Sitting in front of a VCR playing a corny movie on teenager’s abuse of prescription drugs followed by another of the same quality about DUI’s, one cannot help but ponder. I pondered how little I was learning from the stupid movie, and then my mind wandered to how much more I learned from the face-to-face interaction with DUI convicts. The fact is, when the men and women starred me in the face and told me about the upwards of $10,000 they owed to parole officers, counseling fees, and how it ruined this chapter of their life and stalled the trajectory of their life as a whole for years, I was affected. I was affected because it was personal. I was affected because I could see their mannerisms, their genuine sadness, and their regret. I realized that this personal connection is what persuaded me, not the scare tactics and talking heads blaring from the VCR.
When I was skyping with my parents and recounting what I’d seen, a connection jumped in my mind to my life the last two weeks. I remembered back to second block when my roommate was in a Southwest Studies class, “The People of the Southwest.” I looked over his shoulder at identical recounts of tribe after tribe pillaged by the hard fist of the white man, and I couldn’t have been happier to not be studying the topic. And, to be fair, I was a little hesitant two weeks ago when it became clear that we wouldn’t be studying all indigenous religions tradition globally, as I had assumed and looked forward to, for this same reason. Growing up in Oregon I learned about the Oregon Trial time and time again; I worried this class would have the same redundant feel.
Then I spent a week at Pine Ridge. Together with the experience at Catamount, my prior inhibitions were lifted, and my life changed. I was face to face with Medicine Men, watching children smile, dogs lap up food from the ice, having pillow talk with Justin, having ceremony with Utes and Lakota alike, and romping in the hills. The descriptor I kept using with friends and family upon return was affecting. The personal touch was affecting because it wasn’t a textbook or a JStor reading. It was affecting because its impossible to discredit the beliefs of a man who has sat in the dark sweat of the lodge and opened up his heart to you; unthinkable to see a woman who has prayed for you and asks you to pray for her hospital ridden son as a picture in a textbook. And so I Learned, and I Loved, and Grew. And I thank you all—all of my classmates, my professor, and the people of the Lakota Tribe of Native Americans, who have created a lasting bridge of thought and prayer that begins to transcend hundreds of years of judgment, bias, and misunderstanding.