Things have slowed down quite a bit on campus. The Rising Eagle Day Camp culminated and the free lunch program for the community has also came to an end to give our staff a short break before the students return to campus on August 14.
Several students are staying on campus in our Summer Break Home. They recently spent a few days in Omaha, Nebraska. I will make sure to give a report on what they saw and did in my blog next week.
The most popular activity at this year’s summer camp was a slip-n-slide ‘waterslide’! A tarp was placed on a hill with a hose at the top, allowing the kids to slip and slide all the way to the bottom of the hill! Everyone enjoyed it immensely.
About a week or so ago, the Chamberlain Cubs High School varsity basketball team sponsored a clinic to help future NBA prospects perfect their game. Several of the young men from the Break Home took advantage of the opportunity, going to the gym each morning to hone their skills. They seemed to have a lot of fun and we’ll see if the extra training bears fruit when the basketball season opens in November.
Saturday morning we headed west, stopping at the Vore Buffalo Jump near the state line and then into Wyoming. Of course, we had to stop and take pictures and walk across the border so that everyone now can say they “walked from South Dakota to Wyoming!”
It’s a scenic drive to Devil’s Tower National Monument. Before starting our hikes we enjoyed the introduction to the area from the ranger. The group divided and had a choice of either a 1 ½ or a 3 ½ mile hike around the base of the Tower. The hikes and the views were both invigorating. Besides the prairie dog towns, the other wildlife we saw was a rattlesnake! Even though it was a baby one – and we viewed it from a distance – it added excitement to the day.
We attended mass that evening at St. Joseph’s in Spearfish, South Dakota. The group was given a warm welcome during announcements, and we were surprised to discover that the priest there is an uncle to one of our staff members. Then it was all-you-can-eat at the Pizza Ranch, a stop at the local mall, and enjoying the hotel pool before bedtime.
We began our Sunday with a visit to the impressive Crazy Horse Memorial, hearing the story of its origination, touring the museum, and gawking at the massiveness of the memorial. Afterwards we traveled back into the town of Custer for a brunch that included plate-sized pancakes! However, one of the German exchange students inadvertently ordered from the kiddy menu – the biggest member of our group had the smallest meal, which made for some good laughs!
After filling our stomachs we were ready to head back into Custer State Park to begin our wildlife quest. We had driven several miles on the Wildlife Loop and had only seen one pronghorn. The leaders were beginning to get worried that all the animals were in hiding, but then we came around a curve to be greeted by a herd of approximately 250 head of buffalo spread out across the hills! Some were even close to the road which made for some great photos. Before leaving the park we saw several groups of pronghorn antelope and two deer! It was a great way to wrap our visit to the Black Hills.
Of course, no visit to western South Dakota would be complete without a stop at Wall Drug! We had a chance to shop for souvenirs, have dinner and buy some of their famous homemade donuts before heading back to Chamberlain. We had an incredible 770 mile adventure—one that made great memories for each of the students.
Today is the day! After months of preparation, it is finally time to leave for the cultural trip with the 7th graders. The boys and girls travel in separate groups, visiting significant cultural, spiritual and historical sites of the Lakota people. I will be traveling with the girls, and we will be making a large loop through South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota.
The purpose of this trip is to introduce the students to places that are important to their Native American culture. More than just reading about things in a book, they can experience the power of these places up close. An important component of this trip is daily journaling, so they can record their feelings and impressions for later. If there comes a time in their lives when they need spiritual strength, they will know some of the places and traditions that can sustain them. And it’s not all just “serious stuff.” We get to do goofy camping stuff too, like cook out, tell ghost stories and chuck rocks into the crick. This is an amazing group of kids, and it is great to spend time with them.
My companions on this journey will be April, a counselor here and a Dakota elder, and Dan, a houseparent and forensic anthropologist. We will be accompanying 6 teenage girls on a 7 day, thousand mile quasi-camping trip. In a mini-bus. For those of you already moaning in sympathy, it is ok. We are professionals. We can handle this. We will be mostly cabin camping, which removes the logistical nightmare of pitching tents in the dark, or in a flood plain, or other such creepy things, while still being close to the great outdoors. (Let the boys sleep under the stars or pitch tents on the prairie, or whatever.) We will be doing a lot of hiking. Did I mention I used to be a Girl Scout? That means I can use a compass. Of course Dan has GPS on his phone, so that’s a moot point.
The trip covers a lot of territory, but I will share some of the highlights. On Saturday we will be climbing Bear Butte in the Black Hills. This is very sacred site for many Native American tribes, and is a place where people may go for a hanbleceya – vision quest. April will teach the girls how to make prayer ties for the climb, and will carry a canupe –sacred pipe for a ceremony at the summit. Fr. Steve will be joining us for this part of the trip, and will celebrate Mass with us when we get back to town.
We will visit another sacred site, Devil’s Tower, on our way to see the Little Bighorn Battlefield. Dan has done some analysis of artifacts from this site, and has lots of “really cool stuff” to share. (Normally, if Dan has “cool stuff” to share, you better not be eating, but this will probably be an exception.) Other sites along the way are: Painted Canyons of North Dakota, On-a-Slant Village, Fort Abraham Lincoln, Crazy Horse Memorial, and Pipestone National Monument.
This is a big undertaking, and an incredible opportunity for these kids. All you campers out there know what I mean. I am so grateful to have the support of donors and benefactors so that we can make this happen. I am also thankful for all the prayers from friends and supporters for our safe travels. Pilamaya! Doksa!
Crazy Horse Memorial is a colossal carving project that has been ongoing since 1948 to pay homage to the courageous Lakota Warrior. To get an idea of the scope, when finished the four presidential faces on Mt. Rushmore could fit in the Horse’s head of this sculpture.
Crazy Horse has a wonderful museum of the American Indian, and a workshop for artisans who will answer your questions as they work on their crafts. It’s my favorite place to take visitors in the Black Hills because it combines natural beauty, culture, history and a visionary undertaking.
One weekend a year, the memorial is open for a 10K Volksmarch, and after a scenic wooded walk you work your way onto the actual arm of the sculpture, directly in front on the 5 story head of Crazy Horse. With many others on the path with us, the atmosphere was fun and festive, but the climb required patience and perseverance.
The view of the countryside far below was breathtaking. It was a pilgrimage for me in many senses, not knowing exactly how my foot would hold up with the distance and altitude. But completing the trail gave me a great sense of accomplishment and ongoing confidence in continued healing.