The DOJ (appropriately located on “Horse Thief Pkwy”) was a change from Wanblee—we set up in two offices and a hallway, and anticipated our 24 scheduled law enforcement officials for their appointments… needless to say, that didn’t go quite as planned—during our 2 days of providing these physicals, probably 2 people showed up at their scheduled time, and we saw many people who weren’t even on our list. But, despite the 100+ heat outside and not having air, we were a good team, managed to keep each other and our patients laughing, and took people as they came.
After lunch our first day at the DOJ, I left with a mission to find a contact given to me by Global Partners. Each newborn at Gundersen is given swaddle sacks and onesies—we have a surplus of these items, and were looking to potentially send these out to Pine Ridge if needed/wanted. I was given 2 names and a program name, and I set out. First stop was the hospital, where they called 6 people for me and couldn’t get any info, so I was sent to the Public Health Nursing building. Walking in I was warmly greeted, but unfortunately my contact no longer worked there. I was sent to the Department of Labor and Social Services (and other services), back down the highway a few minutes in a “brownish building on the right”. With some luck I ended up at the right building, but had to wait in line for about 15 minutes before I could speak with someone. Then I was informed that the WIC department, in the same building but the next door over, provides the program I was looking for, so I would have to speak with them—however, they were at a conference Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday—aka, the only time I could be there. To me, it wasn’t a heartbreak I couldn’t reach this person, it wasn’t urgent and we could always connect in the future. But it did make me think about the residents of Pine Ridge, and how this situation might compare to what they have to go through just to get some help—they have limited transportation, limited time, might have to find child care, and who knows what other challenges. Instead, I had the luxury of picking up some caffeine for the team and delivering it back to the DOJ.
After our second day at the DOJ, we drove over to the private school in Pine Ridge, Red Cloud Indian School. Driving onto their campus greatly contrasted with other areas we’ve been on the reservation—landscaped and maintained, sculptures sprinkled around, courtyards and campus buildings that get continuous attention. Apparently there is a waiting list of more than 170 children for the reputable school. They have a church with beautiful stained glass depicting Native patterns, a well-known art exhibit and a little gift shop. The diversity and quality of the art really surprised me, and the emotions that went into the pieces were so varied—some recognizably full of pain and anger, some full of positivity for the future, celebration. They demonstrated stereotypes and how their people have been treated, now and in the past. A combination of traditional art with modern, graffiti-style or comedic depictions, pieces done with string, others with gold leafing or mixed media—really all types you can think of. Art, to me, feels so equalizing—you can make art from just about anything, and it can purely capture emotion in a way words or other forms of communication can’t. There’s really no right or wrong with art, and those who live on the reservation perhaps feel that outsiders think they do everything “wrong”, and this is a space they don’t have to feel that way.
It was hard to not feel like an intruder while on the reservation—particularly when I walked into the Indian Health Services hospital in Pine Ridge. I was almost the only white person, and here I was asking them to explain their cultural history to me, explain their pain, and help me understand, after everything we’ve taken away from them here I was asking a favor. But it’s time we acknowledge our massive, continuous disservice and betrayal to these people—our nation’s people—and move in a positive direction.
Our trip is coming to a close; a bummer, since I have to say we’re a pretty decent team and it’s been fun company for the week—Dr. Thurman, Char, and Stacy have been a great guidance and given me much to look up to. But I’ll return with an added dimension to my perspective, a richer understanding of the Lakota culture and true history, and the ability to be more of an advocate for this population that has long been counted out.
I’m beyond thankful to Global Partners for the opportunity to be here and experience this, and all else that has allowed me to be here. Pilamaya.