TOWN HALL DISCUSSION 2016
by Atman Gibbins
When confronted with a great deal of statistical information about the crises facing many of our native brothers and sisters, or of the dark doings of our own governmental institutions even to this day, or of the moral crimes of many potential ancestors of you or I...People can tend to shut down in apathy or simply slip into cognitive dissonance, meaning they find strong discomfort when presented with information that shakes and challenges their currently held beliefs about the world.
The first issue is that facts fundamentally lack heart. Even images lack voices, this is why we have chosen to not share some of the photos of pine ridge exploiting poverty just to incite your compassion. The poverty, the centuries of systemic oppression and corruption are very real, but it is still only one side of the coin. We want to share with you also the tenacity of many Lakota elders, the rich culture, warm moments shared over food, or a heated game of bananagrams. We believe it is connections you make on a personal level which help you become morally invested. Help you let down your guard, let down your preconceived ideas of what it means to be native today, or any day, these create barriers.
So we’re standing outside of Red Cloud Indian School, and 19 year old David, one of the kids Dave knows who tagged along with us, is opening up about some personal traumas he’s been experiencing (which I’ll keep private out of respect for my misUn). But in wanting to help David feel like he could open up and be supported, Dave our guide, wanted to try an exercise and had us all surround David helping him feel seen and heard ‘cause he likes to hide behind his humor a lot. “Wait until you’re ready and then pick a face out of these people here that you feel you can connect with.” Well after some silence, tears, and giggles, David’s looking at me, I’m looking at him and we’re then standing face to face. We didn’t exchange words but just looking at one another that deeply in silence I was totally and completely affected in a way that time just stopped. And in MY heart at least, he became the little brother I’ve never had.
And then every hour or so was like, “Where’s David? Did you eat dinner yet? Eat your damn vegetables boy.” Wrestling, laughing, asking him about his life goals, his jobs, his personal beliefs, and about hokey ass white people.
When you are OPEN to forming connections instead of being a tourist in your unplugging from the present moment, then everywhere you go you find family. And from that space you can humbly ask the right questions like “how can I be of service?” or “You tell me what YOU need” not the other way around. The people of pine ridge or the many indigenous cultures around this planet don’t need us as much as we need them. Pine Ridge doesn’t need saviors. It wants allies. People who can do what they are measurably able to from our side of things.
by Simona Coayla-Duba
As I write this I am sitting in Lima, Peru awaiting for a connecting flight to Arequipa where I wil be visiting family. Reflecting on Pine Ridge, I remember the connections I was able to make between the Reservation and Peru. At the time it had felt comfortable and familiar because of the similaritites. However, I quickly realized that this comfortable feeling was because Pine Ridge, was in fact a 3rd world country in a 1st world nation.
On this trip, we were able to see the damage that colonization has caused. As much as I can read and hear about a place, this was an experience to meet some of the amazing people who live at Pine Ridge and still face colonization daily. I was captivated by the positive demeanor of those we spent time with. Impressed by their humor, light touch, and welcoming presence, I fell in love with Pine Ridge and the Lakota people.
It was not only the Lakota who stole my heart but also my fellow Naropians. It is because of the group that I played, learned, and worked with over the semester that created a healthy and safe foundation for the trip. As each individual participated in the whole, a beautiful space emerged and I am happy to say that I came back from this trip with many new friends that I now consider family.
I see this experience as a door, an opening rather than an ending. It is my wish that the relationship beween Pine Ridge and myself continues to deepen. It is also my wish that a relationship between Naropa and Pine Ridge grows strong. I am confident that I will see many of the faces we met again and that this was not goodbye as I am not going to be able to forget the people, land, and spirit of Pine Ridge, South Dakota.
THE SERVICE PROJECTS
by Kelli Baklaich
We provided service to three places. Many do not have running water, no trash system with no money to buy trash bags nor cleaning supplies, no income, broken down housing and high disease rate.
- Bull and Charlie: helped build an Earthship house cutting tires, and digging trenches for a ventilation system
- Vanessa Red Cloud: Unburying layers of trash just to be buried again in some landfill, winterizing front door and re-building the threshold, heavy lifting to fill up a huge dumpster of a broken down Breck building that sat for a year and a half that was meant to be used to build houses, but got buried itself in too many other vital needs of the community
- Dorothy: Cleaning cockroach poison and years of dirty build-up off cabinets and an oven housing food and burnt stained plates, pots, and pans; painting scummed up walls, planting seeds, building a fence for the garden, fixing doors in the bone biting cold, and picking up trash; most of all playing with the kids
- What as expressed by some of the tribal members themselves still needs to be accomplished for Pine Ridge to regenerate and thrive is a question that many had a hard time answering amidst the overwhelm of so many high priorities for simple survival. Building low-expense housing, protecting the water, getting running water accessible, and creating jobs seems to be a start!
- How much of their situation are they powerless over due to structural and systemic forces at be versus how much is contributed to their situation from them? Thus, will the same need for a clean house, for instance, re-emerge in another month? Are we enabling a dependency further fueling disempowerment even when it is known that the reservation is cut off from resources to the degree of just keeping them in survival mode? Do we sacrifice lives in the name of cutting of a dependency on churches and service groups so they can fight to find a way to empower themselves?
- Or, how much of personal volition that contributes to the state of their decay is a living manifestation of the oppression itself--as the old saying goes “Save the man, kill the indian,” illuminates how these people have been dismantled from the use of their arms and legs; where outsiders may just judge from the basis of hard work ethic alone. Hence, for all of these reasons, service needs to mean a restoration of their spirit in order for their more seen circumstances to flourish. Monetary reparations are not only historically defective as in exchanging money for the land that encapsulates their spirit, but clearly remains in present times as such.
- The “hemp house” is an instance of a house built by Woody Allen and his crew for a family that remains to this day abandoned and half finished because it caused so much trouble in the community. Gangs often prevent any progression in the building of housing and shelter because of jealousy and not wanting to take help from outsiders, white outsiders. This is why it is paramount that service needs to be in the direction of empowering the Lakota people, so that the healing is done from within their tribe for all to see that any which one of them is capable of such healing.
ALTERNATIVE BREAK REFLECTION
by Jan Farias
Here I am months later, sitting at a desk at Naropa on the first day of summer, feeling immense gratitude for the opportunity I had to be of service on the Pine Ridge Reservation. It feels like not to long ago we packed ourselves into vans and made the trek out to South Dakota. How different things felt when we arrived back.
I wonder how everyone is doing... what's little Kimmie doing now? Natasha and Ramond? Chashkaweea? Basil? David and Tiger? I wonder if they can sense that I'm thinking about them and wishing them well.
I am really proud of the Naropa Spring 2016 group that made the visit. The momentum and passion that came from this trip is astonishing. I hope a few of us can make it out there agin with Dave from Tipi Raisers to work on more projects over the summer. I am looking forward to continuing this trip with more students, an I am also looking forward to when we no longer have to visit to be of service; I am looking forward to the healing and liberation of the Lakota people and Indigenous people across the globe.
by Erica Shure
As the whole week went on, I felt so much gratitude for the opportunity to be present in a place that was so different than anywhere I had ever been to in my life.
One of my favorite memories was when I was standing outside of one of the family's home watching about a handful of young souls ride horses with a smile stretched across their face. That for me was wonderful to see. Many of the stories that were taken in from people of the community had to do with a lot of suffering and generational struggle to keep their culture intact while living in a country that had taken so much from them. So, the sight of smiles was something that shown a sense of freedom while they all are very much aware of the oppressive society which they live in. How great it is to see that there is a joy to be felt in any moment of life!
Some of my favorite people to meet during the week of being at Pine Ridge was Basil Braveheart, Darien, David, and Tiger. Many of them are very youthful and brought so much happy to the dynamic of our visit. Also, Basil Braveheart was an elder with a gentle warmth that was full of wisdom. He was so welcoming with his spirit and heart. I felt like he was like the perfect granddad and I could just listen to him talk all night about anything he wanted to share.
My heart goes out to the Lakotas. My heart is full of appreciation for all that shared their stories and helped us to expand our capacities to connect to humanity.
Thank you. Thank you to all that helped support the trip and is helping for the educational space to continue being an opportunity at Naropa.
IMPRESSIONS FROM PINE RIDGE
by Raven Swanner
I am honored to speak about the people that graciously and without shame showed us their faces and a small portion of their lives. All of my words in so short a time will not give the impression they deserve, but I speak from my heart to your ears. These are my impressions:
I see bravery in eyes that will not be shaken down or shaken out because they were and are warriors. Bravery in the old ways and hope in a new day. In the importance on regaining a language because it is the vehicle both of spirit and soul, of regaining traditions that would not die because the indomitable spirit would not let them die in spite of every attempt to squelch them. I see a spirit living on and living in a beautiful strong and wise people.
I hear the prayers sung by drum beat in the quiet hotbellied womb of the sweat lodge as herbs and steam breathe in waves through hot lips. Prayers danced in the spirit of the animals of the prarie vibrant beads and jingles clacking, feathers rustling and impassioned eyes looking out, looking up. I hear voices speaking in a language that many tried to take from them a language we can learn but never understand in full because we are not Lakota. I hear tears in greatful voices and stories that will not be silenced by fear of who is hearing them.
I felt their spirit as we walked theirland, shared their space and breathed the air of their nation. I pray for the day they are recognized as nations. I pray this for the people and the land that to this day are still oppressed by the foreign body that surrounds them. For the truth is, there are several third world countries right here in America and they are called Reservations.
David & Tiger: A young couple of 18 that at first struck me as both old and young. He was open to telling us of his own experiences on the reservation and she was his support, full of adages and curiosity. Both of their spiritual wisdom and gravity touched me.
Basil Braveheart: 85 years old, a teacher of the old ways as the way to enliven his people and for non-lakota to carry understanding. A teacher of the importance of spirituality, forgiveness, and a releasing of shame and blame to move onward in life in a healthy way.
Chashkaweea, Left handed woman: While we painted walls her grand daughter used as a canvas for her intricate oil pastel work, she told us her stories and beliefs. She taught us correct ways to pronounce Lakota words and made us fry bread and I believe its called winniwinni, a traditional cherry pudding. Though only as old as the time they have spent on the reservations. Her sons rode horses and helped clean the yard.
The dogs: Yes, they are the four legged people. The Lakota consider them our brothers as well and I can't forget them because they were an ever present reminder of the ability to rest, have peace, and unconditional love and curiosity.
WHAT IS SERVICE?
by Finn Woelm
The official title of our class is "Leadership and Service: Alternative Spring Break" and in this reflection piece, I would like to talk about this very complex word "service".
Throughout the semester, we had many conversations about what it means "to serve" and it became very clear to me that these discussions were relevant not just for this class but for so many situations in our lives. Anytime we volunteer or engage in community service, anytime we try to help or to change the world, and even in many professions, we run into this question.
To begin, I would like to give an example of how change can go wrong. This story about a young Italian aid worker who goes to Zambia during the 70s comes from a brilliant TEDx Talk by Ernesto Sirolli (I encourage you to take 15 minutes and watch it right now - it's that good. But you can also just read my little picture-summary).
The story goes as follows:
The young aid worker, Ernesto, and his team from Italy come to a village in a valley in Zambia (I've never been to Zambia, so the pictures are completely unrepresentative). There's a river and the soil is very fertile, but they realize there is no agriculture.
So the aid workers think to themselves that they can help the Zambians. They start planting some Italian squash and Italian tomato, but the villagers are not really interested.
The tomato and squash grow incredibly well in the very ferile soil. Ernesto and his team really want to teach the Zambians about farming, in order to make this work sustainable. But even though they are offering payments for participation, noy many villagers are interested. "Thank God we are here to save them", thinks Ernesto to himself. And just as the day approaches when he is to harvest the plants for the first time...
... a giantic group of hippos comes out of the river and eats all the squash and tomato.
When Ernesto and his team come back to the field, they are shocked and devastated. "There are hippos in the river!", they say to the villagers. And the villagers respond, "We know!" When Ernesto asks why the villagers did not tell them, they simply respond: "You never asked."
I find Ernesto's story to be such a great lesson for service. Despite good intentions, how often do we approach service with our own preconceived ideas and notions of what will be the best for us to do? Of what is needed? How often do we fail to ask those we are claiming to serve? How often do we really listen and follow rather than be ignorant and lead? Too often.
As for our trip to Pine Ridge, I have a really positive impression of our (as well as Tipi Raisers') approach to service. All of our work was focused around individual and the person-to-person connection always stood in the foreground. Moreover, the work that we did was requested and guided by the individuals we were "serving" (rather than us going into a situation and determing ourselves what was needed and how it could be done, as in the example of Ernesto Sirolli). It was among my favorite experiences when the person we were working with would be completely involved and engaged in the work - showing how much they wanted it to get done.
But despite all this, we were at Pine Ridge for just five days. While we studied Native American History in our classes leading up to our trip, I still felt very ignorant as we approached the reservation: I did not know anyone on the reservation, I had never been there, I did not know what life was like today — how could I do service?
In addition, you could ask the question whether everyone we met would not have been better off if we had just given them the money we spent on this Alternative Spring Break class. And what if we had all spent our Spring Break working a job for $10/hour and donated the income in its entirety to individuals at Pine Ridge, would they have not been much better off?
They probably would have been. But I think we make a mistake if we look at our trip just in isolation. This, in my opinion, is best described by anology of a water drop.
I think this image above is a good analogy for service trips. Just like a stone dropped into a pond, a service learning trip consists of the immediate "splash" as well as of the waves that follow the initial impact. In the same way, we cannot just look at our service trip without considering the "waves" it is creating.
These "waves" are already showing up in many ways: Ocean has started an Indigenous Rights Actio Now group at Naropa and Jan and Atman are working on creating a "Bridge to Pine Ridge" - a student group that will foster a long-term relationship with the people we met at Pine Ridge. For me personally, I have offered Dave (from Tipi Raisers) help with their organization's website, I've become friends with one of the students we met at Pine Ridge and offered to help her find out if Naropa University and Watson University are an option for her, and I've shared what I learned at Pine Ridge with so many people who would otherwise have never heard or known about it.
Ultimately, it's the long-term impact that is incredibly important in change-making and community-building.. And the list above is only the beginning, six weeks after having been at Pine Ridge - who knows what else is to follow...