Posted by on Oct 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

What is Leadership?

By : Renee Holt

Recently, I attended the 43rd National Indian Education Associations (NIEA) annual convention. Having served in this elected leadership, most of what I learned was through observation and experience.

For our Native people, one of the challenges is balancing our daily walk in a society that does not honor our ways. Not only is our spiritual journey a responsibility, but so is making a living in a capitalist society. It is rife with a value system that contradicts a few of our Native values that are centered on family, culture, and spirituality. With the NIEA convention theme, Maintaining Traditions in a Digital Era, the keynote presentations were relative to technology and culture. As Native people, we do our best to continue practicing a way of life so that our children can continue to carry on the traditions, despite modern technology. We have to work on balancing our culture and the use of technology- whether for work or extracurricular activities.

In today’s society, technology has become prominent and even I am guilty of consumerism. As a society, we have seen that technology is promoted as the wave of the future and things like handwritten notes, letters, and messages are obsolete. Texting is the new handwritten form to communicate. So much, that even snail mail has become outdated. Through all of this transformation from one generation to the next, we are learning that our Native youth are consumed with technology as well. My children have email accounts so that they can access their Apple accounts for music, social media, and communication for school in certain instances. The reality is, society has created this monster and if we don’t keep up, like a computer, we will become obsolete.

However, in this transformation for our Native community, there is a responsibility that requires us to maintain our traditions in order for us to remain culturally grounded. As sovereign nations, if we are to stand up against the powers that be, we must continue to practice our culture. Ultimately, the powers that be are corporate ones rooted in a colonized system that is disconnected. It is a reminder that our culture and “business” are not synonymous with each other. When working with non-Native people, organizations, and entities that do not understand this cultural way of life, there is an imbalance that is made right when we bring prayer. As Native people, we are taught certain teachings and there are unspoken laws and ways that are inherently passed down from one generation to the next, even that in the business world. As we are taught, when we step away from those teachings as we journey through life, it can be a challenge to maintaining balance.

As a part of the younger cohort, I learned more about what not to do, how not to be, and what not to say, through observations. More importantly, I view leadership differently. I no longer view it from the perspective I naively believed leadership was supposed to be. I believe as Native people, whether from Alaska, Hawaii, Pueblo, Lakota, Lummi, Swinomish, Nooksack, Colville, Kootenai, Mandan, Hidatsa, Cheyenne, and Sho-Ban or any other tribe, there are common threads and fibers of woven knowledge that we all share. For me, today, leadership includes the core values of family, spiritual balance, peaceful co-existence, and compassion to name a few- and is founded on the principles of living a life of selflessness.

One’s family always comes first, prayer is needed on a daily journey, and despite differences, we must work towards peaceful co-existence using compassion because we never know what someone is going through. These teachings are not prescriptive, but a way of living that includes other virtues. Wisdom gained through experience often times includes failure and struggles that thinking from our ego will incur. As I learned through mistakes I made, I can only look to people before me and ask them about what they experienced to help guide the decisions I will make.

While on this journey, I learned that leadership is not what it used to be for our people. Historically our ancestors selected an individual based on trust and an individual’s family was taken into consideration. How an individual conducted themselves and represented their family was also taken into account, and as a virtue, leadership was based on how an individual saw fit to find a solution. Whether it was battling a rival tribe or trekking through treacherous terrain- hunting, gathering, fishing, and leading people did not include ego but more of the people and less of self. In hindsight I learned those values are what reminded me of when I fell short and did not meet an expectation. Overall, I understand and emphasize the virtue is one that includes humility and humbleness as opposed to arrogance and pride. Thankful for the opportunity, I realize there is still work to be done.

We did not elect our people and surely the elected position I was blessed with was not how we as a Native community chose our leaders. Heck, assisting with the organization of events and planning may have allowed me the fortune to become connected with people. I will admit there were times when I had no idea what I would say. Often times speaking from my heart was not a comfortable place to be. There were times when I did not speak up out of what would seem disrespectful. Yet since then, I’ve learned it was more of a crime to not speak up. Sometimes respect is about speaking up. The experience taught me for a diverse community, leadership is defined differently. I can’t say that I did not learn anything. In fact, now that I know what I do- I am aware there is still much work to be done.

As I close, I think about the visionaries before me. With the recent passing of a great leader; a warrior, a man who led many people, I also think of the many other visionaries before me. They had a vision and worked to see it through. Some may have passed on, many are still working and in the trenches, and there are those yet to come. Ultimately, we all work to help our community, one day at a time.

As stated by Dr. John Tippeconic (Comanche/Cherokee): “46 years and I’m still not done.” This reminded me that each day is a new day to start over and to always persevere. I am thankful for the opportunity and believe that I am an answer to someone’s prayer. We were each created with a purpose and within each of us is a leader. Find your purpose. Live it and share your gift, talent, and education so that we can all move forward together as a community.

Leadership means different things and purposes will vary. Leadership is not limited to administrative work, organizing, and coordinating. It may require speaking up because it’s necessary in order for children with disabilities to not be forgotten. Regardless, leadership is defined and based on the need at hand whatever that may be.