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  • Cassandra Ingalls

Native American Cultural Tour – A Pine Ridge Indian Reservation Adventure

This land is who we are. We come from the land; mother earth, our land gives us everything. Our ancestors lived in nature, and understood the need for each other, working together, and connection to earth like mom, auntie, grandma, or any version of children & their great mother. This is just a taste of the wisdom, teachings, history lessons & pure experience that is the Native American Cultural Tour.

Adventure, Nature, Tourism, and Culture have Carrie’s heart and they run thick through her blood (the main four reasons for which her heart beats). She awakens early, ready & rearing to continuate each day. She rises to this career, this business ownership, this joy, that she adores with so much passion. So much passion, in fact, that when I spoke with Carrie she said of this specific tour, that: “It gets my heart pumping and my feet on the floor every day!” She really lives this tour & it translates, especially, when one is on her tours. It’s fantastic to observe! There is a reason her Black Hills Adventure Tours is such a well-deserved staple here in these beloved lands of South Dakota.

As the fantastic founder and passionate owner of Black Hills Adventure Tours, a business Carrie created, 18 years ago, she was offered a chance to see this specialty tour around the Pine Ridge Reservation and she was honored to be invited to participate in, the Native American Cultural Tour this recent summer of 2022. A tour designed to cross cultural bridges and help each other, as people here on Mother Earth understand our differences. Teaching all to learn to see the movement of the land, they’ll then learn to understand the movement of the people. This tour is truly special in layers of depths for any true traveler or seeker of life. It is with their indigenous knowledge that we can learn & help to awaken humanity to become better caretakers of this planet, Mother Earth, from the wisdom passed down through the Lakota peoples.

Destination American Tour is the official name of this special tour that traverses around the Pine Ridge Reservation. Members of this tour met up with Tianna Yellowhair and her father Guss, both owners and tour guides with Tatanka Rez Tourz at the Oglala Lakota College Campus Historical Center.

Tatanka Rez Tourz is native owned and operated, based on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southwestern SD. They take you on a guided odyssey into the realm of Lakota Sioux country, so you can have a clearer and deeper understanding of Lakota culture, rich in history, with views of breathtaking vistas.

X marks the spot, as Carrie & the other tour-goers day begins at The Sheep Mountain overlook. A great spot to learn about the past, present, and indigenous culture of Lakota Country as well as view the stunning landscapes of the Badlands National Park. Here their intentions are set by listening to Lakota voices, Lakota stories, seeing the movement of the land, and learning to understand the movement of the people. They learned about the vibrant culture that is alive through creative expression, song and dance connecting the Lakota to their ancestors. Seeing the natural habitat of the buffalo, prairie dogs, deer, antelope, coyotes, and other Lakota relatives.

Tianna and Guss do a prayer with sage, introducing themselves in their local language, to bridge the language gap. And, as is customary within Lakota history and storytelling, they begin their traditional legends that must be told in specific forms, with a gender male & gender female. Walking through the land and sharing the story of how their ancestors lived, the battles and triumph as an example of how to overcome obstacles in this new era. She and the other tour-goers learn the deeper meaning of “Teospaye”; in the Lakota language this means a weightier, more profound way to grasp just what extended family is, in regard to humankind as a whole.

With the intention now set in proverbial ‘ancient stone’, we board the tour van. Our hearts, minds & bodies are now ready to grasp a little deeper still the wisdom shared with us on this tour from the Lakota’s History that is long written down. Adventuring down now, through the Badlands National Park, we continue with bliss & purpose. Here, Carrie and others are able to ask questions around Lakota history in the area, how the badlands play an important role to the local people, why they settled on this land, and what is the relationships needed for the ability to bring visitors into the reservations for tours?

Additionally, more incredible Lakota culture was shared during this drive, a mind-blowing experience, indeed. This is the time to answer general questions. As the group hits each highlighted tourist spot, they can only focus on the attraction and history within, for there’s so much in each destination in and of itself. Whilst in motion, it is talks and story about the highlighted attraction she and the others had just experienced. Their minds opening ever wider, both in motion and stopped at each historical stop. The drive begins to create more and more drive to learn and take in every other piece of the fascinating heritage and culture of these sacred lands.

Their next leg of the sacred lands is reached. They are now at the renowned Pine Ridge.

Pine Ridge is spread out, each attraction is a 15-20 minutes drive to the next location. During the travel distance, they learn about demographics in the area they are in, she and the travelers learn about the past and the current situations happening in the area and on the reservation as a whole. Fascination grows further

Arriving in Pine ridge, their first stop was The Pine ridge area Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber is a vital part of Pine Ridge, as they partner with local businesses, and they know all the events going on or upcoming. The Chamber shares about the Christmas Star Knowledge, and all the beautiful art purchased over the years.

Next up, they arrive at, the Oglala Lakota Artspace- a beautiful building built in 2019 and opened in 2020. A centrally located, fixed structure for native artists to have access to a studio space, computers for digital work, electronic marketplace access, classroom and gallery space; a vital hub to establish connections with other arts and cultural activities across the geographically vast reservation, which is roughly the size of Connecticut. The Oglala Lakota Artspace building was made to establish connections with other arts and cultural activities and institutions on Pine Ridge rez and western SD.

Included are classrooms for artists to teach visitors, and the population. The Artspace covers the equipment and materials needed, and those in the free class get to take those skills and items made with them when they leave. Carrie and the rest enjoyed their lunch here with the director of the Chamber of Commerce, who ordered in traditional cuisine allowing us to experience Fry-Bread, dry beef soup, tea, wojapi and of course, Tatanka/Bison…Mmm Mmm! They learned to thank the director in the Native tongue, as the food was incredible and left them all salivating for more. Saying ‘thank you’ in Lakota is ‘Wopila Tanka’.

One of the questions asked during the Artspace tour is why it was centered here? And what is the purpose going forward in the future? Which we learned it’s a space to get out of the climate, hot summers, freezing cold winters, to practice art in a safe and secure environment, and to teach the community and visitors traditional art forms.

A major highlighted priority was to stop here and visit this beautiful new space. Tianna and Guss were a part of this groundbreaking space and are both artists, so this was a wonderful appreciation & honor!

Carrie learned that ART is how most of the community/Lakota’s pay bills, by creating, selling in person and now online, it’s a way of life to live, and they were ensured. Being able to pass on the traditions and create an income is vital to their heritage. At one point, before the REZ Tours took off, this was the way Guss supported his family. Tianna told how as a little girl she remembers traveling all over to art shows so her father could sell his art. They are traditional artists and storytellers. As a traditional artist they use materials from earth, like grass for paint and willow sticks, they forage for materials to make the craft allowing them to use from nature and cut down on cost of materials. They are a truly amazing and wise family duo.

Jumping on the van, Carrie and the caravan journey to the Common Cents grocery store. They like to give visitors the opportunity to see this place, to see that this is the only grocery store, and all they have access too out here in Pine Ridge. It puts into perspective the traveling our community has to do in order to go into another city for additional groceries not offered in our Common Cents, said Tianna.

Next to the store, Carrie and the others took a short cruise at Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation. A movement and holistic organization working for the liberation of the Lakota people. Planting a seed, 7 generations that seed will grow, helping to root new generations in the Lakota ways in a community striving for success together, with strong spiritual roots embedded in the teachings, life ways, prayers, healing journey. At Thunder Valley, they believe that it is only through a whole community approach that their people can truly heal and move forward. By working with many aspects of Lakota life through their eight initiative areas, we aim to lift the Oglala Lakota peoples, by addressing the various, yet interconnected, aspects our peoples’ lives.

Guss called this a shining light in a sea of darkness, and he is co-involved with Thunder Valley, as he’s worked there part time for a long time. Fighting the homelessness, housing issues, food sovereignty, going back to the traditional ways of providing for yourself, children, chicken farming, and being a community.

8 areas Thunder Valley focuses on-

· Food sovereignty-The Food Sovereignty Initiative is a multifaceted set of programs and partnerships working together to create a sustainable and viable food system on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

· Housing and ownership-The Housing and Homeownership Initiative provides Lakota people with the tools and opportunity to build community wealth through WoLakota asset building.

· Lakota Language and education-Through educational and community-based systems founded in Lakota through language and lifeways, empowering the Lakota Language and Education Initiative envisions reclaiming, restoring, and sustaining their language and lifeways.

· Regenerative community development- The Regenerative Community Development Initiative ensures the physical spaces where their liberation and healings occur meet their community’s vision for a healthy, innovative, and culturally appropriate environment rooted in the Lakota way of life.

· Regional equity- To create and implement a regional vision that helps build their community’s capacity, the Regional Equity Initiative works to address systemic poverty and eliminate economic disparities for the Pine Ridge Reservation.

· Social enterprise- The Social Enterprise Initiative works to make their community stronger by encouraging business development grounded in Lakota knowledge and values through making education and entrepreneurial opportunities more accessible to the Pine Ridge Reservation.

· Workforce development-Through the determination of young adults and the dedication of our local leaders, the Workforce Development Initiative is building a thriving workforce centered on improving financial, emotional, physical, and professional health while creating sustainable communities in Lakota Country.

· Youth leadership- The Youth Leadership Development Initiative cultivates opportunities for Lakota youth that enhance leadership skills, promote personal and community wellbeing, and sustain culture and spirituality in order to guide generations of their youth toward an awakening of self-determination, self-sufficiency, and ultimately liberation.

Piling in the tour van, the touring party and Carrie heads to their final destination with Tatanka Rez Tourz, ending at a beautiful scenery overlook to view the Wounded Knee cemetery of 1890. The Wounded Knee cemetery is still used today by relatives and the elderly, who are against flash photography. Here, they learn about the true story of what happened in 1890. A favorite story of the last survivor and her life story of the Wounded Knee massacre is told. An awe-inspiring history lesson, leaving Carrie and the tour-goers jaws dropped at times.

Hearing all the raw and real history during the tour, sage is lit again to purify the air, so that all emotions can be left at the cemetery. Then a group song is shared to commemorate the lives lost and bring to light the things happening over the last two years. Awareness is spread around the MMIW, MMIP, Missing and murdered indigenous woman/persons; as young children, woman and men turn up missing and murdered. Then, Carrie and the other tour-goers are educated about the Removal Stain Act, and how they can reach out to their local legislatures, pushing them to rescind and give a formal apology, to help the Lakota’s heal.

Carrie and the others say thanks to Guss and Tianna as they head out in different directions. They make their way to the Red Cloud Indian School and Heritage Center. Where they learn of Chief Red Cloud, the rich history of the school and the hope for Pine Ridge Reservation's children's future. The goal of the schools, pastoral outreach programs, and The Heritage Center is to fulfill Chief Red Cloud's vision of a Lakota youth who is able to live equally in both worlds—a Lakota people who are educated, able to do whatever they want, whether on or off the reservation, and who will choose to live in a good way no matter where the path may lead.

Last but not least, Carrie and the others reached their final destination, the overlook at the Red Shirt Table. One of the most stunning views of the Badlands can be seen from the unassuming pull off known as Red Shirt Table Overlook. Since this overlook offers some of the best views in the park, it was a chance for everyone to take unique pictures. They learn about the Oglala Lakota leader known as Red Shirt, after whom the Red Shirt Table Overlook is named, as they take in the breathtaking prairie and jagged Badlands formations. Homesteaders invaded South Dakota in the 19th century, taking Native Americans' land and forcing them to live on reservations. Wovoka, an Indian prophet, inspired thousands of Native Americans to dance the ghost dance and wear white shirts in a vision, with the intention of restoring their hunting grounds and eradicating the white man.

This tour was a magical, educational and emotional. As are the other reservation tours that can be booked throughout the year. Simply as MUST-EXPERIENCE tour for any true traveler seeking something new, amazing and that is for those who wish to see humanity become a better part of herself. You don’t want to miss out on this tour! Wopila tanka for reading to the end; it means you are part of those whom truly want change and history to show how beautiful humankind is as a whole. Until next tour…

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