by Bruce Roberts
Our 7th annual trip to the Pine Ridge reservation was a great success. We were joined this year by volunteers, Theresa Racicot and Mike Denton, who stayed with us at Re-member, the non-profit with whom we have worked with every summer. Joy and I had driven most of the way from Denver spending the night at a tiny reconstructed Western town called the High Plains Homestead. The lodging was modest but we did get a short stack of pancakes in the morning and an entertaining monologue by the cook /co-owner about the history of the region from the Paleolithic period to the early settlers in the region 150 years ago and the inevitable collision with the Native people already living there. We enjoyed the final 3 hour drive into the reservation passing 3 or 4 southbound freight trains pulling up to 100 cars each filled to the brim with Montana coal.
Our goal upon reaching the reservation was to meet and get to know the 11 Lakota young people and their families that had been selected for the 2018 Lakota YouthStay program. Though the youth and families had met together several times in May and June with the LYS advisors on the reservation, Christy Webber and Nikki Big Crow, and we had numerous phone calls c with them, they had not yet met us in person.
We finally got that opportunity at a planned meeting at the Oglala Lakota College center in Pine Ridge village. Single parents, grandparents, guardians, siblings of the selected youth and LYS youth from the 2017 program came together to enjoy a meal, spend time hearing about the LYS program activities, travel arrangements and trip preparation. The meeting lifted our spirits when we saw the smiles, enthusiasm and excitement on the faces of the youth and families. The host family letters were read, forms were completed, and questions were answered. One of the Lakota elders present talked with the youth about the tipi that would be raised and painted during the Tipi Community Day in Medford and another elder talked with them about their responsibility to be worthy representatives of their tribe and families, to be strong Lakota youth, to go out and explore the world and bring back an interesting story or song for their family and community. The kids listened intently to both of the elders with smiles on their faces.
We ended the night with hugs and laughter and looked forward to the day trip to Rapid City with all the youth a few days later. With ingenuity and resourcefulness, we were able to secure enough vehicles to take all the kids plus a few of the youth from the 2017 LYS program to the regional airport for a tour with an airport representative and then on to the Watiki Water Park. At the Water Park, the kids let loose splashing around in the Lazy River, playing water basketball and taking elaborate slides, including the “Toilet Bowl”, down into the pool. The youth had a great time and got to know each other in a fun, relaxed way. We saw the youth connecting and bonding through engagement in the water park activities and felt confident that this group would all be on board with the trip to Boston. We ended the day trip to Rapid City by stopping at the Dairy Queen on the way out of town. During the 2 hour drive back to the reservation, the youth talked enthusiastically about day at Watiki and asked questions about their host families and the various activities planned in Boston….. until they all feel asleep contentedly in the back seats. Their families were waiting for us at the assigned drop off points and took charge of their happy kids. Lots of high fives, smiles and hugs ended the day.
The get-togethers on the reservation are a key component for having a successful program. We are grateful for every moment we are able to spend on the reservation among the beautiful Lakota youth and their families and we look forward to seeing them in Medford on July 24th!