Wednesday, March 1, 2017

What a difference a decade makes

I once told a person who asked why I was involved in Boy Scouting since I have three beautiful, intelligent, and strong daughters.  I told them, among other things, I was involved because I wanted to help raise a generation of boys who were worthy of my daughters!  It’s true.  I think the world of my girls, the way I think the world of ‘my boys’.  But, I want this generation to understand that another person’s culture is as important to them as the house they live in, the church they attend, and the school colors they sport – and sometimes they are all the same.  Once we get to get a glimpse into another person’s culture, we can begin to open up our minds, see different horizons, walk a mile in another person’s moccasins, and be open to the ideas, thoughts, ideals, beliefs, and cultures of the many and varied people we will meet in our lifetimes.

We learn it is not just OK to learn about other cultures, but that doing so broadens our own outlook.  And, though we are changed in just the smallest way with every exposure to someone else’s way of thinking, it doesn’t change who we are fundamentally.  It allows us to see the world through another’s eyes, but it doesn’t change the color of our own eyes. 
I have been blessed in my life to be invited, welcomed, and accepted among the Natives I know.  I’m not Comanche, but I have some friends who have named me Comanche.  My Indian grandfathers, one Comanche and the other Kiowa welcomed me, invited me, fed me, put me in my first clothes.  Some others invited me to events I would never have gone to on my own without their permission.  I’ve been told I was more Indian than most Indians.  Yeah, me.  The Scots-Irish guy with blonde hair and blue eyes, who probably would never have gotten involved had it not been for a Kiowa man putting me in my first outfit. 

So, I’ve been blessed to be accepted in a lot of places.  That doesn’t make me an expert by any means.  But, it does mean that my respect for the culture, the people, the music, and the dance is accepted and returned.  I’m not perfect.  I make mistakes.  I’ve paid for some of those mistakes, and I’ve even had others pay for some mistakes and correct me later.  I’ve been privy to events and discussions that would not have been possible otherwise.  And I have said, and continue to say, ‘you learn something new every day’.  And I do.  I go out of my way to learn, daily.  I go out of my way to engage in conversation with people more experienced in various subjects than I.  It’s how I learn best.

But, because I had good teachers, family, friends, I’ve been able to turn around and ‘pay it forward’.  I am giving back to a community that has given me so much.  And because of my respect for the people, I want others to avoid simple mistakes of etiquette.  I want boys to learn the right ways in the circle.  To learn the pitfalls that so many people make on a daily basis.  To use a filter before doing or saying anything that might offend.

Ten years ago, I was a Chapter Advisor in the Order of the Arrow.  That means I was responsible for a portion of the membership of our Lodge, in this case we were running close to 200 people.  That, by the way, is larger than many Lodges in the nation.  But, I was doing a pretty decent job.  Our chapter had been recognized by the lodge as Pacesetters in service and activity within the lodge – we’d earned Honor Chapter for more than 10 years in a row.  They even created a new award for Chapters who had accomplished this feat for 5+ years in a row.  All very good.

But, there was a darker side to the story, unfortunately.  I’d previously been the Lodge’s Dance Team Advisor, trying in vain to get the dancing and singing programs off the ground.  I wasn’t alone by any means.  Many of us had worked diligently on this project.  But, attrition occurs – feelings get hurt, people get tired of banging their heads into a wall, people decide there are other aspects of their lives that need to take priority, or just simply get tired.  We’d had good years – 2004 was phenomenal! – thanks to some wonderful young men who really made my job easy.  Even though I was not the Dance Team Advisor, I was still active in the dance program.  Many of those years, it felt like I was alone in trying to promote a program the leadership seemed to be dead-set against for some reason.  Like I said, many of the adults who guided the program had previously walked away.  It was tough, but I kept plugging away.  Some call it perseverance, some call it stubbornness, some call it mule-headedness.  But…

In 2013-2014, I almost walked away myself.  I had lost my job, I had a daughter in High School, another on the cheer squad in Junior High, another in Elementary School, and a Nephew and Niece living with us as well.  We were involved in so many other activities!  It seemed it was time to focus on my family instead of other peoples’ families.  I had even taken the position of Vice Chairman of the Texas Indian Hobbyist Association (TIHA), because no one else was able to at the time.  This kept me very busy – part Statesman, part Salesman, all around businessman.  But, it felt like I was being pulled away from Scouting.  And I told my friends and family this.  Many people understood, most didn’t want to see me leave or even allow me to ‘step back a bit’.  It’s been our experience that when adults do this, they are leaving – slowly drifting away.

But, my wife – Creator bless her! – convinced me to stay with it.  Despite the fact she’d been a ‘Scouting widow’ for several years, she had seen me struggle and fight to establish a successful program.   She’d been in my corner from the get-go.  She had encouraged me when I was flailing, trying to find a direction.  She’d been the one who said ‘go’, when I really should have stayed to help her.  This woman, the light of my life, told me in no uncertain words, “if you leave, you will regret it the rest of your life” and “you’ve fought so hard, don’t give up”.  She reminded me how hard I had fought just to get where we were, how many people we’d had an impact on, how many adults we had begun to get involved so I was not doing all the work, how many boys who were smiling after dancing their hearts out.  She kept reminding me until I felt like a heel for thinking of leaving the program at all.  And then she pointed out, “you made a difference for that one”, pointing at a boy who had just joined the OA the year before, went to NOAC, and got in the Top 3 in one of the dance categories.  You know who you are.

So, I stayed, and kept banging my head on that wall.  Until it happened - a brick moved.  At first, I wasn’t sure.  Maybe I’d become delirious from the constant head-banging.  But, I banged again, and it moved some more.  I banged again and the brick fell out of that wall!  I could see through the other side.  The grass wasn’t any greener, but the sky looked clearer.  Individual conversations had occurred, not just by me, but by others who were also helping.  It seems we finally convinced them our dance program wasn’t taking away from the overall program, but was in fact adding to the overall.  The Leadership of our Lodge allowed us to continue dancing, singing, and teaching.  They let us have fun.  They didn’t say ‘no’, when the boys asked to work on a project.  Then the boys kept plugging away, building outfits, coming up with ideas for dance demos at various events. 

A couple of years ago, we dancers and singers had the major portion of the Lodge’s involvement with a Council-wide event.  We put on dance performances for close to 7,000 people – from pre-school age to grandparents.  And we had a good time! 

Not to mention I have some young men who are incredible dancers.  We took them to NOAC in 2015, and we had many of them from our program in the top 20, two in the top 10 in different categories.  You should have heard me yelling like some kind of Southern Football Parent from the stands!  I kept coaching through the dances, giving pointers, calming the fears of the parents there, biting my nails.  It was awesome.  And though we didn’t get any Top 3 places, our guys walked away feeling accomplished, smiling, making good friends and better memories.  They make this easy to continue.  They make the hard work worth it.  They keep me going.

I’m still plugging away, being the salesman I need to be – or the cheerleader the program needs.  Sometimes, I’m the bad guy, letting people know there are better ways, more respectful ways, less offensive ways to do what they are doing.  But, the greatest part is that more adults are helping, and even better, more boys want to dance or sing - or both!  They want to understand more about the Native American community and culture.  And they are doing so with respect.  This past Lodge Powwow, a couple of weeks ago, had the highest turnout of dancers and singers we have had since 2003!  Fully ¼ of the attendees were either sitting around the drum or dancing around it.  We had such a good time, and we spread the word to others, infected some folks – young and old – with the desire to dance or sing in the Native American way. 

Last night I was given another award.  The fourth such for me personally in the last ten years.  The first of which was to be recognized to keep the Vigil in 2008/2009.  That was a shock.  I know it’s not an award.  But, you can see what I mean.  I’d been in the Order since 1984.  25 Years later I kept my Vigil.  Then the District Award of Merit for my service to the District and Scouting in 2010 – mostly for my work as Chapter Advisor, Webelos Transition Coordinator, and Native American programs advisor.  In 2012, it was the Phil Paul Service Award - another award from the Lodge for adult arrowmen who were youth in the same lodge.  This is the Big Deal Award for adults in out Lodge.  And then, last night I was presented the Outstanding Service as an Adult Arrowman award from our lodge.  For service in the Native Programs area almost exclusively.  A friend said, “it’s about time” only because he had been awarded it the year before.  Another friend also said, “what a difference a decade makes”. 

Ten years ago, I was getting tired, worn out, looking for other avenues to pursue helping young men become great leaders.  Ten years ago, I was only on the fringe of our Native program because I was otherwise occupied, but I kept at it.  Ten years ago, I never felt that Vigil, the District Award of Merit, or any other award was in my future.  And to be honest, it isn’t about the awards.  It is certainly nice to be recognized for good, hard work!  But, it’s never been about me getting and receiving.  What I do is about continuing a living legacy that men like Frank Knickerbocker, Gen. Fred Haynes, Sam Gratke, Barry Hardin, Bob Hooks, George Alford, Bill Lollar, and so many others helped found in our lodge, in our hearts.  It’s more about some young man who is all grown up, coming back in 20 years to continue teaching where I left off.  Paying it forward.  Helping other young men learn the right and respectful, and reverent ways of participating in another culture.  Then I will know I made a difference for that one.