I have never known anyone who had a child abducted before yesterday – by his or her own parent or a stranger. Now I can’t say that any more.
I was a single parent for 10 years. In the early years I worried a little – not that the kids would be abducted by their father, but that he would try to take them away from me in court. It was a foolish little fear fueled by insufficient sleep and poor health because the truth (which I knew most of the time) was that he would never have done that. He wasn’t that interested in having the children with him. But it was still a terrifying thought when it came!
However, as I said, abduction by the non-custodial parent never crossed my mind. The only time I’ve thought about it is when it makes the news, which is gratefully infrequently. So you can imagine my shock when I was told the following story.
I had a message from a grandmother on Pine Ridge Reservation. She left the message Thursday, stating it was an “emergency”. Unfortunately I was out most of Thursday (it was St Patrick’s Day) and did not get the message until Friday morning. I called this grandmother back immediately.
She told me one of her grandchildren had been abducted from the Head Start program. I asked when. March 14th, she told me. Four days ago. Yikes!
I asked if they knew who did it. Yes, they did. It was her dad. The little girl is 4 years old. I asked if they had any leads on where she was. Again, yes. After 2 trips to Rapid City (2.5 hours one way) to be there when the police thought they had found her, but had not, they finally did find her in Eagle Butte on the Cheyenne River Reservation. They were going to pick her up after she took down the missing child posters at the Head Start program and several other places.
I asked how I could help her. She asked me to contact their new sponsor and ask her to call them after 5 PM, when they should finally be back home. She told me that, with the cost of gas for all the running around, she had no money for diapers. I assured her that I would contact her sponsor. I asked her to let me know if there was anything else I could do.
After advising the sponsor about this, I could not stop thinking about the whole episode.
It is a frightening event for any parent to have a child abducted, even if it is by someone they are relatively sure will not harm the child. But what is it like on the rez? Is it any different?
Of course it is.
Why? I know that’s the question you were going to ask. It comes down to money. No, not for ransom. Money to do the running around to try to locate the child. Hopefully you have a car and only need gas money. But on the rez, you can’t assume that the custodial party has a car. There are plenty of people on the rez who don’t have their own cars. If the custodial party has no car — and I use the term “party” intentionally, because it is just as often a grandmother or aunt as it is mom — he or she must find a car to borrow or “hire” to get around. This is not always an easy task, though I would like to think it would be easier in a case like this.
Even “just” gas money is likely to add up when you consider the distances on the reservation. Traveling from the settlement of Pine Ridge on the southern border of the reservation to Kyle in the northeast takes at least 40 minutes and to Red Shirt in the northwest takes nearly an hour. To get to Rapid City, you need to add another hour from Red Shirt or one and a half hours from Kyle. They say time is money, and in this case it is because more time in the car means more gas used. I’m sure you are aware of the rising cost of gas!
Imagine being in this situation: Your child, who was abducted, may have been located. Of course, you want to be present when the authorities go in to get the child. You find a car to borrow, fill the tank with gas and travel the 2.5 hours to get there. But she is not there any longer. You return home, another 2.5 hour drive. You get another call telling you that you need to go to a different location to pick up the child. You travel those same roads again and return on them empty-handed – another 10 hours of fruitless driving. Finally, you find out where the child is . . . and you know the drill from here. Except now you have to travel 216 miles (taking about 4.25 hours) — one way!! You also have four other children in the home you care for. They are all younger than the abducted child. Ages? 3,2,2,1. Their primary needs? Food, diapers and warmth. You have food and heat – but no money left for diapers.
How does that feel? It doesn’t matter whether you use disposable diapers which need to be purchased frequently with that many young ones or cloth diapers which need to be washed frequently (which requires plenty of laundry detergent). The fact is you can’t afford either. How does it feel to not be able to provide adequately for the children in your care?
I hope you said it feels lousy. If not, I am very sad for you. You have no empathy, which is also lousy.
Gratefully, this grandmother has a good sponsor and I am certain the sponsor will do whatever she can to help out. Not every grandmother or aunt or mother or dad or uncle or grandfather could say the same. I wish they could. You probably do too, because then I would write about lots of other things that are far less painful to read.