The past summer, my Dad told me we were going to go on a camping trip. We were going to do some backcountry camping in the Black Hills and the Badlands in South Dakota. I did a quick image search in Google to see what it was like. The parks looked gorgeous, and backcountry campers were allowed to choose their own site anywhere on the property. I was already excited about the trip.
Two months later I was sleeping at the top of a cliff in the Badlands. It looked out over the entire park, and after a little drizzle there was a rainbow. I realized that we were the only people for miles, but was oddly content with that fact. I enjoyed my stay there, and then we moved on to the Black Hills. While only miles apart, the two parks were polar opposites. The Badlands were flat, orange and dry, but the Black Hills were green and mountainous. After some hiking, we managed to find another cliff lookout to camp on. We spent the night piling pine needles under our tent to soften the ground and ate some spam. I was still enjoying it all.
The next day was when my Dad surprised me. He drove me out to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The town in the reservation was made up of aged trailer homes, with makeshift sheet metal roofs being held down by tires. Abandoned cars were piled up everywhere, and there was trash everywhere. It was a shocking difference to what I had been experiencing the last few days. We drove up to the building of an organization called Re-Member. My dad told me that the organization worked with the Lakota to help improve life on the reservation, and that for the rest of the vacation we would be working for them.
I realized I had been duped, but what could I do? I was stuck here, unless I felt like walking across a few states to get home. I couldn’t complain without being heard by all the volunteers around me. Since I was going to be stuck here, I didn’t want them to think I was going to be a problem. So I kept my mouth shut and listened. I did as I was told, picking up garbage, digging holes for outhouses, and building handicap ramps. At night community members would come and speak to the volunteers. They told us about how the tribe had resented our culture for putting them on the reservation, for taking away their lifestyle, and forcing beliefs on them. But then they told us about how we were changing that. They thanked us for our help, and told us how their ideas had been changed by our willingness to give our time and energy to improve the reservation.
After listening to several of these speakers, I realized that why my Dad had brought us here. I had no concept of how blessed I was. I had never realized how nice it is to live in a real house, with electricity, and running water. I had taken all of it for granted. I saw how the people on the reservation were so grateful to have someone build them an outhouse they would share with several trailers, and realized for the first time that I had three ceramic toilets with running water in my house. After working for a week on the reservation, I had a new understanding of people and a different perspective on life. Although the vacation turned out nothing like I had hoped, I was satisfied.
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