Goal IX Newsletter

Spring 2005, Volume 11, Number 2

Diversity and Adversity Within Diversity - Just A Bundle of Sticks by: Lawrence R. Baca

Like Eisenhower telling America to be aware of the growing military-industrial complex (to which no one listened) I urge us all to be aware of our differences and get past them. To set about the business of supporting each other.

Lawrence R. Baca

I am reminded of an often told and altered Aesop Fable. In Indian country it goes like this: An elder of the tribe known for his wisdom attends a tribal council meeting where the young men from various societies of the tribe are bickering among themselves. He asks one of them to go and bring him twenty arrows. When the young man returned the elder tied the arrows at both ends making a solid bundle. Turning to the strongest of the young warriors the elder instructed him to break the bundle if he could. Each of the young men in turn struggled but none could break the bundle. The elder then took the arrows out of the bundle and one by one he snapped each of them in two with a single hand. Speaking to the young men he said, "We must learn to stick together like the bundle of arrows, for in unity there is strength. Individually we will become just broken sticks."

As many ABA members do double duty, I wear many bar hats. I am an officer on the Board of Directors of the National Native American Bar Association (NNABA). 2004 was the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. The Brown decision has many factors in the nation's history that helped it to come about in 1954. One major factor was the influence of African American lawyers and the work of the NAACP legal team, lead as we all know, by Thurgood Marshall. Our fellow minority bar the National Bar Association was shoulder to shoulder in the fight as well. Last year was a time to celebrate. Not just the victory of Brown and all that it did to change America, also but those who fought to bring the law around; the victims of segregation who had the courage to take their case to court often putting their own lives in danger and the lawyers who took their struggle into court.

NNABA didn't, as an organization sponsor an event to celebrate Brown. NNABA is a small organization that partners with a larger Bar to co-sponsor a conference on federal Indian law once a year in Washington, D.C. But NNABA did not neglect Brown or fail to celebrate the victories of our fellow minority bar in that case. As individuals, particularly those of us who have worked in civil rights law, did participate in many celebrations. In Calendar year 2004, I made 26 presentations throughout the country on race and Indians or on Brown and its effect on Indian education. One such presentation was when I spoke at a program co-sponsored by Howard University Law School and the National Bar Association. I was tremendously honored to take the stage after some of the leading civil rights lawyers of our time - icons in the struggle for equality. I was also honored to be one of only three non-black speakers at the event.

Throughout that year, I was always pleased to be invited to participate and to bring Indian issues to each forum. I will say that I often noticed that I was on what I call the "other races" panel. I was usually speaking with an Hispanic, an Asian and a gay or lesbian as the fourth. We could have complained that we were "amalgamated" as the "other victim" classes. But we didn't. We were pleased to have our issues raised in the context of Brown. We were there to share and support and to celebrate the good works and achievements of our fellow minority bar members.

Where am I going will all of this? It has struck me since I started college that we have a tendency to feed off each other in times of crises. My first college roommate and friend, the leader of the La Raza organization on campus said to me once, "You know that we'll always support our Indian brothers and sisters. Except when its time to fight for budgets, then its tooth and nail and every man for himself." Many of us have been through this discussion before...we shouldn't be fighting each other over a limited slice of the pie, we should be fighting together for a larger slice of pie. Or better yet, demanding our right to be in the kitchen and take part in baking a bigger pie for everyone.

This year I organized a panel/group discussion at the ABA Conference For The Minority Lawyer titled "Diversity and Adversity Within Our Diversity." I want it to be about times we've failed to stand up for each other when we could have and should have. That discussion will be initiated by a statement of a series of events that occurred a few years ago. Briefly, the events unfurled like this:

When President Clinton formed a national advisory board on race he appointed three White members, two Black members, one Hispanic and one Asian member. I didn't expect the three white members to stand up and say, "Why did we leave out the Indians?" But I was greatly disappointed that none of the members of color fought to get an Indian on the Board. Their silence was deafening. But I sure got the message. Some of the time it's ok to leave some of the races away from the table.

When the Advisory Board on Race issued its final report, the administration moved to implement its recommendation that the President issue a call to lawyers to reinvigorate the role of lawyers in the civil rights arena. A large group of "prominent bar leaders" was invited to a meeting. The Presidents of three national minority bars were among those invited. Only the National Native American Bar Association was left out. Not one of the 40 people invited to the first meeting (all representing a who's who of civil rights organizations) said a word about there being no Indians at the table. I guess they got that message I'd heard too. A fellow minority bar leader who told me about the meeting refused to show me the list of who was invited for a month. She was afraid the organizers would find out she was the one who told the Indians.

We fear covering each other's back?

We cannot let each other down in times of need. Neither should we forget each other in the best of times. As racial and ethnic minorities we all need each other's support. We must stand together lest we be picked off one at a time.

We face our greatest challenges yet in achieving diversity. All too many in America think that fifty years after Brown means we must be integrated now. Statistics show otherwise. Grutter was a win, but a win that pokes a stick the hornet's nest. We are 30% of the population but less than 10% of the legal profession. Our percentage of the law school population dropped in each of the last two years. The playing field is not yet even. We have a long hard road ahead of us. We are not afraid of hard roads. But, we should not walk alone.

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