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Archive for the ‘Black Mold’ Category

I have been pretty “quiet” lately thanks to the work volume all of the wonderful folks who have been stepping up to become sponsors for children and elders on Pine Ridge Reservation since the 20/20 episode aired.  I literally have not had time to write.

That is about to change!

This evening I called an elder to give her a sponsor for the 5 year old granddaughter she cares for.  The longer we spoke, the more I knew I had to share this story.  I’m sharing it because I am so far past angry I can’t keep this to myself.  It is difficult to type when all you can see is red, but I will give it my best effort.

[scrape … scrape … scrape … sorry, the soapbox makes a bit of noise]

I asked Grandmother how her granddaughter, who is in first grade, was doing.  She told me that the girl was happy but having some difficulty in school.  She was told the child may be dyslexic.  That will mean a struggle for her.

I told her I had a sponsor for the girl and she was very happy with the news.  We continued to talk as I confirmed the address information.  It was then that I began to steam.

This little girl’s family had moved away and left Grandmother with a trailer to live in with the girl.  If you could hear me, I would tell you to close your eyes and picture it as I describe it.  Instead I will try to paint you the picture with my words on this page.

The trailer is in a group of trailers.  It is very old.  Grandmother worries that the roof will come off in the wind that comes with storms – and in South Dakota that is often.  It seems that the wind is always blowing on Pine Ridge Rez.

The trailer has no running water or sewer connection.  They were using a nearby outdoor faucet for water, carting several jugs a day.  Some of the neighboring men “rigged” up the sewer pipe so they could use the toilet, flushing by pouring some of the water they had carried into the tank of the toilet.  HOWEVER . . . there was some kind of water line break in the area and the tribal water department had to shut off the water.  Yes, the outdoor faucet that they were using to obtain water is now dry!  The tribe has not made the repair that would allow the faucet to be turned back on.  Now they have to go to someone else’s home to obtain the water they need and carry it home.

Following the dotted line . . . or broken water line, let’s see the additional results of the lack of water and sewer connections. 

The most striking consequence is that Grandmother cannot get a propane tank without the water and sewer connected.  Is that important?  It depends on your perspective, I guess.  Do you think eating is important?  Do you think it’s important to have heat in the South Dakota winters?  Personally I think they are both things none of us would want to go without.  So how does Grandmother cook?  She uses a hot plate or electric skillet.  How does she keep herself and her young granddaughter warm in the poorly insulated trailer?  She uses several small electric space heaters.  The pair sleep in the living room.  Grandmother has hung a blanket in the hall doorway to keep as much of the heat as possible in their small living area.

Picture two old-fashioned thermometers, the kind with the bulb of mercury on the bottom.  One of the thermometers is measuring the temperature outside the trailer.  The second thermometer is measuring the electric bill.  As the mercury in the first thermometer drops (actually plummets at night) during the winter, the second thermometer’s mercury is exploding through the top of the stem like a volcanic eruption!  By spring, the electric bill will be too high to pay – causing the electric to be cut off and a $250 reconnect fee to be added to the next bill.  This is what will happen this winter as Grandmother tries to feed and warm herself and her granddaughter.

Are you beginning to get upset yet?  No?!  Okay then, it’s time for the clincher.

Do you remember that flimsy roof I referred to above?  That roof has another serious problem – it leaks badly!  When it rains, the water comes in through the light fixtures.  It comes down the walls.  Grandmother’s mattress in the bedroom can’t be used – it’s wet.  Even if they had running water, the bathroom would be unusable – the flooring and carpet is wet.  Besides, after her granddaughter got a small electrical shock when turning on the bathroom light to brush her teeth, Grandmother decided it was better not to use the bathroom at all.  So all bathing and tooth brushing and laundry is done in the kitchen.

I asked Grandmother whether she had sought any assistance to get the problems resolved.  She told me that she had.  She told the folks at housing.  A man came out and made one small repair.  He never returned, in spite of her calls.  Her district representative to the tribal council has tried to help her out but he has had as much success as she has had.

[okay, breathe . . . in . . . in . . . in very slowly, then out . . . out . . . out slowly, control the breath to control the rising anger . . . again . . . okay]

 

Is this how elders of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, the wise people of the Lakota, should be living?  Is this how they should be treated when they ask for help?

We ALL know the OST has no money, though why they don’t is harder to figure out.  But the fact is they have people.  They need to be training more people to do the very repairs that elders need and can no longer do for themselves.  The tribe needs to invest in their own vocational school to train plumbers, electricians, construction workers, carpenters, etc.  These trained workers could be licensed.  They could form companies and do work for an income.  They could also, in exchange for their education, give back to their communities by performing the repairs for elders for free, as a sign of the respect due to the elders.  The tribe needs to work at making it easier to do business on the reservation — especially for registered tribal members.

Lakota culture and values state that elders are to be respected; that women and children are sacred.  But it is only lip service that the tribe gives.  They spend more time with politics and nepotism guiding their decisions than the truth of their ancestors.

So I am left with the question of how I can help this particular Grandmother.  But I am also left with the bigger question.  There are many more grandmothers on Pine Ridge Reservation.  Many do not have the energy or ability to lobby constantly for the repairs they need.  I am trying to use the steam I am still feeling about this to brainstorm ideas on what would help.

If you have any ideas, I would love to hear them.  It doesn’t matter whether they are feasible or not at this point.  I just want to know that you think this situation is abominable and how you think it could be changed.

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ABC NEWS Has Come Through For Pine Ridge

Over a year ago, I was contacted by a researcher/producer for ABC News.  She had found one of my blog entries (in which I was chastising ABC for not paying attention to the disasters in the west, especially on the reservations).  She told me they were working on a Diane Sawyer prime time special in her “A Hidden America” series.  The prior one had been on life in Appalachia.  This time they were planning to profile Pine Ridge Reservation.

Those of you who have been reading my blog will know that there is not much that fires up my hopefully righteous passion more than talking about life on Pine Ridge Reservation.  So talk we did, for almost an hour.  And we emailed – resources that they might find helpful.

I had heard that Diane Sawyer was out on the rez this past summer when I was there (no, we didn’t happen to cross paths traveling the approximately 2 million acres on the rez.  But I did here that she went up to KILI Radio one of the days I was there.  Try to keep that quiet when you’re talking to DJ’s.

I am giving you a link to the promo for the show.  Please, if you have ever enjoyed or been moved by anything I have written, I implore you to watch the 20/20 program on Friday at 10 PM.  See with your own eyes the good and the bad of Pine Ridge.  You may not find it possible but this place does exist.  I have been there and I suspect they will not tell you the worst story nor show you the poorest homes.  But it will still be worse than you expect.  After all, the living conditions on Pine Ridge rival those in Haiti and the life expectancy on Pine Ridge rivals that of Burundi.

I work for an organization that works to support self-sufficiency – not an easy thing to have on Pine Ridge.  Many of us work to keep the dam from breaking by trying to improve the life of one person at a time.  The big picture can be truly overwhelming.

If you can’t watch the show when it airs, record it or have a friend record it for you.

I will be honest.  I prayed for someone with greater reach than mine to focus attention on the needs of Pine Ridge.  I did not know (or care) who it would be.  I am grateful to ABC News because I know that if more people see the conditions, they will be moved to respond.  I believe in the American people and I know in my heart that things can improve.  I do not have the answers but I know it can be done.

Thank YOU for helping them to raise awareness.  You can do that by sharing this blog post with everyone you know.

Oh yes, here’s the link to the promo:  http://abcnews.go.com/2020/video/hidden-america-children-plains-14708439#.TpOhj9LOE2E.facebook

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Okay, technically Labor Day is tomorrow.  But it is Labor Day weekend, the final big holiday of the “summer season.”  And what am I doing?  Laboring!!  I guess I can at least be grateful it isn’t the kind of labor that comes with a baby at the end – been there, done that.  But yes, I am hard at work for the past 2 days.  I will be tomorrow as well.

What am I doing to take up all this time?  As usual, I am calling the rez.  Specifically, I am calling as many of the 44 households who were to receive food orders last weekend in the 2 areas I serve to determine whether the food was delivered or not, whether it was in good condition when it arrived and if there were any other problems with the delivery.

I had tried to meet with the food delivery volunteers for my areas when I was out visiting my Lakota friends a couple of weeks ago.  We were never able to connect (phone tag, even on the rez!).

You would think this would be an easy task.  You would be wrong.

I have not be able to reach 25% of the people on the list because their phones have been disconnected or are “no longer a working number.”  Do 25% of the folks you try to call lose their phone numbers because they can’t pay their bills?  I doubt it.

Another 25% are not reachable for a variety of reasons:  no one is home; they have never set up the voicemail box; the box is full; they don’t have a voice mail box; they are “not available” which can be code for “they have no signal where they are” or “they’ve turned off the phone to save power.”

There is a small percent, perhaps 10%, in which someone answers the phone but the person I ask for is not there.  So I try to check anyway, “Do you know if the food was delivered last Sunday?”  Nope, no idea.  It always puzzles me.  You are obviously at home enough to answer the phone for someone else but you don’t know if they got food.  (Pausing to shrug my shoulders – I know how loose home life can be on Pine Ridge).

Now we come to the rest, the calls where I actually reach the person I am trying to call.  It should be a simple task, a few quick questions.

If you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you will know there is no such thing as a “simple task” when it comes to the rez.  There are the people who want to know when they will get a sponsor.  Answer:  I don’t know.  The economy is bad, there a more natural disasters than we can keep up with and more people are torn among many places to be philanthropic.

Next question:  Can you give my sponsor a message?  Answer:  Absolutely!  A related question:  Do you know why I haven’t heard from my sponsor in “x” number of days, weeks, months?  Answer:  No, but I will try to find out.

Most people do not respond to the East Coast direct manner of completing this task.  They want to chat a bit, tell you about their lives and what’s been happening around the rez.  It takes time.  It’s probably something of a blessing in disguise that I can’t reach everyone.  If I did, with the average call lasting at least 20 minutes, I would have been on the phone for at least 15 hours!  Talk about labor!!

There are occasionally calls that take longer than the 20 minute average.  Like the call I made yesterday when I connected with a grandmother who had not received her food delivery.  Not a good thing, in and of itself.  But she proceeded to tell me about her 5 year old grandson who is just starting kindergarten.  He had no shoes that fit.  He needed school clothes.

She told me she had just been diagnosed with diabetes on top of her problems with asthma.  She thinks (and I suspect she is right) that the black mold in her home is responsible for the asthma problems.

She went on to tell me more about the house.  The heating vents are not in the holes where the heat comes out.  When the housing authority folks came over to fix them, the “fix” they proposed was to duct tape them in.  Okay.  She has so much trouble heating the home in the winter that she uses her oven for heat.

She moved on to her finances.  She is on Social Security and receives about $600 per month.  She must pay for everything out of that money.  She gets no support except for food stamps for her grandson.  That means she must pay for electricity, heat, clothing, cleaning supplies, phone, cable and the inevitable food and personal hygiene supplies not covered by the food stamps.  She told me her electric bill is around $250 per month and the cable is $50 per month.  She confided that the bundle – cable, internet and phone – was $113 per month, way more than she could afford.

With half her income used up by just 2 items, you can see how a food delivery that did not appear would be a disaster.  She is very worried.

I have one more day to complete this task.  Then I will send a report to the persons who direct the food program with the information I have gleaned.

But there will be no rest from my labors.  There is always something to be done for the rez.

 

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I can see you rolling your eyes from here at that title.  How on earth did I come up with that one?  I would like to tell you that I was letting my imagination run rampant, but the sad truth is that this story was related to me by my Lakota friend’s daughter after an experience with Indian Health Services (IHS).

Now, mind you, I was not with this young woman as she took her now 2 yr old son to the clinic and then to the hospital.  So I cannot vouch for the words of medical wisdom she said she received.  However, I can say that she’s been quite accurate in what she has told me before.  So I will relate to you what she said and let you be the judge.

I would remind you that they are living in the trailer I wrote about yesterday — the one that has Black Mold in it.

The little boy has been having a number of health issues.  Most of them seemed like colds and ear infections.  His mom would take him to the IHS health clinic to be seen each time.  This went on for over 7 months.  And each time she took him, they would give her antibiotics for him.  No testing to determine if the cause was bacterial.  So this little boy was on antibiotics for 7 months!

The boy started to have gastric problems as well.  HELLO!!  Antibiotics don’t discriminate between the bad bacteria you want killed off and the good bacteria that lives in your gut and aids digestion.  That’s why doctors will often tell you to eat yogurt with active cultures (that’s bacteria cultures) if you have gastric upset after being on antibiotics.  IHS did not do that.  They sent the little boy for testing, which was of course negative.

Last week the little boy began to have trouble breathing.  His grandmother suggested her daughter take him to the IHS hospital rather than her local IHS clinic.  Good thing.

When she took her son to the hospital, he was hospitalized with a mild to moderate case of pneumonia.  He spent a few days there.

While he was in the hospital, DSS began investigating his mother for neglecting a sick boy (what????) and his mom got some of the most interesting medical explanations I have ever heard.

According to the information I have been given, the medical staff told this boy’s mother that in addition to pneumonia, the child had allergies.  He was “probably” allergic to the pets they had in the home — a dog and a cat.  Possible.  But here’s the good part.  They told her that he probably became allergic because a pet hair got into his mouth and he either inhaled or swallowed it.  That was what caused the allergy!

I’ve had allergies for most of my life.  I am very familiar with the concept of allergic reactions and what causes them.  In the case of pets, it has nothing to do with the pet hair; it is the dander or skin flakes that the pet sheds to which humans can have reactions.  It has nothing to do with the hair.

They did not give this mom any antihistamine medication for the little boy’s allergies.  They did not ask about anything else in the home environment.  No referral to an allergist, either.

I have been impressed by the number of people on Pine Ridge Reservation who have and struggle with asthma.  Many routinely use nebulizers.  Their ages range from infants to elders.

I have a suspicion that all of this asthma is caused by living with Black Mold.  We know that Black Mold can take a big toll on the human body.  Since an estimated 60% of the homes on Pine Ridge have Black Mold in them, it makes perfect sense that it is the cause of so much asthma.

Pine Ridge Reservation is in need of thousands of new homes — not because of Black Mold but because of the number of families who need a home of their own.  They would be homeless except that, in Lakota culture, relatives rarely turn away a family who has no place to live.  If you add in the number of homes currently being used that have Black Mold, are of substandard construction or are simply falling apart, the number would probably double!

Health care and housing — 2 important issues that need to be addressed on the rez.  I am afraid housing will actually turn out to be the easier of the problems to fix. . . as long as IHS continues to give out what could only be called medical misinformation.

IHS should realize the Black Mold problem is making their work even harder than it would normally be.  IHS ought to be advocating for the folks it serves.

IHS should not be telling anyone that her son is sick because he swallowed a dog hair!

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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!

 

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