Reconciliation through Education: Confronting the Harmful Legacy of Native Mascots
Pictured Above: A demonstrator holds a sign outside of Progressive Field in protest of the Cleveland team name on July 24, 2020. Photo credits to David Petkiewicz and Cleveland .com
State legislatures, professional sports teams, and public schools across the country have recently been reckoning with the harm caused by offensive Native mascots. In Colorado, years of advocacy by the Ute, Southern Ute, and Northern Arapaho nations led to the June enactment of SB21-116, a bill banning the use of Native mascots in the state’s public schools. In Ohio, the July 23rd announcement by Cleveland’s Major League Baseball team that they will be changing their name to the Cleveland Guardians was commended by the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) as a step forward in educating the public on this topic. And in the nation’s capital, the Washington Football team recently confirmed that they will not be choosing a mascot with Native-related imagery in the wake of the summer 2020 retirement of their previous offensive mascot. This progress follows years of academic research on the detrimental impact of Native mascots and decades-long efforts from advocacy groups and Indigenous activists like Suzan Harjo (Hodulgee Muscogee and Cheyenne), Crystal Echo Hawk (Pawnee), and Amanda Blackhorse (Diné) to retire such mascots.
Studies have shown that Native mascots have a number of negative effects on Indigenous people and, in particular, on Indigenous youth. These effects include low self-esteem, depression, a decreased sense of community worth, and increased stress levels. The same studies have also shown that the mascots contribute to negative stereotypes of Indigenous populations amongst non-Native people and make it more difficult to build positive cross-cultural relationships. The negative impact of caricatured sports mascots is further magnified by the stark lack of Indigenous representation in other media.
While the NCAI has identified over 1,800 k-12 schools across the country which still have a Native mascot, activists and Native advocacy groups have expressed their hope that the recent mascot bans and name changes are a step in the right direction towards the removal of dehumanizing Native mascots and towards an increase in the visibility of Indigenous people through more accurate and positive representation.
Pictured Above: A graphic from Illuminative’s Change the Story initiative.
Last week, we spoke to Gen7 youth Exodus to hear his thoughts as an Indigenous young person on mascots and the importance of positive Native representation. Exodus expressed support for the Colorado legislature’s recent ban on Native mascots in the state's public schools, as he feels the mascots make fun of how Indigenous people historically lived and dressed. "That's setting a bad view to us and our sacred lands," he said of the mascots. When asked about his thoughts on Indigenous representation, Exodus stated that he would like to see more positivity and respect towards Native people. We offer him our gratitude for sharing his insight on this topic with us!
Additional resources on Native mascots, their harmful effects, and the ongoing movement to retire them listed below.
A Time Magazine interview with Adrienne Keene (Cherokee) on the history and impact of Native mascots: https://time.com/5866481/native-american-mascots/
A documentary which analyzes the derogatory Washington Football Team name and discusses the appropriation of Native cultures. Available on Kanopy with a university login or public library card for participating colleges, universities, and libraries: https://www.kanopy.com/product/more-word
Research on the harmful effects of Native mascots:
A 2008 study on the psychological effects of Native mascots by Stephanie A. Fryberg, Hazel Rose Markus, Daphna Oyserman, and Joseph M. Stone: http://www.indianmascots.com/fryberg--web-psychological_.pdf
A summary, created by Illuminatives, of a recent study on the relationship between Native American identity and attitudes toward Native mascots:
On recent name changes and bans on Native mascots:
“The long road to a reckoning on racist team names” from Vox:
“Indigenous parents explain why Cleveland Guardians name change means so much” from Today:
“Washington NFL Team says no Native-themed mascot” from Indian Country Today:
A summary of Colorado SB21-116: https://leg.colorado.gov/bills/sb21-116
Organizations leading the movement to remove dehumanizing Native Mascots:
The National Congress of American Indians: https://www.ncai.org/proudtobe
No More Native Mascots: http://www.nomorenativemascots.org/
Change the Mascot: https://www.changethemascot.org/
Pictured above: A demonstrator at a 2014 march in Minneapolis in protest of the name of the Washington Football Team. Photo credits to Fibonacci Blue.
Sources for this blog post include: Coverage of this topic from Indian Country Today, The Denver Post, The Casper Star-Tribune, the Associated Press, Vox, Today, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) National School Mascot Tracking Database, a 2020 study from Laurel R. Davis-Delano, Joseph P. Gone & Stephanie A. Fryberg, 2008 academic journal article from Stephanie A. Fryberg, Hazel Rose Markus, Daphna Oyserman, and Joseph M. Stone, and resources from the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI)
Reconciliation through Education: The LakotaRide, the Horse Nation, and the Road to Reconciliation
Pictured Above: The Spirit of the Tsunka Wakan is the heart of the LakotaRide
In a typical year, the dust from the LakotaRide would now be settling. Riders would be gently easing back into the rhythms of their daily lives, processing the lessons learned on horseback and around the sacred circle, and taking time to reflect. But even amidst the postponement of the LakotaRide, the Spirit of the Tsunka Wakan Oyate (Horse Nation) and the commitment to reconciliation central to the Ride have continued to inspire us. Recently, Keeper of the Firewood Norbert "Nobby" Bell generously shared his experiences and knowledge of horses with us in honor of the LakotaRide:
“The Tsunka Wakan is a holy animal. It’s sacred,” said Bell of horses within the cultures of Plains tribes. The Horse, he explained, is sacred for its presence in the everyday lives of Indigenous people on the Plains. Horses originated millions of years ago in North America before spreading to Asia and Europe. After several millennia of extinction on their native continent, they quickly readapted to the land upon their reintroduction by the Spanish. Whether carrying riders and heavy loads across long distances, making hunting more efficient, participating in ceremonies, or guiding warriors in battle, horses played a crucial role in the history of tribes across the continent. Bell expressed that the role of the horse as a companion is still key to the Plains tribes, stating “Once you make that connection [with a horse], they’re your best friend for life.”
Nobby is a Northern Arapaho tribal elder living on Pine Ridge and has been working with horses his entire life. We offer him our gratitude for sharing this knowledge!
Pictured Above: The LakotaRide is first and foremost a Ride of Reconciliation
While the LakotaRide is rooted in horse medicine, it is also characterized by a dedication to the sacred work of reconciliation. On the LakotaRide - and during Tipi Raisers gatherings throughout the year - reconciliation takes many forms. It reveals itself in nightly circles as Native and non-Native people engage in honest dialogue, in warm meals eaten together after a long day riding through the Front Range, in the faces of Lakota elders who graciously share their wisdom and of volunteers who return year after year. Often, reconciliation hurts. It is a deep-seated and Spirit-fed obligation to one another, fulfilled through laughter, struggle, teaching, and learning, through speaking bravely and listening earnestly. It requires an unlearning of the whitewashed history so many of us have been taught, and calls us to learn the truth of our shared history from the Indigenous perspective.
While reconciliation in the Tipi Raisers context is centered on relationship-building, a nationwide conversation has recently been emerging around what a US government-led reconciliation initiative with Indigenous communities should look like.
Truth and reconciliation commissions have been implemented by over 40 countries since the mid-20th century with the purpose of addressing, documenting, and healing traumatic and unjust histories. The June announcement of an investigation into Native boarding schools by the US Department of the Interior has prompted some to compare the initiative with Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The TRC, formed by the Canadian government in 2008, was tasked with investigating the history and ongoing effects of abuses committed against Indigenous children at the country's state and church-run residential schools. Some residential school survivors stated that the TRC’s 2015 presentation of its findings contributed to their journey towards healing, while other individuals and groups have since criticized the TRC’s efficacy and its failure to fully investigate mass graves at school sites.
A bill to establish a truth and reconciliation commission on Native boarding schools similar to Canada's TRC was introduced into the US House of Representatives in 2020 by then-congresswoman Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo), but has yet to move out of committee. Despite this delay on a congressional effort towards reconciliation, activists have expressed hope that the Department of the Interior’s investigation under now-Secretary Haaland’s leadership will begin to address the injustices of Native boarding schools in the US.
Additional resources on the role of horses in Indigenous cultures, reconciliation and more listed below.
Archives from a 2009-2013 exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian on the history and significance of the Horse in Native cultures:
An article from The Conversation discussing restorative justice and the efficacy of truth commissions in over 40 countries worldwide:
On Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the criticisms it has faced:
The archived official website of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, including links to its official report and findings, exhibitions, and additional resources:
“'Cultural Genocide,' Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls Residential Schools” from Indian Country Today
“Much work remains on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 Calls to Action” from the National Post https://nationalpost.com/news/much-work-remains-on-the-truth-and-reconciliation-commissions-94-calls-to-action
On US-government led reconciliation initiatives in regards to Native Boarding Schools:
“Canada, US differ on boarding schools” from Indian Country Today
Full text of HR. 8420, the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policy Act
On local reconciliation efforts in Colorado and beyond:
“Search for remains at Colorado’s Native American boarding schools to proceed slowly, respectfully” from the Denver Post https://www.denverpost.com/2021/07/25/colorado-indian-boarding-schools-remains-graves/
“Dawnland” - A documentary which follows Native and non-Native officials across Maine as they investigate the impact of harmful child welfare practices against Native children and engage in the first government-sanctioned truth and reconciliation commission (TRC) in the United States. Available with a PBS passport subscription here: https://www.pbs.org/video/dawnland-t0dsij/#
Pictured above: Reconciliation, one relationship at a time
Sources for this blog post include: the WoLakota Project, the National Museum of the American Indian, a recent statement from the Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, the official Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Canada website, & coverage of truth and reconciliation efforts by Indian Country Today, the New York Times, The World, the Star Tribune, and NPR
Reconciliation through Education: Five Years after Standing Rock, the Movement Continues
Pictured Above: Mni Wiconi banner on display at the Sacred Stone Camp near Cannonball, ND in 2016
July 15th marked the 5th anniversary of a prayer run that brought the #NoDAPL movement into the public consciousness. On that date in 2016, Indigenous youth living in the Sacred Stone Camp at Standing Rock began a 2,000+ mile run from North Dakota to Washington D.C. to demand a stop to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) by oil/gas company Energy Transfer Partners. The pipeline, which began operating in 2017, is opposed by Native water protectors and allies of the #NoDAPL movement for various reasons, including its high risk of polluting water sources for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the communities in its path, its disturbance of sacred burial sites during construction, and its role in the larger climate crisis facing the world today.
United by the belief that Water is Life (Mni Wiconi in Lakota), the #NoDAPL movement began to grow throughout 2016 as water protectors came together at the Sacred Stone Camp on the Standing Rock Reservation. The camp, located near the site of DAPL construction, would eventually become the largest gathering of Indigenous nations in modern American history. Following months of demonstrations at the camp and across the nation, construction of the pipeline was briefly halted by the federal government in December 2016. However, an executive order by then-President Trump rebooted the DAPL project and led to its completion in mid-2017.
There were at least five leaks from the DAPL during its first six months of operation, and though the pipeline is currently under environmental review by the Army Corps of Engineers, oil continues to flow through it today. As a result, Lakota youth leaders recently announced plans for another youth run to demand a full shutdown of the DAPL by President Biden.
Pictured Above: Oceti Sakowin Youth completing their 3-week journey while running to the headquarters of the Army Corps of Engineers in Washington D.C. in August 2016. Photo by Juliana Britto Schwartz
Bobbi Jean Three Legs, who helped organize the 2016 run to DC, joined the Tipi Raisers and Colorado Young Leaders for the Inspiring Action Speaker series earlier this year to share her experiences living at the Sacred Stone Camp and organizing the run. Three Legs, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (Hunkpapa Oyate), was inspired to become a water protector after imagining what it would be like if there was no clean water to give to her young daughter. She continues to organize youth in her community around efforts to protect their land and water (Inspiring Action Speaker Series with Bobbi Jean Three Legs).
As we continue to commemorate five years since the height of the #NoDAPL movement throughout the fall and winter, stay tuned for future Reconciliation through Education newsletters on this topic.
More resources on Standing Rock listed below.
A comprehensive history of the events at Standing Rock from the Reclaiming Native Truth project:
A reflection by Sacred Stone Camp founder LaDonna Brave Bull Allard on the past and present desecration of Indigenous land, water, and life at the hands of government officials and extractive industries:
On Indigenous resistance at Standing Rock and the environmental and cultural concerns surrounding pipelines:
“Tribes Across North America Converge at Standing Rock, Hoping to be Heard” A report from PBS NewsHour
“The Standing Rock resistance and our fight for Indigenous rights” A TED Talk from Tribal Attorney Tara Houska, Couchiching First Nation https://youtu.be/wD3-6JIUF7M
On the Indigenous youth activism that inspired the movement and continues to create change today:
“The Youth Group that Launched a Movement at Standing Rock” from the New York Times
“Native Youth Deliver Petition Against Pipeline to White House” from Colorlines
“Standing Rock Lakota youth announce 93-mile relay run calling for Biden to shut down Dakota Access Pipeline” from Indian Country Today https://indiancountrytoday.com/the-press-pool/standing-rock-lakota-youth-announce-93-mile-relay-run-calling-for-biden-to-shut-down-dakota-access-pipeline
Pictured above: The Dakota Access Pipeline as seen from New Salem, ND
Sources for this blog post include: Colorlines, NBC, The New York Times, the Reclaiming Native Truth project, The Intercept, and Indian Country Today
Reconciliation through Education: The Truth Emerges about Native Boarding Schools
The recent discoveries of mass graves at several Canadian residential school sites have prompted discussions around the painful history of boarding schools for Native children in the United States. Beginning in the 19th century, children at the over 367 Native boarding schools run by government and religious officials in the US often faced abuse and neglect (Seattle Times). Many of these schools remained in operation until the 1990s, and around 70 Native boarding schools are still operating today. A 1928 report ordered by the Department of the Interior found that death rates for Indigenous children in boarding schools were around 6 times higher than the average death rate for other ethnicities (NARF- Meriam Report). A new initiative announced in June by Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland aims to identify boarding schools, locate burial sites, and coordinate with tribes to repatriate the remains of the children buried in mass graves.
While the stories of boarding school survivors are often horrifying, we believe they are necessary to hear if we are to begin reconciling this history.
More resources on this topic listed below.
Pictured Above: Fort Lewis College, with origins as an "Indian Boarding School", display
Last week our Gen7 Youth Leadership group stayed at Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO. We visited a display on campus chronicling the history of the school - which started as a military fort and then became an "Indian Boarding School". The school acknowledges that the display is white-centered and has a plan to replace it in a way that more accurately reflects the real history.
The school offers free tuition to qualified Native American students which make up 26% of all degrees awarded at the school. "In 1911, the fort's property and buildings in Hesperus were transferred to the state of Colorado to establish an "agricultural and mechanic arts high school." That deed came with two conditions: that the land would be used for an educational institution, and was “to be maintained as an institution of learning to which Indian students will be admitted free of tuition and on an equality with white students” in perpetuity (Act of 61st Congress, 1911). Both conditions have been the Fort Lewis school's missions and guides over the past century". Source: https://www.fortlewis.edu/about-flc/history
Pictured Above: Chiricahua Apache students four months after arriving at the Carlisle Indian School.
Account from Lakota tribal member, Walter Little Moon, of his experiences at various boarding schools: https://listen.sdpb.org/post/boarding-school-memories-haunt-lakota-man?fbclid=IwAR02uWcBrwYM-50yMH4t-Yje6qvn8k2ZjP10BCydscVEk3aGbrUg6ebG63w
On the history and lasting effects of boarding schools in the United States:
“Death by Civilization” from Mary Annette Pember for the Atlantic
“American Indian Boarding Schools Haunt Many” Part 1 of a story from NPR
"American Indian School a Far Cry from the Past" Part 2 of a story from NPR
On the recent discoveries of mass graves at Kamloops and other residential school sites around Canada:
"How Some Children at the Kamloops Residential School Died"- Source: CBC News
On truth, reconciliation, reparations, and the recently announced federal initiative to investigate boarding schools:
“Interior Secretary Deb Haaland Announces Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative to Shed Light on Dark History of the Boarding School System”
“U.S. Boarding Schools Were The Blueprint For Indigenous Family Separation In Canada” an interview and article from NPR
A list of books on this topic, primarily by Indigenous authors, can be found at this link:
Pictured above: students at the Mount Pleasant Indian Industrial School in Michigan, circa 1910
A Lakota elder who speaks to our groups teaches us that reconciliation is "moving toward our own divinity" and that is where you will find forgiveness. Other – more traditional – definitions would say that it is simply about moving on after a disagreement. This is complex work with no agreed-upon definitions. It is wrought with generations of trauma from broken treaties, attempted genocide, overt racism and white guilt. We approach it with humility, curiosity and a deeply held conviction to get it right over time.
Our Reconciliation through Education newsletter seeks to engage us all in the work of reconciliation by deconstructing misconceptions, illuminating truths, and guiding us toward a deeper understanding of the shared history between Native and non-Native people.
It is only in understanding this history that we may begin to reconcile it. We invite you all to join us in this space as we discuss and share resources on various historical, cultural, and current events topics. We also invite you to follow along on our Facebook page each Friday as we continue to share out some of our Reconciliation through Education topics and resources - and check out our previous Friday posts if you have not already!
Tales from our Executive Director
The day had started out easily enough – it was hot, however a light breeze was coming in every now and then to cool both the horses and riders down. A half dozen young riders had tacked up their horses early that morning, warmed them up in the corral and ridden towards Oglala without a problem. One of our young riders noted to himself something interesting he observed with a cow when we were tacking up- but for whatever reason, chose not to say anything.
The horses, this time of year, tend to be a little more frisky than normal – not having been ridden for most of the winter and super charged up on the nutrient rich grass that covers much of the reservation in the Spring. And so, when the riders came back in – with no bumps or bruises, we thanked the horses, gave gratitude for a good ride and readied to go back to base camp, shade and ice water. . . until our wrangler noted that there was a cow lying under a nearby shade tree, looking mighty distressed as one tiny calf hoof and one miniature calf tongue appeared from its reproductive regions. Well, that neither looks comfortable nor the way it should be, we all noted.
The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is an extraordinary place for so many reasons. The bluffs, rolling hills, magnificent culture and historical significance have drawn so many for generations. The rural and remote nature of it is (for many) a breath of fresh air when the chaos of daily life begin to take their inevitable toll. Those same qualities also tend to help visitors learn to appreciate the conveniences normally taken for granted, one such convenience being…veterinarians. There are NO veterinarians on the 3,000 square mile Pine Ridge reservation. And so, when one sees a cow trying to give birth to a calf --- and the only body parts that are showing or moving are a tiny hoof and a tiny tongue ---- and mama is clearly in distress and not able to push her calf out, then one does what one does.
So, we grabbed a rope – two actually. One to rope and help hold mama down and the other to loop around the exposed hoof and pull. And so, pull we did.
Now, I’m not sure what a veterinarian would have done to rescue that calf and to help the mother. I’m not sure what the chances were of a live birth, given that the calf’s tongue and hoof had been observed three hours prior. I’m not sure if the calf is grateful to have been freed or angry that we didn’t let it stay right where we found it before we roped and pulled. I do know that the bellowing of the mother cow and the sweet and startled mooing of that calf when it came flying out covered in birthing fluid was among the sweetest and happiest sound I had in a long time..
I also know that I am grateful every day for the lessons learned on Pine Ridge; the experiences gained; the people – and animals – that we meet.
René Duamal once spoke about similar experiences and lessons learned when mountaineering and they seem especially applicable to my experiences, over the decades, on Pine Ridge: “You cannot stay forever; you have to come down again. So, why bother in the first place? Simply just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.” And so it is.
Post Script-- Both mother and baby are doing great!
By Dave Ventimiglia
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
Hiking with a Purpose
Kalon, a Gen7er, and two of her friends embarked on an epic Rocky Mountain adventure on the Colorado Trail last summer! But to these outstanding young people, it was important to tie it in with a higher purpose. Kalon, a recent graduate from the Rocky Mountain School of Expeditionary Learning, had just completed her senior thesis on “Equity and Inclusion in the Outdoor Industry” and, as you’ll see in her piece below, this perspective helped her maintain an appreciation for the original inhabitants of the land she was hiking on. But the group wanted the hike to have more tangible meaning as well, Kalon reflected that they “saw it as an opportunity to make it about more than us”. Having visited Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and connecting with the Lakota people, they determined that they would use the Hike-a-Thon model and prior to pulling on their hiking boots to hit the trail, they solicited sponsors per mile. Kalon shares; “sending weekly email updates to our sponsors was challenging - but such an important element to keep them engaged.” Seven weeks later, the group raised nearly $4,000 and completed 486 miles, averaging 16 miles per day with only a few rest days along the way. Kalon shares her reflections from the adventure below:
“When I found myself sitting on a mountain at eleven thousand feet in the pouring rain under a tent that I had sewn and waterproofed myself, hearing lightning strikes all around, preparing for bed because I had seven passes to hike the next day, I thought I had gone crazy. I thought my two best friends were crazy too. What did we think we were doing?
The Colorado Trail is a 486-mile trail that weaves through the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. During the summer of 2020, craziest of them all, Lucy Weyer, Gabriela Pisano and I, laced up our hiking boots, filled our backpacks and started walking. While I wish it had been as simple as that to get started, as 2020 highschool grads, our parents each had something to say.
Though we had been backpacking since the 9th grade, our parents were still unsure that three 17 and 18 year old girls should be backpacking across the state for two months. So naturally, we created a slideshow complete with hors d’oeuvres and all our gear, to make them feel more comforted about our trek. We were quite lucky to have friends scattered all over the state to help deliver us food and give us places to rest and shower along the way. With our parents’ blessing we hit the trail at the beginning of July.
As we kicked off our journey, we reflected on the month of preparation and planning that we had done. We were thoroughly reminded of our privileges as we prepared for a thru hike in the midst of a global pandemic and major social rifts within our country. The discussions surrounding race in America are an important factor when discussing hiking and outdoor recreation. We constantly reminded ourselves that with every step that we took, we were in fact walking on stolen land with hundreds of years of utterly horrific history. We reminded ourselves that we live in a country that operates to hold back those whose land we have stolen. We reminded ourselves of the warm houses that we have to go back to after this trek. We reminded ourselves of the blessings of time and resources that have enabled us to hike such a magnificent trail. We reminded ourselves that for the purpose of this trip, we are more than just hikers; we are echoes of the voices in our country that have been silenced and forgotten.
The purpose of this trip for “The Warden”, “Chipmunk”, and “Zinc” (our respective trail names) went beyond our personal desires for self growth and challenge. During our trip we were each in a constant state of awe. We often wondered what it must’ve been like for the first peoples who ran into the Rocky Mountains. Our amazing community came together around the CT hike to support The Tipi Raisers in their efforts at Pine Ridge Reservation.
Since then we have been incredibly grateful to learn more about the history of indiginous peoples, and to spend time on Pine Ridge. This trip was truly a life changing experience unlike anything else I have ever done. I am also grateful to now be a Gen7 youth ambassador which is also proving to be an incredible experience”.
What I do and Why I do it - Reflections from our Volunteer Coordinator, Maria Wischmeyer
In the simplest of terms, my job with The Tipi Raisers is to seek out donations. Some might say that I navigate the system by re-distributing excess product to those who have dramatically less material wealth. And that would be accurate, too. But that dry description doesn’t come close to capturing the magic that sparks when we exist in relationships.
Donations have always relied upon the generosity of others. This work moves within a gift economy where the rewards of sharing one’s abundance doesn’t rely on monetary exchange but with more intangible benefits like the sense of contribution, nurturing a community or creating opportunities to connect.
These exchanges often happen on a porch, in a driveway or online where supporters from all walks of life bring more than just their donation. Some come curious, others with deep empathy. Some are quiet while others feel called to discuss at length the ongoing obstacles facing indigenous people. I never know who I will be meeting for the first time.
But what all of these beautiful people consistently bring to the table is solidarity and a deep mutual longing to change our narrative with Native Americans. And although there is no rewriting of the past, there is a sincere desire to nurture a bond that enhances the well-being of our friends on Pine Ridge. We share an emotional dependency where no one feels more comfortable than the least comfortable neighbor. It is in this common humanity that we are connected and where the magic happens. I seek out donations, for sure. But, I also like to think that I extend an invitation and foster those who respond with a sense of belonging and oneness.
To express their solidarity, supporters offer a variety of gifts. From appliances to diapers or boots to blankets, they are all rather like the casserole that is lovingly made and offered in times of struggle for those we care about. It’s humble but sincere. The gift brings us together to engage in difficult conversations where the universe hears our regrets, hopes and cries for a future that is more generous and ethical. It’s not about perfection. It’s about the effort. So we oppose injustice by creating communities because transformation requires our participation.
It would be naïve to not recognize the bigger work that needs doing. Service alone isn’t enough. And hopefully, one day, my job will be obsolete. But grassroot organizations like The Tipi Raisers rely on the cultivation of relationships where we are asked to slow down, actively listen, earn trust and engage in meaningful dialogue. It requires courage, grace and reciprocity. And there will always be a space for that.
We exist simultaneously in both the physical and spiritual and the nourishing of our well-being and achievements relies on all of us. The Lakota have a mantra, “Mitakuye Oyasin.” It means, “We are all related.” When we move through the world with that in mind, we move in magic.
The storming of the Capitol building in D.C. on January 6th, 2021 never had a chance.
The symbols it was organized under were alternatively chaotic, incongruent and some even grounded in Evil. Portions of the rally were led by varied men and women carrying a confederate flag, an American flag, a Trump flag and a Gadsden flag. At least one person wore a shirt glorifying the Auschwitz concentration camp, another shirt proclaiming that six million dead was not enough.
There were Elders in the crowd, but mostly they were jostled and shoved to the back. Mr. Trump and Giuliani certainly took the lead in the beginning – their call to action ultimately heard and heeded. There were arguably other Elders amongst the thousands in attendance that might have provided some of the guidance, wisdom and experience that was so desperately called for. However, any semblance of wisdom and guidance of age and experience that is so critical to healthy communities, organizations and societies was, at best, marginalized and misguided on that day.
The “warriors”, who might have led, seemed largely motivated by the opportunity for a selfie, self-promotion, wanton destruction or some sort of combination of all of those desires. Donald Trump Jr., who is of the right age to lead in this way, seemed to prefer to aggressively exhort other “doers” and then retreated to the safety of the White House. At varying points, a self-proclaimed “shaman” dressed in a bison headdress and fur, wearing face paint and carrying a spear appeared poised to lead. In so many pictures of him, however, he appeared more the lone wolf than a leader of others. He dressed in the trappings of – and apparently characterizes himself as – a shaman. However, the camera shows the truth of him to be much more a buffoon and cartoon character than anything else. And then there were the others who appeared to lead not because they had followers but because they were being followed and pushed forward by the mob. All appeared to be acting independently of the crowd whilst in the midst of it. Most seemed motivated more by cameras and cell phones than by principle. At the very least, most, if not all, betrayed the Warrior values of humility, respect and self-sacrifice. The cameras that they were worshipping exposed their lie.
And so it was.
Indigenous wisdom from all over the world has striking commonalities that we may choose to learn from and live by:
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
Copyright © 2018 The Tipi Raisers