I was looking back over my recent posts and realized that I had not written about some of the most difficult and painful events of the past couple of months. I’m not referring to the pain of my fibromyalgia, which had been out of control. I am referring to the emotional and mental pain of being 2000 miles away from a friend who desperately needs some support.
I’ve written about my Lakota friends many times. They have moved more times than I can be certain of – between relatives homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation and a place of their own in Rapid City (that place being a one or two room “apartment” in the residential motel). The reasons for the moves have been varied, but inevitably appear to be my friend’s attempts to keep her teen daughters safe. Sadly, these moves have not been successful nor have they kept the girls safe.
[If you’re pressed for time, I encourage you to skip down 6 paragraphs to my “godchild’s” most recent experiences.]
My friend is no saint. She grew up on Pine Ridge herself and, as she grew up, was indoctrinated into the “new” Lakota culture of alcohol, violence and poverty that runs rampant there in these recent decades. She started drinking in her teens. She got pregnant in her teens – her mother took the baby away from her and raised the child. She got married to get away from the rez. She got divorced and continued drinking and drugging until she realized the damage she was doing to her three remaining daughters. She got sober. She tried to find work. She ended up returning to the rez due to poverty and the need for emotional and financial support. She remarried – a good and sober man who was willing to take on a whole family of women (strong and brave man, I would say, having lived through the teen years of a daughter of my own.) My friend has nearly completed her GED and hopes to go to college. Her husband attends college, making good grades. They try to have hope for the future.
The reality of living on Pine Ridge Rez is so stressful and hard that I often wonder whether I could exist in her place. Even she admits to being at the breaking point at times. That’s when we’ll spend an hour on the phone, with me wishing I was far more wise than I am.
Let me take up the story of my friend’s past couple of months and supply some background as well. I learned in one conversation that the reason she had insisted on moving to Rapid City the most recent time is because of her daughters and her in-laws. The family had been living with her husband’s mother and, as usual, other extended family members – all 10+ in a small ranch style house. Her husband’s younger brothers, who seem to be alcoholics, got her two older daughters drunk. Not tipsy – fall down, cuss out your mother drunk. My friend was livid. She insisted on moving to Rapid and she had her daughter picked up by the tribal authorities to teach her that actions have consequences.
I’ve already written about the trouble that occurred while they were living in Rapid this time – my friend, her husband and 3 teen daughters (now 17, 16 & 13) in a single room “apartment.” My “godchild” was raped by the 20 y.o. son of one of my friend’s friends. You can find that in another post. The attacker was arrested. The trouble began to escalate.
The family of the attacker began to harass my “godchild” for having the young man arrested. Investigators in Rapid City advised my friend to send her daughter to live with relatives back on the rez. She followed their suggestion and my “godchild” went to live with her maternal grandmother. Her maternal grandmother drinks, of course. So while she drank, my 13 y.o. “godchild” stole her uncle’s car and drove off without permission. She was away for several days while my friend tried to look for her with no car. She was looking for her daughter herself because the dispatcher at the tribal police told her they didn’t have anyone available to help her. She was finally found and brought home. Actually brought to “juvie jail” where she stayed for a couple of days, hopefully learning a lesson. But her uncle would not press charges for taking the car – he was talked out of it by a cop who is also a cousin.
My friend decided she needed to move back to the rez to be able to watch over her daughter herself. It was a fateful decision. Her two older daughters “ran off.” She knows where they are, but no one will help her get them home. The 17 y.o. ran back to Rapid – for a boy, of course. When my friend asked for help getting her back, the authorities told her she could get help if she signed away her parental rights. Say what?!!! She loves her daughters and, in spite of the pain and stress they give her, she would never disown them. So the 17 y.o. is still in Rapid. The 16 y.o. is on the rez, now living with cousins. She can come and go as she pleases, drink, do whatever and not have to abide by her mother’s rules and curfew. Still, she has gone to school, so that is a hopeful sign.
My “godchild”, the treasure of her mother’s heart, is having the most trouble and causing the most heartache. After moving back to the rez, she has attempted to keep the girl close to her to keep her safe. She also found a temporary job, cleaning rooms at a motel that has now closed for the season. One evening my “godchild” was out a bit past her curfew, so my friend called the dispatcher to ask that if they saw her on patrol, they should tell her to get home. My “godchild” did not come home that evening. My friend called around to see if she was with any relatives or friends, but no one had seen her. She had no car to go driving around by herself and when she called dispatch and asked for a BIA officer to assist (because she has little faith in the tribal police at this time), she was told (falsely, as she later learned) that BIA wouldn’t go to Kyle and the tribal cop was unavailable on another call. So she kept calling around until she found someone with a car who would let her borrow it. She did not find her daughter. The next day, she had to go to work to pick up her final paycheck before the owners left and didn’t return until spring. As she was getting a ride to run that errand, she got a call with some information on where her daughter might be. After getting the check, she returned and tried to get help to pick up her daughter. No cops again.
Later that night, while they were driving around, the found her daughter by the roadside. I will warn you that the story of her absence is violent, disturbing and not for the faint of heart.
The night she missed her curfew, a man drove up to her and asked if she was who she is. The man told her he was a tribal cop, plain-clothed, and that she was wanted at home. He would take her there. The man obviously had a police scanner or contacts at the dispatcher’s office. The man was not a police officer, as he told her when she got into the car and he locked the doors. The man was the uncle of the young man who had been arrested for raping her. He was going to get back at her for having his nephew put in jail.
The uncle drove to a secluded house – not difficult on the rez, where, with the exception of the housing clusters in each district, houses are often miles away from the nearest neighbor. She was restrained. The uncle told a number of young men at the house that he would pay them each $100 to rape the girl. A young woman helped hold her down. She was gang raped and photographed in pornographic positions. God only knows where the photos are now! No one could hear her screams. When her mother actually drove into the driveway of that house, they held her down and covered her mouth so she would be silent – all the while threatening her with more violence if she did not lay quietly. Eventually, after they had tired of their sport and “punished” her for getting their relative in trouble, they threw her into a car and drove her to a distant district. They dumped her into a ditch. She lay in the ditch along the road, afraid to come out – afraid that they would still be there – afraid that every car she heard was them coming back to get her for more.
As morning came and with it daylight, she dared to come out and stop a car. She was taken to the hospital for another examination. She was severely traumatized.
My friend called me, beside herself with pain and grief and anger. I was afraid she would have a stroke or a nervous breakdown. I cried when she told me this story and wanted so much to be able to hold and comfort her. 2000 miles might as well have been 2 million!
We have had many conversations in the past couple of weeks. They are often a sort-of staccato of topics, one leading to another without any resolution or closure to the first. I could not repeat these conversations verbatim if I tried. But I will try to give the gist of some.
My friend felt like a bad mother for not protecting her daughter. She felt guilty because, when she learned she was pregnant with this child, she almost had an abortion. She chose not to because she loved the child in her. Now she wondered if she should have had the abortion after all. Then her daughter’s spirit would have been spared all of this trauma and violence.
My friend wanted to get revenge, too. She wanted to beat the woman who had helped the men hurt her daughter. She spoke of buying a gun to kill the S.O.B.’s that did this to her daughter. I understood her rage. But I reminded her that I could not afford bail money and, most importantly, her daughter needed her with her right now. She would only hurt her daughter more if she did something stupid and went to jail herself. She knew that, of course. But she was so frustrated. She felt the authorities were not taking the whole thing seriously and she worried that the uncle would not be held accountable.
My friend wanted to move her family and never go back. But with no money, little education and no support, she knew it wouldn’t work. So they continue to live with her maternal aunt and the 5 grandchildren the aunt is raising because their mother is alcoholic.
Things were improving until 2 days ago, when my “godchild,” who is no saint either (though neither she nor any woman deserves the treatment she has received), stayed out past curfew again. Her mother was understandably in a panic. She spent all night looking for her, no help again from the tribal police. She finally heard from one of her daughter’s girlfriends where she might be – at a house in Allen where her “boyfriend” lives. So my friend and her husband went to Allen to find her. My friend’s mother-in-law, with whom they used to live, resides in that housing cluster. The BIA officer who finally was assisting them asked them to wait a ways off for a while because there was a bad fight going on at one of the houses. It turned out to be her mother-in-law’s house. Her husband’s two brothers were drunk and there were others involved as well. Her husband went to check on his mother and the cops checked him out to see if he was drunk too (he wasn’t – like my friend, he no longer drinks). Finally, after everything settled down, the BIA officer helped my friend get her daughter and take her home.
I am not here to pass judgment on anyone. I can’t say whether the truth is told or the stories exaggerated. I can say that I don’t believe I would stay sane if I lived on the Pine Ridge rez. The combination and multitude of problems there would kill me or drive me insane.
What bothers me most is that we allow this to occur in this country. Poverty, hunger, joblessness, no jobs anyway, no transportation, rampant alcoholism and diabetes, high infant mortality rates, low average life expectancy, high teen suicide rates, high domestic violence rates – all of this in greater numbers than anywhere in the country. The Pine Ridge is supposed to be separate and sovereign, yet equal.
I feel great sympathy for those who experience modern day disasters – tornadoes, hurricanes, fires and the like. But they have many who have sympathy for them. The news media and the federal government makes sure we know they lack the essentials and ask us to help. But no one asks or acknowledges the residents on Pine Ridge. Yet they live hungry, have no heat or electricity because they can’t pay the bills, walk tens of miles because there is no transportation available, sometimes have no indoor plumbing and experience violence on a daily basis.
I ache for the day we will wake up and the nation will be aware of the pain we allow to exist in our midst. The children grow up in this environment and it continues because “child learn what they live.”
It has to change before it’s too late . . . .