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Tim Giago

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Remembering When Nape Waste Winyan -- Kerry Kennedy -- Came to Pine Ridge

Posted: 07/24/2012 3:30 pm

The first thing that came to my mind when I read about the arrest of Kerry Kennedy, the daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, was: this is not true.

It seems that when it comes to the Kennedy's any news reports about them are immediately sensationalized. Not only sensationalized, but greatly exaggerated.

Kerry was in an automobile accident and after the facts came out the truck driver that ran into her car was charged, not Kerry and yet the newspapers and television stories led with, "Kerry Kennedy Charged." How misleading are those headlines?

Ken Sunshine, a spokesman for Kennedy, said, "Kerry Kennedy voluntarily took breathalyzer, blood and urine tests -- all of which showed no drugs or alcohol whatsoever in her system. The charges were filed before the test results were available."

I first met Kerry more than 20 years ago at her Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights office. We talked about some of the problems on my home Indian reservation in South Dakota and Kerry said she wanted to come out to the reservation.

We set a time and place and Kerry came to Rapid City. Before leaving for the Pine Ridge Reservation, Wicasa Wakan (Holy Man) Rick Two Dogs, held an inipi (sweat lodge) ceremony in the sweat lodge built at my home and gave Kerry the Lakota name, Nape Waste Winyan or Good Hands Woman. It was a name she always remembered with great pride.

In 2008 Kennedy, a devout Catholic wrote the book, Being Catholic Now: Prominent Americans Talk About Change in the Church and the Quest for Meaning. It was a book that addressed the oftentimes uncertainty among Catholic faithful's.

The first thing she wanted to do after the Inipi Ceremony was to visit a school on the reservation. I took her to the Rockyford School near Kyle on the Pine Ridge Reservation where she spent the day talking to teachers and students.

Watching her speak softly to the students ranging from Grade 1 to Grade 8, it was easy to see the compassion and caring she exuded. She went from classroom to classroom and ended up visiting the teachers in the principal's office. She asked about the needs of the students and inquired about what she could do to help.

There has always been great respect for the Kennedy family in Indian country. There are still those who vividly recall the visit Kerry's father, Robert F. Kennedy, made to Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1968 while on the campaign trail that would eventually take him to his death in California.

When Kerry's brother Bobby came to Pine Ridge many years ago I remember we were greeted by the Pine Ridge police at the border of the reservation. We traveled to several communities on the reservation with a police squad car leading us and another coming up the rear. It was a show of respect that the Pine Ridge Public Safety Commission wanted Bobby Kennedy to feel safe and secure on their homelands.

When Bobby was 29 years old he was stopped, ironically, at the airport in Rapid City and a search of his carry-on bag uncovered 183 milligrams of a drug. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years' probation, periodic drug tests, treatment by joining Narcotic Anonymous and 1,500 hours of community service by Judge Marshall P. Young. Some would say that it was a pretty harsh sentence, but it did the trick and Bobby never backtracked.

In a Lakota Inipi Ceremony several years later Bobby was given the Lakota name Wanbli Gleska, or Spotted Eagle.

Kerry was a very close friend to Mary Richardson Kennedy, the former wife of her brother Bobby. Mary committed suicide on May 16, 2012.

I suppose that being a Kennedy carries with it much more responsibility than would be expected of the rest of us. But the news media is prone to jump on and elaborate on any news story about the Kennedys. For a very brief time Kerry Kennedy's name was dragged through the mud by a hasty press and even now, after all of the facts have come out, there will still be those who believe she was arrested and charged with drug-related driving. It seems so many Americans never wait long enough to hear the rest of the story.

In her job as director of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, Kerry has spoken to students all over the country urging them to stand up to injustice. You can be sure that many of the students who listened to her immediately came to her defense because, after all, the way she was treated by the media was the perfect example of an injustice.

I found Kerry and Bobby to be warm and friendly people who truly believe in truth and justice and a better life for children everywhere, especially for those living on the Indian reservations.

They truly do not know how much the Kennedy family is loved in Indian country.

Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born and educated on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He was founder of the Native American Journalists Association and of Indian Country Today newspaper. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1991.

 

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