Vi Waln: A month of some dark anniversaries for Sioux people

December is a difficult month for the Lakota-Dakota-Nakota people. Today I am grateful as we have been blessed with several mild days. This time of year in the Great Plains is usually very harsh. Still, we should always be ready for those weather changes which can quickly bring subzero temperatures and white-out blizzards.

The extremely poor conditions many of our people live in make daily survival always much harder. Disconnected utilities, empty propane tanks and frozen water pipes in rez homes are a common reality of winter. Families who have no income are faced with up to six months of scraping up enough money to keep their homes heated and their children fed. Thank you to the donors who send money to our local propane companies serving the rez. Your generosity is warmly appreciated!

And if you think winter utility expenses are unmanageable, add the burden of Christmas spending. Some of our children must go without an elaborate holiday filled with an abundance of food and gifts because their parents barely have enough to pay the bills. I do want to thank all of the tribal and non-profit organizations who work every year to provide food, gifts and candy bags for our children who would otherwise go without these luxuries. Many of us on the rez are appreciative of the effort put into making sure our children have a nice Christmas.

Despite the national Christmas hype, many Lakota-Dakota-Nakota people do not view this month as one of holiday celebration. December is always a difficult month because it brings dark anniversaries for the Lakota-Dakota-Nakota. As I have stated before, I am one who believes in the memory capacity of our DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). Our ancestors were traumatized with violence and our cells hold ancestral pain. I do believe that is why so many of us still have unprocessed inner issues and emotions that sometimes cripple us as human beings.

On December 15, 1890, our Hunkpapa Chief Sitting Bull was murdered at his home on Standing Rock by local Indian Police. On December 26, 1862, there were 38 Dakota men executed in Mankato, MN by order of President Abraham Lincoln. On December 29, 1890, our Hunkpapa Chief Big Foot, along with most of his band, was violently murdered in the cold at Wounded Knee Creek. In my opinion, residual of the acute horror which surrounded these painful events over a century ago is still carried in our cellular memory.

Some of you are familiar with the effects of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When one suffers from PTSD the anniversary of the traumatic experience will bring back vivid memories that are inescapable. In my opinion, PTSD is one of a myriad of reasons why we see more substance abuse among our people in December. PTSD is also closely linked to grief and mourning. The outward excuse is to celebrate the holidays with more drinking or drugging parties. But, in my opinion, the real reason for all the partying might be because we do not want to face the cellular memory we still carry of the violent deaths of our ancestors.

But not all of us turn to alcohol or drugs to forget. There are other events which take place to help us cope. Two organized memorial rides held during the month of December are designated to pray for healing. “One of the most successful and challenging rides remains the Big Foot Memorial Ride initiated in 1986, after one of the original founders had a dream to retrace the historical trail taken by Chief Big Foot and his band in the winter of 1890 which tragically ended in the Wounded Knee Massacre. This ride continues each December.” www.wolakota.org

In addition, the Dakota 38 + 2 Memorial Riders brave a 330 mile trail that began on December 10 at the Lower Brule Reservation and finishes at the execution site in Mankato, MN on December 26.

More information can be found on the Facebook pages of both these annual memorial events. Please support the riders as they are on the last few days of their 2011 commitment to the Lakota-Dakota-Nakota people. I am grateful to all who are currently participating on these two memorial rides.

Another important December activity is the Lakota Nation Invitation (LNI) which just wrapped up their 35th annual event. I truly appreciate all the work our people put into organizing this positive, healthy event aimed at our young athletes and scholars. I am sure our ancestors look down on the young people of LNI with great pride every winter.

LNI has grown from a basketball tournament into a program of academic and sporting events for students in grades K-12. Basketball, wrestling, hand games, Lakota language bowl, knowledge bowl, business plan competition, wacipi, cheerleading, art show, storytelling, internet café, youth education summit and a variety of vendors make LNI perhaps the largest single gathering of Lakota young people in the county.

I want to thank the LNI Board of Directors – Bryan V. Brewer, Sr., Chuck Wilson, Jess Mendoza, Robert Brave Heart, Sr., Chuck Conroy, Dani Walking Eagle, Jay Claymore, Silas Blaine, Ed Young Man Afraid of His Horse and Arlo Provost - for organizing yet another successful activity. Also, I cannot forget the numerous coordinators, volunteers and schools who have helped over the last three and a half decades to make this event possible for our young people.

Finally, schools have started their winter vacations. Always put your children first. Spend some quality time with them as they grow up very fast. As we move into the Christmas weekend I ask all of you to make safety a priority. You jeopardize the well-being of all of us when you make an irresponsible and very dangerous choice to drink before you drive on our rez roads. Our children and families are precious. We want to be safe.

The staff of the Lakota Country Times wishes all of our readers and their families a Happy Holiday season.

Vi Waln is Sicangu Lakota and an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Her columns were awarded first place in the South Dakota Newspaper Association 2010 contest. She is Editor of the Lakota Country Times and can be reached through email at vi@lakotacountrytimes.com.

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