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Native American Stories of Resilience

Anita Charging


All text and audio copyright, 2015 by the Native American Development Center ©

Anita Charging:  My name is Anita Charging. My native name is Blossoming Peppermint, […]. I am tribal enrolled with the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara nation. I have lived in Mandan for about the last 33 years, Bismarck- Mandan area. I'm divorced and I have three children. My oldest is Nathan, he's 34. My daughter Brianna is 27, and my youngest daughter Larissa is 19. I have two grandchildren.

                        My educational status is, I have a bachelor's degree in social work from - at that time it was Mary College. And I have a Masters' degree in management from the University of Mary. Currently, I work at United Tribes as an academic and personal counselor. As of this month, though, April, I am celebrating being a social worker for 30 years. So I've held many different job titles for almost 30 years.

Lorraine Davis: That's a long time. That's great. And you said the bachelor degree was in social work?

Anita Charging: Yes.

Davis:              Okay. That sounds great. Anita, you said that you lived in Mandan for the last 33 years. Prior to that, where did you grow up as a child?

Anita Charging: I grew up in White Shield, North Dakota, which is on Fort Berthold. Graduated from White Shield. I was a little res-girl growing up.

Davis:              And so did you grow up in the country or were you right in the reservation? Like in the housing area?

Anita Charging: I grew up in BIA housing right in White Shield. I lived right across from the school.

Davis:              And it's the same school that's there today?

Anita Charging:  Yes. Although we are getting a new school. White Shield's been around since about 1953-54, and it's been the same school so they are getting a new one.

Davis:              And they have a community center there now too.

Anita Charging: They have a community center; they're getting a new one. There's a lot of -

Davis:              Lot of activity going on -

Anita Charging: Yeah, lot of building activity going on.

Davis:              Okay good. And so share with us a little bit what it was like being a child growing up in White Shield.

Anita Charging: I had a really, pretty good childhood when you compare to what a lot of kids on the reservation grew up with. Both of my parents were not alcoholic. I remember my dad having a beer now and then but I never saw him drunk. My mother never drank. I can't really say anything bad about my childhood. We did all the normal things. I used to dance when I was little. I would hold my great grandpa – Jo Packino's hand and he would dance with me around - what at that time was the big top. It was in the bowery. It wasn't all the razzle-dazzle you see in powwows now. It was more sedate.

                        I went to school. I loved my summers. I looked forward to the Book Mobile coming. Outdoor camps. Campfires. My grandparents were still alive in Twin Buttes, and my grandpa could sing at the drums.  So, we would go to a powwow, mostly the ones just on the reservation, Newtown, Twin Buttes, Mandaree. We would go with them because my grandparents would be camping.

                        Summer was the most fun time because you just left the house in the morning and only really came back to eat and then at night. School was – I was a pretty good student, so nothing really much with school studies. Was in activities. I think my best memory is the year I was a senior - the year before they had reorganized girls’ basketball. In the fall of 74 was the first reorganized girls’ basketball tournament in years, and White Shield made it to state that year.

Davis:              Are you serious?

Anita Charging: Yeah, I was a senior on the team and one of the starters so it was huge. And that's probably my biggest and best memory from high school was going to the state basketball tournament.

Davis:              Was that for boys too? They had boys’ basketball?

Anita Charging: Oh yeah. Boys had always been going on. Girls, years ago, had been organized but then it kind of fizzled out. It was just starting to come back to be organized about the time I was ready to leave high school but I did make that last - yeah.

Davis:              So good childhood over all. Good memories.

Anita Charging: Yeah. Pretty good memories.

Davis:              Because personally myself and then other people that I know who grew up on the reservation, they don't always have such a good life growing up. Whether it's something they were exposed to by their parents or they brought in themselves, into their own family. So that's good.

                        So as you graduate and you start making some adult decisions about what's next. Can you start sharing with that?

Anita Charging: Well, when I graduated I went to school at NDSU for a year. Did not make very good decisions. I think one thing my parents probably could've done better for us was to let us be more independent with our decisions, but they kind of hovered over us. I didn't know how to use all that responsibility I had when I got to college. At the time, it was only 18 to drink in Minnesota. That was the legal drinking age back then. So we had a good time going across the border.

                        It was on quarter systems, not semesters. I made two quarters. I flunked out the third. Not the best decisions. I think one of the worst memories I have at NDSU were two. One, I came off a little reservation school - there was only 13 in my graduating class. And I went into a freshman class as NDSU that I was just a number. I wasn't prepared for that. The other thing was, there was a boy who kind of took shine to me there. He was not native and had friends. One of his friends seriously opposed him seeing a native girl. For the first time in my life I was called a squaw.

Davis:              This was in college?

Anita Charging: Yeah in college, my first year I was 18 years old. And at the time it just blew me away. With all my life experiences now, I just would've went at him double barreled snout. Back then I just was pretty naïve and it just blew me away to be called that.

Davis:              What was your response to that? If you've never prepared yourself prior to this, you couldn't have possibly planned a response. So what was your response?

Anita Charging: He took the chicken's way out and called me at my dorm room and did that. Didn't say who he was but I could just tell from the way he treated me when I was around them, who it was.

                        I guess I don't really remember my response. I just was -

Davis:              Infuriated.

Anita Charging: Yeah. And like I said, just taken aback. I just was speechless. I went to a school when it was still a district school and non-natives came to school. It's a BIA school now but it wasn't back then and there were white kids and Indian kids and we all got along. So I'd never had to experience any of that. For a while it kind of scarred me.

Davis:              First time.

Anita Charging: Yup. My first taste of racism was when I went to college.

Davis:              So you make it two quarters - two full quarters. And then flunk out on the third quarter. Then where did your journey go from there?

Anita Charging: I called up my mom and dad and I was crying "come get me." My parents were pretty understanding about it. Although we kind of knew in our family that education - it was either you work or you go to school and it was more understood you go to school, a little bit more. And I do come from a family that, all of my siblings except one have graduated from college. I am the only one with a masters' degree, but my mother holds two masters' degrees. My sister is a teacher up in Belcourt, a special ed teacher. My aunt before she passed away was the Deputy Director of Elementary Education for the state.

Davis:              Okay.

Anita Charging: So I come from a line of teachers but I'm a social worker. I did come back and I figured, well I'm not in school so it's work. So I did get my first job at United Tribes. I've actually worked at United Tribes three different times. This was my first one, but it was the one I think...my first career choice was - I love to write, I've always loved to write. When I was in NDSU my major was communications and journalism. My first job at United Tribes, they put me in the office of the OPI. Office of Public Information. Under the great Harriet Sky who was my boss and I learned so much from her. I learned how to write stories and edit them. I learned how to take pictures. We had a developing room back there. I would get all the newspapers and cut out articles. What I did with those articles - Harriet eventually trusted me enough, because this was when she doing Indian Country today on KFYR.

                        We also had a five minute Indian new radio spot on KBMR. She eventually trusted me enough to write my own copy. I'd go down on Friday afternoons and I'd record the five minute news spot and they'd play it Sunday mornings. I was in my element when I was working there. I took pictures of the powwow winners.

                        At that time we put out the United Tribes News, and there was really no place they contracted in Bismarck to print it. So I would take everything and drive to New Salem to drop off the printing. I really enjoyed it. The only reason I left that job was because the funding for my position ran out. So they moved me over to security dispatch. Which was another - because I grew up pretty sheltered - my folks didn't let drunks come around or anything like that. When I was in dispatch the things I saw - you grew up real fast.

                        And I would go to school and I quit and I would go to school for a little bit up at Mary. It actually took me ten years to get my four year degree. I think the reason that I actually dove in and finished was because I had a son. And it was do or die time. You've got to figure this out and get it done. I chose social work, just because at the time he was little and I was getting caught up in the welfare system and not being treated very well. I thought, well, if I can be a social worker and make a difference and not treat people the way I have been treated. They looked down on you for servicing you.

Davis:              The workers themselves.

Anita Charging:  The workers themselves yes. That's why I changed. It must have been God's calling that I help people in that way rather than through the written word like I wanted to go.

Davis:              Okay. Interesting.

Anita Charging: And now I've been doing it for 30 years.

Davis:              Goodness. That's so interesting to me because when somebody feels called to do something. What were some clues? It's kind of like frustration and anger.

Anita Charging: And people also used to say to me, "You're such a good listener."

Davis:              Oh, really?

Anita Charging: Yeah. You're such a good listener. So, I don't know. I think part of it too was, before I had my son, I did get into a relationship with someone from back home. It lasted almost five years and the two and a half years into it were pretty good. And then I decided to move home so I could be closer to him and it's like he changed from day to night. He became possessive. I think from a distance he couldn't control me but once I moved home. Then, for about the next two years it was, kind of, hell. I went through a domestic violent relationship.

                        Growing up and as sheltered as I was it almost made me crazy in a way. I was taking it. I was hiding it from my mom and dad because my dad would've killed him. My dad never touched my mother. He just believed you did not hit women. So I spent my time trying to hide I was being abused.

                        And then my son was born into it and that's when I decided I was going to move back to Bismarck. And maybe I did it subconsciously to get that distance again. But we did eventually, under duress, kind of break up. That, I think, played a huge part in my deciding to go for a social work degree too. Because again it was helping people with what I had been through.

Davis:              So you go back to school then at this point. So, you went five years.

Anita Charging: Yeah.

Davis:              I mean that relationship was about five years.

Anita Charging: Oh, the relationship was about five years, yeah.

Davis:              So, at the end of the five years then it separated you. You left.

Anita Charging: Yeah.

Davis:              That's a hard thing to do. It's almost like an addiction itself.

Anita Charging: You know what - and here's the part with me anyway in this abusive relationship - it's as long as it was just him and I, I was taking it. But then my son got to be about a year, year and a half and I saw it affected him. He had come down to stay for the week with us in my apartment and he started accusing me of things. And we got into the parking lot, down at Kirkwood, and he's screaming at me. My son is starting to cry and reach for him. He gets out and slams the door and almost slams the door on my son's fingers. And think there was just something inside of me that broke.

                        I was done. I knew it and I never looked back. I made a promise to myself, no one was ever going to treat me that way again. No one is ever going to touch me and nobody ever has. But as long as it was me I was taking it but when it affected my child I was done. I was gone.

Davis:              Good point. Strong woman. Because it's not easy.

Anita Charging: No.

Davis:              Those decisions are really hard. You know people don't want to be alone -

Anita Charging:  Although, I met who was to become my best friend, my sister you know. She kind of was going through some things herself and we just bonded. We kind of leaned on each other for support. We started going out, living out lives, doing fun things. Raising our kids together.

                        If there had to be a break-up I probably did it at a good time. Had I been on my own it might've been harder.

Davis:              You got me thinking now, if there's somebody listening out there who's experiencing that right now, might be a victim of domestic violence, they have at least one child or more, some have five six children. But they're trying to do the right thing and leave. The vital needs are the very first steps that they need. Shelter - so it's very survival mode. But they have everything they need while in that stage.

                        What about the next step? I'm thinking, what about when they get their own place? You mentioned friends. Friends are probably the best way - good, positive friends. Strong friends.

Anita Charging:  Bismarck - back when I was going through all of this - they were just beginning services to abused women. It's grown so much in the last 30, 35 years. I did my senior year practicum in my social work degree - I did my senior placement with the Abused Adult Resource Center. At the time it wasn't even called that, at the time it was called the Abused Women's Resource Closet. Our office was above Sue's Sporting Goods, which used to be a sporting down in downtown Bismarck.

                        We did not have any shelters. We had homes that families would take women and children into their homes. That's how the sheltering was done until we got like Pam’s House now. There are some many, much better resources than back in my day. There is advocates...to help you find education, to even clothe you. To give you a career wardrobe. There's so many things that the Abused Adult Resource Center does now. So, yeah, your friends, your family, there's - they even have connections. They've got this town wired. They know how to get furniture. Their food pantry to get a woman and her children set up and going on their own.

                        30 years ago they didn't have this much. This all began in Bismarck-Mandan with the Bonnie Palle check.

Davis               Is that right?

Anita Charging:  She started the first services to women. And from what I understand she started it in her basement. She is the first services of women that were being abused was Bonnie's brainchild. To get help for them. This was probably the early 70s I'm going to say.

Davis:              And I've seen her here at a meeting here just in the past year. So she's still strong. Involved, even if it's behind the scenes. That is just great.

                        So you go through this. You come to Bismarck and you go back to school.

Anita Charging:  Yes. And I finish. Which is a glorious day. I finished. 10 years after I graduated high school, but I finished. And then my first job I was the counselor at Theodore Jamerson Elementary School out at United Tribes. I loved working with the kids. I was just finding my element new into my career. My son and I.

                        Then, I met my future husband out there.

Davis:              Oh, out there, okay.

Anita Charging:  Yeah he'd come to deliver - he's from Rosebud - he'd come to deliver a graduation address and he had just finished his masters' program at Ames Iowa - University of Iowa and ended up staying. They offered him a job and he ended up staying. That's how we met out there. Through mutual friends.

                        I was working at the school. I got engaged. Got married, had my first daughter. Things were going pretty well. Then at the time, the criteria for guidance counselors in schools changed, and I didn't meet the criteria. You have to have teaching certificates now and stuff to be a guidance counselor in school systems, and I didn't have that. So I went on to work with the Bismarck public schools after that.

                        I was their JO1 coordinator for some years. My biggest accomplishment there was one of ten JO1 programs in the nation recognized for distinguished services. Bismarck public schools, contracts their JO1 program through the standing rock education department. Bob Gip was my boss down there. He was thrilled when he called to tell me the program up here had been selected. That was a real honor.

                        I worked there another year after I won that award but I felt like I had taken the program as far as I could do it. And maybe it needed some new blood. Someone with maybe a different vision or something. I started looked for another job and I did land one with Casey Family Programs.

Davis               And what's that about?

Anita Charging:  That is long-term foster care. Just short of adoption. But a lot of times when they take the foster - and it's kinship care - a lot of times when they take these children in it's maybe to raise them until they're grown up. It's long-term foster care short of adoption. Short of parental termination.

Davis:              Is that ran by the state?

Anita Charging:  No. Casey Family Program was founded by James Casey. James Casey is also the founder of the UPS system. United Parcel Service yes. Out of Seattle Washington. And he grew up with his - his dad had died young. He was the oldest of his brother and sister. He had to quit school at an early age and one of the jobs he took - he had a bike and he would deliver messages and parcels around Seattle. That just kind of grew from there. But yeah the UPS system is where Casey Family Program got all their money.

Davis:              So it was non-profit though.

Anita Charging:  It's non-profit.

Davis:              Does it still exist here?

Anita Charging:  No. One thing that's always disappointed me there's a lot of non-native entities that come on reservations and all that. They come and offer all these services and say we're going to do this for you. And a lot of times it's never seen through and they leave. When Casey came that's kind of the exact promise that they said, we're here, we're not leaving. And they lasted here on our reservation - Fort Berthold - and then the Bismarck offices did services down on Standing Rock too. They lasted 20 years here about.

                        I came in mid-point. So I did almost ten years with Casey Family. Started out as their family developer, which means I recruited trained and retrained foster parents and retained them. Then I took on more of a case aid position where you do more social work stuff. With case managers you work hand-in-hand with them.

                        In the meantime I had my last child, while I was at Casey. But I really did enjoy working with Casey but for some reason they pulled up stakes and they left, citing that they were going to put - and UPS has given millions and millions and millions of dollars to Casey. They have deep pockets. For some reason they wanted to go in another direction, more into partnerships and collaborations and more into inner-cities.

Davis:              Oh, really?

Anita Charging:  Which I felt that, native children have as many problems as inner-city kids do too. But they did they pulled up stakes. And did it quite abruptly. There I was left without a job and starting to go through a divorce. So it was not a good time in my life.

                        Having to all of a sudden find a different place to live and set up.

Davis:              So that goes to a good point of why non-profits are very valuable to our communities. Would you say? The services that they provide because life happens. You could be on a good road for years and then something just like you say, a divorce or something traumatic can come along.

Anita Charging:  And a lot of people who are quote-unquote making it, means living paycheck to paycheck. For them they're making it. And some don't even have it that good. You could be one paycheck away from homelessness. A broken-down car can set you back.

Davis:              Because if you don't have the family who have the extra money to back you up then you're just on your own.

Anita Charging:  And I had a wonderful support system in my parents. They helped. I lived in an apartment for about four years with my two daughters before I was able to scrap together a little bit of a down payment. Plus my tribe had, what they call, the Dream Catcher Program at the time. That was assisting buying a home and they had just opened it up state-wide. Otherwise it was just on our reservation but they had opened it up state-wide at that time. I was given 10,000 dollars to help with either the down payment or the closing cost. However I needed it.

                        So I was able, through the help of that Dream Catcher Program back home, to purchase my first home, all on my own.

Davis:              Does it still exist today? This program?

Anita Charging:  They do have, since we've gotten oil money now, they do have a mortgage company that they formed back home. They don't call it Dream Catcher anymore. It's just like a tribal mortgage program. There's three different components to it. I don't know if it's all running. There's mortgage borrowing. There is updating and renovating and there's refinancing. I'm not sure what piece is there to help.

                        I've also heard - which I am interested in an going to look into - is the renovation upkeep part of the program. For new windows and things like that. Those of us that live off the reservation, not many reservations or tribes help those that leave. And a lot of us leave for different reasons. I left to go to school.

Davis:              And then you stayed. Can you share why you stayed after?

Anita Charging:  I think because I just felt more opportunity out here. My kids were in a good school. There were more activities for them. For me, when I was growing up it was in the back of the school, the basketball court. That was the main hang out place. Here in Bismarck my girls have been in gymnastics. All different kinds of things growing up just for kicks. So there was more to expose them to.

Davis:              Positive.

Anita Charging:  Positive things. But that also comes with a price because then it puts you more at having to teach them their cultural ways. Our traditions. Back home it's a collaborative effort. My growing up, my dad's sisters were very traditional women and I learned so much from them. What I didn't learn from them my mom and dad taught me.

Davis:              That's so true. It's almost like we have to choose. If you live back home you'll have that access to the traditional ways. But if you decide for opportunity - so it's almost like tradition or economic values. To live, survive and be comfortable, or to go without a little bit more but you're in your traditional ways because you're together, collectively with your tribe. Not just your family.

                        That's a good point. And I think that's where the Native American Development Center wants to learn more about what are attitudes towards economic opportunities today. Here, locally to the Native Americans. We can assume that some are just looking opportunities but we don't always know why they come here.

                        Thank you for sharing that. So it was your education and it was the opportunities for your kids. And for yourself. For work would you say?

Anita Charging:  Yeah because from working with the schools - from Casey I went on to - when that closed - then I did get a job with the Bismarck public schools again. I went back to work for them again. I worked in a two year day treatment program that they had going. It only lasted two years, the funding for it. But I got to work in middle school with adolescents and some of them were native, not all. But got to see how they struggle. How they struggle up here. Day treatment is working with students with behavior problems. Academic problems. I saw students and adolescents that were already adjudicated to some point. Had already been in court. Already had a record. It can start early. We always think the reservation, things happen bad - it happens everywhere. It happens here too.

                        And those were the students we were working with. In the midst of that I decided to go back and get a masters' degree. I never really wanted a masters' in social work because to me that would be too limiting. So I did choose the masters' in management from Mary. Did it in their accelerated program. Because I felt with my social work background and add management to that, it would open up more different kinds of experiences.

                        It kind of really hasn't because I've stuck more with the social work things. So in the middle of getting that I bought my home and moved into it. Still there, been there seven years now. Eight years, seven years. I'm back at United Tribes. In November I'll be there 10 years. My third time there but the longest time so far. Ten years this time. Not really sure what direction my life is going to go now. Because now I'm at the point in my life, I'm starting to put my ducks in a row for retirement.

                        And that's strange to say because I don't see myself as being old but, let's just put it this way, I'm on the downside to 60. You start thinking about putting those ducks in a row to get there. I want to be able to not have to work and enjoy my life. Come and go as I please. I still have my mother. She's still with us. I like to be able to spend time with her more. We almost lost my sister out in Portland in January. So I'm going with my mom in June to visit her.

                        I just want to do things where I'm not tied down to having to work so I'm trying at this point in my life, putting my ducks in a row, so that retirement happens sooner than I had thought it would. That's where I'm at.

                        But what I do at United Tribes, I do enjoy it. It's working with adults. So in my 30 year career I've worked with kids, I've worked with adolescents, I've worked with teenagers, young adults. Now I'm working with adults. Seeking their education.

Davis:              Seeking higher education.

Anita Charging:  Yes. Their higher education. That comes with a whole new set of problems for them, for their families. We have our own daycare system out there. We have an elementary school system out there.

Davis:              Is it just Native American college students? Do you ever get non-native?

Anita Charging:  Oh yeah we do. Tribal colleges sometimes people think it's just for Native Americans but it's not. Our doors are open to anybody who wants to come enroll in one of our vocations.

Davis:              What are some popular vocations for non-natives?

Anita Charging:  For non-natives? Nursing, teacher education, criminal justice. The teacher education, criminal justice are four year degrees now. As is, we have a business department with a four year degree too. We're working towards masters' degrees. Not there yet.

Davis:              That's good. That's good news. What would you say is so valuable about United Tribes in this community? Why is it so valuable?

Anita Charging:  I think not just because we're there to teach people a profession, a career. But we probably also bear the responsibility of teaching the community as a whole because we want to be a part of it. I think communities should know each other. We need to learn about them and they need to learn about us. And I think that's the first step in acceptance. I think right now we're at a point where it's tolerance and I don't like that. I don't think we should just tolerate each other. We should accept each other for who we are.

                        When I worked at the Bismarck public schools, I used to have a discussion group at the high school with my native students there. One thing I used to always tell them was, you know what there are not many people who are full bloods anymore. There's not many of us that can say that. I said, so if you're not full blood what other bloods do you have running through you? Do any of you even know? I know I have English in me. I know I have German in me. And Welsh. But my first identity's always going to be I'm native. I'm an Indian. I'm Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara. That's who I am. But I think you cheat yourself a little when you don't know every blood that runs through you. I said, so I'm going to challenge you. Go and try to find out what other bloods run through you and learn about that. Because that's part of who you are too. You're not just native. You're other things too. Open yourself up to learning about what other bloods run through you.

Davis:              That is great. You have such a really good background with people. The human social element that's vital for helping people.

Anita Charging:  That's probably why God led me down this road rather than the one I was choosing. Which is so… You know, we can want everything we want. I had a friend whose mother used to say, make all the plans you want, just never plan outcomes.

Davis:              I was thinking of that saying... “Go ahead and make plans if you want to make God laugh.”  Or something like that.

Anita Charging:  Yeah, he'll be amused. You'll tickle his funny bone today.

Davis:              Is there anything else that you wanted to share? I want to leave the audience with tools to use in their hardships. You went through a time period of going through a divorce. Single parent. Looking for housing. Did you have transportation?

Anita Charging:  I did. With the help of my parents I did.

Davis:              Yeah. Some don't always have that and so we become very dependent on the organizations that exists in our communities. So all that work that they do out there is so great. I know today - it wasn't always there, it's a new organization - just had coffee with them this morning. And they have a program - and I can't remember the name of it specifically - but they actually give away cars. Of course it's limited, and it's all dependent on how many cars are donated. I think that's a really great program. We're just looking for the opportunity.

                        It's not that our native people are just sitting on a couch and not wanting to do anything. They don't have access all the time. We didn't all grow up with that background of financial security. So we're breaking cycles today. We're becoming educated so our kids can have that. So the next generation will be a little bit better off. But I think we're in a cycle of - today in that generation - of breaking cycles.

                        I think the programming of financial literacy is going to help get us there. It's huge. I think working with the community would really help.

Anita Charging:  Don't be afraid to ask questions. Learn to advocate for yourself in a good way, in a positive way. Get that ability - and you're not born with it - to look at a bigger picture. Always anticipate. And that you only can get from experience and practice. I do it pretty well now, but I've been doing it for years. I anticipate a lot well if this happens, this could happen, this could happen. If you view life with shades of grey the possibilities are endless, don't be a black and white person. That you only see life in black and white. It's either this or that. Because the possibilities are endless. Take those advantages. Take those doors that are open to you and make the most of them. And never be afraid. I think the bottom line is ask questions.

Davis:              Well, thank you so much Anita. I really enjoyed this interview. Thanks for doing this.

Anita Charging:  You're welcome.



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