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2018-07-12 / Voices

In Search of Community

AHITONWAN YANKE
DELPHINE RED SHIRT
LAKOTA

In this day and age of relatives in areas away from the reservation, we need to think of community in other ways than physical location. Growing up in a close-knit community, before government cluster housing, I grew up knowing every family where the government school bus stopped.

It is still that community I call “home” even though my mother’s home burned down when I was in seventh grade. A house the government didn’t build, but she bought in Nebraska and moved it to the reservation. She moved near where she grew up in that small town with a general store and post office.

I didn’t understand then but do now, the importance of community.

The people she knew had known her since elementary school. She knew all of their stories and told us. More than that, these people were part of a nation, the Oglala oyate, or simply as the “oyate kin” as she spoke. “Hehan oyate kin wicon...”, it was the way the people had lived.

Community was people, language, culture, and place to her. A common history that she shared with me and I was able to write in Turtle Lung Woman’s Granddaughter.

I will never be a matriarch like her but I have that some longing for community. In today’s environment it is or can be a daunting challenge to find a community even though social media says otherwise.

I am lucky to be a part of an academic community in most of my moves across the country in search of education. For the most part these communities are American Indian/Native American people of all different nations: from the U.S. For me the classrooms where I teach are a place where community can begin.

Although in the back of my mind I wish for a place where I share a common history with those around me. In our own country, in the U.S., in the state of South Dakota, our history as Oglala oyate is completely ignored.

Books about us are not shelved with other history books but in “Cultural Studies.” This has to change to validate our place on this continent. We weren’t just a “Culture” to study under a microscope, but a people whose history is the foundation for U.S. history.

People like my mother knew family history and guarded it to protect their identity as a people, an oyate. I probably would not move a house back to my community but with about twenty acres north of the tribal college, because the blood memory is as strong as it was in my mother, I am eyeing it as a place to return to my original community.

Delphine Red Shirt can be reached through email at redshirtphd@gmail.com

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