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November 9: Teachings of our Elders - Gladys Hawk on Reciprocity

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North Dakota Native American Essential Understanding number one is about sacred relatives. It states, native people practice a deep interconnectedness with the land, the resources, the water, all living things and all human beings. Land stewardship, respect for all two-legged, four-legged, winged, crawlers, and swimmers, and a strong belief in the sacredness of all human beings are key elements of our spirituality. In this Dakota Datebook, we'll hear Gladys Hawk, elder and educator, who was an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, share a bit about the importance of reciprocity with the land as we use its natural resources.

Gladys Hawk:

As a people everywhere, maybe we should kind of step back and see where we can make it better. There's a train track along where I live. Almost every other day I see hundreds and hundreds of carloads of coal going east. And I always think, I wonder what they put back in place of that coal. That's reciprocity. We have to give back what we take from the earth. We're not doing that.

And so, we're experiencing all of this change, atmospheric changes that's coming. And we believe in a creator who made those for us? We have to stop and to say, oh, let's slow down here. What's going on? We have to call on elders to say, "What do you think we should do about this?" Bring it out in the open. We're going to cut you off right here. You want oil from the land? Okay, you can do this much, take so many barrels today and wait another year. But that seems impossible because we need that oil. We need that gas to move, to go to work, do all of the things that we need to do, even to warm this building. Even our trees are gone. We can't even burn wood anymore. It's against the law. We can't have fires. So what do we do? And so that's the question I will leave because I don't know the answer.

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

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.