Wagner Area Horizons Team

Report date
February 2015

What has been most instrumental to your progress?

The Wagner Horizons C.I. Grant is working to deepen the impact of our 8 year history with deliberative dialogue on race relations. There are 3 areas we have identified at the core of our success: 1. Ongoing iterations of a process for dilative dialogue punctuated by action outcomes for change, 2. Facilitation of a structured experience in which the social capital of trust is nurtured and developed. 3. Development of a bicultural leadership model (Native/non-Native) in which comparisons and contrasts are investigated, commonality and shared practices are identified and, a hybrid model is created that serves to increase a bicultural agency for effective leadership in our community.
We have identified the following aspects of progress: 1. Ongoing iterations of deliberative dialogue on race, in small groups, systematically directed toward action outcomes, are the strongest indicator of community change. 2. The social capital of trust must be present and dynamically expanding for the deliberative dialogue to continue to move toward deeper and more meaningful action. 3. The super-structure for the emergence of a new model for rural reservation community development
The Racism Study Circles are targeted at a bicultural audience and built on relationships, education, and action. The action outcome for the 2014 Racism Study Circles was to sponsor a professionally moderated Sheriff’s Candidate Form. The most difficult issue we face is our on-going (historical) conflict over jurisdiction and land. There were two candidates, one Native and one non-Native. The impact of the event, informed by a bicultural team (SDSU provided professional moderators), was to present candidate’s viewpoints and in the context of a democratic process model a new action outlet for our differences. We facilitated the first Center for Courage and Renewal: Circles of Trust Retreat in a minority community. To this end, we had bicultural community members (80%) and guests (20%) experience a process designed to facilitate Trust. This is the space which allows the deeper common human elements to “show up” in the conversation. Our guests included South Dakota State University Extension Staff and the South Dakota State Secretary of Tribal Relations. The social capital of trust is often overlooked in community development work.
Wagner Horizons Multicultural Leadership development was initially built around a consultation with a Native American Community Development firm in the Midwest. Upon two consultations we realized that our needs were not compatible with a solely Native-based model. We discovered that our need was for bicultural community development and that a precedent for this work did not exist. SDSU Extension Community Development introduced us to the book, “Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age, New approaches to leadership from Latino, Black and American Indian Communities. Initially we invited the author, Juana Bordas, to our Community for a conference. This event was circulated via the SDSU Extension to other governmental/non-governmental organizations in South Dakota. To our surprise, Wagner was not able to meet the site demand for those who desired to attend. We reevaluated the situation and designed the conference setting for a statewide audience.

Key lessons learned

We have learned that change occurs in small steps with small numbers of people related to consistent and ongoing iterations of the deliberative dialogue on race. We have learned that our work with Dialogue, Trust, and Multicultural Leadership development has impact and reliability for replication in other South Dakota Communities. We have learned that “community coaching” through the implementation of the three areas mentioned is critical to its success. In our case, the coaching came through SDSU Extension Community Development. In the case of the communities currently self selecting to begin Racism Study Circles, Flandreau and Freeman South Dakota, the coaching is coming from both the Extension and the mentor community of Wagner. We have learned that the dual approach of coaching and a mentoring community is the best model. We have learned the each time we do a community action step (outcome of the six week Racism Study Circle), the validity of the dialogue in the community increases, community capitals increase, and the capacity for multicultural leadership is built.
Regarding Racism Study Circles (Dialogue): The natural belief was to anticipate a growing number of persons who would self select to participate in the Racism Study Circles. The reality is that recruitment and retention for the dialogue continues to be a labor intensive process in which 10 – 15 persons are the average number of people who participate in each cycle. After having done 14 circles over 8 years, our expectations were that the numbers in the study circles would increase. This has not been the case. However, the actions steps to come out of the Study Circle process have been the real substance for a shift in the community. We have found that the action steps are the key component and that they catalyze other activates to be imagined, entertained, and developed at the community level. Thus what would appear to be a failure, small and static numbers in the Racism Study Circles, has become a predictable practical component of our work. We are able to advise the other upstart communities that small numbers in the Racism Study Circles are not necessarily indicators of weakness or failure.

Reflections on inclusive, collaborative or resourceful problem-solving

Inclusivity is a delicate balance for us. As we have explored bi-cultural leadership and come to appreciate the Native “We” cultural orientation to leadership and the non-Native or dominant culture “I” orientation to leadership, it has necessitated an extremely delicate balance in the case of inclusion. In a “We” cultural orientation, decisions tend to made through collective consultation and consensus, as opposed to the “I” orientation, where singular decisions are executed secondary to designated authoritarian privilege. By far, our biggest surprise has been the explosion of resourcefulness. Whether the resources are financial, human, etc., as bicultural groups identify actions for change – the resources seem to appear where once none existed. Examples to illustrate the point: One Racism Study Circle articulated the following action step: A Native voice, in the local newspaper, every week, for five years. We had no particular person in mind for this task. To our surprise, a Native Community member agreed to write a column and titled it: “The Rez of the Story”. That was 8 years ago. The column is now syndicated and is also a book.

Other key elements of Community Innovation

The innovation of cultural traditions to support the ongoing dynamic of a bicultural community reality: One spontaneous outgrowth for participants of the Racism Study Circles has been for a local Native American Elder (who has attended every consecutive Racism Study Circle) to create a new women’s society entitled: Grandmother Turtle Society, made up of both Native and non-Native women. This group meets four times a year. It is multigenerational. It serves to deepen the social capital of trust, as stories and experiences are shared in the circles that transcend cultural differences. It is an excellent example of human agency in response to changing dynamics within our community.
The utilization of Parker Palmer’s Circles of Trust has created a new vocabulary for the concept of trust, engagement, and action. *See attachment: The Tragic Gap. This vocabulary heretofore has never existed within our community. It’s a framework for imaging a space that is neither cynical nor falsely hopeful but one that invites people into a place where “movement” from what is to what ought to be is possible.

Understanding the problem

Wagner Horizons Community Innovation success is directly tied to relationship building, small steps, and iterations/consistency of the work over time.
Trust is absolutely essential in community development. The language to speak about trust is usually missing from community development work. We have found the work of Parker Palmer and his models for The Tragic Gap and Circles of Trust to be an essential component to our community innovation process. Palmer’s work has afforded us a vocabulary for inviting people into the space of deliberative dialogue on race– with safety, integrity, and authentic hope.
Community coaching is essential for building capacity. The coach must have the trust and be in relationship with the community. There is a risk and courage required to do this work. It’s impossible to enter the Tragic Gap without some kind of support and outside leverage.
Ordinary people benefit from the philanthropy of others however; expert people with monetary resources don’t create community innovation (They more often rearrange the proverbial community furniture).

If you could do it all over again...

At the start of the process, we expected more involvement and paternalistic leadership from higher level organizations – Bush C.I. included. But the blank slate that we were given to start our work ended up allowing us to develop ongoing - different and unique techniques to pursue our goals. When confronted with both micro and macro decisions regarding varied aspects of the grant management and vision, it helped to be able to act and move decisively as opportunities to innovate presented. Had we been supplied a tightly regulated oversight, I’m quite certain our outcomes would have been very, very different. The advice I’d now give myself: Don’t be afraid.

One last thought

We want to thank you for our CI grant and the opportunity to grow our efforts toward racial reconciliation both in our local community and beyond. We are currently mentoring 2 other South Dakota communities as they have requested information, traveled to visit with us, begun participation in the Racism Study Circles, in the Circles of Trust Retreats, and in the Multicultural Leadership Development work. We want to advocate for future Bush support in the area of creating a format for a community-to-community mentorship approach to Racial Reconciliation. Also to this end, we’ve begun to discuss the idea of an expanded vision designed to assist “South Dakotans” with the necessary means to foster an ongoing conversation on racial reconciliation (Diversity) and all of the benefits that would come from such an endeavor.