#We Are Here

to Survive and Unite

The High School Writing Challenge Winners from Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota

© 2015, Lakota Children’s Enrichment’s Writing and Art Challenge


Below are the six Award-Winning poems and essays in the High School category of Lakota Children’s Enrichment’s (LCE’s) 2015 Annual Writing and Art Challenge on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The theme of this year’s Challenge was #WeAreHere and students were asked to write about an issue they want to stand up for. Entries came from schools across the Reservation and were judged anonymously by a panel of renowned authors, journalists and poets.

The 2015 entries address alcoholism, suicide, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, cultural pride, coping mechanisms and optimism for the future.

They are the reflections of the Seventh Generation and provide a glimpse into the Lakota culture and the hardships of Reservation life. They demonstrate that youths on Pine Ridge Reservation are smart, thoughtful and ambitious — they are the voices of the future.

Listen Up and, please SHARE.


High School Grand Prize Winner

“Things To Remember If You Have An Alcoholic Father”

~by Marcus Ruff

©Lakota Children’s Enrichment, Inc.
2015 #WeAreHere Writing Challenge

Marcus Ruff, a student at the Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and a member of Lakota Children’s Enrichment’s Youth Advisory Board, took home the Grand Prize with his poem entitled, Things To Remember If You Have An Alcoholic Father. Marcus is a two-time winner in LCE’s Annual Challenge and his raw, direct and creative style won him a Runner-Up recognition in 2014's Voices of the Land Writing Challenge.

Marcus’ 2015 Grand Prize winning poem speaks from the perspective of a young person who cares for an alcoholic parent. It addresses coping skills, survival and grief mechanisms that can arise when a young person must assume adult responsibilities.

As Marcus powerfully conveys, coping is not always easy.


Things To Remember If You Have An Alcoholic Father

Remember to remove the carpet in front of the bathroom toilet

Aiming for anything with alcohol in your life is blurred in a stumbling blackout through an ancestrous graveyard

Bodies fill the marble beds like a drunken sleepover ended in tragedy

Abs once cut so deep they hugged our ribs, bloat. Bellybuttons pop

Cirrhosis fades our skin to a pale yellow until we resemble the teeth of too many cigarettes

Remember to walk them to bed after they eat

Consumption consumes and they get tired

Let them lean on your shoulder and waddle like a toddler to their bedroom

Remember to steal their beer and hide it

Whenever they wake at noon and you hear a sickened roar and vomit hit the water

Give them your stolen cans of savior

Feel happy to end their pain

Feel guilty for feeding their shame

Remember to hide all the sugared sweets

Because you never know when the sweet nectar in their blood will become their last breath

And I’m only reminded when the moon gets home before I do…

The last cocktail they drink will be two parts lonely and four parts empty

Like I am now.


~ Marcus Ruff, Red Cloud Indian School student, Pine Ridge Reservation, SD, Grand Prize Winner, Lakota Children’s Enrichment’s 2015 #WeAreHere Writing Challenge, © LCE, 2015 All Rights Reserved; ©2014 CinMagPhotography


“Surviving”

~ by Payton Sierra

Runner-Up Award

©Lakota Children’s Enrichment, Inc.
2015 #WeAreHere Writing Challenge

Poet Payton Sierra also is a two-time Winner in LCE’s Annual Writing Challenge and a member of LCE’s Youth Board. She was a runner-up in 2014's Voices of the Land Writing Challenge and her 2014 poem, Pity the Land, Pity the Poverty, remains the most viewed in that collection.

Payton’s 2015 poem, Surviving, expresses her devotion to the Lakota culture and people, and to the celebration of both. She incorporates a Call to Action into her poem, challenging her community to come together, to be strong, and to celebrate their lives and their culture.

“Surviving” was selected for publication by South Dakota Public Radio (with permission from LCE) and was performed online by Spoken Word Performer Jasmine Mans.

Surviving

I wasn’t supposed to make it.
I was almost out
like the batter with the base hit.
Everyone had their doubts.
Born a month and a half too early.
Things didn’t work right.
My first breath could’ve easily been my last.

15 years later, I stand here in front of you.
And I owe my life to the Creator.
But I appreciate the love from above.
There has to be a reason.
Now standing behind the drum at Sundance
I get to thinking.
Thinking about the road I’ve been walking on.

The impact of the dirt road hurts my feet.
My shoulders feel heavy
but everyday I carry on.
I carry the hurt of the Lakota people.
The hurt they didn’t see coming.
Whether it’s death, abuse or even addiction.
I stand here singing my prayers.
Praying for strength and understanding,
because we all have a reason.I want my Lakota people to come together,
Through the hardships and the struggles
The Lakota people need to get through it.
Leaving by our own hands,
thinking we don’t have a reason?
Our reason is to bring “US” back.
I pray for strength,
Calling out, hoping that they hear me.
Hoping that the alcohol spills before our blood does.

My legs are growing tired,
But my heart won’t let me give up.
This is my reason.
To help the people who have fallen,
the alcohol takes over their body so I hold them up.
So they can keep walking along.

As I look up, I see the eagle.
He has been with me every step of the way.
Though this may sound like a cliche,
I want what’s best for my Lakota people.
Even though I have no clue
of the troubles I’ll have to go through.
I know for the sake of my people,
it will all be worth it.
I yell, and scream at them who are trapped, “Blihičiya pe!”

~ Payton Sierra, Freshman at Red Cloud High School student, Pine Ridge Reservation, SD; Runner-Up Award in Lakota Children’s Enrichment (LCE) 2015 #WeAreHere Writing Challenge, © LCE, 2015 All Rights Reserved


“I Won’t Ever Stand…”

~ by Steven Wilson

Runner-Up Award

©Lakota Children’s Enrichment, Inc.
2015 #WeAreHere Writing Challenge

Poet Steven Wilson won’t stand up for bullies or suicide but he is prepared to stand up for people who will listen to the voices of youth in his community — those who really listen rather merely hear their words and cries for help “through a fake smile.”

Steven’s message is delivered through eyes of a young person who just lost a classmate to suicide — which he calls “the reservation’s first well known sadness.” Steven calls for an end to the sadness and for #equality, #compassion, #empathy and #collaboration.

We’re #inspired and think that you will be, too.


I Won’t Ever Stand…

As I sit here, replaying the words in my mind,
The gears start to turn, It becomes more clear.
What do I want to stand up for?
I’ll stand up for a lot of things.

So what won’t I stand up for?
Then I look to the other side of the room.
A binder on the shelf containing an obituary,
of a fifteen-year-old girl stares back at me.

Between those few minutes of contemplation,
emotion and thoughts run from my mind
using my arm and the pen in my hand as a bridge.
Their footprints becoming ink stains on notebook paper.

Then the words slip through my teeth so rigidly
“I won’t ever stand for a bully.”
Nor, someone who could make another person feel so low.
So low, that they feel their life belongs six feet under the ground.

Suicide needs to stop.
Because we fail to see that war isn’t the only thing that brings our country sadness.
Next to cancer and diabetes,
suicide stands unjustified in the list of top reasons of death in the USA.

Not only is it the nation’s top ten killer,
It’s the reservation’s first well known sadness,
Because we are human, not one should be placed above another.
Because our words slowly wound one another.

I won’t ever stand for suicide.
They say that pills and therapy can cure the depression but,
they fail to see what causes the sadness, It’s not an internal problem.
I know because the problem walks before us, talking to each other.

Because that girl on the shelf had the sadness.
That girl did not deserve an obituary till she was old and grey.
That girl sparked my new hope, It wasn’t her time to go.

It is time for equality
and treating each other the same.
Because if you fail to listen to this poem’s meaningful words
I might as well be talking to blank walls that are painted in grey.

I can’t change the world,
But I won’t sell you broken dreams,
I’ll tell you what’s real,
start to open your ears, so that you might be able to see

Words can hurt a person mentally.
Mentally can turn into physically
and, physically could turn into forever.

I won’t ever stand for bullies. I won’t ever stand for suicide.
But in everyday that I live
I’ll always stand up for those who can really listen.
Because it’s hard to hear a scream for help through a fake smile.

The sadness needs to end,
It needs to come to a stop,
reach out to a friend,
suicide needs to stop.
We are fragile, We are human, We are here.

~ Steven Wilson, student at Red Cloud Indian School, Pine Ridge Reservation, SD. Runner-up entry in Lakota Children’s Enrichment’s 2015 #WeAreHere Writing Challenge, © LCE, 2015 All Rights Reserved.


“I Remember”

~ by Amber Long Soldier

Runner-Up Award

©Lakota Children’s Enrichment, Inc.
2015 #WeAreHere Writing Challenge

Poet Amber Long Soldier’s poem reflects on a time without pain, and when the “past stayed in the past.” Her poem chronicles a hearbreaking journey of innocence, betrayal, falling down, getting back up and then falling back down again.


I Remember

I remember once you saw my life
on my skin through scars of pain I’d show.
I would bleed out my heart for you
until nothing else could flow.

Love will suck you dry —
you did that to me.
Left me nothing inside,
nothing I’ll ever see.

I remember the nights I’d cry —
the razor, smiling like a sin
with a grin, cutting
deep into my skin.

I remember erecting steep walls,
eventually torn down and left
with nothing else to give,
wondering why —
why must I have to live?

I remember life with a genuine meaning,
not living with hurt and with pain,
being able to function without meds
and able to call myself sane.

Beat down and laughed at
was all that life did to me.
Surreptitiously life picked me up again,
stabbed me in the back
when I didn’t suspect.

I remember when family had love,
when smiles were never masks,
when love never hurt you
and the past stayed in the past.

I remember, I remember, I remember…

~Amber Long Soldier, student at Little Wound High School, Pine Ridge Reservation, SD. Runner-Up Entry in the 2015 #WeAreHere Writing Challenge, © LCE 2015, All Rights Reserved; Photo: © 2015 CinMagPhotography


“Stolen Innocence”

~ by Rebecca Hunter

Runner-Up Award

©Lakota Children’s Enrichment, Inc.
2015 #WeAreHere Writing Challenge

Poet Rebecca Hunter tells of a young girl’s struggles with feelings of guilt, shame and anger following an incident of abuse. “She can’t forgive, she can’t forget — you stole her innocence.”

Rebecca’s moving poem reflects on the depth of the pain and the long-lasting consequences that arise from the actions of abusers. READ UP.

Stolen Innocence

I find it funny how a smile
can hide a broken heart,
and how the masking of your feelings —
is a secret art.

Would you have seen this coming?

I know she hides it well —
the whole world is really under
this girl’s tragic spell.

Thinking nothing of the glare
in her big brown eyes,
little do they know,
they’re a great disguise.

She wakes up —
watches the sunrise,
prepared to reel off bucket loads
of sad lies.

“Are you alright?”

“Yes,” she replies —
no one can hear
the screams —
of her internal cries.

She thinks there’s no hope
and no faith left to give.
Feels no reason ,
no purpose —
for her soul to live.

How could you take this girl,
and make her feel secure,
then grab your ragtag gang,
and make her feel impure?

Now she’s damaged forever,
her thoughts stained
with every memory
you gave her —
you should be ashamed.

Did you like it
when you heard her screaming
out in pain?

I bet remembering is driving her: insane!

Worst crime you could commit.
Crime of extreme violation —
and for what?
Just for self-gratification.

Now she’s thinking,
“Do I even deserve to live?”

She can’t forgive, she can’t forget.
You stole her innocence
forced her down the path
of guilt and shame.

Did you think of the aftermath?
Was her psychological torture
intentional?

Are you delusional?
“Don’t lie.”
You understood,
you understood,
you understood,
you understood!

A life filled with horrible memories,
a hangman’s noose,
a chambered round,
the razor’s bite,
her captor’s slave, — which should she choose?

~Rebecca Hunter, student Little Wound High School, Pine Ridge Reservation, SD. Runner-Up Award in the 2015 #WeAreHere Writing Challenge, © LCE, 2015 All Rights Reserved.


“A Dream”

~ by Summer Montileaux

Runner-Up Award
2015 #WeAreHere Writing Challenge
Lakota Children’s Enrichment

Author Summer Montileaux writes of her dream to become a pediatrician and to help her community. Her optimistic essay opens with a quote from Billy Mills, an inspirational Oglala Lakota athlete who won an Olympic Gold Medal. Summer is a Co-Founding member of Lakota Children’s Enrichment’s Youth Advisory Board and has won many awards for her service to her community.

Summer’s message is one of perseverance, support, optimism and hope: “There are many broken, lost souls here on the reservation. We are overlooked and forgotten but we are still strong and can be healed… Let your dreams be the power that heals your soul in the storm, and the sunlight that helps you thrive.


A Dream

Billy Mills once said the “pursuit of a dream can heal a broken soul.” I believe that’s true.

My soul was once shattered like a plate you throw on the ground out of anger, hurt, and frustration. It was broken and I felt lost. I came soon to discover that a pen and paper gave me a voice — a voice that was inside me — a voice that I didn’t know I had — the voice that made me who I am today.

You don’t think that what you do or what you have to say matters unless someone recognizes it, but truth is, who we are and what we do are important.

At first, my dream was to become a writer but, I didn’t think it was possible. I started writing 8 years ago, and didn’t understand the strength or importance of my words. By continuing to write, I discovered that I now want to be a doctor, a pediatrician. I love the youth in my community and want nothing more than to help them. These dreams healed my soul and have guided me to take action to help others.

Soon I’ll be in a big city where no one will know or understand our struggles here at home. I will still be a person you can look to when decide to achieve your dreams. I will help you in anyway I can, up until the day that you can say “ I made it.”

There are many broken, lost souls here on the reservation. We are overlooked and forgotten, but we are still strong and can be healed. Like a flower that must endure thunderstorms, clouds, rain and wind in order to shine in the sunlight, we too, must endure pain and sorrow in order to achieve our dreams.

It’s okay if change doesn’t happen right away, what matters is that I am trying to make that change happen and so are you by following a dream. It’s like making the impossible, possible for everyone. We can and will be more than a statistic.

Let your dreams be the power that heals your soul in the storm, and the sunlight that helps you thrive.

~ Summer Montileaux, High School student, Pine Ridge Reservation, SD. Runner-Up Award in Lakota Children’s Enrichment’s (LCE’s) 2015 #WeAreHere Writing Challenge © LCE, 2015 All Rights Reserved; Photo: © 2014 CinMagPhotography

April 2015 Writing and Art Challenge Theme: #WeAreHere; Photo: SusieMCreative for LCE ©2015; Street Art Designed and Sprayed by Andres Gallardo (Art of Andres) for LCE

You may be interested in reading the Middle School winning entries in the #WeAreHere Writing Challenge — also on Medium!

Content originally published by Lakota Children’s Enrichment; May be re-printed with permission. ©2015 LCE. Contact Us at @info@lakotachildren.org

You may be interested in reading the 2014 Voices of the Land Collection of Native Youth Voices.