Catalina Island News

Catalina Island Residents To Make Humanitarian Pilgrimage to South Dakota

Catalina Island Conservancy

Late last year, two truckloads of Catalina bison left on a barge from Pebbly Beach to the most unlikely destination ever - home.

Now, eight months later many Avalon residents and some staff members of the Catalina Island Conservancy will make a pilgrimage to the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, home to the Lakota Tribe, caretakers of the 98 Island bison, ancestors of the original 14 head plucked from the Great Plains in 1924 and shipped to Catalina to appear in a silent movie version of Zane Grey's "The Vanishing American."

More than 30 volunteers will leave on August 27 for a week of humanitarian work on the reservation on behalf of the Lakota Tribe. They are scheduled to return on September 5.

Working with Volunteer Network International (VNI), the group will not only observe the Island bisons' progress since their arrival at the Lakota's Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota in December 2004, but will also help the tribe, living in the second poorest county in the United States, by holding medical and optical clinics in rural areas. The team also will construct a much-needed Ceremonial House to serve the needs of Lakota youth - plagued with drug and alcohol dependency -- who are being encouraged by tribal Elders to return to sacred traditions in order to improve the health and well-being of their community.

"The repatriation of the bison from Catalina to their true home on the Plains has been a fulfilling experience for us all," said Ann Muscat, President and CEO of the Catalina Island Conservancy. "We are thrilled that so many people have come together to continue to support our Lakota friends." While the Conservancy is neither organizing nor funding the pilgrimage, a number of staff and board members are participating and are looking forward to visiting the bison shipped from the tiny island to the plains late last fall.

Karla Parsons, Catalina resident, Island nurse, and a member of the Project Rosebud Organizing Committee, said that the tribe's current Ceremonial House - the center of Lakota culture and traditional practice -- would be replaced at the request of the tribe in order to encourage a resurgence of traditional practices that Elder's believe will have great benefit to the community.

"Schools and hospitals, while understaffed, are in supply in this community," she said. "However, the Ceremonial House - with worn linoleum and no insulation against the humid 110-dregree summers and freezing winters - is inadequate to serve the needs of a growing number of Lakota people who are reclaiming sacred traditions in order to improve the health and well being of their community."

Parsons cited an example taken from Indian Health Services materials that 6 in 10 young Lakota youth are currently addicted to methamphetamines. Rosebud Elders claim that youth who have become involved in sacred traditional practice respond favorably, build self-esteem, and in some cases, overcome addictions to drugs and alcohol.

The VNI volunteers also will partner with the tribal Elders of the Rosebud Reservation to conduct medical and optometry clinics to communities in areas of the Reservation that are far from central hospitals, Parsons says.

In the 1920s, 14 American bison were brought to Catalina for a silent movie, "The Vanishing American." The bison were never shipped back to the Plains. In December of 2004, to keep the bison population harmonious with the Island's fragile ecosystem, 100 of them were taken from the herd of about 250 on the Island, with the help of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, and the Tongva Tribe of Southern California, by barge and truck to the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. The Lakota tribal Elders saw this as the fulfillment of a prophesy by the legendary Lakota leader Crazy Horse, who in 1877, spoke about the return of the "Little Buffalo" that would usher in a new era of prosperity and revitalization for the tribe. The Catalina bison are just about two-thirds the size of their mainland cousins. The return of the "Little Buffalo" has had a profound impact on the tribe, which today keep the herd safe and protected.

When some of those involved with the repatriation visited the Rosebud Reservation, and met with Tribal Elders late last year, the need for a new Ceremonial House, and basic medical attention for Tribal members sparked this humanitarian project.

Additional information on the project and how donations may be made towards the construction of the Ceremonial House and for the rural medical clinics may be obtained by calling Karla Parsons on the Project Rosebud Organizing Committee at (310) 510-0888.