Saturday, September 10, 2011

Refreshing Lessons from Indigenous Elections

This weekend was packed with quite a lot of variety for our family... September 11th ceremony, our annual sausage and peppers meal, the home opener hockey game, an evening at the Mendota Wacipi (powwow) at the same site as World Peace and Prayer Day, a gorgeous sunny on a paddleboat watching the eagles soar above the Mississippi River , and attending the elections of the Twin Cities American Indian Movement.

 I've never had the honor of attending an AIM election before and truly didn't know what to expect.  I'm obviously not a voting member but was invited to attend to learn about the new leaders during their speeches.  The event was hosted at the American Indian Center on Franklin Street in Minneapolis.  With two powwows being held this weekend, I was pleasantly surprised to see how many people showed up for this important night.  Several AIM founders attended and addressed the group including Clyde Bellecourt, Dennis Banks, Mary Jane Wilson, George Mitchell, Billy Means.  Many elders were present and several younger faces in the 30-40 age range.

 After several founders shared a brief history of AIM and the motivation behind its founding, they stopped to honor the Creator in prayer with a traditional plate of food.  Then the business stopped for a feast of turkey, mashed potatoes, wild rice, fry bread and some of the biggest slices of vanilla cake I've ever seen.  It was wonderful, like every other meal I've had the pleasure to share there.  The company was even better than the food!

What struck me the most about the elections was the contrast to other elections I've attended in the various organizations I've been part of over the years.  Sure they opened nominations and had "seconds" and a call for the vote following Roberts Rules of Order like every other organizational election I've attended.  But to see the graciousness extended to the other people running for either an executive position or for Board position...I was genuinely inspired.  There was nothing negative, nothing even hinting at flaws in their opponents. They were so courteous to each other.  Conversely, they did not belittle themselves.  They simply spoke about who they were and why they wanted the position.  They each began by introducing who they were and where they came from -- again something so missing in most of America in our huge melting pot of lost identities. They are known by who their family members are and what tribe/clan they came from.

When it came time to cast ballots, they voted by public affirmation and raised hands with the candidates in the room. Interesting.  Not only would you know who did/did not vote for you, you'd also know the spread but they wanted complete transparency.  The elders would wait to see how the vote was going and several would hold their vote to ensure that each nominee received some votes as an affirmation that they were good candidates.  They encouraged those who won and those who lost.  

Also of interest, each of the nominees publicly cast their vote for their opponent, a final sign of respect.  And within just a few hours we had shared a wonderful meal, learned quite a bit about the history/motivation of the organization and they had a whole new Board of Directors....without months of campaigning and the associated huge expense.  It was all about character, prior performance and trust that the person would do a good job.    The absence of ego was blaring.

 It was one of the most respectful meetings I've ever attended.  I'm sure that some outside observers would consider this process "unsophisticated..." because of its simplicity and courtesy without all the fluff and rhetoric. Well, today I publicly cast my blogger vote to make our general election process less "sophisticated" and more honorable by using some of their model...