Margo Hill: A little wisdom from Mel Tonasket, Colville leader

Margo Hill shares some wisdom from Mel Tonasket, a former chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in Washington and a former president of the National Congress of American Indians:
Mel Tonasket was not formally educated but he had lobbied and negotiated with Congressman and Senators. When Mel was in Washington D.C. he heard the fancy words from the Solicitors office. He was determined to fight for tribes and not let the “Suyapees” (Anglos) get the best of us – so when he traveled he carried a little dictionary and would look up words so they couldn’t beat him with fancy words.

Mel would tell you himself that he struggled in school. He’d laugh and say he was good at Art and P.E. Sometimes he would tell the NCAI Executive Director, Chuck Trimble what he wanted to say and his E.D. would write it up.

1) Lessons from Mel: Use your staff. It’s okay if you don’t know everything. It’s okay if you look up fancy words. You can rely on your staff to figure out the best way to deal with an issue. Don’t let your pride get in your way. Mel was humble and held counsel with staff.

If Mel was faced with a tough issue or a tough question was posed to him. If he didn’t have all the facts or information – he didn’t rush it. He wasn’t afraid to say “I don’t have all the answers.” He did say “I will find the answer and get back to you.”

Get the Story:
Margo Hill: Wisdom From Mel: It's Okay to Not Know Everything (Indian Country Today 9/11)

Join the Conversation