A Great Connection

By: Lillian LaCross, Lansing Catholic High School student – Pine Ridge Tour

During the summers of 2018 & 2019, I was fortunate enough to attend a school trip to the Pine Ridge reservation in southwest South Dakota. It was a partnership between my school and the lovely people of Trees, Water, and People. Myself and everyone else in attendance were prepared to plant some trees. I signed up for the trip originally because I thought it would be fun, a good way to make some stronger connections with people at my school, and a great opportunity to learn. So, after about a seven hour drive that day, half of it sitting in our van filled with groceries for the week, we finally arrived. We excitedly exited the van and hurried up to move all the groceries and our luggage into their respective places so that we could go and explore. Once we were finished inside the lodge where we were staying, we walked outside and a group of other girls and myself walked over to the picnic bench outside and saw these two little girls with a box of kittens. They were so little and the little girls, Lydia and Jenessa, were so happy and excited to have these little kittens. So, we started talking with them and they told us about all their little adventures and things they learned in school and all these little things about their lives. Throughout the week after working, we would see Lydia and Jenessa and we would color and chat or play games for our downtime. After about a week, we left for Michigan and said goodbye to everyone and took back all these amazing memories and lessons we learned, but the next year when I went back, it was a little different.

Students, chaperones, TWP staff, Lydia and Jenessa gather around for a group photo after attending a Pow Wow!

First, we did not stay at the same place. We ended up at Bear Butte rather than staying with Henry Red Cloud at his lodge on the reservation. So, I didn’t think I would see Lydia and Jenessa during the trip. I was disappointed, but I knew that there were lots of things that had to get done and I was ready to help out and go on more adventures. So, about the third or fourth day of our trip, we stopped at this small shop for dinner before going to the annual Pow Wow for the tribal college’s graduates. We had been there for a little while and then all of a sudden, this little girl runs at me and gives me a hug. I was so confused! I didn’t know who it was until I looked down and it was Lydia. Not only had she remembered me, but she missed me. We saw each other a couple more times throughout the rest of the week, but the last day, I decided I really wanted to go to Henry Red Cloud’s lodge to help clean up so I could say goodbye to Lydia. So I went and we got our work done and then it came time to leave. It was probably one of the toughest moments because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to really come back the next year because I was going to graduate. So I explained to her why I wasn’t going to be able to come back. So we gave each other a big hug and parted ways.

Lillian leaving the Bear Butte Lodge and ready for a day of learning and hands on activities!

I tell this long story about Lydia because while I had the time of my life going out west, planting trees, hiking, exploring, and so much more, the best thing I took away from that trip is the littlest things can make the biggest impacts on someone. By spending time with this little girl over the course of a week and listening to her and spending time with her, I was able to make an impact on her life and she made a huge impact on mine too. So, I highly recommend this trip for multiple reasons; you are able to spend lots of time outdoors doing hard work that will help people in the long run, you are able to give back to the earth by planting trees which are constantly being cut down, you are able to see a beautiful part of the US, you learn about the stunning culture of the Lakota people and their history as well, and lastly, you make amazing connections with people and are able to actually make an impact.

Students planting Pine seedlings inside the Bear Butte State Park with the guidance of our National Coordinator, James Calabaza
Students and chaperones visit the Cheyenne River Youth Project Center, where they helped paint walls (for graffiti painting) and place mulch on the walkway for their REDCAN event!

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