MARGARET MEAD (1901-1978)
Mead 2001 Centennial Awards
AIO never loses sight of its roots. Founder LaDonna Harris, a Comanche, is the granddaughter of an Eagle Medicine Man and a devout Christian grandmother. Her daughter Laura attends classes in Comanche once a week. AIO reflects tradition, passing along a love of kinship, tolerance, and tribal wisdom from generation to generation. But it is not nostalgic or sentimental. Even the name, Americans for Indian Opportunity, bespeaks an acceptance of the here and now, the desire to work with the world as it is. To broaden its view, AIO has established a self-perpetuating advisory system, routinely calling on Native American idea-makers as well as African-American, Anglo, Latino, and other non-Indian leaders. It asks, How might this affect Native Americans? What would your community envision? and applies the answers to the Native American landscape.
The Council of Energy Resource Tribes, National Indian Housing Council, National Tribal Environment Council, Laguna Education Foundation, Tribal Issues Management System, California Land Trust, and Native Arts Alliance all started with the help of AIO. But the groups recent centerpiece has been its Ambassadors Program, this summers winner of the Mead2001 Award. Launched in 1993 to foster leadership, the program now has 122 graduates and is the only national leadership training program to weave traditional tribal values with contemporary reality. Each Ambassador serves for a year, working on his or her community project and meeting with other Ambassadors, for a week, four times during the year. Ivan Posey (Eastern Shoshone), for instance, did his Ambassador work on suicides among his people. He was working for the Forest Service and, taking his leadership training to heart, ran for and won a seat on the tribal council. Rebecca Alegrias project under AIO was to find old photographs of Menominee life. She not only found pictures but discovered their importance to a lawsuit for reparations for timber harvests. Shes now a tribal researcher for Menominee historic preservation.
One of the four yearly Ambassadors meetings occurs in another nation (Mexico, Bolivia, Venezuela) and expands the sometimes-held parochial view that Indians with deep and important values live only in the American West. Their meetings arent development. They are learning programs, philosophical exchanges with often remarkable communities. The Mayans of Guatemala, for example, say the Harrises, are extraordinarily well organized when it comes to publishing their literature in their own language, something the North American Indian community lacks. Antigua has strong political activism and structure, a model self-advocating culture. So the Ambassadors travel, not to change or repair what they find, but to share values and absorb, absorb, absorb. All Native Americans fall prey to occasional myopia, Laura Harris says candidly. Inevitably, though, the young Ambassadors come back re-wired, eager to change the domestic climate, and broader-minded about a native world far larger than their tribes.
One attribute Margaret Mead envisioned in small groups that change the world was that they offer models that others could learn from and replicate. AIOfocused, generating new organizations and projects, nurturing imagination, and applying philosophical musclekeeps native traditions alive and vibrant by molding values to the realities of todays world.
How to contact AIO
681 Juniper Hill Road
Bernalillo, NM 87004
Read more in the Summer 2000 issue of Whole Earth magazine.
All rights reserved. Mead/Bateson photo ©Fred Roll.