Jul 17, 2013 - Nepotism: The Scourge of Tribal Employment Practices, By Dr. Erich Longie

Two posts that appeared on my Facebook page today prompted me to retrieve an old blog of my mine and rewrite it. The first Facebook post was,  “What we do, who we are, and what we will become is in our very own hands.”  To which I replied, “Agree 100%. Nothing, or no one is holding us back, but our own character defects.”

The next post was, “It makes me angry when outsiders come in and take advantage of Tribes. This is why we need our own to get educated and come home and do the work that needs done, and why Tribes need to utilize Tribal member preference.” I agreed whole-heartily with this statement, but it’s just not that simple. I commented, “I agree…however obtaining an education does not necessary mean the person will contribute to the tribe in a positive way. Years ago, when I finished my Masters, an elder came up to me and told me to use my education in a good way. She said, ‘Many of them go away to school just to learn how to steal more’.”

After years in tribal politics, and being “good” at it, I finally realized that the majority of our issues could be resolved by our leaders/workers processing two values, courage and honesty. This realization prompted me to write Five Ethics workshop based on our Dakota values. The “good” tribal workers/leaders I know have enormous amounts of these two values, but they can use some help (one my characters in the workshop, Susie Sainte, was modeled after one of them).

Our last judge, after she was ousted, gave an interview to the TV station. One phase jumped out at me. She said, “The Chairman wasn’t an honest man.” This lack of honesty by our leader is why our tribal government has been in chaos the past two years. It took courage by tribal members to finally oust him.

As I said earlier, many of our social ill can be dealt with by simply practicing our traditional values of courage, honesty, perseverance, and generosity.  Let’s take nepotism, which is common on many Indian reservations, and talk about how its practice has a negative impact on the entire reservation.

According to Wikipedia, Nepotism is, “favoritism granted to relatives or friends, without regard to their merit.” The word nepotism is from the Latin word n epos (meaning ‘nephew’ or ‘grandchild’)‛ (nepotism, 2005; nepotism, 2010).

Although the position of chieftain of a band was passed down from father to son, traditionally, there was no nepotism among the Dakotas. You did not automatically become a leader or receive preferential treatment because your parents held an important position on in the tribe. You had to earn whatever position you aspired to.

Sadly, it is the opposite today. The old familiar saying on reservations, it is not what you know, but whom you know, is so true. This unethical practice often puts unqualified individuals into jobs of great importance to tribal members and prevents other tribal members from working in jobs they are qualified for. Some reservations lose their best and brightest tribal member due to nepotism. They choose to work off the reservation because they will not get hired on the reservation, because they don’t have a relative in a top-level position.

Another important thing to remember is nepotism on Indian reservations is not always the same as nepotism off reservations for a number of reasons. Many individuals off reservations own their own business, and they see it as their right (not as nepotism) to hire family members. Similarly, as a small business owner, the few times I had to have help, I did not hesitate to hire my relatives.

On the other hand, very seldom will you see two family members working in the same department, or in the same project in public businesses off the reservation. They strictly enforce their nepotism policies.

In the past, all tribes had an extended family system and loyalty to family members within that extended family exceeded everything else. Here is how the Lakota viewed kinship: “Kinship is central to the Lakota way of life. Courage, fortitude, wisdom and generosity are among the most celebrated virtues. The Lakota learn these traits from their elders and prove them in their daily lives. Every act and judgment is considered in terms of its duty and benefit to the extended family, which often includes hundreds of people. The worst insult a Lakota can give is to say, “you live as if you had no relatives.” (The Lakota Ways, n. d.)

When you take the Lakota philosophy, which is similar to other tribes’ philosophies, and apply it to the modern world, you can begin to see why many tribal members practice nepotism openly and unashamedly. They are doing what any good Indian would do; taking care of their family.

Another reason nepotism may be so prevalent on reservations is the lack of jobs and poor work habits of tribal members. Often, good dependable workers may come from the same family, and if you are a manager looking for good workers, you very well might overlook the fact that your two best workers are closely related to you.

In 1996, I was hired as president for our tribal college. My sister, April, was the business manager for the college at that time. The Board of Regents did not express any concerns about the potential nepotism that was created between April and me when they hired me as president; however, April, who is known as a highly ethical worker, took it upon herself to look for a job elsewhere. In a very short time, she was hired as business manager for the tribe.

Regardless for what reasons nepotism is practiced on Indian Reservations, it is a practice that contributes to skepticism and mistrust of tribal administration/governments.

The cure for nepotism is honesty. When hiring for a position, the person(s) doing the hiring simply have to tell themselves before hand, “I will hire the most qualified person for this job”, then do it. It’s not hard to do unless a person has become so dishonest that he, or she, can no longer resist their unethical/dishonest compulsions.

REFERENCES: nepotism. (2005). In The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy (3rd ed.).

Houghton Mifflin Company. Retrieved March 01, 2010, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/nepotism nepotism. (2010, February 28).

In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved, March 1, 2010, from: http://en.wiki pedia.org/w/index.php? title=Nepotism&oldid=346931047 The Lakota Ways. (n. d.). Homeland [Motion picture documentary]

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