NDN2rs.com is committed to offering real experiences to our visitors. Many come with pre-existing expectations, but leave with a whole new perspective on Native America.
The group that joined our October trip to the Lakota lands was wonderful – full of curiosity, hearts wide open, fun-loving, and respectful of the People and the culture.
On the last morning, three of the group had a conversation about the trip, how it had gone, and what they felt they had gained from their experiences; they gave some pretty insightful answers. Short positive reviews and comments are featured on all travel websites, but our visitors like to understand what they will be doing so we are making you privy to that conversation for a fly-on-the-wall view of what they felt:
What is the memory that will stick with you most from
KEVIN: I think for me it’s about Wounded Knee, and how the army said if you put the white flag up everything will be ok. So the People gave up all their arms and then… I mean that just sticks with me; here is a massive amount of people giving up arms and then the army just slaughtering them. You know it wasn’t a battle, it was nothing but pure and simply a massacre. And then there’s a man who is the chief, looking after all these people, you know, wanting to make peace and then they turn around and just kill him. On an emotional level, Wounded Knee was the most memorable place of the trip, easily without question. But visually, it would be the Badlands because I’ve never seen anything so vast and so spiritual; what a humbling experience to stand there and look out across it.
POLLY: The Badlands, yes! It was so amazing and just to look through my camera wasn’t enough - I needed to sit still and be absorbed by it. Oh and the peace and quiet, and just hearing the birds and being out in the open. And also Wounded Knee, definitely! I’ve read so much about it and I felt it was important that we came back twice with two different guides, got two different perspectives and with the weather being (because it had been snowing) very similar to the actual event, so that meant a lot.
We get a lot of people asking if we’ll send them info
so they can do a trip by themselves. What would
your advice be on that?
KEVIN - You just couldn’t do this trip by yourself. You need to have the people who live here and have the family history and the knowledge; otherwise you’d miss so much. There are so many places off the beaten trail that they take you to, and help you to understand the meaning behind it. They make all the connections so that you get the whole picture. And you really need to have that connection; people that have lived here, have history here and have family here do bring it all together.
POLLY - I think that you can get a rental car and drive to all these places but if you did not have a guide with you, you would miss out on so, so much because you are just looking at stuff; you aren’t learning anything. And you need to have the whole three dimensional level to really get under your skin.
NIEVES - About Guides
Having our guide in Yellowstone and Glacier was very exciting because we would have never ever seen that many grizzly bears, black bears and the other wildlife without him. He could take us to places he would actually spot himself, like for example, this grizzly mama and her cub were actually feeding from a carcass. I mean, we would never ever have seen that if it would not have been for our guide showing us, and taking us to so many beautiful places.
I’m amazed you didn’t
mention the Powwow?
POLLY: The powwow! I thought just everything about it was amazing; the scale of it - I was blown away by the number of dancers - 700+, and the noise, the color, the love and effort that went into the regalia. My eardrums are still pulsing and despite not dancing step I was exhausted watching!
KEVIN – About the Powwow
Oh, the powwow was not only visually stimulating, but if you do go I really recommend you just go stand right by the drums and hear the songs being sung because they go right through your whole body. You could almost feel the breath of the drum and the people around it. And it’s a completely different experience. You cannot experience stuff on television - you cannot! You can see pictures and watch on television but it is 100% different and more intense than anybody could ever imagine.
NIEVES: I had actually researched and I had watched powwow on YouTube, but that had nothing to do with the feeling of actually being there. For me it was not only watching the dancers and their outfits, but I really enjoyed actually watching everything, the people around and you know the families and all the excitement. Learning about the things that I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t been with our guide; all the signing, know when they actually start and when they actually finish; it was really very exciting …and I think I got it at the end, listening for when the Drum would actually stop and watching dancers to see if they stop at the same time. It was a great thing - great!
How did you feel about the organization of your tour?
POLLY - Two things I liked about the trip; One was our group - we were getting along very well, it was a very good number of people, and also traveling with a guide who you could just speak to the whole time (we were firing questions constantly - poor man).
NIEVES - Everything went well, hotels were great, and the travelling as well; it was many hours travelling which you probably don’t realize until you get here, but then you see the distances are so big. Everything really was very smooth, very relaxed and so I think it was all perfect.
Looking back, your trip highlight was . . . ?
KEVIN - The part about the trip I liked the most wasn’t what I was expecting; it was the educational value of what I’ve learned not only about the People, but about the country and the scenery and the geology. That’s not what I expected but that’s what I’m taking away most from it.
NIEVES – Well, I’ve been here a whole nearly a whole month so it’s very difficult to say… but Yellowstone was amazing, and the lake, and seeing grizzlies; you just can’t imagine that, you might read about it but you have to be there and see it for real. Going up to Glacier, I mean the scenery, the countryside it’s just mind blowing. And then being here in the Black Hills, well definitely Wounded Knee, the Badlands, and the Black Hills and going to the Pine Ridge Reservation of course …everything! I can’t pick - it’s the whole thing. I mean, you have expectations but I think the trip actually goes beyond them. You just can’t believe what you’ll experience until you actually here.
POLLY - I had no idea what to expect. I hadn’t done too much research but I think it is the vastness of the land, and I think the biggest thing I’m thinking about now is how family is so important, how one thing weaves in with another and how the reservation operates. Everything else you can find out about but you have to speak to people, you can read about the geology, you can read about constellations but you have to speak to people to uncover family connections and their love they have between the generations.
Were you surprised by anything on your tour?
KEVIN – Actually the most surprising thing I learned was about brain tanning! I had never heard about it before but apparently the size of every animal’s brain is just enough to tan the hide... and that will stick with me for the rest of my life.
NIEVES – I love art, so that part of my trip was also very special. The artists mix tradition with their own ways of expressing art - merging the tradition with the new things, new materials. And for me that’s perhaps what has surprised me most is how beautiful, how inspiring their art is and also how spiritual, because in the art is always a spiritual side and I really liked that.
POLLY: Well I didn’t know anything about Lost Bird. So when we went to the Wounded Knee Museum I was so saddened by her tale. And I wanted it to be a success story - I really wanted it to be fantastic; that she was brought up in a loved environment or at least found her some of her family, but no… and her story was just heartbreaking.
You clearly got on well with your guides; can you
tell us about that?
POLLY – Our first guide was brilliant. He was so knowledgeable, he answered every question to the best of his ability with a lot of thought, he was calm, he didn’t ever give you the impression that you are wasting his time by asking stupid questions (which I probably was the whole time) but he knew so much and because he also had a personal connection to Crazy Horse and Hump; it just added so much more to the trip and made history come alive and I will always remember that. Our second guide had a brilliant sense of humor. He would lead you down the garden path with a very sad story then we’d be laughing because he was taking the mickey all along and you’d fallen for it. But the humor with which they were able to tell some ghastly stories just showed how they weren’t bitter. There was no bitterness, and there should be I would have thought, just by nature but there just simply wasn’t. All they are trying to do is improve the lives of their younger generations and that they are doing a wonderful job.
KEVIN – [Note: Kevin arrived right before the biggest and most unexpected snowstorm that ever hit the region. Storms never come that early – even Mother Nature was unprepared because the trees still had their leaves and the wet weight of snow just devastated at least half of them. Everywhere lost power, the roads were closed and everything stopped. Pine Ridge was declared a disaster area, and all this out of the blue!]
"We were stuck! But you know our guide (who was also stuck) just took right over; it was like having our own private lecturer for a good number of hours, one on one, and you could ask him anything. He was glad to share all his stories and of course for him it was family history! That’s what emphasized its meaning more than anything else - it’s his own family he was talking about. He was so patient and so kind …because it couldn’t be fun for him not been able to get home!
L-R - Donovin, Nieves, Polly, Shirley and Kevin