You can’t be around old Dakotas without learning about the spirituality of things.

Mr. Ross talks about growing up and his connection to family, learning about Dakota culture and spirituality, and Christianity.

Things to think about: 

How to people learn about their culture today? How is spirituality taught and sometimes combined in families?

Audio Chapters

DL: Which relative or relatives had the most influence on you?

DR: That’s a tough one; probably my grandparents. No single one really sticks out. They all had a great influence. Grandparents or grandfathers because of things that we learned from them whether it was fishing, hunting or whatever. Grandmothers were part of my life with learning how to treat others; respect. That’s where the children learned early, from the grandmothers. For me personally, I assume it’s true for many people that you’ve interviewed, there is really no one single significant person in my childhood because they were all significant. If one wasn’t there I could go to the other one. That was never a place that I felt alone – always some house I could go to.

DL: Did your grandparents live close to the family home?

DR: Yes, fortunately for me, they were always pretty close. Close is a relative term. Sometimes it was a mile away, sometimes it was just a few hundred feet away but they were always close enough to where you could get if you wanted to.

DL: You’ll have to forgive me if I’m not saying this correctly but – did you learn of Dakota ‘spirituality’ if that’s the right word or ‘religion’, some will say ‘religion’, as a child or an adult?

DR: Both, it’s ingrained in my childhood. At the same time it’s part of my life as an adult. You can’t be around old Dakotas without learning about the spirituality of things. So it’s not like there’s so many tenets you have to know or so many ways that you have to be [in order to be] a spiritual person. It’s just ingrained in being a Dakota. Knowing my grandparents, it’s impossible not to be exposed to the spirituality of a Dakota. That’s pretty much unexplainable. It’s not like they had Sunday school for Dakota spirituality. It’s just everyday life. When the grandmothers start to teach, that’s included. When the grandfathers start to teach, that’s included. When the uncles or the fathers start to teach, that’s included. There is really no separation so that’s a hard question to create understanding for.

DL: Many Dakota we’ve talked to have blended both the faith of their families which might be some form of Christianity with Dakota. Did your family do that?

DR: Yes. My grandmothers, one in particular, was a devout Christian. It served her well, gave her a lot of strength. My mother was a devout Christian – served her well, gave her a tremendous amount of strength. One grandfather, he kind of went along with both, whatever was necessary. The way I was brought up, is that for Dakota ‘dakod wi choka ki eposukta’. The Dakota way of life gives you direction. It’s not a religious-type path and it’s not a non-religious-type path, it just is. Many questions come up [about] Dakota culture, Dakota spirituality or religion. In truth, there is no separation. You cannot be a Dakota without them both being together.

So when my grandparents or my grandmother and my mother became Christian, they didn’t adopt a religion, they just made it part of their life. Christianity teaches that a few days out of a whole year are very special. To my parents, being Dakota and Christian at the same time, every day is important. The blending was not difficult for them because coming up as a Dakota, every day is important. There is no one special day to pray. Every day is a good day to pray. You get up in the morning, say a prayer. You go to bed at night, say a prayer. Saying a prayer in a different religion really wasn’t that difficult. Maybe learning of it was something, but for me to look down the path and try to see what a Dakota would see; there is no special way to pray. That’s one thing one of my grandfathers taught me. I told this to my mother and my aunt. They thought it would be funny that he would say things like that to a young boy but grandfathers don’t always tell their children what they’re teaching. I asked him because my grandmother was a devout Christian. She made sure she was at all the church functions. But Grandpa wasn’t quite as active. I asked him, “How come?” He said, “Well, I don’t need to go to the church to pray, I can go outside and pray.” Like I said, I don’t know if he was actually Christian or otherwise. He was just my grandpa. He said, “One day you’re going to have to choose” – he was speaking Dakota at the time. That I would have to choose Jesus to pray as a Christian prays or try to pray as a Dakota prays. He said, “You always have to remember no matter what people say to you, if someone is praying in a manner that you don’t understand, you don’t have to understand it. You don’t even have to believe in it. But you have to respect the fact that they believe.” He said, “Then into the future, if you respect that people believe in a different way and pray in a different way then there is hope that they will give you the same respect for the way you decide to pray.” So what he was telling me [is that] there is no difference. The difference is in the people themselves, not in the prayer and where it goes.

Oral History- Interview | Narrator Dallas Ross Interviewer Deborah Locke made at Granite Falls, Upper Sioux Community, MN | Sunday, May 1, 2011

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society. U.S. - Dakota War of 1862. You can’t be around old Dakotas without learning about the spirituality of things. April 22, 2024.

Viewpoints: All viewpoints expressed on this website are those of the contributors, and are not representative of the Minnesota Historical Society.