River and I are taking time to venture on a road trip together, just the two of us, for thousands of miles. I felt it was important for him to see where we came from, to travel up to the Great Lakes area and see Ojibway homelands and people, as well as to have a memorable chance to bond with me, as all fathers and children should (I believe that a father who hasn't taken his child--son or daughter--on a personal adventure has been remiss). We are curently in South Dakota, in Lakota Indian territory. The Lakotas had been foes of the Ojibway in the 1700s, but since then have been amicable, although never allies in a warfare sense (Lakotas are a plains people, and Ojibways are an Algonquin woodlands people. The Lakotas *were* woodlands people, until Ojibways drove them out to the plains in the early 1800s).
As we've driven, River has kept track of the wildlife we see: porcupines, pronghorns, deer, buffalo, hawks, chipmunks (which River is able to coax to climb into his hand to eat), and raccoons. We've been in the Black Hills for two days. In the daytime we drive, hike, fish, and climb, and at night we've found forgotten backroads to sneak into and sleep. We cook over a propane cooking stove, which River thinks is just the coolest thing we've ever done.
I've emphasized sites with cultural significance rather than tourist appeal. For example, I took River to Fort Robinson in Northwest Nebraska, and we stood on the very site where Oglala chief Crazy Horse was bayonetted to death, and then we walked to the prison house where 150 Cheyennes from Dull Knife's band were imprisoned when they tried to sneak back from Oklahoma to their original homeland. When the band revolted in prison, they were massacred on the spot. River and I sweat with Cheyennes, so he knows men who are descendents of these people, and was able to stand on the ground of their stories.
I also took him to Sylvan Lake in the Black Hills, which is now a popular tourist destination. But I took him on a hike all the way around the lake to the back Northeast side and we climbed a rocky embankment up a mountain to the site where Crazy Horse went on his first vision quest. The site is not marked or identified in any tourist publications, and there is no identification of it as a cultural site; if you don't know what it is, you'd never know it was important. Crazy Horse was taken there by his father, led by a red-tailed hawk, to fast and pray for four days, and there he had his vision that gave him his face paint design and prophecy about his life's work. We took a few stones from the site to keep and give away to tribal elders back home.
The sky turned dark and began to thunder ad rain as we drove through the back roads of the Hills, avoiding the main routes. We stopped to walk and explore in the cold rain. River does enjoy the tourist stops, of course, and thinks the Black Hills have the coolest stores he's ever been to: gem and mineral specialty shops! He gazes at the shelves filled with treasure: fossils, petrified wood, crystals, and tumbled gems. He tries to wrangle the salespersons down to his budget: "I have two dollars and fifty-two cents. What can I get for it?" That's the "River method" of shopping.
He also embarked on a personal quest to find the cheapest vial of Black Hills gold flakes suspended in water that he could. This is a common souvenir trinket, and any bottle of shiny gold flakes is like a drug to River! Yesterday he told me he thought his name should be "River Shiny Raccoon," and I like it.
I also gave River a hawk feather with a beaded stem to wear in his hair, and he couldn't be prouder! He wore that thing everywhere--even Dairy Queen. The stem was beaded by Billy, the Cheyenne man who "works the rocks" for our sweatlodge.
We've explored a few ghost towns, too, and found one with a water pump that still worked (!), so we cooked our dinner at the site of the old jail and ate in the sunshine and breezes. River thinks a can of Chef Boy-Ar-Dee cooked over a fire is real old-style frontier living.
At this moment I'm in a small cabin that has an ancient electrical outlet, so this is the first electricity I've had for four days. We seldom even have a cell phone signal.
We're going to leave camp and go to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in Shannon County, South Dakota (which is the poorest county in America). I'm going to take him to the site of Wounded Knee, where 300 Lakota men, women and children led by Chief Big Foot were massacred on December 29, 1890. The army had surrounded them because they were afraid of the Ghost Dance, an apocalyptic/ millennial prayer dance, and the massacre was the last major atrocity of the Indian Wars (but not the final incident; military massacres of Indians continued until 1918). The bodies are in a mass grave marked only with a marble tower and fence strewn with countless prayer flags and tobacco ties.
Wounded Knee is a reminder that we must be willing to love without fear of consequence, to pray for our adversaries, and to be willing to make any sacrifice to support renewal of life for all harmed and suffering people