Friday, August 5, 2016

Words Are Never Enough: Reflections from Pine Ridge

The wind started shaking my tent at 1:58AM. We had to drop people off at the airport 100 miles away by 4:30AM. It was as if the wind knew, and was acting as Mother Earth’s alarm clock, helping us to take care of what needed to be done.

These are the kinds of things that seem to happen every time we are on Pine Ridge. Energy, spirit and relationships are strong, and it is easier to be present in the moment. Wind announces that it is coming so that you can stop what you are doing and revel in its cooling presence. White cows emerge just as they are inquired about; dogs warn us to prepare for storms in the most remarkable ways – knocking on doors; cars get stuck in mud just in time for us to get out and see remarkable views. The
ever-present nature, the natural beauty of the Rez and the Badlands, weather elements, plants and animals (including horses joining us for dinner) all help us deepen our connection to all that is around us in ways that are not always felt in our daily routines. They are what invite a downpour of rain to become a communal shower, and deeply appreciating a nap in the shade. They are what get people to wake up at 5AM just to watch the sunrise or fall into frequent moments of silence and worship.

Mike Sierra's farm
And there are the remarkable and inspiring people. Shannon Freed, her husband Adam Weasel and his father Gerald Weasel, through their company Earth Tipi, are working to be a demonstration of sustainability in Manderson while also developing a place for people to come together to explore, be a part of, and help build a sense of community. Mike Sierra and his wife and the small farm way off the beaten path in Oglala that is a model of healthy, organic vegetables grown local – something we saw more signs of this year than we have seen in past years. Reva High Horse and her niece and husband Cindy and Dwayne High Horse, carrying on the tradition of the Sundance in a way that, over the course of a few short days, builds deep and lasting relationships – one big family that extends to include all of us who came together, often as strangers or acquaintances, as we explore our own faith, values and traditions while learning those of the Lakota through fellowship, work and stories. Our tasks may not always make sense to us, but we learn to respect their importance to others. Respect is a necessary component of peace and justice work. Through it all, there are also the struggles of addiction, unemployment, and idleness. As one of our members said during our last worship-sharing, this is real life, not the materialistic, frenetic lives we tend to live when we leave the Rez. 

Inside tipi after Meeting for Worship
“Are these the Quakers?” asked one of the leaders of the High Horse Sundance, pointing to the tents that housed 20 of us from a mix of Friends entities that included a private school (Sidwell), a college (Wilmington) and a Monthly Meeting (Downingtown, PA). Mike Gray is the constant Quaker presence, as he has been for over 20 years. Through William Penn Quaker Workcamps, we try to do our part to help maintain that Quaker presence – not just in numbers but in our faith and practice. We are a witness, and our own worship becomes something for others to witness and to participate in, just as we participate in sweats and song. As we heard from a Lakota man who works as a park ranger at Badlands National Park’s Lakota-managed division, we all worship one God, just in different ways. The hospitality expressed at the High Horse Sundance is a testimony to that.

We have now all returned home, with the exception of Mike who will be heading south in a week or
so. We have moved back to beds from nights on the ground, sometimes in tents, sometimes under the stars, or in a few cases, in a tipi. We have washed off most of the dirt that we had become a bit accustomed to (although will likely still find remnants of dirt, grass and bugs in our clothes for a while), and the facial hair we may not otherwise sport is shaved. It is ironic that being so used to not cleaning ourselves can lead to feeling so cleansed. We were wisely counseled by Rosebud elder Charlene to listen to and pursue our dreams and our purpose. Perhaps not being so concerned with earthly things like what to wear and how to look opens way for doing this. Our dreams will be perhaps driven more by our hearts that are now fuller, our love and our tears. We are hopefully more whole, more grounded, more intentional and more respectful as we re-engage our minds to our purpose. We are also challenged to step up our support for the Lakota and other native Americans – whether it is calling on Congress to stop cutting Indian healthcare funds or fully funding Indian colleges (both of which are treaty commitments that continue to be violated), or calling on President Obama to pardon Leonard Peltier before he leaves office in a few months, or directly supporting the work of Earth Tipi or Mike Sierra.

William Penn set out to create the Peaceable Kingdom. We have a long way to go, but we saw glimpses of what is possible the last few weeks. We hope that more F/friends will join us so we can maintain – and perhaps grow – the presence of the Quakers on the ground next summer and in spirit and advocacy throughout the years. 

From July 20 to August 4, William Penn Quaker Workcamps was on Pine Ridge. Many thanks to Mike Gray, Shannon Fried, Adam Weasel, Mike Sierra, Reva High Horse, and Jeff Domenick and Sue McKenna from Downingtown Friends Meeting. And to all who joined us, what a ride! You were all fantastic. Let’s keep it going. More pictures can be seen on William Penn Quaker Workcamps' facebook page (
-Brad Ogilvie

1 comment:

A wayfaring man said...

Congratulations on another successful and fulfilling year at Pine Ridge. First Unitarian Church took a group there this year also. The Youth Minister remarked how resident of the Rez called visitors and volunteers from all over the country, "White Van Season". It made me laugh as I knew what he was talking about already. Anyway. Cheers!