Native Americans display amazing example of self-sufficiency

In 2010, my wife, Carol, and I were in South Dakota. We took a road trip to the Badlands National Park with my brother and sister-in-law. It has a very unusual scenery of jagged gray peaks and green valleys. In places, it looks like a moonscape.

We headed south to the White River Visitor Center in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. This facility is staffed with Native Americans and has a number of very interesting displays. The Sioux followed the buffalo across the plains and killed only the few they needed. One display was of buffalo hides filled with drawings that represented the significant events in the life of the tribe.

The display that most interested me showed all the uses the Native Americans had for every part of the buffalo. The obvious use was for the meat and for the hide. In addition to clothing, the hide was used for bridles, cradles, pillows, pouches, ropes, and sweat lodge covers.

The paunch liner, bladder and stomach liner were used for basins, buckets, canteens, food pouches, medicine bags, and water containers. The tendons were employed as arrow ties, bowstrings, and glue preparation. The hair worked for bracelets, rope, doll stuffing, headdresses, halters and medicine balls. Hoofs were used for containers. glue, rattles, spoons, wind chimes, and toys. Paints were made out of the gall, liver, and blood.

Bones and horns were formed into arrow points, cups, fire carriers, ladles, spoons, awls, toys, jewelry, knives, painting tools, pipes, scrapers, shovels, sleds, and splints. Medicine was also created from horns and stomach contents. Rawhide was used for masks, rattles, sheaths, shoes, containers, quivers, ropes, shields, buckets, caps, drums, and saddles. The liver and brain were used as a tanning agent, and hide preparation, as well as food. The beard and tail were used for decorations. The skull was used for ceremonial altars and a de-hairing tool. The tongue was choice meat and the rough side was formed into a hair brush. Foot bones made good teething toys and other childhood toys. Fat was processed as a cosmetic aid, hair grease, soap, tallow, and tanning. The scrotum was used as containers and rattles. Even dung was useful for diaper powder and fuel.

As I looked over each buffalo part, which had been prepared as they had been for thousands of years, I was amazed that not a single part of the buffalo was wasted. These people were very efficient and self-sufficient. Waste is a focus of many of my clients in various organizations today. The Japanese call waste muda. At one hospital a cross-functional team I facilitated came up with almost one million dollars savings just by improving their inventory process and reducing out-of-date supplies. Each leader should include a group of employees in an examination of important business processes. When a leader reduces wastes, he/she immediately improves bottomline profits.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s completely revised, third printing of “The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success,” visit his Web site, or call him at 740-629-4536. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.