Makoska (Badlands)

April 22, 2012

Close-up of Badlands National Park scrub brush

Copyright 2012 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

The first full day of the recent Alternative Spring Break trip to the Pine Ridge Reservation was mostly spent on a hike into the South Unit of the Badlands.  The U.S. government established a National Monument here in 1939, which was redesignated a national park in 1978.  The Oglala Tribal Council has made an effort to have the Tribe manage the South Unit, a proposal under consideration by the NPS (please scroll to page 8 of the brochure for this information.)  It certainly is beautiful in its austerity and expanse.  It was 88 degrees and sunny that day, so it was quite hot and dusty.  This was magnified by the lack of rain recently and any meaningful amount of snow this past winter.

Cracked ground in the Badlands

Copyright 2012 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

There were about 50 people in residence and so we boarded a school bus for the trip to the Park.  As we turned and drove down the entrance road, I could not shake the feeling that we were trespassing.

Walking into the Badlands

Copyright 2012 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

The feeling became more insistent the further we walked into the park.  I made a conscious effort to drive it into my unconscious (the term for this is “suppression”), but the sensation kept needling the back of my brain.  I eventually hiked out and awaited the return of the rest of the group.  It was quite an eerie experience being there.

I have read a bit about Native American history but had not really investigated the background of this section of the Badlands-and having not done so was a mistake. During that night’s discussion, guest speaker Mr. Inila Wakan shed some light on what was most likely the root cause of my ill will.

Badlands National Park interior

Copyright 2012 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Mr. Wakan made several points about the Badlands-one was of semantics.  He reported that the Lakota revered the Earth, and so would never put the word “bad” together with anything to do with the land.  Interestingly, the National Park Service website for Badlands National Park states that the Lakota “…were the first to call this place “mako sika” or “land bad””.  Mr. Wakan said the Lakota referred to this area as “Makoska”, which translates as “White Wilderness”.  It certainly seemed to be just that.  As a means of illustrating this point, find my copyright information in these photographs.  (Hint:  it is in the lower left corner of each photograph.  The text is white and at 100% opacity  and is virtually invisible in all but the photograph of the trailer below.)  Difficult to read due to the lack of contrast between land and text, eh?

The "White Wilderness"

Copyright 2012 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Mr. Wakan later pointed out that during that 1940’s, the decision was made to use the Badlands as a bombing range so as to provide practice for the pilots fighting WW II (this continued through the Viet Nam era).  As “The Badlands Gunnery Range” (the “bombing range” link just above) states, 125  families were moved as a safety measure.  Mr. Wakan indicated that 890 Lakota family plots were condemned by the Department of Defense and that the people living there were given 10 days in which to move.   At the end of the time allotted for leaving, their houses were used for target practice.  Any remaining wildlife was used as target practice also, according to Mr. Wakan.

Those who were displaced were eventually housed in trailers throughout the Reservation.  (Note:  I do not know if those living in the trailer pictured here are associated with this relocation.)  Mr. Wakan made a direct link to the poverty and desolation experienced by the now 12,000 descendants of those forced to move from their homes.  While the Lakota do not believe in “owning” the land, those who did live there and their family members would appear to have a much stronger historic right to manage the South Unit as they deem appropriate.  Most certainly it is not my land to drive into and walk upon as I pleased.

And so it makes sense that I felt as if I were trespassing upon entering the Makoska section of Pine Ridge.  I was.

Take care.


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