“Hunting is the most basic, yet most important survival skill we must possess. It'll be the most primitive of hunters who will survive and carry on our species when the resources are gone and western culture collapses. It is our duty as humans beings to carry on these skills. –Steve Sitting Bear, founder of “Hunting the Rock”
Hunting has been central to Native cultures and people since the beginning of time. There’s no question that the act of providing and preparing food for one’s family and community is an integral aspect of traditional culture and community wellness. But these days, some of these skills have been forgotten or lost. In some places, hunting has turned into more of a sport about bragging rights than a means to provide. But on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, a program called “Hunting the Rock” is helping kids on the rez relearn and remember a more respectful approach to these ways.
Steve Sitting Bear teaches at the Walleye Fishing Fundamentals course for youth in Fort Yates, North Dakota, in June 2015. Photo courtesy Steve Sitting Bear.
“Hunting the Rock” offers workshops and lessons to children on Standing Rock – free of cost – teaching them how to hunt and fish safely and effectively. It’s also a DVD and online video series which has become wildly popular (garnering thousands of views) with an audience reaching far beyond North Dakota.
Steve Sitting Bear of Fort Yates, ND works as the External Affairs director for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, but he’s also an avid hunter who co-founded “Hunting the Rock,” and continues to operate the program on his free time.
When Steve was a little kid, he used to wake up around 6 a.m. just to catch the hunting shows on PBS. He had an innate passion and interest for the sport since he can remember – but he didn’t really have anybody to show him the ropes. Every once in a while, those hunting shows on TV would show a Reservation or a Native hunter, but of course those features would be wrought with stereotypes. It just wasn’t relatable.
EJ Iron Eyes, left, leads a class of more than 60 youth and their families in Fort Yates, North Dakota, in June 2015. Photo courtesy Steve Sitting Bear.
Eventually, Steve pretty much taught himself how to hunt and fish. Some of the teachings would come from those shows he spent hours watching; sometimes he’d get tips from other hunters; but mostly he would just go out on his own and learn through trial and error.
Years later, in 2012, Steve never forgot about his desire to have somebody to show him the ropes. So, he and some friends (E.J. Iron Eyes, Jeremy Thunderhawk, Davis Fool Bear-Vetter, Tyrell Iron Eyes) took matters into their own hands and started filming their hunting expeditions in order to teach the youth how to do things properly.
When Steve first started creating the videos, he was going through a rough patch in his own career. A veteran of the Marine Corps and a college graduate, he had the background and the makings for a career, but was in a rut. But, he knew that he should pursue this project. With only a little bit of cash and resources, he managed to purchase a camera, a laptop, and to teach himself how to edit video in order to produce the first episode of “Hunting the Rock.” The project was a hit.
Now, the DVDs are extremely popular, and proceeds from their sales go right back into funding more workshops and starter equipment for the youth. They host about three events per year, and it continues to grow. Their last event – a day of walleye fishing fundamentals – brought in over 60 participants ages 2 to 16. They were all given a rod and instruction on the basics of walleye fishing, and now will have the opportunity to continue to build their skills on their own.
Steve says that it’s his own mistakes in that helped develop the concepts they are now careful to teach.
Steve and his partner, Breanne Luger, pose with some of their family. It is important to them to teach their kids to be active and healthy. Photo courtesy Steve Sitting Bear.
He says that when he was younger, he was successfully hunting a lot of big game and showing off his kill. Eventually, some people in the community took note.
“I would get chewed out,” Steve remembers. “They were telling me, ‘You can boil those horns all day but you can’t eat ‘em.’”
He understood what they meant.
“I got to point where I realized ‘This isn’t hunting – going out, shooting a big buck and pounding your chest and bragging about it. That has nothing to do with hunting. That’s selfish,” Steve says.
He explains that hunting isn’t about killing animals – it’s about being responsible, being able to take care of yourself, and being able to provide your family with a nutritious food source. In the Hunting the Rock workshops, they emphasize to the youth that taking a life is a very serious thing, and that you have to have respect for what you’re doing.
“You don’t get enjoyment from killing” Sitting Bear reiterates. “You get enjoyment from hunting. And that’s what we teach the kids.”
Chelsey Luger. Photo courtesy Eller Bonifacio.
Chelsey Luger is Anishinaabe and Lakota from North Dakota. She hopes to be a strong link in a long chain of ancestors and descendants by spreading ideas for health and wellness. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter. Ideas for articles? Email her: email@example.com.