Service Immersion Program: Rosebud Reservation, Mission, South Dakota
May 17th – May 24th, 2014
The mission of SIP: Lakota is to immerse students in the history and culture of the Lakota tribe through service, education, reflection and ritual celebration. Participants will learn the history of the Lakota people and experience it through the lens of social justice. The program seeks to develop students’ sense of self-awareness, their role as an agent of change and their sense of connection with the world around them. http://studentactivities.temple.edu/service-immersion/programs
This was the second time I was able to co-lead for SIP. I was more than willing to go again, as last years trip was truly eye-opening and life changing to be with the Lakota and the undergrads. We stayed with the Tree of Life (T.O.L.) Ministry (http://treeofliferelief.org/) again. They exist on donation and T.O.L. gives a cultural activity each day for the volunteers to partake in. Each morning Russell, the Director, held a reflection and shared information about the Lakota before breaking into groups. Our Temple team worked with a group from Arkansas and was divided each day between construction projects, T.O.L. Food Pantry, T.O.L. Thrift Boutique, and assisting with their opening of the T.O.L. Cafe. Tree of Life does incredible work to immerse the volunteer groups into Lakota culture and doing what they can to provide clothes, food and improved living conditions to those on the Reservation. Please check out the “causes” tab for more information. Saturday: After our long flights and hours of driving back and forth through time zones, we had arrived. The first night at Kola Tipi, Andrew Bentley and his girlfriend Kelsey came to meet the group and share their views and experiences on the Reservation. Andrew is a Temple alumni who went on the SIP trip while he was in school. He now lives on the Reservation and teaches at St. Francis School.
Buzz words – alcoholism, corruption, nepotism, Tribal Council, humor, Spirit Camp Sunday: Feelings of vulnerability, openness and positivty fill the group. There is a co-op grocery store called Turtle Creek where 100% of the proceeds go directly to Lakota. Each year, SIP tries to do the majority of their shopping there. This year, the store was even more desolate than the previous, with the majority of the customers frequenting the alcohol and casino section versus the actual grocery store. It was heartbreaking. We visited Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge in Valentine, Nebraska (http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Fort_Niobrara/). Being in nature where the air is fresh and the sound is only the birds and the breeze in the trees really allows you just to be. Its incredible to hear yourself think without the distractions of other people, cars, planes, etc.
We drove around first to take pictures of the prairie dogs and the buffalo.
That night, we met with Russell for the orientation. He gave some facts about the Reservation including being the 2nd poorest county in the U.S., 80% unemployment and about the Wounded Knee in 1790. South Dakota is also the 2nd highest employed state (how is that possible, right?!) Well, Natives are not counted as part of the census. The Wells Fargo on the Res charges $10 for Natives to cash their checks. Five homeless Lakota’s passed away in the winter and multiple homes were burnt down where the homeless had been staying. There is also nothing for kids to do, so “kids are having kids” and teen pregnancy is high. There is a strong connection to family with three to four generations in on home and most homes sleeping up to 21 people. We learned of the disagreements, anger and mistreatments since that massacre. Lakota means friends or allies. White man gave them the name Sioux, which means
poisonous snake, far from what they were. Lakota are known for the sense of humor, laughter and joy. Buzzwords of the day: overwhelming, excitement, listening, heavy Monday: Russell started by talking about the Sweat Lodge and the expectations. The first round is when the rocks are added, second round is for prayer in your native language/tongue, and the third round is known as the peace round. Generally it will start with seven rocks and usually end with 14-24 total. One rock for the North, South, East, West, Above, Below and Your own connection. Mitakuye Oyasin, to all my relations is used to share the connection with all brothers and sisters. Women’s power is from the ground and men’s from heaven above. During a women’s menstrual cycle, she is said to be more powerful. Women should not do the Sweat at that time out of respect because it can overpower the men’s prayers.
I was part of the construction group the first day, so a few of us helped Richard, the construction manager, put the tools together and drive out to the work site. There was one house that needed the deck ramp fixed up, and a house right next door needed the roof fixed. Paul, the homeowner, came out to talk to us a few times and was extremely approachable and open. In addition to one of the most magnificent views I have ever seen, he showed us an Bald Eagles nest in his pine trees out back. He also said that rattle snakes frequent that area – yikes!
The cultural for the night was with Les Makes Room in the backyard of the other T.O.L. building.
He and his nephew played on the drums and sang while his daughters danced. Usually Lakota songs are four verses, repeated and cascading. The Earth Beat goes to one beat and the Heart Beat goes to two. Instruments commonly used are drum (hand or ceremonial) and flute.
The regalia his daughters wore was a pattern based on family, not a costume. His daughters are “Fancy Dancers” with clothing made of beading, cape, eagle plum, raw hide belt with pouches, purse, yellow “horse hair” tassels and mirrors. The mirrors allow bad energy to get tossed back or down to the ground. The dancing was beautiful and outfits extremely intricate. The outfits were made mostly by their mother, which took several months.
Buzz words: Connections, nature, beauty, innocence, progress, friendships, bonds, change, struggles, sadness, depression, hope, humor, openness, peaceful, spiritual, emotional, proud Tuesday: We started the day with T.O.L. by learning about having respect for the elders, and keeping your gaze down at the ground is proper. It is important to breakdown barriers and learn culture. We learned of Vision Quests, which is going out to a mountain to fast and pray. Originally, it was against U.S. law and Natives were accused of being insane, when all they were doing is practicing their spirituality. With burials, many Lakota names were changed to American names and had no written records. The government said it was “too expensive to buy gravestones,” so unmarked wooden crosses were used. Most natives were sent to boarding schools to “tame” and “civilize” them. While there was a strong dislike by Lakota’s toward Christians/Catholics for obvious and rightful reasons, their outlook is to keep doing good, keep loving, seek forgiveness and acknowledge the wrong from the past. Iyuskinya Wachinyake – I am happy to see you. Instead of staying with T.O.L., we met up with Ione Quigley at Saint Francis School. Homer, an administrative assistant and Medicine Man, talked to us about his experience and expectations for the Sweat Lodge. He tries to keep the culture alive through pow-wow ceremonies, hand games and focus on the Lakota language. It is slowly, but surely dying out, with only about 300 speaking it fluently. Homer told us of his upbrining in a boarding school and lack of access to learning Lakota. He was often getting in trouble for talking or practicing Lakota ceremonies. Majority turned to alcohol and home lives are chaotic for a lot of the children. Child abuse, child neglect, alcohol/drug abuse, suicide and abandonment high in the area. He shared his duties as a Medicine Man, a power his grandfathers have given him, but he is still a common man. He runs the Sun Dance and Sweat Lodge ceremonies and was chosen to carry his Grandpa’s medicine. He wrote a book on it as well, which he shared with the group. Homer said, “Don’t say anything negative, everything we say is blessed.” In the Sweat Lodge for Friday, he emphasized the power of prayer and asked that we pray to Tunkashila (Grandfather) from our hearts. The Temple group then got a tour of St. Franics and the thrift pantry. They also heard Ione speak after she showed them around. Back at T.O.L., Butch Artichoker, another Medicine Man, led the cultural. He talked of his childhood and experience in becoming a Medicine Man. His name was Americanized because they were unsure of how to spell or speak his original name, which meant Blue Wing. He was raised Episcopalian and battled with a lot of personal issues, similar to Homer’s. Both men talked of their dreams and visions and ability to communicate with spirits. It is a gift, and a large commitment involved. He discussed the concept of creation, Mitakuye Oyasin and everything becoming related at a spiritual level. Who he is today is a culmination of experiences. He mentioned Kubler Ross, Raymond Moody and Russell Means as few of the authors and those who have experienced near death experiences. He also mentioned Joel Whitman, a Canadian psychologist discussing people patterns and understanding that with power and responsibility comes a lot of challenges. He completed a vision quest as a transformation, commitment and communication with creator. The Lakota believe the purpose of life on earth is for learning. Wednesday: Visit to the Badlands National Park (http://www.nps.gov/badl/index.htm)
We ended the day with a visit to the infamous Wall Drug.
Buzz words: calm, beauty, stress free, happy, challenging Thursday: “Better a patient man than a warrior.” I decided to assist in the food pantry for the day with a few students from our group. We ended up making french fries all day for the Warm Welcome, the meal supplied for the locals. We made the fries in the T.O.L. house/office next door, so between switching batches of fries, we were able to read and look through several Lakota books that were available on the bookshelf. The Warm Welcome gets very busy once it opens, so its incredible that Lucy, who was in charge of cooking and the food pantry, sometimes does the job on her own. From one of the Lakota books, a poem titled End of the Beginning:
“We have TV, that window to America. We see you, you don’t see us. Instead of doing a cultural with Tree of Life, we were able to visit the Spirit Camp in Winner, SD. http://www.shieldthepeople.org
Russel, the chief, and Keith, the elder, both spoke to us about the purpose of them camping out in order to stop the building of the pipeline. The seven tipis sit above the Oglala Aquifer, where the pipeline could eventually leak into because of the fracking (http://www.dangersoffracking.com). It has gained national news and will be on television again on June 27th on MSNBC, around the same time the Natives won the Battle of Little Big Horn. There view is “its our water, its our land,” and are doing there best to protect it. They have had guidance from the spirit guides and planted a choke cherry branch with eagle plum in the center of the camp for guidance. They believe all people are brothers and sisters, and we are here to protect the future of America.
It is the Lakota versus the big oil company, or David versus Goliath. Russell explained it as $5 and $10 are fighting billions. The oil company has offered to pay people for the land to build, but even if the owners say no, the state steps in and acquires it by eminent domain. The Reservation land remains untouched and South Dakota as a state supports this.
They remain spiritual and optimistic. They are not calling it a protest or radical movement, but is more to promote the awareness. There is a similar situation of uranium mining occurring in the Black Hills and by Devils Tower. “When you disturb something that you shouldn’t disturb, it will eventually catch up.” A lot of the control comes from the Koch (pronounced “coke”) brothers (http://www.bravenewfilms.org/koch2014). If people are born with love and respect, at what point do they come to lose it?
Also discussed was the construction of the pipeline and the “Man Camps” where the workers live as they work to build it. I do not want to go into too much detail, but some articles can be found at: http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/inside-frackings-man-camps-where-sex-drugs-and-gonorrhea-run-rampant or check out the Lakota’s Facebook page by searching Oyate Wahacanka Woecun. “Do what you can, with what you have, who you are.”
“Water the flowers in your own backyard.” Friday: After a day with T.O.L., we had our Sweat with Homer. It was an incredible close to the week and we were beyond thankful for everyone we had met, all we had learned and every experience we shared with the Lakota. The Sweat is a sacred ritual the Lakota perform to raise prayers of thanks and need through songs and community. It is a round structure made of wooden branches that sits directly on the ground and can fit anywhere from 10-30 people, depending on the size. The structure is covered with tarps and blankets, only leaving room for a small door to enter/exit. There is a small circle pit in the center where the hot stones get dropped in. These stones need to be heated for a while in advance in a fire. This is where the heat, steam and sweat is generated by pouring water onto the rocks. The number stones is dependent on the Sweat and is transported with antlers and blessed with sage or other natural blessings. To begin, women enter the sweat and go all the way around from left to right to take a seat. Once everyone enters, the “door” gets closed. The prayers start in addition to the water being poured on the rocks. It is intense, emotional and detoxifying, but you must have respect and understanding for the tradition and Lakota culture if you are ever invited to participate.
The experience in 2013 and 2014 has been life changing.