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Archive for the ‘Fire’ Category

I spoke with a young mother last night to try to assist her.  She had moved from Oklahoma to Pine Ridge, SD to help care for her mother after her mom had some surgery.  Her mom has other medical conditions in addition to the one that required surgery, had been life-flighted off the reservation previously and certainly needed the extra help.  Her mom, however, has gone back to work early because of the dire need for income.

I said this was a young mother who moved back to Pine Ridge.  She did not come alone.  She brought her 4 children with her.  Her children range in age from 11 to 18.

It has been a culture shock moving from the Cherokee Nation, where her children are enrolled members, to the Lakota Nation, to which she has transferred her enrollment when she moved back there.

In Oklahoma, she was enrolled in a college program majoring in Criminal Justice.  Back in Pine Ridge, she is enrolled at the Oglala Lakota College, which does not have that major.  So she will have to choose something else to complete her degree.

When she and the children moved back, they were given her grandfather’s trailer to live in.  However, because neither he nor other family had a job, the electricity was shut off for lack of payment.  They were not the only ones, of course, so candles and generators in the neighborhood were the norm.  But generators take fuel, too, so they are run intermittently, as hot water is needed – not solely for TV or lights.  Apparently while she was at her mother’s home, the children had candle lit so they could see.  A neighbor had turned on a generator and did have the TV on while the water was heating.  So her children we to the neighbor’s house to watch TV . . . forgetting the candle.  Unfortunately, unattended candles can be a fire hazard and this one was no exception.  The trailer caught fire and burned down, taking all their possessions as well.  Even worse, they had some historic documents and items in the trailer which have now been lost to both the family and the tribe.  She is so saddened by that loss.

I explained to this mom that the family had been referred to us and explained both the sponsorship and OKINI programs.  I told her I would put them on both, with an emphasis on the OKINI due to their urgent needs.  She began to cry.  She apologized for the tears and said that it has been very difficult to get help through the tribe.  It seems that the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing, that no one communicates with anyone else and that there is “no money left” in any program.

She said that would never occur with the Cherokee Nation.  They are organized and it is easy to navigate their systems.  They are honoring and trying to maintain their culture while at the same time fitting in with the current day.  Moving back to Pine Ridge, from one Indian nation to another, has been a Native American culture shock!

She and her four children went to the tribe for assistance with housing after the trailer burned.  They were told that they qualified for assistance but it would take some time.  This young woman, who is strong and articulate, was not about to let her children be homeless.  They have moved into her great-grandmother’s “old house” that was built sometime around the 1900’s.  It is a house, but it is small!  It contains a kitchen and one other room.  The only furniture they have is a full-sized bed.  Since there are 5 family members, the 2 older children are going at night to sleep on their grandmother’s couch.  They have no appliances, no table or chairs, no food storage (no food for that matter) and very little clothing.  They do have someone who is willing to build another room onto the place if they can materials from they tribe (they are not holding their breath on that).

After we talked about all the hardships she and her children have been enduring, she proceeded to tell me the story of her pre-teen nephew.  Her brother, who still lives in Oklahoma, is the boy’s biological dad.  However, when the mother was pregnant with the boy, she left the biological dad and moved to Pine Ridge to live with another man.  She listed that man as the father on the boy’s birth certificate.  After a short time, she left that man . . . and left the boy with his non-biological father as well.

Apparently this boy has been abused since he was quite small — physically, mentally, emotionally (being told his biological father was dead after he found out about him) and perhaps sexually.  The boy finally called the police to try to find safety.  After a court hearing, they placed him back with the abuser.  The young woman fears for her nephew’s life and wants to help the boy.  But again she is frustrated by the lack of organization and lack of urgency she finds in the Oglala Sioux Tribe.  I have connected her to my Lakota friend, who has had a lot of experience with the juvenile system on the rez, as you know if you read my accounts on this blog.  I will try to give her other connections as I can.

This young woman is passionate, articulate, intelligent and driven to make a difference for her people.  I hope and pray that she will find a way to do that.

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I 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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