Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Md. college students help rehab Sioux reservation

ARNOLD — Guy Hostetter sure knows how to vacation.

He drove 30 straight hours in a rented van, then spent several days working construction without pay. He sprained his ankle in the process, but it still was the most rewarding experience of his life.

Hostetter, a 26-year-old Stevensville resident, was among a group of eight from Anne Arundel Community College who traveled to South Dakota recently to help out impoverished Oglala Lakota Sioux on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

“You leave feeling somehow more freed,” he said. “It’s freeing to live a life about other people.”

The trip, which spanned May 26 to June 1, was organized through the college’s philosophy club and its advisor, associate professor Carolin Woolson.

This is the second time Woolson has taken a group to the reservation. The first was in 2010, with nine taking part, and her plan is to organize a trip every two years. She got the idea from a student who was half-Lakota and told her about the reservation.

The initial trip prompted these observations from Anna Holmes: “It made me sit back and realize just how lucky I really am. I never have to worry about my next meal, or if my house is going to suffice for harsh weather…I have learned several of the greatest life lessons in Pine Ridge, and inside of my soul, a new awareness has been awakened.”

Hostetter had similar feelings. The conditions on the reservation gave him pause. “You wouldn’t think it exists in America,” he said.

For Woolson, the contrast between the beautiful landscape and the “hopelessness and poverty” on the reservation was wrenching. “It tears you up inside,” she said. “Your heart is still there. It’s hard to get back to the rhythm of your life.”

The AACC group worked with a nonprofit called Re-Member, which is at Pine Ridge. Woolson got some funding through the college, but students still had to come up with several hundred dollars to cover their costs. Half drove and half flew to South Dakota.

Catharine Billey of Davidsonville spent considerably more, since she also footed the bill for her daughter and son-in-law. “It’s so far from the world we live in here,” said Billey, 63. “You can’t help but be affected by it.”

After spending the day on various building projects, the AACC group and other volunteers listened to guest speakers discuss the Sioux culture.

Billey found these talks especially illuminating. She enjoyed learning about the Lakota language and life. “I just found myself very interested in the culture and what people believed in,” she said.

Their spirituality was in line with her own beliefs. “It touched a chord in my heart,” Billey said, “about having to pay attention to everything and… that we’re all same. That we’re all responsible for the land and all the animals.”

She and others left feeling as if they didn’t do nearly enough and would like to go back at some point. For Billey, that will be in August of next year, when she plans a return for herself and her daughter and son-in-law.

Woolson’s also looking forward to another trip.

“It’s important to me that people learn (about the reservation and the Lakota people),” she said. “It’s easy for people to ignore the fact that they’re there and they’re suffering. It’s easy to look away.”