Finding Humanity: A Trip To Pine Ridge Reservation
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Politics and Activism

Finding Humanity: A Trip To Pine Ridge Reservation

Where 49 percent of the population lives below the federal poverty line, people rely on more than just money to get by.

Finding Humanity: A Trip To Pine Ridge Reservation
Cheyenne Rowe

This past weekend, I didn't go home for Easter to spend time with my family. My mother called me a few weeks ago, and told me that they were looking for a missionary to deliver clothing to a church about eight hours from here. I figured that, since I wouldn't be doing anything, I would be open for the opportunity. Besides, my house (I'm sure others do as well) requires community service hours, and this was a perfect way to knock those out. It wasn't until we reached the hotel set aside for us that I realized how old I had become.

Now, I'm only 20 years old. That's a young man by many standards, but I had made this trip with others before. When I was still living at home, once a summer, my mother's church youth group made a trip up to the Pine Ridge Reservation. I haven't been on this trip in five years, as commitment to my state and other obligations had turned my attentions elsewhere. It was after this realization, that I knew I was getting old.

As stated earlier, the St. Andrew's SAY (St. Andrew's Youth) made the eight hour journey to Gordon, Nebraska. This small farming community acted as a home for the week. From Monday to Thursday of the week, the missionaries would trek the 1.5 hour bus ride to Kyle, South Dakota. The native children were picked up from the local post office, and transported to the Church of the Mediator. It was this church that acted as a “base-of-operations" for the day camp the SAY ran. The kids could enjoy arts & crafts, outdoor sports, chalk, etc. Every year, the older group of SAY missionaries would also carry out a service project on the grounds of Mediator. This ranged from painting the handicap ramp, to building outhouses, and repainting the cross that hung in the graveyard adjacent to the church.

If memory serves me right, I remember this trip as intrinsically depressing. Pine Ridge ranges in some of the poorest counties in the United States. The people live on an average per capita income of $6,200. Our tuition can be more expensive than that. The average life expectancy for these people is also below the national average: 48 for men, and 52 for women. Even more shocking is that 49 percent of the population on the Reservation live below the federal poverty line. For those under 18, the statistic jumps up to 61 percent. Regardless of these circumstances, by the interactions I remember, the children and adults that SAY interacted with never displayed these unfortunate circumstances. It was this attitude that made the natives incredible individuals.

I've never once, in my life, seen a conglomeration of people who exhibit a better spirit of commitment and pride than those who attended the Day Camps produced by the missionaries. As much as I enjoyed this trip, it seems that I'm never able to escape it, nor the individuals involved. When I decided that this would be the topic of my next article, I remembered that two Greeks on our campus were missionaries, along with myself, in another life.

Ms. Cheyenne Rowe, an active sister of Theta Phi Alpha sorority, has been attending these trips regularly for the past eight years. She even acted as a self-proclaimed photographer. Go ahead and look her up, the pictures are incredible.

When I asked her how she felt about the trip, she argued it had become a time commitment, but not one that needed any thought.

"When I think of summer, and the trips I'll take, the Mission Trip is automatically scheduled in."

Despite her obligations as a college student now, and of those involving her sorority, the trip has become an integral part of her summer plans.

“It's become a cleansing experience for me. I feel like, despite why we are there, I need this more than they (the Natives). We also get to see these kids grow up. The same ones that first showed up as little children grow up into teens and young adults. They become our children in the experience." Aside from working up at Church of the Mediator, the SAY is allowed to roam Gordon, and experience what there is to do in a small town. “The stories we take away from this trip are also what I look forward to. It's fun to reminisce, and be able to say, 'Remember when we did this…'".

Hope Cudly, a sister of Phi Mu sorority, also attended the mission trip to Pine Ridge with Cheyenne and myself. While she said she hadn't been in a while, much like myself, the life-changing opportunities presented to the attendees are just as fresh in her mind.

“What I liked the most was how eye-opening PR was. We have a tendency to take things for granted, and not understand just how well off we are. When we go up to the Rez, and see kids wear the same clothes, and see their homes, it makes me feel thankful. What's more incredible is how the children were always happy to see us come. It meant that, for a week, they could forget everything, and enjoy the company of SAY."

Both of these young women, upstanding in every sense of the word from our personal interactions, have never been known to be liars. Everything they told me during our sit-down goes hand-in-hand with what I would say were I in their shoes. While I see fellow Greeks in Ms. Cudly and Ms. Rowe, I also see sisters. I see how much this week has altered their state of mind, how they carry themselves after such an experience.

As for myself, I find it hard to put into words how I felt about the mission, and about how it was to return after so long. The last trip I took was when I was 15. Since then, I had become a soldier, a college student, and a better man. I would be remiss if I didn't owe some sort of contribution to the Natives for the transformation at such a tender age. It was at Pine Ridge that I understood that I have no room to “bitch". I did not come from a privileged family, and there were a few times where mom had to scrape by. However, it was never to the level that these incredible people have to face on a daily basis. I am incredibly privileged to have had the opportunity to spend several summers with these people, titans among their contemporaries. Acacia's motto is “Human Service", and while I've never been the best brother I can be, these missions to the Rez exemplified our motto. It is an ethos I try to live by every day, and I get forlorn knowing just how long it has been since I've seen the Reservation from a missionary's view. It is a very somber experience, one shared only by two other Greeks on campus, and I could not be happier than to have shared it with these two women.

My Easter weekend, if one were to ask, was the best of any in a very long time. It brought me back to a time where life was put into a broader perspective, and all of the trials and tribulations I've faced seemed trivial. I wish I could convey this experience better than through paper, but take this for what it is. These are the ramblings of a full-hearted individual, one who was touched by God on those trips.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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