Those grandmas, they were real no-nonsense.

Ms. Halverson talks about growing up, going to school, and learning from her grandmother.

Audio Chapters

DL: Who were your friends at boarding school?

PH: Most of them were girls from Mexico that came up to learn English, because I was the only Native girl there. It wasn’t an Indian….

DL: This was a church school though, this was the Episcopal church.

PH: This was a Catholic school.

DL: Oh, this was a Catholic school.

PH: This was a Catholic boarding school, or a private school. And the church paid for everything. The church paid for my tuition, my uniforms, my books and they paid for everything.

DL: Was it a good education?

PH: It was really good.

DL: Were you a good student?

PH: You know, I think I was an average student. I don’t think I was a really, really good student. I had a lot of – from school in Marshall and being the only minority family in Marshall at that time – I know personally myself and my younger brothers, the racist remarks, the teachers in the school didn’t really want to spend any time teaching you, and would call me names. I was called names every day in school and they’d chase us home and try to beat us up on the way home from school. So I really hated school when I was in elementary because of the fact – it was okay until second grade.

The second grade teacher was just so mean, so mean. So I just really fought not wanting to go to school in Marshall, being the fact that we were the only minority in that town. And that’s probably why my family was broken, had split, was the fact that it was hard for my mother to be in that community, in that town, and to be put through that prejudice, racist community. And it was – it was awful. It was terrible, terrible, terrible. I think about those days – my children will never know what that was like. They’ll never know that, and I’m glad they won’t. I’m glad they’ll never know that.

DL: It’s hard to fathom hatred for a seven year-old child, which is what you were. You were just a little tiny girl.

PH: And be chased home and called names and chased home every day after school. Every day! We talk about bullies today – wow, bullies – I knew what that was like at seven years old. I remember my mom making me a new dress and wearing it to school and thinking it was so pretty. And as soon as school was out I was running for my life, and crawled underneath a fence and trying to get away from these people, and my new dress getting torn, and I just cried. You know, things like – they called you names, hateful names, you know, “filthy Indians”. And the teacher was just as bad as those boys and girls that would chase you and hit you. It wasn’t a good experience. So school for me was not really my favorite. It was not.

DL: It’s hard to imagine being a good student under those circumstances.

PH: And then I thought I would have escaped, you know, all of that. I thought this was like an escape, going to that boarding school, but you still found prejudice there because you were in Northern Minnesota and some of those girls that were coming to that school were from communities like Spirit Lake, or Bemidji, or Cass Lake. So then they were calling you names because you were a native girl, and, "What are you doing here? You don’t belong in this kind of school. You need to go to those Indian boarding schools. You’re in the wrong place." And I would work. I would do work for the nuns, like in the kitchens and stuff, to earn money so that I could go home on the bus. But it was all – it was good though. I know it was good for me, it’s just that school – I had these nightmares that just kept returning and returning, or not wanting to go to school. Not wanting to – just not liking what happened there, and being told that you were stupid, being told that you didn’t know anything, that you were just a stupid Indian, that you belonged on a reservation, and what’s your family doing here, you didn’t belong here. So you never knew what direction to go in. But it was part of that growing up. At that time Marshall, Minnesota didn’t have any minorities in that town. There was one other girl that was adopted by some people and she was a Black girl, but you never seen her – oh, very seldom would you see her. I don’t like going back to Marshall, even today. I still have those feelings towards Marshall, Minnesota. So that was my schooling. And then after I graduated, I went to Macalester.

DL: What do you remember of your grandma? What did she look like?

PH: She was this tall, she had long grey hair and she’d let me brush it. She’d do my hair and then I’d do her hair, brush her hair. And her whole front yard was full of flowers. And I always thought they were just flowers, and they were medicine. A lot of them were wild and they were medicine like Echinacea and now I know those medicines, and here they were in her garden, her flower garden. And she was a shorter lady and she – those grandmas, they were real no-nonsense. There was no nonsense. When the ladies got together they would laugh; talk about things and laugh, but when they were with us younger children it was no nonsense. You just listened to her. You didn’t speak unless you were spoken to. If she saw that you were curious about something she would tell you. Otherwise it was just really no nonsense. Especially for the girls, I think, more so than the boys. The boys were always off in the woods. The girls always had to stay and listen to the ladies. So that’s my memories of her.

Oral History- Interview | Narrator Pamela Halverson Interviewer Deborah Locke | Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society. U.S. - Dakota War of 1862. Those grandmas, they were real no-nonsense. June 22, 2024.

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