“Why Pine Ridge?” is a question I am frequently asked. I have been pondering the answer to that question since Christmas time, especially, because it was posed to me by Dana, a woman from the Pine Ridge Reservation to whom I write while she is incarcerated in federal prison in Minnesota.
She replied to my Christmas note. She was looking forward to watching the “My Passion is Pine Ridge” video ( http://youtu.be/t8UYGSBl4yU?a ) that I had recently posted on YouTube. She wrote that she looked forward to it “although [she] would like to know why? Why such the passion? So many people love where [she’s] from but all moving home did for [her] was get [her] in trouble.”
I have been musing and pondering over those questions for several months now. I really owe her a response. But for me to say that my love for the Lakota people who live on Pine Ridge Reservation is due to their culture, their strength and their needs sounds so cerebral. My passion and crusade to inform the nation about the living conditions on the rez come from a different place than my head.
My passion stems from my heart and soul. My heart feels a loving connection with each person I meet from the reservation – even the ones who try to “pull a bit of wool over my eyes.” I understand a bit of human nature. My soul feels torn apart when I see the beautiful, kind, gentle people – especially the elders and children, those sacred ones – living in conditions that many people in the country would not expect their animals to live in.
I feel it is a “sin” (in the generic sense of that word, not a particular religion’s interpretation) to a group of people in the United States to live in conditions that no one else would tolerate. These are conditions that are like those in the Third World – in Haiti or Burundi. Life expectancies on Pine Ridge are similar to those places as well. It is wrong that, if Pine Ridge residents lived a hundred miles away, their live expectancies would increase by 30 years – just by being born and living a couple of hours away. Those are the things that give me my passion and drive. The unfairness. The losses. The hardships. The national news media doesn’t tell you thinks like that – not ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN or FOX. So I do it.
Those are some of the things that make me keep plugging away even on those days (or weeks) that I get discouraged. I am so impressed by those on Pine Ridge Reservation who make it. Or who work to give the elders and youth hope for the future. My work allows me to help one at a time. That is a good thing. But the numbers who still need help are overwhelming. I do it for all the strong Lakota women I have met who inspire me to never quit using my own talents and abilities until I have achieved my goal. These are women who live in the direst of conditions yet they still laugh and give to others. They are my inspirations. I guess that is, in the end, why I am driven by such passion to promote the welfare of the people of Pine Ridge Reservation.
I read another letter addressed to Facebook friends and written by a young Lakota mother and musician. I think she would be pleased that, even though she is a professional musician and that is her occupation, I introduced her as a mother first. She is devoted to her family above all things except Tunaksila (God). She was raised off rez and has come back to help her people. She has a plan and goals, which you can read about in my prior post about the youth project for native music. She has given me permission to share her letter with you here.
Its hard to be Lakota but its worth it. Sharing my thoughts.by Davidica Littlespottedhorse on Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 6:54am
Its easy to say,”Fix it. Take a stand. Make some noise.” but its harder to actually do it. Im one of the strong people on the rez whos not afraid to stand against injustice or speak the truth, but I know why most of my people wont speak up.
When you live in a place where corruption is the norm, you dont have much faith in the power of justice. I still believe, I have faith and Im proud of my Lakota people for enduring the living conditions here on my rez. Because through it all we kept what was more important than material things. We have our culture, our spirituality, our history, and our knowledge of our ancestors. These are things that are lost to most tribes so I know how blessed we are.
Most people in the outside world dont understand the life we lead and get frustrated wondering why it is the way it is. Yes we are treated badly but the majority of us are busy surviving. We dont have the time to be ambitious we are too busy trying to get food on the table, keep warm, or keep our electricity on. I dont know of any other town that 90% of the population can live off of $3000 a year, yes a year. Any other town would be in total chaos. People would be stuggling, have no homes, and fighting for what little resources there are. Oh wait that is what we do, but we are not in TOTAL chaos for all that the media and everyone else plays up.
For all our struggles, still we are strong. We are compassionate. We are generous. We are welcoming. When a family member needs help we all help them. When we are hurting our families come together to pray with us. We are proud of our ancestors who kept us from being wiped out. Our youth is talented. Our elders teach us.
And, if you look past the negativity out in front, you’ll see the beauty in the ones who are quiet and strong. The ones who just live their lives being good to those around them. Like my grandpa who takes his guitar to sing at funerals and doesnt ask for money. Or my cousin down the street who fixes peoples cars for free. Or my aunt who runs a small business and still sponsors lil league teams. Or the boys at the basketball game who all came outside to help push some guy they didnt even know out of the snow. Or the teenage girls that would come over and ask to take my girls for a walk so I could mop my house. Or when my baby died, all my relatives that I didnt even know very well who helped me with everything from cooking to burying my daughter. Then a year later they all came together again to pray with me even though I hadnt seen most of them all year.
When bad things happen or times are hard its easy to complain and get mad, but the true Lakota way is to look forward and gather courage to make things better in a good way.
I was upset yesterday but I lit some sage, took a deep breath, and said a prayer. Then I remembered my moms words,”Its hard to be Lakota. You have to forgive when no one else will. You have help everyone, even your enemies. You have to pray for yourself to let go of anger. Once you do this you will learn from your experiences and then you can help your people.” I stand humbled and strengthened by my experience because now I have a new direction to help my people.
Pilamiya Tunaksila for direction.
So, why do I have such passion for Pine Ridge? It is, of course, my sense of what is right and what is wrong.
But it is the women about whom I frequently write. It is because of Dana, a talented women who succumbed to temptation in her desire to support her family. It is because of Davidica, a talented women whose strength and spirituality has helped her resist the temptations of the reservation. It is Michelle, who has endured more than any mother should have to endure with her daughters (rape, illness, death). It is Emma who takes in foster children when she has ten children of her own to care for. It is Nadine who single-parents her children and grandson, takes college courses, maintains her culture through her crafts and hopes to show other rez women that it is possible to succeed. There are too many others to single out each one.
How could I possibly not have this passion after the inspiration of so many!?
I hope you are inspired to spread the word about the poverty and hopelessness that too many have on Pine Ridge. Just tell people you know, if that is what you are most comfortable doing. Send them to the YouTube videos so they can see for themselves.
Pretty soon I won’t be a single match trying to shed light on these lives, but we will have a huge bonfire of caring and love to catch the country’s eyes.