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Researcher finds tribal wisdom, business ethics more related than they seem

Relationships. Sharing. Trust. Usefulness. These are some of the attributes that are highly valued in indigenous cultures. Meanwhile, recent headlines outside these tribal communities too often relate tales of how some business leaders have breached the public trust and prioritized personal gain rather than helping others.


Grace Ann Rosile with tile bearing the "Tribal Wisdom for Business Ethics" logo.
Grace Ann Rosile, a Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative Fellow and professor of management at New Mexico State University, displays a tile bearing the "Tribal Wisdom for Business Ethics" logo. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

But research going on in New Mexico State University's College of Business has shown that commonalities do exist between business ethics and tribal wisdom.

Grace Ann Rosile is studying how Native American tribal values can be applied in today's business world. Today, technology has created a "global village" and these ancient ethical perspectives, which come from tribal communities, suddenly seem very relevant again.

Rosile, an associate professor of management at NMSU's College of Business, has been a Daniels Fund Ethics fellow since 2010, when the university received a $1.25 million grant to develop a principle-based ethics program over five years. The grant is part of the Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative, whose goal is to strengthen principle-based ethics education and foster a high standard of ethics in young people.

In the paper, "Comparing Daniels Principles of Business Ethics and Tribal Ethics," Rosile and her co-authors, NMSU colleagues Don Pepion, associate professor of anthropology and a member of the Blackfeet Tribe; David Boje, business professor; and Joe Gladstone, assistant professor of public health administration and member of the Blackfeet and Nez Perce tribes, identified "Eight Aspects of Tribal Wisdom for Business Ethics."

? Relationships - Relationships are of primary importance and the key to survival.
? Gifting rather than getting - Giving is valued and conveys higher status than getting.
? Non-acquisitiveness - The wealth economy discourages hoarding because there is "enough," and sharing and gifting is more important.
? Usefulness - Use is more important than possession, thus community property is common.
? Egalitarianism over hierarchy - Equality of voice contributes to consensus and unity.
? Trust - Trust is the foundation for good relationships and is highly valued.
? Disclosure - Trading partners volunteer information to build relationships.
? Barter systems - Barter emphasizes usefulness of goods rather than accumulation.

Rosile worked with local filmmakers to produce a 30-minute video that explores some of the common themes that unite business ethics and tribal ethics. The "Tribal Wisdom for Business Ethics" film is an effective teaching and outreach tool, she said, because it presents traditional ideas from an indigenous perspective.

"It doesn't work as well when we as researchers try to say what these Native people are saying," she said. "We have to let them speak for themselves."

The film ¬- along with six accompanying teaching videos that are about 10-15 minutes each - serves as a platform and showcase for the scholarly work that's being done in tribal ethics, she said.

"Tribal wisdom," Rosile says in the film, "is about what people have learned through the centuries about living together in harmony. In harmony with each other - that individuals in the group do not need to be in conflict - and in harmony with the whole universe - with Earth, the rocks, the plants, the trees - and with humans, all living in a harmonious, balanced world."

The research is part of the outreach goal of the Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative, expanding ethics education in the region, said Bruce Huhmann, an associate professor of marketing who is the Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative Chair.

"I think we can all learn a lot by seeing the similarities in ethical principles across cultures," Huhmann said of the research. "Many of the tribal ethics principles documented by Dr. Rosile and her colleagues are shared in other cultures, although each culture does have its own unique ways of expressing and living those ethical principles."

As part of the third annual Quantum Storytelling Conference being held Dec. 15 to 17 in Las Cruces, a pair of special presentations is planned from 1 to 3 p.m. and 3:15 to 4:45 p.m. Dec. 16 in Milton Hall Room 50 on the NMSU campus. The talks, co-sponsored by the NMSU Teaching Academy, are titled "Quantum, Indigenous and Living Story: A Nexus of Science, Art and Ethics," and will feature Greg Cajete, director of Native American Studies at the University of New Mexico; Leroy Little Bear and Amethyst Beverly First Rider, both of the University of Lethbridge in Canada; and Don Pepion, an NMSU anthropology professor and former head of American Indian Programs at NMSU, along with Rosile and Boje.

Little Bear is the former director of the American Indian Program at Harvard University and professor emeritus of Native Studies at the University of Lethbridge, where he was department chair for 25 years. First Rider teaches Native literature and Native drama in the Native American Studies Department at the University of Lethbridge. Her master's thesis was "Sweet Grass Visions: The Combination of Trickster and Theatre for the Transmission of Culture (1994). "

For more information on the Quantum Storytelling Conference or the special presentations, visit www.quantumstorytelling.org or contact Rosile at garosile@nmsu.edu.

Rosile and her team are also planning a gathering in fall 2014 that will bring together people featured in the "Tribal Wisdom" films with other indigenous scholars, as well as Native American business leaders and students, to explore ways that Native values regarding science, art and ethics can inform ethics education.

A trailer for the film, "Tribal Wisdom for Business Ethics," along with information on the teaching films and accompanying materials, can be found on the NMSU College of Business Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative website, http://business.nmsu.edu/programs-centers/daniels-ethics.