Greetings from the Cheyenne River Reservation! We arrived here Friday after an exciting four day road trip from New York. The home we are staying at is located somewhere between the towns of Bridger and Takini, on the southwest corner of the reservation. It is a gravel road and 2 dirt roads off Route 74. Getting here involves 4-wheel drive or some skilled driving, preferably both. Our hosts, Ben and Mayumi Elk Eagle are incredibly warm and welcoming friends. Ben has a big spirit that takes up a room. He listens with incredible patience, asks all the right questions and tells stories with humor, honesty and great warmth. You can tell he’s a leader and we were excited to learn that he is running for tribal council next fall. His wife, Mayumi, was born in Japan and fell in love with Ben and the reservation 10 years ago. She has a joyful laugh, is always eager to engage in conversation and is now welcomed and at home in the Lakota community. She has gone so far as to learn Lakota, the native language of the the tribe, and takes classes in everything from social sciences to geology at the tribal college. The Lakota language was almost completely wiped out in the 1950′s in an attempt to “civilize” the population, but today Ben and Mayumi speak it with each other and with friends. There has been a recent push on several nearby reservations to bring back the language, and it is currently being taught in many schools.
The weather has been intense, with unusual amounts of rain and storms. Many creeks that have been dry for years are suddenly wet again. This would seem to be a good thing after years of droughts, but two major problems with all this moisture are grasshoppers and water contamination. The grasshoppers run the show around here, as evidenced by the front grille of our car and the demolished vegetable garden next to the house. They eat most crops making it difficult to grow food in this area without use of strong pesticides. Water contamination is another issue. When it is not raining, it is HOT around here. Kids naturally flock to water, but turbidity in the water had been making children very sick. We met a woman in the Bridger community nearby who explained that her kids had to get a strong dose of antibiotics because they swam in the creek. She also mentioned that her tap water is undrinkable because of the turbidity.
We have been having really exciting conversations with people about our research, as well as leaning information about many potential projects that are on the horizon, including organic farming, new methods of building, wind power, and tribal banking. Everyone we have met has shared with us a great deal of information about their homes and lives, and we feel incredibly encouraged about the project.