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A lesson in humanity on the cold streets of Rapid City

The other day I was driving through Rapid City, S.D., when I noticed a white car parked on one of the side streets, in the middle of the road.

In front of the car I saw a man lying in the road. I stopped and on closer observation I saw a woman standing by this body as the head lights shined upon them. I drove around the block and pulled up to where they were, walked up to the man and noticed he was a Lakota in his 50s or 60s, shivering but breathing slowly.

I looked at the woman. She was young, white and the first words out of her mouth were "I just couldn't let him lay there, someone might run him over."

This stretch of downtown sidewalk is where many American Indian people come to sit. Many times they are intoxicated and are lying in the grassy area adjacent to the sidewalk.

I turned around and noticed that no one stopped or even offered to help. Even the Lakota people drove by with no interest.

Looking down at this elder Lakota man laying there made me think of the majority of our people who suffer from this extreme form of alcoholism, and when the majority is sick in this way, it affects the whole of the nation as one being.

In his fetal position, the man shivered, his lips were cracked and dehydrated with a white film circling his mouth. I looked at his worn black cowboy boots and noticed the mileage he put on them wandering the streets looking for a handout. He had no gloves on this cold day so as he slept he hid his hands in his coat, stuffed in to keep them warm.

His face looked like he was near death. His high cheek bones distinguished him as coming from one of our people while his aged features were shadowed by his gray hair hanging across his face, stuck to his lips. A black baseball cap lay nearby.

I wondered what the young white woman saw when she looked at him. Did she see a child or a pain in her heart? My only conclusion was that she saw humanity through the skin-colored walls that separate the inhabitants of this state.

She sighed as if to hold back a tear and stood defiant as her boyfriend told her they should leave now.

I thought about how proud of her I was even though she didn't know me. I have never witnessed a Lakota relative of mine help a human in these circumstances unless they were close family, but here I was with a total stranger, not of my race, showing me the power of compassion.

I nudged the Lakota man and woke him from his intoxicated sleep. He was out of it, mumbling words in Lakota I couldn't understand. I asked him in Lakota, "Taku eniciyape huwo?" (What is your name?)

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He looked out from his cold, empty stare and said, "wicakpe." I said it's cold. You should get off the road. He then crawled toward the curb.

I asked him who his family was and he began to cry and he said, "My wife Delores died". He curled up in a fetal position and wept.

The white woman stared at him. She said, "An officer is coming."

I looked at her and said, "Thank you."

I felt as if she was helping my relative and I was thanking her for it. 'Why did I thank her?' I thought to myself, 'He isn't my relative.' I guess because he was of my people I felt I should.

This incident happened a couple days ago. It lingers in my thoughts because it held so much wisdom for me to learn from. It made me think of culture and tradition in a new way or an old way that was just hidden in the confusion of the times we live in today.

I know now that it isn't traditional to enable someone to live with alcoholism or drugs by giving them money or booze. It isn't traditional to bail relatives out of trouble if they commit a crime against human kind.

But, like the man lying on the street incident, I discovered that our compassion and humanity pushes us to help those in need. These we can give freely and hold no monetary value. It is what makes us truly evolved humanitarians.

If we truly followed our tradition, those people who abuse themselves with alcohol and drugs or get in trouble with the law should be allowed to go through these issues themselves. If they end up lying in the street or doing time in county jail, it's not our tradition that is responsible for their choice nor is it custom for us to bail them out. It is our individual compassion and growth as human beings that keep them safe if they are in physical harm.

What I also learned is that some amazing people live out there who put aside racial differences to help people in need, people like this young white woman who are just ordinary citizens and could care less what people think of them when they help others.

I listen to my own people who would put down white people like this young woman and would call her a racist. But I believe that not all people are racists and to believe this and voice this opinion to others exposes the insecurities of the individual to the community which claims to know better. They become figureheads for the demon of racism.

This incident on the road will forever stick in my mind and will always inspire me to look at people in a different way. Whoever you are -- I didn't get your name -- thank you for showing me that good people still exist in this very racist environment.

We should all take this lesson to our children its a very good lesson in life to grow from.