Our time in Pine Ridge was informative about Lakota culture and transformative in the spiritual realm and self-exploration. I’ve been trying to be aware of how I’m telling the story of my time there to friends and family since being back. The quick answer is that it was intense, in particular the sweat ceremonies. They were physically demanding and mentally draining. The cultural differences were eye-opening and sometimes alarming. The stray dogs that roamed the streets amongst deteriorating trailers gave quite a different feel than other parts of the US that I’ve visited. I was struck by the pervasive poverty on the reservation but have tried to be conscious of perpetuating stereotypical dialogue about poor-but-happy-people. In elementary and high school we discussed indigenous cultures as stagnant, dead cultures. In Pine Ridge we witnessed how the Little Boy family continues to practice traditional ceremonies everyday. They have woven tradition and modernism into their lives and opened this synchronism to the community and to outsiders like us.
I’ve been struggling with a consensus of how to move forward. I don’t know how to integrate this experience into my life. When I first arrived there I thought they need “help,” but I never knew of what capacity. After talking this over with fellow students, I concluded that efforts to combat the health problems and hardships of poverty need to come from within the community. Any outsider influences would continue the cycle of imposition that the US government/citizens have been doing since we arrived on this land.
I am included in the “we” of the historical story when I’m considered racially and economically. My ancestors moved to Colorado during the Manifest Destiny era and have been here every since. While no one in my family ever enlisted in the army they were part of the cultural invasion that isolated indigenous people into contemporary reservations. It wasn’t directly them, and it certainly wasn’t me, who committed the genocide. I don’t know my place in the story. I left Pine Ridge with many more questions than I came with. I still don’t really know where I’m at with anything that I witnessed.