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Mission: Pine Ridge Reservation

<bt>Patricia Everett, a member of Fairlington United Methodist Church, has made two trips to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The following are excerpts from a journal she kept:

<bt>For 10 summers, members of Vienna's Church of the Good Shepherd, Fairlington United Methodist Church, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax and other churches have traveled to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, S.D., home to nearly 16,000 Lakotas.

The first Lakota Mission Team of 18 had to build the Lakotas' trust before working on homes, and members were told that would take about 10 years. They started working just around the Church of the Holy Cross, Episcopal, where they camped. Run by Father Ben Tyon, the church is at Pine Ridge's main intersection with Big Bat's convenience store/gas station and Sioux Nation, a grocery-hardware store. This year's team of 25, with many returnees, pitched tents at Holy Cross again, but crews spread across the reservation. This is one of many stories that could be told.

Sunday

D.C. time is fast; Indian time is slow. Got up at 3 a.m., D.C. time, caught flight from Dulles to Rapid City, S.D. Indian time kicked in at first glimpse of Black Hills from plane. Time stood still at Sheep Mountain in the Badlands as I spread my arms out in a wind strong enough to hold me upright when I leaned into it. Pitched tent before dark. Despite noisy fireworks, sleep came easy.

Monday

Painted shutters for Tribal Housing. Ate before kids arrived for lunch and games, as we would all week. Watched friends give huge hugs to kids in much need.

After showers at high school, headed to Wounded Knee, where Indian men, women, and children were massacred in 1890. One of our teenagers said she had learned it was a battle — that explained historical marker with board reading "Massacre" nailed over what we imagined was originally "Battle." Gained a better understanding of how history works.

Tuesday

Finished shutters. Felt good because team finishes any task started to keep trust of the Lakota. Some headed to a roofing site. I helped with kids. Despite 100-degree heat, construction crews pushed hard, not calculating how dry heat affected them. Showers became most anticipated event each day.

Joined Colorado mission team for dinner. Sat under stuffed buffalo head eating Indian tacos. With place decorated for Fourth, wondered why Indians celebrated Independence Day.

Later, Larry Peterson, white Lutheran minister, explained it took 10 years for Lakota to believe he wants to help them, not change them.

Wednesday

Built ramp in morning, helped with children in afternoon.

Got us lost on way to Michael Her Many Horses, where we were to watch sun set over plains. Got there well after sunset, but we all laughed hard about it. This gave us a much-needed second wind.

Hosts shared Lakota history and ways. Teenage Indian changed from baggy pants, basketball jersey and backward baseball cap to traditional dress with buffalo bone vest and feather headdress. He danced a tribute to crew who worked on his home.

Thursday

Hovered outside to wake up without others milling around me. (I live alone.) Another woman confessed that communal living was OK for one week. I agreed but wasn't homesick.

Work crews go out.

Cleaned house with donated toys and clothes. Dolls without heads. Games missing pieces. Wondered whether stuff was donated in that condition or was damaged in transit. Hoped for latter.

Pinky Clifford, Lakota businesswoman and community booster, told us that tribal leaders watch us and teach our work style to Pine Ridge residents building homes with sweat equity. Appreciated this, because it's a struggle to balance doing for people and teaching them self-sufficiency.

Team made dream catchers. Tonight as on other nights, Indian painters and craftsmen had come to sell their works. Many needed cash for food.

Friday

Tasked with water balloons. Convinced kids to wait for me to fill them all. Half were filled when they grabbed them and threw them all at me. Didn't mind the drenching in the merciless heat.

After dinner, Will Peters, Lakota teacher, said that you could easily find despair here, but if you looked closely you could find hope, too. For me, Will and Pinky embodied hope they could succeed anywhere but choose to stay here.

Attended small powwow for the Fourth. Team asked to dance the circle so locals could thank us for 10 years of work. Two-by-two, we took small steps to slow drumbeat. Later, outside our tents, sat bundled up to watch fireworks into early morning.

Saturday

Cleaned camp and work sites. Early showers. Headed to Kyle to see the self-help homes. Homeowner beamed about colors she picked, because in government housing, colors were dictated. There was longing for self-determination.

Sunday

Play Day. After worship and fellowship, headed off to see prairie dogs, buffalo and Black Hills. Got back at 11 p.m.

Monday

Broke camp at 4 a.m. Half convinced myself it was really 6 a.m., D.C. time. Drove two hours to airport. Landed around 6 p.m., local time. Humidity made heat unbearable. Definitely back in D.C.