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Good Men, Dirty Oil, and Sacrifice: Raising the Bar for Leadership

Gyasi Ross encourages people in north central Idaho to join the Nez Perce in a protest against megaloads taking place August 8 at 7 pm Pacific.
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People see me with my son often. We play sports, we walk hand-in-hand, we talk as friends, I sometimes have to talk to him as dad-to-son with an authoritative tone as well. As a result of my parenting and having a professional-type job, many of these folks assume that I’m a “good man.” I certainly try to be—my family raised me to value service and family. 

I work hard on it. I have many, many examples of how powerful fatherhood is and can be within Native communities. I see that fatherhood—whether because of its presence or it’s absence—literally changes communities and Nations. For Native men, fatherhood is the definition of love. It is our investment into the future. And that’s good.

But it’s not enough. There’s more to being a “good man” and I don’t deserve that title. Not yet at least. I’m learning that lesson as I get older.

As I go through life, my expectation of what a good man does grows. I realize that sometimes Native people’s thoughts on what constitutes a good man is too low. There’s more to it. Our standards are too low.

Historically, in order to be venerated and recognized as a leader within our communities, there had to be more than simply pulling our weight and/or taking care of our kids. That was expected—that’s the bare minimum that was expected. In fact, deadbeat dads were shunned and publically shamed in many communities.

You didn’t get no props for that. You needed to do more.

Every once in a while we get reminded that there are powerful Native men who are doing more than the bare minimum. There are Native leaders—elected and unelected—who add to the “Present Father + Holds Down a Job = Good Man” equation. They add “Service,” and “Altruism” and “Risk.”

The Nez Perce (Nimiipuu) Tribal Council recently showed that they are willing to sacrifice for their people in the face of fire. They didn’t just lead by going to a meeting or some conference (Note: they do that too; have you ever seen Brooklyn in a suit?? AYYYY!!)—they are leading by example. These are the men that I want to be. Some years ago, oil developers waged war on the sanctity and sacredness of our homelands. Many of our leaders caved in—go to Montana, North Dakota, many places in Canada—and you’ll see the ugly, brutal and sacrilegious results of our Councils choosing temporary economic boosts in exchange for permanent scarring of our sacred lands and waters. Many Native people feel helpless while their councils are literally giving away the farm and poisoning the waters for future generations.

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The Nimiipuu Council not only said that they would not sell out their homelands, they also went and got directly involved. As a megaload moved through a highway within Nimiipuu territories on its way to further destroy Indigenous Earth in Alberta, a slew of Natives—including most of the Tribal Council—went and protested on the road. They were arrested, but as is the case with true leaders and good men, that did not dissuade them. Indeed, they are planning another protest tonight.

From Salmon Blog:

"Please join Idaho Rivers United, Friends of the Clearwater, Fighting Goliath, activists and lovers of all things wild for this not-to-miss Middle Fork Clearwater Wild and Scenic River rally today, August 8, at 7 p.m. Pacific. We'll meet at 5695 Highway 12, which is at mile post 77.4. You can park in the driveway at 5695 Highway 12."

If you’re in the area (north central Idaho), please join them. If you’re not, please send some prayers and good thoughts. This is what we all should be doing. This is what “good men” do. Having a job is cool and being a dad is necessary, but that’s just the bare minimum. Native people’s relationship and willingness to sacrifice for the benefit of the larger group AND our homelands is a big part of what makes an Indigenous person “Indigenous.”

Thank you Nimiipuus for helping me to better understand that.

For more, read this post from EarthFirstNews: "Nez Perce Tribe Urges Forest Service to Stop Megaloads"

Skyhawk in costume on the set of 'Little House on the Prairie'

Gyasi Ross
Blackfeet Nation Enrolled/Suquamish Nation Immersed
Twitter: @BigIndianGyasi