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South Dakota Is The Mississippi Of The North

As an Oglala Lakota born and raised in Rapid City, South Dakota, I did not realize how bad the racism toward American Indians was here until I moved away from this area. I understand it when it has been said, 'South Dakota is the Mississippi of the north.' However, it is important to note there have been many white people I have known and continue to meet in this state that have good hearts, that have supported the issues of equality and betterment for American Indians.

Photo: Waylon Pretends Eagle
Photo: Waylon Pretends Eagle

A year and a half ago I moved back to my hometown after being away for 7 years, living in various areas of the country: Washington DC; Oklahoma City; and Portland, Oregon. Although the relations between American Indians and whites have improved in RapidCityover the past decades, there is much work to be done. It would be the easiest thing in the world for me to complain and do nothing. At times I do still complain over these disparities and treatment of American Indians in this city and this state; however, since my return I have decided to do something.

Since returning to my hometown of Rapid City, I started helping with the ongoing advocacy programs that support the pursuit of Lakota religious practices by American Indian inmates in the South Dakota Department of Corrections prison system. I helped find and gather materials, such as a tarp, willows, traditional ceremonial tobacco and wood, needed for the building of a sacred Lakota Inipi (sweat lodge) for the Rapid City Trustee Unit inmates. The inmates held their first Inipi ceremony this last new year's weekend. I have conducted classroom discussions and lectures on poetry, and shared my own writings/performance for American Indian students in Rapid City and Sioux Falls high schools. Also, I have been a longtime supporter of the release of American Indian political prisoner Leonard Peltier who is a citizen of the Anishinabe and Dakota/Lakota Nations who has been unjustly imprisoned since 1976. In Oregon I had organized, hosted and performed at fundraisers, information gatherings and marches on behalf of Leonard. This last summer I shared my poetry in a spoken word performance with the 6th Annual Oglala Commemoration Concert on the Pine Ridge Reservation; this annual event recognizes the actions that took place on June 26, 1975 which led to Leonard's unjust incarceration. During two featured spoken word performances in California last December I was able to raise money for the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee (the official agency for Leonard Peltier; please visit their website ) and also to help buy new items for the Leonard Peltier Toy & Clothing drive. The toys and clothes were distributed to children in need on the Pine Ridge Reservation this past holiday season. I have also been vocal and critical about the war on Iraq by King George II and his oil grubbing jesters in the White House (see article/interview Lakota Poet Thanks France, Germany and Russia for Opposing Unjust Warby Brenda Norrell, following this article or visit the website ).

All the volunteer work I mentioned in the previous paragraph was not created by me. It is important to understand that advocacy groups are usually already in place; it is just a matter of looking on the internet and making the phone calls to connect with the already established advocacy groups. You need not be an artist to be an advocate, however, if you are, it only takes a few moments during a performance to make mention of an indigenous issue and disseminate brochures, carry out a letter writing campaign after the show and/or ask for donations to a particular cause. My personal belief (and what I have always done) is to give ALL collected donations to the 'cause.'

As an indigenous person of this hemisphere I truly believe "we," the descendents of proud indigenous nations, must not forget those in need. As a so-called 'spoken word poet,' I not only address American Indian issues in my poems, I also back it up in my actions. Sometimes I think I should be doing more and know I am perhaps not a model person to speak or act out on such issues. However, to borrow from that old adage 'something is always better than nothing,' I must do what I can. As an indigenous people, as artists, as activists and advocates, "we" have the power to change the future to a better place, by our actions today, to honor our ancestors of the past. The Lakota belief that our existence is circular (not linear like Christian belief) links us with our ancestors and our culture on every level. We must defend and preserve our culture and our people! Keep up the fight, without having to resort to violence; you still can be an "Army of One." You can and will make a difference. Hokahey!

Luke Warm Water is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) Nation. He is an activist/advocate, poet and epidemiologist.



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