Welcome Message

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

Saturday, November 15, 2014


by Alex Hultgren, Re-Member Social Media Director

Some of the greatest assets we have at Re-Member are the individuals who give up a “life at home” for a period of time and come out to work as staff on the Rez. I had a chance to sit down with project manager Shane Hughes to hear about his perspective of life on Pine Ridge, as well as some thoughts on how all of us can take something back to our communities – both for the Lakota and for ourselves.

“I have no idea … it’s actually really hard to pin down,” replied staff member Shane Hughes, sitting across the table from me in the kitchen.  What I thought was a relatively simple question:  What keeps calling you back to the Rez? had actually created the longest pause in our one hour interview.  In retrospect, I shouldn't have been surprised, as clearly nothing trivial would have prompted this thoughtful staff member to leave his job hanging drywall in St. Louis and come to the Rez.  “If I had to name one thing, it would probably be the sense of fulfillment I get working out here.”

Shane's path to a staff role is not uncommon; he first came to Re-Member in the summer of 2010 as a volunteer on an alternative Spring Break program and something about the place just hooked him. This last spring saw his second return as a staff member.  Shane recognizes that his chosen path probably isn't typical, and that – although many people are enamored with the idea of coming back to Re-Member full-time – “It takes a certain type of individual to drop things at home and join the staff.” 

Making the leap to come to Re-Member on staff is more than just the uncertainty of quitting a job – it is the recognition of the driving force behind how you want to spend your waking hours. “It’s very easy to get too comfortable at home [at work] and lose motivation.  You can just show up, hang drywall and earn a living,” explained Shane. But Re-Member requires more.  “Here, you need to have a passion for your work – particularly because it rubs off on the volunteers.   The motivation is totally different,” he stated.  Although there are a lot of places you can go volunteer for those in need, Re-Member “isn’t just about patching holes – it’s about building up a culture.”

From Shane’s perspective, “Re-Member has definitely made an impact over nearly two decades on the Rez.  We are seeing fewer bunk bed requests and different kinds of needs being addressed.”  The move to the Feather II site for Re-Member will also have a huge impact because the more centralized location will give Re-Member easier access to more of Pine Ridge, particularly those areas further north and east.  But ultimately Shane would want Re-Member to be in a position where it isn't needed on the Rez.  “In my opinion, the goal would be to make ourselves obsolete,” said Shane.

Shane was scheduled to head back to St. Louis a few weeks after our interview, but he had a good perspective on what to do when people return home.  “First, think about what you can offer in skills, talents and connections.  We go through periods when what Re-Member really needs are mattresses.  Colleges and universities have access and insights into getting old mattresses from dorms – this is a great opportunity,” stated Shane.

There is also always a need to stay active in the issues facing Native Americans, “People need to be advocates for the Lakota and Indian issues and rights,” stated Shane. “You need to be a voice.”  And it isn't just "big issues," it can be more subtle things we encounter every day.  “When you hear something racist, or stereotyping, jump on it.  We cannot let that stuff slide,” stated Shane.

Shane also challenged people to take the ability to change one’s perspective back home as well.  “People see what’s happened on the Rez and they are moved.  There is often a transformation in their thinking.”  Shane continued, “But how about the issues in our own backyards?  Think about the people in your own communities that are less fortunate than you are.”  Clearly the history books' versions of the Lakota story are vastly different from the realities we encounter on the Rez.  There is a value in re-examining those things we think to be “true” from another perspective, much like we're forced to do at Pine Ridge.  Shane concludes: “Are you sure what you believe to be true about your own town is really the way it is?”

A heartfelt thanks to Shane for sharing his thoughts and experiences.  Whether he returns for another season at Re-Member or feels called to take his talents to new areas, we know that Shane will be making a difference in everything he does.  As the holidays approach, are you also feeling a need to make a difference?  We need your help!  Please consider supporting Re-Member this holiday season – either as a one-time gift or a commitment of ongoing support – by clicking here.  And remember to go through Amazon Smile for all of your Amazon purchases and designate Re-Member as your charity of choice!  Thanks – we can’t do this without you!

Friday, September 12, 2014


by Alex Hultgren, Re-Member Social Media Director

Walking into Patricia Catches the Enemy’s home, one is immediately struck with a sense of warmth.  Delicious smells coming from the stove, photos of both honored elder family members and beautiful grandchildren on the walls, an almost-completed star quilt in the traditional medicine wheel colors laying over the couch . . . it’s everything you would want in a grandmother’s house.  And Patricia has been grandmother to many, many people on Pine Ridge Reservation over the years. 

Patricia grew up on her family’s homestead a few miles north of the community of Pine Ridge learning the importance of hard work.  “We had horses and my father taught us how to ride bareback.  We didn't have saddles and had to learn how to make our own halters,” explained Patricia.  “We had to bale hay, pick apples, do certain chores; I've always worked.” 

In addition to a strong work ethic, as Patricia grew up she was strongly influenced by her father’s teachings.  “My father was a very famous medicine man, Pete Catches.  He used to be a police officer and one time when he was seriously hurt, he was taken to his grandfather who was a medicine man. His grandfather spent three days doctoring my father.  My father also had dreams since he was young about animals -- animals that were always pushing him toward something.  After his healing, he began to study traditional medicine himself and revived a lot of the rituals that were no longer practiced.” As he became a respected and very well-known medicine man, Pete was asked to travel quite a bit.  “He went to Japan and Hawaii to teach, and one time when he was in France they asked him to go to Rome, where he had a chance to meet the Pope!” stated Patricia. 

Patricia Catches The Enemy and a traditional star quilt
she is making for an Alcoholics Anonymous fundraiser.
When asked about the star quilt she is making, she states that she wants to complete it for a fundraiser for her AA group.  “I've been active with this AA group since 1980” when she returned from the Rez after a brief time away.  “My sister died and I began drinking a lot.  But I was educated enough to see that it would only be a matter of time before I died from this disease [alcoholism], so I got sober.”  From there, she returned to college to get a degree in substance abuse counselling and starting working for the tribe in a treatment program.  “After that, I held various positions including being director of the Burial Program and working on Housing” stated Patricia, but after speaking with her, one can tell pretty quickly that her passion has always been more around working with the youth. 

“I worked with kids with substance abuse problems and we used to take them into the Black Hills and teach them life skills, coping skills.  I also used to work with runaway and homeless youth.   There have been so many over the years, and when I see some of them in town who are now grown, they come up to me and say ‘Hi Grandma!’” she said with a smile.

One name she won’t forget anytime soon is Re-Member.  “A few years ago I was getting so frustrated, because I needed some work done on my home and I had tried so hard here with the programs that are supposed to assist the elders and I couldn't get anywhere,” stated Patricia.  “I called Re-Member and they were only going to do one little thing –a window on the east side, I think – but it turned into a major project and I got a new roof!” 

But it was not just the work done to her 70-year-old home, it was the volunteers and staff that make an impact as well. “I was so awe struck – a lot of the elders here feel despair, but then I saw these Re-Member volunteers come with such young energy and excitement!  And whatever race or ethnicity they were didn't matter; they understood the essence of being human.  I met every one of those people that came out.  And after my roof, they trimmed my trees and dug some new drainage areas in my yard so the water wouldn't run into toward the house when it rains,” said Patricia.  “I will be forever grateful to Re-Member.”

It was a true honor to speak to Patricia and hear her stories and experiences.  Re-Member works to help 350-400 families on the reservation every year.  If you would like to come to Pine Ridge to meet people like Patricia, book a week with us today!  And as always, we appreciate your ongoing support! Comments/questions?  Please contact me at alex@re-member.org.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014


by Alex Hultgren, Re-Member Social Media Director

Every week as the program comes to a close, this question almost always comes up.  As we all know, once you leave the Rez and return back to your busy life, it becomes challenging to reconnect.  So, here are six things you can do to help!

Keeping Re-member going requires a lot of resources, and we can only succeed with the generous support of people like you.  Fortunately, we've made it so easy now to donate online, either as a one-time gift or you can sign-up for automatic withdrawal monthly for on-going support of our efforts!  Please click here to help: we appreciate and can immediately use ANY support you can provide.

Amazon has a great program through smile.amazon.com, where 0.5% of your purchase can go toward a charity of your choice!  All you have to do is designate Re-Member as your charitable organization, and then all of your purchases will start generating income for Re-Member!  Making purchases through the Smile program does neither changes your pricing nor interferes with Amazon Prime membership benefits.  Just make sure you bookmark smile.amazon.com, since you have to be accessing Amazon and make purchases through this url for Re-member to get credit. 
3.       GO SOCIAL
Have you been to our Facebook page?  If not, please pay us a visit and like the page today!  This is a great way to get current photos and keep in touch with some of the day-to-day happenings on the Rez.  You can also see our photos on Flikr here, and sign up for our email communications!  And of course, continue to read this blog diligently. 

Re-Member’s work is never done!  If you've been out here before as a volunteer, share your experiences!  The Lakota story needs to be heard, and if we don’t tell it, no one will!  Once you've recruited a bunch of friends/colleagues/co-workers, come back next year – but book soon, as the weeks fill up fast!

There are events and fundraisers in support of Re-Member happening all over the country, and there may be one near you! The website will have a list of upcoming events, so check back frequently!  On that note, if you are going to be in the southeast Michigan area on August 16, come to the Barn Dance, and folks in Geneva, IL should check out the Baseball for Bunk Beds event on August 21!

As you realize when you spend time on Pine Ridge, the Lakota (and almost all other Native American) stories are unknown and untold beyond the boundaries of the Rez.  In spite of this, there are issues in front of your state and federal representatives that will have a direct impact on life on the Rez.

Lakota Country TimesIs there any pending Native American legislation in Congress, and what’s your Senator’s/Representative’s stance? Are you familiar with the Keystone Pipeline or the proposals involving the Tribal National Park?  One of the best ways to stay current on what’s happening on Pine Ridge is to subscribe to the Lakota Country Times and/or Native Sun News.  Learn the facts and make your (and the Lakota's) voices heard on these issues!

Thanks again and remember:  it's only through the generous financial support of people like you that allow us to continue making a difference on Pine Ridge!

Saturday, June 21, 2014


by Alex Hultgren, Re-Member Social Media Director

There are a lot of different groups that have come out to Re-Member over the years;  church congregations, youth teams, college students on alternative spring breaks, families, seniors . . . the list goes on.  But the directors and men from Jaywalker Lodge in Carbondale, CO, bring a unique perspective to Re-Member when they attend:  the perspective of recovery.

Jaywalker discovered Re-Member 4 years ago by program manager Dan Reed.  “I had been dabbling in Native American spirituality and was invited to do some work on a Sun Dance Arbor here on Pine Ridge,” explained Dan.  “Once I got here, I was taken with the Rez and I stumbled upon Re-Member.  I decided to come out for a week as a volunteer and do the program.”  Dan was so moved by the experience – and immediately saw how much the men from Jaywalker could get out of this program – that he came back that same season.  Only this time, he brought a crew of men with him.  They have been coming back ever since.
Dan Solutions Pine Ridge
Dan Reed, Solutions Program Director at Jaywalker Lodge

As volunteers, the men of Jaywalker blend right in to the group at Re-Member.  “Most of our men are in their early 20's and come from middle- to upper-class backgrounds,” explains Bob Furgason, founder of Jaywalker. “The first day or two, no one knows who we are – or realize the struggles our men have had with addiction.”  Dan, who was marking his seventh visit to Re-Member this spring, adds: “as the week unfolds, it’s been great to see how other people open up.  The volunteers here are already open-minded, or they wouldn't be here.  I remember one week there was an older gentleman from a church congregation that had been fairly quiet, but once he found out who we were, he began sharing a story about a family member – I think it was a grandson – who has struggled with addiction.”  This was not a story he was able to share with many people, but the presence of Jaywalker allowed him to open up, share and ask questions about a topic many people are afraid to discuss.

“Addiction is a self-destructive path, and people make lifestyle adjustments,” explains Bob. “The use of drugs and alcohol are on a curve.  The difference is how far down on the continuum someone goes.  At some point, people tell themselves they can control it, and they can’t.  They feel like failures and spiral down … they lose self-esteem.”  Dan continues: “Using drugs becomes the only motivation in life.  Every other relationship takes a back seat.”  One can tell immediately by interacting with the participants from Jaywalker that these men have taken a positive step to put that lifestyle behind them.  

Is it challenging to go into homes on the Rez to do work for Re-Member -- and occasionally find residents who are drunk or high?  “Most of the guys do not react when we encounter that kind of thing on a work site,” stated Dan, “and the few times I've had one of our men say something, I pull them aside and say: ‘Hey.  That was you.  You were the one lying on the floor passed out, and it wasn't too long ago. Don’t judge.’ and they come around pretty quickly.”

Based on his 22 years of personal experience and work in the world of recovery (actually 75% of Jaywalker’s staff have been through recovery), Bob can see how alcoholism and addiction on the Rez present particular challenges:  “Our men are in a community and culture that supports them.  When only 10% of the community has an addiction problem, the other 90% can support,” explains Bob, “but when alcoholism is running at 80% on the Rez, it is a much, much tougher battle.”  At the same time, the beliefs and traditions of the Lakota are a great foundation.  “The core values of the Lakota culture appeal to everyone.”

“At Jaywalker, we try to emulate Gandhi’s teaching:  ‘The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.’  This is exactly why Re-Member’s work is so relevant to our program,” explains Dan. “Most of the men in our program are from homes where the parents went to college and are progressive thinkers.  Our men have the core values or service to others inside of them; those values have just been dormant.”  Bob adds: “But recovery is about shifting, shifting away from ‘this’ to ‘that,’ so we can draw a parallel to the work at Re-Member.  Even though our men may only be working on one or two work projects during the week -- when there are so many issues on the Rez -- it all matters:  little differences can have a huge impact.” Dan concludes:  “We will be back.”

We are privileged and fortunate to have the men from Jaywalker Lodge spend time with us at Re-Member.  Personally, I am humbled by the strength and courage each of these men have found to address their addictions head-on, and I was honored to have met Bob, Dan, and the rest of the staff that are making such a difference in these men’s lives. It also reminded me that you never know what interesting and amazing people you may encounter spending a week at Re-Member, so why not book a week with us?  And as always, we appreciate your ongoing support! Comments/questions?  Please contact me at alex@re-member.org.

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.