A Dakota Way of Life

Diane Wilson’s new book asks, how do you raise beloved children and break the cycle of self-destruction in native communities?
Beloved Child Book Cover

Beloved Child: A Dakota Way of Life
by Diane Wilson
Borealis Books, 2011, 225 pages, $24.95.

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Here are some cold facts facing American Indians today: Native teens have the highest dropout rate in public schools—and the highest suicide rate in the nation. Native ­Americans die from alcoholism at a rate six times greater than average, and diabetes kills natives at a rate three times higher. In Minnesota—part of the traditional lands of the Dakota people—35 percent of natives live below the poverty line.

Dakota author Diane Wilson traces what she calls the “soul wound” of her people back through 150 years of genocide—the government policies that tore families apart and people away from their land, and silenced their language and culture. The violence, addiction, depression, and despair so pervasive in Dakota communities today are forms of the disease of historical trauma. In the midst of this, she asks, how do you raise beloved children and break the cycle of self-destruction in native communities?

Wilson interviews several Dakota leaders who bring resilience and fierce hope to healing their communities, beginning with the children. These different leaders—an artist, a spiritual leader, home-schooling parents, a boarding school survivor, an impoverished elderly woman raising her grandson—teach by reclaiming Dakota traditions and language. But Wilson finds a common foundation to this transformative work: First, you must heal yourself.

The book is at its best when Wilson narrates how the healing happens. It begins with taking care of yourself—finding compassion for yourself, respecting yourself, valuing yourself.

“As parents, we all struggle with the legacies within our families that we have inherited, and in that struggle we pass on some portion of those legacies to our children,” Wilson says. “But if we do transformative work in our lifetime, then we may have the opportunity to give our grandchildren the benefit of what we have learned and to make amends with our children.”

Beloved Child is history and manifesto, but even more, it’s a guide and inspiration for all of us working every day to heal ourselves—and to raise our own beloved children.


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