By Jeff Reiland, Behavioral Health Therapist, joined the Pine Ridge team April 5-8.
One of our first stops in South Dakota was at the Interstate 90 Lewis and Clark rest area overlooking the Missouri River above the city of Chamberlain. A new statue “Dignity” had recently been added. I marveled at the expense and size of this massive rest area, complete with a museum and gift shop as well as spacious picnic grounds to enjoy and to learn about South Dakota. I think we are proud of this part of our country’s history. I only describe the detail of this wayside to contrast it to our visit four hours later to Wounded Knee.
The bulk of Pine Ridge Reservation lies just south of the South Dakota Badlands. The Reservation’s northern border is the Badlands National Park. If you look at pictures of the Badlands, you will get a sense of this other-worldly place. It is both beautiful and desolate. The same is true for the Reservation. It is also very large and desolate, but beautiful.
We were given a very personal and emotional tour of the Wounded Knee Massacre site by Dakota High Hawk, an Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe member and direct descendent of Chiefs Sitting Bull and Big Foot. The Lakota have an oral tradition and this young man spoke first to us in his native language and then in English. It makes the most sense to begin this story at this point in history as everything seems to flow from this moment in time. Dakota High Hawk described the Lakota Sioux version of what happened that fateful day of December 29, 1890. It was one of many horrible moments in time that have contributed to the massive historical trauma this tribe has endured for over one-hundred years.
The South Dakota Department of Transportation has a plywood sign at the massacre site that tells a sanitized version of what happened on this day in 1890. There is a small area for cars to pull over. The road to the cemetery is dirt and becomes mud when it rains. Indian women sell jewelry and keepsakes in the parking area from their cars. The highway runs through the heart of the killing ground. It is as if it is not even there. Perhaps we want to forget that this happened.
Comments about the ACT-Raising Safe Kids Program
The training started on Thursday morning. I think that several members of the group were cautious or guarded. I understand why. Perhaps they did not know what to expect.
I would say the most difficult conversation to have with the participants was Session 2 – discussing the impact of violence on children and introducing trauma by talking about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE). Many of the participants had never heard of trauma and violence as it relates to child development. This took some time, given their experience of historical trauma. This discussion extended into the lunch hour and I used a wonderful video on how to build resilience to help balance out the bad news. Many members of the tribe have very high ACE scores and the health effects are obvious and devastating I think they really appreciated hearing there is hope and the ACT curriculum can provide several really important elements of what we know works to reduce the negative impacts of high ACEs; providing parents with parental resilience, social connections, knowledge of parenting and child development, social and emotional competence of children
My sense for discussion and the evaluation was that the participants loved the curriculum. They really liked the conversational style of the discussion, the activities in small groups, and the sharing with the larger groups. They had fun during the skits, and really excelled in week 6 with the activity of interviewing for new parents and the related art project. The picture of the art work I have shared has the colors of a Sioux medicine wheel – for healing. The medicine wheel is a sacred symbol used by Plains tribes to represent all knowledge of the universe. The circle represents the sacred outer boundary of the Earth often referred to as the Sun Dance Circle or the Sacred Hoop.
The evaluations of the training were all quite good. I think they learned a lot. They said they had fun. There was a good deal of laughter. There was also a lot of personalizing the information and trying it on for their own families. There was a lot of good natured teasing about how they were going to rate me low. They did not! One woman had great difficulty talking with me or even looking at me the first day. I accepted her boundary, but by the end of the second day, she was participating and even agreed to be in the group picture.
They were much less intimidated by the content when they realized they could do the program in teams of two. Their director was present for the training and is really a strong advocate for helping the Head Start family service workers problem solve.
Because of challenges with transportation, they began to consider offering two classes back-to-back and including a meal to draw parents. They felt the Fall season might work best to implement this program due to harsh winters and transportation issues. One participant, a nurse, wondered about offering this program one-to-one. Her work as a visiting nurse affords her the opportunity to meet people in their homes. She shared that even as a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe, she is sometimes viewed with suspicion because she can be seen as an authority figure. Being able to offer this program in-home was a thought echoed by other Head Start family service workers in Northern Wisconsin as well. It may come down to work flow and what will fit best into the facilitator’s existing relationship routine with parents.
They are looking to implement ACT in the Fall of 2017, near the end of October. They feel this is the best time of year to try this program. I was impressed by how resourceful they were in thinking of ways to motivate parents to come by using food, door prizes, taking turns helping with child care, etc.
Overall, it was an extremely powerful experience for me to be able to work with the Oglala Lakota Sioux Head Start staff at Pine Ridge. They are an amazing and deeply spiritual people. It was humbling to be among some of the strongest people I have ever known. I look forward to providing program support to them as they implement ACT-RSK (Raising Safe Kids). I would go back in a moment if I have the opportunity.