Speaker: ‘Success’ is in the eye of the beholder

Former CMN student lays out how people can be successful
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Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Burton Warrington, right, expresses his gratitude after being presented with a gift basket from Desirae Wilber, the student activities coordinator for the College of Menominee Nation Student Government. Warrington spoke at CMN on Friday about the definition of success.

Burton Warrington has achieved success in a number of ways, in his view, but the former College of Menominee Nation student told about 30 attendees Friday that success is best defined by the individual, not an entire society.

“I haven’t had her experience, and I haven’t had his experience, so we’re all going to view the world a little differently, and that’s all right,” Warrington said. “Somebody says that John’s a janitor, so he’s not successful, but if John thinks he’s successful, then so be it.”

For Warrington, his success has included helping Native Americans in need. Warrington, who has Menominee, Ho-Chunk and Potawatomi blood in him is president and CEO of Indian Avenue Group, LLC, a law group that has provided legal services for Native Americans, including help during the Standing Rock protests where a number of tribes opposed the Dakota Access Pipeline. He also served as a counselor for the Department of the Interior during President Barack Obama’s administration.

Warrington’s path to success started on the Menominee reservation as he attended public and tribal schools there and graduated from Menominee Indian High School in 2000.

“People often introduce me (at speaking engagements) through my professional life, but that’s only a small part of who I am,” Warrington said as he spoke at CMN’s Cultural Learning Center. “I grew up about five miles from here on Legend Lake. I was born and grew up here on the rez.”

Warrington recalled that he worked during high school as a clerk at a grocery store, and he took great pride in making sure that his job was done as quickly and efficiently as possible, even if his co-workers didn’t like it.

“This older guy said, ‘Hey, you’ve got to slow down. You’re making the rest of us look bad,’” Warrington said. “Well, I took pride in that. I wanted to be the best stockboy I could be at 16. Success to me is being the best at whatever I do.”

He noted that he is not an enrolled member of the Menominee tribe, but he considers himself to be Menominee because of his early beginnings on the reservation.

“To me, it doesn’t matter if I’m enrolled; that’s superficial to me,” Warrington said, saying that who he is can’t be defined on a piece of paper. “Culturally, who I am is Menominee, and that’s what matters to me.”

Defining success by social media is not a good thing, according to Warrington. He pointed out that Facebook and other social media sites weren’t around when he was growing up, so he didn’t fall under the influence of them growing up.

“Facebook tries to control how you feel. They control what you see,” Warrington said. “They run social experiments on you.”

Even without social media, Warrington recalled having to stay disciplined on his path to becoming a lawyer. For two months, every free hour was spent studying for the Bar exam so he would pass the first time, even as friends tried to coax him out for fun and recreation.

“Discipline is about short-term sacrifice for long-term gain,” Warrington said. “People that are successful have the ability to discipline themselves.”

Warrington grew up in an environment where tribal members were fighting for what they believed was right. He heard stories from his father about the Novitiate takeover and saw in the 1990s when tribal members fought to stop the mine in Crandon. It was those influences that made Warrington want to fight for a just cause.

Warrington was on a boat trip looking for wild rice beds when he received a text message asking for legal help during the protests at Standing Rock. He’d originally packed for a couple of days, but he wound up helping for five months.

“Activism has always been a part of my life,” Warrington said. “I want this world to be better.”

Warrington’s presentation was sponsored by the CMN Student Government.