When we first arrived we were already imagining the landscape: endless fields, lush long grass, and little to no trees at all; everything immediately felt foreign. The long flights and bus ride were draining and we were all anticipating our arrival at the reservation. As soon as we pulled into the gas station in Eagle butte, only thirty minutes away from LaPlant, we were startled at the sound of fireworks. Everyone knew that fourth of july was only a few days away but we never thought that the Native Americans would be celebrating with colorful lights considering their background with us. We took them away from their homelands and stripped them from their culture, how could they be celebrating America’s Independence when it costed them theirs? When we pulled into the driveway our first thoughts were simple; WHERE IS EVERYONE? A few of us had already visited in the past years but never had we seen a town like this before. Miles of land and little trailer houses spread out all over, the closest shops containing necessities were 30 minutes away. How do people live like this?
After eating dinner and sleeping through the night on a fly infested floor the sun rose up like every morning to wake us up only this time it was at 4:30 a.m. instead of 6. Everyone was excited for our first day of work but first bryan gave us a tour of the town. This only confirmed our first impression of LaPlant. The living conditions were far from comfortable and every person could feel the dark cloud hanging over the “ghetto” as we passed. Bryan spoke of the deep depression that plagued the Reservation and the suffering and pain that struck every human being living there. There wasn't a soul outside, it seemed to be a ghost town.
Our hopes were decreased after seeing this place, but they were soon lifted again when we had the opportunity to meet Barbara and her two grandsons living by the Community Center where we were staying. They immediately let us into their home and the boys talked to us all about summer camp and played basketball with us outside. We were all now anxious to set up for the Community meal that was already planned for that night. We were pleasantly surprised with the turn out and the kind spirit of the people and community.
The rest of the week fell into a routine. We started/continued the previous group’s projects on the Bowker’s house. Everyone was shocked with the condition of the roof and teh ceiling that we had to work with. The shingles on the roof could easily be pulled off by hand and the mold and water damage had seriously stained the ceiling of the kitchen. We broke of into groups and got to work. By the end of the week we had constructed a new ceiling, re insulated and re shingled the roof, ensuring a warm winter and a safe place to live. Simultaneously we worked on leveling another trailer house for a single mother and her two kids in order to protect them from the harsh winds and severe weather that was to come in the passing months.
To say this was hard work was an understatement. People were sore in places they didnt even know existed. We learned how to shingle, install drywall, mud, and tape creases all in one. In all of the work days the weather was insane, we had never been so hot in our lives. Even with all of the fans blowing nothing could cure or ease the intensity of the heat. Lots of water was necessary.
After hours of this grueling, yet rewarding work we all looked forward to putting our feet up and filling our stomachs with Gabby’s delicious lunch. However, the majority of our lunch time was consumed by summer camp preparation. At 2:30 we would all hop onto the big red bus and drive into the community to pick up all the children. They would run on the bus with eager smiles ready to make bracelets, tote bags, picture frames, play baseball, and have water wars. It was amazing the range of social interaction among these kids. Our first night on the reservation a 12-year-old boy Tanner quickly scampered over to Kirby, Jess, Kate, and Grace and began to introduce himself and engage us all into a very quirky conversation. We would enjoy many other nights laughing and joking with Tanner and his older brother Teigan as we all became close friends. One girl, Jarred, approached Grace by saying, “Can we be best friends?” compared to Ivis, a young boy who would only speak to Brian, a fellow group member. There were many more experiences similar to these: Stace came in the second day to camp and handed Jess her school photo advising her to always remember her. Juanita utilized her thursday craft, making photo frames, to craft a family photo of Kate, Kirby, and herself.
As well as connecting with kids at summer camp some of the older group members would visit the elder ladies on the reservation. Sue had a great solo visit with Patsy. In just a couple hours she had built such a deep connection that the two exchanged addresses and Patsy even gifted Sue a friendship candle holder.
Tomorrow is our last full day on the reservation where we will complete our projects on both homes and enjoy our last community event, dinner and a movie. I think the rest of the group would agree that this culminating event is not so much about meeting and interacting with new people like the other community meals, it’s about reflecting on the great, funny, and profound memories we shared with our new friends and how we affected and changed one another.
Jess, Kirby, and Grace from the Roxbury Team
PS: We also have played a lot of baseball!