Honoring Nations: Dr. Dorry Larson and Joyce Country: Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Professional Empowerment Program (2005)

Producer
Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development
Year

Representatives for the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Professional Empowerment Program Dr. Dorry Larson and Joyce Country present an overview of the program's work to the Honoring Nations Board of Governors in conjunction with the 2005 Honoring Nations Awards.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Country, Joyce and Dorry Larson. "Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Professional Empowerment Program." Honoring Nations Awards event. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Tulsa, Oklahoma. November 1, 2005. Presentation.

Dr. Dorry Larson:

"Good morning. Good noon. I'm Dorry Larson and I represent the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, the Professional Empowerment Program. I would be referred to today as the Vanna White of the operation and in five minutes you'll hear from Pat Sajak. I want to acknowledge a couple people from our reservation. J.C. Crawford is our tribal Chairman. J.C. is running for office, so thank you for taking time out of your busy campaign, J.C., to be here. Scott German is our tribal Vice Chair. Scott, thank you for being here. Verlyn Beaudreau from our gaming commission and we have a tribal council person Barb Jens and tribal elder Gilbert Robertson. Thank you for being here. This represents...it means a lot to us cause it gives us support.

In the summer of 2001, I was driving with our corporate HR person from our casinos and I turned to her and I said, "˜What we're doing is not working.' We had people coming in and out of jobs. We had one instance where we had a person who had 17 different jobs with our casinos. And to backtrack a little bit, we're from the northeast corner of the State of South Dakota and just across the border in North Dakota. We have a lot of gifts from the Creator. We have a lot of jobs. We have three casinos, we have other tribal entities. We have close to 2,000 jobs. So our problem is not for tribal members getting jobs, our problem was for tribal members keeping jobs. And I shared this with our corporate HR person at the time and said, "˜We need to try to do something different.' And so what we did is we got together as a group of people. We had our TERO director -- we have a very strong TERO program, Tribal Employment Rights Organization -- Adele Ray German. We had our TANF director, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, Richard Keeble. We had our college represented. We had Dr. Eldon Lawrence. We had our DNGE, Dakota Nation Gaming Enterprise, represented. And we put our heads together and tried to determine what we could do to try to solve this problem, this revolving-door problem. And we came up with a program called Developing a Productive Employee Program. And now, five years later, that program has evolved into the Professional Empowerment Program.

In January of 2002 we hired Joyce Country, Pat Sajak, and we started to develop the curriculum for the program. The curriculum that we developed became very therapeutic in nature. I'm a psychologist, Joyce is a social worker. We deal with people and we deal with people and their problems and what we were finding is that many people were not able to retain employment because of the personal problems they were running into in their lives. And so we wanted to develop a program that could help them with that whole process and we developed the Professional Empowerment Program, and today it's a 57-hour, a two-week program that is very therapeutic in nature and is very intense in nature. We want them to be successful and we want to be able to give them the tools to help the people be successful. And one of the things that we talk about in our program is giving them a toolbox. We have a useful toolbox, we have a useless toolbox. We also have a good spirit and a bad spirit. We try to build our curriculum around culturally significant things. We represent the four virtues of Dakota culture of bravery. To be in our program requires bravery. We ask people to talk, we ask people to share, we ask people to become intimate, and that requires bravery. We also ask them to practice the virtue of fortitude, because in order to successfully complete our program you have to be there every day, you have to be there on time. We're sticklers on time because many of our people lose jobs because they don't adhere to time. We also ask them to be very generous as a third virtue. We ask them to help one another, to practice empathy toward their other people. And finally we ask them to be wise. We want to give them the wisdom to be able to not only get a job, but to hang onto their job, so we want to practice those virtues.

We think we're making a difference in peoples' lives. We're not just about filling out application blanks or whatever. We want to make an influence and an impact on peoples' lives. Before I turn it over to Joyce, I just want to remind everyone or tell everyone we just completed our class. We do classes six times a year. And it really had an impact on me when a 19-year-old pregnant single parent got up and said, "˜This is the first program that I've ever successfully completed in my life.' And I was driving down the road the other day and it brought tears to my eyes to think of the impact that we had on her life. So I'm going to turn it over to Pat Sajak and she'll tell you some very interesting things."

Joyce Country:

"I like statistics and I'll tell you why. It helps us to know whether or not we're doing something for somebody. I don't believe that we can no longer go through life with blinders on our eyes and not pay attention to the result or the impacts that we're doing to people. And as an old social worker, I like to know where you've been, what happened, and where are you at today because that helps us to guide people into things that they need to do to be successful, whatever they determine success to be. Not what Dr. Dorry and I determine success, but what they determine success. And we built our curriculum on the value of going to sweat. When we developed this curriculum, we took it to the sweat, we prayed. We asked for direction because for many years in our life, and you all know this as Indian people, we have been researched and studied to death and we didn't want to do that anymore. What we wanted to bring to our people was something that was going to be helpful, to help them in their family, to help them at work, to help them in their community, to have that sense of urgency to give back something positive to people that they're involved with on a daily basis. And so that's why I like statistics. I want to know how many we've served, what are they doing today and we try to maintain close contact with all of them.

Thus far, we have served 248 adults since May of 2002 to just since October of '05. We have served 62 Youth Build participants. Those are youth from the ages of 16 to 24. Out of that amount for the adults, the 248, 88 have returned to our gaming casinos for employment. 50 of those people have returned to the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate for work. Two have gone into private practice, two have gone into the federal government and 35 have entered the non-tribal business. We have six that are presently attending our Sisseton Wahpeton College. We have 48 people who are completing their GED. We have 27 that we don't know what happened to. The majority of them have gone back to school elsewhere within the surrounding states and some have taken up employment in Minneapolis and Fargo and those types of things.

We believe that we need to know where people are at prior to beginning our class so we do a lot of assessments. We use a TABE [Tests of Adult Basic Education] assessment and that's basic assessment. And what we find out of that is for our adults is that they average between 5.8 to 9.3. Our youth assessments begin at 4.6 grade point and they end at 7.6. In our alcohol and drug assessments we find that 80 percent of the adults that enter our system need to have further intensive assessment. Sixty-six percent of our youth need further assessment. And in our mental health assessment, we find that our people are carrying a serious amount of garbage. And so that's our job is to try to help them to leave some of that stuff that has become a stumbling block for them to be successful in their life. Now we'll talk a little bit about our goals and objectives."

Dr. Dorry Larson:

"I have 20 seconds to talk to you about the rest of my life. What we want to do is go deeper. We realize that we're just scratching the surface and we don't have all the answers. We want to go deeper and we're in the process of developing a program that will help people go deeper. One of the guiding principles for our curriculum was given to us by a Lakota medicine man, Felix Green, who gave us two directions: "˜Use your mind and go deep and always be ambitious.' So we need to go deeper and deeper to help people get rid of the garbage that they're carrying and we want to develop a human service agency, which can become a one-stop center. And I also want to thank the governing board for sending Amy [Besaw] and Dr. [Dennis] Norman out to us. We only had one day to get them straightened out but we think we did a good job. Thank you."

Amy Besaw:

"Questions from the board?"

Elsie Meeks:

"Yeah. I have a number of questions actually. I'm from the Pine Ridge Reservation and I've worked in helping people start businesses for a long time and I have a business of my own and this is such a critical issue. We have and we always talk about the 75 percent unemployment rate that we have, and yet we don't have a workforce and there's many reasons for that as you all talked about. But I haven't seen any workforce development programs that really work and I just...I think you've tried to sum up what makes yours different, but I am so interested in this as a model for other areas."

Joyce Country:

"Well, I think what makes ours different is number one we try to reach to the root of what's causing people to be unsuccessful in their life and we take our time. We do a lot of group work; we do a lot of individual work. We're a part of the community. We have an office there. People know they can call us, they can come see us. We make sure we have other people available for them. And I think what we're really trying to do is we're trying to give them ownership, ownership back to the Sisseton Wahpeton people, because I think for many years, and we're all aware, that we have lost a lot of stuff. We have lost our pride, we thought we couldn't do anything, we thought we weren't successful, and so that's one thing we start our group out with is that number one is we're all successful, we're all good people. And so we always say that what we're trying to do is we're trying to really pump them up within these 10 days because we're going to end up putting them back into an anti-social environment. But while they're there we want them to feel good, we want them to learn about themselves and basically not to be afraid because we all know it is fearful to look at yourself in the face at 43 years old. It's awesome. And so we really try to be kind, generous, knowledgeable about what we're doing and we always tell our participants, "˜We're not going to teach you anything that didn't work for us.' Whatever we're using worked for us in our lives because none of us came from Ozzie and Harriet family. Does that help you?"

Elsie Meeks:

"Yes. One other question I had was how do you get people to participate? What's the hook?"

Dr. Dorry Larson:

"We beat them with a stick."

Joyce Country:

"No, we don't. We get a lot of referrals. Number one is from the TANF program, the tribe has its own TANF program and they require their participants in TANF and general assistance to attend the PEP class. We have a lot of self-referrals, people that just want to come through the program, and through the three properties, our three casinos, if somebody has been terminated from their position two times on a negative basis, then they are required to come to the program before they can even apply for the job."

Dr. Dorry Larson:

"The other thing I'd like to share with the board, when we started our TANF program at a 34 percent recidivism rate, since the inception of our program it's down to seven percent. We're very proud of that statistic."

Heather Kendall-Miller:

"You've just hit the nail on the head in terms of the question I wanted to ask. I think it's incredible that your program is only 10 days long and yet the recidivism rate is so low. Quite frankly I have a hard time understanding how that is, especially without any ongoing continuing support structures in place to...that follows through on the kind of training that you've been offering. What really...what do you think accounts for that?"

Dr. Dorry Larson:

"We spend a lot of time initially in our curriculum on emotional intelligence and we really are very candid with the participants. If you're not emotionally intelligent, none of this will matter. We also create an environment of caring. In the last group that we just completed, they've developed their own support system, they share telephone numbers so they can talk to one another. Joyce and I are also available on an ongoing basis to provide them with the support and the advocacy that many of them need and desire and will seek us out. We have a passion for what we're doing and we care about people and we really hope that that comes through and I believe it does. The last group that we had, they said number one, they wanted to come down here, so we were thinking about renting a bus but we couldn't come up with the funds for that and secondly they wanted to keep going. I wanted to say something rather sarcastic, that the reason they don't come back is cause they don't want to have to go through the program again, but the last group said, "˜We wish we could keep going with this because it feels so good. It feels good to feel good.'"

Heather Kendall-Miller:

"One more follow up question. I've never heard of the term emotional intelligence before. Can you tell us a little bit more what exactly that means?"

Dr. Dorry Larson:

"This is the work of Daniel Goleman out of Harvard. It's something that when we started looking at building the curriculum were just absolutely convinced is what it's all about. About 85 percent of our success, according to Dr. Goleman, is determined by our emotional intelligence and the five competencies of emotional intelligence...I want everybody to write this down. Self-awareness: you have to know who you are, you have to know where you're at emotionally, you have to know your values, you have to know your triggers; self-regulation, self-motivation, empathy, and effective relationships. So many of our jobs are in the service industry, for instance, and if you're not emotionally intelligent and if you're a slot attendant and it's Saturday night and you're getting jerked around by irate customers, you're not going to be very successful if you're not emotionally intelligent. So we spend at least a day and a half on that. And the other thing that I want to add to what Joyce said is we also have very high expectations. We require people to be on time. It's a stickler for us. If you're not on time, you have to sit in a chair and explain to the group why you're late and whether the group will allow you to re-enter or not. Now, some people say, "˜Well, that's rather cruel,' but people lose their jobs because they're not on time, and so one of the expectations we get from every group is, "˜I want to learn to be on time,' and it's amazing how that happens very quickly."

David Gipp:

"A couple of quick questions here. One deals with transferability and the other deals with tracking or keeping a longer-term record of what's happening with your graduates from the program. The first part is, it looks like you're building some kind of a database that can track what's happening with students say beyond a year or so. Are you able to look at those long-term issues that relate to your success?"

Joyce Country:

"Yes. That's the reason that we do a lot of statistical stuff. We try to do regular contacts at the various employment agencies that people have and also with various people. "˜Where are you at, what's going on?' We did try to have once a year get together with all the PEP graduates and for some people it worked and for some it didn't. So what we've incorporated now is that most generally once a group quits, it's usually, they determine how often they're going to get together. Like this last group said they're going to get together every two months. We've offered them a classroom. They're just going to get together to touch base. At Dakota Magic, we have one of our PEP graduates that once every four months gets together with those PEP graduates at Dakota Magic and we're still an active part of providing EAP to the three properties. So we have the ability to keep in contact with people on a weekly basis."

David Gipp:

"Then it gets to the next part of my question and that's the issue of transferability. How transferable do you think your program is to other tribal communities and how transferable are you making it within your community so that others can carry on your work?"

Joyce Country:

"We believe...we believe that you can transfer this to anybody, to any agency. We have done workshops, one at Dakota Magic, one within the State of Washington to their five tribes and we believe you can use it. It's transferable. The thing that we would really encourage people is number one, is the people that you hire, make sure they have the credentials, make sure that they have passion for doing this, because I think that's the kicker."

Brian C. McK. Henderson:

"Last question if I may. How do you handle substance abuse when it's detected?"

Joyce Country:

"Well, how we handle substance abuse is the very first day we do the assessments and that's a part of this. And then we utilize Dakota Pride Treatment Center, which is a part of our tribe and they do the assessment and within that first week we have the results back and then we give those confidentially to the people that it's applicable to. We encourage them, we encourage them to please go to treatment after it's over with or some kind of outpatient and we have these all listed for them. Our goal has always been and continues to be is that when we have the PEP participants for 10 working days that we would like that when our class is over at 3:00 that from 3:00 to 5:30 that Dakota Pride would come down and do some alcohol information sharing with these individuals that are within our class. I think that's the only way we're going to get a handle on it. Did that answer you?"

Dr. Dorry Larson:

"We also in our curriculum have a day devoted to alcohol and drug abuse awareness so they get a lot of information in the curriculum."

Related Resources

Thumbnail or cover image
Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Professional Empowerment Program

Across Indian Country, programs and businesses depend on skilled, committed, and responsible workers. However, some Indian citizens on reservations have limited experience in the workplace; little education; and face problems finding day care, adequate transportation, and other necessities.…

Thumbnail

Joyce Country and Dr. Dorry Larson discuss what prompted the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate to establish its award-winning Professional Empowerment Program, and the positive impacts it is having on the lives of its citizens.