Theressa Dashner's cruising. Her husband, Mike, has a good job with the
National Indian Child Welfare Association; she's a stay-at-home mom for
their five children; the family dances on the pow wow circuit; and since
they've been in Portland, Ore., Theressa has found life more to her liking
than ever before.
"I didn't like living on the reservation at Red Lake, Minn, too much," she
said. "I was raised in the suburbs by my Irish and German father. There I
was too brown and got teased since we were the only Indians in the
"Then when I went with my mom in the inner city, I was too white and had a
hard time fitting in. Even when I went to the reservation for two years, it
was really hard because - I don't know - they just didn't like outsider
people. They didn't want that city life in the reservation. I guess you had
to be from the right family to fit in there or something. For my part,
though, the alcoholism and the violence scared the hell out of me, so I
wanted to get out of there.
"But I love it in Portland. It's so pretty here. I can't believe I wasted
all those years. Now I'm dancing and doing the pow wow scene, and enjoying
spending time with my family," Dashner said. "Today I'm working on a really
pretty yoke for my daughter's fancy dance dress. I got some orange cut
beads - three cuts. It's a contemporary design with a lot of swirls and
hearts and diamonds that I actually got from some cowboy boots. I wanted to
do something a little bit different that no one has, because she's a
phenomenal dancer and was even bumped up an age category - from 11 to the
teens. So I need to make sure that she's got real nice flashy stuff. I get
a huge sense of pride when I'm getting my children dressed, and when people
ask who made an outfit and I can say, 'I did.'"
While Theressa beaded, she watched her two youngest playing outside, the
4-year-old boy behind a black Batman mask. "Their dad built them a tree
fort with a rope swing; that's my son up there with his baby sister. He
really likes taking care of her," she said before returning to the subject
of urban life.
"Plus here they have better selection of beads and fabric. When you're from
the reservation, you're stuck with the little selection of beads at the
pawn shop." She laughed. "And the fabric stores are 'grandma-fabric' stores
that have flowered cotton and stuff. Around here they have about five or
six bead stores, so whenever I'm looking for beads, I hit them all. It
usually takes me a day or two."
When Theressa's son isn't playing Batman or beating out pow wow songs with
his nunchucks on the kitchen floor, he attends a Native Montessori school.
"We're so blessed," Dashner said. "He's been there three years, and I'm
going to be sad when he has to go into regular school."
Still, she has no complaint about mainstream education. "My girls really
like the school they go to. There aren't very many Indians there, so they
have a variety of friends from black to Mexican to white. Sometimes they
have trouble with some of the teachers and things, but overall they really
Like her husband, though, Dashner tries to give her children as much from
the Indian world as she can. "My teenagers have Indian people they hang out
with when we travel to the pow wows, but here at home during the week they
don't do a lot of Indian things.
"Even beading - it's hard to keep them focused on it. They got to be on the
phone with their friends. I try to tell them that they need to get their
outfits together, and I can't do everything on my own. It gets irritating,
even though my oldest daughter goes out and teaches this lady's daughter to
dance. She's been doing that for about three years now, which I think is
"Since I wasn't raised Indian, I learned a lot of things since I met Mike.
Simple things about shaking hands with people when you see them - something
my two-year-old daughter knows how to do. She knows that grandmas and
grandpas are important, and so she'll shake hands. And Mike is taking our
son eeling this weekend. This is their second year going eeling with
everyone from Wanapum.
"Back on my reserve, the only ceremony we had was giving our son his Indian
name. So it's nice here that they honor everything - a child's first catch
in fishing with a huge big giveaway. Or the first deer or elk. Yeah, it's
really interesting they just honor everything that the children do - go all
out with a feast and the giveaway. So even though we're here in Portland,
my family is way more involved in traditional things than I was back home."