A Horse is Not a Home

A Year in the Life of an Americorps VISTA on the Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota

First Impressions: Pierre SD, Crow Creek, Pine Ridge, Rosebud


Show notes:

Hello! Welcome back to A Horse is Not a Home.

Sorry for my absence but things have been hectic, moving across the country and all.

Friday – Saturday

My father and I left cape cod on Friday and started driving – We were planning to take a scenic drive and head through West Virginia, Kentucky and Nebraska, but we took the 80->90 route after all due to some thunderstorms that we saw in the forecast.

Instead we drove through Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Our favorite part of the drive was eastern Minnesota, crossing the Mississippi. Then, when you hit South Dakota the landscape changes DRAMATICALLY. Mostly just white and yellow fields. Also, that’s when it started snowing and didn’t stop for about 3 days. Keep in mind, this is the end of March.

The last bit of the drive actually took us through Fort Thompson, which is the major population center on the Crow Creek Sioux Reservation. Note that I didn’t say town or city, as Fort Thompson is a “Census Designated Place” meaning that people live there but there is no official designation. I believe a lot of reservations are like this, as they are governed by a Tribal Council instead of a mayor.

I’m not gonna lie, it was a little unsettling driving through there at night, during a snow storm. Crow Creek, like the other reservations in SD are extremely remote, with little in the way of places one could go if your vehicle broke down. The roads on the reservation in particular are very hilly, but they are also similar to most roads in SD – straight, long, with no street lights. You can’t see very far off the road into the open plains. As a matter of fact, since I couldn’t see anything and since I am from NE, my mind put trees there!

I kept thinking “better not veer off or you’ll hit a tree!”

There was nobody else on the road with us. At one point I pulling to a complete stop and turning off the headlights. It was overcast with no moon. It was absolutely, 100% pitch black. You could barely even see the windshield.

We had planned on driving 3 days, but instead we only drove two and got to Pierre an hour early. It turned out that the building manager at my apartment was visiting family out of state, so I couldn’t move in until Monday. Luckily for us, and for Spooky here, The Best Western is pet friendly. We stayed there along with about 600 high school kids that were the for a leadership conference. Fun times!

Sunday

Since we had an extra day, we decided to actually go and visit the family that my parents sponsor, who live in Fort Thompson on the reservation. We went to Walmart first and bought them some food. They were excited that we were coming on Sunday because we got to meet their children.

Now, I don’t know how many of my viewers are sponsors, but meeting the people in person is something you rarely get to do. These are people you only interact with through a sponsorship organization. The rundown of the family is as follows: Father, Mother, 16 year old daughter, 16 year old son, and a 12 year old daughter. We spoke mostly, with the parents and the son and me and my father were very impressed with their son. He was friendly, well spoken, and he seemed very responsible. He mentioned that he wanted to study architecture, which is very cool. He is also going on a “vision quest” soon, which is pretty intense – 4 days without food or water on a mountain in the hopes that a vision is delivered to you. There are elders there that will check on him periodically, but his parents are justifiably nervous for him.

Afterwards we received a very nice email from the mother, saying that not only did we deliver food but we delivered peace of mind as well. She always has a way of writing very emotionally charged emails like that, in a good way.

Back in town we ate at Quadlajara, the mexican restaurant. Very tasty.

Monday

Most of monday was errands – food shopping, moving into the apartment, returning the trailer, dropping the motorcycle off, signing the lease etc. The nice thing about Pierre is that everything is basically one one street. If it’s not, then it’s off that same street. The only caveat is that some of the things on this single street are miles apart, as things can get spread out into the countryside.

After all that, we took a quick rest and then went to The Cattleman’s Club, which is a steakhouse just outside of Pierre. I met my VISTA predecessor whom I am replacing for the first time, and we talked for a while and inadvertently began the passing the torch over to me. In fact, we are getting together soon to go visit local businesses on Lower Brule, a reservation across the river from Crow Creek.

She also taught me the proper pronunciation of “Pierre,” which is more like “peer.” It turns out I am now the one with the accent! I’m excited to spend some more time with her and the other VISTA before she leaves, just to get a clearer idea of what is needed and also get my bearings working on the reservation.

Tuesday

Tuesday was really the climax of the entire trip – we took a brief tour of western SD. We started at Wall Drug which is a cheesy tourist stop with bad buffalo burgers. The dinosaurs are pretty cool. That’s all I have to say about that for now.

Then we headed south through the badlands, and my truck finally got some miles on a dirt road! Whoo. We saw about 4 herd of buffalo, and we even got to get out of the car to check them out at one point. Once we exited the southern part of the badlands we ended up in this CRAZY town called Scenic, SD. It has a population of about 84 and literally looks like a ghost town. There is a “trading post” there, along with a scary looking motel and a post office. The mother from our sponsorship family told us that there used to be racist signs there like “Indians keep out” but I guess that attitude as changed. She’s still nervous about stopping there though.

Once we drove through there, we headed south into the Pine Ridge reservation, which is really ground zero for the Sioux – this is where the original wounded knee massacre took place in 1890, and where the wounded knee American Indian movement occupation took place in 1973. There are two things to understand about Pine Ridge:

1. It’s extremely remote – part of the reason why it’s difficult for them to accomplish things is that gas is expensive and there isn’t much work in and around the reservations.
2. It symbolizes the endgame of the Native American wars, which all happened here in SD in the late 1800’s culminating with

We drove south through Porcupine, the proposed capitol of the Republic of Lakota, through Wounded Knee, and then finally to Pine Ridge village. The weirdest thing happened – the sun came out and it actually got HOT for a while, but only right there.

We drove all the way through the reservation and turned around in Whiteclay, Nebraska, which is a despicable little town that has a population of 12 and contains 4 24 hour liquor stores. The entire purpose of the town is to sell liquor to the native americans and keep them drunk.

After we turned around there we headed back east through the rosebud reservation and then back up to Pierre. We ate at Mad Mary’s. I was determined to get a good buffalo burger and they delivered, luckily!

Wednesday

That brings us to today, Wednesday, March 30. We woke up at about 4:50 and drove the airport. I said goodbye to my dad and sent him back on a plane to Philadelphia to meet up with my mother and sister, who just had a baby!

Then, some more errands, doing this video, and preparing for tomorrows trip to Lower Brule.

Whew! that was a lot but I promise to do these more regularly now that I’m settled in. Thanks for watching.

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9 responses to “First Impressions: Pierre SD, Crow Creek, Pine Ridge, Rosebud

  1. arevikd March 31, 2011 at 2:47 am

    Thank for the update! It is so interesting to hear about new places (at least for me) 🙂 Keep going 🙂

    • AphelionZ April 2, 2011 at 1:33 pm

      Thanks Arevik! I definitely will. If you have any questions about anything specific please ask and I’ll address them in a future video.

  2. Brian April 1, 2011 at 10:00 am

    Great stuff Mark – an amazing adventure !! Keep it up.
    Fun and educational too, thanks

    • AphelionZ April 2, 2011 at 1:34 pm

      Thanks Brian! I haven’t even started work yet :p We did a tour of a neighboring reservation though, on Friday. I’ll be talking about that soon.

  3. groomofonesown April 2, 2011 at 10:28 pm

    Oh, this makes me miss South Dakota so much. Your observations are spot-on.

    Another commenter mentioned that you will likely receive much more than you will give. That was definitely the case for me. I don’t feel like I gave much to the children of the Cheyenne River Reservation, but what they gave me… well, let’s just say that the week I spent with them was one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. The next 12 months are going to be tough–you’ll bear witness to things you never imagined. But I envy you the challenge.

    I can’t wait for your next post. I’m rooting for you back in Boston!

    P.S. What part of the Cape are you from? I’m in South Dennis–staying at my girlfriend’s parent’s house–as I type this.

    • AphelionZ April 3, 2011 at 2:17 am

      I’m actually from Dennis! If you know where the Dennis Public Market or Chapin’s (formerly Joe Macs) used to be, then you basically know the area.

      I start officially on the 11th after my training, so stay tuned!

  4. groomofonesown April 3, 2011 at 10:05 am

    That’s so funny! Yes, I know where Dennis Public Market is. And Ring Brothers. Do you remember Contrast–the bistro and bakery? My partner’s uncle used to own it.

    South Dakota is a long way from the Cape–both literally and figuratively, if you know what I mean. I’m looking forward to reading more.

    Off to Grumpy’s for breakfast now!
    ~Vic

  5. elizabethtool April 4, 2011 at 9:44 am

    Glad to watch your post this morning! I’m probably a few decades older than you and I’m not sure if it makes a difference in what was taught in school but everywhere I travel now I am aware of what I call the Alternative History. Every single place I go now I have what is ingrained from childhood the exciting romantic celebration of conquering America…then looking a little deeper and discovering an entirely different history that I never knew about.

    • AphelionZ April 4, 2011 at 10:00 am

      Exactly. A close friend of mine teaches 3rd grade and she was going through Thanksgiving with them. She asked me “What am I supposed to tell the kids who think that the Native Americans are perfectly happy on the reservations and that we can ‘be friends with them now’?”

      I said to “Just tell them that we fought a war with them and they lost.” You can’t exactly start a history book with “America was built on the backs of enslaved africans and over the genocide of an indigenous people.” and expect it to be part of the canonised curriculum.

      That being said, living as an American with European ancestry fills one with a powerful conflict, knowing the steps that were taken that brought us here. Surely all of this progress can’t be bad for society as a whole, but I can’t bring myself to justify the means that brought us to this end.

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