Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Bunk Beds for Friends!

Consuella, daughter of Matt, one of Re-Member's construction leaders... and my best friend here.
Friends. We have so many friends out here. Friends whose stories we're hearing and aching for. Friends who inspire and move us to go deeper into the earth, our spirits, our connectedness to all things. The Lakota end every prayer with the phrase Mitakuye Oyasin, which means We Are All Related or We Are Related To All Things. The two-leggeds, the four-legged and the winged... We are one family, meant to honor and care for each other.

Still, we live in a system that doesn't support such communalism, and the Lakota have been made to suffer countlessly by the powers at large, particularly the US government. The history is depressing. The current situation isn't much brighter. But the Lakota are creative survivors, helping themselves and each other to get through. Our friends here have let us know how we can help, too--bunk beds.

Each winter thousands of Lakota children hurdle up on floors of delapidated trailors alongside elders to brave another freezing night. Within one week I have met over 20 youth who have told me that they have never slept in a bed. I talked with them in their homes as I, alongside a handful of Re-Member volunteers, delivered and constructed their very first beds. As they jumped into fresh linens, we watched something shift in them--something tangible--a small sense that somehow, they are cared for, held, safe.

Crystal--a nine year old girl--saw us as we were delivering bunk beds to her neighbors. She came up to me and told me that she lives with ten other kids, none of which have beds, and did we have any more left for her family. Luckily, that day we did. Other days, our lumber supply is too low because we don't have the funds and we have to put people on the wait list.

Through Re-Member, it takes $100 to build a set of bunk beds, including mattresses, sheets and pillows. That means it takes $50 to give a child her first bed. Just 50 bucks.

This year already, Re-Member has delivered 83 bunkbeds, creating 166 beds for the Lakota thanks to generous donations by supporters.

In one week as a Program Manager, I make $150. Not much, but enough to give three kids a place to rest at night.

I'll get the ball rolling by pitching in $150 for three friends.

Will you contribute $50 to give a child his first bed? 
Or $100 for a whole set?
$150 makes you matching royalty.
Above that, I just love you.
If you're living on a budget, you can still help by chipping in any small amount ($5, $10, $20) and/or spread the word on Facebook, Twitter and e-mail!

Every bit counts and we appreciate your generosity!

These children are my best friends on the Rez--full of imagination, play, and zest. Let's be part of the village that raises these kids--part of the human family that leaves no strand behind.

Thank you for your courage. Mitakye Oyasin... Let's do this thing!

If we can raise $5,000 or more, Brian will donate one weeks' pay for good measure.

PS--Please leave a comment or e-mail me with your address if you donate so I can thank you personally!
PPS--All donations go directly to Re-Member and are tax deductable. They will send you confirmation in due time.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Universal Warrior

On-again-off-again tears mixed with sweat and suntan lotion
Too much disbelief for too many reasons
Sweltering afternoon sun giving birth to a rash on my skin, with
Hand after hand offering friendly gestures from car windows
telling us that we are welcome here--
that we are a certain shade of Warrior for travelling this many miles by bike
and every shade is One

He waves to us from his front porch, broken fence, tin can rectangle
He offers us water from the front yard spicket
He asks us to stay a while, visit, ask him anything we want
On-again-off-again tears mix with centuries of sweat--no suntan lotion
Too much heartache for too many reasons
Sweltering afternoon sun heating his home like an oven

He gestures us in, tells us he doesn't show many people his home
His grandfather puzzle-pieced together on the wall
Sitting Bull, Red Cloud, posters with AIM emblems
The Tribal Council banters on the local radio about "cultural education"
He excuses his French because Bull shit... those fuckers... they're all lining their pockets while we get nothin'!
Look at this! I get my water from my front yard and go to the bathroom in an outhouse!
He pounds his hand on his bare chest
Change our hearts! We need to change our hearts!

His tears resurface just before he swallows them in alcohol-laced orange juice
He smiles wide, lips receeding without showing his teeth
Pauses, gazes out past the rolling hills, past the pine trees, past the sky
This was a damn Holocaust!
The Jews survived their Holocaust.
The American Negroes survived their Holocaust.
I hope we can survive ours.

Orange Juice.
I guess I'm still here.

Everybody has opinions. I have an opinion!
But nobody asks a dumb Indian.
They don't represent me!--

His pride makes my insides crumble like the Badlands on fast foward
He is anything but a dumb Indian
Sacred as the hills, the trees, the sky
Sacred as the knowledge that We Are All Related

The afternoon sun sets into the early evening
Our rested legs swing over our bikes to pedal their last 16 miles
On-again-off-again tears mixed with sweat and sunburn
Too much overwhelm for too many reasons

We fly down a 3-mile stretch, balancing between rumble strip and grass
Between heartbreak and holocaust
Between emotional and physical exhaustion
We exist on a tight rope
Our falling means our death
And we must survive to tell our story
We must survive to create new stories
Which are really ancient stories
Which is really all of existence on repeat

5 miles in the distance we spot a red barn-like building at the bottom of a hill
The same hill where we stood two summers ago
dreaming an impossible journey of carrying ourselves back
with our own two legs, two wheels

On-again-off-again tears
Deep breaths, not bothering to excuse my French
Holy FUCK; how did we do this?!
We turn the bend with a mile to go, wind swooping us along
Our wheels meet the dirt-road driveway and
I sob like a an over-tired child who can't find her blanket
Except the only thing I can't find is a suitable explination of
How we made something wonderful from something impossible

He grins like a proud papa and says
We did it together!
I sob some more and then we mount our bikes for the 100 yard dash up the driveway
We're met by smiling faces, wonder, disbelief, questions--
But none that I will answer
Not in words

The medicine wheel is lush with tomato and pepper plants--
Don't forget the weeds--
My body rests beside them, heart bouncing out of my chest
I make out the sky through sunglasses and teary eyes
Feeling unbelievable evidence in my aching legs
my exploding heart
my dumbfounded mind
the inifinite sky--
That impossible visions are made manifest all the time
and the unlikliest of events are sometimes just
Forgotten potential, forgotten strength
The Warrior Spirit that waits for our awakening

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Why Pine Ridge: forgotten history & invisible survivors

Yesterday was the 4th of July, the day in which we celebrate our nation's independence from the tyrants of the British Empire. Of course, this independence did not include poor whites, black slaves and the Indians*, who were being driven from their land. Therefore, this day can also be looked at as a day of mourning as genocide and westward expansion of the country continued. The history that is rarely taught to it's fullest extent is what has brought me back to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota for the second time.

Pine Ridge is the home of the Oglala Lakota tribe, which is part of the great Sioux Tribe (a racist term dubbed by the french, meaning "enemy"). On the rez you can find Wounded Knee, site of the 1890 Massacre in which the U.S. Calvary brutally killed hundreds of Lakota men, woman, and children. This was the U.S. government's final way of dealing with the "Indian Problem" after breaking countless treaties. The most well known broken treaty being the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, which promised to the Lakota the Black Hills (where you can find Mt Rushmore), and hunting grounds in much of Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota. Of course, this was before the white man discovered rich minerals in the Black Hills that they wanted to exploit from the earth.

The U.S. government systematically forced the Lakota to change their way of life by trying to make them farmers and own land, lifestyles totally foreign to the Lakota. They were also forced onto secluded and barren reservations where hunting the sacred buffalo was regulated and living off government rations was the new way of life for the hunters. Later, the Eisenhower Administration moved to force Indians into the cities in order save the money that was spent on the reservations, which created new Indian Ghettos throughout western cities. Reservations became even more desolate and depressing, leaving glimpses of the third world in the richest country in human history.

In the 1970s, there was a resurgence of activity on Pine Ridge and throughout the U.S. with the American Indian Movement (AIM). They demanded reparations, fully funded programs for education, health and other basic needs, and claiming back the land that was stolen from them. This got them right on the Terrorist Watch List. In the 1970s Pine Ridge was run like a Latin American dictatorship would operate. The U.S. would funnel money to Dick Wilson, the tribal council president, who basically made the Rez a very scary place, outlawing AIM and having the Guardians of the Olgala Nation (Goon) Squad hunt them down with nightly shoot outs. The Goon Squad worked with the FBI and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The blood of hundreds of deaths were on their hands just within the course of a couple years. As tensions rose between AIM and the FBI, there was a shoot out at Oglala on the Rez resulting in the death of two FBI agents and one Indian. The FBI wanted justice no matter what and to make a long story short two Indians were found not guilty but Leonard Peliter, an AIM activist, was convicted for two consecutive life sentences. As more and more documents came out through the Freedom of Information Act there was very little evidence against Peliter and he did not get a fair trail. Peliter is still to this day a political prisoner of the U.S. There is so much forgotten history to cover, and I would strongly recommend reading In the Spirit of Crazy Horse: The Story of Leonard Peltier and the FBI's war on the American Indian Movement for a chance at relearning our nation's past.

Today on Pine Ridge you will see a world of extremes with unemployment upward to 85% and the life expectancy the second lowest in the Western Hemishere. You will find many of the social ills of society enhanced, with alcoholism, diabetes and teen suicide rates at depressing levels. You will find many homes without plumbing, electricity, or heat. Yes, all of this in the richest nation in the world. But you will only find these things if you are looking. And many do not look. Many do not wish to see. Many wish to let the surviving Indians go unnoticed. But we cannot.

Rach and I are about to start our month long jobs on the Rez with the organization Re-Member. Re-Member is not only about helping build houses, out houses, bunk beds or wheel chair ramps (though they provide these needed resources to hundreds of Lakota families every year). They are about building relationships between current-day Lakota and Americans, and re-teaching the history of the indigenous people of this land. Re-Member brings volunteers every week from March-October for an immersion service program. Most volunteers can't help but return to this incredible organization and place. We are two of those volunteers. Since we went in 2009 we have been advocates for the Lakota and the oppressed of the world. Please check them out at and consider coming out to do a week-long program (I swear it will change your life) or donate money to the cause.

Though Re-Member's does not and cannot "fix" everything on the Rez, it is making strides in bridging gaps--resource gaps, relationship gaps, and knowledge gaps. In my opinion, a more sustainable solution would be reparations, a sovereign nation for the Lakota, and a formal apology by the US government. But right now what Re-Member is doing is materially benefiting the Lakota people and we can only hope that this helps bring back the fighting spirit of Crazy Horse and the belief that things can be different.

*notice that I am referring to the indigenous people as Indians rather than Native Americans or American Indians. This is how they refer to themselves on the rez.

If you are interested in learning more check out these resources:

Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee (all about the fight in the late 1800s)
Indcident at Oglala (about the Peliter case)

Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
In the Spirit of Crazy Horse by Peter Matthiessen (about the Peliter case and AIM in the 1970s) The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven by Sherman Alexi (compilation of shot stories that reveal reservation culture)
Prison Writings: My Life is My Sun Dance by Leonard Peliter (a easy poetyic read)