Lindahl embraces heritage

Lindahl embraces heritage

Susan Lindahl’s great-grandmother called her “Listens with her eyes.”

Lindahl, chief communications and strategic planning officer, learned much from her great-grandmother, who was part of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

“My great-grandmother was a listener,” Lindahl said. “She had a medicine wheel. She really believed in Native American healing.”

Lindahl’s mother was born on the reservation in Durant, Okla., before heading to Kansas.

“(Heritage) was very important to my mother,” Lindahl said. “That particular side of the family I’ve always related to.”

Although Lindahl didn’t grow up on the reservation like her mother did, she remains a voting member of the nation.

The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, which was founded during the 1830s, is home to more than 250,000 people today.

Since leaving Oklahoma, Lindahl has returned to the reservation several times. Her daughter, Jenifer, is President of the Native American Law Student Association at American University Law School. And her son, Nels, advocates for civic honors and studies administration, including Native American governance.

Both of her children also are enrolled members of the Choctaw Nation and have visited the reservation.

“It is part of their heritage that they honor,” Lindahl said. “I hope that continues.”

Although her children are active in the Choctaw Nation, Lindahl thinks it’s her childhood experiences that keep her involved.

“It’s important to me to know the experiences she had and honor them,” Lindahl said about her great-grandmother.

Lindahl remembers a straw basket her great-grandmother used to carry around. As a child, it represented food and happiness, but as Lindahl grew older, she started to realize that the basket represented much more.

“She didn’t have the choice,” Lindahl said.

Her great-grandmother couldn’t eat in some public restaurants because of her dark skin. She couldn’t take her grandchildren inside for a meal.

Instead, she carried around a straw basket – it wasn’t fancy, it wasn’t expensive. It was the simplest of baskets.

“I want to educate people about how important it is to treat people fairly,” Lindahl said.

Despite being so far away from the reservation, Lindahl said it’s easy to stay in contact with her Choctaw family.

“Chief (Gregory) Pyle, communicates on a very regular basis,” she said. “I write to him. He always responds.”