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2018 Gathering – March Site Visit to Pine Ridge

This was a trip with two primary focuses that tied to each other, first on behalf of YPW to deepen relationship with All Nations while getting a working understanding of the place, its capacity, and ways of collaboration between our two organizations. Secondly, I went as an individual with my partner to deepen relationship with Becky and Dallas personally and in response to the start of our relationship at the Los Angeles gathering, and in gratitude, for the grief ceremony they provided for me on behalf of my mother.

In keeping in integrity with our core value of not simply seeking permission but grounding and offering gratitude to the place and the people in which we seek to gather, upon arriving we offered Becky and Dallas gifts of tobacco as well as a bundle of cedar and a talisman I had made by a local artist in Kansas City out of Tiger’s Eye, gemstones, bones, and driftwood from the Missouri River. Before arriving Melissa and I wrapped these in one of my mother’s scarves and prayed into it for protection and love for the folks that they had lost recently and for protection on their community. We presented it to them from us as individuals but also in honor of the invitation to YPW from All Nations.

The first day Becky took us on a journey across the breadth of Pine Ridge all the way to Rapid City. We started by visiting KILI Radio, better known as the voice of the Lakota Nation that reaches the Porcupine Butte, Pine Ridge, and Rosebud Reservations before heading to Wounded Knee and offering gifts and prayers to those buried there and again seeking permission to be in and work among the people there. We then stopped at the border of Nebraska in a town known as Whiteclay. Last November, after a decade of advocacy the state Liquor board revoked the licenses of the four liquor stores there. On top of that just four months ago now a Dollar General was opened providing easy and affordable access to food and supplies. Across the street is Camp Justice, where a group of Lakota who were tired of the police not investigating alcohol-related deaths would watch over the twenty mile stretch of road leading back across the border. Next, to the camp, a long tunnel-like permaculture and housing project bears a large painted sign that simply reads HOPE. We ended in the day in Rapid City by meeting one of Becky’s daughters, who is a community liaison for a CDC pilot project focused on surveying young people to inform state agencies what they actually need or want in the aid of creating better communities and she is actively working to raise awareness around traditional teachings as integral to that process.

The next day Dallas and I walked the grounds, learned about the land that All Nations rest upon, the history and life of the practices and ceremonies held there, and various plans and collaborations moving forward. Every other Tuesday in response to the politics of the tribal government, they host a get together of over 30 organizations working in areas ranging from economic justice to energy efficiency, that in coming together are building community in ways that address both the past and the present of their people, it’s a truly inspiring thing. Several youths from the community were there that day to sing traditional songs for a documentary being made on 5 Lakota women at 5 different life stages and after they were finished we sat and ate together and talked about the state of things in their home place. What came out of that conversation was that of the 30 organizations (and more) that are working together across the reservation, many of which have youth involvement, but not one of them is youth-led, nor is there a youth-led movement known by any of the elders, middlers, or young people I talked to.

One of the youth, a 21-year-old Lakota man named Jaylin, who is also a state representative for the Native American Church and I got deep into a dialogue about it and the potential for inviting young people across the 9 districts of Pine Ridge into the question of generational change. A large part of the conversation has been about what YPW can offer, as opposed to take and it seems there is a question there about what those young people want to see changed and what support be that financial, organizational, etc YPW could provide not as a facilitator of that change but simply in support of an effort facilitated and envisioned by them, for them. We were joined in this conversation by Naomi Lost Horse, a teacher at a Lakota language grade school dealing with an epidemic of youth suicide and both have since expressed interest in joining our organizing team.

We ended that evening by talking late into the night with Becky and Dallas about preparation and my overwhelming takeaway is acknowledging that these are not fragile people, but fierce and grounded ones who know who they are, what their ceremonies are, what they mean, and in clear rejoinder of the invitation to come and be with them in it. They have their own protocols that are offered to non-native folks when engaging in ceremony or traditional teachings, agreements about what is to be experienced as opposed to taken and recreated and just aren’t in the mindset of that being volatile of controversial, but instead, spirit led and rooted in a process of tust-building.If anything, it seems our work in preparation is to be with what it means to come into their place and in honor of their protocols while doing the work we need to do to make sure we are also mindful of our own, in trust of each other.

There is so much more both in my the connections I learned about leading up to the SC and those moving forward both personally and professionally but the gist is simple, it was fluid, of ease, it felt like family. They have a facility that can easily house who we would like to bring but that’s for us to decide and in collaboration, they invite us to be with them, as family with the love and also the dysfunction that entails and feels like a perfect next step for us.

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