2017-08-10 / Voices

About Those Lazy Indians


I was raised in an Irish- Catholic home in a bluecollar neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y. - so I know I have a good work ethic. I was told I do. I’m Irish. And having that good work ethic meant I was taught - until I understood - that nobody gets anything for nothing… unless they’re rich, or they become rich.

You want something? You have to work for it. Sometimes for a very long time. Whether you work to save for it or you use credit and pay off that bill – everyone has to work for what they’ve got.

Even most people who are rich became rich from working. Except the relatively small percentage of our population (though they may number in the thousands) who inherited their wealth from their parents – like the Ringling Brothers character currently in the White House.

But those individuals were never really respected by the millions who make up “the working class” because, as the name infers, everyone in that segment of the population works – whether they like it or not. And they’re not fond of anyone who doesn’t – regardless of the reason.

It’s a simple and abject lesson in reality that goes back to the original credo of the good work ethic I covered earlier - and which carried forth from the mouths of the adults in my world…likely from the moment my stocky little body broke free of my mother’s womb.

Smack! “Welcome to the world kid. What’s his name? Jim? Jim…if you ever want to amount to anything in this world you’re gonna’ have to work…and for anything you want. Yes, I cried too. It is a sad story kid. But it’s called having a good work ethic. And since you’re Irish it’s in your DNA. So, you’re stuck with it.”

And so it’s gone.

Shining shoes at age 9. Painting our house – inside and out – and then neighbors’ houses starting at 11. Collecting those pop bottles for refunds throughout. Volunteering to serve weddings on Saturdays when I could have been playing stickball because I knew everyone got a tip from the groom – including the altar boys (yeah, I know - but that was the church’s corrupt system…likely still is).

That my father wasn’t around and money was tight to begin with only served to reinforce this mindset, extending on through high school and into my adult years. You want something? You work for it. And you do whatever you need to do. Can’t find one job? You take another…whatever’s available.

Serving a tour in the Marine Corps engrained that work ethic mentality even deeper into my DNA structure.

And so it went…and so it continues – and so it shall.

Of course, following this precept that a good work ethic is inherent in certain nationalities…or races… feeds into the belief that other nationalities or races aren’t born with – or taught – such a value. “They’re lazy!”

This crossed my mind as I drove past a little Lakota girl standing on the side of the road selling lemonade in Pine Ridge village on a recent hot summer day.

“Just like when I was growing up in Brooklyn,” I thought – though I preferred to make my money performing tasks more along the lines of the “do-it, getdone, get paid for your work” scenario.

My first stop in town was actually just over the border, in Whiteclay, Nebraska where several Lakota men were busy operating heavy equipment as they prepared a building site for the arrival of a national dollar store chain. Their boss? He was Lakota, too. An entrepreneur from the Pine Ridge reservation who operates a number of businesses in order to stay afloat and keep those who work for him regularly employed.

Then there was the young Lakota woman who’d traveled 20 miles from Wounded Knee to Whiteclay to see if she could find a place in the newly revitalized town to sell her art. You need some “get-up-and-go” to pursue that line of work.

Before leaving the reservation I stopped at “Subway” (my first visit there) for a sandwich and found it to be one of the cleanest stores I’ve ever been in with 2 attentive and personable young Lakota women behind the counter.

“How could this be?” I wondered. Another case of the hard-working Lakota – as I‘d witnessed only minutes earlier when I stopped by Big Bat’s service station for gas.

The answer’s very simple, really. Either that isolated inherited work ethic is all a farce…or the Lakota people are actually Irish.

Jim Kent is a freelance writer and radio producer who lives in Hot Springs. He is a contributing columnist to the Lakota Country Times and former editor of The New Lakota Times. He can be heard on National Public Radio and National Native News Radio. Jim can be reached at

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