While we were delivering books to Pine Ridge Reservation, we received an email from Brian, founder of Simply Smiles, an NGO that supports Cheyenne River Reservation.
He said, quite simply, “Cheyenne River Reservation is only about 4-5 hours from Pine Ridge. In South Dakota, that’s like going out for a cup of coffee…” Well, we kind of laughed about that, because after spending some time in South Dakota we knew what he meant. It takes hours and hours to go from one place to another, and as noted by Emma, you can never use the GPS. Only a map will work.
After ditching our trailer, and packing our Suburban to the top with boxes of books, we decided we were up for the challenge. We restocked our peanut butter and jelly, refilled our water bottles, and set out on our journey.
We did run into a 30-minute roadblock of one car, not that unusual we found, and, of course, miles of empty, sandy roads.
Visiting the Simply Smiles community center, located in Sam Different Horse’s community building on the Cheyenne River Reservation was amazing. Brian and Zachary and their team are welcomed into the Lakota culture. The volunteers all have close relationships with the community.
The wind blew incessantly, but fortunately the community center had one indoor room and we were able to set up a series of folding tables and create an entire room for our “free” book fair.
The kids were really excited and grabbed as many books as they could carry. That evening Simply Smiles was hosting a reservation-wide dinner. All the parents and grandparents were able to also come and choose books for their families.
One woman shyly asked if she could keep some of our better-conditioned cardboard boxes to use as furniture to store her clothing in her new home. We were humbled by this simple request.
Simply Smiles imports soil and has created functioning gardens that produce enough food to feed a substantial portion of the local community.
The greenhouse was built when Simply Smiles volunteers and Lakota Indians worked together. Zachary explained how difficult it was to stretch the plastic sheeting over the metal hoops and secure it down while battling the constant wind. We could barely imagine. The paper flowers are remnants from the previous night’s decorations when the greenhouse served as a teen dance hall.
We have continued our relationship with the Cheyenne River Reservation kids, inviting some of them to our home when they were traveling near us, visiting NYC. They joined us for dinners, swimming and basketball on several occasions. We have supported Brian at local fundraisers for Simply Smiles. We are so grateful that we have had this opportunity to get to know some of the Lakota kids and we hope to see them again. To learn more about the efforts to sustain the Lakota peoples of the Cheyenne River Reservation: Simply Smiles
Enjoy a film our team made about our trip to the three reservations: Rosebud, Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River: