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Archive for the ‘Electricity’ 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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I received a call from a grandmother on Pine Ridge Rez the other day.  She was calling because she wanted to know if we could help her daughter, who had only days to pay her electric or it would be shut off.  There are 2 adults and 5 teens that live in the home.

I think Gramma was a bit embarrassed because they have always been able to manage before.  Her daughter had gone to the tribe to ask for assistance but was told there would be no money available for this until November.  I unfortunately had to tell her that ONE Spirit, the group I work with in their sponsorship program, did not include utilities in our program because of the vast amount of money it would take to do that.  We shared my vision of a wind farm on the plains there that the tribe could build.  The tribe could then supply free electricity to all residents and probably still have electricity left over to sell back to the electric company.  What a relief it would be to residents of Pine Ridge to have free electricity!  Paying over $200 per month when you have no source of income or live on Social Security is a huge burden.  It would be a blessing for the tribe to be able to accomplish this for their people as well, a place where they could begin to rebuild the hope and confidence of their people as well.

She told me about her health, which has improved since her back pain was finally properly diagnosed and treated.  She told me that her daughter, for whom she had requested the help, had been diagnosed with Graves disease in 1996.  That surprised me, because her daughter is full of drive and works harder than anyone I know to help others on the rez.

Gramma also told me about the windows on her trailer (which I have visited).  Apparently one of the severe thunderstorms this past summer blew out all the windows on the rear of her trailer.  The weather, including rain, now comes in her windows.  She said that she had managed to get a board across her bedroom window; however it doesn’t cover the whole window, so rain still comes in.  I asked if she had talked to the tribe about getting help to get them fixed.  She said that, since the trailer was not “tribal housing”, the tribe has no funds to help with things like that.  She noted that she had also contacted a non-profit group that is known for doing work like that all summer.  The group, Re-Member, hosts volunteer groups all summer.  Their last group was last week.  They would not be able to help until spring!  So Gramma will have to go without windows until next spring unless she “finds the money” to hire a private contractor to do the work.  I’m afraid it will be a cold winter.  Unless Santa decides his sleigh has the room and brings windows.

I told Gramma that although ONE Spirit did not have the resources to run a program for utilities, I would see what I could do among my contacts.  Gratefully, we were able to come through for this young woman.

The daughter called me crying when her mother told her I had found a way for it to be done.  It shouldn’t have surprised me, but I am still a bit surprised when strong people cry.  The tears, you know, were tears of joy and relief, not self-pity and woe.  That attitude is something that never surprises me about Lakota women — they never show self-pity and they are always trying to help a neighbor/daughter/sister/cousin instead of themselves.

Lakota women are so inspirational!

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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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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 know what you’re thinking — wait, I shouldn’t say that.  My mother used to say that to me when I was a teenager and I hated it!  She would always use that phrase when she was assuming that I was having stereotypical teenager thoughts — which I was never having because I was either too docile or too lame.  Probably the latter.  But I hated being told that I was thinking something I really wasn’t!

So, let’s start again.  It’s true, I haven’t been writing as faithfully as I usually do and now suddenly I’m inundating you with posts.  Sorry, that’s the way writing happens sometimes, especially when you’re doing it for free and your life is in a lull.

But some things have been happening lately that have stirred my interest.  You probably already read about my “godchild” on the rez and her good news.  Now I want to tell you about a family that really needs some good news.

I received an email from a young woman who lives in one of the areas I serve on the Pine Ridge Reservation (southwest SD, for any newcomers).  She asked if I would contact Carrie [made up name to make the story easier to follow], a friend of hers who lived in another area but was in need of assistance.  I let her know that I would.  She told me the family’s trailer had burned, a far too common occurrence.

I called Carrie.  I learned that she is a single mom with 3 children – a 19 year old son, an 11 year old daughter and a 5 year old daughter.  They had been living in the trailer prior to the fire and Carrie’s sister and child had lived with them.

Now they were homeless.

Her sister and niece/nephew (my bad – I don’t recall which) were living with other family now.

Carrie and her family had tried living with her former in-laws.  But the people in that home were drinkers.  She is not.  She did not want her children constantly exposed to that.  She did not want to worry that the few things they had after the fire might be stolen by a family member to sell/trade for alcohol.  It was not a peaceful home.

As you may be aware, there is a severe housing shortage on the reservation.  So finding another place to live is difficult at the best of times and nearly impossible in an emergency.

Carrie decided to borrow a tipi (English spelling: teepee) and set it up in a different district (for reasons I’ll explain in a bit – patience, please).  Allow me to describe the current living conditions and her requests when I called her.

She and the 3 children are living in the tipi which is set up in a grassy area.  They are sleeping on mats on the ground.  They have no bedding or blankets to speak of.  No running water, of course.  There is a hydrant nearby from which they can fetch water.  I suspect they will be building an outhouse.  No shower or bath, either.  They have no electricity and will not be able to get it for some time.  When the trailer burned, Carrie was behind about $300 on her electric bill.  The electricity had to be turned off due to the fire, of course.  So now, in order to get the electricity turned on anywhere else, there will be a $200 reconnect fee as well as the back bill which must be paid.  Carrie will have to find a little over $500 in order to get electricity for the tipi.  She says she does beadwork and has been given some beading supplies by a friend.  She will try to make some earrings to sell for the electric money and to buy more bead supplies.  You see, her supplies were in the trailer when it burned.  So basically, her income went up in smoke!

What do you think was the first thing Carrie asked for?  . . . . .{Jeopardy music} . . . . . Whatever you guessed was probably wrong – sorry about that.  The first thing she asked for was something to cut the grass around the tipi because it’s getting long and the snakes are out.  Yeah, my very thought – I’d want the lawn mower or whatever too!  Then she said, maybe rakes or a shovel.

After the lawn mower came the requests you would expect:  mattresses, bedding, towels, plates and utensils, pots and pans, clothing.  Lastly, in a kind of apologetic tone, perhaps some art supplies for beading.

I placed the family on the OKINI list (in case you are thinking of offering assistance).  Kari, the OKINI coordinator for ONE Spirit, was surprised by the lawn mower request, too.  It was a first for her.  (You can reach Kari at keovensen@nativeprogress.org).  Then I forwarded the family’s information to the area coordinator for the district she is in.

Now, back to the reason for moving to a different area.  Carrie and her family had been participating in a peaceful civil protest at the time that her trailer was burned.  I used those words intentionally, because it is believed that the fire may have been arson.  She thinks that it may have been related to the protest in some way.  She wanted to be away from that area when she set up a new home.

I do not get into politics on this blog if I can avoid it, so I’m not going to comment on the merits of that belief.  I can say that, once a fire is started on the rez, the distances from fire trucks and personnel, the prairie winds and the poor condition of the substandard housing usually results in a total loss of the property — both home and personal belongings.

This kind of thing doesn’t get attention from the national media because it is a single occurrence, not an entire town wiped out by a tornado.  Yet it is still as traumatic for the people involved.  I have done what I could officially to help by putting them on the OKINI list and getting them signed up for sponsors.  But I wanted to do more.  So I am writing this for you to read and think about.

And maybe pass along.

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I called a young woman on Pine Ridge Reservation today because she and her family had just moved from another part of the reservation to one of the areas I serve.  I needed to get a few pieces of additional information in order to add them to my list.

She was a pleasant 23 year old woman who had 4 sons, aged 8, 5, 2 and 1.  The family (the young woman, her 32 year old partner and the 4 children) had moved in with her mother and adult sister.  I discovered later that they had been asked to move out of the house they had been living in due to allegations that her partner had been dealing drugs.  I did not find this out from the young woman but from the person who does my job in the area in which they used to live.  Oh dear!  The pressure to support your family where job opportunities are very limited pushes you to do unfortunate things, I guess.  I made a note of the potential problem.  The family already has a sponsor, who knows of the problem, so I will not have the question of whether or not to assign a sponsor there.

I paused for a moment to think about the young lady’s mother, who has accepted this man in her home along with her daughter and grandsons.  Was it a difficult thing to do?

I asked about the living accommodations, as I normally do.  That’s when I started to be concerned.  The home is a double-wide trailer.  They used to heat with propane before the furnace gave out.  They did call to have someone repair it but the maintenance people never sent anyone.  The electricity only works in half of the trailer now, so they run extension cords to the other rooms and connect space heaters they have bought at yard sales to heat the trailer.

I know you do what you have to in order to survive, but all I can see is the fire hazard.  The frightening thing is that I am certain this is not the only home on the reservation with jury-rigged heat and electricity.  I have been told there are no building codes on the rez.  It’s one of the questions I hope to ask when I visit there in early June.

To finish up, I asked if they had transportation.  Her mom, who does have a job, has a car.  They have to drive her to work and pick her up if they need the car for errands, doctor appointments, etc..  So they are luckier than some, not as lucky as most of us.

It bothers me that there are so many homes on the reservation with poor heating or no heating.  It really bothers me that there are so many I’ve heard about that are fire risks.  I keep thinking that the tribe ought to be more concerned about the welfare of the people.  I know money is tight.  But if you can pay the Tribal Council members as well as they are paid, surely you can do maintenance to prevent fire losses – material and human!  I know, I’m on the outside but still . . .

As an aside, I read an article by John Stossel of FOX News a couple of days ago that really got me steamed.  He was calling Native Americans freeloaders.  I plan to reread it and write about it in the near future.  But for the time being I will tell you that I have lost any respect I ever had for this man and his work.  He did no homework on this at all.  I doubt he has ever been on the reservation or done more than superficial thinking on the topic.  He is just one more pompous, arrogant windbag to me now!

I’m brushing off my soapbox as I get ready to write that one!

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