"Women come to us, probably at the worst times of their lives. Broken bones, legs, arms, backs, necks...unrecognizable, because they've been battered so badly. - Janet
Janet, along with a few other courageous Lakota women, work around the clock to help abused and battered women within the Rosebud Indian Reservation.
They have created a safe shelter and society called: "White Buffalo Calf Woman Society"
Debbie was one of those courageous Lakota women.
She liked her coffee strong and a good laugh, but her work as a Domestic Violence Advocate, was taking a toll on her health.
She sat there telling us how she would get calls at every hour of the night, never knowing what to expect. Even now her words bring tears to my eyes, she was a true angel to the Lakota women.
"When you get the call...you go. You take on all their pain and all their...everything, because what they're going through, YOU go through. Because you're there!" - Debbie
There is a hurt that goes beyond domestic abuse with the Lakota Women. It's a cultural hurt, that continues to rock the community, tribe, and families within it.
Where staggering statistics of drug abuse, unemployment, and rape, are the first things you'll read when you look up Indian Reservations.
I was told it would feel like I was stepping into a Developing Country, and my only thoughts were...how have we continued to fail them?
My inspiration from the beginning of this partnership with The By Grace Foundation, was how do we capture “more”.
Emily, By Grace Co-Founder, had told me about a one-hour segment Dianne Sawyer had filmed on the Pine Ridge Reservation. A neighboring tribe to the Rosebud Reservation. The film had good intentions to raise awareness of Reservation conditions, but the Lakota came back with a single response. “More than that!”
I was nervous how to capture the true circumstances, along with a strong-spirited and beautiful culture. I wanted to make sure that no matter what, I captured more.
The weekend was a whirlwind and my focus was documenting their relationship, the culture, and the women involved.
The By Grace Foundation had been cultivating a relationship for over three years now with the Women’s Shelter, and this would be their first time meeting! It was exciting to see the partnership come to life. Janet, mentioned how important it was for the women to see Emily was real. She said, unfortunately we are a culture that knows false promises too well.
By Grace seeks to accomplish two goals:
The first is to provide a lifestyle for these women to survive that is not a life of reliance on charity handouts or an abuser; rather, it is a life of dignity through meaningful work.
The second goal of By Grace does not just seek to empower these women, but to empower the Lakota people; to join them in their fight against exterior misperceptions; to honor and dignify their way of life and the skill that they have cultivated through that way of life.
- By Bethany Moon
While Emily worked on beading designs with some of the women, I took small groups to get their portraits taken. It was during all the running back and fourth I realized how beautiful South Dakota really was.
I also got to laugh with the women and it's times like this, I am baffled at where my photography has “taken” me. Which doesn’t always mean a cool location, but the people and stories it has opened me up to.
I went to drop off one of the women and as we reached her home, we sat in the car as she told me the number of people living in her small trailer. After she got done listing off all the relatives, she turned to me and said, “can you believe that?”
She then invited me to her front porch, where I met her family. I could tell she wanted to share something else and she went inside to grab a beautiful red mask. The mask was an exact mold of her mother’s face. I could feel her emotions as she talked about the Lakota tradition and her Mother.
It was an unexpected reminder that people yearn to be heard - no matter the hurt.
I continued to capture video and portraits all afternoon and we even saw the plains fill up with bison.
The women wore traditional Lakota shawls for the photos.
At sunset we followed the women out to a field of sage and I captured them picking the healing plant. In Lakota, the word "healing" literally translates to: sage.
The plants have been used for generations in different healing rituals and was a huge part of the Women's Shelter.
After picking sage at sunset, we went back to the shelter to record interviews. I have never been so moved by the stories shared.
I remember sitting there feeling like my world was becoming smaller in that very moment. To document what was on their hearts...was an incredible honor. Something I will never forget.
By the end of the weekend, I had witnessed that exact statement made by the Lakota to Dianne Sawyer, "More Than That."
The Lakota women were cultivating BRAVERY, as they fought to leave toxic situations.
The Lakota were the true definition of PERSEVERANCE, as their culture continued to survive and their women continued to fight.
The Lakota focused on HEALING, and even in the year 2017 they were connected to nature. Something the rest of the world could learn from.
Lastly, the Lakota Women showed us so much LOVE. The relationships being built between The By Grace Foundation and these women will be unstoppable and I can't wait to see what the future holds for them.
You can support/purchase some of the beautiful beadwork by the Lakota women on The By Grace Foundation website.
Please comment below, share this story, or simply reach out and say hi!
xo - Tara