As part of our ongoing effort to cultivate an inclusive and equitable culture for all, we look for ways to amplify our team members’ voices. One way is national holidays that invite us to take pause and recognize our diversity.
In honor of Native American Heritage month, we focus on Beth Gregory’s experience as a proud member of the Rosebud Lakota Sioux tribe, part of the Greater Sioux Nation. Beth, Remarketing Solutions Field and Dealer Support Manager, has been with GM Financial since 2008. She appreciates the awareness this month brings to her tribe’s past and present.
Embracing who I am
The Sioux are a confederacy of several tribes that speak three different dialects: The Lakota, Dakota and Nakota. Beth’s ancestors, the Lakota, comprise seven tribal bands occupying lands in both North and South Dakota. Beth has always known she is a member of her tribe.
“I grew up knowing I was native,” she said. “My native roots run deep.” But past generations of Beth’s family were raised in a climate that taught it was shameful to be Native American. “For a time,” she said, “I wondered if it was shameful.”
Beth recalls a powerful experience that made her reexamine her feelings about her heritage.
“I was in a Pizza Hut with my grandfather,” she said, “when we saw a Native American man who needed help. My grandfather said to me, ‘Never forget who you are. Be proud of it.’ That really resonated with me and prompted me to truly embrace my identity and heritage.”
When Beth relocated to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, she noticed there wasn’t a large Native American community.
“I find that people are really interested in my heritage once they learn I’m Lakota,” Beth said. “They often don’t know much about our traditions and that each tribe has a unique history. We’ve all had different experiences.”
My ancestors’ wildest dreams
When Beth speaks about her ancestors, her love and reverence for them shines through.
“I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams. They fought for us to be here,” she said. “They were so resilient and went through so much for us to stay here. I love my tribe, my culture, my family and our stories — good and bad.”
To connect with her heritage, Beth returns to the Rosebud Sioux reservation in South Dakota to take part in the annual Rosebud Wacipi, Fair and Rodeo. It is the biggest tribal celebration of the year. There, in one of the most remote areas of the country, she and her family celebrate the beauty of their culture.
Celebrating my heritage
“Our ancestors have been holding this celebration for over 140 years,” Beth said. Beginning in 1876, the annual Rosebud victory celebration honors the warriors who returned from the Battle of the Little Bighorn. There, Lakota warriors, with the Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, defeated the United States Army and captured their flag. According to Lakota oral history, there were five or six flags taken. During the celebration, replicas of the captured flags are carried by the Sicangu Lakota warriors.
A special victory dance is also held to remember Lakota ancestors who defeated General George Custer and his troops.
“Watching the dancing is the best part,” said Beth. “They’re telling stories through dance, and the beauty of the storytelling is amazing.” She recalls how, as she watched the dancing, an elder sitting next to her explained the significance of the stories. “This is a dance that’s happened for 147 consecutive years,” she explains. “It’s really powerful.”
While the celebration has changed since the late 19th century — it now includes crafts, a parade, games and a rodeo — the spirit of the tribe continues to flourish. Family and friends gather each year to reconnect and commemorate. Beth recently traveled to the 2023 Rosebud celebration, where the theme was Wana Un Glipi, or We Are Home.
“This year, tribe members honored the children sent away to Indian boarding schools,” she explains. From the late 19th to the early 20th century, many Indian children were sent to schools hundreds of miles away to forcibly assimilate.
“Survivors and their descendants, as well as those who died due to harsh conditions and illness, were remembered at this year’s celebration,” says Beth. She has a very personal connection to the Indian boarding school system. Her great-grandfather attended its flagship institution, Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
Sharing who I am
Beth recalls that, before Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) initiatives began to create an inclusive workplace, she didn’t feel it was okay to tell others about her Native American heritage.
“The inclusivity I've felt from conversations on DE&I topics allows me to share so much about my culture,” Beth said. “GM Financial gives me a public, corporate platform to share who I am.”
When asked about the meaning of Native American Heritage Month for her, Beth explains, “It’s a great time to remember our diversity and where America came from. There are nearly 600 Native American tribes. I love learning about their different languages, histories and cultures. There is so much to appreciate and celebrate.”