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Bridger, South Dakota Update June 8

Driving the last forty five or so miles from I-90 to Bridger on Highway 73 north later joined by highway 34 west seems to always put me in the mood to think and pray about the time to be spent on the Cheyenne River Reservation. Thinking through the names of the people of Bridger presents  the opportunity to wonder how each person is doing. How was the school year for the kids, how is the lady who is receiving continued leukemia treatments, how are the new babies born after last summer, and the list goes on. This year was no different as the beauty of the high plains sank in. Many Pronghorn sheep were grazing in the fields, hay was being cut and raked, no clouds in the sky, and all kinds of birds playing “chicken” with me as they flush from the side of the road and dart in front of the truck.  Why do they seem to always fly across the road instead of away from the road?

Arriving at Bridger Saturday evening the pace was already being established. A leisurely stroll to see the chickens, counting the number of horses (19 this year!) and checking out the condition of the buildings by myself was welcome. Jordan had already prepared me to be ready for no electricity in the church or fellowship hall.

While sitting on the porch a car came up the gravel road to the church and the first visitor was arriving. Not recognizing the car I couldn’t wait to see who it might be. Soon we were visiting on the porch with a cool breeze blowing. I removed from the bed of the pickup the bikes John had fixed up to bring with me and the two children from the car began pedaling all over the place as I was being filled in on what had been happening this year.  Reality soon set in as the list of issues in people’s lives quickly reminded me of the pain and struggle of poverty for so many on the reservation. The fence that surrounds the seventeen houses had been cut by the fire department responding to a field fire this spring and the cattle now come into the community trampling gardens and generally messing up the place. No one seems to know who will repair the fence. Richard, one of the first people to welcome us to the reservation 15 years ago had been missing for 9 months and his remains were recently found in a remote area. He was related to many in the community and they had formed search parties spending countless hours covering square mile after square mile of grass and ravines and their worst fears had now been realized. Richard would drum for us as a thank you at the end of many of our first trips to Bridger. Two of the houses in the community were now empty and boarded up.  We talked for about two hours about life on the reservation and in Bridger.

For the last year I have had a sense that there has been a darkness over this isolated area of the reservation and our conversation seemed to verify it and put me in a dark mood. Is this the last year of our involvement? Will anything have changed when we realize our commitment of 20 years in 2021? I had to pray myself to sleep that night as these thoughts and questions kept rolling through my mind.  

Sunday was beautiful and I met Jordan at Crazy Horse Memorial for the semiannual Volksmarch up to the top where this Lakota hero is being carved out of a mountain top not too far from Mt. Rushmore. There is a saying in the visitor Center painted on the wall that says, “Our Lakota people have our hero’s too.” It was a great day. Back in Bridger we met the group from the UCC Church of Yorkville, ILL who would be here during the week. They have also engaged long term and this is about their 18th or 19th year in Bridger. They are great people with a sincere desire to understand the Lakota culture and serve the people of Bridger. Monday night Byron came by the Bridger church and began to talk us and my mood changed. He recognizes the issues and the challenges but his strength is evident as he continually repeats, “we must never give up.” He cares about the people but I’m not sure how many of the Bridger residents really understand how much. He tells us that because we continue to come to Bridger, people notice and it gives him and others encouragement. 

My take away from the evening is that we need to figure out a way to be even more intentional  about praying for our Lakota friends. As the relationships with the people of Bridger deepens , we learn more about the complexity of the struggle and so our prayers should be unrelenting and persistent matching the need.

Posted by Mike Lassiter at 11:29 AM
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