By Julie Frawley
As I reflect on our trip this past week, I find I am most struck by the contradictions both visualized and experienced in the reservation culture. Approaching by way of I-90, we saw the beauty of a bright red sun through a haze of clouds transforming into a large smoking funnel cloud. We had pulled off to gas up once more before heading onto the reservation only to find the highway closed ahead. Informed that there was a huge grass fire covering thousands of acres of land, we were fortunate to avoid this and head in a different direction. Cattle, fences, and a life were lost in this fire, but we learned that a call had gone out throughout the state for those with resources and time to bring their own cattle, help with post hole digging and fencing. Though winter crop is lost, the ground will be fertile come spring for planting.
The Badlands skirt along the edge of the reservation. It’s fierce, desolate, barren and yet beautiful in ways difficult to describe until experienced through a walk on the trails, looking up at these tall spires of rock, and climbing to lookouts of breath taking views of the Great Plains. Is this landscape a barrier, an enclosure, or is it for protection to remind us of the beauty that lies within?
The clinic at Wamblee is no different. Staff can be sparse at times, as well as supplies, but they are grateful for what they have, creative in using these resources, generous with their time in explaining “how things work out here”, and thankful for our arrival to assist in the care of the Lakota people. The homes are a mix of traditional small stark homes, trailers, and shacks set against the beautiful rolling hills, craggy rock formations, hints of the bordering Badlands, and playful “rez” dogs seem to roam everywhere.
In the clinic setting, the native people are often quiet and reserved, sometimes finding it hard to express, or difficult for me to see what it is they are really in need of or asking for. Leaving the clinical setting and stepping into their school, we are witness to a Pow Wow. The children and their families come to life with drums sounding, traditional voices heralding, the energy of the various dances, and full regalia of the Lakota traditional dress is in full swing. I feel their eyes watching us, wondering. I feel blessed and welcomed to observe such a feast for the eyes and soul. What a wonderful gift to have shared.
As we leave the building and again enter the warmth of a beautiful day, a young boy approaches me to shake hands. I say, “Thank you.” There are no other words to sum up this experience.