Writing for On Second Thought, a publication of Humanities North Dakota, Brian Palecek talks with the Rev. John Floberg about his 25 years of ministry in the state:
BP: The congregations you serve tend to be minority congregations. How did that impact the way you see yourself here? What does it mean to be part of a sacred landscape?
JF: It actually came about by working with the Sudanese, who were completely out of their landscape. What is it to be a people who have gone through displacement? If you’re still on your land, or if you are refugees on this land, Native people have been displaced — their lifestyle, their culture. And so have the Sudanese. So when I work with the Sudanese population, I’d bring into that conversation some things about how they adapt, and what they do with their culture as they’re adapting.
With the first generation of folks, there’s a strong emphasis about assimilating. There was a strong emphasis on assimilating the people on Standing Rock at around 1900. But then you come two or three generations down the line, and those generations want to regain what was lost in this new place, in this new way. So I encouraged the Sudanese not to lose their language, and not to be so concerned with learning English that the children not learn their parents’ language. Language gets tied too much to identity, and it’s tied to how you describe things, and how you describe and interact with the environment around you.
So when the Lakota people talk about the months, they have a descriptive way. This is the month when the trees crack. This is the way of passing on identity through language that connects you to the area that you’re from.