If you needed me for one night or forever ~ I would be there.
You tell me you are like a raindrop in an ocean
You told me of a raindrop that falls into the ocean saying to itself “Am I a raindrop in an ocean?” or “Am I the ocean?”
You said that you would be the ocean
I know you though you say you know yourself.
I know you.
I think, that you are more as a raindrop who could if you wished
you could invoke the force of an ocean and at least,
at least you are a part of the ocean, separate your bounty restricted in the vessel that keeps you
If you are the rain drop in the ocean perhaps I am the vessel
Just as every blade of grass has its space to grow
So does the raindrop in the ocean
The earth and blue sky accommodate the blade
Just as the earth and blue sky accommodate the ocean
But a raindrop that can invoke the ocean
I will accommodate you
You can trickle down me or drown me
I’ll stand my own
For every raindrop falls and flows
To find a home in solid ground
Let me take you
Let me hold you
For your pain your love
You can flood
I can hold whatever you bring
Letting you flow and grow, as currents change across terrain
With greater love
Even the ocean a raindrop can tame
If my dreams would allow I’d travel to the time where you held me close till I fell asleep. I could feel you carry me to my bed and place me down gently. I’d travel to the time that I’d hear you wake before dawn and I would follow you around silently as you prepared to go to the railroad in the morning. You’d pack your lunch, walk to grab your boots, turning around you’d place your finger over your mouth to ensure I stayed silent as I watched you. After you grabbed your coat, your lunch and bag you’d pat me on the head or leave me in the dark telling me to go back to bed. I watched as you left the house and would sit on the couch or go back to the comfort of my shared bed.
we were a family then. A family that was happy. I used to remember everything you said, all the things you did and I held onto those teachings, emotions, hurt and pain for a long time. I remember seeing you in the hospital room, aged. I was heavy hearted as I would comb and braid your hair, or wipe your mouth. You were so frail, changed from the strong man who my dad once was. I didn’t know then, what I know now about your life.
I knew I was going to lose you that December day and I remember thinking about what you used to promise me when you wanted me to do something. “do the dishes and I will dance at your wedding” “clean your room and I will dance at your wedding” “sweep the floor and I’ll dance at your wedding”
At 15 I was angry, and sad. I thought back to gardening. I tried to recall the memories that were good so I wouldn’t think about the anger. I remember hot summer days by the river fishing. I remember cool summer evenings digging in the dirt planting. I remember fried meals and middle of the night road trips. Strawberry Lake, Spirit Lake, White Shield and the cold wind blowing us around in an open pickup bed, piled under blankets and sleeping bags so we could all fit.
Cold December night I sat with you, wiped the blood from your mouth, held your hand as the relatives came to say their goodbyes. I held your hand as I watched you take your last breath and I remember we all prayed. We said the prayer as we let you go into the cold December night. Your battle was over, your life lived, your time complete.
Your friends still call me your daughter. We recall the life you lived, the choices you made and the children you shaped.
Happy birthday papa ~ We remember you this day. Love the little girl.
Sometimes, I think you forget my name, then I see you in all things~
Well, this is really an honor for me. I spend a lot of my time on the road in our communities. Low income communities, on and off the reservations. Places where there is a great deal of hopelessness and apathy. So being here today to talk about my experiences is a welcomed opportunity. Here I can say things that may have an impact on our world, a world within our own reach as individuals, and that hope makes this opportunity very energizing.
I love to think that saying things here will give value, meaning and power to the stories of my experience, and that my experience will then affect the actions of those of us gathered here.
I shouldn’t be standing in front of you today. I don’t come from any significant background. My story is actually quite ordinary. I come from a German Russian farmer’s daughter who fell in love with a Native American rebel. Their love, an improbably love – not welcomed by either of their families. They persevered and had six beautiful children. Ridiculously good looking children.
When I say, I shouldn’t be standing here today, that I shouldn’t be here. I say this, because growing up in my community, I felt different. I never felt I was a peer or a friend to the kids at school, I knew our family was different. In a classroom of Adams, Kelly’s, Michaels and Johns, a name like Prairie Rose Seminole very much set me a part, and I was treated as such. Oh Prairie Rose, she’s that native girl. That’s right. I’m Northern Cheyenne and Arikara and I was proud of that. But even in my pride of heritage, I never felt like a whole person.
Identity is important and understanding identity amidst the variety of messages and world views of those around a young child, started a complex journey.
So, I want to talk about the power of identity. I grew up in a multicultural home. My mother, who is a strong, beautiful woman, faithful to her church and of service to the community. My dad, another strong individual, faithful to service to the community, both standing up for causes that would shape my path in life. I saw my parents struggle with their companionship and how they would raise their children in a more tolerant world. My parents were tough, and loving, and it wasn’t until I started school, I understood that they were poor, and if they were poor, I was poor.
We grew up in the Madison neighborhood, or as we called it growing up, the Ridge, the Golden Ridge. There were families who were poor and families who weren’t. I knew I was poor because I got free hot lunches. I would get tickets to use instead of money and the other kids would notice that, standing in the lunch line, my bright yellow ticket ready to give to the lunch lady. I could hear the whispers, saying I got a ticket because I didn’t have money.
As time went on, my parents marriage problems got worse. My father started drinking and eventually they got a divorce. Poverty and its symptoms started to win. My mother working 3, 5 jobs at a time, my father drinking, winding up in prison. My older siblings starting to act out, drinking, drug abuse started within the home. We stopped being a family. We started to just exist within proximity to one another.
Gladys Ray a community elder with twin granddaughters about the age of my twin sister and I. She was doing work within the schools along with the Indian Ed coordinator, Renee Wood. They did their darndest to impact the trajectory of native students living in Fargo. It was no secret that we had a high drop out rate, alcoholism, drug abuse, suicide, homelessness in the native community. I just didn’t see it, I didn’t see it till it started happening to my family and when Gladys or Renee would talk about those issues, I was embarrassed to admit that they were talking about people like me. Poor, native kids who’s life path was most likely drop out, prison, early pregnancy, addiction, prostitution or worse.
I was 11 when I started working, 12 when my parents got divorced, 13 when my father was sentenced to prison, 13 when I started to really pay attention to my environment. I was sent to an all native boarding school, run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Within my first year there, my sister had started using drugs and smoking, my younger sister was jumped and beaten by a group of girls. Beaten because she was different, and I surprisingly was the star student. The only reason I was a star student was because my public school education was much better than the 6th grade curriculum they were teach us as 8th graders. My 8th grade teacher Mrs. Biewer was a large German Russian woman who absolutely LOVED that I was one of her people. She did something, that as a lost kid in a dark, hopeless place, I wasn’t used to for a long time. She believed in me. I looked around and made a choice that I didn’t want to represent any of those stereotypes that we, as a family were becoming. I saw how hard my mother worked, my dad was in prison, there was nothing I could do about the choices of those around me, but there was a choice I could make. I could be sober. I could try to be sober.
I believe its true that it only takes one person to affect the path of a person, whether it is a positive or a negative path, that choice is up to us.
My mother took us out of the boarding school, since it was pretty violent. My sisters continued to use, my brothers followed suit and I tried to not put myself into any situation that would allow me to make those decisions. I threw myself into outlets that allowed me to have a voice. I was succeeding in some small way because people were placing value on me as a person. My identity was at risk. Everywhere I looked people failed because it was acceptable for them to fail. Poverty and its symptoms were winning. If I tried and failed it was almost as if it was an expectation for me to fail, and that made it ok. I was struggling with this concept that I don’t have to be anyone because of poverty, or being native, because very few people believed in me. I missed Mrs. Biewer’s hopefulness. I didn’t understand it fully at the time, but back in the city at a public school, where I was lost in the crowd. Teachers didn’t pay much attention to me until American Indian Heritage month came along, then they asked me about being native, what my experience was.
I remember one of my teachers in high school put up the 10 little Indian poems in October, and I raised my hand in class and said it was offensive. She made her point that she wasn’t taking it down. So I wrote a poem about 10 little English teachers. She said it made her cry and during American Indian heritage month, November she went out of her way to schedule a native expert to come in and talk to the class. The expert was a Norwegian woman who canceled twice and never did show up.
Identity is important. It is our story, and we should own our story. Growing up, I didn’t own my story and I fell into the traps of the expectations, or lack of expectations of those around me. I didn’t graduate from high school, I’m a drop out got my g.e.d. Out of my mothers 6 children, only 3 of us have high school diplomas. 3 of us have started college, 1 of us has a masters degree.
Identity is important. I want to admit something to you. I’m 32 years old, and I’ve been sober my entire life. I don’t say that to be virtuous, I say that because there is power in identity. When we start to understand that we create our identity through our commitments, our actions. We create the kind of identity where we can say to the world, to the world within our reach at least, that things don’t always make sense, and that you can do things that you don’t think you can do.
I was surrounded by stereotypes and it was because I had a little ignition of a spark that I could be different, and its ok to be different.
I was 15 when my father died in prison, and it was then that I made the commitment to learn how to be a family. It took a few years, when I was in my 20’s for me to be intentional about that commitment and now 10-13 years later my siblings are sober, we actually like each other, and I know that if ever I need them, they will be there for me.
We’re still poor, but we’re happy. In my work now, just as Gladys and Renee did in my youth, I am out there trying to instill a little hope in the world. I see death, I see grief, I see suicides, addiction and a lot of darkness. And in those moments I feel most human, because of the unknown influences around those experiences. In our communities dealing with symptoms of poverty, grief, injustice the systemic acceptance of such things….we want and dream of all kinds of things, but mostly, what we need is hope. An orientation of our minds and hearts, the acknowledgement of our being in a hopeless place, knowing that we are a witness. We are fully human when we see ourselves in these moments and we are hopeful. Hopeful that our actions will make a difference. It is hope that is missing when our young people are making the choices to end their lives.
I believe that as native people, as poor people, our identities are at risk. We fall victims to the politics of apathy. No opportunities for us when no one cares about us. When we don’t care about our realities we don’t see the opportunities for us to break the cycles of poverty and all that comes with it. We love the escapes of reality, or we are ignorant to the facts that there is suffering, abuse, degradation and marginalization happening in our communities. We need to talk about the poor, and integrate into our lives the understanding that our actions, our beliefs are shaping the community we live in.
I believe in the goodness of humanity and our collective actions.
Gladys Ray once sat me down and told me she was proud of me. She encouraged me to take risks, because to make change happen, you have to be brave, sometimes you’re alone, sometimes there are people with you, but its those risks that really make a difference.
We are having courageous conversations everyday. Lives are being changed because of philanthropy, and opportunities to nurture success of individuals. Ultimately our humanity depends on everyone’s humanity. I’ve learned very simple things doing the work that I do. I’ve come to understand and believe that we are more than the expectations of others. We are more than just a detail of who we are. I am Northern Cheyenne and Arikara. I am German Russian, I am poor, but that is not all that I am. That is not all of who I am. and because of this understanding there’s this basic human dignity that must be respected for all people. I believe that in our community, our state, in this country, the world – that the opposite of poverty is not wealth. The opposite of poverty is justice.
When we realize that our existence has an impact on others, we can leverage that relationship to work collectively to make a better and just world.
I am a better person because someone had a different expectation for me, and I made a commitment to that expectation.
I’m asking all of you to make a commitment to spread a little hope in your part of the world.
Many thanks for this opportunity.
Waygoshted. Thank you.
In a dream I was shown a vision. I was being lifted and carried into a sea of people. Some who I knew, others I did not.
Each person had a light about them and behind each person, there was a door.
Each door was open. Open to pleasant trails or more difficult journeys.
Some seemingly inviting, others not so much.
The light around the people shown brighter in some than in others. Although, there was never less than the dimmest of lights and then those lights that were obvious beacons for any who would follow.
As I was being carried away, I realized that the doors were not behind the people, they were the people Each person an opportunity, a lesson, a piece of life.
Experience, friendship, joy, sorrow, hope or pain.
In my dream I didn’t understand and I closed my eyes. In the darkness I could still see all the lights, some near, all around, ones that would drift, others in lines or spiraling in a group, those bright and those barely a glow.
I opened my eyes and in the doors I saw a reflection. Reflections –not just of me, the reflections of myself in the humanity of others.
Reflections of me, within the tendencies of others.
In this sea of people, reflections, others seemed to be someone. Someone I used to know, used to be, have yet, or never will become.
Seeing strangers as family, as strangers become family.
Hearing the voices, laughing, sharing, crying, screaming, whispers saying see me, save me, help me, hear me, love me, know me. Know me.
I began to drift. Drifting higher away from the people.
Again I closed my eyes, scared for a moment.
Darkness, silence, I could see all those lights again, all of them shining in the darkness.
I saw mine shining, warming me from the inside. Barely contained within me. I was comforted. I opened my eyes. As I my light shown, we came together, my light made stronger by the light within you, your light stronger by the light within me, we, stronger by the light within others, we’re never really alone.
Together, connected in this soul of humanity. We are of the same breath. Drifting among the lights, doors and reflections I was grateful. It was a comforting to be, to know that which is in all others, is within me, to know that we are within all others.
However dark, however joyous, together, alone, to carry on, in all this that we call life.
You can never replace it. A second, a minute, an hour, a day. Time, one of our most precious resources. One of the best gifts we can give is our time. Laurie gave so much timYou can never replace it. A second, a minute, an hour, a day. Time, one of our most precious resources. One of the best gifts we can give is our time.
Laurie gave so much time to working with young people. Traveling with me to reservation communities to talk with young people about her experience as a soldier, as a photographer and as an activist. Her life story captivated the starry eyed youth as they pictured themselves walking sandy deserts listening to Eminem and taking a photograph of a scorpion. Humbled, honored to serve their country for a simple idea of freedom. Laurie brought out their dreams and would often say that if you visualize your dream, commit to that vision, you will achieve it.
Bryan grew up in hills of Rolette county in the Turtle Mountains of North Dakota. He used to ride his dirt bike or four wheeler across the Canadian border, joking that they had better hills than the states did. Bryan acted with all of his heart and gave everything he could to make people happy. Whether it was frying potatoes for his dad, letting his niece paint his nails (because good uncles do that) or fixing his girlfriends car….again, he gave his time as if there was too much of it.
Laurie and Bryan never knew each other. They both had me in their life and they both struggled with overwhelming dark thoughts that they weren’t worthy, or couldn’t be the people they wanted to be.
The summer of 2008 Laurie called everyone she held close and said goodbye. When she called me I was driving and my phone kept cutting out. 4 times we went back and forth and I said I will call you tomorrow when I’m home. The phone went silent and when I tried to call her back no one answered.
February 6 2012 I found Bryan, my partner on a cold floor within minutes of his heart stopping. I never got to say goodbye to Laurie, and I can still see her face when I walk past the coffee shop we used to meet at. She ended her life because she just wanted the dark thoughts to stop.
Paramedics worked on Bryan for 45 minutes in the ambulance. We could see shallow breaths, but couldn’t find his heartbeat. They got him to breath before moving him to the emergency room. His body slept for a week because of the cocktail of drugs he took. He survived.
19 out of 20 people who attempt suicide will live. Even though they survive, they are 37 times more likely to end their life a second time. It is up to us to make sure there is no second time.
Native Americans, we have the highest rate of ending our lives in suicide. We need to change that. No one need to end their life.
In my experience…It’s a humbling to know that your love may not be enough to pull someone out of the grips of darkness. It could be that love that saved a life.
For those who decide to live, or need support, and nurturing to continue to live. We need to be there.
When Bryan got out of the hospital, I didn’t know what to say, but instead of not saying anything, or isolating him, I asked what I could do to support him. As a community, we need to create the space to have courageous conversations. When we lose our loved ones, when our loved ones fail, as a community, we need to comeback to life and find those resources set up to do so.
We all want more time, and that time is more precious when we can spend it with those we love. Thank you for yours.