After Wounded Knee we headed North to do a little hiking in the Badlands. The day was warm, but not overly so. We pulled up to a pasture and saw some cattle out in the prairie.
Looking closer, we also spotted some Bighorn Sheep. I've never seen them in the wild before, and have fond memories of trips out West when I was younger watching the hills as we drove past, fervently hoping to see just one. Now here was a whole herd of them!
We hiked a little ways into the pasture and everyone got a chance to climb to a little lookout area for some pictures or whatnot.
Then it was off again through the gullies and stream beds to an area that looked like a natural amphitheater made of eroded towers. It was quite beautiful. The staff then had us all spread out and find somewhere to sit and contemplate. Or pray. Or meditate. Or whatever. The only rule was that we had to be still and listen.
I found a nice spot and got comfortable. Closed my eyes and thought about Wounded Knee and the Lakota. I thought about the silence I had experienced on the hill the day before. I wondered what the week would bring.
Too soon the time was up. I got a quick shot of "my view" from where I sat, and joined the group hiking back to the van and bus.
All along the hike, both to and from the amphitheater, there were the most delightful geological wonders. It being a national park and all, we were not allowed to take anything with us. So I got pictures of some of the neater finds.
The last two pictures are of a fossil turtle from who knows how many millions of years ago. Just sitting out in the stream bed. Incredible. Made me want to stay there for a week and just explore and survey whatever I could find.
Later that night we heard a speaker who told us that the Lakota called the Badlands - "Makoska" or White Wilderness. They didn't consider the lands "bad". They were a winter refuge. A medicine chest full of medicinal herbs and plants. A grocery store full of game and water. In traditional Manifest Destiny manner, the settlers did not bother to understand the land and instead put livestock there that could not survive without help. That ruined most of the natural springs and ate every scrap of vegetation, driving out the wild game and wrecking the natural balance of Makoska. Hearing about the arrogance of the early settlers made me wonder what the world would have looked like if the East Coast tribes had just slaughtered every settler they could when they had the chance and delayed the whole mess by a dozen decades or so. It also made me wonder what could be done from this time forward to right wrongs or at least make life a bit better for those that our government screwed over so many years ago.
I had read about the old treaties, and how the US Government broke them all, intentionally and usually maliciously. Later that night that same speaker that taught us more about Makoska would also teach us that the Lakota were still getting yanked around by the Government.
On the way back, we stopped at a place called Sharp's Corner for a bathroom break, and it was there that I purchased my first two Tanka Bars, intending to try one immediately and save the other for the next day or two. I was hooked at the first bite. They are made from Buffalo and cranberries, and follow an old Lakota recipe for something called Wasna, which was dried buffalo, chokecherries and a little buffalo kidney fat. It was self preserving and usually packed in buffalo horns or wrapped and buried for later use. This modern Wasna in the form of Tanka Bars is excellent. Not rock hard like most jerky, and a nice mix of salty and sweet with the cranberries. I tried saving the other one, but ended up eating it soon after we arrived back at the camp. If you haven't tried a Tanka Bar, go get one! You will not be disappointed.
That night the speaker was a man by the name of Keith Janis. He is a Lakota activist, "militant" by some views. But viewed that way, in my opinion, mostly by those who disagree with him the most. He gave us a very interesting history lesson about the Badlands. How in the 40's the government confiscated over 100,000 acres to use as a bombing range, giving the over 800 inhabitants very little time to move out. Most only taking what they could carry. After being evicted without compensation or aid in moving, the Government bombed the heck out of the area. After the war, they kept it, then turned it over to the Parks Department to be included in the Badlands National Park.
Keith decided to move back home, and literally took his family back to his grandmothers house and started living there. When a rancher who leased the land from the government came to evict him, wearing a sidearm no less, Keith grabbed his rifle and a bit of a standoff ensued. The rancher left and sent out two government officials to try and remove Janis. They met the same resistance. Janis was threatened with being taken to court, but it has not happened yet. He says it's because he has a rightful legal claim to the land and that they would lose and they know it. I believe him. There are several things written about the controversy over the Badlands. Over Makoska. But the facts seem to support the Lakota here. Yet another thing to write your congresspeople about. Even The president.
After all of my studies about the Lakota and that area, I still had never heard of this issue. And certainly would not have believed that in modern times the US government would still be breaking promises to the Sioux.
On the whole, it was a rather gloomy day. So many injustices and atrocities. So much sadness inflicted upon these people. As Keith sang prayer songs to open his talk, he asked us to pray, too. The only thing that came into my head was "What can I do?"
I am only one person. Spending a week skirting a couple of trailers or patching roofs was nice and all. But what difference could I really make? It was indeed a soul stirring day, and not in a comfortable way. I hoped that the rest of the week would provide some answers, or at least provide a little salve for my soul.