I took few photos during our stay at Pine Ridge. I mostly spent the time observing and listening, because I did not want to impose my preconceptions on the experience in a way that would have interfered with understanding what I saw and heard. The act of composing a photograph requires forming an idea of what is seen, and choosing a point of view on it, as well as separating oneself from the surroundings so as to select the subject and background. I opted to remain in the experience and not to be a witness to it. In time, I will know better how to express my views on it, but for now I will let it rest.
Lauren was the instigator for our side trip into the Oglala Lakota Reservation to meet activist Christinia Eala. She wrote:
“Several years ago I met Christinia Eala through a mutual friend, here on Facebook. We hit it off immediately. Christinia is a Lakota elder in her 70’s, who has been an activist for much of her adult life. From the onset, she asked me to come volunteer to work with her organization in building sustainable earth dome housing in the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
“Pine Ridge is an Oglala Lakota Native American reservation , and is the poorest community in the USA, and… sits adjacent to Rosebud and Standing Rock. I was unable at that time, due to illness in my family. Much later, there was talk of my joining Christinia’s camp of water protectors at Standing Rock, and while Christina was present for the run of the occupation there, I was again unable to go as my sister was to be hospitalized, and then passed.
“So when my father and I began planning this epic road trip, I made sure we built in days to visit with Christinia, and to do some service for the struggling indigenous communities in this area.
“I simply cannot wait to finally meet this amazing woman, and to get my hands dirty in an effort to provide what help I can to first nations families who live in abhorrent conditions in a nation which has done everything it could to break them, but who continue to survive and thrive, thanks to elders like Christinia who work tirelessly to teach the children their traditions, language and the custom of giving to and providing for community as paramount to all things.
“We will be working on the reservation for a number of days, but may have exceedingly limited access to wifi and cell service. I promise to take photos when able, and post when we depart.”
Christinia showed us around the facilities they would be using for the Convergence event later in the summer. The organization that Christinia founded, the Tiyospaye Winyan Maka (Lakota words that translate to “Extended Family of Women of the Earth”), a non-profit organization empowering women to provide sustenance, healing and opportunity for their children and grandchildren, has partnered with Colorado State University and the Oglala Lakota Cultural & Economic Revitalization Initiative in a project to promote sustainable housing, renewable energy, and nutritional and educational sovereignty for indigenous families. She is working with a local chapter of Engineers Without Borders from CSU.
After meeting Christinia and seeing the facilities she has guided to reality on the remote ranch on the reservation, we drove east along with Christinia, who was taking her car for repairs at her nephew’s house on the Rosebud Indian reservation that adjoins Pine Ridge. We stopped in Pine Ridge, where Christinia met a friend and activist to discuss his campaign to reform tribal politics. After that, we drove to visit Christinia’s friend in Pine Ridge, who lived a well-kept house with a fenced yard in town. Her home was neat and well-tended (normal for almost any town we’d passed through outside the reservation). She showed us a photograph of her ancestor Black Elk, a great heyoka of the Lakota. After visiting for half an hour or so we said goodbyes and departed for the next leg of our trip, to Christinia’s nephew in Rosebud. She had mentioned going there casually as though it was not much of a drive.
We learned about the meaning of distance on the reservation. About a hundred miles later we arrived in mid-afternoon at her nephew’s mobile home on the Rosebud reservation. The home was filled with overstuffed chairs and mementos. They offered us tea and we talked. Christinia’s nephew was a country western singer and sang for us, accompanying himself on his guitar. After a pleasant visit Lauren and I excused ourselves, saying we needed to get on the road. I knew if we stayed longer they would have wanted to invite us to eat dinner with them and breakfast if we spent the night. Not wanting to impose, I thought we should leave. I really did want to get on the road.
As the light began to fade toward sunset we drove east toward Murdo and Interstate 90. After dark we stopped at a rest area near Vivian for the night.