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!