Saturday, July 24, 2010

Just one more story from Rosebud - for now!

The other 'glimpse of grace', if you will, that we saw this past weekend concerned Alan.

Let me say right off the bat that I think all children are gifts from God.

I can say that even after 3 decades of working in a pediatric hospital!

My immediate association between watching Alan last Sunday at the give away and the story of Jesus in the temple talking to the elders is in no way meant to imply that there's anything 'messianic' about this 6 yr old boy.

However for me, the connections of these stories, once made, was very strong in that both scenarios involved a feast, a 'journey' with extended family and being 'found' among men generations older than the boy in question: a boy who seems to exhibit knowledge and skill far beyond his age and formal training.

I can't tell you the number of times Stacy (the grandmother who's raising him) turned to me or Ieshia (his sister), saying "Where's Alan?"

It felt that one minute he was sitting next to us and the next, he'd be gone.
And while other children his age were running around the back edges of the circle, playing in the South Dakota sky, Alan was drawn, as though magnetized, time and time again, back to the gathering of male drummers on the far side of the arbor.

Stacy even had to ask Ieshia to take a plate of food to Alan and remind him to eat, saying "he gets so lost in the music and drumming that he forgets."

A number of us have commented before, over the past two years as we've watched him dance, about the natural ability he seems to possess; how his movements and internal rhythms seem synchronized to the drums we've heard at wacipis (pow-wows).

That night, back in their home, Alan was asked to lead the prayer before we split a pizza.
He took out a wind instrument he received at the give away and said he was going to use that; then several seconds later, he seemed to change his mind and disappeared.

When he returned, he carried a small hand held drum, saying he wanted to use that instead.
For the next 2 minutes, he chanted and intoned in the Lakota tradition and I honestly can't say if he used 'formal' words or not.
I have no doubt that, in his fashion, he asked for blessings on what we were about to receive.
I also have no doubt that his invocations were heard and bestowed.

To those of us who observed him that day, his special abilities, passion and drive seemed divinely ordained.

It's easy to believe we might be witness to a very special gift for the Lakota people.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Now for the 'what HAPPENED' which is always subjective and therefore more powerful.

I'm not even sure I'll be able to find the 'right' words to sum up all we experienced this weekend but I wanted to attempt a post before the immediacy wore off and things returned to 'normal'.

At the moment, the only word that comes close to summing it up is 'magical'.

But then again...

I believe in 'signs'.
I believe that God and the universe He created are not silent and that, even in this age, there are 'messages' and 'reminders' to be received if we open our eyes, minds and hearts.
I believe there are forces at work beyond our understandings of time and dimension and that it can be terrifyingly awesome to be reminded of all we don't know and understand about how God works.

I believe we were allowed to witness several of them this weekend.

It started with the crack of dawn:

beautiful sunrises are nothing new in South Dakota. But this one was followed within 20 minutes by the sky filling with dark storm clouds
and, with no rain yet, a double rainbow filling the western sky.

On a day that was sure to include both laughter and tears, being blessed with a visible sign of Gods faithfulness was an auspicious beginning.

Rain clouds continued to decorate a blue sky even at the cemetery and, while the Episcopal clergy person was praying, fat raindrops began falling. Not a downfall or even a shower, but the definite presence of rain that threatened to build momentum and create a problem.

Minutes later however, as the medicine man began chanting in Lakota accompanied by the drum, burning sage and waving its perfume over the grave and mourners standing nearby, the rain stopped, the grey clouds dissipated and, as if on cue, a lone eagle flew overhead and hovered over the cemetery!
(this is not a picture from the cemetery since it felt intrusive to bring a camera to the spiritual/worship component of the day; I promise however, the effect was no less dramatic than this!)

Don's Lakota name was 'Warrior who stands alone' and the solitary eagle presenting itself to all of us as we stood on that hillside seemed to be incontrovertible evidence that his spirit was still with us. There wasn't a single person who was unaffected by such a powerful symbol.

We reminisced as we drove to Don and Maggie's farm for the giveaway, and talked about the wisdom of the Lakota tradition of mourning for a year and then celebrating the life of the one who died.

The 'give away', while it seems to have changed over the years - in that people no longer give away ALL their possessions, instead making many of the 'tributes' with which they'll honor people who have helped them - is still an important vehicle through which to channel much of the grief of loss.
For this whole first year after Dons death, Maggie and their daughter have been forced to stay engaged with other family and community members, coordinating who's making what, spending nights together working on quilts, planning quantities of food, making lists of who they want to acknowledge and honor, etc. I can only imagine that, during these events, stories and remembrances of Don and his time among them were shared, laughed about and wept over. It seems this tradition allows those in mourning, place and opportunities for sharing that grief and prevents them from sinking into quiet despair within their own dwellings.
It's as if they recognize the sleeplessness, the late nights and the unfocused grief that can plague after a death and intentionally have channeled those realities into productive and creative expression.

The custom of the giveaway and 'feed' is also a very dramatic way of enacting the reality that it is only through our vulnerability and dependence on our 'tribe' - and the grace of the Creator- that we get through the hardest times of life; it's a concrete way of expressing gratitude through feeding those who have fed us.

In the midst of the giveaway, Maggie pointed skyward and there, with a collective gasp, we saw TWO eagles - a male and female, according to those sitting next to me -flying over the farm and arbor.

I can't tell you what a gift that felt like, to me and those friends and family members sitting around me. I can't begin to imagine how it felt to Maggie.

The solitary eagle at the cemetery seeming to reveal that Dons spirit was still present and now two eagles, a 'couple', at the farm where so much of Don and Maggies life had been shared and lived in partnership.

Through tears, when one of the women sitting nearby proclaimed it was Dons way of telling Maggie they would always be together, she didn't need to work hard to convince me!

I don't know how frequently eagles fly around in South Dakota.
My collective time there, accumulated over 2 decades, would amount to no more than a few months.
But I do know that I've never seen an eagle before; let alone 3 in one day - in two places, miles apart, in circumstances and timing so perfectly suited to conjecture and interpretation.

It felt extraordinary at the time; it still does.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I'm back...

So much occurred this weekend on, basically, our single day in Rosebud that I've decided to split up the post about it into two components: WHAT happened: the events and facts of our day and What HAPPENED: the emotional impact and reflection about those events.

Here's the WHAT:

Because a college group was arriving and staying in ‘our’ dorm, Sandy, HFH Director, was kind enough to let us stay in one of the trailers on the south side of the campus.

No hot water and a disabled refrigerator and stove didn’t bother us a bit…the most unsettling thing for us was being on that side of the circle drive!!

While being grateful for a roof over our heads, I can honestly say that the whole trailer was in perpetual motion!

Between the constant South Dakota wind whipping across the plains, the trailer being spring loaded and the reality that it rocked whenever one of us walked or turned over in bed, it was like sleeping in an out of control hammock – in the middle of a wind tunnel!
Who would have guessed we’d need Dramamine for a night on the rez!

The next morning started early,

with an assist from a gorgeous sunrise.

We helped Maggie with last minute prep in the kitchen, then loaded up the van with star quilts and headed out to the cemetery for the unveiling of Dons grave marker.

The cemetery, next to the Episcopal Church in Soldier Creek, is a lovely spot on a hilltop where Don was buried last year next to family.
The ceremony honored both his upbringing in the Episcopal tradition, with prayers and words from Webster Two Hawk (one of the clergy on the reservation)as well as Don’s cultural heritage in the prayers and incantations of his brother-in-law, a recognized medicine man in the Lakota tradition.

After the service, everyone headed to Don and Maggie’s farm, Meadowlark Village, for a “Feed and Give away” which lasted for 5+ hours.

(For information about the historical roots of the 'giveaway', this article might be helpful).

Basically, for the past year, Maggie has been working night and day, preparing star quilts, and other tokens, to honor those people who were important to Don and his family during his entire lifetime - including the treatment team who followed him during the medical and physical changes which ultimately led to his death.

The amount of work involved in preparing for a giveaway is awe-inspiring.
Maggie made 60+ quilts; her sister in law made many others and even Jemma, their 9 yr old daughter made 5 contemporary quilts to honor her friends.

I don’t know about you but my past year hasn’t been nearly as productive!

Surprisingly, we were among those gifted with yet another example of how much more we receive from our time on Rosebud than anything we could possibly contribute!

Don was a member of the Bigfoot Riders, a group of Lakota who journey on horseback every December and camp along the paths taken by their ancestors on their way to Wounded Knee. These present day men and women ride to honor their tribe members massacred by Federal troops in 1890. The events and pain of that day, and era, continue to speak to the Lakota reality today and that group was the first to be honored.

The President of Sinte Gleska University, Rodney Bordeaux,spoke of Dons work as Cultural Documentarian, in preserving and defining their language and heritage, his commitment to educating all people about the Lakota way of life, his love of children and, above all, his devotion to family.

Much of the event was accompanied by music of a drum group Don started decades ago in Santa Fe. To see Alan, at his age, playing with the same group was very moving.
Alan’s intuitive love of all things Lakota is truly heartwarming to see.
While guests remained seated in the shade of the arbor, family members served a wonderful meal of fried chicken, ham, roast beef, soup, fry bread, salads and desserts that was enough to last the day, actually the whole week! Food kept being distributed until it was completely gone and friends/family were expected to bring dishes and containers (watecca dishes) to use in taking left-overs home.

After the celebration at Don and Maggie’s, we had a long visit with Stacy and the kids back at their house. (Harold was announcing a softball tournament across the rez and wasn’t able to join us.)

Only the reality of a long drive the next day made us end the evening at 10pm and head back to Bishop Hare.

I should add that, in between all the events of the day, we also managed to deliver another 20 boxes of personal sized toiletries.
Because of how successful the toiletries drive had been in June, we were unable to bring it all with us on the Mission trip a few weeks ago.

This ‘extra’ trip allowed us to bring the overflow…much to the delight of All Nations, White Buffalo Calf Woman Society Shelter and Tree of Life Ministries.
Pastor Russell Masartis told us that Tree of Life serves 160 families every day they're open/four days a week. With unemployment topping 90% on the reservation, economic ‘hardship’ doesn’t begin to describe the conditions in which many people live.

For $1.00 a visit, people become ‘co-op members’ of the Tree of Life; that membership ‘fee’ entitles them to a hot meal, 15 items of clothing, a bag of other items as available (now our toiletries!) and participation in whatever educational or recreational events are being offered.

Tribal EMS/Firefighters also receive items from Tree of Life to distribute when they respond to emergency situations on the reservation throughout the year.

We have NO doubt that the ‘small’ items donated by our friends, congregations and Webster/ Rock Hill Ministries will have a HUGE impact on the quality of life for many people on the Rosebud.

In so many ways, it feels as if things are coming to fruition with our efforts on the rez - which is an odd feeling to have given the reality that so many changes are imminent and things are actually very tenuous.

The inevitable ying-yang of existence, I guess - which clearly won't get altered by me!

So there you have the WHAT!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Winter counts

One of the Lakota art forms that has fascinated me is the Winter count - a pictorial rendering of the tribes most important events.
Done on tanned hides with 'ink' from berries and, therefore, limited color, these images captured the life of the tribe by taking a single event to characterize a whole year.

A new exhibit at the museum devoted a whole room to them; it was wonderful to see them 'in person' rather than pictures of them in books.

Some of the earlier counts didn't reference the system of time keeping or dating that the European invaders used at all...
time, as we've learned, is VERY relative on the reservation! (I LOVE it - and fit right in.)

Others adapted the 'year'...

and archivists have interviewed people who provided oral interpretations of the symbols.

One that captured my attention was 1857: Good Honor Woman had a child without a father. First time this happened.

It made me terribly sad to realize how much their society - and ours - has changed in a relatively short period of time.

It also made me wonder, if I had only ONE event per year, what images I would use to characterize MY personal winter counts.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


I’ll be honest.
I’ve not always been a ‘glass half-full’ kind of gal.

I like to think I’m a realist and can recognize half empty when I see it – and that, when I do, I’ll name it and deal with it.
God knows people who walk around determined to see only the bright side of everything piss me off - or maybe it’s just envy that their medication is working better than mine!

All I know is when the Pollyannas of this world start chirping, my hand starts twitching, revving up to bitch slap the Stepford smiles right off their faces, obliterating their self righteous statements about how ‘blessed’ they are!
Not that I have strong feelings about it!

Earlier this week however, I found myself seriously wishing I was a little more like them.

I was struck with the sudden realization that my entire career has had all the impact on the world of a mouse’s fart.

I mean, really…we’re knocking ourselves out down in the ER…seeing record numbers of abused kids - - and yet they keep right on coming.

If we were making a difference, any difference, wouldn’t part of that difference include reducing the amount of abuse that’s going on out there?

It’s as if - the more we see, the more we’re simply encouraging the pervs to step up their game - and they’ve risen to the challenge.

There’s a level of human brokenness out there that’s reaching critical mass…and our fingers are getting all pruney plugging the holes in the dike (don't even got here; you know what I'm talkin about!) and it’s not going to hold much longer.

Maybe a road trip will help…

Then again, maybe not.