Thinking back to our time at Pine Ridge, even from a distance of two days, it already seems a world apart. In the lead up to the trip I definitely had some expectations, both conscious and unconscious. Throughout my life I’ve always considered First Nation culture to be largely eradicated. At some point along the line someone told me that all I would find on a reservation was broken down cars and alcoholics – and I believed them. Even though we talked plenty about the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest in grade school, I always considered them as a part of the past or as an idea.
Driving from the town of Pine Ridge to Wounded Knee, I was hurrying to finish Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee. At one point I looked up and was struck by the fact that we might be at the exact spot where “Big Foot’s” band encountered the cavalry. Suddenly the story became absolutely real. As we pulled into the parking spot I looked around, imagining three hundred and fifty Lakota running, being shot down. There was the dry ravine. There was the hill. After walking around the cemetery for a little while, Justin told us the story of the place but what struck me most was that it seemed like his grandfather had either been there or lived near and that he, Justin, still lived at the sight. His family was connected to the massacre, connected to Crazy Horse and connected to the land itself with ties not often seen or known in American culture.
This incident was the first example of many I saw while on the reservation that the Pine Ridge Reservation is home to a different Nation than the land around it. The ethos of the people was in some ways completely different than the rest of the US. I saw a tie to the land and the past that marked the Lakota culture as different from the short-termism and transience of the culture in which I was raised. Before a sweat, Noah told me how his grandfather had met Crazy Horse as he his and his warrior’s rode into an encampment. The mythologized era of Cowboys and Indians is the real past to the people on Pine Ridge.
However, even as I found a living, unique culture that I had never before considered on the reservation, I was once again reminded that some parts of being human are constant everywhere. Watching Navaeh running around in the yard with her friends it struck me that in spite of social problems, a history of oppression and an independent, ancient culture, the people on pine ridge have the same experience of humanity as all people.