One by one the groups departed. Denver Academy, Hope College, UMD and Hendrix. Many hugs were shared and pictures were taken. We said our toksa's as each group departed, content with the Lakota word for "Later" instead of saying goodbye. I really do hope to see many, many of those people again somewhere along life's trails.
I dragged my feet about going. I wanted to see my family again, but I also wanted this experience to continue. Some of the staff were going to the Black Hills to climb Harney Peak, and they invited me to join them. It was awfully tempting, too. They are good, good people and I'm happy to call them friends. But when I called my wife I learned that a dear friend was at Mayo and in the process of losing her mother, and the pull of home was that much stronger.
I did want to get some breakfast before I left though, and the staff were heading out to the Lakota Cafe to do the same, so I tagged along with Ted and had a nice visit with him while we drove in.
The Lakota Cafe is sort of like a Perkins on the Rez, but the food tastes a bit better. We all sat at a table, and I was across from Yolanda and Allie, who regaled me with horror stories about the Indian Health Service and the Emergency Room. It was scary stuff.
Ted treated the whole group, which I felt truly honored to be a part of. I have spent a great many days since I came home trying to figure out a way to join the staff out there.
When we got back to camp it was time to say toksa ake to the staff and be on my way. Of all of the difficult moments I experienced out there, this was the hardest.
Jen, Anisha, Erica, Bryan, and Ted. I'm in the back there. This is some of the staff. They were all amazing. Servant hearted. Kind and compassionate. A really remarkable group.
I drove the nine hours back to Rochester straight through, stopping only for gas when I needed it. As I left the Rez, I listened to a CD of Will and Lil'Jess called Reservation Nights. Will was the speaker on Monday night and had CD's for sale. His music is gritty, just a guitar, drums and his voice for most of it. The lyrics speak of life on the Rez, life as a Lakota, challenges and struggles, but also of hope and good times and the pride of being Lakota.
On the drive home I did a whole lot of thinking. What I had just experienced was a drop of help in the ocean that is the problems out there. Looking at it from the outside just a few weeks before, I had been overwhelmed with knowing that there were huge problems and not knowing what was being done or how I could make any difference. After one short week I had been reprogrammed somewhat. Some assumptions I'd had didn't hold water - that the Lakota hate the whites, for example. I didn't see much hate. Just people getting on with their lives. Are there some Lakota that hate whites? Sure. Just like there are whites who hate the Lakota.
Some assumptions were spot on. Like my belief that people everywhere smile in the same language, and that with a little conversation I can find a commonality with just about anyone on the planet.
My eyes were opened to a bunch of new things, too.
Historically I knew about the treaties being broken and the land being stolen. Our schools teach this as the history of the Old West. Cowboy and Indian stuff. It was startling to see that agreements were still not being honored by our government. That even today the deck is stacked against the Lakota and our government does very little to rectify that situation. Before I left I had the attitude of "Well, yes the land is gone, but it's been so long since the treaty days, what can be done?" Now my attitude is with the Lakota. Our government promised them a reservation. We signed the treaty. Article Six of our own Constitution reads thusly...
"This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding."
First, look at this map of the ancestral lands of the Lakota/Nakota/Dakota tribes.
The last valid treaty signed by the Lakota was the Ft. Laramie Treaty of 1851. Look at this map that shows the lands promised to the Indians...
The yellow is the Great Sioux Nation, promised to the Lakota in the treaty.
Even if you accept the Ft. Laramie Treaty of 1868 as the latest treaty, the map should look like this...
That's about half of South Dakota that should be Lakota lands.
But since that time the land has been stolen away, piece by piece until what is left is the section in red...
See the difference?
BUT, one might say, the Sioux lost the wars, they have to accept the terms of the peace. In reality, those treaties were made because the United States sued for peace because they were LOSING. The Lakota and other tribes, being honorable, kept the terms in the treaties and stayed peaceful. Until the US did not uphold their treaty obligations and greedy settlers headed in for gold and land. Rather than do what was constitutionally required regarding these treaties, the Government of that time went ahead and stole the land from the tribes and gave it to the settlers. They did this by hook or by crook, changing laws and making new laws to suit the land grab.
Ancient history, you say?
During WWII part of the reservation was "acquired" by the government to be used as a bombing range for practice. Even today all of that land in red up there doesn't help the Lakota. The Dawes Act of 1887 started a land grab by non-indians, and now all over the Rez there are non-indian farmers and ranchers who's descendants bought up huge tracts of land from impoverished Indians. These ranches and farms today make money for the families that live on them, but not for the Lakota people. Dig into the history from the past 100 years. It is rife with corruption, greed and criminal acts that have left the Oglala Lakota where they are today.
These days there is still animosity towards the Lakota. Racism is rampant, especially out in Rapid City. The South Dakota politicians are still working on obliterating the tribes. It really is disturbing.
Anyone who supports and defends the US Constitution should be appalled by the injustice of this. Article Six has been completely ignored when it comes to the Lakota.
OK, Off my soapbox. So, what can be done? Here again my eyes were opened. There are many great organizations on the Rez working to restore the Lakota way of life. Not the live in tipis and hunt buffalo life, but life living in the Lakota culture with Lakota values, apart from the "western" ways, but still modern and progressive. I'm finding new ones about every day. But here are a few of my favorites.
Tanka Bars! Yep, a Lakota owned and operated business making tasty buffalo treats. But with an amazing vision of how things might look in the future. Explore their website a bit, they have a great mission and vision. Find Tanka bars at a store near you, or order online. The money is going towards a great vision, and the reward of the Tanka Bars is exquisite!
Lakota Solar Enterprises is an organization looking to get affordable heating and electricity on the Rez. The Great Plains are the 'Saudi Arabia' of wind power, and it's sunny out there about 300 days a year to boot. Imagine the potential waiting to be tapped into, and how that could improve life on the Rez. Don't forget to check out Trees, Water,People while you explore LSE. They help tribes all over the nation. Maybe even one near you!
And of course, Re-Member. One of the most trusted non-native programs out there, but doing so much towards the betterment of not only living conditions on the Rez, but understanding of the people that live there. I am certain there are many, many opportunities to go help people on Pine Ridge. What I learned most of all through my experience with Re-Member was to stand with the people of Pine Ridge. That even from far away I can make a difference. That I can be an advocate by sharing what I learned out there, and writing my politicians to see what can be done. By raising not just money for the people, but awareness of them. If we can get Pine Ridge on the radar somehow, perhaps there would be enough rational people to create change, over the objections of the bigots and greedy that now seem to have control of the situation out there.
Things are changing. Slowly. Slowly. And even if you disagree with just giving the land back, if you have any respect for our constitution, then you can't deny that something needs to be done. If you don't live with our constitution as your form of government, then you must see that strictly on a humanitarian platform, something must be done.
Soapbox again. Sorry. It's hard not to get riled up about this. Even now, many weeks away from the trip. Start digging yourself. Go on a trip to Re-Member. Education is the key to understanding, experience is the door. You will not be sorry you went. And if you're scared to go alone, drop me a line and I'll go with you.
I did finally get to see some buffalo.
It was on the Rosebud Reservation though.
I hope I live long enough to see giant herds on the Great Sioux Nation lands. Time will tell.
In closing, it was an amazing, life changing, eye opening trip. I've had a fire lit within me to continue to pursue the improvement of the living conditions for the Lakota, but more importantly to try and find some justice for them. I stand with the Lakota Oyate, today and into the future, until I become grass myself. And I will teach my children the true history, so that they may continue to stand with the Lakota after I am gone.
Mitakuye Oyasin. We are all related.