Almost 4 years ago I came to Pine Ridge for a J-Term class (January Class for Seminary). Honestly, I chose the class because it fulfilled my cross cultural requirement and it was a low cost option. ( I was trying to come out of seminary with as little debt as I could.) Like many of my classmates that year I had no real idea what the natives were like and the history beyond John Wayne movies. I thought I would do my time and move on. I had some exposure having brought 2 different youth groups to South Dakota and spending time on the east end of the reservation for 4 days 1 year.
I arrived on site at the then named Pine Ridge Retreat center and settled into my bed which would be my home for the next 10 days. It turned into a trip that changed my life.
I fell in love with the area and enjoyed meeting so many different people. There was a spirit of joy here despite the hardships that the people face. I saw laughter and love, joy and pain, hunger and plenty. The people I met told stories that changed my perspective. I learned so much. The place spoke to me in a way I had only felt once or twice before in my life.
During my time here we visited many of the sites around the reservation including the Wounded Knee Massacre site where we were told the story of the horrible events that happened there. We visited a former boarding school. We went to Thunder Valley and saw a grass roots effort to provide sustainable living. We ate at local “restaurants”. We met with so many people who told story after story. I learned a lot.
During my final discussion with the director I told her that I would be back. That I wanted to share the place with others. To bring them here and let them experience the place themselves. She later told me that many people say that but few return.
But I came back.