Many years ago when our boys were much younger, we took our family on a three-day weekend vacation in York, Maine. It was always nice to get away from the reservation rat-race to decompress for a few days, and we were fortunate to have the means to do so a few times over the years. I love Maine. York is located on Maine’s southeast coastline; a great place to take kids and play at the beaches, boutique shop, get your fill of lobster and then work off the extra calories on long, ocean front walks with breathtaking views.
We found a gorgeous place to stay on Nubble Point (a peninsula between Long Sands and Short Sands Beach) offering spacious, one to three bedroom condo-type accommodations with all the comforts of home, including laundry, kitchen, and living room space. But the best part of it was every room had the same picture perfect view of Nubble Lighthouse, right off shore.
I was checking in at the front desk and signing papers when, quite unexpectedly, along came Polly*.
“Hey, is HE over ten years old?” blurted the inn owners’ only daughter, her eyes wide and brows raised while pointing directly at my younger son.
The front desk clerk glanced over to the doorway where the girl stood and sighed. “Meet Polly,” she muttered. Polly was about eight years old, standing barely four feet tall. She wore a bright pink tank top, floral denim shorts and jelly shoes. Her shoulder-length, tangled brown hair was swept off her face and secured with a pink plastic headband.
“Hi Polly. No he’s not ten, but almost,” I replied. “He’s actually nine and a half.”
“Well then, he can’t swim by himself in the pool. Anyone under the age of ten has to be accompanied by an adult in the pool area,” Polly said.
“Got it. Thanks Polly,” I replied.
Within moments it became very clear to us that Polly was the resident “rules police”. She trotted along behind us as we made our way to our room, ticking off every rule and regulation she could think of for our awareness.
“You didn’t bring any pets here, did you? Because you can’t have pets with you if you’re gonna stay here. Be careful using the barbecue pits so you don’t get burned. You can walk on the grass in this area here, but not over there. And you can park in the upper parking lot this weekend but if you are here on Monday you need to move your car because my parents are hosting a private event. And if you want to go down to the beach, you need to use the beach stairs over there, but you’re not allowed to climb on the rocks. And the pool opens at 8 AM and closes at 9 PM sharp!” Polly said.
Just then a petite, attractive college girl came bouncing around the corner, somewhat out of breath from wrestling with the leash of a very large and energetic Labra-Doodle. The dog bounded around goofily, tossing his long, perfectly groomed mop of flaxen corkscrew curls. He flopped down to roll in the grass, his bulbous pink nose sniffing intently at the air around him. He looked just like a cartoon character.
“Is she bothering you? I’m so sorry,” she said. “I’m Lucy*, Polly’s nanny.”
“Nice to meet you, Lucy. No worries, she’s fine,” I replied. “Polly was just giving us the run-down on the rules here.”
“Oh no, not again,” vented Lucy. “I swear, this kid has got the most intense, type-A personality I’ve ever seen on any kid her age! She has got to be in control of everything around her!”
We all laughed. It was really not a big deal to us. Truth is, I had grown accustomed to personalities like Polly’s. I thought she was quite mild in the way she wielded her regulatory, watchdog sense of ownership regulations. She was also really young, with plenty of years to grow and mature into her destiny as a future leader and heiress. But not everyone has the chance to learn, grow, and mature in a nurturing and protective environment.
At my tribe’s reservation, there are many type-A folks, but unlike Polly, many of our people grew accustomed to the rigidity and harshness of condemning, legalistic, dysfunctional and often abusive family or work environments. Unresolved past traumatic experiences will influence the way someone wields authority and leadership. For this reason, there are many who fiercely enforce rigid, prohibitive rules and regulations that sometimes do more harm than good. And one area we can observe this phenomenon is in the rules dictating the boundaries for the training, development and employability of our community.
The Rules of the Game
Tribal members are only allowed to apply for vacant employment positions in which they are qualified, regardless of whether or not they have an interest or talent in that line of work. (Sure it sounds reasonable from an outside perspective, but stay with me and I’ll explain the issue.) For instance, an excellent writer and communicator may thrive in a variety of areas, but finds himself pigeon-holed in a janitor position because that’s all he qualified for at the time of his job search in the current economy. A skilled emergency medical technician may have no choice but to work in table games rather than being mentored and developed for an appropriate career path in public safety or health services. A brilliant moderator skilled in conflict resolution might be an amazing asset for a multitude of government positions, but finds herself stuck as a Keno runner because that was the only job available to her. A math wizard who would be brilliant in Finance might have to settle as a valet parking attendant.
Why this does more harm than good
By limiting career opportunities for tribal members and forcing them to compete with one another for entry level labor positions regardless of the need for entry or mid level professional and technical career opportunities, our people are not given the freedom to leverage their talents, develop career goals, and become meaningfully invested in their own tribal government. As a result, the whole community suffers, simply because we have wandered away from the original vision for community and economic development.
Back to original intent
Among the reasons why Foxwoods Resort Casino was built, one of the main intentions was to give our people career development and entrepreneurship opportunities they may not have otherwise gained outside the tribe. With eight to ten thousand jobs representing a very wide range of careers on and around the reservation, it’s really not that difficult to connect three to five hundred adult tribal members with career opportunities that align with their talents and interests.
Another one of the original intentions for community development was to embrace our people as the tribe’s most valuable resources. Sadly, over the last twenty years we’ve wandered very far from this ideology, exchanging the value of our people for the value of cold hard cash. But mark my words…
If we truly desire to ensure stability for our future generations, it is imperative that we turn completely away from destructive, materialistic “money-lust” and re-embrace the original repatriation and community development visions.
At Mashantucket, we’ve had a unique opportunity to give our people a leg-up in higher education, life skills and career opportunities for more than twenty years, so it makes sense to develop an appropriate career development and succession-planning program that embraces and nurtures the strengths and talents of our people. Such a program should also embrace and respect existing tribal and non-tribal employees by granting incentives for those enthusiastic about training and mentoring tribal members.
First thing first: Change the way we view our own people.
We become our own “Rules Police” when we respond reactively to people and situations based on ill-conceived, gossip-poisoned assumptions about one another. When we do so, we end up shooting ourselves in the foot, throwing the baby out with the bathwater, or any other cliche’ representing scrapping something that had a great deal of potential, if only we exercised the patience and creativity needed to get things working the way they should. But what we did was more like a knee-jerk reaction. An attempt to block future problems from happening based solely on the past experience of a few within a problematic system of bureaucratic governance.
In order to embrace our people as our most valuable resources, we need to put an end to our “reactiveness”. We must become proactive, viewing everyone as potential solutions rather than as anticipated problems. By not doing so, we miss an opportunity to build unity and strength throughout our community, fueling hopes, dreams, aspirations and courage for our people. We may even miss out on embracing the most influential and effective leaders our tribe has ever seen, or even hinder the involvement of former leaders who made a profoundly positive difference.
Certainly no one is perfect. Everyone has their own problems, quirks, issues and insecurities to some degree. But if we offer an environment through which our people are nurtured rather than regulated, given mercy rather than condemnation, and offered the grace to thrive creatively and constructively, our people will gain confidence, begin to heal from their bad experiences, grow where they are planted, and realize their own inherent potential as something far greater than anything they ever imagined before.
It’s your turn: Have you ever wished rules could be broken or changed? Why or why not?