Mary Louise Defender Wilson

USA Weitz Fellow

  • Traditional Arts
  • 2015

    Flasher, ND


    The great drought covered the plains states and it was into this world that Mary Louise Defender was born October 14, 1930 on the allotment of her maternal grandfather, See the Bear. Grass was sparse and water came from springs feeding into the creek. Cattle could not survive so sheep, who forage better, were bought and herded. See the Bear was born in 1845 and his sister in law, Mrs. Runs in the Center, born in 1860, with the help of two Indian dogs were the herders. When Mary Louise was able to walk without help she went along and thought she was herding. While walking, her grandfather would talk to her about the land features and the plants. Telling of a wondrous mystical happening at a site, how the people learned from that event which helped them live in a better way. One of the plant stories was about the prairie turnip. It has a very long root and the roots are braided and the turnips are hung to dry for winter use. This was learned from the young woman who came from the sky a long, long time ago. And when one digs for turnips they appear to be as numerous as the stars. 

    Helen Margaret See the Bear Defender was an only child whose parents resisted United States government efforts to remove her from home to a boarding school. She was left a widow when Mary Louise was two years old. Remembering her mother as a tall, strong and wise woman with many abilities, who could run the mower to cut the few blades of grass, rake, sew clothes, cook, deliver babies, tell her stories and read to her, it appeared that she was superwoman. The midwife was the one who put the spirit into the baby when it took its first breath and Mary Louise, sometimes, went along in the wagon with her mother. The midwife knew how to put the spirit into the new human and also knew how to help the spirit leave at death. Mary Louise was always told to play far away from the dwelling where either was taking place. During these rides her mother would point out interesting things and tell her the history/story connected to whatever it was. 

    During her many years, Mary Louise has told her stories at the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian and many places throughout the United States and abroad. The recognition and many awards she has received humbles and strengthens her and she never forgets and gives thanks to the people in her early life and the many she has worked with throughout the years. In June, 2015, she was part of the North Dakota Council on the Arts, Art for Life Program, at the Prince of Peace Care Center and Ever Green Place in Ellendale, ND. Also the Daughters of the American Revolution presented her with their Women in American History Award, September, 2015.