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My Indian world

I have been chief of the Wyandotte Nation for 23 years. These opinions are
my own. They are not influenced by anyone or anything except my
observations of the American Indian world.

Our Indian world has never been a pleasant place to be. Our past, present
and future appear to be a never-changing picture. We cannot change the
past, and the present seems to be following along the same pathway. The
future cannot be left alone to stumble along without direction.

The best way to handle our future is to take over the leadership of our
world ourselves. Strong leaders are needed, planned objectives should be
established, and down-to-earth, good, hard work needs to be the order of
the day.

One of my first observations is that the majority of Indian tribes are
small. Many of them do not possess the capability to compete with the rest
of the world for contracts, small or large business ventures. Some chiefs
operate their tribes out of their homes. They do not have attorneys, grant
writers or secretaries to assist them. These facts should be made known to
congressmen, the secretary of Interior, the BIA, IHS, and state and
community governments. All policies and procedures developed for American
Indians should take this into consideration.

We all don't have casinos or huge contracts with the federal government. We
barely exist with scarce assistance from the federal government. Our
unemployment status is far above the norm. Our health statistics are
deplorable. I was taught by the U.S. Air Force that one of the best
incentives for success is proper planning for obtaining any major
objective.

I believe that the secretary of the Interior, the BIA and IHS should have a
long-range plan for fixing the problems of our Indian world. To my
knowledge there has never been any planning accomplished to even find out
what our problems really are. I have always heard that our world has
numerous problems, but I have never heard any of the above-named agencies
define those problems. You cannot fix anything if you don't know what you
are attempting to fix.

I believe that a long-range plan should be developed that defines the
source of our problems and then adopt a 25-year or a 50-year plan for
solving those problems. This should be accomplished by the secretary of
Interior, BIA, IHS and tribal leaders. In my opinion we still have the same
problems we had some 200 years ago when our lands were taken from us and we
were placed behind barbed wire. It is also my opinion that most of those in
power don't care or give a damn.

Are there solutions to our problems? I believe there are.

I believe that our biggest problem is that we are our own worst enemy.

In 1983, when I was elected chief, I heard other tribal leaders complain
that our worst problem was we don't get together to fight for our people. I
have heard this for 23 years. We are still saying the same thing. Unity is
paramount to success. If there are 600 tribes in the United States, there
should be 600 tribal leaders speaking in unison.

There should be a communication system developed to keep us all updated on
our efforts. It should be directed upstairs and downstairs. Governors and
attorneys general should be included. Many of our states have large numbers
of Indians in their populations. In those states we have two powerful
weapons at our disposal. Those two weapons are the pen and the vote. The
pen can be used to publicize our efforts and to advise the powers that be
of our objectives as well as our wants and needs. The pen can tell our side
of the story.

The other power is the most potent weapon that now exists -- the power of
the vote. Every adult American Indian must not only be registered to vote
-- they must vote!

In those areas where our votes count we should be electing our people to
public offices. This includes local governments, state governments and the
Congress of the United States. It is my opinion that candidates get elected
because most people don't vote. If people who do vote have a well-organized
vote-getting effort, their candidate can be elected. Our own elected
officials can represent us better than anyone else. We can have our own
people helping run counties, states and Congress. Let's elect American
Indians to these offices.

This brings another important thought to mind. We have several congressmen
in Washington, D.C. who have been our friends over the years. These
congressmen are reaching an age when they are likely looking to retirement
in the not too distant future. When that happens, our friends in Congress
will be practically nil. We need to start immediately to be prepared to
replace them with people of our own choice.

There are other things that should be looked at and corrected. We need to
clean up our own act. There are some people among us who create situations
that give us all a bad reputation ... embezzlers, crooks, thieves, etc. We
need to take care of these types ourselves. We cannot be successful with
people of that nature on board.

It is my opinion that every person in the United States who holds an
elected position should be a role model for children -- presidents,
congressmen, and state and county officials. Others who should be role
models for the children are movie actors and actresses; professional
football, baseball and basketball players; Hollywood directors and writers;
and, especially, teachers, moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, and all
tribal leaders. Myriad others could and should be included.

There are many tribes that have become successful in gaming, contractual
economic projects, etc. who set a fine example for all the rest of us. If
those folks have any surplus money, it could be spent on upgrading our laws
that govern our Indian world. It would be the greatest assistance they
could provide to all Indians.

Can all this be accomplished? I believe it can. Dedication, sacrifice,
teamwork, proper planning and hard work are essential. The time frame must
start today. The handwriting is on the wall.

All the above are the writings of an old man. I am proud of my ancestry. I
am proud of my Wyandotte Nation. I am proud to be an American. You might
say I am the proudest chief in the Indian world.

P.S. There really is a Great Spirit.

Leaford Bearskin is chief of the Wyandotte Nation and served as a
lieutenant colonel (retired) in the U.S. Air Force.