With music playing and the hot South Dakota sun beating through the windshield, we cruised the rural, sometimes cratered, backroads of Pine Ridge. In the vast expanse of land between Wounded Knee and Pine Ridge village, we wound down into a lush river valley with bright green deciduous trees and stark pine tree-lined sandstone cliffs. Rounding a corner as a we drove up out of this narrow oasis, a mountain lion leapt out of the trees clearing the width of the road and vanishing into the high grass and pines on the other side. In mid-air, it looked at us, eyes piercing, body extended. Its feet the size of plates, its tail flowing like a flag caught by a summer’s breeze. Looking back on this most recent trip up to Pine Ridge, our encounter with this magnificent beast seems to perfectly embody our time on the reservation.
While brief, the time we spent on Pine Ridge was truly wonderful. We traveled roads not oft traveled and met wonderful people along the way- most of the time first being asked, “are you lost?” to which we would reply “actually… no”. Working hard, we completed the necessary surveying and got straight to work putting it all together into a project which will eventually lead to the building of additional housing on the reservation. Most importantly, during our stay in South Dakota we were able to share meals, songs, stories, and spirituality with friends both old and new. I was, am, and will continue to be struck by the grace, beauty, poise, and strength of the Lakota people who I have had the great pleasure in getting to know, and look forward to strengthening these ties for years to come.