The Rez

Excerpts from Views from the Reservation

When thinking of the Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota, what do people imagine? Both outsiders and native peoples know of Hollywood’s representation of traditional American Indian culture. So often it has been based on the Lakota and other indigenous tribes of the Great Plains and Interior West. Most of us have heard of the problems with alcoholism, poverty, and gangs on the reservations, of the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee, and the occupation by the American Indian Movement and its supporters of Wounded Knee in 1973. But how much do most of us really know? —John Willis

Allen Community Powwow.

I am from…

I am from potato salad and deep-fried chicken
From Barbie dolls and chokecherry pickin’
I am from sleeping outside under the stars
From playing freeze tag on old junk cars
I am from eating cereal and eggs in the morning
From school every week that got really boring
I am Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64
From flowered dresses and tights that are always torn
From climbing trees and scraped-up knees
From playing with puppies infested with fleas
Yes I’m from all these things, that’s me
Because I’m from the beautiful country
—Samantha Red Feather, 12th grade

Sun Dance grounds the day after the ceremony ended, with the medicine man's approval.

Be Thankful

You have to say a prayer of Thanksgiving.
You have to be thankful

Otherwise it’s like a house without windows.
It’s dark

In the morning when you wake up from a good
night’s sleep, you open
Your eyes and you see the light.
Say a prayer of thanksgiving before you get up.
Thank you. Thank you Tunkasila for another day.
—Victoria Chipps, elder

Sunka wakan na wakanyeja awicaglipi (To bring back the horse and child).

In the Struggle, We Stand

In the struggle we stand, shields and shawls
It’s in the struggle great duty calls
It’s a duty to Oyate, a duty to the people
Use your head Sitting Bull said
Find what’s lost, move us ahead
Cause there’s more to history
Than what meets the book
There’s a blizzard blowing hard
And it’s 100 degrees
In the struggle we stand kin to kin
Struggle to stand through strength from within
Look back to where and why, when and how
Hold on to what’s dear, c’anupa in our hearts
Families rent asunder, cultures ripped apart
In the struggle we stand, seven generations thence
Diplomas and degrees and learned and smart
We talk and we read and glean from past days
We find where we are and where we’ve been
In the struggle we stand
—Lavelle Warrior, 9th grade

Photos, poems and narrative excerpted from Views from the Reservation, by John Willis. Center for American Places: Chicago, 2010. John Willis is photography professor at Marlboro College and executive director of In-Sight Photography Project, in Brattleboro.