When my buddy Brad Corrigan (http://dispatchmusic.com) invited our family to spend Thanksgiving at the Pine Ridge Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota, we immediately said yes….then thought about it…
We’ve had a tradition the last few years of spending that precious holiday with some of our dearest friends here in Denver. Doing the usual. Eating and watching football. It’s a lot of fun and very relaxing. And we love it!
But this just seemed like the right thing to do. For several years in Lebanon we had collected some of the kids’ toys and traveled to the Bekaa Valley and visited nomadic Bedouin Arabs for this day of giving thanks. It was funny because each year as we’d ask our three young children to collect some things to give away, they’d invariably come back with their nicest and most expensive toys to donate – causing conflicted thoughts in their parents. 🙂
So we loaded up the car and caravanned up north for the six hour drive – into a different world. We might as well have been in the Gaza Strip – in some ways worse. It’s unbelievable.
I know, I know. I can hear it already from some (and have heard it already from many). “They are drunks.” Or, “Why don’t they make something of themselves. They’re free to move out and move up, why don’t they.”
And it’s true, they could move out and be upwardly mobile. It’s the same argument that I hear a lot about the Palestinians. Why doesn’t Saudi Arabia give them a bunch of land? They can just move there. And they could. But the Natives like their land. It’s home. It’s much like the comfort we feel every Thanksgiving with our friends here in Denver eating, drinking and watching football – it feels good. We like it. We don’t want to leave. Multiply that feeling by a million and that’s what the Native Americans feel. They don’t want to leave.
And besides, they’re sort of stuck. No money. No one who wants them. In a cycle of poverty. No economy. Piles of government regulations that make starting businesses and being entrepreneurs nearly impossible.
They have a rich history with an amazingly complex culture. The Lakota Sioux of the Pine Ridge were the proud Native Americans of the plains around Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana. They inhabited one of the most beautiful pieces of American soil – the Black Hills. It was their land. And the U.S. Government was happy to acknowledge that…..until, gold was found in those hills.
That’s when they were relocated (forcibly, of course) to the flat lands of south central South Dakota. So similar to the Palestinian situation.
So we gave blankets and coats and food. We visited. Laughed and cried. Asked tons of questions. Got an education. Had our hearts deeply moved by a man who can barely walk who lives in a shack that’s about 12 feet by 10 feet square. His shanty is in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere. He has no electricity and no running water. Imagine using an outhouse in the South Dakota winters? Only a wood burning stove, and he can’t even get his own wood.
He told us that he wakes up in the winter mornings and has to shake the snow off of his blanket before he gets up. We gave him a new afghan. He was so happy. So joyful. So grateful. Thanksgiving.
We visited a lady who lived in a trailer house. She had no electricity and no heaters. She ran the stovetop burners for warmth but she said those ran out quickly. I asked what she and her kids did then to stay warm and she smiled and said “We use these blankets.” They were the ones we just gave her. Thanksgiving.
We visited the great, great, great, great Grandson of the famous Chief Red Cloud. He teaches his people about alternative energy. He’s full of life and hope. His grand kids kept running in and out of our meeting yelling things like “Papa, we love you,” or “Papa we miss you.” Darling kids. Thanksgiving.
Much of the talk in our car between places, the five Medearis’s discussed whether it was “good enough” to simply give some blankets and some food to a few people when the need was so vast and the issues so deeply entrenched. Should we/could we do more? What about the government? The church? The locals? Should we focus here or there? Where was everyone else? Why were we there?
And we wondered if Jesus ever felt that way? The issues were so big? The Romans. The Greeks. Herodians and Pharisees. And then a handful of mostly confused followers who didn’t know what to do.
So we felt we were in good company!