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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Finding gratitude in a can

Sometimes you just have to decide canned tuna is good enough. Especially if it’s not a regular staple of your diet. And especially when you are low on funds and living in a food desert.

Mind you, regular old tuna isn’t as cheap everywhere as you’d think. It’s nearly $3 here in Kyle, SD. So when I had to go into the city (90 miles out) this weekend for groceries from my favorite natural food stores, I opted for the 100% pole and line caught (a sustainable fishing method) chunk light because guess what? It was only a few cents more.

The thing about canned tuna is you can literally throw anything at it and it’s tasty. At least that’s something I’ve always thought! Possibly makes me weird… Anyway, below was the result of throwing things at tuna.

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Pretty tasty. I make my own mayo and mixed this with fresh cut ginger, onion, dried cranberries, hemp seeds I got on sale and a few squeezes of a lime. It’s such a standard American diet thing to crave bread or crackers with something like this but it was just fine alone. I did forget sea salt and pepper at the time of this cell phone pic. Definitely do sea salt and pepper.

I know that some paleos avoid canned tuna like the plague but sometimes you do what you have to and be grateful! And gratitude is a delicacy.

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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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A different kind of Mother’s Day

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Once again I forget my camera! Yet another cell phone pic.

This was my first Mother’s Day away from Texas. There was one year I worked for a small newspaper in North Platte, Neb. But that was one time in my 35 years. I know I’m not a kid and that Mother’s Day is a big commercial, consumer-based holiday…but it would have been nice to have seen my mom. I’m a 30-something though and seriously, you aren’t always going to see your mother on Mother’s Day — especially while chasing your dreams. Or just chasing experiences. I haven’t decided which I’m chasing yet!

Well anyway, this was a different kind of Mother’s Day. It has been bright and warm lately around South Dakota. We finally  thawed out and seeing the sun again. The familiar golden undertones of sun-kissed skin have returned. The air is so fresh here. You just breathe in and it’s like bringing the purest form of nature into your lungs.

My friends next door were having a cookout and invited me over. I love any reason to be outside. But really, no reason is needed when it isn’t freezing anymore! Their land is lovely. It stretches for quite a ways and sprawls across hills. There is a creek that runs through and the water is lined with currants. We took a walk around the land and up to the hill where their family gravesite is located and spent some time clearing away plant debris. It was a nice evening and I imagine a beautiful way to honor their matriarch.

I just feel blessed to be invited to places and getting to know people here. It is a different world with so much to discover and appreciate. Even amongst some of the harder things one might expect from a reservation. But what is a definite is the strong sense of family. People at least make a point to spend time with each other even in busy times and busy lives.

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Set me free

For the first time in a while, Miss Tiger Lily gets to be outdoorsy. I am trying to be OK with her getting dirty. She’s such a prissy thing to me. Bossy, but prissy.

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Going back to my roots, literally

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Photo by Dee Hill 2010

The following was written over two years ago when I first decided to go natural. This doesn’t mean I relinquished all my clothing. It means I stopped slathering what many of us black ladies call “creamy crack” on my skull so that I could have straight hair. It took me ALMOST as long to even begin to appreciate the natural texture God intended. I hated it at first. I wasn’t big on afros — on me anyway. I loved how they looked on everyone else! I just never felt mine did what I wanted which added to my frustration.

Fast forward to now and where I am living. Many things come to view for me here on the Rez. The people here take so much pride in who they are and they hold on to it tightly. I’ve never seen that kind of thing at this level. I am now a lot more aware of my own ancestry. Not so much that I even know what all the different bloodlines live beneath my skin but rather I’ve learned to embrace being a black woman even more because it IS who I am. The crazy thing is how people really like to misappropriate Native culture. While at the same time living here, I’ve had on more than one occasion equal fascination with being black! All the way down to people wanting to touch my hair!

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Making the best of it

I need to preface this post with: I am not miserable.

The title of this blog post simply implies that when challenged, you have to pull up your bootstraps and do the whole making lemonade thing or whatever cliche sayings you’d like. And that’s what I seem to do, week to week while making a little bit of a life in Kyle, South Dakota. Sure there’s physical isolation but most of the “bummer” stuff is the weather. We had even more snow after my post below this one. It just seems like yesterday I was basking in the sunlight and buffalo at Yellow Bear.

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And taking in the sights of the Badlands…

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But no. There’s more snow.

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And cold. And it’s April. One thing is for sure, this place needs the moisture. Record drought conditions prove that, so in this case, the snow is welcomed I’m sure. However even South Dakota residents are ready to see a real spring. I’ve been told that this isn’t exactly normal and they have hit all-time record snowfall for April — even broke records.

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