Groceries and Rancid Meat

If you live in a metropolitan area, suburban area, a rural region near a larger city, or really almost anywhere. If you are middle or upper class, economically stable, have a job, a steady income, have a car and a house or rent a nice apartment. If your local grocery store was caught selling rancid meat mixed with other meat, what would the outcome be? Would there be a national news story? Would it be picked up in the state news? What if the local people got really sick and had to be transported to the hospital for treatment? Would it be picked up by “Good Morning America”?, “The Today Show”? It could be, especially if you lived in the northeast, maybe near New York City or DC. There would be a huge public outcry over the deliberate poisoning of the general population.

In May this past year(2012), the meat department of the Sioux Nation Shopping Center in Pine Ridge was closed for 10 days for repackaging out of date meat and selling it as fresh. The store is owned by the Oglala Sioux Tribe, but operated by Cohn Wholesale Fruit and Grocery, Inc. Did you hear about this? Probably not, when I did a quick google search, the only news sites that came up were local to Pine Ridge and southwest South Dakota.

To add insult to injury, groceries on Pine Ridge are almost prohibitively expensive. My price point, a jar of Gerber Beef Baby Food, costs about $1.00 in Westminster, MD. When I was on Pine Ridge, the same food cost $1.33/jar. Add that same increase in cost to all the other items you need on a daily basis. So, not only was the meat department at the Sioux Nation Shopping Center selling outdated meat, but it was selling it for an increased price.

Hw often do you hear news from the Native American reservations? Not often, I am sure. You ended to seek it out. Please check out:

Lakota Country Times
Indian Country

for news from Native American reservations.

Posted in Lakota, Pine Ridge | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Leaving South Dakota

We have left South Dakota. On Wednesday, July 11, 2012 we traveled from Lower Brule to Rapid City via Wall, on interstate 90. We arrived in Rapid with time in the afternoon to visit some sites and stores in the city.

The drive itself was uneventful, a good thing. We were quiet, taking in the scenery. The students napped in the back seat of the Suburban. It was been along two weeks for them. We passed down along the Missouri and out past Medicine Butte, a site sacred to the Lower Brule tribe. We passed a group of dilapidated aged trailers, called “Malfunction Junction”; an alcohol town just off the Lower Brule reservation. We drove through the small western village of Reliance and picked up 90 west. The scenery gradually changed from the rolling and agriculturally farmed land to stark and more desolate carpeted grazing grassland.

We made a quick stop at Wall Drug, just to stretch our legs and pick up some coffee. Wall, SD interestingly enough is host to the Wounded Knee Museum; to put it in context, Wall, SD is about 100 miles from Wounded Knee, SD. When we were at Wounded Knee we spoke to some of the local artisans selling their wares and heard that the museum was originally supposed to be in Wounded Knee but for some reason ended up in Wall. No one is quite sure why. I have to be honest, I enjoyed the Wounded Knee site without the museum, it was quiet and reflective. Maybe having the museum in Wall encourages people to think about stopping on the reservation. More people certainly pass through Wall than Wounded Knee or Pine Ridge. While I support the idea of more visitors to Wounded Knee, I am not sure a museum would be appropriate for the site, but that is my opinion.

Rapid City seemed large, even though it only has about 67,000 people, after spending two weeks on the reservations. We checked in and headed downtown for some food and last minute shopping. We stopped at Prairie Edge, a rather well known store in Raid City that sells Native American crafts. If the craft was made by a Native American, it is certified and noted as such. There were brochures around the store highlighting the artists that contribute to Prairie Edge. The artists are not only Lakota, but represent tribes from all over North America.

I was really glad that we bought directly from the artists on the reservations. While I think Prairie Edge fulfills an important role in Rapid City (after all, many of the people who stop in will never make it to Cheyenne River, Pine Ridge, or Lower Brule), the artists most likely receive less per piece that is sold. I also think that the locations on the reservations that sell crafts are more in tune with the people. For example, when we were at Singing Horse Trading Post, there was an artist there making her jewelry. The owner of the trading post, Rosie, announced that we should, if at all possible, buy directly from the artist that was there before looking through the wares in the Trading Post. How cool is that? You would not find that happening in Rapid City. On the reservation, people are more in tune with the way everyone has to live.

I have since left South Dakota. It was a wonderful trip. If you have been reading the blog, I thank you very much. I have gotten some great comments from people. I do plan to continue with more thoughts and information as time goes on, but the posting will not be as prolific. I still have about six or so posts bouncing around my head for posting. I also plan to keep up posting about news from the reservations as well. So please check back every once in a while for new posts and keep the comments coming, it is good to hear from you. If you would like anyone information about anything I posted about, please let me know and I can email you.

I will be going back to South Dakota next summer.

Some awesome graffiti art from Rapid City



A statue at a Rapid City street corner.


Bee hives we passed on the way back to Rapid City. It wasn’t just this day, but we saw bee hives ALL over the place. We also noticed a lot of local honey for sale. What great pollinators.


Posted in Lakota | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Visiting with the Lower Brule Tribe

We drove into the Lower Brule Reservation yesterday (Monday, July 9). It was obvious as we drove through the countryside that the Native Americans living on the Lower Brule were financially more secure than the Pine Ridge or Cheyenne River Lakota. There was a lot of agriculture going on, there were many herds of cattle, the grass was much greener, and hills were not as sparse. It was still amazingly desolate, it was even emptier than the southwestern part of the state near Pine Ridge. The hills rolled on for miles without houses, just cattle and grasslands.


The Lower Brule still have their share of high unemployment, drug and alcohol use, poor housing, and poverty, but it did not seem as pronounced as when we were on other reservations.
A sign greeting us in front of the Tribal Council Building.


Today (Tuesday, July 10) we spent visiting with the Lower Brule Tribe. We started first by visiting their arts and craft center, Sung Maka Ska (White Earth Horse), a business of the Lower Brule Tribe that employees some of the tribal members to make arts and crafts. It is an amazing place where you get to see the artisans at work.

We then went to Lakota Foods, again a food marketing company that produces popcorn! The Lower Brule tribe supplies the popcorn for Con-Agra (I am sure you heard of it). But they also market their own brand of Lakota Popcorn.. We were lucky enough to get a tour of the facilities and enjoy some free samples. A great Christmas gift for folks back east, all you need to do is visit their web site.


We then went up to the tribal administration building and received a wonderful tour from Evelyn. The Lower Brule Tribe manages their agriculture and marketing very well, which is providing a growing local economy for the members living on the reservation. Again, there are still many problems, but they are in a good position and continue to grow with solid infrastructure.

The outside of the Tribal Administration Building and the Buffalo hide which hangs in the conference room.



We then went on a very very very cool eco-tour with a Lower Brule tribal member and Dr. Brian Molyneaux. Brian showed us the rehabilitation that has been taking place along the Missouri River, which has been dammed in a number of places. We went on a walk through chest high grass to observe the rehabilitation of cottonwoods, river grapes, choke cherries, and riparian environments. We heard a rattlesnake that we disturbed with our footsteps, but we never saw it. While there were lots of snake skins around, we never saw any at this site. We were also able to get up close and personal with a buffalo herd and observe a burrowing owl at a prairie dog town.

Buffalo Pictures: the bulls have straight horns, the cows have curved horns, the calves are just cute.




Below is a photo of a burrowing owl. He was quite a distance away, but I was able to get a good shot with the camera.


Brian also took us to an Earth mound dwelling at an Arikara site. The Arikara tribes were farmers, as opposed to the hunting and gathering Lakota. They occupied the same land in South and North Dakota, however they lived quite differently. There are archeological sites along the Missouri that Brian is working on with his students. The site we went too has an Earth Mound reconstructed to honor the Arikara. It took young men from the Arikara and Lower Brule Tribes two days to build. Here, we saw a rattlesnake nesting in the rafters.

The entrance to the Earth Mound house.


Inside the Earth Mound house.


The rattlesnake in the rafters. I am not sure which is worse…bats in the belfry or rattlesnakes in the rafters.


Posted in Lakota | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Cheyenne River Youth Project (CRYP)

The Cheyenne River Youth Project (CRYP) was one of our stops in Eagle Butte. CRPY was built to provide a safe place for children and teens in Eagle Butte. The center provides activities and meals, and in some cases it is the only meal of the day the attendees receive. The purpose built facility was amazing, there were two libraries, a computer lab, a dance studio, an Internet cafe, a gymnasium, a commercial kitchen, an art room, craft rooms, dinning areas, and housing for volunteers. One building served the children of the community and the larger building with the gymnasium served the youth. There was also a beautiful large garden just outside the buildings, that was well tended.

CRYP serves an important role in the community of Cheyenne River. They host mid-night basketball, give the children a safe place to come do work, help with SAT preparation, provide art opportunities, provide meals to the attendees. They also have a distribution center on site, where families (who are registered) can come and receive household items once a month.

Unlike Re-member, they do not assist in housing work or go out into the community. The children and youth come to CRYP. CRYP is starting to become more involved in the local community, but it has seemed like a slow process. They just recently started a homework night on Tuesday during the school year. CRYP also relies on the volunteer groups to come in with their own programming. This means that programming changes from week to week for the children and youth. While variety is good, sometimes consistency is more important, especially with children.

Images of CRYP

The Internet cafe area.

The library.


The gymnasium.

The garden.

Posted in Cheyenne River, Lakota | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Bear Solider Wacipi and Honoring Veterans

Sunday, July 8, was filled with Lakota culture and thoughts. In the morning we met with Sandy Frazier in Eagle Butte. Sandy and Carolyn Rittenhouse are family members. When I called Sandy on the phone, she immediately invited us over for breakfast and coffee and to talk. Wonderful talking….we talked tribal politics, history of the Lakota people, health care, problems on the reservation today, plans for the future, and more. Bob Walters, a member of the Cheyenne River Tribal Council and Sandy’s brother, came to join us and shared his experiences. We were able to start to get a good sense of where McDaniel students and members of the Cheyenne River Reservation may connect. Afterwards, we weeded Sandy’s garden for her. She wasn’t able to get to it herself because she had hurt her leg a few weeks ago. So, we cleared out the weeds and I scored some Egyptian Walking Onions from Sandy’s garden to plant at home.

Weeding Aunt Sandy’s garden.


We had planned to go to Mobridge, SD. for the day, but on Saturday, I had found out that there was a wacipi (dance) in McLaughlin, SD (Standing Rock Reservation). We headed up the road for the wacipi instead. You and I, on the east coast, would call a wacipi a Pow Wow, however many of the Lakota call them by their original name. This wacipi was hosted by the Bear Solider community. We arrived and were greeted by some of the people there. Unlike an east coast Pow Wow, we were the only non-Native people in attendance. But just like the Pow Wows I have been to on the east coast the were age and style categories of dancing. Fancy shawl, jingle, and traditional for the women, and then fancy dance, grass, and traditional for the men. It was a great afternoon of just being able to sit in and take in the colors and sounds. There were probably about 8 drum circles from the surrounding communities and they would rotate through the drums for the different dance songs. There was some great food (read: Fry Bread). There were intertribal dances and ceremonies to honor veterans.

I need to talk for a minute about Native American service in the armed forces. Remember the Red Cloud School statistic from this year? Six out of the 41 graduates of the school were going on to serve in the Armed Forces, over 10%. The Native American’s, as a group, have the highest percentage of their people serving in the Armed Forces. At the wacipi grounds, the dance area was surrounded by United States flags. Around 4:00 pm, the flags were lowered in a ceremony by members of the Armed Forces. As the ceremony unfolded, I discovered that all the flags being flown were given by members of the community who had a veteran, who had obviously passed away, in their family. The family donated the flag to the wacipi for the weekend and received it back at the end of the day on Sunday. The people who presented the flags back to the families were called caretakers and as the family accepted the flag back, they often gave a gift to the caretakers whether it was money, blankets, or feathers. Having the flags flown at the wacipi grounds for the weekend was a way to honor the memory of their family members.

I struggle with the collision of ideas (in my mind) of the service the Lakota people provide in the Armed Forces. At one point during the ceremony, as the caretakers and the families we dancing to honor all veterans, the announcer said “We honor our veterans because they have fought to keep us free.”. My first thought, was ‘you’re not free’ and my second thought was ‘how they can support a government through service that has treated then they way the US government has.’ As I watched the ceremony unfold however, it was clear that they were honoring the veterans, not the country. They were honoring the Lakota people who made them proud.

As a side note, and to continue the idea of these opposing views that go on, McLaughlin, SD is named for the military officer who ordered the arrest of Sitting Bull which ultimately resulted in his death as they tried to arrest him. Imagine living your life on the reservation in a town named for the person who is responsible for the death of one of your most honored leaders.

Posted in Lakota | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Cheyenne River and Eagle Butte

I woke up this morning and headed into the popular and wonderful coffee room. I love the coffee room at the Harding Motel, except for one thing…it is also the smoking room. I did end up chatting with a few people for a while. A few were I town for a wedding that took place yesterday, one took part in the Sundance Ceremony that just concluded, and one was on their way to a Wacipi (dance) in Standing Rock.

On Pine Ridge, about 50% of all people smoke. I hesitate to say adults, because there are younger people that smoke too. On Cheyenne River, just from my personal observations it seems to be about the same. There have been some large scale campaigns among the Lakota to bring awareness to the health issues related with smoking. In fact, Oglala Lakota College is a smoke-free environment. However, it remains an important issue.

Cheyenne River Reservation is desolate. I thought that Pine Ridge was desolate, I hadn’t seen anything yet. I was really surprised by how isolated the communities are here. There are similarities and differences. Similarities: poor, isolated, housing issues, stray dogs, food desert, lack of health care, low life expectancy, alcoholism, drug use, and unemployment. None of these are great surprises, but there are some differences I have to describe in greater detail.

(1) Alcohol is allowed on Cheyenne River, NO ONE is permitted to have alcohol on Pine Ridge.
(2) There are banks in Eagle Butte. On Pine Ridge, the bank (in the form of a bus) comes to town twice a week to cash checks. However, I have seen at least two banks in Eagle Butte.
(3) The post office does not look like a fortress. On Pine Ridge the post offices were built like little bunkers to be defended in case of an uprising. Here the post office looks like a normal building.
(4) There is a lot more graffiti “tagging” in Eagle Butte (Cheyenne River). There is a lot of gang activity in the town.
(5) The number of visitors/tourists to Cheyenne River must be exceedingly low. The reservation is in the middle of nowhere. Pine Ridge has the advantage of being somewhat close to Rapid City and has been the site of resistance and uprising (Wounded Knee) which draws in tourists.

We will get to see some more of the Cheyenne River Reservation today, Sunday, July 8. We are meeting a friend’s aunt for breakfast and hopefully going to a Wacipi on Standing Rock Reservation.


Posted in Cheyenne River, Lakota | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Wall Drug

Wall Drug. Talk about a change in environment. From the seriousness of the Pine Ridge Reservation to the incredible tackiness of the tourist trap of Wall Drug. We arrived in Wall, SD after a long drive north from Pine Ridge. The drive took us through some pretty quiet locations and through a portion of the Badlands. It was a totally touristy day, it felt like a much needed break after a week of some pretty intense volunteering on the reservation. We arrived in Wall with enough time to decompress, unpack, and relax before walking one block to Wall Drug.

Wall Drug got it’s name on the map by giving away ice water to motorists on Interstate 90. The free water was just a ploy to get customers into the store. Eventually the signs for the drug store spread around the world and soon everyone knew of Wall Drug. Today, not only can you get free ice water, but you can buy cowboy boots, purchase jewelry, Sturgis shirts, any number of tacky tourist items, have lunch in the cafe, see a mechanized dinosaur, sit on a giant Jackalope, and have your picture taken with a replica of a number of famous South Dakotans or western characters.

There isn’t much else in Wall. Some tourist shops, a bank, hotels, gas stations, and homes. I’m not sure if it is really worth a visit, but it was a nice break. We stayed at the Sunshine Inn, definitely worth checking out. Simple but clean and the owner was really friendly.

After leaving Wall, we drove through hours of empty grasslands on Routes 14 East and 63 North. When I say empty, I really mean empty. There were large grain transfer stations, farm fields, and cattle. But little else. I am sure there were farms around, but not close to the roads. Every road that went off the routes we were traveling was dirt. There was nothing but land and lots of it.

Eventually we reached the Cheyenne River Reservation and drove into Eagle Butte, our home for the next two nights. We’re staying a place called “Harding Motel”. To put it in the nicest way possible, it has character. It is not the worse place I have stayed, and I have spent the night in some pretty interesting hotels. It is clean enough, quiet, and has a fridge and microwave. There is also a coffee room that always seems to be open; this is probably the best thing about the motel!

More on Cheyenne River tomorrow.

Wall Drug in Wall, SD

We stopped at the National Grassland Visitor Center. I thought this prayer was fitting for a time during which the interior of the continent was ravaged by drought.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Good news from the Reservation

My recent blogs have been pretty depressing on the plight of the Lakota People living on Pine Ridge Reservation. From the price of food, to the isolation, the lack of housing, electricity and water, the poverty rate, the alcohol abuse, etc, etc… However, there are lots of good things about Pine Ridge Reservation!

(1) Melanie was on Pine Ridge 15 years ago and she says she sees the changes for the better. Positive changes, in the people and the place.

(2) Red Cloud Indian School. We visited Red Cloud Indian School. While we were there we visited Red Cloud’s grave, took in the Art Show at the Heritage Center, and talked to current and former students. This year, Red Cloud graduated 47 seniors. Forty-one of those students are going to college and six into the armed forces. What a great future. The students we talked too also said they are dedicated to coming back to Pine Ridge to help their community in the future.


(3) KILI radio. At 90.1 on the dial, a wonderful Pine Ridge Reservation radio station that serves at the voice of the Lakota Nation. They stream on-line too! Check it out..where else can you hear traditional Lakota music, talk radio about reservation issues, country music, and hip-hop? KILI radio! KILI RADIO. KILI radio is also non-profit, so they need help to keep running. Thanks.


(4) Re-member. Re-member has been working on the Pine Ridge Reservation for 15 years. They have become a respected member of the community. They assist in housing for many residents on the reservation. Think about becoming a volunteer and return each year, or check out their web site for giving a donation.

(5) Oglala Lakota College. These people are helping to build the future of college students. True, unemployment is incredibly high, but as students become educated they are better able to help their people on and off the reservation.

(6) Local artists. This is a great one. Yes, at every stop on the reservation there are locals selling bead work and sometimes quill work. The prices are not cheap, but it takes a few hours to make the pieces of jewelry. For many people this is their only source of income. Re-member hosts a craft night when many local Lakota artists bring their art work and jewelry to sell. We visited a traditional Trading Post where many artists come to buy the raw materials needed for their pieces. We visited the art show and shop at Red Cloud. There is a lot to see. One of the best Trading Post’s on Pine Ridge is the Singing Horse Trading Post run by Rosie, check it out. The wears sold there are phenomenal and the involvement in the community is amazing. Singing Horse

Lastly, if you visit a reservation. Spend your money on the reservation. Keep it there to benefit the people. Thanks.

Posted in Pine Ridge | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

My week with Re-member

My thoughts from my week with Re-member.

(1) Installing skirting on a house or trailer will cut the propane bill for a household by about 40%. Many of the homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation need skirting around the bottom of the house. Installing skirting is not that hard, but it did take the crew of 15 I was working with on my first day to insulate and skirt an entire house. The skills I learned were building frames, installing insulation, and attaching the frames with insulation to the house.

(2) Bunk beds are some of their most requested items. In some houses there were 20 or so people living in two or three rooms. People are sleeping on floors, couches, outside, etc. We built and delivered bunk beds to families around the reservation.

(3) Outhouse construction and installation. Many of the homes do not have running water, so there is little indoor plumbing. We built and delivered and dug the holes for outhouses on the reservation.

(4) Wheelchair ramps. Many residents have trouble getting around, whether it is because they are elderly and have broken bones or they have complications from diabetes. They need help. Therefore Re-member builds and installs wheelchair ramps for many houses on the reservation.

(5) I am privileged. Although, it doesn’t really sink home until you spend some time in a place like Pine Ridge. We are all privileged, it doesn’t matter how you view it. If you can afford to us a cup of coffee on your way to work, buy a treat during the day, have a drink at the end of the week….eat three meals a day, have a stable home, a roof over your head you are privileged.

A house on the Pine Ridge Reservation, that I helped put the skirting on for winterizing.

Working on the house; Frank, who was helping to remodel the house for a family was helping us out.

  • 20120706-205824.jpg
    The skirting for the house, completed!

    This is a FEMA trailer that was delivered to the Pine Ridge Reservation to help with housing. However, the trailers delivered to the Pine Ridge were the Hurricane Katrina trailers that were contaminated with formaldehyde. As someone in our group pointed out, “isn’t that like giving them blankets contaminated with smallpox?”

    Posted in Lakota, Pine Ridge | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

    A Look at the Soil

    The reservations where the Native Americans are placed contain some of the poorest soil in the United States. Additionally, the Lakota people, who ended up in South Dakota on reservations such as Pine Ridge, Rosebud, Cheyenne River, and Standing Rock were nomadic hunters and gatherers; farming the soil was a foreign concept. So not only were the Lakota peoples faced with a new way of life unbeknownst to them, but they had to make a go of it with some of the poorest land available.

    The hills roll on in South Dakota; the underlying geology is covered by a soil that is incredibly sand-rich. The Pine Ridge Reservation is located towards the northern edge of the Sand Hills (in Nebraska the Sand Hills are part of a National Park). So the land in Pine Ridge is pretty poor for farming. There are some larger farms on the reservations, mostly owned by white farmers. They raise mostly wheat or some corn. They must fertilize the heck out of it, to make it productive, otherwise it would just be grassland for cattle, filled with prairie grass.

    We took soil samples at two different geographical locations. The first was at Feather II, the new site for Re-member. We sampled in a few different locations (1) an are near the old ranch house, (2) in a field which used to have a large garden, (3) in the pole barn – this is just for soil contamination, and (4) a pasture area behind the outbuildings. Ted, the director of the Re-member group in Pine Ridge would like to put a large garden in at the new site. Most likely in the spot where the original garden was placed. We then came back to Re-member in Pine Ridge and sampled the current garden.

    We were able to run some quick tests on two soil samples before leaving Re-member. We tested the soil from the field at Feather II that used to have a garden and the garden soil from Re-member. Both were incredibly sandy, both had very little nitrogen. The soil was pretty poor in general at the Re-member site, low in all the nutrients (N, P, and K) that are important in growing a successful garden. The soil we tested from Feather II was a little better, but not by much. The soil will have to be treated aggressively for growth to happen.

    So….we gave their compost a good turn over. They just started some composting at the site, it needs helped. Two other members that were here collected some horse manure for the compost; composting became a team effort. We also have been educating the staff and volunteers at Re-member about composting. Another suggestion we have suggested is that the staff make a manure tea for the garden. A manure tea is simply cow/horse/buffalo manure steeped in water and left in the sun to heat. The liquid is poured off and added to the garden. The last resort, and perhaps the one that was met with the most amusement was to urinate on the garden. It would certainly add the nitrogen back into the soil!


    Kate and Lauren sampling soil at Feather II.


    In soil sampling mode.


    Some of the sampling locations had quite a hard layer of soil at the surface from the lack of precipitation.

    Posted in Lakota, Pine Ridge | Tagged , , | Leave a comment