SOUTH DAKOTA, USA. In August of 2017, thirty non-Native American Zen Peacemakers conducted two weeks of programs as another step in an years-long-arc of developing relationship and appreciation with the Lakota of South Dakota. Both weeks were based on and held by the Three-Tenets of Not Knowing, Bearing Witness and Taking Action.
Week 1: Week of Service, La Plant, South Dakota USA, August 5-12
The first seven days we served on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation in the small town of La Plant east of Eagle Butte. We partnered with Simply Smiles, a non-profit dedicated to supporting the reservations’ community and empowering young leadership. Our volunteers:
- Constructed, painted and installed electric systems on a brand new building at La Plant’s community center. Following fierce nightly thunderstorms, the roof’s newly installed gutter system filled a cistern with 250 gallons of rainwater, ready to irrigate the organic garden.
- Installed new roofs and painted homes for several reservation families. The homes Simply Smiles builds from scratch each summer are in fact tornado shelters, and are built completely from donations and participation fees of volunteers.
- Conducted and participated each day in summer camp with the local kids: we played basketball, did arts and crafts, and learned Woskate Lakota tossing games with Buechel Memorial Lakota Museum at Simply Smiles Inc.
- Accompanied Simply Smiles camp with a group of teens on a day-long field trip to Crazy Horse monument.
- Supported Simply Smiles staff in organizing a teen women + men basketball tournament between 20 teams from around the Reservation.
- Served a town-wide breakfast.
- Held meditation and council circles for the volunteers.
Zen Peacemakers are grateful for the leadership and staff of Simply Smiles for your inspiring work and spirit, and to the residents of La Plant, who welcomed us on your land, to meet your children, for your hospitality and curiosity of our volunteers’ cultures and stories.
Above: Playing at Simple Smiles community center, La Plant, on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation
Above: Working on the cistern at Simple Smiles community center, La Plant, Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.
Above: Field Trip to Crazy Horse Monument, famous Lakota warrior and holy man.
Week 2: Bearing Witness Plunge, Montana and Wyoming, August 13-18
Prayer and listening, transformation of trauma and respect for all relations were only a few of the themes at this gathering. Lakota hosts Violet Catches, Manny and Renee Iron Hawk, and their children and grandchildren from Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation and Pine Ridge, led us to the old Sundance grounds near the Little Bighorn River.
The spot, now a US national monument on Crow Reservation land in Montana, became the site of the famous Battle of the Little Bighorn, where the US 7th Cavalry was wiped out in one of the last armed attempts by Lakota to defend their way of life. Manny Iron Hawk, whose paternal and maternal grandfathers fought in the battle, their portraits and names etched on the monument’s wall, spoke about growing up with these stories, and Renee Iron Hawk who works in trauma centers spoke about her process of gaining ground after trauma. Many of the non-native participants who had attended other bearing witness retreats related the experience here to their experiences in Bosnia, Auschwitz-Birkenau and other sites of trauma.
Family was an important theme in this plunge with the children and grandchildren of the hosts being present, as well as children of participants.
Over two days at Bear Lodge (known to Americans as Devil’s Tower, Wyoming), Violet Catches shared with the guests her intimate and intricate stories of the Lakota Way, and the plunge was finally completed with sacred tobacco ties in a tree-tying ceremony.
“Chante wasteya Wachiyankapi yelo/With a good heart I’ve seen all of you. What can I say that sums up our group visit, “AWESOME.” Learning from each other was needed coming from different backgrounds, but still we had more similarities than differences. I CAN FEEL THE GOODNESS FROM YOUR HEARTS. HOKA HEY!”
– Manny Iron Hawk
“Heartfelt gratitude, respect, and love to the grandmother nodding and squinting at the glass in front of her as she drove, struggling to hear (she knows how to listen!) because she can’t afford hearing aids. Deep love and appreciation to Manny Iron Hawk and Renee. With the little they have, trauma weighing heavily on their shoulders, they spent five very precious days training us to listen to the leaves fall, listen to fish leaping out of the water.”
– Roshi Eve Marko
“Zen Peacemakers! The time we spent together was an experience to be remembered in my heart. I do not know how to explain the appreciation, attentiveness & intentional being, I mean just being, that I felt from all of you. I believe I was truly honored to share that time & space with you all. Wophila Thanka icichiyapi! (Great Thanks I say to you all!)”
– Renee Fasthorse-Iron Hawk
“I continue to be filled with gratitude and inspired from our week together with the Lakota people. It opened the door for me to go forward with new energy.”
– Jennifer (participant)
Ceremony at Bear Lodge (Devil’s Tower, Wyoming). L to R: Roshi Genro Gauntt, Manny Iron Hawk, Renee Iron Hawk, Violet Catches, Roshi Eve Marko, Executive Director Rami Efal.
Zen Peacemakers are grateful to the leaders of these programs (pictured above); We extend gratitude to Roshi Eve Marko for her leadership and Roshi Genro Gauntt for being the driving energy behind our initiatives with Native Americans for the past three years. Zen Peacemakers are especially grateful to Violet Catches, Renee Fasthorse Iron Hawk and Manny Iron Hawk for their welcoming Zen Peacemakers to their home, family, land and way of life.
To all those who contributed towards our expenses, thank you for helping us make this retreat happen. These programs have been made possible by the generous donation of Guerilla Yoga Bern and Peacemaker Gemeinschaft Schweiz in Switzerland.
Read more reports from this event by Eve Marko at:
August 11th. Little Bighorn
August 15th. This Is Our Land
August 19th.Charlotteville and Devil’s Tower
August 24th. What’s Your Name?