In the late 1990s, Sitting Bull College in conjunction with CATV (Community Access Television of Bismarck/Mandan), Wisdom of the Elders Inc, Cheyenne River Elderly Protection Team, State Historical Society of North Dakota, United Tribes Technical College, University of Mary, the North Dakota Humanities Council and the South Dakota Humanities Council conducted a project to produce VHS recordings of Lakota/Dakota elders on Standing Rock and Cheyenne River reservations. These recordings can be found across the country in various archives and library collections in VHS and DVD. The collection consists of 21 recordings produced on Standing Rock and 19 from Cheyenne River from 1998 and 1999. Elders recount their life experiences, family, tribal and regional history providing an important record of history and life on two American Indian nations. Since the usable life span of the original VHS recordings was nearing its end and these recordings were in danger of being lost, Sitting Bull College Library digitized the collection of 40 videos and has made them available here so the knowledge and stories of these wise elders can continue to inspire.
Permission was given by the copyright holder Dakota Media Access of Bismarck (formerly CATV) to digitize and make these important resources available in a new format for a new age.
The collection provided below is best described through the eloquent words of Rose High Bear who implemented the project. The words are taken from a publication included with the 1998 Oral History Collection, but are representative of the content in the 1999 collection as well.
“Indigenous Great Plains elders are the rapidly vanishing and irreplaceable keepers of Great Plains oral history and tradition. A society of philosophers, they probe deeply into life to maintain a balanced, harmonious and happy way of life for the people. The values they extol have been entrusted orally for generations and represent an ancient legacy of knowledge that has become endangered as the many disappearing species in our fragile ecosystem. Although their way of life and cultural values remain “at risk” in today’s world, a special few continue to demonstrate and vigilantly shelter connections with Great Spirit and deep respect for Creation, humor and enjoyment of life, generosity and commitment to help others, quietness and humility in resolving conflict, and innate courage in transcending hardship.
The Wisdom of the Elders Oral History Collection especially reveals Native American elders’ profound contentedness with family and their Golden Rule conviction of sharing and helping one another. An elder’s love has the power to heal and their stories have the power to transform. Heart-warming stories of children’s upbringing in close-knit families allow a rare glimpse into a time and place blessed with depth and relevance. They bring the gift of belonging…to family, to extended family, community and Creation.
Many of our elderlies are eloquent oral historians. Not only inheriting and preserving ancestors’ memories, they are gifted with their own rich memories. However, innate humility sometimes causes them to minimize the value of their personal knowledge. When they tell us the real historians have gone on to the Land of the Grandfathers, we now it is a thin disguise for a rich legacy that lies within.
This is the reason that the Wisdom of the Elders, Inc., (WOTE) coordinated the Oral History Project. During the summer of 1998, with the assistance of three Native American Humanities Scholars, WOTE’s Cultural Preservation Advisory Board and our co-sponsors, WOTE video-recorded and preserved the memories of 26 respected elders on Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Reservations. This project focused upon Northern Great Plains indigenous elders’ memories of their “growing up” days as well as reminiscences of parents and grandparents. We especially included those cultural values that were passed along within their families from generation to generation. Elders also shared messages with today’s parents and children, which include advice to return to cultural and family values of their traditional roots. This video-recorded collection presents theses indigenous Great Plains elders as distinctive and exemplary role models for Native American people as well as people of all cultures.”
Standing Rock Elders