I Saw What Resilience Looks Like

Greg Grey Cloud, Lakota, dresses Red Clouds of the Sunka Waken Oyate (“horse nation”) at the Tiwahe Glu Kini Pi (“bringing the family back to life”) equine therapy ranch near the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. (Photo: Mary Annette Pember)Greg Grey Cloud, Lakota, dresses Red Clouds of the Sunka Waken Oyate (“horse nation”) at the Tiwahe Glu Kini Pi (“bringing the family back to life”) equine therapy ranch near the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. (Photo: Mary Annette Pember)

By the numbers, Native Americans reliably top lists of violencepovertyunemployment, and addiction in the United States. Taken alone, the data paint a dismal picture of intractable, inescapable poverty.

But on reservations and in communities, the picture was a whole lot more complex in 2017.

As I have for several years, I spent most of 2017 traveling through Indian Country for the stories I was covering. An old-school journalist, I travel simply and close to the ground; I keep a loose schedule so that stories have a chance to emerge. I spend many hours just chatting with folks.

In 2017, I was gifted with a glimpse of the people behind the damning data. Their lives were far grander and more complex than I imagined. This year, I had a front row seat to the quiet tactics many Native folks employed to protect and nurture each other and their communities. I met people who reminded me that Natives are the original observational scientists, adept at on-the-fly invention. The people I met harbored few illusions about material wealth; rather, they embraced the nourishing spirituality of their cultures.

In terms of data, I expect that 2018 may be a little worse than usual given the current administration’s lack of support for Indian programs. But Native folks will continue, as they’ve always done. They will reinvent and they will laugh — my God will they laugh! Like always, they’ll laugh at themselves, their damn luck, and the darkness, until they knock a hole in it. That’s resilience. And here is what that looks like.

Natalie Hinhan Luta Hand, activist, journalist, and traditional dancer on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, looks out over the prairie at an approaching thunderstorm. Hand is a local organizer for Conscious Alliance, an organization that collects food at concerts and music festivals and distributes to communities in need. Hand coordinates the Conscious Alliance food pantry on Pine Ridge where folks can get food.Natalie Hinhan Luta Hand, activist, journalist, and traditional dancer on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, looks out over the prairie at an approaching thunderstorm. Hand is a local organizer for Conscious…

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