Western South Dakota is a place of wonder. My mom, Pam, and I traveled there earlier this fall. We explored Wall, Rapid City, Deadwood, Hill City, Keystone, and the Badlands.
There were many moments on the adventure when I had no words to describe the beauty. I could only breathe in and out in total awe that such a place exists (and only about nine hours away). It is a deeply spiritual place, and the holiness literally twinkles off of the Sioux quartzite.
In the town of Deadwood, we visited the museum Tatanka: Story of the Bison. It is a building on a hill just outside of town that weaves together the story of the Lakota people and the tatanka (Lakota for bison). The slaughter of the bison to near extinction from the 1830s to 1860s is described through photos and displays. It is an awful tale of irrevocable gluttony.
Billy, an employee at the museum and member of the Lakota nation, gave an informal presentation. He spoke with a poignant openness and honesty and graciously welcomed any and all questions with the caveat, "Ask me anything. I'm not easily offended."
As Billy shared about the history of the Lakota in South Dakota, my heart grew increasingly heavy. It is a heaviness that persists. There are many wonderful things about this country, and I am very thankful to be a citizen. But there are chapters of our history that are terrible, and we can't undo them through avoidance. The healing of these national wounds comes only through the acknowledgement of them — and a willingness to learn not only from the triumphs of our ancestors but also their trespasses.
The violent removal of American Indians from their lands, homes, and traditions is a tragedy that was brought to the forefront of my mind while in South Dakota. That period in history is a clear example of what happens when an unquenchable thirst for more surpasses a people's collective ability to recognize the implications and consequences of their actions.
At the museum, I learned that the Lakota used every possible bit of the bison they hunted. The bladder became a water vessel. The horns became bowls and spoons. The fur became blankets and clothing. When I asked Billy about the core spiritual teachings of the Lakota, he uplifted the importance of mutual respect and the centrality of community. He also expressed the key teaching to never take more than is needed. Such timeless, powerful guidance.
Mom and I walked around the outdoor statue garden after looking at the indoor exhibits. Outside we saw the bronzed buffalo creations of artist Peggy Detmers portraying a traditional Lakota bison hunt. As we walked around the sculptures, instrumental music played over the outdoor speakers. The musician spoke at the end of the song: "Carry a song of joy in your heart. And may we all be one."
Those words reflected the spiritual guidance my heart longed for in that moment: a song of joy and a prayer for the unity of all things.
The makings of the web of all creation — past, present, and future — seemed so apparent in western South Dakota. Upon arrival back in Minnesota, I realized the same is true here. Everything is connected: the rocks under our feet, waterways, trees, fossilized bones in the ground, historical documents, politics, aspirations of generations past, present-day hopes for tomorrow.
In a world so profoundly connected, the musician's prayer rings eternally true: May we all be one.