At the end of an exhausting 10+ hour drive that started early Sunday morning, the fellow volunteers and I finally entered the Pine Ridge Reservation and were greeted by the sight of endless rolling plains. It was the first of many sights that would remind me of the differences between life here on the “rez” as it was called and life back home in Wisconsin. We then proceeded to our motel and passed many small and rundown homes, which clearly showed some of the difficulties that were present here.
After a long overdue rest that night, I spent the day on Monday familiarizing myself with the culture of the Oglala Lakota who resided at Pine Ridge. One of those activities included going to the site of the Wounded Knee massacre and listening to an account of those events. That recollection was truly impactful, as the speaker (who was a descendant of one of the survivors) was able to simply point to each area where many innocent Native Americans were slaughtered as he was telling the story.
On Tuesday I went to shadow the volunteer providers to the Wanblee Clinic. After entering the small clinic, I observed as the providers started seeing patients. Listening to those people and their stories made it clear that the poverty and hardship that we had glimpsed in the form of the rundown housing was only one of many challenges there. The clinic itself suffered many problems that ranged from the inability to exterminate the roaches that were everywhere to the lack of staff and support for the volunteer providers. The providers that came along on this trip exemplified the words perseverance and resilience: despite all the setbacks and problems they faced they still didn’t compromise on the level of health care they provided.
On Wednesday my own perseverance was also tested when I went to join the fellow volunteer group Re-member that provided free construction aid to people on the rez. I was sent along with a group to build a back porch and alter the existing front porch for the trailer belonging to an elderly Lakota woman who had issues going up the high steps. The day was a beatiful and clear sunny day with lovely temperatures ranging from 90 to 98 degrees Farenheit. For about six hours we labored in that heat, and I acquired a marvelous collection of blisters and consumed enough water to fill a small swimming pool. After we finally finished and were about to leave, the owner of the house returned and saw our work. After seeing the smile on that face and the clear appreciation for our effort, the only thought I had after that long and hard day was: “Totally worth it”.
I look forward to what tomorrow will bring here on the reservation and I look forward to doing my best to help where I can.