In June of 2014, twelve FCC Church members flew to Rapid City, South Dakota and then traveled to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to volunteer for one week with Re-Member, a nonprofit organization working in solidarity with the Oglala Lakota people. Re-Member takes its name from the ancient definition, to “put back that which is broken; to re-member.” Conditions on Pine Ridge represent a part of our world that is broken, a part that they seek to put back together. Re-Member works to improve the quality of reservation life through relationships, shared resources and volunteer services, providing more affordable and adequate homes for people who are in desperate need. They are there to witness and support the Lakota, and to expose others to the history of U.S./Indian relations and to understand the issues Native Americans face even today.
We built bunk beds, bookcases, wheelchair ramps and stairs; and delivered them to homes around the reservation. We dug holes to install outhouses where there was no running water. We put skirting on trailers to weatherize homes against South Dakota winters that see 40 below zero and thereby reduce a typical family’s cold weather heating bill of $1,400. And along the way we visited Wounded Knee Memorial and Cemetery, Black Elk’s home, museums and community colleges. From Indian guest speakers we learned about the culture and tenacity of the Lakota people who, from the time of the paleo-Indians, have inhabited this land for 11,000 years.
We in the U.S. have done everything in our power to kill off the Indian: their language, their people, and the buffalo that was critical to their survival. But they remain. And as much as the members of our church wanted to go do a project and “fix the problem” – we could only walk alongside and show respect and support as they struggle from the pit of degradation and atrocity where we have thrown them. It is easier to climb out of a six foot outhouse hole than to live with these hard truths.
At a final group meeting, Ted asked us to share what we have experienced and what we will leave behind. We were impressed by the depth of the responses of the young people. Personally, it has been important to remember to be in touch with the natural world, to regard the lightening as our grandfathers and remember the wisdom of our grandmothers – to be still long enough to feel the earth through the touch of the grasses as we walk through them, and to hear the earth in the wind. These are things that Indians have known for thousands of years. We tried to stamp them out. But they remain, despite everything. They remain to teach us how to live.
“Mitakuye Oyasin” – “All Are Related”
Ellen LaBruce, Moderator, 2014
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