Hello! This is Marissa, Sid, and Christy. We are students at the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point and primarily major in Human Development and Health Promotion. Today is our second day working on our project, fourth day on the reservation, and our sixth day away from home. Our journey started with being ‘typical tourists’, but it quickly changed once we drove onto the reservation. The first night we were treated to a delicious home cooked meal and introduced to a few community members. We made ourselves at home and quickly settled in. After hours and hours of driving we quickly fell asleep (well, a few of us - the South Dakota weather was sure to make itself known) only to wake up at 5:00am from Brandon making coffee with the obnoxiously loud coffee maker. Everyone quickly woke up and we started our day very early. We attended a rodeo to support a 14-year-old boy from the reservation. It was very exciting to have 40 plus people in the stands cheering him on as he bravely rode a bull and won the 4-H Championship. After the rodeo we headed back to La Plant and took a tour of the community. Many of the stories were heartbreaking and reminded us all of why we are here - to help make a difference. We finished the first day by inviting our new friends in the community to one of many community wide dinners provided by Simply Smiles. It was nice to interact with the community members and talk to them on a personal level. We could already see relationships develop and smiles spread on the first day. At the end of our first full day, we quickly made ourself comfortable and went to bed.
On Monday, we started our first day of working on the many projects that Simply Smilies has coordinated on the reservation and followed that by provided summer camp for all of the La Plant community. We worked on building a porch for a family, who Simply Smiles built a house for in the past. We also worked on building picnic tables, putting a roof on the staff’s housing, and disassembling the Pow-Wow grounds and moving it the the Community Center grounds. After all of our hard work, we ate lunch and quickly got ready for summer camp. Camp consisted of planting flowers, minute to win it games, tin foil crafts, games, and other various art crafts. After all of the children loaded up the Big Red Bus and headed home, we started to prepare for dinner. Josh’s homemade Mac and Cheese was a huge hit. We cleaned up after dinner and encountered some more of the South Dakota weather. Some of us quickly showered with the hose before the storm hit.
As the night ended we reflected about summer camp and shared stories about our day with the children. The children really loved all of the piggy back rides, the large game of capture the flag, and all of the crafts - which are now hanging on the wall. We went to bed and started preparing for Tuesday. The work day consisted of picking up where we all left off on our projects. It was a successful day for all groups. For camp, we went down to the river with the children to swim. Everyone enjoyed it, and it was very refreshing (aka - COLD)! We loaded up the bus and then headed back to the community center. A large game of BINGO was then held and the community members greatly enjoyed it! After many games of BINGO everyone headed home and we had dinner. Later in the night a group of Lakota drummers came and we were presented with a traditional Lakota drumming session. It was wonderful to experience and we even got to dance around them. It has been a long few days and we are all starting to get sun burnt and tired, but we are looking forward to what is to come!
This has been one crazy and amazing adventure. After arriving at the reservation I felt uneasy about it, but everything started to fall into place quickly. I was placed on the project of building a porch to cover an existing deck. It took much planning and tons and tons of digging. We ended up digging seven 3 1/2 feet holes to put posts in. Lets just say at the end of the work day, everyone was tired. The first day of camp was a hit! I led a group of children in planting flowers - everyone enjoyed the sunflowers! The next day while working on the porch, we had to re-dig all the holes, but ended the day with four posts in. I was again able to surprise my professor with a new story about my life (I am trying to break his misconceptions about me). The first day I surprised him by removing ticks from a dog, and the second day informing him I was a previous NFL cheerleader.
Later in the day at camp we took a dip in the Missouri River - which was about 20 degrees - but totally worth it! I ended up having wonderful conversations with everyone and even went all the way under the water. After dinner I was able to talk to some of the elders and gain their perspective on Simply Smiles. Many of them are very grateful for all of the hard work the organization does. They also have a strong connection to their faith, which was very touching. After dinner we had a drumming circle on the property of the Community Center. During the drumming circle I asked if the drummers ever let others join the circle and they responded with ‘yeah, just pull up a chair’, so what does my professor do? Tells me to grab a chair and join. I asked if I could join and they let me! I was overwhelmed with the excitement that I had, but at the same time was very nervous - I didn’t want to mess up the drumming. It was a success and I am very grateful for them letting me join. After the last few days, I am now very sunburnt, even though I wore a lot of sunscreen, and ready for bed. I can’t wait to be home, but I don’t want to leave.
- Marissa Christensen
Respect... This is all I have for the Lakota people who live in and around the La Plant community. I have been able to spend some time getting to know many of them, young and old, on a more personal level than I ever would have without Simply Smiles. The Lakota culture is truly unique, and for this being my first experience outside of Wisconsin, I could not imagine spending it with another group of people than my peers and the Lakota people. Obviously, spending a few days away from your usual routine and crowd can cause some uneasiness, and I miss my friends, family, and my fiance, but I can honestly say that this experience is making me a better person. I now know that the Lakota people exist... Aside from grade school history, I have never even began to think about this culture who so badly need our help. A quote I heard just minutes ago after our friends performed a small drum ceremony for us went as follows: “We had so much taken from us including our language... Now, we are beginning to get at least our language back... The Lakota language is a lost language.” This quote really drives home why we are here with Simply Smiles. Simply Smiles gives the Lakota people a place to practice their rituals and ceremonies, and they are slowly aiding in reversing a minuscule portion of the wrongs that were done to the Lakota people. I am so, so, so thankful for the opportunity I have to work with Simply Smiles, especially being able to transplant their Pow-Wow grounds to a place they can once again be a sacred and powerful place for the Lakota people to express themselves and their culture. Again, I do miss everyone back home, but man, am I glad I am here...
It is 11:00 pm and I just got in from brushing my teeth outside - always remember to spit ‘away’ from the wind. I’m guessing there will be another storm coming through tonight, and am hoping we will be treated to a clear night at least once before our time here is over. With no city lights to pollute the darkness, I know the night sky will be amazing. It has been a FULL day, which is something I’m sure I will be used to just in time for us to leave. I can hardly believe just HOW MUCH we have done since we arrived on the reservation, and it is only Tuesday night. The saying “we work hard, and play hard” is certainly appropriate for our days here. With every new step in each project, and through each new experience, I am continuously and absolutely impressed by everything Bryan and all the Simply Smiles staff stand for -- they are all inspiring -- true examples of what it means to not just be ‘for something’....but to DO something. As late as it is now, I am finding it hard to really put into words my thoughts and feelings up to this point, so I won’t try. The lights are out, and I haven’t even laid my floor mat out yet. All I can say now is I am looking forward to continuing getting to know the members of this community better, and to connect more with the children each day. I have missed my son, Evan, terribly - but know that he is in good hands for the time I am gone (love you, Mom -- miss you, too!!). That said, I know I am getting the experience I came here to have, I am part of making a difference -- no matter how small -- a thousand ‘small’ differences turns into BIG change. As for me, I know will be forever changed -- for the better. I can’t wait to teach my son that he, too, can make a difference in the world. He can set his mind to something, and do what it takes to make good things happen. But for now, it’s time to get some sleep so I’m rested enough to chop vegetables for tomorrow’s town-wide omelette breakfast. Good night :o