Rappahannock chief leads through service to people

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - As a tribal leader, Rappahannock Chief Anne Richardson makes decisions based on what her people tell her - a traditional way of leading. ''In the Western world, you do research, and you make a decision, and it has to be done quickly,'' she told a group at a recent Native women's conference.

''But in the Native world, you have to talk to your people. You have to get a consensus. In my position as a leader in a private community, we don't make the decisions. We are the ones who are given the decisions that are made by the people. They tell me. I do what they tell me. I don't make the decisions and tell them what to do, and that's totally a reversal of Western decision making process.''

Richardson was a motivational speaker at the conference, titled ''Celebrating Women of Proud Nations,'' sponsored by Wake Forest University. Women of all ages attended the four-day conference, planned by the Conference Planning Committee and its chairman, Rosa Revels Winfree. More than 40 speakers from a variety of successful professions came to speak at conference sessions, workshops and lectures.

In one of the workshops, Richardson told the women: ''We actually have a process where the people make decisions. The council will discuss it. The spiritual leaders will discuss it. The elders will come up with what they want, and then we all come together and make the best decision that is best for all of us. That's how the decision-making processes are made in a tribal community.

''I would never even attempt to make a decision and tell the Rappahannocks what they are going to do. Imagine that. I don't think so. They are very strong people, very strong personalities; and the women are very strong in Rappahannock. They direct me and guide me and give me recommendations, and I take those recommendations. These women are very wise.''

Richardson also told her audience that she grew up among chiefs at the tribal homeland in Indian Neck, Va., and learned her job by watching other Rappahannock chiefs.

''Now I am the fourth-generation chief in my family,'' she said. ''I grew up in a household with my grandparents and my parents. My grandfather was chief before me, and I absorbed all this stuff when I was a child.''

She learned the tribal ways from her father, she said. ''My dad is not educated, but he is very smart. He took care of our pride, our family. I watched him and I absorbed that culture and that value system. So I grew to be a leader; my people recognize it.''

Richardson explained that a good Native leader must possess several leadership qualities, such as effective communication, being a good listener as well as being motivational, charismatic, action-oriented and ethical; having a clear vision of the future, high moral standards, problem-solving and organizational skills; and being a good risk-taker and deal-maker.

''As a leader, they look to you for your wisdom, your guidance, in all aspects of every decision that has to be made. If you do that, then your people will love you. They won't vote for you just because they think you have an agenda that they want to be enforced. They vote for you because they love you, they trust you and they honor you. When you have those kinds of things, you achieve that in your community; then you are a true leader,'' she said.

To a group of younger women, she said: ''As you guys are moving into positions of leadership in Indian communities, I want you to think back to the Iroquois chief, because you are going to be caught in the Western ways of thinking and treating people. When you come home, you have to come back with something that is going to benefit your community. You don't want to come back as a columnist. You want to come back as a warrior. You want to come back as a hunter.''