I walk into a Silicon Valley Starbucks wearing a red sweatshirt that reads "Oglala Lakota Nation, Pine Ridge, South Dakota" on the back. The tables are full of techies talking about social media content and news feeds. With swooped hair and polished button-ups, this has become a normal part of my every day experience living in the Bay Area. Standing in line, I wonder if the man behind me is wondering what my hoodie says. I turn around to look at him and see him punching things into his phone with a strange calmness. Here is the center of his world and the center of his day: this Starbucks and his news feed and the tech company he sits in every afternoon. I look around and see everyone banging into tablets, laptops, phones -- sipping their coffee with rigidity. They're checking in. They're updating a feed. They're doing all the things I feel myself giving in to on a daily basis. The barista hands me my tea, and I miss the Black Hills. I remember the sun and stand wandering into a mental space I forget about here in the capital of tech. The gentleman behind me doesn't get off his phone to order his drink, and I have to remind myself: There are very few Sioux in Silicon Valley.
I was back in South Dakota with my mother last week and had the opportunity to disengage from the social media world for two days. It was an opportunity for us to reflect, pray and realign without the distraction of my phone or the outside world. When the time came for me to re-enter modern civ, I avoided turning on my phone during the 40-mile drive back to service. As I eventually gave in to snapping a photo of the landscape, I thought to myself, I don't want to look back on this Instagram photo and remember that I wasn't noticing the live serpentine sky or the hills wrapped in green. I don't have to give in to living in a tech-obsessed world out here. Today, in moments like this Starbucks, I want to remember what the storm clouds looked like rolling across the plains. It doesn't matter how many likes or re-tweets I get on this photo. What matters, is that I remember this drive on overwhelming days like today.
I think about the young ones I got to see in South Dakota during that time of unplugging, their parents laughing as babies ate frybread and buffalo stew. There is a mother sitting across from me in Starbucks playing on her tablet while her daughter mashes coffee cake between her fingers and smears applesauce on her face. She does not look at her once. The parents I saw in South Dakota have chosen to raise their kids in a traditional way, staying connected to the culture that kept us grounded and strong for hundreds of years. I saw might in those kids. I saw strength in their hearts. I watch Valley kids coming in and out to buy coffee and wonder as they stare at their phones, where they go to mentally without the Internet. Where do they find sense in troubling times? These young people will turn into the man standing behind me who can't unplug. They will turn into the tablet mother ignoring her child. At the epicenter of tech, are we losing a sense of our centered selves?
I remain thankful to the Internet in many ways for strengthened Native American presence in our country -- how we as Indigenous people have found tremendous ways to connect and ignite movements alongside each other via social media. We talk about faith. We talk about injustice. We have learned to unite over issues that impact our communities. In the same light, I am thankful for the times when I can remember where my spiritual strength aligns because of my traditional values. I am thankful as a young adult for the time I get to go back to the Black Hills and reflect far away from the epicenter of tech. I forget about "likes" and messages. I take mental images instead of filtered photographs. I remember that those before the Internet woke up with a plains sunrise and their families; that was our centered and focused life as a community who took care of each other. They paid attention in lines for food. They watched their kids grow up. In moments of news feed scrolling and phone tapping, we must learn to let go and get back to where we came from and we -- Native or not, Silicon Valley or not -- have to learn how to instill centered strength in ourselves. So until next summer, South Dakota, here's to being Sioux in Silicon Valley.
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