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Circles of a Future Politician

Year 8, Week 20

Many Nation people saw Sky and me on the Joosemin local TV news as Thelma's casket was put into the hearse. Some put the connection together: Eli was at the funeral, Thelma was assassinated because of the TDG; Eli is the leader of our TDG. Questions were coming my way. Not so much about the TDG but more about how and why Thelma was assassinated. They wanted answers I could not give. I asked Len if he could give a talk. He agreed. We booked the school foyer, a popular place for such meetings. Justine, our communications officer, sent a notice to TDG members through email and our social media.

Len and Jackie showed up about a half hour before the meeting started.

Jackie said, "The card you sent to Thelma's parents and husband meant a lot to them."

Jackie and Len also brought Lenora Crane. Lenora has provided some counseling services to some of our people.

The foyer is the spacious room in our school that greets students and teachers each day. It is mostly circular in shape with lots of windows and artifacts from our culture. We set up chairs for a three-quarter circle. About 70 people showed up on time. Len gave another 10 minutes as he knows about stragglers in our culture. A few more came in. I could see that about half the people in the room were TDG members. Justine's communication went beyond our membership. That was a good sign.

I said a short prayer for Thelma in English. Justine and Sharilee chanted a prayer in our Tankosin language.

Then I introduced Len: "Thank you for coming out tonight. It's a special night for us. We're here to honor Thelma Delgers, a young lady in Riverbend who was killed three weeks ago. For the past four years, Thelma's path and mine crossed one or two times a year on some TDG business. I didn't know her well, but I always liked how she treated me as a person of value.   

"Many of you are curious about Thelma's death. Many of you are curious about the connection between Thelma's work in Riverbend and the TDG in our nation. I'm not exactly sure what to say, so we decided to invite our TDG advisor, Len Pash, to talk to us tonight. Len, it is now your turn."

When Len started talking, he recounted his time with Thelma, similar to his eulogy.

"That is Thelma's story. I hope I have conveyed what Thelma brought to the TDG, and how her work will eventually build a better country. Tankosin Nation is a part of this process."

But there was no tight schedule tonight. Len had more time, and he carried on: "As for the police investigation, we TDGers do not know much more than some of you have heard from the media. The shooter lived with his parents and worked in retail for two years. He was a reasonable employee but socially awkward. There's no known physical associations with radical groups. But police are hinting that his online activity was dark.

"So you may be wondering what the Riverbend TDG is doing. Well, we wish we knew. We seem to be in a grieving state—and also in a holding pattern. There's pressure for us to speak. We really wish we knew what to say at times.

"The executive committee selected a new chair to replace Thelma. Lenora Crane, who some of you know, is our chair." Len pointed to Lenora.

"Lenora and our communications officer, Pamela Harris, are handling most of the media relations these days. You might be seeing more of them in the newspaper and on the Joosemin TV channel.

"What led to this tragedy, we can only speculate. Riverbend TDG was starting to get some serious attention from local media a little over a year ago. A few weeks before Thelma's murder, we partnered with an environmental group to pressure governments to clean up a toxic industrial site in Riverbend. When the police inspected Thelma's computer, they found online threats right after that event. She didn't tell us.

"What do we in Riverbend do next? I wish I knew..... But first, I really need to make it clear that I am only the advisor to the TDG of the Tankosin Nation. The executive committee of this TDG is not obligated to take any of my advice. I am not your boss in any way. I will just say some things. The executive committee will put the pieces together later. What your people do next is mostly up to you.

"The executive committee of the Riverbend TDG has been meeting every week since Thelma's death. And I have been at each meeting. Here's what's been on our minds.

"Prior to Thelma's death, we never really discussed opposition to our movement. Maybe we felt we were too small. But I think we always knew that, even though no one said it, opposition to the TDG was going to happen sometime. Violent opposition was possible. This is just part of the mental state of our country. The opposition just came earlier and more suddenly than we'd expected.

"We decided to suspend TDG promotion activities for a few months. But we will continue with basic TDG functions, such as executive committee meetings and other necessary committee work. Most importantly, we'll continue to hold our elections as per our constitution. In our last election, we brought in mail-in ballots and the system is working well. TDG members can vote without exposing themselves at a public TDG gathering. We didn't plan the mail-in ballots for that reason, but it's going to help.  

"We've created a Safety Committee. If any executive committee member gets a threat, he or she must pass it on to the committee who will pass it on to our police liaison.We have asked the 34 neighborhood representatives to monitor their social media for negative comments about the TDG. They take a screenshot of such posts and send them to the Safety Committee.

"We're not actively recruiting any new TDG members. There will be no more public meetings for the next few months."

We have had politicians—both native and white—speak in the foyer before. There is usually all sorts of little noises to take away from the speaker. But there was something about Thelma's murder, Len's approach, and Riverbend's resolve that held this audience together. It was quiet while Len was speaking.

"We were considering setting up an office in Riverbend. We won't be doing that any time soon.

"We were also in the process of turning the Riverbend TDG into an official non-profit society. That process will continue. I think the Tankosin Nation should consider this direction as well. Riverbend can help Tankosin's executive committee in this regard.

"We're not dwelling whether or not Thelma's death could have been caused by forces bigger than a young man with a mental illness. We will let the police do their work—and continue forward with our TDG work regardless of what the police find. That's what Thelma would've wanted. If you have any questions, I'll try to answer them."

Amanda Fox asked, "How are Thelma's family doing?"

Len looked at Jackie, and she got up.

"I've been over to their house a few times. They're holding up as best they can. Her husband seems brave, but we can see he's a little lost. He also lost his unborn child."

We got a few questions that Len probably already gave answers in his talk. I guess repeating things is part of being in public relations.

We got a few questions about the TDG. I have answered these questions before in front of my people. It was probably good to hear the same answer from someone else.

Brian Turning Robe, a 50-year old fellow who I often run into, asked, "I've been interested in joining this TDG, but Eli tells me I can't be a member because I'm over 30 years old."

Len seemed happy to answer this question: "Four years ago, I was watching Eli and his friends write the TDG constitution for the Tankosin Nation. They did it at the Fire Hall. I too questioned the group on why they put in this age restriction. They gave me an answer—and it was a good answer. But rather than give my opinion of whether 30 years old is right or wrong, I encourage you to talk to members of the executive committee. Listen carefully to their reasons. When the under 30s and over 30s come to a better understanding for that 30-year-old clause, I can see a good outcome happening.

"And I think the executive committee is getting closer to 30 years old. They are probably going to change the rules anyways." Len got a few laughs.

Justine thanked Len, Jackie, and Lenora for coming. Afterwards, we broke into small groups as we did some socializing. I could see Lenora was happily meeting former addiction clients. Only a few white people know how to mingle with Native Americans. Lenora is one. Len and Jackie are still learning.

I introduced Len to Chief Lefthand.

"Call me Johnny!" beamed the chief. "I appreciate you guys coming out here. It's not often an event outside the reservation affects my people like this. They really needed to hear this story."

"The executive committee called us in. It's part of the advisor's job," said Len. "Jackie and I come out here a couple times a year to touch base with Eli and his crew. This time it was more important than usual."

"And you are doing this as a volunteer?"

"Yep. It's been eight years now that I've been with the TDG. It's become my service to the USA."

"You said it's moving forward?"

"It might be hard for someone from the outside to notice any difference in our Riverbend TDG. But we've learned how to handle things a lot differently."


"You know how many Americans believe their opinions and perspectives are superior to those who disagree with us? Well, we've more or less cut out that style from our deliberations. We just let everyone express themselves--and somehow we find decisions that come from outside any one person. These decisions to work reasonably well."

"We Tankosin used to work that way. In some ways, we still do. We like lots of talking before making big decisions.Sometimes it takes weeks."

"Interesting! I'm just thinking that we seldom make a big decision in the first meeting. But often that decision is made by the second meeting. Maybe that is a tradition we are building in Riverbend. I really haven't noticed before."

"It sounds like a good tradition to me. Maybe we could learn how to make quicker decisions in the Tankosin Band Council. . . . . Are you still involved in the Riverbend Fire Department?"

"Yeah, kind of," said Len. "As I'm getting older, it's getting harder to recover from those early morning fires. I'm a little slow the next day."  

"Well, I have some news for you!"


"We're getting an upgrade: A 2008 Pierce, with a Kenworth chassis. So we are retiring Firetruck #4. I understand it used to be your truck."

"Yes, it was. I trained on it, and it served Riverbend well for many years."

I had been listening to Len and Johnny all this time.Yes, I thought. Maybe one of the better things the firetruck had done was to bring Len and Jackie to Tankosin to teach us about the TDG. I remember how suspicious the former chief, Clarence Samson, was of Len. Yet the chief saw Len as a tool to get the firetruck fixed. One circle moving another circle.

"Do you want it back?"

"Well it won't be sitting in my backyard. I'll mention it to the Firehall Board. They might want to restore it for parades."

Len and Chief Lefthand sure hit it off well. This chief is more open minded.

And Len and Amanda Fox found some time to talk about firefighting. Amanda is still the Fire Chief of Tankonsin Nation. She is looking forward to the upgraded truck.