Posts Tagged With: Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

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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Wazi Paha Festival marks the approaching end of a great South Dakota summer

Since living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, I’ve had the opportunity to attend a lot of the regular events that take place over the summer. Many of them I still haven’t uploaded all the photos from yet! But I have to say that my favorite by far is the Wazi Paha Festival which took place on the Oglala Lakota College Pow Wow Grounds.

There were so many things to enjoy — fresh garden veggie contests, tug-of-war, sack races and pow wow competitions including Switch Dance where the men and women swap regalia and dance routines. That was probably one of my favs.

My friend Corey is in the center of this photo in the jingle dress he made. The Men's Switch Dance was a fun competition to watch!

My friend Corey is in the center of this photo in the jingle dress he made. The Men’s Switch Dance was a fun competition to watch!

A little later there was a jalapeño-eating contest and I don’t know what got into me (probably the Texas roots) but I entered it. My friend Shannon took photos and I proceeded to be handed about 10 small jalapeños. Each contestant received two large peppers but they ran out of the large ones by the time I decided to join the contest. Other than one other person, (standing next to me in this photo) I was the only one who had to eat a bunch of small ones to make sure things were fair. You can see my response to that below.

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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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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 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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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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Walking in a Spring Wonderland

I’ve said it before, but just in case this is the first thing you have read here, I’m from Texas.

I grew up in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and when winter came around, in my entire life, I’ve probably seen snow there five times. I’m 35. And even when we got snow, it wasn’t the big fluffy stuff. It was mostly ice and I remember making a miniature snowman which might as well have been called an iceman. And I sculpted it inside because I remember being sick and wasn’t allowed outside. But I’ve gone off topic. The deal is big, fluffy movie-scene snow was something I saw once. A few years back. And I was in wonder of it.

Well, the last few days in South Dakota I’ve experienced a whopping 24 inches of snow.

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Yes, this is my car.

I’ve never seen this much snow in my life. And guess what? It’s supposedly spring. This crazy weather broke some kind of record. We have been snowed-in for the last few days.

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Did someone say fire?

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I thought the cabin was on fire yesterday.

Me and my friend from work were getting ready to workout in the warehouse when we heard it looked like there was a fire in town. And of course my being a former journalist and handy with a camera, I wanted to check it out.

“I know you want to go play journalist!” she said. And off we went.

The closer we got, watching everyone coming out of buildings and houses to see what was going on, the more I began to feel my heart beat faster.

“Maaaan, is that the cabin you are staying in?!” My friend asked.

I froze. But the more we drove down the road, we realized it was behind the cabin and up the hill a bit. I didn’t want to feel relieved because someone’s something was on fire but I couldn’t help it. I grabbed my cat, just in case, and we went back to the office to work out. When I was a little worried about the fire spreading, my friend was saying that there really wasn’t a fire department and firefighters come from Martin which is about 30 minutes away. But I think she was joshing me a little! I found out a bit later that there are volunteer firefighters around. And from the look of things, the house behind the cabin wasn’t actually on fire. It appeared to be trees and the general feeling I got was no one was hurt. I also found out later that it was in fact a work shed that caught on fire.

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I’ll admit I was thinking of all the things I may have lost in that possible fire. First of all, the cat, of course. And there are certainly things I wouldn’t want to have seen go. But I’ve got less stuff (almost everything is in storage back in Texas) now that I’m living a bit smaller these days. However my heart still sank when I wasn’t sure and wondered, for a moment, what my life would be without my little four-legged nuisance!

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Well, we worked out while my cat Tiger Lily whined to come in the warehouse and during that 20 minutes the smoke died down. Those volunteer firefighters must work pretty fast. When I drove home everyone had gone back inside and back to what they were doing. I guess that’s the way of things. Something makes a big impression but you are only as relevant as your next headline as they say!

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