Confusion has set in. I think it is a natural phenomenon when you attempt to truly lean into learning about a new culture, place, idea in a deep way. The first day that I was here at the Pine Ridge Reservation I found myself soaking everything in, trying to make sense as it related to my current mental models and research before the trip. It was excited, overwhelming, and exhausting. The second day for me was an attempt to begin crafting a road forward. It is part of my solutionist DNA to begin the process of combining my learning, reflecting, and synthesizing. It usually results in me beginning to craft answers, for better or worse, after only 48 hours in a place. Today is the third day, and I feel in total lost. Everything that I went to bed believing has shifted based on new experiences, voices, and conversations. I feel like I'm in a worse place than a started. I feel like I'm at the starting line, spinning my wheel, and watching the problems run away. It is truly an awful feeling. It doesn't mean that today was without deep worth as it was filled with incredible experiences including visit the reservation college campus and two K-8 schools.
Let me give you a few examples of the things that are setting me back. Yesterday in this blog I talked about the need for libraries on the reservation based on two conversations that I had with folks yesterday. Today, I found myself in a beautiful library at Oglala Lakota College. While there, they talked about how they had 13 libraries throughout the reservation at each college site. Later in the evening, I was told that these spaces would never be called libraries anywhere on the planet. Only here can there be libraries when there aren't any libraries.
Then there was an incredible visit to the immersion school at Oglala Lakota College where we visited students between grades K-5 who were learning in a school set up by a federal grant to teach inclusion. They were sort of teaching inclusion and admitted to having never had a fluent speaker leave their program. It was a highly celebrated program that was flailing. The deep focus on language and the resources put into maintaining and holding onto the language is significant, but there are so many different programs trying to accomplish the same thing that I'm not sure that success is truly in the works. We then talk to Peter Hill who talks about how he has built incredible pedagogy around language learning, and his daycare around immersion is going to truly make a difference. Change takes time, but rarely does it comes from spinning in circles.
We talked about the importance of housing options in order to support individuals wanting to stay on the reservation to work and change make. We then talked about the process that makes it almost impossible to get water and sewer to a location in a timely manner to actually make having a home a reality. Housing desires, housing availability, and housing realities crash together in a noisy orchestra of disfunction. This may be best seen by mentioning that FEMA trailers have been donated, but you can't get plumbing in less than a year for the trailer.
There was discussing about programming around the tragic epidemic of teenage suicide on the reservation. I felt after the first two days that there is a focus in this area. I saw flyers and program leaders. I heard about changes in tradition to remove the glorification of death while maintaining space to grief, but then we talked to schools that didn't have a counselor, social worker, art teacher, music teacher, or physical education teacher. All of these being potential outlets for stress, depression, and stronger overall mental health. New programs rarely work on shaky foundations and leaky dams.
We read about a planning sustainable community that could be a model for the reservation. It focused on renewable energy, low-cost housing development, and smart use of water resources. This community development group appears to be doing things the right way over time with the help of the tribal voices, but the champions for change around the reservation didn't know anything about the project. The leaders were talking about the importance of renewable energy, specifically wind power that could save the tribe almost a million dollars annually, but they hadn't heard of this project which has this in the works..
There is a deep need for air traffic control and communication dissemination on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Ideas are isolated. People are isolated. Solutions are isolated. All of this isolation is causing floods of resources to miss their mark. It is also causing great programs to be missed by schools and communities. Connected living doesn't appear to be a priority for the solution makers here locally, but it would provide a way to move from having programs to having programs that impact families and children. Connected living would make sure that systems that remove friction are known throughout the reservation. Connected living would allow art, music, culture, and language to flow more freely. Connected living would pool money and resources to make sure that opportunities for jobs are lost.
The complexity of poverty and the complexity of "reservation culture" and the complexity of substance abuse and the complexity of mental health needs and the complexity of health and wellness needs and the complexity of housing needs all currently trump the needs of the schools here.
We are finding schools that are functioning and seem on the road to functioning better. We are finding programs that can provide for every issue when implemented over time. We are finding people that are leaders and champions. We are finding stories, images, and ideas that bring hope and promise, but none of this makes me less confused.
Leaning in, holding on, and heading into tomorrow.