Several months ago I purchased a book called Being Lakota which was written by a lady who lives in the village of Allen on the Pine Ridge Reservation - the village I visit each year. I bought it for two reasons, 1) I was interested in reading it, and 2) I had anticipated meeting the author, Melda Jane Runs Along the Edge Red Bear Trejo, when we went to Pine Ridge this year.
When I got it and began reading it was a strange experience. Reading about a place I have come to know well felt surreal. Last week, I got to meet Melda and had her sign my copy of the book. After dinner last Tuesday the missionary said, "Amber, come with me for a minute". We climbed into the 4-wheel drive and headed off to Melda's place so I could meet her. After a ride up a rutted gravel road we came to a place that was truly beautiful. A large cliff overlooked woods, grassland, and a pure spring of water. Melda was in her garden and greeted us with a smile and handshake. She welcomed our group to come for a visit the next evening.
Wednesday evening we piled into the Bronco and the back of a pick-up truck and the whole group headed off to Melda's. It was a wild ride and we all ate a lot of dust and dirt but the evening was far more than I could have hoped for.
Melda, her sons Marcus and Reuben and her grandson Santanna walked us to a clearing in the woods and brought out fresh currants and choke cherries grown on their land to share with us. As the evening wore on they built a huge bonfire and we sat around and visited more. They told us stories and explained some of the Lakota sacred ceremonies. We went into Melda's home, a 100 year old cabin, and saw pictures of very old Indians, but these were not just any old pictures of old Indians - they were her family.
Before the evening was over they had done the unthinkable - they invited us to participate with them in a sweat lodge. For a Lakota to invite outsiders to share in their sacred ceremonies is a honor and is very, very rare. Melda explains in her book that they (her family) believes in "making relatives through prayer". She says, "praying with 'everybody' is the only way you're going to heaven". I saw it as a genuine request to agree on the things we have in common and pray together to our God - the God we both worship and serve.
I was also humbled when Marcus extended an invitation to come to visit them anytime. He said, "anytime you are here and want to put up a tent and camp or build a fire and visit a while, just come. You don't need to ask - this is your land too". Pretty gracious words coming from an Indian to a white person, considering that we've taken almost all of their land and left them with very little. Yet they are willing to share even that with us because they consider us friends.
As I am home now and closing up all the "business' of the trip I am also dipping back into Melda's book and again, it's like reading about an old and dear friend.
Here are some pics from our visit. Click on the picture for a larger view.