Download a printable copy of the NDNAEU Elder Wisdom Journal here.

Download a fillable Google doc copy of the NDNAEU Elder Wisdom Journal here.

Download the NDNAEU Document here.

Background:  In the Spring of 2021, the North Dakota State Legislature passed Senate Bill No. 2304, AN ACT to amend and reenact subsection 3 of section 15.1-21-01, subsection 1 of section 15.1-21-02, and subsection 4 of section 15.1-21-02.2 of the North Dakota Century Code, relating to requiring all elementary and secondary public and nonpublic schools in the state to include curriculum on Native American history; and to provide an effective date.

Although the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction does not mandate curriculum, the following document provides an overview of the seven North Dakota Native American Essential Understandings (NDNAEU), written by Indigenous Elders from the state.  Gaining an understanding of the NDNAEU provides learners and educators with a foundation for building and connecting new learning about and from the people who have lived in this place the longest.

The Process: This document contains a set of elder videos representing elders from all tribal nations in North Dakota. Educators and learners will gain an awareness and deepened understanding of the NDNAEU by watching the videos and then reflecting on the questions that go with each video. Each question is an invitation for individuals to reflect on their own personal connections to the stories shared in the videos. Individuals may wish to take time personally to write about the questions followed by opportunities to share the reflections in small groups. It is through the shared time in small groups that individual learning is deepened through listening to others and sharing personal connections.

The History and Reasoning for the NDNAEU:  In the spring of 2015, the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction brought together tribal Elders from across North Dakota to share stories, memories, songs and wisdom in order to develop the North Dakota Native American Essential Understandings to guide the learning of both Native and non-Native students across the state. Similar Essential Understandings have been developed and are being used in several other states already, and more are making plans to begin a similar process. Many tribal Elders have had input into these understandings, and it is hoped that the NDNAEU themselves will open up many more additional opportunities for tribal Elders and Educational Leaders to impact ND classroom practice with important tribal stories, songs and cultural perspectives. 

The learning benefits to ND students who have a tribal or native heritage are clear. According to research around Culture Based Education (CBE), “…in culture-rich environments, teachers push beyond conventional best practice to achieve greater relevance, relationships, and rigor using culturally responsive, relevant approaches. Teachers can and must make learning culturally meaningful to their students and families by honoring culture and place in teaching and learning with respect to the heritage language, family and community involvement, instructional content and context, and authentic assessment” (Kana‘iaupuni and Ledward, 2013). 

The benefits to ALL students who learn in educational environments that are culturally responsive and value multiple cultural perspectives are clear. The following is a summary of outcomes connected with multi-cultural education compiled in ASCD Express, Vol. 6, No. 15., 2011 ( 

1. All students should be encouraged to affirm themselves as unique individuals and they should accept and respect the differences shaping individual identities of other students. 

2. Students should learn about their group from the school curriculum and about the diverse groups in American society to have a basis of appreciation and respect for cultural diversity. 

3. Students should engage in intergroup dialogues that promote cross-cultural communication skills and reduce biases and prejudices. 

4. Students should learn to be critical thinkers able to analyze historical and contemporary issues in order to make intelligent decisions about problems and conflicts. 5. Students should engage in activities that address social justice issues and be encouraged to develop and implement strategies to respond to such issues in their school and their community. 

It is the hope of both the ND Department of Public Instruction and the tribal Elder team of writers that these seven NDNAEU can create a framework for learning that will foster these outcomes. The NDNAEU are merely a starting point for this work. The ultimate goal of this document is to increase learning, understanding and well-being among all North Dakota students, educators and communities.

All NDNAEU-aligned Elder interviews can be found at


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NDNAEU 1 Sacred Relatives videos:
“Reciprocity with the Land” with Gladys Hawk Standing Rock

  1. What do I think should be done to ensure that there are plenty of resources for everyone for all time?
  2. How good am I at conserving resources like electricity, gas or even food?
  3. What role does technology play in my life? What technologies are helpful to me? Are there any that might be not so helpful? What are they?
  4. Who do I turn to seek wisdom about difficult decisions? Are they trustworthy?

“Respect for Turtle Island” with Jt Shining Oneside Turtle Mountain

  1. What tribes are found in areas near where I live?  Do I know people from these tribes and interact with them?
  2. What creation stories am I most familiar with and how did I learn them?
  3. What does it mean to me to receive what it is I give in this life?  How does that affect the way I relate to others?

“Sacred Relatives” with Kathryn Froelich MHA

  1. How do I see spirituality in my own life?
  2. Do I enjoy spending time in nature? If so, what do I like most about being in nature?
  3. In what ways does nature help me connect to my inner spirit?
  4. What is something I do in my life that is similar to a give-away?
  5. What are some of the values most important to me in my life?
  6. What is my own view of creation? How have I formed my views and beliefs about creation?

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NDNAEU 2 Learning & Storytelling videos:

“Iktomi’s Predictions” with Oliver Gourd Spirit Lake

  1. How was I taught not to do certain things?
  2. Did storytelling play a role in my life? In what ways?
  3. Why might it be important to pay attention to the messages of Iktomi in our lives today?

“Learning and Storytelling” with Debbe Poitra Turtle Mountain

  1. Does my family or extended family have terms that we use that are specific to our family? What are some examples?
  2. How do special phrases and sayings from my family shape the way I communicate?
  3. What are some special traditions I have from my family? How did they begin and what role do they play in my family?
  4. What are some examples of values that are important to my family?

“Grandmother’s Stories” with Gladys Hawk Standing Rock

  1. Have I ever taken a break from electricity? From Technology? Why? What did I learn from this?
  2. What stories have I heard late at night at a sleepover? Have I ever had a sleepover with a grandparent?
  3. What were some of the etiquette lessons I was taught by my parents or grandparents or other adults?
  4. Are there times when I have gotten together with others to talk through a story we’ve all heard or experienced? What was most valuable about that experience? How does hearing the perspectives of others change my own understanding?

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NDNAEU 3 Sharing & Generosity videos:

“The Value of Generosity” with Oliver Gourd Spirit Lake 

  1. How do I show generosity in my life?
  2. How did I learn to share in my life? How can I help others to learn the importance of sharing their lives?
  3. Is it easier for me to share things or time?  Why?

“Individuals, Families, and Communities” with Gerald Packineau MHA 

  1. What is my connection as an individual to my family? To my community?
  2. Have I experienced trauma or felt the effects of victimhood in my life?  How has it impacted me?
  3. What can I do as an individual to carry on the important stories of my culture and history?

“Sharing and Generosity” with Debbe Poitra Turtle Mountain 

  1. Have I ever been in a situation where I have had to rely on the generosity of others to get through it? How did it feel?
  2. Have I ever been in a situation where I needed to offer generosity to someone to help them make it through a tough time? How did it feel?
  3. Do I consider sharing and generosity to be important parts of my way of life? Why or why not and what are examples?

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“Storytelling Humor” with Leander “Russ” McDonald Spirit Lake

  1. What role does humor play in my life and family?
  2. How was I disciplined as a child?  What do I remember about my parents/grandparents when I needed to be corrected in some way?
  3. Was storytelling a part of my upbringing?  What do I remember about stories my parents/grandparents told me?
  4. How was I taught values?
  5. Are there stories I remember being told over and over as a child?  Are there stories that are helpful to me now?  Why?

“An English and Hidatsa Joke” with Martha Bird Bear MHA

  1. What creates humor in a story or a joke?
  2. How does humor change the way we experience a story?
  3. Have I ever learned a joke in a language other than the one I speak normally? How does the language change the way I experience the joke?
  4. Are there jokes told in my family whenever we gather? Why do family jokes tend to be retold when the family is together?
  5. What causes jokes told in my family to lose their humor when told outside of the family?

“Sense of Humor” with Jt Shining Oneside Turtle Mountain

  1. What is my favorite funny story? Why?
  2. Are there stories told in my family that help to teach a lesson? What are they?  Who tells them and when?
  3. What role does laughter or humor play in my ability to learn and understand stories?

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NDNAEU 5 Tribal Policies, Treaties & Sovereignty videos:

“A Governmental Thing” with Charles Moran MHA 

  1. What does it mean to me to be an “American?” How does it impact my identity?
  2. How does my family view education? What role does formal education play in my life?  Are there ways I am educated in non-formal ways?
  3. Have I ever experienced a broken promise from the government? (at any level…local, state, federal)  How did this broken promise impact me?
  4. Is there a culture or race that my family or I have been “at odds” with? What caused the division?  Does the division still exist?

“St. Michael’s Boarding School” with Demus McDonald Spirit Lake 

  1. Have I ever been forced to do something I really didn’t want to do?
  2. When was the first time I remember staying away from home? What was it like?  Who did I stay with?
  3. Is school something that has good memories or bad memories or both for me? Why?
  4. Have I ever had to learn about something I had no interest in? What was that experience like and how did I get through it?
  5. Have I ever been in a place where everyone spoke a language different from mine? What was it like?

“Connections to the Land” with Kathryn Froelich MHA 

  1. What connection, if any, do I have to a certain area of land?
  2. How did my connection to the land come about? Has the connection changed over time?
  3. What is the difference between being in a place or on land that I have a personal connection to and being other places?

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“Education and Identity” with Lorraine Davis Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate

  1. Are there problems I face in my life related to my identity in some way?  What are they?
  2. How might education help me to face problems I may experience within my community?
  3. How do I see the land and the environment in connection to my identity?

“Native Contributions” with Wayne Fox MHA

  1. What important ways do I plan to contribute to my community?
  2. Who do I know personally who has strongly impacted my community? Has this person received a “thank-you” from the community? From me?
  3. How would I define a contribution that really comes “from the heart”?
  4. What might be the difference between teaching something “from the heart” and simply teaching something “from the head”?

“The Story of Red Leggings” with Carol Davis Turtle Mountain

  1. What is my own experience with cancer?
  2. Have I had cancer myself or has anyone that I have known had cancer?
  3. Have I experienced healing of an ailment through natural means? What was it like?
  4. Did my parents or grandparents have ways of helping me to feel better that were unique?
  5. Have I ever been seriously ill?  How did it impact me?

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NDNAEU 7 Native Identity videos:

“Legal and Ethical” with Carmelita Lamb Apache

  1. Have I ever experienced a point in my life where I needed moral courage to make it through?
  2. Are there stories in my family’s history where we endured the effects of prejudice?  What was it like?
  3. Are there things that people in my family are prejudiced against that I no longer agree with?  What impact does that have on my relationships with my family?
  4. Did my family ever experience an “unraveling of our identity?”  How did this experience impact us/me?
  5. Have I ever struggled with my own identity? Why?  How did or do I deal with it?
  6. Are there things about my own history that I wish others outside my family understood better?  What are they?

“Indian Names” with Jesse Taken Alive Standing Rock

  1. Did I ever have a tough “leaving home” experience? What happened? How did I deal with my new surroundings?
  2. Has my name ever set me apart from those around me in some way? What’s the story behind that?
  3. How do I feel about my name? What significance does it have for me? What meaning does it have?
  4. Whom does my name connect me to?
  5. Are there any particular phrases that are significant for me? Do you have any “prayer phrases” that I grew up with? Do they still have significance for me?

“The Importance of Interconnectedness” with Dr. Teresa Delorme Turtle Mountain

  1. How do I describe interconnectedness? Disconnectedness?
  2. Have I ever felt disconnected or how would I feel if I was?
  3. If there was a strong interconnectedness among all living things what differences would I expect to see in our world?
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