Invisible warriors! Mark St Pierre’s brilliantly evocative name for the unsung individuals working ceaselessly to improve the lives of people on the Pine Ridge Reservation. It has taken me to my last day 'on Rez' to discover this intensely passionate 'troublemaker-activist' and his equally brilliant, full-blood Lakota, educationist & craftsperson wife, Tilda.
Disaster! My phones and iPad are out of juice, and my little teepee has no electricity. My Garmin sulkingly refuses to switch on. To top that, my phone has not picked up any network on the Reservation (or even in Dodge, for that matter). Finally, the icing on the cake, my video camera shuts down two minutes into my interview with Cindy Catches! On a beautiful, crisp morning, with Kodachrome skies and birds rejoicing in lush greenery all around, my day just keeps getting worse! This is a panic-worthy situation, but I console myself that tomorrow I should have electricity to recharge. Ahhhhh!
Brooding banks of towering, black clouds, spreading a grim overcast across the landscape, seemed a perfect, almost Wagnerian, setting to my sombre mood, as I drove down the gravel road from my overnight Teepee on the Prairie (yes, I spent the night in an authentic Lakota teepee with no mod cons), towards the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre - the worst massacre of defenceless civilians, by the US Army, in its entire history, till My Lai, in Vietnam.
Murder, assignation, treachery, betrayal, back-stabbing - this tragic site, at Fort Robinson, had it all, in one explosive incident. For me, this visit is pilgrimage, not tourism. This is the place one of the greatest native American heroes, the Strange Man of the Oglala Lakota, Crazy Horse (or more accurately, His Horses are Crazy) was treacherously betrayed and murdered. The indomitable warrior the entire US Army was never able to defeat even once, finally fell to a stab in the back.
The tornado warning sirens screamed continually. Urgent ‘severe thunderstorm’ notifications kept flashing on TV, radio and messages over my phone. The evening sky was obliterated by heavy, black, louring clouds. The weather channel showed live feed of heavy clouds beginning to swirl into an angry tornado, on the nearby Oklahoma border that I crossed just two days ago. Finally, the motel receptionist called, to advise me to be prepared to take shelter in the bathtub ‘with all your things and all the bedsheets’ (bedsheets?).