Pine Ridge Service Trip
Jaywalker has been going on service trips to the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota for 4 years. We work with a group called Re-Member, a non-profit volunteer organization. Many told me it would be an intense experience. Dan said to the guys “this is usually one of our most impactful trips”. There were no play days planned, no trips to the hot springs. It was going to be a total immersion into the culture of the Oglala Lakota Sioux, a people who have been incredibly wronged by our government. The Massacre of Wounded Knee, the stealing of their ancestral homeland, to just name a few. We have wronged them and they respond with integrity and pride.
Pine Ridge is considered to have some of the worst poverty in the country. The poverty, suicide rates (especially among teens), and alcoholism are all very bad. Alcoholism rates are supposedly as high as 80%. Alcohol has been illegal there for over 100 years, until recently. During our stay a historic and close vote has, after many years, made alcohol legal. It was interesting to be there during this time. Surprising to me, most of the people I talked to were against its legalization. Being an alcoholic myself and seeing many friends lives get destroyed by addiction and alcoholism; I can relate to the feelings the Lakota have when it comes to alcohol. Confused, saddened, and baffled by its power. It is hopeful that the problem is in the fore front of everyone’s mind. Needless to say going into this trip, with all this information, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
What I found when I got there was a culture and people that I have come to greatly respect. To have integrity, the ability to listen, and show respect are all some of the values that make up their culture. The way the Lakota view family is inspiringly strong. There are no orphans, it is considered an honor to take in a parentless child and they are considered family as much as anyone else. They have great respect for their elders. This is the way it has been for hundreds of years. It is impossible to not have these values rub off on you. I had many light bulbs moments, in which I said to myself “I should be more like that”.
I left Pine Ridge feeling lucky that I got to experience a bit of the Lakota culture and happy that I was able to contribute to its well-being. Through working with Re-Member, we helped the people of Pine Ridge with some small things like insulating trailers, building steps, etc. In addition to the physical labor work, Re-Member has speakers come visit us every night. We learned about the history and traditions of the Lakota. Learning about their culture was eye-opening and impactful. I will always have a profound respect for the Lakota.
I am grateful to have had this experience. Thank you to the Lakota people and Re-Member for their hospitality.
Mitakuye Oyasin (all are related).
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