Sunday, April 29, 2012

Great Horned Owl

Before I get to my final post about my Pine Ridge trip, which I am still working on, I thought I'd share today's adventure.

As I was getting ready for church this morning, we got a call from The Raptor Center about an owl tangled in a soccer net.  I went to pick him up and found him at a private residence in their backyard, thoroughly entangled in a little soccer net.  There were two families gathered around and one of the mom's was trying to cut away the tangle from a distance. 

They seemed amazed that I dug right into the bird's feathers to get to the string, but having no experience with raptors they are not faulted at all for their efforts. 

As I said, he was pretty well tangled, and had some superficial wounds on his shoulders and neck from where the string had dug in.

After I got him out, I took him home and showed him to my own kiddos so they could see a Great Horned Owl up close.  The Boyo took some pictures with my camera, and both of them were awed by the size of the great bird.

Heck, I was awed by his size, too.  Here's some pics...

One other thing that was amazing.  As I was working him loose from the string, using my fingers and scissors, the bird stayed still and calm. Even as I worked around his head, he never once nipped at my bare fingers. I usually wear thick welder gloves on rescues, but I had to get to the string, and the gloves were too thick.  I did have one of the mom's assist me by wearing the gloves and holding the legs just above the strong feet and talons. I think he knew I was there to help.  As I worked to free him he didn't nip or foot me once. 

This changed once I had him in the transport box.  As I showed him to the kids and got him into a bigger, more comfortable transport box, he footed me a few times - thank goodness for the welders gloves!  It was like having my finger in a vise. Amazingly powerful.  If I had not been wearing the gloves, I'm certain the talons would have gone right to the bone.

I took him up to the Raptor Center and dropped him off.  The initial exam verified my on scene exam.  Superficial skin wounds and no obvious broken bones.  They were X-raying him as I left, and I'll know more in the next day or two whether he will heal enough to be released, or at least enough to be an education bird.  Most of the birds I've taken up have been too sick or injured to save, so I'm very hopeful that this one will survive.

As I drove home, I wondered what the Lakota think about owls.  As it was, I had on my Mitakuye Oyasin bracelet from Re-Member.  It means We are all related. So I wished my owl brother a speedy recovery and sent up a quick prayer in case anybody was listening to my thoughts.

He's a magnificent bird.

More Later

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Thursday was my last full day on the Rez during this visit.  I awoke with just a bit of sadness at this fact, but quickly shifted into work mode.  As exhausted as I was at the time, it was daunting to think of spending another day working. But, as I did in the Corps, I just thought in my head "I can do anything for the next 24 hours. Tomorrow will take care of itself."

Thus geared for the day, I had breakfast, listened to the last Wisdom of the Elders from Ted, and we broke into our teams again.  Yesterday's work crew headed out on tour, and my group headed for a trailer with the goal of skirting the entire thing in one day.  Looking at the faces that morning I knew it would be no problem.  This group was packed with excellent workers.  True servant hearts.  So we packed up the trailers, piled into vans and headed for the trailer.

We met a very nice family there who had set up their house in a buffalo field with an amazing view of the surrounding hills.  Our group split into two teams, with one team starting on the front side, and another starting on the back.  We had a friendly competition going, and since everyone now knew what needed to be done to get going, there was little instruction given by our leaders.  Everyone just started working!  It was inspiring to see.
Picture by Katerina Klavon

Before too long, it was lunch time.  And we headed back to work.  Finishing the entire skirting project in about four hours. We rocked it, plain and simple.  I bonded even more with my fellow volunteers, which was fun.
Picture by Katerina Klavon
 And behold...
The crew, the family, and the finished trailer!

We headed back to the camp to get ready for supper and clean up the camp a bit.  Kate and I went with Bryan to unload the garbage and pick up the pizza's that were for supper.  While we were out, we drove through Whiteclay. A "town" just over the border into Nebraska. Population 14, and comprised entirely of liquor stores...oh and a western wear store tucked in to try to make it legit.

 I had read about Whiteclay, and knew some of the problems that it created.  But to be there weighed pretty heavily on my heart. Yet more proof that the Rez is off the radar of the majority of the people in this country. Google Whiteclay and read some of those reports for yourself.  It is truly disgusting what happens there.  It is as if AA were to start selling cocktails at their meetings or NA had a break in the middle to shoot up. It really is a big part of the problems that plague the Rez.
Money talks when it comes to Whiteclay.  That is the only reason it exists, to sell legally or illegally to a people who are addicted.  Disgusting.

On a much brighter note, I also got to visit Bart again and see the finished decks that the team after us had put on his house.  It was pretty cool. I also gave him a blanket that the Wife and I had purchased at a quilt sale at church.  Giving a blanket in the Lakota culture is a way to honor that person, and I had been so inspired by his giving spirit that I thought Bart should get the blanket I had brought from our family. 

Before the lesson that night, we were able to go up on the hill one last time to watch the sun go down.  On this evening it was particularly spectacular...

 And I got another bunch of pictures of my "Hope Girls".  They are awesome.

Our last speaker of the week was Naomi. She is a teacher at the school and gave us a lesson in the Lakota language. She taught us the words for various body parts and then we played "Naomi Says". Like "Simon Says" but with Naomi as the leader and all in Lakota! It was pretty cool.
I am happy that the Lakota language is being taught in their schools again. After so many decades of the dominant society trying to extinguish the language in the hopes that the Lakota would become more "civilized", the young people are able to speak their own language again.

After the lesson I was invited to go back up on the hill with the group from Hope College to be a part of their last circle.  They had been going up to debrief each night and on this night I was privileged to join them.  It was exactly the right way to end my time there.  There was much laughter and some excellent insights into the week we had all just shared.

That night I played Euchre with my new friends who had taught me the game the night before.  I was partners with Jess, who is a euchre wizard. 

And quite the character.

The game was going well for us, but when we got down to needing just one point for the victory, something strange happened.  Jess picked up the two cards we were using for score keeping, tucked them behind her ears, entwined her fingers together with her thumbs pointed down, thrust them towards me and commanded "MILK THE COW!!!"

Being a neophyte in the world of euchre traditions, I had no clue what she was doing and found this a rather amusing and endearing custom.    So I joined in the fun...
Picture by Allie Hoyt
Soon it was time to sleep.  It was an amazing week, which I will try and sum up in my next posting.

More Later

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Wednesday Tour of the Rez

Sunrise Wednesday morning. After breakfast and Wisdom of the Elders with Ted, we divided into two groups.  One group delivered bunk beds and did a few other things.  The group I was in was scheduled for a tour of Pine Ridge.

We started with a visit to Red Cloud School A campus of sorts comprised of elementary through high school.  There's also a new church there. The old one burned down.  The new building had exquisite, intricate stained glass that made the stained glass maker in my head salivate.  A sample...
I didn't get any pictures in the chapel, these were in a side room.  All of the stained glass was designed by a high school kid and built by kids and elders, and it all has significant meaning designed in.  I was quite taken.

Here's the high school...

We also went to the heritage center/museum...

where they keep Red Cloud's rifle...

then it was a driving tour of Pine Ridge.  We drove past the powwow circle...

and through various parts of town.  Look at the next two pictures and tell me what the difference is...

if you guessed the race of the inabitants, you are correct.

The nicer houses are where the Indian Health Service employees live.  Doctors, nurses, etc that work at the hospital.The IHS has a program to bring non-native health care workers onto the Rez to work in the hospital for a year or two, and in return they have their student loans paid off and they are paid a decent salary. On paper it seems a pretty good program. But in reality the quality of care is often lacking.  I saw stitches that one of the Re-Mamber staff got from the "doctor" there, that looked like a ten year old put them in. The continuity of care suffers since the staff turnover is so high. The locals don't trust the staff because of this, and consequently don't go to the hospital unless it is absolutely required by their condition, and sometimes not even then.  It's a bad situation created by our government a hundred and some years ago.

According to treaties, the reservation Lakota are supposed to be provided with food, housing, education, health care, etc. etc. etc.  But the food was, and remains to this day, substandard.  There is one grocery store on the Rez, and the prices are ridiculously high.  You see the "housing" in the picture above. These days they get discarded FEMA trailers left over from Hurricane Katrina, often rotting and moldy when they get to the Rez.

The education until recently was provided at mission boarding schools, where the curriculum included such things as cooking, cleaning, field work and very rudimentary reading, writing and arithmetic.  And the Lakota culture and language was not just forbidden, but kids speaking their native tongue were beaten and punished.  Did I mention that starting at age five or so, most children were taken from their parents and placed in these mission boarding schools?  The plan was to "kill the Indian and save the man" or teach them to be white. And health care was and is limited by budgets.  The facility is severely underfunded.  Why?  Because Pine Ridge is not on the radar for most people.  The recent Diane Sawyer piece brought in a lot of money for a little while, but those donations have all but dried up.

The sad thing is, when the federal economy is tough, as it is now, the Indian budgets are not helped.  But even when times are good, the Indian budgets are not enough.

Now, I'm not one to push the government to just give money to the poor all willy nilly, but there are a number of really great programs on the Rez that could use more funding.  At the very least, the VERY LEAST, our Federal Government could do the right thing and provide some of what we promised in the treaties.  If they can afford to build nice houses for the IHS workers, why can they not afford anything better than decrepit FEMA trailers for the actual people? None of the uber poor Lakota I spoke with whined about the Feds not giving them money. They spoke of doing what they could with what they had and trying to build a better life without the support of either the Federal government, or the tribal government, which is pretty hamstrung by the rules placed on it by the Feds those many years ago.

Anyway, the tour continued with tour of KILI radio station. 

KILI means "awesome" or "great" in Lakota. They are true "public" radio, since they are a central hub of communication to many, many people on the Rez. They play lots of different styles of music, from modern powwow music to country to christian. If you haven't yet, go stream them and listen for awhile.  It's good stuff!  I got the first KILI shirt with the new design, which I'm taking back in June to have signed by the DJ's.

By this point in the touring I had been chatting with some of the group from Hope College.  I had worked with a few the first couple of days and was very impressed with their willingness to jump in and work and learn.  In talking with them I couldn't help but grow fond of them very quickly, so I got a picture at KILI with my "Hope Girls"

 Then it was off to lunch at Bette's Kitchen.

The proprietor, Bette Black Elk, is a descendant of Nick Black Elk, the Lakota holy man who told of his life and vision to John Neihardt long ago.  Neihardt then put out a book called "Black Elk Speaks", and excellent work on Lakota spirituality and Black Elk in particular.

We had an excellent setting for lunch, and for dessert there was Bette's famous cupcakes and fry bread!  I had been looking forward to trying some fry bread for a long time, so to have my first fry bread prepared by a descendant of Black Elk was sort of a rock start treat for me.

While the group climbed the hill behind the Black Elk home,
and came back down triumphantly...

I went in to chat with Bette about her grandfather. She told me a few stories and I got a picture with her and her granddaughter.

Feeling full and sleepy, the tour continued to a high spot on the rez where we could see the entire Black Hills 90 miles distant...

After hearing the stories of how the Hills were stolen from the Lakota, it made for a rather melancholy moment.  It has to be frustrating to be able to see a holy area that once belonged to you from a distance and know that it was taken from you.  I felt frustrated while taking the picture.  But what can be done?

We stopped by the Singing Horse trading post, of which I got no pictures, but it was full of neat stuff, and neat dogs, though one had had a recent run in with a skunk. I cleverly called him Stinky.

After a stop at the Oglala Lakota College for a tour and some shopping,

 it was back to the Re-Member site with a bus full of tired people.  On the way we passed the hole in the wall...

Our tour guide, Corbin, told us that it was very magical and those passing through could travel through time... then he smiled and laughed.  Corbin is a Lakota and was really fun to listen to as we toured.  He told us about one tour group in which a lady insisted that Indians in the old days wore buffalo pants to camouflage themselves on their horses.  Even though Corbin told her multiple times that she was wrong, she really wanted to believe it, so Corbin started telling her all sorts of wild and imaginative things about the old ways.

When we returned, we had a delicious supper and I headed out to try my luck at star pictures again.  It was marginally warmer this night, and even with the company that joined me for the shoot, I was too tired to really stay out too long.

I had done some card tricks for a few people the night before, and now I was invited to play Apples to Apples with them.  Although I was tired, I loved playing with those folks.  It was a good time.

I got to bed at 11, and fell asleep tired but happy from the amazing day.

More Later

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

USMC Graduation Day

We interrupt our regularly scheduled entry of Pine Ridge for the following blog.  Twenty years ago today I graduated from USMC boot camp. Twenty years. I can still remember most of it like it just happened a few weeks ago. 

I'm the one in the green hat.


After boot camp I headed to infantry school, and smuggled in one of those disposable cameras to get a few shots of what life was like in infantry school.  The only picture I have left is this one...
That's Mt. Motherbucker over my shoulder. (We called it something else a little saltier that sounds like motherbucker though) We climbed that sucker about every day, and it earned it's moniker.

Following infantry school came artillery school, where I trained to be a Fire Direction Controlman. Part of that was learning to survey with the theodolite, shown here with Chavez and me...

After all of that training, I was off to have many adventures with Delta Battery, 2/14.

Driving the Gypsy Wagon out in the Stumps... 29 Palms.
Dust devil that blocked the road.  We drove straight through it.  It felt like being in a sandblaster!
Haircuts in the desert.  That was a first for me.

Palm Springs airport coming home from 29 Palms for the first time.

This is my rifle.  There are many like it, but this one is mine.

Practicing throwing grenades before we tossed a real one.
Protecting our...umm... hands.

The it was off to the grenade pits.  Above is me, mid throw...
Then it went BOOM. I think I blew up that stick.

A small detachment from Delta Battery went to Norway to help out Echo Battery and teach them how to shoot a bit more efficiently. :)  The four of us wanted to ski, but were too late to rent skis.  We got to the top of the mountain and went down on our combat boots.  It was a hoot!

Wib and Mac above the Arctic circle.

Mac and me, also above the Arctic circle.

Helo ops. They sent a bunch of us back to Ft. McCoy on Huey's.  It was a fun trip!

I love the smell of fresh air at 3000 feet.

Wib and Schutzie, and me too.  Finishing up training in Ft. Knox.
My last Marine Corps Ball when I was in.

Hanging with Dad when we had a family day.

And Mom got to ride in the back of a Hummer.  A real one, not one of those knock offs that can be seen on the roads these days.

Those were some good times.  Hard times, and a few miserable times to be sure.  But mostly good times.  I was fortunate to serve with a bunch of excellent Marines. Really good guys doesn't even begin to describe my admiration for them. There are days that I miss being a Marine. Miss the people I served with. But then I remember that I am always going to be a Marine in my heart.  I earned that title twenty years ago today.

Semper Fi, Marines. Thank you for all you do and have done.  It was a privilege and honor to serve.

More Later