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Nations helping nations

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Indian country has to be about nations uplifting each other whenever
possible. There is no better way to that end than visiting each other with
gestures of good will. Wherever there are elders who reflect the
outstanding American Indian traditional greetings and diplomatic language,
communication among Native peoples is possible. When good will among Indian
nations leads to permanent friendships and alliances, all Native nations
benefit.

Unity is a goal and a requirement. It starts with a gesture and a handshake
and can lead to mutual understandings and coalitions that last a lifetime.
Thus our children can benefit from the thinking of today, from the form we
give to our mutual discussions. These are the connections of people to
people. These are the best and most useful foundations for both grassroots
non-profit and profitable business projects. When they work well, great
things can happen.

In helping Indian country a dose of cynicism is always healthy. Too many
great efforts and schemes in Indian country have folded in futility, all
the more painfully for the dash of hopes of peoples living already in much
deprived situations. But beyond the cynicism, the overriding concept of
positive change is hope. The useful idea in doing some good lies in seeking
the people and projects that can define and project their own sense of
hope. These are almost always efforts that build from the inside out and
that fully appreciate the peoples' needs as they themselves define them.

The spiritual base is also crucial. Family health and strengths, protection
and proper care and nutrition of the children, attention to the elders,
these are the constructive thoughts of family-based communities. We are by
nature social animals and it surprises us not that for the most run-over
and ravaged Indian communities, the common strengths of the extended family
- tiospaye in Plains country - is a crucial first circle of empowerment for
healthy living on reservations. To strengthen the family is to strengthen
the nation.

Increasingly, the positive efforts of these hard working families are being
noticed. "The efforts of so many members of the Oglala Lakota Nation to
improve land use practices, construct housing and improve education are
truly commendable," said South Dakota Senator Tom Daschle. "It's especially
heartening to see their success at using a holistic, traditional approach
that will help address some of the modern challenges facing the Lakota
people, like diabetes and other health issues, crime, and other social
ills. That's an important part of improving the quality of life and
increasing economic self-sufficiency on Pine Ridge and throughout Indian
country." We couldn't agree more.

The severe poverty and destitution of Indian people in the isolated
communities of the Northern Great Plains, among other such regions, is too
often out of mind and out of place in the national discourse of Indian
nations these days. We honor here the many good organizations and tribes
that do pay attention in the region and congratulate their involvement in
these difficult issues.

American Indian businesses and nations, as well as foundations, support
grass-roots projects. Among them: American Spirit Natural Tobacco Co.;
Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community; All Tribes Foundation, Minneapolis;
Kellogg Foundation and Plenty International, Tenn., to mention a few of the
ones who have supported such efforts at Pine Ridge.

A working visit to Oglala grass-roots projects by officials of the Oneida
Nation Foundation last week revealed the potentials of a protocol,
practical and proper, that can be employed in such encounters, and is much
recommended to Indian country as a whole.

"I'm pleased that these dedicated individuals have received support and
assistance from the Oneida Nation and Running Strong for American Indian
Youth," said Daschle. "Promoting strong economic relationships between
Native people is an important part of improving economic conditions in
Indian country and creating jobs. By working together, Native people
throughout the United States can forge important bonds and relationships
that will prove beneficial for all Native Americans."

In a global context a serious case can be made that while "northern"
developed nations built, accumulated and compounded wealth over centuries,
much of the rest of the world (including those who first inhabited that
world) was left behind. Instabilities in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and
South America, owe their measure, at least in some degree, to an abdication
of responsibility by wealthy nations. International development funding for
example, historically, has been abysmally low or politically manipulated,
often both. How is it otherwise that while wealthy nations continue to
prosper, other parts of the world remain mired in poverty, death and
despair, even genocide. The gap between those who have and those who have
not continues to expand. But this is not the world that American Indian
activists, educators and philosophers envisioned when the march toward
self-determination renewed itself in the mid-20th century. Neither do we
believe it should be the world envisioned by today's American Indian tribal
leaders and business class.

This is not to suggest that wealthy tribes simply open up their wallets and
add one layer of welfare to another in impoverished regions of Indian
country. There needs to be a balanced approach, one that blends profitable
methods of investment with philanthropic incentive. The most critical
requirement, however, is knowledge. As evidenced this past week within the
mountains and along the vast horizons, sitting at family tables in the
communities and riding on the highways and dirt roads of South Dakota, it
is crucial that American Indians learn about the lives, circumstances and
challenges faced by other American Indians. This requires commitment and
time. Only then will sustainable opportunities become obvious. We trust
that Indian country will sets its own course with respect to
"international" (inter-tribal) development.

Toward this broad discussion we encourage all of Indian country to
participate in the inaugural Tribal Wealth Management Conference being held
September 27 - 29, at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood,
Fla. Wide ranging topics include: Diversifying Tribal Enterprises;
Establishing Trust Funds; Alternative Investment Vehicles; and Funding
Cross Tribal Enterprise - Investing in Native CDFIs. This event marks a
significant step forward whereby tribal and business leaders share valuable
information and experiences that are useful to securing prosperous tribal
futures for the Seventh Generation and beyond. Now that several tribes are
in a position to invest and grow their wealth, the conference represents a
timely and responsible course of action.

It is also imperative that nations emerging and beginning to thrive
economically be among the first in line to understand and appreciate the
depth of misery and disregard suffered by a large percentage of Indian
country. The problems of Indian country are deep and ingrained but not by
any means hopeless. There are excellent people and grassroots efforts
everywhere. The future of our common fate depends on our common endeavor.
People to people, project to project, nation to nation, Indian country can
and must be the model for the rest of the world. Even in the most modern of
circumstances, our ancient traditions of helping the people must guide our
paths.