Entering the Reservation

by caitlynpickens

First order of business: on our way out here, we stopped at a tiny store on the side of the road to buy buffalo jerky. Email me at caitlynpickens@gmail.com if you want me to pick some up for you on the way back so you can try it.

As we approached the reservation, Tracy gave me and Anica some lessons about Lakota history. One story that sticks out in my mind is that of the Massacre at Wounded Knee. For a long time, it was taught in history as the “Battle of Wounded Knee.” In truth, it was a massacre. The night of the massacre, a group of Lakota gathered to perform the Ghost Dance, a ritual which had been banned by the settlers. In response, white soldiers confronted the Native Americans. A shot was fired by a Sioux member, although it is documented in history as an accident. The white soldiers responded by chasing down and slaughtering 300 of the Sioux tribe that night, including the women and children. For more details on this story, you can read about the Massacre at Wounded Knee here: http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/knee.htm.

With this story at the front of our minds, we entered the territory which marks the start of the reservation. Actually, Anica and I did not notice the difference between the open fields and hills of American South Dakota and Native American South Dakota. It all looked about the same: lots of grass, sparse trees, small fences lining the roads, some cows and horses, little houses. Tracy told us how the land we were passing was the borderlands of the reservation, and is “checkered” with plots of land that natives sold to white settlers at one point in time.

After driving past the checkerboard, we entered into an area which Tracy deemed “The Reservation.” Although there were still fences along the sides of the roads, there were no longer many fences marking territory elsewhere. The land did not appear to be parceled up into smaller sections; it stretched on for miles in every direction, seemingly unclaimed. The hills caught my attention the most, since we don’t have any of those in Chicago. After about half an hour of driving into the rez, we started passing some small, long, one-story houses. Below is a picture I found online which is a very accurate representation of the housing:

We drove for hours in the reservation. I think this was the most surprising part for me. I don’t know what I expected, but certainly not the enormity of the rez. It stretches for hours. In fact, the rez is 3,468 square miles, which is larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined.

We passed small towns on the rez as well. Wamblee and Kyle are the names of a couple which stick out in my mind. The town we are staying in is called Pahin Sinte, which is Lakota for Porcupine. Kyle is notable because it houses a college, Oglala Lakota College, a four-year institution. A link to OLC’s website is here: http://www.olc.edu/. Some of the students in our workshop will be taking a field trip to OLC during the time we are here; if Anica and I are lucky, they will take us with.

Another major observation I had about the state of the rez was the car farms surrounding many of the houses. Tracy told us that the Lakota do not like to buy new cars; instead, they purchase old junk cars and use pieces from other old cars to update any broken parts. In order to do so, they end up storing tons of cars to the back or side of their houses. It is common to see a Lakota house with 20 or more broken-down cars in the back yard.

Furthermore, many of the families cannot afford to own cars. Therefore, it is standard practice for people to hitchhike from one town (or even reservation) to the next. As we drove along the highway, we saw a truck picking up a young man walking on the side of the road. He hopped in the back of the truck, and the driver took him as far as he needed. This practice seems incredibly unsafe to me, but Tracy assures me that it is standard here, and that she even picked up a female hitchhiker at one point.

The school we are staying in, Pahin Sinte Owayawa (Porcupine School), is brand new. There is the old Porcupine school next door, and half of it has been burned down by hoodlums. The new school is beautiful, fully furnished, and does not yet sport any graffiti that I have seen. We are living in a classroom, sleeping on cots, and using a “life skills” classroom with a kitchen, shower, and laundry facilities to cook and clean. I’ll try to get some pictures of both the old and new Porcupine schools in the near future and post them.

We explored the extent of the school yesterday, and there are some interesting design and decoration techniques to note. The first is the use of the circle; nearly all of the architecture is designed in a circular shape. The cafeteria, the media center, and the main office are all circular in shape. The classrooms are offshoots of the central circle and appear to be arranged in pods according to grade level. We explored the 3rd grade hallway, which was lined with “Meth destroys your soul. Meth destroys your family. Meth destroys your life.” posters. I can’t imagine a school outside of here where that sort of material would be allowed around such young children, to be honest. But, we have learned that drug and alcohol use prove to be major problems on the rez, and the teachers try to target the students from a young age to be drug-free. In the cafeteria, there are murals of buffalo and a Lakota made out of chip and candy wrappers. All of the standard inspirational posters that teachers hang refer to culture, family, honor, and history of the Lakota.

One of Tracy’s friends and our fellow teacher (who lives here on the rez), Lisa, gave Tracy some books for us to read about Sioux history while we are here. The one I picked up is called Waterlily. I plan on starting it tonight.