For Myra Parker, culture is everything

Department news | November 30, 2022

The Huddle editorial team profiled a few UW Medicine Native American colleagues during Native American Heritage Month including our own Myra Parker, JD, PhD, director of Seven Directions: A Center for Indigenous Public Health. Below is an excerpt from her interview. 

“I grew up on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in western North Dakota in the 1970s and early ’80s. I was surrounded by my extended family, my Mandan and Hidatsa community, and the elders of our community who held our traditional knowledge and practices. I didn’t understand how privileged I was, as now, much of the land, the water, the air and the community context has shifted with the fracking development in the region. 

As a child, I didn’t learn Hidatsa or Mandan, because my grandmother chose not to teach her children, as she was physically punished for speaking her languages in the Catholic day school when she was five. During those visits, her conversations with family and friends would wash over me, and they would laugh and laugh, after someone made a joke in Hidatsa. When I asked what was funny, she would say it didn’t really translate well into English. It was frustrating, but now I would give almost anything to be back there, listening to her laugh with our relatives. 

Now, I am trying to learn Hidatsa over Zoom with my parents and sisters, along with my aunt and cousin. Sometimes we are able to have one of the forty fluent Hidatsa speakers on the call to help us with pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary. This weekly practice has brought us closer together during the pandemic. Each Hidatsa word is precious to me. It gives me a connection to people who came long before me, and insight into how they saw the world, and the unique understandings and practices that live on today. I hope to take that knowledge into the future, so other Hidatsa will be able to access this critical knowledge about our culture, our families and our communities, and our connection to the land and everything around us. My culture means everything to me. It informs who I am, how I see myself in relation to the world around me, and what our collective future will be.” 

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