Byron's Babbles

My Fourth of July Leadership Wish!

Yesterday I had the opportunity to spend the day in what I would call some of the most beautiful parts of the world – the Badlands National Park, Wind Cave National Park, the Black Hills National Forest, the Crazy Horse National Memorial, and finishing the day at the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. All in the great state of South Dakota. We have been prepping for this trip for quite some time and, of course, I have been reading a lot of books. It was so exciting to see so many of the historical sites where important events took place. Also, it was very moving to see sites that had religious and cultural meaning to the people who were the true original caretakers of this land long before it was the United States of America. I question if how we came to have this part of the country would have pleased George Washington. 

As you can imagine, I had the audible books playing for Hope, Heath, and I for the trip out. Reading books is such a great way to learn others’ perspectives, cultural differences, and history. 

The Badlands National Park was such an awe inspiring display of the forming of our earth and the climatic and geological changes that occur over time. We did some hiking and spent time enjoying the wildlife. It reminded us how important it is to take care of and respect the parts of the earth we personally affect. Also, we said a little thank you to Teddy Roosevelt for being a preservationist and ensuring we had these National Parks to learn from and enjoy.

Then, it was off to Wind Cave National Park. Immediately, upon entering the park we encountered buffalo, elk, and prairie dogs. The highlight for me, however, was seeing the place where The Lakota Nation believe was the beginning of their people and the buffalo. It is a small opening in the earth, about 18″X24″ where there is a constant cool wind coming out of the cave. The Lakota believe they and the buffalo entered the world from this opening. It was very sobering to stand in this spot. I wish everyone in the world would take time to understand the cultures and beliefs of others. 

Heath made the comment to me, “You know dad, the Lakota’s belief in their creation from the earth is no less believable than ours, as Christians, of there being a Garden of Eden.” I was proud of him for “getting it.” It doesn’t take away from our own beliefs to understand and respect the beliefs of others. As a state’s rights/individual rights democratic government guy, I question if the way we (the United States) came to be in control of this land is what Thomas Jefferson had in mind when penning the Declaration of Independence. Particularly, being founded on the principle of freedom of religion. I’ll let you ponder that question. 

Next, it was off to the Crazy Horse National Memorial. Crazy Horse, as you know, was one of the great leaders of the Oglala Lakota who worked with Sitting Bull and Chief Red Cloud to save the region where we are right now for their people. This memorial is awesome and does not use any tax dollars for creation. As an example of how this is being done is the fact that all the granite that is cut away from the mountain in sculpting is used to build the buildings and roads as a part of the complex. I would recommend everyone do some studying of the inception and continuation of the work on this monument. 

I also had the distinct honor of getting to meet, spend time visiting with, and learning from the author of one of the books I had read in preparation for the trip, Ed McGaa Eagle Man. He even autographed his book for me! Ed McGaa (Eagle Man) was born on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and is a registered tribal member of the Oglala Sioux. He received his Bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University and earned a law degree from the University of South Dakota. 

He studied under Chief Eagle Feather and Chief Fool’s Crow, both influential Sioux holy men, and is honored by the Sioux for having participated six times in the Sun Dance ceremony.

He also served as a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps in Vietnam, receiving eight air medals and two Crosses of Gallantry, and was recommended for a Distinguished Flying Cross.

We discussed his heritage, cultural practices, religious beliefs and those of the Oglala Lakota. It was so awesome for Heath and I to sit and learn from this great man. If we would all just take time to understand the beliefs of other and really respect them; what a better place the world would be. Everyone needs to take time to read Ed’s book, Crazy Horse and Red Cloud. It would serve us well to learn from the arrogance, hubris, and lack of understanding of the leaders of the time that caused the removal of the true caretakers of the land at the time. 
Ed told the story of how General Custer lost at Little Big Horn because he did not understand the Lakota, the superior weponry of the Winchester repeating rifle the Lakota had acquired, and the fact that Custer turned down an extra 800 men. We could point to all of this as bad leadership. It is also disappointing to hear all the times our government negotiated and then did not keep our promises. As Chief Red Cloud said of the only promise kept by the United States: “…They promised to take our land and they took it.” I would like to have a conversation with Abraham Lincoln about what happened here and the vision for our country that he was not able to see through to completion. 

The last stop of the day was Mount Rushmore National Memorial. This was a pretty incredible culmination to a great day of reflection and learning. As you have noticed, I have weaved reflections about the four presidents on Mount Rushmore into this post. It is my sincere hope that I can contribute to our country in significant ways and live the life I have described in this post of understanding and respecting the beliefs of others and caring for this beautiful earth we have been given. This is my Fourth of July wish.

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