Pine Ridge 2019: ‘Everyone is considered family’

Thursday, June 27, Pine Ridge, Kirstin Poppen traveling with her mother Kari Poppen

Today was a mix of emotions, happy and sad, as it was the day that we left the Dream Center and began our journey back home to Madison. The morning started off with a breakfast consisting of whatever was left in the kitchen. After breakfast, we packed up our stuff and loaded the bus, but before we left, we had one last worship. For this last day, we all hiked up to the cross that overlooks a gorgeous view of the South Dakota plains. Sitting up there one more time made me think about how glad I am that I was able to come on this trip, and how different it will be once we finally arrive back home. I won’t be able to forget the kids that I met this week and the quality of life of these children and their families. As a group, I think we’d all agree that we were a little excited to come back home and share our stories, but also not wanting to leave the Dream Center.

Once we left Wings As Eagles, we rode for a while before Sarah passed back our technology. For me, I didn’t even want to turn my phone on because I knew there would be so many messages to reply to and a whole different life to catch up on. Giving up my phone is something that I wish I could do more often because I was able to connect with people and I didn’t have to worry about my problems; instead, I could be fully immersed in the experience of the trip.

Before heading home, we took the day to drive through the Black Hills in Custer State Park and visit the Crazy Horse monument. The beauty of the Black Hills is crazy, there were some parts of the drive where we would come to the top of a hill and you could see rolling land and trees everywhere. After the Black Hills, we drove to Crazy Horse which was cool because it is still in progress. Hearing the story of why this is being built and who this is for was really inspiring to learn about. While we were there, there was a dance performance by two Lakota women. The older of the two explained at the beginning of their performance who she is and where she comes from. She also said something that was very memorable to me. She said that in the Lakota culture, “everyone is considered family.” When she said this, it made me think about how the kids at the Dream Center warmed up to all of us right away, despite a complicated history between us and their people. By the end of the week, all of those kids treated us as family, which really showed how loving and forgiving the Lakota culture is.

For the last stop of the evening, we all went to a Chuckwagon dinner. This was quite the experience and I was definitely not expecting anything that happened. We all sat at a long table and went through a line to get some very delicious potatoes, chicken or beef, applesauce, a biscuit, beans and a dessert. After we were done eating, six performers came on stage and performed a variety of different songs and music. Our group was definitely the most fun group in the whole place. We brought back some dance moves from Houston and cheered and sang so loud to the songs that we knew. Although I had no idea what was in store for the night when I first walked in, I walked out smiling and laughing with a community of people who I have had so much fun getting to know.

Back at the hotel, we had one final circle where we shared something special that we saw in our significant other during the trip. It was really a nice way to end a week full of different emotions, and I hope that I am able to continue to have conversations with the people on this trip because I really enjoyed the week.