On a steamy July late afternoon in 2001, Lydia Whirlwind Soldier, a Sicangu Lakota writer and an original founder of our Oak Lake Writers’ Society (OLWS) of Oceti Sakowin (Dakota, Lakota, Nakota) writers, stood in the frame of a doorway in the Oak Lake lodge. I had just been invited the previous year to apply to become a member of the society, and summer 2001 was my first annual retreat. Our tribal writers’ group meets every summer for one week near the little undeveloped Oak Lake in eastern South Dakota underneath cinematic skies. I had just parked on the grass outside and come in with my suitcase. I was choosing a bed in the bunk room. The bare bulb overhead glowed yellow and the heat lingered unseen and heavy like a ghost. Years later, I was told a spirit indeed resides in that room. But in that early July evening when I first arrived at Oak Lake, I felt only Lydia, her fleshly presence at my back. I turned around. Did she speak? Or did I feel her there first? The space between us seemed wide in the austere room that is not large. Lydia in the doorway did not enter. She stayed at a distance. A beautiful, powerful woman, she probably introduced herself, but mostly I remember her getting to the point. She placed between us soft, assertive words: “Our culture is the best culture.” Were they an offering or an admonition? I have never been sure. I don’t remember if I understood the depth of her statement that day twenty years ago when I was just home from circling the planet.
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