I am so excited to write about what I was able to experience this evening. Tom Kammer and I were invited to go fishing in the Kyle Dam with Elroy Cross. Elroy is a security guard at Crazy Horse School in Wanblee. He is also an “uncle” to the Wanblee youth. As someone who enjoys fishing, I was very excited about getting the chance to cast a line in the water. I was even more excited when I talked with some of the students in Wanblee and they told me how big the fish were in the spot we were. One of the students said to me “don’t be scared when you reel ‘em in, the bass we have here are monsters.” I envisioned myself reeling in some trophy bass and bragging to all my friends about all the fish I caught.
Elroy met us down by the boat landing and within minutes, I had a pole in my hand. Elroy handed me a lure and said “try this one, they love this one.” While the 3 of us were on the lake chasing the “monsters,” Elroy started talking. He talked about his grandkids and how much they loved fishing. He talked about the struggles with depression, suicide, and substance abuse many of the Lakota people face. He talked about his “nieces and nephews” at Crazy Horse and how he treats them as he treats his own family. He talked about his mother and father, his grandmother and grandfather and his kids. I know how important family is to the Lakota people and Elroy reinforced that as he spoke from the heart about the struggles and joys his family has had throughout his life.
Every so often, he would chuckle as a fish would hit his line and then spit his lure out. His deep chuckle was contagious and I found myself chuckling every time he got a bite. As the night went on, he began sharing some Native folk tales. Hearing how the white bird turned black and why the bat only flies at night was a surreal experience. His storytelling style had me hanging on every word. After a while, I realized I wasn’t even fishing anymore. I was so engrossed in his story that the fishing had become secondary. We spent about an hour on the lake. Elroy caught a little Bluegill. Tom and I didn’t catch a fish. We caught so much more. We caught a glimpse of a man that is passionate about his people. A man that has dedicated his life to helping the youth of his community. A man that wants nothing more than a better future for the students on the Rez. A man that has so much love in his heart. The more Elroy talked, the more I respected him and the more I wanted to be like him. Even though I didn’t reel in a fish, I didn’t get skunked. I caught a role model.
by Nahmie George