Today we visited the Badlands and went for a short hike into the majestic, rugged peaks of the surrounding hills. We spent 30 minutes in silence connecting with the beauty of nature and the spirit that dwells there. Everyone entered into the silence willingly and gladly. Afterwards we spent time and had lunch at the Badland’s Visitor Center where many had a chance to speak with Corbin, a Lakota Park Ranger. After lunch, we made our way Feather Two, the future site of Re-Member that will be able to house more volunteers, and also provide gardening areas for the local Lakota. Feather Two is located on 120+ acres of great farm land with the Porcupine Creek running through it. This future site will fulfill a true need for the people because it is truly a food desert on the Reservation.
What does “food desert” mean? Basically that fresh fruit and vegetables are simply not available. The only food people buy and eat is processed foods that contain high amounts of fats, added sugars, and carbohydrates. Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food and many other books, call these things, “food like substances”. It was very eye-opening to see at the local market – one of three and all with many miles to separate them – the lack of fresh food. In fact, the bagged lettuce for sale was rancid and costs $4.50 or more a bag. No wonder the Native Americans have such high rates of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, etc. – all conditions associated with the Western Diet. So, Feather Two is very much needed.
Ted, the leader of Re-Member, was there to introduce us to Feather Two and to pitch a very simple need – funding. Re-Member needs 1.5 million dollars to complete the project. Ted made a commitment that 50% of the labor will be Lakota.
After our visit, we headed to Wounded Knee. Here Dakota High Hawk spoke to us about what happened there on December 29, 1890. It was nothing less than a massacre of nearly 500 Native American men, women and children by the U.S. military. A people who had come in peace and under the flag of truce and were cut down by the new automatic machine guns at the time. It was an act of cowardice and remains today as the only military action with the highest number of military honors/medals awarded to soldiers. All the dead were buried in a mass grave after being left out in a blizzard for three days. Amazingly some were still alive and buried anyway. One baby – a little girl – was recused and taken by the leading officer, raised, and put on display as the only survivor of Wounded Knee. She committed suicide in 1929 and is buried at Wounded Knee. Dakota High Hawk knows the history well. His relatives were murdered at Wounded Knee. We visited the site in silence and spent time in espacio around the mass grave.
We headed back to Feather One – the original Re-Member site – and had dinner (pasta & salad). That evening Inela-Wakan – Quite Spirit – spoke to us and his words were powerful. He first prayed and sang in Lakota to the Four Directions and prayed for all those murdered and wounded in the mass shooting in Orlando, FL. He spoke about the Native American understanding of homosexuality where one person is given two spirits and they are deeply revered among the people. The young boys would be identified by the elders and allowed to grow up with the men until 12 years of age and then the women took them to nurture the boys’ feminine spirit and help to developed them into the spiritual leaders of the people. He spoke of the hatred and evil that can corrupt the human spirit and cause people to kill others. He spoke of his people and their needs. He spoke to us about our being here on the Reservation. We aren’t here really to serve; that’s only the reason we think we’re here. In fact, we are here because the Great Spirit led us here and we must remain open to discover why. He addressed the Lakota motto: Mitaku Oyasin“We Are All Related”. He said this really cannot be translated. It’s deeper meaning addresses the radical unity of all creation where nothing exists apart from anything else. We are all of one being.