Friday, July 1, 2011

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!

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