Native elders, artists, leaders, musicians and ‘ordinary’ folk and children embraced our group by sharing meals, knowledge, histories, aspirations, traumas and community activism. We learned, for instance, about the traumatic impact of boarding schools, “Land Based Learning” as a means of education and empowerment; spirit and community building with horses, how to make cradle boards and to quill whilst listening to stories, posing questions, and always receiving answers that intrigued and inspired.
Impressed with our thirst for knowledge and respect for Indian ways of life, we were invited by Native elder Tim Mentz to attend a Powwow. The invitation was nothing less than a warm embrace. “It was like being emersed in Indian culture in the past and the present at the same time,” wrote one student. Another said, “when the music began and the dancers entered my breath stopped. It was stunning. In so many ways.” Still another wrote that, “I will forever be grateful for the trust that earned us this experience.”
Heated conversations with ranchers, and cowboys that worked in rodeos, on the other hand, like the passionate reactions to the Crazy Horse Monument, spoke to the troubling knowledge acquired over the course of our journey. Student reflections speak to this transformative experience. One wrote, “before this class I never thought about how colonialism kills today in places near me. I feel embarrassed and inspired to do something.” Indian Country is a “3rd world nation in a first world country.” And yet another reflected, “I never really knew what decoloniality meant until I lived it.” And finally, one student concluded, “I thought community engaged learning meant we help them. Now I know that we ‘the great white saviors’ can also be ‘saved.’ I couldn’t move and could hardly breathe when Jen Martel (Lakota), standing in front of the Red Man statue at the NoDAPL site, implored us to ‘become our smoke signals.’ Now, with time and space to reflect on the journey, I realize that it isn’t over. It’s just begun. My mind races with possibilities.”