A CONVERSATION FROM A POW-WOW: ROLE MODELS

Recently, I was walking around at the University of Washington’s First Nations’ Pow-wow with my 3 year old son holding onto my finger. He loves pow-wows and round dance music—when he rides with me in our car, he always asks me to turn off my Beatles or Journey or Run DMC CDs and put on the “new pow-wow music” (round dance music). Since I told him that there was “new pow-music” at this particular pow-wow, he wanted to see it and hang out with all of the hand drummers.

As my son and I walked around looking for the hand drum contest (they had it hidden downstairs), he began to notice all of the vendors’ wares. I watched his eyes literally get bigger as he began pointing at all of the pretty Navajo jewelry, and the Kachina dolls. He was SO ready to buy SOMETHING when we passed the little Mexican dudes with the sweaters, flutes and “Made in China” toys that are at every pow-wow. While my son and I debated purchasing a squishy ball that lights up, a Coastal Native lady came up to me with her (presumably) grandson, who was slightly bigger than my son.

She gave me a side-glance, “Heyyyyy…don’t you write?”

I smiled at her, “Hi. Yeah, I write a bit.”

She looked up at me, “Yeah, I remember you when you were a little kid—your folks used to stay with us over at Treaty Days—I remember our dog bit you once. Your name is “Joshie,” huh?”

I nodded yes. Obviously she pronounced my name slightly wrong. But since all my cousins and aunties and uncles called me “Josh,” “Joshie” or “Gyas,” I guess I could let her get away with it too. I felt like Ted on “There’s Something About Mary”—“some of my best friends didn’t know my name.”

We continued talking and she continued mispronouncing my name—and that made me feel right at home. “I haven’t spoke to your mom in years, since she stopped dancing. Then one day I saw you on the computer. Your lips looked kinda chapped in that picture—cha!!! HA HA HA…Jokes…but I don’t think we’ve stood this close since you were a little kid. I never realized that you were this tall! And I never realized that you had wavy hair…y’know, I have a daughter who’s single… gawwwww.”

She smiled mischievously and raised her eyebrows, pointing at her grandson. Apparently this boy was her single daughter’s son.

I laughed my fake laugh. “HA!” Everyone who knows me knows my fake laugh, usually reserved for when I feel just a wee bit uncomfortable. “Thank you, but I have a girlfriend. But…how old is your daughter?? Ayyyyeezzz!!!”

She started laughing. Phew. She didn’t take me seriously. I really risked getting slapped just then.

She asked if I was enjoying the pow-wow, and whether I ever dance. “Yeah, this is one of my favorites. I dance sometimes. Not often. I’m honestly not that good.”

She asked if I was really a lawyer; said that I didn’t look like one. “Ain’t it a rule that lawyers are supposed to dress all business?” I told her that rule only applies only to the lawyers with money. I’m the new breed of lawyers—Section 8 lawyers who grew up between a trailer and small apartment units. We broke lawyers have a different rulebook.

She laughed again. Her son liked my red Yankees hat so I put it on his little head and it fell down over his braids and eyes. I have a massive head, and so it would’ve probably fell down over 99% of the population’s braids and eyes, but he had a particularly small peanut shaped head, and his thick braids barely added any radius to it. He smiled up at me.

After we talked for awhile, she paid me the best compliment that anybody’s ever given to me, “Joshie, I’ve never said this to anyone, but I’d like him (pointing at her grandson) to grow up and be like you. I’ve been watching you throughout the years—at this pow-wow, at basketball tournaments. You always had that same pigeon-toed walk and the same big head with a big smile—I can see that you’re a good man. And even though you cut off your braids, I still think that you are an incredible role model.”

I felt myself blushing—my big old head turning red like the Kool-Aid Man. I wasn’t sure how to respond, other than, “Wow…that’s so nice. Thank you.”

I was cheesing really big. I’m not the most modest person in the world, but this little old coastal lady made me embarrassed! I prepared to say more, but then I thought about her words a bit more. I smiled at her and said, “Y’know, I think that’s the nicest thing that anybody’s ever said to me. But you know what? Oddly enough, that title scares me. I mean, no disrespect—I’m flattered. But I’m not sure if I can handle the weight of that honor.”

She looked at me sort of strange—I think that she thought that I was joking because I was still smiling. She said, “Why do you think that you couldn’t handle that?”

I began to answer her, but I was more thinking out loud, “Well, it might just be me, but it seems like “role model” and “the public eye” is a dangerous place for an Indian to be. I mean, doesn’t it seem like we sometimes set people up just to see them fall? Not you, of course—you want me to succeed because you see your little boy in me. You want me to succeed because you want him to succeed. But it seems like our people have a problem with really rooting for our people. As soon as one of our people gets a little bit of success, a little notoriety or money, we start really looking for all of the flaws in those people.”

She started grilling me a little bit when I said that. I’m not sure how many of you know little Coastal women, but they’re focused! When they’re on a mission, they’re gonna get what they want! She asked, “Well, don’t we need Indian men and women who are going to stand up to that heat? Cripe, it sounds like you don’t want people to expect anything of you because you’re afraid you might fail. Don’t our children—my grandson—need leaders and role models who are going to stand up to the miserable people and complain about everything under the sun? My beautiful daughter calls those miserable people “haters.’”

I sighed. “Of course you’re right. But I think that most of the people who are trying to do good—whether it’s tribal leaders or pow-wow dancers or teachers—they’re just trying to lead by example. I don’t think that most of them are trying to make a deep political statement or save the world. They’re not, generally, religious leaders or spiritual. But people expect them to be perfect and the moment that someone sees them in a bar—it’s a scandal! Or the moment that someone hears a RUMOR that they did something in business that was questionable, our people jump to conclusions! Our people seem to love to see our people fail! I’ve seen that happen to so many people, and I’m just not sure how much that I want to be a part of that. Call me weak.”

Then she told me something that made me rethink my position. She pointed to the beautiful little Native kid wearing my oversized red Yankees hat and said, “What you’re saying is true, Joshie. But…If my grandson isn’t looking up to you—doesn’t see you as his role model, who is he going to look up to? Whether or not you choose to accept it, you ARE a role model for him. For better or for worse.”

I’m still not convinced that she’s 100% right, but I had to concede that she had a point. Although I still wonder why our people love to tear “us” down, she forced me to also wonder who is willing to stand up as strong examples of “us” if we’re not.

Any thoughts?

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Published in: on April 15, 2010 at 8:29 pm  Comments (24)  

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  1. You made me smile … and i needed that ….

  2. First, I want to say how much I’ve missed reading your blog the past few months. Running for office and working the legislature and introducing new environmental education programs, etc., have kept me running. But I’m glad I got a chance to catch up with you on this one. Typically, as a mixed blood whose European physical features dominate, I’m seen as a white man and I don’t face the same challenges you do as someone who “looks Indian.” I don’t even have the same pressures on me that my biological father, a half blood, did–not just because he was more “Indian-looking,” but also because he was raised in an orphanage and was caught up in the hell that was the WWII Pacific as a very young man. But when he made the decision to end his own life when I was 14, my life changed. Many members of my family were still sweeping our Indian heritage under the rug and pretending it never existed. I decided then and there that I would never do that–that I would be proud of my heritage, on both sides, and do all I could to learn about both and to teach the value of both to anyone who would listen. I realized at a young age that though my skin is white, my heart is red, and despite whatever non-acceptance I would receive from either side I would carry on. In working with the tribes for so many years, with such people as Billy Frank, Joe DeLaCruz and people like you, Gyasi, I would do all I could to listen and observe and learn and support–but never, ever expect perfection from any of you, any more than I would ever expect it from myself—any people will most assuredly never find it there. Now, at the age of 60, I am stepping forward to run for the State Legislature, and I will carry the information and knowledge I have accumulated to the task. One of the greatest lessons of all is that I place none of you on a pedestal. You are not perfect. But you are great….and for as long as I live I will choose to learn from greatness. And so my friend, I ask you to carry the task of role model with dignity and pride, choosing your actions and words well, because there are, indeed, those of us who learn from them. But as for my regards, you need not be concerned that I will ever try to knock you down or criticize you for who you are. I will not, because I see in you a man. A man with long heritage–a man with a strong heart and worthy intellect. I do not expect perfection.

    Be well my friend, and never be afraid to call upon me if I can be of service.

    • Of course Steve. I thank you for your constant support, humility and service. I saw Uncle Billy this past weekend in Tulalip and he said that you were hard at work campaigning. I’m proud of you, and if there’s any way that I can help with your work, please let me know.

      Thanks

  3. “The real hero is always a hero by mistake; he dreams of being an honest coward like everybody else.”
    ~Umberto Eco, Travels in Hyperreality

  4. Think your family friend is right – you’re a role model.. Your life story is inspirational to others particularly young, Native kids.. I remember reading one of your stories in which you spoke about your childhood – and growing up with a single, alcoholic parent: not having indoor plumbing; having to use your grandfather’s out house; bathing in lakes; having to wear your cousin’s hand-me-downs; not having food at times, and despite growing up under some of the harshest conditions you had a dream, pursued your dream, and achieved your dream… You didn’t give up, and Native kids need hope – hope that their dreams can come true, and in some cases – hope, that a dyfunctional family can become stable.. I remember reading that after years of alcoholism your parent became sober…
    Your life story gives hope to Native kids growing up in similar situations…..

    Being a role model comes with expectations, but dont sweat it – just keep being you, and you’ll be fine.. *smile:-)*

    • Thank you, Tammy. You know, I think everybody’s had it tough in some respects. We didn’t have a lot materially, but I was ALWAYS spoiled because I had two amazing older sisters and a mom and dad who loved me. The outhouse…oooohhh, I hated those walks to the outhouse. BUT…we all have things that we didn’t like as children, right? Still, I do appreciate your kind words and you taking the time to constantly support this blog.

      Gyasi

  5. Great story Gyasi. I have no doubt that you are a role model for many people, young and old. I have told family members before that a person doesn’t get to choose when people are proud of them or when people look up to them, but it is up to them on how they handle it or react to it. We are all role models, its our choice whether we are good ones or bad. You make a conscious and deliberate decision to be a good one and that is what makes you special.

    I know what you mean about people in leadership not being “rooted for”. I’ve experienced this with people in my community, they act as if, to be a council member it means we think we are better than the rest of them. While knowing that it isn’t true for myself, it is a frustrating and maddening stereotype that inhibits new people from seeking leadership positions. Another example of us holding ourselves back.

  6. First, although I do not know you and do not always agree with you, I respect you for your ability to be courageous in speaking up about issues that many humans face.

    Second, I’ve experienced hateration by Indians many times over in growing through life, but my parents usually used the “Indian crab in the bucket” story to guide me in moving beyond the negativity. People who gave up on their dreams will sometimes try to pull you down from achieving your dreams. It is up to the individual to decide whether or not the individual is going to allow negative people to affect her/him.

    While growing up, my mom always used to tell a story about a Jewish man who refused to be moved to negativity by the Nazis during his time in the concentration camps during the Holocaust. Apparently, when he was asked how he could be happy and remain positive during such horrible times, he responded, “they want us to be unhappy; I will not give them that satisfaction.” It was not until I went through several rounds of nauseating betrayals by Indians (because I just could not understand how such evil in life could get the collusion of so many people, even when I took all the right steps to stop it) that I likely came across a book by that man of which my mother spoke. The book is called “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl. It totally changed my outlook about negative situations in life. I began to see a bigger picture regarding how all of us, regardless of cultural background, are all struggling to survive, and although we cannot choose what happens to us, we choose how we react to what happens to us. From that book, I realized that it is quite possible for people to move beyond traumatic situations. Many Jews had done it since 1945, although Jews do have a bit of a head start on Natives because Jews have over 5000 years of dealing with negativity and pressures to assimilate.

    Many Lakotas, at least the ones among whom I was raised, think that we are natural born leaders. Many of my Lakota relatives have guided me and tell me that hateration comes with the territory of leadership. If you let hateration affect you, then you are not being as effective of a leader as you could be. There will always be critics, who more often than not are simply cowards, but that should not stop you if you are working to bring honor upon yourself and life. Honor is comprised of justice, obligation and courage. Many people choose cowardice than honor because the burdens of choosing honorable actions are not easy to carry. It is not just to harm the weak. No one is obliged to harm the weak. It does not take courage to harm the weak. Yet, many times over the weak are harmed by cowardly folks and cowards too afraid to stand up to bullies…leading to collusion. It is a tough road to be an honorable person. I was raised that Lakotas are tough people, and I do my best to bring honor upon myself and my relatives because that is how much I love life. All of the negative stuff is simply a challenge to see if I am willing (choosing) to become a better person that connects me more to all life, just like our creator is connected to all life.

    I have not been through the easiest of times. At one point in life, I thought that being Indian meant to always endure painful situations in life and I wondered why I was born to only face such pain. However, I now approach life as a grateful person for the experiences which make me a lot tougher and wiser than my peers who’ve never been challenged like I have.

    And just to illustrate a point, one woman without all the details about my situation from back home even had the gall to call me up and tell me, “just because you have an education, you think you are better than us.” I told her, “you never came around me or my family until you thought you could get something from us, so if you have such low self-esteem to think that someone is better than you, then maybe I really am just better than you!” I seriously think we all have the ability to lead. Many of us choose not to do so because it is hard. As I advance further in my accomplishments, some people back home also tell me that I am a role model. I thank them and am truly grateful for their words because most of the time, I am alone in facing negativity, but I consider it a challenge by the creator, so in the end, I guess I am not so alone. Folks beyond people from back home also tell me that I am a role model as well. Again, the words are nice, but that should not make me complacent. My passion for the things I do are not be based on adoration from others (that is a reaction to what others do to me rather than being true to who I am), but on the simple principle of bringing honor to life, i.e. to be obliged and courageous in serving justice for the weak. I like living with my relatives through the positive and negative experiences. It is just that simple.

    • Fifi–thank you for your constant thoughts and challenging me. We still disagree on certain things, :), but I’m appreciative of your very learned viewpoint. I think that many of the readers of this blog–privileged bunch that we generally are–have gotten the “you think that you’re better than us” reaction more than once. It hurts, right? But I think that we also know that that’s usually just insecurity talking…heck, sometimes I MAY think that I’m better than someone and/or talk down to someone. In that situation, I hope someone reprimands me. But by and large…yes, insecurity.

      Thanks again.

      G

  7. First, although I do not know you and do not always agree with you, I respect you for your ability to be courageous in speaking up about issues that many humans face.

    Second, I’ve experienced hateration by Indians many times over in growing through life, but my parents usually used the “Indian crab in the bucket” story to guide me in moving beyond the negativity. People who gave up on their dreams will sometimes try to pull you down from achieving your dreams. It is up to the individual to decide whether or not the individual is going to allow negative people to affect her/him.

    While growing up, my mom always used to tell a story about a Jewish man who refused to be moved to negativity by the Nazis during his time in the concentration camps during the Holocaust. Apparently, when he was asked how he could be happy and remain positive during such horrible times, he responded, “they want us to be unhappy; I will not give them that satisfaction.” It was not until I went through several rounds of nauseating betrayals by Indians (because I just could not understand how such evil in life could get the collusion of so many people, even when I took all the right steps to stop it) that I likely came across a book by that man of which my mother spoke. The book is called “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl. It totally changed my outlook about negative situations in life. I began to see a bigger picture regarding how all of us, regardless of cultural background, are all struggling to survive, and although we cannot choose what happens to us, we choose how we react to what happens to us. From that book, I realized that it is quite possible for people to move beyond traumatic situations. Many Jews had done it since 1945, although Jews do have a bit of a head start on Natives because Jews have over 5000 years of dealing with negativity and pressures to assimilate.

    Many Lakotas, at least the ones among whom I was raised, think that we are natural born leaders. Many of my Lakota relatives have guided me and tell me that hateration comes with the territory of leadership. If you let hateration affect you, then you are not being as effective of a leader as you could be. There will always be critics, who more often than not are simply cowards, but that should not stop you if you are working to bring honor upon yourself and life. Honor is comprised of justice, obligation and courage. Many people choose cowardice than honor because the burdens of choosing honorable actions are not easy to carry. It is not just to harm the weak. No one is obliged to harm the weak. It does not take courage to harm the weak. Yet, many times over the weak are harmed by cowardly folks and cowards too afraid to stand up to bullies…leading to collusion. It is a tough road to be an honorable person. I was raised that Lakotas are tough people, and I do my best to bring honor upon myself and my relatives because that is how much I love life. All of the negative stuff is simply a challenge to see if I am willing (choosing) to become a better person that connects me more to all life, just like our creator is connected to all life.

    I have not been through the easiest of times. At one point in life, I thought that being Indian meant to always endure painful situations in life and I wondered why I was born to only face such pain. However, I now approach life as a grateful person for the experiences which make me a lot tougher and wiser than my peers who’ve never been challenged like I have.

    And just to illustrate a point, one woman without all the details about my situation from back home even had the gall to call me up and tell me, “just because you have an education, you think you are better than us.” I told her, “you never came around me or my family until you thought you could get something from us, so if you have such low self-esteem to think that someone is better than you, then maybe I really am just better than you!” I seriously think we all have the ability to lead. Many of us choose not to do so because it is hard. As I advance further in my accomplishments, some people back home also tell me that I am a role model. I thank them and am truly grateful for their words because most of the time, I am alone in facing negativity, but I consider it a challenge by the creator, so in the end, I guess I am not so alone. Folks beyond people from back home also tell me that I am a role model as well. Again, the words are nice, but that should not make me complacent. My passion for the things I do are not be based on adoration from others (that is a reaction to what others do to me rather than being true to who I am), but on the simple principle of bringing honor to life, i.e. to be obliged and courageous in serving justice for the weak. I like living with my relatives through the positive and negative experiences. It is just that simple.

  8. I have experienced being in a public position and having people look for flaws in me or criticize me for every little thing. I held my own against these people and tried my best to be neutral and take the criticism as an avenue of growth. At the end of the experience I had several people ask me or encourage me to run for another public position but I declined. Once was enough for me. Now, I am a teacher and a role model and I prefer this to my one experience in a public position because I feel that I am making more of an impact and difference. I still get blamed for many things but I approach it like customer service and in the end parents realize that it’s not my fault that their child is failing because I demonstrate all the ways that I am trying to help my students and they appreciate me. I am also a mother and an aunt so I am a significant role model for my daughter, my nephew, and my nieces. Whether you like it or not, you are a role model for your son and have been a role model for your brother, nieces, and nephews and you always will be.

  9. You are a great role model G. Your writing style is unique and I have notice that some of the “seasoned” (older)native writers are copying your style. That is the best form of flattery. Keep up the good work and know that you are a great role model for our kids. The lady is right there are few role models for our young men. The good news is that is changing everyday. I just read that John Echohawk might be a possible Supreme Court Candidate. That would be a great accomplishment for him and the Native Americans.

  10. First of all, your articles are enjoyed by myself, very much. Speaking from the heart, and sharing the truth or true experiences, and also learning from them is what gifts those who have been chosen to lead, to be role models, for all people of all color. Other red skinned people can RELATE to what your writings are about, and that is what makes us read, enjoy, and reminice while we read your articles. Do not ashamed or doubt yourself when an ELDER tells you someting positive, instead grow in that new light that have placed you in. When you are told something negative by anyone, pray for it, and give that to the Creator to take care of. To see any young person be successful is a blessing, to see one of your own succeed is a double blessing. You are being watched by young ones, who we pray will follow in the footsteps that you leave behind. You share both sides of the stories, the positive and negative sides, but you have a talent of making us laugh, as we go down memory lane, and they say laughter is the best medicine. If we are to overcome all the wrongs we have endured, we need all the medicine that we can get!!! So march forward my son, and continue to keep up the great work, and is been said over and over here, SMILE, and make them wonder what you have been up to, make them wonder where you have been, make them wonder what you have overcome, and G R O W. I am honored to read the articles that you share.

    • Thank you very much, Gina.

  11. Great words. I wish we had more time to talk when I saw you at UW Pow Wow. You asked how I was doing. Actually, I’ve been unemployed for about two years now. I’ve got rejection letters from so many tribes, I lost count. I am thinking of doing a Piece on “Age Discriination” in Indian Country. I’ve also come to the conclusion that tribal leaders do not appreciate lawyers that tell them the “truth” instead of what they want to hear. They especially don’t like it when you tell them that they “should not ignore their own laws”. The non-Indian lawyers tell them what they want to hear so the Indian lawyers are relegated to the back seat. The new generation of Indina lawyers have a “Hobson’s Choice”. They can try to be like the non-Indian lawyer’s and be “sucessful” or they can keep their integrity and hope some tribe wants to hear the “truth”. If you do the latter Indian Country will probably relegate you to obscurety. If I had “gone along to get along” I’d be a “sucessful” lawyer today with all the trappings of sucess. I didn’t and, unfortunately, Indian Country relegated me to “exile”. Be truthful bud, but know the potential consequences.

    • Hey Harold–

      I woulda loved to talk to you more. Seems like we always see each other in passing. Please send me an email sometime–let’s talk. I loved your last couple of articles.

  12. Mann, Indian people are our own worst critics and enemies. Indian people have a deep rooted sickness, a terrible dark flaw on our spirits, that allows us to think the worst and to be hateful to each other so easily.
    But I think theres mos def hope with the spiritual reawakening thats happening for that attitude to change, and for our peoples, to lift each other up, instead of tearing each other down. Congrats on the role model status! See? Times are changing! shhhlol jkz!

  13. Indian women, I think she really wanted you to be his role model literally haha! Kidding.
    It would seem in general we love to tear each other down but if you take the time to think about it not everything can be generalized as such behavior. My opinion is there are a few reasons people react or behave this way. In your first blog “fancy skins” you admitted to having reactions to certain types of behavior. You didn’t feel native people in certain positions represented our people honestly but were only in these positions for other reasons, maybe selfish reasons. Was it tearing down, critiquing, trying to present a situation truthfully/honesty or maybe it was defending? Were you threatened by the decisions they could make maybe not in yours or your loved ones best interest? Maybe you just wanted to be entertaining. As you read the responses there was a range of some thinking it was jealousy and tearing down and others seeing it as truth. We need to stop pretending we are ignorant of what’s really happening and be honest with ourselves.
    Sometimes a situation is political. Which could mean many things, a person’s political stance might be related to their job which puts food on the table for their family. It could mean literally tearing down a person who threatens a political power structure such as large families so they stay in political power. We all see nepotism running rampant in our tribal governments it’s nothing new. Again we pretend to be ignorant, putting leaders who are not the most effective or may not have the people’s best interest at heart, hurts us in the long. You have written of such things.
    Before reservations and such, our people raised our children with love, compassion, wisdom. That time has gone. There is no longer that upbringing. The teachings, mentality, attitudes, role models (imitation of sort of) are mostly modern with 8 hours 5 days a week spent in an Anglo education system. The rest is TV music or whatever else. Before, children were taught what is right and what is wrong. A 14 year old male then, would have been a warrior and have the mental capabilities of a 40-50 year old man nowadays. He knew what courage was honor, the creator, our mother the earth, love, compassion, knowledge, wisdom. A person knew the differences between defending his people and murdering innocent women, children, and people. A person rationalized these and reasoned these with the skills, instructions, knowledge he was given through his elders and guided by creation or the creator. The motives were different then more spiritual, with love, compassion and sound judgment. A person like CrazyHorse in his 20’s then would have the mental capabilities of a person 50+. He was an exception based on his accomplishments but they all were brought up just as equally. They weren’t obstructed when they spoke their language or were bombarded with video games and ads. We have lost a lot in my opinion. We cannot compare to that level of character and spirituality. It’s like comparing apples and oranges. Again we pretend, our motives have changed, that job didn’t last and the 20 kids we had with 5 different women, need food on the table. Or maybe there was never a job or education but still people need to find a way to survive, usually it will be the easiest and fastest.
    Historical trauma is only the oppressors attempt to kill a people’s soul. After so much torture a person will eventually lose hope. The eyes will glaze and the reasoning abilities and will are lost. Not only the oppressor equates the soul as the intellectual abilities of the mind and the feeling/compassion of the heart combined to give the person reasoning abilities which equate to an independent material, physical, spiritual conscious being with freewill or an image of god/child of creation/a soul in this life. When the reasoning ability is lost or the will crushed you could say it would be equivalent to a soul or fire being put out or lost. With no reasoning ability how does a person tell between right and wrong, good or bad? Who do we choose to lead us? How do we know what is true and false? Without this we are only reacting, someone says do it, we all do it like a herd, no one questions it. Someone promises something, we all agree without question whether it is right or wrong or good or bad. I digress.
    Thus manipulation, why do people tear each other down, maybe because we can be easily manipulated and controlled by anyone who sees this and wants to take advantage of a situation. Maybe someone has an opinion that threatens the powers that be and the herd is activated? Some things to consider.

    • This is a great post–thank you very much. You’re absolutely right: the fancy skin article rankled a lot of people, and probably someone can reasonably say that I was “hating.” If I can, I’ll explain my view of that–first, the person that I was making fun of the most was me. I realize my good fortune and sometimes cannot believe it–so it was more of a reality check for me. Second, I do everything kind of “tongue in cheek”–I hope you recognize that from the other things that I write. I usually don’t mean to be hurtful–only playful. But that’s not to make excuses–I DO think that there’s absolutely a way to critique and criticize without being mean spirited or nasty. I WILL critique folks, including myself, and hopefully it’ll never be mean spirited or nasty. But I think critique is very necessary.

      What I’m more concerned with–with this role model article, as well as the Elouise Cobell piece–is some folks’ tendency to be mean spirited or nasty. We can all disagree, and even agree to disagree. But I find it fundamentally unfair when people attack other people’s families, lineage, etc. That’s just mean to me…

      But that’s just me, and admittedly, the standards are kinda arbitrary. So I appreciate your comments. Aho!

  14. The best role models are the Grandparents who, after learning from the generations in their lives, have some real knowledge that they can share in their actions and words too. I want to say something about my Grandparents: They kept a home together for all their children and grandchildren, and unless we were drunk or violent or rude, we always had a home to go to. My Grandparents spoke Dakota to one another and they knew all of their several dozen Grandchildren and most of their Great-Grandchildren by name. They weren’t materialistic except in the most practical way, for instance, they took care to send each of their Grandchildren care packages that contained handmade Star Quilts. They always had a positive outlook and a funny story to share, so their house was always filled with laughter. It was an island of happiness surrounded by the despair of a very poor Indian reservation.
    I could say so much more about my Grandparents and how they served as role models.

    I see lots of Indians, some very smart and educated or gifted with other talents, I would say that many aren’t role models, they’re just talented, lucky and privileged. Role Model worthy model are those who take their talents and make something of them that is of benefit to their community. Some Indians are kind of “showy” people who want recognition for what they did, but they aren’t necessarily taking the high road when it comes to taking care of their families. For instance, I know an artist who has something like 5 kids from 4 different marriages, he doesn’t keep in touch with any of his kids, and some of his kids are very young, yet he wants recognition for his art, some would say he is a role model because he is a good painter, I would say he is a good role model if you want someone who can paint a good picture.
    Perhaps we need role models for lots of different things but the people who are holding things together are those Grandparents, Elders, Mothers, Parents, Relatives who take care to fulfill the responsibilities they have to all of their relations.

  15. Hey Gyas…. I always enjoy reading your blogs… and up to this point have never commented (for whatever reason – mostly time…) however, this time I am compelled to comment…

    I too have watched you grow, not as long as our coastal elder you spoke with… and I agree … you are a great role model… Not only for the younger kiddos… I too look up to you in many ways, and have so for a long time…the way you influence your family and sibs… and your personal swag and flair… you truly are a unique and talented individual… It’s MAGIC…

    I agree that there is an incredible pressure that comes from such a title, and yes I too have seen many of our own knock someone down or out because they ‘don’t live up to the standard(?)’ but as long as we have our own restraint, and self control – keep ourselves in check when need be…. That’s what makes a good person/role model…
    So, with that and in the interest of time and getting too ‘verbose’ I will leave you and everyone else with a few things I came away with from my Disney days…
    On/Off stage – when we are ‘on’ stage, we have a responsibility to portrait the role we play to the fullest and to ‘live it’ those that see us in that role need to know – that is who we are for them at that time… when we are ‘off’ stage, and in our personal time, people still can connect us to the role they see us in and we have a responsibility to not lose sight of that… personal choices…. (Lots of discussions can come from this one)
    MAGIC and WORK – I guess the best way to share this is a quote that I try to live by and that guides a lot of what I do…. Gyasi: I too believe that this quote relates to you (at least in my opinion and what I have seen of you…)

    Lee Cockerell said:
    It is not MAGIC that makes it work… It is the way we work that makes the MAGIC…
    So, referring to my comment earlier about ‘it’s MAGIC… I guess I am saying that you do great work and that people see that MAGIC in you by what you do……

  16. Now I am wondering about the two? One person called Adam Beach our, Native American Hero. Which to my kids and I sounded kind of corny. I picture a hero with a cape and flying around saving the day.

    People who I thought were role models turned out to be living double lives. And I am getting tired of the crab analogy. There is one young woman on our reservation who seems to be a good role model for our young girls here. She became an attorney and teaches dance to the little girls. I was amazed at the response she received when she offered a class to teach dance, this class filled up fast, she must have had 50 students.

    Sometimes I think people who “BECOME” role models with out really trying to be one get big headed about it. For example, one role model in the Native American community had an arguement, rather as she said a “disagreement” in a public place with her son over the purchase of some items. At some point it became obvious and the parent and child began to argue. The parent admonished the son and she told him not to do that in public to her again because people know “Who I am”.

    I felt bad for the son, he had no voice.

    Role Models are not perfect people we are all human beings with real lives. I think some pastor’s from various religions that I have seen are good role model father’s and their wives. They have one family, one spouse and are responsible people. Granted there are some Native American People who have this too but,…anyway.

    It was a real turn off to me when a cousin of mine said his hero was the physically abusive husband in the movie “Once Were Warriors”… But there are young men who model these types of men and think that beating a woman is normal. Unfortunately there are young women who see other women out and about and think that their lifestyle is “FUN”… With the kind of work I do, which involves some counseling, I see these young women in jail. Two, three children at home father absent from the house, sometimes in jail too, and they think this is okay.

    Not all Role Models are positive.

    • Great point!

  17. The great “role model” debate … it’s an honor and a bit of fear at the same time for myself. I like the idea of it but then think somehow I need to change and not be myself to deserve that title truly (mainly cutting out those nights dancing in the big city). But I decided not to worry about that label and just be me. If others feel that I deserve that title, great, but I am not going to try to “earn it” through good behaviour, but rather just be the best me I can be.


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