Change

Tucson by way of Texas, California and South Dakota

As I’m typing this, there is more than an inch of ice blanketing the entire Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. Trees, cars, flowers, fixtures, parking lots and streets are “entombed in ice” as our local weather cutie Pete Delkus warned earlier this week.

We are basically iced in for the weekend and quite possibly until the first of the week. But the world must go on so stores aren’t closed, weekend workers like my father still head into work and folks like me get to enjoy lounging and of course, blogging. I am certainly going to take advantage of this newfound free time to catch up here.

So I’m moving to Tucson in March — earlier if I can swing it but March is the most sane choice in move date. I know what you are thinking if you know me OR if you have read my words before, “I thought you were going to move to California?” Well, things change and we change along with them. Actually, after living up in South Dakota for almost a year, I was considering moving back to SD after the holidays. Or at least after it warmed up again. But that wasn’t the original plan, which was first decided after I fell in love with Northern California in earnest a few years ago.

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Change is inevitable, change is good

I certainly have much to catch up here. As usual. But in the midst of all that, I’ve finally decided to have a website starting from scratch. Which means these posts will transfer there and the blog will continue, just not on WordPress proper. My hope is that more people will email subscribe there as well as I intend that the new site will lend itself to a lot more opportunities and ways to make what I do (art, freelance writing, photography sessions, coaching) more streamline. I also hope it’s my last stop for a while because it’s really important to gain momentum and not jump around!

I find in online ventures, you just have to keep plugging away and sometimes it means starting over a bit until the right fit happens. I’ll be blogging here until I switch to the full site which will feature more options for my work. Up next is my post about my trip to Tucson but even with this long Thanksgiving weekend, I never got a post started because I FINALLY got out into the world back here in Dallas. I’ll admit I had become a little reclusive after coming back from South Dakota. I missed it so much — still do. But I’m awkwardly adjusting! Although by March, I’m moving again. I’ll explain later!

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Non-profit on Pine Ridge provides healing camp for Lakota children

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The below story is one of many I had the opportunity to write for tankabar.com and was originally posted on Oct. 23, 2013. I am reposting here as it was another experience that I truly enjoyed during my time on Pine Ridge. I shot all of the photos in this story. 

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A little before the cooler temps and snow of autumn reached the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD, one local organization hosted a special camp for youth to reconnect to their Lakota culture.

Located in Porcupine, SD, Wakanyeja Woapiye Wicoti (Children’s Healing Camp) focuses on young people ages 7-12 who have experienced trauma, loss and/or grief. Knife Chief Buffalo Nation Organization created the camp in partnership with Medicine Horse Society. Lakota Oyate Wakanyeja Owicakiyapi, Inc. (LOWO) is a tribal child welfare agency on the reservation that brings some of their children to the nearly weeklong event.

Susan Hawk, a family support specialist at LOWO, said the camp is a place where these children can feel comfortable.

“Regardless of where they come from, all of them feel a part of one,” she said. They belong here and have a sense of identity and culture.”

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The camp allows parents of children in foster care who are working with LOWO to attend the camp as a safe place for them to reconnect with their children. In some cases the camp is the first time these families (including siblings) get to see each other in over a year.

Everyone participates in traditional ceremonies and work on craft projects. Camp attendees also eat three meals a day, which are made possible by donations. Part of the camp took place in a community building in Porcupine and laughter flowed throughout as volunteers worked together to serve food and tend to children’s needs.

“Everyone is supportive and helpful,” Ms. Hawk said.

One day of the camp offered children an opportunity to ride and interact with horses. Each small face lit up as they reached out to stroke their horse before they were assisted on top of saddles to ride as adults pulled the reigns. Several children remarked how much fun they were having and wanted to keep taking turns to ride.

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This is the second time the camp has been in operation, which runs mostly on donations and fundraising efforts. Camp director Ethleen Iron Cloud-Two Dogs stayed busy keeping things running smoothly and organizing all of the volunteers. She expressed the importance of having all of the tipis up during the camp for everyone to stay in and explained the purpose of the structure.

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“The tipi is tiikceya. It is a healing place to sleep and live,” she said as she pointed out how the top of the inside of a tipi resembles a star. “We are connected to the Star Nation. They are our relatives and the tipi is an acknowledgement of that.”

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The Child Protection Office of the State of South Dakota has stated that over 60% of children in foster care are Native American. Emily Iron Cloud-Koenen , executive director of LOWO, said the camp helps Lakota children strengthen their minds, spirits and bodies.

“It is a healing opportunity for children who have been traumatized by loss, grief, abandonment and abuse,” she said. “The children who participate are different when they leave. They are more peaceful because their spirits have returned to them much better in order to cope with life.”

For more information about Wakanyeja Woapiye Wicoti, visit Knife Chief Buffalo Nation Organization.

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The adjustment period or I hope that was a good idea

I’ve been back to Texas for almost two weeks now.

I have a lot to post still from my nine months living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. I honestly thought I’d already have done that by now but found that the adjustment period of being back in the hustle and bustle of a major city has only just began to calm down for me.

I immediately cried…in traffic… on the way into Fort Worth, car packed and my cat Tiger Lily piled in there someplace! It was only 1:30 p.m. and the traffic resembled rush hour in Dallas on any of the major highways that never seem to be finished. There were no hills anymore. There were no horses running along side the road. Gone were all of the sites, sounds and smells of the country I was so in love with back in Kyle, SD. It hurt a little and I pulled over to get some gas in the car, get my bearings and clear my eyes. My cat, who has been traveling with me since I got her 10 years ago when I was living in North Platte, Nebraska, was reacting to my discomfort and was being hard to deal with by refusing to leave the driver side floorboard after I pumped my gas.

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But we collected ourselves and carried on to Arlington — our destination. Once I got through all the traffic and the noise, I finally arrived to my old home and was greeted with a hug by my father. The funny thing is the city has been working on the roads in my parents’ neighborhood and have been for months. Driving up it felt like being on the Rez — trying to drive through and around the very unfinished or gravel roads. It kind of made me happy, to tell you the truth.

I know now, without any doubt, I will be happiest living places where there is scenery all around me. And where there aren’t several highways for constant traffic and environmental toxicity that the traffic creates. My time home is meant to regroup and enjoy the holidays with family and friends, but I don’t plan to stay. It’s been beautiful so far, seeing everyone again, but I’m plotting my next destination. Until then, I plan to catch up here on my blog and continue to share the many great things I experienced before I came home from my home away from home.

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Pondering by moonlight

This is my last week in South Dakota and even now I know that when I return to Texas for a while, I will have so much writing to catch up on about my time here.

The thing about experiencing life and writing it all down is that while you are living in the moment of it all, you just want to absorb it. All of the echoes of life hollow out the grooves of your brain and become branded on your spirit. I had big ideas to write every second down in real time but reflection on it all seems more fitting.

It’s 3:30ish in the morning and the cabin living room is full of boxes and items in disorder. I imagine it won’t all fit in my little Yaris and will create a little unease for my four-legged passenger, Tiger Lily — my odd-tempered cat. This is an ambitious endeavor…

I will miss so much of this place. Convenience will be a welcome change but the remarkable silence, views and people are not replaceable. The year ahead will be a welcome perfect puzzle as I discover whether or not I am meant for other destinations for semi-permanent residency. The journey will reveal.

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Earth Tipi continues to inspire self-sufficiency on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

*Note: This post, though written and photographed by me, was originally posted on www.tankabar.com, where I currently work full-time. Be sure to watch the video at the bottom of this post featuring much more of Earth Tipi’s story, which I shot and edited:

The nonprofit organization Earth Tipi organized several fruit tree plantings this year throughout the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation which was part of a grant secured by the Fruit Free Planting Foundation.

Through the grant, Earth Tipi facilitated planting 300 fruit trees at Little Wound School, Red Cloud Indian School, Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation, Whiteclay Soup Kitchen and Oglala Lakota College.

Located on the reservation in Manderson, SD, Earth Tipi works to empower and encourage the community to be self-sufficient by teaching them to grow organic food and build natural homes. Head up by Shannon Freed, Earth Tipi features two natural-built homes (one still in progress) on her father-in-law Gerald Weasel’s land. Along with building projects, the location acts as a teaching destination where community members and visitors can learn skills such as permaculture, plant identification and living off the land.

Gerald Weasel

Gerald Weasel

The walls of the second home at Earth Tipi are wood-framed and made with clay and straw. They were later plastered with fine white clay and sand with milk as a binder.

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Adam Weasel sands cabinets meant for the second house Earth Tipi built on the Weasel family’s land.

Learn more about the work Earth Tipi is doing by clicking this video: Earth Tipi: Working to Make a Difference

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‘When you are on that horse, you are honoring life’

Note: I had the opportunity to photograph and visit with young people here on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation looking to create awareness about suicide and bullying. Below is the story I wrote (with some edits) that was originally posted on my day job’s website. 

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Set on horseback, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation youth recently rode from Wanblee, SD, to Pine Ridge, SD, to speak up about the epidemic of suicide. The ride took three days with stops in between the nearly 100-mile ride.

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Co-organizer Lauren Janis, a 16-year-old at Little Wound High School, started the organization Fight for Life along with fellow student Evelyn Quick Bear to raise awareness. They decided to launch Ride for Life as one of the events to do that. The suicide rate on Pine Ridge is more than twice the national rate with teen suicide at four times the national rate.

When the Ride for Life riders stopped in Kyle, SD, to rest and eat, Lauren spoke about their expectations of the event.

“We hoped that the turnout was going to be great and get the point across that suicide is not a way to go out and there is always someone who loves you. Events like this bring community, friendships and family together,” she said. About 20 riders participated. “Horses are sacred to us and fits into our culture. Suicide isn’t part of our culture. When you are on that horse, you are honoring life — not giving up on life.”

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Lauren Janis

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A plan is just a blueprint

Around this time last year I was in California.

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The above image is a screen shot of my gratitude app. Yes. There’s an app for that. (Ignore that “no service.” I tend to not have service much on the Rez!)

I’ve only been yapping about California forever. Well maybe not forever. Just a few years. Several years ago the California love struck me for the first time when I flew out to Gilroy for an interview at the town’s local paper. I didn’t get it. But I loved the few days I was there.

Since then I have been blessed to get out to the Bay Area a few times. This time last year was a trip I took with a friend to be absolutely certain I wanted to take the leap. I was certain but decided to head to South Dakota first. I mean when I asked the Universe for new experiences, I didn’t mess around!

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How to get over the savior complex you didn’t think you had…

When I moved to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation this year, I can safely say I didn’t have a grandiose idea of “saving an entire people” like I was a powerful force that could impact the kind of change that could undo generations of genocide and injustice.

There has been a history of people coming here and trying to do that. There are documentaries that don’t show you everything that is good on the Rez. There are people who come here who are supposedly well-intentioned, thinking they will show the world something that will create an impact — sometimes it does but not always a good one.

I came to the reservation to work and to gain experiences — that’s it. Take in the scenery, get away from the city and get to know people. And I just thought that I could maybe impart change in some way that could create improvement by either using the written word, creating awareness and passing on my own knowledge and experience in the area of health and sustainability. Just like anyone who  feels that they want to help people, I didn’t really think I had something called a “savior complex,” which admittedly I feel I could easily say some people who make the journey here may exhibit. I’m absolutely guilty of finger-pointing when it comes to that complex when really I should be looking a little more at myself.

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A quick note about inspiration

There is something to be said about being inspiring. It’s a good thing but it’s mind-bending when you are the source of inspiration.

When done without ego, it’s positive. I mean the only way that usually happens is when you have no idea you are inspiring someone or how you are — it’s simply a surprise to you. I guess that’s how I feel about being featured in the recent issue of Paleo Magazine.

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Photo courtesy of Tina (Biff) Swaney — a fellow paleo chick.

Sure I improved my life dramatically when I changed my lifestyle. Paleo helped me get better, feel better and BE better. But I’m not perfect. And I had no idea that one day I would not only be in a book but now featured in a magazine.

It’s not that I haven’t written about this journey before — I covered it on a blog on my job’s website. And I still talk about the trials and benefits. And there is a certain amount of accountability when you get “fan mail.”

I was so glad to see an African-American woman in the magazine and who lives paleo.

That was wonderful to read because I’m all about diversity. And let’s face it, the paleo community could use a bit of it so I was happy to be in that space. However I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a little bit scary! Will people analyze everything I put in my mouth now? What if I put on a little weight? I’m not super toned, will this be looked down upon? Instead of filling my head with that nonsense, I own up to being human. And I would like to think anyone who reads my story will know that.

The thing is, we are recreating ourselves every day in some way. We are not the same with each passing moment because we learn from what we experience and what we WILL experience. And that is truly inspiring.

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