I spoke with a young mother last night to try to assist her. She had moved from Oklahoma to Pine Ridge, SD to help care for her mother after her mom had some surgery. Her mom has other medical conditions in addition to the one that required surgery, had been life-flighted off the reservation previously and certainly needed the extra help. Her mom, however, has gone back to work early because of the dire need for income.
I said this was a young mother who moved back to Pine Ridge. She did not come alone. She brought her 4 children with her. Her children range in age from 11 to 18.
It has been a culture shock moving from the Cherokee Nation, where her children are enrolled members, to the Lakota Nation, to which she has transferred her enrollment when she moved back there.
In Oklahoma, she was enrolled in a college program majoring in Criminal Justice. Back in Pine Ridge, she is enrolled at the Oglala Lakota College, which does not have that major. So she will have to choose something else to complete her degree.
When she and the children moved back, they were given her grandfather’s trailer to live in. However, because neither he nor other family had a job, the electricity was shut off for lack of payment. They were not the only ones, of course, so candles and generators in the neighborhood were the norm. But generators take fuel, too, so they are run intermittently, as hot water is needed – not solely for TV or lights. Apparently while she was at her mother’s home, the children had candle lit so they could see. A neighbor had turned on a generator and did have the TV on while the water was heating. So her children we to the neighbor’s house to watch TV . . . forgetting the candle. Unfortunately, unattended candles can be a fire hazard and this one was no exception. The trailer caught fire and burned down, taking all their possessions as well. Even worse, they had some historic documents and items in the trailer which have now been lost to both the family and the tribe. She is so saddened by that loss.
I explained to this mom that the family had been referred to us and explained both the sponsorship and OKINI programs. I told her I would put them on both, with an emphasis on the OKINI due to their urgent needs. She began to cry. She apologized for the tears and said that it has been very difficult to get help through the tribe. It seems that the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing, that no one communicates with anyone else and that there is “no money left” in any program.
She said that would never occur with the Cherokee Nation. They are organized and it is easy to navigate their systems. They are honoring and trying to maintain their culture while at the same time fitting in with the current day. Moving back to Pine Ridge, from one Indian nation to another, has been a Native American culture shock!
She and her four children went to the tribe for assistance with housing after the trailer burned. They were told that they qualified for assistance but it would take some time. This young woman, who is strong and articulate, was not about to let her children be homeless. They have moved into her great-grandmother’s “old house” that was built sometime around the 1900’s. It is a house, but it is small! It contains a kitchen and one other room. The only furniture they have is a full-sized bed. Since there are 5 family members, the 2 older children are going at night to sleep on their grandmother’s couch. They have no appliances, no table or chairs, no food storage (no food for that matter) and very little clothing. They do have someone who is willing to build another room onto the place if they can materials from they tribe (they are not holding their breath on that).
After we talked about all the hardships she and her children have been enduring, she proceeded to tell me the story of her pre-teen nephew. Her brother, who still lives in Oklahoma, is the boy’s biological dad. However, when the mother was pregnant with the boy, she left the biological dad and moved to Pine Ridge to live with another man. She listed that man as the father on the boy’s birth certificate. After a short time, she left that man . . . and left the boy with his non-biological father as well.
Apparently this boy has been abused since he was quite small — physically, mentally, emotionally (being told his biological father was dead after he found out about him) and perhaps sexually. The boy finally called the police to try to find safety. After a court hearing, they placed him back with the abuser. The young woman fears for her nephew’s life and wants to help the boy. But again she is frustrated by the lack of organization and lack of urgency she finds in the Oglala Sioux Tribe. I have connected her to my Lakota friend, who has had a lot of experience with the juvenile system on the rez, as you know if you read my accounts on this blog. I will try to give her other connections as I can.
This young woman is passionate, articulate, intelligent and driven to make a difference for her people. I hope and pray that she will find a way to do that.