Did you know there’s a YMCA on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation in South Dakota? They serve youth living on the reservation in their two YMCA buildings, in the Tribal schools, in the distant communities of the reservation, and at their overnight camp, Camp Marrowbone.
Earlier this month, 10 YMCA of the Rockies staff members had the opportunity to visit the Sioux YMCA for a service trip to help prepare for its 140th anniversary celebration. Through this week-long experience, our view of service work shifted. We came to the realization that the projects we thought would make a great impact weren’t necessarily the projects that would provide the support that was actually needed. We learned to listen, to slow down and to be intentional in all that we do. It sounds so simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to keep these things top of mind.
Our group arrived in Dupree, South Dakota on Sunday evening after a nine-hour drive on a mini-bus together. Talk about bonding. There was potential to be tired of each other before we even arrived at the Sioux YMCA, but we were so excited about the week ahead and we still liked each other upon our arrival. The first night was one of the best, as we got to learn more about the people we’ve worked with for years, but had never had deep conversations with. We bonded a lot that night, and that set the tone for the rest of the trip.
Our team had the opportunity to meet with Tribal elders who graciously taught us about the Lakota language, the history of the Sioux Tribe, the structure of the reservation, the impact of the YMCA and so much more. It was amazing to learn about such a beautiful culture, one that endured even through years of trauma. We learned about boarding schools and their mission to “kill the Indian and save the man.” We learned things that you don’t typically learn about in the American education system. This newfound knowledge sparked anger in each of us, but also motivated us to jump in and learn more. We committed to diving deeper and tracking down difficult-to-find information that can help educate even more people.
We learned to build tipis and we weren’t phased by all of the snow that fell. We had the privilege of celebrating the Sioux YMCA’s 140th anniversary with the community and friends from YMCAs across the country as well.
After a week of cultural education and experiences, we got back on our mini bus and attended the Black Hills Powwow in Rapid City. We made it in time for the grand entrance which amazed each of us. We even saw our new friend Tina, who had taught us about traditional Lakota dances earlier that week, and were excited to recognize and understand some of the Lakota words in the announcements.
We got back to Estes Park late on Saturday night, and as excited as each of us was to return home, we were sad to leave our group. Ten coworkers who squeezed onto a mini bus for 19+ hours, slept on bunk beds with new roommates and spent so much time together through an emotional week all found a new appreciation for each member of the team. There’s a lot to be said for such a cohesive group, and I think that goes back to the culture of YMCA of the Rockies. We’re passionate about our mission and the work we do every day, and after this trip, we’re even more fired up and excited to make a difference. Thank you to the Sioux YMCA for an incredible week we will never forget.
To learn more about the Sioux YMCA, click here.