Native American Stories of Resilience


These narratives from Native Americans who live in the Bismarck-Mandan metropolitan area provide intriguing glimpses into Native American culture, philosophy, and psychology, and reflect challenges they have faced, personal successes, high-point experiences, and dreams for the future.


LorraineDaviesInterviews by Lorraine Davis,
Executive Director of
The Native American Development Center




Editing and production by Bill Thomas and Ashley Thornberg
Production funding provided by ND Humanities Council and the Consensus Council. • 701-595-5181
513 E. Bismarck Expressway, Ste 22, 3rd Floor, Bismarck, ND  58504

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








Aaron Kalenze

Aaron KalenzeHi, my name is Aaron Kalenze. I’m enrolled in the Spirit Lake Sioux Nation. I’m currently residing in Bismarck, North Dakota and I’ve lived here all my life. I have one little brother. Our mom passed away so it’s pretty much just been me and him. Right now I’m currently looking to start a family of my own someday, looking for that one female. I’ve got my eye on one so far, but we’ll see how that turns out


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Lana White

Lana WWhere did I grow up? Well, there’s five different states of growing up: Wisconsin, Illinois, Detroit, Michigan, Minnesota and Iowa, Muscatine, because my dad was an iron worker. I’ve seen a lot of racism for being Indian. We ended up in a lot of different communities, mostly it was white communities. There was a lot of racism there where we got teased for being Indian. The kids would get on the buses and they do the little, “Lu, lu, lu, lu. Where’s your TVs and spick and span?” They called me and my sister and just did mean things to us with the lockers at school.

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Steven Sitting Bear

Steve Sitting BearI tried. I went to college. This was the first time that I really took school serious. I failed. I couldn’t keep up with the work and I got frustrated after a semester and a half, and I withdrew. It was really difficult to do that, because I had so much hope. What had happened was, I really had to do a spiritual look, within, and to say, “Can you do this?” No, nobody’s ever told me in my life that I can do this. Nobody- Everybody has told me my whole life, “You can’t do it.” I had to come to terms with that and decide if I’m going to believe that or if I’m going to take it further and try. Really commit myself. So I did.

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Allan Demaray

I currently reside in New Town, North Dakota, with my wife. We have seven children together, ages 15 down to 4. Their Indian names are … Their names is Red Earth, Brings Rain, Stands Holy Woman, White Star Horse, Good Medicine Woman, Raven Tail, and She Comes From The River. Right now, I have a Bachelor in Education. I used to teach for several years, and ran different programs in Grand Forks, North Dakota, when we were living there.

Right now, I am currently the chief of staff for Councilman Spotted Bear, for the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara nation on Fort Berthold. I grew up when I was a little boy in Twin Buttes…

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Randi Hart

My name is Randi Lee Hart. My Indian name is Strong Eagle Woman, and I didn’t get that until a couple of years ago. Other than that I grew up my whole life without one, and I knew a lot of my friends back home had one, but it was a good day when I got one because all my children got their name at the same time. My mom did that for us, which was really, really nice

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Joe Donnell

I love it that our people are people of vision. We believe in that. These are 2 powerful visions that I had, that were just like we’re sitting here doing this interview right now, it’s just as real as that. It’s just really awesome to see that 9 years later, that everything that was shown to me in that vision is coming to life. It’s just amazing and I have just great hope for our people to just rise up and to do great things.

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Geno DeClay

My childhood years I grew up on the White Mountain Apache reservation in Northeastern Arizona and I graduated from there. So I pretty much was raised there my entire life. My mom attended school, where she got her RN degree and I spent some time with her in Flagstaff, Arizona, at Northern Arizona University. A majority of the time that she was in school I spent with my grandparents, pretty much raised me as a young child.

My career is I’m an artist, an acrylic artist. I’m also a hip hop performer or hip hop activist, and I have a small digital media business where we do anything from graphic design, print production, audio production, video production, web design, custom silkscreen.


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Sandra Bercier

Well, I come from a family that is really self-sufficient goal-oriented and supportive if you’re on the right track. I have a bunch of aunties that have been my guides, I’ll say, through my whole life. My uncles as well but my mom has sisters and we grew up real close. When I grew up, we were always taught like respect your elders. Although we didn’t talk about them and say they were the seven teachings of the Anishinaabe, that is really how I grew up, to respect, to be humble, to be brave.

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Twyla Demaray

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.

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Joseph Bearstail

Out in the country, Mandaree, we used to have, I remember growing up, I don’t know if my brothers do, pigs, chickens, hens, cows, horses. I learned all that. I was a little cowboy, before I moved into the city. Dancing and stuff, how to sew, how to take care of your outfits, how to make them, how to repair them. If need be, I’d sew. I’d sew star quilts, all that stuff.

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 Dr. Russ McDonald

Then I think about the cultural side of things. Just the pow wow side of things but also the spiritual side. To tell you the truth, I don’t really remember sweats or anything like that too much prior to probably about the mid 70s. Maybe it was the civil rights movement and self-determination act and the Indian education act around that time when I look back, but all those things occurred. It was pretty much illegal for us to practice our cultural ways until then, but people were starting to practice them anyway, regardless of the law.

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Scott Davis

These opportunities that I’ve created for myself and my family through hard work, dedication, it just proves that no matter where you come from or what background you come from you’re going to face adversity. It’s really how you personally are going to take the self-initiative to change that … Because over those course of times where you’re in that mindset of drinking and using drugs, people tell you over and over. People who love you, people who are close to you, they love you and they care about you and they tell you things.

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Heather Demaray

H DemarayI had just taken time knowing that if I didn’t help myself, I couldn’t help my family. I can’t take care of my kids if I can’t take care of myself. They had instilled that in my head, to have to be scared, and be by myself, and cut off from all stuff in the world that were influenced by. I had to step outside and collect myself, and have some good … Just some prayers, and good talking to, and just sharing stories. Remembering why we’re here, and what our purpose is in this life. Seeing others who had it worse off than me, and I’m thinking, what am I doing here? I know I can get it together, and I can take care of my kids. I do not want my kids taken away from me, you know what I mean?

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Teresa His Chase

I promised the elders that I was going to go back to school and that I would learn how to write grants and help them find a way so that they could just be by themselves, within an arms reach of everybody but still standing alone as their own entity. That’s what I did, and I looked around for possible colleges to go to. I didn’t want to go to Kansas because I’m scared of tornadoes and all these reasons, making my decisions. I chose United Tribes because they have family housing and they have an elementary school on campus and daycare on campus and those things, and it was kind of like my dream come true.

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Robert His Chase

I’m kind of a stay-at-home guy right now. I enjoy my life. I enjoy my wife and my son. We get to go watch him play baseball every day or every other day and stuff. I like my privacy. I don’t like being crowded. I stay out of the picture and stuff. It’s an enjoyable life.

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Marian DeClay

After Rosebud Fair, we did it okay. Then, the guy was like, “You know what? There’s two more pow wows. There is the Cheyenne River Fair and Pow Wow. There’s the United Tribes Technical College Pow Wow. You guys should come.” I was like, “What is that?” Because, we’ve never heard of the United Tribes. They’re like, “Just come. It’s a college. It’s native college. It’s called the International Pow Wow. There’s a lot of people.” Then, we’re like, “Okay.”

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Brenda Kill Small

I remember that Friday, Donovan said, “I’m giving you your acceptance letter.” He said it feels like I’m giving you your diploma because you’ve been here and all the hoops you had to jump through to get this. He said, “You’re finally going to get into school.” I remember just feeling a sense of accomplishment. Going to housing and getting my key for the first time and going into the house, it was empty but … going to into the house, just knowing that I will have 4 walls and a roof over my kids’ head, and that’s all that mattered. Getting my education is just a plus. That was probably one of my biggest struggles.

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Kathy Johnson

Because an Indian is not an Indian is not an Indian. I can speak on behalf of myself and maybe my community. Things that are familiar to me that I know about, but I cannot speak about Fort Yates, Belcourt, or even the larger part of Fort Berthold quite possibly because we’re a large reservation. We’re spread out. That’s what I mean about a token Indian. They felt like if they had one at the table, if they had Indian at the table we’re good.

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Stacey Zephier

Like I said, nobody knows who they are, where they came from, they have no cultural background at all. I honestly don’t know the meaning of a fancy shell dancer or I have no idea how to get an Indian name or I have no idea the meaning of what ceremonies are, you know what I mean? I have no idea what they are.

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Anita Charging

Anita ChargingWhen I worked at the Bismarck public schools, I used to have a discussion group at the high school with my native students there. One thing I used to always tell them was, you know what there are not many people who are full bloods anymore. There’s not many of us that can say that. I said, so if you’re not full blood what other bloods do you have running through you? Do any of you even know? I know I have English in me. I know I have German in me. And Welsh. But my first identity’s always going to be I’m native. I’m an Indian. I’m Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara. That’s who I am. But I think you cheat yourself a little when you don’t know every blood that runs through you.

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Mary Everette

My mother and dad used to put in a big garden. You know how it is without the equipment like the modern you had to do it with horses. I think the community people that was oh they had a boss farmer there and one was Burton Bell and then there was another one before him was Charlie Ross, Burton Bell and the least one I think he came from Wisconsin. I think he was a teacher or something. I don’t know but anyhow the main thing is they had community gardens.

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Mark Little Owl

He does a lot of ceremonies and prays for people too. He was an after care counselor at Circle Of Life for a number of years. We know he was teaching the Hidatsa language at the college up in New Town at Fort Berthold Community College. Very highly respected man, he was an old cowboy, a saddle Bronc rider just like my dad. Right away, I really took him as a father figure as I started getting older. I wanted to make him proud….Delban Driver Senior. …He was willing to help people even though he was tired after work or from a long trip he would go on. When people wanted prayer for their families, for whatever reason, I’d go with him to help him carry his things. Sometimes we had to have the coals lighted up for his medicines and stuff like that. I still love that he’d go and help people even though he was dead tired or didn’t have much money. He wouldn’t ask for anything.

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 Robert Grey Eagle

Robert Grey EagleMy childhood was spread from … I was born in New York and lived there for about four years. My mother moved us back to Enemy Swim and we lived there from four to, I’d say, probably about … My goodness, fifth grade, so what is that? Eight or nine. Somewhere in there. That was, she moved us up to Bismarck. While she attended school at a United Transfer Nursing Degree. We stayed out there for two years before we moved into town.

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