We committed to going! Now what? Joy and Bruce provided a good run down of what to expect, both through the printed materials from Re-Member and by relaying their own experience. In particular, we found the reading list to be a valuable resource. We chose to read the “Indigenous People’s History of the United States” and “Neither Wolf nor Dog”, both providing an Indian perspective on history and life today that we weren’t familiar with.
We were very glad that we chose to arrive in Rapid City a few days early to be tourists, to acclimatize and for the chance to take in the official White Man version of history of the area—important where so much of the history involved the families and ancestors of the indigenous people we were about to meet, and we quickly learned, where the versions were so strikingly different.
The accommodations at Re-Member were as expected—simple and shared—and we settled in for our welcome orientation. There were about 70 people, including the 22-person assemblage put together by Joy and Bruce from Sanctuary UCC. We quickly learned the first question to ask, “Is this your first time to the Rez?”. The group was a nice mix between first-timers and those who had volunteered multiple times.
The week’s program had a good balance of work and learning. We were not there to work all day every day. We were assigned to four-person work groups, and each day’s activity was a new mixture of these groups. There’s nothing like a shared work experience to get to know new people. We had a further chance to get to know people at the communal tables at each of the meals.
Work was challenging and hard. Many of the volunteers had little experience with tools and construction work, but all were game to try the tasks offered. There were also a variety of tasks available for those who weren’t up for physical challenges. We were given a good mix of instruction and supervision as well as the opportunity to work things out on our own.
Each morning we had a “Ted talk” by Ted Skantze, Re-Member’s director, providing his perspective on Pine Ridge, the people, the problems, the opportunities, and the work that Re-Member is doing. Each evening had a presentation from someone on the reservation who was doing something to make a difference, such as Will Peters—a school teacher on the reservation that is also an award-winning musician. And each evening provided “roses and thorns”, an opportunity to share and process our good and bad experiences of the day.
Being on the reservation was an experience that has opened our eyes and our hearts to the state of life on the reservation: its horrific history, its abject poverty, its deep pride, its long history, dynamic culture, its will to overcome adversity.
Now we let our experience germinate, and start preparing for next year’s trip.
–Susan Fairchild and Jeff Buxbaum