Posts Tagged With: Lakota

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

healing camp4

The below story is one of many I had the opportunity to write for 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. 


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.”

healing camp

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.

healing camp6

healing camp5
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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‘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. 


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.


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.”


Lauren Janis

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Categories: Change, Day in the Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Local art support has no boundaries

Back home in Dallas, I always collected local art.

It was important to me to collect as well as sell my own work. It was also very important to me to support local artists. What I’ve enjoyed seeing here on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is the dedicated effort to the arts. In many cases it is more than just an occasional activity — it is an artist’s only livelihood.

Many of these craftsmen and women stop at local businesses to see if any of the workers would be interested in their art. It is often beadwork or other jewelry-making. And it is often priced so well you can hardly believe it given the work that is put forth, especially if you are unaware of what it takes to make any given piece. I asked a beader recently why he kept his prices so low. He said it just comes so easily and so many people here do it that you have to keep your prices competitive. I honestly believe more likely than not, much of the work can sell easily in larger cities for three times the going rate on the reservation. I say that with a caveat, however. I get pretty sickened to see those kinds of sells happening online by people who come out here to buy at those rates and then make a larger profit off the work. 

There is a convenience store in Pine Ridge called Big Bat’s that local Lakota artists use as an outlet to sell their art. Even though I bought a couple of pieces from Kevin Poor Bear there, it wasn’t the first place I met him. He was across the street making small talk, cracking jokes with me and my co-worker with his dog in tow. Mr. Poor Bear is without his legs but gets around easily in his chair which matched his hands — covered in paint and pastels. I wanted to photograph him so badly…just his hands and the wheels of the chair but I was apprehensive to ask. I often fear cliché while being out here…like he hadn’t heard, “Hey! Can I take your picture?” before but for me it was the beauty of the colors. His hands soiled from the work. And his chair reflecting the same.

He teased me about my tobacco pipe I was smoking and asked jokingly, “What is in there? Bob Marley?” Then he laughed and said he was an artist. He didn’t have his work with him but I said next time I saw him I would buy  from him. Well, next time came and even though I was pretty short in the pockets, I’m still all about supporting local art.


Art by Kevin Poor Bear

Art by Kevin Poor Bear

Art by Kevin Poor Bear

The top piece depicts the Nakota, Lakota and Dakota of the great Sioux Nation. The one above is an interpretation of the colors White Buffalo Calf Woman changed who brought the seven sacred rights to the Lakota. Mr. Poor Bear had these among four others rolled up at his side as he wheeled around in freezing temps. It was hard to choose and we were all pretty chilly as I was pumping gas while he chatted with my co-worker. We had just been out trying to track down a contact for a story but the weather hindered the effort. But my word is my word so when I saw Mr. Poor Bear, I purchased the art.

One thing that is often overlooked when people visit the reservation is the work that these artists are doing. I say that because most of the time media comes out to the land and reports back the “hopelessness.” But here is a guy who does his work in the midst of any hindrances and there are many others. And more likely than not, those are many of the kind of people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. There is bad anywhere and yes, the devastation can be overwhelming. But the talent isn’t missing. The heart and passion isn’t buried.

Categories: Artist | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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