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

1 comment:

Grammy said...

I love this, John. I almost feel as though i have been there too. thanks for the tour!