Our roots are still very much deeply embedded in our Dakota way of life.

Dr. Canku discusses the importance of Dakotas' connection to their roots.

Things to think about: 

How does society today look at peoples' connection to their cultural roots?

Audio Chapters

DL: Some American Indians blend both their Christian background with their traditional ways of life. Have you been able to do that?

CC: I had to go on a vision quest to ask for permission from God, to see if I could participate in both. And God gave me permission that both ways are good, it's just the people – how they use the teaching from both sides. And so I was given permission by God that I would have no difficulties, no problems to do both.

DL: Is it good to spend time reviewing the events of the 1860s and those horrible tragedies, and horrible treatment -- is it important to keep that in mind, or would you rather see more people spend their energy and time on the present? How do you balance the two? How do you balance the past without being driven into despair?

CC: Well, I would put it this way. To us Dakota the beginning of despair is if you don't know who you are. In other words, we're like trees. If we don't know our roots, in terms of who we are, and how we are connected from the very beginning – to creation, and to God, and to the land, and to the space and time in which we live – that's more important than what we are, which is the tree. So I think that in a sense, a lot of our young people are committing suicide because they lack the basic necessity of their identity – and that's the roots, the root part. If you don't have no roots, the tree falls. And it dies. Or if the roots dry up, then the tree dies.

So in a sense, Dakota people I think, to us, our identity -- is what nurtures us -- the nurture of Mother Earth, the nurture of sustaining life and the nurture of our frame of reference. I refer to Native sciences as an understanding of our unique way of looking at life and justifying what knowledge that we have from that source. So we have a tremendous amount of resources and understanding that sustains us away from the modern sciences that are so important to your American people.

DL: It sounds to me then, like what you're saying is that the very basic, fundamental Dakota culture is sustainable.

CC: Exactly.

DL: And that granted, the past is there, and you cannot leave it, but the present is a positive and good place to be – if you know who you are.

CC: Exactly, if you know your history, and if you know your language. And if you know your DNA, and what operates in your body. Because I think our DNA is very important, in the sense that once you are connected to your DNA and the gifts that we have as Dakota people, then you're proud of who you are. You use those skills that are connected to that. It's different from other cultures in the fact that others severed their DNA connection to the past. And sometimes they say "Well, I'm a Heinz 57." And, I don't know if they're proud when they say that, or their frame of reference. But for us Dakota people, what we say is that, we may be in the process of [becoming] Heinz 57, but our roots are still very much deeply embedded in our Dakota way of life.

DL: Have you ever been to the Lower Sioux Agency?

CC: Yes.

DL: And you saw the storage building for example, where the food was held?

CC: Yes.

DL: What were your thoughts about that entire area?

CC: Last time we were there, I took some of my students who were Anglo students and they had more intuitive experiences than I had. Because it was like, "Yeah, this is where these things happened," and it's kind of like we just accept it for what it is. But Anglo students, some of them felt different feelings. We sat there, having lunch in front of the building there, the stone building. And two Anglo girls, students, jumped up and said, "The ground is too hot here." We were there, and we touched the ground, and the ground was very hot. And so we asked, what used to be here? And that was the jail. The jail was there. So it was very hot.
Then our president at the college, Dr. Elden Lawrence, was relating the story of the vultures after the 1862 War. Because of the abundance of human flesh that they were eating, they got sick and went away for 100 years. While he [Dr. Elden] was discussing that, the Anglo students looked up and said, "Look up there!" And we looked up there and there were a lot of vultures flying all over. And so, sometimes Anglo students are shown more than us, because I think that, for us we just accept – we go with the flow, whatever. Whether it's sadness, whether it's any kind of feeling, we can be flexible and not make it a big deal.
But when Anglo students feel those things, it's special to them, and they make it a point to be very specific about it. So I would say Dakota people, our DNA is such that we are accepting of things like that. We are very flexible. And I haven't run into any Dakota women or men who have these fluctuations of feelings that you expect them to have. It's something like close to being stoic, but it doesn't mean that intensity is not there. It's just a difference in culture in terms of how we handle it.
Like myself. When something sacred comes to me, I accept it right away. I don't get scared, I don't have no pretense. I'm just: well, that's just the way things are. So it's normal to me. Whereas other cultures, they say "Ooooh, I had a..." or they'll be scared, or they'll have sadness, or they'll have a fluctuation of feelings. Whereas Dakota people, we're very controlled in our feelings. Because it's not wild to us or it's not strange to us, because this is what we experienced thousands and thousands of years ago, of being here. It's nothing new to us.

Oral History- Interview | Narrator Dr. Clifford Canku Interviewer Deborah Locke made at Minnesota History Center, St. Paul, MN | Friday, June 10, 2011

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society. U.S. - Dakota War of 1862. Our roots are still very much deeply embedded in our Dakota way of life. June 15, 2024. http://www.usdakotawar.org/node/1026

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