When I told friends my plans to spend four weeks in South Dakota this summer, I had more than a few people tell me I was crazy, but it was an amazing month thanks to the fantastic group of eleven students who ventured alongside Tim Miner P'10 and me to spend ten days living and working at the Rosebud Reservation in southwestern South Dakota. With daily temperatures hovering around 100 degrees, this group cheerfully responded to constant reminders about sunscreen and hydration while working incredibly hard in the heat, sun and wind without a single complaint. They pushed themselves and were proud of the work they accomplished at the Sinte Gleska Ranch for Tiwahe Glu Kini Pi Program, Tree of Life Organization and at Marlies White Hat's house. This group acted like a sponge, soaking up all that they could during their visit; meeting new people and exploring the Lakota culture with an open mind and a positive attitude. I was proud to be part of their group. The student reflections below provide a window into their varied experiences as a part of Proctor's Summer Service Trip to South Dakota, but I encourage you to seek these students out in person to see first hand the transformation that has taken place. You won't be disappointed.
The most powerful experience during the trip was the buffalo hunt we experienced. I have immense admiration for the Lakota culture, mostly because they see all relatives as equals. Before they harvested the buffalo, Duane Hollow Horn Bear led a prayer and song, which showed me the genuine appreciation that they have for all life. rather than viewing this as killing an animal, I observed the beauty and tenderness that comes with sacrificing a life to provide for others. The buffalo appeared to be at peace after the prayers, as if there was a spiritual agreement between us. This trip, while pushing me out of my comfort zone, has introduced me to new ideas and new thoughts that I will take with me for the rest of my life. I'm thankful for the opportunity to give to others while learning new beliefs that have shaped me into a better version of myself.
There is something about the dry heat and hot winds of the Dakota prairie that brings me a sense of peacefulness. There is a tremendous amount of beauty within flat grasslands and small ravines. Wildflowers line the barbwire fences, and the sun beats down upon the landscape. I liked the heat and all the work that our group did while at SGU Ranch painting the deck, working with the horses. The entire trip was an extremely powerful experience from the sun dance at Pine Ridge to the sweat here in St. Francis. The trip allowed me to develop a better understanding of myself and a different culture.
There is something strange about immersing yourself in a culture you've never been exposed to before. the meaningful, touching rituals of the Lakota people are an experience that will stay with me forever. The excitement, fascination, and confusion of being in this strange environment has changed me as a person over the course of the highs and lows of the our trip, I learned so much more about not only those that live here, but also about the life and the world as a whole. And in placing myself outside of my comfort zone, I have learned so much about myself as well; about my physical, emotional and spiritual capabilities and about my limits. I do hope I will be able to return to visit those I met during this trip.
This trip was so immersive. Everything was so completely alien, and yet somehow familiar. People are people, no matter where you are. The concentration on Linda's face (from the Tree of Life organization) as she doled out our jobs for the day, the smile in Rancher Dave's eyes as he surveyed the newly painted and repaired barn. J.R.'s humor and seemingly contrasting earnestness in the sweat lodge. His pride in those of us who finished the sweat. Our host, Marlies' nod of acknowledgment as she saw her lawn cleaned up by us. I don't think I've ever talked to half of the other students on this trip before, and now we've seen and experienced things together in a way that gives us a true understanding of each other. From the buffalo hunt to the sun dance to the sweat, my understanding of others' worldviews, of other humans, my own life, and even myself has expanded and grown. There's something terrifyingly exciting about that and I hope to continue it into the future.
Seeing the Great Plains for the first time opened my eyes to a different climate and ecosystem. Throughout the trip, I was emerged bit by bit into the Lakota culture, experiencing different aspects and practices of the culture. Being in a sweat, observing a sun dance, witnessing a buffalo hunt, and eating a raw buffalo liver have helped me begin to understand the Lakota ways where community and family are united, and belief and goodness is practiced to maintain faith.
Immersing myself in the Lakota culture was enjoyable and interesting, truly a once in a lifetime experience. My favorite part of our ten days here on the reservation was meeting and interacting with the people who live here. At the ranch, soup kitchen, and all the other places we were greeted by kind and caring individuals. Being able to see the progress we made at the barn and the ranch house. On this trip, I was also able to connect with some of my classmates that I don't usually cross paths with. The culture we experienced is unparalleled and different from everything I've experienced in my own life.
It was good to be back in South Dakota. I had the opportunity to visit and work on the Rosebud Reservation for a couple of days during the Spring Term on Mountain Classroom, and it was an out of body experience to be back in our same campsite again, feeling the sun beat down instead of feeling the brisk breeze bite at my cheeks. Coming back for longer has allowed me to experience more of the Lakota culture. Each of these experiences and countless other little interactions with the land and the people has launched me into a new phase of learning, opening a pool of knowledge for me to learn. My first trip brought it to my awareness, this trip allowed me to test the waters, and I hope to someday be able to completely dive in.