"A long time ago I lost part of my heart to the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota.
I first traveled to Standing Rock just about ten years ago. I was sixteen, and really had no idea what I was really going to be doing there. While in flight to Bismarck surrounded by a small group of fellow students I barely knew, I remember asking myself why I was doing this. I was part of a partnership trip. It was a long standing relationship, where a group of students from my home area in Philadelphia would travel to volunteer their time at a summer camp for Native/First Nations students.
When I arrived, all of my preconceived ideas about this area were shattered. Honestly, I thought North Dakota would be adry and ugly place, with large expanse of open space. Although the latter was true, I was amazed by the beauty of the rolling plains and the mystery of the buttes that seemed to transform underneath the setting sun. If you have never sat alone beneath the stars in a prairie after watching the sunset, you are missing out.
I had no idea that this trip would actually be a life changing event for me. It didn’t hit me all at once, but as I take time to reflect back on my visits to Standing Rock, I see that fundamental parts of who I am as a person were formed there.My eyes were opened as a white middle-class citizen. I realized tangibly for the first time what it really means when people say things like, “winners write the history books”. There is an incredible amount of misinformation about the Indigenous Tribes of North America. One of my favorite parts about returning to the rez every year was being able to ask questions. My dear friend, Terry, would walk us through the Native American History Museum in Bismarck and point out the artifacts donated by his family. He’d tell us story after story in the oral tradition of the tribe. We would meet with community elders and hear their stories and lessons. I learned how to make fry bread from a recipe that I’m fairly certain was never written down. These experiences – seeing culture thriving despite all odds, first hand – had a tremendous impact on me as a person."