“Wow! Have you ever been in a teepee?!”
I have heard these things many times from curious onlookers to our culture, but these statements are so far from reflecting our reality as Oglala Lakota people. Being Oglala Lakota in the modern world is hard. Our reality is so far from the public narrative that defines us.
Most people have never had to hear their mother talk about how the person she was raised by, her grandmother, was kidnapped from her family, beaten out of her own language, and shaped to be scared of life in general. Most people do not have to see a majority of their community suppressed by alcohol because that is the easiest way to cope. Most people have never had to see a quiet genocide still happening to the people that they love and even to themselves at times. Most people will say that they can see themselves in our shoes, but they really don’t want to. Why would they? They see not our reality, but great scholarships and an intriguing culture that has been tokenized to be what it is not. Meanwhile, they get to obtain pretty much everything else.
Growing up with these experiences, it’s been difficult to find a place within the larger struggle. I consider myself privileged, though.
I am Oglala Lakota, yet I have never had to live on the reservation. My parents were both involved with my life. I always have had a place to live and food to eat.
To someone who has been given things in a privileged sort of manner, it’s almost impossible to not trek the easy way. It’s easy to ignore what is actually happening in the world and think that everything is possible in a naive sense. The realities of the global society are so incredibly grim. One must choose between being comfortably naive and truly challenging themselves to change from within in all aspects. I, for one, am sick of feeling powerless.
Our president heading towards a legitimate plan for climate change is what he promised years ago. I could take the easy way and think that half the battle is over, but deep down, I know that’s not true. The president’s reason for creating this new plan stems from the momentum that this country has been building over and over again throughout history. It stems from communities and their growing impatience with political puppetry while they watch their own loved ones suffer at the hands of the powerful. It stems from the incredible loss that so many have already witnessed and experienced, happening right before their eyes. People are sick of feeling powerless.
But communities are so powerful.
Whether you’re Oglala Lakota, black, white, brown, or red, your community is going to realize that it has the power to change everything. No matter the amount of people or resources. Whether the Keystone pipeline is rejected or approved, we’re not going to stop. When 70 people in South Dakota blockaded the trucks transporting pipes for Keystone XL, it brought the ongoing attention to the fact that indigenous communities are still living and are never going to give up. When Wounded Knee occurred, everything important was stripped away and it was devastating. Yet, the Lakota people are still living. Even though our religion and culture were taken from Lakota children long ago, they are still living through our hearts. It doesn’t matter how many people are still quietly being killed psychologically and physically through alcohol and racism. Through the “quiet” devastations such as arthritis, diabetes, and cancer and all of the above, I promise you, we are still living. Finding the path through these struggles will no doubt be difficult, but it should in no way be feared. As much as Lakota people have been the collateral damage within the colonial takeover, we are not scared. We forever and always will be hopeful for the future to ensure that our children will be able to live and no longer suffer, just like our ancestors have fought so hard to do before us. It is the exact reason to live now.
We fight on the side of the living. We fight for all life: lives stolen, lives lost, and lives to come. The fight for climate justice is so much more than that overused and burned out phrase suggests. It is a fight for life, and the Oglala Lakota serve as testament to the fact that in the end, life will live.