All relationships need nurturing, and Proctor’s 2022 South Dakota Summer Service Trip strengthened our Rosebud connections. Fourteen students and three of us as faculty leaders learned so much through painting and sprucing up a community center in brutal heat, jostling in the back of pickup trucks in search of a buffalo herd, working at an equine therapy ranch and riding horses, and sharing cool evening meals in our campsite. We all came away with a better understanding of ourselves and our country through observing life on the Rosebud Reservation. Below are some of our experiences.
Tree of Life Mission
We met Linda, a relative of the White Hat family, who graced us with her energy, positivity, and gratitude while managing her staff & volunteers moving into a new, bigger facility to distribute used clothing, help with construction projects, and cook meals for those in need. Undaunted by the scope of the mission’s tasks, we began weeding garden beds, trimming grass, mowing around Buffaloberry bushes, painting the facade, and organizing an overflowing tool shed. We filled up a dumpster, took countless water breaks, and joined a small, powerful team making opportunities for the Rosebud Reservation. Our group was super productive and focused.
Sinte Gliske University Ranch
Mark White Hat ’14 introduced us to the ranch’s mission: to help school children deal with mental health issues through therapeutic work with horses. Mark explained how horses are intuitive and emotionally sensitive and are drawn to kids (the ranch calls them ‘relatives’) struggling with problems. Our project was to paint the ranch’s barn, peeled and exposed to prairie wind and sun. Armed with brushes, scrapers, paint rollers and ladders, we fought the gusting winds which often meant splattering anyone nearby.
It had been a while since some of us had been in a big outdoor pool, but nobody balked at a 45 minute drive to Nebraska as temperatures climbed above one hundred in the early afternoon. We took shelter in Bomgaar’s air conditioned agricultural supply store (think Agway meets Cabela’s and Target) to buy anything salty (chips and pickles), try on cowboy hats, and escape the relentless mid-afternoon heat. The sun-drenched pool was a chance to launch from the diving boards, get splashed by eight year olds, and one English teacher may have improbably become stuck on the water slide, bringing hoots from the Proctor crowd.
JR White Hat '00, also a Proctor alum, invited us to join two sweat lodge ceremonies. Near the smoke of a fire pit heating rocks, he explained to us the background of the Lakota sweat lodge and later we sat in the dark with family and friends who gathered to reflect and sing. Another day, we traveled to the Pine Ridge Reservation to meet with John Around Him, who still visits Proctor annually to visit classes, to introduce another Lakota ceremony we were honored to observe.
Bumping along and sitting on the pickup tailgate, we watched prairie grasses and flowers pass between our feet in a blur. Huge round hay bales dotted some fields on the ranch, almost 40,000 acres, home to a herd of buffalo that we hoped to observe. TJ, a ranch employee, guided us over the rutted roads and rolling knolls of windswept grasses in his ATV.
Our convoy of three trucks stopped on a rise. Surrounded by endless grass and sky, the wind swept away our quiet conversations. Binoculars passed through our group as we hoped the herd would appear. Lakota songs started on a truck radio and the drum and voices became our backdrop. Two coyotes, in full flight across open ground, interrupted our wait. Then the huge brown animals, unmistakable with their humped backs and massive heads, came into sight moving left to right through a gap. We watched bounding calves break from the stream of animals that once covered this land and sustained earlier Lakota people.
Evening meeting, held in the Mountain Classroom tradition and lead by the day’s leader, usually included our whole group sharing a rose, a bud, and a thorn of the day. There was lots to talk about after intense days coping with the heat, sustaining hours of hard volunteer work, and living so closely as a group. Happily, we enjoyed a steady dose of our group playlist, conversations about the world and Proctor, ice cream, and laughter. The last day included sunrise in the Badlands, a stop at Wall Drug, a visit to the Crazy Horse Monument, and a last dinner together in Rapid City. Like life in our country today, we were changed by complicated contrasts and lessons.