South Dakota – update 2

Sunday May 24th (Audrey Gottheimer, Sana Javed, Joelle Salmon, Jen Brown)

Sunday morning we learned about and traveled to Wounded Knee. We went for a 20 minute bus ride, and were all a bit surprised when we stopped. It seemed like we were just stopping along the road, then saw a small blue sign that upon close inspection read “Massacre at Wounded Knee”. I (Audrey)could not believe that such a historic area did not have a substantial memorial or anything to honor the people who were murdered there. The word “Massacre” was bolted over another word which we were told had previously had read “Battle”. We walked across the street to what seemed like just another break among the hills, with a small gully along side of us. Tom told us that the massacre occured exactly where we were standing. The Lakota people were searched by soldiers, stripping them of weapons and as a result their only means of food and survival. When one man informed a soldier searching him that he had paid for his gun and it was his, chaos quickly ensued. Historians are not sure of the exact details, but soldiers on the surrounding hills began shooting down at the Lakota, as well as the soldiers that had been searching them. Since the Lakota had been stripped of most weapons, the fighting that occured was hand to hand brutal combat. Some hid in the gully, only to be gunned down later. As the surviving Indians began singing a song for the dead, soldiers on horses rode up and shot them.
Approximately 200 men, women and children were murdered. About a week after this massacre, people returned to bury the bodies and discovered a baby crying in the gully. They dug her out (there had been a blizzard), and a soldier purchased her. She led a life of abuse and neglect until she died at the age of 29. The Lakota people found her and buried her in the cemetary at Wounded Knee. As for the soldiers responsible for what was first called “The Battle of Wounded Knee”, twenty medals of honor were awarded to them. We learned that this was the most medals of honor ever awarded in one single ‘battle’ in American history to date. We went to the cemetary at the top of an onlooking hill, which is an ongoing cemetary for the Lakota.

After our stop at Wounded Knee, we took a bus ride to the Badlands.
The weather was sunny, breezy, and all around gorgeous and perfect for taking a hike. We walked as a group for about ten minutes through the grassy plains and arrived shortly at the foot of the eroded hills and mountains which time and nature had painted beige over the ages. The most phenomenal aspect of the Badlands, which we also saw briefly on our way to Re-member on the first day, is that they are so humbling.
These mountains and hills stretch far up into the sky and they carry an aura that is subtle, yet infinite. Looking at the ground, you could see how the dry earth had left the ground cracked in millions of pieces, making the Earth look like an endless puzzle. Fascinatingly enough, this same fragmentation extended all the way up to the hills and mountains where these massive, profound structures of nature were all composed of billions of smaller pieces of land. This personally led me (Sana) to make the connection between these structures, their pieces, and God himself. It was so mind-boggling to try and grasp the enormity and complexity of what seemed to be nature’s very own intricate puzzle manifested as mountains. With God comes also this inability to truly understand how far His Glory and Creation extend, both far out into the galaxies and universes but also deep within the Earth in the finest and intricate of details. I was really grateful for the time we got to meditate alone in the Badlands during our hike because it really gave me the chance to reflect in awe of the Creator and the beauty of his Creation.
– – –
Mitakuye Oyasin. We are all related. Despite my outward facade of joviality, internally I am very … aware of this sentiment. From my past Alternative Break trips, I have realized that my fate is intertwined with everyone else’s. I recognize that there are core people values that link all people, that drive all human actions. Not people of a certain faith, nor anyone of a specific spritual affiliation – human values. Minerva, our guest speaker for the evening, spoke about some of these values – the values of the Lakota.
Generosity. Bravery. Fortitude. Wisdom. I wholly believe that each of these values lies within every person. I wish that I could speak more about the connection I made with what Minerva spoke to us about, or that I could verbalize the thoughts that I am having during this trip, but I can’t. It is so difficult to, in the midst of this immersion experience, to really speak about what are incomplete, muddled thoughts. I can only say that I am taking in this experience with wide eyes and open ears and heart.
– – –
After learning much about the indian traditions and stories from Minerva, we returned to our group to participate in our first InterFaith Dialogue. We broke into the different religious groups that are respresented within our group: Middle Eastern Religions (Islam, Sikh), Protestant Christian, Catholic, Judaism (all 4 movements), and Non-affiliated believers and questioners. Our groups brainstrormed what is known about our faith or group and what we disagree with. We also listed 5 ideas or values that are strongly teached as a part of our religion. After the brainstorming session, we all presented to the group these stereotypes or ideas about or religion and what we feel is actually important or strongly teached. After groups had presented, we asked questions directly to the different faith followers, while being respectful, anything we wanted. As a group we learned about why the islamic faith prays the way they do, the idea of reincarnation from the Sikh, how protestant christian religions are very diverse, how the catholic faith is in deed changing with the times, what are the 4 movements of judaism, and how people without organized religion find guidance in their lives. Listening to all of our groups speak gave us time to listen, understand, and respect not all, but a diverse representation of the religions that are freely practiced in America.
Listening to Minerva, she was only allowed to freely practice the Native Traditions as of August 1978 known as the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. I am left awestruck learning that in a country that is built off of religious freedom, we have suppressed and forced natives like Minerva to assimilate. In many regards we are so lucky to be able to have this open discussion about religion, but like many developed and developing countries, our country until recently has not always been a place where open discussions and practicing were permissible.

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