How can you feel good about yourself when you’re restricted?

Ms. Anderson reflects on experiences that defined her identity.

Audio Chapters

I like to say I’ve only been Indian since I was 40, because I was trying real hard before that not to be [Indian]. I’m so thankful to experience that when I did, and I think: gosh, what would have happened if I’d never met the people that helped change the way I think. I was able to pass [what I learned] to my parents and it changed them too. And it changed some thoughts my mother had in her later years. She died when she was 70-some years old, and she got to see things differently.

[When I grew up], we couldn’t go a lot of places because those were just for white people, Indians couldn’t go here or there. But I also know it was just from how she [her mother] was raised, and that’s how people were treated. How can you feel good about yourself when you’re restricted? You’re told not to feel anything

I got to meet a couple of women and attended a racism conference. I met Angela Davis. I don’t know if you know who she is; she was an activist back in the early years; a Black woman from Southern California. And if it wasn’t for her, I probably wouldn’t be Indian today. Because when I went to this racism conference-- it was held at Sabathani Center in Minneapolis – [Angela Davis] asked all the people of color at the conference to go upstairs to the library, and all the others, or white people, were asked to stay down in the auditorium which was more comfortable. And that’s how she said it.

And so we went. I struggled with it and I thought: Oh, my gosh, I can’t stay here because I know I’m not white – and I sure ain’t going up there because I’m not one of them. I’ll just go to the bathroom and wait until it’s over. And so that’s what I did. I was in there, hiding in the bathroom, in a stall, and one of the women that came with me – there was a group of us that went down there – came after me. She was Asian. She says, “There you are! I was wondering where you were. I thought you had to be up there, but I couldn’t find you, and I thought I’d better check the bathroom.”

I said, “Yeah, I don’t feel that good.” And she said, “You have to come up; they’re waiting for you.” I said, “They’re not waiting just for me; they don’t even know I’m here.” And she said, “I told them that you weren’t here.” So I said, “Oh, all right”, and I went up there and we were crammed into this library and we were all standing around the room. A majority of them were Black and a few were Hispanic and there were some Asians there, and some Natives. She had us go around the room and tell everybody our names and what our ethnic background was. I thought: Oh, my God – I didn’t want anybody to find out…well, I don’t think they’ll get around to us because there were so many in the room. But they did. Everybody said who they were and what their ethnic background was, and when it came down to me, I just said my name and just kind of had my hand over my mouth and so nobody heard, because I really didn’t say what I was. They completed going around the room and she mentioned a little bit about herself. Then she said, “I have to go back to this gal over here,” and she pointed at me, “because I did not get who you were; what your ethnic background was.” “Did anybody else hear her?”

And oh my god, I was just so embarrassed, I just wanted to shrink. So I said my name and I had a hard time saying what I was. I started to cry and so I just said I was American Indian. And she said, “What? What are you – I still didn’t hear you.” And so I had to say it louder, and I had a difficult time saying it. I was so surprised that all these other Native people came up to me and they were all hugging me, and Angela came and hugged me and she said, “It’s okay to be who you are. You don’t have to be ashamed anymore.” And to my surprise, all these other Native people that were there, guys and women, had said they had all felt like I did at one time and that it’s okay for me to say who I am, because otherwise I won’t know who I am, if I pretend I’m somebody else.

So to me, that was my start of being Native American, and it was the first time I think I even hugged another Native American because I didn’t want to do that either, because I just didn’t want anybody to know who I was. I was French, or I was a dark German, or I was something else, but not Native American. I was so worried if they found out what we were: then our family would have to leave because there weren’t any Indians living where we lived.

Oral History- Interview | Narrator Barbara Anderson Interviewer Deborah Locke made in Granite Falls, Upper Sioux Community, MN | Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society. U.S. - Dakota War of 1862. How can you feel good about yourself when you’re restricted? December 13, 2019. http://www.usdakotawar.org/node/988

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