Kathryn ‘Jody’ Beaulieu on treating your life with respect

Kathryn “Jody” Beaulieu is Ojibwe and an enrolled citizen of the Red Lake Nation. Her career —or rather careers — has included director of the Tribal Information Center, Archives and Library, member of the Red Lake School Board, and Tribal Secretary.

MPR’s senior economics contributor Chris Farrell recently met Beaulieu at the Southdale Public Library in Edina. He shared highlights from their conversation with MPR News host Cathy Wurzer.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation. 

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Audio transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] CATHY WURZER: I want to introduce you to someone that I think you really need to meet, Kathryn "Jody" Beaulieu. Jody is Ojibwe and an enrolled citizen of the Red Lake Nation. Her career-- maybe I should say careers-- has included director of the Tribal Information Center Archives and Library, member of the Red Lake School Board, and tribal secretary.

In our series Connect the Dots, we're asking Minnesota elders to share their wisdom and lessons learned about what really matters in life. MPR's senior economics contributor Chris Farrell recently met with her at the Southdale Public Library. Welcome back, Chris.

CHRIS FARRELL: It's great to be here, Cathy.

CATHY WURZER: Introduce us to Jody if you would.

CHRIS FARRELL: OK, so here's how she introduced herself when I asked that question.


I'm from Red Lake, and my Indian name is Black Standing Woman. And I'm of the Bear clan. My English name is Kathryn Beaulieu. I go by Jody. That's my nickname that I was given to by my older sister.

CATHY WURZER: Cool. Jody grew up on the Red Lake reservation?

CHRIS FARRELL: She did when she was young. But then in the early 1950s, her family moved to North Minneapolis. But she traveled to the reservation a lot to stay with her grandmother. And Jody says she always relaxed once she was at Red Lake.

KATHRYN "JODY" BEAULIEU: It was a sense of comfort and freedom to be on the reservation. And down here, it was not all prejudice, but I did face prejudice. And when there were squabbles in the neighborhood, North Minneapolis, I would be told to go back to the reservation where I belong. And my mom would say in response to that to me, she would say in strong words that I know who I am. Be proud that who you are. You know where you come from. And those words carried me through all the prejudice that I would face at elementary all the way up to the counselor in high school to the college that I attended after.

CATHY WURZER: Wow, that's very sad to hear that though. But I think her advice from her mom was spot on.

CHRIS FARRELL: It was, and here's what I love, Cathy. It's the life-shaping advice her grandmother gave her when she was in college in California.

KATHRYN "JODY" BEAULIEU: Well, my grandmother, when I was a UC Davis student, we would write back and forth. And she told me in one of the letters, whatever you do, my girl, don't become a house plant. So I credit my grandmother with being the first feminist so to speak, and encouraged me to go on and get a career.

CATHY WURZER: I love that. Don't be a house plant. Good. [LAUGHS] I'll remember that.

CHRIS FARRELL: So speaking of not being a house plant, she's been a lifelong advocate for preserving Ojibwe language and culture, improving education and services, and the sovereignty and independence of the Red Lake Nation. And I learned during our conversation, Cathy, that she was part of the group of Native Americans who occupied the island of Alcatraz in 1969. And she says that experience on Alcatraz gave her strength and insights to make a difference for the Native American community.

KATHRYN "JODY" BEAULIEU: I was in a bad place so to speak because I was saying derogatory names, honky, redneck, and things like that. But once on Alcatraz, I started learning more of the treaties and history and that I could come amongst our people and feel like I'm not amongst strangers. And that's something unique to our people. I think that we can go in a crowd of Indian people, and we have connections. We have a common bond called culture.

CATHY WURZER: And, of course, that culture-- white folks tried to destroy it through a history of forced assimilation and the broken treaties and all those traumas.

CHRIS FARRELL: Yes, and her mom as a young girl was sent to one of the mission schools. And, of course, we've been learning more and more in the past recent decades about those mission schools. So, Cathy, I had to ask Jody, you don't sound bitter. Why?

KATHRYN "JODY" BEAULIEU: I had to shed those layers of what caused me to be bitter and caused me to be resentful and cause me to be not a centered person. And so that's what needs to take place with a lot of our youth. Because once you start finding out the truth, once you start finding out the history, you can become bitter. But you have to go through that and get beyond that to be at peace within yourself and have that joy for the life that we were given, for the gift of life.

CATHY WURZER: That's true. Hard to do though.

CHRIS FARRELL: It really is. And those thoughts, those reflections, that led her to say something directed at young Native and non-Native people that I've been thinking about a lot recently, Cathy. It's about embracing the uncertainty and the mystery of life.

KATHRYN "JODY" BEAULIEU: There are so many other things that have transpired to make it such a battle for our kids to be able to live and thrive, so many influences not only for our youth, but all youth. And to have a moral compass, treat your body with respect, treat your life with respect, it's a gift. Cherish it so that you can find your purpose. And then through finding your purpose, you will find your joy.

If you go down that road of drugs in a life without mystery, you can write the script for that life. But if you live a good life, a life where you're abiding by the natural gift of life and the natural spirituality of life, your life will be a mystery. And you'll never know what can transpire. You can make your goals. And you accomplish one goal, set another goal. But the main thing is to stay on the good red road.

CATHY WURZER: Life is a mystery, which is absolutely true. You mentioned earlier that education is important to Jody. And it sounds like that's really coming through.

CHRIS FARRELL: It is. Education-- it's a lifelong theme of her career, really, as you mentioned earlier, Cathy, careers. Education matters.

KATHRYN "JODY" BEAULIEU: Because it's through education that will come the truth. And through education, you can make it be known what's been denied. And what's been denied has impacted our people to the point where some of us need to come around to the point where we can heal from that and thrive in knowing that what has been done and the whole impact of assimilation has negatively impacted our people to the point of where some people are made to feel ashamed of who we are. And it's not only impacted our people but all of America.

CATHY WURZER: Of course, Native American history has had an impact on all of us, right?

CHRIS FARRELL: That's right. And Time magazine had this headline, and they got it right. Without Indigenous history, there is no US history. And Jody-- she's remaining active with several projects, among them the push for legislation designed to benefit Native communities, efforts to return upper Red Lake to Red Lake Nation, and always the educator. She says, efforts like these are vital for improving the prospects of the younger generation of Native Americans.

KATHRYN "JODY" BEAULIEU: I want our young Indian youth to know who they are, to know where they come from. Because even though they may have been raised in the city, they have connections to a reservation. And when we ask them, where are you from, I would hope that they'd get to the point of saying their reservation.

And that they will use that to carry them through life because that's important. That's a grounding. That's a basis for being able to come to your full self actualization, to be able to thrive, to be able to be happy, to be able to live life in a good way. And to the non-Indians, I think that I have a lot of hope that the youth of today are more aware than the youth were years ago and that they're ahead of the game of reconciliation and healing.

CATHY WURZER: So is she hopeful that change will also benefit non-Native kids?

CHRIS FARRELL: Yes. That was one of the themes of our of our conversation, the sort of reciprocal relationship. And, of course, that made me curious what she felt the rest of society, the rest of us should understand about Native Americans.

KATHRYN "JODY" BEAULIEU: I want them to understand that in spite of all the federal laws and statutes that were designed to demise and diminish and take away everything about the American Indian and our homeland that it's coming around where people are realizing the truth. And that in order to heal, everybody needs to heal because we're all impacted by this history. That they are coming around to support initiatives for our own recovery. Because our recovery would mean their recovery.

CATHY WURZER: I'm wondering here, did you have a chance to talk about the Native American viewpoint that you need to make decisions based on a number of generations out in the future?

CHRIS FARRELL: Yes, and it's a very powerful viewpoint. Choices you make today will have an impact seven generations into the future.


KATHRYN "JODY" BEAULIEU: This is a message for the seventh generation. Survive, keep hopes and dreams, take care of yourself. Remember your spirit, be there for each other, respect courage, share knowledge. Always keep learning. Remember your true values.

CATHY WURZER: Yeah. those. Are good for everybody.

CHRIS FARRELL: It is. And, LOOK think about the future generations when making decisions today. And I have to say this, Cathy. Don't be a houseplant.

CATHY WURZER: Don't be a houseplant. Thank you, Chris Farrell.

CHRIS FARRELL: Thanks a lot.

CATHY WURZER: Chris is our senior economics contributor.

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