I have been up to my eyeballs in “work” for the rez, as well as “powerless” (electrically speaking – due to Irene), and have not had the opportunity to write about the rez in the way I’d have liked. So I’ve decided to post a few shorter bits about my visit to the rez a couple of weeks ago and some of the phone conversations I’ve recently engaged in with “rezidents.”
I spoke with a grandmother this week who had returned an update form to me. The reason I had requested the update was an email from the sponsor I had given her. The sponsor had asked if I could perhaps find another sponsor to help with the family. She mentioned other children.
This puzzled me since I was only aware of 2 young grandchildren, aged 4 and 7, living with this grandmother. When I saw the update form, I understood the sponsor’s concerns very clearly.
Grandmother now had 2 adult daughters (aged 22 and 24) and 4 other children (aged 13 – in school, aged 18, 19, 20 – all attending virtual high school) living with her, as well as 6 more grandchildren (aged 17 mos, 2, 3, 4, 4 and 6 yrs old). Don’t forget the “original” 2 grandchildren I knew about.
In case you’ve lost count, as I would if I didn’t have the update form in front of me, 15 people living in one small house! No wonder the sponsor felt overwhelmed!
Grandmother also noted that they did get food stamps (there aren’t enough food stamps they could possibly get to feed that crew). However they have no source of income and no transportation. Her final comment was typical Lakota understatement, “I have a big family so it’s usually hard on holidays.”
Needless to say, I’ll be hunting for sponsors for that family.
I spoke with a disabled elder today. She had been referred to our program by someone at Pine Ridge Hospital. She has multiple ailments including diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, a leg brace, hypertension and congestive heart failure.
She had been living in a condemned trailer (and trust me, to be condemned on the rez, it had to be pretty awful) and is now living in a new-to-her house with an adult daughter and 10 year old grandson. I gave her a sponsor today.
The problem is the sponsor won’t be able to help with their biggest need: furniture. They have none, except for the hospital bed she was given due to her multiple disabilities. Not a chair or couch. Nothing.
She said to me, “I don’t care if it’s not new. I go to Salvation Army Thrift when I have any money. But it would be great to have a recliner so I could put this bad leg up.”
I got an email from a long-standing sponsor who asked if I could possibly find a “food sponsor” for the family she sponsors. She had been sending gifts as well as ordering monthly food. But she recently retired and cannot continue to do both on her more limited income. She is concerned that the grandmother’s recent leg amputation and the surgery that the child she sponsors required will really have a negative impact on the family.
I assigned a sponsor to 2 elder sisters who live with a niece and extended family (8 folks in the home). The sponsor lives in New Zealand. I’m not certain how that will work out. I chose them because there is someone in the home who has an email address. I hope it works.
It often surprises me that people outside the United States know more about conditions on the reservations and native culture than the citizens of this country know.
Why is that, I wonder?
I heard about a woman who worked for the Oglala Sioux Tribe. She ran a tight ship in her office and would not keep anyone who drank alcohol or used drugs. That was in addition to the fact that the tribe has laws and regulations forbidding that sort of thing.
There is regular drug testing and apparently there was a test done on an unscheduled basis that revealed 2 of her employees had violated the rules. She fired them immediately. It all seems proper so far, doesn’t it. Ah, but looks can be deceiving, especially on the rez.
The 2 fired employees went to their local tribal council members and complained. Instead of supporting the woman who was the supervisor, they reinstated the 2 fired employees and fired the supervisor.
What are they thinking?! What kind of example is that to set? In a place where alcohol and drugs play a part in more than 80% of the health and family problems, you would think they would value anyone who upheld the rules.
The rez is a world unto itself and sometimes it makes no sense — even to those who live there and tell me the stories.
I’ve saved the best for last — at least in my personal opinion. That’s probably because it is a personal story.
You know I spent several days on the rez because my friends were having their new home blessed. I truly got to visit this time, not just a few hours. It was wonderful. It was different because it was their own home, not someone else’s that they were living in, so we could all be ourselves.
I’ve already written about my Lakota friend’s first childhood memory. That was one of the most traumatic stories I’ve heard from anyone on the rez. I’ve witnessed the strain and discord between my friend and her mother over the 6 years that we have been friends.
The night before I flew home, when it was just my friend and I sitting and talking, I decided that I would help with their “transmission fund.”
They have an older Ford Explorer that needs a new transmission. My friend’s husband is fairly skilled in auto mechanics (a matter of necessity if you have a vehicle on the rez) and plans to install it himself. They have located a used one that he will take out of whatever vehicle it is in and install in their car. However they need to come up with $350 to pay for it. While that is not an outrageous sum in terms of transmission parts, it is a lot of money when you do not have a job.
I had not spent much of the cash I had taken with me on the trip and knew I would not need much of it when I flew home the next day. So I took a good portion of it and gave it to her to start off the “transmission fund.” That’s when she stunned me.
She started crying — really crying, not just sniffling or tearing up. I wasn’t sure what to do. Here was a woman who had endured more than anyone I knew (you can read the stories in my archives under “Lakota friends”) and I had never heard her cry like this.
Finally she looked at me and said, “You don’t understand, do you? No one has ever wanted to take care of me like this before. Not my mother, no one.”
It was my turn to cry.
And people wonder what sponsors get back? I got friends and a whole lotta love.