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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

Posted on Mon, Mar. 31, 2003

COLUMNIST LLOYD OMDAHL: Time for a Native billionaire

In business, Oprah Winfrey was the first black person to become a billionaire. In government, Colin Powell was the first black secretary of state. In sports, black players are rapidly taking over basketball, football and baseball. As we see the successes of blacks, it is time to ask the question: Where are the Native Americans?

There are Native Americans who have as much stamina, imagination and genius as blacks. They, too, could excel in business, government and sports -- or any other endeavor in society. As each year passes, they are depriving themselves, their tribes, the state and the nation of their talent.

Many Native Americans point to the past as the reason for their non-participation in the success of other Americans. But blacks experienced the same oppression at the hands of the Anglos. While struggling with the disadvantages of the same history, Native Americans and blacks chose different paths to the present.

Instead of focusing on grievances of the past, blacks have chosen to join the Anglos, the Hispanics, the Asian-Americans and other minorities in the battle up the ladder of success. Instead of looking back, they have been looking ahead. Meanwhile, Native Americans have denied themselves opportunities by isolating themselves attitudinally and geographically.

In the Old Testament is the memorable story of Abraham's servant who went to Nahor to find a wife for Isaac. When he discovered the right woman, he attributed his success to "being in the way," an expression that meant he was successful because he had placed himself strategically where something good could happen. When it comes to gifted Native Americans who are going nowhere, their problem is that they are not "in the way" where they can grab success.

Some Native Americans are hanging their economic dreams on casinos. Casinos may provide jobs for today's adults but they have nothing to offer young people who have the skills to become doctors, lawyers, engineers and professionals in business, government and sports.

The growing number of successful blacks attests to the fact that race is no longer an excuse for opting out of opportunity. Every day, they are demonstrating that they can break through the remnants of racism. Asian-Americans, Hispanics and other people of color are doing the same. They are succeeding because they are "in the way" where success is possible.

To their credit, more and more Native Americans are escaping the confines of reservations and taking up challenges in numerous fields of endeavor. But too many are still isolated where they miss the opportunities being seized by other minorities. To capture success, they must take a fresh look at themselves and the world that is passing them by.

Their first challenge is to shake off the shackles of paranoia that have hounded them since the dark days of their victimization. While their feelings are justified, reliving old grievances will not lead to building new futures. Dwelling on old wrongs produces nothing but debilitating anger and no progress.

Then Native American children ought to be encouraged to aspire to excellence. They ought to be convinced of their worth and their attention should be directed toward the future. Hopefully, they will realize that as society becomes more multi-colored, the opportunities for all races will be expanded.

Reservation leaders would do well to acknowledge that they have youngsters with skills beyond those than can be fully utilized in the geographic confines of reservations. Not only should they let go of their youth but they should also encourage them to rise to new levels of achievement, on or off the reservation.

The time has come for Native Americans to honor themselves by providing more secretaries of state, legislators, business executives and civic leaders. They can do it. And its time that some aspiring entrepreneur joined Oprah as the first Native American billionaire.

Omdahl is a former North Dakota lieutenant governor and UND professor of political science.

Readers respond

Posted on Thu, Apr. 03, 2003

VIEWPOINT: Omdahl should reassess measures of success

By Stacy L. Leeds

GRAND FORKS -- After teaching my "Remedies" class at the UND law school Monday, I returned to my office to read the Grand Forks Herald editorial page. You can imagine my relief when, upon reading Lloyd Omdahl's column, "Time for a Native billionaire" , I was reassured that there are Native Americans who have as much stamina, imagination and genius as blacks.

I had to check the date of the newspaper to make sure it said 2003 and not 1953.

I mean no disrespect to Omdahl. I am sure he is a nice man who means no intentional harm to the Indian community. However, his instructions to reservation leaders that they "let go of their youth" and "encourage them to rise to new levels of achievement" is misplaced, uninformed and at best, paternalistic.

He insightfully instructs us, as if the opposite is occurring, that "Native American children ought to be encouraged to aspire to excellence." I know of no community that has tried harder than the American Indian community to encourage success among its existing and future generations. Perhaps the real difference is how we measure that success.

I will start by conceding three points to Omdahl. We do have one black billionaire (Oprah Winfrey), one black U.S. Secretary of State (Colin Powell) and several black athletes who appear to be "rapidly taking over basketball, football and baseball."

But if it took the United States over 200 years to create one black billionaire and two black cabinet members, then is it really safe to conclude that "blacks chose different paths" than did Native Americans? Have blacks really "stopped focusing on past grievances" and "chosen to join the Anglos" and other minorities in the battle up the success ladder, while Native Americans simply denied themselves this because of their attitudes and preferred geography?

Omdahl presumes that the only racism in our society is a mere "remnant" of the past. The tone of his column reveals the contrary, but in all fairness, is consistent with the dominant perspective on race relations throughout our history.

There's only been one American Indian tenure-track faculty member in the history of UND law school. There has never been an African-American on the law faculty. Does one Native American on the law faculty prove that racism is now dead in Grand Forks? Does the lack of black faculty on campus suggest that most African-Americans, unlike the superstars mentioned, need to "shake off the shackles of paranoia that have hounded them since the dark days of their victimization"?

Or might the possibility exist that American society has a very long way to go to reach equality of opportunity?

Omdahl concludes his column by saying it is "time for Native Americans to honor themselves by providing more secretaries of state, legislators, business executives and civic leaders." I concede that no Indian has been the secretary of state. But Omdahl overlooks the numerous Indian people who serve as federal, state, and tribal lawmakers, doctors, lawyers, and business executives.

More important, he fails to attribute any success to the extraordinarily disproportionate number of Indian men and women who serve the United States armed forces. Public service, responsibility to community and integrity are all measures by which success is gauged. Perhaps, many people would be honored to see their children become billionaires. I will be honored if my children can grow up in a community that does not repeatedly purport to tell them by what means they should be honored.

Leeds is a law professor at UND and an associate justice with the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court.


From the Grand Forks Herald:

Posted on Thu, Apr. 03, 2003

MAILBAG:  Native American achievers span the national horizon

HANOVER, N.H. -- I read the recent column by Lloyd Omdahl, which gave his opinion that Native Americans are not successful in American society.

Has Omdahl heard of Notah Begay, Navajo professional golfer? Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo.? Dr. Spero Manson, member of the Turtle Mountain tribe, prolific researcher, and a member of the prestigious Institute of Medicine? Louise Erdrich, author of many bestselling books? Jim Larimore, Cheyenne and dean of Dartmouth College? John Herrington, astronaut and the first American Indian in space?

The accomplishments of these individuals speak volumes, but there are scores of Native American physicians, engineers, attorneys and other professionals whose names are not as well known, but who are increasing in number every year. Omdahl might want to check with the Association of American Indian Physicians, who list their number now at over 800, or AISES -- the National American Indians in Science and Engineering Society (www.aises.org), who have mentored large numbers of Native students with support from such corporations as AT&T, Intel, Shell, and the Lawrence Livermore Laboratories.

Perhaps Omdahl also should check in with the University of New Mexico School of Law and Vermont Law School, which routinely graduate a number of Native American attroneys. He may wish to take a look at the Native American programs at Dartmouth College and Stanford University, which have graduated large numbers of Native American professionals for over 30 years now; Dartmouth now has over 100 Native American students on campus each year.

I mention these because I am most familiar with them, but there are colleges and universities all over the country that are graduating Native American professionals, and no doubt the Herald will hear from them.

As a Navajo, a board-certified general surgeon in my 12th year of practice, a co-author of a best-selling book that has sold almost 30,000 copies, one of his humorous pieces gone awry? Surely, it must be. Surely, he knows enough about living conditions on reservations, institutional racism, and the differences between even just the numbers of African American and Native American people living in the United States, who are recovering from the devastating effects of government-sponsored genocide in the 19th century.

There's a fine line between irritating someone in order to spur action, and offending them in a way that reinforces their knowledge of the hostility of the powerful people in our community.

The idea that making a lot of money is the pinnacle of success is not an uncommon belief, but it's one that many wise people reject for a variety of reasons. Greed as a virtue is a distinctly different philosophy from Native American philosophies. Although the pursuit of money may let you accumulate things, it often costs you friends, family, and happiness. Generosity and sharing bring rewards that cost nothing.

We are fortunate to have a committed group of people in Grand Forks who every year present a week of informational panels, culminating in a sharing of one of the most moving cultural traditions this country knows: the pow-wow.

The community is offered a free meal before the evening's grand march. Artists gather to sell their works during the weekend, and everyone is welcome to watch and participate in the music and dancing.

I urge the people of Grand Forks to not let this silly (or mean-spirited) column discourage them from attending Time-Out events during the week and the pow-wow this weekend. There is much to learn, and you will surely enjoy and be rewarded for the time you spend.

Sandra Donaldson


Posted on Tue, Apr. 01, 2003

COLUMNIST DORREEN YELLOW BIRD: Natives already are billionaires — in spirit

Lloyd Omdahl, as my mother would say, certainly put his foot in his mouth this time. I am talking about Omdahls' Herald column, "Time for a Native billionaire".

Omdahl says Native people should "shake off the shackles of paranoia" and "victimization" -- stop whining, in other words. Don't focus on the grievances of the past. Join all the other minority races who are looking ahead. Stop depriving yourselves, the tribe, state and nation of your talents. Where are the Native American billionaires? Omdahl asks.

Where Omdahl and I differ is in our views of whether billions of dollars should be a measure of how one contributes to society. Oprah Winfrey and, I would guess, people such as billionaire Ralph Engelstad are his role models. My heroes are Native American men and women who contribute significantly to society by giving of themselves every day, year after year. The money they earn isn't accumulated, but goes easily into the community -- for them, "investment" means "helping each other."

Many Native people live simple lives. Isn't that a life style taught in the Christian theology? Isn't there a quote in the Bible about a rich man, a camel and a needle?

Don't get me wrong. We do have Native American rich people. One good example owns the "Famous Dave's Restaurant" barbecue chain. He is Lac Courte Oreilles. My grandmother, Aunt Pearl and mother are rich -- billionaires -- by my measuring stick. They raised large families, lived well and worked extremely hard. I look into the eyes of my aunt today and see a peacefulness that comes from years of contributing to society.

Through my years working in Indian country, I have run across many men and women who contributed nationally to society. Women such as Tallulah Pinkham, a Yakima elder who spent her life teaching young women how to reclaim their power. She helped free many women from the bonds of alcoholism or an abusive relationship. She spent her money helping people not investing.

Men such as Rick Two Dogs, Isaac Dog Eagle, Francis Cree, Leonard Crow Dog, and Arvol Looking Horse are some of those who have spent their lives tending to the spiritual and health needs of all people. Most of them live on prayers and gifts from those whom they heal. Most of them could have sold their talents and been as popular and rich as the "Pet Psychic" or Dr. Phil.

There also are those who change society by words -- people such as Vine Deloria, Scott Momaday and Sherman Alexie; writers who talk the truth. There are women who have changed society and live comfortably but modestly. They are women such as Winonna LaDuke, Henrietta Mann, Margaret Rodgers, Bea Medicine or Wilma Man Killer to name a few.

Ada Deer single-handedly pulled her nation back from extinction; they were fading into society. Helen Brown was an extraordinary Alaskan women who could have made a fortune with her skills as a healer.

Those are just a few of the people who may not be business executives, but who certainly are executives and civic leaders on reservations or in reservation communities.

Incidentally, I have the opportunity to work with many groups of blacks, Hispanics and Asian-Americans. Those I meet talk openly about their shameful history. But it is not reliving old grievances. It's a sense that people shouldn't leave something out of history because it makes them uncomfortable.

Omdahl says some Native people are hanging their economic dreams on casinos. But most casinos are for tribes, not individuals. The comment about casinos leads me to believe he needs to -- with stereotypes put aside -- go to a reservation and visit some of the good people, and really see who lives in North Dakota and the states around us.

Most Native people on reservations don't have feelings of worthlessness. Yes, there are alcohol and drug problems in reservation communities, but in the non-Native community, drug and alcohol abuse is well entrenched in rich neighborhoods.

Wealth doesn't always make for a happy and secure person, nor is a rich person always someone who contributes to the community, except perhaps at tax time. Sometimes a rich person is boxed in so their world is small and guarded. They struggle to stay on top of the hill. Those billions of dollars seem to suck all the heart out of them and twist them out of shape. Michael Jackson is an example of a billionaire whom we shouldn't model.

Yes, the time has come for understanding: understanding that we cannot impose the lifestyles of one group of people on another. It is also time for honoring, but not from Native people; we understand the meaning of honoring. Honoring is based on respect and admiration, certainly not calling names such as "Fighting Sioux."

Omdahl needs a lesson in his community -- the Native community.


VIEWPOINTS: Natives shun 'white male standards'

By Monique L. Vondall

GRAND FORKS -- Although on the surface, Lloyd Omdahl -- noted North Dakota politician, legal professional, and columnist -- may have admirable reasons for wanting a Native American billionaire, his column in March 31 Herald has some problematic features.

First of all, as a Native American, I find this article offensive. It smacks of an ignorance on a level that the rest of America would hang their mouths open at, wondering where this fella came from.

Instead, as North Dakota citizens, we feed into people like this wholeheartedly because we have no choice in the matter. These are the leaders whom we have to deal with on a daily basis; these are the leaders who set the tone for the entire state. These are the figures whom we have as intellectual icons in North Dakota. For most of us, we have to do the best with what we have.

A closer look at Omdahl's examples of minority successes would reveal that, without fully assimilating into the white society, no minority person stands a chance. Oprah Winfrey, albeit a humanitarian with tremendous popularity among the white race, appears to have adapted her lifestyle to one that would be acceptable, given the norms of a predominantly white male-controlled society.

Although Winfrey may have come through the back door to reach success, it is only her "Oprah's Book Club" (pushing non-minority writers more than minority writers) and similar efforts that made her a billionaire success.

Perhaps if Colin Powell were more adapted to his own black race he, too, would have had to take the back-door approach that many minority successes have had to take. Even W.E.B. DuBois fought for keeping segregation because of the white male norms. Frederick Douglass, for example, had to assimilate into the white society so much that his exceptional talents raised the question of whether a black man really wrote his literary accomplishments.

So, Lloyd Omdahl, if we Native Americans are supposed to bow down and sell out to the white male standards in this country, then I choose to keep my integrity.

Perhaps the Native Americans who are billionaires (for example, Wayne Newton) are so assimilated into white society that they forget where they come from. Instead of funding American Indians and helping them reach the advantage level that white American men are at, we see these people donating to causes directed by people like Omdahl -- in ways that help oppress and degrade Native American Indians.

Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that Native Americans will ever become secretaries of state because the federal government is afraid of the political power of Indians, especially with the new bargaining tool of Indian gaming. I am afraid Omdahl's late friend, Ralph Engelstad, may have found this out a bit too sorrowfully late.

I hope that Omdahl will go now and read some of Sherman Alexie's work and Felix Cohen's Handbook of Federal Indian Law.

Vondall is a second-year law student at UND's School of Law.


A man of great and striking ignorance — Horatio Alger of the Dakota

Note by Hunterbear:

This, which certainly warrants a comment or two from me, is a strikingly profound and massively erroneous misreading of American racial minorities — and of the effects of deadly racism — and ethnocentrism [of which he is a prime example] — by a frequent University of North Dakota [Grand Forks] professor and former [Democratic] Lt Gov whose UND "company man" career has consistently been one of Big Administrative Pet. He knows absolutely nothing about Indians — tribal nations and cultures and Indian lands and the primary Native commitment thereto; or the enduring and colossal challenges faced and frequently — against great odds — transcended by Indian people who remain true to tribe and culture. Native Americans abound in North Dakota but he's never bothered to listen to them during his multitudinous decades. He certainly hasn't gotten along with any Native tribes or people — Ever. And he also knows Zero about other racial and ethnic minority groups.

Rob's comment
Several stupid statements in this fine example of blaming the poor for being poor deserve a response:

It's obvious Omdahl doesn't have a clue what's going on in Indian Country. Except for the reference to casinos, this piece could've been written 100 years ago. "Leave your primitive cultures and join white civilization," Omdahl is saying. "You'll be better off if you do."

Related links
The "outdated" reservation system
Indians as welfare recipients
Good-for-nothing Indians
The facts about Indian gaming

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