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As a youth, my family would go “Up North” on their summer vacations. Most of the Indian Reservations in Wisconsin are in this region. That is where I saw Native American people for the first time. It wasn’t much of an encounter, more of an observance of a young Native American boy walking down the highway in an adult’s T-shirt. We were close to an Indian Reservation and I didn’t really think much of it at the time.
In my teen years, I was in the Order of the Arrow, a Boy Scout service organization that did some Indian dancing and had Indian ceremonies as part of that culture. I also was a summer camp counselor with the Boy Scouts where Indian dancing was performed by the staff at Friday night campfires. I performed the Snake dance using a live snake.
The only other contact that I had with a Native American, until I went to teach on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, was in my college years at the State University where an Indian friend of mine were “partying” buddies.
The afternoon I arrived in McLaughlin, SD around 3 PM after an eleven -hour drive from my residence in Southwestern Wi was partly cloudy and windy there. I drove up to the North side of the apartment complex I was to stay at and went across the street to find the manager who also worked in an auto facility. I brought little with me in my red Ford Ranger other than a bed, clothes, kitchen utensils and a violin which was all that would fit on my truck.
I found a place to stay at the apartments, through the School District where I was employed, for a one -bedroom place. It wasn’t too bad a place to live actually. The manager was the ex or present mayor of the city. As I said, he owned a tire shop across the street. I noticed a slight smell of cattle dung when I first arrived from the cattle yard across the highway. The RR tracks were no more than a block away to the North.
I also found a way to keep my small Shih Tzu dog with me as a companion. I did not realize at the time that the safety of the dog would so influence any permanent employment with the School District and stay on the Reservation. Some Sioux still eat “dog soup.”
Dogs ran free on the Reservation, although the City required them to be licensed. This led to rather chaotic situations at times when I was out walking my dog. To the South on the Pine Ridge Reservation there was a story told that a pack of dogs attacked and injured a young child. One of the teachers at the school, long-time resident of South Dakota, also had an encounter with a pack of dogs who attacked his livestock at one time. The dog started several conversations with students and people hanging out at the Post Office on the Main Street of the City, a small village actually, for which I was grateful.
Most of my time was spent teaching High School Science at the school. It was a fairly modern place and kept up very well by the custodial staff. The supervisor of custodian gave a presentation on the heating system for one of my classes which was well presented, accepted, and appreciated. I would work four days a week, arriving an hour early, and have Fridays off with the exception of once a month being a professional development day. On weekends, I would drive across the Prairie to the nearest town away which was about thirty miles down the road to grocery shop and occasionally attend the church.
I arrived about the middle of July with expectations of meeting some people. Before school officially started, I often visited the school to get books that were going to be used, get acquainted, and do preliminary teaching work. This was my first year of full time teaching.
One of my neighbors in the apartment complex I lived in was an elderly Sioux man was a certified mechanic and took very good care of his vehicle. I suspect that it might have been him who at one time in the Winter complained about my dog barking. I thought that was strange because my dog usually only barked when he had to go outside to do his duty and then only once. But I really can’t say, the dog might have gotten scared for some reason and started barking.
Another neighbor was a middle aged, Sioux woman whom I rarely saw but had at the minimum 5 pairs of shoes outside her door which she would obviously take off before going into her apartment.
There was also a retired Sioux man who was a construction worker in Arizona and came back to the Reservation to live for a time. He received Veteran services from the agency in town. We used to sit next to the tree buy the sidewalk and talk. I appreciated the company and the chance to meet new people. I think he went back to Arizona for some unknown reason after a few months.
Other neighbors were also an English teacher and Kindergarten teacher who worked at the school living in the complex. I used to play violin with a male friend of one of the teachers, on weekends for about six weeks, who played a Martin guitar. One of the teachers played the saw but all three of us never played together or made up any arrangements.
A fellow science teacher who taught in the room next to mine played the ukulele and I asked him to come over from Mobridge on weekends but I think he lived too far away to make it easy enough for this to occur. He played his instrument in the halls between classes on occasion and I would play a five -string banjo I purchased in Bismark, ND to sings songs about the scientific method as a learning tool for the 3 classes of Physical Science I taught during the school year.
The ex or current mayor managed the apartments and did a mighty fine job. He mowed the lawn, moved snow, and kept up the inside of the building. If you locked yourself out, he was the one that would let you in.
So, the first few weeks of my stay I mainly got to know some people, took walks with my dog, went shopping at the local grocery store, and learned the neighborhood. I started creating lesson plans mostly in a traditional manner using the books that were available, planned demonstrations leading into scientific inquiry etc. There were not enough books for the students to each student to have one and take home for study and that sort of limited my teaching style and the giving of quizzes and tests.
On the Reservation, I met an elderly lady and her grandson who owned the local movie theatre, a resale shop, and a small restaurant where she employed students while I was looking for some furniture. It was one of the few places that offered employment. During my research, I found a place where a company could ask for funds through a grant to employment students and gave her the web address. She applied and as a result received aid for her business which I was thankful for.
The Post Office was a place where some people would “hang out” and socialize. It was the only place in town where you could get delivered mail and a lot of people, including me, would go their daily. Most of the time I would take my dog with me on a leash, and at one time an elderly, well dressed Native American gentleman asked me how long my dog had been with me, I think his words were. There were also panhandlers there and drunken people sleeping on the streets at night, even during cold weather. I saw some alcoholism.
During the winter, it was very windy as usual I heard, and got down to -30 degrees Fahrenheit at times. One day my truck wouldn’t start so I called AAA to get it jump started. It was on a Monday so my vehicle had sat out in the cold for two days, that, along with an older battery were probably the reason it didn’t start. There was just about immediate service, which was good to know, for a vehicle was very important for transportation. Because of the prompt attention I didn’t miss my first class that day!
There was a town square in the middle of the town with an old ELCA church to the North of it. It was usually pretty well occupied by the people in the area and passers through. I used to walk my dog around it until it got too cold.
Through the Church, I got the name of an individual who constructed a large, 40- acre, community garden area on the outskirts of town. It was to be used by the local people to grow garden produce for free but wasn’t widely used. This garden area had fruit trees planted in the form of a medicine wheel surrounding it which I thought was a pretty unique idea.
I called this person and was invited to his geodesic dome on the outskirts of town about 5 miles away. I brought coffee as was the tradition but maybe should have brought tobacco I realized in hindsight. It was my intention to have him talk about the garden to one of my classes to promote its use and get better participation. The food supply of the people, mostly on the government dole was not that good and contained mostly sugars from what I had heard about them. I thought that the garden was a great idea to help improve the health of the City’s residents. He had a guitar and a few of his friends over so I played the guitar and we all talked with me not saying much just listening. It was pretty congenial.
I believe it was this Lakota man who told me of the high suicide rate on the Reservation at the turn of the century of Native youth. The suicide rate was second only to Japan that year. These terrible events were manifested in the psyche of many students at the school Healing through cathartic discussion was difficult to embrace
He had a daughter who was in my Physical Science class and a son who played with science toys when I visited. I cannot say for sure, but I think his younger son about kindergarten or first grade age would call me under his direction and ask for a person with a funny to me name. I would continue to talk for a while after I thought I heard his dad’s voice in the background and play along.
I had planned for him to give a talk about the community garden during one of the biology classes. This never occurred because by the time the class got to a similar topic of study the school year was already about to end. We never got to that section it turned out. I felt that the school could have been a good resource for it also had a greenhouse on grounds. Things of this nature didn’t take place as a result of my shortcomings and inexperience.
I called my sisters, and a retired teacher friend weekly. The cell phone service was Ok if you stood in the proper place for reception for my cell phone service and better for the local cell phone service. There was good reception outside the front door of the apartment complex where I stayed but it wasn’t very good elsewhere.
Once I got a phone call from a local Pastor of the Baptist church. It was a wrong number evidently and he never identified that he knew me. He was playing the piano quite skillfully over the phone which caught my attention.
I also used to get phone calls from a collection agency. Somehow my number got confused with the name of someone who owned a car payment. I recognized the last name as being one of my students. I kept on getting calls until one day I made it clear that this was getting a little annoying and convinced the caller that the person they were looking for wasn’t at my number.
One weekend towards the end of the school year I was confronted by a student who said he went to a private school, because he felt he would get a better education. He liked the idea of discipline. He was looking for a way to make some money and wasn’t panhandling. I respected this and gave him 5 dollars to clean out the front of my truck which I directed him in doing. I saw him one other weekend but we didn’t talk. That weekend I had no cash and we went to the gas station to buy something, with my dog, who just got a haircut and was bathed. That didn’t work but I had some quarters that I used for laundry change and gave him 5 dollars from that.
Another weekend I was taking the dog for a walk around the town square and met some kids who were in the Elementary School in town. We got to talking and they were amazed that I bought my dog food to feed him. Apparently, their dog wasn’t fed that way, which I think might be the norm. The kids, there were two of them, asked for some dog food and I agreed so we went to my apartment so I could give them some. I put some dog food in a plastic bag and gave it to them. I didn’t invite them in for safety reasons and possible accusations even though the kids wanted to see what the inside of the apartments looked like.
This was also the case with the person who cleaned my truck. He seemed to want to come inside and see what the apartment looked like on the inside. I didn’t permit this for the same safety reasons.
At another time, I bought some ice cream after school and ran into two of my students outside the store. A male and female. They asked if I would share my ice cream but because of the difficulties involved I said no. I somewhat regret that opportunity to interact personally with my students but am confident of my reasons and decision to say no.
- Quote paper
- Stephen Grams (Author), 2019, Life on an Indian Reservation, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/454953