When I was a child I supported the Native Americans, my grandfather read Tex and I felt a sort of pity for them when we saw them in the western movies,
depicted as bloody assassins constantly desperate for scalps and bison hides in every situation.
But I found out the truth few years later, when I took the same routes traveled by the Lakota, the direct descendants of great chiefs such as Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.
The hills and the wide prairies running along the state route 73 of South Dakota rise up from a land where millions of bison and redskins are buried. But what is left today of the legendary Native Americans? Perhaps you will find some murals in the new cities like Rapid City, or some pieces of art depicting the faces of the Sioux chiefs who once held dominion over the prairies…
The Native Americans of today, the Lakota Sioux, represent an open wound in the American people’s conscience as well as in that of the government, who simply pretend they don’t exist. For most “white people”, indeed, Natives Americans have represented a true obstacle to the birth of their great nation, to accessing Black Hills rich with gold, to the exploiting the territory, to the railway, and to their vision of progress in general.
They are left to wander the reserves, with state aid meant to seem like a sort of prize, but this is just a trick, with the 8,000 Lakota (according to the last censuses) of the Mnikówožu, Itázipčho, Sihásapa and Oóhenuŋpa nations having tried to resist in every way possible.
In the six native reserves of South Dakota, the sale of alcohol and gambling are forbidden, but as soon as you pass the border casinos start popping up. They were initially created to attract the “white people”, but quickly they turned up in places of perdition for the Natives, who tended to buy their liquor here and more.
After more than 125 years, massacres like the one of the Wounded Knee remaining a pressing memory for the Native population. These wounds never heal, in every neighborhood the flags of the 70’s uprisings still wave and the suffering in the reserve is visible everywhere: dead eyes, consumed by alcohol and drugs, bodies become obese because diabetes and bad nutrition is rampant. In this tragic list of sufferings, many women are also abused. Even though this sense of desperation continues to grow among the Sioux, you can catch a glimpse of a silent resistance being carried out by those who continue to believe strongly in spiritual values.
An invisible population that, fortunately, keeps its history and traditions alive, living with full respect of Mother Nature. There are unbelievable stories of families that through their ancestors’ tradition have recreate a presence, passing down the values of the tribes which used to inhabit the prairies. There is Richard Giago, one of the best constructors of bows and arrows, who runs a ranch where he runs lessons in archery and how to do hippotherapy with children. There is Julee Richard who, with his pick-up truck, organizes patrols to hinder the methamphetamine traffic in the reserve of Pine Ridge. There is Joe Brings Plenty who, with his boxing gym at Cheyenne River, trains new warriors and, above all, takes young people off of the streets and teaches them the bases of sport ethics combined with spirituality.
“Can you see that wood? There are tens of trees living side by side and none of them force the other to become an oak or a fir. No tree tries, with his own roots, to invade next trees’ space, even if they are different. In nature the concept of “different” doesn’t exist”. Moses Brings Plenty – medicine man of the Cherry Creek tribe of Cheyenne River (South Dakota, 2015)
Spirituality is the only way to hinder the decline of the Sioux: their rituals, their past and their prayers are the key for the future. Living in full contact with the four elements, sleeping on a tepee during the holy week, listening to the elders, singing and praying around the fire. The sun dance with sacrifices and the sweat lodges are traditions the Lakota are trying to keep alive so as not to lose these treasure that will continue to be handed down.
The young Moses Brings Plenty and his brother Joe are confident that this rebirth shall not be limited to the Lakota population, but it should be offered to anyone who is really willing to change their lifestyle, and return to a way of living based on the circle of life: “We must learn again to be a community, to live and think like a community, where people can help each other, without yearning to be the first. Beauties are all around us, just sit under a tree and listen to the sound of nature”.