March 5th, 2015 Last Updated on: March 5th, 2015
Growing up in a family of veterans, I was very used to seeing images of time served and hearing military talk that never seems to leave the individual, even if they’ve been separated from the military for decades. My mother and father were both Active Duty Army, my mother also having served in the South Dakota National Guard. My grandparents are World War II veterans who left high school for the draft; my grandfather in the Army and my grandmother a Navy WAVE. My husband being the most recent veteran; a now Retired Army Combat Veteran who served in Operation Enduring Freedom.
Occasionally, the topic of where each veteran would like to buried would be discussed; if in an impersonal National cemetery or at home with relatives past. Indigenous people have some of the most beautiful burial processes and to not be able to see our loved ones off in the way that we were used to felt wrong. In South Dakota, there is the Black Hills National Cemetery, located near Sturgis and our people's sacred Bear Butte, where many Native veterans are buried. Being that Sturgis is over a two hour drive from the Pine Ridge doesn't exactly make it easy for frequent visits to our dearly departed, nor does it offer time for our traditional burial ceremonies.
In 2012, groundbreaking took place outside of Kyle, SD for the Lakota Freedom Veterans Cemetery and it was open for business in August of 2014. Funding was approved through a Veterans Administration grant and is open to all Veterans, not just Natives. We now have a place where we can take our time to bury our relatives, with our traditional and cultural protocol, and not have to travel hours away.
I was very humbled to have been asked to take photos for the grand opening event by mother, Corrine Zephier, the current representative at the LFVC. The cemetery is located in the country side, surrounded by rolling plains, and as peaceful as the eagles that occasional soar over the grounds.
It was a beautiful event, with speakers including local veterans, elders, the Oglala Sioux Tribe Vice President for the previous term, Tom Poor Bear, as well as the Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration Director, George Eisenbach.
Lakota elder Marie Brushbreaker-Randall at the Grand Opening
Since the opening, numerous services have taken place and there are currently 350 crypts and 40 cremation plots ready, with expansion for additional burial space taking place every ten years over a 110-year period. Veterans can also be moved from Sturgis or any cemetery to the Lakota Freedom Veterans Cemetery and family members can contact the Sioux Funeral Home in Pine Ridge for more information.
Akicita Owicahe Lakota Freedom Veterans Cemetery (605)-455-1497
Director – Joe Rosales
Representative – Corrine Zephier
Groundskeeper – Hans Christensen
(All images Copyright 2014 Tara Rose Weston)
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