Elder-In-Residence connects students with elders

This past Thursday, featured the first of three virtual visits with Deanna Stands that will be happening over the next two months for Minnesota State University, Mankato’s Elder-In-Residence program.

This program is an opportunity for students to connect with elders from local communities. It can allow for stress relief, grounding, and helping students get and stay connected.

Stands is a returning elder for this program, having visited last year as well. The program is a part of a Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund grant that MNSU was awarded, which includes funding for several Indigenous focused initiatives, scholarships, emergency grants for education majors, and support for professional development.

The Elder-In-Residence initiative is an attempt to provide opportunities for students to connect with elders from local communities. Being able to visit with elders can be a stress reliever, help students feel grounded, and keep them feeling connected back to home while they’re at school. 

Throughout the hour-long conversation, Stands covered a multitude of topics including her Native ancestry, some basic words in Dakota, reservations, graduation rates of Native teens, and her thoughts surrounding Native American Heritage Month.

Stands belongs to the Yankton Sioux tribe and is registered on a reservation in South Dakota. She teaches elementary school there, after having received a degree in elementary education from the University of Minnesota. She had retired after 30 years of teaching, but has recently been asked by her school to come back part time and continue educating.

Stands was asked at one point to teach the people in attendance a couple of words in Dakota, to which she gladly obliged. “I love seeing that people want to learn,” Stands commented. The group was taught the masculine and feminine form of hello, alongside another common greeting.

“Speaking two languages kind of creates an overlap in my mind- it plays tricks on me. Dakota uses English letters but it has different sounds associated with the letters, along with its own characters,” noted Stands on being multilingual. 

Stands shared a handful of her viewpoints on the idea of Native American Heritage Month, which is what the Elder-In-Residence program originated for. 

“We are what we are 365 day of the year, and mainstream culture gives us just a little bit of time to be recognized, but it is what it is,” she said. “What do you mean by ‘Native America’? We are not all one person. Give us this time, yes, but use it to recognize that we are different.”

The Elder-In-Residence program has two more upcoming dates this semester, on Nov. 11 and Dec. 2. 

“These events are just an opportunity to build relationships. Very lowkey, just come and chat,” said Stands. More information on the event can be found on the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences events webpage.

Header Photo: Deanna Stands is a citizen of the Yankton Sioux Tribe and MNSU alumna who has served as an educator for 37 years. (Courtesy of American Indian Affairs at MNSU)

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