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!
Other posts about Sisseton…….
Walking in A Haunted Forest
Of Giant Cabbages and Sheep Fertility
Down on the Farm
Blown Away in South Dakota
We walked through a haunted forest! Sica Hollow State Park was named by the Dakota people. ‘Sica’ means bad or evil. On our recent visit to Sisseton South Dakota we hiked The Trail of Spirits through the hollow.
According to legend, an evil white man named Hand visited a First Nations camp in the hollow and turned the young boys into cold-blooded killers. A medicine man asked the Great Spirit for help. A messenger named Thunderer arrived causing torrential rains. Thunderer trapped Hand in vines, filled his mouth with water and gouged out his eyes. The heavy rains caused by Thunderer, flooded the hollow. Everyone in the camp except one girl named Fawn drowned. The ghosts of Hand, Fawn and Thunderer are said to still haunt Sica Hollow.
As white settlers came to the area its legend as a haunted spot grew. People said they’d spotted huge bears and a beast that looked like a giant man. Fears were rekindled in the 1970s when several people disappeared at Sica Hollow. Parts of Sica Hollow contain quicksand. Some ravines in the area drop several hundred vertical feet. Because people refused to live in Sica Hollow it eventually became a state park. Apparently if you walk The Trail of Spirits in the park at night swamp gases and stumps glow in the dark. People who have stayed overnight in the park claim to have heard chanting, whooping, drumming and a few have even reported sighting ghosts.
Our hike through Sica Hollow wasn’t as eventful as I’d hoped it would be. I was looking for exciting material for my novel. Actually I found the hollow a place of beauty. The only thing that was the least bit troubling on our walk were some mosquitoes.
Haunted Great House
Winnipeg’s Haunted Millenium Centre
A Haunted Island
We stayed at a fantastic bed and breakfast in Sisseton, South Dakota last week called The Farm. It came complete with a trio of sheep Huey, Dewey and Louie, a pig named Charlotte, a flock of chickens, one lone but very noisy duck, a cadre of cows and a single bull who caused some excitement when he broke through the fence during our visit, a cat and two tiny dogs. Our hostess Betsy had lived most of her life in California but decided a number of years ago to buy her grandparents’ South Dakota homestead which had fallen into a state of disrepair. Betsy rolled up her sleeves and turned it back into a working farm, with fields of corn, bee hives, and a large garden. She’s restored the barn, transformed the house, spiffed up the chicken coop, turned the old outdoor toilet into a reading room, landscaped the yard and decorated three beautiful rooms for bed and breakfast guests.
Our breakfasts were made with items from Betsy’s farm- jams and marmalades she’d preserved herself served on homemade bread and muffins, French toast, bacon, omelettes and pork patties.
Our bed was big and sooooo comfy, there were cozy robes to slip on in the morning, and the bathroom was almost too cute to use.
Betsy made us dinner one night with beets and zuchinni from her garden, dijon chicken from one of her butchered fowl, rice and a couple of bottles of wine from her cellar.
Betsy has traveled the world and has hosted lots of unique guests at her bed and breakfast. It was so interesting to visit with her. I was doing research for a middle grade novel in Sisseton, and Betsy had arranged contact with several local people I could talk to.
Ralph and Beth
While I interviewed her friends Beth and Ralph who are long time residents of the Sisseton area, Betsy took Dave on a farm tour with her all terrain vehicle.
Betsy’s Farm Bed and Breakfast is a little off the beaten track but its a jewel of a place that added charm and interest to our visit in Sisseton South Dakota.
Not the Harlem I Expected
Sleeping in an Art Gallery
Hanging Around Hilo
I almost felt like I’d be blown away at the top of the Nicollet Tower in Sisseton South Dakota. Dave and I had just climbed nearly a hundred steps to reach the lookout point from which we could see the vast prairie landscape which is the traditional home of the Sisseton-Wahpeton people and covers parts of three states, North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. It was sooooo windy up there……. but my what a view!
Dave checks out a map which shows the area we could see from the tower.
The tower is named after a French explorer, mapmaker and astronomer Joseph Nicolas Nicollet who came to the United States at age 46 determined to map the area between the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.
There are paintings by J.S. Wilson in the interpretative center at the tower that show Nicollet exploring the area.
He traveled extensively in the region on two trips one beginning in July of 1838 and another in July of 1839.
Because he had such good rapport with the Dakota people they agreed to the building of the tower in Nicollet’s honour
He was very interested in the First Nations people he met and made the acquaintance of many with the help of his guides Joseph LaFromboise and Louison Freniere. He listened to aboriginal stories and legends and recorded the traditional Dakota names for places.
A copy of Nicollet’s map is featured prominently in the interpretative centre
He was careful to include the traditional First Nations names for places on the map he created on his return to Washington D.C. He presented the map and made a report to the Senate about his travels in 1843. His map and diaries record the beauty and potential of the area and were responsible for much of the settlement that would happen there later. This might have given Nicollet second thoughts because he wrote so movingly of the culture and way of life of the aboriginal people that was forever changed by the settlers who arrived.
The Nicollet Tower stands on a spot Nicollet called the Coteau des Prairies, the Hill on the Prairie. Having climbed the hill to view the valley all around he wrote in his diary, ” I pity anyone whose soul would not be moved by this spot.”The interpretative center at the tower is hosted by Keith Likeness who is a veritable encyclopedia about the history and geography of the area. Since one of the reasons we’ve come here is so I can find information for a novel I’m writing Keith was the perfect resource.
The Nicollet Tower is built with eighty year old Douglas Fir trees about 75 feet high and each weighing close to 5000 pounds. The tower is a marvel of construction and gives you a marvellous view of the landscape.
A Roof With a View
Up in the Trees With a Man Who Knew It All