On our trip back to Manitoba we stayed for a couple of nights at “Camp Dakota” in Sisseton, South Dakota. Our visit was to see our friend Sister Patrice who is a teacher at the Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation School. We were invited to speak at her class about our experiences as scientists and our visit to Gulf Specimen Marine Lab. The kids were great and after the class we got a tour of the reserve. I am not a big person for architecture but this place really just “blew me away” as they say. The offices are in a huge circular building with four entrances. Each entrance is marked by one of the four animals they revere, the bald eagle, the buffalo, the kit fox and the horse. The central area is a huge open hall that can accommodate large meetings, pow wows and community events. I was really impressed with the sheer beauty of the place and I was very grateful for the complete tour we got compliments of the head of maintenance.
Front Entrance with Bald Eagle
Walls were covered with lovely Star Quilts. Since my SIL is of the Cree Turtle Clan I was especially drawn to this one. As it turns out, the quilts were picked to dampen noise in an attractive way rather than for any particular spiritual significance.
The central large area was designed to be reminiscent of a teepee and being in the great plains sky, but indoors for the brutal winters. Since the prairies are also places with strong summer storms the inner windowless rooms double as tornado shelters. The open space is supported by a Russian design normally used for train bridges.
We were even allowed to see into the court room and the tribal council area. These are all decorated with various religious and spiritual objects as well as a bunch of stuff that just plain looks nice. Plus there is wood, wood, wood everywhere.
The wood was all spruce and pine and gave one the feeling of being outside in a forest even though we were indoors. It was a really nice feeling!
The offices had overhead beams that were natural wood, with lights behind. The whole building is also “green” well insulated, geothermal heating, and solar supplement and including other various ways to be kind to the Earth. Every wall had pictures of life and culture of the Dakota. The one of the Sun Dance in particular caught my eye. There is a Sundance gathering place not far from our home in Alonsa.
I wanted to show one other eye catching building. This is the nearby Community College where people are taking courses in things like diesel engine repair and other skills useful and employable within the rural farm community that the reserve is located in. This is a drum circle motif and it is very eye pleasing.
This is a reserve coming out of a long dark time. There is money and jobs from the Casinos and they have been reinvesting that money back into their own people. They are taking back their language and culture. They are also diversifying the local economy and have one factory and more planned. They also have a buffalo herd they plan to make larger. This year they will be opening a Dakota language immersion kindergarten. The military has been a way up for many of them and they have a disproportionate number of vets especially Marines. The people I met are fiercely proud of and protective of the USA even as they aware of her weaknesses and failures. I hope the Dakota are growing some of their own lawyers, too, because they have had to live with some major treaty violation issues that they need to fix and that will take some warriors in suits with law degrees.
I won’t say all is 100% well here. The youth suicide rate is awful. The week we were there, there was also a major meth bust and a human trafficking ring was broken up. I do think this reserve is moving the right way and, if they keep on their current path, in a short time they will end up like the reserves we visited in Osoyoos, British Columbia and Laughlin, Nevada. If they keep on their current path they too will have 100% employment and white people will travel to the reserve for work each day. And they will have done it for themselves without losing who and what they are. The visit was a very positive experience for me and I appreciated the opportunity to see their wonderful new buildings and feeling the life and hope for the future in the place. It will be interesting to come back in ten years and see how far they have gotten.