Cangleska – pronounced Changleshka.
Cangleska, Inc. was founded in the late 1980s as project Medicine Wheel. The nonprofit (501 (c)(3) incorporated) organization provides comprehensive domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy related services to citizens of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, living on and adjacent to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, located in southwestern South Dakota. Cangleska, Inc. provides two domestic violence shelters-one in Kyle and another, Ohitika Najin Win (Standing Strong Woman House), in Rapid City.
Cangleska, Inc is perhaps the best example of what can be accomplished by a woman with a vision. Co-founder and current director Karen Artichoker has taken what began in 1989 as a small, grant-funded shelter for female victims of domestic abuse on the Pine Ridge reservation and nurtured it into an all-inclusive program that runs 2 shelters (see above), a visitation center where abusers are able to have supervised visits with their children, intervention and rehabilitation program for abusers and a model program that has been adopted by other tribes as well. Karen would be quick to give credit to many others who have helped along the way. But I believe that without her gifts, this special program would not be where it is today.
The program is based on traditional Lakota beliefs. In these traditions, women were considered sacred. Sacred Circle, the training program, is the National Resource Center to End Violence Against Native Women. Cangleska, Inc. is a 1999 Innovations in American Government award winner, a program of the Ford Foundation and Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Last year was a year of growth in more ways than one for Cangleska. They served even more women and children than before. And they built a brand-new, larger shelter building on the rez. I got to see it when it was partly done. Through Friends of Pine Ridge Reservation, I helped furnish and supply the new center. My parish even got into the spirit, holding a “baby shower” for the shelter and sending 3 boxes of baby supplies to Cangleska.
Although traditionally women were revered in Lakota culture, it is sadly not often the case today. The change did not come through a change in values but a change in living circumstances. With the imposition of reservation living, life as it had been known changed dramatically. The poverty that these people have endured in this land of plenty is a sin. And we all know that with poverty come a lot of negative behaviors that would not normally be part of a culture.
Imagine, if you will, that someone has come into your life and told you that you can no longer live the way you have been. You must give up your livelihood. You must live in a specific place, one that has no obvious useful purpose. You can’t make a living off this land. There are no jobs. Gardens, which you have never grown, don’t grow well anyway. You will get some food from the government, but not enough to feed your family. You will have to live with your parents, brothers and sisters, cousins, grandparents in one house. No beds, maybe a mattress. You can’t pay for heating fuel because there are no jobs. You can’t pay for warm clothing. You can try to educate your children, but it won’t matter because there is nothing for them to do. Over the years, the government may force you to send your children to their schools, away from you and their homes, so they can be taught the right way to think. Over generations this becomes “the way it’s always been” because no one recalls when life was different, when the you could be independent and proud.
So, if you are a woman, how do you feel?
And, if you are a man, how do you feel?
For myself, the words that come to mind are: frustrated, angry, depressed, hungry, cold, powerless, useless, hopeless, …
I suspect you had some of those words too. So it should be no surprise that rez life is rife with negative behaviors. Alcoholism is rampant (even though the rez is legally “dry”). You know the kinds of things that follow alcoholism. Diabetes is higher in the native population than any other. Domestic violence and sexual assault – crimes where someone needs to feel power over another – are also higher than average and resources are fewer. School attendance is not up to standards, but neither are the schools. Drop-out rates soar. Teen suicide is higher in this population than any other. Why keep going when there’s no way out.
You name a problem that comes with poverty and no hope, it’s higher here. That’s where Cangleska does its work. And there’s plenty of the work to go around. But Cangleska is a place of hope – hope for all, not just victims. They have programs to help the abusers as well as the victims. They need our support. Yes, support for money and supplies. But even more important, support for raising awareness of the pain and poverty these families are dealing with. Raising awareness that native women have the highest abuse rate in the country.
No one in this country, where people have homes that are too big for their families, food enough to throw away and heat/air conditioning to be comfortable no matter what the weather, should have to steal food from a neighbor to feed their family. No one in this country, where people have closets full of clothes and shoes, where expensive toys abound (mega-TV’s, boats, electronics), should have to beg for used clothes for their children and donated diapers for the baby.
Our priorities are really screwed up – teachers paid a pittance, athletes and entertainers paid a king’s ransom. Wait, that’s another story…
Cangleska brings some hope into this world of powerlessness and need. If you can’t support them in a concrete way, at least support them in your heart and in your prayers.