Ray Spack and Dianne Bartels were delegates to Pine Ridge, SD along with the 13 other people from St. Joan of Arc. Although they were considered adult leaders, they partnered with the youth in learning, working and praying with the Lakota people. This was their second year with the group. Their wisdom, energy, and presence was invaluable. At the conclusion of the trip, the youth awarded them the "Cutest Couple." Ray and Dianne are models for intergenerational ministers who are making a difference at SJA!
Pine Ridge, South Dakota - Reflections
“I don’t see Democrats or Republicans, conservatives or liberals, natives or immigrants. What I see are the haves and the have not’s. It’s the same here as it is everywhere.” So said Will Peters, a Lakota educator, musician, and one of the elders addressing 15 St. Joan of Arc representatives participating in the 2013 Re-Member Program in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. “We are the second poorest county in this country,” Peters continued. 80% of our people are unemployed. We have the highest juvenile suicide rate in the country. Addiction is rampant.” Sitting under a blue sky with huge cumulous clouds reflecting hues of the setting sun, our group sat in silence, the tranquility of rolling prairies surrounding us.
Pine Ridge is an experience in paradox, embracing two ends of a contradiction. The natural beauty is interspersed with symbols of dire poverty. Small houses or old FEMA trailers without electricity, running water, or toilets stand framed by the tans, browns, and beiges of the Badlands. The presence of herds of buffalo, the economic foundation of centuries past, are all but absent, replaced by the Arby’s, the Taco Bell, and the Big Bat’s Store, herded together three miles north of the four liquor stores across the border in White Clay, Nebraska.
As representatives of St. Joan’s, 10 high school students and 5 adults, we participated in the Re-Member Program for two reasons: to begin learning about the Lakota people and its culture; to participate in service projects on the Reservation. We returned home bonded by the experience and stunned by the depth of poverty in the community immediately to our west. Paradoxically, we were awed by the mystery of the land and the people who have inhabited it for centuries. We came back to St. Joan’s realizing there are no simple answers to questions of cultural identity, of religious beliefs and practices, or ethnic diversity. What we did gain was a capacity to affirm and embrace one another as we stand in the questions.