All text and audio copyright, 2015 by the Native American Development Center ©
Lorraine Davis: Today, we're going to talk about stories of resiliencies amongst the Native American people. So today, if you want to just share about yourself. Tell us a little bit about yourself, starting with your name, your Indian name, and what tribe you're enrolled in.
Joseph Bearstail: My name is Joseph Bearstail. My Indian name is Thunderchild. Hidatsa name, […]. I'm an enrolled member of the Three Affiliated Tribes. I currently reside in Bismarck, North Dakota. I'm a father of five children, boys, Cale, Coy, Casten, Dion, and Tayven School, lots of school. Lots of years here and there, semesters. My recent was two semesters this past spring. I'm trying to get in summer school, out at United Tribes Technical College, for the welding program. Work right now, I am kind of in between jobs. I have a part-time job right now, and I'm waiting on call backs on three other ones. I'm just trying to live life, I guess, right now, and make sure my kids are all right, and fed.
Davis: Let's get a little bit more background about you, Joe. Where did you grow up, like childhood, where were most of your years?
Bearstail: I grew up here, in Bismarck, North Dakota, and Mandaree, and, every now and then, Spirit Lake.
Davis: That's an interesting perspective. You have an urban perspective, and a tribal perspective. Can you share a little bit about that, what that's like, some of the things you learned, and how are they different?
Bearstail: Bismarck is more city life, all city, like town, whatever. It was me and my brothers, and my mom and dad. I don't know. I had friends in town, white friends, Indian friends, all of them, pretty much. I had lots of friends, knew everybody. This was back when Bismarck was small, and I pretty much knew everybody that was Native in Bismarck.
Davis: Did you feel different, being Native American at your school, or just in Bismarck period?
Bearstail: At first, back then, yes, because me and my brothers were the only males, Indian boys running around with long hair. Everybody else had short hair. There were a few other people that had long hair, but they were on the res, and then they'd come out, but in town, it was just us three.
Davis: In your school, that would be elementary?
Bearstail: Elementary, junior high, high school.
Davis: All the way through?
Bearstail: All the way through, yeah.
Davis: All the way through, wow.
Bearstail: Pretty much. The only ones with long hair, unless you went to the reservation. Other than that, we were pretty much the only Native American, like I said, with long hair, in Bismarck.
Davis: What were the reactions of your classmates? Was it acceptable after a while? Did it take a while? What did you go through in that?
Bearstail: Nothing. They asked, "Why do you have long hair?" I just said, "My parents won't let me cut it." They just left it at that. "Does it bother you?" "No."
Davis: And no one made fun?
Bearstail: Really didn't give them a chance to make fun of me, because I kind of got along with everybody right off the bat. The fights I got into were with other Native American, pretty much.
Davis: Our own Native people were the ones you had to worry about?
Bearstail: Yeah. I'd get into scuffles with the white kids too, but it was about 50/50 back and forth, so I really didn't care too much where it came from, didn't worry about it. It wasn't their problem. They didn't have to get up every morning and braid it.
Davis: What other things do you remember about urban life, that's different to tribal life?
Bearstail: On the res, I lived out in the country.
Davis: The environment, different.
Bearstail: Yeah, it was quiet, peaceful. You have to find stuff to do. It was all grandma's land, so pretty much could go anywhere and not have to worry about anyone saying, "Hey, what you doing there? This is my yard." Back in town, you just have to go to the playground, basketball court with your friends, and that was pretty much it, or pay to go to Bump and Tilt in Willow Wild, back then. On the res, then you go into town, or go to the gym, or playground, and play ball. It was always that. Out in the country, if you weren't finding work, they'd find work for you, clean up the yard, do all that. Help grandmas, whoever needed it. More family out in the country, because you really had nowhere to go, if you weren't outside, you were in the house.
Davis: Let's talk about some of the values that you were taught during your younger years, childhood to your adolescent years. What are some of the values that you remember being instilled in you?
Bearstail: Manners, mind your manners. Treat people how you want to be treated. It's pretty much, you'd have to be over polite, this was in the city, to equal the white people. So you had to kind of always have a smile, and shake hands, do all that other stuff. It wasn't hard, it was easy, you just smile, shake someone's hand, say, "Hi, how you doing?" Be polite. Just constant, mind your manners, treat people how you want to be treated. It worked. I got along great with everybody in town. I still have friends here from shoot, elementary school, junior high, high school.
Davis: And those are both Native and non-Native?
Bearstail: Yeah. And even the older people that were teachers, or business people, I run into nowadays, are, "Hey, I remember. How you doing?"
Davis: What about in the areas of marriage, family, parenting, spirituality, those kinds of things, the values?
Bearstail: I kind of was lucky, I had my mom and dad both in my house. It was good, and sometimes not so good, because my dad was part of an American Indian dance theater, and he was on tour months at a time, so sometimes it would be just my mom, and it would get difficult. Her husband not there, my dad's not there, my little brothers' dad's not there. That part would get tough.
Davis: As a little boy growing up with his father not there all the time, on a daily basis, what were some of the hardships for you, personally?
Bearstail: Looking after my brothers. We rarely went too far. Like I said, it was outside, or all of my buddies would be at our house. Our house was the place to be. We had all the little basketball games. For what little we had, we had a lot, and everyone would be at our house. My mom would be there. It kind of made it easier, because we were all there, she didn't have to worry about us. Then when my dad's there, it was still the same thing. All my friends would come in, Jay's friends, Jaz's friends, everybody was at our house.
Davis: Maybe something that was taught to you was, because you mentioned having both parents, not everybody has that, so that's something that would you say that helped you honor marriage?
Bearstail: Yeah, and then I seen the down side of it too. As I got older, and my dad started drinking more, and now he wasn't gone for work, he was just gone. I was married too for a while, and I pretty much learned behavior. I seen my dad gone. I don't know if he brought money back, or not. I just know we survived. My mom was working all the time, so we knew what to do, what not to do. They raised us pretty good. We knew right from wrong, so we could be by ourselves, if we needed to be. Most of the time, that was never. We got punished and grounded like any other kid. We can clean. We'd clean the house from top to bottom, we were Cinderellas, wash cupboards, wash walls.
Davis: And that's important. I've been, myself, a housing director, and you do housing inspections, and not everybody has that skill. That's a very valuable skill, very important. It brings a sense of home and security, a warm environment to be in.
Bearstail: Yeah, and my grandma and my aunt, it was the same thing when we were with them, "Clean up after yourself." Always doing, "Brush your teeth, make sure you look nice." Clean clothes. They taught me how to iron. All the stuff you think guys shouldn't learn, that's not manly. If you can't do it yourself, if you want it done right, you got to do it yourself. They taught us the right way to do things. If you're ironing, you're going to burn yourself, or burn the house down, so you had to pay attention. On the bad note, when they tell you to go play outside, you know you're going to have to do work out there too, so you did learn the men's part of the work outside, cleaning up trash, digging up trees.
Out in the country, Mandaree, we used to have, I remember growing up, I don't know if my brothers do, pigs, chickens, hens, cows, horses. I learned all that. I was a little cowboy, before I moved into the city. Dancing and stuff, how to sew, how to take care of your outfits, how to make them, how to repair them. If need be, I'd sew. I'd sew star quilts, all that stuff.
Davis: What about regalia? Do you know how to make that stuff?
Bearstail: Yeah, pretty much, can make beads, sew, can do it all. I never do, because I don't like it. I'm too perfectionist, and if I mess up, I just quit. It's like, "Ah!" So, I really have to take my time on stuff. If I don't like it, I end up taking it apart and starting all over.
Davis: You must get discouraged, where you put it away for a long time.
Bearstail: For forever sometimes. You have to think and think, "Well, if I remake it this way, will it work?"
Davis: There's an artist skill to it.
Bearstail: Pretty much. I'll go over it a hundred thousand ways, before I even start. Now, I'm getting to the point where I start with stuff I could throw away.
Davis: So creativity. You're able to get more creative.
Bearstail: Make a template first, and then go, "Hey, all right, I know all the measurement." The bad part about it is, I never write anything down. It's all in my head, so I have to remember, how many inches within this corner was this to this, and was it this way? When I do make stuff, I make it to your body, so it should be form fitted to you. Now when people send out their measurements, they just get shoulders, and the length, and then the artist that they send it to, kind of goes from there, on the design and stuff. If I do stuff, I like to make it where it's going to fit you. You give yourself an inch or two for those Indian tacos on the weekend, just in case you get bigger. Just a little big, not too much. Everything made, should be made for your body. If you have one person you always go to, then you get used to their stuff, but if you make it to your own body, it's less stress on your body, because you can move it just by tweaking little muscles here or there, and the whole thing moves.
Davis: So that sounds like you're branding the things that you make, that's your brand.
Bearstail: Yeah, you have to. This is my way of doing it. My dad would show me something, and he'd just say, "Watch, pay attention." And he'd never write anything down, and I'd be like, "Okay. Watch. Okay, he's doing this. Now what the heck is he doing?" "Why are you doing that?" "I'll show you later." And he never showed me, but it would be finished, and it would work. When I'd try it, "What do you do for this?" "I'll show you later." Then I'd have to figure out, from that point, when is he going to show me? And you realize, "Oh, it's right here. He added this," and you'd figure it out. That's how we pass stuff down, "Pay attention."
Davis: Get her done, huh?
Bearstail: It's a lot of watch and learn.
Davis: Observing, and learning, and just trial and error.
Bearstail: Patience, lots of patience. It's crazy. Yesterday, he told me to have patience. Maybe not.
Davis: I remember being told that a lot too. That's a hard one. Now we're going to get to talking about, and you kind of elaborated on that, who's your teacher? Who you learned the most from? It sounds like your dad and your mom, aunties, that you mentioned.
Bearstail: Yeah. Grandma. There was other people, that were my building blocks, that set the ground rules. They were the template, the building block, the base of where I get all my ideas in what to do, what not to do, why you can do it this way, and why you can't do it. How come you can't do this, is because we don't have that in our stuff we take care of, in a tribal aspect. That's not a part of our stuff, so we don't know how to do that. It's just what we don't do. We just don't do it.
Davis: No explanation, you just know that you don't.
Bearstail: You don't. Certain things here and there.
Davis: And you don't ask questions.
Bearstail: Yeah, you just take it as, "We don't do that."
Davis: You take it with a grain of salt, but that shows the honor for your parents.
Bearstail: Yeah, it shows that you listen. They tell you not to do something, don't do it. Because if you do it, it could hurt someone, yourself. Something will happen. They always say if you do that, this could happen. They tell you what could happen, but they don't tell you why you can't do it. It's kind of weird, but that's how we grew up.
Davis: Would you say we're kind of losing that today?
Bearstail: Yeah. We are to an extent, or if people are learning it, they're not learning it the correct way, or by the people they should be learning it from. I can only speak for what I know, but what I was taught, and what I was given the rights to do, that's all I do. Nothing more, nothing less. Maybe the other people, nowadays, they've got those rights, and they're doing it. But if they don't, and they're doing it, someone or something could happen, someone or something could get hurt. As long as I know I'm not doing it, and my family's not going to get hurt, it's not on my book of worrying, or it's not my place to say, "Hey, you shouldn't be doing that." Unless they approach me, and say, "Hey, I can do this. Do you mind?"
If it's my place to say something, I'll say something, but if not, no. Like even if I go to other tribes, and they invite me, I'll ask about it first. "What is this? You're inviting me. Okay, thank you." They'll say, "When you feel comfortable, come in." I'll watch from outside, watch spectators, see how they're getting up, sitting down, moving through the crowd. If I don't really know what's going on, I'll stay out. I don't want to hurt no one, I don't want to upset anyone. It's not my tribe, I'm a guest. I learned a few things, asked some questions on different tribes and on their ceremony, some explanations, and all their games of their tribes. I learned a lot of stuff from different tribes that I thought I never would.
Some of the deep spiritual aspects of it, the meaning behind certain stuff that they do, why they do it. To me, that's how you learn. That's how you expand your cultural. Like even, let's say judging contest, they have different categories, Chicken Dance, Southern, Smoke Dance now, all these dances that are coming in. All these, I asked. If they're asking me to judge something, I want to know when they made this dance, how does it go, what am I looking for, stuff like that. I'll do my research. I ain't just going to go out there and go, "I like him." Some of the newer, modern dances, I mean this is just my observation and opinion, everyone is doing the same stuff over.
Some of the traditional stuff, yeah, you can add some stuff to it, and it's tough to judge. If they show me something that's a little bit different, like, "Hey, I've never seen that before. I like that. They're trying to evolve it, but at the same time keep it in the traditional aspect." So I'll ask about what am I looking for, or how do I judge this? It helps a lot, instead of just going out there and picking your favorite dancer.
Davis: Who looks nice.
Bearstail: If you make me smile, and I smile, and chuckle and laugh a little bit, I go, "Well all right, you got me right there, with that one thing alone, because you stood out for me, no matter what, and you're actually trying something." Mind, you have to stay on beat, and you still, because I've seen stuff and I'll be like, I'm going to go ask, "Mind if I borrow that, if I could do it?" Because it looked good. Then you get the story behind how they picked that up, if they've been practicing. That's how you meet people, too, sometimes. Sometimes you don't really know who they are, and then you see, and you're like, "Hey man, good dancing. What's that? How'd you do that? Where'd you come up with that? Mind if I try it out?"
To me, that's how it should be. With work, same thing. "Hey, that's really nice. Mind if I kind of do something like that?" Everyone's kind of the same colors now. Colors are everybody's. There's no, "These are mine." If you want to make something, make it to your work, your design, colors are everywhere. Mother Nature gave you those. No one can say, "Hey, that's mine." But there are those certain colors, that do come with tribal stuff, like you paint, your name, that's your power colors. That's what you should wear when you're doing this. There's times and place for it.
Davis: What would you say to a Native American, who wants to start making an outfit for themselves, or for their children, and they don't understand any of that. Where would they go to learn that?
Bearstail: YouTube. That one is, usually your family will, "All right, we're making you an outfit." Then that child, or that family will like a certain dancer, and maybe they'll go ask them, "How do I go about it?"
Davis: Because one of the things that we're always saying, is to preserve our cultural heritage. Especially in the urban area, there's so many that want to, but there's no place for them. Maybe it wasn't passed down to them with their family, or they're not living anymore. Or maybe they want to, but they don't have that connection, and they're not in the circle, that niche. So they're looking around, and they're missing out. They want their children to pass it on.
Bearstail: That's when you have to be a little outgoing. You have to step out of your comfort zone, and if you like someone's dancing, or someone's singing, and you don't know about it, go say, "Excuse me." If you don't know the right way tobacco's good, or even just a handshake, "Hey, can I talk to you about something?" Even that works. Everyone wants to get old and traditional, those ways are there. There's a time and place for those ways, like there's a time and place for everything. But for the people that you just described, handshake, "Hey, can I talk to you about something? I really would like to ask you a few questions, see if you'd be able to help me out. If not, can you point me in the right direction?" That's the easiest way.
There's a lot of kids out there, that probably didn't grow up that way. I know a lot of it's getting lost, here and there, through translation. I know it's difficult, I see it. And then the prices too, are getting up there and outrageous. It's something that, if the person you ask, if they want something right away, then maybe that's not where you're supposed to ask. Try someone else, if it's out of your price range. "Can just help me understand?" Someone to talk to, or someone that will show you, "Here, I'll show you how to do it, then you can do it yourself. I'll help you. I'm working on this, that I have to fix for myself, why don't you come along? I'll show you how it's done. You can help me."
That way you know, and you can take that, and you can run with it. Sit there, talk while you're doing working together, and tell them, "I'm trying to do this." Give them insight into how to make it better, when you're going. That's what that camaraderie, or friendship that you're developing, that's how you're supposed to pass it on. "I want to try this, but I don't know how it's going to look," or, "If you want to try it, you're a little younger than me. It might work better for a younger person." Everything's evolving. You still have the old style, that everyone wants to maintain, but it's evolving, it has to. We have to evolve with the times, but we still have to be spiritual, and mind our old rules.
Davis: What would be a good way to pass on those teachings, here, locally?
Bearstail: Show and tell, talk. Talk about it. Show them, sit around, have examples. There's a lot of things out there, that you can teach. Some are self-taught. Some stuff I say, "How do you do that?" You just get the smile, secret. "All right, I understand that." Then you get to know them, and they trust in you, they'll say, "I'll show you." Maybe that's how that one little thing gets passed on, the little trick of a certain trade. Some of the stuff, there's some work out there, that's very special. When you see it, you know it. Sometimes, they'll pass it on, sometimes, they won't. That's just how life goes, though.
Davis: What does that mean, something special?
Bearstail: Everybody has something special about them. There's dancers, singers, just something you're born with. That creator, God, whatever you call your higher power. We all pray to one person, whether you're Native, white, Christian, all our prayers are going up to God. He gives you a special thing, and when you figure out what it is, and you know what it is, and you're using it, people will see it, and they'll go, "Wow, you ever see that before? You ever hear that before? I've never seen anyone do that before." Then when they say your name with it, and someone meets you, and then they go, "Hey, you're that guy that can...," or, "You're that lady that can ...," or, "You're that little girl that does ...," or, "You're that little boy that can ...," and, "I heard." That's that little special gift everyone's born with.
Davis: Is that in regards to regalia, singing?
Bearstail: Anything in life. White society, Native society, blacks, anything in life, everyone has that little gift from the heavens, that only they possess. If everybody around that person feeds it, everyone gets to reap the benefits of seeing it, watching it, hearing it. It might be something they make, where you feel it, touch it. That's a healing power. Oh, you can do that. That's when people start talking, that forked tongue or whatever, talking bad, it's not good. No matter what it is, it should be praised. And if you praise it, you see what happens, it blooms. It grows, and you can watch that person, child, boy, girl, whatever it may be, get bigger. It's beautiful, when you can see something like that.
Davis: Talking about a lot of the spirituality, the culture. Now, we're going to kind of go back over this way, towards talking a little bit about some personal things, if you want to share. What are some of your major life challenges that you specifically had to go through, growing up, or as an adult? Whatever you want to share.
Bearstail: Growing up in Bismarck, long hair. Now, everybody has long hair, that's good. I wish everybody had long hair when I was growing up, because then, wouldn't be singled out. I was Indian, that's the way I was brought up. You ain't cutting your hair. That way, growing up in the city, you do get teased by whites, get it from Natives too, you get that "apple," red on the outside, white on the inside. That bugged me more than the white people, because the white people they can go "Woo, woo, woo, woo, woo," or whatever they want. That never bothered me, because it was like, "Oh, man, you guys have no idea what you're doing. You just look stupid." I'd laugh at them.
Bearstail: Yeah, and then I'd go start doing it too, with them. "I'm making fun of you guys trying to make fun of me. We don't do that, so who you making fun of? You're making fun of white people trying to be Indians on TV. So, you're making fun of yourself trying to be like us." That's how I looked at it. I never looked at it as, "Oh, man, you're making fun of me." I looked at it as, you're making fun of ...
Davis: You're making a fool of yourself.
Joseph: Yeah. "You're making fun of your own people, that are trying to make fun of us, but they're not, because we don't do that. We never did that."
Davis: So, the TV is to blame.
Bearstail: If people would look at it like that. Just because they're dressed like us, are they really dressed up like us, or did they copy something? Are they playing dress up? Do they know what it's like to sit in the stuff all day? They have no idea. Just brush it off. Some people have that one encounter, that can mess up their whole mindset on the white people. I had a lot of them, but I just said, "I was taught, treat people how you want to be treated." I can say sorry, and forget about it, and move on. Natives, same way. They say something about me, "Cool, you don't like it, bye."
Davis: Pretty easy going.
Bearstail: Yeah. It's not my fault you don't like what I'm doing. They ask me to do it, I do it. If I'm white on the inside, why do I have to go dance my butt off every weekend, so I can have my family eat and keep a roof over our head? I dance, I sing. I have my other ceremonial stuff I have to do, that I'm learning. I know about my culture, inside and out. I know how to hang with the white people in their society, too. I didn't really worry about either side. If they needed my help, white, Indian, black, purple, green, turquoise, whatever, I'd help. I want to learn, so if I'm ever in that community, I'm not sticking out like a sore thumb, just because of my looks. I can kind of blend in a little bit. It's just about being yourself, and being able to adapt to what's around you.
Davis: I think that's a really good perspective that we have to offer non-Native American people, is because we have to learn how to live in two worlds. Would you say that it's like that?
Bearstail: Yeah, you have to.
Davis: You have to shift.
Bearstail: Yeah, if you can't live in both worlds, then you're going to be miserable, a miserable person. I'd say go find a house in the middle of nowhere, and live on your own. If you can't switch gears, that's how I like thinking of it, from here, from the white society to the Native, it's going to be tough.
Davis: And when you say switch gears, what is it that's got to be switched?
Bearstail: As Natives, we joke around and we have this sense of humor that is always, "I can't take you anywhere. Come on, we're in public, there's white people."
Davis: It's more relaxed.
Bearstail: "There's white people around." Then, when you get there, "All right boys, got to get our goody goody on, so we don't get in trouble."
Davis: There's a fear of being judged?
Davis: They won't get you.
Bearstail: It's not really being judged, it's really about, at first look, what are they going to do? If they see your approach, "How you doing? What you doing?" If you're like them, being inquisitive, open, "Hey. Cute." Sometimes, you have to get your high pitch on.
Davis: Even the tone of your voice.
Davis: How you talk.
Bearstail: Even the way you hold yourself. It's about you growing up being yourself in either one of them. If they're not going to like you, they're not going to like you. That's fine, there's a lot of people out there that don't like me, and cool. If you don't like me, that's fine. I try not to hate anybody. That word "hate" is really a big word. That, "hate," "can't," "loser," those ones, I try not to use them in my vocabulary. If I don't want to do it, I'm not going to do it. It's not, "I can't. I can't do it." I'm unable to, I try to use a different word. Can't is overused, I think. There's a lot of words that are overused these days, that a lot of the reality TV stuff. People saying them, and they have no meaning. Making up new words with no meaning.
We do that as Natives, just to horse around, and we know they don't have no meaning, we just throw them out there, every now and then. And we'll go, "Oh, remember when that one came up, back in ..." But we know when and who said it, sometimes. It's kind of weird. I guess I kind of grew up a little old school, with a little new school, so I'm kind of in between. It's crazy, because now I see stuff, and they bring back some good stuff, and some not so good stuff. The world has a way of bringing things out.
Davis: It just keeps evolving. Time doesn't stop for anybody.
Bearstail: The white and the Native, and how to fit in. I lived on the East Coast for a while, so I was around a lot of blacks, and a lot of Asians, so we had the four colors. I asked, got to learn different types of black people.
Davis: It's not just black is black, or African-American is, so there's a lot to learn there, too.
Bearstail: Where'd you grow up? "Down south." And, "I'm from over in Jamaica." It's different. It's like Native-American, different tribes. It's just the same thing with black, different places where their roots come from. "What'd you learn? What were you taught? When I was growing up, when we were little, we had to do this. We had to take care of this." I met some black people, that they have stuff to take care of too. There was a story I heard a long time ago, about the whites, the blacks, the Asian people, and that Natives, we take care of Mother Earth, that's what we're supposed to do. Then there was one of them, I can't remember which one of them, took care of the water, and one of them took care of the air, and one of them took care of something else.
But there was a story, and I can't remember where I heard that story before, but it made sense to me. I keep thinking about it now, because the seasons are weird, the ice caps are melting, water's getting higher, water's not going to be good. This is where the paying attention part comes in. I wish I would have paid attention, at that moment in time, and remembered the story, because it made sense. At the time, I was thinking while they were talking, "Oh, yeah," and I was thinking about an event, and I caught a little bit of this.
Davis: Is it like a prophecy?
Bearstail: Yeah, it's something like that. The Natives had Mother Earth, one of them had water, one of them is supposed to take care of the air, and one of them is supposed to take care of something else, and I can't remember that fourth one. But the whites, the blacks, the Asians, and the Native-Americans, those four main, the colors of the people. Those four were supposed to take care of the four things, that were handed down to them, and that's what they were supposed to take care of, to keep the world in balance. I can't remember where I heard it, or who I heard it from, but it was a good story. Like I said, I wish I would have remembered, wrote it down. I was probably in a part of my time in life where I was out of balance myself, so I didn't remember. But it's a good story, and I cannot remember who told me it.
Davis: I think I remember hearing something like that now. Is there somebody that you know, you don't have to throw a name out there, but do you know somebody that might know that story, that might be willing to share that story?
Bearstail: Like I just said, I can't remember where I heard it, or who told me it. It might have been my dad, and he's gone. I know he might have been there, who knows, but it's something I wish I'd paid attention to now. Because now, I find myself, "Who's supposed to take care of this?" I know we have the earth, and right now, that's kind of out of whack, too.
Davis: A lot of the oil.
Bearstail: Oil, minerals, diamonds, gold. Air, who's supposed to take care of that? Water. I kept thinking, you know like we have medicine men, I wonder if these cultures have those people. Maybe those monks know something about it, way up in the mountains. Are they the ones with air? I kept trying to think it over. Is that why they're up there? Do they have the stuff they pray with, that they bring out at certain times? Every now and then, I'll think about that. I think, I wonder how it would be if all those people that had those rights, and had that medicine, if they got together and what would happen? If they could balance it out, or start having the people that their colors, their nations, slowly, if the world would balance back out.
Davis: We really need that today. It just feels scary today. From weather, climate, to epidemic of drugs, and all of these crazy things. If you find out, let me know. Make sure to get that story told.
Bearstail: I would say that should be somewhere in the education. "Hey look, way back when, this is what happened. This is what your forefathers were given." It should be taught.
Davis: Elementary, and high school.
Bearstail: It should be saying, look, this is what your culture, your people, the whites, the blacks, the Asians, Native-American. Natives, we pretty much know what we have to take care of, and we do. I see it. We're fighting for not doing that kind of stuff. Those people on those front lines, I applaud them. That's a lot of work, a lot of suffering, a lot of pain. Especially to be right there. Those guys, they went to school for that, they know all the ins and outs, and they need to be applauded for that. Those guys, I was like, "Yeah. Sure, they're your people. You don't joke around. Hey, I'm going to do that." That's just Natives, joking around. No hard feelings, but deep down they know. They're joking, because, I guess sometimes people joke because they wish, "I could be doing that, too." That's the part where you have to take yourself, put yourself behind and say, "How do I go about doing what you're doing?" That's when you get that handshake, sit down, "Tell me how I can help? How I can get involved.?"
Davis: It's humble.
Davis: That's humility, is what you're talking about. Instead of getting so prideful, and then that creates jealousy. That is so important. I'm glad you brought that up. That's a very good point.
Bearstail: People have to start doing. "Hey, tell me about it. How do I get involved? Even if I have to start at the bottom. I want to get up to where I'm like, this is where I'm helping you guys plan how this can work, without it erupting badly, or where the police." Where the government has to listen. Where they're not forced, but by law, they have to listen to you now. You get enough people to do that, then you're making them play their game, and they're forced to play. They're like, "Well, they did everything this way." That's when you see them scrambling, "We got to do this, this, this, so we don't have to do that." Now they're working extra hard, and you're still waiting for your answer, but they have to answer, because you played their game. That goes back to shifting gears.
You have to shift gears. You have to know that line, which side am I going to play today? Do I have to play this one a little bit more? As Natives, we protect, fight that's instilled. But sometimes, do I need to step back into my own footsteps. I'm not retreating, but they're not going to see me, if I step back into my own footsteps, and disappear for a little bit, and then come back through them again. Sometimes, it's not retreating, you're just saving yourself a little bit of time, and then, you're going to come back stronger. That's the road, sometimes, we have to take, to get what we want, or get accomplished, I should say.
Davis: It sounds like you're talking about discernment. The wisdom to discern that timing of being involved, how to be involved, the way you get involved. There's so much to it.
Bearstail: You have to also, if that's what you're going to do, then you're going to have to do your homework on the group you want to be with. Are they doing it the right way? Are they doing it the wrong way? Or are they being just kamikaze about it, and saying, "Let's do it?" You have to pick and choose. But there's also a lot of stepping back, and looking at the big picture before you go. Asking how I can help, but after you do that, you get a little bit on the inside, you have to look at the big picture for a little bit, and then still say, "Okay, I do want to help. They look like they're doing everything how I want, what I want to be a part of." It's a step forward, a step back, maybe two, but then go a little more. You always have to give yourself and let them know, "If I don't like what's going on, then I'm just going to step away, if I have to." You're letting them know, "Right now, you're what I want to be a part of."
Davis: I'm just looking at some of the questions here. We kind of went through a lot. Getting back to those challenges, where we left off, but talking more about how you overcame those challenges? I guess, more about being Native American, living in two worlds. How do you get through that? That resiliency part, how to be resilient?
Bearstail: I showed them.
Davis: You showed them?
Bearstail: I danced at schools with other Natives in town.
Bearstail: I showed them what I was about. I wasn't just wearing street clothes and long hair. I was, "This is what I did. I was a professional at doing this type of dancing in my culture. This is what I was brought up doing, dancing, singing. It was instilled in us." I showed them I could play ball, and run, and do other stuff too. My brother's a wrestler. But we still did our Native stuff, too.
Davis: You showed them both.
Bearstail: Yeah, both sides.
Davis: You could be just as good in basketball, and their kind of things, too.
Bearstail: On their aspect, too. Singing, I could sing Native, and I was in the Bismarck all-boy choir. I could sing Native, and then I could sing white, or whatever you want to call it. It was like playing both sides. I can do this my way, and I can do it your way, too. It wasn't just about living. I was living my life, and that's what it's come to these days, can you do this as Native, and can you do this, instead of just living. I was just living. Growing up, I just thought, this is how it is. Some white people didn't like me, fine. I don't know who you are, either. I got called some stuff playing basketball. I didn't let it bother me.
Davis: Where you got angry.
Bearstail: Yeah, I mean, I knew it was out there already. They said, "You might get this, you might get that. Be careful, you could get this." My uncle, and my dad, and friends of the family, that played, they showed me the dirty stuff, how not to get caught. Watch your back, always be careful, know your personnel, who you keep around you.
Davis: Support system.
Bearstail: I stayed with a white family, before I went basketball tournaments, because sometimes my mom and dad couldn't make it. They had some other stuff they had to do. I look around, see all the white kids, with their parents, it didn't bother me. I was like, well they're cheering, this is a team. They're cheering for the team. Sometimes, we'd go some places, with maybe a couple fans, and I used to just use the other team's cheers, and say, "All right, that's for us boys. Let's go get them." They'd look at me, "You're crazy." But it got their mind off of no one's here for us, just us.
Davis: So, always being optimistic. Using something.
Bearstail: Use something negative for a positive.
Davis: That's huge.
Bearstail: If they're going to be cheering, "Hey, you hear that?" If they score, we had a bad defensive play, hey, "Come on, they're cheering for us. Let's go. Let's go give them two, three. Let's go guys. Let's go." If someone messed up, "It's all right. We'll stop him on the next one." Go do something else.
Davis: That sounds like that has been your coping skill of how to get through. That's how you combated racism.
Bearstail: I did what I had to do to survive. It's survival of the fittest.
Davis: You can go negative, or you can go positive.
Bearstail: I got a bad temper. My parents kept it in check. And you know what, I thank them for that. I probably would have did a lot of stupid stuff. They taught, pray, forgiveness, all that. In reality, they made me be able to do this, live on both sides, and forgive, forget, move on. Pray for your enemies too. Sometimes you're, "Rrr," and someone will say, "Hey man, let's go do this." "Okay, let's go." Go try to take your mind off it, and not dwell on it. You never know, while you're there, someone could bring something up that just totally, you remember, you're like, "Oh, it's happy time. That's already gone now." Tomorrow's a new day. I did things, I don't know, people would call them weird, or whatever, but I just made sure I was happy. I just like to live happy.
Davis: So that's your ultimate goal. It's what kept you above water.
Bearstail: Yeah, it kept me floating, because there's times I could have went deep in, deep in. After high school, I did have some traumatic stuff, and I didn't know how to deal. I jumped in a bottle, and stayed there for a while. Went to the bottom of that.
Davis: That started at what age?
Bearstail: About when my dad passed away, 21, 20. I try to forget about it. I remember, but at the same time forget, and remember, and forget. I did therapy on it. I went to treatment a couple times, and I was always still thinking positive, but I had to forgive at some point, of what happened to my father. I did forgive, but now I have to forgive myself for all those years gone. They weren't wasted, but they're just gone. I took drinking to a level that I didn't think I could. If I was going to be good at it, I was going to be very good at it. I was a functioning alcoholic. I worked, made sure I did that. It's scary, though.
What I can't remember, I pretty much, like talking right now, is bringing up more and more things in my youth, just are popping in my head right now, that are going, "Oh yeah, I remember that." I moved out to the East Coast, I never really talked to anybody, except for my counselor. I kept to myself. I still keep to myself, I rarely let people in. But me getting asked to do this type of stuff is opening my mind back up to my happy times, good times with my family, because I see all the negative first now. Like, "If that was me, I know what I'd do right now. I'd go and get this, and get this, and go start partying. It'd be over in a couple weeks, because I know how long I can make this last."
Davis: The stinking thinking, is what they call that in treatment.
Bearstail: I just call it, I know how to kill a good time. Right now, I'm in a good place in my life, and I know how to end that very quickly. I can do it. After I'm done with this, I can go do it if I want, if I choose to. I know, I have nothing planned, but with today's social media and all that stuff, I can get something planned by one sentence, and it'd be on, especially on a Thursday. The BDA's going on right now, a lot of people in town. That's the easy part to get into. I have my youngest boy with me, and I have to take care of him, make sure he's all good. He has his karate later. I still do think, if I have an argument, or something, "Oh, I know what I'd do." But I won't say it, it'll be all in my head.
Going, "This is what I would do." Sometimes I still do that, too. But what I'm really doing is judging myself, if I was in their shoes. Maybe I'm preparing myself, just in case it happens. Running the scenario of someone else's argument in my head, going, "What if that happened to me, how would I handle it?" I do think different, I do things weird, but that's how I deal with things sometimes. I'll think it over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and find the best way. I don't make plans anymore, because if I make plans, and it doesn't work out, then I'm frustrated, and I don't like being frustrated. I'll sit there, and it'll just be going.
I'm doing something else, when I made plans to do this. I try not to make plans, only for my son, because then I have to do that. He's priority, he's coming first. He wants to start dancing now, I ain't pushing it at him, but he knows. We're practice, it's like this, "We practice. Okay, but those things." I said, "I can fix those. So we're just making sure, hold your arms up." I'm slowly teaching him, but he's advancing faster than I thought, so now I got to keep up. It's a lot.
Davis: It's a commitment.
Bearstail: Yeah. I want to not teach him to be like me, I want him to be better than me. I'm going to give him a little bit of what I can, but I want him to evolve it. It's all about the evolution of things, but at the same time, have the grounded part about it. The part that says, if you're good at something, be good, but at the same time, be humble with it. Teach it. Be that type of person that can hand it out for free, help give that gift to someone else. Everyone has bills. If they're going to offer you, "I can give you this," say, "Okay." I'm fine with that. Then go from there. But if you're going to get paid for something, do it 150% better. Don't do, pardon my French, but half-assed work. Give it your all. If you're going to teach someone, teach them like it was your own, like you're teaching your own child, or your own brother, your own sister, if they're the same age.
Davis: You're speaking about, that's generosity.
Bearstail: Yeah, everything.
Davis: When you give generously.
Bearstail: Yeah, don't just do it.
Davis: Don't worry about the price all the time, so much.
Davis: It's more heartfelt.
Bearstail: It's the gift you're given, so give it back. If you do get help. It's about being a good person overall.
Davis: You know that when I think about being a good person, I can speak to some things that I felt, when I used alcohol, and my addiction, and the progressive stage that it got to. Outside looking in, a person would judge me by the usage, and the behavior, and it's not pretty. But that whole time, in the inside, what no one can see, might be a really good person. I think that's how Native American people are, very good people, who lose themselves in alcohol, or drugs. They're not bad people. The crime isn't malicious. There's nothing being done that's malicious. It's very rare. Not to say that there is no Native Americans that ...
That's why when you say "being a good person," I can relate to that, because the whole time, I always felt that I was a good person, and I see that with Native Americans, you know, you don't have to be afraid of them. You know they're naturally, by nature, they're good people, and that's across from tribe to tribe. We don't have to be afraid of one another, and you just kind of know that. But at the same time, they might get a DUI, or they might go through some of the consequences of making bad choices.
Bearstail: Yeah. Like I said, that just goes with, when they're younger, how did you deal with your first really bad mishap with anything? Or how did people around you deal with it? What did you see?
Davis: Coping skills, then.
Bearstail: Is it learned coping behavior, or does it go back to your DNA? Is it in there, your genome? It could be. There's still research out on that yet. That's how I think, because my coping was don't cry, but then again, my dad was the only boy, he had four sisters, so it was my mom, my grandma, my great-grandma, four aunties, and my grandpa Saunders sometimes. He was an alcoholic too, so he was in and out of the picture. That's why I can argue good, I was around women all the time, so I can give back. I know how to state my point. How you are around older people. I had that motherly protection all the time. No matter where I was, it was there, from my aunts, my grandma ...