University Letter

UND's faculty and staff newsletter

Remembering Barbara Dahlen

Barbara Dahlen
Barbara Dahlen

Barbara K. Dahlen, 68, peacefully passed away May 7, 2021, at First Care hospital in Park River, surrounded by her family.

According to stories told in the family, Barbara Kay Charbonneau entered this world on June 6, 1952 on a star filled night to her parents Ovila and Marion Charbonneau in Olga, N.D. When Ovila went to announce Barbara’s birth he told the older children, “We have a little Brown Bear” and the name stuck with her throughout life.

Barbara was one of 23 children and the kids had chores, but she soon learned if she read a book she did not have to help with chores, so reading became her passion. Though she was born and spent her early childhood in Olga, she received her elementary and secondary education at a mission boarding school in South Dakota.

When it was time to go to college Barbara caught a ride to Devils Lake and went in to register for college classes. She was told she needed a high school transcript, so she went to the high school and took her GED test on the spot, passed, and went back and signed up for courses. When she graduated in 1974 with her LPN she met the love of her life, David G. Dahlen, and fell in love with his sparkling blue eyes.

They were united in marriage on Nov. 28, 1975. This was the day after Thanksgiving and was forever known as their anniversary date. From this union, they had three children, Jencie Kay, Sarah Jo, and John (Casey).  Earlier in their marriage they lived various places throughout the Midwest until they settled in Park River, N.D., in the 1980s.

She worked many places in the Park River area, including the Park River Good Samaritan home, The State School (Grafton), and St. Ansgar’s in Park River. At this time, she supported her husband starting his plumbing/heating business and pursued her RN degree. This was a big feat during this time to be a working mother, raising children, and pursing education but between her strong will and David’s support it was a goal. This was the beginning of her love for education and a passion for encouraging others to pursue their dreams, whether it was family, friends, or a random stranger.

As a young adult, she went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing. She joined UND, where she worked as assistant program coordinator/nurse mentor and part of the team that developed the Recruitment and Retention of American Indians into Nursing (RAIN) Program.

During this time, her heart became heavily burdened over the self-destructive behaviors of some of the American Indian nursing students, particularly those whose parents had been traumatized by boarding school experiences.

In 1994, she became one of the first three American Indians to graduate with an MSN at UND. While working on her master’s degree thesis, which focused on the role of hope in the retention of American Indians into nursing, she developed the Dream Catcher-Medicine Wheel, a culturally relevant research methodology for use among American Plains Indians. This innovative methodology evolved into one of the distinguishing features of her research into historical trauma among boarding school survivors.

She went on to earn a doctorate from Florida Atlantic University Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing at Boca Raton—an accomplishment that distinguished her as the 15th American Indian in the U.S. to earn a Ph.D. in nursing.

For more than 30 years, Dr. Charbonneau-Dahlen committed her life to active involvement in increasing public awareness of the suffering endured by mission boarding school survivors during their formative childhood years and the ongoing effects of that trauma reaching across generations. She conducted professional and lay presentations to bring awareness to the public and has been featured in the legislature and news media of South Dakota for her efforts to revise laws barring boarding school victims of abuse from seeking social justice. She was a part of the organization 9littlegirls which advocates for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, primarily abuse endured in American Indian boarding school.

Barbara was currently a tenured associate professor of nursing at Minnesota State University Mankato, and she loved teaching. Barbara was very proud of her research and was published in many nursing journals.

Barbara often downplayed her amazing talents, but she touched many in their journeys in life. Barbara was recently gifted her Native name “Woksape Yunayewichayapi Win” which translates from Lakota to “Woman who shared knowledge to all.” Barbara had no barriers and loved all, and this name suited her even if it came from another tribe than her roots, as she spent much of her youth in SD and her many years of recruiting American Indian students to the RAIN program at UND.

Barbara had many names in life from Brown Bear, KayKay, Barbie, Barb, Mom, Mommy, Ma, Sunshine, Gramma, Dr. Dahlen, and now Woksape Yunayewichayapi Win. She was a beloved daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandma, friend, nurse, and educator, she will be missed by many.

She is survived by her children: Jencie Dahlen of Sisseton SD, Sarah (Stephen Sharpe) Dahlen of East Grand Forks and Casey (Grace Peterson) Dahlen of Park River.  Grandchildren Max Dahlen (Jencie), Remington, Weston, Finn, and MaKya (Casey & Grace) along with Drusilla and Jo Etta (Sarah & Stephen). She is survived by Sisters: Roberta (David) Bearinger, JoAnn (Richard) Braget, Mary Lou Byron, Gerri Dubourt, Francine (Orin) Soli, Laurette Johnson, Pat Charbonneau, Geneva Gustafson, and Theresa Malone.  Brother: Larry (Jean) Charbonneau. Brothers in law Duane Aamot, Bill (Mary) Dahlen, and Dan (Nola) Dahlen, Sister-in-law Estelle Carrier, and special best friend/sister Myrna Olson, and many nieces and nephews.

She is preceded in death by her husband of 45 years David Dahlen, parents Ovila and Marion Charbonneau, Father/Mother-in-law Leonard and Drusilla Dahlen, Sisters: Louise Aamot, Myrtle Carrier, Elaine Carrier, Juanita (Thord) Finnson, Gloria (Bob) Bednar, Lorraine (Teddy) Beauchamp, Brothers: Wayne Charbonneau, Raymond Charbonneau, Ernest Carrier, Eli (Irene) Carrier, Donald (Evelyn) Charbonneau, Damus (Jean) Charbonneau, Brothers in law: Leon Dubourt, Jerry Byron, Norman Gustafson, Melvin Johnson, and Bob Malone. Special best friend/sister Mary Lou Freyholtz.

Barbara always had a passion for nursing and education, in lieu of flowers memorials can be made to Park River Ambulance or given to family for a Barbara Dahlen scholarship. You can make the donation to whichever child you feel comfortable with (Jencie, Sarah, or John (Casey) Dahlen) and send it to 210 Park Ave N Park River, ND 58270. The children are so proud of her legacy and each one obtained degrees, which Barbara was so proud of. She loved to brag about her children and grandchildren.

There will be an open house at Tollefson funeral home May 14, 1- 2 p.m.,, with a family memorial service from 2 – 3 p.m. At 3 p.m. there will be a graveside memorial at Memorial Park Cemetery in Park River. If you would like to bring a lawn chair to the outdoor memorial service, it would acceptable. Masks are encouraged and follow social distancing when together.