Story and photos by Evelyn Red Lodge, Native Sun News correspondent
RAPID CITY — An entire, dedicated community of all races rethinks the definition of homelessness and much more every Sunday in Rapid City.
A meal for the homeless is served every Sunday at 11 a.m. — rain, snow or shine — across the street from the open field just east of the Prairie Market grocery store, which is located at 11 New York St., in the extreme west end of North Rapid City’s Roosevelt Park.
Between 50 and 75 people including volunteers come at various times during the weekly event until the food is gone.
Native Sun News spoke with several homeless citizens and community volunteers this past Sunday, Nov. 18, at the event.
Several Oglala Lakota College students under associate professor Bryant High Horse attended. One such volunteer student, Lacy Thompson, said, “Earlier, someone said there are 500 students in the Rapid City area schools that are homeless. A lot of times when you say the word ‘homeless’ you think of the person you see on the street that you walk by.
“A lot of families came by last week and pulled up in vehicles. They are staying here and there with various relatives and needed to eat. There were a lot of infants and toddlers looking for jackets, gloves and clothes,” Thompson continued.
“A lot of the clothes we had here were for adults. I felt guilty; I didn’t think of the little ones, and I don’t think most people do. Many students … live with relatives here and there or with five or six families to a house. Many people don’t think about that either.
“I know when I was younger we would go to school just to eat, and we would go to the weekend food programs.”
Thompson is not alone thanks to a retired nurse for Rapid City Area Schools, Nancy Zent, who High Horse said initiated this event years ago.
High Horse, a Rosebud Sioux Tribe member, explained this is not an event just to help one race of people, but a community of all races sharing an opportunity to express their values as compassionate beings.
Via telephone, he said, “(Zent has) been doing this many years, and I used to work with her. Some of her friends joined her and then I joined her with my classes.”
In High Horse’s many Lakota culture or related classes he teaches, he said, “Mostly, the two words that I am trying to teach my students is to have compassion for others. I have done it for four to five years in different classes at OLC to see and experience what our relatives go through. When we get back (to class from these events) our discussion is very emotional.
“Many have never seen that or felt that. Then they know what it is like. The Lakota words wacante ognake and waunsila are the two words in Lakota that we use. Hold people in your heart, and that’s what (wacante ognake) means. Waunsila means to have compassion for others. That’s what I am trying to teach them so when they get out into the world they’ll have that regardless of what they actually go through.
“They’ll carry those two values. They will have great integrity for themselves — and that’s what I am trying to teach them.”
OLC is a college not just for Native Americans. High Horse says he has students from all cultures and races that attend the school and the classes in which he tries to instill these two values.
Two homeless attendees expressed their thankfulness for the meal.
Rodney Iron Hawk Sr. from Minneapolis said, “Thank you for the food. I’m not from here. I enjoy the food, and thank you very much.” He said he will move on shortly.
Not only the compassion from others is shown from strangers, but from the homeless compassion is important as Thomas Twiss of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe said: “We are thankful for this (meal). When we meet someone (on the street) who is hungry, we usually carry food in our pockets and we will give it to someone who is hungry.”
High Horse encourages donations of clothing but also encourages non-perishable food items to put in the backpacks.
He explained, “I have been with OLC for 16 to 17 years teaching different classes in Indian studies. My title is associate professor at OLC. You can do many things with a master’s degree. I also teach the Lakota language at Horace Mann (Elementary School) among many other projects.
“We have been doing this for years, and I feel like we as Native people are invisible. They don’t realize there are educated Lakotas doing good.
“But when we are all together at the feed they see we are not all drunken Indians. I am trying to change that. The compassion part is I’m trying to teach the students to get along with all cultures. Rise above the racist treasured attitude.”
As all cultures attend and volunteer he said, “It’s good to see people who have compassion for others. I am teaching students of all cultures, (Asians) included. I teach the positive side of who we are, and we don’t look at skin color or blood quantum.
That’s what I teach in the culture class, because Lakotas really have a problem with ‘iyeska’ (mixed-blood) and (other) issues. I’m going to rise above this and teach others not to dwell on that.
“What we do is a community service. We welcome everyone to come join us. Sometimes I teach culture at the feed when I’m standing there. My culture knowledge is going 24/7.”
Offshoots of the weekly meal for the homeless also are taking place.
Daphne Richards-Cook, who is Oglala Lakota, said she is working toward another community program for the homeless. She said Akta Tourism Advocates is trying to get a He Sapa (Black Hills) performing arts center behind The Journey Museum.
She explained, “What we are trying to do is build an opportunity where we can get the homeless, younger people and elders, to come in and help us to tell our stories through arts, dance, song and food. Bryant asked me to come in and talk about it to engage the students to come in and help us.
“We want the younger people to be on the civic end of it, too,” Richards-Cook noted.
Other students in attendance from OLC Nov. 18 were Eric Yellow Boy, Lacy Thompson, Sadie Schower, Anna Morrison and Bo Paulsen.
“I enjoyed coming down here and making soup and giving what I can,” said Morrison. “I want to ask my employer for donations. I make food and help serve. I just made all the food this time from my house.”
In expressing his sentiment, Paulsen said, “I like coming down here, because one of the things Bryant has taught us about is the value system of Lakota culture and how generosity is one of the most important values in the culture. By coming down here and giving a little bit of what I have it helps so many people.
“I was here last week, and I brought two packs of socks. It was really cool, because someone grabbed them and split them up between about 14 different people. So I helped 14 different people with just a package of socks. What I like about this is it’s put on by just people in our community that want to give of themselves.”
Donations of food, clothing and other small items of everyday necessity are accepted during the weekly Sunday meal.
(Contact Evelyn Red Lodge at firstname.lastname@example.org)