My phone buzzes me awake. It’s 6:30 a.m. I grumble as I turn over and get out of bed; I slowly get dressed to head out on a hike with Skyler.
We head outside, there a light powder of snow dusts the ground and rocks, and a chill clings in the air. I feel as if I never seen snow before! Skyler and I explore and wander for a good hour, and talk about life. It feels amazing to be out in the ‘mountains’ where time doesn’t matter.
We traverse back to the dining hall to begin our day, and get everything together for our week ahead of us. The van hauls us to Pine Ridge Reservatio
On the way, we spot several Bison on the side of the road, so we stop and gander at them.
A School for Red Cloud’s Children
For the next few days we will be staying at Red Cloud, a K-12 “private” school (it’s really public, but works in a private school sense). The building is composed of old red clay brick, and has stood here for over a hundred years. Being built in the late 1800’s, it’s actually the oldest school on the Reservation. One part of the building has “face wall.” In front of the school stands a church, replicated from the church that burned down in prior years.
On the school’s left and split between the road is a cemetery covered in old weathered gravestones, and yellowed grass dead from the winter and most likely unruly in the summer.There is a small fenced space reserved for Chief Red Cloud and his wife. Chief Red Cloud had a desire to build a school for the children, so he set out to do it.
A School, Kids, and a Fog
It’s around 2 p.m. when we arrive at the Pine Ridge Public School. Here the children stay throughout the week, and then go home on the weekend. We are going to set up board games, an area for painting, and we have some outdoor equipment ready to play with the children. It wasn’t too long after our arrival that we were given the distraught news about an 8th grade girl who committed suicide only three days earlier. Then it hit me, there is a musty fog in the air thickened with depression, and these kids are stuck in the midst of it all. They can’t escape as easily as we can, because the eleven of us are only here for three days.
I stick myself in the painting room because it is the one area I could easily work and make connections. I sit down at a table with a few young ladies who are making “R.I.P.” posters for the girl who committed suicide. It’s sad to see, but at the same time it’s good that they are coping and healing with the tragedy in a healthy way. I feel a connection with a girl named Tristiana, she is sweet and petite. Her straight black hair is a tad past her shoulders; her bangs are brushed to the side. Other group members make a bond as well
At dinner time Tristiana saves a spot for me. I ease myself into a seat next to her. I am really amazed with the children because they all finish their food; they are grateful for their food. We finish eating and then go back to continue our activities until it’s time to go. The end of our first day at the school is a success!
Ken the Volunteer
Back at Red Cloud, we are introduced to Ken, a volunteer of two years. He talks about his time that he’s spent here, and how he is a gym coach. He truly puts his heart in his job. I only wish that there was a more awareness of this treasurable place that is treated just as poorly as a third world country, and a deeper understanding of what it truly means to give time and love to our own brothers.
This trip, so far, is a real eye opener; it’s one thing to read articles about suicides, or about the poverty-stricken land, but to feel and breathe and live it is a deeper comprehension.
You can read more about the history of Red Cloud Indian School here.