The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is more than 1,200 miles from Cleveland, Ohio, but the vast distance doesn’t stand in the way of a unique and powerful connection one individual has built within the community.
Karen Posner, a peace, justice and human rights major at John Carroll University in Cleveland, traveled to South Dakota six months ago where she spent a week on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Her trip sparked powerful emotions and a persistent drive to help residents in the community. She has started a nonprofit organization, Honor the Drums, and is helping build a college course that would teach Native American culture and history at two colleges in Ohio.
Prior to attending John Carroll University, Posner attended Cuyahoga Community College. It was during a campus event, Culture Shock, that she met an Native American student who shared with her the culture, life and challenges of those who live on drumPine Ridge Indian Reservation in the corner of southwest South Dakota.
“The more I heard, the more I felt moved to do something,” Posner said. “It was the high suicide rate that got to me. I did my research and decided I wanted to go see the community myself.”
Posner first visited Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in March with fellow students and faculty from Cuyahoga Community College for an experimental learning trip.
The trip was a successful one, and it spurred an idea to educate not only the region, but the nation about Native American culture, specifically in Pine Ridge.
“There are problems, but there’s so much hope. There’s so much love in the people and so much beauty in their culture that it blows me away,” Posner said. “I’d like to share it with other people in my field and my field of study so other students can see what we can learn and what we can bring to their lives that may be helpful.”
Posner is helping faculty at John Carroll University and Cuhyago Community College to develop a four-credit course that includes an annual trip to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. She, along with Dr. Richard Clark, associate professor and director of the peace, justice and human rights program at John Carroll University, visited Pine Ridge in August. Another trip is scheduled for May 2016.
“You can talk about Pine Ridge all day, but until you go there and see the beauty of the land and the beauty of the people, you can’t appreciate it,” Posner said.
In addition to helping with college course, Posner is in the process of building her nonprofit organization, Honor the Drums. Through it, Posner is working with agencies on the reservation to help raise awareness of the everyday struggles on the reservation, as well as promote educational and cultural exchange with students and faculty at Oglala Lakota Community College.
One project Posner is passionate about is developing a music and art program for youth in the community in the hopes of decreasing the high suicide rate among youth in the community.
“Art and music can give children an outlet and a passion that will help them deal with the stressors that are affecting them,” Posner said. “I’m not a psychologist. I’m just a parent really, and I know that it works.”
On her most recent visit to Pine Ridge, Posner met with various agencies to get support for Honor the Drums. The next step is to generate funding. Posner encourages those that are interested in learning more or getting involved to visit honorthedrums.org for more information.
“I’d like to save the world, but if I can just make a difference in one small corner of the world, that’s my goal,” Posner said. “And I hope it’s Pine Ridge.”