I returned last night from 6 days in Indianapolis for the first class of 2010-2011 LEAD21 training (leadership for Land-grant Universities). What a tremendous gift to focus on my own leadership skills. On Maslow's hierarchy of needs- this is the pinnacle.
I flew from Fargo, North Dakota to Indianapolis. I was once afraid of flying after an emergency landing on Equatoriana Airlines. But now, I say "well what can I do... may as well enjoy it." And I did. The g-force of speeding down the runway, the sight of my beloved prairie and pothole ponds and wetlands below me, and finally rising into dramatic valleys of thunderhead clouds- the stuff of dreams really.
I spent a week living at the top- in every sense that the 21st century has to offer. There were hours devoted to dissecting the feedback on our leadership skills (from bosses, direct report, peers...), practice conflict management, team dynamics, dealing with competing values, and building a group of peer coaches that we will work with over the next year.
In addition to the intellectual heights, we were cared for so that no earthly/physiological needs were even thought of. The healthiest, freshest food available in world were supplied in abundance. We were surrounded by platters of local strawberries, fresh blueberries, pineapple, melons, greens and vegetables. We were served gourmet healthy foods- paella, roasted lamb, seafood, soups, whole grains like quinoa, egg white omelets, and Ethiopian coffee where ever we turned. Brown people served our every needs- straightening our rooms, pouring our wine.
I entered the University of Indiana's hotel/conference complex on Sunday afternoon and did not step foot outside until the stretch limo picked us up on Friday afternoon. I touched ground in Fargo- a brilliantly easy international airport- and headed south through North Dakota, then South Dakota on my way to Big Stone County, Minnesota.
My first and only stop was on the land of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate. It was Friday night and it seemed that I'd hit the hot spot for action. As I stood around the gas pump, I was conscious that my 5-year-old used car was the fanciest/nicest in the lot and I was the lightest skinned person in the crowd. The mom next to me had a crying babe in the back seat- she sing-sang to her sweet babe as we filled our cars across from each other.
One of my favorite songs played through my mind as I lingered among the Oyate- the people. Please take a listen below to Keith Secola.
I walked slowly into the hot spot- a nice sized store on one end of the complex. I was hungry and I walked the six aisle of food. There was not one single fresh item of any sort in the entire store- it was convenience style. It was entirely and completely opposite the last meal I had had in Indianapolis. It was the anti-food pyramid. Indianapolis enjoyed the solid foundation of the food pyramid and Indian Country had nothin' at all but the crap at the top. I checked again- yup- looks to me that Maslow's hierarchy of needs starts with food.
I finally strolled back across the parking lot to my, now damn nice looking, car. I had some jalepeno almonds in hand- the healthiest food I found. I drove a couple miles down the road and saw a car on the side of the road- I looked and saw they had stopped to see a moose in the wetland grasses. I rolled down my window and yelled to the group of three Native men- "is that really a moose??!!" "Yeah" he said "Been hanging around here since last fall." We all watched the moose in our cars for a while, then did illegal u-turns to get back home in opposite directions. I passed a passel of fox kits, geese, ducks, pelicans, deer, and the bounty of this good land- once only theirs. I did avoid hitting a skunk.
The irony of the journey from Indianapolis to Indian country burst some bubble in me. Like bursting a blister- it stings so much worse after it is burst. That's the thing about mountaintop experiences- it's actually harder to walk back down the mountain. Causes blisters. Next year LEAD21 is working to recruit a cohort of our colleagues from the 1994 Tribal Land-grant colleges. Here's hoping, eh?