I feel very fortunate to have been a participant in SGC's ethnographic field school on Pine Ridge Reservation. SGC's holistic approach to community development taught me the importance of building relationships, being "optimally unprepared" and immersing myself in a place through collaboration. I developed lasting friendships with interns, held rich conversations with locals and learned from the supportive SGC staff. I have gained so much (academically, professionally and personally) from just three weeks on the reservation, and am leaving with inspiration to continue working alongside community members to achieve their goals.
The field school training that SGC provided at Pine Ridge was truly a unique experience. I appreciated the atmosphere of comradery that was initiated by the group which made the workload seem to flow quite well. The silent star filled nights and thunderstorms that could be witnessed rolling in from miles away was a sight that took your breath. Having a chance to get away from the droll of daily city living and to become submersed in a lifestyle and atmosphere that promoted subtlety left within me an overwhelming gratitude for that which might be considered the ‘small’ pleasures in life-the wind blowing through the grass creating ripples and waves of light, the sound of wildlife that manifested from every surrounding corner, the harsh yet tranquilizing feeling that pure silence left within. Along with the wonderfully immersive lessons in applicable anthropology that were provided through this experience, the chance to become submersed in Pine Ridge—the story, the people, the place—is a gift that I will forever be thankful for.
My experience at Pine Ridge was eventful and thought-provoking until the end. It is an experience that will stay with me for life. Among being conscious of my surroundings and taking in the beautiful nature around me, I learned so many things. I learned about myself in terms of what I value and what my goals are for my anthropological career. I also learned about the Lakota people, learned many Lakota words, customs, and spiritual practices. I know that some people may argue that students should not come on to the Reservation but as anthropologist our job is to meet the people where they are and do our best to understand them and all of the problems they face and the things they enjoy.
As an ethnographic cultural anthropologist about to graduate, this experience was what I need to hone in that skills and put what I have learned in school into practice. It was a running joke throughout the trip that Anthropology is depressing, but it was refreshing to be around people who provided a variety of perspectives an to process the things we saw together. Every day we did our best to tackle some of the issues/tasks and be involved thinkers and that is applied to anthropology.
Among the others, things I learned were more along the lines of hard skills rather than soft skills, such as data cleaning, data analysis, and interview protocol. None of which have ever been my cup of tea but I could not think of better people to teach me and get me intrigued with that part of anthropology. Overall the people I met, the places I was able to take in and meals shared with people who I would never have sat with before made this experience for me.
I never in my life believed that I would have the blessing of visiting, let alone staying and working on, a Native Reservation. It has been such a rewarding experience, both personally and professionally. We have had amazing dinner, laughs, and quite a few heart stopping moments. But one of the main things I take away from the time here is the work ethic in getting to know the people you serve, acknowledging history, and celebrating connections wherever and with whom ever we make them. Especially with this project, the food hub feasibility study, our team efforts and communication with community members really made me gain some insight into what is possible; into what potential and commitment can lead to when applying anthropology toward community development. I now also have a clearer picture of what I want my future in the field to look like.