The inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris was the biggest story across the nation this week and it has impacts across our region and in our hometowns. One of Biden’s first actions was to halt the construction of the KXL pipeline, which many on Cheyenne River opposed.
The new president also took action to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to speed up the production of vaccines. This is all good news for rural and Indigenous communities hit hard by the virus. It was a welcome sight when vaccinations began to take place on CRST last week!
The virus marches on in CRST and this week the West River Eagle is honored to share the story of Paulette High Elk in the first of our “Second Journey” series. Paulette was a renown and beloved Lakota language teacher lost to COVID-19.
Jodi Archambault, Hunkpapa and Oglala Lakota, is former special assistant to the president for Native American affairs under President Barack Obama. Her opinion piece, “How Covid-19 Threatens Native Languages” mentions the loss of Paulette High Elk. The piece ran in the New York Times on January 24 and we have reprinted it here.
In our visit with Paulette’s sisters, Mildred Carpenter and LaVae Red Horse, they reminisced about growing up in Thunder Butte. At one point both sisters got very quiet remembering Paulette and their dad. LaVae choked up telling us about her father. “When I run into an obstacle, I always think about Dad saying, ‘My girl, there’s a time when I am not going to be here and you’re going to go through some hard times. If you pray and you believe in your prayer and in God, you’ll be okay. You’ll make it.’ That’s what I believe in and that’s what I’ve been holding on to.”
The theme of being resolute in prayer ran through our conversations about KXL as well. Beth Lone Eagle of Bridger spoke of the years spent in prayer about the pipeline and the relief when it was finally cancelled.
In preparing reporting for this week, we spent time talking to people across the political spectrum and from a variety of religious backgrounds. The theme of unity from Biden’s inaugural address reverberated through those conversations; as did the somehow inexpressible feeling that something is broken in America. While we, as citizens, want to feel a sense of collective unity, the divisions seem too wide right now. The chasm is too broad and there’s no bridge.
The witness of Paulette’s life and the words of wisdom from her father speak to the oyate at this time. The stories in today’s paper tell us that in the midst of grief over COVID-19, joy over KXL, worry about the economy, and confusion in politics – Be still. Hold fast. Listen. Look to the future. Pray in your native tongue. The answers will come with time.
Meanwhile, we at the West River Eagle cherish our readers regardless of viewpoint. Be safe. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Stay home. We will continue to bring you the stories of Cheyenne River and connect them to the wider world. As always, we would love to hear from you through Facebook, Twitter, email or phone.