I’ve been writing a lot about the reservation in general and some of the people who I speak to in my “job” capacity. But yesterday, when I spoke with my Lakota friend on Pine Ridge, it dawned on me that I haven’t updated their lives in a while.
I called my Lakota friend yesterday to get her oldest daughter’s phone number. My friend had 4 teen/pre-teen daughters when we first met 6 years ago. We had been assigned as sponsors for her youngest daughter, who was 10 years old at that time. In 6 years, an awful lot has happened to this family. They have moved at least 8 times; they have lived with my friend’s mother-in-law, mother, aunt and alone twice briefly. Mind you, when I say “alone,” I mean my friend, her husband, various daughters and her 2 grandsons. In fact the reason they struggled to live in “the little blue house on the hill” for as long as they did (I’ve previously written about that house) is that they wanted to be in a home where they only had their own “drama” to cope with, not the entire extended family’s drama.
What kind of “drama” are we talking about? The only way to make it understandable is to take it person by person. And in the interest of clarity, I will call the daughters A, B, C, D with A being the oldest and so on.
Daughter A: was raised by her grandmother because my friend was only 16 years old when she was born; had a baby at 17; lived with her boyfriend and the baby at her grandmother’s; had a second baby at 20 years old; the boyfriend’s family accused her of having another man’s baby because the boy did not look like her boyfriend (the baby did look like Daughter A’s father, though); had her boyfriend get drunk and start beating her while she slept with their sons in the trailer; had her boyfriend arrested for domestic abuse; had her sons become ill from the living conditions they are in; allowed the boyfriend to move back in because their sons need a father; was given poor medical care for her son at the Indian Health Services clinic then investigated by child services for her child’s poor health (which was the result of the poor care); she and her sons are presently living with her mother in her grandmother’s old trailer because grandmother now has a new Habitat for Humanity home that she lives in with her son and his children. More to come on that trailer.
Daughter B was 14 years old when we first met the family. She was in school and trying to help her mother. As she grew older, she fell into “the way of the rez” more. She dropped out of high school. When she turned 18, she moved to Salt Lake City to live with her father’s family for a while. She would not listen when her mother tried to stop her or when her mother told her that her father’s family was not who she imagined them to be. We should note that her father had died the year before. While in Salt Lake City, her cousins encouraged her to shoplift for them. When her rez boyfriend died, she returned to live with her mother. She moved to a friend’s house, started drinking, got new boyfriend and moved in with him. Those Salt Lake City lessons must have stayed with her, though. The last time she visited my friend at the old trailer, she stole a box of feminine hygiene pads. My friend had to sheepishly ask if I could send her another box since she now had none and no money to buy more.
Daughter C was 13 when we met the family. She started running the wilder life about 2 years after that, before her sister. Perhaps it was because she had been raped when she was younger. But she stopped running wild when she began to have health issues. She had dropped out of high school but was attending Virtual High School to try to get some education. She was starting to get her life turned around. She began having seizures and they never did find out the cause of the seizures. When they were living in the little blue house on the hill, they had no running water in the house. So she went to a friend’s house to have a bath. She had a seizure while in the tub and died at the age of 16.
Daughter D, my “godchild,” the child we were originally assigned to sponsor, was 10 at the time we met the family. She was a typical 10 year old, although she did get into trouble in school – for fighting and such – more than the average child her age. Within a couple of years, she began to lie a lot. She “blossomed” early, became sexually active, was raped, began to drink, became a chronic runaway, was in constant trouble and was removed from one school after another. At 15, she became a ward of the state and was placed in a home several hours away from her family. She was raped at that home by a staff member. She is now in a facility in Salt Lake City – a 12 hour drive away from family in a good car – where she will stay until she is 18. Her father’s family in Salt Lake City does not call or visit her.
My friend has not had an easy life either. She was very much like her daughter’s when she was young. She was sent to boarding school until she was 18. Her mother took away her first child, Daughter A, when she was an infant. She ran off to Salt Lake City, drank, married and had 3 daughters. She got sober when she was pregnant. He husband did not. They divorced. She had 3 daughters and no job, so she moved back to the rez. She has never since lived in her own home, except for the little blue house on the hill. She met her present husband and they have tried to improve their lives. He attends college classes. But without an income, it’s pretty difficult to pay rent and utilities and buy food and … you know how it goes.
So they are currently living in her mother’s old trailer, since her mom has a new house. I have been in that trailer – 5 years ago. The front stairs up to the door were rotted through on one side. The most important problem was the floor just inside the door – literally. It was a good thing my husband noticed it because if I had just stepped in as I normally would have, I have fallen through the floor. There was a hole in the floor on the inside of the threshold that went right through to the outdoors. What a risk with children – and my friend’s mother did have some of her younger grandchildren living with her at the time.
So what about now? How is the old trailer holding up? Mind you, it is still a roof over my friend’s head, but it is in my mind worse than the little blue house on the hill. The floor is caving in. There is worry that it will give way completely. There are many more minor repair needs. Another major danger is the Black Mold that is in that trailer. We are visiting our friends in early June and I will see if I can get some photos of the trailer because, as they say, seeing is believing.
They also have water issues again. The little blue house on the hill had no running water and they had to cart water in plastic milk jugs for almost a year until they got a water storage tank from the tribe. The trailer had running water and a bathroom/shower. Luxury! The important word is HAD. They were just recently informed that the water contains LEAD. There are 2 little boys, aged 2 and 5, living there. We all know how dangerous lead is for children! So they cannot use the water any longer. They are back to carting water in milk jugs! They were also told that the trailer was condemned – but they haven’t moved because they have nowhere else to go.
But I think they’d better start looking — again!