Editor’s Note
August 2012
Embracing the Spirit

On a windswept hill in South Dakota 25 years ago, in a small, traditional sweat lodge, I watched and photographed Robert Fast Horse and Ron Mousseau practicing a time-honored ritual in temperatures that would send most mortals fleeing. Seemingly oblivious to the scorching heat, they prayed and chanted as their Oglala Lakota forefathers had for generations. In embracing the ceremony known to them as inipi, or rite of purification, they were coping with the reality of living on the Pine Ridge Reservation, one of the poorest, most depressed regions of the United States.

Chief Oliver Red Cloud leads the parade at the annual Oglala Nation Pow Wow in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. The 94-year-old is a descendant of the famous Chief Red Cloud.
Photo: Aaron Huey

They were coping as well with the scars left by one of the most brutal events in American history: the massacre at Wounded Knee, where Oglala men, women, and children were killed by members of the U.S. Seventh Cavalry Regiment on a winter day in 1890.

This month writer Alexandra Fuller and photographer Aaron Huey report that the spirit I witnessed in that sweat lodge is growing. The people of Pine Ridge still battle poverty, and—as Olowan Thunder Hawk Martinez, a 38-year-old activist, told Fuller—the weight of a tragic history continues to press down. But across the reservation there is a powerful resurgence of traditional values. It is nothing less than a spiritual rebirth, and with that comes hope. “When we honor our customs…we have everything we need to heal ourselves within ourselves,“ Martinez said. I am certain she is right. I saw and felt the power of that rich culture myself, years ago, on that windswept hill in South Dakota.

blog comments powered by Disqus