Wanblee Thursday July 17 – Michael Kalinosky
The day started with a walk along the highway. A landscape looks its best at sunrise. Oblique rays gave the purple Canadian thistles a morning glow that blurred the spiny thorns. The cool morning air was right for a brisk pace. The light breeze out of the southwest promised that the air would quickly warm, that now was indeed the best time to do this. Quiet has a way of making beauty visible. There is a vastness to the land here, a variety that the casual observer might miss- hillsides dotted with pines, creek beds lined by cottonwoods, open pastures and badlands just beyond. The relative proximity of the many features make for something truly beautiful.
In another form, this beauty in differences was in plain view. The clinic staff is part native, part non-native. With varied skills and education, everyone contributes. I was struck by the giving nature of all. There is the medical assistant who knows how to find the supplies you need. Her dream is to start an equine therapy program for local families. There’s the nurse practitioner who came on as a temporary contractor, and decided to stay when she met the love of her life. There is the nurse who grew up nearby, making a career helping those she grew up with. The patients’ stories are equally compelling. Most want to be able to function well enough to take care of their families. I did not see anyone trying to game the system to make their own life comfortable. The Reservation Police who showed up for their physicals may have had some aches and pains, but they were not seeking a quick easy fix. Those who came in for joint injections were not seeking a magic bullet. They only wanted to be able to garden, maintain their home, and care for their grandchildren.
The highlight of the day was meeting and having supper at the home of Jerome and Theresa High Horse. They are a couple who spent many years off the reservation raising seven children. Yet they never forgot their roots. He reviewed for us much of the history of the Lakota. There is certainly tragedy in that history, but Jerome and Theresa are by no means tragic figures. She detailed the naming ceremony held for Lakota children. They are observed and mentored by an elder for a year before getting their Lakota name, which is chosen by the mentor. The name given depends largely on their interaction with their community. It is more spiritual than cultural. Our own Teresa Clements and Doctor Dolan observed that this is similar to confirmation classes in the Christian tradition. Jerome told us about the sun dance, about how it is a celebration like a family reunion. How it celebrates the unity of people from all races, how all are welcome. The dancers spend a year preparing mentally and spiritually for the event. What the two events have in common is how at the end, the dancer and the newly named child perform an act of thanks, a “give-away”, where they give possessions back to the community. Again, their giving nature shines through.
For years, Jerome and Theresa returned every month to help those who stayed. Whether it was with provisions for those without, his carpentry skills, or by being there for someone in need, Jerome did all he could to improve the lives of anyone who asked. Now, living back on the reservation, they dedicate themselves to helping make lives better full time. We could all take a lesson from these wonderful people.