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January 2: Teachings of our Elders - Demus McDonald on Assimilation Policies

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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 U.S. policies and treaties that have often been detrimental, Native people are members of sovereign nations that pre-date the U.S. government."

In this episode of Dakota Datebook, we'll hear Demus McDonald, elder and enrolled member of the Spirit Lake Dakota nation, tell the traumatic story of his own experience with assimilation policies practiced by America's Indian boarding school system.

Demus McDonald:

I was raised by Grandma, Grandpa, John Shermer. I was put in St. Michael's Boarding School, very young age. We couldn't talk Dakota there. And my dad was going to put me and my brothers and sisters in there. The sisters, oh, he said in Indian, he said, "[words in Lakota]" we talk "[words in Lakota]." He said, that means when you're breaking, train a horse. So my grandma got mad. She said, "[words in Lakota]" they're not horses, she says.

That first night, dormitory was one big room. You could see all the little boys in their beds and that sister was coming down the line, just pray. So the little boys jumped up. And she came to me and she said, "Pray." I didn't know Hal, Mary and all that. That was the first day of school.

And very talking English. So, I started praying in Lakota. I started praying the way I heard my grandma pray. And that sister came and grabbed my ear, picked me up. She said, "You speak English, hey," she said then drug me to her Father had an office up there.

They put a ruler in the corner, had the needle on that straight up. And when I tried to rest on my ankles, sit down, the Father would come behind, "Kneel, straight up." And so I'd have to get back up again. But that's the way it was at that boarding school.

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 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.