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.
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