Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Drunk’ Category

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.

Read Full Post »

This is a sad story, so if you are already depressed, you might want to read it another time.  It is the story of an event in the lives of our Lakota friends.

I have met sister/cousin before – actually the first time we visited the rez over 6 year ago.  But I really got to know her better when I visited for the house blessing this past August.

I should probably explain the term “sister/cousin” because it is one I made up to explain the relationship between the woman I will write about and my friend.  My friend’s husband’s mother and this woman’s father were siblings.  So technically the two are first cousins.  However, as often occurs on the reservation, the two ended up being raised in the same household as siblings instead of cousins.  I have found that on the rez, the terms used are more reflective of the situation than the technical, biological reality.  Otherwise, how could I be “Unci (Grandma) Bee”.  I have no grandchildren but I am unci to my friend’s takojas (grandchildren).

So the two are sibling/cousins.  They care about each other as if they were sister and brother.

Sister/cousin was pregnant in August when I visited my friends.  She was expecting her 5th child.  She was happy about it, even though she worries because her husband drinks with his friends and he is not a pleasant drunk.  But I thought she seemed very swollen, like she was retaining fluid.  That is not a good thing for a pregnant woman to do.

Fluid retention can be a sign of pre-eclampsia, a condition of pregnancy in which the mother’s blood pressure rises dangerously and her kidney function declines, resulting in the retention of fluid and build up of toxins in the blood.  It was at one time called toxemia because it was thought to be a toxic condition.  However, the true cause is not known.  It is associated with multiple pregnancies, poor diet, diabetes, cigarette smoking and prior hypertension in the mother.

If it continues to become more severe, the complications can include seizures for the mother, premature separation of the placenta from the uterine wall (called an abrupted placenta) which leaves the baby with no oxygen or nutrients, and maternal and/or child demise.

As both a woman who has experienced mild pre-eclampsia in her own pregnancies and a childbirth educator who taught over 1,000 students over her 10 year teaching career, I can say that most medical professionals take pre-eclampsia very seriously.  They check your blood pressure frequently and work to bring down the hypertension.  Why?

The only cure for pre-eclampsia is delivery of the baby.  If the mother’s blood pressure cannot be controlled by diet or medication, labor must be induced or a Cesarean surgical birth must take place immediately.  Otherwise, there is an increased risk of complications, including death, for both mother and baby.

Sister/cousin, so I am told, had pre-eclampsia when I arrived to visit in early August.  My observation had been correct.  By October, her blood pressure was unable to be controlled, even with the hypertension medication she was given.  She was finally scheduled for an induction of labor.  However, there was a week that passed between her appointment and the induction of labor itself.  I cannot say why [or personally understand why] someone whose blood pressure was as high as sister/cousin’s was, for as long as it was, would not be induced immediately or taken to the operating room for surgical delivery.  She was sent home for a week — and never put on bed rest, never told to lie down on her left side to improve circulation to the baby.  She went home and tended to her other children and husband.

When she was finally induced on Halloween and after a long labor, she gave birth to a 6 lb 5 oz son on November 1, in the wee hours of the morning.  The little boy was born dead — stillborn.

The extended family who had attended her during labor, including my friend and her daughters, were devastated.  Sister/cousin was beyond consolation. I don’t know if she had been prepared for this possibility before the birth by the medical staff.  Sister/cousin called her husband, who was not there, to inform him that his son was dead.  Being drunk, he cursed at her, called her names that are not printable in this “PG” blog and refused to come to the hospital.  Sister/cousin then called her own mother to let her know that her grandson was “gone.”  Her brother answered the phone, repeated her husband’s behavior and hung up on her.  My friend said the pain in sister/cousin’s eyes doubled after those phone calls.

The doctor who examined the baby told sister/cousin that based on the physical condition of the baby, it appeared that the baby had been dead about a week.  The baby was sent to Bismarck, ND for autopsy, though no one knew why, since that was unusual.  The baby was buried at the end of the week.

Rest in peace, little one.  You had a very short walk on the earthly part of the Red Road.

 

Read Full Post »

Life on Pine Ridge Reservation is very complicated.  I am thrilled that ABC News has followed through on their plans to spotlight life on Pine Ridge for the Lakota people.  But the 20/20 program they will air tonight (Friday, October 14, 2011) will only scratch the surface.

Yes, you will see the deplorable living conditions that most endure.  You will see the ideas and programs that are trying to bring hope to the people.  But there are stories that you won’t hear.

You won’t hear these stories because of “political correctness” and the fear of offending those in positions of authority on Pine Ridge.  I usually avoid those stories as well, because I have friends who live on Pine Ridge and I want them to be safe.

But after the 3 phone calls I have received from my Lakota friends this past 10 days, I’m stepping out of my gentle persona and allowing my passion and “righteous anger” to vent.  The volume may get a bit loud, so step back a bit if that will bother you and read from a distance.

**********

Call #1

When the phone rang 2 weeks ago, I was still recovering from organizing and conducting an event at my church which included a silent auction of Lakota arts & crafts, a video presentation about my Lakota friends’ housing search over 6 years and a “feed” that included buffalo stew.  It had been a huge undertaking the prior weekend and I was, quite honestly, feeling the energy drain.

My friend’s eldest daughter had moved to Rapid City to find work and build a home for her 2 little boys.  They are all my takojas (grandchildren), at least in my heart.  Her partner, the boys dad, was living with them.  Her daughter found work at a fast food restaurant, got an apartment and tried to make a home.  Her partner did not find employment.  He did find the time and money to drink with his friends, even when he was supposed to be caring for the boys.  He had the “energy” to beat her in front of his sons.  This latest call was because he’d slept with another woman.  All of this may sound like your garden-variety domestic drama — but not to my friend.

My friend and her husband got sober years ago.  No AA or other 12-step group; just a strong desire to put her children first.  They do not want the takojas, the boys, to live in those conditions.  So my friend was going to Rapid City to pick up her takojas.  She was going to bring them home to live with them while her daughter figured out what she wanted in her life.

Why did they call me in all this?  Gas money.  The most mundane things can complicate these domestic issues even more.  The first complication is they no longer have a car.  So in order to make the 2 hour trip to Rapid City, they have to borrow a relatives car.  Then they must fill the tank with gas so they have enough gas to get that “rez ride” to Rapid and back.  With no source of income and limited funds, gas money is a frequent request in times of emergency or stress.  I called the local gas station and authorized gas for my friends.

***************

Call #2

It was no more than a week later that I spoke with my Lakota friend again.  She was not feeling well, having severe pain in her abdomen and chest that was strong enough to cause her knees to buckle.  I told her she needed to be seen by a doctor.  She said she had been seen at the nearby clinic and the only thing they had found was that she had a significantly elevated platelet level in her blood tests.

I am fairly well versed in medical knowledge but I did not have much information about elevated platelet levels and if pain was a result or a cause of that finding.  So I did what any slightly tech-savvy nerd would do – I researched it on the internet.  I found that pain is not typically found when you have elevated platelet levels.  I discovered that there are many causes of elevated platelets, ranging from “benign – no obvious cause” to cancer with many options in between.  I could find nothing that made any sense based on the symptoms my friend had related.

She called a day later, in so much pain that I could hear it in her voice.  Since I was 2000 miles away, I could not say “Show me exactly where it hurts” or do any kind of touching to clarify what I was hearing from her.  But she sounded so frightened, she is newly diagnosed as diabetic, she has a family history of heart disease and the pain was lasting far longer than seemed okay to ignore.  So I made the suggestion that I would make to any friend:  go to the emergency room and have a doctor look at you.

I was aware that the nearest hospital was at least 45 minutes away, if she went to Pine Ridge Hospital.  There is a hospital in Martin, SD that she could go to if she wanted a bit longer drive and of course, there was Rapid City Regional, 2 hours away.  She decided to go to Pine Ridge Hospital, since the clinic was planning to have her check in there the following day for additional tests.

Pine Ridge Hospital is an Indian Health Services (IHS) facility.  The residents of the reservation have a standing joke about IHS:  “I sat in the emergency room for 6 hours and all I got was 2 Tylenol.”  It is a commentary on the quality of care received from IHS.

There were 2 physicians who examined my friend, one male and one female.  They did an x-ray of her abdomen which showed nothing.  [I cannot fathom how an x-ray of soft tissue with no contrast administered could be expected to show anything of significance.]  They did an EKG, which they said was find.  So the male doctor started to discuss what might be going on when the female doctor made a comment aloud, to no one in particular, that my friend’s problems were all in her head and she needed a psychiatrist.

My friend stopped the male doctor in mid-sentence to ask if the female doctor had spoken about her.  The male doctor was uncomfortable enough that my friend realized it was true.  She asked both doctors to leave so she could get dressed and she prepared to leave the hospital without treatment.

That was when she overheard a number of hospital staff, doctors, nurses, etc, making comments about “drunken Indians”.  They were laughing and mocking.  My friend and her husband, who were stone cold sober, were shocked.  They were even more shocked when one of the staffers made a comment to the effect that, if all the drunken Indians were shot, it would make their nights a whole lot easier and saner.

I know the anger that rose in me when my friend told me about those comments and the mocking.  I could barely speak, which was fine since I could not think of what to say that might possibly be appropriate in this situation.  I was embarrassed that those in the medical community would say such things.  I knew my anger, resentment and embarrassment couldn’t begin to approach what my friend and her husband felt.  She did file complaints through the proper channels.  But you and I both know that will not take away the sting of being mocked by those charged with your care.  It was so totally unprofessional.  Sadly, it was not particularly unusual.

***************

Call #3

The most recent call occurred 2 days ago.  Before I detail the call for you, I want to tell you about my Lakota friend’s husband.  Understanding this man is germane to understanding the event.  It is also important to understand a bit about rez life, so I will also go into that a bit in case you don’t know very much about it.

As I said at the beginning of this post, life on the rez is very complicated.  That statement might actually be an understatement.  There is the poverty the underpins almost everyone’s life, since 90% of the residents live at or below the poverty level.  There are divisions that tear at the fabric of the culture:  pure-blood vs mixed-blood, traditional vs contemporary, activist vs passivist, etc.  There are times when the true Lakota culture, its values and traditions, are ignored or perverted.  Elders, women and children are considered sacred yet domestic violence is rampant.  Based on the traditional clannishness of historical Lakota life, who your family is can be more important that who you are or what idea you may have.  Nepotism and corruption abound.  The tribal council has actually tolerated disrespect among its members. People who are elected do not have to meet any age or educational requirements.  Politics play a bigger part in who gets a job than does who is the best qualified.

My friend’s husband is a big man but he is not the kind of man who uses his size to intimidate.  He is quiet and funny.  He is very smart and currently working on his college degree in business.  He would like to see honesty and respect return to the tribe and the interactions of the people who live on Pine Ridge.  He is a man of integrity who married my friend when she was a single mother raising 4 teen-aged daughters.  That takes courage in any culture!

All of that information is what made the phone call I received from my friend 2 days ago even more unthinkable.  She called to tell me that her husband was going to be arrested and she could find no one on the rez who could loan them $125 for bail money!

If it had not been for the panic in her voice, I’d have thought it was a joke.  I have always told her that, if the girls got into trouble, there was no money available for bail money.  Just not going to happen.  But the panic was there.

Here is the story that I pieced together:  They had submitted, to the proper person, a voucher for gas to go to a health appointment for her daughter.  Somehow, it had disappeared (mistakenly thrown out, intentionally “misplaced”, who knew?); they resubmitted it.  The check was supposed to be ready that day but wasn’t.  My friend’s husband called the office and the clerk told him she had seen the check in the official’s office.  So my friend’s husband called the official and, as he stated, “in a voice of authority” told the official that he would come down to the office “to straighten things out.”  The official decided that was a threat and called the police to arrest my friend’s husband for threatening a tribal official.

This had been on the phone.  My friend’s husband did not assault anyone nor did he go into the office and create a scene.  [I must say it is probably a good thing I don’t live on the rez; I’m not sure I could keep my temper in the face of all the “crap” that goes on.  I’d probably be a “regular” with the jailer under that criteria.]  If she could not bail him out, he would be suspended from college and lose his scholarship money.  It would destroy everything he has worked so hard to achieve thus far.

I was really torn because I had always said there would be no bail money.  But this man has worked hard.  He makes really good grades.  He is honest and straightforward.  I have always respected him.  I wired the bail money.  They plan to wire it back to me when they receive his educational stipend for the semester in another week.  I plan to let them send the money back to me.

After all, there is no gift of bail money, even if there is a loan of it.

And life on Pine Ridge Reservation is complicated, even for those of us who don’t live there.

 

 

Read Full Post »

I got back from my recent trip to Pine Ridge Reservation last Wednesday and have spent the past couple of days recovering from travel fatigue and a pesky stomach virus that I must have picked up on the trip home.  I think I was also recovering from some of the stories I heard while I was visiting with my dear Lakota friends.

The occasion for the trip was a happy one – after 10 years of waiting, they had finally obtained a house of their own and had decided to have it blessed.  When I think about the hard times and sadness they have endured over the past 6 years that we’ve known each other (search the category “Lakota friends” for past stories), I think having the house blessed was a really good idea.  I had gone expecting a Lakota holy man to bless the house, but apparently summer, with its powwows and other gatherings, was not a good time to “book” one.  The task and privilege fell to one of the local Episcopal priests, who had also conducted the funeral for my friend’s daughter a couple of years ago.

As an Episcopalian who had also had my own house blessed (some 30+ years ago), I was familiar with the ritual.  I was also pleased to see that the priest, with his Lakota beaded stole, had made slight adaptations in the rite to align it a bit more with Lakota culture.

Much of the rest of the time I was on the reservation was spent sharing stories.  I have often thought that a book should be written about my Lakota friend’s life.  Although it may be somewhat common to the lives of many on the reservation, it is the story of a woman who has already, in her 30’s, overcome more obstacles in her life than most of us will face in a lifetime.  I tell her that if she gives me the stories, I will put them together in a book and the money will be hers since the story is hers.  She laughs, but I think she has been considering it more seriously of late.

While we were sitting at her dining room table sharing coffee and conversation, I asked her what her earliest memory was.  Personally, the early memories I have center around holidays and playing with my younger sister.  So I was not prepared for the story she told me.  As you read her story, I ask you to ask yourself:  What does it do to a person to have this as his/her earliest memory?  Can you put yourself in this picture?

Her earliest memory is an event that occurred when she was about 3 and her sister about 5.  They were at home in their mother’s trailer.  The extended family had gathered there – aunts, uncles and some she does not recall.  Her mother was 8 months pregnant with her next sister.

The adults were all drinking heavily.  Apparently that was typical at that time in her mother’s life.  Suddenly, and for no reason that a 3 year old could recall, her uncle picked up a huge, old-fashioned butcher knife and stabbed her mother in the back.  The knife, which had about a 10 inch blade, had been “slammed about halfway” into the left side of her mother’s back as she and her sister watched.

An aunt quickly pushed the 2 girls into a closet to protect them and locked the door from the outside.  However, since the trailer was in poor condition as are many rez homes, the closet door was not a snug fit.  There was plenty of space between the door and the frame to allow the 2 children to watch what was unfolding in the hallway outside the closet.

The girls could see the knife still protruding from their mother’s back as she lay on the floor only feet away.  They could see the huge pool of blood forming around their mother.  She turned her head and looked straight at them, forming the words “help me” as best she could.  My friend clearly remembers her eyes connecting with her mother’s eyes.

She also recalls that all of the adults who had been there left, without helping her mother or calling for help.  The 2 little girls, who were terrified, threw themselves at the closet door.  The door, which was not well made or in good condition, as I noted before, gave way.  My friend’s older sister ran and tried to pull the knife out of her mother’s back – but she was too small and the knife was too deep.  The girls ran to get a neighbor to help.

The neighbor pulled out the knife and called for help.  When the police arrived, they arrested the neighbor for the stabbing, in spite of the stories told by both the girls.  Although the neighbor was eventually cleared, the uncle was never arrested.  The police refused to believe the girls’ story.

My friend’s mother was taken to the hospital, where they delivered her baby a month early and worked to save both lives.  The baby survived.  So did her mother, although it took a long time for her to recover.

My friend has had a stressful, tumultuous relationship with her mother over the years, for reasons that still remain unclear to me.  However, part of the difficulty seems to stem from the fact that her mother has never accepted and validated the trauma that it was for her 3 year old daughter to observe the stabbing.

My friend told me that she once asked her mother to stop wearing tops with thin straps so much.  Her mother told her she would wear whatever she wanted to.  She didn’t understand that my friend had a reason for asking that of her mother.  You see, every time she saw her mother in a tank top or camisole, she could clearly see the huge scar on her mother’s back when her mother turned away.  The sight of that scar would tear open the scar on her psyche every time, bringing her back to the night she was a terrified 3 year old.

When I think about this story – the alcohol driven chaos, the violent violation of a child’s mother, the abandonment by relatives who were meant to care for family, the adults who would not believe a child’s story and the emotional scars left on an innocent little girl – I can understand much of the rest of my friend’s life.

It makes me feel so protective of that child and so angry at the adults when I think about this story.  It makes me sad beyond words that this is my friend’s first memory.

So let’s go back to my questions now.

What does it do to a person to have this as his/her earliest memory?  I suspect a psychologist could write a book on that.  In all likelihood, in layman’s terms, it would scar the person for life.

Can you put yourself in this picture?  In all honesty, I cannot.  I gratefully grew up in a home where peace was the rule and verbal arguments the infrequent exception.  There was no physical violence.  Some of you may have had more experiences with violence as a child.  I pray that your first childhood memory is not something this traumatic.

But that was rezlife as a child for my friend.  I sadly suspect she was not the only one.

Read Full Post »

I spoke with my Lakota friend today – the one we met when we began to sponsor her then 10 year old daughter.  Her daughter is now 15 and some months.  We have been friends for all these years now.

We are visiting the reservation in early June and hope to travel to Utah with our friends to visit the young lady who has been quite a challenge for her mother to raise.  If you are a regular reader, you know the many dramatic adventures she has put herself in.  She is now in a resident program in Utah that I believe has some hope of helping her with the issues she now has.  Traveling from the part of Pine Ridge Reservation in which her parents reside to the institute in Utah takes about 12 hours of driving.  That is not exactly convenient for folks on the rez who have unreliable vehicles and no gas money.  So we suggested the trip as out treat – stopping overnight so we can be refreshed for the return trip.  It ought to be an interesting drive.  One of the reasons I called my friend was to ask her to make sure that her daughter can have visitors once we arrive.  It would be very upsetting to arrive and be turned away.

I asked about other family members I have gotten to know many over the years.  My friend’s sister, with whom she has not had a smooth relationship, is now living with my friend and her husband.  My friend’s mother, who owns the trailer in which my friend now resides, is still a thorn in her side.  Her middle daughter, 19 years old, has moved out to live with her boyfriend (whom my friend dislikes).  She told her mother she was of age and could do whatever she wanted.  Her mother agreed, but said not in her house.  So daughter and boyfriend moved out.

My friend’s eldest daughter is the mother of 2 toddlers.  They live with her also.  So does the father of the children.  That young man had been kicked out at Christmas time after he came home drunk and started beating the children’s mom while she was asleep.  But he is back and behaving – so far.  That’s good for those children.

My friend’s other sister died last year.  Her children were mostly teens and young adults.  She also had grandchildren.  Apparently one of her children has abandoned her children, whom my friend has taken in.  The woman, my friend’s niece, was seeing a man who didn’t like children.  So she made a choice.  She took off with the guy and left her children behind.

According to my friend, the children had not been well taken care of before she left.  They are in need of serious dental work and other care.  I know she will see to it that they get what they need if she can.

Of all the drama, this is the event that has really bothered my friend the most.  I don’t mean to say the drama with her own children hasn’t been upsetting.  But she truly cannot understand a woman just abandoning her children to run off with a guy.  I had to agree with her on this.  There were certainly times, when I was the mother of young or teen-aged children, when I felt like just packing up and leaving.  Parenting is strenuous work!  But most of us ultimately put the needs of our children before our own needs.  This woman did not and it really has upset my friend.

I suspect this is not really uncommon in a population where many of the adults grew up without adequate parenting and thus have a need to be the center of someone’s world.  If you add in the alcohol problems many have, it becomes even more understandable.  It is far easier to do hurtful things when you have anesthetized yourself to the pain others will feel.

Still, I look at this from the perspective of the children who have been neglected and abandoned.  What issues will they have as they get older which will stem directly from this event?  Will they become promiscuous, looking for affection and love?  Will they have illness and poor health as a result of receiving poor health and dental care as children?  Will they become diabetic and/or obese because they’ve learned to drink soda pop instead of water and juice?  Will they take up smoking to calm frayed nerves – or do drugs to self medicate?  Perhaps they, too, will turn to alcohol as a form of recreation or self medication.  Will the suffer from PTSD as a result of the abandonment?  Will they grow up without hope, perhaps adding to the statistics of the reservation youth who have lost hope and attempted or succeeded in committing suicide?  I think my friends sees all these possibilities.  I think that is why it weighs on her so heavily.

But I think the hardest part facing my friend is when she has to find an answer for the questions the children will bring to her:

Where’s Mom?

Why did she leave me?

Did she love me?

Read Full Post »

I got a call today from my Lakota friend’s oldest daughter.  This isn’t the daughter who has been having all the problems in state custody.  This is her oldest, the daughter her mother took away from her legally and raised – because my friend was too young to take care of her properly.

This daughter, who is about 22 or 23 years old now, has 2 little boys of her own.  She has lived with the boys and their father since she was 18.  Her sons are 5 and 2 years old.  Since her sister is in state custody right now and not in need of our material support, we offered to sponsor her sons.

We recently sent out a box of Christmas presents for the boys.  It included snowsuits and some toys, all wrapped for her.  I still laugh when I think of the poor Fedex driver who got the box on his truck.  You see, we gave each boy a car that talks when it is moved.  They also talked while they were being wrapped.  They even talked inside the big box when we lifted it to bring it to be shipped.  Can you picture the driver going over a bump on the rez, the cars start talking and he thinks he’s hearing voices?!  Wish I could be there when the boys open the gifts!

This young woman called me today to say thank you for sending the gifts because without them, they wouldn’t be having Christmas.  But that wasn’t the real reason she called.

You see, she had a taste of the cruel side of rez life this week.  She needed to talk and get support.  She needed someone other than her mother to tell her she was doing the right thing.

The right thing is pressing charges against the boys’ father for domestic abuse and going to court to get sole custody of the boys.

I see you wide-eyed with wonder.  What happened to cause that?  Why?

This is the story.  A few nights ago Mom was asleep in their trailer, the boys having been put to bed earlier.  Dad had been out with friends – drinking.  When Dad came home in the middle of the night, he was not very nice.  Apparently he is not a happy drunk.  Apparently he is a mean drunk.  He started beating Mom while she was still asleep.  The boys woke up — and begged their daddy not to hurt their mommy.

Mom finally reached her own mother, my friend.  Her mother wasted no time getting there.  My friend called the police before she left.  She called several times on the way (you remember it takes quite a while to get from one place to another on the rez).  She even “went 1oo mph past 2 cops” who just ignored her – she figured she could get them to follow her to her daughter’s place.

She got there well before the cops.  She took her daughter to the station to press charges and had the young man thrown in jail.

This was the second time Dad had beaten Mom.  My friend told her daughter that once was too many times.  She then told her daughter that she had a choice.  She could choose for her sons or for the man who beat her.  If she chose the man, my friend told her, she could not live with them any longer.  And my friend told her that she would go to court to get custody of the boys because she refused to let them grow up seeing that.

Today I told this young woman all those same things.  She needs to hear the words often, I think.  She feels like she deserved it (not uncommon).  I asked her if she had done anything wrong.  No, she replied.  I asked if he had done something wrong.  Yes.

I told her that he is the one who deserves to be punished.  He has earned it by his actions.

She told me she had to change her phone number because members of his family are calling her, and threatening and demeaning her.  I think she is frightened.

Her baby sister is home for the holidays on a pass.  She says she can’t look at her because she has a “shiner.”  I told her that her sister loves her and will know it wasn’t her fault.

The connection was broken unexpectedly – I think she had begun to cry.  I wish I could be there to hold her and counsel her.

I asked her about the domestic violence shelter in town.  She told me that it was pretty much closed. They still functioned as they could but they had lost all their funding.

I knew that Cangleska, the shelter, had been having problems.  They had undergone a forensic financial audit.  I knew all the prior management had been fired. I didn’t know that something so important in a place where domestic violence rates are many times the national average, was in such dire straits.

Cangleska was at one time held up as a model for domestic violence treatment and care.  I have even written about them in glowing terms in the past.  It is so sad to see that even something as important and prototypical could apparently fall victim to the 2 vices that are so  common on the reservation:  need and greed.  Perhaps a third vice played a part as well – nepotism.

I’ll try to explain my point.  First, consider need.  90% of the people on the reservation live below the federal poverty level.  Everyone needs something – a home, a car, food, heat, electricity, running water, indoor bathrooms, clothing – the list is everything most people take for granted.  So when there is money “floating around,” there is always someone who thinks they need it more than the person or group that has it.

Greed.  That’s a universal vice, isn’t it?  Especially in our present culture, where entitlement is rampant.

And then there is nepotism.  I have been told more times than I can count by folks who live on the reservation, including my friends, that it is not what you know or need but who you are related to on the reservation.  That is, if there is money to be handed out, jobs to be awarded or goods to be given away, it is always someone related to the person giving them that receives first.  It doesn’t matter if it’s housing, water tanks or jobs, that is the way it is on the rez.

I understand the nepotism on a couple of levels.  Even you and I are inclined to take care of and protect our own families first.  I also think that it has to do, in part, with culture.  Tribes were not always the size that they are now.  They were, years ago, small bands of people related in some way.  But when all these bands were placed together on reservations, they still retained the culture to care about their own band first.  Unfortunately it doesn’t work well in today’s system.  The tribe is supposed to take care of “the people”, the oyate.  I wish they knew how to do a better job.

So now this young woman, whom I hope you have not forgotten in my musings, has no place to turn for counseling, legal assistance and support.  She does not need the shelter to protect her from physical violence, but many, many do.  She does need to be sheltered from her own feelings and supported in her emotional pain.  She has been traumatized!  At times like this, being 2000 miles away is a distinct disadvantage!

In this time of good will and hopes for peace on Earth, I hope you will remember her and perhaps whisper a little prayer for her peace – peace of mind and peace of spirit.

Perhaps the sight of her 2 sons on Christmas day will provide her with some measure of reassurance that she is doing the right thing.

I am glad they will be having Christmas.  Too many will not.

Read Full Post »

Again.  AGAIN!!

This time a 12 year old boy.

This is the note that the boy’s sponsor sent to One Spirit, the group I work for.

I am writing to ask ONESpirit Sponsors to please pray, each in the way of their own spiritual path, for my family at Pine Ridge Reservation. My heart is broken right now. The boy I have sponsored for about 5 years turned 12 a week ago. Yesterday he hung himself in the basement of his Grandmother’s home. No one knows why.

He was wonderful with horses and was an amazing horseman.
Ride Little Warrior, Ride. Ride like the Wind.
Take those reservation ponies to places they have never been.
Your big smile and the spark in your eye,
I’ll think of them as I look to the sky.
I feel you never knew.
How many people loved you.
Ride Little Warrior, Ride

It breaks my heart that a 12 year old boy would hang himself in his grandmother’s basement.  How can you have so little hope for the future at the age of 12?  Even when my father died when I was 12 years old, I did not consider suicide.

Yet children – especially teens – are committing  suicide on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in numbers that even the Oglala Sioux Tribe calls an epidemic.

I know why these things happen – not the specific reasons for each individual suicide, but the reasons that are the fertile soil for such devastating events.

Poverty. It is extreme.  Children go hungry.  Mothers and grandmothers call One Spirit for food because the food stamps and money run out before the days of the month do.  There are not enough places to live.  People can’t afford a home.  You can have 10 to 12 people or more living in one 3 bedroom house, sharing a single bathroom.  The houses are substandard – no insulation, holes, mold – and there is no money for upkeep.

Alcoholism. The reservation is “dry” – alcohol possession and use is illegal.  But that does not stop people from drinking.  The small town of White Clay, NE (pop. about 14) is about 2 miles from the reservation border.  Walking distance.  It is more than 25 miles from anything else in Nebraska.  Yet the 4 package stores sell an average of 4 million cans of beer a year.  You read that right – 4 million.  I used the word so you wouldn’t have to count zeros.  The reservation has a population of about 50,000.  The alcohol, in addition to the problems that addiction brings, also raises the rates of diabetes, fetal alcohol syndrome, liver disease and premature death.

Dysfunctional families. This is another repercussion of the alcohol issue.  Parents, who are alcoholic, leave their children in the care of elderly grandparents so that they can go off to drink.  Children start to drink early.  Rates of domestic abuse are higher than any other population in the country.  The poverty creates issues of theft within families – even the stealing of food to sell for alcohol money.  You can imagine the ill will that results.

Education. Or perhaps I should say the lack of education.  The drop out rate is over 50%.  Teacher retention is difficult – keeping a good teacher in the middle of nowhere when you can’t afford to pay them what they can make elsewhere is nearly impossible.  Besides, who is there to stress education or supervise homework?  Who has the money for higher education?  And what is there to study for?  If a child goes on to higher education, he/she will have to leave home and family to find a job.

Jobs. Again, it would be more correct to say NO jobs.  Unemployment on the reservation is about 80%.  Think about that.  80%!!  I realize that unemployment rates are higher than usual everywhere in this country right now.  But that 80% rate is the NORM on the rez.  You can’t work when there are no jobs to work at.  You can’t work when you have no transportation to travel the 50 miles to the nearest job.

We ought to be ashamed of ourselves as a nation. We stole the land from the original owners.  We corralled them on reservations, giving them the most useless land.  We pamper and spoil our children, giving them their own credit cards and every thing they ask for, while there are children who are hungry, who have to beg for clothes that fit as they grow and who have to sleep on the floor.

We ought to be ashamed!  We ought to do something to help the tribe come up with solutions to the problems.  Teach them to fish, don’t just give them the government leftovers.  If we can do this for countries in other parts of the world, we sure as hell can do it here!

How many more youth suicides will it take before someone listens???

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »