Tag Archives: Dakota

Migration Home Twelfth Stop Sisseton South Dakota and then home.

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We left Sioux City north and drove up I29. This has to be the most boring stretch of highway in North America. Miles and miles and miles of nothing. We had some luck in the city of Sioux Falls. We got a recommendation from a store clerk in Staples for a grocery store big on ethnic food. We arrived to find enough kosher-for-passover items that we were able to stock up for the whole eight days. On arrival in Sisseton the folks at Camp Dakota were welcoming as they had been last year and we set up. Our host for tomorrow’s visit, Sister Patrice Colette met us and we had dinner at the nearby Casino. Profits from the Casino go right back into the tribe including the school we were going to be presenting at. We had an excellent meal and turned in early. Sister was going to be picking us up at 6:30am. We fell asleep to the sound of enormous flocks of starlings and black birds feasting on the remnants of last year’s corn crop in the adjacent field.

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The school we were going to visit is the Tiospa Zina Tribal School of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota Reservation. Last year we presented to the class and then got a tour of the band offices. This year we spent the entire school day participating and visiting. This was our second stop as visiting scientists and much as I enjoyed the first visit last year, this one went even better. Our day started out with breakfast at the school. All students get a nutritious start to their day. Breakfast was scrambled egg omelet with cheese filling, bacon (which we skipped), vegetables and fruit. Cereal was available, as was milk, but not as the main item and not many kids picked those for breakfast.

After breakfast we attended a ceremony to start the academic day. This included a drum circle and songs in Dakota. I saw a lot of older students watching out for and caring for younger students. Our conference was interrupted by a break for school awards for excellent work, for personal improvement, for good attendance an to announce successes students had outside the school. Students not only got nice little printed certificates. They got something I never got in school, which was nice crisp new bills as cash awards. There was strong emphasis on personal responsibility, duty to the tribe and community as a whole and respect for elders and each other in the ceremony. Everyone helped clear up when the award ceremony was finished.

Officially we were there as keynote speakers for a science conference. The student prepared in advance and then I presented on sea turtles, their embryology, evolution, the dangers they face and how people can help them. Hubby dearest presented his latest research on the original of life in our universe and slipped in a talk about the age of the universe and powers of ten. We closed off our presentations by giving the students chunks of marine fossils in soft sandstone. Their objective was to break out a fossil and use Google and some books to identify what the fossil was. And they succeeded. We have done many of these classroom visits to schools over the years. In this school we were delighted to find curious minds, intense interest, and well thought out questions. We were not just questioned about the science itself. We were questioned about important practical things like how do you balance work and family and why did we become scientists. We were not once subjected to snarky misbehaviour or nasty background tomfoolery that has happened to us in other schools.

We learned a lot too, getting a glimpse into the life of students at the tribal school. Manitoba already has powerful connections to this reserve because they are related to the Dakota people on the reserve south of Portage LaPrairie and many of the students have family in Canada that come and visit them or they come and visit in South Dakota. The Manitoba connections made us feel right at home.

We left Sisseton feeling very positive and began the last leg of our journey. We made a brief stop in Fargo to buy lefse. Lefse is a traditional food of my father’s Scandinavian ancestors, far better than lutefisk and it is not readily available in stores. Additionally, making it from scratch produces a lot of smoke so I had to give up doing it myself due to my asthma.  At Freddy’s we picked up enough fresh frozen to last us and our family members to the next trip to North Dakota.

Our original plan was to stop at a state park on the border with Canada. I had checked the webpage and it said the campground was open. I called the park and I got an answering machine message that cheerfully declared the campground was open and if we needed fresh water we could get it at the ranger station. When we arrived it was different story. As it turned out, the only camping available was walk in winter camping and the roads and campsites were under too much snow to even think of driving in with a truck and trailer. We were subjected to a particularly stupid bureaucrat/ranger who seemed to think we were the stupid ones for not knowing all that in spite of what their message said. I politely suggested the message be changed to better reflect reality. Each time I said that, I was told why I was so stupid for thinking I could get the camper into the park in March. Eventually we gave up and left, muttering imprecations about how government seems to attract a larger proportion of particularly stupid people as employees than other organizations.

Home

We were about three and a half hours from home and it was 3:00pm. We got waved through at the border by the cheerful guard. We stopped to stock up on groceries in the Winkler just over the border. We then just kept driving. We pulled into our driveway at our little house on the northern prairie. To our relief the driveway had been thoughtfully cleared of ice and snowdrifts by a neighbour for our return. It was SO good to be home. We found our house exactly as we had left it except for some extra cobwebs. Our migration was complete.

According to Google we traveled over 2300 miles. If we had driven nonstop, the trip would have taken a mere 37 hours. We took 35 days, most days did not drive more than three hours and stayed for at least two days at each stop. It was easily our best trip yet! The birds were even slower than us. It was two more weeks before the birds we left in South Dakota showed up. They were the smart ones. There was a blizzard between our arrival home and their return to the north.

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Band offices of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation

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.

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Front Entrance with Bald Eagle

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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.

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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.