Social Work Student Explores Land, Life Lessons at Pine Ridge

Sanders-225x300Rising senior social work major Rebecca Sanders trekked many miles and asked many difficult questions during Professor Dr. Andy Watt’s Maymester program as she and her team learned the history of the western U.S.’s land and people.

The trip began May 12 on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, where Sanders met with tribal elders and local artists to hear their stories and visit important, local sites. The next stop was the Crow Reservation in Montana to learn about the Battle of Little Big Horn and Crow culture. Soon after, the group traveled to Yellowstone National Park to participate in the park’s Wolf and Bear Exploration and Cody, Wyoming for the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. The trip concluded May 29 in Keystone, South Dakota with stops at Mt. Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Sylvan Lake and Badlands National Park. Continue reading

Cultural humility, and remembering history

Welcome Dr. Sabrina Sullenberger, Chair of the Social Work Department at Belmont University, as she begins blogging here from time to time.

Earlier this summer I had the privilege of co-leading a student immersion trip to several destinations in the US West, including the Lakota reservation in Pine Ridge, SD and the Crow reservation near Hardin, MT.   While on the reservations, especially at Pine Ridge, I was confronted with the reality that I had not a clue about the lived experience of people there.  What I knew of native history and culture prior to the trip was limited almost exclusively to books and the occasional documentary.  As such, I was keenly aware of my lack of cultural knowledge and cultural competence (both of which are important concepts in social work) and so I was initially hesitant about how to connect with community members.

And then I remembered something: more important than cultural competence (which some would say can never be achieved) is the practice of cultural humility.    Continue reading

Re-entry is Bittersweet

2010 Pine Ridge Trip
MarkHS.jpg Our Pharmacy group from Pine Ridge arrived back in Nashville last night at about 10:30PM. We were happy to be home, but we came to the realization that we left so much behind. The Lakota people were so welcoming and shared much of their beliefs and health concerns with us when, in reality, we were complete strangers. Despite all the pain of the past the people we encountered taught us the “Lakota way” and trusted that we will help them as much as they helped us during our 10 days in Pine Ridge. “Mitakuye oyas’in”. (translated “All my relations”).

So much more

2010 Pine Ridge Trip
AmandaHS.jpg When I signed up for this trip, I thought it was a “cultural immersion” trip. I thought we would be seeing some new things, participating in some cool things and eventually working on our community health project…But never did I imagine I would have such an amazing spiritual experience! To get to know and understand the Lakota culture is to delve into spirituality completely. You cannot know their culture without opening your mind to a beautiful way of thinking.
Between the talks with a story-telling revered elder, Leonard Littlefinger, and talks and sacred ceremonies with the highly spiritual interpreter/medicine man, Basil Braveheart; these men, along with others in the community, have shown us nothing but open arms and kindness in their quest to educate us. But what they are doing is so much more than education…

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Our family

2010 Pine Ridge Trip
CassidyHS.jpg This place is indescribable. The feelings that run through you are unlike any other. In this “circle” world, there is no need for a mask to guard you, no fear of judgment, but rather an acceptance, an understanding, and a warm “blanket” of family.
Part of our family left us today, back to the “square” world, but there are no goodbyes. It’s doksha – see you later. Within a matter of seven days, we formed this close bond and became family. It was as if we were all meant to be here together, a unique blend that really made this trip unlike any other. We all come away from this experience with the memory of each other, what we have learned, and the hope to spread that knowledge in the “square” world.
PineRidge10 Group.jpg

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2010 Pine Ridge Trip
MarkHS.jpg Mystical is the one word I would choose to decribe Pine Ridge, SD. This reservation town as well as he surrounding community has shared the spiritual essence of the lakota people with us.
Yesterday we were at the Crazy Horse Memorial. When complete this monument carved intot the Black Hills will be the largest monument on the globe. We’re so blessed to have Leonard Little Finger with us on our journey, because he shares his stories with us at each significant place in Native American History. We discuss the irony of blasting out a giant edifice of a great warrior,Crazy Horse in what has been held as sacred ground for hundreds of years.I’m so proud of our students; challenging what they see and hear as well as their own preformed values and beliefs. For the past two nights we’ve watched films on Wounded Knee 1 and 2 (look it up) and afterwards engaged in discussion on the relationships between the indifenous people and the European descendants who landed here centuries ago. I can’t wait for what lies ahead for the rest of the week.
Our pharmacy teamwill be starting a community relations project this Friday so stay tuned for more!

The Three Areas of Focus

2010 Pine Ridge Trip
BriaHS.jpg There are three areas of focus that Leonard Little Finger has described to us. They are the physical, the spiritual, and the metaphysical.
We, as individuals, have our bodies, our minds, our souls, and then we have the souls from the spirit world. If we are able to appreciate the quiet, to truly immerse ourselves into it, we can find the influence that each of these have on our ability to engage in our existence. The Lakota beliefs and customs concentrate on this. To deny yourself exposure to this way of thinking, to this way of life, is to deprive yourself of the true journey.

Feels Like Home

2010 Pine Ridge Trip
CassidyHS.jpg What a wonderful experience it’s been. The second I arrived, all I wanted to do was be outside. It feels like home in more than one sense.
5-17-10 Tipi Masterpiece.jpg It’s now Tuesday, May 18 and it’s a beautiful day in Oglala. Yesterday was a memorable experience. The group built a Lakota teepee together and had time to reflect out in the hills. The teepee is a symbol of the link between heaven and earth (the triangles and inverted triangles meeting where they cross). What is in heaven is on earth, and vice versa. Once the teepee was finished, Stanley Good Voice, with his young counterparts, presented us with unique Native American music from various ceremonies that are held within the culture. We even got to do the Circle Dance! But we’ve met so many people here and they’re all a piece of “wonderful”.
Yesterday, Leonard Little Finger, one of the elders, honored me with making me his niece; he is my “lekshi” – my uncle. This was very special to me because he said he felt like I was family and I felt the same. It’s difficult to explain, but you just know . It’s a feeling you have inside you. I truly love these people here and feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be. Having my sister here to share it with is also an experience that I wouldn’t trade – family is so important out here and I’m so fortunate & lucky to have mine physically here with me.
Until next time…

Let Us Commence the Journey!

2010 Pine Ridge Trip
MerriieHS.jpg It is Saturday morning, May 15th, and I’m on Belmont campus amidst the many preparations for Commencement. The music from the carillon is calling all of us to gather, remember, and to celebrate. Our Belmont phrase is From Here to Anywhere and as the 630 names are being read we will all be having our own images of Anywhere.
I will be thinking about Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota and the spirit of the Lakota people. What will we discover and learn about ourselves as 18 of us from the Belmont community commence our journey together tomorrow morning? Will we have a wider definition of community? Will we find friends and new directions?
This quote by Maria Montessori speaks to me and may resonate with those who hear the bells of Belmont:

We abandon all and travel the world, as did those in former times who would sow seeds and go their way. This is our destiny: to sow! To sow everywhere, without ceasing never to harvest.

Pharmacy Students Embark on Pine Ridge Trip

2010 Trip to Pine Ridge Lakota Indian Reservation
MarkHS.jpg Six students from the Belmont University School of Pharmacy and myself, Dr. Mark Chirico will leave for Pine Ridge, SD on May 16, 2010 to engage in cultural learning experiences on the Lakota Indian reservation. This will be the first time that the pharmacy program will have such a large representation on this annual trip.
A total of 18 participants will begin the mission of “Okiciyapi” which is Lakota for “Helping One Another”. We look forward to partnering with several tribal elders, including Leonard Little Finger and Basil Brave Heart to learn of the health needs of the Lakota people. We will have the unique opportunity at the end of this trip to interact with community members to discuss their medication issues. Follow us on this blog to keep up with our adventure!