A unique outdoor art exhibit, “A Vision of Hope,” on Southwest Baptist University’s Bolivar campus shares the plight of an often forgotten people group in the United States — the Lakota Sioux Indians of the Cheyenne River and Pine Ridge Reservations in southwestern South Dakota.
Kurt Caddy, director of university ministries, started leading student teams to the South Dakota reservation about four years ago. During a 10-day spring break trip in 2013 to the Cheyenne River reservation, the team focused not just on serving and ministering to the Lakota people, but also working on an advocacy project. The photographs and writings in the display are the result of that trip that was organized through the university’s Center for Global Connections.
“We took students with photography and creative writing skills for an advocacy project,” Caddy said. “As we were doing service projects, we took photographs.”
The rustic display consists of pallets arranged as display boards, with the photographs mounted on cardboard and attached to the pallets, left completely unprotected from natural elements. Surrounding the base of a sycamore tree in the lawn behind the Sells Administrative Center, the display is symbolic in many ways.
“The display itself is sort of a metaphor for the way the Lakota people have been treated,” Caddy said. “The display is off the beaten path, so you’re going to have to walk to get to it. The photographs are vulnerable. They are exposed to the elements; the Lakota people live in a constant state of vulnerability and exposure. The pallets are a rugged, rough exterior.”
The cottonwood tree is very symbolic within the Lakota culture, and the display is built around a sycamore tree, a cousin to the cottonwood tree. The four hallways of the display are aligned with the directions north, south, east and west; directions are sacred to the Lakota people. Many of the photographs are of people, showing a little bit of life on the reservation.
“People are the biggest asset they have,” Caddy said.
These statistics, published in “The Arrogance of Ignorance: Hidden Away, Out of Sight and Out of Mind” by Stephanie M. Schwartz in 2006, tell a small part of the Lakota story:
- 83-85 percent unemployment
- About 50 percent of all adults older than 40 have diabetes
- Average life expectancy for men is 48 years and for women 52 years
- Infant mortality rate is the highest on this continent and about 300 percent higher than the U.S. national average
- Teenage suicide rate is 150 percent higher than the U.S. national average for this age group
- School drop-out rate is more than 70 percent
- An average of 17 people live in each family home
- Alcoholism affects 8 out of 10 families on the reservation
“It is difficult to know where to start,” Caddy said. “But it’s my passion.”
Caddy plans to leave the display up for the entire semester. The photographs and writings in the display will weather as rain falls and the wind blows, which Caddy expects to add to the message being conveyed by the display.
An open house with some of the photographers and writers present is from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 25, at the display, which is west of the Sells Administrative Center.
For more information about the display or SBU’s trips to the Lakota Indian reservation, contact Caddy at (417) 328-1902.