All text and audio copyright, 2015 by the Native American Development Center ©
Lorraine: Okay. We'll get started with the stories of resiliency of the Native American people. We'll start with asking your full name and your Indian name.
Brenda: My name is Brenda Kill Small, I wasn't fortunate enough to get an Indian name yet.
Lorraine: Okay. Tell us a little bit about yourself, your tribal enrollment, any other tribal affiliations, where you live and how long you've been there, kind of your background where you grew up, things like that.
Brenda: I'm enrolled in Standing Rock Sioux Tribe from Wakpala, South Dakota. Born here in Bismarck and I was actually raised on the Standing Rock reservation. After graduation, I moved here, I believe back in 2004 and kind of been back and forth between the two since then.
Lorraine: Okay, great. Your family status, are you married? Do you have children? And if so, what are their ages?
Brenda: I am currently engaged right now, and my children ... I have 6 children. They are ... Kishan is 14. Zaiden is 13, and Exavier is 10. Quinton is 7, Kenzy is 3, and my baby had just turned 1.
Lorraine: Wow. You're a very busy mother. You have a spouse in the home?
Lorraine: Okay. You're married with 6 children. Wow. That in itself is a big task.
A little bit about your educational background. You mentioned you came to college. Where do you go to college and what are you pursuing?
Brenda: I'm currently enrolled at United Tribes Technical College. I do have a associates degree in business and office technology, and I had a change of heart and decided to do the Criminal Justice bill, so that's where I'm at right now. I will be graduating from that, my associate in May, and moving on to my bachelor program.
Lorraine: Okay. Bachelor program. Wow. Okay. What are you pursuing? What field of study for your bachelor?
Brenda: I believe also criminal justice but ...
Lorraine: Okay. Will that be at United Tribes as well?
Brenda: Yes. Okay. They have a 4-year program there.
Brenda: Okay. Great. Getting now onto your career. Where do you plan on positioning yourself? Is it locally here in the Bismarck-Mandan community or are you thinking of going back to the tribe? Just share a little bit of some of those future goals in your career.
Lorraine: Well, I do believe my heart is set on going home to work for my tribe. I could see myself commuting from here, living here on Bismarck and then working down there. My goal for my career wise would be to help my people back there on the reservation.
Brenda: That's your ultimate goal?
Brenda: When you say help your people or help our people, did you think this through? Is this why you pursue the criminal justice arena?
Brenda: To help your people?
Brenda: Okay, great. You mentioned a little bit that you grew up on the Standing Rock reservation. Can you tell us a little bit what it was like to grow up there? Yes. As a child, I believe it was very ... I had a very rough childhood. I lived in an unstable home, both parents were alcoholics and I don't remember them ever being ... having positive parenting skills, I believe? Just having parties at the house and me not having clean clothes on my back and going to school and teachers would say things about me and kids would poke fun at me because I had dirty clothes. I remember one time my dad showing up to my play day and he was intoxicated, and that was, for me, was embarrassing. I remember as a child ... And also, my older siblings, who were living in the home, who had children of their own, so it was a very crowded area. I didn't have my own room. I had to sleep on the couch. I felt like there was just too many bodies in one household.
Lorraine: You mentioned brothers and sisters. How many brothers and sisters did you have?
Brenda: I have 5 sisters and 3 brothers.
Lorraine: Okay. A big family growing up as well. 5 sisters, 3 brothers. Okay. Both mom and dad were in the home together?
Lorraine: Okay. But they were alcoholics and didn't have very good ... So did you grow up ... Would you say you grew up feeling a sense of unstable-ness and of insecurity?
Lorraine: Unsure of day by day activity?
Lorraine: How would you say that's impacted your life growing up as a child from, say, what age would that have been about, where you start remembering some of these things?
Brenda: I remember probably back when I was 5 or 6.
Lorraine: From 5 or 6 years old. Okay. Very young. All the way, did that carry on through your high school years?
Brenda: When I reached my teenage years, both of my parents had quit alcohol and they both got jobs. It started to stabilize by that point, but I was already, I would say, broken by all the past personal experiences.
Lorraine: Mm-hmm. How old would you say you were at the point where they hit sobriety?
Brenda: 14 years, I would say. 14 years old.
Lorraine: Okay. You must have been like a freshman in high school??
Lorraine: Okay. You were in Standing Rock in high school?
Lorraine: Okay. Along with that, being broken as you mentioned, what was that like for you carrying on throughout your high school years and then on to your early adolescent years, your 20's?
Brenda: Well, I struggled a lot in my high school years. My parents, they did sober up and they were there physically but not emotionally. They worked a lot, long hours, and I hardly ever seen them. It was basically ... There was no interaction between the two and so I started to seek out attention and ways of bad ... my peers, following my peers into bad places and starting to follow the crowd and get into, what would you say ... Like there wasn't really gangs but there was a gang there and I wanted to be in it, just be a part ... like a sense of belonging basically. I was very young, I was actually the youngest in the gang, but I started to follow with that bad crowd for a while. I believe now that I was probably acting out for attention from my parents.
Lorraine: Okay, yeah. That makes sense. Getting back to ... I just want to touch back a little bit on some of the values that you do remember, the positive values that you remember growing up as you took that along into your teenage years and now onto your adult years. Looking back now in hindsight, what were those values that you were taught that were good?
Brenda: My values have always been my belief in God. I can remember way back to when I was probably a baby but because I remember being in my crib and above my crib there was this picture of Jesus and it was a night light, it had a little light in it. I just remember recently talking to my mom about it, how I remembered that, and she was stunned about ... "You remember that?" because I was probably like 2 years old. From that, I was looking into that face, it kind of put a thought in me that there was a God. That kind of led me to a ... When I was a child and my parents weren't always around, my friends were and I would always attend these bible schools, vacation bible schools. I would just attend just to get a free meal and to have fun, and that was my way of getting out of not thinking of the stressful environment. Being involved in those, I come to know about God and they taught me about God and it kind of instilled in me my belief today about God, I guess.
Lorraine: That is the profound memory that you have of your values?
Lorraine: That's a very important one, your spirituality. That's your spirituality piece. How about other things such as values about marriage, family, parenting, just being Native American? Was there any cultural values in that or what it's like to be a Native American for example?
Brenda: Yes, I remember in, I believe like 4th or 5th grade, I believe, they had this ... I was never taught by my parents about our Indian ways, the cultural ways such as sweat lodges and all that good stuff. I was never taught that. However, I did dance, Indian dance, when I was a little girl, and I couldn't continue my dream of that because I didn't have nobody to make me an outfit. I let that slip away but when I was like in 5th or 6th grade we had this ... I was picked by one of the students ... one of the teachers to go on this camp or this trip up to Rapid City and go up the Harney Peak Mountain or hill. As I went, they kind of filled me in the direction of who we are as Native Americans. They filled that gap of what sweat lodges mean and what it means for the pipe and the four directions and all of that stuff, and we hiked up that mountain. I did not make it to the top however. I gave up and ran back down because it got too cold. That's probably the most educational experience I ever learned from as far as Native American stuff.
Lorraine: Okay. You mentioned that, that was a trip to Harney Peak?
Lorraine: What was the organization called that took you there?
Brenda: You know what, I don't remember. I don't really remember but I know ... not just my school but there was McLaughlin. It was probably all of Standing Rock. There was McLaughlin, there was Standing Rock kids, there was ... We took a lot of buses up there.
Lorraine: Okay. It was a school trip then?
Lorraine: Okay. I must have missed that. Sorry about that. That was taught by the grade ... Okay. Do you remember anything else of the Indian dancing? You had exposure to the Pow Wows and actually dancing and being in the arena?
Lorraine: Would you say that there is something special about that? About being in the arena?
Lorraine: With this sitting outside and watching, dancing?
Lorraine: Can you explain what that experiences was like?
Brenda: When I was out there dancing, I remember feeling a sense of empowerment. I remember loving the fact that I was ... just moving to the music and the beat of the drum. You free yourself from everything, and your mind just goes and it's ... the people watching you, it's kind of a ... I wouldn't want to say it like an out of body experience, but it's just a very moving experience. I love dancing.
Lorraine: Would you say that that has a spiritual experience? It's spiritual, being out there?
Lorraine: It's a sense of not worrying about anybody else around you? It's just to focus between how you feel in your heart and God?
Lorraine: Okay. Wow. Okay. Other values such as higher education, you're going to college. Someone tell you to go to college? Did someone kind of breed some of those things that you should do with your life into you, such as going to college?
Brenda: Yes. My educational experience has been a little rocky. In high school, I ended up having ... Like I said, when I started to look for attention seeking, I met this boy who paid attention to me. We became boyfriend and girlfriend, and it got intimate and I ended up getting pregnant at a very young age, I believe my 10th sophomore year in high school. I ended up having the baby. My mom didn't want to see me go down that path, and she had offered me options of adoption and even down to abortion. I could not do that to this human being living inside me, and the guy who I was pregnant for, he asked me if he could take the baby since I was thinking about giving it away, and raise him himself with his grandma. The sincerity in that showed me that he was there probably for the long run to help me in the situation that I was in. With that being a road block in my high school career, because I was involved, very involved in basketball, I was on the cross country team, I was on the track team, I was a cheer leader for one point in time, that just kind of put everything to a halt, my pregnancy. I believe I ended up ... After I had the baby, I ended up dropping out of high school. I moved here to Bismarck and I tried to find a job. Nobody, nowhere would hire me. I remember talking to my mom how hard it is to take care of this child with no income and pay for diapers and stuff, and I remember talking to my mom about that and she said "You need to go back to school, the school will let you back in. You need to get an education." I said "Okay."
I remember moving back home with her. At this time, thankfully, the school had adopted a daycare in our high school. The new high school was built because our old one was flooded away and the new high school was built and there was a daycare in there. I was able to go back to school and put my son in daycare and finished my high school career.
I finished when I was 19 years old, but I did it. I finished.
Lorraine: Well, that's great. There was a daycare in the high school?
Lorraine: Was that a new thing?
Lorraine: Oh, really?
Brenda: Yeah. Because everybody seemed to be getting pregnant in our school, and it seemed to be logical to put a daycare in there to help students up.
Lorraine: That's great. That's really awesome. That was a big part of helping you succeed?
Lorraine: Was the daycare aspect?
Lorraine: The sense of community is there at Standing Rock. The schools will help you, they'll go the extra mile such as create a daycare to help you and others succeed because they care about the Native American people succeeding?
Lorraine: Okay. How about as far as work ethic? We mentioned higher education, career. How about work ethic? When you did get hired, eventually you got hired and you did go to work, is that right?
Lorraine: After high school some time?
Lorraine: Okay. Can you share about that?
Brenda: I did go to work. I started college being a single mom, and after I graduate ... while I was in high school, I was pregnant with my other son, and ... I had 2 kids now while I was trying to go to school in college. I was a single parent at the time and it seemed to be too difficult. The day care was there. The opportunity was there, but I just didn't ... being away from home, I felt homesick. I felt a sense of being too comfortable where I was and I just ... stepping outside was just too scary for me. I moved back home, and I did start work out at the casino and worked there for, I would say, about a year and about very different jobs. I moved from different jobs within that year.
Lorraine: Okay. You mentioned a second child, you were pregnant with your second child and you went to college that had a daycare. Would that have been United Tribes back then?
Lorraine: Okay. This was several years ago, then you attempted college prior to your completion ... your soon to be completion.
Lorraine: Okay. It was scary? You felt a sense of being alone, so you went back home to get the support of ... what would you say you felt when you went back home? Was it the family support or the sense of ... What kind of support?
Brenda: I would say a family support with my children. You also have those relatives who help babysit, help whatever, with whatever you need, food wise.
Lorraine: Survival kinds of support.
Lorraine: Okay. Child care. It's more than just the child care that you needed when you were going to college. You needed food. Additional to the child care, you needed food, but also the family, emotional support?
Lorraine: Okay. Were there any other things that you felt was additional, like what about housing? Was housing provided to them at home?
Brenda: Yes, yes.
Lorraine: Did you live with mother or auntie or ...
Brenda: Yeah, I lived with my mom.
Lorraine: Okay. When growing up, back to growing up, and we learn our values a lot of times from our parents. Sometimes, it's not our parents who raise us, it's our grandparents. Sometimes it's really neither. Sometimes in the home, we're not communicating so we look elsewhere. Our teacher can be almost anybody, it could be a coach, it could be an elder in a community, a relative. For you, who would you say was your teachers? Sometimes we have more than one or two, an that's fine if you want to just mention who your teachers you learned from the most, just about life in general, values, life, maybe it might be culture?
Brenda: I learned a lot from my older siblings. I would say they would have to be the most impact to me of my life as my teachers. They helped raise me when my mom and dad were not there. They cooked for me, they make sure I was taken care of. They're the ones who I look to when I have a problem or need help or have a suggestion, all those kind of things.
Lorraine: What ages were you and what ages were they when you can remember some examples of that?
Brenda: I was probably 16 years of age, and I remember my older sister would have been 26, I believe. She had 3 kids of her own and she was staying with their dad and they had their own place. I remember a time when I actually even moved in with them because they had a free spare bedroom and my mom's place was just too crowded. But yeah, I looked up to my older sister.
Lorraine: You stayed there? How long would you say you stayed there? How was ...
Brenda: I would say about 5, 6 months.
Lorraine: Okay. Then did you just go back home?
Lorraine: Back to mom's?
Lorraine: Okay. Getting back to as a child growing up, we all aspire to be something when we grow up. Do you remember what some of those aspirations were, regardless of your situation and that it was unfortunate? Do you remember some of those aspirations?
Brenda: Yeah. I started playing basketball in the third and fourth grade, and I remember ... I just loved basketball. I would play ball during the week and then on weekends, go to tournaments. I remember gathering up people, knocking on their doors saying, we're looking for people to go play in a tournament. Do you want to come? I would just run over to town, gathering up players to play with us. I love the game and I remember saying to myself, or writing a letter to myself when the older me ... when I would look back and read this letter, I wanted to be the first Native American in the WNBA, and that was kind of my dream.
Lorraine: Now WNBA, for some of us that are not basketball players, what is WNBA?
Brenda: It's the Women's National Basketball Association.
Lorraine: Is that college?
Brenda: I believe it's at a professional level.
Lorraine: Professional college level or beyond college?
Brenda: Yeah, beyond college. Yeah.
Lorraine: Okay. Wow, that's a big dream. You had that dream all the way up until what point, would you say?
Brenda: Until I found out I was pregnant with my first ...
Lorraine: Your first baby?
Lorraine: Okay. Everything, your world changed?
Lorraine: Did you feel like you lost a sense of hope or did you not give up? What was your mentality at that point?
Brenda: I knew that my life from that day on would be different, but my priorities have shifted from my dreams to his dreams. I did not lose the love of basketball because when I came up to play ... when I was enrolled in college, I did try out for the team and I lasted, I would say, like 2 weeks, but the daycare thing, practice would be after school and the daycare wasn't open, so that kind of stood in my way there, to continue to play basketball in college.
Lorraine: In college?
Lorraine: When you said the dream sifted to ... to baby?
Lorraine: Okay. To baby. Baby's demands, right?
Lorraine: The daycare issue was a road block?
Lorraine: Do you think if there was daycare you would have just kept on? If daycare wasn't an issue, that was provided regardless of it was a relative or a facility, that you would have kept going?
Brenda: Yeah. I think I would have been ...
Lorraine: You had that support, you would have pursued it?
Lorraine: Okay. We have a good idea about your upbringing and your values and who kind of taught you some of those values. Tell us a little bit about that journey, kind of beyond, and just kind of an overall summary, in your own words, some of those struggles from your low point to a higher point in your life.
Brenda: I guess the struggles of just being a child of alcoholic parents was my first struggle being born, a very unstable environment, of not knowing what tomorrow was going to bring or if we were going to have enough food, if my mom or dad would even come home that night. A lot of worrisome moments. I remember a time when my mom didn't come home, I believe for about 2 or 3 weeks, but it felt like forever to me. We ran out of food and we lived out in the country, so there was no access to grocery stores or anything like that. We lived out there all alone and it was winter time, so there was no cars going in or out of that, where we lived. We couldn't walk to anywhere because it was cold. I remember not eating and I remember my sister was alerting me, and there was ... My older sister, me, my younger brother and my younger sister, who was the baby then. I remember she making spaghetti for us, but we had no meat but she made the noodles and put ... we didn't have no tomato sauce so she put ketchup in there. We all ate it just because there was nothing else to eat. But I remember my uncle showing up thankfully and finding us in that situation where we haven't ate for days. He took us home and welcomed us into his home and bathe us and fed us. I remember feeling that sense of love and compassion and just ... this is how a home is supposed to be. But I remember that struggle of constant survival. It's just basically having to take care of yourself and fend for yourself in my childhood.
Lorraine: Over the years, that's your ... Your childhood was always that struggle of constant survival, and it's unfortunate because that's a time where you're dependent. Now, turning that over to an adult, what would be some of those low points and then to your higher point?
Brenda: As an adult with my children now, I see some of that relating to as when I was a kid. There are some times when ... there's always the food there, there's always the clean clothes on the back and the taking care of the children, but there are those times of struggle when there isn't enough sometimes. Just having to work through the day-to-day activities, I guess, and being in college and trying to find time for your studies and taking care of the kids and ... Sometimes, when they get sick, you're not able to attend class. I guess it's a real struggle in that sense, but we always make it through eventually.
Lorraine: Do you find that some of those hardships, I would call that a story of resiliency, for a child, getting through that, do you feel that that's contributed to your strength today?
Lorraine: Can you explain how it offers strength to you?
Brenda: Yes. It gives me strength and a sense of where I have been to where I am now. Like, I was telling my son the other day, you know, I've been to practically the bottom to ... I mean, I've been down so low that I don't see no other way but up. My strength now, I was telling my son about ... I feel like one of these days, all of this endurance of the struggle and stuff will eventually pay off and we will be financially stable and in our own home and I get to watch my grandchildren grow and all of those things.
Lorraine: There is a sense of faith there?
Lorraine: There's a seed of faith that has you believing, that gives you that straight and the belief, the hope to go on, knowing that there is reward at the end?
Lorraine: That keeps you and your family going?
Lorraine: Some of those rewards that you're seeking out would be financial stability?
Brenda: Stability. Yes.
Lorraine: Stability which provides security?
Lorraine: What were some of the other things that you had mentioned?
Brenda: Home ownership.
Lorraine: Home ownership. That's always a struggle, right?
Lorraine: As you mentioned, struggling from day-to-day survival. Home ownership is on top of the list.
Lorraine: Financial stability and home ownership go hand-in-hand?
Lorraine: Some of the other things, what would be ... thinking of rewards, what are some other rewards? You know, getting your education is your ticket to these rewards.
Lorraine: What are some other things that are going to help you get to the reward?
Brenda: I believe, #1, would probably be my education, my experiences, probably the people that I meet in these experiences, whether it's with school or not with school, after-school activities.
Lorraine: So support of social networking?
Lorraine: Okay. How about the spirituality piece? Is that a big player in this?
Lorraine: Okay. You want to share a little bit about that, how you get strength from that?
Brenda: Yeah. There is numerous times when I wanted to give up and quit. As being a child of an alcoholic, I picked up some of those tendencies when I was very young, I think 13 years of age. I wouldn't say that I was an alcoholic, but there was a time in my life when there was nothing more than I can think of. I guess you would call it an alcoholic, but I went for like a week straight of drinking, even at school, after school. I wouldn't wake up to look for it, but I would do my daily activities and still, afterward, get drunk. I started to see that, and it kind of slowed down when I became a parent, but it was still there on the weekends. I thought I needed to go out, in a party and have fun, even though I was a parent. I got a babysitter and I thought I was doing all right by my children, until one night, I see my son ... my son seen me intoxicated, and I felt a huge amount of shame and a slap in the face because I told myself ... I made this promise to myself at a very young age that I would not be how my parents are. When he seen me like that, I immediately said, something's got to stop here. I am becoming my parents. I need to let all of this go and find a different way of living. I did that. As a teenager, I fell back from my church because it wasn't a cool thing to do when you're a teenager. After I got older and my son came along and I felt that shame, I started to become my parents, I said ... I need to change the way I'm living here. I was always a believer. Through my teenage years, I would always pray all the time, but I never went to church.
After the incident with my son, I started to go back to church. I believe, with that helping me along the way, if it weren't for God helping me and giving me the strength that I needed to stay sober and be this person, I don't think I would've lasted. I think my peers and my family, everybody would have ... I would have given in to them, to the peer pressure of going back to alcohol.
Lorraine: You mentioned God and the church was your safe haven, because surrounding you, it wasn't just friends. It was your own family as well?
Brenda: Family. Yeah, yeah.
Lorraine: That makes it extremely hard to try to change your life. You mentioned the shame and your son and seeing you that way and you were becoming your parents. You were repeating a cycle?
Lorraine: Okay. That gave you the insight to say, okay, I'm going to stop. I need to do something about this.
Lorraine: You stopped church?
Lorraine: Did you grow up watching your parents seek out at church at any point when they turned their lives around? Was it church that they sought out?
Brenda: You know what, I had written this question down in my diary prior to this because our instructor had asked us where our morals and values come from. I had to question myself because I don't ever remember my parents turning to church. I mean, we're episcopal, and there's the episcopal church where you attend on Easter, Christmas, baptismals, that sort of thing. But I never understood the nature of it. In our church, they speak the Lakota language, and I wasn't taught the language so I wasn't ... I couldn't connect on a personal level to that specific church. However, the Assembly of God church that was down the street from us, they spoke English language, they sing English songs, stuff that I can relate to. They had a children's church there that I attended when I was a little girl, and that's kind of what sowed the seed in me, I believe.
Lorraine: Okay. Your parents took you to that church as a little girl? Is that right?
Brenda: No. It was a van that used to come around and picked up kids, and I just jumped on it one day. My older siblings had gone to the church prior too, so I think following them there had led me to the church.
Lorraine: The van, it was a church van?
Lorraine: It was a church family that came around and picked up children from the community?
Lorraine: Oh, wow. Okay. That's great. What would you say were some major life breakthroughs for you? Major life breakthroughs. It would probably be some of the things you mentioned. Is that the "Aha!" moment that I'm becoming my parents? Would you say that was some of your breakthroughs?
Lorraine: Were there any other kind of breakthroughs that made it happen for you?
Brenda: Yeah. I remember one time, I moved here to Bismarck and I remember searching for a church here. Being new to the community, I didn't know which church did what, and I tried out the evangelical church. I tried out the Baptist Church. I didn't find the Assembly of God church, which I'm currently in. I was looking for this church and in doing so, so much time had passed when I first moved here that I become too trapped up in my own world and I started to forget about the bible and God. Years has passed and I remember my daughter being born in ... it's my first born daughter, and it was just like being pregnant for the first time again. After 4 boys, I finally get my girl. But she took up all my time and I remember struggling with her dad, who was also an alcoholic at the time. It was an on and off relationship, and he was in the home, out of the home, to treatment and back and all these other things. I remember questioning myself that I knew I was clean and sober, but their dad was not clean and sober. I remember saying, I took this vow a long time ago to be the clean and sober parent, but yet I'm allowing him in their lives, to give them the same exact childhood that I went through. I had to do something about that, and I had to put him out of the home. When I did so, I took him off the lease and I was serious about leaving him this time around. Doing that, he wasn't allowed to be on my property, he wasn't allowed to be at the house. I was leaving at housing this time and he was gone for about a month. He came back and he had sworn he was going to be sober and clean this time and I forgave him and let him back in without doing the proper paperwork of allowing him to be at the house. I was in violation of my lease and they had to ask me to leave the house. Here I was in my own little comfort thinking that everything's okay and I have my own home and everything at one point is just taken away from me. I'm like, I have 5 children now and I don't know where I'm going to go. I don't have a home, and at that point in time, I remember blaming God, asking, how can you do this to me? I've been doing good and not drinking and thinking that I'm being punished for some reason. I remember living out of a hotel because I refused to go home. I did not want to go home and live with my mom in her 2-bedroom house with my 5 kids and me. I remember moving into a hotel and staying there and trying to work out of that hotel, porting my kids back and forth to school and basketball practice and me trying to ... still, all with that college, still trying to finish my degree. My funding fell through at the college, and they said that I was no longer to finish my college because I had a bill and I couldn't come back the next semester, and so it felt like everything was falling through for me. I had lost all hope and I said, I was just going to move home. At the same time, to add more to the plate, I guess, Randy gets drunk and gets in trouble with the cops and almost has our daughter taken away because he had her at the time while I was at class. He was drunk with her. I had to go and deal with that mess, but he was taken to jail and so I was there alone. I remember moving home and it was such a difficult time at home because it was ... The reservation has not changed in, I would say, 13 years since I've been back there. But everything is just alcoholism and the drugs and not a sense of hope. People just kind of the same thing, different day aspect. I felt really bad for people back there because they don't know anything better. I mean, they haven't seen anything and I remember saying to myself that I did not want my children there. I did not want them growing up with that all around them. I remember praying and praying and praying, asking for a home and for God to help me provide a home over their heads. Just by this moment, I believe Salazar was in the making. I didn't get any because I wasn't living on the reservation, so I didn't get my share. The people off reservation made a meeting and we went up there and we asked for something. I believed they gave a thousand dollars to each member. With that being given to me, I went and ... Still without a house, I came straight up here and I paid off my bill with my Salazar money. Immediately, they said I can move into a home. When they gave me the keys to my house, it was a struggling process trying to get back in school because they said I needed to go here and there and back and forth and it's just ... I remember sitting up here Monday through Friday. I remember making the commute from Mobridge to Bismarck every day that whole week. Finally, because they were giving me the run-around, I had paid my bill. I have to go over here and something else didn't go through and then the housing process ... I remember that Friday, Donovan said, "I'm giving you your acceptance letter." He said it feels like I'm giving you your diploma because you've been here and all the hoops you had to jump through to get this. He said, "You're finally going to get into school." I remember just feeling a sense of accomplishment. Going to housing and getting my key for the first time and going into the house, it was empty but ... going to into the house, just knowing that I will have 4 walls and a roof over my kids' head, and that's all that mattered. Getting my education is just a plus. That was probably one of my biggest struggles.
Lorraine: Also, one of your high point right there.
Lorraine: Donovan, just for clarity, for the public, Donovan is the admissions ...
Lorraine: What's the official title, Admissions Coordinator or Director?
Lorraine: Okay. What were the struggles? I must've missed something. What were the struggles why it was hard to even get into a college?
Brenda: I had paid my bill, but I had to go to ... I didn't pay it all because it wasn't enough. It was a $4000 bill and I paid $2,400, I believe, to get my bill under a thousand so I can get accepted. I had to go up and meet with Student Accounts to setup a bill payment to pay off the rest. Then I had to go downstairs ... prior to their agreement, go downstairs to Financial Aid and ... because I have exceeded because of starting college, including I have exceeded my amount of financial aid so I wasn't funded in that aspect, but I got my higher ed from my tribe and I had to sign up for Leadership through Experience, LTE, to work to pay off my bill. At the same time, I had to go back down and I had to apply to get into the criminal justice program, and that is a process because they do a background check, and all of that stuff to even get into there. That was a waiting process too. Finally, my final step was they accepted me through the Criminal Justice Program and she wrote me up an acceptance letter. My acceptance letter was my key to get into my housing, to take housing and my key to get into a house. Those were the hoops that I had to jump through.
Lorraine: That would be the real high point right there, is once you got the acceptance letter into college and then the house?
Lorraine: Then you knew you were on your way?
Lorraine: Knowing how hard it is to get there, there's an appreciation that is created through that hard process.
Lorraine: Would you say that brought more value to being at school and taking it serious and really putting all your heart into it?
Lorraine: Like you had mentioned somewhere in the past conversations, that there was no going back?
Lorraine: You can't see any other way but up?
Lorraine: That's what continued to bring resiliency within you?
Lorraine: What is the main driver of you breaking cycles?
Brenda: My children. My children are my main driver of ... I see so many with all my brothers and sisters. We're all grown now, we have children of our own, and I see so many ... I see the cycle just begin to repeat itself, repeat itself and repeat itself, not only through my siblings but through my cousins, my relatives, my friends, their friends. I just see that on the reservation there to the cycle repeating and repeating and repeating, that I said to myself I want to be the person to stop it. In my family, I would like to be the person to end this cycle and break it and not have it repeat.
Lorraine: That is huge. There's always something that brings resiliency. There's something underlying that motivates us to be resilient. There always that underlying piece and you mentioned it. It's your children, and that is so important because we're the teachers.
Lorraine: We're the direct teachers to them, so the love for our children. Would you say that you would have been able to do this today had you still been using alcohol or drugs in your life?
Lorraine: You mentioned that you had accomplished sobriety but that you still were involved with somebody who was still addicted in using alcohol. Had you stayed in that relationship, you would have been basically still kind of living that life and teaching your children those things that you chose not to do?
Lorraine: Making those decisions were vital. They were hard decisions, but those were the decisions that brought the outcome that you are in today.
Lorraine: That is great. That is huge. Those are the things that I want to share that will hopefully help others who are in those situations, try to make decisions about their life path and, you know, trying to discover that hope, you know, the hope for the dreams that they have, the hope for the dreams that they actually can pursue on, that they can actually achieve them, but that it has to start with the actual discovery of, it lies in their own back pocket, them having the belief system, that seed of faith that they can with the help of a higher power.
Lorraine: That's what I want to get to is, who do you give the credit to?
Brenda: To God.
Lorraine: Okay. God is who you would give the credit to. Who else as far as people in your life that helped make that happen?
Brenda: I would say my pastor, my church family, my parents.
Lorraine: Would you even say your children?
Brenda: Yeah, yes, my children.
Lorraine: What would you give credit to outside of people? Like what ... For example, the faith that lies in your heart?
Lorraine: Is there anything else that you can think of?
Brenda: I guess just my endurance.
Lorraine: Those experiences?
Brenda: Mm-hmm, yes.
Lorraine: That made you who you are today?
Lorraine: Would you say that we can be a victim but we can end up as a victor?
Lorraine: What kind of recommendations would you give, or advice would you give, to those that are still seeking their path? They're on their journey right now and it might look hopeless right now. What kind of advice would you give them as they're in that discovery process?
Brenda: I would say not to give up, that there are ... My thing, I tell myself every day, is there are people out there in worse situations than what we have encountered in their day-to-day experience. There's always someone who has it worse, or the situation could be worse. My thing is ... I would say the scripture that I refer to is, with God, all things are possible.
Lorraine: That scripture alone, did you carry that with you in your ...
Lorraine: Did you memorize that, or that got you through split-second hardship moments that can make us react, that can break us and ... because we all know that for some of us who went through treatment to get over our addictions, we take some tools with us in that there are affirmations. Some people choose to use scripture.
Lorraine: Would you say that that scripture is what helped keep you on the path?
Lorraine: Okay. Well, I thank you for your time today, and this will be a very big contribution to our Native American people. Thank you.
Brenda: Thank you.