Thursday, March 29, 2012

Saturday Evening On the Rez

As I drove towards the people working, one woman came bounding over and asked if she could help me in a lovely Italian accent.  She was all smiles as she pointed me towards the big red building called 'Shelem' and even helped me with my gear. This was my introduction to Erika, one of the staff members at Re-Memeber. 

As I got out of my car, a tall man with a ponytail said "Welcome, John." I was so taken aback that he knew my name, I was actually speechless for a moment. "Or, not John." He said.
"No, I'm John." I replied. "But how did you know that?"
"You look like a John." He said, and introduced himself as Ted, the director of the program. 

Entering the building, I took note of the organization name in tile on the floor, and entered the gathering room...

An eclectic mix of colors and pictures and Native inspired hanging things.  A bookshelf (in the right of the above picture) held just as eclectic a mix of reading material and other things.  A smudge pot with sage and sweetgrass bundles, a miniature bunk bed. And books on Lakota topics, other religious topics and random novels.  I stowed my stuff on a bunk in the men's dorm side of the building...

and went back outside to see what I could do to help.  Everyone was down at the old barracks building, so I walked down that way and discovered that the barracks had been converted into a shop. Ted, Erika and another young woman were loading folding picnic tables into a flat trailer, and were just finishing up when I arrived.  I walked back with Erika and the other woman, and was thus introduced to Jen, the program director for the summer. They were very welcoming and friendly, and suggested I relax and take it easy, and go up on the big hill behind the buildings.  We found Ted in the kitchen, and he suggested the same thing.  So I headed up to see what all the fuss was about.

It was spectacular.  A panoramic view that stretched for miles.  If you look south, you can see Nebraska just a couple of miles away. And it was so quiet.  All I heard was wind blowing through the long grass and a couple of pine trees. Occasionally a cow would moo. And a little yellow breasted bird was singing it's song.  It was very peaceful.  I sat down on a little patch of rock to soak it in.

Looking at the ground to my immediate left I saw this...

And to the right were these...

So I decided to go put some real shoes on instead of my sandals, and at the very least find a place to sit with less pain potential.

As I walked back down the hill, other groups began to arrive.  A group from the University of Maryland, another from Hope College, then Hendrix College and a bunch of high schoolers from Denver Academy.  I suddenly felt rather old and out of place.

I met a very nice gal named Kate who was heading up the hill at the same time I was after I had changed my shoes, so I talked with her a little as we climbed up. My plans to remain anonymous were deteriorating quickly.

At the top, the Hope group had gathered and were playing 'knot' which I thought looked a lot like a strange Michigan bonding ritual, so I had to get a shot of that.

It was significantly louder on the hill than it had been when I was alone, so Kate and I hiked back down and parted ways. I went off to explore and take some pictures...

horses in the field next to the hill...

some sort of prairie wildflower, now dried into this pretty shell...

and as I walked back to the camp, this dog...

That shadowed me along his property line, and crouched into the play stance anytime I looked at him. But would not come up and say hello.

Soon it was supper time. Buffalo Stew. And since it was St. Patrick's Day, Jen decided to have some fun with the group, and soon had a guy speaking with an Irish accent, and a huge group up to do an Irish Jig. 

After supper we had our first history lesson with Ted.  It was a bit depressing. He told us some of the stats. 90% unemployment, only 60% of homes with electricity. 10 times the rate of diabetes and up to 80% rate of alcoholism. Over ten times the rate of suicides as the national average. Life was hard out here.  No doubt about it. This was the poorest county in the US, and second poorest to Haiti in the entire Northern Hemisphere. 

I had heard these statistics before. They seemed no more real to me on this night as they had reading about them back in Minnesota.  But that would change over the next week.

Ted gave us our marching orders, too.  Relax.  Shut off the cell phones and computers. Disconnect from our usual way of life.  And most importantly, listen.

Listen to what the speakers would be telling us.  Listen to what the locals had to say.  Listen to the wind in the grass and the trees.  Just slow down and listen.  It was a tall order for many of us.  Me for certain. But the last line I wrote in my journal that night was "I am open to what may come." If it took slowing down and listening to do that, then I was all for it.

During free time, I grabbed my camera and headed out into the dark to get some shots of the sky.  It is much darker there than anywhere I had been before.

I got Jupiter and the moons...

and a pretty OK timed shot before it was time for bed.

 I sat in the darkness and listened to the wind blow. I heard laughter and talking from the groups going up and down the hill. I saw about a billion more stars than I was used to seeing, and already was planning another night or three out taking pictures.  But the long day of driving and the excitement of settling in and meeting people soon had me yawning something fierce. So I packed it in and headed for bed.  I wanted to try and get some sleep, as Sunday was a day of acclimatization and slowing down.  I wanted to be ready for it.

More Later

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