Friday, April 6, 2012
Monday Night, Reservation Nights
The mood of everyone on Monday night was pretty high. Both trailer skirting teams had their fair share of workhorses, and both trailers being skirted had been darn well close to finished that day. As I listened to the groups rejoin their travelling mates and share stories, the room was filled with laughter and tales of many things learned on this day. From how to run power tools, to what the interactions with the Lakota had taught. It was pretty fun just being a fly on the wall and listening.
The speaker that night was a Lakota man named Will Peters. That was his English name anyway. His Lakota name is Ta Canku Luta Waunspewicakiya, which means Teacher of the Red Way. He is a year over fifty and is one of those guys that is always cool. He spoke using street terms and he dressed in sweats and a sleeveless t-shirt. He's a pretty big guy and carries himself as if he's led a hard life. But as soon as he started speaking I heard something in his voice.
The man who married my wife and me is named Bill Yonker. He baptised both of my kids. The Wife and I have known him since we knew each other, and we love him very much. When he speaks, he is able to grab his audience and lead them wherever he wants to go. He's got a heart the size of Chicago, and just an amazing spirit. And he knows stuff. I spent many an hour talking with him, learning from him and seeking his wisdom and counsel. He's got that kind of soul for people.
I heard that same soul in Will. He spoke of the youth on the Rez, and the problems they have to overcome. He has taken as his mission speaking to as many young people as he can and guiding them to follow the Red Road, the Lakota ways. He talked about getting young men to stop calling women "bitches" and "ho's", and to start treating them as sacred. And he wanted the girls to start thinking of themselves as sacred, too.
The Lakota have ceremonies exclusively for women, because they are sacred. Men protect the women and children, not because they are weak, but because they are sacred.
His message was that this life we are living is very hard, but this life is sacred.
He told the group that real men knew how to cry. He asked a couple of kids if they knew how to cry, and they said no. He asked if there were any real men in the room, and of course I raised my hand, because I get weepy at the drop of a hat sometimes.
He told us about a rash of young people committing suicide, one or two a week for about a year. It was very upsetting to hear about, especially given my history working suicides and suicide attempts as a medic. No surprise, I got tears in my eyes thinking about some of the people I worked, and thinking about that many suicides on the Rez.
He was an excellent speaker, and after answering questions, he closed with a song, "Hard Life" from his CD, "Reservation Nights". It was a song about life on the Rez. Then he came around and shook everyone's hand. He was a real class act. Many of the others tracked him down to talk to him after, and he spoke to each one as if they were the only one in the room. He inspired quite a few people that night, including me.
I had a great talk with him, then a great talk with a few of the staffers at Re-Member. The conversations were private, but I will say that they were very healing for me, and I am thankful that those people were brought into my life.
Anyway. During free time that night, I took the camera out to take a few pictures of the incredibly clear night sky. I captured Venus and Jupiter...
and could even see the moons of Jupiter in this long shot.
Then I got a shot of Jupiter and moons...
At home I had to do a three second exposure to get the moons because of the ambient light from the city. But on the Rez, there was no ambient light, and a one second exposure gave me the above shot. It was so crystal clear.
So I did a timed shot centered roughly on Polaris.
But it was getting chilly and everybody had long since returned to the indoors to play cards and chat. So I packed my gear and headed in, too.
But sitting there in the crisp night air, watching satellites and meteors and the slow spin of the universe, I contemplated all I had done and learned that day. I contemplated the life I had lived getting to this point. I reflected on all of the really crappy calls I've been on, and some of the good ones as well. And I felt, well... happy. Like my heart was being mended, slowly, by these new experiences. These new people. The laughter and the energy. Talking with Bart and Will. Talking with Erika, Bryan and Anisha.
I found a truth I had hoped to find. That while there are still many Lakota that don't like whites, and many whites that don't like Indians, that you have to take each person individually. Learn about them by talking to them. Tell your stories and listen to theirs. That's how friendships are born. That's how stereotypes and past hurts are corrected.
Maybe, if more people would spend time chatting with someone with different beliefs or different life stories, there would be less hatred and distrust in the world.
For me, I promised the stars that I would keep talking to people one on one. Listening to their stories. And one by one, I would forge new friendships. Mitakuye Oyasin. Lakota for "We are all related". It took root in my heart. And if we are all related, I suppose I should get to know my brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, grandpas and grandmas. Walk a mile or two in their shoes. And like Bart says, Family is family. You just have to do what you can for them.