Monthly Archives: June 2012

Letters To My Daughter’s Father

I knew you would be a great dad from the moment I told you we were going to have a baby. We were on our way to the Lakota Nation Invitational basketball tournament and you nearly wrecked the car (hindsight: break news to you when you’re not operating heavy machinery). Honestly, I wasn’t sure how you were going to take it, but the cheer and elation you expressed was something not even a Husker game could elicit from you, so I was confident in your dedication and commitment to the program 🙂

Go Big Red!

Fast-forward through the pregnancy, in which you totally earned a Best Supporting Actor award (driving 3.5 hours to Lincoln, then back again, just for Great Wall Chinese food, is the epitome of going “above and beyond”). The delivery was long and frustrating, but even through the haze of pitocin and endorphins, I could see Mimi had you wrapped around her little fingers from the moment she came out. I haven’t seen you since – ha! The 10,392 photos you took of her first few hours of life might hint at how you couldn’t get enough of her.

Father’s Day 2009

Mimi has never wanted for anything, especially love, from her father. I look at you and I see the best father a girl could ask for. Nearly four years into this gig and you’re a professional – an expert. I don’t know how I could function as a parent without you. I know moms are supposed to have this innate ability to… mother… but it’s such a mystery to me sometimes. My parenting inspiration comes from you, as I watch you interact and teach her what she needs to know. My late nights at the office, my long hours of studying for my master’s degree, my silly extra-curriculars… I used to feel guilty about not spending enough time with Mimi, but I’ve come to accept and fully appreciate that you are…

Dad enough.

From teaching our daughter her Ojibwe language, to taking her on every kind of walking path imaginable, to signing her up for swim lessons, our daughter has the world at her fingertips, courtesy of her amazing father.

Mimi & Daddy Shoveling!

What’s so stunning, to me about this skill – this artistry – you possess is it is completely and utterly self-taught. You grew up without knowing your own father. He passed on and never extended his heart to love you as much as you deserved. And still, your heart brims with care and adoration for our daughter. She is blessed to have you. I am blessed to have you.

Happy Father’s Day, Dalton.


Dear ND Voters – Thank you. Love, Me

Let’s get this out of the way: I have never claimed North Dakota. I graduated from Bismarck High School in 2001, and my dad’s family still lives on the ranch-type property they bought back in the summer of 1997. But that’s it. Aside from family, I have no connections or feelings for that state just north of South Dakota. Thanks to some rough-and-tumble times during my volatile teen years, I dread driving through the state for any reason. You couldn’t pay me enough to live there.

With THAT said, I am all smiles today. North Dakota voters – those amazing oil-stained dontcha knows (I write that in a loving, Fargo-style accent) – effectively ended a terrible and racist legacy in yesterday’s state primary: The Fighting Sioux nickname and logo at the University of North Dakota. At least, those of us who have struggled and opposed the nickname for years (me) or decades (many brave others) hope this is the end of that hurtful era.

From the Associated Press:

Voters in Tuesday’s North Dakota primary were asked whether to uphold or reject the Legislature’s repeal of a state law requiring the school to use the nickname. The vote sends the matter back to the state’s Board of Higher Education, which is expected to re-retire the nickname and American Indian head logo that seven years ago was deemed hostile and abusive by the NCAA.

That the issue became a political one (who ever heard of a college nickname being placed on a ballot, honestly??) is irrelevant now. The demeaning moniker is on its way out (ding dong!) – FINALLY! I get kinda choked up every time I think about it :*) I can’t tell you how often I have spoken to students, teachers, friends, family, and the general public about the need to retire mascots like the Fighting Sioux. I wrote last semester’s ethics final on the subject (posted for your enjoyment below). I even wrote my first editorial in high school opposing the nickname; I’ll never forget the backlash. How dare I be offended by a stereotypical image and its historically and culturally inaccurate pejorative?!? I mean, really, Taté – you should be proud, because every time a hockey puck hits its mark, a Native gets her wings (or some other “honorary” dismissal of MY feelings).

So, cheers to North Dakotans, who broke state elections primary turnout records to vote overwhelmingly in favor of chucking the nickname and logo overboard into the dirty annals of America, filed right next to Custer, land theft, broken treaties, reservations, boarding schools, and Wounded Knee, among other atrocities.

Onward to Washington’s hateful football team name.

My ethics final, in case you were interested 🙂

USD Masters of Public Administration

Administrative Ethics Final Spring 2012

In which I argue Indian mascots are America’s new-age gas chambers.


The Fighting Sioux nickname, alongside its logo, an Indian head in profile, has generated both alumni foundation dollars and major athletic and community controversy. Those who study ethics, such as Philip Zimbardo, as well proponents of ethical justice, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., would argue against the use of Indian mascots, which not only dehumanize Native American people, but also contribute to their continued unjust treatment.


Beginning in the 1960s, colleges across the country began dumping Indian mascots: in 1969, Dartmouth College swaps “Indians” for “Big Green;” in 1972, Stanford University changes from “Indians” to “Cardinals;” and in 1978, Syracuse University drops its “Saltine Warrior” (Rosenstein, 2008). Dozens of institutions followed suit; some, like the University of Iowa, refused to play teams with Indian mascots, making it difficult for schools with offensive names to play regular season games (Rosenstein, 2008). Then, in 2005, the NCAA “banned the use of American Indian mascots by sports teams during its postseason tournaments, but will not prohibit them otherwise… Nicknames or mascots deemed ‘hostile or abusive’ would not be allowed on team uniforms or other clothing” (ESPN, 2005). While many of the 19 schools targeted by the NCAA ruling complied, UND held out:

North Dakota challenged the NCAA edict in court. In a settlement, the school agreed to begin retiring its nickname if it could not obtain consent to continue its use from North Dakota’s Standing Rock and Spirit Lake Sioux tribes by Nov. 30, 2010.

Spirit Lake tribal members endorsed the name. But the Standing Rock Sioux’s tribal council, which opposed the nickname, has declined to support it or to allow its tribal members to vote.

The law forcing the school to use the name and logo was approved in March [2011], despite opposition from university officials and Grand Forks legislators…

The law was repealed during a special legislative session last November, with many former supporters switching sides and saying it had not accomplished its purpose of influencing the NCAA.

Supporters of the nickname, including some members of the Standing Rock Sioux, said they turned in petitions with more than 17,000 signatures…in support of the law. (CBS News, 2012)

Then, on April 4, 2012, the North Dakota State Supreme Court ruled voters should decide whether to keep the UND nickname before the courts judge whether the 2011 pro-nickname law violates the state constitution (WDAZ Television 8, 2012). Until then, UND’s president, Robert Kelley, said the school and its athletic teams will continue to use the nickname and logo – and comply with NCAA sanctions – until June 12, when North Dakotans have the opportunity to vote to keep the nickname (Kelley, 2012).


But the issue here is not a legal one, nor is it a question of tradition or honor. The use of Indian mascots and nicknames is an ethical issue – a question of whether Indians are people to be respected or whether it is acceptable to dehumanize an entire culture. In 2005, the American Psychological Association (APA) “called for the immediate retirement of all American Indian mascots, symbols, images and personalities,” because it found this brand of racial stereotyping to have harmful effects on the “social identity development and self-esteem of American Indian young people” (APA, 2005). Even more harmful is the effect stereotyping and dehumanization have on the ability of seemingly normal citizens to commit evil and horrendous acts against those seen as mere “things,” according to psychologist and researcher Philip Zimbardo (2008):

Dehumanization is the central construct in our understanding of ‘man’s inhumanity to man.’ Dehumanization occurs whenever some human beings consider other human beings to be excluded from the moral order of being a human person. The objects of this psychological process lose their human status in the eyes of their dehumanizers. By identifying certain individuals or groups as being outside the sphere of humanity, dehumanizing agents suspend the morality that might typically govern reasoned actions toward their fellows. (p. 307)

Zimbardo (2008) explains how dehumanizing can trigger an ability in ‘good’ people to commit atrocious acts, i.e. the Jewish Holocaust, Rwandan genocide, and abuse by guards at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq. Dehumanization allows people to redefine harmful behavior as honorable, minimizes personal responsibility, maximizes apathy, and “reconstruct(s) our perception of victims as deserving their punishment” (p. 311).

In the case of Indian mascots, the context behind the offensive nicknames and logos is at issue. Many schools adopted Indian mascots and nicknames during the early part of the 20th century, “a time when American Indian people had little political power, rights, and were not very respected as a result of the United States enforcement of federal Indian policies” (LaRocque, McDonald, Ferraro, & Abe, 2012). Along with this are the inaccurate portrayals of Native Americans throughout United States history; according to Chaney, Burke and Burkely (2012):

Perhaps one of the biggest concerns regarding AI [American Indian] mascots is that, because AIs may be largely defined by (and socially represented in terms of) mascot stereotypes, AI people have ceased to be perceived as real. From the time of first contact with European explorers, AIs have been portrayed fictionally as barbaric, wild, and savage––terms that imply AI people are less than human. Thus, it could be argued that AIs have existed as mascots for the 500+ year history of this country, and one consequence of AI sports mascots is that they keep AI people allegorically fixed as a kind of ‘cultural souvenir’ preserved in the American identity. (p. 43)

NOTE FROM ME: Not in the essay, since this was more my opinion than anything else, but I argue the use of Indian mascots exacerbates the issues plaguing Indian Country today (including, but unfortunately not limited to, extreme poverty, youth suicide, diabetes, unemployment…) by making the American public complacent and indifferent to those “Indian-only” problems. Mascots further divide Us and Them, because we Natives are nothing more than ticket sales and sports jerseys. Who cares about the Indians when there are REAL issues to deal with. Dehumanizing Natives through mascot imagery has been the most effective modern means of annihilating the few of us remaining.


Thankfully, this ethical dilemma is easily resolved by doing away with Indian mascots, logos and nicknames altogether, not just among high school and college athletics, but in professional sports, as well. This would not only bring an end to the hurtful and demeaning practices of mascot stereotyping, but also offer Native American people a sense of justice. Martin Luther King, Jr., classified racist and stereotypical acts against minorities as unjust: “An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust,” (King, 1963). King goes to explain how a moral and ethical citizen has the obligation of confronting injustice and demanding redress.

Therefore, while Indian mascots may generate hoots and hollers at athletic events, and perhaps even have been in use for decades, the continued use of these inaccurate depictions of Native Americans is both hurtful and harmful not just to tribal people, but to the society in which they live. For any nation that can take one segment of its society and turn it into a caricature of itself for the purposes of entertainment and capitalism has sunken into Zimbardo’s world of evil. Yet just as King’s message of justice and morality swept across the nation, so too can the knowledge that Indian mascots, logos, and nicknames are wrong and should be brushed away in the dustbin of history.


American Psychological Association. (2005). Summary of the APA resolution recommending retirement of American Indian mascots. Retrieved from

CBS News. (2012). UND to keep contentious Fighting Sioux nickname. Retrieved from

Chaney, J., Burke, A., & Burkley, E. Do American Indian mascots = American Indian people? Examining implicit bias towards American Indian people and American Indian mascots. Retrieved April 27, 2012 from

ESPN. (2005). NCAA American Indian mascot ban will begin Feb. 1. Retrieved from

Kelley, R. (2012). Statement from the UND president Robert Kelley for the campus community. Retrieved from

King, M.L. Jr. (1963). Letter from Birmingham Jail. Retrieved April 28, 2012, from

LaRocque, A., McDonald, J.D., Ferraro, F.R., & Abe, S. Indian sports
 mascots: Affective
between American Indian and
non‐Indian college
students. Retrieved April 30, 2012 from

Rosenstein, J. (2008). Banned mascots: American Indian mascot & nickname changes. Retrieved from

WDAZ Television 8. (2012). ND supreme court won’t block Fighting Sioux election. Retrieved from

Zimbardo, P. (2008). The Lucifer effect: Understanding how good people turn evil. New York: Random House Publishing Group.

Teens Need Hugs, Too :|

I’m compelled to write about the work I’m doing now with my new employer, Volunteers of America, Dakotas. I do many things with VOA, but among my favorite duties is working with youth through the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI). You can research for yourself what’s all entailed, but the premise recognizes that kids are inherently good creatures who sometimes make mistakes either through their own poopheadedness, or (more likely) as a result of their circumstances. VOA was awarded a grant to make the programs I work for – the Reception Center and Evening Report Center – happen. South Dakota was in desperate need of reform; for several years now, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and other entities consistently ranked our fair state as one of the worst when it came to incarcerating youth.  Can guess which demographic was detained more than others? Sadly, Native American youth in South Dakota are more likely to go to prison than college.

Don’t get me wrong; there are many reasons for which I agree detention is warranted. However, having been a troubled youth myself and having worked with at-risk kids the past four years, I know most kids need treatment, recovery, and lots of counseling – not bunks, bars, and solitary confinement. Hugs and good listening work well, too. I mean, what options are left for kids who get thrown into juvenile detention centers (JDC)* and then get released to the same environments with no new resources? It’s a cruel and vicious system setting them up to be professional offenders.

So a coalition of sorts was established and VOA stepped forward to house the JDAI programs. We work in partnership with the Department of Corrections, JDC, law enforcement, social service agencies and others to make this program a success. Here’s how it works: A child is arrested for something, often runaway, petty theft, curfew violation, or minor infractions, such as fighting in school or yelling at teachers (which in this town often leads to an automatic suspension – #schooltoprisonpipeline). They’re taken by police to JDC where they undergo an assessment of sorts to determine whether they’re eligible for our program – we cannot accept youth who exhibit violent behaviors or need detox or are threatening to hurt themselves. Police then bring the youth to our location (which is a stone’s throw from JDC, conveniently) and we do further assessment of ongoing or future needs. Because we can offer free or reduce-cost services through VOA (family counseling, community service, GED/diploma study, etc.), we can get the kids hooked in to some valuable on-the-spot services. Once our assessment is complete, the youth stay in our care until a parent or guardian can pick them up.

It’s important to note how our facility is situated: No bars in sight. Kids have described it as homey and comfortable. We have food and the kids cook it themselves if they’re hungry. We have games and books (although we could use some age-appropriate – 13-17 – donations in that area, hint-hint) and cable TV. We have a fully-equipped gym. It’s a pretty neat place, actually. And we send the kids home knowing we’ve also given their parents resources and strategies to cope with their child’s behavior. Most importantly, in-person follow-ups are completed to make sure those resources are utilized.

We’re still in our infancy, but we’re consistently thrown examples of why these programs are needed and effective. Here’s a recent instance: “John” comes in throwing a nice tantrum. He’s 16 and mad as hell. Someone triggered his anger and he began yelling and cussing out the people he was around. He started punching walls and throwing stuff. So the cops came and he was taken to JDC. Because he hasn’t had any other infractions, he came to me at the Reception Center. The cops uncuff him (kids + handcuffs = sad state of affairs) and leave. I call the number for his guardian, but John tells me that number often doesn’t work. So we try a few other numbers. Someone answers one of the calls but can’t be bothered to pick up John right now. He’ll get a message to one of John’s relatives. Maybe. So I get to talking with John. He calls me a bunch of names, but I’m confident enough to know I’m not really a “mean bitch” like he says and I offer him something to eat. He must’ve been starving because he ate the whole box of crackers I offered him. That calms him down a lot. I ask if he likes music and that gets him talking. We discuss the merits of Drake and Lil’ Wayne and move seamlessly into what got him so angry. By this time he knows my real name and he’s told me where he’s from and what went down from his perspective. Turns out his dad died not long ago and someone in the group he was with was making fun of dead folks and he snapped. He really couldn’t pinpoint exactly what was said, just that he really misses his dad. He stays with an older brother, but he’s moved around so much that he just hangs out with whomever has something going on. His mom lives and works five hours away in Pine Ridge; she doesn’t have a car, so she can’t see him, although he says she calls him once a month (if you’re heart isn’t aching for this kid by now… then you have no heart). He calmed down enough after about 30 minutes to sit and do our assessment paperwork. It’s quite thorough questioning we do, so that he was able to sit with me and complete the whole thing (a good hour’s worth of questions) says a lot about his patience, social skills, and desire to connect.

I love kids. And my path has always been to help them however I can. It’s a cultural thing for Native Americans; in Lakota, the word for children – wakanyeja – literally translates to “spirit being” or “holy being.” That says a lot about how my culture traditionally viewed young people. I’ve tried to incorporate this concept into my personal and professional life. Mentoring is a particular proclivity of mine. I feel like all the negativity (group homes, cop cars, teen pregnancy, OH MY!) I’ve experienced in life allows me to relate and connect with these kids more effectively than others. I wish I could take all these kiddos home and hug them for all they’re worth (that’s a lot of hugs!). I know that’s not a magic bullet; they’re still going to make mistakes in life. But if for the two or three hours I have access to them I can be a positive influence, then who am I not to take full advantage of that time?

One of my classes this summer semester is a graduate research course in administration. We come up with topics (sky’s the limit really) and write a research paper. Pretty basic. We discuss our topics with other classmates to hone our research, which for me has been pretty helpful. One classmate in particular got my attention with her project on JDAI. She works with a detention program in South Dakota and she wants to show how ineffective JDAI programs are in benefiting youth. You can probably imagine my reaction (something along the lines of “ARGH!!”). But I wrote to her how I could see she obviously had the right focus (in helping at-risk youth) and that I would personally and professionally be interested in reading her results, being that I work for the state’s only JDAI program (which really hasn’t been around long enough to track the kind of impact she hypothesized). So I told her given my access to JDAI data I could help her come up with lots of reasons why it was, in fact, helpful and beneficial to youth. We shall see if she takes me up on the offer.

Incarceration is an easy – if expensive – answer to lots of our society’s problems. It beats having to deal with the real issues (poverty, inadequate public education, lack of resources for overburdened parents, ill-prepared young mothers, poor funding for under-staffed and over-worked non-profit community agencies… I could go on and on). What’s more, being incarcerated as a youth makes you 3 times more likely to enter adult prison later in life compared to those youth who aren’t incarcerated. Talk about a rough start in life. Actions and behaviors once associated with “typical” teenage behavior (i.e. dumb mistakes) were put into new context after Columbine and other school shootings. Metal detectors replaced administrative door greeters, pushing and shoving became classified as assault and battery, and skipping a class triggered truancy and runaway charges. The “school-to-prison pipeline” is not a new concept, but it’s certainly been an effective way to weed out impoverished and minority youth from schools.

Graduation Not Incarceration

I will leave you with one more heartbreaking story from one of my first overnight shifts: “Brian” is brought in. This quiet, tired, and undersized 11-year-old boy has his handcuffs removed after being picked up for curfew violation. It’s just after midnight on a Saturday morning. Turns out Brian’s father is serving a mandatory weekend in jail. His mother is long dead. Brian went home after school and missed the last city bus for a ride to a friend’s house across town where he would stay the weekend. So he started walking – no phone to call for a ride, and probably no money for an obscure pay phone somewhere. Stopped at another friend’s house for dinner on the way. Hoofed it again. Dilly-dallied at Wal-Mart for a while, continued walking. Police see him walking and take him to JDC where he’s given an assessment and it’s determined he can join me at JDAI. We call the friend’s mom and he’s sent on his way about two hours after arrival. If it weren’t for our program, Brian would have spent the whole weekend – maybe longer – locked up.

By Billy Dee

*I do not mean to imply JDC isn’t a valid option for some youth. I mean to imply it’s not a one-size-fits-all answer to so-called “problem” children.