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I was reminded again today that I haven’t written in a while.  I can’t tell you why not.  I don’t mean that it is private.  I just don’t know why.  Anyway, here we go again.  Please – be patient and read to the end.  It really does tie together and it is important.

Life has a way of weaving separate strands together to make a beautiful cloth.  That’s what has been happening lately for me.  I wrote about feeling homeless because my kitchen was being remodeled.  It’s done now and beautiful.  So beautiful that it makes me feel a tad guilty when I mention it on Facebook.  Why?

A number of my friends on Facebook are folks who live on Pine Ridge Reservation.  If you’ve read any of my prior posts (and if you haven’t, why haven’t you?), you know that conditions on Pine Ridge are very difficult.  90% of the people there live below the poverty level.  I have been poor in my life but I have never faced that kind of poverty.  And now, when I have accomplished something so wonderful, I almost don’t want anyone to know.

The fact of the matter is that, while I may have felt homeless, I wasn’t.  I was staying in motels by choice to avoid the chaos of construction.  I had a choice.  And I had a home!

That was thread number one.  Thread number two is my “brother.”  He has begun to work at a shelter, counseling domestic abuse victims.  He saw abuse as a child.  He has a frame of reference and I am so proud of him for putting that knowledge to use in such an important way.  It is such an important thing for a victim of domestic violence to have a place to go where there is no violence.  Safety is so important – especially for the children!

You probably know that I “work” for an organization that tries to improve lives on Pine Ridge by providing sponsors, food, wood for heat, youth programs and whatever else we can manage.  I match folks on the rez with sponsors.  I get to talk to a lot of folks on the rez.

I’ve talked to plenty of women who have been abused — when they were children or by a man as an adult.  They have all touched me deeply.  But no story has touched me like the story I was told by a woman I am currently trying to help.

Thread number three started for me a couple of weeks ago when I got an email from our director.  She had been on the rez recently and was approached by a woman who asked for our help.  She gave me the woman’s telephone number and asked if I would call her.  I did.  This is her story.

I’m going to call the woman Jane – because I don’t think I have ever spoken to anyone on the rez whose name really was Jane.  Jane had recently left Dick (if you remember Dick and Jane, you learned to read when I did and you are probably my age) . . . because Dick was beating her and the 4 children.  You may think he is aptly named – I do.  She did not want the children to grow up seeing that and she would not accept it for herself.

If you’re standing up and cheering Jane right now, that’s great.  But wait.  After I tell you the rest of this story, you’ll have to come up with something better than that.

Jane left Dick.  Jane took the 4 children and not much else.  No clothing, toys or bedding.  She hoped to stay with a relative.  But all of the relatives had full houses already.  (I’ve written about the severe housing shortage on the reservation before.)  The best they could do for her was to lend her a tent.  So she is now living in a tent with her 4 children.  They sleep on the ground.  They eat bologna sandwiches.  She has no refrigeration so she must walk into town frequently for the perishables.  She is an insulin-dependent diabetic.  She is keeping her insulin and perishable food in a styrofoam cooler.  (Did I mention the temperatures have gone as low as 50 degrees and as high as almost 100 degrees?  Did I mention the severe thunderstorms with hail and high winds?) Everything was in the name of the abuser, including the food stamp claim.  Control is another form of abuse, don’t you think?

Jane has a cell phone but to charge it, she has to go to a tribal office and settle in with the children while she plugs in the phone.  Oh wait, I see what I have forgotten to tell you – the ages of the children.  The oldest just turned 5 years old.  Then there is a 3 year old and a 2 year old.  The youngest child is 4 months old.  The youngest 2 children are still in diapers.

Jane had no stroller.  So every walk for every task means taking along 1 child, 2 toddlers and an infant.  As Jane told me, “We travel very slowly.”  Jane told me she is trying to make it an adventure for the kids so they will not have bad memories of the experience as they get older.  She is sure she did the right thing by leaving.  Still … it is hard.

The wonderful people who support our organization have responded admirably to the needs of Jane and her children.  A stroller and many other things are on the way.  When I told her about the stroller, she was so grateful.  She said, “I’ve never had a stroller before.”  (Don’t forget – the stroller is for her fourth child.)  Still,  it will be hard.  There is still no home.

That brings me to thread number four.  Cangleska.  That is the domestic violence shelter on Pine Ridge that I wrote about early on in the life of this blog.  It was a fantastic place and the program there was a model for domestic abuse treatment and prevention across “Indian country.”  They built a large, homey shelter.  Many, including myself, contributed to its furnishings.  (If you must know, I sent a crib and mattress.)  There was treatment for the offenders as well as the victims.  It had the potential to change people’s lives.

If you are wondering why I am writing about Cangleska using the past tense, it is because it no longer exists.  The non-profit that ran the shelter was composed of folks who lived on the rez.  They received many grants and other donations.  As I’ve written before, when folks who have nothing have access to serious sums of money, the temptation to dip into the funds is always there.  Your own family has needs, too.  And greed is sadly an universal human flaw.  The shelter was closed down following a forensic financial audit.

This weekend I discovered that there will be an auction of all the assets of Cangleska next week.  Everything will go (even the crib I sent).  The auctioneer’s website listed “highlites (sic)” including like new office equipment, computer equipment, digital phone system, office furniture, home furnishings, flat screen TV’s, kids’ playground equipment, new chain link fence, tipis, pick-up trucks, cars, minivans, trailers, building materials, construction tools and shop equipment.  Everything will go.  It breaks my heart.

There is now nowhere for victims of domestic abuse to seek shelter and safety on Pine Ridge Reservation.  Nowhere in the 2 million acres that make up the reservation.

That is why Jane and her family are seeking shelter where they can – in a tent!

I don’t know what this cloth will look like when it is complete.  I don’t think all the threads are in place yet.  For many months I thought I was weaving a different pattern.  Now, I’m not so sure.  Perhaps it is all part of a larger design that I don’t recognize yet.  I’ll keep you posted.

Traveling Alone

Okay, keep the noise down.  I know, I haven’t written in a while.  Where have I been, what have I been doing?  Not much that was different from before.  I was just trying to manage my energy.  Sometimes fibromyalgia requires that.  So I have been doing the most urgent things and putting the rest out of sight and out of mind.  But my energy seems to be returning and I hope to be “spouting off” on a more regular basis again.

To begin, let me tell you where I am.  I flew to Florida yesterday to visit a dear friend in Leesburg.  I’ve written about him before though you would not have known it.  But he’s having tough times and needs to be cheered and encouraged.  I flew into the Orlando airport from the airport in Hartford, CT.  This is only the second time I have traveled solo; the prior time was last month when I went to SD for the blessing of my friends’ house on Pine Ridge Reservation.  I will say that was easier, even though I had to cross the entire O’Hare Airport to make my connection.  Both flights were pleasant enough.  The difference is driving.

There are far too many drivers for my liking in Florida — definitely more than in South Dakota.  I’m not a big fan of traffic!  But I made it safely and not too stresses.

The images I’d like to leave you with are the ones that greeted me as I drove from the airport.

The first was the sun.  It was just above the western horizon as I left.  It looked huge, at least three times the side the sun usually appears.  Due to the slight haze in the sky, it appeared as a gigantic orange ball.  However, it did not have the glare that the sun usually has as you drive toward it.  So you could actually look at it and appreciate the beauty.  I wished my camera was not packed.  The sky was amazing shades of blue and what we, as children, had called “sky blue pink” for lack of more accurate color names.  Perhaps you know the colors I mean.

As the sun was dipping in the western sky, the full moon was rising in the eastern sky.  It, too, looked immense.  It seemed to fill the sky.  It was simply beautiful and very bright.

I am a big nature fan and it almost felt as if these beauties were God’s gift to me for daring to take this trip and travel alone again.  I knew I was grateful for the gift.

I think it is so important to accept the gifts we are given, especially when we aren’t expecting them.  When ;you are a giver, it is important to remember how to receive.  It helps you understand the other person, the recipient of your own gifts.

Time to run.  But I promise there will be more to read now.  I’ve missed writing.  That too is a gift.

Yes, still in Banff, still in Canada.  Last night, my husband and I went to see Gordon Lightfoot at the Banff Centre, a lovely performing arts center that seats about 900 people.  The concert was pleasant.  It is obvious that Lightfoot is aging but he still knows how to entertain.

The point of this post is not a critique of the concert, however.  It is to comment on Canadian behavior again.  I know, I did that before.  But it is so refreshing that it brightens my day on a frequent basis and I really want to share it.  Perhaps it will be contagious and those in the US will “catch” it.  Actually, it reminds me of the US in the years when I was young, when the US was a nation with civility (not political correctness), a desire to help others (not just via volunteer agencies) and gregariousness (not wariness).  Those are qualities I see in Canada.

When people sit around you at an event in Canada, they strike up a conversation.  I’m not talking about a simple, grudging “Hi.”  I’m mean real conversation.  “Hello.  Where are you from?  Massachusetts?  What part of MA?  I’ve met people from MA before, but from the Boston area.  What brings you to Western Canada?  Have you gone to ______?  I think you’d really like it.  What do you do for work?  Have you ever seen Gordon Lightfoot (or the hockey team or any other group) before?  I saw them ______ when I was in my 20’s.”

It doesn’t even have to be a big event.  This kind of interchange can occur in a restaurant, a bank, a store or a museum.  Canadians, or at least almost all of the Canadians we have met, both here in the West and in the eastern provinces we have visited, are outgoing, courteous, curious and well-informed about their neighbors to the south.  I wish we could say that about US citizens these days.  But having visited all 50 states, I have to admit that just hasn’t been our experience.

A prime example of this Canadian difference was something we observed last evening as we were leaving the concert.  We had gotten our car from the garage and were proceeding up the driveway to the roadway.  We had no trouble getting into the line of traffic, since Canadian courtesy extends to driving as well as direct personal interactions.

The driveway had a slight grade to it with a stop sign at the top.  The vehicle in front of us stopped and we stopped as well, leaving a good car length between us and that car.  It was a fortunate decision.  Whether due to a patch of ice that would not allow the tires to catch any traction or due to the possibility that the driver was new at driving a standard transmission, every time that car in front of us tried to advance, it rolled backwards a bit.  After the third episode, my husband sounded the horn lightly to let him know he was getting close to our front bumper.

THAT’S WHEN IT HAPPENED!

I called it a “Canadian assistance flash mob” in the title because that was the thing that came to mind as I watched it.  Presumably alerted by hearing our horn, numerous pedestrians – men and women – converged on the car in front of us.  Everyone found a place to latch on to the vehicle which was having difficulty.  There must have been 15 to 20 people who gathered along and behind that car to push it and help the driver get out of his predicament.  As soon as the vehicle was moving forward, the small crowd disbursed and went on their ways.  We were able to proceed on our way as well.

But we were really impressed by that spontaneous event.  As we drove back to our room, we noted how things would have been different at home.  One important difference is that this would not have been the kind of thing that happened so spontaneously.  At home, people would have looked at each other, perhaps asked each other what the problem was, discussed the foolishness of the driver for getting into the situation and then moved along.  A few might have dared to ask what the problem was but felt that, alone or being so few, there was nothing they could do.  They’d have walked away, perhaps feeling a bit guilty for not helping.

If someone at home had been able to convince a group to help, they’d have hung around after to pat each other on the back for being such generous folks.

Last night there was no conference to decide how to fix the problem and there was no self-congratulation.  People recognized the problem, reacted to help in a totally appropriate way without needing to be convinced then left immediately because you don’t need to congratulate yourself or others for doing the right thing.

It happened so automatically and fast that it did indeed remind me of a “flash mob” — and it was just as entertaining in its own way.

One more reason to love Canada and Canadians!

This is going to be one of those short, musing pieces.  There are a lot of things I’ve thought of to write about while I’ve been in Canada, but I don’t have the time to really sit and focus.  So perhaps I’m meant to keep my Canadian thoughts to myself.

But I have been checking on friends’ posts on Facebook off and on, just to keep up on what is happening on the home front.  In doing that, I learned that my Lakota friend’s cousin/sister died.  Based on the tidbits I’ve read, it was alcohol related – liver problems.  Still, when someone probably 20 years younger than I am dies, it is unsettling.

More unsettling than this one death, for me, is the number of deaths that my friend has had among her family in the 6 years I have known her.  It has not been “the old ones” for the most part.  It has been her own generation or younger.

I’m trying to remember all of them:  an uncle, a sister, a brother, a teenaged daughter, a stillborn nephew, an ex-husband (the father of her children) and several other cousins/friends.  There may be some I have not heard about, too.  To me, at least, that is a lot of death in 6 short years.  It is especially a lot of death in close family.

It is, sadly, not unusual on Pine Ridge Reservation where they live.  I have heard stories from many who have had significant losses like that, though I can’t say I’ve heard of so many in that short period of time.  When you add to the frequency of death the many other traumas that people on the rez experience – accidents, illnesses, injuries, the struggle to get from one place to another, the trouble finding a stable home to live in, abandonment by parents, no money to buy the necessities of life, violence and crime – it is likely that a very high percentage of individuals on Pine Ridge suffer from PTSD.

I don’t know how it is possible to bear all of the grief and trauma that my friend has borne.  It is difficult being 2000 miles away.  I do what I can to support and mostly I pray for the family.  That is really all I can do, in the long run.

I don’t know a lot but I do know that my friend has encountered more than her share of loss through death for someone who is not yet 40 years old.

What Is It With Men?!

As I began my vacation in the Canadian Rockies, thrilled that for 2 weeks I would be unreachable by phone, I received an email message from a friend that was utterly disturbing.  Suddenly being thousands of miles from home in a country where I had no phone to contact my friend was not quite as wonderful as it had been moments before I read the email.

My friend had to go away on business for a few days.  Her husband and teenaged daughter drove her to the airport.  That trip was perhaps the last “normal” moment she will have for a while.

I should interject that her teenaged daughter is one of the most beautiful girls I have ever seen in person, with long dark hair, piercing dark eyes and a figure “to die for” as the saying goes.  She has been approached to work as a model and I think she could make real money doing just that.

On the way home, after they dropped off my friend, her husband stopped and bought alcohol (the drinking kind not the rubbing kind) for his underaged daughter.  I suspect he had some himself.  He then proceeded to make sexual advances to his daughter!!  Yes, you read that right!!  His daughter was able to fight off the advances, so there was no physical damage;  however, the psychological trauma was devastating.

This incident is what led to my title.  I discussed the whole thing with my husband, since he is a man (big surprise there, I know), and he was as puzzled as I was.  How could a man do something like that to his own child?

Yes, the alcohol provided some fuel, to be sure.  But the alcohol did not put the idea into this man’s head.  What is it with men?

If you think about the sexual abuse of children (at any age), the offenders are most often men.  Women (sane ones, at least) do not damage children – especially their own.  Women protect their children.  In the culture of the Native Americans I work with, children (and women) are considered sacred.  They are the ones who carry life into the future.  I’m sure it has occurred, but I have never personally heard about or read about a mother who has sexually molested her child.  I have heard about many men who have done such things!

Again I ask, what is it with men?

Yes, I’ve read the clichés about men thinking with their penises rather than their brains.  I can see how teenaged boys can get carried away, when the strength of those urges are new and unfamiliar.  But a man who is old enough to have a 17 year old daughter is a man who is old enough to have learned how to control his sexual urges.  A man who is a father ought to be the protector of his family, not the one who damages his family!

My friend is a strong woman who is very protective of her children and her family.  She would often speak of how much she loved her husband and her children.  She is such a positive person and a role model for those around her.  Now she is trying to figure out how to explain these things to her teenaged children — and to herself.

I am so angry for her.  I’d like to slap this man upside the head and ask him  what on God’s good earth could have made him think this was okay to do, alcohol or not!  But I know I’d get the typical answers:  I didn’t know what I was doing; the alcohol made me do it; I just couldn’t control myself.

Baloney!

You all know what I’d really like to do to him – I don’t have to spell it out, I’m sure. . .

Maybe I should put the soapbox away for the time being, before I get carried away.  After all, I’m a woman – I know how to maintain self-control.

Canadian Shorts

It has been a whirlwind couple of days to start this much needed vacation.  I am sitting in my hotel room in Calagary, Alberta, Canada this morning doing two things — trying to think about what I want to write and dreading going out into the cold.  Canada uses metrics, for the most part, so I’ve already spent the better part of two days watching temperatures of -15 to -20 degrees Celsius on the thermometer in the car.  Thank God for heated seats!

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Air Canada rocks!!  I have never been on planes that were so clean.  The attendants are totally professional and pleasant.  The planes have personal video screens with a large choice of programs:  TV, movies, sports, news as well as the GPS so you can see how far into the trip you are.  There are plenty of music choices as well.  Wish Air Canada operated between US cities!

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Courtesy.  It is one of the striking things about the Canadian people that there is so much courtesy.  I’m not talking about the stiff, rule driven kind of courtesy you find in some places.  I’m talking about the kind of courtesy that stems from one individual respecting and caring about another individual.  Doors are held for others.  Drivers in the parking garage after a hockey game let each other proceed.  Children who get into the elevator first will ask an adult “Which floor would you like?”

The one that really made be believe that it must be inbred was the 20-something man at the Calgary Flames hockey game.  I was standing at the condiment stand getting some ketchup.  He wanted to get some napkins, which were to my left side, as he was.  Though he could have reached in and gotten them without getting into my way, he actually said, “Pardon my reach,” as he reached in for the napkins.  Pardon my reach?!  I haven’t heard that since my grandparents were alive.  How refreshing!

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I really do love Canada and Canadians.

I will have more to say in the days ahead.

In all the chaos and hurry of trying to get everything cleaned up on my desk and in my inbox, I was stopped in my tracks a couple of days ago.  I was reminded of why I do the “work” I do.

I received a call from a Jane Doe, woman on Pine Ridge Reservation.  Okay, that’s nothing new for me.  I talk to a lot of folks there.  Jane is a woman I have actually visited and with whom I have spoken quite a few times.  She is a pleasant, soft-spoken woman who is  a wheelchair bound paraplegic, the result of being rearended in an auto accident by a drunk driver.

You would think Jane would be worried about herself and the fact that she lives in a small, non-ADA compliant apartment.  But several months ago, she told me the story of her two nieces.

Both her nieces are adults.  Both of them are mentally handicapped.  The two women had lived with and been cared for by their parents until the parents passed away.  At that time, one of their adult siblings was given guardianship over the two women.  The guardian decided to put the two women into a home of some sort, many miles away from the reservation and from all that was familiar to them.  No one from their immediate family visited them and, in fact, the guardian moved away to the East Coast and left them alone.

Jane Doe was the only one who visited her nieces, in spite of the fact that her car was constantly breaking down.  The women cried when she left and called her crying when she was at home because they were so lonely.

Jane, though disabled herself, was so concerned about her nieces that she went to the tribal court and sought guardianship of the two women.  They have been allowed to come to visit her — sleeping on the floor of her living room on top of sleeping bags and quilts.

Jane recently received guardianship!  However, they cannot come to stay with her permanently until she has a place for them to sleep that is not the floor. 

The living room is the only place in the apartment that they can stay.  Truly, Jane and her nieces need a proper place to live — one where a wheelchair will fit through the doorways.  But that is not likely to occur any time soon.

Jane would like to have her nieces home by the holidays, she told me when she called to ask if I could help her find a pull-out sofa bed or bunk beds for her nieces.  It’s so hard to say no to someone as generous and kind-hearted as Jane.  But it isn’t what we usually do, since a sofa bed, the best option, can be quite expensive.  I, personally, would hate to ask 38 and 40 year old women to be climbing into bunk beds, however.

We have actually located a sofa bed for $1000 that can be delivered to their home.  I’m not sure if that included tax — probably not, right?  But we don’t have a spare $1000 at this time.

I’m hoping that there will be a donor (or donors) who thinks that these 2 mentally handicapped women deserve to live with their aunt, who is so loving and giving in spite of her own needs.

If you know anyone who would like to help, direct them to ONE Spirit at http://nativeprogress.org to make the donation.

I, personally, am going to keep Jane Doe in my mind as I prepare for the holidays of giving thanks and giving gifts.  She is willing to give of what little she has out of love for her family.  She is a true inspiration to me!