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Reservations About Going to the Reservations


From October 16th to October 24th, I had the opportunity to work and learn about life on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.  This opportunity was given to me through Aquinas College and it was my fourth service-learning trip through the college.  The service part of this trip was focused on helping to build sustainable housing.  The learning part was focused on learning more about what reservation life is like, specifically for the people of the Lakota tribe.

Once I found out I was accepted on this trip, I had some hesitations about whether or not I wanted to go.  Being a senior and having already been on three service learning trips and studied abroad, I wasn’t sure if I should attend another trip.  I felt like I would just compare it to my past experiences and wouldn’t be able to fully be there.  I didn’t want to go in half-heartedly because that wouldn’t be fair to myself, the group, or the new people I would be trying to be a service to.

But, I also was really looking forward to spending time with a new group of people, being immersed in a new community and culture, and getting out of the city of Grand Rapids for a bit.  So, I put aside my hesitations for the time being and accepted the offer to go.  I’m very glad I did, because the trip was honestly the best service learning trip I’ve been on.

The group of Aquinas students I went with was amazing.  Everyone kept an open heart and mind, was always willing to help out in any form, and never stopped smiling or laughing while still being able to reflect maturely on our experiences.  The service we were doing was giving hope to the hopeless.  We worked with Henry Red Cloud who is a direct descendent of Chief Red Cloud.  He is using sustainable practices to help better the life of people living on the reservation.  The project we specifically worked on was helping to insulate a house being built for a family on the reservation.  This is a house that this family will be able to call home and will keep them warm when they need to be warm and cool when they need to be cool, a place that the children of the family can look forward to going home to after school.  Finally, we were educated about how beautifully the Lakota people view the world and their past despite some of the struggles they’re facing.  Pine Ridge Reservation is in a community where things like alcoholism, diabetes, suicide, and depression are at an all time high.  Even though these people are in such a toxic and decaying environment, they still love the earth and are able to value the good in it.  They still value education and the children are working towards getting degrees that can later on help their home roots.

This past trip helped show me the impact continuous small efforts can make.  The organization that Henry Red Cloud works with can only build one sustainable house a year, but those houses and the school are little beacons of hope.  They’re able to show those who are struggling that there is a solution and a way for things to be better.  I was so inspired by the people of Pine Ridge reservation and surprised at how quickly I felt a part of their reservation community.  The trip has motivated me to want to learn more about the Lakota culture and to one day go back and continue to help people with their struggles.  Looking back, all the hesitations I had about going seem so silly.  This was a trip that was unbelievably unique and not at all comparable to trips I’ve been on before.  It’s not that the other trips I’ve been on were bad.  Not at all.  I’ve loved every trip I’ve had the privilege of attending.  However, I feel like I left this trip feeling like I had more purpose in life and a strong connection to the reservation lifestyle and struggles.

Aquinas is so great at providing its students with many opportunities to grow into the best Saints we can be.  I am incredibly thankful that I chose to attend Aquinas College and was encouraged by fellow students and faculty and staff to go on trips like service learning trips that educate us outside of a classroom setting and give us hands on experience with real issues.

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