I have been in South Dakota for a month now. I’m a suburb woman living with the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate people, on the Lake Traverse Reservation. For those familiar with the area, I stay in the Big Coulee District. Now when moving up here my southern self did not understand “districts”. There are seven districts on this reservation. Those districts are Big Coulee, Lake Traverse, Old Agency, Buffalo Lake, Long Hollow, Verblin-Heipa, and Enemy Swim. Each district has a meaning behind their name. The Lake Traverse Reservation is located in the Northeastern part of South Dakota. It also has a small portion in the Southeastern part of North Dakota. After cruising the reservation I can now somewhat understand districts now. I think about my Msvkoke side and can correlate the districts, to communities.
I started my life in Oklahoma around 5-6. I can tell growing around Tulsa, was different to life up here in South Dakota. In all honesty, I wasn’t aware of “Rez life”. Once I attended Haskell Indian Nations, my eyes were opened. I was and still am that suburb girl. Also just because I grew up in the suburbs doesn’t mean my family didn’t teach me our ways. I just didn’t learn as much as others and still continue to learn. Yet don’t let me fool you, I have my rambunctious side as well. I’m not from the reservation myself but I like to think I fit in somewhere. As I always say, if you know me you know I can talk with anyone.
The reservation is beautiful. I see communities and strong families. I see the next generation running around discovering life. I see the older generation talking and laughing together. The sense of family is strong. Yet there’s also the dark sides. We all have that cousin, sibling, auntie, uncle etc that suffer from addiction. You see loved ones “on it”. When you hear someone say someone is “on it” their implying that set person is on hard drugs, whether it be meth or heroine. You see people collecting any amount of change, just to get that next bottle.
What I’m telling you is nothing new. Especially if you grew up in South Dakota. I can point out all the negatives but its not just South Dakota that you see this. You see this all across Indian Country. I don’t turn a blind eye. I just look for the positives. As I said, I see a striving community. The agency here is beautiful. I think about my agency back home. We’re a small tribe but we do our best. I compare South Dakota life a lot to Oklahoma. It’s beautiful here if you choose to see that way.
Some of my experiences while here may seem small to you but are significant to me. I tried Wojapi for the first. Those that don’t know what Wojapi is, its a berry sauce. That’s the best way I can describe it. It’s sweet, warm, made with choke cherries. It almost reminds me of grape dumplings back home. I witnessed people ice fishing. My mind was completely blown when I seen that. My partner offered to drive me out on the lake. I said no thank you. Haha. I have adjusted to the weather. The 30’s up here is sweater weather. I refuse to go anywhere when its -20 or below. I have accepted I will see snow until the spring when it melts. Also getting stuck in the snow is a very common, 4×4 drive is a must up here.
My suburb self accepted the fact the nearest Wal-Mart is 30 mins away. The closest mall is at least an hour and a half away. If you want fast food, you have your choices of Taco Johns and Dairy Queen. Oh yes don’t let me forget the town of Sisseton closes around 9-10.
My only hardship is that I miss my grandmother dearly. Before I moved she gave me a photo of her. “Here, take this picture of me so you’ll have it. Keep it so you won’t forget me.” I just smiled, hugged her and told her I could never forget her. I catch myself up here saying “well grandma always said….” Haha so no matter where or how far I am from home. My teachings will always be within me.
I remember I was scared to move up here. Yet before I left I had this Crow woman tell me. “Don’t let anyone intimidate you because you’re the new woman in town. They feel more threaten of you than you are of them.” I’m not the first one in my family to make a big move. But it was my first big move. So with that being said life is good. My partner is great to me. Everyone has their ups and downs. I pray everyday and thank Creator for this life he has shown me. After its all said and done, I do look forward to what else South Dakota has to offer.