I promised that I would keep you up to date on the AWARENESS WALK of Dan Ross, the Rockford, IL musician. So here is the second installment.
Don’t forget that Dan is walking to raise awareness of the conditions on Pine Ridge Reservation and to raise funds for ONE Spirit to build a Safe House for youth on the reservation. Raising funds mean Dan needs what? …..that’s right, SPONSORS!
You can pledge money per mile (2000 miles) per town (70 towns), per state (6 states) – however you prefer. Just remember that the money will go to build and furnish a home where young Lakota can go when they feel their own home is not safe for them. I have written enough on the problems that these kids face (alcoholic family, domestic abuse, etc) that you can understand why they might need a safer place from time to time.
Donations can be made to ONE Spirit via PayPal or by sending check/money order to: ONE Spirit, PO Box 3209, Rapid City, SD 57709.
If you are in the Cedar Rapids, IA area on Saturday, April 23rd, there is a fantastic fund raiser being help as Dan travels through that town. Tickets are only $10 in advance or $12 at the door. There is a link for more information ( http://heartforpineridge.webs.com/apps/webstore/products/show/2290972 ) but let me give you a bit of a preview – because I sure wish I was going to be there!
The main part of the program will be the appearance of Lawrence Swallow, a Lakota storyteller, singer and actor. Dan Ross will also be part of the show with his music.
In March, Dan Ross spent a week on Pine Ridge Reservation to get to know some of the people he will be helping and to experience Lakota culture in a more personal way.
While he was there, Dan kept a journal, as he will continue to do when he begins his walk in about one week. I found it very interesting and personal. I will include it here so that you, too, may start to know Dan Ross and Pine Ridge. I am also including a link here to an update that includes a set of maps so you can follow Dan along his anticipated route. That link is http://mail.google.com/a/nativeprogress.org/?ui=2&ik=5bcc2b9c68&view=pt&search=inbox&th=12f44c39409152ad
Now I’m going to let Dan Ross do the “talking” – enjoy reading his journal of his first visit to Pine Ridge Reservation.
Recently Dan Ross visited Pine Ridge Reservation in preparation for his walk for Pine Ridge Youth in April. The following are some of the highlights of his journey.
PINE RIDGE VISIT JOURNAL
Saturday March 12th, 2011
On the road leaving Rockford, IL by 8:00am. I decided to drive my walking route to the reservation instead of taking the interstate so I could see the places I plan to stay along the way. Driving on state highways amounted to less mileage, but it was still more time-consuming because of the stop signs, slower speed limits, and turns. However, these “cons” of taking this route were actually what made the drive more interesting, and kept me awake and alert.
Saw quite a few things worth noting: a bald eagle in flight, THOUSANDS (maybe 10,000) migrating geese in the air and on the ground in eastern SD, 2 separate herds of about 30 whitetail deer near the Missouri River, and I lost count of the Casey’s convenience stores.
Arrived in Kadoka, SD at the Dakota Inn Motel around 10:00pm, having gained an hour upon entering a different time zone (only to lose it the next day for Daylight Savings). The staff was nice, and the room cheap. I realized it was the first time I’d ever had my own hotel room all to myself. In fact, it was the first road trip I’d ever embarked on by myself. Slept well that night after so many hours on the road.
Sunday March 13th, 2011
Checked out of the motel by 10:00am, and made it out to the Badlands by 11:00am. I’ve visited the Badlands three times before, but always in the summer, so it was awesome to see them with snow. The feeling of isolation you get when you come to this place was magnified by the lack of tourists this time of year, which I enjoyed. Spent most of the day hiking on and off trails, making sure I didn’t get lost. Being the paleontology geek that I am, I was constantly on the lookout for fossils of ancient mammals, something for which the Badlands are quite well-known. My treasure hunting was successful too! I found a 10-12″ inch long lower jaw bone fossilized in a boulder near the “Saddle Pass” trail! After taking photos, I reported it to the Visitor Center and the rangers were excited to hear about it.
After hiking, I found a campsite in Cedar Pass and set up my tent with temperatures dropping into the 30s, with 20 degree temps forecasted for a low. Seeing as the lowest temperatures I’ll have to endure on the walk will most likely be in the 30s, staying warm this night would prove that I am well-enough prepared. So, I bundled up with five layers on my top half, three on my legs, a handkerchief around my head with another around my neck, and crawled into my 15-degree sleeping bag…
Monday March 14th, 2011
Though I did stay warm throughout the night, I didn’t sleep that well. Staying down in the sleeping bag gets stuffy, but when I let some fresh air in, it’s 20 degrees! I tried opening a small breathing hole, but after a while, my nose would begin to freeze – so it was a bit difficult. I awoke with the sun still below the horizon, packed up my tent (which was covered inside and out with frost), and slowly made my way out of the Badlands, making a few stops along the way.
Driving into Pine Ridge I didn’t really know what to expect. I felt like an intruder, or at the very least a foreigner. I spotted the sign for the Singing Horse Trading Post and slowed the car. The driveway was dirt and water had cut deep into some places, sculpting a sort of miniature Badlands landscape for my car to drive on. I made it past the worst part without scraping bottom, and parked in front of my home for the next five days. Rosie, the lady who runs the place, was outside. She greeted me with a big smile and welcomed me inside, making me feel less like an outsider.
In the afternoon I met John Dubray, a Lakota man who has been trying to get a youth center built in the Allen area on the eastern side of the reservation. He told me there are a couple youth centers in the towns of Pine Ridge and Kyle, but in outlying areas farther away the kids didn’t have much. John stressed to me the importance of receiving guidance in your childhood that would ultimately shape who you are and how you make decisions. As a result of the poverty, unemployment, and alcoholism, many of the kids lack this guidance and grow up in fear, never learning their own culture and the values of the Lakota people. The youth center in Allen would bring those kids opportunities in sports and the arts, and most importantly a safe place where they can learn and just have fun. Listening to John was eye-opening, and gave me much to think about after he left.
Tuesday March 15th, 2011
Slept well, as I was quite tired from my restless sleep in the Badlands the night before. Rosie’s three dogs are already my best friends, crawling all over me, competing for attention. I decided to go for a drive without any particular destination, and wound up in a place called Kiza Park. The road to the park became so muddy I had to pull over and walk some of the way. The park was also muddy because it had recently been flooded my snowmelt. The place seemed abandoned (partly because I was the only one there), but there was a basketball court, park kitchen, fire pit, outhouses, etc. As I was taking some pictures, a man in a truck drove by and yelled, “Is that you Bill?”, I replied, “No, I’m Dan…”. “Oh, you look like Bill from here”, he said. Not really sure what to say at this point, I walked over so we at least wouldn’t have to yell.
He asked me where I was from and I told him about my walk and why I was on the reservation. It turns out One Spirit had helped him build the park kitchen, and his whole extended family lived in the area near the park. The man invited me for a ride, so I accepted and off we went on the back roads. He told me how the Lakota people have large extended families and stay close usually, relying on each other in a small community. He stressed to me that although people from the outside might look at the trailers they lived in and feel sorry for them, they were actually quite happy, maybe happier than most. “We have a strong culture” he said, “Most Americans don’t have that, and that is why their lives are always about making money”. He laughed and went on to say that making money was a “nice hobby”, implying that it did not qualify as a culture. I would have to agree.
Wednesday March 16th, 2011
Today I met with an elder named Richard Broken Nose, who lived with his family in a house north of Pine Ridge. It was a little difficult to find the place, as there aren’t many landmarks to reference in the prairie, but I made it. I was first greeted by three happy puppies wagging their tails, then by the elderly man, who shook my hand and welcomed me inside. We began talking and he explained the problems the youth are having, focusing on the high drop-out rate and the fact that many of those who do graduate do so with very low grades. He said they don’t get the care they need as kids. I suppose it makes sense that when you receive little care from adults, you have less care to give for things like school. Talking to him reassured me once again that I’ve chosen a worthy cause to walk for.
In the afternoon, I met up with John DuBray again over at Porcupine Butte, where the local radio station called KILI Radio is located. He had reserved some radio time to talk about the youth on the reservation and how I’m going to help raise money with the walk. I was quite nervous before going on the air, still feeling like a foreigner, and hoping I didn’t make a fool of myself. We went on and John talked about trying to build the youth center in Allen to help the kids there, and then turned it over to me to introduce myself and tell everyone what I’ll be doing this year. After I got started, most of the nervousness went away and I ended up more or less satisfied with how things went.
That evening I had been invited to a sweat lodge, a traditional ceremony that would purify me before I leave on my journey. I was excited and a little apprehensive, not knowing exactly what I was in for. I drove to John Dubray’s house and from there he took me down the road to the sweat lodge. A large fire burned outside with rocks in the middle glowing so orange it was hard to tell them apart from the coals. After waiting for them to get good and hot , I entered the sweat lodge with at least ten others. The bright orange glowing stones were placed in the center, medicine was sprinkled on them, prayers were said, and then the water was poured. The steam was hotter than I had imagined, and the air difficult to breathe. I found myself holding my towel over my face, yet the others managed to sing loudly, seemingly unaffected by heat. Though it was difficult to endure by the fourth round of water and rocks, it was a very enriching experience. It was important to see it all the way through, as I will undoubtedly have to see my walk all the way through, no matter how difficult times get. During the ceremony, they had said prayers for me to give me strength for the journey. After that night especially, I began to feel much more comfortable being on the reservation. Any preconceived notions I may have had of Pine Ridge and the Lakota people had literally perspired right out of me.
Thursday March 17th, 2011
Yesterday I was thinking about meeting Merle Locke, a Lakota artist, but the day got so busy that we decided to meet today. I drove down by the town of Pine Ridge and he directed me over the phone to his house. He greeted me, welcomed me inside, and right away began talking about his art. Merle paints on century-old ledger paper, which was used by Indians on the reservations when they had nothing else to paint on. He was very good and the walls of his house were filled with his work. After getting acquainted, we drove to the Red Cloud Heritage Center and he gave me a tour of the art gallery there. I had a great time looking at all the paintings and beadwork, some of which was quite old. Having Merle there to explain the history and meaning behind the art was a special treat – it would not have been the same if I had just gone there by myself. He was a real easy-going guy, who I had no trouble relating to. He said he has always stuck to his own path in life rather than simply following the crowd, which reminded me of my own personal reasons for going on this walk.
Friday March 18th, 2011
Around 9:00am, Billy Jumping Eagle stopped by the Singing Horse, where I was staying. Billy is a school bus driver and had just finished his morning route. Off the job, he runs a “safe house” for kids. Basically it’s his and his wife’s own house which they open up to any kids who need a home away from home, be it temporary or permanent. Through One Spirit, they will be building a second house in addition to their own, so they can house even more kids.
Later on I went over to check out the safe house, which was quite close to where I was staying actually. When I arrived, there were some teenagers extracting an engine from a large van, and younger kids running around inside and outside the house. Billy invited me in and I distributed some of my mom’s homemade chocolate chip cookies to the kids, who enjoyed them immensely. It was a bustling and busy place, but eventually I found some time to tell everyone what I would be doing this year and all the kids seemed pretty interested. After answering their questions, some began joking around, telling each other they should go with me. The atmosphere was laid back and I didn’t feel like a stranger. After watching some “Wheel of Fortune” with Billy, I decided to head out. It was a good visit though – Billy and his wife Donna (who unfortunately I was unable to meet) do a great thing and it’s obvious they love kids and help them all a great deal.
Saturday March 19th, 2011
Today was my last here on the reservation, but I still managed to unexpectedly meet one more person – a man named Buck, who has been building a new trailer for Rosie at the Singing Horse so she can accommodate more guests. Buck (not Lakota, I think he was from Oklahoma) was down-to-earth and had a good sense of humor. He said he had been an alcoholic, but had been free of it for many years. He told me, “Alcohol doesn’t see colors”, referring to the fact that drugs don’t discriminate and anyone of any race can fall victim. Buck was excited to hear about what I was doing, and compared my walk to the sweat lodge – if I can see it through to the end I will be much stronger for it and it will renew me. I couldn’t agree more. Buck seemed to have a great deal of wisdom from his experiences. He told about how he used to hitchhike and walk long distances by himself, sleep under bridges, and live a hard life. He joined Rosie and me for a big breakfast (which Rosie made for us) and I enjoyed his company a great deal.
All in all, I got exactly what I wanted out of this experience, which is pretty simple really: to understand what I am walking for – not to tell everyone a bunch of statistics about the sub-standard conditions at Pine Ridge, which they could read in a book, but to tell them from my experiences here what kind of help the Lakota really want, especially for their youth. I look forward to walking through the reservation in June, and hopefully visiting many of these people again. Thanks Rosie for giving me such a nice place to stay for my visit, and John for inviting me to the inipi, and Alex, Richard and Linda, Merle, Billy and Donna, and Buck for helping me to better understand the Lakota people’s way of life.
More Updates will follow.