Joy and I were fortunate enough to accompany five Boston University students out to the Pine Ridge Reservation in western So. Dakota From June 6 – 14th. A number of the students had never been out of the Northeast let alone to an Indian reservation. Though this was our fourth trip out to the home of the Oglala Lakota, we got to visit it anew through the eyes of the students. Our group joined a larger group of 29 high school girls from Ursuline Academy in Cincinnati, OH. Re-Member mixes up the groups so that each day you work with a slightly different group of volunteers on a different project. We worked building outhouses and skirted an empty trailer so that a family could move in and use during the harsh reservation winters. We also worked at the Oglala pow wow grounds shoring up several structures that had been damaged by the years and a particularly snowy winter. We spent the last two days working with Shannon Freed/Earth Tipi putting in a garden and installing gutters and a sink.
On the weekend we arrived, Re-Member provided its usual tour of important sites on the rez. In the evenings, they invited Lakota speakers who talked about various aspects of their culture, history and spirituality. An annual highlight for Joy and I is our visits with several Lakota folks that we have met over the years. We were able to spend time with Mink’a, H’uya, Raven and Chetan and their parents.
Another bright spot for us was a series of deep conversations with a 21 year old young man named Clayton. Despite a rough early life, Clayton aspires to be a role model and support to young people on the reservation, many of whom live in challenging situations that make it tough to be hopeful for their own futures. Clayton talked about the high suicide rate among young people on the reservation and his hopes for the future of the young people there. Clayton credits his employment at Re-Member for helping him turn around his own life. He is making plans to attend a Native American technical school to learn a trade and then seek employment. His nascent enthusiasm for his future was inspiring to witness. Clayton was one of our main “roses” for the week.
We talked with Clayton and some other folks on the reservation about our idea of starting a cultural exchange experience for Lakota teens and young adults. This would involve local families in Medford hosting Pine Ridge teens/young adults in their home for short visits of a week or two during the summer or school vacation. We believe an experience like this, though short and temporary, might inspire hope in Lakota youth that struggle with challenging living conditions and family situations. We received a very positive response to this idea from Clayton, ReMember staff and a Lakota elder who offered to help by talking with teens, parents and grandparents on the reservation. We are excited about this possibility and hope others from Sanctuary will be interested and supportive of this type of endeavor. We would like to set up a program to match Lakota youth with local families in the near future.
We had so many other “rose” experiences on Pine Ridge despite the many “thorns” that exist on the reservation. The experience continues to fill us with grace, gratitude and love for the people, culture and land every time we go. If you would like to hear more about the trip or about our Lakota youth visit idea, feel free to ask us.