Roland John Morris Sr.
What made this Tribal Elder
want to work against Tribal government
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Roland John Morris, Sr. Fall, 1998
My name is Roland Morris Sr. I am a full-blooded Anishinabe American citizen from the Leech Lake Band of Minnesota Chippewa. It is my hope you will discern the truthfulness of my message by examining both my heart, as well as my words.
When my brothers and sisters and I were growing up in the 50's, the hateful overt racism did hurt. However, the reverse was also hurtful. When patronizing people essentially pat us on the head and said; "you poor dear, you are a victim and can't possibly take care of yourself." and "you can't be to blame for your actions", that was just as hurtful, if not more so.
On top of that, Federal Indian Policy itself views Native Americans as helpless wards. With hateful racists on one side putting us down, well meaning liberals on the other side putting us down, and the federal Government there to take care of us anyway, many started to believe what was said about them and succumbed to the expectations of all sides. How should one feel when as a man, one is treated as a child? I ask for nothing "special". To receive something "special" means I will be treated differently and separately from other men.
Government dependence, through current Federal Indian Policy, is killing people. Federal Policy currently treats tribal members as wards; as children. A man needs to feel needed, but as long as the government is taking care of a man's family through welfare, food stamps, fuel assistance, Medicaid, and HUD housing, a man loses that feeling of being needed and important to his family. If a man doesn't feel needed, what is there for him? I have to ask myself, and you as well: are Indian people to be considered separate but more equal, separate but less equal, or separate and equal? And is it necessary to be separate anyway?
Secondly, Tribal governments have become dependent on Federal government help. Through this dependency, many tribal governments have become corrupt with unchecked power and money. Because of this corruption and unwillingness to let go of power and money; tribal government themselves, in some cases, are keeping their people in the bondage of poverty and oppression. In addition, we have seen tribal governments, in order to keep power and money, attempt to keep outsiders sympathetic by using pictures of poor, disheveled elderly and children. The tribal gambling industry did this in the fall of 1997. Isn't this an abuse of the people?
I also see true elders feeling defeated. Young people won't listen to how the elders want to handle the situation. Seeing this disrespect is hurtful to me. It can be no wonder that Indian people are tired and depressed. Not only do many feel alienated from the United States Government, but many tribal governments can't be trusted either. Through this depression and loss of hope, people are dying of alcoholism, drug abuse, suicide and violence. Some die quickly, others die slowly. Some live years but are dead in their hearts. If the current system is so good for Native people, why is this happening?
Current Federal Indian Policy is also hurting non-tribal members. Many treaty provisions were meant to last only twenty or so years. It has been Congress and tribal government that have been stretching it out longer. Now, some tribal governments, again in effort to keep money and control, use guilt and pity to keep American taxpayers from putting an end to the funding. And politicians, either afraid of seeming cold-hearted or because tribal governments make huge campaign contributions, turn and look the other way.
How do we fix the problem? That is the question. Many elders are distressed at the thought of giving up even more tribal autonomy. Too much has been lost already. These elders need to be respected and listened to. Other elders say we have lost hope and happiness, and without these, what is everything else worth? If the power structure continues as it is now, angering and estranging people, creating a society full of hopelessness, drug abuse, violence, and hate, what good all the assets we have left anyway? Is there a way to make the situation more healthy for everyone without giving up tribal assets? Can we work this out so that elders feel they are heard, tribal members get what they need, and non-members aren't trod on? With the current epidemic of corruption on Indian Reservations, how could tribal members be better protected?
It is clear to us that some kind of discussion needs to begin. We can't continue to sit back and watch relatives die. Lastly, pain, rejection and persecution are not factors isolated to one people group. In fact, all people have their own crosses to bear, pain to hide. Christ went to the cross, beaten and spit upon, but blaming no one and without self-pity. If we are to come together as people, we must follow his example of forgiveness.
"But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, and pray for those that spitefully use you and persecute you. That you may be sons of your father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your Brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore, you shall be perfect, just as your father in heaven is perfect." Matthew 5:44-48
Native Americans are not more "needy" then anyone else. In fact, Native Americans are just as good, just as evil, just as productive and just as non-productive, as any other people.
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The Rub Tree By Don Burgess
From "The Bugle," a publication of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
Jan/Feb 2005 edition.
Cancer had clamped onto Roland like a wolf on an elk's rear end, and was finally taking him down. Saying our goodbyes up in the hospital room, we recalled some of our hunts. It was a bittersweet time, but far from depressing because Roland was a most peaceful man. He had no fear of dying or anything else that I know of.
A full-blood Chippewa, born and raised in Minnesota's wild rice country, Roland knew some traditional "medicine" - and a lot of Twin Cities trouble. In his late 30s he'd moved to Montana and started a new family and a new life as a Christian. He viewed the spirit as a person's most vital organ and had figured out how to keep his cancer-free in the face of all manner of difficulties. Looking out the window, oxygen tubes taped in his nostrils, he whispered, "Remember that time we got lost?"
I could see him standing on a snow-covered Montana ridge in his black stocking cap and faded orange vest, waiting for me to figure out how to get us back to his rig. But I'd taken a wrong turn late that afternoon and wound up with a blowdown-strewn chasm between us and where we needed to be. We dropped into the canyon, clawed our way up the far side in snow above our knees and didn't get back to his rig until well after dark.
Earlier that day we'd cut fresh elk tracks leading down off a ridge into a little basin. Roland looped downhill, staying well to the right of the tracks, while I sidehilled left around the top of the basin. On the far side the breeze said "elk" loud and clear, and I followed the scent-stream downslope toward a copse of Doug fir. Figuring there had to be elk in there and they'd come out when Roland went by on the other side, I sat down and got ready. No elk showed, and when Roland reappeared
I angled down to him, wondering how my nose could have been so wrong.
When he said he'd heard dome loud purring coming from that thicket, I knew my nose hadn't lied. We'd seen cat tracks earlier, and it didn't take too much ciphering to conclude that there was an elk in there, and Roland had been within a few yards of the happy lion that killed it.
The lion had to have heard and scented him, and I liked the idea of it purring away as he sauntered by. Roland was apparently as unperturbed as the lion, and I wondered where all the equanimity was coming from. I'd have been purring too if I had an elk down, but I tended to thrive on the intensity, danger, extreme-sports brand of hunting, and I wasn't inclined to be so relaxed around my fellow predators. I had never hunted with anyone who wasn't keyed up about such things, and Roland's easy ways mystified me.
On another hunt, Roland's bullet broke the back of a young mule deer buck. He walked slowly up to the struggling animal and circled it once, then stood there looking at it. Watching from a few yards behind him, I grew agitated, wishing he would get it over with, and I thought about doing it myself but held off. The deer soon grew calm and Roland killed it. Later, I asked him why he took so long, and he said he'd been thanking the deer and wishing it well. He wasn't talking out loud, so I guess it was a spirit-to-spirit thing.
My sense of the meaning of coup de grace wavered and shifted after that; quick is good when it comes to delivering death, but I began to think maybe it's also good to wait for - or establish - a moment of tranquility. Clearly, though, you'd have to have it before you could pass it on.
Up in the hospital, remembering that elk hunt years ago, we got to the part where we finally got back to Roland's van. As we headed down the road Roland pulled a couple of ice-cold Cokes from his cooler. I drank mine down and declared it was the best Coke I'd ever had. Roland agreed. Still thirsty, we each opened a second can. Roland said, "This is the second-best Coke I've ever had." Maybe we were just giddy tired, but we laughed long and hard.
Up in the hospital room, the "second-best Coke" line made Roland laugh again. Then the pain cut it off, and as he bent forward with his right hand pressed against his chest, there was the old tattoo spelling out H-A-T-E across the back of his fingers, the part of his fist that would smack somebody if he punched them - a faded memento of difficult days on the far side of another chasm, years before that elk hunt.
When he got a little breath back, we prayed and hugged and said goodbye. Alone in the elevator I shed a couple of tears, but felt peaceful when the door opened on the ground floor…so peaceful it made me wonder if Roland was messing with me, spirit-to-spirit.
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FINAL NOTES -
Roland Morris, Sr. having lived an amazingly transformed life, ascended to heaven on June 9, 2004, at the age of 58, after a four-year bout with cancer.
Roland was born July 1, 1945, in Cass Lake, MN and was a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe at Leech Lake. Ojibwe was his first language, and he grew up fishing, hunting, and gathering wild rice with his family and friends. He also playing guard in intramural basketball, worked hard in the woods, spent time in a foster home, drank, spent time in jail, and played guitar with friends at various bars.
He also went to college in Haskell, Kansas and practiced the trade of draftsman for a short time before becoming a self-employed upholsterer. While he struggled with many difficulties in his early years, he was a perfectionist with his upholstery and it gave him great pleasure to perform this craft well. He continued the gratifying work of upholstery throughout his life.
After a life changing spiritual experience with Jesus Christ in 1988, Roland moved his second family to Ronan, Montana. There, in 1992, Roland and his wife Lisa created Montana's first patient transportation service, Mission Valley Medicab. They also instigated the formation of the Montana Passenger Carriers Association and the charitable organization, Valley Missions, Inc., all without tribal assistance. By accepting Jesus as his savior and moving to Montana, he had brought his immediate family into a much healthier life.
Roland also continued to keep his tribal culture in his heart. He taught his children about wild ricing, hunting, fishing, his history and a little of his language. But the biggest, strongest desire of his heart was that his children, grandchildren, and entire extended family come to the saving knowledge and acceptance of Jesus Christ. Having watched many friends and relatives die physically, spiritually, and emotionally from alcoholism, violence, and suicide, Roland could no longer stand aside and do nothing. He was concerned for the plight of the children and felt distress at the languid attitudes of many adults that should be their protection but are part of the nightmare. He wanted the cycle of self-destruction to stop. His concern was for the overall spiritual, emotional, and physical health of many tribal members. The heartbreak going on is just the symptom.
Roland's growing relationship with Jesus Christ coupled with his increasing conviction that much of the reservation system was actually harmful led him to some amazing life experiences. He became an active opponent of much of federal Indian policy. Roland served as President of the Western Montana organization All Citizens Equal, was a board member and Vice-Chairman of the national organization; Citizens Equal Rights Alliance, was the Secretary of Citizens Equal Rights Foundation.
He also became a candidate for a seat in the Montana House of Representatives during the 1996 Republican Primary and testified before numerous State committees. He also testified before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in April of 1998 and the Minnesota Attorney General in 2000. With his family, he also had a private meeting with a member of the President's Domestic Policy Council two years ago in Washington DC, as well as spoke at the National Press Club.
As time progressed Roland became more and more convinced of the importance of the spiritual transformation that had so changed his life and the life of his family. So in the year 2000 he attended a year of training at the Living Faith Bible College in Alberta, Canada. Over the last three years, he and/or his family went on mission trips in both Canada and Mexico. During a 2003 missionary trip to a children's home in Juarez, Mexico, he fixed most of their dining hall chairs, taught 6 boys how to upholster, donated materials, and preached a Sunday street service.
Through the years, he has appeared in numerous newspaper articles across the country. The last article he appeared in was on Friday, May 14th, in the Washington Times. Reporter Jennifer Lehner wrote, "the ICWA [Indian Child Welfare Act] protects the interests of others over [Mr. Morris'] grandchildren," and "Mr. Morris said that once children are relocated to the reservations, they are subject to the corrupt law of the tribal government. Instead of preserving culture, he said, the tribal leadership uses the ICWA to acquire funds provided through the legislation." Ms. Lehner quoted Mr. Morris as saying that the law is "supposed to help children, but instead it helps tribal governments."
Finally, knowing Jesus Christ is the only Way, Truth, and Life, he and his wife founded the Christian Alliance for Indian Child Welfare (CAICW) in February, 2004. The purpose of this was to encourage preaching, teaching and fostering of the growth of the Christian Faith in all places, encourage accountability of governments to families with Indian heritage, seek justice and defend the cause of those in need, and educate the public about Indian rights, laws, and issues.
Roland praised God to the very end. When his final struggle began, several of his friends and family were there praying with him. When those present sang old-time hymns, he raised his hand in the air for as long as he could. When "I Surrender" was sung, he sang the echo. While Pastor Kingery sat next to Roland, holding his hand, Roland looked him straight in the eyes and pointed his other hand up to heaven.
When he passed on to greater life, his good friend Marvin Bauer was softly playing Gospel songs for him on his accordion.
Roland is survived by his wife, Lisa, and nine children. Children from previous marriage include Roland Jr. (Doc), and Marie, Sheila and Shannon, as well as eight grandchildren and one great grandson, all in Minnesota. Also important to his heart was his "special" son, Jesus Garcia, in Juarez, Mexico. Surviving brothers include Harry Morris and Steven Jones; and sisters include Clara Smith, Bernice Hurd, Sharon Goose, and Christine Jones, as well as numerous nephews and nieces and his great cousin, Scotty Butterfly.
Roland was preceded in death by his parents, Jacob and Susan Jones; His brothers, Thomas Morris, Robert Jones, Martin Jones, and Wallace Morris; and his sisters, Loretta Smith, Caroline Jones, Frances Jones, Barbara Jones, and Alvina Jones; and grandson Brandon Kier and numerous nephews, nieces and cousins.
Roland's loving friend, Jim Ball, crafted a beautiful casket for him as a gift. Funeral services were at the Christian Missionary Alliance Church in Ronan, MT, on Sunday, June 13, 2004. On June 14, there was an all night vigil held at the Vets Memorial center in Cass Lake, MN. A second funeral service was conducted at Cass Lake Christian Missionary Alliance Tuesday, June 15. Internment was at the Prince of Peace Cemetery near Cass Lake.
Roland is remembered for his courage and character.
Please send Memorials to the Christian Alliance for Indian Child Welfare, Box 253, Hillsboro, ND 58045.
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