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Catherine Howard on the Circle of Life

North Dakota Native American Essential Understanding Number Seven is about native identity. It states “Individual and communal identity is defined and supported by shared native languages, kinship systems, Tiospaye, clan structures, traditional teachings, values, sacred laws and ceremonies. A continuum of tribal identity unique to each individual, ranges from assimilated to traditional lifestyle. There is no generic American Indian.”

In today's episode of Dakota Datebook, we'll hear about the importance of the circle of life from Spirit Lake Dakota Elder Catherine Howard.

Catherine Howard:

That circle of life is very, very important to us. That we show ourselves, “you want somebody have respect for you, you got to show it. You want to be crabby, you want somebody else to be crabby, you're going to get it back”. This is the circle of life that we think about. The circle of life is so encouraging into the Indian ways. I don't know if we'll ever meet that circle.

Once you break it — they say it's hard to mend it — but I think we could mend it if we change our ways. It's hard sometimes, the circle of life to the children, when the mother is the one that's important to the circle because she's the one that's supposed to teach the children, like how to walk, and so the father works. Many years ago that happened, but ever since the welfare came into our lives and foster parents came into our life, that circle was broken. When, many years ago, before the foster parents came in, you never hear foster parents from 1944 on back till 1954 because I looked it up. 1944 on to 1953, there was no foster parent. When a parent is an alcoholic and they're always drunk, the aunties go in there, take care of the children. They all work together. So there is no foster parents. That's a circle of life. Alcohol breaks that, but you can mend it. That circle of life, you can talk about that all day. And there is a lot of good things that come out of that circle.

If you'd like to learn more about the North Dakota Native American essential understandings, and to listen to more Indigenous elder interviews, visit teachingsofourelders.org.

Dakota Datebook: Teachings of Our Elders is produced with support from and in collaboration with the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction.

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