Welcome Message

Welcome to "Words to Re-Member", the official blog of Re-Member.

Monday, May 19, 2014


by Alex Hultgren, Re-Member Social Media Director

In the not-so-distant-past, one of the most popular genres of movies were the classic Cowboys & Indians films, where – more often than not – the “good guy” Cowboys would end up victorious over the “savage” Indians.  These films were not only prevalent in the United States but were also immensely popular worldwide. For one young girl in Belgium, however, that basic black-and-white plotline provoked a very different response.  “Whenever a cowboy was shot, I just watched the movie,” stated Berlinda Aelbrecht, Re-Member’s first Belgian volunteer, “but when an Indian was shot, I cried and cried and cried.  Finally my mother told my father that I wasn’t allowed to watch those movies anymore, because they were making me too sad and she didn’t know what to do with me.”  But for Berlinda, those films had awakened a desire in her to come learn more about the Native Americans.

Berlinda had spent her entire life in Belgium working in a number of different careers, including a stint in the Belgian Army, working for a car service, and most recently with the traveling crew for the Belgian national cycling team.  But a few years ago, she fulfilled a lifelong dream by coming to North America to “walk in the footsteps” of the indigenous people.  “Coming to this place was the biggest and most important trip I wanted to make in my life,” said Berlinda.  “No one at home could understand why I wanted to come to the Great Plains, but it was just something I had to do.  They warned me that it would be unsafe, that Indian Reservations were dangerous places, but I did not believe those stereotypes.”  Still, it was daunting to come alone to a place so different and so far from home. “Then I found Re-Member” she continued, “and I knew I would be with other people and would be doing important work for the Lakota, so I signed up.”

Berlinda had planned on spending her week at Re-Member and then travelling around to see some of the sites in the Black Hills and around the area.  But after completing her week with the crew on Pine Ridge, she only lasted a single night out on the rest of her journey before she found herself back at Re-Member.  “I spent the first night in a huge hotel room in Rapid City – they had given me a free upgrade.  I thought, ‘What do I need such a huge room for?  What a waste!’ and did not sleep well all night.  The next day I set out driving around, but my heart wasn’t in it.  I thought ‘Why am I going to spend the next few days burning through tanks of fuel?’  So I headed back to Re-Member.  When I arrived, I intended to just ask [executive director] Ted and [volunteer trip coordinator] Paula if I could park my car in the back and sleep in the car that night,” Berlinda continued.  “But when I pulled up, Paula gave me a huge hug and said to Ted, ‘See!  See!  I told you she’d be back!” 

Instead of sleeping in the car, Berlinda was immediately given a bunk in the Shelem Guest House and told to report to Jerry in the workshop in the morning.  “Ted took my bags out of my car with a smile and said I would be on staff the rest of the week,’” explained Berlinda, “and I couldn’t have been happier.”  Unbeknownst to Ted, the woodworking activities in the workshop were the perfect fit.  “When I was 13-17 years old I took carpentry in school,” Berlinda said, “and my mother thought I was crazy.  ‘What in the world are you going to do with these skills?’ she would ask me.”  As it turns out, it was the perfect background for a week on staff at Re-Member.

Berlinda shares her world-famous rice pudding with the team

Upon returning to Belgium after that first year, Berlinda immediately noticed how stressful life back home was – and she had no interest in reconnecting with it.  “Belgium is a small country and there are lots of people, but everyone seems so stressed all of the time and for so many people, nothing seems to satisfy them,” explained Berlinda.  “So many people care about matching their neighbor’s car, or wearing the right labels, but it makes you feel empty in the end.”  Berlinda continued, “I no longer want the expensive car or the top brand clothes; those things don’t make me happy.  On the Rez I can connect with nature in a way I can’t in Belgium.”

In addition to the natural and spiritual connection she feels on Pine Ridge (her first visit to Wounded Knee moved her to tears), she is also very motivated to help the Lakota.  “The systems in place out here have real problems, and there isn’t enough money.”  But that doesn’t stop Berlinda from doing what she can.  “Sure, there are 200 families waiting for services, but I’m very happy when we can help 20 in 3 weeks,” stated Berlinda.  “You help who you can, you make a difference.”

We want to thank Berlinda for her incredible service and dedication to Re-Member and to work with the Lakota.  She returned to Belgium in late April but will be back at Re-Member on staff again in June.  Do you feel a connection to the Lakota Story that you’d like to explore as a staff member?  If so, you can find out more information here or contact Board President Cory True directly for more information.  Or if you are interested in coming as a volunteer, book a week with us today!  And as always, we appreciate your ongoing support! Comments/questions?  Please contact me at alex@re-member.org.