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Native American Stories of Resilience

Teresa His Chase

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

Teresa:            My name is Teresa His Chase, my Indian name is […] which means singing sage. I am a member of the Northern Arapaho tribe. We reside on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. I currently live in Mandan North Dakota, and I've been up here in this area since August 2011. I have four boys, ages nine, fifteen, twenty one, and twenty five. I have a bachelor's degree in business administration, I have an associates degree in tribal management, and I've graduated from United Tribes technical college in Bismarck in May 2015.

                        I currently work as an administrative assistant at the Bismarck minority business development agency, and I've been there since May 2013.

Lorraine:         Okay, thank you for sharing that. So you've come a long way from home, you're from Oklahoma?

Teresa:            Wyoming.

Lorraine:         Oh, Wyoming, excuse me. That's a long ways, that's probably a culture shock too.

Teresa:            Yeah it was.

Lorraine:         Let's go back a little bit further, share with us where you grew up.

Teresa:            I grew up on and off the reservation. I attended elementary schools both on and off the reservation and then I went to a local high school in a local town, but I never finished, so I later got my GED from the local community college. I started off , we lived about three hours away from the reservation and I went to non-Indian schools. I went to school with nothing but non-Indians, and then when we moved back to the reservation when I was about seven or eight, I attended Wyoming Indian elementary, and that's where most of the students are Arapaho. I got transferred up to Fort Washakie middle school where most of the students were Shoshone. Then I went to junior high and high school at Lander, where it was a mix of all of them, Shoshone and Arapaho students and non-Indians.

Lorraine:         So tell me, you went from non-native schools to public schools? In your earlier years, like kindergarten and first grade? And it sounds like you went second grade, third grade, you went to Arapaho tribal school?

Teresa:            Yeah, Wyoming Indian, they're mostly Arapaho students.

Lorraine:         Then Shoshone is a different school?

Teresa:            Yeah, Shoshone tribe. Yeah, there tribal members go to Fort Washakie school.

Lorraine:         Do you want to just share some of your experiences at those different schools? What was it like? Was there differences from going to Arapaho to going to Shoshone and then to the next?

Teresa:            I kind of experienced somewhat of, I guess it's a former type of bullying, I don't know. When I first went to the reservation schools they would make fun of me for talking like a white girl. And then when I went to Fort Washakie school, then they would make fun of me for being Arapaho, so then when I went back to Lander, then they were kind of prejudice towards me for having brown skin. I kind of experienced those types of racism in my early years, but it wasn't that bad. It was just a lot of teasing and name-calling and things like that, that I experienced. Other than that, I was raised by my grandpa and my parents.

                        There are six girls in our family and I'm the youngest, and so I was always spoiled by all of them. I was my grandpa's baby and my mom and dad's baby and my sister's baby and they taught me a lot, I was spoiled in a good way because they gave me a lot of attention and read with me. By the time I started school I already knew how to read and write. I always excelled in academics and I always had to go to the next higher grades to get reading and comprehension and math and things like that. I would be different from my class and I got put in a class above me and by the time I finished sixth grade, there was really no more work that they could offer me so they just let me have my own group to work with of students my age.

                        That's how it went and from there, that's when I went to the local school in Lander because my mom thought that it would be better for me and more challenging for me academic-wise. I have a lot of awards and my name on plaques in those schools and things like that.

Lorraine:         Lander is the public school?

Teresa:            Yeah, local public school. It was right off the reservation.

Lorraine:         Okay. Is it small?

Teresa:            Mm-hmm (affirmative). It's a pretty small town.

Lorraine:         So what was it like going to school there? I know you were pretty young. Do you feel like you fit in going to a public school?

Teresa:            There was only two other natives that I went to junior high with and we all started attending Lander at the same time. We were accepted because we were really athletic and we joined volleyball and basketball and track, and so we got involved with things like that and we started making friends. I have a lot of good friends to this day from that time of my life, and we're still good friends. I keep in contact with them, I didn't have any kind of problems there.

Lorraine:         That kind of wraps up to the high school point, how about getting into your adolescent, your adulthood? How was that transition and how did you do?

Teresa:            I don't know, I started to enter into trouble when I was in high school, I mean in didn't get into any kind of trouble with the law enforcement or anything like that, I just wasn't making good choices. I ended up getting pregnant when I was in eleventh grade and that's when I had my first baby, and so that's why I dropped out of school. It was just from not making good choices.

Lorraine:         What would have helped you do you think making better choices, looking back at it?

Teresa:            I just think that I kind of was trying to be on my own and trying to grow up too fast and I think that if people were more strict with me, maybe my sisters  and my mom or my dad or my grandpa or somebody was more strict with me. I kind of think that they didn't really notice because I was still going to school and doing good in that area. After school and when different times like that, I was making bad choices. I just think that if they would have been more strict with me then it might have changed, it would have changed things.

Lorraine:         Did alcoholism come into play too at that time?

Teresa:            Yeah, I have a lot of bad memories from drinking. I went through witnessing alcoholism at an early age, and alcohol was always part of everything. I used to go to softball leagues when I was little and watching the adults play softball, but there was always drinking involved. On the fourth of July, there was always the City of Lander, let's everybody drink in public for that day so it's one big party. I just grew up understanding that alcohol was the norm and that there wasn't anything wrong with it. As an intermediate adult, that's when I started drinking myself. It got in the way of my first relationship and my first relationship was six years of physical abuse, and I think that it was all due from drinking. That's why I started drinking, as a result of that physical abuse.

                        I never went binge-drinking or anything like that, but I used it to help myself feel better and forget about the bad things, and some people go through life not ever drinking alcohol, and I wish I would have been one of those people.[00:10:00] It wasn't until I quit drinking that I realized that I never needed it.

Lorraine:         What do you think are some things that lead you to go that way?

Teresa:            Growing up, I had a good foundation by my people who raised me, and I was raised in the church when I was little, and then when we moved to the reservation I learned our cultural ways and our spirituality. I think that I strayed from that path, and I wasn't dependent on God for help and for the answers. I think that's where I went wrong, and I think that's why I chose to let alcohol affect my life the way that it did.

Lorraine:         Was it in your home growing up, whether as a child or during you high school years?

Teresa:            Yeah, I've seen family members drinking and yeah, it was. I don't know, it wasn't terrible, there wasn't ever any parties at my house but people in my family drank. That's another reason why I thought that it was the norm. You know, because everybody did it. On the reservation it was a big social event, like at all the softball games and everything. Even when people would go fishing and go up to the mountains for camping, they would always have beer and everything. It was always just harder.

Lorraine:         With kids? So the adults would have beer and coolers and stuff? Okay.

Teresa:            Yeah.

Lorraine:         So growing up and getting into, you know I'd say more into your twenties and thirties, could you share what that was like? Where were you, and what was that like?

Teresa:            After I got out of my first relationship, two years later I got into another one and this one wasn't alcohol as the problem, it was just that my spouse was really controlling and jealous and he would say mean things to me and he made me feel like I was worthless. He would check the odometer when I would go places and write it down, and he would write it down when I got home and he would time me when I went to my mom's. I got accused of looking at strangers in the store funny, or why somebody was looking at me, smiling. I didn't even know what he was talking about, things like that. It was all the time and my self-esteem was really low, and then I got really depressed. It was then that I turned to God for help.

                        God's the one who helped me leave him. He gave me strength and then I turned to my family for help, and they sheltered me with love and prayers and then I had God's love. I got help traditionally and spiritually, and I was healed from all that, but it took a few years until I could rest easy. I still struggle with my emotions when I think about how bad I was treated, but I don't let it affect my daily performance. I just chose to give it all to God, and let him handle my worries and troubles, and he has.

Lorraine:         So does that lead to where you are today? Or could you share with us how you got to North Dakota or what brought you here?

Teresa:            Yeah, I  dropped out of high school and I obtained my GED. When I went to college back home it was really hard because there was no support for natives back home, not in my community. I was a single parent who was struggling for help, and I needed help with housing and daycare and there was a major housing shortage on our reservation. There was no family housing for students at our local college, I could never find anyone to babysit for me, and when I did, it was babysitters who couldn't work with the state because they had bad experiences of getting paid and all those kind of things.

                        I had family that supported me, but they couldn't always be there for me because they had lives of their own and children of their own and everything like that. Even though I was a 4.0 student back then and I was sixteen credits away from graduating, I just chose to drop out and go to work because that just seemed to be the better answer so that I wouldn't have to struggle so hard. That was in 2003, and in 2004 I kind of reconnected my relationship with God and I started working with the Northern Arapaho council of elders. It was during that time when I realized that that was my purpose in life, for that I had worked as a cook at the head start and different places but I didn't really have a purpose. I started working with the language and with our elders and for the tribe, then it was like I just wake up every day ready to conquer the world.

                        It was like my reason for living, and I worked really hard at that but after eight years I started getting frustrated because politics started getting in the way. When you're working with the language, that's Holy work.  It actually never happened but our budget getting decreased and big chunks of money, and they were just doing things with our budget. I didn't like it, so I finally told the elders that I was going to go back to school and learn how to write grants and learn what I could do to help them so that we would be within arms length of the council and those people making decisions on our behalf when they didn't have any business doing that to us.

                        I promised the elders that I was going to go back to school and that I would learn how to write grants and help them find a way so that they could just be by themselves, within an arms reach of everybody but still standing alone as their own entity. That's what I did, and I looked around for possible colleges to go to. I didn't want to go to Kansas because I'm scared of tornadoes and all these reasons, making my decisions. I chose United Tribes because they have family housing and they have an elementary school on campus and daycare on campus and those things, and it was kind of like my dream come true. It was something I wished for earlier in life that I never had the opportunity for. I was glad that I found out about United Tribes and I'm glad that I came.

Lorraine:         And that was in 2011?

Teresa:            Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Lorraine:         So now you have, you got your bachelor's degree, your four years, so now what are your plans? What do you foresee?

Teresa:            Right now I'm happy doing what I'm doing, working with my MBA because we help tribes all over the United States, it used to be just regional but they opened it up to allow us to work with all tribes. It's kind of on a national level where as if I went back to the reservation I would just be at the local tribal level. It's hard working on the reservation because you have to deal with people and their personalities and egos and gossip and jealousy and all those things come into play. We're in that right now but I'm happy because it's challenging, but it's, I don't know, I'm happy knowing that we're helping tribes build economically. That's what most tribes need is a little bit of help from people like us.

Lorraine:         Definitely. Who would you give the credit to, growing up, looking back? Obviously you've done good for yourself considering the challenges you had. What are the values that got you through?

Teresa:            I got my values from my parents and my grandpa. My grandpa used to just say really good things an I remember his words to this day. Like "love one another and have respect" and "work hard" and my dad used to tell me things like "it's better to be five minutes than one minute late" so I always try to be timely and things like that. I have a lot of good values and that's what carries me. I try to make decisions wisely now, and before I wouldn't care about the choices I was making, I was just making choices. Now I'm really careful about everything that I do and where I go and things that I say. I just try to be helpful, just try to help people.

Lorraine:         So your whole goal is to help all Native Americans, wherever God puts you, places? You think you're going to keep in mind your people back home at the same time?

Teresa:            I did write a grant for our tribe and we received 20,000 dollars as a grant from First Nations for our language camps this summer, and since I was going through school I was keeping in touch with everybody back home and I saw that it was a struggle for them to fund these kind of events. I coordinated language camps for six years so I knew about them and what it all takes and everything so writing that grant was pretty easy. Now I want to continue helping them with brick and mortar and building a centralized building for language and culture that everybody could go to for all ages. I still want to help them in those ways. If they need me to help them in any other ways, I'm sure I will but I just want to help them from up here in Bismarck, I don't want to move back to the reservation. Not yet anyway, not yet anyway. I'm happy where I'm at.

Lorraine:         That goes back to my question about moving to Bismarck. It was to seize opportunity? Do you feel that there's more opportunity here? What are some other reasons?

Teresa:            My sister was up here and she moved up here 25 years ago, maybe a little bit longer, maybe a few years longer than that. She moved up here and went to United Tribes and she stayed up here. So I thought, well my sister's up there and she'll be there to support me and everything and so that's part of the reason why I came up here. And just to get my education and like I said just for family housing and all of that. Also, just to do what I had to do for my children so that I wouldn't have to struggle financially anymore with those choices and finish. I was always really smart and I never did anything with it. I never got my degree or anything, and I finally decided to do it before it's too late. Now I'm really glad that I did because I was able to do so much more.

                        I've met a lot of good people and I was president of the BOT club that year and I was president of AIBL, American Indian Business Leaders, I was VP of fundraisers for them. I've been on the school board for the elementary school on campus and I've gone to all of your leadership series workshops and I've just been able to be involved with people all over and they become my fond friends.

Lorraine:         And now you're on your Native American development center board working groups so continue on that work. We need more people in our community. Well that kind of wraps up everything, unless there's anything else that you wanted to share?

Teresa:            I just want to tell everybody that no matter who you are or where you're from, just remember that you need to go through life with God and keeping your mind, body and spirit in balance. Our elders will say "take care of yourself" when we see them, you know when you're saying farewell to them and you know you're not going to see them for a while they say "take care of yourself" and I think that's what they mean, to keep your mind, body and spirit in balance so you can be a good person and you can succeed and love and respect should be at the center of your circle.

                        Don't stray too far from your circle because that's when things go wrong. Choose wisely, lead by example, challenge yourself consistently, pay attention to others needs and listen carefully because everybody has something that you can learn from. Show empathy and be courageous, honest and level-headed in all that you do. Just remember that, my grandpa always told me that from the time god places you in your mother's womb until the time he calls you home that there's a reason for everything that happens and you never question it, you just have to accept it. Love one another and always be thankful, and if you live this way then God will continue to bless you again and again. Thank you.





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