I thought yesterday I had a great new story about a Lakota woman who had some real dreams that were being hindered by life on the rez. That was before today’s phone call from a sponsor who had distressing news from the elder she sponsors. Now I had another story line. What should I do? Write 2 stories or try to combine them?
One the surface, it didn’t seem as though these stories had a lot in common. But I never just stay on the surface, I guess. The more I thought about the 2 women, the more I realized that both these women were being frustrated and stressed by the conditions on Pine Ridge. In the words of the Law and Order narrator, “These are their stories . . .”
Woman #1 is in her early 50’s. She has been wheelchair bound about 15 years as a result of an auto accident – she was rear-ended by a drunk driver. I have written about her before, describing the small, non-accessible apartment she lives in.
Yesterday, when I spoke to her, she told me about a house she yearns to have. She wasn’t asking me for it. She was just expressing a yearning for a home. It already has a ramp entry and everything. She has been making the rounds of the tribal offices involved, trying to find out what she needs to do to be eligible to the house. She also told me the story of why it is so important to her to have that house – or one like it. At the very least she needs something bigger than the apartment she is in.
She told me about her 2 cousins who are in their 30’s. They are sisters who used to live with their parents. They are also mentally challenged.
When they were young, they were in the “special education” classes at school. They were mocked and called “retarded” by the other kids at the school. Rez schools are small and they could not seem to avoid it. They transferred to another school. It was further away from their home in a different rez settlement, but they did not endure the same taunting and bullying there. After their schooling was complete, they lived with their parents. They helped with the daily chores and were capable of taking care of their own personal care.
Their mother died first and more recently, their father died as well. The only family they had left were an older brother and sister. The brother did not have much to do with the family. The older sister was appointed guardian of the 2 handicapped girls. She went to court to have them placed in a home with the stipulation that they must be kept together. Then their sister moved away from the reservation.
The 2 handicapped sisters were placed in a kind of group home — in Hot Springs, SD (over 60 miles & one hour away), not on the reservation they had known all their lives. They are the only Native American women at the home. There is one Native American man who is much older than they are. They are very unhappy to be so far from home and from anyone they know.
The woman I spoke to on the phone would like to have her cousins come live with her. She is the only one who has visited them (a difficult trip for this paraplegic woman). She has arranged with the court to have them visit with her for a couple of weekends, especially for the 4th of July fireworks. The court has said it would give her custody if she had room for them to live.
And so we are back to the house this wheelchair bound, paraplegic woman desires so much. It isn’t just that, as she said, “I’m 50 years old and want a place of my own.” It is that she needs the extra room so that she can bring her 2 handicapped cousins back to the reservation, the only home they know, to live with her. Officials have already told her it cannot be done while she is in the small apartment that barely accommodates her and her wheelchair.
She told me that she watches “that show with Ty Pennington” and thinks, “Hey Ty, I need your help. Can you come to the rez and help me?” She said she cries right along with the families that get the new homes because she knows how much it means to them.
She is a sweet, gentle woman with a lot of love to share. I do not know how to find her a new home. I usually deal with the smaller things, like toilet paper and school supplies. So I will leave it to you, readers, if you know of any resources that can help this woman.
Late in the afternoon I got a call from a sponsor. She had just been speaking with one of the two elders she sponsored. The elder was very upset because she was basically being evicted.
Apparently one of this elder’s teenaged daughters is acting out and getting into trouble. The landlord, who is somehow related to the elder, “doesn’t want any trouble,” so he told the elder that she and her daughters had to leave.
I’ve written about this woman before as well, in fact quite recently after we visited her on our trip to the rez in June (the second story in “Two Amazing Lakota Women 6-24-11). I had written about the crushing poverty I had found at her home. Now she was to lose even that. She had called the sponsor, crying, with nowhere to go. She needed a home.
She told the sponsor that she would be forced to move to a shelter in Rapid City since she had no one on the rez who could take her in. I thought of this woman whose health is so fragile, who depends on oxygen tanks for life, and I wondered how she would survive in a shelter. What would her daughters do? Would they take care of their mother or set out on their own and leave her alone in the world?
I do not have any way to get housing for people on the reservation. There is a severe housing shortage. The tribe needs thousands more homes if everyone who needs one were to have one. I will make some calls to find out what is available to assist this woman.
My title with ONE Spirit is “Area Service Coordinator.” But it means that I try to match people on the rez with the services that we, as an organization, supply — OKINI, food, wood, sponsors. I am not intended to be a social worker for the two areas I serve. I do sometimes feel like one.
Sometimes, all I feel is frustrated.
Frustrated that I am not aware of all the services and programs available to individuals on Pine Ridge Reservation.
Frustrated that the Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST) does not have the means to meet the needs of the Oyate (their people) and does not appear to manage what they do have well.
Frustrated that the OST does not have a better way to communicate with the people about resources that are available to them.
Frustrated that a culture which values family, which considers women and children sacred, doesn’t have ways to assist those very groups in their dire need.
As I always say, I don’t have the answers, just the questions.
Right now, I also have a lot of frustration that I would be happy to share.