Olivet Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Columbia, MO, participated in a Cultural Immersion experience during the first week of June at the Pine Ridge Retreat Center in Pine Ridge, SD on the Oglala Lakota Reservation. It created memories forever etched on the hearts of the 11 attendees, as well as strengthened our great respect for the Lakota People and their culture. I learned about the Pine Ridge Retreat Center from a dear friend who attends St. Andrews Evangelical Lutheran church in Columbia. A group from St. Andrews had returned from a stay at the Retreat Center several years ago, and I attended their church presentation. Every person who attended the retreat spoke with total enthusiasm about their experience. It was then that I felt the Creator nudging me forward. When Rev. Wes Knight became Olivet's new minister, we discovered within the first five minutes of conversation that we both shared a great respect for the Lakota Native Americans living on the Pine Ridge reservation, the poorest county in the entire United States, and voiced a common desire to help in some way. Olivet's Native American Ministry was born.
To enter the Pine Ridge Retreat Center's front door, one must walk under an open-air wooden structure built to resemble a tipi. Hanging from the inside center top of that tipi shape is a large empty wooden cross. Walking under this structure several times each day, one got the feeling of being "blessed" in our coming and going. We knew we were where the Creator wanted us to be, ready to grow, experience and share God's love in the week ahead.
During our five day stay, after a good breakfast each morning, our group visited a location significant to the Lakota People. We visited the wonderful Oglala Lakota College and Historical Center, as well as the Red Cloud Indian School and historical cemetery. Our visit to Wounded Knee was an emotional day when we showed our respect at the mass grave where the bodies of 150 plus Lakota adults and children massacred at Wounded Knee had been literally dumped into a trench on that bitterly cold December day in 1890. We also had the honor to visit with the greatly respected medicine man and Lakota elder, Basil Brave Heart and eat lunch with him. We were all greatly impressed and encouraged to visit the Lakota based Community Development "Thunder Valley" located in Porcupine.
After lunch back at the Retreat Center we prepared for Kids' Time each afternoon when 20-25 Native youth from ages 5-12 came to enjoy activities like arts & crafts, games, and listening to guitar music and storytelling shared by our own Larry Brown. Each evening meal was followed by a presentation by a Lakota artist /craftsman such as Kevin Poor Bear and his inspirational charcoal drawings or Valery Brown Eyes' colorful porcupine quill jewelry. Friday night featured a local art show where we were able to purchase native artwork and crafts. Our last night at Pine Ridge ended with our attendance at a colorful, exciting Pow-Wow right there in Pine Ridge. The final activity of each day was a Talking Circle where we shared our thoughts and insights of that day's activities. The week was over in what seemed like a blink.
The Lakota embrace the expression, "Mitakuye Oyasin" which means, "We are all related; we are all connected." It is an important component to Native spirituality. We heard that often at the Retreat Center. In fact, Colton, our Retreat Leader, had that very statement tattooed on his inner forearm. Olivet's Cultural Immersion team experienced exactly that kinship throughout our week at Pine Ridge. Our hearts and eyes were opened to the challenging, resilient, inspiring journey of the Lakota People. We left Pine Ridge with "Mitakuye Oyasin" forever tattooed on our hearts.
Story by Fran Webb DeMaster
Photography by LF Graue