Thursday, October 16, 2008

Respectfully Speaking Up

I am relatively young, meaning I have much to learn.  This is evident by the fact that I often act as if I know something, when in fact I know very little when it comes to many things.   There is great truth to the statement, "You are not teachable until your thirty."  Up to around thirty, one often walks around with a youthful air, exuding relative confidence and excited naivete.  Up to this point, one often believes they know a great deal and have lived through many experiences to speak with a cadence of confidence and knowledge.  Then slowly but surely, a sense of greater maturity begins to set in(hopefully) and the need for constant reflection and discernment is further appreciated.  

Today, at 35 years of age, I find myself reflecting more, thinking more and saying more about the Indian community. I still speak with naive excitement and often, boisterous rhetoric.  I often say things that challenge our community and perhaps are perceived as a bit narrow and unappreciative.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I say the things I say because I honor and have immense appreciation for the struggle Indian people went through, particularly in the 1800's and more recently in the 1940's-70's.  The resiliency of Indian people is the reason I am able to speak up, naive or not. Their sacrifice is the reason I can proudly say I am Dine/Navajo. Their strength is the reason I am able to challenge the status quo and to vision greater things for my family and for our people.  It is with great humility and appreciation for how far Indian people have come in the last 40 years that drives me.  Knowing how hard Indian people battled for their dignity and humanity is why I cannot settle with or stand for attitudes of "good enough".  I was never raised to take a back seat.  I believe part of my responsibility is to ensure that the struggle and accomplishments of the past were not in vain.  Speaking up is one small way of shaking awake complacency and shooing away apathy. 

Friday, September 26, 2008

Community Conditioning

The other night I was at a community meeting discussing an important topic, the future of our community. An Indian lady stood-up and spoke about our need to recondition the way we think and act in our community.  She spoke about the need to recondition our outlook, approach and perception of our community.  As she finished, she asked the group, "How are we conditioning our children today?"  Now the word "conditioning" got me thinking.  It got me thinking about my grandfather and many of our ancestors who came before us.

My grandfather was a hard working Navajo.  And I mean a hard physical worker.  He worked on the railroad and also ran a large ranch with sheep, cattle and horses on our reservation.  He worked from sun-up to sun-down to ensure that his overall ranch operation was running strong.  His family's livelihood depended on it.  He was strong, slender and physically fit.  I remember his hands being very strong.  He was tough and conditioned!

When I look at old photos of Indians in the 1800's or early 1900's, or when I think about Jim Thorpe and the other great Indian athletes at Carlisle Indian School, or about warriors like Manuelito, Geronimo, and Crazy Horse or about all the strong women who kept their families and communities alive....I am reminded how physically fit and strong our people were.  They were physically conditioned.  Such physical conditioning was essential to Indian people's ability to survive the cold winters and the hot summers, not to mention protecting their homelands.

I also believe our people were mentally and spiritually conditioned. They were thinkers, strategizers, planners, philosophers and go-getters.  They were conditioned to succeed.  Mediocrity was not an acceptable trait because it would lead the demise of their community.  They were conditioned to care for, defend and support their family and community-- there was little room for excuses.  Equally important, they were conditioned to think ahead and to prepare for what was to come.  Daily activities like hunting, fishing, herding, wood gathering, sewing, and gardening were about preparing for the seasons to come-- for the future.  Indian people had to be ready for what the future would bring.  They had to be sharp, prepared and on their game.  Survival was predicated on keen conditioning.  No slackers allowed!

Today, our overall spiritual and mental community conditioning is, to use a physical analogy, a bit flabby and out of shape.  As a community, if we all got on a metaphorical community treadmill, I am afraid we would be reaching for the oxygen masks pretty quick.  But like physical training, we can get back into shape and recondition our minds and actions again. It will require commitment and dedication, but like our ancestor we are strong with much to offer.  This journey of  collectively reconditioning our people requires a steady diet of the following:  
  • having a spiritual foundation; 
  • understanding and living by our cultural values and teachings; 
  • having high expectations, dreams, and goals and then step-by-step going after them; 
  • supporting and encouraging each other; 
  • understanding our roles and responsibilities to our families, communities and Nations--we are not here to live unto ourselves; 
  • having a positive outlook and attitude;
  • being proactive and having a plan; 
  • taking time to laugh and gather with each other;
  • taking care of our bodies and having balance in all we do (eating, exercising, working, fun..)
  • educating our minds and aquiring a skill/trade
  • doing for ourselves and not relying on others to do or pay for us;
  • not tolerating mediocrity or complacency;
  • giving back;
  • moving with patience, humility and fortitude. 

These are but a few things, but if we work on these things daily and incorporate into our lives, overtime, our minds, bodies and spirits will again be conditioned to ensure our family and community success far into the future.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Socioeconomic Forecast

Over time, as people in the community have come to understand NACDI and our community development work, they share their stories, thoughts, concerns and ideas.  People are naturally interested in their future (and how it relates to their past). They wonder about their family's stability, their jobs, and their health. They wonder about what the future holds for their children, grandchildren and the generations to come.  

As I watch the news, read various reports, observe government decisions, philanthropic trends, and nonprofit concerns; and listen to people in the community, what begins to surface is an interesting and challenging  forecast the American Indian community can expect to face over the next many years.  Below is an attempt to articulate a bit of this socioeconomic forecast in hopes that we as a community can better prepare and be in the forefront of these inevitable realities.  

Here is what I forecast. Socioeconomic disparities and complexities will continue to grow and challenge the American Indian community.  Government, philanthropy, and other non-profit organizations will have less resources and, therefore, continue to cut or redirect resources and redefine priorities.  Individuals and families will continue to face increases in costs of living, slow job and housing markets, declining wages(particularly as it relates to out-sourcing), underperforming public school education, and rising post-secondary tuition.  Ethnic and global diversity will continue to grow.  Population growth, particularly in urban areas and among the elderly, will continue to rise.  Private sector markets and opportunities will continue to grow as the global economy increasingly becomes one. Environmental challenges are real and willcontinue to grow.   Innovation and creativity will continue to be a driving currency of the future.

How the American Indian community decides to approach this forecast will determine its future.  NACDI believes that innovative, community-based strategies for self-sufficiency and economic opportunity must be developed and supported or we will be the products of this change verses the architects of our change.  The urban American Indian community has choices to make.  Each decision will determine our geographic and cultural legacy and our socioeconomic stability.  Today's American Indian leadership must focus on stabilizing the American Indian community's fragile socioeconomic foundation and advancing a new movement of community success, expectation and growth. This will require the American Indian community and its leadership to make major program, development and investment decisions.  Any combination of fear, unwillingness, isolation or apathy among leadership and community organizations will result in a profoundly different American Indian community in the next ten to twenty years.

Three critical factors will determine our success in advancing a community, asset-based future; Community and organizational willingness to: 1.)  Collaborate, 2.) Share resources, 3.) Be innovative. Collectively reorienting our goals and strategies toward building and sustaining the Indian community's capacity to develop sustainable physical and human assets; develop economic assets and vitality; and develop and maintain effective human and social relationships through cooperative efforts will put us on a self-sufficiency path and equip us to face any challenges that may present itself in the future.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Community and economic development are preservation tools

The American Indian community is experiencing demographic shifts.  Population aging, population growth, and population diversity,  are creating fresh challenges for organizations and service providers.  In addition, American Indian population dispersion throughout the city and into the suburbs/exurbs is also creating interesting challenges.  These shifts will require thoughtful solutions to the question, "How does the American Indian community preserve and maintain a cultural and geographic sense of community and identity?" or can it?

I believe one area to pay particular attention to is how and where we as a community choose to invest our resources and energy.  Critical to our future sense of community and our ability to preserve it rests in our future capacity. One area that we tend not to think about is business, development and finance.  Local American Indian community investment in business, development and financial activities is, by and large, miniscule.  Instead, the primary employers/players in the American Indian community are social service non-profits and government.  Indian jobs, income and quality of life are connected to focusing on deficits and poverty within the community.  The result is a weak economy based on providing services to fill gaps, creating long-term dependency on those services--both for those who provide the services and those who receive them.

At the same time, significant numbers of American Indian people wish to remain(live and/or work) within their historic/recognized community area. There remains a strong desire to preserve and strengthen community and place for American Indians, and yet two challenges persist: A lack of strategic alignment and investment among American Indian non-profits and their leaders to work on projects that leverage their collective assets to truly produce poverty reduction outcomes; and a lack of community and economic development capacity to create the new prosperity envisioned by many Indian residents, businesses and organizations. 

Nationally, the Minneapolis American Indian community is a respected and known model of urban American Indian development and activity-- a place where American Indian people have created a sense of community identity and place(despite broken relocation promises).  Much of that work has been done through non-profit organizations including the Indian Health Board, Little Earth of United Tribes, American Indian OIC, MIGIZI Communications, Minneapolis American Indian Center, Heart of the Earth School, Upper Midwest American Indian Center, American Indian CDC , American Indian Business Development Corporation(no longer around) and many, many more.

Today, as South Minneapolis, particularly the neighborhoods of Phillips, Ventura Village, Powderhorn, and Seward undergo significant growth as a result of the light rail and downtown development, the American Indian community is, for the most part, not a viable or respected player at the development table.  This must change.  An organized effort is required to develop and bring Indian economic power into the ongoing stream of development opportunities.

Further, the metro area offers less land and and housing development opportunities at an affordable price that will benefit the American Indian population in the future.  The positioning of new enterprises within the American Indian community needs to occur soon to generate gain on investment for existing and new opportunities. Significant benefit to the Minneapolis American Indian population will be realized only if an asset building strategy is part of the changes that are currently on there way.  Failure to act will result in exacerbated poverty and lack of opportunity with no change in the current conditions.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

It is time for a new school and expectations

Last week there was a community meeting to discuss the future of the Oh Day Aki Charter School.  Discussion at the meeting included the financial and leadership challenges currently facing Oh Day Aki Charter School(formerly Heart of the Earth Survival School).  Currently, the Minneapolis Public School is the charter sponsor and holds the contract with Oh Day Aki Charter School.  In a recent audit conducted by the State of Minnesota,  it was found that not all finances could be accounted for(approx. $160,000) and that other requested information could not be provided.  As a result(among other issues), the Minneapolis Public Schools will not continue to be the charter sponsor or renew its contract with Oh Day Aki Charter School under its current administration and governance.  MPS is, however, willing to explore charter sponsorship and support of an alternative American Indian charter school, but under entirely different leadership and governance.  

Other issues discussed included the poor and possible unhealthy facilities that the school currently occupies and leases from Heart of the Earth, Inc.  In addition, questions regarding financial accountability and use of funds by both parties were raised.

Overall, the situation is not good and does not appear to have a quick and effective resolution. Unfortunately, those with the most to lose are the children and families who desire and deserve a high quality, indigenous-centered education.

Now, we could view this as a terrible problem and attempt to band-aid  it with a temporary fix resulting in more of the same or we could view this as an opportunity to unite a community around a common desire to have a state-of-the-art school and community facility that houses 21st century innovative learning opportunities rooted in language and culture.  We can come up with a short term attempt or a long term solution.  Collectively, we possess the ability and knowledge....but do we possess the desire?  

It is time for a new community school facility--a new school to match a new and revived community expectation of excellence.  The community "expectation  bar" has slipped to a dangerous low. Let us stand together and raise up our own bar and then help each other to cross-over the bar. (I must be watching to many olympic commercials of the high jump and pole vault)  
I challenge the Bush Foundation to help fund a new American Indian school in the urban area...thats nation building.

Monday, July 28, 2008

NEW NACDI blog-Defining the Indian 21st Century

The Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI) Blog was created as a open community venue for communication, discussion and exploration around our organizational tag line, "Defining the Indian 21st Century."  This catchy phrase implies a sense of future, place and ownership in Indian Country. However, it also leaves one with a myriad of questions and thoughts as to what is the "future" .  This blog is interested in provoking and hearing your thoughts and ideas about "Defining the Indian 21st Century". For example,  What forces are defining the American Indian 21st Century?  Who is defining the Indian 21st Century?  What do Indian people want to see in the next 100 years?  What type of communities do Indian people want to live in over the next 100 years?  What is the Indian Community?  Who is the Indian Community?  What should we be investing in and doing to ensure strong and viable tribal communities and nations- urban and reservation?  And the questions go on and on.  

This forum is also open to other related topics and interests that you would like to write about. Please feel free to post your commentary anytime.  

We live in a very interesting time that is going to require indigenous people to be very thoughtful, reflective and deliberative with their decisions, investments and actions.  The rate of today's global change hoists immense pressure on our Tribal Nations and urban American Indian communities and members.  This requires us to be effective and innovative communicators and solution makers (not just problem solvers).  We need to strengthen our communication efforts and to discuss important issues more openly and on a more regular basis.  While we may be more tech-connected then ever, many of us(particularly our young people) have become increasingly disconnected from their tribes, communities, families, customs, etc.  Such disunity allows alternative and often opposing forces and ownership to define and control our future.  While there will always be disagreements, alternative views and opposing ideas in Indian Country, we must remain committed to our collective indigenous preservation and sense of place and future in this world.  We have much to offer!

I look forward to all blog comments and contributors.  We will use this diary of thought to help inform NACDI's community development projects and investments.