All text and audio copyright, 2015 by the Native American Development Center ©
Randi Hart: My name is Randi Lee Hart. My Indian name is Strong Eagle Woman, and I didn't get that until a couple of years ago. Other than that I grew up my whole life without one, and I knew a lot of my friends back home had one, but it was a good day when I got one because all my children got their name at the same time. My mom did that for us, which was really, really nice and we appreciated that. I'm from the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. I grew up in Mandaree. I think I was in kindergarten or first grade. Those are some of my first memories.
Growing up there, I remember hardly seeing my mom. Even though I look back on it now, it's just a small town, I just remember a lot of times it was just us kids, and we just raised hell and we kind of did whatever we did when we weren't in school. A lot of time on our own. It was a lot of outside ... And we didn't play inside because that's where the adults stayed and we were always, "Oh, outside." I can remember playing outside in like three feet of snow, we'd still be outside.
Living there, when she was home, we would go to the lake and stuff like that, but there was a lot of ... She was gone because she was out partying, she was out doing what she wanted to do, and in that kind of environment it's easy to get stuck in. You even hear about people my age, to this day, saying, "When I go back home, that's all I get stuck in is partying and drinking and I can't get out of it, so that's why I need to leave the Res." [00:02:00] And we did. We moved to Williston, and I remember that was the first time I realized that I was different. A kid had told me, "Why is your skin that color?" Me and my brothers were probably like one of the few Indian kids in Williston at the time. I mean there's others, but when you're in the classroom by yourself and you're the only one, it's so noticeable.
Lorraine Davis: I just want to interject asking, how old were you then when you went to Williston?
Hart: I want to say I was in third grade about then, maybe younger, maybe second, but that was one of those that I will never forget, hearing somebody ask me that. My mom didn't really prepare us for that. We'd lived on the Res up until that point, and coming off, we kind of had to grow up. We would go back home and ask her about stuff like that. By then, she was working all of the time. She was a CNA, so she was gone a lot, but she was working. Then, her life kind of changed because she went through some things, so she wasn't going out as much, but she was working. It was still kind of us kids, and we were older then. For us, going to Williston and living in an apartment was hard because we lived in a house, and to be able to go outside was everyday thing, but in an apartment it was kind of like you have to go the park. You couldn't just go outside. The neighborhood we lived in was a little bit different, but it was something that we eventually kind of got used to, because then we moved a lot when we were kids.
We moved to Trenton, which also is like a sub-Reservation [00:04:00], and that was ... Even there, even though that's a sub-Reservation and a lot of the people that live in that area were from Belcourt, I still got questions like, "Are you full-blooded Indian?" Because we looked different from them. It was something that, by then we were older, so we knew what we were. My mom had always told us, "If anybody asks you what you are, you tell them what you are." I'm Northern Cheyenne and Hidatsa. My dad's from Lame Deer, and my mom's from Fort Berthold. That was something that she'd always told us to know and be proud of when we were young. That wasn't a problem, but just having people asking sometimes was like, "I'm not asking you, why are you asking me?"
By that age we would go to powwows, but none of us danced, and it was something I'd always wanted to do. We would still go and people would be like, "Where are you going? Why do you go?" At the time it was just fun, because you'd have to stay in a hotel room, see other people again, and it was a way to see some of your old friends. By then, in our Trenton years, I was growing ... I think I was like 12 or 13 by then, and my mom had my youngest brother, so he was the baby. That area was another area where we kind of get left on our own because she worked in Williston. It was kind of an area that was 20 miles away from Williston, so when she was gone she was gone into another town [00:06:00]. I'd watch my brother a lot. For a long time I kept thinking, "I don't want to this. Why do I have to do this?"
Davis: How old were you?
Hart: I think I was about 13 at that time. I had to watch him a lot overnights. I couldn't go anywhere, I couldn't go see my friends, I couldn't ... Because I had to stay home with him.
Davis: How old is your brother?
Hart: At the time he was about 3. He was still in Pampers. He was between Pampers and between potty-training, because I remember there was a few times when she started saying, "You need to watch him." Because I remember a few times he would have accidents and I would be like, "Why do I have to deal with this?"
I have an older brother and an older sister. My older sister left our family when we were still in Mandaree, so when I was still a kid. I remember the night she left, and she told me she was leaving, and that was that. We didn't see her again until we were older, probably like 14 or 15. She went to foster care. She grew up in Grand Forks. My older brother, he also left, and he went to ... My grandma's in Parshall, so he stayed there. He would come back every once in a while, but we still kept in touch. Then when I got to the age where I felt like I had to care of everything, where I had to do everything ... It was hard, because we were-
Hart: I have an older sister who, [00:08:00] I believe she's 42, just had a birthday this month. My older brother, who I believe is 36 ... And I'm the middle, so I'm 32. Then I have two younger brothers, whose ... My brother behind me is 30, and then my youngest brother is 24 or 23 I believe. Being in the middle, what happened in our family ... It felt like my sister had to watch all of us, and then she got tired of it so she left. And then it fell to my brother's shoulders, and then he didn't like it and he left. When it came to me, and me having to stay home ... Because it felt like my brother that was right behind, he didn't have to ... He could still go do whatever and be wherever he wanted to be. So when it came to me having to watch my younger brothers, at that time in my life I really felt like, "Why can't I do anything? I can't go anywhere. I have to come home right after school, help with him, make sure he's okay." This wasn't just a couple of hours, this was like all night-and-day kind of stuff. That's where I got to the point where I was, "I'm tired of this and I don't want to do this anymore." That's where me and my mom really start butting heads.
By the time we were ready to move to Watford City, [00:10:00] I didn't go with. I stayed with my grandma, who lived in Trenton at the time, and they went to Watford City. I stayed there because I was working at a summer youth program that summer, which was really nice. It was fun. It was fun to not have to watch somebody else, and I always told myself, "Well I'm going to grow up and I'm not going to have kids until way there," just because I felt like that at the time. So I worked that summer, and then by the time I went back to my mom's in Watford City I just felt the same way. I didn't want to be there anymore. At the time, it was really hard for me to talk to my mom about anything, because we always felt like ... Well I always felt like she wasn't there anyways, so to say anything to her would have probably been useless. That's how I felt back then. I just felt like she didn't listen, because it was always ... She always kind of gave me the attitude, "Well you don't know what I'm going through." So instead of being able to talk to each other, we just kind of ended up being ... Not talking, and then when things would happen, it would always a problem.
I didn't feel like I was a bad kid. I mean, I went to school, I got good grades, I tried to play sports, but a lot of the times we just didn't have the money. We didn't have money to buy equipment. We didn't have money to pay for the stuff for trips and what not, stuff like that. It just didn't seem worth the effort, because it always like, "Well, can you help me out?" ... One of my friends, you know? [00:12:00] We got into it one time, and that's how I ended up in foster care.
I don't remember where I went, but that wasn't our first time in foster care. We had gone when we were kids one time, because of some things that had happened. Being in that place ... it was a non-Native family. They were nice enough, but at the same time they had a kid who was a little bit younger than us. I think we were about 9. It was me and my brother. He was just kind of rude to us. He made his comments behind his parents' back, like, "Why are you guys here? You guys shouldn't be here." It's hard to tell somebody who you don't even know, "Why is he talking to me like that?" And I had long hair ... One of the foster ladies, one of her friends, always wanted to braid my hair. At the time it didn't bother me, and it doesn't bother me now, but it was just kind of weird. "Why do you want to braid my hair?"
When I was older, and when I went to foster care, I had a choice of going back or going somewhere else. I chose not to go back. I said, "I can't deal with that anymore. I don't want to go back." I had just gotten my license, so I was 16. I decided I didn't want to go back into my mom's home. Well, they said, "Where can you go?" And I had [00:14:00] been to my grandma's for one summer, my other grandma on my dad's side. I had been over there, and I asked if I could go over there, and my dad was actually living in Parshall at the time, so he said I could go over there with him, so I did. His step-wife was not ... She was so against it. She didn't like me over there at all. She was really rude.
My dad, like he tried. He tried to make sure I had everything. If I wanted anything, he was like, "Let me know." But when I told him, "She's being really mean to me." Because this one morning I got up and I had cereal, and there was ... It was a [inaudible 00:14:58] box of cereal, and I poured it and there's bugs in there, and I told her, I was like, "There's bugs in here. I'm just going to throw it away, okay?" And she got really mad like I purposely put a bug in there, like it was my fault. She made a cake one time, and I didn't want any because I just don't like frosting, and she got mad because she's like, "I made this for everybody." It was really dumb. I was just like, "I just don't like frosting. I don't want to eat it." She just would say ... You know, you can get that feeling. Especially when you're living in somebody else's home, and it's not your own home, there's always that weird, uneasy feeling whether they're going to invite you in, or they're going to be rude or watch you like a hawk.
Like I said, [00:16:00] I went to school. I didn't have any problems with school. I moved around a lot, so meeting new people was okay with me. It wasn't scary. It wasn't weird. Then going back to Parshall was kind of like going back to the Res, so it was back into a familiar group. I didn't have that weirdness outside of school, I had the weirdness at home. That didn't last. I didn't stay there very long. I came to Bismarck ... We originally lived in Mandan with my auntie, who's my dad's sister. She'd always been somebody who I could look up to. She was always a good person in my eyes. She's strict. She's no nonsense, straight to the point, and forward, but to me that was better than somebody who didn't like you and acted like they liked you. From her, I never got that. I always felt like it was okay to be there. It was okay to be around her.
When we moved to Mandan, I had to adjust to her and her kids, because she had little kids, but it was different because they weren't my responsibility and I could do stuff. I could go see my friends. I could go hangout. But I had boundaries and I had limits, and that was new. Because like I said, we grew up in a home where my mom wasn't there. So going somewhere that I had to be this [00:18:00] ... At a certain time, do this. [inaudible 00:18:02] my, you know, are you doing what're you're supposed to be doing? Are you doing what you're saying you're doing? That was new, and that was a different lifestyle, like, "Yeah I am," and "Yeah, I can show you I'm uncomfortable. You know, that's fine. You can ask me. That's okay." At that time it worked out fine, but I would say that the only that got in the way was my own dumb teenage-ness. At that time I started to think, because I was like 16, 17 ... I started to think, "Well I've been doing everything on my own. Why do I need anybody else?"
And so I ended up not staying with her, and I went to Charles Hall for a couple months. And that was the ultimate strictness. That's the first time I've ever seen somebody come behind and check with a white glove to see if I had cleaned. That's where I learned about your daily chores, your duties, and your responsibilities, and how even though you're not ... How your freedom can be so restricted. You had to earn everything. You had to earn everything. To do anything you had to earn it. I was working at McDonald's in Bismarck here at the time, and even when I got paid I couldn't just walk out and buy myself anything, because I didn't have the privilege to do anything. The person that sent me over to Charles Hall was my mom [00:20:00], because I still didn't want to go back home. Up until then, I went to Charles Hall. Then, when I became a junior in high school, I was still working. To me, that was just ... That's what you need to do in life is work and you'll be fine. You'll have your own money. You can pay your own way. And so I moved in with a friend. So I was out of Charles and I moved in with a friend thinking that's all I needed to do was just work and be okay, but I didn't have none of the real guidance of what can go on.
It sounds dumb, but I didn't have nobody talk to me about ... Boys, nothing. My mom never talked to me about ... Nobody that ever went to foster never talked to me about that, about drinking, about smoking, none of that stuff. I never had simple talks like that with anybody and about my future. Nothing. Nothing like that. When I lived with my friend I finished my junior year, and that summer I got pregnant, and so I went into my senior year of high school pregnant. That's when I just decided that I needed to finish, that's my goal this year. I need to finish school. I need to graduate. I remember telling my mom and she asked me, "What are you going to do?" And I said, "You know, I'm going to graduate. I'm going to keep the baby," and I said, "I'm going to go to college." She said, "Okay."
[00:22:00] So I went to BHS, and in my senior year I was ... I moved out of living with a friend, and I moved in with another friend here in town. She lived at home with her parents and she was also a senior. When I moved in with them I really didn't see her, because she was a senior. I slept all day and I was pregnant ... She was gone. But I really do appreciate her family for helping me out. And I did finish. I finished that December. I took full-day course just to finish because I had my daughter in April. When I came back for graduation in May, so I walk through ... I put in all my stuff for college and nobody helped me, and I just went to school and like, "What do I do?" It was in Williston, because by that time after I had my daughter, I moved back home with my mom. That was probably the first time I lived with her since I left when I was 16, so I was 18. I was 18 at the time.
I got an per cap. Our year was the last year to get a per cap, and I wish somebody had talked to me about money and how to things, but nobody did, and that was the first time I'd seen my mom in a long time so I just spent it on us and really have nothing left from it, but I wish would've did something better with it. So I was back at home with my mom, and she really put in an effort. She didn't go anywhere. She stayed home all the time. She made sure I ate right. [00:24:00] She really tried hard, and I just remember that time period being one of the first times ever that I was like, "Why weren't you like this before?" But it was a good time. It was a really, really good time.
So I went ... I had my daughter, and I didn't go anywhere. I didn't do anything. I did go to college. I went to college. My first year at Williston State I filled out all of the paperwork, turned in everything I needed to turn in, pretty much on my own because I didn't know anybody else that went to college or who to turn to to help me as to what to do. I just figured everything out, and I went back home and asked them, "How do I get help for college?" And they showed me how to do everything over there too so I had good funding. That first year, with my daughter and in college, it was a little bit of a struggle with just trying to make I got to class and make sure she was okay. My mom did help out that first year. The next year I decided to come back to Bismarck and ... My daughter stayed with my mom for like the first semester and then she came up here with me. I graduated in criminal justice with an associate's, just a two year, and I thought, "Well, at least I have a degree now. Now, a degree means you can get better pay. It means you can have doors open faster for you."
[00:26:00] I actually graduated college, and I got married that year, not to my daughter's dad, to somebody else. We got married and we moved to Williston, and I worked with their northwest youth correctional center. It's not actually like a jail, it's more like a holding place. The reason I wanted to work in a place like that was because I felt like I could understand kids going through there. I could relate to kids being in an area, or being placed in someplace, where they didn't know ... Or they had to be there, because nobody was home for them. We've got kids like that. Nobody was home for them, so there was no place to put them but with us.
There are kids that ... There was kids that were there cause they were genuinely in trouble, but a lot of times, when I think about it, it's just that a lot of kids just don't have somebody talking to them, or listening to them, or hearing them, or paying any attention to them. I really felt like that was the line of work I really wanted to do and I could relate, but yet still do a good job so that hopefully any advice or anything that I said to them mattered and made a difference in them later on, because sometimes we have the same kids over and over, and you get to know them and they're ... No kid is really a bad kid, but ... There is some, but a lot of times it just comes down to that simple, like, they just want somebody to be there for them. I worked there for about a year.
Then I went to New Town where the new justice center was opening up [00:28:00] and I worked with the kids in there for almost four years. We didn't have kids the first year, so I worked with adults. I would say that in a lot of the situations it was very similar for the kids and adults. They just felt like they were lost and they didn't have anybody. They didn't hit that turning point where you realize that you're responsible for yourself, and no matter what you went through, at a certain age you can change it. You can make things better for yourself. You can be a better person. You can be a better person to somebody else or for somebody else. And that was a thing that I learned within myself, from everything that I went through.
I don't blame anybody. For a long time, I honestly felt like, "Why did you be like that mom?" But I got over it one day. We did have fights, we had arguments. Not physical, but just arguments. But one day I just got over it and said, "You did the best you could do. I'm here and I have a child of my own now and I'm going to be the best I can be for her, and you're going to be the best grandma you can be for her, okay? That means you can't drink around her. You can't be doing stupid things around her. You can't be bringing crazy people into her life." I really had to tell her that, because there was a few times where it was like that and I would get so mad, like, "You can't be doing those kind of things around your grand-kid. You can't be doing that."
[00:30:00] She really now is somebody that I appreciate and I love, and I know she's doing the best she can for us kids and her grand-kids. I've seen a big change in the way she is as a person, and it helped me to know that I could set my own boundaries with her, and to know that I can make sure my kids' lives are not the same way that I grew up, or surrounded by the things that I grew up with. Just being able to say it to her, and just being able to put those boundaries out there, was probably one of the best things we did for each other, because it helped her, it did.
As my brothers grew up ... My oldest brother, he's really helpful. He doesn't have any kids of his own, but he's the best uncle. My other brothers will do anything for my kids. That's the way that it should be in my eyes. We shouldn't bringing bad things around each other. We shouldn't be influencing each other to be some kind of way at any kind of family gatherings. Our gatherings ... I always bring the kids, so there's no drinking, there's no after party, there's no, "All right, we're going to do this and then we're going to go out." No, it's like, we don't need to be like that. We can still have family fun, and that's it, and be happy.
[00:32:00] My older sister though, she ended up doing drugs and she just never came back into the fold. Any time we did see, or have any connection with her, it was always not a good experience, so we just kind of ... We know where she is and stuff like that, we hear, once in a while, but she's just not somebody who is part of our lives right now. I think she likes to keep it that way, and we're not pressing to make a change because when people are on drugs it's really hard to get them to see anything besides their own point of view.
When I went to work in New town, I worked with adults, and then I worked with kids. That was really hard. The kids in there were there because they were just purely in trouble. It wasn't like Williston. That will seriously test your patience and your awareness ... How easily they think they can get away with things. From that, I learned that no matter how bad off they are, or what they did, they still wanted the same things, because in the end ... On their worst days that's all they said was, "I just want to go home." That was pretty hard to see them like that, because we had some that were there for a while.
[00:34:00] The reason I left there was because I had my next daughter. My oldest was five by then, and then I had another daughter. It just became too much to go back to work and have her, because at the time I was still married. At the time, he was at that point where ... This is when I started to realize that him and his drinking ways weren't going to stop. It was kind of all right to deal with it, because at the time we just had one child and she was older. She would go to grandma's house when I was at work. But when we had a daughter together I really started to see that this isn't just a thing, this is a problem. I was stupid and naïve to think that it would quit, but it just didn't quit. So I stopped working, and I was like, "I'm not going to work. I really need you to step up." Because he wasn't working. He was working part-time, but nothing serious. So he went to work full-time and I stayed at home.
Around that time, that's when the oil stuff started happening. It wasn't a big change at first, it was a subtle change. We lived in Watford City. The rent started going up. There was more and more people coming into town, so we moved to Bismarck. That's when I moved to Bismarck. [00:36:00] Just before we moved I had my other daughter, so that was like two years later I had my other daughter. We came here and I worked at a restaurant for a while, and he worked construction and stuff. It just became ... Where his drinking would be like ... He would get paid, and then we wouldn't see him until Monday. I became ... I didn't like the person that I was becoming because I couldn't depend on him and it felt like I had to constantly keep track of him, and it was like, "Why am I doing this? This is not what this is about. This is not how marriage should be."
We got divorced in 2010, but I'd been trying to get divorced for almost ... I think it was almost a year I'd been trying to get divorced. We had one more child. We had a son together. When we got divorced he would not admit that his drinking was the problem. It was just refusal to admit that that could cause this much trouble. He had told me, "The only way I'll pay child support is if you take me to court." He wanted my car, so he wanted to leave me and the kids car-less. At that time, [00:38:00] he was working on the rigs. By then he was working on the rigs, so he was making decent money, and I was like, "Why can't you just buy yourself a car?" I was like, "All right. Well, sign the papers and you can have my car." So I did, and he signed the papers, he gave me the divorce, and I gave him the car. In divorce, if he's working and was making decent money, that meant that I was going to get child support, so for me that was fine. He didn't see it that way. I don't know what he was thinking.
I got divorced and he had to pay a nice amount of child support because he was working and making decent money. I was able to get a new car. With the support of my family, my mom and my brothers, everything worked out fine. There was a period where I was like, "What the heck? I thought I was doing everything better. I thought I had grown and made some better choices." And I was asking him ... In my mind, if I asked you not to drink, if I asked you or recommended or told you how I felt, and I asked you that it would stop ... But it didn't. It didn't stop. And that reality came when I was divorced and I had four children. I was like, "What am I going to do?"
There was, I would say about a good six months, of ... I don't even know ... I don't even remember, probably the first year-and-a-half, because I had two [00:40:00] children on Pampers waking up all of the time, and I honest-to-God cannot remember a lot of that time period. I don't even remember what I did. But I know we only made it because we were getting child support, but at the time ... Anything else, I'm just like, "I don't remember a lot of that time," because I was so tired all of the time from taking care of them and from dealing and accepting what was going on. I can say that I almost wanted to give up and let it be like how I grew up, and I start to see myself go that way ... And I just didn't want it to be like that for my kids. I didn't want to be the parent that was gone. I didn't want them to grow up thinking that, or having memories of like, "She wasn't there. We don't remember her. We were just at home. We got left."
I decided I needed to do something, something to do. Make sure that I kept them close and they knew that I was going to be there for them ... Something that we could all do. So I started powwowing. I stopped hanging out with the people I was hanging out with. I started making our stuff. I learned a long time ago how to make things. I learned from my auntie, who [00:42:00] I looked up to. She had shown me stuff, and whenever I was at her home she was always working on something. She showed me how to sew. She showed me how to bead. She took us to powwows, so I knew what it was about.
So I started working on things, and one day a friend showed me this dress and she's like, "Do you want to dance?" And she's like, "This is for sale." I was like, "Really?" I asked my mom, I said, "Mom, I really want to dance, like me and the kids." I said, "Can you help me buy this?" And she did. She bought me a dress, and it came with everything, and that changed our family for the better. I know it's something small and I could've did all kinds of other things, but it changed us for the better. We powwowed every weekend that first summer, just being out there with those guys. Just us. No TV, no phones ... A lot of the places you go don't have service. Just hearing those guys ... Hearing the kids talk, have fun being outside, laughing, talking amongst themselves, driving somewhere, and being there grilling, I knew that's where I needed to make sure we were at. Not anywhere else. Not doing anything else. Just that good feeling.
[00:44:00] With that, I put everything I have into being with them, being around them. You know, my kids ask me, "What do you do?" And I'm like, "I do a lot. You don't know." But you know, it's been ... This will be our fourth year, and I'm happy with it. It's kept me close to them. It's kept them close to me. It keeps us still ... That togetherness, instead of feeling like I need be somewhere else. It's just a choice. It's a choice. I feel like everybody has that choice, and you grow and you get to that certain point, whether you're ... It doesn't matter what age, but you just get to a certain point, and you realize that this is my life and I can make changes. I can make things better. I can be better for myself, and if you've got kids you can especially be better for your kids.