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Laurie LaPointe Oral History Interview, July 16, 1986

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ROBERT PARROTT: This is an oral history interview with Laurie LaPointe, an OSU student, and full-blooded Lakota Indian. I'm interviewing Laurie LaPointe, a Sioux Indian from South Dakota. Laurie, can you give me as much background as from where you come from, your tribe, and some of the traditions that they have?

LAURIE LAPOINTE: Again, I am from the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, the south-central part of the state. Much of what we consider our homeland consists of Badlands, Black Hills...a famous monument nearby is Mount Rushmore. A great majority of my relatives still do live there, as ancestors for generations back have. And that is partly due to a tradition; a homeland is very much that, 00:01:00though centuries ago the Plains Indians were very migratory, partly due to the constraints that white men have put on us, yet...

RP: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

LL: ...we have always taken seriously homeland, you know, that that is very sacred. Let's see, as far as-

RP: What tribe did you come from?

LL: Okay, Sioux, which is the French name, the name that the French people gave us which means Snake People, when actually we call ourselves Lakota, and Lakota can kind of be equated with a family name, as in scientific. And even under Lakota, there was a branch that referred to themselves as Dakota.

RP: Huh.

LL: I can't quite off the top of my head remember what - it was something - it 00:02:00was just a real minor qualification they made to the people, like the Northern People, you know, something like that.

RP: Right, mm-hmm.

LL: Of Lakota, you can break it down into Yankton, Oglala, Pine Ridge, Rosebud, and those actually referred to regional tribes, and I belong to the Rosebud. I'm not quite sure how you - I guess to like different tribes in Africa.

RP: Yeah.

LL: You know, we consider them all Negroid, yet each tribe-

RP: There's the Mandinkas, there's the Zulus and things like that.

LL: Exactly, exactly. Exactly, and even within Lakota, there were some dialect variations too. Not too much, but some.

RP: Were you guys - buffalo was your main subsistence for where you-


LL: Well, see that's a little bit of a fallacy in that we did rely on buffalo for very nearly the sole source of protein in our diet, yet just as much, if not more, of our actual diet consisted of vegetable. You know, of the berries and the roots and-

RP: So, you were hunters and gatherers, as compared to the more settled Indians who were agricultural.

LL: Right, right. We didn't...actually employ the land. You know, we didn't raise gardens, we didn't raise crops and harvest and things like that, but we used, to a great extent, what was available on the land, again, the wild roots, the berries. And that was - those things were very important to fill in when the 00:04:00buffalo, you know, in the middle of winter and things like that when you didn't have the fresh buffalo available and things like that.

So, though people consider us the buffalo tribe in our main [stumbles] subsistency, excuse me, it's only because that was really the only meat source that we pursued. We didn't eat too many other things because we didn't consider anything else to have been given to us, you know, as a food source, where in our philosophy the purpose for the buffalo's existence was to provide food for Lakota... So, let's see, what else?

RP: How much do you know about the traditional religion?

LL: Okay, something about that, that I always, because I actually have been 00:05:00asked that question quite a few times, and I always - a lot of people understand it at least somewhat, but I usually always clarify that, per se, Indians don't have a religion.

RP: Right.

LL: If you went home, said "what is your religious affiliation," and you were speaking to a traditional Indian, you know, with a traditional Indian mentality, he would not know to what you were referring.

RP: Right.

LL: He - because no such word even exists in the language. You would - in essence, you would be expecting that man to sit down and define the totality of his life, you know?

RP: Right.

LL: And I don't think many of us are prepared to do that at a moment's notice [Robert laughs]. But to go with the analogy of what you're referring, I'm not too - at least by detail - familiar with actual rites and ceremonies and things 00:06:00like that. I know some of the greater philosophies and principles and concepts behind things. You know, for instance, the...in the Indian philosophy, there is a great reverence, nearly to the point of worship, for Mother Earth, where we perceive that all life has emanated from Mother Earth. Let's see, as far as our creation story, I think it's something like Pollen Boy met Corn Husk Girl, something like that, you know, where in our philosophies human beings are not 00:07:00the only animated creatures, you know. Other things possess their own spirit as well.

RP: Do you believe in the Great White Spirit, the One Spirit who is - controls or is above all?

LL: Yeah, um...

RP: Because some tribes don't believe in that. I was wondering...

LL: Right, right. We believe that there are many spirits. And yeah, we do believe that there is a controlling Great Spirit, and then there are, semi to be equated with a god, and then there are all your minor deities as well; wind, rain, sun, moon, mountain, rock, water, you know, just about everything they believe possessed a divine character to it. And that, a reverence being born out 00:08:00of honestly believing that that was true, they - much of your typical Indian's life was spent trying to be more and more aware that you are never alone, either in presence, or never alone in reaction, or every action you put forth does not just have repercussions on yourself. It...you know, to them they can equate it with throwing a pebble out into the middle of a pond, you know, the waves will go forever if the pond is forever big, and so they see every little act they perform and every little task they accomplish as being a very small, yet very 00:09:00important part of a greater whole. You know, the harmony kind of a thing. And, of course, there are the rites and the ceremonies that go with just about everything, you know. There are few even everyday tasks that they perform without some kind of mental preparation. Of course, I am talking more of pre-white coming Indian.

RP: Right, yeah. Mm-hmm.

LL: Where you - anymore you won't see this, at least -

RP: Yeah.

LL: ...that mentality quite as intensely. So again, to ask an Indian what is your religion, you would need to ask them...

RP: His whole life.

LL: Right. Why do you grind your corn circling to the right instead of to the 00:10:00left? Why do you gather water only when the moon is half full, you know, and such-a-such-a things where they actually have philosophies and attitudes and reasonings behind that, you know, to which they adhere very seriously.

RP: Laurie, could you tell me as much as you could what the traditional family responsibilities, as what the woman did and the man and the child, children?

LL: In that respect, my understanding is that your traditional family unit was not much different than any Caucasian, in the sense of most of the upbringing, 00:11:00at least for their first eight or nine, 10 years, was almost exclusively Mom. And that was just partly because, you know, up until that age the child's needs are more physical and emotional, and there isn't that much mental develop-or actual leading mentality as far as, you know, education. It's all just kind of them experimenting with their own thoughts and imagination and things like that. So, in that sense, an Indian family was the same.

A part of something that might be a little different is that after that, you know, those first 10 years or so, the upbringing and the teaching of the children did become strictly sexually differentiated. The mother taught the girls and the father taught the boys. Where Dad might have a little bit of 00:12:00authority and decision making in the girl's life, you know, even as far as things like marriage and things like that, yet the mother, after that say 10 years, had no say in a son's life. A son became exclusively his father's son. And that, to them, was because a woman could know nothing. I mean, just in their way of thinking, a woman could not know, because she was a woman, what it was to have been brought up a man, you know, what it really means to be a full Indian man, as it were. And that was partly because in their perspective a woman, the woman was created just to meet the needs of a man, and she didn't need to worry 00:13:00about beyond that. She needs to know how to make good corn mush and how to cure a buffalo hide and sweep a clean teepee, and [Robert laughs] that was about that.

RP: Has this changed?

LL: Um...

RP: For - as when the white man came along and then, as in modern-day living on the reservation?

LL: That's kind of a hard question to answer because ideally, you know, to make a really accurate comparison you would need to be able to take a family pre-white and compare them to a family post-white, yet a family that had, as much as possible, kept themselves apart from white influence. And you can't find 00:14:00that anymore, so I think just by sheer numbers it was inevitable that in Indian society there crept in many white attitudes and things like that. And so, sure, as with almost...as with any other subcultures in the United States, there's a lot of attitude that you can see reflected in white society, and sure among that being women's lib, you know, or something like that. Though...and I can't say comparing that to any other ethnic group, but from what I've seen, the Indian women - perhaps I should even say from my mother's generation - has not pushed 00:15:00in that direction so much. You know, they are satisfied with their lots in life, as it were, though from my mother's generation to present-day I think inevitably your young Indian woman has a lot of the same attitudes as soon as your young white woman, so [laughs].

RP: Mm-hmm.

LL: In that sense, it would have changed.

RP: Let me ask you this: as you stated before, the children were separated at a certain age, say around eight, nine, 10 and the girls were taught by the mother the daily chores and things like that, and whereas the boys were taught by their fathers the hunting and things like that...

LL: Right.

RP: Where was the history? How did they learn that? Was there someone who - 00:16:00assigned this position that would, around the campfire at night, the families would come together and they would listen to this, you know, the man or woman...

LL: Reciting the history?

RP: Reciting the history, you know?

LL: Yeah, most tribes did have their storyteller. It was a man who...and this was by tradition too, where if he was born into that family, that was how he become a storyteller.

RP: Okay.

LL: Not otherwise. Part of that - and I think this is a phenomenon that is in most cultures too - is that that was just for survival. You know, to be as consistent and as accurate with their history as possible, that usually means a 00:17:00real direct linear relationship, you know, where a father chose his eldest son. You know, he did not choose his eldest son for one year and then his middle son for another. You know, just to maintain the - at least as much - of the totality of the history, it needed to be one person telling another person.

So yeah, that was very important, though Lakota were fairly technical - well, I shouldn't say technical - but at least very conscientious and precise at some written word. Most of it was pictorial, yet they did do that to a certain degree. But again, a vast majority was verbal. And then much of that to - I 00:18:00mean, I don't know if it's obvious, but I said the storyteller father to son, that again is almost always how it was. You know, it was always the male. And again, that was just the - in their perception, a male mind was just very different from a female mind, where a male mind had been equipped for that kind of memory, you know, that kind of understanding and all those things.

And to a certain degree, women were not allowed very much, even to... They were allowed to hear the general, like the creation story, and Lakota are very famous for telling stories to convey morals, you know, and ethics and things like that, and so there are always the stories that all children are told, you know, to 00:19:00learn the common lessons. You know, you put your hand too near the fire and you're going to get burnt [Robert laughs], you know, they all heard those kinds of stories.

RP: Yeah.

LL: But when it came to the real...the stories describing tribal ceremonies and tribal rites, there were many more of such stories that only men could hear, versus there were a few that a mother would pass down only to her daughter, and things like that. But again, those were usually stories conveying principles behind, or principles that made say everyday tasks important, you know, that was probably to instill in them a value of what they were doing because I imagine, as with any kids nowadays, a girl sometimes looks at what her dad is doing with 00:20:00the son and saying why don't I get to do those fun, exciting things, and that happened back then too, I'm sure.

And so, that's when a mother would step in and say, you know, your role here is very important too. You know, back when, with First Woman and First Man, you know, it was the woman that did this and, you know. So, I think a lot of the differentiated teaching, again, was partly born out of a need to continue. Way back when, when continuing meant just finding food for the day and things like that, probably culture, or their society or whatever, was not advanced enough to...for everybody to be concerned about say tribal history and customs, where a majority of the tribe needed to be concerned with gathering food. That left the 00:21:00responsibility, say, in the hands of just one person: "well, we will entrust to you to remember these things for us so that we can go out and collect food" and things like that. So, I'm sure where that differentiation came from. And then again, a man, just for survival could be expected to teach a son and remember all those things, but couldn't be expected to be able to teach his daughter as well.

RP: Right.

LL: You know, so that's where a man said, "I will learn these things and teach my son, and you, my wife, will learn these things and teach our daughter," you know?

RP: Mm-hmm.

LL: And I think, by the same token - and I don't know how much of this is just...nature kind of working itself out - but they were very compatible, you know, as far as you don't see, at least in the reading I've done and just 00:22:00observing of interactions with families, you don't see many times like the female stories versus the male stories at cross purposes. You know, they always, almost always, made allowance for what was going on in the men's lives and what was going on in the women's lives and their roles. And you know, so it wasn't that it was a black and white. It was very much like a jigsaw puzzle where they kind of all fit together very neatly.

RP: Huh, very interesting. Do you know anything about how young they got married, how many children, and the highlight or the high point of the Sioux nation, of how many people, and can you...?

LL: I don't know too much about numbers. I do know that - and I think that this 00:23:00is probably...well, kind of...what seems logical to me, anyway, in thinking about it is that, as with any culture in the entire world, we've all been migrating along a path of, you know, whatever, becoming technically higher in society or all those things. And that would have been true for the Lakota nation as well as any other. And so, what - I guess what you need to define is what along the line, you know, that line of history has slowed us down, and I think the number one thing would be the coming of white man where, for a time, we were completely oppressed. You know, there was no chance to evolve in society. We were boxed. So, the high point would be just pre-white coming.


RP: Pre-white, huh. The average age, I think what we learned in the class, for marriage, was about 14 for the girl and about 15 for the boy?

LL: Uh-huh.

RP: Or young man?

LL: Yeah, yeah. That's my understanding as well. I don't know all the...physical reasons behind it, but what I've studied of anthropology is that the Indian were maturing at a younger age than say their counterpart Europeans where, in Europe, your 14-year-old girl and your 15-year old boy, even in by society's standards, 00:25:00were still in pantaloons and knickers. You know, where they were - you know, a young man wasn't considered to be even intelligent until whatever, 20 or something like that. And I think part of that too might be born out of physical circumstances in that in...

RP: The children were given more responsibility at an early age.

LL: Well, and that was partly born out of, again, a need for survival where, for an Indian, they didn't evolve, say in society... They didn't move in the line of okay, we're going to quit trying to adapt to our environment all the time and learn how to adapt our environment to ourselves, where that's a lot - I think - and I think to me, or in my opinion, that's where the big divergence came 00:26:00between Indian mentality and white mentality, is that an Indian never lost sight of that he did not possess the land. He did not possess the nature. It was not his to adapt, you know.

RP: Right, or to take.

LL: He was only here to - right, to adapt to it. And so, kind of out of that same mentality, the never lost the need to just survive in their environment, and so that meant, on just a purely physical basis, part of survival just meant numbers, and numbers mean the younger you can start propagating and the longer you have to propagate, you know. So, I know there are all sorts of natural selection and evolutionary principles behind that being a K-species versus an r-species and all that kind of stuff [Robert laughs], and I don't know what all that is, but I do know that... Oh, like an example would be mosquitos and fish, 00:27:00you know, where just to survive they propagate...

RP: As much as-

LL: A lot.

RP: -Right, mm-hmm.

LL: A lot, you know, and of all those numbers, how many survive? Probably not very many, but that's how they survive. And I mean on a lot smaller basis, of course, I think that natural selection worked so that your Indians were maturing at a little bit younger age, and so marrying at a younger age too.

RP: Hmm.

LL: As compared to many European counterparts.

RP: Okay. Let's get into some more personal history about you and your family. How did your mom meet your dad, and how did you get out here to Oregon?


LL: Well, my father was my mother's second marriage. Her first marriage her husband was found missing in action or something like that. I'm not even sure what all those details were. And they'd just met on the reservation. It's a small place [laughs], you get to know everybody. And then my father she had known since they were children. They had played together, so when she lost her first husband, just having maintained natural friendship ties with my father and then just having those work into a marriage relationship. Nothing extraordinary, you know, about that. Some - that, their marriage, lasted...let's see 00:29:00[mutters]...about 11 years, I guess. And then when I was six they separated and he moved - okay, I guess I'm kind of jumping ahead of myself.

So, they were married probably about 1955 on the Rosebud reservation. She had my older sister and my brother there on the reservation. They lived there for several years, and then about 1960, I guess, they moved to Denver, Colorado, and 00:30:00then I was born in 1961. They had moved to Denver I think more just [for] economical reasons. My mother got a job. She had received her R.N. degree at nursing school in Nebraska and then she had moved back home, and that's when she married her first husband, lost him, married my father, had two children, and moved to Denver, Colorado where she had gotten a job at Denver General Hospital, and my father had gotten a job at someplace. I'm not sure [both laugh].

And then I was born in 1961. My father's job was not panning out so he began looking around for other jobs and my mother began looking around for other jobs, too. She found this position in Silverton, Oregon, which is where we have moved to and have lived there ever since. And because it was a lucrative enough job, 00:31:00though my father hadn't found a job here, they moved out to Oregon anyway. And my mother has lived in Silverton ever since. Again, the primary reason being, you know, economics of the situation.

Something that my mother told me years later, I mean just years ago actually - and I'm not sure how much this really entered in, though I know she thought about it a lot, I don't know how much priority she actually gave to this thought - but she said she'd always been very aware that to stay on the reservation, for her, would have been very detrimental in that, for her personally, in that she 00:32:00felt it would not have allowed her to grow and to pursue the prosperity that she wanted to see in her life and she wanted to have for her children. The quality of livelihood on the reservation is not that good. Rosebud Reservation is not one of your more prosperous ones.

RP: Right.

LL: And she knew she wanted to be a nurse, but the hospital in Rosebud offered little advancement opportunities, and salary ceilings were very low and, you know, things like that. And so she knew - you know, part of the motivation was the finances, yet she also knew that on a larger basis she wouldn't - she couldn't really have the freedom that she wanted if she had stayed on the reservation.


RP: Hmm.

LL: But again, knowing my mother like I do, I don't know how much she would have really allowed that to enter into her decision because had she felt that she could have provided for her children just as fine on the reservation as anywhere else, and yet still knew that she might personally not be able to grow, she probably would have stayed, thinking that the benefits of having her immediate family around and having her kids grow up with the cousins and the aunts and the uncles might have outweighed any, quote "freedom," unquote, we may have had by moving away.

RP: How about your tradition and your mother teaching you the traditional ways of life as an Indian? And do you feel that because of situations like your mother's and your own where the Indians are forced to leave the reservation, 00:34:00that those traditions are going to slip away and die and the Indian way of life is going to be gone? You're going to mix in within society? And do you know any of your own language, native tongue at all?

LL: I do know some. I mean, I can count and I can say the months and I can name body parts and [both laugh], and I can-

RP: Give me a sample.

LL: I can ask-

RP: Can you count to ten for me?

LL: [Counts in Lakota] and I can't remember five [counts in Lakota] I can't remember nine and I can't remember 10 [both laugh].

RP: Oh well, pretty good, just a sample.


LL: Yeah.

RP: Just a sample.

LL: One thing that, for instance, [speak Lakota], that whole phrase is the equivalent to our word "pepper," in the - where pepper is just a sound that we have caused to be a word to symbolize something, where in the Indian language, [speaks Lakota] is the actual description of pepper. You know, a little round, hard, black, spicy, stony things.

RP: [Laughs] woo [laughs].

LL: So, yeah, we don't have just a word that symbolizes something.

RP: Right.

LL: We usually have words that...

RP: Describe.

LL: Describe something. Let's see, what else can I say? Hair is...[speaks Lakota]. I heard that a lot. "Going to wash my [speaks Lakota]," I heard that a lot. You know, "you need to wash your [speaks Lakota]." She was always funny. 00:36:00[Speaks Lakota], I was taught that when I was 10 years old, and this was a very important facet to my life and I asked my mother to teach me how to say "I love milk" [laughs].

RP: [Laughs].

LL: So, though I have not pursued, you know, speaking Indian as my second tongue, because it's a very difficult language [laughs]-

RP: I was just going to say, that is a very sound - you know, sounds very difficult.

LL: Yeah, it's a little similar to German. You have a lot of the guttural-

RP: I was just going to say...

LL: -half swallowing your saliva and then quick, getting out these syllables, you know, kind of things.

RP: Right, mm-hmm.

LL: And a lot of nasal kind of, nasalizing your Ns and things like that. So, as far as the language, I know little to nothing. You know, it's - again, it's very complicated where you even have different words for, say, if you're describing 00:37:00something as being red you would say one thing, versus the sun was red, you know. And even if you're saying it or you're saying that someone else said it, you know, and all those kinds of things.

As far as traditions, a little bit... I kind of have to go back a little bit to my mother's upbringing. Again, of her - she was brought up in a time where she was brought up in a school, it was a Catholic school, by white priests, white nuns that said Indian was paganism, [Robert tsks] Catholicism was right, and 00:38:00that meant suppression of everything that could even slightly be connotated as being Indian.

RP: Right. They weren't allowed to wear any Indian dress...

LL: Right.

RP: ...paint, or even talk in their tongue, as I recall.

LL: Right, right. Exactly.

RP: They were forced to wear uniforms.

LL: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

RP: [Tsks] so anyways...

LL: And I think it was difficult for my mother because in her home life, though her mother was full-blood Indian and spoke only English to the children, having realized that her children were in Catholic schools and being expected to speak only English, yet her father did not even know English, never spoke it when - in dealing with his children. He only spoke, you know, native tongue. So, the children were yet expected to respond to their father as Indian children, yet in 00:39:00turning around - you know, so after a while that became only on vacation times, and for the other whatever, nine months out of the year, they're expected to act and be little white children.

So, I think for my mother that was difficult, perhaps even more than - she's the youngest of six kids - I think even more so for her than the others because she was right, you know, her age people were right at a little bit of a transition time where kind of the peak of, as it were, Indian oppression in society - and she - so, she was being instilled with all of those "you are not red, you are white," you know, "if you want to be recognized as an individual, you need to be 00:40:00a white individual; if you want to prosper as an individual, you need to prosper as a white individual."

So, she was, you know, being the hardest hit with those things, yet in her lifetime we have seen that peak on the downward now, where - and I don't know if it's just pretentious or not - but there's been, quote, "more of an awareness," you know, unquote, that to be Indian is not a bad thing. So, she's had the pull of all those education years and having those instilled in her, yet having to respond to children that were brought up in a time - or her children, as in myself - brought up in a time where it was good to know yourself. You know, it was good to be aware of who you were and get to know your roots and things like that, which is a lot of what I have been brought up in.


So, where me responding to those things and asking all the questions, and so her needing to respond to the questions of her child, yet her education was such that we don't even talk about that; we don't even want to recognize that, you know? You don't need to worry about what it was for, you know, to be an Indian. That doesn't need to be a concern. You just need to be an A+ student in school and you just need to be a well-rounded person. It doesn't matter if you're an Indian, that kind of thing.

So, there wasn't a whole lot of real direct let's sit down and talk about, you know, this ceremony and this tradition, and things like that. Much more often than not, she would answer my questions say inadvertently in that I would say 00:42:00"Hey Mom, when we did such-and-such a tradition or rite back home, were we doing it because, you know, for this reason?" And she would respond, you know, "no, we did it because," kind of a thing. It wasn't always a...it wasn't always a positive giving of information. Sometimes it was just to get me to shut up [both laugh], you know?

RP: Yeah.

LL: A lot of times.

RP: What about things like bead making, little things like that-

LL: Well, see-

RP: -that's passed down from mother to daughter?

LL: Again, my mother has all that knowledge. You know, she knows, or at least knew - I don't know if she can remember a lot of things now - but she knew how to do all those things. She knew all the traditional food preparation, you know, she knew all the-

RP: Wow.

LL: -traditional societal dos and don'ts and, you know, all those things. And 00:43:00partly just by lack of immediate environment, having moved away from the area where she would be, on a daily - at least more-so on a daily basis - pursuing those things, she's forgotten a lot of things. And you know, how much that was subconscious or conscious oppression, you know, I don't know. I did learn some things just by a child's pushiness, you know?

RP: Curiosity?

LL: Yeah, and like "Mom, I'm bored," and she'd "well here, let me teach you how to do something," you know, something to keep me busy for a couple more hours. And so, I learned some of the like leather working. You know, just not complicated things, but just more pastimes. And in that sense, that is very traditional. That is very - that has been going on for centuries, you know, a 00:44:00mother, when the child is young, just to keep the child occupied, a mother began teaching a little girl to do beadwork and to do the basket weaving and, you know, "here, take this cornmeal and add so much water," and things like that.

So you know, I received some of that just because I was a child and she was a mother needing to keep a child occupied [Robert laughs], and the things that she knew were Indian things. But it wasn't really with the intentions of "I need to raise my child...I need to raise my child an Indian" sense and attitude, and things like that.

RP: As I asked you before, what do you think is going to happen with situations - do you feel that the Indians are having to leave the reservations and that 00:45:00they're going to lose their traditions, as in what happened in your family?

LL: Mm-hmm. Um...

RP: What do you see as what's going to happen to the American Indian?

LL: [Clears throat]...

RP: Are they going to melt into society?

LL: I think in a lot of things we're kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place because...you know, for centuries Indians - and this is true, again, for any culture - we have our old mold. You know, we come kind of in our own shape. And by external circumstances, suddenly we were expected to be thrust into a shape that was not ours, you know, as far as reservations. You know, that was such an alien concept to us, of whites staying in just one place. You know, we 00:46:00will misuse our privileges, you know, we will abuse the land here. We need to move on and give this place a chance to recuperate and things like that.

And suddenly these white people were coming and saying "we give this land to you, it is now yours; it can never be taken from you," where words like "taken" and "it is now yours" and, you know, "we give it to you," those were totally alien concepts to, yet to survive we needed to incorporate those into ourselves so that we could see to it that well, we don't have much but we do need to make sure this land isn't taken from us. You know, we do need somewhere to live, even though that kind of basic instinct... So, in some ways, I think we have irrefutably lost some of the pure philosophy - and that's partly just by 00:47:00external circumstances - we can never again live the way that we used to. And because we cannot do that, we cannot maintain a lot of the same attitudes that we used to. And-[tape cut].

[Tape resumes] again, just by sheer numbers, a lot of perspectives and concepts and ideas and ideologies and all those things of white society have come into us where, again, to a degree, we've come past a point of ever getting back to...

RP: Right.

LL: Okay. But on the other side of that, I would argue that though external circumstances have changed, a lot of what constituted an Indian mentality were 00:48:00internal circumstances. You know, internal feelings and ideas and thoughts and environment. You know, what went on inside of me versus just what was going on externally. And so, I think that we need to...Indians, the Indian nation...I don't know, pause and reflect on what it is exactly that we think we're trying to get back to. The greatest fear I have is that the white concept of ownership has seeped in enough into our way of thought that, in one sense, the waters are 00:49:00forever poisoned, kind of a thing, again, because at a real basic level the philosophy was such that we are just a small part of a greater whole, never that we were above the whole and that it belonged to us. You know, how can you own something that you are just a part of?

So, I'm fearful that we have become so caught up in the trappings of being an Indian, where I venture to say that, to a degree, ownership of the Black Hills is a trapping. Ownership of the Badlands is a trapping; ownership of the reservation is a trapping, where somewhere along the line we need to keep in 00:50:00balance that, though those are external circumstances that we don't have control over, you know, just for survival's sake, we do need to maintain some kind of authority or say over what goes on in those places. Yet we need to remember that we maintain that say, but not out of ownership.

So, I see a need for the Indian people to - and I guess I do need to say Lakota because there are I think other Indian tribes of the United States that have somewhat been able to get back to their roots - you know, and in keeping that balance of while our external circumstances state that we own the reservation, but internally they need to know that well, we are the wardens over this, say, 00:51:00or it has been given into our care for a time. You know, kind of a balance. And I don't see the Lakota having achieved that at all. In going back home now, I see few Indians that are satisfied.

RP: Have you ever been to the - your reservation?

LL: Oh yeah, we go back home - and even when I say home, that's usually what I mean - we go back home every two or three years. Our - we've been doing that since I was six. That was my mother, my three brothers and my sisters and myself. We did that, like I said, ever two or three years, until I was about 13. And then after that, as my older brother and sisters got old enough to kind of be more independent, it kind of dwindled down to the younger kids, and in the last, say eight years, it's been just Mom and I that have been gone back. And then there have even been times during that time when just Mom has gone back, 00:52:00and say just because I've been in school or something like that I haven't been able to go. And now my oldest brother's married and with three kids, and my sister's married and three kids, and my other brother is, you know, off doing his own thing. So, it's partly just dispersion. But Mom, for sure, maintains fairly close ties, you know, bonds, and keeps up on going back there.

RP: That's good to hear. It wasn't like you totally separated yourself.

LL: Oh, not at all, not at all. In fact, I think that's something that my mom's kind of agonized over, thinking she bereft her children of all familial support. You know, she was a single parent, four children, working full time. She couldn't give. She didn't have a lot of extra to give, you know, the motherly 00:53:00embellishments, as it were, where she needed to be concerned with getting us clothed and fed and for school and things like that. There weren't - you know, there weren't the birthday parties and just even Mom being a den mother, you know, things like that. She just didn't have time for those kinds of things.

And I think sometimes she felt had she stayed on the reservation those things might have been, at least peripherally, been supplied by aunts or uncles or something like that. So, I think she took very seriously, even though we couldn't afford it, she - like I said, we always took that trip back home at least once every couple years.

And so, in that sense, she realized - and I don't know if it was...I'm not sure 00:54:00what the motivation was - but there was a desire in her for us to have a working memory and a relationship with our roots. You know, so that was important enough to her to see to it that we went, even if it meant her going in debt for, you know...

RP: What was it like for you when you could first realize, you know, the difference? Did you feel like an outsider when you first went to the reservation?

LL: Young - actually, that didn't really start happening until I got older. As a child, until I was 10 or 11, for me it literally felt like I was going home. You know, I never felt that I didn't belong there. There were times that I felt out of place just by sheer lack of experience. You know, we'd go to a pow wow, 00:55:00such-and-such an event would happen, and I wouldn't know why or I wouldn't know the significance behind it, or I would meet a cousin or a second once-removed by marriage and things like that and I wouldn't always understand the significance of the proper behavior in meeting this person, you know, and things like that where, in Indian society, those things are still very much recognized.

It's only been lately, well, a tradition that has always been in Indian society, or in many, was that a mother-in-law never addressed her son-in-law. They - in all the years that her daughter was married to this man, she never spoke to him.

RP: Huh.

LL: It was just taboo. You know, I can't even tell you all of the reasoning behind it or how that arose, but that was something that was very strongly 00:56:00adhered to until just, you know, not very long ago. In fact, my mother has even admitted that when my sister got married, she had a hard time relating to my sister's husband for a while because, whether she really agreed with it or not, she had been brought up in that environment that said you do not speak to your son-in-law. So, that was something that she was kind of surprised to find out about herself, yet she felt it very strongly.

So, a lot of things like that I didn't always know when I went back home, and so sometimes I would do the wrong thing. I was never punished for it, or never ostracized, but there were times when I knew I distinctly felt that my mother was embarrassed by something I had done or something I had said, you know, and I was wondering what have I done, what did I do wrong. And most of the time she 00:57:00would try and explain, and most of the time I didn't understand, you know, because there were a lot deeper, moral concepts going on that I had no idea. So, all I, you know, "I don't understand, I don't understand."

But again, as a child, you know adults and most of society are much more apt to forgive you. So, it really wasn't until I got older, you know, whatever older being where society recognizes you as an independently working agent more where now I was solely responsible for my actions, you know, where that age where you are expected to know things, you are expected to act properly, and if you're going to a place strange to you, you take the time to find out what's right and what's wrong. And I can even remember the time, I mean the trip, where that was 00:58:00not true, and then the next trip where it was true, where there were - I did something wrong, I think, and there was just a different feeling of the disapproval where it was a little bit more of a "Laurie, you really should know better."

You know, and yet I still was kind of falling back on the well, how should I know better, you know? Yet just by age where in their society their children by that age knew those things, and so for me to go back and not know was kind of obvious. But it wasn't ever to the point of being ostracized when it came - and that was never familial disapproval. It was always just out in public or something like that where of course my aunts and uncles would know my personal situation, and so would know that I didn't necessarily have the opportunity to 00:59:00know everything. And they were always very quick at teaching me. You know, when I would say "what did I do wrong?" they'd - most of the time they'd kind of laugh and shake their head and say "well Laurie, let me tell you."

RP: [Laughs] Yeah.

LL: So, going home has never been a negative experience for me. It's always been something that I eagerly look forward to. And in a lot of ways, there's a lot of freedom in knowing that you're going to be among people who are a lot like you in mentality and in attitude and in motivation. You know, I mean some of the real gut-level things as far as just thought processes and how you analyze things and how you approach things.

RP: How is that different to the way I or...[Laurie laughs] not, you know, but-

LL: No, I understand. I'm not sure I can answer that in, you know...


RP: You had talked, before we started taping, about the Indian attitude and motivation. Can you...?

LL: A little bit I think the bottom line is, again, what I have said before as part - as far as you would never hear, I think in a true...a true Indian philosophy, Indian supremacy, the way that the white, the phrase "white supremacy" became so popular for a while; "white supremacy," the phrase describing a white mentality as far as they came as conquerors, they came to possess, they came - "this is our land now." There isn't that equivalent in Indian philosophy, in Indian thought, at least in a greater sense. You know, 01:01:00there are the smaller instances of an Indian brave going into battle and he gains coup, you know, those become his. He uses those to actually partly define his manhood, yet, on a much greater whole, they do not have that mentality of possession and ownership. And I'm not sure if I can define all the aspects of it but that nearly makes white mentality and Indian mentality in opposite directions on a - that color is almost how you look at everything.

RP: Mm-hmm.

LL: I don't know if you can understand what I'm trying to say because I'm not sure I can describe it. For instance, if you and I were to go stand at the foot 01:02:00of a mountain and - with the intention of getting to the top of the mountain, you perhaps - and again, I'm just using you as a general...

RP: Right.

LL: ...I'm not necessarily "you" in specific - once you got to the top, it would not be out of character for you to say "I have conquered this mountain."

RP: And look down and look around, yeah.

LL: Right, and say "I am on top of the world now," you know.

RP: Mm-hmm.

LL: "The world lays at my feet." Yet, in Indian philosophy, I would never say that. That is not a concept that...that I could have. For me, it would be..."look all how much more there is beyond me."

RP: Yeah.

LL: Where I am just this minute speck. You know, almost - it's kind of almost a 01:03:00reverse where maybe in your typified Caucasian mentality they would see themselves "I'm above all this now and everything looks so small and undetailed and, you know, general and abstract," where it kind of, in the reverse, an Indian would say...might...well, let's see if I can think how I'd say that. They would look at all that and say "and to think that when I am down amongst it, I am as nothing." You know, they would say "there is so much more beyond me. There is so much more outside of me. I am just such a small part of a greater whole."

RP: Wow.


LL: And that...I think that even more is just an example of what I'm trying to say, but the attitude that's behind that really makes, really makes whites and Indians very different [laughs], which is partly why we...couldn't - I don't think we could've won. I'm putting aside numbers.

RP: Mm-hmm.

LL: We couldn't have won against the white man because we couldn't combat, you know, the attitude difference. We - you were - "you" [laughs] - the white men were fighting with not just different physical weapons, but they were so motivated by something so completely different that - to motivate them into 01:05:00actions that would never occur to a white person because they didn't have the motiva-the attitude to motivate them in the same direction.

RP: Right. Huh.

LL: So, sometimes I find myself dealing with that even today. I, you know, I do not pretend to aspire to the same level of philosophy as they did pre-white. You know, of course, I can easily think in the same way as - you know, I've gotten to the top of mountains and said "look it, I'm above all this," [Robert laughs] you know. So, it's not that I don't think that way, it's just that I also have...on the same deep level, I have an understanding of having stood on that 01:06:00mountain top and say "look how much beyond me there is."

RP: Wow.

LL: You know. And so, sometimes that has hindered me in say pursuing things, where I do not always possess the same competitive, say, type of a spirit. And-

RP: Not always go, go, go, go, strive, strive.

LL: Right, right.

RP: Motivate, get to the top, you know.

LL: Right, where for me-

RP: We're going to step on everybody, I don't care, me, me, me, you know.

LL: Exactly. My sense of self is not so intimately defined by what I own or what I have accomplished. Again, this is on a - more on a theoretical basis, because I have been known to claw and kick a few times [Robert laughs] myself [laughs]. But there have been times when I have not known how to completely, properly, act 01:07:00in white society, where I have felt just an alien sometimes.

And there have been times when I've actively rebelled against that, where I've been thrust into a situation that if I wanted to, say succeed in it or, you know, whatever your measure of accomplishment is, I would need to...perform in such a manner or put forth in such a behavioral pattern, and I have felt that to be...opposed to what I would feel inside of myself. And so, I have said "no." 01:08:00You know, if in accomplishing such-and-such a deed I compromise what's going on inside of me, it's just not worth it.

And so, in a lot of ways my life is not exemplified by...you know, I have not led a typical successful, prosperous white society life. I've been - well, I don't want to say accused, but okay, like an example is that even though I am nearly 25 years old, I have not even gotten a bachelor's degree yet, and that's partly because...you know, it has not been so important to me that I attain this 01:09:00bachelor's degree; that I own this sheepskin [Robert laughs], that I have behind my name "B.S. in Zoology."

You know, that hasn't been as important to me as - in fact, school has much more been a background for things that are going on in my life otherwise; the people that I have met, the learning that I have done, you know, educationally, socially, all those things. So, it doesn't bother me that, you know, even though I'm almost 25, I'm still pursuing a bachelor's where most kids my age are - nearly have their master's, because that sense of ownership, that sense of needing to possess something to define me by is just not as acute in me as in maybe a lot of other people.

RP: Huh. What does it mean to be an Indian to you?


LL: I think a little bit the defi-my definition of that I've kind of scattered throughout all those things, throughout this whole interview. And to me, again, it's mostly an attitude where, for now anyway, there's enough external pressures that we don't - we can't really afford to pursue a lot of the outward manifestations of what the attitude should be on the inside.

RP: Mm-hmm.

LL: Okay, that's kind of a peripheral definition. And what I mean by that is...for me, to be an Indian does not mean that I will own my own 12-foot diameter teepee [Robert laughs]. And it does not mean that I will necessarily 01:11:00have a name-giving ceremony done before I'm age 25, which is very unlikely now because I will be 25 in two days, which is a tradition for a woman. It does not mean that my hair will be down to my waist and will be worn in braids, as you can see. It does not mean that I own a traditional buckskin dancing dress, you know.

There are a lot of things that it doesn't mean for me, and for me, most of those things are the manifestations. I do feel that...and again, this is still, you know, all exploratory for me. I am only 24 [both laugh], so there's a lot about life and just being a human being that I don't know. Yeah, I think there is a 01:12:00lot about me in personality and attitude and motivation that is Indian, so it's a little bit hard for me to sit down and say "this is what defines Laurie LaPointe as being Indian" because to me that's analogous to trying to, okay, describe Indian religion. They are one and the same for me.

I - a large - okay, what I can say is that a large part of what defines Laurie LaPointe can be typically defined as say Indian personality characters, you know, or attitudes. I have a tendency to be stoic. I have a tendency to not pursue, say, male-oriented activities. Not to say that I stay home and bake 01:13:00bread all day [Robert laughs], not that at all, but I'm not - you know, I don't need to say compete all the time. I'm usually more analytical in my approach. I am not an extremely emotional person. I have a fairly dry sense of humor.

You know, so there are things that you can say in my mind this is what I typify as being Indian, and I will possess a lot of those things, but to look at my outward life, you might not necessarily even know.

RP: Hmm.

LL: So, at this point in my life I'm more adept at defining Laurie LaPointe as being an Indian as what she's not [laughs], you know, by what I'm not more than 01:14:00by what I am...because for me to say "Laurie LaPointe is an Indian," all I can say is "Laurie LaPointe."

RP: Mm-hmm.

LL: All I can I say is "I am this way, this way, this was, and this way." And...because I'm Indian, I guess that's what it means for Laurie LaPointe to be an Indian.

RP: Mm-hmm. What the - how I met you was through Northwest Hills Bible Study in School of Christian Learning. How do you - how did you become a Christian? And I know that through a lot of my books they blamed the plight of the American Indian on Christianity; how can you...can you define that for me a little bit, go into that?

LL: Yeah, a little. [Robert laughs]. Again, this is all just kind of personal 01:15:00conjecture. I became a Christian when I was 13 years old, Christian being defined as a born-again personal relationship with Jesus Christ, though I was brought up in a devout Catholic environment, went to church every Sunday, took communion every Sunday, went to confession at least once a month, all of the external manifestations of what should have been going on internally but wasn't always. And I became a Christian when I was 13 years old, under the influence of my eldest brother who had become a Christian a couple years before and has since then become a pastor and has his own church, a nondenominational, 01:16:00semi-charismatic Evangelical church up in Vancouver, Washington.

For me, that was - I did have some hard times. At 13 years of age, I was just trying to not only realize I'm a little different from some people, I kind of wonder why; "hey, I see some Indian qualities about me," you know, not only was I coming into that kind of an awareness, but also just your normal human development of "who am I, where am I going, what defines Laurie LaPointe?" And in so discovering - you know, at first just in taking bulk knowledge, as it 01:17:00were, about Indian society in history, and even the anthropological aspects of it, even all those kinds of things, and in just learning some aspects about Catholicism, and in just learning some aspects about Christianity and where I saw differences in Catholicism and...a greater concept of Christianity, and yet learning the philosophies of Indian lore and, you know, all those things, that was a hard time for me of trying to harmonize all those things.

And in going back and saying "wait a minute, it was supposed to be Christianity that was supposed to be enlightening these people," and having heard, you know, what you just expressed of it's the Christianity, supposedly the Christian 01:18:00church that just nearly destroyed, you know, many Indian cultures, and so trying to bring all those things in balance, I don't pretend to make excuses for all those people, and I certainly can't know their hearts and their minds, but I do know that...in particular, the Catholic Church, you know, which was the main influence in South Dakota, pre-Vatican II Catholic, very staunch, Roman Catholic, couldn't have been more diametrically opposed in thinking to Indian thought. So, in that sense of the word, I do place a lot of responsibility on 01:19:00the Catholic Church. I could go into all sorts of discussion on what I perceive to be the differences between the Catholic Church doctrine of that day and true Christianity. Um, we-

RP: Right. That's just like in our class; a lot of things get blamed on the missionaries, and they kind of put the explorers and the adventures into that group of missionaries, whereas maybe our definition of a missionary isn't someone who's not out to conquer these people and...

LL: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

RP: ...trying to change their lifestyles or their traditions, you know?

LL: Right. Right. Because [sighs] for me...in some very important fundamental 01:20:00ways, as far as attitude, Christianity and Indian philosophy are very compatible.

RP: Yeah. When-

LL: Very compatible.

RP: Earlier in this interview when we were talking about religions, I saw a lot of undertones within the - your -you know, traditional Sioux religion, you know - that are some of the basics of Christianity, you know?

LL: Mm-hmm.

RP: And I can't - I too become very upset when someone doesn't go in and learn the culture first, you know, and sees that the underlying things that they believe is the same thing...

LL: Right.

RP: ...as, you know, these people believe in.

LL: So - see, I think a problem is that when we say the missionaries were 01:21:00responsible for destroying a lot of the culture, I think what we need to be saying is that these white people came in, and these white people came in with their white supremacy attitudes. Missionaries, pioneers, farms, whoever, you know, whatever their title was, that was - that's unimportant. It's the fact that they came in with their conventional white attitudes, and that's what destroyed. It happened to be that they came in under the title of the Christian workers.

RP: Right.

LL: And I think that that's where a lot of the friction has come in where... I don't think that what they were pursuing was...was bringing these people into harmony with Christianity so much as conquering them, you know, from their own 01:22:00white attitudes and things like that, which is unfortunate because, again, for me I - there's no conflict in me of adhering intimately to your typical Indian philosophies and adhering intimately to Christian values. They motivate me in the same direction. If not overlapping, they're parallel, and they don't - there's no compromise in me for those things.

I guess I would have to admit to the Indian philosophy perhaps in the pre-white pure sense of the word was that they did worship the earth. You know, they did worship these other gods, and I do not adhere to that, yet I bear a great 01:23:00reverence and I honor the earth and I have a great respect for all living creatures. I bear a deep amazement and an awe at nature, and-

RP: Nature itself.

LL: -and the principles that rule it, and the ruling hand behind it all. There's no incompatibility there for me at all. And the two have enhanced the others a lot - each other a lot. I feel that in some ways I am more of a fulfilled Indian, perhaps, because of my Christianity, and in some other ways I'm more of a fulfilled Christian because of my Indian philosophy. So, I don't see that as a problem at all.


And I know my older brother feels the same way. As I said, he had become a Christian a couple of years before I did, where he had been involved with some of the mid-seventy or late seventies, early eighties radical Indian movements. He was involved with AIM, which was the American Indian Movement, marched on Washington, hurled a few stones [Robert laughs] I think, and-

RP: Got their attention [laughs].

LL: -yelled a few adjectives and, you know, all of that, and came to a point of seeing the incompatibility of that behavior with what they were really trying to achieve as an Indian nation. And then, having become a Christian, and you know, 01:25:00pretty much completely pushing off the violent tactics, and I see in him now a real fulfillment of teaching. You know, a teaching in the same sense as Indians would sit down and teach. You know, I see him teaching his sons and I - to me it would be - it probably very nearly approaches what went on centuries ago, you know. He sits down with his son and says, you know, "let me tell you this story," and in so doing, defining a moral or a behavior or a principle or something like that.

So, I think for both of us, you know, a real fulfillment on both aspects. And 01:26:00again, in the same sense that in Indian philosophy there's no word for religion, you know, my being a Christian and my being an Indian, you can't differentiate the two. They are one and the same, you know.

RP: What do you see as... and what do you think, how the Indian's going to survive? Let me give an example. The Navajo and the Hopi Indians are - the Navajo are getting pushed off that reservation-

LL: Right.

RP: -and the U.S. government going in and mining uranium ore on a lot of the nation's - the oil and the coal - we keep pushing them off their land; we keep, 01:27:00you know, cutting back on their reservations, polluting the lakes, you know, how is the American Indian going to survive?

LL: [Sighs]

RP: Is there anything they can do? Is - are groups like AIM, are they going to help any? Are, you know...?

LL: I do not perceive that they have done much good [laughs], up to this point. I think the problem, again, is a little bit of at least what I started to refer to earlier, you know, the analogy that we are between a rock and a hard place because for us to survive today...means doing what we have always done to survive, and that means adapting. And in this instance, it would mean Indians 01:28:00adapting to white society. And in so doing, we lose, to a degree, you know, it's inevitable we lose some of our Indianness.

RP: Mm-hmm.

LL: How much of that we would lose in the process, I cannot say. You know, and I guess on the extreme pessimistic outlook; in order to survive, we end up destroying ourselves, in the sense of in order to survive against the whites we need to act on that level, and in so going to that level, we lose our own.

RP: [Unintelligible]

LL: Is that - if that makes any sense?

RP: Yeah, sure it does.

LL: I guess on a positive level is that hopefully, as we are moving along to putting forth the energies of needing to be understood, and putting forth the 01:29:00energies of being understood, hopefully, white society would be moving along the same line in coming closer to understanding, and so not making us venture so far from our ground zero, as it were. And so, maybe if we met somewhere in the middle, we would not be so far away from our own level that we could not at least recapture some of that.

RP: Yeah. A lot of what I see and what I've learned and I've read from this class is you have the white man's greed, unsatisfied greed. You know, he sees something and he wants it, and yet he has given this land to the Indian and said, you know, "this is yours and yours alone to govern this," and yet he sees 01:30:00something on there and he wants it. And then I see, from the Indian, a stubborn pride, you know, of the unbending tree, and I - unfortunately, what I end up seeing from what I've read about the Indians and what's going on in the Navajo and Hopi, there's no way that they're going to be able to compete against the white man's power, the white man's government, and they're going to end up being crushed, you know?

LL: Mm-hmm.

RP: And totally, you know, repressed.

LL: Yeah, I have a tendency to see it that way too, in that we either lose externally or we lose internally.

RP: It's a no-win situation for you guys.

LL: If we strive to maintain the internal, we learn all of the external manifestations of our life. You know, we lose any of the land that we would have 01:31:00seen as our place to be. We lose any of the, you know, the different elements of our lives, you know, the buffalo. We have lost the Black Hills to have as our place of worship and things like that. We have lost... Yet, if we fight to keep those things, we have external gone to the white man's level and lost our internal. You know, the... You know, in other words, agreeing to the attitude of "this is mine to fight for and I will," you know, "to an extreme, I will kill to keep it."


RP: But unfortunately, if they want to keep their land, like you said, they're going to have to...

LL: They have to...

RP: ...to do that.

LL: ...adhere to behaviors...

RP: They got to fight fire with fire.

LL: Right, right. And I, you know, our fire can never be as big.

RP: Right.

LL: ...as the white man's fire.

RP: And like you said, in the process, you lower yourself and you degrade yourself.

LL: Right, right. Or, you know, I don't quite want to go that extreme, just so much as we go to where we are not.

RP: Yeah.

LL: You know, we just, we jump islands, you know? Sort of. Just a different plain, a different way of though. And you know, you cannot - it is nearly a road to madness, as it were, to try and behave in a way that you cannot. And that right there is very nearly the greatest sin in Indian philosophy. You know, for 01:33:00them, in Indian philosophy, everything that comes out of you comes...you know, every action or event comes out of only what can be inside of you, to begin with.

RP: Mm-hmm.

LL: So, for them to say...to exhibit say greedy behavior implies that there are greedy tendencies inside of themselves, yet that is diametrically opposed to what their true attitude is. So, it - that's literally swallowing their own tail, kind of a thing.

RP: Mm-hmm.

LL: It's - I don't know. So, as far as survival [sighs]... I think it's going to 01:34:00be hard [laughs]. I... All I know is that somewhere along the line we need to keep the balance of being caught up in keeping hold of the external manifestations, what I referred to earlier as trappings, some of them, you know, being right. Keeping in memory a rite and a ceremony versus to have the attitude behind the ceremony-[tape ends].