Life on the Reservation: Pine Ridge

Dec 20, 2019 – Brother David Strobbe, Nebraska-Lincoln, spent his summer volunteering at Pine Ridge Reservation building houses for those in need.

In the Q&A below, he shares his experiences volunteering as a young child at Pine Ridge in South Dakota, and later working there as an employee of Re-Member, a nonprofit working to improve the quality of reservation life through relationships, shared resources and volunteer services. The long-term focus and goal of Re-Member is to improve the living conditions on Pine Ridge reservation while growing understanding and advocacy for the Lakota people’s culture, beliefs and current struggles.

What is an interesting part of the history of the reservation?
Pine Ridge is home to what was once some of the largest and most powerful tribes in the country: the Oglala Lakota (often called the Oglala Sioux). The reservation is in the southwestern corner of South Dakota. The southern part of the Badlands National Park is partially located on the Reservation and is about an hour south of Mount Rushmore and the famous Blackhills. Pine Ridge is the site of the massacre of Wounded Knee. This is one of the most important events in American history and many people consider it the “closing of the Western frontier.” The mass grave is powerful, historically relevant, and a sad and eerie reminder of the past events on Pine Ridge.

Can you describe more about what you do with Re-Member?
I am a Program Supervisor. Re-Member is set up where 50 or 60 volunteers cycle in and out for one week throughout the entire season, from March to October (Re-Member’s staff and local employees retain a year-round presence). I lead the volunteers through daily activities, including meal prep and clean-ups, transporting volunteers to work and sight-seeing locations around the reservation, answering questions about the organization, building relationships with volunteers, and ensuring safety and competency on construction and project sites. 

Pine Ridge
Strobbe (middle) assists a volunteer in cutting wood for housing improvements on the reservation. 

What has been your favorite project so far?
Re-Member has numerous different projects we do on a weekly basis. The jobs I personally find the most satisfying and enjoying are skirting. The majority of families on Pine Ridge live in smaller trailer homes, often with ten or more people inside. Wind chill temperatures in the winter can easily reach -20 or -30 degrees; because there is a gap between the ground and the bottom of the trailer these winds can get under the trailer and right under the floor, drastically cooling the house. Skirting essentially makes a frame between the bottom of the home and the ground to block winds, snow and rain.

What advice would you give a brother who is interested in doing a similar opportunity, working on a reservation?
Just do it! There are few opportunities you will find, especially within the United States, to do something that is so rewarding, educational and culturally immersive. Many Native Peoples have been totally neglected and forgotten by today’s society. Work like this is a great chance to show that there are people who care and want to learn from and serve our native neighbors. As long as you go in with an open mind, an empathetic heart and wanting to serve rather than give, I guarantee you will end up learning more than you could ever hope to.

By: Alexandra Bartkoske, Miami-Ohio, Communications Intern

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