Posted by on Apr 16, 2012 in Uncategorized

Indigenous Leadership in a Westernized World

By:  Colby Tootoosis

The leadership style of the Indigenous was based on character, merit, and faith.  The 1800’s highlighted and demonstrated the foremost examples of this leadership.  It brought out the most historic and famous leaders; leaders whose sacrifice, dedication, and humility ensured our survival and influenced the reality we live in today.

Black Kettle, Touch the Clouds, Crazy Horse, Chief Joseph, Chief Seattle, Sitting Bull, Tecumseh, Red Jacket, Hiawatha, Poundmaker, Big bear, Piapot, Geronimo and many more not mentioned here, and countless more who’s humility kept them concealed; not once have the greatest leaders in Indigenous history ever said the words “vote for me,” or “choose me to lead you.”

Under today’s circumstances, it’s different.  You ever notice when it comes time to elect our leadership, people change faces?  Facade masks reveal themselves like hidden scavengers jumping at their opportunity to feed.  Past unsatisfactory stories of people become topics of discussions at dinner tables, bar tables, the golf course, facebook, twitter and most prominently community meetings.  Not all circumstances are like this – though many are – and it’s challenging to recognize authenticity.   Leadership selection processes have changed.   Our nations have changed.  In fact what is the most common theme during election time? Change!  Everyone speaks of change!

What is this ‘Change’?  What does it look like? What texture does it have? What does it sound like? Feel like? What is indigenous leadership in today’s modern circumstances?  The next few minutes of reading this will not give you direct answers.  Hopefully it will give you some insight for your own discovery.

The reality is our nationhood is in crisis.  Our nationhood is in crisis because our inner communities are in crisis, and that crisis is reflected from the crises within our homes.   We need to acknowledge that these systems of crisis stem from the impacts of genocide, colonialism, and residential school/boarding schools.  What are specific examples of these systems of crisis?  Suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, poverty, environmental contaminants, lateral violence, domestic violence, gangs, elder abuse, marital breakups, disrespect for community infrastructure, food and water quality, the domestication of international indigenous nations, and much more not specifically mentioned.  What if all these systems of crises were a symptom of one major crisis, that’s the crisis of the lack of leadership?  Not in a sense of people making decisions on our behalf, even though that can be part of it– rather, it is the lack of self-responsibility.

Every one of us, whether we are aware of it or not, or acknowledge it or not, have influence on the future generations.  The choices you make today affect the life choices of your children and grandchildren– and for those who have no kids of their own, we still have influence.  We often forget this truth, and as a result unhealthy cycles of behaviors get passed down from generation to generation.  Today’s leadership is evidence of this ignorance.

I’m not purposely paraphrasing or backing the cliché idiom of ‘everyone is a leader’; yet everyone does have power and influence in terms of the direction of nationhood.  Every person has a responsibility: whether its political, family oriented, or simply supporting a cause.  Most importantly our core responsibility is the duty of owning the self.  To ignore this duty and responsibility is a hindrance to coming generations.

So rather then complaining about this issue, let’s explore some solutions while keeping in mind the greatest solutions come from the inside.  Let’s inquire.

Getting Back to Indigenous Lifestyles

‘Going back to our traditional ways’ is often argued against, i.e., ‘we are colonized, we are assimilated, and there’s no going back to living in tipi’s.’  It amazes me how people are fixated in disagreeing on going back to Indigenous perceptions.  To them, this means going back to living in a tipi, riding a horse to work, or ONLY hunting for food as means to survive.  To argue against awakening Indigenous perceptions is an indication of a conforming attitude towards the very system that has been responsible for genocide on Indigenous people.  Indigenous perception is not an external element.  What if ‘going back to traditional ways’ was mainly about living by an Indigenous value system that has carried nations for thousands of years?  Value systems are internally based and strengthen the connection to the external world (ex. land and resources).

The question is: have you been living up to your own values in your personal lifestyle?  In your relationships?  In your friendships?  In your job?  What has it cost you to sell yourself short if you haven’t lived up to your own standard of values?  Are you being authentic by ignoring your values?  Does a defensive attitude show up in the form of justifications for choices that deep down you know create an internal conflict, in terms of your values?

What if to live Indigenously is to live consciously?  What if there is no living in two worlds– meaning the western world and indigenous world?  What if the only world that is true and authentic is the quality of your internal world?  Doesn’t the internal world manifest and create the external world anyways?  How does all this play out in our leadership and current circumstances?  Since language is internally based, is it clear why Indigenous language is vital in this context?  What kind of leadership is needed in regards to all of this?

Authentic Leadership and Indigenous Leadership

I can only speak from the context of the consciousness from my homeland.  Indigenous leaders of the past were raised to be leaders.  The old people spotted their characteristics, their personalities, their egos, and assigned mentors to assist in raising these young people– with an awareness of their traits and emotional drives.

A modern example of looking at these characteristics would be pointing out the 3 main common styles of leadership behavior.  Some leaders have a more servant-based approach to leading with a natural drive to help and assist.  Others have a more charismatic/warrior approach to leading with a competitive drive and a physique to dominate.  While some are in the area of collaboration and ensuring all information, facts, perceptions are understood before a decision is made.  Although having all these mannerisms and styles in some form, one would be the most dominant.  There needs to be recognition of the difference between pushing/forcing something to happen to feeling the pull/calling to allow something to happen.  Giving up control of specific outcomes is part of this process.  The more I want to be a leader and push for it, the more ego is involved.  It also important to be aware that using humility as an excuse to play small can be ego sneaking into the picture.  It is wise to simply relax into authenticity and allow the greatness that exists inside to give clear direction.  This way of being feels true, and this feels Indigenous.

Emotions play a huge role in human behavior.  To study behavior is to simply study emotional avoidance strategies.  If I am to be authentic in my life I need to be authentic in the expression and experiences of my emotions.  All of the great leaders in the world spoke with passion and made choices from the conviction of emotions.  Emotions are just energy responses in the body.  Some are comfortable to experience and some are uncomfortable to experience.  Emotional avoidances shape my behavior and create patterns and cycles that feed a never ending loop of limitation.  I have to be willing expand my being and open beyond my emotional no go zones if I am to lead my life from an authentic place.  This also allows the emotional flexibility to achieve access to specific leadership qualities that otherwise would not have been available.  Forgiveness is essential for emotional flexibility.  I don’t forgive to empower my enemy; I forgive to reclaim my power.  Often times it’s forgiveness of the self that is needed for giving up that power in the first place.  The world needs leaders, not politicians.  Live Indigenously, Live Consciously, and allow passion to flow with tears when it needs to.

Leadership is Revealed Rather Than Developed

There are leadership development programs out there.  They are valuable programs.  I feel that leadership is something that cannot be developed or taught.   Leadership can be mentored but not from a place of becoming like someone– rather, opening into the authenticity of the self.  Leadership is revealed, as greatness is revealed.  True greatness comes from the inside.  No one, no teacher, can ever be an expert at your own greatness.   It is a greatness that is beyond the self and it’s a matter of becoming the conduit for that greatness.  Greatness has no room for ego so it is important to study the ego, embrace the ego, and let go of the ego.  We need Indigenous Leadership Revelation programs; so young people can awaken their authenticity, responsibility, and become conduits for greatness.

Leadership Responsibilities of Women and Young People

Our young people need to realize they don’t need a special title to have power and influence.  Our nations are like a car, and for a car to go anywhere it needs an engine.  Our young people are that engine.  If the young people are not involved in the decision-making processes of our nations, our nations will not make strides.  It is the young people who contain the solutions for many of the issues and crises our nations face.  Include them.

The truth is women will never be equal to men because the Indigenous perspective is that women are at a higher plane; they are at a sacred degree that no man can ever obtain.  Women give birth to nations and are the backbone of the family.  Men need to step aside, revere our women, and see them as decision makers within our nations.  In the last 100 years or so, men have made many of the mistakes that have diluted our nationhood.  There needs to be a reconciliation and forgiveness between our men and women.  Maybe it is time for women to step up and perhaps correct the mistakes that men have made so our nations can have strong foundations once again.  Strong relationships between our men and women are equivalent to having strong nations.

What is This Change That’s Needed?

Right now, elections for leadership bring out the worst in the people.  When the time comes where the appointing of leadership brings out the best qualities of the people– then we will know the people recognize themselves as leaders.  The best qualities come out as a result of appointing the best person to speak on our behalf.  The people deserve the leadership they appoint.  Through community-based conscious leadership with an indigenous flavor of collective being, our people can overcome the crises we face, and the crises that have yet to arrive.  It’s not a matter of who’s leading within our nations, but what is leading.