PINE RIDGE, S.D. -- The shadows of the past linger here.

They want to be remembered. They regale those who listen with stories meant to humble the willful and arrogant.

A holy man once told Robert Watters such a story.

A man asked his creator for a vision to guide him and give him purpose. Climb that mountain, his creator said. He did. Again, the man begged for a vision. Climb that mountain. And so it went for years, until the man — now old and barely able to climb anymore — asked his creator one last time. Climb that mountain. So he did, one last time.

As he reached the bottom, his creator told him: Now rest.

Watters — a 26-year-old on the path of a traditional Lakota healer — struggled with the story at first. He didn’t like knowing

he might never understand what his creator wants from him. Still, he’s trying to be content with climbing whatever mountain his creator puts before him.

And so it is with his people, the Lakota of Pine Ridge.

In April, the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission revoked the licenses of four beer stores in neighboring Whiteclay, which for decades had flooded the dry reservation with alcohol. Even after that historic decision, the Lakota are calling for a vision, a way to break the circle of violence and despair that began with the first beer store in Whiteclay and continues after the last one closed.

Vince Brewer seeks justice for his murdered son, and a better fate for his daughters.

Daniel Hudspeth wants to see an end to the rampant bootlegging and drug dealing that has paralyzed his tribe.

And Eileen Janis and Yvonne “Tiny” DeCory have prayed for a path to lead the Lakota to a life beyond Whiteclay and the troubles it has come to represent.

The response is always the same: Climb that mountain.

They’ve done so, dispensing hope and wisdom to their people’s youth, inside a community center named for an Oglala orphan who won an Olympic gold medal. But just outside the front doors of Billy Mills Hall, the shadows of the past linger.

Drinkers gather nearly every night to beg for money and rides to the liquor stores in Rushville. Going to Rush, they call it.

One more mountain for the Lakota to climb.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7225 or

On Twitter @LJS_Abourezk.


I'm a Journal Star night editor and father of five.

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