Wowza.

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.

He did.

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.

The Black Hills.

A little Lakota history: To the Lakota people, the Black Hills (He Sapa) is the most sacred place on the earth. To them, it is the heart of the entire world, the first part of the earth to be created by the Great Spirit (Wakan Tanka), and the place from which the first men and women emerged onto the earth (at the Wind Cave). There is an indescribably deep spiritual connection between the Lakota people and the Black Hills, and ever since General Custer raided the Hills for gold (breaking yet another treaty between the US and the Indians, one which promised that the Black Hills wouldn’t be touched), the Lakota have been fighting for them.

My experience: At first, I thought they looked like a hilly Northern Michigan. Then, I thought they looked like the Appalachian Mountains. But as I sit at the top of one of these black hills, I see that they are very much their own.

They are great hills—with peaks and valleys, some of their tops coming to a culmination with giant slabs of age-old granite, sliced and weathered by the centuries of Unci Maka (Grandmother Earth) and of Lakota oral tradition. The hills are drenched in pine trees—the only pine trees I’ve seen in the whole state of South Dakota. They roll up and down with the hills, interrupted at random by patches of sliced up rock. These granite statues stick anciently upward—as if trying to claw their way out of the sacred ground. In the ever-blue distance, the tame prairie stretches to the far off Badlands.

We come to a park called Breezy and I quickly begin exploring, climbing up the steep hill through the trees to reach the top.

It is like nothing I have ever see. The hills, which truly look black in the distance, are all around, sitting greenly and comfortably. Some of the hills are pure earth, and others pure rock. Enormous mountains of solid granite erupt from the earth like a fist being thrust into the air—although it is clear that these fists have been mid-thrust for an impossible amount of time.

We climb down our stone mountain, finding little-worn paths and hidden passageways until we are in the valley that we previously looked down into from high-above rocks. The earth around me is a massive mixture of land and stone, trees and shrub and tall grasses sprouting from every corner. In the distance, we see Harney Peak—the tallest point in the US west of the Rockies. It sits like a sand drip castle, tiny and teetering in the black distance.

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From the peak of Breezy Park

And now it is time for Mount Rushmore.

I do not like Mount Rushmore. I did not like mount Rushmore before I ever saw Mount Rushmore, but seeing it greatly heightened my dislike.

Lyn LaPointe, who is one of the Lakota men I spoke with last weekend, told me that the sculptor and the government chose this specific rock face because it was sacred to the Lakota, and that to carve four white presidents into it was to prove their dominance. Another learned Lakota man and teacher at the middle school named Sage Fast Dog said that it would not be quite as insulting if it weren’t for whom they chose to carve into the rock; Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt were four men who did not handle negotiations or dealings with the Indians very well at all.

Lyn also told me that when he was a kid, his father used to take him and his siblings to mount Rushmore every year, but his dad would never get out of the car to go see it. Every year, Lyn asked his father why he wouldn’t come in, but he never answered. Years later, Lyn’s dad told him why Mount Rushmore was built, and that he stayed in the car because he mourned, and he did not wish to see the injustice, but that his children must learn and experience it themselves. Now, Lyn takes his children to see Mount Rushmore and stays in the car.

My experience: From the parking lot outside the actual memorial, Mount Rushmore glares pompously from the top of a mountain once called Six Grandfathers by the Lakota. It is underwhelming. It is small. It is nothing compared to the beauty of the Black Hills.

I debate whether or not to go in, out of respect for the Lakota—but I know that I have to learn and experience, like Lyn did.

Close up, the place is strange. George Washington’s face is the clearest, then Thomas Jefferson’s. Roosevelt’s is practically buried in the mountain, and Lincoln doesn’t even look complete. The mountain, Six Grandfathers, rises to the carved out peak from the right. Split, slated rock creates the mountain, jutting clearly out of the pine trees. The peak is like a pointed cliff edge—jagged and natural. The far off faces in the side if the mountain look smooth and white and unnatural. I am sad and a little bitter looking at them.

Down in the museum, I walk through the history of Mount Rushmore, everything from facts about the four presidents to the actual tools used to carve the stone. I pass one display that articulates the reasoning behind the four presidents chosen. The last sentence claims that Teddy Roosevelt was chosen because he signifies “the 20th century roles of the United States in world affairs and the rights of the common man.”

It saddens and angers me to know that the Indians were not part of the category of “the common man.” They were not, in fact, part of any category. The Indians believe that all are connected and related, no matter skin color. I believe the same—all people on earth are children of God, created in His image. For a country that claimed to be based on Christian values (like the belief that every living being is a beloved child of God), it did not take this “common man” thing very seriously; it did not even believe Indians were really human, much like America’s view of African Americans at one time.

I do love and value the United States. I know that I am unbelievably fortunate to live in a free country, and that those four presidents who are immortalized in granite did some truly incredible things for our country. And I know that perfection is impossible, that people make mistakes—sometimes mistakes that last a hundred, two hundred, three hundred years. I cannot take the faces out of the mountain. It is done and it is in the past. But what I can do is work for the equality of all people, and for the preservation of all that is sacred, praying constantly that God brings justice, peace, and reconciliation to this world.

The Badlands.

I have been waiting to see the Badlands since 7th grade when I read the book Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. I have anticipated what they might look like, how they might appear. I am about to find out.

They are coming upon us slowly. Several miles out, the land waves begin to chunk apart and form cliffs and canyon-like abysses. Tiny, spiky mountains appear in random, distant places. The land is telling me that we are near.

All of a sudden, they are to the south of us. They look like great slats of stone stuck horizontally into the ground and then broken off at the top into jagged peaks and knife-like edges. They are bluish grey in the hazy rain, and I sit up, drinking in every glimpse I get. I am eager to be into their midst.

I cannot satisfyingly describe what it is like to be in the midst of the badlands. My attempts fail to even scrape the surface of their vast depth and greatness. Here is my feeble stab at it:

They are miniature mountains stuck up in the middle of prairie. The muddy rock is layered in red, grey and brown. And then there are the basins, which take up (I believe) the majority of the land in this 380 square mile park. The prairie shoots up unto these mountains and then cuts down into a hundred thousand canyons that twist and dodge, forming incredible passageways throughout the basin. Some of the basins are like this, with chunky, mud rock that plateaus and then plummets, valleys and streams going on for miles. Others are just flat prairie with spiky brown mountains or sloping rock scattered within it, looking like a monstrous set of hands placed their fingertips on the earth and pushed a huge chunk of it down.

I’m giving up trying. For the first time in my life, writing has failed me. There is simply no way to truly tell what this place looks like.

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A few friends and I climbed out on the tops of the muddy canyons , slipping and sliding on the rain-soaked mud rock. From where we entered, I saw the plateau in the distance, pointed to it and said, “That’s where I want to go. That is my final destination.” And so we went. When we finally reached it, we climbed (with much slipping in the mud) to the grassy top of the plateau, which was about five feet by ten feet. I felt on top of the world, looking at the miles of mud rock canyon and shivering valleys spread around me. I was as tall as the sky…

…until I looked in the distance and saw a semi-truck rambling down the highway just outside the national park, completely level with me. And I realized that the plateau I on which I felt so tall was actually just ground level—was part of the prairie.

plateau from afar

Those two tiny dots far away on top of the plateau are me and my friends. You can click on the picture to make it bigger.

Millions of years ago, the plains of South Dakota were the ocean floor. The Badlands were the deep crevices and sandy peaks that created homes for bottom-dwellers. To think that that very land is what I stood on—and one so cut up and dug out in the most indescribable way—is the most impressive experience I’ve known.

The Badlands stretch much further than this small portion we experienced. The many sections of the huge area are all different from each other, and I am dying to explore every one.

KGKJV. And Many More.

It has been a good and hard week. A majority of our time has been in the classroom, and the hours we don’t spend in the classroom we spend eating dinners with certain people and listen to members of our team give presentations about different aspects of the Rez or Native American culture (as part of our course requirement).

Being in the classroom has been wonderful. On Tuesday, one of the girls asked me to sit next to her at lunch, so I was pretty pumped about being officially accepted into the group. Getting to know the kids, however, also means getting to know their backgrounds and stories. From being in a room and hanging out with my fifth graders, you would almost never guess what goes on at home for most of them. They are happy and loving and they laugh and joke (and a few of them make trouble). Here are some of the stories that struck me the most:

K: Her and her mother were living with K’s grandmother, but the grandmother got evicted and they had to find a new place to live. On the very day I heard this story, K’s mother got an eviction notice from their new landlord and they will have to find another home.

G: Earlier this semester, she missed a week of school because her father was drunk and violent and her mother got scared and took her to a homeless shelter in Pierre–an hour and a half away–for the week until her father calmed down and it was safe to come home.

K: He wrote on the mother’s day card he made that he hoped his mom and her boyfriend would get married soon. My mentor teacher later told me that the previous year, his father beat up his mother right in front of him. He is also autistic, and his father is currently in jail.

J: He is extremely quiet, but is very vocal about his hatred of school in conversation. The other day he told me that he would rather be home sick with the flu than doing his science homework (writing a paragraph about snapping turtles). I talk with J a lot because he is a bit of a loner but really lights up and engages in conversation when you talk about non-school things, and I’ve found this motivates him to do school work. Once, while talking about his favorite video game, he randomly slipped in that, “I hope my dad will move out before I’m eighteen. I’m tired of him sleeping on the couch. I really don’t care for my dad.” And then went right back into video games without pausing.

I have had time to process these and other things, and the hardest part is not being able to fix every kid’s situation. This feeling came to a crescendo Wednesday evening.

There is a place called “the dorm” right across from the high school where kids live during the week. If a student–kindergarten through 12th grade–has a really bad home situation, then can live in the dorm during the week and only go home on the weekends. The place has two buildings: the cafeteria (where they get dinner every night) and the actual dorm. There are about 70-100 kids who live there at any given time, with maybe five or six adults who run the place. I knew it existed, but it didn’t become real to me until earlier this week when my most trouble-making student, V (who I knew had a bad home life), told me than he lived there. V has a lot of behavior problems, comes dressed in the same clothes every day, and has a ton of energy and not very much respect. But I love him so much. I can’t stand the thought of V living in a cramped place, definitely with some drug-doing high schoolers, and no mother to kiss him goodnight. It jolted me to hear him mention the dorm, for I had heard of it but had not yet met someone who actually lived there.

So Wednesday we visited. We ate dinner with the kids, and I saw three more of my beloved girls running around the cafeteria. They came sprinting to the window when they saw me and banged on the glass, waving frantically. They dashed outside screaming, “Miss Kelsey! Miss Kelsey! Come play basketball with us!” So I did, a smile on my face but my heart aching (and I have to say, I’ve learned some pretty good defensive moves watching Sam play for so many years. Plus I’m about a foot taller than my fifth graders). It was fun. And eye-opening.

After dinner and basketball, all the dorm kids and all the Hope kids came together to play a big game of softball. It was a blast, watching the kids get into it. Most of them were playing baseball for the first time in their lives, and didn’t even know the rules (basketball is the big sport on the Rez–all my kids are headed to the NBA or the WNBA). I saw the community of this place. I saw the strength the older kids had in taking care of the younger kids, and the trust the younger kids had in the older kids. They may not have a mother to kiss them goodnight, but they have a hundred sisters and brothers. And that, for most of these kids, is better than what they get at home.

A Grief, a Passion, and a Cause.

My head is bursting. I have learned so much in the last few days, and haven’t gotten a chance to sort through it, so here goes my attempt:

Yesterday, I spent two hours doing some online research about Lakota spirituality and the history of the Lakota people. I read about the connectedness and oneness and kinship of the culture. I read about the White Buffalo Calf Woman who gave the people the sacred pipe in their time of need. I read that, to the Lakota, there is no separation between the sacred and the non sacred, like we separate church and state. All is related. Relationships to the Lakota are everything–relationships to the earth, to relatives, to the Great Spirit/the Creator (Tunkasila).

After about an hour, I picked up a copy of Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee sitting on the table and began leafing through it. The nonfiction book follows the events of the American Indian Wars in the late 1800’s, covering many different tribes across the west. As I skimmed, I researched the names and events I came across. I don’t believe I’ve ever felt more ignorant in my life. I always knew that the White Man unjustly seized the land of a people who only wanted to keep what rightfully belonged to them. I always knew that the Indians just wanted to be left alone and in peace, and the invading European Americans forced many of them to assimilate into their (our) culture because they were greedy and wanted to take what did not belong to them, and also felt as if their way of life was the only way of life. But I never knew to what degree the Indians were wronged. Even as I wrote those last few sentences, I realize that I could never have described the true injustice done to the indigenous people of this land before being here at Rosebud and learning about it. I feel anger as I write this. I feel great empathy for the people of such a rich, rich culture whose sacred land (the Black Hills) was ripped from them (and the most sacred place to the Lakota people, the Wind Cave within the Black Hills where they believe the first of their people emerged onto the earth, is now a tourist attraction). I feel immense, unbearable sorrow for the innocent and unarmed Indians ruthlessly massacred by crazed American soldiers who chased women and children across the prairie just to shoot them mercilessly down at Wounded Knee.

I feel anger for the millions of slaughtered buffalo, needlessly killed by whites who, in this process, virtually destroyed the Indian’s chances of life by taking their main source of food, shelter, clothing, tools and medicine.

I feel guilt for the greed and ignorance of my ancestors. I feel guilt for the prejudice.

And I feel sadness for the longterm effects of that greed, ignorance and prejudice.

We toured the Rez today. Our tour guide was a wise, middle-aged Lakota storyteller named Leland Little Dog, whose grandfather was a survivor of Wounded Knee. He told us that Mission, the town we are staying in, has the largest concentration of Lakota people on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. However, there are only a few people in the town of Mission who are fluent in the Lakota language. We drove through Mission and out into the farmland. Leland told us that all these farms and ranches are run by non-Indians who come and rent the land for extremely cheap and make millions off of it. Apparently South Dakota makes 15 billion dollars a year and almost none of that money goes to Lakota people. As we drove toward another Rez town, called St. Francis, Leland said that most of the shops in the towns are owned by non-Indians. Todd County, which takes up most of the reservation, is currently the sixth poorest county in the nation, where people are crammed into cluster housing with up to twenty people in one house. There are very few jobs, and most students drop out of school. There are heavy patterns of alcoholism and drug use, as well as a devastating amount of suicides and a sickening amount of abuse. Since the turn of the century, the land that belongs to the Lakota Sioux has quickly dwindled, and so have job opportunities and educational opportunities/quality of education. The poverty is blatant as we drive past small communities and extremely run-down areas.

We traveled further into the Rez, following the snake-like Little White River into valley country where dynamic hills and green, green trees rose up around us. Leland stopped on top of one of these hills and we all got out to hear a story about a greedy man who was visited by an elk spirit and healed of his wicked ways.

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Leland Little Dog

We also went to a pow wow today. In Lakota, a pow wow is called a wacipi (pronounced wa-chee-pee). The wacipi was to honor the seniors graduating from high school. I stood in the doorway of the high school gym and watched as all the seniors–wrapped in star quilts–and their close friends and family members marched into the wide room, led by four war veterans carrying flags, one man in traditional Indian regalia, and the master of ceremonies. All around the gym, men and boys sat in circles around large drums and they played and sang loud, throaty, indescribable music so powerful that the beauty of it sent tears rolling down my cheeks. I do not know why I cried listening to it–I can’t exactly describe the feeling in my chest as I stood their admiring and embracing all the Lakota culture around me. But I do know that to the Lakota, music is healing.

What saddened me was this: after the grand entry, we sat in the bleachers and watched the swiftly decreasing interest in the tradition. Many people left or did not participate or went and bought hotdogs from the concession stand. There was more drumming and singing, and this was very moving, but the disengagement of the people in the audience–the people who come from this incredible and rich way–was apparent. We left after about two hours of honoring songs and senior gift-giving and dances with few participants. All the way home, I struggled with confusion as to why people with such sacred traditions would let go of them. Then I remembered something my friend Taylor, who lives in the house across the yard from the dorm we are staying in, said to me the other day: “I used to despise my roots and my native-ness because I associated being Indian with alcoholism and drugs and poverty. But then someone said, ‘We Indians are rich in other ways. We are rich in culture and in heritage.’ And then I realized I was looking at it completely wrong, and now I take pride in my culture and my people.”

There are many people on this reservation who still hold true to the traditions of the Lakota, like Leland Little Dog and two extremely intelligent and passionate men I met tonight named Lyn and Thorne LaPointe. They are passionate about justice and about advocating for their people. They are passionate about education and its importance. Thorne said to me that if I am to go into a place like the struggling schools of Todd County, “don’t build a map of needs, build a map of assets and possibilities.” Thorne is twenty-four years old and is wiser than many who are far beyond his age. He is going to school for political science and visits the UN every year to talk to the world about the rights of indigenous peoples.

There is still passion for heritage. There is still passion for tradition and culture and language. There is still passion for the Lakota way. And even if the Sicangu people here in Mission have lost it, I have found it. So I’ll make up for a little.

So many wise words and great stories were told to me in the last two days that I do not have the capacity to sort through and connect them, but they are no less meaningful than the ones written here. I cannot stress enough the importance of learning about the indigenous people of the land we claim to be our own. As Thorne said, “the human being way of life was lost far before Columbus came to the Americas because they all thought the world was flat. My people have always known the world was round.”

I do believe that the US government will one day reconcile with the Indians. But I think the cause they pleaded in the American Indian Wars–and the one they still plead today–is a just one:

“They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one: they promised to take our land, and they took it.” —Red Cloud of the Oglala Sioux

The First Day.

Today was the first day in our placements. I was only in the classroom for half the day, but I collected some of my own thoughts and the thoughts of others on my team. Some of us are in elementary, middle and high school general ed or special ed classrooms, and we also have a few social workers working with counselors, and a nursing student. Here are some observations from the first day:

“Today I heard the phrase ‘apple’. Apparently it means Indian on the outside, white on the inside.”

“A lot of these kids go home to 15 or more people living in their house.”

“I got a lot of hugs.”

“A high school boy was being bullied and his grandma came in and started shouting at me. She said, ‘Well I’ll just teach him to hit back if that’s the only way he can get by in school.'”

“Today was interesting.”

“There is a severely autistic kid who should have an aid with him at all times, but he can’t get the special ed help he needs because his dad doesn’t believe that autism is real.”

“I’m just so angry.”

“There was a lot of lice.”

“I reached out to put my arm around him, and he flinched. I know the cycle of abuse. I looked around that room and thought, ‘Which one of these kids will abuse their own kids one day?’ How the hell do you stop that?”

“I’m exhausted.”

“I thought I knew what poverty was before today. I definitely didn’t.”

There seems to be a lot of negative on the reservation. And there is–so much poverty and alcoholism and abuse. Where do I find the hope in all that? I’m not sure, but I’m not leaving this place until I do. These kids deserve a fighting chance.

What is the Red Road?

We have been on the Rez for a day and a half, and I have already learned so much about the tradition of these people.

The people of the Rosebud Indian Reservation are of the Great Sioux Nation, in the Lakota region. The Sioux Nation is separated into three major regions: Lakota, Western Dakota (known for a long time as Nakota), and Eastern Dakota. Each of these regions have different dialects of the Siouan language. The tribe on this Rez is the Sicangu Oyate (pronounced see-chan-gu oh-yah-tay), meaning “Burnt Thigh Nation.” They are also called the Rosebud Sioux Tribe (RST). The reservation is located in southern, central South Dakota, with the Pine Ridge Reservation to the west and Nebraska to the south.

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On our way to the Rez, we stopped at a Lakota museum called the Akta Lakota Museum (“akta” meaning “honor” in the Lakota language). It was a beautiful place filled with artifacts and timelines and rich demonstrations of the beauty of this history and culture. I was deeply saddened to follow the timeline of the slow demise of the Lakota people, the massacres and thievery of their land and civilization. In back of the museum there was a Medicine Wheel Garden, and this is where I first encountered one of the most important symbols of the Sioux people.

MedicineWheel

The West: Black; the Thunderbird; generosity. The East: Yellow; the Elk; respect. The North: Red; the Buffalo; fortitude. The South: White; the Owl; wisdom.

The medicine wheel is a circular symbol separated into four parts, representing the North, South, East and West. Each of these has a color and animal specific to it, and also a trait that is represented by it. As we visited the schools in which we are to work these next three weeks, the medicine wheel was a motif found everywhere. On posters, painted on the walls, the four colors on flags hanging from the ceiling. Even the foundational structure of the newly built elementary school is shaped to mimic the energy flow of this incredibly important symbol. The traits represented in the medicine wheel were plastered everywhere, all students encouraged to embody them.

The spiritual teachings of every Indian tribe, sect, clan, nation, and any other faction are all diverse and unique. Even within the Sioux people, there are different versions and interpretations of the medicine wheel. However, each interpretation is consistent in that the medicine wheel is about healing and prayer and blessing, and that the circle is a metaphor for all life. At the Medicine Wheel Garden at the Akta Lakota Museum, large plaques held inscriptions of the importance of each part of the wheel, and I found these to be powerful and impactful:

Wyohpeyatakiya: Toward the West

We pray that the life-giving Wakinyan Oyate continue to replenish Unci Maka.

We ask that Tunkasila (God) strengthen us to pursue the sacred path we walk.

Protect our Wakanyeza that they might have it better than we did.

Help us provide a better world for those who follow.

Waziyatakiya: Toward the North

We pray that Tatanka Oyate provide for the needs of the people.

We ask for wisdom to learn from out past mistakes as we move forward.

Remind us always to honor the teachings of Elders.

Help us walk the Red Road you have placed before us.

Wiyohiyanpatakiya: Toward the East

We pray that the Hehaka bring love among friends and family.

Remind us always that our children are sacred.

Nurture our youth who will lead tomorrow.

Help us embrace the challenges for each new day.

Itokagatakiya: Toward the South

We pray for those who have made their spirit journey.

Wipe our tears and be with us in our time of sorrow.

Give us the courage to forgive.

Remind us always to walk in balance.

When standing in this beautiful place and reading these inscriptions, I felt a deep-seated connection to and appreciation of the people who hold these values and who have held them throughout history. Thinking about them today, seeing the wheel as an important part of the education of the tribe’s children, I still feel this connection deep in my blood. I am eager to discover and experience more of the spirituality, for it is deeply moving. The question I now have on my mind is this: how does it fit into my faith? How does this deep spirituality and oneness with the Creator and creation that I see in the Lakota people connect with my faith in Jesus and my God?
The Red Road is a modern spiritual term used to describe the right path of life, a term inspired by Indian teachings. The Red Road is the path that God creates for each person, the one we are walking and the one from which we must not stray. I pray continuously that I move forward–move northward–on the Red Road.