Hanh mitakuyapi. I’m going to make a confession at the start of this post. Actually, it’s a multi-aspect confession. I call these “I’m-nots”.
I’m not a financial big shot. I’m not a financial wizard used to dealing with large amounts of money. I’m absolutely not a bookkeeper past the most elemental kind. I’m not compulsive about much past: quality – the best you can deliver at any given time, delivering results, doing it right the first time, and thinking things through, even if that happens as things are happening, and never doing what ‘everybody else’ does just because ‘everybody else’ does it.
I’m not any kind of pushover, bleeding-heart, or softy. (Come on, now – think about this – have you ever had any image of any kind of eagle that is quaint, cute, cuddly, or fluffy? I didn’t think you would. And I’m “two” of them.) Last but not least, I’m not fond of complexity or layers-on-layers for doing anything. I run everything on the KISS theory – Keep It Stupidly Simple. (The majority-culture way of explaining “KISS” is blatantly insulting, and we work not to be that way, in the Traditional Way. How are you going to get someone’s co-operation if the first thing you do is insult them? Hmm?)
In the Lakota Way, a woman who has horses always has choices. Even when I haven’t had physical horses, I’ve had horses. I may not have always liked the choices I’ve had, but I’ve figured out how to ride or drive the horse(s) and get from a bad spot to a better one. My Indn brain says, “that’s what ‘horsepower’ really means..”
When minority people, but especially minority women – want to go into business, they hit walls so fast it isn’t funny. Most of these walls have to do with “no credit score”, and the rest have to do with “female”. More today than a few years ago, no thanks to “W”, Dick Cheney, and Karl Rove & similar goons. The excuse that they have no business experience is a snow job. I regard “reality” as a “U pick ’em”. One person’s ‘reality’ is not necessarily anyone else’s – any argument will show that. Similarly, “your” argument against mine does not make you right. Experience in one field is transferable to another…
We ITI – Indigenous Turtle Islanders – are the best-kept secret in the land. We’re fine as “mascots” (which the dictionary defines as pets and caricatures – do you think I’d make a good pet? Right. And neither do the rest of us.) for majority-culture fat cats to make money on.. But let us want to open a casino, hotel complex, marina, or nearly anything else, and the objections come out of the woodwork like cockroaches in a tenement when the lights go off.
Indian Reservations are sovereign nations, not counties, states, or “problem areas” in the landscape. But, courtesy of the Snyder Act of 1924, we are also citizens of the U.S. Individually, we hold dual citizenship in our own land, but when we go to open a business, we hit up on all manner of objections. On the one hand, the majority culture sorts decry that we “always” seem to be getting assistance, but on the other hand, when we want to support ourselves, then we’re “taking jobs away from whites who need them more”. Can’t have it both ways, people – there are no pregnant virgins in the natural world.
I know there are many programs out there to help us start businesses. But there are none that I’ve found that help us keep them going, especially during The First 3-4 Years. And even then, we still hit up on this ‘stuff’ about “credit score”, “disposable income”, “collateral”, and so on. it’s a catch-22 – your folk created the system, put in parts claiming to ‘help’ minorities, then made those parts inaccessible to us by a variety of means. I was an SBA SCORE member for a short while. I quit in disgust over the system because it doesn’t address our needs. It addresses the needs of majority-culture sorts and dumps on minorities.
When I was in college, I taught chemistry, math, and physics as a volunteer on a Rez not my own. I rode a bus 2-3 hours each way once a week to teach 28 kids in their Rez’s Community Center. This around working 3 jobs a year to put myself through university.
One night we came out and there were 3 white males standing there, holding bicycle chains and a chainsaw chain. They said they were “going to teach the tipi nigger not to teach skills to wigwam niggers that would enable them to take jobs away from whites, who need them more”. The kids scattered like quail to call the Sheriff.
When the deputy got there, I had the chainsaw chain and the goons were on a pile of trash against a chain link fence at the end of an alley. I was teaching them to play hopscotch with that chain. The guy who had had it was ‘picturesque’ from the knees down, and I was pretty interesting from the elbows to my neck. The deputy said he thought it was a gang war, from the sound of it. Not – it was them trying to get me to quit, and me giving them hell for every Indn they and their ancestors had abused in the previous 500 or so years. I don’t lose my temper often, but it’s memorable when I do. I had plenty of reason to, that night.
The deputy said, “The kids didn’t tell me what you are. Do you have any idea how tough you’ve made my life with the locals? I could never have responded that fast if I had known.” I replied, “Do you have any idea how little I care?” He looked at my bloody arms and said, “You won’t be back any more, right?” I said, “I’ll be back next Wednesday night.” And I was. Miracle of miracles, the goons got jailed, and there were no further incidents for me. Other students who got similar treatment quit, but I’m not made that way. We Traditionals are nothing if not stubborn. Which is pretty much why I write these posts and started this group.
Health and Human Services personnel testified before the ND Legislature’s Appropriations Committee in 1999 (and other years) that “Indians in ND consume 57% – 59% of the state’s welfare budget”. Yet when I went to the state’s only grant-making agency for money to establish “my” corporation, I got these remarks from members of APUC – the Agricultural Products Utilization Commmission:
“You’re lying about being incorporated. No Indian would know enough to, let alone how.” My response was, “It’s a fill-in-the-blank form. The Legislature made it for your people, not mine.” This was in 2000.
“You’re lying about having former Legislators on your Board of Directors. No Indian could possibly know Legislators well enough to have them on a Board. Certainly no Indian woman.” My response was, “Had you called and asked any of them, you’d know how ridiculous your statement is. As for Indian woman – why not?” (No answer. We all know why not – the insinuation is, “all Indn women are sluts / whores”. It’s patent, unadulterated garbage, but bigots will be bigots.. Predictable little beggars, aren’t they..) This was in 2001.
My favorite, though, was when Linda Butts, Deputy Director of Economic Development and Finance for the State of ND, said, again in a public hearing, “I don’t ever want to make a grant to any company whose Mission Statement says it means to provide jobs for Indians.” Notice how her name is spelled absolutely right?
My response was from several perspectives. (1) Indian Preference is Federally mandated. There are many incentives to follow it. What’s your objection?” Her answer: “You’re Indians”. (2) We are full citizens of this country, courtesy of the Snyder Act of 1924. What’s your objection?” Her answer: “You’re Indians”. (3) We hold jobs, and off the Rezs we pay taxes and we vote. What’s your objection?” Her answer: “You’re In-di-ans!”. (4) Two-thirds of our Mission Statement says we exist to provide a profitable market for family farmers who produce for us, and to help expand North Dakota’s economy through our efforts in various niche markets. What’s your objection?” Her answer: “You’re Indians!“. (5) The ND Health and Human Service Department has stated in official testimony that Indns in ND consume 57 – 595 of the state’s welfare budget. I’d think you’d be rabid to help reduce that. What aren’t you?!?” What’s your objection?” Her answer: “You’re Indians!“. Her emphases on “Indians”.
I then said, “Linda, are you familiar with the terms ‘discrimination, racism, illegal, and lawsuit’?” The guy who was running the meeting shut the meeting down with , “Oh! We’ve run out of time!” I replied, “Isn’t serendipity amazing??”
We didn’t have the time, money, or energy to get the company up as fast as we wanted; we certainly didn’t have it to invest in a lawsuit. The Board took it to the governor, who backed Linda and – for awhile – snubbed me. I think it’s pretty cool that I “with no money, no votes, and no power”, would be snubbed by the governor of any state.. Other Republicans made him quit when they found out about it..
It isn’t that we don’t want to work. We work hard, when we can find jobs. We object to being funnelled into the lowest-paying jobs automatically.
We have tremendous business sense – when Europeans came here, we had huge trade routes and specific trading hubs established. Many of them still exist, but not in the majority-culture way. Many of us still live according to our Traditional cultural requirements, which include taboos. There is no reason why we should not continue to, and still be able to get aid to establish some businesses.
Thank you for hearing me in a good way and thinking about these things. If we put our heads together, we can build something of value for our children and grandchildren, and so improve how we live in the world. Mitakuye oiasin (All, my relatives.)