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Today, we should have been sitting in a big van and been on the road to Pine Ridge. But when Cynthia and Jo-Lynn went to pick up the van from the car rental company last night, it turned out that they did not actually have a 12-person van available. Anything smaller would have been too little space for the eleven of us and anything larger would have been an increase in risk (because larger vans are more likely to tip over). So instead, we all got an extra day to get ourselves ready, prepare, and pack for Pine Ridge.


Because the rental company said that they would give us two smaller cars (rather than one 12-person van), we would actually end up with a lot more space than we had anticipated. So Cynthia, Jo-Lynn, Attman, and Finn decided to go shopping for all our grocery needs for the week. $550 worth of groceries later, we were ready to embark on our Alternative Spring Break.

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SUNDAY, MARCH 20, 2016


We meet early in the morning at the parking lot of Naropa University's Arapahoe campus. We have packed lightly: Each of us carrying just one backpack. We have all the groceries to transport to Pine Ridge, so van space is very limited. It is a nice day and we are all full of excitement and curiosity. First, however, we have a 6-hour drive ahead of us - ample time for us to sing many songs, get to know each other better, and to catch up on sleep.


We finally get to Pine Ridge, unload our belongings, and right away get going for a pow wow that is taking place at a local high school. It is a gathering of four Native American groups from the area, each of which has brought their drums, singers, dancers, and dresses. It is a very fascinating event and the singing and dancing continues into late at night.

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MONDAY, MARCH 21, 2016

by Kelli Baklaich 


We took a tour of the “res” and visited all of the sites that are in need of restoration including:

  • Bull’s Earthship house and the tire walls of low cost, natural heating and cooling—Mother Earth is our home!
  • Red Cloud’s daughter’s house and the deck and front door ripped up and surrounded by trash—the intrusion and violation of sacred spaces by settler’s destiny
  • Breckinridge’s upscale buildings reduced to deconstructed parts—one man’s trash is another mans survival
  • Church on the Res, burial grounds on high hills, and high school at ground zero where one of old, major boarding schools now stands with a museum vibe
  • Left-handed woman and the painting and cleaning of a Fema trailer home while the planting of seeds the ground seems too charged to hold 

Inquiries of the Day:

  • Where is the balance found in this place where help can be received without it turning into a situation of the “hemp house” on the hill?
  • How can we empower the people we saw today so that our mark is made beyond this time in space?
  • How can we create a sense of celebration in the sheer bravery it takes for moving forward form this wound of being so utterly misunderstood.
  • Kinship in family and the emergence of all children being loved as a huge theme.
  • The Matriarch of the Lakota, and each and every treaty in history lacking any signature from any woman!
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Just as the day before, we started off our morning with a contemplative ritual: meditation, yoga, journaling, ... This is time for each individual to engage in the practice that works best for them. After an hour of practice, we continue our morning with oatmeal breakfast (exactly like the day before, too).


My highlight of the day is our visit to a Lakota elder by the name of Basil Braveheart. An incredibly wise and kind-hearted man, he shared with us stories from his life - which I will not share here to respect his privacy.


We also did some work: A number of us went to the Earthship and a few others to Dorothi's house. At Dorothi's house, we collected trash, picked up a lot of cans and put it in bags (apparently, aliminum scraps can be traded in for money), planted a few cucumber and squash seeds in the greenhouse, and tilled the soil so that she could grow potatoes (actually, Dorothi's son tilled the soil).


In the evening, we went to a very fun sessions of drumming and dancing with some Lakota friends. They taught us the basic movements and then drummed for us while we hopped around. It was such great fun! :)

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What's for breakfast? Oatmeal! Getting tired yet? Hope not!


It snowed overnight and some of the roads are a bit icy, so we decide to hold off on heading out until noon. We fill the time with deep listening exercises: sharing with a partner what we see, hear, and feel. It's a powerful exercise and I feel deeply moved and connected to my partner Joe.


By noon, the sun has melted most of the ice and snow. So we roll out to work. Most of us head to Dorothi's house again and this time we focus on the inside: we paint many of her walls, we help clean her kitchen and cabinets, and Simona and Jan Jan give piggy-back rides for Dorothi's grand children. We all have a lot of fun together.


The evening is unstructured free time to allow us to decompress and take everything in. It consists also of countless rounds of bananagrams.

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Oatmeal once more... ! We are all very excited about the day because in the evening, we will participate in the Lakota purification ritual called Inipi - or sweat lodge for those of us who don't speak Lakota.


First though, we split up into two groups. One goes back to Dorothi's place to continue painting and the other goes to Vanessa's house (the house of Red Cloud's daughter) to pick up trash from the areas surrounding her land.


In the afternoon, we meet with Darien Young Man, a graduating senior at one of the locla high schools. She tells us about Lakota gender roles and family structure and it is absolutely fascinating: Because Lakota are a matriarchial society, women lead the household and men are the ones to follow women around.


Then, finally, the evening comes around and we go to the Inipi. The best way I can describe it is this: Imagine a tent big enough for 15 people to sit in a circle around a little hole. This hole is filled with stones that have been heated in a bonfire for hours. There is no light inside the tent, so when the opening is closed, it is completely dark inside. And it is extremely hot because there is no way for air to escape.

The ritual consisted of four rounds, each with drums and singing, and each one increasingly hotter. The temperature is determined by the amount of water that is poured over the hot stones: more water creates more steam which increases the temperature. After each round, the sweat lodge is opened (the inflow of cold air feels so wonderful) and water is passed around. During the "break" between the first and the second round, we go around one by one and say a prayer, express a wish, or speak to something that we are grateful for - I am very touched and moved.

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FRIDAY, MARCH 25, 2016


Oatmeal breakfast... strawberry rice pudding breakfast! It is a special day!


And indeed it is because we make the difficult decision to leave Pine Ridge a day earlier than planned. The reason is the uncertainty in regards to the upcoming weather. So we spend two good hours cleaning, packing, and loading up the cars.


Before we go, we take our time saying goodbye to each other: One by one, we look into each other's eyes and say what we appreciate about the other person and what we are grateful to them for. Early afternoon, we finally get on the road and make it back to Boulder by 8pm.

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I wake up and am confused for a moment: I'm in my own bed again. There are no classmates around me, there is no one waking me up at 7.00am for group contemplative practice, and there is no oatmeal for breakfast.


It is strange that we are back in Boulder and I'm a bit sad we had to leave so soon. And at the same time, I am grateful for the extra day I have to rest and reflect before school starts back up on Monday. Only now do I realize how tired and exhausted I am and how many thoughts are whirring through my head.


I live together with many people in the same house, many of whom ask me about my experience at Pine Ridge. I struggle to give an answer. It was wonderful and it was heart-breaking, it was inspiring and it was depresssing, it was happy and it was sad, we saw so much and yet we still saw only so little compared to the size of the reservation... How is one to answer an innocent question like "How was it?"?

It took me a while to form coherent thoughts around my experience at Pine Ridge, but they eventually came. You can take a look at my as well as my classmates' reflection of our experience at Pine Ridge here.

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