Rhythmic rocking, the creak of a well-worn saddle, a blasting wind in my face. Yes, it was happening. I was horseback riding in the Badlands of South Dakota.
No hurry, just a steady ride as the three of us — me, my mama, and our wrangle, Marshall — made our way across the highway and onto a three thousand acre ranch. Conversation flowed from raising cattle to sustainable living to the weather.
I sank deep in the saddle, remembering lessons from years of 4-H horse club training, even though I’ve never owned a horse. Soon, thoughts of how to keep my heel low in the stirrup and how to hold the reins properly, faded. I rode, carefree and with a grin as big as Texas on my face.
A butte rose to our left, a sight straight out of an old Western. The black Angus cattle ahead lifted their ears, alert and wondering where we’d move them off to. They made plenty of room for us and for the two ranch dogs who were in paradise, running through the grasslands as fast as they could, as if they were born for the very act of running.
When I saw the steep incline we were about to climb, I grabbed the horn of the saddle, then relaxed. The surefooted mare under me knew what to do, but I gave her a little guidance anyway. This wasn’t a nose-to-tail trail ride. We could each make our own path up the side of the butte, and I did.
At the top, we turned for a stunning view of the grasslands and the heart of the Badlands in the distance. A storm was rolling toward us from the direction of the Black Hills, but it was still miles away. We sat and rested the horses and talked about how the landscape resembled the floor of the ocean. It wasn’t hard to visualize how a massive flood molded the shapes and colors around and beneath us.
We rode to the other side of the butte and down. Conversation turned to challenges ranchers face in that area. Would they be able to continue their ranching culture in the next generation?
It directed my thoughts back around to what had brought us to South Dakota.
The Intercultural Leadership Institute is a blend of cultures from across the country and Hawai’i. For five days, I’d been immersed in the history and culture of Lakota people, Native to the land where we rode. I thought of their story - yesterday and today and tomorrow.
During the experience, we visited the Wounded Knee cemetery (read more here). We toured Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation, an incredible vision-in-progress for a sustainable community on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Sometimes it’s hard for me to wrap my little brain around the way I shift between, among, in, and out of so many cultures. Yet none of them feel completely foreign.
At our core, we are all human. We share the same history — good, bad, tragic, and beautiful. I let that connect me to whoever I’m with, whether American Indians, African Americans, Latinos, whites, or like me, a mix of ethnicities.
Will you do the same with me?