First Peoples Fund is presenting its 2016 Jennifer Easton Community Spirit Awards in Rapid City this weekend. The award is given to Native Americans who have positively impacted their communities. Among this year’s recipients is a husband and wife team who live in Montana…Lynette Two Bulls and Phillip Whiteman, Jr.
SDPB’s Jim Kent traveled to the Northern Cheyenne Reservation to visit the couple. He has this story.
I’m sitting in a small field on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation near the village of Lame Deer. Surrounded by huge Ponderosa Pine trees and with several horses nearby Lynette Two Bulls tells me about her early life on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
“And I was raised there by my grandparents…Matthew and Nellie Two Bulls,” recalls Two Bulls. “You know…being raised by grandparents…because of the values and the…the knowledge…and the teachings that were passed down to me….now as an adult I value that.”
Two Bulls found that spending time in the investment industry required her to use a different part of the brain than her Lakota culture taught her. But she always followed her grandfather’s advice.
“He said…'You know…granddaughter…takoja,” Two Bulls notes. ‘Whatever you do in your life…always do it for the people.’ And so that was always in my mind.”
“Doing it for the people” has ranged from assisting tribal colleges and casino tribes with investment training to establishing programs that assist Native youth and communities to move out of the historical trauma that she says effects so many. Two Bulls is especially proud of what she and Phillip Whiteman, Jr. have been able to accomplish with the Fort Robinson Outbreak Spiritual Run.
The annual 400-mile journey is geared toward Native youth. It commemorates the 1879 escape by Cheyenne from Fort Robinson, Nebraska to their homelands in Montana.
“We reconnect to that resilience,” Two Bulls explains. “And we understand what our ancestors went through. The ultimate sacrifice that many of them made. You know…their lives…was for the future…for the future generations.”
Learning this, says Two Bulls, helps Cheyenne youth connect with their past, have hope and value everything life has to offer.
The Fort Robinson Outbreak Spiritual Run completed its 20th year in 2016. Lynette Two Bulls notes that it’s gratifying to see the children of early run participants now taking part in the event.
Phillip Whiteman Jr. has spent most of his life on the rodeo circuit. He was a 2-time world champion bronc rider, 2-time Open Rodeos champion, attended the World Rodeo Finals in El Paso, Texas 7 times and the Indian National Rodeo Finals in Las Vegas 26 times.
Phillip credits his success to his family and the Creator.
“The Creator blessed me with the understanding of ability,” explains Phillip. “With a mother and father and grandparents. I was blessed with a strong heritage.”
That strong heritage is rooted in the culture of his people and began on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.
“I didn’t know I was poor,” Phillip recalls. “ I didn’t know hatred. I didn’t know what my ancestors went through. I was…I was loved…respected and taught a way of life that I thought everybody knew.”
The reality that everyone didn’t know about his culture arrived when Philip attended public school. Discovering that he was dyslexic only made life more difficult.
“I started being taught and treated different by the public school system,” advises Phillip. “And…it’s been a journey to get to the understanding of where I’m at today.”
As a traditional leader in his community, Phillip Whiteman, Jr. considers the difficulties he went through in his life as a blessing he can use to teach others how to survive.
The key, notes Phillip, is to change your life from one of “things happen TO me” to “things happen FOR me”.
First Peoples Fund