Although I was born in Minneapolis, MN in 1956, I grew up in Tioga, a small town in the northwest corner of North Dakota 50 miles from the Canadian and Montana borders, near the northern end of the Badlands. We moved to West Fargo (on the eastern edge of the state) when I was about 11 years old, but I continued to spend my summers in western North Dakota.
I grew up with a strong sense of culture and heritage. My paternal grandparents were of Swedish (indigenous Saami) descent, my maternal grandmother was born in Birmingham, England and my maternal grandfather was born and raised in Swansea, Wales. My family was a strange mix of cowboys and farmers, preachers and singers. I grew up in the country with an appreciation for the earth and all its inhabitants. There was always music in our home. My paternal aunts were part of a traveling gospel group so there were guitars, accordions and sundry musical instruments around. I picked up my first guitar around the age of 3 or 4, and it was love at first sight. I learned a chord here and there from aunts, uncles and anyone willing to teach me.
I started singing publicly at the age of 9 and writing my own songs around age 14. It was both my passion and my therapy. I loved writing music and poetry and reading anything I could get my hands on, but I especially enjoyed books about American Indian culture, legends and stories. I loved languages and the study of cultures from around the world. At one time I thought I would become a missionary.
When I was 9 years old I went to Bible Camp and met Arlo Good Bear (from Fort Berthold Reservation). We became good friends in that short week, exchanging stories of our (short) lives and experiences. We found that, although we came from very different backgrounds, we had much in common. Though I never saw or heard from Arlo again, I have not forgotten him or the life lessons learned that week.
When I was 15 years old I read the book "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee," and it was another life-changing experience. I wept at the long history of injustice and oppression. I struggled with my personal responsibility and the guilt of being part of a society of oppressors-one of the 'bad guys.' With the boundless optimism (and naivete) of youth I was determined to be a catalyst for change and justice-to live my life in a positive way.
I was gonna "change my world."
I graduated in 1974 and instead of heading for college and a possible degree in music (my idea) or clerical/business (my family's idea), I hung a left. I married and had my first child at 19 years old, my second at 25 and my third at 28. I recorded an album of gospel music when I was 24 with plans of hitting the road with the music, but life and family intervened and I put those dreams aside to raise my kids. I was divorced at age 30 and the single mother of 3 children. There was no time or energy to dream anything, just to meet the basic needs of my kids and hope for the best. I spent 31/2 years alone healing from years in an abusive, dysfunctional marriage, dealing with disappointment with myself and my choices, reconnecting with my family and re-discovering my faith in God. I returned to writing and produced volumes of poetry, prose and songs.
I met Russell Greywind in February of 1990. I was 33 and he was 26. Russell, an enrolled member of the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe, was from Tokyo, North Dakota on the Fort Totten Reservation (near Devils Lake, ND). Our daughter, Rhianna, was born in May of 1991 and daughter Ciara in June of 1998.
We did all the things families do-we bought a house, raised our children, worked our various jobs, paid our bills and struggled together to give our children a better life. Ours were simply normal, everyday dreams. I learned about life and love in a way I never had before. I also learned about prejudice, intolerance, racism, injustice and ignorance-this time from the inside. Russell and I struggled first to understand each other and the people and places we came from, and secondly to understand the world around us that focused so much on our differences rather than our sameness. We fought together to make a gentler, kinder world for our children, and we prayed together for a future for them without the pain we had experienced.
In June of 2001 I took a job as the Office Manager of the Native American Christian Ministry in Fargo. I saw the effects of injustice and racism on an even larger scale. I met people with whom I would never have otherwise come in contact: social workers, probation officers, police officers, tribal government workers, pastors and agency directors. I met people from the streets and homeless shelters, those just getting out of prison and hospitals and those who served as chaplains. And I did what I had always done-I wrote about the people I met, their stories and experiences, as well as my own stories about my life, my loves, pains, hopes and dreams as an ordinary woman living an ordinary life.
"Ordinary Woman" is available online at Fargostuff.com.