B. Williams (Oglala Lakota/Northern Cheyenne) is a passionate and committed advocate and fierce champion of Native education in the United States. From 1997-2012, he served as president and CEO of the American Indian College Fund, a national non-profit scholarship fundraising organization for American Indian students attending tribal colleges and universities which provide culturally based education and are run by the tribes. He presently serves as Indigenous Peoples Programs Consultant for the Johnson Scholarship Foundation.