Dakota Goodhouse on the Stories of Resilience

Nov 16, 2015

Here is a transcript of the interview -- it does not include the excerpts from the stories included in the audio.

Bill:                       I'm talking with Dakota Goodhouse, who is an instructor of Native American studies at United Tribes Technical College, hello Dakota welcome to the show.

Dakota:                Good morning Bill.

Bill:                       We are talking about Native American stories of resilience, this is a project that the Native American development center, Loraine Shepard Davis in Bismark Mandan where she has gone to a whole variety of people with Native American background, but from several different nations of tribes, and asked them about stories of resilience.

                              She wanted to talk to people who had real challenges in their lives, and how they successfully overcame those challenges and have gone on to have a life that is working, and doing well.

                              She said said that when she was setting this up that she wanted to change the self perception of the Native Americans, and enhance the public perceptions of Native Americans among non Natives, and that she thinks the stories provide glimpses into the culture, the philosophy, and psychology that make part of some Native lives.

                              these aren't a representative example, these are particular stories of challenge and then resilience. Dakota I know you've listened to and read several of these, what were some of the things that struck you from these stories? Was it something that seemed familiar, new, or different?

Dakota:                There's a few things that stuck out to me Bill and that was throughout all of these stories is a need to acquire some kind of education to better themselves, and to become stronger people. One thing I noticed about the stories from the men is that when they reached into themselves, or when they reached out of themselves, they seemed to ... the element that seemed to sustain them, to build, them, to strengthen their character, to lend them support when they needed it, was a spiritual element, or a supernatural element.

Bill:                       I noticed that too in so many of the stories, it seemed like that connection was what enabled them to pull out of the hard times they were having.

Dakota:                Yeah. A need to reconnect with family throughout both the men and the women's stories. For the men it was a reach out for spiritual guidance that carried them, that lifted them up, that strengthen them to become better people. Emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and in the case of a couple of them that that I read, and a few that I know, even physically ... physically taking care of themselves and in good health too.

                              That's what I got out of it.

Bill:                       It was interesting that the connection with spirituality was important ... I took some different forms, in some cases it was Christianity, and some cases it was traditional religion of their ancestors of the people who were talking. It wasn't always exactly the same form but that did seem to be an important connection.

Dakota:                It did. As a Native person myself, as a theologian myself, I think the purpose of life in the case of the stories of the men's resilience is that they've kind of found it for themselves, the purpose of life is to grow in mind, in heart, in spirit with themselves, with their loved ones, with their fellow human beings.

                              For the stories of the women, it seemed a different type of catalyst that changed them, that motivated them.

Bill:                       The spirituality was there with many of the women as well.

Dakota:                Oh it was. I know that being a parent seems to be a part of most of the stories.

Bill:                       Yes.

Dakota:                I say most because there's a few that aren't parents. For most of them, parenthood is part of that change and motivation to become better, stronger, people for their new loved ones, their new addition to the family. Especially that seems to be most important for the women in these stories of resilience.

Bill:                       Yes. Not always right away, sometimes it took a little while. One story of a woman who had a child quite young, and her motivation to get her life into better shape was she wanted to get that child back because one of her aunties was taking care of it, and that auntie wasn't going to give it back until she knew the child was going to be well taken care of.

Dakota:                Yeah.

Bill:                       That was an interesting motivation too.

                              Across all of these stories one thing you mentioned early on was that across so many of the stories, there is this importance of getting an education as part of the process of getting out of the challenging circumstances and trying to build a better life.

Dakota:                Yeah. I've kind of noticed that education seems to be the big catalyst for change in all ... it touched all of their stories, even the ones who weren't parents, or the ones getting their children back. Education seems to have prepared them for life off and back on the reservation. Some of them have gone back to their home agencies, and others I think the education has provided the means for them to live and adapt, and be stronger people in this modern world.

Bill:                       Mm-hmm (affirmative). These stories of course are all people who are living now, they represent a couple of current generations, two or three current generations because we do have a range of ages among the people in these ... I should reiterate for the people who are listening, we're talking about a project called, "Native American Stories of Resilience". Loraine Davis in the Bismark Mandan area went and talked to a variety of Native Americans who had very difficult circumstances at some point in their life, and the resilience part is they're doing better now in how they have overcome that and bounced back like a branch that's bent but doesn't break.

                              She thought that these stories would be inspiring and helpful, and help people be prouder and help other people understand what's going on. We'll be airing selections from these stories on Prairie Public over the next few weeks. You can hear them time to time during the morning and afternoon shows.

                              I'm talking with Dakota Goodhouse whose an instructor in Native American studies at United Tribes Technical College, and this happens to be a place where a lot of these people have converged because as we've talked, education has been important for people.

                              Another thing that Loraine talked to me about Dakota, and I'm curious about your perspective on this is a concept of historical trauma that has been developed to explain why resilience is sometimes more difficult, or why people have the need to rebound from. Are you familiar with this idea that's been developed?

Dakota:                Yeah, I am, I had first heard of it maybe ten years ago. I've heard of this historical trauma as a concept, as an idea. It's kind of been gaining strength amongst Indian American people today. To understand how did we come to be, and the circumstances that we are in today. I think from what I'm aware of, this historical trauma reaches back to what I call in my courses, the post reservation era, when American Indians were brought onto smaller reservations and forced to live and adapt to a whole new life way, a whole new culture, and a whole new language.

                              The relationship that American Indians had with the landscape was entirely changed, the relationships that they had with their own families, the changed with English. Just as an example to you real quick, just in a nuclear family, the concept of a nuclear family for us, we speak English, we're westernized to think that of the nuclear family as mother, father, and children, immediate family.

                              For the American Indian mindset, family, the culture family is a father, and his brothers. The brothers would be addressed as fathers to. The mother and her sister, her sisters would be called mother. All their children of these collected brothers and sisters would also be addressed as brothers to the nuclear family. Just the relationship within the family, the nuclear family, is far bigger. In English we've all adjusted to calling each other cousin, using the term cousin.

                              Anyway ...

Bill:                       No, it's an interesting point of how some of the whole relationships that people have are built into a language, and when you change a language and all the things that go along with it that come along, including you start thinking about your relationships differently.

Dakota:                Yeah, you do.

Bill:                       One of the things that was interesting to me and the idea of historical trauma was looking at, many people have heard how the Native population in our region here around North Dakota, were hit by disease really strongly in the eighteenth century. We had small pox and other diseases in the eighteenth century, and that was certainly a challenge, yet the cultures in the area did continue, and did rebound, and continued their traditions, and kept them on, but that going to a reservation was quite a different blow to the culture.

Dakota:                Yeah. I think the reservation era, if we just ... we're speaking English, and we just really look at that word reservation, it just simply means to hold back. We use this word today for making a reservation, we use this word to describe reservations but really it means to hold back. I think that holding back almost lends itself ... when it began it was really a prison era.

                              Today a reservation isn't the same as it was a hundred a fifty years ago, but the mindset that began with learning new language, learning new culture, learning new religion, becoming Christians, there's a whole ... everything was turned over on itself, everything was turned around.

                              Relationship with landscape changed, learning to adapt to a little area, that was traumatic itself. I think the biggest change was when the boarding school era began ... I do think disease like small pocks, chicken pocks, whooping cough, the introduction of alcohol and alcoholism, all of those effects, those were huge strikes. When the reservation era began the removal of children from families, that was an even bigger cultural movement that I don't think Indian culture in general has been able to recover from, or we're just recovering from now.

Bill:                       This was brought together a few years back by a woman in South Dakota kind of formulated this idea as a group of historical trauma, and if I can convey my kind of short hand understanding of it, it's sort of a combination of culture shock, which anybody could experience. If any one of you listening have gone to a foreign country, been in a foreign place where you're alone and surrounded by another culture, you know that can be really disorienting and upsetting, but then combined with all of these material impacts as well. Movement, changes in the family, and ... culture shock backed up by material force resulted in a situation that was a challenging circumstance for almost everyone in the group.

                              Does that kind of sum up the idea of historical trauma or do you understand it a little differently?

Dakota:                No, I would say that I agree with your nice summary. I think the one saving grace with this huge impact of change, whether it's disease, or alcoholism, and the removal of family in some cases. The one things that's brought people together, help them reconstruct themselves, has been education. My great, great grandfather, John Goodhouse, was one of the young ones taken as a child to a school out East. His name was Edagalega, which is striped face.

                              When he came back he spoke English, and he took the name John Goodhouse. From that day forward our family has had that name Goodhouse, and if we had a traditional last name it probably would be Striped Face. He changed his name to kind of reflect that he was a changed person inside.

                              One resounding lesson from gaining his education and coming back was that my grandfather innocent was also deeply effected by this, they retained their language, and their culture in this new world. I say in this new world even though it was our world.

Bill:                       Yeah, but changed around you.

Dakota:                Yeah. Education seemed to really help them, keep themselves together. Reach inside themselves to help construct themselves to become better people, and so that was at least in my family, my grandparents were strong proponents of education, and I am too.

Bill:                       Yes, and you're working at United Tribes Technical College, and I noticed that these stories of Native American resilience that we're discussing we're collected in the Bismark Mandan area, which is where United Tribes Technical College is. Many of the people talk about United Tribes, and going there, and it really seemed a marker for many of them of, I am getting myself together, or I was telling the story in the past of what happened to them. I was getting myself together, I was able to go to college and complete courses. That was important.

Dakota:                It's really a wonderful learning environment, United Tribes. Not every tribe has a tribal college, so we're fortunate in the Bismark Mandan area to have any time, anywhere from fifty to seventy, to as much as a hundred to a hundred and twenty, different tribal nations from across the country and Canada.

                              I find myself as an instructor there that it's not just Native people who come to United Tribes but also are non Native relatives from right here in town, and from out of state, and even from Europe and Africa.

Bill:                       That must make for an interesting cultural environment in and outside the classes.

Dakota:                It does, it's a wonderful dynamic to hear ... on my first day of classes I invite people to speak their languages if they know them yet, and this past semester in our first week it was a beautiful treasure to hear thirty different languages spoken.

Bill:                       Wow.

Dakota:                Just to hear this resiliency of overcoming obstacles whether they're external, or internalized becoming ... and many of them parents too. I could just see it. It's a very strong family environment as well too.

Bill:                       Yes. I know people talking to me about United Tribes and this is ... I think this is important, again we're talking about these stories of resilience, about thirty stories collected in the Bismark Mandan area from Native Americans about beating challenges and overcoming than, that support of other people has been important and the United Tribes environment tries to be a supportive one I think.

Dakota:                It does. I don't know how much we're going to visit about the stories of individuals today. Some of them I know personally, some of them I know from childhood. There's a few things that they touch on that I was hoping we could visit.

Bill:                       Yes. I would like to talk about the particular stories that interested you for one reason or another that you thought were worth mentioning.

Dakota:                Oh yeah. Part of the post reservation era mindset, or part of the prison mindset has been ... and part of the historical trauma experience I think from my familiarity with it is lateral negativity, or lateral violence.

Bill:                       What do you mean by that?

Dakota:                I mean, well let's ... and you'll be sharing one of my friends stories here over the next few weeks, but Stephens story about growing up on standing rock, and his personal family story is his to share. He felt whenever he would share this story, and I think he still feels ... I don't want to speak for him because we will hear his story, but my impression is that he still experiences some pressure if you want to call it that, from family or friends who have heard his story growing up in his household.

                              That pressure has been ... some of it has been negative, especially from direct family. Again, it is his story ...

Bill:                       He has been very public about sharing it to, so it's definitely out there and when you talk about lateral negativity, you mean like sideways among a family? I think of lateral as sort of sideways.

Dakota:                Yeah exactly, that's exactly it. When I speak of the prison mindset, or the post reservation era, is people adapt to this new situation, and they're put in a situation where choice is very limited. Anything they do each day is limited by resources, by time, by boundary. Everything is limited. Some choices that they make whether they intend to or not, some of the only choices left might be negative choices. We've seen the growth of chemical usage, and alcohol abuse on reservations.

                              This lateral negativity that I'm talking about is when someone is building themselves up others around try to keep that person down. I don't know if that is making sense.

Bill:                       Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dakota:                What I've seen in these stories, this break away from some of this negativity, and they're building themselves up.

Bill:                       Yeah. There are different cultures that have experienced that, some places I've heard it called, "Tall poppy syndrome", that they begin to chop down the tallest poppies to keep them level with the other ones.

                              There's even, I can't remember the word for it, but somebody told me there's a word for it in Norwegian, that they experience this. When one person tries to build themselves up that another may pull them down. That's maybe a human impulse that is felt in different places under different circumstances.

Dakota:                Yeah, and I'm just speaking in general terms. There's really a lot of good people back home, and there's a lot of good people off the reservation too. Not everybody wants to pull each other down and everything, there really are somebody who want to lift others up. I think when you hear some of these stories, Mr. Alan's story here, ... and I can't wait to hear all of these stories. Stephen's really just struck something in me.

                              I've seen this guy, I was entirely unaware of what was happening with him when we were kids.

Bill:                       It's a very striking and moving story, and he seems to have been very courageous in going ahead and confronting that story. That seemed to help him move forward.

Dakota:                I think even the embracing of his traditional name too ... when I met him a few years back again after several years, he introduced himself to me with this different last name. It threw me for a loop a little bit. After his story going public online and in person, he confided. It really says to me that this guy is not the same person he was ten years ago, or twenty years ago.

Bill:                       In talking about the different stories, and again we're talking about Native American stories of resilience, a project, and we'll be airing exerts from these stories on Prairie Public, you'll be able to hear them on the radio in the morning and afternoon shows, and I'm talking with Dakota Goodhouse who is an instructor in Native American studies at United Tribes Technical College.

                              He's listened to some of them, or read transcripts of them, and Alan Demaray's was one that stood out for me, and some of the other people who have been working on the project. One of the things was there's a woman Ashley Thornberg, is working on editing some of these and she said, "I just had to include these wonderful things that he said about his wife".

                              He gives a lot of credit to his wife for helping him in his own resilience.

Dakota:                Oh he does. His wife, her father is Gerard Baker if I know correctly. It's a wonderful, strong family, and really grounded.

Bill:                       PBS viewers especially, Gerard Baker was exposed to a wider audience thanks to his participation in some PBS documentaries.

Dakota:                Yeah, he had a very large part to play. He's my personal hero, and he's just a wonderful person, that's a wonderful family.

                              Of course we all speak English, he also speaks Hidatsa, but he knows English and we see each other, we great each other in each other's languages. I've met Alan a few times, I don't know him like a good personal friend, but I also read his story. His wife is just an amazing person too, and I can see how she had effected him so positively, and supported him in rediscovering who he was as a Native person, as a Native man, and understanding his place in his family, and his cultural society as a Native man.

                              It's a beautiful story.

Bill:                       People will get a chance to hear it I hope if you keep listening.

                              Dakota, I'm curious as you've looked at some of these stories and listened to the interviews, do you have a thought of what you hope that people who hear them, members of our audience or people who come to find them online, because you'll be able to look at them online at Prairiepublic.org, or at the Native American development website.

                              Do you have something that you hope or think that people will take away from hearing or seeing these?

Dakota:                Yeah. I hope that when people here these stories they hear something that ... the struggles with chemical abuse, or alcoholism, or other negative elements isn't just limited to Native people. In fact, our non Native relatives also experience some of these things, and it just so happens that this particular project is focusing on American Indians.

                              They're all inter tribal. There's all something there about the purpose of life that I think these stories all share, and that is to grow in mind, heart, and spirit. As you read, or hear each of these stories, when any one of these individuals rediscovers who they are as a Native person ... for example in Stephens case being a Lakota. Lakota, or Dakota doesn't mean just friend or ally, the literal translation is affection.

                              To be a Lakota person is to be Lakokichiapi, or Dakota, Dakokichiapi. It's a person who speaks the affectionate language. I think that these stories all reflect that. They're people who are discovering not just what it is to be Native, but what it is to be human.

Bill:                       Thank you very much, are there any other things that you want to mention that you took from these?

Dakota:                I don't have anything further. They're beautiful stories, and I hope everyone gets a chance to listen to them or read the excerpts.

Bill:                       Okay, thank you very much Dakota Goodhouse.

Dakota:                Thank you Bill.