Our Sidequest with Dallas Goldtooth
Wayne Ducheneaux II
In late April 2023, we tried something new: we went on a sidequest with our pal Dallas Goldtooth (FX’s Reservation Dogs) to talk about sovereignty. Dallas and our executive director Wayne Ducheneaux II streamed some of their favorite video games–Apex Legends and Fall Guys–while taking audience questions and discussing movements for change in Indian Country and beyond.
At NGC, we balance the hard work of decolonization with the good medicine of laughter and fun. We created our new Sovereignty Sidequest series in that spirit. Below, we recap some of our favorite moments from our conversation with Dallas.
Hope for the future
Dallas: We’re here talking about sovereignty and governance and the future and the past. There’s a thing called climate anxiety. It’s the general anxiety we feel because we are seeing the writing on the wall. The world’s getting hotter. And so on and so forth. And it creates this sense of powerlessness. Like, what’s the point? So much has happened: what’s the point? Why would we even fight?
And I’ll be up front. I’ve been there. I’ve dealt with depression and sought out therapy to help me through this and process my own emotions. But also, in that journey, this is cliche, but it’s real: we have ancestors who were in the thick of it, where the future was uncertain. The future was bleak because the moment was bleak. Right? And we got through it. We are continuing to work our way through it. The very fact that our people have already been through the apocalypse gives me hope that we are going to get through this as we move forward. As long as we stick to our principles, our teachings.
Wayne: Beautiful answer. I think that’s the one thing I learned becoming an urban Indian when Native Governance Center was starting. I learned how easy it was to become disconnected from culture and language when you don’t get an opportunity to see it and hear it every day. I’m truly blessed that I can now do this job from my home on the Cheyenne River Reservation.
I’m surrounded by my people, my culture, and our language. I get to see the beauty in my people. There’s something about Indigenous wisdom, the DNA we share with this very land, as we are returning to our culture, our traditions. As we are healing ourselves, I believe we’ll heal the world. The great thing about our people is, we share. It’s not like we’re going to keep it to ourselves and hoard it. We’re going to share our healing so that the world can become a better place.
Dallas: Ok, Wayne, tell me: what are your insecurities?
Wayne: One of my biggest insecurities is not having my college degree.
Dallas: What? Whoa. You don’t have a college degree?
Wayne: I don’t have a college degree. I went to undergrad at the U of M Morris. I spent four years there. But then life got in front of school, and I moved home to care for my family’s ranch after my brother got elected to Tribal Council. So, I’m about a semester short from my bachelor’s degree.
Dallas: Wayne, I applaud you, sir! [clapping] I fricken love you: I don’t have my degree! I went to UC Berkeley for three years. And then I transferred home and lived at home for a bit. And then I transferred to the University of Minnesota. I was actually studying to become a language teacher. And life happened, and I ended up moving up to Sissteon. And I never finished. I think I’m 21 credits short from graduating.
Of course, I want to encourage everyone to go to school and finish. But, at the same time, I think we’re breaking down the stigma of what success means. I’m also a full advocate to encourage folks to explore the world. It doesn’t have to be through college. It can be through trade schools. Or anything. I think that’s the shift that’s happened. When I was just a young one, the idea of success was college or not. If you don’t go to college, you’re worthless. And I think we’re changing that.
Dallas: So, how do you manage that?
Wayne: I’m a lifelong learner. And I took some crazy routes to my learning. Learning about Tribal governance and sovereignty was literally sitting at the table and hearing my dad who was a former Tribal leader talk about these issues with other Tribal leaders who’d come visit him. Listening to my elders. I’ve really taken a nontraditional path to some of my education.
Dallas: I’m really proud of you, man! For what you’ve been able to accomplish and the work you’re doing to not only be a good man, be a good person, but also for your greater journey to build stronger leaders.
Wayne: Right back at you, man.
Dallas: This is the part of the stream where two Indigenous men just give each other compliments. So, let’s go for it.
Wayne: I think your hair is phenomenal. I love your acting. You are probably one of the top ten funniest people in the world to me.
Dallas: Aww, thank you! I’m super grateful to be where I am right now. And to be doing what I’m doing. I’ve come a long way. …
Dallas: Also, I was saying ‘two men complimenting each other’ in jest, but we have to be able to create space as men where we create positive feedback in the work we do. I’ve found myself at times feeling very lonely in this work. Because, I wish there were more brothers with me.
Wayne: One of the things I’ve noticed in my life is, there’s a lack of good role models for young men in our community. When we’re out there trying to be that steady person for people–not only for ourselves but for everyone else–I don’t think it can be undersold. So I totally agree with you. I think we, as brothers, as young men trying to be successful, we need to find a way not only to stick together but to also share it with the next generation.
Dallas: My son, who’s here, [turns to his son], ‘Do you mind if I tell them the story about the questions you’ve asked me the last few months?’ Ok, thank you, I have your consent. So my son is coming into age as a young man. We live in an urban community that doesn’t have a lot of Native folks. I feel challenged as a father because my son doesn’t have other uncles, right? He asked me some amazing questions that I love. We were just sitting in the car, and he asked me, ‘Dad, what is masculinity?’ And I was like, ‘Dang, dude, that is a great question. That is a hard question. And I want to do my best to rise to the occasion to answer as much as possible.’
And, there was another question he asked that blew my mind. He was like, ‘Dad, I’m almost 14 years old. What is something that I, as a young man, should know that I don’t already know?’ I’m like, ok, what can I share with him that no one shared with me? What are the teachings and understandings?
The conversation around masculinity is real. But there’s also this other conversation that young men are hearing that’s framed as if masculinity is under attack. That’s a way of thinking that defends a society that places women in a subordinate role to men. And we have to understand that historically, the lives of women have been seen as lesser than to us men. And this current work to have a conversation around, what is masculinity, to confront toxic masculinity, really is about bringing us back into balance. To where there’s a balance between femininity and masculinity and the sacred manifestations of those. I think that’s where we’re at. And I want to feed into that. With Native governance, and what I want Native leaders to understand is, to be a leader, we cannot improve as nations until we start having hard conversations.
Wayne: And a lot of that we get by reconnecting, right? I think a lot of who we are as a people, for Lakota in particular, we had very strong matriarchs in our family. The women owned the homes. There was a very clear understanding of the place of women in our society. And that’s really been stripped away from us during colonization.
Breaking into the film and TV industry
Dallas: What’s been really great lately is there have been a lot of people who will come up to me and ask, ‘How can I get into the film industry? How can I be an actor? What tips do you have?’ And it is really cool to see people who are inspired–other Native folks who want to be an actor or to get into writing. What’s difficult about it is, I don’t want to say I don’t know, but I feel like I’ve been very fortunate. And I want to acknowledge my privilege that’s gotten me to where I am today with my acting and writing.
The biggest advice I do give is collaboration and networking. In any creative industry like acting and writing, you can’t go it alone. You can’t just be a lone wolf and say, ‘Oh, I’m going to do it my way.’ You have to be willing to work with folks and collaborate. That’s essential. I got into it with the 1491s and making YouTube videos back in the day. It was because we worked as brothers for years and got to know each other. If you really want to get into any type of film industry or the artist world in general, work with folks. Network. Get to know people.
Activists vs. Organizers
Dallas: Some parting thoughts of mine: I don’t like the word activist. I don’t like to be identified as an activist in my introduction. I have nothing against it, but I think we have to cultivate an understanding about what an activist is. What does it mean to be an activist, and what is that in relationship to being an organizer?
I identify as an organizer. Just to break it down quickly, and this is my own interpretation: we need activists. Activists are people who you can depend on to show up. Something is happening, and you need people there. They are your family, your brothers, aunties, uncles, or random strangers. We need them in all stages of building power. An organizer can be an activist and oftentimes is an activist. But an organizer is a person who builds the conditions to bring people together, who creates the opportunities for us to confront injustice and build power. In Indian Country, I think we have more than enough activists, but we need more organizers. That’s where we are at.
Wayne: In our work, we teach about Native nation rebuilding principles. One of them is around leadership. You need leaders who can understand and identify the change that needs to happen. But they are also the ones to help bring community through to that change. We need people to stand on the rooftops and have our voices be heard, but we also need people putting people on the rooftops. Organizing is going to be a key component to future success for our people. That’s another thing: we’re small but mighty. And so we have to be better than, we have to be more well-organized, we have to be strong in our principles, and we have to be sound in our strategy.
Dallas: I am so appreciative that Native Governance Center exists. What I really do appreciate is that you’re location-based, that the work is grounded in the communities of your region. A land-based approach to your work is absolutely essential. I think Native Governance Center is a beacon of hope, and I think you are just good people doing good work. I’m really proud of that labor. And you’re creating a common language. You’re having all of these leaders, you’re working with all of these people, but then you’re giving them a glossary that everyone understands. That’s essential.