Wednesday, July 1, 2009

It's not where you're from...

I fell asleep listening to my ipod. When I woke up at 4:00 a.m., Mos Def’s song ‘Habitat’ was playing “It ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.” 

I contemplated going back to sleep, but decided to take this opportunity to share my thoughts. I am out searching for America. This land is my home; it is all that I have really known. I have traveled to different parts of the world, but I call the United States my home.

I am somewhere in North Dakota at the moment. Yesterday, I was in South Dakota and Nebraska. The day’s itinerary was as follows:

Mt. Rushmore
Crazy Horse
Drive the Black Hills
Red Cloud Indian School
Pine Ridge (Lakota Oglala Reservation)
Wounded Knee
Drive the Badlands

I am not sure that my words can do my eyes justice. I saw beautiful sights; I had forgotten just how magnificent South Dakota really is. Mixed in with the whirlwind drive through three National Parks was a heavy dose of political realities and propaganda. 

I am torn on my thoughts about Crazy Horse. I was informed that protestors argued that a mammoth statue of the famed Warrior Chief goes against everything that he stood for. Native culture believe that the land is sacred. It is neither to be owned, nor defiled. The idea of the largest memorial monument would be seen as even more absurd. Additionally, the use of explosives to destroy large parts of the rocky mountain is something that many are not comfortable with as it further pollutes an environment that should be worshiped.

On the flip side of the argument, this large backdrop is the beginning to a Native American cultural awareness center. They hope to educate the public about their story. Just a few hours up the road from this monument is one of the poorest areas in the country. The Pine ridge reservation is a slap in the face of poverty. Traveling through the beautiful lands I see only beat up mobile homes that are lacking doors and windows. Roofs have been patched together, and broken down automobiles pepper land with a mosaic of decaying rust and steel, as if they are some sort of auto graveyard that leads you to the next family plot.

I heard words of anger muttered between hopeful discussions of equality and opportunity… and then I land at Wounded Knee. It is here that words fail me. Wounded Knee is a mass burial sight for 140 Natives. It is completely unkempt, with only a small painted sign to acknowledge that there is a historic sight near by. I experience a certain familiarity when I walk up to this sight. My grade school was Indian Hills; it was originally slated to be built on grounds that were discovered to be a burial sight. They preserved the sight by moving the school a few hundred yards away as to not miss any opportunity for premium land.

Wounded Knee offered no gift shop. I was offered no tourist manual or map. Instead, it was marked by overgrown flowers and weeds, a jagged path that leads from a make shift parking spot, and information center that is a Native with a pop up tent who will offer insight into the history of this historic sight. There were not flocks of tourists visiting like we experienced at both Crazy Horse and Mt. Rushmore.  Instead, my eyes were forced to contemplate the war torn graves of family plots which surrounded a mass grave as if to lend comfort to their fallen ancestors.  As I looked on, I couldn't help but feel the burden to not let such atrocities happen while I am alive.  Furthermore, I felt a sense of dutiful American pride to carry on the hope and spirit, while simultaneously needing to address some of the problems from our past.