My Lakota friend called yesterday while we were out running errands. When we got home, my son had left a note saying she called with a new phone number.
I always hold my breath when my friend calls. Typically, she calls me when there’s more “drama” brewing. I braced myself and called the new number. She picked up quickly and knew it was me – this phone has caller ID. I asked how things were going and found myself holding my breath again.
She told me the family is moving back to Rapid City. She can’t take the rez anymore. Her family tries to interfere in her life too much. She is actually doing much better getting along with her husband’s family, with whom they had been living. It’s her own family that’s driving her crazy. Boy, can I relate to that!!
As she tells it, the story goes . . . She had been getting along with her 2 sisters pretty well during the spring. They had even done some things together. But recently her younger sister, who she believes is using meth, and she had a really bad argument. So her sister decided to call my friend’s mother-in-law to tell her that my friend was having an affair (so not true!). What’s a mother to do when she gets a call that her son’s wife is cheating? She called her son. After he spoke to his mother, he gave the phone to my friend, who also spoke to his mother. The mother-in-law had not believed the story but thought they ought to know what my friend’s sister had done.
My friend is now ready to go beat on her sister, but cooler heads prevail. Both her husband and her older sister tell her she’s letting younger sister get to her too much; she should just ignore her. Easy to say, not as easy to do. Especially after all the stress she had recently with the “drama” over her kids. But I have to say she decided not to go the physical violence route and I told her that was good, as I didn’t have enough money around to pay her bail.
She did try to get even though. She called her younger sister’s boss and let them know she was using meth. Whoa!!! Now the sister has to meet with the upper management and take a drug test. My friend says, “If she’s really not using, like she says, then she doesn’t have to worry, right?” If this was anywhere but the rez, I’d say right. But I’ve learned things don’t always go the way common sense tells you they should on the rez. “Anyway,” my friend continued, “you can’t fool someone who was a meth-head. I used meth and stuff when I was younger. I can tell.”
We were on the phone for over an hour while we waited for her “Antie” (that’s Auntie to those of us on the east coast) to come home from dialysis. They have been staying with this aunt (her mother’s sister) to help her out. Today they had cleaned her house while she was at dialysis. “Antie M” (no relation to Dorothy and Toto) is 60 years old with diabetes and, obviously, kidney failure. She lives with and cares for three of her grandchildren (ages 10, 7, 5) while her daughter is “wherever.” She definitely needs the help.
But my friend does not want to stay on the rez to take care of someone else’s children. She wants to build a home for her own children. She told me some stories yesterday that she had never shared before. It explains a lot.
When she was a child, her mother was an alcoholic. She made my friend do all the house cleaning and beat her if there was even a speck of dirt found.
When she was in her teens, she started drinking, too. (This is unfortunately all too common on the rez.) Then she got pregnant. She had her first daughter when she was 17. Her mother went to court, told them her daughter was “no good” and got custody of the baby. So her mother raised her first daughter. – By the way, the daughter herself got pregnant at 17, so apparently grandmother didn’t do any better the second time around.
She left the rez and got married “way too young.” She started using drugs as well as alcohol because everyone did. She had three more daughters and got divorced. She had to go back to the rez to survive because she woke up one day hung over with nothing – no place to live, no food for her babies, not even a nickel in her pocket.
Over the past few years she’s tried to change her life. She has a new husband who is a good man. She has tried to teach her daughters to avoid her mistakes – with spotty success. But when did teenaged daughters ever listen to their mothers? She’s worked on her GED. She recently passed all of the test areas except math. She took the math test portion while she was in the midst of the turmoil of trying to get her daughter out of foster care.
But she is hopeful that things will improve when they move back to Rapid. She spoke of retaking the math test when they get settled. They will be getting an apartment in the same place they were before. The managers were thrilled to hear they were coming back. The friends she made while she was there are looking forward to coming over in the afternoon for tea and talk.
My friend is yearning for a more traditional family life – white traditional, not native traditional as she has on the rez. Except that native traditional is not really what it should be if it were true to its roots. In pre-reservation years, grandparents did a lot of the teaching of the children – but not because the adults were out drinking or drugging. The adults were working when they were away – hunting, making all of the necessary items of life (house, food, clothing).
I recently read a book entitled Ride the Wind, written by Lucia St Clair Robson. It is a historical novel about a white child that was kidnapped by a band of Comanche warriors during a raid and her life. At first, I thought this was going to be another stereotypical depiction of the “savage natives.” But it was not. The girl was raised as a daughter and eventually thought of the “People” as her own. It gave a very detailed description of life in pre-reservation days, wandering and trying to survive. It was, at the least, thought provoking. I now have a better understanding of what the tribal elders want to preserve.
But I don’t think you can preserve anything exactly as it was years ago. I don’t mean just technological advances. I mean society as well. “White life” has evolved since this nation was founded – heck, we now have women with far varied roles than they had in the 1800’s. It isn’t all necessarily better, but it’s definitely different. So I think the same thing would have happened in native societies.
I’m not an historian or Native American scholar or an expert in sociology. If you disagree with my ideas, I have no problem with that.
But I have a friend who is Lakota and that gives me some insight into rez life today. I’m trying to support her and her family as they try to find their path in life – sometimes with financial aid, more often with ideas and love. And I pray for them daily, because as I told her yesterday, regardless of what we call Him or how we worship, there is One God and he is the same for all of us. I know God wants nothing but good things for us all – my prayers are that my friend and her family will recognize and claim their blessings.
Moving to Rapid is one of those mixed feelings things. Unfortunately, from personal experience, I can say that there is definitely prejudice against natives found in many residents of the city. But there is also opportunity if it is recognized. Transportation is easier. Jobs are more abundant. Education is accessible. Stores with healthy food and affordable clothing are nearby. Health care is more accessible as well. But it’s tougher to keep track of your kids when you work all day and they aren’t around people who know their family. On the rez, whatever they do will get back to you. In the big city, you may not hear until it’s too late.
We’ll see how it goes. My Lakota friends have moved at least 6 times in the past two and a half years. I guess in some ways they’re still nomadic.
Say a prayer for their success this time.