PINE RIDGE, S.D. ? Since Y2K came and went, and that fly-by asteroid sailed on by without hitting us and sending planet earth back into the Stone Age, and since that last solar mass ejection blew past us without shutting down all our satellites, and that planet on the other side of the sun hasn’t caused planetary polar shift, and California hasn’t slid off into the Pacific, and Florida isn’t underwater, and all those planets lining up this past summer didn’t make everything down here go all akilter, we’ve been going ahead as usual.
“It doesn’t change anything we’re doing over here,” said Joe American Horse.
Actually, Uncle Joe was referring to the stinging articles appearing in Indian Country Today and the Lakota Journal denouncing the practice of Lakota ceremonies (sun dance and sweat lodge) by non-Indians, but the quote still applies, even though the polar cap does appear to be turning to slush, and the current U.S. government has finally almost admitted to the possibility of global warming.
“We’re still going to do what we’ve got to do,” said Uncle Joe.
And it’s true. We’re still plugging along here with local projects and ceremonies with our racially diverse groups of summer volunteers, Germans and tourists passing through here, leaving in their wake a new kitchen, finished greenhouse, clean garden and impressive new timber-frame field office, still under construction.
Pine Ridge being the welfare state that it is, ALL resources, from people-power to government commodities, come from the outside. With over three-fourths of the population unemployed, one could guess that not much is being produced here.
Accordingly, whatever industry occurs here is a result of interested parties bringing to the reservation their energy, skills and resources, combined with the drive of the locals to make it happen. In our case, it’s mostly Tom Cook, out this way, the driving force behind the gardening program and attempts to introduce industrial hemp agriculture as a means for economic development and productive land use.
So, right now, he’s down over the hill, working on his impressive new field office by light bulb with Sal Lame. The crew of eight guys he started with all took off after the first or second pay day, except for Rusty, who stayed on the project to work with Steve. Steve Chappel, the man who wrote the book on traditional timber framing, left yesterday after going with Rusty to take in an all-night birthday ceremony in Pine Ridge. He looked thoroughly exhausted on his way out, headed to the airport.
Steve and his workshop teams built the two greenhouses in Slim Buttes last year, and just this past month, constructed the new field office that Tom is still working on down there under a light bulb.
Just before Steve and his teams from Maine came in here to do their thing, a carpentry crew from “Plenty,” off “The Farm” in Summertown, Tenn., came up to build a screened-in addition to the kitchen they built last fall. It was the same group that did the initial frame construction on the hemp house, which, incidentally, is still standing empty.
They’re thinking about putting handicapped ramps on it so Ernest can get in and out.
Ernest is now at Tom and Loretta’s. He still can’t walk, and has no use of his right side yet, but he’s talking now, eating, and has had the stomach tube removed. He’s slowly coming around, and wants to go back into sweat lodge as soon as possible. But still, he’s confined to a wheelchair for now, until all your prayers come through.
So, despite what others may say about preserving “the ways” just for Indians, it was Ernest, and before him, his brother, Larue, who simply said, “Anyone who wants to pray with us, can come pray.”
And so, why shouldn’t we? What can indigenous people offer those who bring their energy, skills and resources to the reservation? What can the People offer the world?
According to some, the pipe and the spiritual ways of the People are about all that is left worth anything, and all that is left, and that’s why some wish to see it preserved, protected, and unadulterated. But, like your last food in the house, it is put out for the people, saying, “This is all I’ve got to offer.”
Milo Yellow Hair summed it up here recently, saying, “What you had here was a clash of cultures, where the natural inclination of one was to give, and the other was to take. So it worked out fine. They got it all, and we ended up with nothing.”
And so now, here in the 21st century, before the polar cap melts, we’re hoping this may change.
Victor Glover, a Native writer, lives on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota.