The more things change, the more they stay the same

Education is a key. I was taught to believe that when you work hard to finish school you are setting yourself up for success. Many families and teachers encourage students to stay in school to lay a foundation for a better future. In today’s modern society, education is very important. Jobs are very hard to find, especially on the reservation. But if you were to venture off the reservation to seek employment it would be very hard, if not impossible, to find work when you are uneducated. Most employers require the minimum of a high school education or equivalent at the very least.


But when you live on an Indian Reservation sometimes education doesn’t really count for much. We hear our elected tribal leaders encourage the young people to stay in school and make something of themselves. Oftentimes, this is actually lip service. Politicians always sound good when they are encouraging the young people to continue their education.


We are all role models whether we want to be or not. What kind of role model are you? Are you for real? In asking that question I simply want to know if you walk your talk. Many people in positions of power on our Indian Reservations are high school graduates and some are high school drop outs. Only a handful of our people who work for our tribe have earned a college degree and even less have an advanced degree. We need more educated people to step into elected positions and the positions of power in our tribes. Don’t we?


With a tribal college located on our reservation there is no excuse not to earn a college degree. But as we all know, there are many people nowadays already know everything. They don’t need to go to school to expand their minds. Furthermore, some of these people are in positions of great power. They can change your life or the situation on our rez simply by raising their hand in a vote.


I have learned it doesn’t matter if you have a college degree on the rez. You can apply and be hired for a tribal director job with only a high school education. Furthermore, you do not even need to have a high school diploma or equivalent to run for office as a member of the tribe. You simply must meet the age, residency, along with tribal blood quantum requirements and be able to pass a criminal background check. That’s it. You do not need to have a high school diploma to run for tribal president, vice president, secretary, treasurer or council representative.


And when you are elected to a tribal position of power you might find that your false sense of power takes you to places where you should not be. Tribal council representatives are supposed to be legislators. This means they are elected to make laws and/or approve policy for our tribe. Still, I have seen many times where my tribal governing body gets involved in affairs in which they already have departments set up to manage.


One area where I see the governing body regularly jump into without hesitation is personnel. I have seen tribal director jobs where qualified, educated tribal members have applied and gone through the selection process which often includes an interview. But when it comes down to hiring the best qualified, educated candidate it inevitably turns into a popularity contest where the names of candidates are written on a dry-erase board and each member votes by secret ballot to select whomever they want. Never mind education, never mind the best qualified, educated candidate – it all boils down to popularity. The applicant with the most votes wins. And it all depends on who you know on tribal council.


So if you have a college or advanced degree it doesn’t always mean you will be selected for a position; even if you are the most qualified for the job. And when you are selected you might find that you will have to watch your back because the members of the governing body who did not want you in that position in the first place will work very, very hard to get rid of you. Furthermore, if they have a family member, spouse or other relatives who do not like you they may also work to get you terminated from your job.


This is my observation of how my tribe operates. I know there are many other tribal members from other reservations who will agree with everything I have written here. Some have watched their tribal governments violate the civil rights of their own members when it comes to employment or other areas, such as tribal members duly elected to positions on local boards, committees or commissions. The system we all call tribal government does not work on behalf of all the people it is supposed to serve.


Also, if you are a tribal director and you exercise your right as the person in charge to terminate an employee under you, you may also find yourself terminated by the tribal council. I think it is wrong for a few members of my tribal council to make a motion to terminate someone just like that. But who am I to judge what they do, I am just a common tribal member.


So, it doesn’t matter if you have an education when it comes to working for most tribes in this country. If you cross the wrong family, especially those who may have relatives or in laws sitting on the tribal council, you risk losing your job. It’s as simple as that. Never mind that you were doing a fantastic job or that you were the most qualified and educated candidate initially hired. If they cannot pull you down the crabs in that proverbial bucket will start snapping their claws together to make a big ruckus, which will often influence your elected leaders into making decisions that aren’t completely thought out. Some votes are cast to simply stop the noise, in my opinion.


Maybe I should stop encouraging young people to get a college degree and come back to work for the tribe so they can help their people. I will instead encourage them to get a college education and apply that knowledge to a job they love, instead of a job where they risk being fired at the whim of the tribal council. Who needs that kind of stress?


A tribal council which flip-flops on decision making shows a real lack of leadership. But reconsideration and rescinding are a reality I’ve seen many times in the tribal council chamber. So if you don’t like a decision made at one meeting, chances are you will see it reversed at the very next meeting, which is a huge waste of everyone’s time.


Be sure to vote in the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Primary Election on July 26, 2012 and the General Election on August 23, 2012. I won’t say vote for change because the more things change, the more they stay the same.


Published by Vi Waln


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