Reflections on the Rez: Dana Giboney

IMG_9337 My visit on the Pine Ridge Reservation was remarkable and I learned many things of great value. My learning will benefit me for the rest of my life.

The main benefit from this trip is that it led me to evaluate my own beliefs and values and to consider what I had learned or had forgotten. I missed the place as soon as we drove off of the Reservation. I was in tears. So many people forget the important things in life and how important some of the simple things are such as being thankful for being alive, being thankful for the ground you walk on and the air you breathe. Being considerate and respectful of all persons. Respecting the women who are the backbone of the nation.

I cannot wait to get to return to Pine Ridge Reservation with the Re-member group. I intend on returning every year unless something prevents me from doing so.  I want to help the Lakota people and this is a great start.

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Reflections on the Rez: Andrea Garcia

 

IMG_9509 This trip was so valuable to me and I learned more than I ever thought I would in a week. I feel like it benefited me in many ways, but the most important one was that it gave me a new and better view on life and showed me how to live it the right way. I feel like I’ve gotten a glimpse of what it means to walk in the “red way” and I look forward to learning more as I go through life.

Trying to get all my thoughts together about the trip really takes me back to the first full day on the reservation.  I go back to when we all went into the Badlands and found our own little spot to sit or lie down on to just listen and think. I remember hearing the smallest of sounds because of the bowl-like structure of the area where we were and I could hear the earth moving as people found their spots, a fly buzzing, and even a little bird every once in a while. I remember looking up and the clouds were so thin, I don’t remember the last time I really looked up at the sky for that long and noticed the stunning shade of blue. The wind was blocked by the hills so I was warm and cozy as I reflected on myself and what I wanted to get out of the trip. I remember wanting to learn and to soak it all in, every bit of the culture, and that is what I did.

Usually, I am not a fan at all of waking up early, but I was so excited every morning to get started on the day that I really didn’t mind. Every morning during breakfast and every night during dinner, I learned something about teamwork by watching how quickly and happily everything was set up and cleaned up. When Ted would start the day with Wisdom of the Elders, I was always so attentive, even that early in the morning. The quotes that he used and then explained taught me a lot about myself and my own ideas and enlightened me to create new ones.

Touring the Reservation and visiting the sites taught me a lot as well. In the Badlands, I learned to listen; at Wounded Knee, I learned to grieve. When we saw the jewelry and artwork at Wounded Knee’s parking lot as well as at the Singing Horse Trading Post, I learned to appreciate details and that showing that appreciation to the artist might make their day, even if you couldn’t buy the piece.

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Reflections on the Rez: Kayla Ferguson

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“I learned a lot about history, the land we live on and even about myself. But most importantly, I learned what a big difference that a little task, a little kindness, and a little time out of my own life can make upon a family and upon someone’s life. This is a trip that I know I’m going to make multiple times in the future.”

My time on Pine Ridge Reservation is a time that I will never forget because of the memories, the people I spent the time with, and the hard work I did but also because of the many lessons that were taught to us from the kind Lakota people. I’m very thankful that I was offered the opportunity to have been able to travel here, help out and learn what isn’t taught to us; their side of the story.

Before we left for this trip, I was really anxious, nervous and excited. I didn’t know what to expect until Ted, the director of Re-Member, told us “Leave your expectations at the door, it is what it is.” His words is something that allowed me to have a more open mind and not worry about what was going to happen on the trp. The first day on the reservation wasn’t a work day for us, instead we got to start our lessons about the reservation and the history of the Lakota people. Our first lesson was from Dakota High Hawk at Wounded Knee Cemetery, the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre. For me, this topic wasn’t discussed in school much, or at all. Dakota explained to us what had happened on December 29th 1890. As he spoke; his voice was shaky, you could see the pain that he was feeling as he talked about the careless and brutal murders of his ancestors and the whole time I was in shock. I had so much anger growing towards my own ancestors for doing such an awful thing to people, innocent people who did nothing to deserve what was happening. I didn’t understand how something like this was allowed it happen, it was premeditated. At the bottom of the hill that the cemetery is on was people selling things that they had made like dream-catchers, necklaces, bracelets and much more. Something that makes this important is that the unemployment rate on the reservation is 85-90% and because of that a lot of families rely on selling things that they can make for their only income. I was shocked to find out this number, I didn’t know how bad living conditions were on the reservation and I didn’t know what to expect so I did as Ted said and forgot about my expectations and tried to mentally prepare myself for the rest of the week.

On the same day as the trip to Wounded Knee, we made a trip to the Badlands. On this trip I did something that I’ve never done before; I sat in complete and total silence. I got to listen to a fly as it buzzed by, the wind blowing, and even little rocks rolling down the hill I was on. We did this as a self reflection and a getaway before our work week started. The point was to do what most of us have never done, and that is appreciate nature and our surroundings in a way that we may never have the opportunity to do again. As we sat there, I looked around at the beautiful structure that is the Badlands and felt beyond lucky to be there. Within minutes my mind was clear and for the first time in a long time I felt as though I was relaxed and at peace with the world.

Through out the week we had a different speaker each night, who shared their story. Will Peters, is one that stuck out the most, because he taught me the true meaning of Mitakuye Oyasin, we are all related. Will is a man who has so much passion for his Lakota people, his culture and his family. Will is a successful Lakota man and has the opportunity to leave the reservation and not deal with the intense poverty occurring. Will refuses though because its his home, its where his people live and it is a culture that needs help to avoid the ethnic cleansing that is trying to be pushed upon them. Will said “To colonize a culture, you must kill its language. My language lives every day on my tongue.” Something else that Will is passionate about is the treatment of women and children. Women and children are sacred – “Men take care of women and kids not because they are weak, but because they are the backbone of this nation”. Will Peters was a very funny and inspirational man, a beautiful singer/song writer and someone that knows how to tell his story in a beautiful way.  [Story continued….]

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Reflecting on the Rez: Vanessa Davidson

IMG_9483 I believe the value I have gotten out of this trip is an alternative view of how people should behave in life. The way Native Americans act towards each other and the earth is extremely different from how most people would think today. They view their relationship with the earth as give and take, not conquer and destroy. The older generation is celebrated for their wisdom, while most in society today see them as an inconvenience. Moreover, they know that how you raise your children will greatly affect the future. I believe if everyone applied Native American views on life to their own, even in a small way, we would see a positive change because of it.

The reservation benefitted me in the fact that it was outside of my limits. I had already loved to help people and animals, but I am easily strained emotionally and was worried that it would be too much for me to handle. I am happy to say it was the opposite. It was hard, but the experience helped expand my boundaries. Now I believe I will be able to put myself in more emotional situations in order to help others and not be hurt because of it. This trip has definitely inspired me to participate in more activities like it.

I also learned that I cannot rely on one source for the information of a culture. The history of the relationship between the United States and Native Americans is obviously biased. From this experience, I have learned a completely different view of a race that I thought I knew everything I needed to know from high school. Now I will be able to share the true Lakota history with others, hopefully changing wrongfully biased attitudes along the way.

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Reflecting on the Rez: Stephanie Chism

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To sum up all that I learned while visiting Pine Ridge Reservation is impossible. This experience offered so many opportunities to learn and grow educationally and as a person. Visiting Pine Ridge Reservation was an amazing, eye-opening, humbling, and educating experience, among many other things. The first full day of being on the Reservation set the tone for the week as we journeyed to the site of what was probably the lowest point for the Lakota throughout history, the Wounded Knee Massacre. Hearing the story from a perspective that was not in a government issued textbook quickly taught me a lesson that would be reinforced repeatedly throughout the next few days; there are always two sides to a story. History is written by the dominating members of society, but that does not mean their version is the truth. As much as I did not want to believe it, in some cases my own country had been the villains, committing the horrors of ethnic cleansing and genocide on a race over hundreds of years. I quickly learned that the treatment of the Lakota people from the past has significantly contributed to their state of living today. After being forced onto reservations and from their rightful land, social problems began to increase, some as forms of coping mechanisms and others due to a lack of resources. The conditions on the Reservation are astounding. Poverty levels are similar to that of a third world country. There is one real grocery store for the entire Reservation of 40,000, and the prices there are nothing short of outrageous. Medical help can be hours away, and few people have the money to afford gas if they need to drive to a hospital anyway. Unemployment is nearly 90 percent. Rates of homelessness, gang activity, suicide, and teen pregnancies are above the national average. This was just the beginning of my introduction to a different culture.

Through various experiences over the rest of the week, I gained an immense amount of cultural diversity through exposure to a way of life that is so different and yet has many similarities to our own. In the end, despite differences in beliefs and ways of life, we are all similar and want similar things out of life such as love, and respect. This is similar to another valuable lesson that will definitely stay with me the rest of my life, “Mitakuye Oyasin.” This concept, meaning “all are related,” displays the Lakota value of friendship, love, and respect between people of all races, ethnicities, and cultures. Learning more about the history of the Lakota people and their struggles of the past and present, I have an even greater respect for their culture. Despite all of the prejudice and oppression they faced in the past and continue to face, almost everyone we met remained hopeful for the future and the opportunities it could bring.

Probably one of the most educational experiences of the trip was the opportunity to be a minority. In a world where I am accustomed to being a part of the majority it is quite the experience to be put in a situation that forces you to experience the other side of the spectrum and help you understand an entirely different point of view. This trip was extremely beneficial to me personally as a social work major by exposing me to a different culture, a variety of social issues, and a greater understanding of an often discriminated and forgotten group in society.

I could go on and on with stories and things I learned and gained from this trip; it was an absolutely priceless experience. On the Reservation I learned so much about another group of people but I also learned a lot about myself and life in general. I learned to slow down, enjoy life, and have an open mind and heart to everyone you meet. A big thanks to all of my brothers and sisters, such as leaders at Re-Member, the William Woods staff that provided support, fellow volunteers, and people on the Reservation for their involvement in this positive experience and for the valuable lessons I have learned. Wopila Tanka.

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Pine Ridge in Pictures

We are back from the Rez!  Woods Around the World made another memorable trip to Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota for another inspiring week among the Lakota Oglala Sioux.  In upcoming weeks, we’ll add reports from the travelers as well as various photographs from the journey. 

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About the Trip

In May of 2012, a team of faculty, students and staff from William Woods University will travel to South Dakota and spend a week at Pine Ridge Reservation.  While there, we will participate in a cultural immersion program with the organization Re-member and learn about the people of the Lakota Sioux Nation.  We’ll hear their stories firsthand, learning about their history, present challenges and their dreams for the future.  Various tribal leaders will speak to our group and share with us the wisdom of their people.  During the day, we’ll also participate in service projects that aim to improve the quality of life on the reservation.  We’ll serve where needed, whether that means building bunk beds for children or skirting a trailer to provide some protection from the weather.  Last year’s trip was life-changing.  This one also promises to be an unforgettable week among an unforgettable people. 

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