Finally it’s time for me to leave. Reluctantly I say good-bye to the group – I am traveling separately as I must get home directly to prepare for Sunday’s service, while they are taking a longer route back.
I’m sorry not to finish this journey with these students I’ve come to know and respect and love, whose service has inspired me and whose own vision for the world they want to live in and to make gives me hope.
And yet I am glad for some time alone, and welcome the chance to drive through this vast landscape one last time -- Paha Sapa (the Black Hills) to the west, the great grassland prairie to the north, the Badlands to the east.
I crest a ridge and stop to take some final pictures, but my camera promptly tells me I am out of battery power -- a clear sign that my time here, at least for now, is done.
I get in the car and continue on toward the airport in Rapid City. As I drive I look for the sign that tells me I’m leaving the Pine Ridge Reservation – it sounds silly but I want to say good-bye.
I see no such sign. (There was one marking the entrance to the Rez.)
Maybe I just missed it. Or maybe there isn’t one, and maybe that’s by design, a way of saying that all this land you see belongs to the Lakota. A way of telling all of us outsiders who visit here and then leave, This is our land.
The hills you see to the west? Those are our hills.
The prairie that stretches to the north? That’s our prairie.
The badlands to the east. Our lands.
The defunct gold mines you visit and the faux wild west saloons you find so irresistible? Those deface our sacred places.
Mount Rushmore? Do we really need to tell you?
That big motorcycle rally in Sturgis? That happens on our land, at the foot of Bear Butte, where we have gone to pray and seek visions every summer of every year since the time of Moses.
So as you leave, go into this country and remember these things. Remember that this is the homeland of the Lakota.
Washte’. (It is beautiful.)