Monday, September 2, 2013

Seven Gifts-AAKODEWIN (Bravery)

When we think of bravery, we think of people who do extraordinary things in the midst of great danger. But courage/bravery is a virtue that we should possess each day.
Diamonds are formed from a lump of coal under pressure. When you find one, it is rough looking and not very pretty. That diamond needs to be worked on even more, cut, faceted and polished. There is a Chinese proverb which says, "The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials." In other words, we can either be ground into dust or polished like a diamond. Life is difficult. There will be trials. There will be suffering. If you are not strong, it will break you.
This gift was given to us so that we would have the courage to do things even in the most difficult of times. Oftentimes, doing the right thing means going against the grain. It’s being counter cultural.

I know those who are trying to live a sober life but family and friends make fun of them. Others are trying to walk in a good way, to live their lives different but those around them try and pull them off that new path. It takes courage to stand up and say no.

Have you allowed life to grind you down into dust or to polish you into a fine diamond? Do you possess the courage to do the right thing? If not, pray that the Creator would give you the courage to do what is right, even in the midst of the most difficult circumstances.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Seven Gifts-MANAADJITOWAAWIN (Respect)

The third Grandfather offered the gift of MANAADJITOWAAWIN (Respect), so that he would give respect to everyone, all human beings and all things created.

The term “Respect” is used liberally in “Indian Country.” From early on we are taught to respect our elders, respect the earth, respect our parents….but what does it mean to have respect?

Is it positional? You have to respect me because I am important!

Is it earned? Because of an act of bravery, kindness etc. we respect someone for what they have done.

Is it relational? We respect another person because we know and like them.

Is it unconditional? We respect another because we all need to coexistence on Mother Earth.

While we “talk the talk” about respect, do we really “walk the talk” when it comes to respect? Too often we pick and choose who or what we will respect, placing conditions on this gift handed to us by the Grandfathers so that we could live in peace and harmony.

Respect begins with me. I need to respect myself first! I cannot show respect to others if I do not respect myself. Just as we care for Mother Earth, we need to care for these vessels that carry our spirit. That means balancing mind, body, spirit and emotion. When we respect ourselves, then respecting all human beings and all things created become second nature.

One final thought-if you need to go around and demand respect, you have neither earned it nor deserve it.

This week make a conscious effort to respect the world we live in by doing something as simple as picking up litter, respect our elders by visiting a shut in and listening to their stories and respect other people by showing kindness instead of malice.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Seven Gifts - ZAAGIDWIN (Love)

Throughout existence, man has fueled his anger and rage with hate.  Hate for this world, hate for their neighbor, hate for those different from themselves and yes, even hate of themselves.  The Grandfathers gave us the gift of love but what does that mean?  I was taught that there are four colors in our medicine wheel-each color representing one of the four races of man.  I was also taught that we are all related. The opposite of love is hate. If we are commanded to love one another, why is there so much hate and discord?  I think the underlying cause of hate is fear.  We fear what we do not know, we fear displacement, we fear losing our status…

It is not easy loving other people, especially those that we deem unlovable. But the Grandfathers taught us that we are to love one other. In order to love another person, we need to see them as equals to us.  That takes both respect and humility on our part.

If you are having trouble loving someone that the Creator has put in your life, pray that the Creator would not only give you a love for that person but that he would also bless them.  It may not happen overnight but the more you pray for another person, the more your heart softens andthat hate melts away.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Seven Gifts-Wisdom

The Gifts

A long, long time ago, the Grandfathers gave the Anishinaabe people seven gifts or teachings in which we were to live our lives by. Those seven gifts were NIBWAAKAAWIN (Wisdom), ZAAGIDWIN (Love), MANAADJITOWAAWIN (Respect), AAKODEWIN (Bravery), GWEKOWAADIZIWIN (Honesty), DIBAADENDIZOWIN (Humility) and DEBWEWIN (Truth). Each of these gifts are interconnected and if we follow these teachings, we are well on our way to living a balanced and holistic life.

Each morning I pray to the Creator, give me the wisdom to know right from wrong and the courage to do what is right. If we possess wisdom, we will make good decisions.

There was a time, when I was much younger, in which I thought I knew more than I did. Through trial and error, I soon learnt that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. While I would have liked to have made better decisions, those experiences have shaped who I am and what I know today.

Sadly some people never learn from their mistakes but instead, wallow in their own foolishness. They continue to do the things that got them in trouble in the first place and the end result is often dismal, if not tragic.

Mark Twain warns, “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt.” While humorous, there is some truth to what Twain says. We learn wisdom through experience but we can also learn by listening and observing others. If we keep our mouth shut and our ears open, we can learn wisdom.

While wisdom can be learned, it was also a gift given to us by the Grandfathers. Therefore, if you lack wisdom, pray that the Creator will give you that gift. It is ours for the asking but not for our own edification, but for the people.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Sikh Temple Candle Light Vigil “Uplift & Heal”

Last year, my nephew Sammy Rangel developed a relationship with the Sikh community in southeastern Wisconsin after the horrific shooting which claimed six lives. One year later, he played a role in bringing the Native American community to the temple to honor the memory of those who were slain.

I know many in the Sikh community and have often driven past the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin but I have never stopped.  Last night was different.  Sammy invited me to participate in the vigil which was planned, so after work I headed for the temple, not knowing what to expect.

As I pulled into the driveway, I wasn’t prepared for the surge of emotion I would feel as I walked across the parking lot.  Tears welled up in my eyes and I fought back the urge to weep.  This ground was as hallowed as Sand Creek, Wounded Knee, Sandy Lake and the Trail of Tears.  Blood had been needlessly and recklessly shed and I felt the grief that had hung over this place in the aftermath of these shootings.

I needed a few minutes to compose myself and I knew that I needed to put some asema down on that ground to honor those whose blood was shed.  I took a little, went over to the picture memorial, and placed it in front.  I said my prayers, gathered my thoughts and joined my friends.

Sammy had asked his Uncle’s drum group, Seven Springs, to sing at the memorial.  His Uncle Gary allowed me to sit with them and I was honored to be included.  I did not know the magnitude of the event going into it and it was larger than I ever thought.  Survivors and family members from other mass shootings spoke, a letter was read from the President and the faith community came together to support the Sikh community.

The most touching part of the memorial service was hearing from the families of those who had died.  We were filled with a range of emotions, from sorrow to joy but the one emotion that missing was anger.  Forgiveness and peace filled the air.  Yes there were some that still grieved but they would not allow that grief to turn to hate.

When the program was over, I thanked the organizers for allowing me the honor of sharing in their memorial.  They invited the community and the community showed up.  As I was walking out, I overheard two young men talking.

“What if…,” one young man said to the other but his friend looked at him and said, “If it did not happen, we would never have met all these people.”  Mitakuye oyasin! We are all related.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


After working on end of the year grades for several hours, my wife was ready to take a break. As a result, we decided to drive “out to the country” to visit the Serendipity Farm-home to Hippie Tom of American Pickers fame.

 I knew (Hippie) Tom over thirty years ago when he was still just Tom. Oh yes, he was eccentric back then, running a pottery shop in Caledonia. He was a friend of my father’s and as I recall, an all-around genuine and talented guy. We jumped in the car at 4:00 pm, set the GPS and were on our way. Hippie Tom had opened his farm up for a four day sale which was to end at 5 pm.

We thought we’d catch the tail end of the sale but when we arrived about 4:50 pm, they were in the process of shutting down. We were told that Hippie Tom had retired for the evening but they graciously allowed us to walk around a bit. The first thought that came to my mind was “overwhelming”. There had to be over a dozen buildings and they were all filled, top to bottom, with stuff. The farm had an almost whimsical feel and in a way, you felt like you had been dropped into another world.  

"Hippie" Amy felt at home as she ran from one building to another. She was mesmerized by the clutter, the bicycle mobile hanging from the trees and the old buildings. She gazed upon the bricks and doors, remembering the time she salvaged the neighbors door from the landfill. When we had our old carriage house torn down, she wanted to salvage each board and if we would have known of Hippie Tom's penchant for collecting, perhaps had found a home for it. Instead, its fate was the same as that door "Hippie" amy once saved-the landfill! However, I soon found out that not all stuff must suffer the same fate if Hippie Tom gets a hold of it first. 

We didn’t want to overstay our welcome so we left as quickly as we had come. And then we saw him…Hippie Tom in all his hippiness on the side of the road. I yelled out, “Are you THE Hippie Tom?” and he acknowledges he was. I told him we went back over thirty years and I had been looking for him for the past fifteen years. You see my son David II broke one of my parent’s prized jars that (Hippie) Tom had made years ago and we always wanted to replace it with another (Hippie) Tom original.

I told Hippie Tom I knew him over thirty years ago (I was in high school at the time) and he looked for a few minutes trying to figure it out. I gave him a hint-mentioning Nichols Motors-and when I told him who my father was, his eyes lit up and a smile came across his face. “Terry! I remember Terry,” he said, “How’s he doing? Boy I can’t believe it…” We chatted for a few minutes and then we were on our way. 

Friday, October 12, 2012


Leadership Racine kicked off its 15th class this past September and as I spoke to the new group of participants, I reflected on my involvement over the past fifteen years.  

From a participant in that first class to advisory board chair, I have done everything from schlepping soda to presenting.  In between I have served on the program and selection committees, helped revise the program after that first year and supported the program with my “time, talents and tithes”.

Over sixteen years ago, a small group of community leaders began asking the question, “Who would take over when we are no longer involved.”  Perhaps they sensed their own mortality.  Maybe they had grown tired.  Or quite frankly, they were ready to pass the baton.  Whatever the reason, they asked the question but didn’t like what they saw.  There were no runners coming up from behind.

A vision was cast that day and a program was created to meet the needs of our community.Leadership  Racine was placed in the Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce (RAMAC) and with support of United Way and the Racine Community Foundation, along with several major corporations, a net was cast to reach the broadest of audiences.  Diversity was a key goal and one that was easily met.

What is unique about this next generation of emerging leaders is that they come from all walks of life-transcending racial and socio-economic barriers.  They work in the private sector, the public sector and for non-government organizations.  Some own businesses while others still live at home.  They are young and old, rich and poor, black and white but none of that mattered because they were a part of a shared experience called Leadership Racine.  

Over the past fifteen years, each class has worked together for nine months, learning about themselves and about others.  They are taught leadership skills, exposed to various community leaders and organizations and complete a team project.  But most importantly, they are united by a desire to make this community a better place.

As I spoke to the new class this year, I mentioned three things:

1.      If they want to see servant leadership in action, watch Karen Bayer.  Karen Bayer is the Executive Director of Leadership Racine and has quietly guided the program from the beginning, mentoring many who have gone through.  She is part den mother, part task master.  With her bell she keeps the day moving but more often, she quietly leads from behind.  Whether its an encouraging word or a hug, Karen has a way of influencing people and engendering support. 

2.      A marker of success for Leadership Racine is the buy-in from the graduates of the program.  Not only is Karen Bayer a servant leader but she is highly relational.  This has benefited the program immensely over the years.  LR graduates enjoy working with Karen.  She empowers them to lead, encourages them in their strengths and supports them from behind.

Although Leadership Racine was started by a group of community leaders, there are only two founding board members still involved with the program.  The bulk of the work is handled by Leadership Racine alumni who cheerfully serve on the various working committees.  For example, LR grads on the “Program” committee plan each session and then volunteer their time to assist the day of that session.  In between they meet monthly to plan and evaluate each session.

3.       Finally if you look around our community, you will notice that almost every board, committee or commission has at least one, if not more Leadership Racine alumni serving on it.  Some alumni have run for office, serving as elected officials.  Others are appointed to positions.  Overall, there are fresh faces serving in a leadership capacity and no longer is there that fear that there is no one to pass that baton to.

That day over sixteen years ago, these community leaders, many who will remain as icons in the history of Racine, casted a vision and Leadership Racine was birthed out of a desire to train up a new generation of leaders.  Fifteen years later, that torch has been successfully passed and a new generation of leaders has emerged within our community.