Dear Friends and Relatives:
I have been taking my children up to the Pine Ridge reservation since they were toddlers. A decade and more later, we still make regular trips there — and those trips are almost always challenging for them. Difficult in many ways. And intimidating. Often times confusing. We usually enter the reservation through the tiny town of White Clay, a town in existence largely to sell alcohol. It’s a tragic place where the shadow White world meets the shadow modern day Lakota. My kids have matured and grown up in some ways passing through there. I try to explain poverty, and cultural differences, and history and our responsibility to our Relatives. And by the time we get to where we are going on the reservation itself, I realize they are . . . still confused. It’s a complicated and intense place with a lot to teach. This past winter one of my daughters spent a couple hours staring at the passing landscape on the reservation through the car window. She was touched and concerned by the stray dogs chasing cars, hunting and walking along the roads as we sped by. When we stopped and visited with some of our relatives, she asked about the dogs. Where they came from. Who owned them? Why were they allowed to run in the roads? Some of the dogs have homes. Some don’t. There are no shelters. And often times, not enough food. It’s an intense place. And confusing for a young girl raised in a different Nation and environment. So, she offered to help. She talked with people from the tribe. And to her friends and family back home. She tried to understand how best to help. And I tried to explain a hand up versus a hand out, and sustainability, and empowering and prioritizing needs. And it all left her even more confused. So, she started baking cookies (doggie and human) and drew up posters and fliers, and organized her friends and set out a table by the street and started selling baked goods to raise money for the dogs on the reservation. I am very proud and touched by her compassion and love for animals. And for the initiative she took to make a small difference. I continue to be inspired by how she shrugged off my overwhelming lessons that I’m not even sure I understand or have full confidence in. And how, she just did what she was moved to do to help her Relatives. That is enough. My kids and the Lakota have taught me an enormous amount over the past decade and more. There is a way of living and being in relationship that are most clearly seen and understood through a child’s eyes. And through the traditions and culture of a People that thrived for thousands of years. Every time I leave the reservation, I am grateful for those lessons learned and gifts. “Ni tokab takuni otehikesniye.” In front of us, nothing is difficult.
Dave Ventimiglia Executive Director