Twyla Demaray

Nov 9, 2015

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

Twyla Demaray:          Okay. Well, I guess the whole experience with the auditors and my team being there together for the full week was kind of a good experience in the end. Towards the end, I think we had proven to these ladies that we were not trying to be deceitful, we weren't trying to hide anything, we weren't trying to cover anything up. We wanted to know just as much as they did where the shortcomings were in what we were doing. Also where the strengths were in how we were functioning and how we were running things. Because it just makes us better as professionals to be able to see where these things are. Where our strengths lie and also where our weaknesses are because then you can do things better. You can make it better.

                                    By the end of the week, we had them, as opposed to being as adversarial as they were at the beginning of the week, we had turned their mindset around. We had kind of made allies out of them. They were telling us how they were gonna go back to DC and they were gonna advocate to the granting agency on our behalf about what's going on out here. How things are. How things function in Indian Country and at Tribal Colleges. To help us to administer the grant better and to do better job and to work and build a better relationship with this very, very large federal agency.

                                    In the end, it turned into a really good experience. If you're able to flip those things around and turn what could be a very bad experience into something where it's a learning experience for everybody, then I think that's a big win. That was basically just one example from my professional life, that's professional life.

                                    I think we draw resilience from all of the spectrum of our lives. From the multiple roles that we play throughout our lives. Because I'm not just a college president. I'm not just my titles or my degrees or anything like that. Very much more so, I think I draw my credence and my clout, my credibility from the roles I play as a daughter, as a wife, a mother, a clan mother, a clan member, a tribal member, the different societal roles that I play. That's where I draw my credibility from.

                                    I don't know if people notice in Indian country. It's not, "Hi, how are you? What do you do?" It's not necessarily that in Indian country. It's more, "Hi, nice to meet you. Who's your folks?" That's how you meet people. That's how you introduce yourself. We have a tendency to introduce ourselves via our clans or our family names or who we're related to, who we're descended from. That's how people know us and that's how we establish ourselves. That's the role that we play in our societies. That I think is a traditional value and it's something that has existed for quite some time.

                                    You play a role. You have a job to do from the moment that you're born in our tribal cultures, in our tribal societies, and in our communities. At least amongst my own tribe, we had those clan rules and those relationships in the way we reckoned our kin. Those were vitally important because they defined how you lived your life. Who took care of you and who you take care of. Those roles were critical to us as people because we relied on each other a lot.

                                    We had to because it was a life or death thing back in the day. Now-a-days we kind of pull away a little bit. I think we kin a little bit towards the western mindset and western way of thinking, a little bit too much. When our way of doing things was perfectly fine and actually functioned better because there were fail safes for families. There were those relationships that existed there just purely because a son or a daughter needed to be disciplined or need to be taught or praised. In turn, they needed to take care of somebody else. To have those relationships built in. You have the advent of the nuclear family where it's just kind of like ... Every man for himself type thinking. That really does not serve us as a people. It's not a very natural fit for us.

                                    I suppose I shouldn't speak for everybody but it's not a natural fit for me. Especially considering the fact that I now have my husband's sister living in my household and her five children along with my seven children. I don't see it as burdensome or a bother because my sister-in-law, she helps to take care of my children. She's doing so right now, as we speak. It allows me to travel and to do the work that I need to do and vice-versa. I'm able to put a roof over her head. We cook communal meals. We very much try to be ... It's like we're trying to be traditional but we're not, I guess you could say. We're not really doing this on purpose, it's just the way things are. We're led by our belief system and the way we function, what we feel is important. Family is critically important. Family isn't necessarily defined by those people that are blood kin to you. The ones that choose to be in your life and that choose to make you a part of their lives and vice versa.

                                    That in itself leads to another challenge that I came up against when I was younger. Once I left the reservation I kind of went into a completely different world, basically. My husband and I, we both needed to create a network of support for ourselves. We came of the res. We were a young family. We had just had a baby and another one was on the way. We were absolutely destitute poor. No sitters, nobody to help. I missed class a lot of the time because I didn't have anybody to watch my children. He had to work, of course to support us. We didn't want that. The things that we went through to be a hardship for anybody else. This was a wonderful learning experience for us. It was very, very difficult while we were going through it. We still had plenty of happy times at that time. I still reminisce. Even things like, when I smell hamburger helper cooking. That reminds me of when we were so poor living in the dorms, or living in the student housing at UND. That's all we could afford to buy and to feed our family.

                                    What do they say? Iron sharpens iron. Those hard times make you stronger if you can look for the proper lessons in them. If you can look and see what the good is in that and take that good from there. Take just the good and leave the bad. Be thankful for what you do have. Be thankful for the fact that, hey, my car started again today. I was able to get to my job. I have a job that's on campus. I'm able to walk there. I'm thankful for this. In fact, I was thankful for simple things. Even that there was a bus route that stopped right by my apartment building and I didn't have to walk too far through five feet of snow to get to the bus route. All of those difficult things that happened to us, they all became lessons. Even to the point where I no longer feel like if I have a short fall or if there's a short coming, I don't see things as failures, I see them as course corrections, basically.

                                    I feel a lot of the time that I'm led by Creator and I pray for that direction. I purely pray for the ability to be able to understand and to see and interpret with my human brain, with my pitiful human brain, what He wants me to do and his message. Where He wants me to go. To not get that confused with what I want as a human being. Sometimes I have to pray really hard. I have to be like, "Can you please just make it like a neon sign what you want me to do because I'm really not sure." I question myself, all the time I question myself. I look for and I watch for signs along the way. Even something as simple as a storm coming is to me a sign because that's my clan. Those are my relatives. I'm Midi Badi [00:10:39 native language]. I'm water buster. To me having them show up, to me that's a sign of, "Okay you're on the right path. Believe in yourself, Twyla."

                                    Even where I am in my career, where I am in my life, I still am learning. I've got so much that I have yet to learn. I'm so grateful for every single daily lesson that I have. There's always something that's being taught to you all the time. You just have to listen and pay attention.

                                    If you expect nothing, then everything is a blessing. We were just blessed today by our family. They gave us a very generous gift and we weren't expecting it. It was a blessing. It was a huge blessing. When things like that happen to us, I kind of turn it over in my head and I'm thankful for it. I'm grateful for it. If you're able to, even be thankful not just in times when there's plenty, but to be thankful in the lean times, then everything becomes a blessing. Even those teachings. If you feel like somebody's targeting you or somebody's speaking badly about you, there's always a way that you can turn that on its head and turn it into a teaching or a lesson for you. To make it into a good medicine. There's always a way. There's always a way that hardship can become a lesson.

                                    Even to the point of illness. Illness makes you appreciate being healthy and being well. I had a great deal of illness last spring which made me very happy to be healthy this year. Very much so caused me to stop and to look at what I'd been doing with my physical self and to start taking care of myself better, to start seeing what I could do better. Well, I deserve that. I deserve that. I have to believe that I deserve good things too. Not in a big headed way or anything like that but just, we are all God's children. God wants to place that love on us. We just need to be able to accept it even when we don't feel like we are worthy of it.

                                    It's kind of what my teachings are. There's lots to be learned. There's power in the daily lessons. There's lots of teachings that you can glean even from those ones who you feel are trying to be detrimental to you. There might be some coyote teachings in there. The backwards teachings where they show how not to be. How not to be as a person. You take those teachings and you say, "Well, this is not how I want ... I don't ever want to make somebody feel the way I've felt, in a bad way. What will my words be? Will they be a healing balm for somebody or are they gonna be something that tears somebody down. No, no, no, no. That's not how I want to be. I want it to be that medicine, that good medicine, which comes back to you, we believe." We say it comes back to you three times."

                                    What are you going to put out there in the universe? Are you gonna put out good medicine? Which comes back to you always as a blessing? Or are you gonna put out that poison? Where does it stop? Whose responsibility is it to stop all of the hardship and the trauma? We talk a lot about historical trauma. Where does that stop? Whose responsibility, whose job is it to stop it? Somebody should quit that. Somebody should. We forget that we are somebody. We individually are somebody. We all on the macro level, on the micro level, wherever you are, whatever place you reside in, whatever space you're in at that very moment, you have the ability to make change. No matter where you're at. That in itself is a blessing. That in itself is power. If you can own that. To know that you can be an agent of change simply just by being a better person. By being kind. Oh my goodness, kindness is such a powerful thing. I've seen it make miracles happen.

                                    If there's anything that I can say that I am able to do it's to be kind to people. That I can say I have confidence and that I'm able to do very well, it's being kind. That's hard for me, too, because I'm shy. I'm very shy, I'm not like my husband who's very gregarious and out there. He's, "Hey, how's it going." All this stuff. I'm not really like that.

Lorraine Davis:           You're more reserved, huh?

Twyla Demaray:          Yeah, yeah. When I walk into a room. I'm 6'3". I'm brown. The moment I walk into a room, people notice me. That, for me, makes me incredibly bashful.

Lorraine Davis:           Yeah.

Twyla Demaray:          I'm aware of the fact that I attract attention simply by standing up. That's always been something that I've struggled with.

Lorraine Davis:           Yeah, I ... that makes sense.

Twyla Demaray:          It's hard.

Lorraine Davis:           Where some people just soak it in.

Twyla Demaray:          Yeah. Yeah.

Lorraine Davis:           Some people just really put on a show.

Twyla Demaray:          Yeah. I know. I'm really envious of those people that can do that. That can just roll in and just be absolutely confident. Myself, I just kind of keep my head down. I don't slump my shoulders or nothing like that. I stand up straight, but even that took me a long time to learn how to do that.

Lorraine Davis:           The battle field of the mind.

Twyla Demaray:          Yes. Exactly, exactly. To have confidence and to know that I can occupy my space.

Lorraine Davis:           Yeah.

Twyla Demaray:          I can occupy my space. I don't have to fight for it or shrink back from it. Be comfortable. Be comfortable in your skin.

Lorraine Davis:           Okay. Well, if that's everything then we'll close here. Thank you, Twyla.

Twyla Demaray:          Sure. Sure.