Mitakuye Oyasin — all my relations — is an essential Lakota understanding. Zen Peacemakers is honored to continue the deepening of relations with the Lakota following our 2015 Native American Bearing Witness Retreat, the 2016 Cheyenne River Plunge, and the Zen Peacemaker presence at Standing Rock in fall and winter 2016. Although the 2018 service trip and bearing witness plunge are new offerings, they are the fruit of an 18-year relationship between the Lakota and Zen Peacemakers’ members, some of which is shared in our blog.

Since 2015, Zen Peacemakers have conducted programs annually in collaboration with the Lakota community in South Dakota. These programs are different every year, according to the needs of our hosts and our participants: they’ve manifested as the major 180-participant Black Hills Bearing Witness retreat in 2015, the intimate members-led Plunge in 2016 on Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation (CRST), and the dual programs in 2017 of a Week of Service on CRST and the Bearing Witness Plunge in Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota.

Each consecutive year builds on the relationships we develop with our Lakota hosts. And, our program participants and Zen Peacemakers members have individually continued their relationships with the Lakota through communications and actions, such as a nation-wide clothes drive, social-justice collaborations, attending Standing Rock camp in Winter 2016, a members-led Bearing Witness retreat, building a year-round hot-house in Pine-Ridge, and in many other forms.


Join a Q&A webinar led by Simply Smiles and Zen Peacemakers Staff that will cover the context, environment and overview of the Week 1 program. The session will take place online– to attend, please register here.

Bearing Witness Plunge Week, Soon To Be Announced.

Evolving out of over two decades of relationship with the Lakota and following the rich legacy of Zen Peacemakers Bearing Witness Retreats and service, the 2018 Zen Peacemakers Native American Programs offer participants the unique opportunity to serve and learn from our Lakota hosts, and to engage the Three Tenets. Q&A session to be led by ZPI Executive Director Rami Efal, and will cover logistics, planning and registration.

February 16, 2018 1-2pm EST – REGISTER HERE

With Simply Smiles’ Program Manager Sam Steinmetz and Zen Peacemakers Executive Director Rami Efal

May 4, 2018 1-2pm EST – REGISTER HERE

With Zen Peacemakers Executive Director Rami Efal

During the Zen Peacemakers plunge in Cheyenne River Sioux tribe reservation in summer 2016, we have visited Simply Smiles Camp, a summer camp drawing communities from around the United States, that every year erects houses and supports the children and community of local Lakota families at the reservation. This year, Zen Peacemakers are planning a full week of service with Simply Smiles, and we are looking for up to 35 participants who’d like to get their hands dirty while immersed in the beautiful Cheyenne River hills and its welcoming community, practicing meditation and council sharing circles and developing our appreciation of the Three Tenets of Not Knowing, Bearing Witness and Taking Action.

“We had the honor of working on a house that will be the home of a local man. The conversations, the companionship of the people from Simply Smiles, a chance to talk with the future-owner of the home and get his perspective on the Res, and the satisfaction of contributing to such a worthwhile project filled our hearts.”

-Tracy M., Boston MA, Zen Peacemaker Order

Simply Smiles
has developed a comprehensive introduction process for the participants, and has been great to work with. Our connection with them is supported by our mutual friendship with Tiokasin Ghosthorse, a native of Cheyenne River, who has been instrumental in both the creation of Simply Smiles and the efforts of Zen Peacemakers in the Black Hills. The construction sites are on the green hills of Cheyenne River reservation, around La Plant.  Roshi Genro Gauntt and Rami Efal will lead the program. Genro is a founding teacher of the Zen Peacemaker Order, and was among the leaders of the 2015 Black Hills Bearing Witness retreat. Rami Efal is the executive director of Zen Peacemakers, inc.

Pay-What-You-Can Fee: this year we have structured the payment to accommodate participants of different financial abilities.

  1. Program Base fee is $900 ($750 is paid directly to Simply Smiles inc., $150 is a minimum administration fee to ZPI.)
  2. Requested Additional Donation per participant is encouraged – the base fee above covers only a fraction of the complete event administration. Your additional donation is acknowledged as a tax-deductible expense for your US tax purposes. Your donation supports:
  • Zen Peacemakers administration & coordination of the program and participants
  • Banking fees and planning costs.
  • Group activity costs like art supplies and service tips.
  • Air travel for the Zen Peacemakers program leaders.
  • Developing Zen Peacemakers’s ongoing work with the Lakota.

TRAVEL EXPENSES NOT INCLUDED: All participants are responsible to cover their own travel to Rapid City Airport, and/or if lodging before or after the week of service. The program fee does include a shuttle from and back to the airport before and after the service-week. In case you miss the shuttle you will have to arrange your own transportation. We gather and leave as one group.

FUNDRAISING: Zen Peacemakers encourages everyone to help the joint effort by fund-raising for their participation, and through this, to raise awareness & spread the word about the life and challenges of the Lakota.

CANCELLATION POLICY: Strict – After April 1st 2018 there is no refund possible, as Simply Smiles must secure the construction expenses. Before April 1st there is a $150 cancellation fee.

SCHOLARSHIPS: Scholarship funds may be available. Please inquire at [email protected]


To be picked up by a van and transported to camp, arrive at the Rapid City Airport before 2 PM on Saturday, 7/21/2018.

All should leave from the Simply Smiles camp by 9am on Saturday, 7/28/2018. A van will take you to Rapid City Airport that morning. If you make a flight reservation, please make them for *after* 12 pm, noon, on Saturday the 7/28/2018.

Morning Program for Zen Peacemakers: group meditation, council practice
Breakfast @ camp
Work : Construction on site (or) gardening at the organic garden @ camp


Lunch @ camp
Community time : playing with children, swimming in nearby Missouri river, ice cream, art, sports (basketball, soccer, horseshoes,
archery courts @ camp)

Evening Program for Zen Peacemakers: group meditation, council practice
Accommodations: Volunteers Community Building, Bunk Beds.

Please read these requests from our Lakota hosts:

• Absolutely no use of alcoholic beverages or drugs. Cigarette smoking is not prohibited, but be aware that tobacco is sacred to the Lakota, so be mindful of how you use it (don’t litter).
• Always watch out for children and drive cautiously. Our native communities are slow-paced in comparison to cities, and it is not unusual to find children playing near or on the roads.
• Obey all laws and regulations.
• Do not disturb sites that contain devotions or offerings.  These include pipes, bundles, ties, flags of colored material, food offerings as well as other items. These sites are considered sacred and desecration will be taken very seriously.
• Do not go where you do not have permission to go. Our remaining territory is sacred to us. Many tribal peoples will not tolerate trespassing.
• Be respectful in asking questions of an individual – especially a tribal elder. Do not assume your questions will be answered, especially if they pertain to our Sacred Ceremonies.
• Be respectful and ask to take a photo before a photo is taken.
• Please tread lightly when it comes to religion. A controversial history with “missionaries” is still a part of the Lakota consciousness. As such, we ask that you do not bring or wear any piece of clothing that says “mission/ missionary.”
• During an event like a Pow Wow, the MC will inform the people if photos and recording will be allowed or not. There are many things that can be learned about our Lakota Culture when you sit, listen and observe.

We will camp on the site of Simply Smiles camp. Bathroom and showers will be provided. Please pack everything in one duffle bag with no wheels. Read the list carefully- each participant should bring:

  • your identification, and any other necessary travel forms
  • your medical insurance card(s)
  • ATM, credit cards
  • list of emergency contact phone numbers and emails
  • a Nalgene-type water bottle with your name on it
  • Pepto-Bismol, Tylenol, Dramamine (if you get car sick)
  • your personal medications, in their original bottles, with significant quantity for the trip (it is required to disclose on your release forms
  • what medications you will be taking during your week)
  • sunglasses
  • headlamp-type flashlight with extra batteries
  • camera with extra batteries and memory cards
  • waterless hand sanitizer (Purell)
  • work gloves
  • sunscreen, sun hat, bandana, aloe
  • bath towel
  • glasses, contact lenses, solution
  • earplugs (many people like to have earplugs for sleeping)
  • biodegradable soap and shampoo
  • bug spray and after-bite medications (like a cortisone cream)
  • sneakers and/or light work boots – closed-toed shoes are mandatory for construction work
  • sandals (Teva, Keen, or Chaco type is suggested; flip flops are not allowed)
  • pack enough clothing for the week – you will not have the opportunity to do laundry. Bring clothes that you won’t mind ruining! Please
  • dress conservatively- shorts should reach mid-thigh, no low-cut shirts
    • clothes for the heat – shorts and t-shirts; moisture wicking fabric is good for the humidity
    • clothes for the cold if necessary- check the weather report!
    • sweatshirt
    • a very light pair of pants and a long-sleeved shirt in case the bugs are bad
    • rain coat – breathable fabric is best, but definitely waterproof
    • one piece bathing suit
    • mud boots – these are not required but very helpful in the spring mud season
    • clean clothes for the plane (we suggest you pack all of your clothes in zip-lock type bags)
  • sleeping pad – should not be wider than 30’’ – please keep in mind we have to pack up all our sleeping supplies every morning. We do not have room for large blow up mattresses.
  • light sleeping bag
  • set of twin sheets and a small pillow
  • remember to pack anything you can’t live without in your carry-on bag
  • head-lamp flashlight
  • under 18 years old? No cell phones are allowed. Adults, we strongly encourage you to either not bring their phones or to keep them stored for the week.
  • food and eating utensils will be provided. Please do not bring any valuables

Q: I anticipate renting a car and arrive on my own to the camp. Do you anticipate any logistical problems with this?

A:  Please don’t arrive to camp early and please leave camp before 9AM on the last day, along with everyone else. 

Q: Will we be permitted to camp on site at Simply Smiles?

A: Because this year the Zen Peacemakers will be part of a Simply Smiles trip, we will ask that all the volunteers sleep together inside our locked building. Safety is the first priority in all we do with Simply Smiles and our volunteer experience, and it is simply more safe to be inside our locked building throughout the night. Thank you for understanding.

Q: After the Week of Service, when do we leave and when is our last meal?

A: We will leave in the Simply Smiles bus between 7-9 AM to get the volunteers back to the airport in time for their flight. We ask that everyone arrive at the Rapid City Airport before 2 PM on Saturday, July 21st, and if they are flying out, depart after 12 Noon on Saturday the July 28th. We ask everyone to depart the community center by 9 AM on Saturday the 28th so that the staff has enough time and space to clean everything up, and get ready for the next incoming group. Our last full meal will be Friday evening’s dinner, and then we will have granola bars for Saturday morning.

Q: Can non-participants drop in to visit the camp during any time of the day (i.e. community afternoons etc.)?

A: If an individual is passing through South Dakota, then yes they can stop by for a few hours during camp one day. Attendance beyond that extent will require registration and payment for the week, on account of both ZP’s and Simply Smiles’ insurance and liability policy.

Q: Where will we take showers?

A: We will have access to showers twice a week up at the school across the street. We will also go to the river once during our stay, but not to bathe.

“There’s something about the way the land meets the sky, how the Missouri River flows down stream, the kids’ smiles during camp, the tears and chuckles of the elders that assure you that you’re exactly where you need to be at that very moment… You’ll be amazed how your life can change in just seven short days.”
— Charlotte Pecquex, Reservation Experience Volunteer, Norwalk, CT

“…an exceptionally well run organization. Our week on ‘the Rez’ was perspective-altering, heart-expanding, challenging, and fun.”

— Reverend Andrew Nagy-Benson, Reservation Experience Volunteer, Middlebury, VT