Lakota in America


Genevieve: I was probably 11 or 12 at the time. And my uncle, Emmet, passed away. My mom got really depressed. She started drinking really bad and she started
treating us different. There was this guy, he was just…
some kind of stranger. All of a sudden he started
staying around more and she left me and my two brothers at home alone…for…days on end. One day that man, he was in the
back room with my mom. I heard them talking about shooting up something. So I texted my grandma and I told her what
was going on, she said “hold on we’ll come get you.” So I got up my brothers really, really fast. I just put, like, any clothes on them I could find. And I packed a bag…and we left. “Ooh, look at that fly. I’m lightning speed, that’s why my name’s
“Lightning.’” (laughs) “I don’t know how to work these.” “You just click play.” “Okay, cool.” “Oh, I’m off beat! Hold on.” “You always have to turn when the double
beats come in.” My name is Genevieve Iron Lightning. My Lakota Name is Tȟokáhe Nážiŋ Wiŋ
or “Stands First Woman.” And I’m the descendant of Chief Iron Lightning. I kinda was born dancing. It makes me feel connected, like, I’m in
touch with my ancestors and my culture. “And this is when she first got Mini Miss. Ooh, you look like me in there. (laughs)
“What does it say on the sash, 2006?” “It says Mini Me”
“2006!” (laughs)
“This is her, um, picture from last year. Is this last year’s?” “Yeah…my freshman year
didn’t turn out good.” It’s difficult living in Eagle Butte. It’s difficult living on a reservation. The houses aren’t very nice,
there’s trash in the yards. Broken and busted cars in the driveways. Parents don’t really take care of their kids, unless, you know, I don’t know, unless they have a job. Julie: Cheyenne River has the unfortunate distinction of being one of the poorest counties in the nation. That’s overwhelming when you think about it. How do we get by? Many of our people turn to alcohol. Most recently, meth has become a really big
issue in our community. But you know, we didn’t create the situation here. They put us on these reservations to contain
us, to control us, to keep us segregated. And so as a result, we have a population of people who don’t have access to economic resources. Julie:
When you have poverty and addiction, it’s very easy to forget that there’s little
kids sitting next to you that need to be acknowledged, and hugged and talked to. Children are…a reflection of the surroundings
that they’re in. Children need to be seen. They need people guiding them, loving them. And they need opportunity My first summer here, my grandma was reading the newspaper and she saw something about internships at the Cheyenne River Youth Project. They were looking for people to work in the
cafe that just opened that same summer. So my grandma’s like, “Hey I’m going
to get you into that.” Julie: The Cheyenne River Youth Project is 100% about being a positive influence on the kids of our community. Within our facilities, we offer internships,
wellness programs, the arts. We have a teen center, a gymnasium, dance
studio, computer lab. We also have the Winyan Toka Win garden. We’re talking about their mental health,
their physical health, their education. All these different pieces that help them grow. When CRYP first started, there wasn’t a
youth organization here. And then over the years as we’ve evolved
we’ve learned from our kids and from our community about what the needs are. It’s important that we help
them to understand the history and who we are as a people, as Lakota people. Moving us to reservations
and the assimilation of our people. All these things still impact us today. Wakiya: Every other nationality in America were free to practice their culture in anyway they saw
fit, but not us as Native Americans. It was against the law. “Kill the Indian and save the man.” We’re still dealing with that today. (Lakota language) Always remember
that you’re Lakota first. Julie: It’s important for our young people to remember where they come from. That’s what our ancestors would want. We want them to impart that onto their children
when the next generation comes. Julie: When you have poverty
added to the historical trauma. It’s just…a kind of big…mess. A problem with a lot of our kids is that you
just reach a breaking point when you don’t know what to do. And if there’s nobody there to support you,
to get you through these tough times… then sometimes things happen. In the last month, we had at
east two completed suicides. There were something like ten attempts. It’s like we have room for death but we
don’t have room for life. You have to step into places that are uncomfortable in order to do the work that we’re
trying to do with our kids. They deserve more. Julie: The picture I want to paint is that we have our challenges but we are lifting ourselves up. Our internships at CRYP provide a way out
for our young people. You know, we’re teaching them about the
business, they’re learning their interpersonal communication skills and how to manage money. They also learn about writing resumes. All those pieces that help a kid to prepare for the future. Genevieve: Job opportunities are
limited on the reservation, so Keya Cafe and the other internships set
you up for different job experiences. Julie: We’re giving them confidence in how to go find a job or
maybe they can have their own business. We want them to imagine the possibilities. “Oh my gosh, I’m spilling it.” l come over here at 7 and I get done at 2,
and that was like…tiring for me. But, earning your own money, it makes you
feel like you’re growing up, it makes you feel independent. The internships help you
prepare for life after high school. I am definitely gonna go to college and I will come back and help my community in any way I can. Because, it’s a struggle here, but it’s my home. Genevieve: My grandma, her dad is
Grant Iron Lightning Jr., her grandpa is Grant Iron Lightning Sr., and then I can’t remember his dad’s name, but it’s five generations back is Chief
Iron Lightning. He could walk anywhere and he
could just come back with horses. And that made him a leader to the Lakota people. “And this is where my great grandpa Iron
Lightning was buried. This is Dale Iron Lighting, he was one of my uncles. That’s who I was named after.” Genevieve: Knowing that I come
from these great people, I feel like I have to do big things, ya know? (singing) I want to set a good example for the
younger generations, ya know? To show them that I did struggle here, but I did the youth internships at CRYP. I did anything in my power
to make something of myself. I like that feeling of doing something right, ya know? It makes my people proud and
I like making my people proud. Julie: Our dream and our idea
of success and wealth is… just different. I think we see family and culture and tradition
and singing and dancing as…wealth. Being Lakota, we’ve had this oppressive
weight for all these years. But this generation of kids is… different. They’re proud of who we are. They’re proud to be Lakota. They’re not afraid to speak up. To change what’s happening for us. And let the world know that we are still here. They are the next culture bearers. The next leaders. They’re a powerful new generation. “I got it, we’re connected!” There’s so much they’ve overcome. Imagine the possibilities if we can help them grow and give them the skills
to go out into the world and thrive.

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