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Archive for the ‘Change’ Category

I was reminded again today that I haven’t written in a while.  I can’t tell you why not.  I don’t mean that it is private.  I just don’t know why.  Anyway, here we go again.  Please – be patient and read to the end.  It really does tie together and it is important.

Life has a way of weaving separate strands together to make a beautiful cloth.  That’s what has been happening lately for me.  I wrote about feeling homeless because my kitchen was being remodeled.  It’s done now and beautiful.  So beautiful that it makes me feel a tad guilty when I mention it on Facebook.  Why?

A number of my friends on Facebook are folks who live on Pine Ridge Reservation.  If you’ve read any of my prior posts (and if you haven’t, why haven’t you?), you know that conditions on Pine Ridge are very difficult.  90% of the people there live below the poverty level.  I have been poor in my life but I have never faced that kind of poverty.  And now, when I have accomplished something so wonderful, I almost don’t want anyone to know.

The fact of the matter is that, while I may have felt homeless, I wasn’t.  I was staying in motels by choice to avoid the chaos of construction.  I had a choice.  And I had a home!

That was thread number one.  Thread number two is my “brother.”  He has begun to work at a shelter, counseling domestic abuse victims.  He saw abuse as a child.  He has a frame of reference and I am so proud of him for putting that knowledge to use in such an important way.  It is such an important thing for a victim of domestic violence to have a place to go where there is no violence.  Safety is so important – especially for the children!

You probably know that I “work” for an organization that tries to improve lives on Pine Ridge by providing sponsors, food, wood for heat, youth programs and whatever else we can manage.  I match folks on the rez with sponsors.  I get to talk to a lot of folks on the rez.

I’ve talked to plenty of women who have been abused — when they were children or by a man as an adult.  They have all touched me deeply.  But no story has touched me like the story I was told by a woman I am currently trying to help.

Thread number three started for me a couple of weeks ago when I got an email from our director.  She had been on the rez recently and was approached by a woman who asked for our help.  She gave me the woman’s telephone number and asked if I would call her.  I did.  This is her story.

I’m going to call the woman Jane – because I don’t think I have ever spoken to anyone on the rez whose name really was Jane.  Jane had recently left Dick (if you remember Dick and Jane, you learned to read when I did and you are probably my age) . . . because Dick was beating her and the 4 children.  You may think he is aptly named – I do.  She did not want the children to grow up seeing that and she would not accept it for herself.

If you’re standing up and cheering Jane right now, that’s great.  But wait.  After I tell you the rest of this story, you’ll have to come up with something better than that.

Jane left Dick.  Jane took the 4 children and not much else.  No clothing, toys or bedding.  She hoped to stay with a relative.  But all of the relatives had full houses already.  (I’ve written about the severe housing shortage on the reservation before.)  The best they could do for her was to lend her a tent.  So she is now living in a tent with her 4 children.  They sleep on the ground.  They eat bologna sandwiches.  She has no refrigeration so she must walk into town frequently for the perishables.  She is an insulin-dependent diabetic.  She is keeping her insulin and perishable food in a styrofoam cooler.  (Did I mention the temperatures have gone as low as 50 degrees and as high as almost 100 degrees?  Did I mention the severe thunderstorms with hail and high winds?) Everything was in the name of the abuser, including the food stamp claim.  Control is another form of abuse, don’t you think?

Jane has a cell phone but to charge it, she has to go to a tribal office and settle in with the children while she plugs in the phone.  Oh wait, I see what I have forgotten to tell you – the ages of the children.  The oldest just turned 5 years old.  Then there is a 3 year old and a 2 year old.  The youngest child is 4 months old.  The youngest 2 children are still in diapers.

Jane had no stroller.  So every walk for every task means taking along 1 child, 2 toddlers and an infant.  As Jane told me, “We travel very slowly.”  Jane told me she is trying to make it an adventure for the kids so they will not have bad memories of the experience as they get older.  She is sure she did the right thing by leaving.  Still … it is hard.

The wonderful people who support our organization have responded admirably to the needs of Jane and her children.  A stroller and many other things are on the way.  When I told her about the stroller, she was so grateful.  She said, “I’ve never had a stroller before.”  (Don’t forget – the stroller is for her fourth child.)  Still,  it will be hard.  There is still no home.

That brings me to thread number four.  Cangleska.  That is the domestic violence shelter on Pine Ridge that I wrote about early on in the life of this blog.  It was a fantastic place and the program there was a model for domestic abuse treatment and prevention across “Indian country.”  They built a large, homey shelter.  Many, including myself, contributed to its furnishings.  (If you must know, I sent a crib and mattress.)  There was treatment for the offenders as well as the victims.  It had the potential to change people’s lives.

If you are wondering why I am writing about Cangleska using the past tense, it is because it no longer exists.  The non-profit that ran the shelter was composed of folks who lived on the rez.  They received many grants and other donations.  As I’ve written before, when folks who have nothing have access to serious sums of money, the temptation to dip into the funds is always there.  Your own family has needs, too.  And greed is sadly an universal human flaw.  The shelter was closed down following a forensic financial audit.

This weekend I discovered that there will be an auction of all the assets of Cangleska next week.  Everything will go (even the crib I sent).  The auctioneer’s website listed “highlites (sic)” including like new office equipment, computer equipment, digital phone system, office furniture, home furnishings, flat screen TV’s, kids’ playground equipment, new chain link fence, tipis, pick-up trucks, cars, minivans, trailers, building materials, construction tools and shop equipment.  Everything will go.  It breaks my heart.

There is now nowhere for victims of domestic abuse to seek shelter and safety on Pine Ridge Reservation.  Nowhere in the 2 million acres that make up the reservation.

That is why Jane and her family are seeking shelter where they can – in a tent!

I don’t know what this cloth will look like when it is complete.  I don’t think all the threads are in place yet.  For many months I thought I was weaving a different pattern.  Now, I’m not so sure.  Perhaps it is all part of a larger design that I don’t recognize yet.  I’ll keep you posted.

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As I began my vacation in the Canadian Rockies, thrilled that for 2 weeks I would be unreachable by phone, I received an email message from a friend that was utterly disturbing.  Suddenly being thousands of miles from home in a country where I had no phone to contact my friend was not quite as wonderful as it had been moments before I read the email.

My friend had to go away on business for a few days.  Her husband and teenaged daughter drove her to the airport.  That trip was perhaps the last “normal” moment she will have for a while.

I should interject that her teenaged daughter is one of the most beautiful girls I have ever seen in person, with long dark hair, piercing dark eyes and a figure “to die for” as the saying goes.  She has been approached to work as a model and I think she could make real money doing just that.

On the way home, after they dropped off my friend, her husband stopped and bought alcohol (the drinking kind not the rubbing kind) for his underaged daughter.  I suspect he had some himself.  He then proceeded to make sexual advances to his daughter!!  Yes, you read that right!!  His daughter was able to fight off the advances, so there was no physical damage;  however, the psychological trauma was devastating.

This incident is what led to my title.  I discussed the whole thing with my husband, since he is a man (big surprise there, I know), and he was as puzzled as I was.  How could a man do something like that to his own child?

Yes, the alcohol provided some fuel, to be sure.  But the alcohol did not put the idea into this man’s head.  What is it with men?

If you think about the sexual abuse of children (at any age), the offenders are most often men.  Women (sane ones, at least) do not damage children – especially their own.  Women protect their children.  In the culture of the Native Americans I work with, children (and women) are considered sacred.  They are the ones who carry life into the future.  I’m sure it has occurred, but I have never personally heard about or read about a mother who has sexually molested her child.  I have heard about many men who have done such things!

Again I ask, what is it with men?

Yes, I’ve read the clichés about men thinking with their penises rather than their brains.  I can see how teenaged boys can get carried away, when the strength of those urges are new and unfamiliar.  But a man who is old enough to have a 17 year old daughter is a man who is old enough to have learned how to control his sexual urges.  A man who is a father ought to be the protector of his family, not the one who damages his family!

My friend is a strong woman who is very protective of her children and her family.  She would often speak of how much she loved her husband and her children.  She is such a positive person and a role model for those around her.  Now she is trying to figure out how to explain these things to her teenaged children — and to herself.

I am so angry for her.  I’d like to slap this man upside the head and ask him  what on God’s good earth could have made him think this was okay to do, alcohol or not!  But I know I’d get the typical answers:  I didn’t know what I was doing; the alcohol made me do it; I just couldn’t control myself.

Baloney!

You all know what I’d really like to do to him – I don’t have to spell it out, I’m sure. . .

Maybe I should put the soapbox away for the time being, before I get carried away.  After all, I’m a woman – I know how to maintain self-control.

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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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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.

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I love my work with ONE Spirit, the organization which provides sponsors for persons who request them on Pine Ridge Reservation.

But as in any job, paid or not, there are parts of the job and parts of the “company’s” structure that I find problematic.  Perhaps I see a better way to get something done.  Or maybe I think that a program should be completely revamped.  Sometimes I question the feedback I’m getting from program participants.  Sometimes I question the information I am getting from those who are higher than me on the totem pole of responsibility.

This has happened in just about every job I’ve held and every organization with which I have interacted.  I suspect I am not alone in that.  We all have varying perspectives when we are in a group.  We have different backgrounds and experiences.  We may not voice all our opinions – at least if we are smart, we won’t – but we definitely have them.

That’s the dilemma in which I find myself right now.  I have some definite opinions about work flow and program issues.  Typically I would use this forum to rant about problems.  But there are people from both sides of them who read this and I do not want to burn any bridges or alienate any who might be hurt by my opinions.

So I am finding stress where I don’t want it (Now that sounds stupid, doesn’t it?  Do we ever find stress where we want it?)  But I think maybe you know what I mean.  I don’t want the things I do that bring pleasure to also be bringing stress.

So I am between the proverbial rock and hard place.  Do I voice my opinions and rock the boat?  Or do I keep my mouth shut, which will keep the outer peace though I will feel increased stress, which is a hard place for me to be?

I’m not really asking you for the answer.  In the end, I’ll do what will be the most good.

I’m just reminding you that it is important to consider the results and unintended repercussions of your decisions.

Nothing is ever as simple as it first appears.

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A friend of my daughter’s just posted on Facebook about something that I’ve been saying since yesterday as well.

*scrape*  *scrape*  “Sorry for the noise, dragging my soapbox out.”

For many of us in New England, Hurricane Irene did not live up to her billing.  That isn’t to say that there was no damage or that there aren’t many folks who are still being inconvenienced by power outages.  There was damage and many are still in the dark.  But Irene had been billed as the “storm of the century” and hyped by every media outlet and government agency as nature’s version of Armageddon.  It didn’t turn out to be that way for most in the area where I live.

In my yard, for example, there were some very small branches that fell from the trees, leaves and a little bit of water in the basement.  We went for a drive yesterday afternoon and did not see much worse.  Yes, there were trees broken and fallen here and there.  Only one or two had fallen on or even close to a house.  Most of the fallen trees we saw either partially blocked a road, fell on power lines (hence the outages) or simply fell harmlessly in a yard or field.  Clean up work to be sure, but not significant damage.

If you were one of the few people who had a tree fall on your house, you did indeed suffer a catastrophe.  However, if you are out there just raking up leaves, you are in the majority and lucky.  We did not see roofs, shingles or siding blown off houses; we did not see signs blown down; we did not see shattered windows.

The problem is that people are complaining that it wasn’t “bad enough.”  After all, they went out and bought water and bread so they wouldn’t starve for a few days.  They were glued to their TV sets (til the power went out) watching for news of the devastation being wrought by the storm.  Perhaps some were realizing how tied to electronics they are when the power was no longer available.

I think folks should be grateful instead of complaining.  They should be acknowledging that we “dodged a bullet” on this one.  It was a HUGE storm!  We were lucky that it didn’t cause more damage here.  We were fortunate that the storm reduced in fury before it hit much of New England.  Mother Nature is notoriously fickle and change is one of her basic character traits.  She is also a bit of a trickster!  She loves to change a few small things to see how we respond (like taking some steam out of a hurricane or putting a tornado in an area which typically doesn’t have them).  Mother Nature revels in being unpredictable.  Just when we think we have her figured out with our knowledge and our technology, she throws us a curve ball to test us.

She isn’t always kind with the tests – there are plenty of times when things are worse than we had expected.  This time, in our neck of the woods, we got lucky and things were not as bad as expected.

So why are people complaining?!

Why are people blaming the weather folks for Mother Nature’s vagaries?  Why are folks unhappy that their homes were not demolished?  Why are they sad and whining about the fact that they prepared “for nothing?”

It wasn’t nothingeverywhere!  There were places where the predictions were spot-on.  There are places where people have been flooded out of their homes, where trees fell in the wrong places and where the winds tore up homes.

 

Personally, I think our society is in a sad state when people have so lost touch with Mother Nature that they expect to be able to perfectly know, predict and control her.  In the profound words of an old acquaintance,

 

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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 . . .”

Story 1

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.

Story 2

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.

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