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Kevin Finley on Boarding Schools

North Dakota Native American Essential Understanding Number Five is about tribal policies, treaties, and sovereignty. It states, “Native people practice self-determination, developing tribal policies, and practicing political activism. Despite a history of US policies and treaties that have often been detrimental, native people are members of sovereign nations that predate the US Government."

In today's episode of Dakota Datebook, we'll hear Kevin Finley, enrolled member of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation talk about the boarding school experience.

Kevin Finley:

It really depends on your outlook on it. For me, I don't think it was a bad thing. Currently right now, my son doesn't live with me. That's the hardest thing in the world, because him and I did everything together. He goes to school in Bismarck. My wife is down there with him, and I sleep in a camper over here to satisfy the high school activities rules. I don't live in my house. I go to my house, but I don't live in it.

So my outlook on boarding schools is, if it's better for them, good. The way my great great grandpa Ed looked at it, the white man's way of life was the way that we had to go. So that's the way him and his uncle Henry Wolf Chief, they chose to be that. But, there are stories that are true. Nadadim couldn't talk their language when they went to that boarding school in Stephan. Their ways, their prayers and all those things, they were asked not to do it because there's a way you do things at boarding school.

To me though, it prepares them for life away from the Reservation. Not that the Reservation's a bad place, because it isn't. There's so many things available to us here that it makes a lot of sense to stay here and try to make things better, versus just stay here and be here. When I went away to school, and I am fortunate, I graduated from college. My mom, when I got my first job in South Dakota, she said, "Go test your wings." She said, "You can always come home." She said, "But when you do come home, come home with a mindset that you're going to help, that you come and do the best you can here." So that's what I try to do.

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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