I am sharing a tribute to my father that carries a message about respect for voices from minority communities and caring for the earth.

Dad could speak Lakota, at least enough to carry on a conversation with the guys from the Pine Ridge reservation who came by our house to see him. Growing up in a tiny Nebraska town in the early 60’s, I didn’t realize how rare and respectful it was until much later, after he had died. I remember sitting in our cluttered living room, hearing the distinctive intonations going back and forth, occasionally punctuated by laughter. I didn’t realize for years how rare it was for a white Nebraskan to speak Lakota, nor did I realize the respect he showed by caring enough to speak with our neighbors from a minority culture in their own language.

I never talked to him about it. I was too busy being a kid, too busy being consumed by shame, ashamed of Dad for the Parkinson’s that was gradually crippling him, ashamed of being poor, ashamed of the way white people treated the Indians that I saw on the streets, the Indians who were also my classmates, and ashamed of feeling totally powerless to do anything about any of those things.

Probably the best thing I can say about growing up in that area was the constant connection with the outdoors, the huge skies, clean air, delicious water and Technicolor sunsets.

As a front row witness to both the attacks on Native American culture and the harsh, fragile beauty of the Sandhills, I have come to understand the importance of honoring the human spirit and the sacredness of the land and water that sustain life on this planet.

We now have a president and other politicians in power who show total disrespect for the voices of minorities and regard our life giving natural resources as mere objects to be exploited for the sake of short-term profit.

One of most important lessons I’ve learned along the way is the awareness that we can have an impact by getting involved. It’s time for us all to be like my Dad, and even if we can’t speak the languages of other cultures, we need to show respect for the message and the people who bring it; to honor what they are saying and take action to protect people and the earth for all our children and generations to come.

Ken Winston
Director of Policy and Outreach