I have never been good at reflecting. It has never been an extremely natural thing for me to sit and make a list of all the things I’ve learned from a certain experience. Luckily, I wrote down so many things throughout these last three weeks that I am able to shuffle through my messy thoughts and find things that I will most definitely remember forever.
A list, not nearly complete, but it will suffice for now:
1. Through living and working on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, I have gained a true sense of culture. I never really knew what culture looked like before this May. In America, we don’t have one cohesive culture: one language or religion or one set of traditions. I do not speak the language of my ancestors nor do I participate in their traditions. This lack of one background is something I really appreciate about America, that we as a nation can be diverse and learn from our differences. But because of this, I have never really been immersed in a true culture, and by living on Rosebud, I gained an immense appreciation for the Lakota culture, and for the idea of culture itself.
2. I have heard all my life that South Dakota is boring and flat. It’s not. It’s literally the least flat place on the planet. It is actually composed of miles and miles and miles of endless hills—big and small—buttes, rivers, valleys, and muddy rock lands. It is absolutely beautiful. I could drive through it all day long.
3. I’ve learned lessons in spirituality. The Lakota are an example to all people—no matter what faith. They have an immense respect for the earth and the people in it, believing mitakuye oyasin (we are all related). Their spirituality (not religion) is incorporated into all aspects of their life. Here is a prayer to the Great Spirit that I found on a beaded shawl at the Crazy Horse museum: “Oh Great Spirit, giver of all life, you have been always, and before you nothing has been. Look and smile upon us your children, so that we may live this day to serve you. Watch over my relatives, the red, black, white and brown. Sweeten my heart and fill me with light this day. Give me strength to understand and eyes to see. Help me, Great Spirit, for without you I am nothing.” –Paul War Cloud
4. This is something kind of strange. Human minds (I’m assuming it’s more than just mine) personify inanimate things and concepts. All my life, I have associated certain traits with the four directions. I thought of North as strong and bold, East as watery and weak, West as a little wild, and South as mean and overbearing, almost evil. I have no idea how these associations formed in my mind, but during my time in SD, my perception of the South changed. I now see the South as peaceful and serene, a calm presence. This came through many of the creation stories Leland Little Dog told. I think I will forever see the South differently.
5. I learned about reconciliation. I learned that I need to focus on it. The history between the Indians and the United States government is messy, but it is history. And the best thing I can do for my beloved Lakota people is to learn from the past, but focus on now. Focus on reconciliation, healing, and breaking the chain of poverty on reservations all over the country.
6. This is the one I am most thankful for. Since I the summer after freshman year of high school, I have known that the path God set me on is leading to inner city Chicago as soon as I graduate from college. After spending time there working with at-risk students on the south side, I knew driving away from that city that I was going back to love those kids. This past semester, I had more doubts and fears about that bit of my future than ever before—I think because it is so close. I hoped that in coming to the Rez, God would give me reassurance about Chicago.
This is what I’ve learned:
I am meant to work with at-risk kids.
I am tough enough to work with at-risk kids.
I have patience enough to work with at-risk kids.
I am meant to be in Chicago. I am on my Red Road.
I’ve seen so much damage in the lives of my amazing, beloved kiddos at Todd County Elementary School, but I know that I can’t fix everything. All I can do is love my students with my whole heart. I think I can swing that.
Wowza, God works in incredible ways.