From: Episcopal News, Los Angeles
By: Janet Kawamoto
For the past 12 years, young people, clergy and lay leaders from the Diocese of Los Angeles have traveled to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, to the village of Red Shirt where the Episcopal Church has ministered for generations.
In the past the Los Angeles groups have made a number of improvements in the village. They have built a shade arbor, a baseball field and a skate park. They’ve painted a church and taught Sunday School. Most importantly, they have connected with the Lakota-Sioux people and found spiritual riches in the community they came to serve.
This year teens from seven congregations of the Los Angeles diocese, plus Native young people from South Dakota and Minnesota, accompanied by the Rev. Canon Robert Two Bulls and the Rev. Michael Cunningham, will travel to Pine Ridge July 15 to August 1 to perform a variety of tasks to improve life on the reservation and take their turn at learning something about ravages of poverty, but also about great generosity of spirit.
The group, totalling 25 younth and adults, will continue work begun in previous years, including building the Pejuta Sapa/Black Medicine Coffee Shop, repairing roads, repainting and cleaning up, building a new entrance to the guild hall at the village church, cleaning the graveyard and installing snake guards on the steps to the church and the guild hall.
“It is a unique opportunity for all attending to experience life in a truly multi-cultural setting,” said Cunningham. “The tie that binds us one to another is our community centered in Jesus Christ.”
The group will also engage in some historical and cultural sight-seeing. Pine Ridge is the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1892 and the American Indian Movement occupation of 1973, and the group will visit those sites, as well as the Crazy Horse Monument. “This land is sacred and the presence of the Holy is always present at Pine Ridge,” says Cunningham. “We will also be visiting sacred sites around the Black Hills and the Paha Ska (Bad Lands) of South Dakota.”
Cunningham and Two Bulls, who is director of Indian work for the Diocese of Minnesota, began the annual journeys when the former was a lay administrator for the Diocese of Los Angeles and the latter was an associate priest at St. George’s Church in La Canada. St. George’s was the first church to send groups to Pine Ridge, and will also send a team there in the first two weeks of July.
“Pine Ridge is a place where the Episcopal Church has always been,” says Cunningham. “The church was there before it was designated as a reservation.”
Pine Ridge is one of the economically poorest areas of the United States, he says. “The people’s need is great, the residents of the village of Red Shirt remain incredibly generous and loving, and it is our poverty that is revealed to us when we are privileged to spend time among the people, not their own.”
He adds, “This is the sort of trip that changes people’s lives forever.”
The trip is always planned without cost to the young people; adult leaders pay their own expenses. Although Cunningham and Two Bulls have received several grants for the work, they are seeking donations to provide transportation, food and lodging for the young people, fund the work and buy materials.
Donations in any amount are welcome, and may be sent to the Rev. Michael Cunningham at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 2800 Harris Grade Road, Lompoc, CA 93436. Make checks payable to St. Mary’s Church and write “Red Shirt Project” on the memo line. (Contributions are tax-deductible.) For further information and details about the trip, contact Cunningham at 805.733.4400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.