Yesterday I went for a hike in the woods by my house. Immediately the stress of work and home and the world began to melt away as I traveled deeper into the woods. I was filled with new questions about these familiar woods. Who walked these woods before anyone else could remember being here? Where did those people go? And how did they leave? As I later researched, my home was probably part of the Albany Purchase in 1754 from the Iroquois, but not the Shawnee people that are also known to have lived in my region.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to kick off the Episcopal Peace Fellowship’s Year of Action with a pilgrimage to Standing Rock, North Dakota. This trip was to coincide with the International Powwow at United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck. The week before our trip, lightning struck the lodge where we were meant to sleep and meet. Rather than cancel the plans, the Rev. John Floberg made some adjustments and our journey began. EPF NEC member Ellen Lindeen and her husband Rick were also on this pilgrimage.
I had a lot of mixed feelings and some anxiety on my way there. I was so excited about the powwow, but I didn’t have any idea of what to expect. How could I participate in such an event and not feel like a voyeur? What would the landscape look like? How would I feel confronted with this mountain of historic trauma?
I saw incredible sights and breathtaking landscapes. The site of the Dakota Access pipeline in Mandan, ND contrasted this natural beauty against the disappointing progress and installation of the pipeline. “Let the Black Snake lie” can be seen on posters and t shirts, urging people to leave the oil in the ground. The access gate itself had so many locks on the post – controlling who can come and go, but still denying access to the people that knew this a sacred ground. I also visited the site of the Standing Rock encampment, known as Sacred Stone Camp.
The powwow was an exciting gathering. The theme this year was Leadership Educating the Next Generation. It was a multi-generational family event, including several dance competitions. The care and craftsmanship of the regalia was astounding. There was beautiful beadwork, feathers, and detailed seamwork on these treasured family heirlooms. The fancy grass dancers were my favorite dancers. We also took time to meet with a local teacher to learn more during this cultural immersion.
During the powwow, I was at an exhibit booth for St. James Episcopal Church, Cannonball, on the Standing Rock Reservation, to hand out information regarding human trafficking – pamphlets for speaking to elementary and teenage children, and a pamphlet for adults on human trafficking. This is a problem across the country, but I fear that it is too common in our vulnerable populations. I felt like we had something helpful, even necessary to offer, along with our coffee and lollipops. This effort to give something meaningful, helped me to feel part of the powwow, and not just be a spectator.
Before we left for home, I attended Sunday service at Fort Yates, on the Standing Rock Reservation. It was a small, but mighty congregation – something I am quite familiar with as a small town Episcopalian. And, as I relaxed into the comfortable, familiar words, and everybody let their guard down, I began to recognize it. Trauma. Not the sudden, acute trauma of “something bad that happened that will take you awhile to recover”, but the wearying, persistent trauma that clings to you. You can find respite from it for a while to smile and laugh, but it lingers there in the background. It is also the birth of resilience, and hope and wonder. I have felt glimpses of this at the children’s hospital, especially around the NICU.
This level of historical trauma, but also resilience, that exists around the Reservation is palpable. There is peace and dignity and grace. It was a lot to process and a lot take it. I came home with many more questions than answers. I had learned about the treaties when in school, but they seemed so abstract (though still not fair). To see the actual lands, and talk with people that know that their family history goes back centuries on this land, was really a gift to me. I have so much respect for all of our vulnerable populations, especially those that have such a complex relationship with the land and identity. This was a heartbreaking, hopeful and humbling journey.
As I contemplate this start to our Year of Action, I am moved to explore my relationship with the land, this mountain top forest where I live, and the peoples that came before me. Hopefully, I’ll find answers to the questions of who, why and how- about the peoples that came before me, but I will also strive to learn more about our shared history that surrounds me.
EPF has more events lined up this year. Stay tuned for more information.