“The greatest tradition of the Lakota is giving,” says ethnobotanist Richard Sherman, an Oglala Lakota born on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Sherman, like his seven siblings, has spent his life giving to his many communities. He funded and operated a wildlife biology program on the reservation for ten years. Now he works with the National Park Service and the World Indigenous Tourism Alliance (WINTA), chaired by his brother Ben, to teach visitors from all over the world about the region’s plants and their traditional Lakota uses.
Sherman’s worldview is wider than most. Driving by cathedral-like formations of red and white clay in Badlands National Park, he mixes the Latin names of passing wildflowers with a story of running away from reservation boarding school to join the Navy at age 18. Since then, Sherman has attended college in Utah and Massachusetts, worked in Washington, California, Colorado, and DC, and even spent a stint aboard a ship in the Bering Sea, working with native peoples of the Aleutian Islands.
For all the experience his varied past brings him, Sherman is soft-spoken and humble, maintaining that “you never become an expert, you keep being a student your whole life.” As he explains how the Lakota use yucca root to make soap and curlycup gumweed to treat poison ivy rash, he spreads this spirit of lifelong learning to others. His love of the land shines through as he smiles and asserts that “any day spent outside is fun.”
By: Thomas Meinzen