My friend and fellow Quaker, Judy Plank, has given me permission to share some of her stories.
I’ve written about the background of my grandchildren whose mother’s came from Dakota and Lakota nations in my book. Even as a child I was attracted to what I supposed was the life and culture of the tribes that had thrived in our area before the white colonists arrived. I thought our lives were so boring and unimaginative compared to the lives they lived.
That aside, my experiences with those inlaws and my deep deep love for my grandchildren has drawn me even further into knowledge to the near irrepairable damage done to their lives and culture. I love all my grandchildren with all my heart.
I had a chance meeting at our Le Mars Dairy Queen the fall before the pandemic, with a young native man with a logo on his T-shirt that I was attracted to. He was there with his two children, as their mother was working there. I got into a conversation with him, and he shared that he had attended the Flandreau Indian School, where decades before my grandson’s mother had lived and his other grandmother had been a cook. This young man seemed to have had a very good experience there (the school is still in operation, I believe). From that short conversation, I don’t know how connected he was with his culture and what the school was now teaching, if anything, to continue or revive their culture. He was living in Le Mars, where native people are really scarce.
It’s a miracle that any part of the various native cultures still survive given the relentless violence to wipe it out completely. Yet, reviving some of that culture and reverence for the earth that gives us life as these people traditionally practiced, may well be what saves us from destroying ourselves. I attended a talking circle some years ago facilitated by a man I greatly respect from the Yankton nation, who lived in Sioux City. He referred to all people, creatures and things as our relatives. I try to consistently remember to treat all as relatives in my own life. He’s currently in the process of moving to Sioux Falls, but I communicate with him via Facebook.
I’m very happy that finally a native is in charge of the Dept. of Interior. I hope that will change the culture of that department for the better. Other than that, I don’t have much to offer about how to repair the damage done. It will take generations, I fear, before the wrong can be wiped clean.
As I see it, the reason the past boarding schools era is still relevant is the repercussions still today of that trauma of taking children from their families and unthinkable disruption to the culture, language, and family life for the tribal people is still affecting the people to this day. We can be unaware of the entire episode, but they still live with that trauma. What we can do now, is recognize the hurt, listen and learn from the learned history of the tribes as to how to treat the land we live on, and to return as best we can land and lives of these people. How that can best be done, I’m not sure, but many ways must be tried to repair the damage.
I was horrified to read about the treatment in Pipestone. I was just in Pipestone this past Friday. My grandson and I visited my daughter’s grave in the Catholic cemetery there while we were in Pipestone. The Catholic cemetery overlooks the National Monument to the east. Nick and I spent time driving through the other two cemeteries next to the Catholic one. I found an area that had a couple rows of maybe 50 or so unmarked stones that really interested me. I still wonder if those were graves, and if so, who was buried there. If I had the energy, I’d try to find out the answer, especially after reading this story about the Pipestone school,