A Spiritual People

This post is the second in a four-part series on my time at Sinte Gleska University (the first part is here). Marianne is a counselor there and lives in the Two Strike Community. Our conversation covered the relationship between the government and the Lakota, racism towards the Lakota, and how the Lakota are spiritual people.

The Lakota Way:

I respect myself. I respect others. And that’s the Lakota way. If you respect yourself and everything around you, you’re okay. That’s common sense. Don’t take things that don’t belong to you. Don’t talk down to someone. You do that, you’re a good citizen.

The biggest challenges facing the Lakota community:

The biggest challenge right now is the lack of respect for each other. That has a lot to do with drugs and alcohol that young people are using.

The parents are also not being parents. Another thing I see that is a big problem is technology. I go to the hospital, and mothers are sitting on their Facebook as their kids are running around and creating havoc. It’s addictive. I see it all the time. They’re constantly on it. Maybe they get away from it for twenty minutes. But then they go back to it. I see that in the future as one of the biggest problems.

The relationship with South Dakota’s government isn’t a good one:

The state (of South Dakota) has control over us because of the children. The food stamp program and others like it, the state runs. Our young people have to answer to the state if they want food stamps for their kids. The tribe used to control that at one time, it’d be great to have that again. But we don’t allow state patrol onto our reservations. They can’t come arrest us. One time I asked the store owners why we don’t have the federal lotteries here, then the state patrol can come over. We still fight for our jurisdiction. Our reservation used to be huge. The state gradually took it, though.

The relationship with the U.S. government is complicated:

The U.S. government has been in our lives as long as I can remember. Since they arrived, they’ve controlled us. But we now aren’t able to stand on our own two feet. This university is run by government money. Our hospital is federally funded. IHS is federally funded. Our school – St. Francis Indian School – is federally funded, and the other local school is state-run. The federal money is what makes this reservation moved. Almost all employment, except for the few stores, are all federally funded.

The government is obligated to help us. From their taking all the land, the treaties we made, they have to look out for our health. I want them to upgrade the hospital. Better education, too. I want the government to stand up to its commitment. They’re doing a half-assed job. They trickle the money down – “here’s this much” and by the time it comes down here, it’s minimal. Most of it goes to administration. The administration will tell us “next year’s money is already spent” because of helicopters and planes.

The Lakota face intense racism in South Dakota:

We are treated differently from the non-indigenous people. It’s about race. South Dakota is racist. It’s like Alabama. What black people suffer through down there, we go through here.

Our sports teams will go play places east of here, and the football team will sit in the crowd and say to our girls volleyball team, “Go home you perri n******.” That’s still happening here.

We’re both citizens, but they don’t care. It’s who we are. And it’s getting worse. With Trump saying it’s okay to act this way, okay to belittle someone with darker skin, it’s okay to march with the Nazi flags, I tell my kids, “Be careful when they go off to Sioux Falls or Rapid City. Don’t aggrevate people; you don’t know what they’ll do.”

In Rapid City, they shoot Natives, then ask questions, just like what happens to black people back east.

The great historical misconception about the Lakota:

That we were and are caring people. We weren’t savage and ruthless. Kinship meant a lot to us, and still does today. We cared about everyone around us. I wish that people off the reservation understood how we were.

Being spiritual was key to their way of life:

We were spiritual people. We had the inipi. They did that every day, the men. They went in and prayed their frustrations out. We pray in everything we do. When we have meetings or powwows, we pray. We looked out for each other. For the orphans and widows and old people. We were a caring tribe. We had vision quests. Sun dances. These ceremonies meant a lot to the families.

There was a certain time – when a girl came of age – and she’d be out in a teepee by herself for a week. The mother and grandmother would feed her and taught her how to be a young lady. She learned how to make moccasins and dresses. That’s one of the ceremonies we don’t do, and I think that’s why our young girls are lost.

Young men, when they were 12, had vision quests. They’d go pray for four days and figure out what they wanted to do with their lives.

We also had and have the hunka. We can take someone into the family. If someone feels like a brother, and you’ve lost someone, you can welcome someone to be like your brother. A girl can do that for her sister. A mother with her son.

The proper way to refer to her heritage:

I want to be called Sicangu Lakota. That’s who I really am. It’s one of the seven council fires. If referring to the tribes in general, I think “indigenous” is the best word. But people should refer to people properly and specifically. We’re referred to as Sioux’s! That’s the name the French gave us. It means snake people! We have to get that out of the books.

How people can better treat the Lakota and other tribal groups:

We were treated like less than human for the longest time. Even in the Declaration of Independence, we’re still referred to as “savage.” It’s hard.

(So) treat us with more dignity and respect. The president did a lot of harm. We worked a long ways to get racism out of people, even with us towards white people. We spent a lot of time with Valentine people, learning how to treat us with dignity and respect. Now people in Valentine feel like they can treat us ugly again. Now they feel like they can push me in the store, and if I say anything, they threaten to call the cops. I don’t know which white person to talk to in Valentine anymore. I just do my business and leave. It shouldn’t be that way.

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