Journal Entries From Dakota

April 10, 2010

This morning we set off just a little after 7:00 am. We loaded my car so it was brimming. Our drive took roughly 14 hours – brutal. We headed up I-88 from Batavia and continued on through Wisconsin and Minnesota. On our way we happened to pass a car that was completely in flames. The family was sitting a few feet away from the car and were clearly distraught. Once we reached South Dakota we stopped at the Corn Palace which as you can imagine was thrilling.

The Corn Palace

When we were about 4 hours away from our destination we watched a bird swoop down and smack someone’s windshield – completely shattered. We eventually turned on to 83 or maybe it’s 38… one of these. Towns, lights, signs, and speed limits all disappeared. We thought at 80 mph most of the way we might make it by 8:30 pm, but to no avail. It was almost 10:30 pm when we arrived.

We met up with Jenny and headed to one of the only-two restaurants in town – Taco John’s. Jenny introduced us to her friends quickly and then we called it a night.


New Words We Learned – and yes, I am most likely misspelling these…

  • Wachichu (“wah-shee-chew”) ~ whitey, honky, what presumably is sort of a derogatory term for caucausians
  • Tatanka ~ Buffalo (Special thank you Kevin Costner and Dances with Wolves)
  • How kalo ~ Hello Friend
  • Kadoka ~ whole-in-the-ground also the name of a town

Enough learning for one night. Time to sleep.


April 11, 2010

We woke up and  headed to Big Bat’s Shell Station (and restaurant) which apparently the main hangout spot in Pine Ridge. One friendly, but possibly drunk guy approached our table and asked…

Random stranger – “Are you guys singers? Will you sing for me?”
Our table – “no, sorry.”
Random stranger – “Well you’ll be singing for me tomorrow because I’m putting ants in your pants, and you’ll be going ‘owwie! owwie! owwie!'”

After some brekkie we drove out to Mount Rushmore. There we hiked and got up close and personal with some wild mountain goats. After that we headed to Custer National Park where we saw Crazy Horse’s Memorial or what some have called the “middle finger” to Mount Rushmore :). It’s still in progress, but will eventually become America’s largest sculpture.

Crazy Horse

Afterwards, we headed through a wildlife loop. There we saw vultures, deer (so many), pronghorn sheep, antelope, and buffalo. We managed to get stuck in a heard of tatanka while we were driving through the park. It was sort of terrifying being so close to these guys. It didn’t help we started playing the “Hey Buffalo!” game (you get a point for every animal that turns their head in your direction when you yell out their species name). Antelope also response to “cantaloupe”  for your information 🙂


We eventually made our way to Rapid City and got some dinner and drinks at the Firehouse Brewery Company. We then headed home (it took about two hours…).


April 12, 2010

Hello again. We got up and met with Jenny. She gave us a tour of the school and the Heritage Center. We ate at the school cafeteria and played with the kiddliwinks. After that, we setoff to the Badlands. Last time I was in the Badlands I was probably about 7 years old, it was raining, and I managed to slip and fall into a giant puddle of mud. We took Notch Trail that led us deep into the Badlands. There were very few signs on the trail and we were led up some treacherous looking ladder that eventually ended at this awesome scenic view. Can you see the ladder we climbed?


When we finished up there we drove out to an indoor waterpark in Rapid City (after stopping by Wall Drug of course). We downed some margaritas at a Mexican joint and then drove home and discussed what our animal-spirit would be. They chose a deer or a hawk for me (two very different creatures…). Jenny got mother hen, Mike got  a monkey, Joe a dog, and Amanda a panda (of course).

April 13, 2010

Matakiosa ~ “All my family & relatives”

Today we woke up bright and early and headed out at 9:30 am for horseback riding. We were supposed to be there at 11:00 am, but were unfortunately late. Although the address said it was in Interior it was actually sort of somewhere out in the middle of nowhere. I got a horse named Festus who was a little finicky. It was ridiculously windy that day. The view was quite lovely and the family that took us out riding was very nice. We were led by an old Lakota man named Greg. He was sort of your typical kind of grumpy, dry-humored old horse-guy. His son was managing the ranch and told us a little about tribal politics and how money is being misused on the reservation.

This is Greg

When we finished our ride it became pretty overcast. It rained heavily on our drive back. We stopped by Wounded Knee and nearly got my car stuck on the muddy hill. Some of the graves were surprisingly well kept while others were barely intact. Overall Wounded Knee looks like it needs some more attention.

Wounded Knee

The best part of the day was when we returned to the reservation and took part in a traditional sweat ceremony. It’s customary for women to wear skirts to this so I had to borrow one from Jenny. We waiting while the locals worked to build a huge fire over stones. A faculty member at the school named Philamene told us about her life when she was growing up. She told us about how an uncle had joined the military and returned home one time with sodas and hotdogs. She said at first taste she thought they were disgusting (with good reason right?). She described some of the traditional fare which included praire dog, skunk, beaver, and much more. There is also a traditional healing recipe (barely-if-ever made) which includes male puppy as an ingredient. I know your first though is probably “ew” and/or something judgmental, but please bear in mind that of course your social norms and traditions are no-doubt different from the Lakota.

Sweat Ceremony

When the rocks were ready we all piled into this small tent and began the process. As rocks were carried in the water-guy – a clown shaman of some kind – threw some sweet grass on the hot stones. You were required to say “matakiosa,” when entering and existing the tent. Once all of the stones were in place, the light holes covered, and people seated we began the ceremony. After the flap was closed the heat intensified. We listened to two sun dance songs and then opened the flap and drank some water. That was the end of Part I of IV. It felt like forever and the heat was shocking. I had to put a towel over my legs and hands to block some of the heat. In the second and third round we each made prayers for family & loved ones while more songs were song. In part IV they cracked out the peace pipe (no, it doesn’t have what you think it has in there). The peace pipe is called a “Chalupa” and includes some combinations of grasses and ragweed (watch out allergies!). When we finished up the men left first followed by the women. As you walk out everyone stands in line and shakes hands or hugs. By this time you’re drenched in quickly evaporating sweat which is followed by a chill. We wrapped up our time together with a bonfire and you guessed it… Philamene’s favorite – hot dogs.

The Tent

Overall, the experience was good. The heat was almost unbearable. I can’t even describe how my face felt when they threw water on the rocks. I’m glad I got to experience that; although, from what the elders had told us many Lakota youth aren’t continuing the tradition. Apparently due to some rules in the constitution the Lakota weren’t permitted to practice their religion and and would be jailed if found performing their ceremonies. How funny that Americans fled Europe because of religious persecution only to begin inflicting the same requirements.

And that my friends, is brief coverage of my adventure to South Dakota! Next up is another quick follow up on my time in Paris. I would love to start planning the next adventure, but I can’t settle on where or when to go. Suggestions?