Truth and Reconciliation

#7 – Reconciling the Past by Embracing Cultural Differences

Emily Falcon and Jake Aden

As the Truth and Reconciliation series of articles continues, we look at reconciling past and present concerns.

The University of North Dakota draws most of its students from North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota, all states with a large population of American Indians. In North and South Dakota, American Indians are the largest minority group while in Minnesota they are the second largest after African Americans. Even though they are a large part of the population, some American Indians feel overwhelmingly underrepresented and misunderstood.

Across the UND campus there are a vast number of different minorities and individual differences… Even if these students aren’t a minority in the racial sense, some may still feel like outsiders because of other differences.

— Emily Falcon and Jake Aden

The first inhabitants of this area were American Indians, who arrived at least 9,000 years ago. White settlement began in earnest in Dakota Territory in 1861 and in Minnesota Territory in 1849. White settlers who were mostly Scandinavian and German came primarily for the purpose of homesteading farmlands, and in Minnesota for mining and logging as well.

The European white settlers had dramatically different ideas than American Indians about land ownership, the environment and spirituality. These differences help explain a then prevalent European view of natives as savages and heathens whose culture was irrelevant.

Before the Europeans arrived, American Indian tribes were spread throughout the Great Plains. They practiced their spirituality and ways of life as they saw fit. American Indians didn’t have the same concepts of property ownership as the Europeans; rather than owning the land, they lived on the land and cared for the Earth as if they were connected and a part of it.

The European settlers came without the same regard for the environment, and sought ownership in order to derive value. With more modern sensibilities, it is now apparent that we had something to learn from American Indians about how to care for the land and water and, perhaps, how to heal our vital resources.

As settlers moved across the U.S. and onto American Indian lands, conflicts frequently arose. Reservations were created through war and conquest, and formalized by treaty negotiation. Treaties were originally set in place to delineate land where the American Indians could live. Today reservations are scattered across the tri-state area that are home to different Native American tribes including those of the Great Sioux Nation (Dakota, Lakota and Nakota), Chippewa (Ojibwe) and the Three Affiliated Tribes (Mandan, Arikara and Hidatsa).

Across the UND campus there are a vast number of different minorities and individual differences. Some students are first-generation college students. Others are from small town rural America and some students are from large metropolitan areas. Hundreds of students are from other countries with different cultures and languages. Even if these students aren’t a minority in the racial sense, some may still feel like outsiders because of other differences.

When minorities are discussed, some people automatically think of race. However, race is only one characteristic of people. In some respects we are all different, but these differences are what create community – in our case, the UND community.

Differences in culture, language and values should not separate us, they should unite us. It is important to realize that each individual comes from a different background and should be celebrated. Diversity gives us the opportunity to learn to appreciate difference and uniqueness. It‘s up to each of us to build the friendly relationships and bridge gaps in understanding to truly care for other people and humanity.

Jake Aden, Co-Author of this article, says “During our initial meeting with American Indian Students at the American Indian Center at the beginning of the truth and reconciliation process, I, and the rest of my non-Native group, felt uncomfortable and out of place because we were the minority. However, even before the end of the first meeting those initial feelings of discomfort were completely gone when we realized that we were all students. If we are brave enough to face that initial awkward stage, those gaps in understanding can then truly be bridged.

Hannah Balderas, an American Indian student at the University of North Dakota, stated in a “We are Grand Forks” article, “An important part of our culture is that everybody feels a responsibility to take care of each other.”

Relationships and understanding can help us create a greater sense of unity in society and across cultures. A new relationship between American Indians and non-Natives will allow us to develop a new perspective on how we treat each other and how we treat our earth.

Emily Falcon and Jake Aden Contributing Writers