She served her country as a medic during the Korean War, raised four children, worked in law enforcement and volunteered as a Scout leader. I had the privilege of interviewing Naomi during my recent visit to Sisseton, South Dakota.
Naomi was born on the Sisseton Wahpeton reservation in 1930 and attended two different residential schools as well as the local public school in Sisseton. She had both positive and negative experiences during her residential school days. Naomi’s father died when she was only two months old and her Mom worked hard to provide for her eight children as a single parent during the depression. Near the end of Naomi’s senior year of high school her mother died, so Naomi decided to leave South Dakota and joined the army. She was stationed in Japan caring for wounded soldiers as they were evacuated from the fighting in Korea.
Naomi married a career serviceman from California after the war. They had four children, the oldest born while they were stationed in Germany. During her husband’s successive tours of duty in Vietnam, Naomi remained at home in Washington State with their children. After her kids were in school she got a job with the local police force helping with cases involving women, especially those suffering from mental illness, and she volunteered as a Scout leader.
Eventually difficult personal circumstances led Naomi back to the reservation in Sisseton with her younger children and her oldest son followed later. Sadly Naomi’s three younger children have all passed away. She says the Christian faith in which her mother raised her has been a comfort as she grieves for her children. She is confident she will see them again someday. Naomi had a Bible on her coffee table and told me she attends the local Lutheran church. She remains close to her one living son and his family. She has regular contact with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She has made hand stitched quilts for them all and was working on another one during my visit.
Naomi told me she was not allowed to speak the Dakota language at residential school. She is happy her great-grandchildren are learning to speak Dakota in their school. She is also happy they are participating in pow wows, learning traditional dances and wearing traditional costumes. She never learned to make dishes like hominy and fry bread but she says it’s nice to see young people taking an interest in preparing the foods of their culture. Naomi’s mother did not give her a Dakota name but tells me how pleased she is that parents do that for their children now.
Naomi has seen many changes since returning to the reservation. When she graduated from high school there were few jobs for young people. That’s one of the reasons she left. Now there is a casino that employs many, and there are local businesses run by Sisseton Wahpeton people. Naomi thinks that’s great and she tries to patronize their establishments.
I was honored that Naomi allowed me to interview her and trusted me to share her story. She is 86 but still active, articulate and positive. She asked me to keep in touch with her and suggested that one of her quilts might be coming my way. Lucky me!
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