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Archive for the ‘Elders’ 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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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.

 

 

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Today was the last day of vacation, after a week of relaxing in Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding area.  Yellowstone is one of my favorite places in the entire country — and having been to all 50 states, I have seen some wonderful sights.  But Yellowstone is a place that is continuing creation in a way, since it sits atop a volcano and has incredible geothermal features.  It has an inexplicable energy that permeates the park.  So I was rather reluctant to leave.
Another reason for my reluctance to leave was the long drive ahead of us.  We had to travel back to Salt Lake City, UT.  Tomorrow we will fly from Salt Lake City back to the East Coast . . . and home.  We decided to take the “low roads” back instead of the highways we had traveled to get to Yellowstone last week.  We prefer being able to take breaks as well as having more interesting sights to see.  We began by exiting Yellowstone through the south gate, which led us into Teton National Park.  The mountains there are breathtaking.
However, after a long morning of driving (we left at 8 AM and it was now 12:30 PM) we arrived at Afton, Wyoming.  We had taken this route on our first trip to Yellowstone and I remembered the antler arch that stretches across the street (see photo above).  The town is quaint and historic.  You can read more about it on Wikipedia (search Afton, WY) or at the town’s own website http://aftonwyoming.net .
This story is not about the population (about 2000), the income levels, unemployment rates or any other demographic statistic.  It is also not about how scenic Afton is nor about the activities available.  It is not even about the fact that Afton, WY boasts an Olympic gold medalist (Rulon Gardner).
This story is about people behaving well, showing kindness and compassion and bringing a warm smile to me after a long ride.
We stopped at the Burger King located in Afton for one of our stretch breaks and decided to have a quick burger to hold us until we got to Salt Lake City for dinner.  While my husband ordered, I chose a table and sat down.  I chose the right table as things turned out.
There were 3 elderly ladies in front of my husband.  As they got their orders, they were assisted by one of the Burger King employees to get their food to the table they chose directly behind me.  As the party went past me, I noticed that the Burger King employee who helped them was a young woman with Down’s Syndrome.  When the ladies realized that they needed ketchup, she offered to get it for them and returned with 3 small cups of ketchup on a tray.   After the ketchup was delivered, one of the elderly women tipped her (no, I don’t know how much) and she was so pleased.  So was I.  I admire a place that respects handicapped individuals and I respect people who do the same, as the 3 elders did.  They did not patronize this young women.  They treated her with respect.
It was the next event that really solidified my respect for the people of Afton.  After assisting the 3 women, the young woman sat at a nearby table to do a task that many would find tedious.  She was stacking numerous, loose little paper cups used for ketchup into a bin.  She was taking great pains to be sure the stacks were straight and neat when she accidentally bumped a stack, scattering several dozen paper cups across the floor near her feet.
The young woman was momentarily flustered.  I watched in both pleasure and awe as 2 children, obviously siblings, looked at each other and then went to work.  The boy and girl, in the age range of perhaps 8-11, picked up all of the stray cups off the floor and returned them to the grateful young woman.  Then they simply went into the playroom to meet a parent and left.
Perhaps it seems a small thing to you.  Or perhaps you expect unattended children to act like the ones I described.  Personally, I don’t expect it in this day and age.  I have seen far too many children who pay no attention to anyone or anything except their own interests and desires.  So frankly, I thought this was a big thing.  I thought to myself, “Those parents have done a terrific job of raising their children!”
There may yet be hope for the future.  If parents in Afton, WY can do it right, perhaps more parents can start to figure out how to raise children who are kind, compassionate and respectful.  I looked for the children and parents after I finished eating but they had already departed.  I really wanted to tell the parents how proud they should be of their children.  Since I couldn’t find them, I’m using this post to say what I would have said.
You must be very proud to have children who show respect and caring without being told to.  They did what was helpful and kind.  It may have been a small task but it was done without a second thought.  They didn’t debate if they should help — they just did it.  It really brought me joy to see it and I want to thank you for raising such “good” children. 
If the other children in Afton are raised as well as the 2 I watched, then Afton must be a special place.

 

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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 have been up to my eyeballs in “work” for the rez, as well as “powerless” (electrically speaking – due to Irene), and have not had the opportunity to write about the rez in the way I’d have liked.  So I’ve decided to post a few shorter bits about my visit to the rez a couple of weeks ago and some of the phone conversations I’ve recently engaged in with “rezidents.”

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

I spoke with a grandmother this week who had returned an update form to me.  The reason I had requested the update was an email from the sponsor I had given her.  The sponsor had asked if I could perhaps find another sponsor to help with the family.  She mentioned other children.

This puzzled me since I was only aware of 2 young grandchildren, aged 4 and 7, living with this grandmother.  When I saw the update form, I understood the sponsor’s concerns very clearly.

Grandmother now had 2 adult daughters (aged 22 and 24) and 4 other children (aged 13 – in school, aged 18, 19, 20 – all attending virtual high school) living with her, as well as 6 more grandchildren (aged 17 mos, 2, 3, 4, 4 and 6 yrs old).  Don’t forget the “original” 2 grandchildren I knew about.

In case you’ve lost count, as I would if I didn’t have the update form in front of me, 15 people living in one small house!  No wonder the sponsor felt overwhelmed!

Grandmother also noted that they did get food stamps (there aren’t enough food stamps they could possibly get to feed that crew).  However they have no source of income and no transportation.  Her final comment was typical Lakota understatement, “I have a big family so it’s usually hard on holidays.”

Needless to say, I’ll be hunting for sponsors for that family.

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

I spoke with a disabled elder today.  She had been referred to our program by someone at Pine Ridge Hospital.  She has multiple ailments including diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, a leg brace, hypertension and congestive heart failure.

She had been living in a condemned trailer (and trust me, to be condemned on the rez, it had to be pretty awful) and is now living in a new-to-her house with an adult daughter and 10 year old grandson.  I gave her a sponsor today.

The problem is the sponsor won’t be able to help with their biggest need: furniture.  They have none, except for the hospital bed she was given due to her multiple disabilities.  Not a chair or couch.  Nothing.

She said to me, “I don’t care if it’s not new.  I go to Salvation Army Thrift when I have any money.  But it would be great to have a recliner so I could put this bad leg up.”

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

I got an email from a long-standing sponsor who asked if I could possibly find a “food sponsor” for the family she sponsors.  She had been sending gifts as well as ordering monthly food.  But she recently retired and cannot continue to do both on her more limited income.  She is concerned that the grandmother’s recent leg amputation and the surgery that the child she sponsors required will really have a negative impact on the family.

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

I assigned a sponsor to 2 elder sisters who live with a niece and extended family (8 folks in the home).  The sponsor lives in New Zealand.  I’m not certain how that will work out.  I chose them because there is someone in the home who has an email address.  I hope it works.

It often surprises me that people outside the United States know more about conditions on the reservations and native culture than the citizens of this country know.

Why is that, I wonder?

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

I heard about a woman who worked for the Oglala Sioux Tribe.  She ran a tight ship in her office and would not keep anyone who drank alcohol or used drugs.  That was in addition to the fact that the tribe has laws and regulations forbidding that sort of thing.

There is regular drug testing and apparently there was a test done on an unscheduled basis that revealed 2 of her employees had violated the rules.  She fired them immediately.  It all seems proper so far, doesn’t it.  Ah, but looks can be deceiving, especially on the rez.

The 2 fired employees went to their local tribal council members and complained.  Instead of supporting the woman who was the supervisor, they reinstated the 2 fired employees and fired the supervisor.

What are they thinking?!  What kind of example is that to set?  In a place where alcohol and drugs play a part in more than 80% of the health and family problems, you would think they would value anyone who upheld the rules.

The rez is a world unto itself and sometimes it makes no sense — even to those who live there and tell me the stories.

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

I’ve saved the best for last — at least in my personal opinion.  That’s probably because it is a personal story.

You know I spent several days on the rez because my friends were having their new home blessed.  I truly got to visit this time, not just a few hours.  It was wonderful.  It was different because it was their own home, not someone else’s that they were living in, so we could all be ourselves.

I’ve already written about my Lakota friend’s first childhood memory.  That was one of the most traumatic stories I’ve heard from anyone on the rez.  I’ve witnessed the strain and discord between my friend and her mother over the 6 years that we have been friends.

The night before I flew home, when it was just my friend and I sitting and talking, I decided that I would help with their “transmission fund.”

They have an older Ford Explorer that needs a new transmission.  My friend’s husband is fairly skilled in auto mechanics (a matter of necessity if you have a vehicle on the rez) and plans to install it himself.  They have located a used one that he will take out of whatever vehicle it is in and install in their car.  However they need to come up with $350 to pay for it.  While that is not an outrageous sum in terms of transmission parts, it is a lot of money when you do not have a job.

I had not spent much of the cash I had taken with me on the trip and knew I would not need much of it when I flew home the next day.  So I took a good portion of it and gave it to her to start off the “transmission fund.”  That’s when she stunned me.

She started crying — really crying, not just sniffling or tearing up.  I wasn’t sure what to do.  Here was a woman who had endured more than anyone I knew (you can read the stories in my archives under “Lakota friends”) and I had never heard her cry like this.

Finally she looked at me and said, “You don’t understand, do you?  No one has ever wanted to take care of me like this before.  Not my mother, no one.”

It was my turn to cry.

And people wonder what sponsors get back?  I got friends and a whole lotta love.

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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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You know who you are.  Your animals are your children.  You abhor any kind of cruelty or abuse of animals.  Some think animals have rights, some do not.  But all believe that animals have intelligence and feelings.

I fit in there somewhere.  I have a cat who is 16 years old and just now has started to “act old.”  It has made me suddenly aware of his mortality – he has always been such a healthy, strong little guy.  It also has given me a reawakened awareness of what big part of my life he is.  No, I can’t say I will spend thousands of dollars to keep him alive should he fall ill.  Nor can I say I would spend more to keep him alive than I would to help humans in need.  But I do love him and will mourn if he dies.  And I would never let anyone harm him.

I can see you now, either nodding in agreement or rolling your eyes.  If you’re rolling your eyes, it might be because you think I fall short of deserving to be called an “animal lover.”  You might be right.  You might also be rolling your eyes because you’re thinking I’ve been self-serving, inviting all of you animal lovers to me melancholy musings.  You would be wrong.

I doubt any of you who have read my posts regularly would think to call me self-serving – at least I hope not.

I was recently told about a 66 year old elder on the Pine Ridge Reservation who is an animal lover.  I was speaking to her daughter, who told me about her mother.  The daughter was concerned because her mother takes in strays and cares for them, providing a kind of shelter in a place where no shelter exists.  Her mother is often given pregnant animals, so she ends up taking care of the mother and babies until homes are found for the puppies or kittens.  I use the word “given” very loosely here because sometimes people do actually give her mother the animals directly but more often the pregnant animals are just dropped off in front of her house because of her reputation.

I understand that very well.  My parents lived out in the country and people would often drop off pregnant cats near their land.  During one time period, my mother had 22 cats/kittens that she was caring for and feeding because of other people’s irresponsibility and “generosity.”  I have never understood why some people think it is okay to drop what they perceive as their problem on someone else’s doorstep.

My mother had the means to care for the animals that came her way.  The woman on Pine Ridge Reservation does not.  She receives her Social Security benefits.  With that money, she feeds and attempts to provide health care for the cats and dogs that come her way.  Her daughter is concerned because her mother often does not have enough left to get the things she needs for herself.

This is where you come in.  I’m hoping for 2 things as a result of this post.  I would like to find a sponsor for this elder who will supply animal needs so she can use her fixed, small income to get what she needs for herself.  I’m talking pet food and items like that.

The other thing I’m hoping for is bigger – I am hoping that an animal aid group of some sort, perhaps right in South Dakota, would be interested in working with the tribe to establish a humane shelter and a way for those who own pets on the rez to have their animals neutered and vaccinated at little or no cost.  The best thing would be a “roving” clinic – an RV set up for veterinary care.  The distances are so great on the reservation and many people do not have transportation, so even if there was a veterinarian on the rez, it would be difficult for people to get there.

There are many pet owners on the reservation.  And just like anywhere else, some are more responsible than others.  Some keep their pets indoors, take good care of them and enjoy their company.  Others, however, allow their pets to roam – there are packs of dogs as well as individual strays.  The tribe does not have the money to “police” that problem.  Some people realize they cannot afford to feed and care for the animal, so they set the animal “free” to fend for itself.  Many do not make it.

In the whole scheme of the problems faced on the reservation, the plight of stray animals may not seem like it is high on the priority list.  But I know that, to a certain group of you who are reading this post (and hopefully passing it on to kindred spirits), that means that the kind of thing you find very important is being given no attention or funds.

If you care about these animals that no one else cares about or if you care about the woman who, like you, hates to see animals treated like worn-out shoes, you can help!

There are several ways to help.

–Sponsor the woman for pet needs.  To do this, contact ONE Spirit’s Sponsor Coordinator Regina Hay at rhay@nativeprogress.org and ask to be connected with the Area Service Coordinator for the Pine Ridge settlement.

–Sponsor the woman for her own needs (food, clothing, cleaning products).  You can do this in the same manner as above.

–Make one time donations of pet food through the OKINI program of ONE Spirit.  To do this, go to the ONE Spirit website http://nativeprogress.org and contact the OKINI program director.

–Find an organization that would like to take on the challenges of the bigger problems regarding the animal population on the reservation.  There are surely people with more expertise in this area than I claim to have.

Whatever you do, let other people know.  You may not be the one with a solution, but the next connection . . . or the next . . . or . . . you know what I mean.

 

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