Friday, July 1, 2011

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!)

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