I had a magical, educational, exhausting, fun, inspiring, and heartbreaking trip this past weekend to Pine Ridge Reservation. I was extremely impressed with the impact that Tipi Raiser is making and the way they go about their business – and I suspect that this is the first of many trips I will make to learn and work alongside my Lakota brothers and sisters.
The exhausting part was the work that we were able to accomplish – reorganizing a food pantry, establishing two vegetable gardens, chopping wood to prepare for winter, completing a storage shed for fire bricks, starting a shed for bike repairs, and delivering furniture. We accomplished a lot in just a few days – but the work never got in the way of building new friendships or deepening existing connections with our Lakota hosts.
The rhythms and rituals of the weekend were all structured around the Lakota way of life – providing an education in indigenous wisdom that we sorely need as we face the challenges of climate change and an increasingly polarized society. We learned how to connect with each other through a sharing circle at the beginning and end of each day – how to both honor the wisdom of our elders and hold the young people accountable – and to see a glimpse of this rich culture through learning a bit of the Lakota language.
Magic was everywhere. It was in the sage we burned as part of our sharing circle – in the magnificent sunrises – in the beautiful horses – and the wide-open spaces all around us. It was in the Lakota prayers and songs we heard, the sweat lodge ceremony we were honored to be a part of, and the peace pipe that we passed. It was in the Lakota people’s deep connection to this land and to their ancestors.
I was deeply inspired by the work that Tipi Raisers is doing at Pine Ridge. Their values of alleviating poverty, doing the hard work of reconciliation, embracing indigenous wisdom, and empowering youth aren’t just empty words – they are lived out in the way that this organization partners with the Lakota people and with volunteers. As part of the work of gratitude and reconciliation – we had the privilege of being a part of a tipi raising ceremony – a gift to recognize the long-term contributions of Pansy Weasel Bear and Nobby Bell to Tipi Raisers mission.
I have done volunteer work in rural Haiti and have lived in Africa doing electricity access work for the past five years – so I am no stranger to the challenges of extreme poverty. The suffering that is endured by the Lakota people is heartbreaking – dealing with a lack of running water, electricity, access to healthcare, and unemployment. I had the chance to visit the massacre site at Wounded Knee and can feel the generational trauma from that event that remains with this place and its people more than 130 years later.
In the midst of all these moving parts – Tipi Raisers does a great job in providing a fun and rewarding experience. There is enough flexibility so that everyone can participate in ways that are most meaningful to them, enough structure to walk away with a sense of accomplishment, and enough of a focus on relationships that deep connections are forged among volunteers and with our Lakota hosts. Executive Director Dave Ventimiglia somehow holds it all together – organizing a large group of volunteers, making sure that everyone is having a good trip, honoring the Lakota way of life, and making a lasting impact on the Pine Ridge reservation – he is a teacher, leader, and organizer – and maybe part magician all at the same time. Last weekend was my first trip to Pine Ridge – I am quite sure it won’t be my last.
- David Gibson | May 28-31, 2021 Volunteer
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