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Native American Stories of Resilience

Stacey Zephier

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

Stacy Zephier: My name is Stacy Lee Zephier I am from the Yankton Sioux Tribe. I currently reside in Bismarck, North Dakota. I've lived here since December 2013. I have eight children but on six reside with me. I'm pursuing my degree in business tribal management at the United Tribes Technical College.

Lorraine Davis:  Perfect. Thank you. Thank you Stacy for coming today and contributing to this interview and sharing your story. It's a humble thing to do because it's being publicized but people like you are willing to help other Native Americans by sharing your story and so I really want to thank you for that in participating in this effort. We're going to go a little bit into you sharing a little bit about where you grew up. Can you share with us about that?

Zephier:          I originally come from Marty, South Dakota. Coming from a broken home I lived in Yankton and Mitchell, South Dakota with my two different grandmas so I kind a went back and forth since I was two until I was maybe twelve. I lived in Cortez, Colorado and Orem, Utah. After, starting finally in my teenage years I settled, or maybe I could say a more of a stable home with my mother in Lake Andes, South Dakota. I was there until I was 17. Went to Job Corp and then lived in Montana with, I met my older girls' dad.

Davis:              You went to Job Corp in Montana?

Zephier:          In Anaconda, Job Corp, yes.

Davis:              Then you graduated?

Zephier:          No I didn't.

Davis:              You didn't? Okay. Can you share what that experience? Where did you go from Job Corp?

Zephier:          I went from Job Corp back to South Dakota and then ended up working at a local casino.

Davis:              You worked at the local casino and how long did you work there for?

Zephier:          Off and on since I was 18.

Davis:              For a year basically?

Zephier:          Yes. I started working there when I was 18 because you have to be 18 to work there.

Davis:              Oh, okay.

Zephier:          With having two kids from Montana, I went back and forth between Lake Andes, South Dakota to Rocky Way, Montana until I was 24.

Davis:              Kind a the route that you went was Job Corp, 17 years old and then at 18 you pursued a job at the casino off and on throughout from 18 to 24?

Zephier:          Yes.

Davis:              What did you do beyond that?

Zephier:          After I turned 24?

Davis:              Yes.

Zephier:          I finally left Montana.

Davis:              Okay.

Zephier:          I left a bad relationship I should say.

Davis:              Okay.

Zephier:          Moved back to Marty, South Dakota when I was 24 and I started working for the Inca Sioux Tribe and I worked with them until 2010. From 2004 to 2010 I worked for the Inca Sioux Tribe in several different entities.

Davis:              Share with us a little bit what that was like growing up? You went from town to town going back to your younger years as a child. I think you mentioned something about you moved a lot. Can you explain why it was you moved a lot when you were a child?

Zephier:          The only thing that I can think of is not having ... like I said it was a broken home and it was, my mother probably not really knowing her role as a mother and being unstable.

Davis:              Did you grow up in a single parent ... you didn't have a father?

Zephier:          Yes, I came from a single parent home. My mother was pretty much the only person to raise me if it wasn't my grandmothers. She had the say so, pretty much the say so where I was going and who I was going to be staying with.

Davis:              Your grandmother?

Zephier:          My mother did.

Davis:              How many grandmas did you have?

Zephier:          I had two grandmas.

Davis:              Two grandmas, so you went back a forth between...

Zephier:          Between my mother's mother and my father's mother.

Davis:              Can you share about your childhood? I don't know if that's what you wanted to share today. What were some of your challenges through life? I know that you have a story and we want to be able to share with others listening who might have a similar story. To share at the end that not just how hard it is, but to also share how you overcame that, how you're overcoming it so that it provides them tools.

Zephier:          I pretty much, I don't know, like I said my mother was young, she was only 14 when she had me so she was still maturing herself. I'm guessing she's still learning how to be a parent, probably learning how to be an adult at that. I think just being ... what I learned from it was learning how to be in a structured family or structured environment that I never really had. There was no foundation anywhere. To this day I don't understand why it was okay, "Well you go stay with your grandma this day," and then, "Next day you go stay with your grandma." I don't understand that and I never did. I'm not sure. I feel the pain that is still there. My heart is heavy to that because there's a lot of unanswered questions, there's still a lot of pain, there's ... it's still so common to this day. You look on the reservations, you go home and all these kids are with their grandmas. Where are the parents? It's still like that to this day I know it is.

Davis:              You're a parent now. You have all your children and you're doing it. You're going to college and is that where you get your strength?

Zephier:          My children.

Davis:              Your children?

Zephier:          Yes.

Davis:              The experience of growing up with...

Zephier:          A broken home.

Davis:              A broken home.

Zephier:          Yes.

Davis:              That's where you get your strength?

Zephier:          Yes.

Davis:              It's through that pain that you understand the importance of having structure for your children to have that to feel loved?

Zephier:          Yes, and building a foundation so they don't know what to have when they're older or know what to expect or how it should be. I don't know, I'm still learning, trying to show them, not necessarily how it should be but this is an idea of what to expect or how, maybe where you can start from. Building a foundation.

Speaker 2:       That's so important. That's the first step. That is so vital for us to really survive.

Zephier:          Yes.

Davis:              Not just survive at the very low totem pole survival stage, but to build off of that foundation. To go up and to obtaining your own home ... Can you share with me some of your goals? What are some aspirations that you have that is really driving you? You mentioned to teach your children these values, to give them structure, love, that foundation. What are some other things that you're teaching your children through this.

Zephier:          Spiritually, I'm teaching them to be, I'm trying to teach them to be humble. To teach them with, to have a humble heart. To accept what they have and to not carry a heavy heart as in do not dwell in things that are out of your hands. Things that you can't control. Teach them to be independent and only you can make yourself happy. I don't know.

Davis:              You're teaching them about being independent.

Zephier:          Yes.

Davis:              You're teaching them how to be self-sufficient.

Zephier:          Yes.

Davis:              And independent. Do you think that's needed in our native culture today? That's needed amongst our people to have, to grasp that as well to say we need to be self-sufficient. Share with me about that. Your feelings about that.

Zephier:          Yes, I do believe that they ... at one time, I guess, only through books, teaching history teachings we were self-sufficient at one time but I don't know what happened. We lost our identity somewhere. We're starting over again and we're teaching ourselves to be independent, we're teaching ourselves to survive.

Davis:              I know that there's listeners out there that are really in tune with this because this is touching their heart because it's something they've experienced, and then also you have people who don't understand it, so you're educating on both ends. What through your experience, what is it that you have to share with them that you want to make sure they understand in order to help them have tools of survival to think forward, to think how to make it in this life? What's the mindset?

Zephier:          I don't know. From experience my family, we were a very independent family. We all worked. I worked since I was 14 years old. Wish I would have stayed in school, but I didn't. We come from a workaholic family and we pretty much, we're survivors, but spiritually and culturally we weren't, we didn't know ... I don't know my culture, but I knew how to survive in the white man's world, wasichu world. I know how to work, I know how to provide for myself but spiritually and culturally I didn't. I didn't know, I don't know any tradition. I don't know, I'm learning that right now.

Davis:              Where do you go? Where do you go, where do you make time to watch six children, to go to school? You're a single parent. You live on campus I understand?

Zephier:          Yes.

Davis:              At United Tribes. You have your little support right there on the community, it has its support services. You mentioned that's beneficial to you, being able to be successful and pursuing your degree.

Zephier:          Yes.

Davis:              Where do you have time for the other piece that's so important, your spirituality, your culture. How do you...

Zephier:          I make time.

Davis:              You make time.

Zephier:          I make time for that. I attend bible studies on Tuesday and church on Sunday.

Davis:              You prioritize.

Zephier:          I prioritize my time. I try. I try to make every minute count. Tending to make it school, everything.

Davis:              Why is it important to have spirituality in your culture?

Zephier:          Knowing, I don't know, I don't know how I can say this but I just ... earlier I said how we lost, we don't know our identity. I finally know who I am and I know what I want. I know, let's see how can I...

Davis:              Would you say it's part of the need to be self-aware of who we are?

Zephier:          Yes. Finding our higher power our spirituality is reminding us, telling us, showing us who we can be, like our faith and what we're capable of.

Davis:              It sounds like first to learn about who we are as a person individually speaking. Who am I. Then taking that and learning more, learning spirituality and the culture, having access to be able to learn that. Then learning about what you can become.

Zephier:          Yes.

Davis:              Who you are meant to become.

Zephier:          Yes and where we came from because a lot of us don't know where we came from.

Davis:              Not even knowing where we're going but to even go backwards to learn who we are.

Zephier:          To give us an ideal of who we can be or who we should be or we may be.

Davis:              It's a life journey.

Zephier:          Yes.

Davis:              It's a life journey path that you're on right now.

Zephier:          Yes.

Davis:              Do you believe it's always ongoing...

Zephier:          Yes.

Davis:              I mean it doesn't stop once you become an elder.

Zephier:          No.

Davis:              Does it stop at any point?

Zephier:          It's like a circle. It's like a cycle.

Davis:              Lifelong learning as they call it.

Zephier:          Yes.

Davis:              About life. Okay. In growing up you mentioned, I believe you mentioned you were raised by two grandmas. What were some of the teachings that you, that was instilled in you from them?

Zephier:          Being independent and working.

Davis:              They modeled that?

Zephier:          Yes. They did. Went to school. Have their degree. One grandma has her degree the other one didn't, she just worked.

Davis:              Okay. Hard worker though?

Zephier:          Yes.

Davis:              Took pride in work ethic.

Zephier:          Yes. That was pretty much my, what I was taught.

Davis:              That tells us the values that you were taught by them modeling that, was work ethic, strong work ethic, higher education.

Zephier:          Yes.

Davis:              What about some things like, they call white man's society focus on finances? What about some of that about managing money, just the whole finance and money thing? What were you taught about that?

Zephier:          You know what, I don't ... the only thing that I would really remember is if you want something you're going to work for it.

Davis:              There's not a teaching about okay you have to save for the future.

Zephier:          No.

Davis:              There's not that priority being taught.

Zephier:          No, no one every told me you're suppose to save for anything. I'm learning that right now. I wasn't told to save money for my kids or somewhere along the line you're going to have this many kids, you better start saving now. Start saving for this house, you're going to someday want to buy. Nothing like that was ever taught to me. I had to learn the hard way. I'm still learning.

Davis:              What would you say you would like to teach your children about saving some money, would you teach them that?

Zephier:          Yes.

Davis:              At an early age?

Zephier:          Yes. Actually I already am. Teaching them how to save for things that they want in the future because you don't realize when they start saving now by the time they want it they'll have enough for what they want and teaching them how to save.

Davis:              What are some other things that you wished you would have been taught at an earlier age?

Zephier:          How to, let's see, at an early age. How to stay in school and get your education. I started pursuing my degree when I was 35, 36, 35 and I'm sure, I guess it's the way they taught me. To me growing up with my family they were like kept your kids, they would say one thing and do another. It was hard to feed off of their, whatever they're trying to teach me, I guess.

Davis:              Confusing?

Zephier:          Confusing, yes because they weren't educated themselves but yet, I should have listened but I didn't.

Davis:              It's that they wanted better for you?

Zephier:          Yes, they wanted better but they, I don't know.

Davis:              They didn't know how to tell you how to get there.

Zephier:          Yes.

Davis:              I, too, I was always told, "Go get your college degree. Go to school. Go to school". It was like a drill sergeant. I can still remember that and that was the utmost important thing was to get my education. For me, that told me that, okay succeed. You have to so you don't suffer.

Zephier:          Yes.

Davis:              You don't have to suffer in poverty. There's so much, it's not about that you desire money and that it's something you put first before your family and God and all of these things. It's not that, but it's a good balanced level that's enough to insure that you can live in a safe environment, that you have a comfortable foundation, a home. Your home is sacred. It's very important. It ties into our cultural teachings of our home being sacred, our family being sacred. I, too, believe that in that teaching we align that with having a nice home, a good home, a safe home. Not just internally but around externally in our environment that we're able to provide our children, we all want our children to be safe and secure. That goes to a deeper level of just being a human being. We want to be safe and secure.

Zephier:          Yes.

Davis:              Regardless of what race we are, what cultural background we have, I think we can all agree on that piece of it. Do you feel that the Indian Center that's being created by the Native American Development Center, do you think it would be wise for us to focus on teaching financial literacy?

Zephier:          Yes. Most definitely.

Davis:              You do. Okay, because I know that it might be in conflict with some of our cultural beliefs of focusing on money.

Zephier:          Yes.

Davis:              It's not that we treasure money in a very selfish way, but it's just to be able to survive in a prosperous way.

Zephier:          Yes.

Davis:              Aligning that with, again, with having a safe home, a safe environment for our children. Not only that but to look to the future.

Zephier:          Yes. I think most Native American's live the moment. When it comes to money they're impulsive. They're not responsible with their money. I think that's a really good idea to...

Davis:              Incorporate that into the program. Then you mentioned, too, the cultural aspect, and then correct me if you disagree, but having a cultural focus within our center as well, do you agree that's something we need in our community?

Zephier:          Yes, most definitely. Like I said, nobody knows who they are, where they came from, they have no cultural background at all. I honestly don't know the meaning of a fancy shell dancer or I have no idea how to get an Indian name or I have no idea the meaning of what ceremonies are, you know what I mean? I have no idea what they are.

Davis:              If there was, say as the center's building their network and obtaining who wants to be a part of teaching our own native people about culture, maybe it's someone who has something to offer with financial literacy. It could be ceremonies. It could be, they could be Christian, they could offer that. It could be their traditional ways. We have different tribes that we work with so we have a lot to really know because it's not that we live in two worlds, we have a different tribal cultural traditions within each tribe and so our community is in a urban community that consists of not just five North Dakota tribes, but we also have tribal members that are coming from Nevada from Montana, you name it all the way around. North Dakota, South Dakota area so we really have a diverse Native American tribal population that we have to serve. Would you take a course on ceremony teachings?

Zephier:          Yes.

Davis:              Language teachings, that kind of thing, would you participate in something like that?

Zephier:          Yes I would.

Davis:              Your children?

Zephier:          Yes, most definitely my children.

Davis:              What are some other things specific to teachings that we could teach?

Zephier:          Arts and crafts.

Davis:              Arts and crafts. The meaning of, you talked about the meaning of the dances, our cultural song and dance.

Zephier:          Yes, and then a womanhood, a womanhood or manhood, or the warrior roles. Nobody knows their role.

Davis:              As a woman as a man also as a mother and a father? Those would be two different things, because not everyone's a mother nor a father. What about our youth? What do our youth need?

Zephier:          Guidance.

Davis:              You need guidance so something like these things would be...

Zephier:          Excuse me.

Davis:              Hugely beneficial.

Zephier:          Yes.

Davis:              So they're not waiting until they're 35, 40, 50, 60 years old. There's a lot of benefits to having an Indian Center in our community to teach a wide variety of tribal background members all of these different things.

Zephier:          Not necessarily background, like you say, the financial thing to give them an idea of what to expect, how to manage your life, I guess. Some people don't even know how to maintain a home or just the basics.

Davis:              How to purchase a home.

Zephier:          Exactly.

Davis:              What that process is, right?

Zephier:          Yes.

Davis:              Home ownership.

Zephier:          Yes.

Davis:              Maintenance. Share with us, you had a lot of challenges growing up and somebody's who's listening who could relate and have those same challenges and who haven't really figured out their way yet what would you tell them to help them? What is the final message that you would want to sent?

Zephier:          My final message is to explore your options. Don't settle. There are so many opportunities available for anyone that we need to take advantage of. That we don't take advantage of.

Davis:              Would you say, too, to where is the priority of having faith in your higher power.

Zephier:          Faith in my higher power is what keeps me going. Let's see. Knowing I believe in God. He's my higher power. Knowing that He's there. That's the only thing, the only culture ... A Native American, but He's the only higher power that I know of because I wasn't taught any other way. I have faith in Him and I know that He's amazing. He's what's gotten me this far in my life.

Davis:              Share with us, what are some of the things He's done for you so far?

Zephier:          He's taught me not to have a heavy heart. I'm learning not to dwell on my past, that it doesn't get me anywhere. Being able to forgive. It's easier for me to pursue my dreams because I'm not carrying the weight or dwelling on my past I'm trying my best not to carry that with me and being able to do that is making life easier I should say. I feel really light. I feel like I'm floating through my world at times.

Davis:              Would you say that all the hardship that you had not having the stability, the structure, that feeling of being loved by your mother, all of those things people can look at as a really negative thing but can you look at it as a positive thing today?

Zephier:          Yes.

Davis:              You can. Share about that.

Zephier:          For the feeling of not having stability, foundation, not having a loving mother, loving father taught me to be a loving mother. This is what I didn't get as a child so this is how I'm going to treat my children and this is how I want to be as a mother.

Davis:              It challenged you, yourself to say, "No, this is wrong."

Zephier:          Yes.

Davis:              That you realize that my parents are human and that they made mistakes and that you can forgive them.

Zephier:          Yes.

Davis:              And that you need to forgive them to be able to move forward.

Zephier:          Yes.

Davis:              That you can't stay in that anger and hard heart of resentment otherwise that will continue to feed something else in a negative way?

Zephier:          Yes, exactly.

Davis:              Instead you take a negative and turn it into a positive.

Zephier:          Yes.

Davis:              There's no other way of going back the other way.

Zephier:          Can't change your past, might as well change your future.

Davis:              That is, that's powerful. Thank you Stacy and thank you for taking time for this interview. I enjoyed visiting with you today.

Zephier:          Thank you.




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