Learning About Lakota Culture as a Global Volunteer

Lakota culture on Rosebud reservation

Rosebud Reservation volunteers share their team journal reflections on opportunities to learn about Lakota culture on a South Dakota service program.

Day 2

Today we arose with anticipation of the work assignment. We headed out and gathered any tools we could find for the day ahead. We worked outside of a home belonging to Danielle, a local single mother. We worked together as a team collecting garbage, mowing around her yard and had a fantastic time interacting with her children, Jasmine, Isaiah, Marissa and D.J.  After we finished, we moved on to another neighbor’s yard to continue our work. Some local boys and girls, Ben, Charles and Bethany helped right alongside with us.

We had lunch at the Senior Center again- tuna sandwiches, tomato soup and cake. It was so fun eating with the elders and hearing their stories.  None of us wanted to leave, but we wanted to finish the work we started in the morning. I felt, as I am sure all of my fellow volunteers did, a good amount of accomplishment looking back at the work we had done today. Danielle was very thankful to all of us and her children were an amazing addition (bonus) to our day. Her neighbor made a point of telling us what a great person Danielle was, and how great it was to help her with her home.
-Dina Bosby

Day 3

Early this morning, a thunderstorm rolled through as has happened just about every morning.  And, just like every morning, it passed and we awoke to the sun. After breakfast, we got to work cleaning and mowing around Shiloh and Lowell’s homes. The sun was hot and the hills were green. We were joined today by Homer’s three grandchildren: John, Rose, and Daniel. Charlie and Ben were there again as well. We continued our work until 3:30, and then packed up and headed back for dinner and a trip to Wounded Knee in two groups.

Lakota culture

Visitors contemplate Lakota history at the Wounded Knee cemetery.

We walked around the white stone marker commemorating the final resting place of hundreds of slaughtered Native Americans—all of them unarmed and most of them women and children.  This is a tragic part of American Indian history, but spotlights the purpose behind some Lakota culture and traditions. Special stones and offerings of tobacco surrounded the base.  Traditional Indian names like Yellow Robe, Red Eagle, Pretty Hawk, Little Water, and Long Bull were etched in the stone surfaces.  The air seemed heavy amidst a panorama of rolling hills, lush pine trees, and dilapidated shacks.  A young woman approached us for donations toward gas to get her 18-month-old daughter chemotherapy in Denver.  Paul thunder Horse, old, wrinkled, pocked, and supremely talented and proud hawked his beaded treasures at a roadside stand.

Although our two groups who went to Wounded Knee didn’t cross paths there, we arrived back at the Rosebud Veterans’ Center at nearly the same time…safe and sound and ready to rest up for another day working, playing, and learning on “the rez.”

– Michelle Godwin

Day 4

After a morning of work, Homer, two grandchildren, John and Daniel – smiling, what with their grandpapa’s happy spirited nature radiating – to view the buffalo. What an honor to sit next to this inspirational man.  Traveling with Homer is like going on a short journey through the Lakota history.  When his pickup truck stops at our destination, that historical journey stops.  You don’t want to stop…instead you want to keep listening.  Such an intelligent, knowledgeable, and passionate man who is so proud of his Lakota blood…so well learned of his Lakota culture.

lakota culture

Buffalo are a central part of Lakota culture.

We arrived at the area where the buffalo roamed. As we stood and observed the buffalo feeding on the grass…and the cute calves feeding from their mothers, we took this moment to take some great shots. We then met Leonard Two Eagle, Buffalo Ranger from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe Game, Fish, and Parks.  He spoke of his role as buffalo manager of the two different types of buffalo that were grazing—(1) Catalina, and (2) Dakota Wind Cave.  The meat is used for ceremonies, funerals, local businesses, and to feed the needy.  Leonard spoke respectfully of the buffalo—a sacred animal.  Seeing buffalo grazing on the green hills, surrounded by pine trees on Lakota tribal land was truly a spiritual experience…feeling connected with spirit…with South Dakota.

Back to work!

Yard work and cleaning the Veterans’ Center continued all afternoon.  There was enough support to work on the remaining two properties. After dinner, Homer and Rosalie shared their stories on life as a Lakota Native on the rez.  Whilst listening to these people’s stories, emotions – disbelief and sadness ran high.

Rosalie described life as being a P.O.W. (Prisoner of War) in her youth.  She used the clear plastic sugar bowl as an effective analogy—like being imprisoned in a confined space with those in power watching over them.  Loss of identity and culture was discussed.  She described how difficult it was to change from tepee to a square box divided by rooms with doors to shut. She said the government didn’t want the Natives to be educated, knowledgeable, have good jobs.  It gives them power.  It was sad to see Rosalie expressing her emotions regarding this social issue, so unjust.  In spite of the sadness, Homer and Rosalie radiated love, warmth, and humor.

Lakota words were shared with the team.  Homer and Rosalie are very proud of their Lakota language.  It was evident that they endeavor to have their language continue into the next generations.  They teach their grandchildren Lakota…a must for the language to survive.  One could go on forever.  Unfortunately that is not possible.  However, one last thing to finish this journal entry:  today we definitely learned about the Lakota culture—one of many reasons why we are here.  Words like medicine man and medicine woman demonstrated that their culture continues on.

– Viv Arranz-Boyle

Day 5

Honestly, I have no idea where to start.  The responsibility of writing about this, our last full day in Rosebud, is a great one.  The sheer range and power of the emotions and events experienced today is not only overwhelming, but near impossible to accurately recapture with inadequate written words. Nonetheless, I shall give it a go! Our day began with our well-established pattern.  Those mad enough to be “morning people” woke at an hour still unknown to me, and eventually made too much noise for us “lazies” to rest in peace.  I hauled myself out of my sleeping bag and off my mattress to shuffle across the main community room.

Lakota culture

Engaging Lakota children at the Rosebud Reservation pow-wow.

After a day of mowing, weeding, clipping, and watering, we all gathered together – volunteers and local residents – beneath a big shady tree.  This is when the emotions began to run wild.  There was no way to remain unmoved by the generosity heaped upon us.  We received T-shirts from a couple of tribal offices, which were put on by many within mere minutes.  Sharing what you have is a big part of Lakota culture. Tears were shed, both openly and in private.  The depth of the unquestioning welcome, friendliness, acceptance, and perhaps even love, almost short-circuited my cynical soul.  There was too much happiness to express, though it was the most bittersweet sort.  We will leave tomorrow, back to suburbia and routine.  We’ve been made to feel so welcome that it seems we’ve been here forever, though at the same time it feels we haven’t been here long enough.  A realm of contrast, this reservation.

Lakota culture

The round dance is a traditional element of Lakota culture.

We eventually made it out to the powwow in St. Francis.  We were greeted by Meredith (hard-working Ben’s mom), who informed us that we were to take part in the Grand Entry.  Nervous, excited, honored, and a little embarrassed, we lined up behind the color guard, a beautifully dressed fancy dancer, and shawl dancer, and a passel of incredibly precious little girls in both shawl and jingle dresses. Most of us step-shuffled our way through a couple of round dances, demonstrating that lack of rhythm is not synonymous with lack of enthusiasm.  The powwow was the perfect setting for our final evening together.  Everyone mingled, always seeming to return to Homer and Rosalie.

Storm clouds rolled in as the sun lowered, creating perhaps the most breathtaking sunset I have ever witnessed.  I would like to think that the sunset was a last gift to us from Rosebud and South Dakota. Getting into the car was the hardest thing I’ve done all week.  I had no desire to leave the sunset, the hills, the drumming, our friends.  But our time in Rosebud has come to an end—for now.  I feel comforted knowing the Lakota language has no word for “goodbye.”  Instead they say “Until I see you next.”  I don’t know the Lakota phrase for this, but if I did, I would say it in the Lakota way—from my heart.

– Erin K. Smith

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Request a program catalog here or by calling 800-487-1074.







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