July 1, 2024

Dear Friends,

It was only a few days ago that six members of FCCOL returned from South Dakota, where we hoped to renew our partnership with the people of the Cheyenne River Lakota Reservation.  It was a powerful journey, and a successful one, and we’ll tell you more about it very soon.  

The most significant, and tragic, thing that happened while we were there was that our friend Travis Harden died.  He was hospitalized with a respiratory condition at the beginning of the week.  By Friday evening, just before we left South Dakota, he was gone.  It was our privilege to visit Travis every day, to visit with members of his extended family, to pray for him, and to share stories about our many adventures with Travis over the years.

Travis was one of the most faithful participants in our Green Grass partnership.  For nearly twenty years, he planned his summers so as to be present in Eagle Butte during our annual visits.  He journeyed to Old Lyme nearly every year as well, filling our worship services with his powerful voice and drum beats.  He helped lead children’s camps that we ran, and he shared his art with our Sunday School kids.  He traveled on many of our partnership journeys to bear witness to the similarities of the Native American story and that of peoples in other parts of the world – especially in Palestine and the American South.  He always had a drum within reach, and he frequently burst into song whenever the moment seemed right.

Travis has been a friend to many in the FCCOL community.  He has stayed in our homes.  He has eaten around our tables.  His artwork is on our walls, and it graces some of the forest paths we walk.  His loss is immeasurable.  We have lost a friend, a spiritual guide, and a wonderful companion upon our own life journeys.

That’s certainly true for me.  While sitting in the hospital with Travis this past week, I scrolled through old pictures, and I was stunned by how many adventures and memories I shared with him.  There was the motorcycle ride through the Badlands, when he followed behind in a car playing Motley Crue.  There was the backpacking trip in the Black Hills, when he woke up early each morning to greet the day with a song.  There was the trip to Palestine and Israel, where he was frequently undone emotionally, and often immobilized, by the parallels between the plight of Palestinians and his own people.  There was the time we showed up at a conference in Washington D.C., and, unannounced, Travis took over the stage in order to offer an honor song for both his people and the people of Palestine.  There were the videos he sent of himself at the Standing Rock protests, dressed in a Superman outfit, riding a salvaged bicycle, and singing his NODAPL songs.  There was the time we walked together across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, and there was the time when, after encountering a heap of sorrows, Travis wept, and thanked me for being his friend.  

Then there was the time just several weeks ago, when he called to tell me that doctors had given him just a few months to live.  I asked if he was ready, and if there were things he still needed to do.  He didn’t respond directly to my questions, but said that he was thinking about all the ancestors he would get to see once again, and all those he would meet for the first time.  It was clear he didn’t want to dwell on it though, and he quickly changed the subject.

On the day he died (Friday, June 28), we said a final prayer over his bedside, and then journeyed to Bear Butte, a sacred mountain for the Lakota.  We took prayer bundles with us, and tied them to trees as we ascended the mountain.  We breathed prayers for Travis, and we told stories about him as we hiked.  Then we came off the mountain, drove the final distance into Rapid City, and had a meal together.  That night, as we checked into our hotel, Travis breathed his last.  Somehow, our journey coincided with his.  I don’t know how it works, exactly, but I like to think that somehow, our prayers on Bear Butte helped to ease his passage.  And I like to think that his many ancestors and loved ones greeted him, just as he hoped.

A service will be held for Travis in Eagle Butte, and then in Iron Lightning (where he will be buried) on Sunday July 7.  His family could use some help to offset the expenses of his funeral arrangements.  If you would like to make a contribution, you can do so via Paypal.  His son, Wakinyan Harden has an account, and all the proceeds will go directly to the family.  Simply go to Paypal, click on the option for Send, and then type Wakinyan’s name into the search bar.  His account comes right up.  It’s simple and safe.

Thanks to all of you in the FCCOL community for welcoming Travis whenever he was with us.  Thank you for being his friend.  And thank you for keeping his family in your prayers in the days and weeks to come.

For Travis Harden…Mitakouye Oyasin…we are all related.