In the Land of Red Cloud
(Chief Red Cloud of the Oglala Lakota)
Well here we are this week in Wanblee, South Dakota. In Lakota “Wanbli” means Eagle, a symbol of strength, intelligence and freedom. Wanblee is located on the Pine Ridge reservation 28 miles south and west of Interstate I-90 through Kadoka. At a glance, Kadoka is a strange place. Old motels and motor inns litter the place like obscene memorials to the Eisenhower Interstate System. As I have found out, Kadoka is famed as a town of horse thieves and run away criminals. In the cowboy days, gangs would rob banks in Rapid City and flee to Kadoka for shelter. It seems all too fitting as a scene from “The Twilight Zone” where you can meet yourself on a street corner.
However, for what Kadoka lacks in comfy home feelings it makes up in pristine Black Hills beauty. From my room at The Dakota Inn, I can see for miles and miles without interruption. All the way to the lights of Rapid City, North Dakota, Saskatchewan and the back of my own head. As you drive out of Kadoka to the south, only 4 miles out of town the hills begin to rise. Ancient river beds and glacial drifts spire out of the plains topped with stringy pines. and I wonder how people lived here on the high plains desert. For there is nothing. Not even birds. No eagles or hawks or sparrows or crows. Nothing. Silence. Except for the ever-present Dakota wind. Now with winter creeping in it only brings ice and hostility. No more friendly tumble weeds and little bugs.
As you pass the rise into the reservation a sign reads: You are Now Entering “The Land of Red Cloud” (One of the most predominate and well-known figures in all of the Lakota Tribes. He is supposedly buried on the Pine Ridge Reservation akin to Sitting Bull being buried on Standing Rock. A whole other debacle.) The school in Wanblee is called Crazy Horse High with its team the “Chiefs”. Although both Red Cloud and Crazy Horse are members of the Oglala Tribe, I find it a bit funny that the school is not named for Red Cloud. Crazy Horse was a BAMF warrior but had little tact. I suppose it’s similar to why we have memorials to generals and not teachers in mainstream white society. Red Cloud was also a warrior but also served his people as they were being forced to reservations.
Crazy Horse educates children mostly of the Oglala Tribe but also of those who live near or on the Rez. I knew this going in and hoped this experience would not be as trying as Wakpala. So far, being two days in, it’s going pretty well. The kids of both places have similar traits: they both hate authority, have a hard time with loosely structured time and love to spin. Not like kids at other school that randomize their twirls. But together (seemingly secretly organized) and always counter clock-wise. They loll their heads back to look at the ceiling and spin to the left. Not one person I have asked can tell me why. I could deduce it away and say that kids do weird things. But it’s not that. It’s a part of their being and has more importance. I may never really know. I tried it a few times and just got dizzy.
I like how the kids laugh here. A vast majority of them are missing their front teeth, so it makes it that much better. And they love falling down. Some slide others tumble but always fall. They are loud though, tell you what, they love to yell. I wish I could create a collection array that would harvest all their scattered energy so I could redirect it into something productive though. They lack focus. But I like them anyway.
Something else I’ve notices between Wanblee and Wakpala is the school staff. The administrators are all well educated federally trained white people while the teachers and support staff vary in tribal members. Even way out here Uncle Sam still has a firm grip on things which resonates through what the kids learn from the federal level and the tribal level. Most Rez schools have Native Culture programs that educate the youth on their own people. These classes are tough my tribal members and tribal scholars who have dedicated their lives to continuing the language and stories of their people into the modern age. Now, the secondary students must learn to speak and write Lakota. Which is great but, they must also learn Spanish or French as a federal language requirement. It makes sense to me that being bi-lingual in a Native language would qualify as a credit and knowing how much of the high school Spanish i learned and never needed or used, Lakota would be more than fitting. Especially when living on the Rez and being able to communicate in your own language. More to come on that topic later.
Thanks for reading. Stay tuned.
Red Cloud became Chief in 1868 2 years after the Dawes Act of 1866 (which enabled white settlers and industry to harvest resources from tribal land) and continued to help his people until his death in 1909. Red Cloud partook in The Battle of The Little Big Horn, The Sioux Wars and several other engagements.
The Natural History Preservation Act of 1966 also inhibited Native land rights and sparked the Fish Wars of Northern California.
“Sioux” means “snake in the grass” and was only used by enemies of the Lakota. Note that the most populous cith in South Dakota is Sioux Falls which is located in “The Sioux Empire” and is 1 1/2 hours form Sioux City, Iowa.