The very word “reservation” speaks of confinement and limiting conditions withheld from complete exposition to the public. Maybe because Reservations mark a legacy of nationalistic inspired exile and genocide shamefully disguised as good will and oddly a reservation is, by treaties to be, a sovereign nation, home to genuine people governed by the same federal government that forced the people onto the reservation under the threat of genocide. I get lost in the quagmire.
My four day pre-Thanksgiving sojourn with the Girl Child into the Pine Ridge Reservation twisted the word “Reservation” into a new light for me. Following the relief efforts post hurricane Katrina the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) distributed 2000 surplus trailer homes to the 326 Native American Reservations within the borders of the United States. These trailer homes built for temporary housing in the hurricane climates were redistributed to address the 90,000 Native American families without adequate housing. Several hundred of these 14’ by 75’ trailer homes are scattered about the Pine Ridge Rez in South Dakota, a state known for its extreme prairie winters. The use of the word “Rez” by the Natives intrigues me. “Rez” sounds offensive to my white ears. So I justify the use of the word “Rez” by thinking Natives just shortened the word “Reservation” for convenience of conversation. In conversation with the People I discovered shortening words and sentences is the bones that set the cadence of the Pine Ridge parlance. Natives seem very purposeful about the number of syllables they utter. But now, as I think about it, maybe it is the word “Reservation” that is offensive.
Several dozen FEMA trailers built for the warm hurricane climates line the streets of the Ogallala Village on the frigid windblown prairie of Pine Ridge.
The Pine Ridge Reservation, designated U.S. Prisoner of War Camp #334 in 1899, nine years after the Wounded Knee Massacre is the home of the Ogallala Lakota Tribe. In July of 2018 a devastating storm pushed powerful straight-line winds and dropped baseball size hail throughout the Rez leaving dozens of shredded FEMA trailers in the Ogallala Village in its wake.
The Reservation’s Office of Emergency Management came in and slapped Band-Aids on the trailers; boarding up shattered windows and removing the destroyed vinyl siding. For five months the children living in these FEMA trailers were separated from natural light entering the windows of their homes by plywood window covers. A prisoner is a person deprived of liberty against their will either by confinement, captivity or physical restraint. Certainly one could argue the children on the Rez are not deprived of liberty nor held against their will but poverty offers profoundly limited options.
A child living in a trailer in the Ogallala Village has few opportunities for enrichment even fewer if the car isn’t running. The Gas station, the grocery store, Taco Johns, Pizza Hut and the lone coffee shop is 15 miles away in the Town of Pine Ridge. The more I set next to poverty and try to understand poverty, the more I come to understand that there is little that I understand about poverty.
The health benefits of sunlight are many; natural light provides many protective factors against depression, seasonal affective disorder and poor sleep quality. When the weather is warm and the days are long gathering sunlight into your wellbeing is a simple task.
Conversely, the short cold days of winter create a challenge to gathering sun. Cover the windows with plywood and home becomes a14x75 foot cell, a darkened dungeon crushing in like being buried alive, the air heavy and the damp smell of mildew stagnant and stale. Depression and despair find safe harbor in an environment like this; a place where mental wellbeing fades like a lit candle in a lidded jar.
Forty youth from Colorado and a few from the Wind River Reservation joined up with the Tipi Raisers, a non-profit organization that works alongside the Lakota people to ease the burden of life on the Rez. I joined in with this group because acts of service and moments of fellowship surrounded by the enthusiasm of youth is good for my soul. A caravan armed with drills, hammers, ladders, a generator and enthusiastic young people following a truck loaded with T1-11 plywood siding and a dozen reglazed windows pulled up to a row of Tyvek wrapped trailer homes that look like tissue wrapped shoe boxes. The siding is to replace the shredded vinyl siding stripped clean from the trailer homes 4 months ago and the dozen reglazed windows are the first of the hundreds of windows shattered that still sit in the Emergency Services warehouse waiting for repair. We circled up, received our marching orders and set to work.
I meander through life these days lookin' for pixie dust. Mostly because, a few years ago, it dawned on me I ain't immortal and every moment counts towards our last. There are so many more things to do with one's energy and time that is more practical than lookin' for pixie dust. But existentially... I'm not all the way sure that's true. I find Pixie dust in those surprising once in a lifetime magical moments. Moments like an off key chorus of children singing at Christmas pageant, kittens playing with dust illuminated by the sun coming through a window, the silence of a gentle prairie breeze directing the sparkling grass to dance or even the mesmerizing autumn flight of sandhill cranes. When I pulled the weather checked plywood slab that darkened that whatever room since that damaging July storm, and replaced it with the newly reglazed window and then have that space behind that new glass fill with giggling smiling children illuminated by natural sunlight...I found pixie dust.
Latter when I walked by that home one last time looking for my hammer I looked at that window and it was smeared opaque with dirty little hand prints. I knew it was smeared with pixie dust.
The legend of the first Thanksgiving tells the tale of the Plymouth colonist sharing the first bountiful harvest with the Wampanoag Indians in the autumn of 1621 after enduring the previous harsh winter sickened by exposure, scurvy, and disease on board the moored Mayflower. A bountiful feast made possible by the grace and goodwill of the Native People. This Thanksgiving I give thanks for experiencing the moment that four Native children finally got to be bathed by the natural light shining into their home through a repaired window releasing them from a dark depressing cell on the windswept prairie of Pine Ridge.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
Copyright © 2018 The Tipi Raisers