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home : opinion : letters to the editor August 28, 2014

10/31/2012 9:01:00 AM
A missed opportunity to learn about our heritage

A missed opportunity to learn about our heritage
I got on a plane in Washington, D.C., one Friday afternoon. The late Senator Paul Wellstone also got on and, before he sat down, congratulated the guy next to me on a successful visit.
As we flew home I was reading an elk and bison magazine, the gentleman next to me kept looking at the magazine. I gave him my copy to read and we began a conversation about elk and bison ranching.
He told me that at home (back on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation) the young people had no interest in learning the language or ancestral customs. He said he felt that was such a loss for future generations.
The man told me about what one generation should learn from the previous generation, teach the next. He also said that the buffalo were such a part of his people and their heritage. He feared with little interest from them, the knowledge of what the bison meant would be lost. He said the future is so tied to the past.
The gentleman was Russell Means. His successful visit was that a sitting president, the first in many, many years - President Bill Clinton - would soon thereafter go to the Pine Ridge Reservation and announce infrastructure development for Indian nations.
I was visiting my mother this week and my brother looked at me and asked, "Do you remember when Grandma and Grandpa prayed in Norwegian before meals?" Until he said that I had forgotten that memory.
That question reminded me of what Russell Means was trying to tell me on that plane ride: Too many of us miss the opportunity to truly understand those who came before us. Neither I nor my brother learned any of those prayers in Norwegian or, for that matter, many other things of our heritage.
I now remember the good advice I got on a plane so many years ago and it didn't sink in until my brother's question and the death of Russell Means this week.
   - Donavan J Olson,

Hy Vee
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