BIA head Anderson speaks to tribal youth
Wednesday, February 18, 2004

The new head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs is taking his message of positivity and empowerment to the next generation of tribal leaders.

As founder of the Lifeskills Center for Leadership, Dave Anderson is used to working with Native youth. But his appearance before the United National Indian Tribal Youth last Friday was his first as a government bureaucrat.

Yet Anderson didn't necessarily want attendees of the Washington, D.C., meeting to see him that way. Calling attention to his own troubled past, he urged Native youth to stay free of drugs and alcohol as they lead tribes in the next century.

"As Native youth, you are the leaders of tomorrow," he said. "You are the leaders of Indian Country."

Anderson said his battle with substance abuse was so bad that at one point he didn't remember wrecking his car. Another time, he suffered a heart attack from drug use.

"My immune system was so shocked that I barely made it to the hospital," he recalled. "The doctors told me that if I had gotten there two hours later that I would have been on life support."

"So today, I really feel I'm living a life of gratitude," he continued. "I really feel that, today, my purpose in life, the reason God kept me alive, was so that I could be able to come and share my story with you."

A member of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Ojibwe from Wisconsin, Anderson's message mixes Native empowerment with business acumen and a big heaping of motivational-style speaking. In 1994, he opened a restaurant near his tribe's reservation. Famous Dave's is now a publicly-traded chain of of 87 restaurants in 23 states.

Part of the reason for his success, he said, was his desire to be more than average. He spent most of his early life that way -- ranking at the bottom of the class and failing graduate from high school.

"There is no reason for you, as Native people, why you should live lives of mediocrity or just being average," he said.

Another factor, he told the youth, is to keep a positive outlook when encountering obstacles. "Become solution conscious, not problem conscious," he said.

That's a philosophy he intends to take as head of the BIA, one of the most troubled agencies in the federal government. He's jumping headfirst into the scandal over the broken trust fund, a reorganization that tribal leaders oppose and other problems.

But he said he doesn't intend to shoulder it alone. He urged youth not to blame the federal government, or their tribes, for everything that goes wrong. "Don't go your tribe and say, 'Where's my free housing?'" he said. "Every one of you should be thinking, 'How can I become a homeowner?'"

Anderson was sworn in to his post two weeks ago. His next major appearance is before the National Congress of American Indians, which is holding its annual winter session in Washington, D.C., next week.

Relevant Links:
United National Indian Tribal Youth -
Famous Daves -
LifeSkills Center for Leadership -

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