Friday, July 1, 2011

Heading home and Thinking Forward

Friday, June 24, 2011

(view of medicine wheel outside Shelem House at Re-Member)

It’s departure day. Carolyn, Judy, Marjorie, Jeanne and Peggy are driving home today and Don and I will go and visit my seminary class mate who lives about 2 hours straight east of here. (Linda’s husband, Jerry is the one in charge of the workshop at Re-Member.)

In visiting with Jerry, he tells me that a desperate need that Re-Member has is for twin sized sheets to continue giving linens with their bunk beds. Do any of you have sheets (77” long is best) that you can donate? If we can find what we need, I will put together a package and get a group headed west to deliver it for us.

We have so much to tell you all about this trip. It was filled with some challenges including the rain and absence of the director who is so good at telling the story of the Lakota people. There were some health challenges and travel challenges, but we are all OK and ready to share our experiences.

Thank you SO MUCH to all who supported us with your gifts and prayers. In the next several months we will determine plans for next year. MISO will decide whether there is enough interest in sending another team to the reservation, so if you have thoughts about wanting to go, please speak to Kim Kettering or Pastor Joyce so we can take those requests into consideration.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

(KILI Radio station and our view from Betty's, a lovely lunch in the open air)

Our last day and once again it is beautiful. For about half of us this is tour day. Because we have a large group, we are divided so only half of us have tour today. The other half toured yesterday and will work today.

I think tour day should be called “Hope Day.” They showed us those organizations and businesses that are working to make life on the reservation a little better for the residents. We visited Red Cloud School, a private school where a quality education is offered to students by the Jesuits of the Roman Catholic Church. We also toured the community and visited KILI Radio Station, a major source of communication for people in remote parts of the reservation. We ate at an open air restaurant that was operated by the great-granddaughter of Black Elk, a wisdom elder of the Lakota people. The food was really tasty and the chocolate cake was wonderful, too. In the afternoon the bus visited Rosie’s trading post where locals can purchase the supplies needed for their crafts and tourists can buy authentic Lakota crafts. The last stop was at Lakota Community College where a photo display and audio recording told the story of the conquering of the native people. It is quite graphic and incredibly sad.

Carolyn was late for dinner tonight because her team got to go with Jerry to deliver bunk beds. She said it was the best day of the trip because they got to go into people’s homes and set up the beds. Re-Member gives mattresses and bedding for their bunk beds, and Carolyn reported some REALLY excited children who would sleep on a real bed for the first time in their lives.

The evening was pizza hut pizza and ice cream sundaes to celebrate our week on the reservation. We got a report on all the work that was accomplished this week. Our teams installed a new roof, skirted 3 trailers, put 2 porches or sets of steps on trailers, repaired a floor, installed an outhouse, constructed and delivered 18 bunk beds to allow 36 people to sleep well. It was a good amount of work that we accomplished! That felt good. We made a difference, and more than that, we learned so much and forged a connection with the people of Pine Ridge. We will never see our world in quite the same way again!

One of the volunteers who was from Dubuque, Iowa spoke to us about putting together a gift for KILI radio station. Some of their equipment is on the last leg and they have gotten bids that put the repairs at $5,000. It was suggested that if we each donate $100 that the radio station can continue to be the life-line link on the reservation. No pledges were taken, but I anticipate that many or most will find a way to donate their $100!

We all filled out evaluations to help them think about how to better serve both the Lakota people and the volunteers who come each week. Lots of promises were made about people coming back and staying in touch.

Skirting once again. Last day of work, 2011

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

(Alex and Junior share our lunch while little brother pokes his head through the trampoline to see what's going on.)

Our last day of work. All week we’ve been hearing about the little boys out at Agnes’s place where teams have been working (and at her mother-in-law’s house across a small field.) The task has been to skirt both of these women’s trailers and put on 2 porches, as well. We finally got to meet Junior and Alex ,the 8 year old twins and their 4 year old brother. There is also an 18 month old niece who lives in the house, too. It was a gorgeous day and the boys were so excited to see us. They wanted to help with our projects or to play ball with some of the teens in the group. They accomplished both. They helped carry lumber, used the power drill to help install wood screws, and played both soccer and ball with our gals. One of the twins is a budding artist and he brought us out several drawings of monsters and space aliens throughout the day! They shared our lunch and were quite delightful!

The trailer and living conditions broke my heart and made me angry at the same time. A single extension cord extended across the field from Grandma’s house and provided a tiny bit of electricity. There was no plumbing. We saw mom carry in some jugs of water, and one of the boys carried out a basin of soapy water to dump at one point. The outhouse had been constructed by earlier Re-Member teams, and a wood stove at the rear of the trailer provided the only heat. (I learned later that the army reserves bring trees cut from the Black Hills for people to cut for fire wood.) A trampoline sat outside the front door. The problem was that there was a hole in it, and at one point we saw the boys use that hole as a basketball hoop. How dangerous such a trampoline must be!

On the other hand the family had not learned how to take care of what they do have. The trash and junk around the trailer was deep and quite depressing. I guess when one lives in such poverty, the idea of keeping things tidy or taking care of possessions seems not as important. Much of the stuff was obviously junk when they picked it up somewhere and so couches and chairs sat in the yard, rotting!

On this project I finally got to do some major work. I now know the procedure for putting insulated skirting on a trailer. Anyone need a trailer skirted?

Tonight’s activity was the craft fair in which local Lakota residents brought their jewelry and items to sell. It was fun to stroll through the tables to see their work. Afterwards a man came to show us the different parts of his regalia. (The native dance attire that is used for Pow Wows is called “regalia” and NOT costumes or outfits. Those terms minimize the relevance of native dress.) Our speaker put his regalia on a young man from our group and that teen was quite delighted with the result!

Skirting, and Spirituality. Day 4 on the Rez, 2011

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

(Marjorie is in under a trailer adding insulation to keep out the cold winds of winter.)

Today began as damp and windy once again. The good news, though, is that the sky cleared as the morning progressed and it turned out to be a pleasant day. Once again our teams went in 5 different directions. Don and Marjorie and I were working to install skirting to a trailer. I learned that this particular type of trailer was a FEMA model that had been probably been in New Orleans. It’s the type that often had formaldyhyde and so was deemed unsafe for people there. They brought them to the reservation whee housing is in such short supply and sold them to families. They also made the people sign a waiver saying they would not sue the government. I guess the people decided that these accommodations were better than what they had and since the average life span is only about 52 years, maybe they think they won’t live long enough to have to worry about the cancer-causing agents they will be breathing.

The temperatures dip to 30 or 40 below zero up here in the winter and the winds blow almost constantly. One person told us that before his trailer was skirted by Re-Member, his heat bill was $1,400 per year. Since that was done 3 summers ago, he has not had to fill his LP tank more than once. So, it seems that skirting is a major assistance to the people there. I just hope that we’re not trapping more carcinogens for them to breathe!

At noon, after we had eaten our sandwiches, a van load of gals were heading to town to visit the ladies room (guys have a real advantage here!) Our van got stuck in the driveway, and some of our guys (and one gal) pushed us out. One was a college student who had already soaked one pair of shoes, so took off his shoes and socks and pushed us barefoot. I made sure to bring them all back a candy bar from the store—seemed like a really good deal on my end, don’t you think?

Tonight our speaker was one of my favorites from last year. Larry Swolley decided as a young man that the dysfunction of his family was surely not the Lakota way. He studied the culture and the spirituality of his people to discover a belief system that is surprisingly similar to Christianity in many ways except it places much more emphasis on caring for the earth and all things wild. His goal now is to help his people re-learn their own stories as a basis for a much healthier Lakota society. He told us their creation story and the sacred rituals that allowed boys and girls to enter adulthood, as well as their role once they accomplish that status. There is healing in the stories. There is cause to hold one’s head up and to have a purpose in life.

In the early 1900s the idea of US legislation was to “kill the Indian and save the man.” That resulted in children being forcibly taken from their families and sent to harsh boarding schools where their hair was cut, their ways and even their language was outlawed. They were taught to be servants, drivers, wash women and ditch diggers. Many never found their way back to the reservation.

On the reservation, the practice of any spiritual ceremonies was made illegal and for a long time the people were barred from leaving the reservation regardless of whether the promised food was provided or not. There was massive hunger, disease, poverty and hardship. Past generations of Lakota saw themselves as prisoners of war, and that bitterness and lack of self-esteem is still haunting many today. (Did you know that the Bureau of Indian Affairs was a part of the war department at one time? Maybe they were correct to assume they were prisoners of war!)

We begin work, 2011, Pine Ridge

Monday, June 20, 2011

Our first day of work was began in the rain.. There were 58 people here and we are divided into 12 teams. Those teams were assigned to 6 different projects. We began though with the task of unloading a trailer of lumber. We formed a line and passed the 2X4s and sheets of plywood from one to the next, and it actually went pretty fast. Then we all gathered the things needed for our particular task and set off.

Don and I managed to get into the same team thanks to Judy who traded with me. We were assigned outhouse installation. A tem from last week constructed the unit (even with a cute turtle cut-out in the door and a typical home store seat to make it slightly more comfortable.

On the way, I asked our construction supervisor what the family is currently using if they don’t have an outhouse nor plumbing. Her response was that they don’t like to ask that question because it is very embarrassing for the family involved. She said they usually use a variety of methods including the facilities at their closest neighbors, the weeds behind the house, etc.

It’s hard to imagine that in this country, people don’t have bathroom facilities indoors, and its absolutely mind-boggling to realize that outhouses are a major item requested from Re-Member each week. The people don’t have tools nor the lumber or skills to create their own, and they are expensive to purchase, especially for people without a means to transport them or jobs to pay for them.

It continued raining all morning. We dug a 5 ft. hole (2 ½ ft. across). The soil has enough sand that the digging itself was the easy part. The hard part was moving the loosened dirt out of the hole! By the time the hole was 3 ft deep, it was hard to maneuver the shovel to toss it out. We finally got a system where the person in the hole filled a post-hole digger and handed it to someone above who emptied it. It rained and blew this whole time and was promising more severe showers, so they had us stop at 5 ft. instead of the customary 6 ft.

When we finished we were all soaked and muddy. The showers back at the dorm felt pretty good and then after lunch we went to the workshop where I got to use a drill press to pre-drill the holes in wood pieces that would become bunk beds as the week advanced.

In the evening we had another speaker, Will Peters. Uncle Will as he introduced himself to the teens in our group is a college professor, musician and advocate for young people on the reservation. He talked about the destructiveness of a culture where women and girls are not honored. In the native tradition women were considered the wisdom bearers and the center of the family. It was women who held the culture and family together. Men were the defenders and hunters. When the native ways were put under pressure, the people lost many of their cultural norms, and the honoring of women and the family has often been forfeited, much to the detriment of the Lakota people. When men lose their ability to defend and provide, they also lost their ability to hold their heads up, and in the process alcoholism, drug abuse, gang membership, domestic abuse and other social ills have followed. In many ways the Lakota are a people searching for their own identity in a world where it’s not OK to be native and where the cards seem stacked against them in many ways.

Perhaps that’s why the men often remain inside when the Re-Member teams are working on their houses. They are embarrassed and ashamed that they can’t provide the needed repairs, so they try to be invisible. It’s the way our nation has chosen to treat them, anyway—as if they were invisible. It must break something deep within their spirits, and it should break our hearts, too!

Bad Lands or White Wilderness?

Monday Morning

(the picture posted here was actually taken on Friday after the group departed from Re-Member)

We are getting ready to begin work for our first day. Don and I are going to be delivering and digging the hole for an outhouse. It’s been raining, so we’re not sure whether that’s good news because the ground will be softer, or bad news because it will be mud! We’ll let you know. Marjorie will be working in the shop here to build bunk beds, Judy, Jeanne, Peg and Carolyn are all beginning skirting projects on trailer homes. It is still rainy and cold. We’re told that today should be the worst of the week and there is work to be done inside if needed. We’ll see.

Last night Keith, or as he prefers to be called by his Lakota name, Anela Wakon (It means Quiet Spirit) talked to us about his experience growing up in a traditional Lakota home. He lives about 20 miles from town on the piece of land that was deeded to his grandparents in the Dawes Act in 1887. His home is without electricity or plumbing, and they keep the traditional ways, even though he is college educated in global positioning technology and travels all over the world to work with human rights issues here and abroad. His home is on ground that is now managed by the US Parks service, not so much as park area, but for ranchers to allow cattle grazing. It was the area that was used as bombing practice for the military before and during WW2. When the people were evicted (they had only 10 days to get out), they were promised that they would get their land back as soon as the war was over, and they would be able to return. That didn’t happen. Instead the land was declared public land, and the National Parks service took over control. He talked to us about the struggle to get the government to give control of the land back to the Lakota people and to allow those who should have their own tract of land returned to them. He told us that about 12,000 people today are descended from the families who were evicted. Th0se people now have no resources at all, and with the massive problem of unemployment here, it takes all the tribal resources to provide a bare minimum for them. The poverty related issues are so prevalent among that population (alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence, child abuse, and suicides, especially among the very young. Those children see no hope and are 10X more likely to take their own lives. )

Anela Wakon has a special love for the land that we call the Badlands, and assured us that no land is bad. The Lakota people call that territory the White Wilderness, and he talked about the riches in plants and animal life there. He is not a fan of the way the National Parks service is caring for the land. Cattle are very hard on the ecosystem and have done great damage to the more fragile springs, native grasses and landscape.

Anela Wakon is a small man who is an advocate for the return of control of the Badlands to the Native people to whom it was deeded by treaty. He feels that the Lakota have a better ability to manage the portion of the badlands that is on their reservation. It’s kind of hard to argue with that logic!

Pine Ridge 2011, Day 2

It is day 2. By this point we have visited the Wounded Knee site and the Visitor center at the southern side of the Badlands. If we were able to follow the schedule, we would now be on a hike in the badlands. Unfortunately, it’s raining, and the hike is not going to happen. I’m disappointed, but there’s nothing we can do about that. Instead we will see a documentary that centers on the radio station here on the reservation and the way it is bringing connections to a people who live in remote areas.

The Wounded Knee story is just as startling this year as it was last. Even though it happened in 1890, it feels very recent to the people here. To the Lakotas it is a watershed moment that represents the many broken treaties, and the many ways that their culture, way of life, religion and language have been taken away from them. And it continues to be robbed from them today.
Here’s a rundown of the events that led to that day-December 21, 1890.

1. The Lakota had been fighting to resist having their way of life taken from them. The white man was demanding that the Black Hills be abandoned so gold miners could come in to the area. Previously in the treaty of 1868 the hills had been deeded to the Lakota people “for all eternity”The Lakota held those hills as sacred, so to leave that area and be restricted to such a small tract of land that their whole way of life was forfeited was very troubling to them. In the years before there had been skirmishes and battles that had shed a lot of blood on both sides, including the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876.

2. Chief Big Foot had been running and now had pneumonia, and his people were hungry and tired. They wanted to come to Pine Ridge to hold a council with the army and other Lakota chiefs.

3. In the mean time the Indian agents and the army were increasingly nervous about the situation on the reservation, reporting what they saw as war dances.

4. What they saw was the ghost dance. This was a concept that had recently been introduced in which the Lakota believed that if they danced to exhaustion, they would see a vision that would make them impervious to the white man’s bullets AND the spirits would allow their ancestors to rise again driving the white man away. The Lakota were dancing the Ghost dance on a very regular basis. Because of the army’s nervousness, over 2/3 of the US military was stationed in South Dakota.

5. The 7th Calvary (same group as had been wiped out at Little Big Horn encountered Big Foot’s group on a plain about 15 miles from Pine Ridge (Wounded Knee) Big Foot put up the white flag of surrender and the people were told to set up camp on a grassy field. They were then called to a council fire where all their weapons and cooking utensils were taken.

6. Something happened. The Lakota understanding is that it was a planned genocide. Whatever started it, the Hotchkiss guns (machine guns)on both sides of the encampment were aimed and the firing began. The women and children were sent into the ravine to try to find shelter, but the army followed them and it became a killing field. A few survived, but over 350 were killed.

7. The part that especially enrages the Lakota is that over 20 Congressional medals of honor were issued to the soldiers that participated that day. That’s an incredible number considering that only 3471 have been issued since the award’s inception during the civil war.

A few years ago the US government wanted to make Wounded Knee a national historic site and develop it. The Lakota asked for 2 things. They wanted a written letter of apology and that the medals of honor be revoked. The government refused. The Lakota refused to allow the designation and development. They see it as a commercialization of the horror and abuse that was visited upon them. They didn’t want the horror of that day to become a tourist site that told the mostly white version of the story in which the Lakota history continues to be denigrated. I can’t say that I blame them, can you?

More later.