The Giving Tour, Reflections: Jeanne Melino

By Jeanne Melino

Let me start by saying that I am glad the Giving Tour is in the rear-view mirror. I previously drove across the country when I was in my 20’s and, in all honesty, I was not looking forward to spending a week on a tour bus with five of my colleagues.

Since I had traveled from coast to coast by car in the past, I was not surprised by the vastness and beauty of our country, or by the kindness of strangers that you encounter on a journey like the Giving Tour.

I was, however, completely captivated by the plight of the Native American tribes that we met during our journey. I was astonished by the way in which these proud, ancient people are still treated today and by the impoverished conditions in which they live, particularly when we live in a country that is blessed with such abundance.

I was profoundly struck by the pride and dignity that the people of the Navajo and Lakota (one of the seven related Sioux) tribes displayed in the face of such diversity. Their desire to keep their identities, culture and language from disappearing with time was truly inspiring.

Many of the people we met along our journey grew up on a reservation but had since gone out and educated themselves. They then returned out of a desire to stay close to their homes and families. They also returned with a fierce desire and calling to take care of and build up their tribes, so that they can once again see an independent, self-sustaining, flourishing people.

A truly amazing characteristic of these people is their generous spirit. This spirit extends beyond their tribe and people. As an outsider, I had never met tribal elders or a medicine man (except in those horrid stereotypical westerns I saw as a child). However, on this trip I was fortunate to not only meet these people in real life, but I was able to be a part of two blessings and a cleansing.

This experience was profound in that, after so many years of degradation, these people had not given up hope for their people or their culture and they still maintained an attitude of giving.

People often talk about “Americans” and our tenacity and resilience in the face of adversity. However, I have never seen these characteristics as vividly and clearly as I did in the faces of the Native Americans I met during this trip.

This trip has given me a new knowledge and understanding of the Navajo and Lakota culture, while proving that an attitude of giving can prevail, despite any hardships or adversity.