I have been talking about the connection I felt with the whole class ever since we were up on pine ridge. This connection is completely organic and positive in nature. I have felt that the emotions everybody is feeling has an effect on my own and that we all have the capability to heal one another. My feeling on the reservation that there is a single collective emotion we all shared though physical spiritual exercises.

My feelings that this omni-emotion was always positive though was limited to the reservation. Once we returned to class I felt that we lost the positive energy we had gained through the ceremonies. I had the vibe that much of the class had this feeling but maybe it was simply my experience, I quickly spiraled into negativity in the classroom noticing only the bits that annoyed me. We were constantly talking about the bad things our society has done and how nobody had learned about it. Everybody went around the room at one point explaining how their high school had systematically ignored indigenous peoples. Yes, we have done many bad things but repeating it does not atone for our crimes against their culture. I felt as though the whole week was spent judging the way the media looked at Lakota, and how christian church screwed over the Native people. The negative attitude we brought to the classroom was not productive when compared with the energy we felt in ceremony. I feel as though we somehow overlooked the fact that our classroom selves were being negative, passing it off as normal and only looked at how the ceremony brought us all together and made the atmosphere one of healing.

Our final pipe ceremony returned us to an overall positive energy. The aura of goodness seemed to flow from everybody. My question is what makes the ceremony elicit such a beneficial response? Why can’t our natural state be as healthy as the state we seek through ceremony? While there is a certain inherent emotional separation between ritual and day to day life — the profane and the spiritual, much of the difference between positivity and negativity I believe stem from intention. People clearly try to clear their minds of ill thoughts before ceremony as they should as not to offend the spirits or cause pain to somebody though the spirits. But what if people brought this intention to every day and every interaction? This is my goal after leaving this class: I no longer want to get bogged down in negativity, no longer want to feel disconnections between me and other people because I fail to see the side that is filled with love, I want to approach every choice as an opportunity and every person as my family member. I want to thank everybody in the class for helping me realize that we are all part of the same larger experience and all effect one another.

Posted in Block 3: 2011-12 | Leave a comment

Gratitude

As I spoke the things I am grateful for a few hours ago, I looked around the circle and was overwhelmed with gratitude toward Solinda for the prompting and to the class for listening.  Gratitude is something people talk about sometimes and I certainly feel sometimes but never before had I felt so privileged to express it. Part of this has to do with the genuine listening that was occurring in the container of the ceremony. In other modalities of life it would be unthinkable to see 100% of a large group looking at me and listening to me with such open hearts.  However, in ceremony people come genuinely to community. Speaking my gratitude aloud made it feel real and validated by the group, my peers acted as the world I was looking at in thanks and substantiated the experience.

I spoke first in the circle and I was very appreciative that I had this chance to think for myself and not co-opt other people’s gratitudes. However, as the speaking progressed, I found myself wishing that I had thought to give thanks for what others were saying. I felt like I had forgotten things and squandered an incredible opportunity to offer verbal gratitude.  Then I chastised myself. Why should I be annoyed that I have so much in my life to be grateful for? Why should I be annoyed that my peers were making me more aware of the beauty of my life and the people and experiences that surround me?

From that moment on, I realized that these gratitudes we were expressing were a form of shared prayer. With each uttered thanks 24 hearts joined in identifying with the sentiment, taking it inward and offering up an internal rendition of the thanks of another. This is perhaps why it felt so strong, this privileged group that I consider myself privileged to be a part of was all together, offering thanks with open hearts for all we have and all we’ve been given.

Gratitude is not limited to ceremonial moments like this one. Solinda said that we should try making a practice of offering thanks every night. Gratitude can in this way become a lifestyle. Neurologically we create and shape the synaptical pathways in our brain by nothing more than use. If we can simply use the path of gratitude we can literally restructure our brains. A life occupied by gratitude is so much richer and fuller than a life bogged down by the fears and greed.  Many of the teachers of my life have passed on this message to me and it always slips away in time to the “abortive sorrows and short winded elations” of life’s wrinkled road. I want to thank Solinda for reminding me of the transformational power of gratitude.

Posted in Block 3: 2011-12 | 1 Comment

University of North Dakota Mascot “Fighting Sioux”

On Saturday night, I attended the CC vs. University of North Dakota hockey game at the World Arena. Whenever UND scored a goal, fans would stand up, chanting “Sioux!” Jerseys, worn by fans, displayed a picture of an Indian Chief. I decided to look into this, so if any of you are interested in reading about it, the link is below:

http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/colleges/University_of_North_Dakota_goes_nameless_in_Frozen_Four_after_years_of_Fighting_Sioux_debate.html?c=r

Apparently, the University of North Dakota had to get rid of the “fighting” portion and must be represented as “mascot-less” in the NCAA finals.

Posted in Block 3: 2011-12 | Leave a comment

Native American Experiences in Higher Education

Though we were not able to formally discuss Native American experiences in higher education, reading these articles gave me an understanding of the discrimination evident in the education system. Devon A. Mihesuah’s article, “Native Student, Faculty, and Staff Experiences in the Ivory Tower” opened my eyes to the fatal cycle many Indian Professors face. This article discusses a survey sent to Native faculty members and their non-native allies through the American Indian Quarterly journal.

The cycle begins with the lack of participation in these solicited surveys, or dialogues. Many Native Americans in academia fear they will be seen as “trouble makers” in the eyes of employers if they offer their critical perspectives on the real issues they face in everyday life. Speaking up, many believe, is a red mark on their future job applications or a harmful move with respect to their current positions. While remaining tacit might be a slightly more favorable move in the eyes of the tenure committee, Native Americans continue to face inequities in their rights as a faculty member. Some Native Americans had trouble putting words to their horrifying experiences, and opted not to respond to the survey. The desire to voice opinions combined with the consequences of honesty stir the vicious cycle.

The few Indians who have spoken up, through writing publications and verbally have powerful stories to tell. Additionally, Non-Native professors in Native American Studies (NAS) Departments, tell stories of times they were targeted for their radical political beliefs.

In the anonymous article “Old School”, a Jewish, female professor in the Native American Studies Department states, “Officially, I have never been reviewed for tenure. In reality, my tenure dossier went up the hierarchy of review committees once and was sent back to the NAS tenure committee under a “scorched-earth” mandate to redo the review because of gross procedural errors” (54). And, “The university I have worked at for six years is paying me a five-figure sum to resign” (54). The lack of opportunity and pure discrimination against this individual, who chooses to incorporate the idea of “color privilege” into her teachings, and whose husband is a Native American, is appalling.

After reading several articles, I remain unsure of how this situation can be ameliorated. If the positions of those who speak out are compromised, and discrimination occurs on a daily basis toward those who do not speak out, what can be done? Anonymity is crucial to sharing these horrors that are occurring, but even upon hearing these stories anonymously, discrimination in educational institutions has not subsided. Without the mention of specific colleges or universities in these articles, the departments are not “hearing” or “listening.” I hope to read more of these articles, as I find a further education and understanding of the topic is crucial to suggest ways in which awareness can be raised, or systems can be changed, if this is possible.

Posted in Block 3: 2011-12 | Leave a comment

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Posted in Block 3: 2011-12 | 1 Comment

Learning from the Lakota

While there are certainly a multitude of tangled, opposing and inexplicably linked emotions running through my head about our experience at Pine Ridge, one thing is clear to me: as people from a very different society and way of life, we have much to learn from the Lakota people and their traditions.

At first glance, one might think the opposite. Because the Lakota have such low life spans and income and such high unemployment, alcoholism and substance abuse, it’s easy to say that they are they ones who have much to learn from us, the ones who live longer, are richer and don’t drink as much.  And while it is certain that a calculated exchange between the two cultures would be beneficial to both parties, there’s one aspect of their tradition that I think we significantly lack in our lives: the practice of “group therapy” arising from the sweat lodge.

The sweat lodge allows for people to open up in ways that are foreign to day-to-day interaction. It has the incredible power of raising everyone to the same, vulnerable state, both physically and mentally, allowing people to stop the detrimental comparisons, judgments and competitions that so often create debilitating levels of self-consciousness within a person’s psyche. When somebody is able stop worrying about what other people may or may not think about them, they can let go of their fears and share things in their life that they need help getting through. Whether it’s expressing how worried someone is about their sick family member, or how someone can’t get along with a person in their life that is very important to them, whatever problem or worry it may be, the sweat lodge is the time and the place to share it with the compassionate listeners, both the other individuals in the sweat lodge as well as the healing spirits.

Relief surfaces almost immediately when somebody is able to share what is bringing them down in life. This group therapy experience, the sharing of thoughts and allowing others to share the burden, sympathize and pray for you, is something that I definitely lack in my life and is definitely missing from our culture in the US. People are conditioned to sweep their problems under the doormat, avoiding confronting the things that need to be confronted, inhibiting deep reflection and healing.

There’s a giant stigma surrounding expressing personal fears and anxieties in the US. People are embarrassed to talk about their problems. They think that people will think less of them and that they are weak if they have problems. When you have people afraid of telling others what is draining them mentally, coupled with the fast-paced society that we live in in which there often isn’t even time in people’s schedules to confront their problems, we end up with a lot of miserable people. And often times, these feelings manifest in detrimental ways: random acts of aggression, depression or treating people you love in a way that they shouldn’t be treated.

If we had a platform to share, talk and feel (such as the Lakota have through the sweat lodge), and if we accepted this as a normal and necessary part of life, I think that we would be a lot happier.

Posted in Block 3: 2011-12 | 3 Comments

“A Litany For Survival”

I find it almost impossible to reflect on the trip as a whole, so I thought I would start at the beginning. Driving into South Dakota, I was expecting nothing but feeling a small sense of familiarity. Not because I had been in the state before, I knew what I experienced was to differ wholly from the reservation and the lives they lived, but I was maybe expecting a semblance of modern life that corresponded with my own, especially in the gas station. The first thing I noticed was the amount of people gathered in the space and how quick they were to notice the outsiders. I felt fine and safe, having trust in Bruce that he knew how to keep us here, yet my observations were quick and turned to the man in the corner smoking a cigarette not just at the gas station, but inside the gas station store with children very close by. Outside, multiple people came up to us trying to sell us their crafts, displaying desperation in our reaction. This was my first realization that maybe the sovereignty of this nation really should indicate to people that they indeed have entered a foreign country where habits and laws completely differ from the modern existence in the rest of the United States (this was not one of those United States).

Unable how to extend my response to our trip except in a lengthy and detailed way of every feeling I had, I felt myself getting bored with my own reflection. Then the sweet and inspiring lady, Justine Epstein, out of the blue, sent me an excerpt of a poem over text message that may have helped me with some point or perspective (let me try it out because otherwise I have no idea how to start).

Regardless of its connection to our time in Pine Ridge, I find this poem provoked something in me.

A LITANY FOR SURVIVAL

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who live in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
futures
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours:

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
remembering
we were never meant to survive

- Audre Lorde, The Black Unicorn

Reading and re-reading this piece of writing, I tried to establish the subject of the poem as us, the students, or the Pine Ridge residents who welcomed us, and became confused trading out our experiences, deciding whether or not they were the ones with fear. If one thing is clear about our trip and our experience, they are the marginalized population living outside our dominant culture in which WE are entirely able to “indulge the passing dreams of choice” (ll. 4-5). Their oppression has been wholly caused by the society that we easily take part in without much of a second thought. The graffiti “Death white man” had been a notable mention of last year’s class and had remained untouched for at least a year, as if the message was wholly agreed upon. Although the message said “death white man” I was unsure what the writing meant. Was it a threat to those entering the reservation? Or was it, as I wish to interpret the message, a statement about white men and what they have and will always be associated with: death (to the people, to their culture, and especially to their land).

We don’t understand what survival means, one reason why many were uncomfortable with our trip and deciding whether our slight immersion in their culture was the “right” way to approach this subject. I found myself wondering if we would ever be able to understand having never ourselves been threatened as they had been, or “imprinted with fear.” We all saw their fight to keep their culture, as Lorde says “seeking a now that can breed futures,” with their ritual, which extended to their children, and with their education of us, outsiders, in order to maintain some sort of existence that includes their traditions.

At the start of the trip, I was grateful to have the chance to meet Mike Junior at the gas station, as he provided us all with comfort saying something like “you guys look like a bunch of CC students” and others responding “do we really stand out that much?” Yes, we really did.

Posted in Block 2: 2014-15 | Leave a comment

Prayer Ties

            The question of authenticity was an incredibly conflicting factor in my hesitations about the journey to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. My confliction really grew in the van driving to South Dakota while reading Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Learning about the absolutely horrifying history of cultural assimilation and the cultural massacre of various native tribes complicated everything I felt and thought. While driving through the vast lands of the Reservation I felt silenced by the history embedded into the land, and an overwhelming sadness of the reality and truth of what America is built upon. I found myself trying to sort through all of the complexities of my place in this course and trip by first understanding the word “we” in the narrative of America’s history with native tribes. “We took their land, we killed their people,” concepts troubled me and I began to trail back through my personal ancestry to understand if I was a part of that group of killers. My ancestry is from Ireland, France and Eastern Europe. My father’s grandparents emigrated from Eastern Europe to escape the Germans and my mother’s grandparents fled Ireland during the time of extreme poverty and famine. Then I thought that, this means I am not a part of the “we” equation regardless of my white skin. But maybe I am in a sense a part of the “we” because I have done very little for cultural and human rights. And doesn’t knowledge entail responsibility?

            With this, I found myself at the site of Wounded Knee. I couldn’t walk around the site for more than a minute when I began to cry. I sought solace walking away from the site and class, looking out onto the land scattered with deteriorating trailers and piles of trash. In this silence, I struggled to grasp with my passion for indigenous rights that has been the root of my academic path at CC and a significant part of my personal identity and the crushing sense of sadness I felt. With the sense of guilt, question of authenticity, being an outsider, and question of my place in this complex issue—I felt no clarity or any answer.

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Each morning I would run, sometimes on the main road and other times on the dirt road near the Lakota Waldorf School. Running was incredibly helpful in beginning to unravel the complexities of this place and my emotions. The beauty of the land, in its vastness, the gentle slope of the hills, and the way early morning light illuminated different colors of the grasses and trees, evoked peace. On one of my runs 5 ecstatically happy dogs joined me, and we ran along a dirt road, past cattle and gorgeous fields. I ran without a music, phone, or watch and I felt blissfully disconnected which allowed me to connect to the present of this place. When I reached the end of the road, I stopped to listen to the hundreds of birds chirping in the trees, and the sound of the wind rustling leaves and tall grass. The love of the dogs, the happiness of the chirping birds, and the beauty of the land were rejuvenating in my confusion of navigating the complexity of the Reservation.

Sitting on the floor of Mike Jr.’s home, Mike told the class he didn’t want us to feel like we needed to problem solve or distance ourselves with cross-cultural misunderstanding, but to learn and to be present in this experience. Mike Jr. and all of the other community members who engaged with the class were giving us tools for cultural awareness. I think cultural awareness could be significantly helpful in the process of understanding the history and future of native tribes in America, because so many people are very uninformed and culturally naïve, including myself. I learned from the love of the sweet animals, the openness of the Lakota community members, and the pain of a heart-wrenching history, the need for cross-cultural compassion is imperative. I am uncomfortable with notions of superficial distinctions, such as the idea that I’m a privileged white American so what is my role in helping this underprivileged minority. I think it is healthier and more productive to view this is as we are all passionate about compassion, so as a human being who is pained by the suffering of other humans who are denied the basic right of culture and agency in their own identity, how can I help.

While hiking with Mike Jr. at Bear Butte, he spoke of a prophecy his elders told him. In the prophecy, his role was to share the native culture and keep the passion for spirituality and sacredness alive. In this, Mike Jr. said, “I am only a prayer tie.” I think it is important to be humble in trying to help with such a complex issue, while also being effective by harnessing the authenticity, insight, and resilience of a prayer tie.

 

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Posted in Block 3: 2011-12 | Leave a comment

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I was prepared for spiritual enlightenment at Pine Ridge. I had heard stories from friends who took the class in previous years about magical, mystical transformations and looked forward to my own. I entered the sweat lodge in this mindheartspirit mode.

Nobody told me how physically grueling the sweats would be. The ladies went in first, while the hot rocks were being pitchforked in one by one. We were there for too long, already roasted like vegetables before the guys came in (we’re trapped like rats! – no, rats can’t be trapped this easily. You’re trapped like…carrots ~ Simpsons Movie).

A young woman came in and sat by me. I recognized her immediately. She is in the new Pine Ridge documentary by Swedish autodidact filmmaker Anna Eborn. In typical Scandinavian style, Eborn’s film simply follows characters with cameras, long shots and no narration, letting the viewer observe and make decisions rather than manipulating footage to express a specific angle. I knew this woman, I had watched a half hour of her feeding her kids mac and cheese and taking out the trash. And suddenly I was suffering next to her, sticking my head out of the back of the tent when I thought I was going to pass out, my forehead against her white tank top.

I didn’t expect to fight panic the entire sweat, I didn’t expect to almost pass out, I didn’t think about not breathing or my skin burning. They were right about praying – pleading don’t die, don’t let me die, let it be over, don’t panic, help me not panic definitely happened and definitely kept me focused. I crawled out of the womb and sat in the moonlight and couldn’t stand up for a while, reduced to baby simplicity of needing air and water and nothing else.

I value this experience. But doubt seeps in. I can’t ignore Jamie’s un-interest, or Mike’s inability to answer even the most pointed questions, or Justin joking in my ear during the supposedly most sacred ceremonies, or watching the men collect sacred (?) materials for the ceremonies at a kind of touristy shop, handing them to Bruce to pay for. Being an observer last week and reflecting now is tough. Should we have been there? Was it authentic? Was it sincere?

 

To quote the great Nicole Pey, it’s #complicated.

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A Indian Reservation and a Wedding

A lot of things have happened to me this past week. I felt as if I was climbing a mountain of emotional stress, exhausting but worthwhile finally on its peak. The past weekday, I had spent my time on the Pine Ridge Lakota reservation and the weekend at my sister’s wedding. These events were completely different experiences yet I could feel a sense of similarity between the two.

 

At Pine Ridge, I felt a little uncomfortable, worried to the reason of why we were there and felt honored at the same time. There were so many layers to the community and the relationship between the Lakota people and others on the border of the reservation. Some were extremely hard to witness—the effect of alcoholism in the outside town and the stories of struggle between family members, money, and poverty. And some were beautiful— the prayers to each other in the sweat lodges, the support and strength of a struggling community, and their complete willingness to open up and show these strengths and weaknesses to a complete stranger. I know there was so much more hidden to me, but I would like to focus on a strength that I had experienced and has really stuck to me this week; the strength and connection of their community at Pine Ridge.

 

At first I felt like a complete outsider to the community. But as the days continued, I felt less like a complete stranger and more of a visiting friend. I loved listening to their stories, although very sad, it was nice of them to open up and talk to us. The warm-heartedness of cooking, playing with Nevaeh and company, and listening to the hardships of the family added to my sense of connection to the family as well as reduced my feelings of being an outsider. One instance when I felt completely connected to the family was when I had a panic attack in the sweat lodge and Big Mike’s wife helped me relax. We sat face to face and, while it was dark and extremely hot, it was nice of her to pray out loud and in English just so I knew there was someone near and encouraging myself to be strong and pray harder. I felt a strong sense of connection that I find when with close friends and family.

 

Which leads to my feelings of similarity of experiences at my sister’s wedding this weekend. People from all areas of class, and with their own multiple layers of suffering, complications, and connections come together to form one community. The music and prayers connect one another and you seemly forget your struggles. Some may feel like outsiders at first, yet at the end they are dancing their hearts out with each other. There is a strong sense of connection and love between the two families as they pray full-heartily for the new couple and their new beginning. This is kind of like how we prayed for the health of Big Mike and the community of Pine Ridge.

~Becca Adams

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