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Indian giving - An honorable expression

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These days, the sum of all our parts is still the best power. The concentric circles that hold "the people" at the core, guided by an able leadership, extend in one way or another to all those positively involved in tribal realities. These include non-member families and partners and friends of members; it includes the core team-member-employee base and their extended families and acquaintances; it includes neighboring residents, businesses and as formally as possible, surrounding governments and service agencies, from schools to fire departments stemming from the other sovereign jurisdictions that intersect most of Indian country. The "sum of all our parts" includes most of all maintaining and improving communications and relations among all tribes and their neighbors.

Those tribes or sets of tribes - whether defined by region or state or resource or treaty groupings - that would set long-term strategies for their peoples, must necessarily gather all available positive forces at hand. All must figure out how to send out the most encompassing, magnanimous and engaging messages to all their publics, near and far. In the public arena, truth and persuasion, predicated on a respectful approach for the opinions and perspectives of others, is of paramount importance. No doubt, spirited defense, which can call for taking the fight "to the enemy," as it were, is often necessary. But the long-term relationship that promulgates sustainable friendships with like-minded allies, is the requisite foundation to mounting serious campaigns that are credible and effective.

These days, the court of public opinion is as important and increasingly more approachable than the courts of law, particularly the highest court in the land, which can at times appear precarious on the issue of tribal sovereignty. The struggle therefore is multi-faceted, and particularly challenging in its fight with the ever aggressive states, but also takes blows regularly from the radical wings of both the right and the left - the unions, supremacist super-patriots and environmentalists alike. At the same time, there are increasing numbers of people and publics who get it, who can grasp that behind tribal rights and tribal enterprises are cultures of kinship nations that slowly but surely are showing America how to conduct business in "nation-rebuilding," and how to run enterprises as "community-builders." Unlike most other American corporations, American Indian enterprises are positioned permanently in place. Native tribes are of place and for place - a type of loyalty nearly extinct among most American business sectors, particularly the here-today-gone-tomorrow multi-nationals.

Building consistently with all kindred and interested circles or publics is the way forward. To break covenant too easily or too arbitrarily with any local community is dangerous for any tribal nation. The building blocks of coalition are founded upon shared interests and mutual gains, and are secured in the long-term glue of friendship.

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In this regard, we commend this week the approach of the Shakopee Dakota people of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community of Minnesota. They have secured a reputation for a philanthropic approach that genuinely helps families and communities in need, makes friends and influences people. The Shakopee are among the richest tribes in North America. Early, quick-to-act leadership from Tribal Chairman Stanley Crooks and others secured a lucrative enterprise for the tribe, Mystic Lake Casino Hotel and Resort, and excellent security for all the families among the 250-plus member tribe. Ten years later, the Shakopee have created a ring of good works and good will, one that greatly buttresses its position in Minnesota society and international relations.

For one thing, they have helped nearly a dozen Sioux and Chippewa communities not nearly as well positioned for business and as geographically fortunate. A $49 million loan was recently instrumental in floating and reformulating Red Lake tribal finances; The Santee Sioux Tribe of Nebraska, the Yankton Sioux Tribe, the Upper Sioux Community, Lower Sioux Community and several Ojibway communities have received substantial yearly support. Sisseton Wahpeton and Pine Ridge in South Dakota have also received support. Shakopee also donates generously and voluntarily to local governments and organizations. Another very notable example is the Forest County Potawatomi Community whose Community Foundation is also setting a unique precedent for philanthropic rationale and practice.

Giving can sometimes gain controversy in the public eye, when it is considered too splashy, as the Morongo and Viejas tribes found during the California recall or when too conditioned for specific compliance, as the Oneida Nation found out recently on a grant to a local school district.

In a recent Indian Country Today story, leadership at Shakopee pointed to an internal cultural imperative for the more fortunate to seek out the destitute and help them. It is the best of thoughts and makes eminent sense. True, generous and intelligently-applied sentiment is palpable and can even be profitable, and over time, stakes out a space of respect and appreciation for itself. This is the best foundation for positive relations with the wide variety of publics tribes engage.