By Jon Waterhouse
This was first posted in National Geographic’s Explorer’s Journal.
As an honoree of the 2012 Ecotrust Indigenous Leadership Awards, I was recently asked to share some thoughts on contemporary Indigenous Leadership.
As I thought about this, I realized that the topic of leadership is probably on the minds of folks in all kinds of communities today. So to help jump-start some conversations, here are a few humble thoughts.
Two words with much meaning yet much difference.
Are leaders powerful? Sometimes. Are the powerful always leaders? No.
In this modern age we often experience the powerful in positions of “leadership,” but only because they used personal power to gain public power, not because they possess true leadership abilities. The world is full of these empty “leaders”; men and women who sought power through various means, forcing their own self-serving agendas and immersing themselves in greed. They end up doing harm to their people on many levels: physically, financially, psychologically, often violating human rights to hold on to their power.
A true leader doesn’t simply exert power over people, he or she inspires the people and is in turn inspired by them. I see a leader as someone who is selfless, always thinking of the whole. Concerned with all.
The Challenge for Leaders
The leaders of today must be warriors for their People – warriors in the finest sense of the tradition – selfless and immune to the influences and seductions of modern society, projecting themselves to a higher standard – fearless and focused.
Today, there are many powerful people in the spotlight and they are there only for being, well, famous. So. We must ask ourselves, who are the real ‘leaders’ of today? Who will future generations learn about in school? Who will historians write about and who will we tell stories of and sing of around the campfires in the decades to come?
A true leader must focus entirely on the betterment of his or her People, without regard for self-advancement, compensation or recognition.
Leadership and power are not the same thing.
Jon Waterhouse and four other extraordinary individuals will be honored with the Ecotrust Indigenous Leadership Award on Nov. 13 at the Portland Art Museum.