Sicangu Lakota Firefighters: the modern day Tokala

The raw powers of Wakinyan, Tate and Peta often remind humanity who is really in charge.

 

The fires which burned thousands of acres on the Rosebud Reservation helped me to reflect on many things. Even though the fires were started by lightning and no one is to blame for the size of the blaze, there were still a lot of accusations of who was supposedly at fault. Many people showed their genuine selves while the fire burned. Their masks were melted away by the heat.

 

We should appreciate it when people show their true selves. I don’t appreciate fake people. They are the ones who will act really super nice to your face while bad-mouthing you behind your back. An extreme crisis situation always forces people to show their real motives.

 

On Rosebud we have a Fire Department which is managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In June 2012 there were many tribal members who completed the rookie firefighter camp held at Ghost Hawk Park. I was very proud of all our young people who toughed out this difficult fire training. You have to be strong in order to be a firefighter.

 

A firefighter must certainly be in excellent physical condition. Fires are hard work. Many times people who fight fire must walk several miles a day to work on containment. Not everyone is cut out for this kind of work. An individual must have extreme physical, mental, emotional and spiritual strength to become a fire fighter.

 

A firefighter has to be mentally and emotionally sound. It doesn’t do a fire crew any good to have unstable people trying to fight a fire. If your mind isn’t strong, you have no business on a fire crew. Fires have a life of their own, witnessing a huge inferno will definitely work on your mind and emotions. It’s easy to panic when you don’t have a firm handle on your own thought process.

 

Firefighters have to work as a team. There are many people on my rez who flatly refuse to cooperate when it comes to teamwork. What would have happened if there was no teamwork on those fires we had here on the Rosebud? They probably would still be burning out of control if there was no leadership or teamwork within our fire crews.

 

The people who dedicate their lives to fighting fires are trained for a reason. They are out there to do a job. It only hampers their efforts when there are untrained people getting in the way. When curious onlookers arrive on the scene of a fire, it complicates the work the fire crews are there to do. Not only do they have to work to contain the fire, they must also worry about the safety of onlookers or untrained volunteers. It must be doubly stressful to have to take into consideration people who do not heed the advice of trained fire fighters.

 

During the fires on the Rosebud Reservation, I received emails, texts and telephone calls about some of the things which were happening out there near the fires. Some of the information I received was appalling. It is pretty immature when adults criticize the men and women assigned to fire crews. It’s even worse when people refuse to get out of the way of firefighters.

 

The Rocky Mountain Area Incident Management Team arrived to help with the fires burning on the Rosebud Reservation on July 21, 2012 at 6pm local time. The teams which worked very hard on containing the fires on Rosebud were part of the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Nearly 600 people worked to contain the blaze.

 

Incident Commander Joe Lowe told departing fire crews, “Firefighters on this incident have been humble professionals and have done an outstanding job, we have come together with local fire fighters and I am proud of the work we have all done.”

 

Many of us on the Rosebud Reservation are also proud of the hard work all the firefighters devoted to containing the fire. I hear lots of tribal members constantly criticizing our First Responders. Many people do not stop to think what life would be like without the firefighters, police officers and emergency medical staff who put their lives on the line every single day for us.

 

But everyone has their own internal problems I suppose. That is, most of the people who insult other people are basically insecure. They believe it will somehow help them to feel better if they put someone else down. Insults are also directed at other people to take attention off of personal issues. When you are busy insulting others, you have no time to work on your own problems.

 

Sometimes people who always seem to be angry insult other people because they are really not mature enough to come up with any other way to handle their internal rage. So, they will try to start a fight or to try to make the other person feel bad in some way. I have learned that the only way to handle an insult with class is to completely ignore it. Just walk away.

 

When the person insulting you is someone you care about you might confront them with the truth. Let them know you believe need to change their behavior. Of course this might make them even angrier, but at least you gave them something to think about.

 

So, I want to let all of the firefighters know that they did an excellent job with the Longhorn Complex fires. To contain a blaze spanning 43,639 acres of brush, grass and timber in rough terrain is quite an accomplishment, especially when weather conditions made the job extra difficult.

 

The Tokala were members of an ancient society who were known for their bravery in defending the people. The Tokala would commit themselves to a fight to the death if need be. I view our Sicangu Lakota firefighters as the modern day Tokala. Firefighters are our heroes!

 

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