All text and audio copyright, 2015 by the Native American Development Center ©
Dr. Russ McDonald: (speaking in Lakota)
I just wanted to shake everyone's hand with a good heart. My name is
Leander Russ McDonald. My Lakota name, my Indian name is […], Whistling Bear.
So far family, I'm married. We have two grandkids that are living with us that are niece's kids, and they've been staying with us now a good eight years. Good kids. They go to school here at the Theodore Jameson Elementary School.
My education background is I graduated from four time district school back in 1981. I was valedictorian of 27 of us seniors. I went in the service after that for about three years and then about seven years after that, I went back to school. I was working for a janitor for a while at that time. A security guard, a blackjack dealer, a roofer, a temporary employment. I've done a lot of different jobs. But I was cleaning these offices where I was working and a lot of non-natives working for us at the tribe. And I started thinking that, getting to know those folks is that I didn't think that the jobs [inaudible 00:01:58] or I thought that I had the capability to do the jobs that they were doing. And but here I am cleaning their offices on our reservation. And I think that's kind of a motivator for me to go back to school. And so I went back to our tribal college which, at the time, was Little Hoop Community College out of Fort Totten.
It took me a while to get back into school. It's kind of like if you don't use it, you've going to lose it, and that especially happened with math. And so, although I was good in math in high school, it had been at that time now about a good nine years after high school. And then I went back to school, and it took me four years to get a two-year degree. I was kind of running around yet, getting into making some bad choices, and as a result of that, that was reflected in my grades for that time. And grades that carry through and ended up being with me all the way through my undergraduate programs. And so I never did really get it back up there.
I think I graduated with a 3.14 GPA, but if didn't have all those Fs from the first couple of semesters, I probably would have been sitting a little bit better and probably would have been eligible for more scholarships, too, during that time, even though I did pretty good. And I think what happened is that when I went back to school is that, initially, I was kind of having a hard time, funding wise. But as I got into it and learned that system, I was able to make more money going to school than I was working in those jobs that I was telling you about. So then, after I was getting ready to graduate with a bachelor's degree from UND at the time, then I ... which would have been 1997. The guy I was working with over there, now I was doing some research. I was a scholar for the post's McNair post-baccalaureate program. And they didn't pay. They paid your tuition and fees and books, and then they funded you for eight to ten hours a week to do research with someone.
So when I got to UND, they said to go find someone who was doing research and ask them to be your mentor. I didn't know anybody over there, so I went back to the advisor at sociology who was advising me, and he just happened to be doing research on Native American elders. And so he agreed to be my mentor, and then he said ... I went there in the summer, and he said, but I can't meet with you until fall, he said, because I don't have a house here because this is that year that it flooded up there. So I'm going to assign you over here to the social science research institute, and you're going to able to do surveys all summer, which was ... at the time, I didn't realize see the application for that, but it was a job.
So then I think all the way through is that I worked and went to school at the same time. So that really kind of helped us out family wise.
Once I got done with the undergraduate in 97 or 98. May 1998 I was graduating but the requirements and my boss I was telling you about, he said well I walked into a grant and if you stick around and go on for your masters, we'll pay all your tuition, and you got to pay your own fees and books, and then we'll give you health insurance and we'll give you $1,100 a month in order to work half time to continue this research work.
$1,100 was still a lot of money to us, but back then, if was more money than I'd even made working full time in those jobs I had been doing, so that was really good money for us. So, my wife came back to school at the time with me. I was up there by myself. And she ended up getting into school, so then I end up in a masters program. It took me two years to get that done. Then I went into a PhD program, and I finished that one up in 2003. I worked, for that one I went to school at night times, and I worked during the day. And so, but it all, every time I got a degree, then different doors were opening, so when I finished a masters, they offered me a job as a research analyst to continue the work that I was doing and started paying me $33,000 which I thought was a lot. Which was a lot to us.
Again, we were just continually jumping in regard to pay, and I just want to talk about the influence of education on getting paid. So, as I got more degrees, my finances got better, and then my wife was going to school, and she was getting none, then she started working, so now we're both ... She finished up with a masters in public administration. I finished up with a bachelors and a masters in sociology and a PhD in educational foundations of research. As a result of those degrees, we ended up making a bit better money, and that helped us in regard to our family.
So, the education ties in with the employment. The other part of it, we had health insurance as a result of being in those jobs. And then we also had some retirement which was kind of a new thing for us. And then, because I was a veteran, living up in Grand Forks, a lot of veterans don't get to participate in this, but the VA home loan program is that, on the reservation, back then, they weren't loaning you money if you had trust land. You had to have V land or taxed land, land that had been taxed.
Being up in Grand Forks, we were off the reservation, and all of that is taxed land, so when we went to go buy a house, we used they VA home load program, and I was able to, my wife and I were able to get into a house without any down payment. All we had to do was pay the closing costs, and the guy that was selling the house was trying to get it sold right away, so he paid half the closing costs. So we were in pretty good shape, and we just went into monthly payments. So that's how we ended up buying our first house because of VA.
But Indian veterans, we don't get to participate in that on the reservation because of the trust land peace, and I believe that VA has been working to correct that, so HUD has been trying to help those veterans to participate more and to recognize trust land as land that is eligible for home loans.
So, an important piece of that, eventually we wound up going back to Fort Totten and now Little Hoop Community College is now Candeska Cikana Community College is how they say it over there, and then so we went back there, and I was tribal planner for a little bit, for about a year or so, then I end up vice president academics at Candeska. I ended up working there for about five years and then I went into politics for about fifteen months. I came in on a recall. One of our chair was recalled at the time I came in, and then I was recalled.
I think what was happening is that, I don't want to speak too much about the chair that I came in on, but my own recall is that we were making a lot of changes fast, and I think people were not wanting to change right away, and they were slow to change. And I think they seen that and weren't used to that change coming that fast with what I was trying to do. And I just figured I had a short time in there and to do as much as I could.
As a result of that, I think I kind of scared folks, and that's one of the reasons why the voted me out. But the one part that I will say on that is, from what we understand, and it wasn't just me, but it was the secretary treasurer, it was the chief financial officer, and it was the directors of the tribal government is that for the first time in the history of Spirit Lake Tribe, we had a clean audit. We had a clean audit for that time, so I'm not going to say anything bad about anybody. I'm going to stand on that in regard to the work that we did for the tribe at that time. And that's not just my work. It was all those people's work that were buying into this style of doing things, not who you're related to, not what your last name is, but your own work, your own hard work yourself and recognizing that, and making everybody accountable. And I think that we need to continue to move in the direction in regard to our tribal government.
As far as where I grew up, I grew up both Spirit Lake in my older years. In the younger years, we lived over at White Shell where my mom is from. We lived there until second grade. The third grade I started school at Fort Tom. So those are kind of the years there, so both those ...
And I remember my grandparents more on my mom's side because we lived at home over there. Then, as we got older, on my dad's side, I knew my grandpa on that side and my uncles and aunties, so we kind of got a mix of both regarding to the culture and understanding of those cultures.
When I look at both cultures, I don't see too much difference between the two. There are a lot of similarities. We respect our elders. We respect our veterans. We love our children and hold them in high regard, and we try to be good people. On either culture, that's what I see are the similarities between those two. On the other side where you want to look for differences, I think there's difference in all things if we're going to look for them, so I think we always can remember what Sitting Bull said told us is to take what's good from whatever you're encountering and use that to help yourself. There are better words than that, but that's how I remember that.
So, those two places where I grew up. We always had a strong family, always had around our relatives going that way.
As far as what I remember is that culturally on my Ma's side is that my uncles were all singers. A couple of them, my grandpa were announcers. My grandpa was a tribal chairman and actually died in office over on three affiliated tribes. He actually died at our house, and also, and it wasn't too long after that that we moved to Spirit Lake, so I know that was kind of a hard time for the whole family.
But they were all singers and dancers, and they were all in the service on that side, so we kind of remember them that way. And I was joking around, and I was having a good time, and I liked to joke around about stuff all the time. Sometimes maybe it's inappropriate, but I think that's how our people have come through the hard times, the struggles they've had is to our humor. And we persevered over the years because of that.
On the Fort Totten side, the Dakota side, is that there is same thing. Our relatives are always joking around, kind of like visiting all the time, and you know people come to visit back in those days, and they didn't just come and stop over for the evening, they would stay a couple days or stay a week or stay a month. I remember those things. I remember everybody having gardens back then, and everybody having to help out, and everybody ... like we had to pull weeds and stuff, but sometimes we caught hell if we didn't pull the weed. We pulled that plant instead. Also so there's things like that. I remember everybody hunting all the time. So there's things like that ... horses ... being around horses. My dad had horses and cattle for a bit there, so I remember those things in regard to growing up.
Then I think about the cultural side of things. Just the pow wow side of things but also the spiritual side. To tell you the truth, I don't really remember sweats or anything like that too much prior to probably about the mid 70s. Maybe it was the civil rights movement and self-determination act and the Indian education act around that time when I look back, but all those things occurred. It was pretty much illegal for us to practice our cultural ways until then, but people were starting to practice them anyway, regardless of the law.
And so you seen a lot of sweats starting to come up, and so we start being exposed to that back early back then. And so those are on the cultural side, but I've come to an understanding now the importance of that in regard to our everyday lives and in regard to our spirituality and prayer, and the importance of those things in regard to where I'm at today is that I had a hard time with alcohol and drugs coming out of high school and being in the service. That's why I was kind of delayed there, and that's why it took me four years to get a two-year degree.
So I've learned along, but at the same time, I look back on those things and those hard times that I've come through and the times I was in jail and the fights I got in and the relationship difficulties that I had, and I realize that all those things that I came through, made me what I am today. So those things ... I'm sorry for those time I may have hurt any body but that, at the same time, I learned from those things, that today I know that I don't want to go back to that lifestyle anymore.
But instead, I want to have a good relationship with the Creator and be a good man. And if I do that part, then he' s going to take care of everything else for me. He's going to help me with my wife and my relationship with my wife who I've been married to for 19 years, going on 20 years. I've been sober for 21 years, and so all those things are a result of building that relationship with the Creator. Because of that, I don't worry about my relationship with my wife. I try to treat her good, and as a result of that, she treats me good. I try to be a good parent and grandparent and because I'm trying to be a good man, I'm able to do that. I'm able to be a good provider. So those are the things that I think are the foundation for everything else. Everything that I've shared with you is a result of that.
The Creator has been that mainstay for me that gave me that strength and the wisdom to make decisions that were beneficial to myself and to my family. So that would be my recommendation to anybody that's having difficulty out there, to look that way and to pray that those things ... that the Creator will hear you and will put the things in your way that you need in order to succeed in life. I would say like Jesus, God I really need a new car, but God might not think that you're ready for a new car but might give you a car. I think the thing we have to recognize is that when we're ready, then those things are going to be granted to us and given to us at his time, not ours.
There's a reason for us that we might not get that new car, but that's in his wisdom and not ours. So we recognize that, and we realize that, and I think that those are the things that I see today as important for me to in regard to where I'm at, what I've come through, and where I'm going to go. So we look to the future, we look to the vision in this position as president for United Tribes Technical College is that where we're going as a college, where is God taking us. Where is God taking this college? And I feel that his guidance in regard to our decisions, and all things are coming together. We have a good work force, and things are coming together nice, and we're really been focused on our students because that's what we're supposed to be doing. We're an educational institution, so our main goal is to make sure that that's happening before we do anything else. And so it has been going very well.
I appreciate the time to share a little bit. I appreciate Lorraine giving me the time to share just a little bit in regard to myself here and how things have been going for myself and my family.