Friday, January 16, 2015

Eastward Bound...

I sit here in the Denver International Airport Frontier Airlines terminal waiting for my flight back to Washington, DC and am processing so much now that our immersion with the Lakota Nation at Pine Ridge has ended.  The view of the Rockies to my left are stunning, as I wish I had more time to explore Denver, but alas, there is work to do and a new semester on the horizon.  And it's a fresh canvas too, full of new possibilities, but also fresh vision of who I am and how I see others.  The one thing that has really been going through my mind these last two weeks is John Wesley's quote, "the world is my parish," as the Lakota and all who were native to this land are our neighbors and part of our parish too.  I have to admit that I feel more conflicted than ever as I go back to Washington, DC. Learning in history classes, we often get a one sided view.  Even as I recollect reading stories, watching cartoons, or in film, we have often grossly stereotyped the Native Americans as savage and dumb, treating many like animals something Pastor Robert talked about.  But in listening to stories from the different speakers we had, they are not dumb and they ARE our neighbors too.  They are just like us if we are willing to learn and listen. 

Sometimes I am ashamed of the history that we have taught, making the white man out as heroic and superior while relegating those who are not to an inferior status.  Yet today, we still struggle, especially with the escalation of racial tensions in the U.S. and religious battles that are happening around the world today. I know that this may read like this is white guilt, yet it is something that has gravely concerned me in how we treat people and construct differences in them.  While taking a course at Sacramento State, Multicultural America with Dr. Alyson Buckman, a lot of human differences were constructed and reinforced through how different groups were portrayed in film, literature, art, drama, and film.  In fact I remember watching a video clip of a documentary in that class and one of my classmates next to me kept saying "ignorance" under his breath in how one family with kids told their kids "say hi to the Indian." Most Native Americans do not even wear the feathers or war paint, nor go around swinging tomahawks or whooping like they are portrayed as doing.  Most of the traditional headwear is ceremonial and only worn during sacred ceremonies.  During a visit to the heritage center at Red Cloud Indian School, there was a Native American dressed in traditional ceremonial regalia, surrounded by images of cartoon depictions and was titled "I'm Not That Kind of Indian." And in all of our conversations with many of the Lakota locals, they are just like us and were happy to talk with us.  In fact, the worst thing we could do is try and be what they say in Neither Wolf nor Dog, "wannabe Indians." We cannot try to be something we are not, but we can certainly interact, talk, get to know, and learn the darker side of U.S. History from our Native American brothers and sisters.  Kelly Looking Horse and Basil Brave Heart also reinforced this, that we are all brothers and sisters, or the Lakota Phrase, Mitaukuye Oyasin, "we are all related."

I also think of the many children we engaged with during our two weeks at Pine Ridge, as it is a sacred time that Pastor Karen sets aside at the center for the children to come and play, simply being children.  The home lives of many of the children are not easy in any way, but the children show such joy when they are present.  They are eager to know us, engage with us, and put their struggles aside.  Hunger is also apparent, as Pastor Karen provides a meal for the children on Tuesday and Thursday every week.  For example, there were 38 children last night and 170 grilled cheese sandwiches made.  Not a sandwich was left.  The same thing Tuesday night.  Behavior is also not always perfect, even though there is a zero tolerance policy about bullying.  Many of the boys will act in an aggressive manner and try to establish a pecking order, and occasionally a pushing match might ensue.  But it is handled quickly, and Pastor Karen handles it with a stern grace.  Even one of the nights, one of the children had a rock in his pocket to protect himself while walking over.  Observing patterns of behavior was also illuminating, seeing signs of psychological trauma and other issues.  But, the most important part was that this is a safe place and a refuge. 

In the coming days, where do we go from here?  How do we repent for acts of violence and murder in the history of the American West, particularly Sand Creek and Wounded Knee?  How do we repent for taking away land that is sacred?  Some questions I am sure I and others on this immersion will be wrestling with in the days to come. 

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