Workshop aims to help Native Americans, allies work 'for the common good'

May 18, 2015

Story and photos contributed by Chesie Lee
Director of the Wyoming Association of Churches

May 6 was the first of a large gathering of Native Americans from the Wind River Indian Reservation and a few allies to learn how to be effective leaders "for the common good." Rebekah Simon-Peter, founder of BridgeWorks, facilitated the "For the Common Good" leadership workshop for the Wind River Native Advocacy Center, with the Wyoming Association of Churches assisting in giving birth to this new organization to empower Native Americans in Wyoming to have a stronger voice. The workshop is being funded by a generous grant from the Foundation of the Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming to the Wyoming Association of Churches.

The participants were very articulate in answering the first question used as an ice breaker: "What is meant by 'for the common good?'" Answers covered the large white board at the front of the room. "Working together," "Equity," "Harmony," "Setting aside discontent," "Healthy families and community," "Learning about needs and acting to have them met," "Showing respect," and "Being fair," are a few of the phrases I recall being shared.

From our individual profiles prepared in advance, we learned about our unique perspectives and styles affecting our outlook and working together. The differences varied greatly. We learned how sometimes we close people off who have a different way of seeing things. Some want others to be direct. Some want others to know that being quiet does not mean they are not willing to help or do not comprehend. Some are adaptable, but hesitant to try something new until they are sure it will work. Some want to see results and begin trying out new approaches, maybe something never done before. Some want to make sure everyone agrees before taking the next step. Some are great cheerleaders and want to make sure that we have fun while getting our work done.

But what they all agreed is that we want what is for the common good for the Wind River Indian Reservation. I think in the midst of change and conflict, it is easy to miss that. We attach negative labels: "She's bossy and not a team-player." "He questions everything to put up road blocks." "He's a people-pleaser and gives in to anything just to avoid conflict." "She wears rose-colored glasses and comes up with unworkable ideas, but expects somebody else to do the work."

What we learned is that it takes all of us from our different vantage points to make things happen. We learned that we can put positive spins on each of these and recognize that each has something to contribute "for the common good." We can say, "She wants change to improve our community." "He wants to make sure we are doing it correctly." "He wants collaboration and to include everyone in the process." "She has ideas with fun ways of doing them and inspires others to act."

May 21 will be the second day of this workshop. On the first day, we learned about our own individual styles and that of others. On May 21, we will learn how we can work effectively for the good of others. In other words, we will learn how to do justice for the common good of the Wind River Indian Reservation.