Available on VOD this coming week from writer/director Deborah Anderson is a documentary looking at the ways, history and traditions of the WOMEN OF THE WHITE BUFFALO.
Living in South Dakota at Pine Ridge and Rosebud Indian Reservation are communities of Lakota women, Native Americans who share their story. Their goal is to protect and preserve the native values and stories introducing them to Lakota children now and for the future.
Anderson takes the time to speak with young girls and women from ten to ninety-eight about the experience of what it means to be a modern-day Lakota living on an Indian Reservation. To understand where they are now, it becomes important to discuss the history.
From the time of wars against the Lakota’s, it is a story of children being taken from their parents to attend religious schools. Stripped of their native clothing became difficult enough, but for the Lakota children, cutting of their hair which is a sign of family loss was an even more powerful form of destruction.
Taking children from their parents happened for more than one generation as well. Treaty making and treaty breaking becomes a spiritual destruction as well. Eventually, what is left is Lakota’s living in poverty on land that had one purpose, to help along the extinction of the Lakota people. Even in their lowest point, the Lakota people managed to barely survive.
Then, the Lakota people begin to move away from the reservation and children adopted out which mean again, losing the values that have held the people together. Alcohol and drugs became predominant on the reservation which destroyed families even more. Children became the casualty of their parents’ inability to get help for addiction.
Grandparents attempt to step in, raise and try to teach the children as best as they can. But we all know it takes a village to raise a child so what do you do when the village is crumbling? First of all, there had to be an acknowledgement that there was an issue and the second is find ways to reach those in government that could help.
As the stories are told and the history is laid out, what also becomes clear is that there are those who believe there is still time to reverse the loss. It once again becomes the mission of the Lakota people to once again reach the children, teach the history, teach the language that was taken from them (as of now there are only about two thousand native Lakota speakers), teach the amazing skill of dance, art and song.
Carol Iron Rope Herrera who passed away in 2019 was an elder who is one of the women responsible for teaching traditional Lakota ceremonies. “We have forgotten who we are because of mainstream cultures continue to pressure for us to be like them.” Tatanka Ska Win Swiftbird is one of the children born of parents struggling with addiction. She has dedicated her life to teaching Tata native values and works on behalf of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
Sharon Fool Bull lost her daughter to suicide and the community sees her as a preparer of traditional foods for ceremony. “I come from the lineage of Water Women. I am a 62-year-old wife of the Assistant High Priest of the Native American Church of South Dakota. So many people have forgotten who they are, I feel it is my responsibility to remind them through the teaching of our culture.”
Delacina Chief Eagle is a survivor of sexual abuse and is a Tribal Law student and traditional hoop dancer. “I am a 22-year-old Sicangu Lakota woman. With each challenge I am faced with, I continue to align myself with my truth, breaking the chains that were placed upon my ancestors. I recognize the importance of sharing the native ways for the next seven generations to come, so that we become a thriving people once more.”
Julie Richards runs Mothers Against Meth Alliance, a safe house for kids struggling with methamphetamine addiction in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods on the reservation. She began the organization after learning her daughter became addicted and there were no resources available. “I am an Oglala Lakota woman. I have been fighting for my people so we can overcome the battle of the meth addiction and alcoholism on the reservation that is killing our people. The denial and fear is real and my prayer is to see my people come together and heal. We must all rise up.”
Sunrose Iron Shell is an artist, activist, poet, and teacher who fights to help students on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. “My students have told me they do not exist, they are brainwashed into believing that they do not need to connect to their Lakota ways, their ceremony or language. To the outside world they are seen as Unicorns, a rare breed, yet they have no idea. So, I feel it is my responsibility to impact them for the next seven generations to come through my art, through my passion to stay connected to our culture, so I can inspire these kids and bring them happiness and joy in remembering who they are.”
Vandee Khalsa-Swiftbird is a descendant of the WahZahZhi and Eastern Band Cherokee Nations affiliated with the Oglala Lakota by marriage. A survivor of durgs and sex-trafficking, she has dedicated her life’s work to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. “My Lakota name is Good Strong Hearted Woman, and I walk my path with a strong commitment and reverence. I am a homeschool mom, wife, writer and motivational speaker. I am writing a personal memoir My Body and My Soul: One Woman’s Journey to Reclaim Both is to help others who have been on a similar path as me.”
Marie Brush Breaker who passed away in 2021 spent her life in activism. “That green money will not make you happy all the time. Sometimes it will make you mad and make you angry at times. But this right here, the earth, the color of my skin, will provide the foundation for life. So I am happy that I have made a rainbow of Takojas (grandchildren). I have brought them into my life, into my foundation, to live wealthy with love and happiness and a depth of culture of our Lakota way of life that will ensure The Earth, Unci Maka, Our Sacred Grandmother, survives with us.”
Naomi Last Horse grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation with parents who were bootleggers with violence in their home. “I am an Oglala Lakota Woman. My Lakota name is “Waste Walakapi Win” meaning “They Like Her”. I am the Director of Language Integration for the Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation. I have been in the language actively since I was a child. Raised in a fluent home, Lakota is my first language. It is my job to share and nurture the Lakota language as it is important to know and sustain who we are as a people. I am a language warrior. Lakol’iya oko?hize waun.”
Bryan Deans is an Oglala Lakota man who lives in Slim Buttes on the Pine Ridge Reservation. He has created an off-the-grid eco-ranch as a “Garden of Eden” to provide a simple, affordable and inventive solutions to food, fire, water, shelter and air. He is working toward self-sustainability for his tribe. “My Indian name is Wambli Wahoshi, and I am the founder of the Oglala Lakota Cultural & Economic Revitalization Initiative and host of the Indigenous Wisdom & Permaculture Skills Convergence. It is time to help our people heal by becoming healthy and whole once more.”
Anderson gives us a look at the history, traditions and fight for the Indigenous People by letting each tell their story and share what they are doing to bring their people hope once more. For more information on WOMEN OF THE WHITE BUFFALO and ways in which you can help, please visit www.womenofthewhitebuffalo.com.
In the end – they will no longer be silenced!