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Aug 10, 2015

Mission Trip Benefits Lakota and Team Members


Members of St. Dunstan’s mission team traveled to the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota this summer to renew friendships, worship with and serve the local Lakota people.


“Tribal members struggle with poverty, alcoholism, diabetes, lack of education, poor medical care, inadequate housing, and most strikingly, the difficulty of living in two worlds--Indian and non-Indian,” said Debbie Johnson.


In this cultural setting, family is the center of life, even while basic needs are in short supply. Areas called Bridger, Takini and Red Scaffold are considered “un-chun-ka” or “pitifully poor.” These areas of the reservation are where donations from St. Dunstan’s have been put to work on the “Rez.”


Five years ago, youth from the church did the first mission trip with the Lakota. “Our exuberant youth made the grueling two-day trip to and from Bridger, South Dakota in a large van sporting everything from tools to toothbrushes,” Johnson said. They scraped and repainted houses, cooked and cleaned the grounds and played with the children. “Not easy work, but it began the trust and friendships that we now enjoy,” she added.


The second year brought new opportunities to add a medical component. A team spent six months turning a donated shipping container into a medical clinic and, with the help of many generous people, including Episcopal Church Women and the Diocese, the container reached Bridger. Emergency and first responders are currently using the clinic to do HIV and TB testing, as well as providing health classes.


Hopefully, the clinic will be a blessing to this largely forgotten population who have “no voice, no resources, are victims of racism, and who have serious health issues, poor educational possibilities, and virtually no support.” Johnson said.


“Over the years, we have learned that going to fix all the broken things on the reservation--and EVERYTHING is broken—what we really need to do is to build relationships,” Johnson explained. “So we have provided community meals and we have learned to sit and listen as the elders talk. Our traveling store allows people to purchase necessities at pennies on the dollar and all the funds we get go back into the community for school supplies,” she said.


In return, the Lakotas have invited church members into their most sacred of ceremonies: an inipi or sweat lodge where prayers were said in both Lakota and English, Pow Wows, and a Lakota Christian service and prayer ceremony with drums, flute, and “hauntingly beautiful” singing under a dark, star-studded sky.


Because of the lack of employment opportunities on the reservation, St. Dunstan’s supplied materials for tribe members to begin their own business making beautiful star quilts and intricate beadwork. Johnson hopes this initiative will help the Lakota learn business skills while earning money.


Read a pastoral letter on the Doctrine of Discovery and Indigenous Peoples by the Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori.


For more information, please contact Johnson at or call 713.851.9031.