Recently I was listening to a renowned national thought leader give a speech about engagement. The speaker emphasized how engagement scores for USA workers were slightly higher than last year but still much lower than they need to be. Then he made a stunning statement. He indicated disengaged workers must feel low on the totem pole.
My jaw dropped. Why would an alleged engagement expert make such an offensive remark toward American Indians/Alaska Natives-the most disengaged group by race in the federal government?
His use of the phrase “low on the totem pole” denigrated a sacred object to indigenous people in the state of Alaska. Ironically, the speaker inverted the traditional meaning of the totem pole. To Alaska Natives, the carving at the lowest point of the totem pole is actually a good thing because it resides closest to the earth. Obviously, he used the expression to mean low engagement.
Most unfortunately, his characterization of this cultural icon bastardized the sacred nature of totem poles which symbolically represent family and kinship networks of Alaska Natives. Using the term is such an off-handed way does not send a message to American Indians/Alaska Natives that they are valued and able to meet their full potential as human beings or employees.
How do you think Catholics would feel if you said you are on the wrong end of the communion table?
Where does this leave the discussion? There is not much else we can take from American Indians/Alaska Natives. We have lost most of our land, language and culture through genocide, extermination, assimilation and broken treaties. Is there any great harm in taking the totem pole away?
In the meantime, we will hang out on the low end of the totem pole, nearest to Mother Earth that created us and sustains us. It is the only place these days where we can be find value and full engagement.