We opened the 13th Annual Travois Indian Country Affordable Housing & Economic Development Conference with a reception on Monday, Sept. 16 at our office, and we were honored to have Bill Picotte, executive director of Yakama Nation Housing Authority, share a few words for our attendees:
“Hau, mitakuyepi na mitakolapi. Anpetu waste cante mawasteya, na nape ciyuza pelo. lakol icage Wakinyan Wanbli imaciya pelo.
I want to take this opportunity to welcome each and every one of you to Travois’ 13th Annual Housing and Economic Development Conference. Since 1995 Travois has been a leader in housing and economic development in Indian Country. My relationship with David Bland goes back to Travois’ very beginnings, and I met and began my work with David in the fall on 1995. Since this time, I have watched Travois grow, and expand, and I am very proud to count David as a dear friend, as well as a key member of my network of housing professionals. I am a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, and grew up and lived most of my life in Eagle Butte, SD. For the past 20 years, I have had a most rewarding career managing and developing Indian housing. I am honored to come before you today, as the speaker at tonight’s welcoming reception, and hope that my message has value for you.
As a Lakota man, I have always tried to honor the values and traditions of my people. Values like honesty, bravery, generosity, respect and wisdom. These teachings come down from respected elders who practiced them all their lives. To some these values might just be words, but I try to incorporate these values into my everyday life, and I want to share with you some of the ways that I do that.
Honesty – There are very few things we truly own. We have many possessions, material items that truly mean nothing, but our word is precious it is sacred. The words we speak to others must be true, but more importantly, they must be true ourselves. Communicating with others should always be transparent and honest. I do not compromise my integrity, it is one of the only things I truly own, and without my good reputation, I lose my ability to fight for issues important to me. If people don’t trust you, you are nothing. Protect your integrity.
Bravery – It is so easy to become complacent in our lives. To coast along, resist change and not rock the boat is human nature. Often, when faced with challenges, I encounter people who put all their efforts into figuring out how to say no, or into how not to accomplish goals. It takes courage to face change, to think out of the box, and challenge the status quo. Once, warriors needed bravery to hunt and protect the people. Today’s warriors must have the courage to persist, to persevere, to think out of the box, face change and educate themselves in order take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself.
As you may know, there was once a tradition of men known as sash-wearers among the warrior’s societies. These men would don a sash of some length, then drive a lance or a stake into the far end, and vow not to leave the battle until their enemies were dead, or until their valor, proven to their companions, enabled a fellow warrior to pull the lance out of the ground, and release them from what was often certain death. This act was the epitome of bravery and commitment.
Generosity – Our jobs are to provide housing for the people, and many of us have dedicated ourselves to those ends. For many of us who do not punch a dock, we often give more than the standard 40 hours per week, and often spend many evenings and even nighttime hours to solving the challenges which face us as we endeavor to provide shelter for our people. We share our experiences with each other, in the hope that the difficult road before each of us is made less demanding, and more defined.
Respect – We are all aware of the length of time that many families are on the waiting lists for housing that we manage. While I personally consider this a tragedy, you and I offer our respect by doing anything and everything in our power to ensure that housing is maintained and developed for the people who so desperately need it. We treat those we serve with compassion.
Wisdom – I personally do not claim to have any, but I search for it constantly, and find it sparingly. When I do find it, it comes most often from the elders that I feel blessed to encounter, it comes from children who are not belabored with hidden agendas or the burden of tactfulness, and it comes from everyday people whose creative solutions to the challenges of life make it necessary. People like you, who share their burdens, challenges, successes, and triumphs in the battle to provide housing for our people.
Spirituality to me, is defined by a sense of connectedness. That I am part of the greater whole, and that I am not alone. It is important to me to contribute something to society, to do work that is of value to Native people, and to society as a whole.
The battles we fight to provide housing to our people everyday can be frustrating and exhausting. The people look to us to provide them with the opportunity for a decent, safe and affordable place to live. Often we feel that it is hopeless and that we are alone. Like sash wearers, we are fighting a battle, unsure whether we can win, but we stand here, fighting, and if you take a moment to look around you, during the brief pause from the daily grind offered by attending this conference, you will notice all these other warriors who are fighting this battle for housing opportunity beside you. You do not fight alone. Each of us fights together with the warriors in this room, and those across the country, for better housing for our people. These people are part of your network, your war party. Rely on each other for courage, strength, knowledge, and support. None of us can do this alone.
Mitakuye Oyasin – We are all related.”