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Why Character Matters in Native American Leaders


On Facebook I shared this photo of my dad with the following caption:

My dad always said in traditional Dakota culture any man who tried to garner support--"run for office" if you...
Posted by Jacqueline Keeler on Tuesday, April 5, 2016


Politics, the way it's constructed, it attracts a certain type and that's across the board--all creeds, all cultures. To counteract this we should be more actively recruiting the sort of person who would not push themselves to the forefront. This was the kind that in our traditional Dakota/Lakota societies that would be chosen.

My father was once chosen this way. I remember at an election for the White Buffalo Council in Denver, my dad stood in the back of the room. His was his usual silent, introspective self, leaning against the wall, surveying the crowd deep in his own thoughts. And I suppose for our Indian people still waters run deep because the next thing we knew my dad had been elected as Vice Chair by the entire crown before us without even running.

As a child, this stayed with me. My father was in character so different than the candidate who offers himself up and glad-hands his way to power.

Indeed, politics attracts the entitled. Research shows less qualified male candidates are more likely to put themselves forward to run than more qualified female candidates. The whole process of becoming a candidate is so tied to the ego of the individual that the system elevates those that feel particularly entitled to power.

As happens on Facebook, a relative, my grandmother's cousin Sam Deloria gave me some feedback on my perhaps too romantic rendering of our Dakota culture. I thought the exchange is worth sharing:

Sam Deloria: In small social units it is easier to preserve this approach, but pretty hard in larger societies, where we don't really know the people. and where the media seem to be taking sides. 
Jacqueline Keeler: I think that's what I'm trying to figure out--a scalable approximation. 
Sam Deloria: A lot of the things I read seem to be to miss the importance of what can be done in smaller societies that can't be done in larger ones. Our constant bragging about ourselves overlook that we probably couldn't sustain those systems if we had larger, massive social units.
Jacqueline Keeler: I wonder sometimes if Cahokia was a cautionary tale. 
Sam Deloria: I suppose there is real scholarship on this issue that I am ignorant about. 
Jacqueline Keeler: That was partly said in jest. But I do think our traditional social order can provide insights that we cannot perceive otherwise. These are starting points for action not simply an end road to romanticism.
Jacqueline Keeler
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