Plight Is A Word From The Past

*pic taken by Lisa Yellow Horse, 5th Grade Teacher, Red Cloud Indian School, outside her house. #6 Community, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Have you ever started a fire and watched it burn? You have all your dry kindle in a pile, light a piece of paper or dry brush under that, then watch it catch? The fire quickly takes over the paper or brush, then it will make it’s way to the kindle and twigs, moving a little slower amongst them. Then the fire reaches the logs, starts on the outside. Flames licking the outside of the logs until they catch. Then the glow of everything that fire is worth encompasses everything you put out there. The whole of it, you watched it from a spark until it roared and warmed your cold cheeks even on a December night. You even have to stand back a little bit to not burn, but you glow in the flames and hold your hands up to warm, even though you don’t need to. It’s like, yeah I did it!

To me, it is like that with writing. Sometimes you see something that is like a spark, then you know you have to write.

So this is how I felt when I read this article from The New York Times the other day. It was written by Nicholas Kristof called “Poverty’s Poster Child”. Mr.Kristof is a two time Pulitzer Prize winner and much respect for all he has done for the writing world, the doors and minds he has opened with the written word.

However, in the article written about my rez, I feel as if there is little depth. I felt it so much, it was like starting that kindle or paper or ball of sage on fire. The more I let it sink in the more I felt it burn. I mean if you want to count sadness, despair, hopelessness, and pure plight as depth, then yes it is deep. However, I myself, cannot but help to feel as if Mr. Kristoff merely drove through the reservation looked for every negative aspect you can find as if he drove through a Mickey D’s and ordered a #4 combo meal. Don’t get me wrong, there IS poverty and strife, but if you look long enough or hard enough or even stop to get to know people, you will also find hope and life.

See, here’s the deal, when you grow up on the reservation, you don’t really see the bad points. You just take life as it comes. I never saw the statistics until I moved away and read about them. Until the first time I drove back home after being away for years. And yes, I am guilty of writing about the statistics, even to this day because I feel so passionately that it needs to change. I want my kids to be more than a statistic. I want life for them to be better than my life, who doesn’t want that? But even while there are people out there who think they want their children to have a life better than they have, dream of diamonds big as rocks and paychecks fatter than they are, I want my children to know how to be a human and to treat others.

A bunch of us wanted to write letters to the editor, I was all for it then I found out it has to be 150 words OR LESS? What kinda shit is that??? Anyway I went over by 12 or so and this is what I wrote.

“While I am glad to see my homeland get attention in Mr. Kristof’s “Poverty’s Poster Child” because I am a Lakota from the Pine Ridge, I want you to know this. All my life, I knew I to be proud of who I am, because I listened to the stories told by elders around fires, seemingly small stories at the time, but life lessons that sent me away smelling of woodsmoke and knowing how to be in life.
No one can take away who I am, where I come from, and where I am going. Unless I let them.
I am Oglala Lakota, I am neither a statistic to be put on a chart, nor are my children.
So before you put us in colored categories on charts, listen to us, we want you to know we are here and we are humans, not statistics.
I am speaking to you as an Oglala Lakota woman, a mother, and a writer from”

I probably still didn’t get to say what I want to say but the article he wrote was as if we are done. It was a typical How The West Was Lost article replacing the cowboys/greedy government with alcohol. He saw strife, not life. He saw plight not flight.
Who ever said we were over? Sure I have had my battles and own struggles with my demons, but by far I am not done here on this journey.
I have classmates who have pursued educations and have become successful at what they chose as careers in their lives. I have classmates who stayed on the reservation to raise their families and they are successful.
While I did neither, while I took turns in my life that led me to a point that made me see I wanted more and what was available to me. I am here now doing what I love best and grasping at what life has to offer me. Trying to get my voice heard so my children will carry on the beliefs I learned from my elders. And I am far from over.

Because you see, if Mr. Kristof had looked past the stray dogs and third world imagery that depicts life on the Pine Ridge Reservation, past the broken down HUD housing the Government provides, past the torn up roads that weighted loads of trucks sneak and use for free, what he would have saw is that despite all the wicked genocidal attempts the government had forced upon a people, they were still here on Earth.

They still have hearts as strong as their ancestors as they still sing the songs of the ancestors. They still carry on in a life so steeped with culture and tradition, you can find a story teller at almost any corner, someone selling artwork on the street, and someone ready to feed you in a warm house. He would have saw a sky only Tunkasila can paint so beautiful and a land that children still love to roam on horseback.

But he obviously didn’t look past all that to see the true beauty of Pine Ridge. He obviously didn’t see the true hope of our people in the children’s eyes, because he didn’t look. An article depicting every statistically wrong on the reservation does not instill hope in our children. We have eyes, we see the stats, we know them, we are related to them, we live them, we are them. But we are also the ones who must save ourselves, and we are also the ones who will instill this hope in our children. Like starting a fire.

This is my reservation, while I don’t live there now, it will always be the home I dream of going back to.

To me there is no place like it in the world.

(I go back this week to watch my two oldest boys NOT be a statistic and graduate high school.)


7 thoughts on “Plight Is A Word From The Past

  1. well said!they cannot count me as a statistic either…for as long as the sun sets, and the grass grows, our people survive and strive…

  2. “But we are also the ones who must save ourselves, and we are also the ones who will instill this hope in our children. Like starting a fire.” Powerful words, words that need to be heard more often. If more felt as passionately as you do thinkgs would indeed begin to change. I love what you wrote. It is so easy to see the despair and desolation, much harder to see the tiny sparks of hope, but I know they are there, I’ve seen them!

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