Editor’s note: Cleo Whiteface is a Rosebud Lakota who traveled with the Solar Oven Partners Volunteer-in- Mission team to the Navajo Reservation this summer.
Cleo is a Sinte Gleska University student majoring in construction and building trades.
What made you decide to go to Arizona with Marj Evans-de-Carpio of Solar Ovens and Linda Garriott, Director of Tree of Life?
I’m usually such a shy person and when I’m around new people, I go totally silent. I did realize that I needed to get out of my comfort bubble. [On the way to Arizona] Marj and Lalo and Linda were always asking me questions and telling me new stuff that I didn’t know. By the time we got there I was really excited to meet more new people.
Marj described your making beautiful relationship with the elders. How did this work?
I was raised by my grandma and her two sisters so I met other elders and got the chance to make that kind of bond with them, too. The importance of having a grandma or a grandpa, or even just knowing them, is the best medicine. I was taught to respect them in every single way because that’s where we come from. When I was little, I used to watch my grandmas cook. So being around those ladies really brought back memories of
when I was little—the way they brought me into their circle was really heart-warming, and that’s the way it is here at home.
You were able to represent the Rosebud Lakota to your “Relatives” in Navajo country.
I had got the chance to represent my tribe, to introduce myself in the right way to Navajo elders. To me that is the greatest honor. The last day was the hardest because I didn’t want to leave them. It brought me to tears, but I know I will go back and see them again. They are people that I hold close to my heart.
Would you encourage other young people to go on a Solar Oven Partner trip?
You get to meet so many cool people. You can learn how to cook from the sun—how awesome is that? You’re doing things that you thought you would never do—seeing new places and smelling new air and with the right people. Overall, one of the best trips ever!