Friday, September 29, 2017

Fifty States' Bucket List Blog #8

The Road to Standing Rock – The Confluence of Past, Present and Future A pink and yellow sun peeked through the trees under which I had parked my car for my overnight stay at a KOA in Miles City, Montana on the eastern edge of the state. The morning was clear and pleasant – a perfect day for my drive through North Dakota to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in the north central part of the state. My anticipation and excitement about this visit was equal to what I had felt at the idea of seeing the Alaskan Wilderness. Today, I would enhance my historical, geographical and cultural knowledge of the Lakota (Sioux) people as well as see actual economic and living conditions at present. From this, I hoped to learn what I could do to support the Lakota in their future endeavors in regard to the Dakota Access Pipeline as well as combat the continued disrespect for their land and civil rights. This, along with the abominable sex trafficking of Indian women, has contributed to the lack of hope among native teens and is causing their suicide rates to be the highest in the nation. I had visited Yellowstone National Park on the border between Montana and South Dakota in 2012. I also visited the Black Hills and the Crazy Horse Monument, which I believe to be the only monument worthy of display there, and the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre that ended the Indian Resistance in the 1880’s. This led to the reservation system and boarding school experiment that in effect annihilated the culture that lived in these lands long before the Europeans arrived. Today, I would drive through land taken from the Lakota when this happened as well as drive along the path of the tributaries of the Missouri River to their convergence with the Missouri at Lake Oahu which is just below the Lakota Nation’s headquarters at Ft. Yates. This was the path followed by Lewis and Clark on their Corps of Discovery Expedition in 1804 and 1805. Without the help of the native people living there, the Corps would not have survived. What did Lewis and Clark leave in return? Smallpox. The disease so decimated the Mandan and Calipulia people of North Dakota and Oregon that by the time pioneers moved west to claim the land given to them by the federal government, the tribes were too small in number to resist. The name of the trail has changed over the years; today it is State Highway 12. I started driving to the entrance of Highway 12 at 6:30 am. I was still on Mountain Daylight Time so I would not lose an hour of driving time today and the drive was listed at a little over 4 hours but I knew I would be stopping along the way. I decided to take advantage of the 70 MPH speed limit between towns, but I planned to stop at one of these towns for breakfast along the way. Miles City is small but serves the ranching community of that part of Montana. I had had some time to explore the city after my arrival the evening before. There was a cowboy museum, but I had no interest in seeing that. I knew that the small towns I would be driving through were probably towns that had grown up around oases along the trail and would probably be a modern day version of the cow towns seen in Hollywood and television productions. I was right and finally drove through a town that had a hotel with a restaurant and coffee shop attached to it. That’s where I ate breakfast. The country skillet was delicious but the coffee was the worst I have ever tasted and I have a tolerance for coffee. I couldn’t drink it. Not only was it weak, there was a hard water taste to it. The glass of water tasted the same. I couldn’t drink either which was disappointing. r I enjoy a nice, steaming hot cup of coffee to get my day started, so that was disappointing. I took half of the skillet with me, planning on having that for dinner – with a good cup of coffee. I drove for about 30 minutes when I saw a sign announcing an historical marker on the left hand side of the road. There appeared to be a stream running below and a wooden bridge in the distance, obviously not safe to use. I pulled out my phone intending on taking a picture of the explanation on the marker, but I had let the battery die completely. That happens when I leave the GPS on without turning it off (Oops) No pictures today. I would have to take notes as I read. This is the best way to absorb the information anyway. The historical marker was placed above the Powder River – the stream I had noticed. I knew this was where the members of the Corps of Discovery nearly starved to death, eating the candles that had survived when their canoe had overturned earlier in the journey. Lewis described the Powder River as being a mile wide with water only ankle deep. He also described the landscape as “black” from the herds of buffalo roaming nearby a village inhabited by “red men.” These people –Mandan’s- gave them food and told them the path to follow which Lewis called The Red Trail. I drove another 30 miles through grassy prairie land that had fences around it; I knew this was cattle country. I saw another historical marker; this was the part of Highway 12 that had been the Yellowstone Trail – the automobile trail created after Yellowstone became a National Park. In 1912 the trail to the Park was marked with six sandstone obelisks at the six original stops along the way starting at White Butte, ND and continuing to Haynes City Park, ND, Petrified Park in Lemmon, SD, Hettinger, ND, Hidden Wood Lodge Site ( the site of the last Great Buffalo Hunt), and ending at the Yellowstone River. The next marker was at the Hidden Wood Lodge Site – the most interesting of all. This marker was set at the site of the Last Great Buffalo Hunt of 1882. By this date 60 to 75 million buffalo had been slaughtered by men hired to do so by the transcontinental railroad barons. Killing the buffalo had made it easy to destroy this once great Nation. Without the buffalo the whole economy collapsed. Much like what happened in the United States during the Great Depression. The buffalo hunt was the major sustainer of life to the Lakota. During the spring, when the buffalo roamed, the Lakota would move their camp using dog travois originally. This changed in 1740 with the use of the horse. Another change was brought about by the introduction of the repeating rifle which replaced the bow and arrow. This site at Hidden Wood was the location of the last hunt by 2,000 Teton Lakota men, women and children who had been allowed to march the 100 miles from Ft, Yates, North Dakota – their reservation home – to hunt one last time before being forced to become farmers on the reservation land given to them surrounding Ft. Yates. There were now only about 50,000 buffalo left. The Lakota word Pahachechacha means Hidden Wood. The area was so named because this grassy plain located around Hidden Wood Creek was hidden from view by a thick forest of trees that surrounded it. Custer camped here in 1874 after being guided to this campsite on his way to the Black Hills. He had 2,000 men, 1,000 horses, 900 mules, 300 beef cattle and 150 wagons. His orders were to find a site for a potential fort on the east side of the Black Hills which was then part of the Great Sioux Reservation. Once that was done, soldiers could explore the area and confirm or deny if there was indeed gold there. The rest of that story as we could say “is history.” From June 20-23 of 1882 the Lakota men, women and children spent three days camped here for the last hunt. The grassy plain, today, is filled with stone tepee rings the Lakota used to secure their homes during the hunt. At the last hunt, 5,000 buffalo were killed. There followed three days of feasting on the tender morsels and the women sliced the remaining meat into thin sheets for pemmican – beef jerky. This site is the only remaining evidence of the last days of the Great Sioux Nation. The last historical marker I saw before entering the Standing Rock Reservation was one at the site of the Bismarck-Deadwood Stage Trail that began operating on the Standing Rock Reservation in 1877 but was abandoned in 1880 when a shorter trail to the Black Hills opened in Pierre, South Dakota. The landscape along US Highway 12 through the reservation was similar to the one outside reservation land. It became apparent that the economy of the Lakota was now much like the one of the rest of the residents in this part of North Dakota. I saw fenced in pasture that was now being mowed and rolled into bales of hay. There were rows of corn next to farming equipment and silos. At one point I did see a farming co-op sign. What is ranching and farming without water, I thought as I entered Ft. Yates and followed the signs to Standing Rock Monument on a hill above the Oahe Reservoir and next to the parking lot below the headquarters of the Lakota Nation. Standing Rock Monument is the petrification of a stone of an Arikana woman with a child on her back. She is said to be the wife of a Dakota man who had a bad temperament. The legend is that this woman “pouted in 1740 and was turned into stone.” The rest of the markers around the stone woman are of the great Lakota leaders who fought for the return of their lands and also negotiated and signed many of the peace treaties in the late 19th Century, most notably the two signed at Ft. Laramie in 1851 and 1858 which are at the heart of the controversy over the Dakota Access Pipeline. I had spoken to a lady who delivers the mail at a filling station upon my arrival into Ft. Yates. I had received some not so friendly looks before I spoke with her, but this lady was nice and talked with me about what has happened with the pipeline in the past few months. I told her I was from the Southeast and wanted to visit Standing Rock so I could see for myself what was happening. I told her of my intent to do some blogs and she thanked me for what I was doing. She told me the pipeline was finished, but she wasn’t aware of the ongoing court battles. She was the one who told me how to get to headquarters and as I was leaving I heard a brief conversation she had with another lady about a friendship on face book that ended because of the pipeline controversy. I thought about these things as I looked at the reservoir below the Reservation. If this pipeline leaks, it is going to ruin the water supply for these people, I thought. That’s why the Corps decided to put it here instead of closer to Bismarck. But the ramifications of what we are doing with fossil fuels will not stop here. The role of the Native American is, indeed, to rise to the role of water protector and we need to listen to them. As they have declined we have declined. I thought about the forest fires ravaging the Northwest as I walked inside the headquarters. There was a section with all kinds of information concerning health care, etc., but what caught my eye was a row with information about forest fires. I thought about the collaboration of the Tlingit with the Park Rangers in Glacier Park. Yes, I thought. We need to work with the indigenous land and water protectors and collaborate with them on their knowledge from close contact with the natural world and combine that with what science and technology have taught us. This is the future. I was thinking about the future of the Lakota and what would be the role of Native youth in this as I drove to a market to get some fruit for my drive to Minnesota. Next to the Sitting Bull Memorial Gravesite was a nice looking grocery store, so I parked and went inside. The display of fresh fruits and vegetables was impressive; this store would be adequate no matter where it was located, I thought. The fruit was most impressive, especially the plums. I picked three, rich purple, plump plums and some other fruit. I looked up and noticed a boy of about 9 or 10 observing me and seeming to follow me. I took my fruit to the check out and he stayed close by me. As I was leaving, I held up one of the plums and asked, “Would you like a plum?” “Oh, I’m okay,” he said and then walked away. I walked out of the store and saw him standing at the door. When he saw me approach my car, he walked up to me and asked, “Do you have a quarter?” “I don’t have any quarters,” I said, “only plums.” He said nothing else then turned and walked away. I have been approached like this many times in Portland by adults as well as children. I wondered about that boy. What did he want a quarter for? Had he already asked the store owner? Would he have said anything to me if I hadn’t offered him a plum? Why money instead of food? Where did he go to school? So many questions. I returned to US Highway 12 to continue to Minnesota. Maybe things will be clearer there.

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