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Archive for the ‘Friendship’ Category

Okay, keep the noise down.  I know, I haven’t written in a while.  Where have I been, what have I been doing?  Not much that was different from before.  I was just trying to manage my energy.  Sometimes fibromyalgia requires that.  So I have been doing the most urgent things and putting the rest out of sight and out of mind.  But my energy seems to be returning and I hope to be “spouting off” on a more regular basis again.

To begin, let me tell you where I am.  I flew to Florida yesterday to visit a dear friend in Leesburg.  I’ve written about him before though you would not have known it.  But he’s having tough times and needs to be cheered and encouraged.  I flew into the Orlando airport from the airport in Hartford, CT.  This is only the second time I have traveled solo; the prior time was last month when I went to SD for the blessing of my friends’ house on Pine Ridge Reservation.  I will say that was easier, even though I had to cross the entire O’Hare Airport to make my connection.  Both flights were pleasant enough.  The difference is driving.

There are far too many drivers for my liking in Florida — definitely more than in South Dakota.  I’m not a big fan of traffic!  But I made it safely and not too stresses.

The images I’d like to leave you with are the ones that greeted me as I drove from the airport.

The first was the sun.  It was just above the western horizon as I left.  It looked huge, at least three times the side the sun usually appears.  Due to the slight haze in the sky, it appeared as a gigantic orange ball.  However, it did not have the glare that the sun usually has as you drive toward it.  So you could actually look at it and appreciate the beauty.  I wished my camera was not packed.  The sky was amazing shades of blue and what we, as children, had called “sky blue pink” for lack of more accurate color names.  Perhaps you know the colors I mean.

As the sun was dipping in the western sky, the full moon was rising in the eastern sky.  It, too, looked immense.  It seemed to fill the sky.  It was simply beautiful and very bright.

I am a big nature fan and it almost felt as if these beauties were God’s gift to me for daring to take this trip and travel alone again.  I knew I was grateful for the gift.

I think it is so important to accept the gifts we are given, especially when we aren’t expecting them.  When ;you are a giver, it is important to remember how to receive.  It helps you understand the other person, the recipient of your own gifts.

Time to run.  But I promise there will be more to read now.  I’ve missed writing.  That too is a gift.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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 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.

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I’m very excited!!  I don’t usually get to go out to Pine Ridge from the East Coast twice in one year.  But that’s exactly what I’m going to do! And actually, within about 2 months of my last visit.

I wrote not long ago about my Lakota friends who had been waiting so long on the housing list (nearly 1o years).  Finally they had gotten a house!  I was so happy to get that phone call.

In the weeks that have passed since that call, my friend has changed.  She is truly happy for the first time I can remember in the 6 years I have known her.  I don’t mean that she hasn’t been happy about things that have occurred before.  But it is different now.  She is a happy person now, not just a tired, worn person happy about getting a package or seeing her grandchild.

I can hear it in her voice.  I can see and feel it in her emails and Facebook posts.  She has changed.  I think she finally believes that something really good can happen in her life.

It’s amazing what a place to call your own can do for your soul.

They are so happy to have this home that they are planning to have the home blessed and to have a celebratory meal afterward.  Of course, my husband and I were invited.  But since we had just been there, it really didn’t seem to be financially possible.

A minor miracle occurred when my parents’ house finally sold and I recently got a very small inheritance.  Small – but enough for me to do some good things for people and still have enough to do a few things for myself, like fly back to South Dakota for this celebration.  My husband won’t be able to get the time off from work, so I’ll have to go alone.  But a month or so ago, I wouldn’t have imagined that it would be possible at all.  Thanks, Mom.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t at all nervous about traveling that far from home alone for the first time.  But it will be an adventure and there will be great joy waiting for me when I arrive.

There isn’t much more to say, except perhaps,

CELEBRATE!!

Sing it with me . . . http://youtu.be/3GwjfUFyY6M

 

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I wish I could have been here to get the call!  But I was out with a friend. I’m going to tell you what the message said but I do wish you could hear it as I did.  There was SO much emotion behind those words.

The message was from my Lakota friend and she said,

Beeee, guess whaaatt!!!  We got a house!!!!!!!!!  Oh my God!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Call me back!!!!!!!!!!

That’s right!  My Lakota friends, who have been on the housing list for a home of their own for longer than I’ve known them (that’s 6 years), have finally and officially gotten a house.  A home of their own.

I called her back right away.  They were in the car on the way back from signing the papers.  I have never, in the 6 years I’ve known her, heard so much joy and excitement in her voice.  We talked about where the house is and what her new address will be.  She was going to be going through a cell phone “dead zone” (the rez has many!) so we agreed to talk later.

This is what I know:

The house is half of a duplex in one of the tribal housing areas.  They will have 3 bedrooms and space and heat.  Not like the house they rented before – that little blue house on the hill I wrote about and showed you pictures of before.  Now I don’t want you to think this one will be brand new or even in tip-top shape.  I’m sure it will need work.  But it will have running water and an indoor bathroom!  They’ll be able to shower at home rather than at a relative’s house.  They will have some privacy.  They will not need to rely on relatives for a roof over their heads.

She did say one thing that puzzled me then and puzzles me still.  She said, “Bee, what did you do?”  I asked her to repeat it because I thought I heard it wrong.  But she repeated the same thing.  I don’t know why she thought I had anything to do with it (I didn’t actively do anything that I’m aware of.) but she seemed to think I had done something to help.  I told her it must be all those prayers I’ve sent up over the years finally paying off.

They get the keys in a few days.  Then they can move in.  Right now it’s time to pack what little they have and collect some of the things we gave them when they were in the little blue house from those who had been storing them for the past year or so.

They plan to have a big dinner and have the house blessed when they move in.  I think that blessing part is an especially good idea given all the problems and heartache this family has gone through.

I don’t want you to think that this family is now on easy street.  They are still unemployed and living under the poverty level.  But not being technically homeless is an incredible step that they have long awaited — mostly patiently.

I think I’m going to see if there’s time to get an order in to the ONE Spirit food program so they will have some extras for the dinner.  I wish I could be there to celebrate with them!!

There is one lesson I learned with this wonderful call.  It is just as hard to be 2,000 miles away when you get a happy call like this as it is when you get a sad call telling you there has been a death in the family.

Hugging from a distance of 2,000 miles just doesn’t work!

 

 

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A lot of people wait for me to write about the sadness and poverty that I find when I visit Pine Ridge Reservation.  But the truth is, while there is plenty of both to be found, there is also plenty that is positive about Pine Ridge.

The first thing that we saw positive this visit was the land itself.  All of our prior visits have been in the fall or winter.  This is the first time we have visited in the spring.  What a difference a few months can make!  It was green!  I know, it sounds rather simple, but the difference between a green reservation and a brown, dried up reservation is amazing.

The green vista was incredibly beautiful.  It breathed hope and new life.  After seeing the reservation green and blossoming, I understand on a new level why the people who live here would not want to leave.  The beauty may not be there on that level all the time, but when you are in tune with the land and the seasons, you know it will return.

The first two people we met with were as positive and refreshing as the new life that spring brought to the reservation.  They were two inspirational women who believe there is hope for the youth of the reservation and who are doing something to put that belief into action.

I encountered Davidica Little Spotted Horse the first time because she had heard of the ONE Spirit program and wanted to know more about it.  She cares very deeply about her people, the Lakota people, and wanted to find out if we really did help people on the rez or not.  Sadly, there are organizations that say they are helping (and may on some level mean it) but who turn out to be divisive in the community.

Davidica and her mother, both of whom we met on our visit to the rez,  consider themselves “traditional Lakota.”  They hold fast and practice the Lakota traditions and values.  They pass those ways to their children.  Talent and positivity runs through the family like the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon – strong and creative.

This is the bio that I found of Davidica on Facebook after I spoke with her the first time,

I am a singer/songwriter, artist, businesswoman and mother. Currently the opening act for The Women of the Four Winds featuring Martha Redbone, Tracy Bone, Wayquay, and Davidica-www.myspace.com/dlittlespottedhorse
For Booking info fourwindstour@hotmail.com

My name is Davidica Little Spotted Horse.
I am a singer/songwriter from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. If I had to describe my lyrics in three words it would be, “heartfelt, personal, and passionate.” My songs are about love, loss, hope, and happiness, I believe these are feelings all human beings deal with. My songs are my connection to my inner self. All of the songs I wrote are about my own life and the two I co-wrote with my brother Isnal-Wica Belt are about his struggles. The song “Aaron’s Song” my brother and I wrote together is for his best friend Aaron Lakota because we wanted to give him a gift for being such an important part of our family and to voice that we understand what he’s going through.
I am a singer/songwriter first and foremost I just happen to be native, but more than anything I am a human being. So I humbly give all my songs to humanity no matter what your race because we can all relate to the human condition… life. I’ve always had a dream I would leave something behind to make my mark in history for my future descendants. My music is my gift to them. My children are my biggest supporters and the reason I recorded this album. I cherish my children, my extended family and my friends everyday.

I am also an artist. My beadwork is another way for me to share my creativity. I put my heart and soul into my work to create the best quality beadwork possible. My traditional beadwork is only Lakota style beadwork and I take tremendous pride in knowing how to make traditional pieces.
I also make contemporary beadwork which includes many different beading techniques and I make sure these are also excellent quality work.
You are welcome to purchase any of my beadwork that is put up for sale in my “Beadwork” Album in the photo section of my profile. I also accept orders for specific projects. Just message me and I’ll contact you with more details.
Much Respect.

I had wanted to meet Davidica after our first conversation.  She is thoughtful and open to everyone.  She is an incredibly giving woman.  She has nurtured those same values in her own children.

Davidica is a recording artist.  That is a remarkable thing for someone living on Pine Ridge Reservation.  But she is more than that.  She is a strong Lakota woman.  She puts those Lakota values into actions — they are not just words for her.  She treasures the children — her own and all those on the reservation.  It is Davidica who is responsible for the Independence Through Music project becoming a reality.

Independence Through Music is a project to identify talented young people on the reservation, to teach them about recording and performing, to teach them about the recording industry and to give them opportunities to become self-sufficient — not only by being performers, but also producers, managers, booking agents, web designers, art designers, etc..  This is not a “The Rez has Talent” contest where talented performers place themselves into the hands of strangers.  This is a comprehensive educational experience and an opportunity for young people to grow into careers and futures.

We were grateful that Davidica took time out of her day to meet us on a day that was a busy one for her prior to the ITM Concert the next evening.  We met at her mother’s home and except for the many calls she received regarding the details of the concert, their attention was on getting to know us.  We did not feel like we were being a distraction to their day.  We talked about the program, life on the rez, raising children and many other things.  It was a very pleasant time.

I have not written as much about Davidica’s mother yet because she was not the center of attention.  Yet I think she is very much the center of strength in the family.  Her deep spirituality and love of her people was very evident.  Some lead by the actions rather than many words.  This is the way Davidica’s mother leads.  I came away feeling it had been a privilege to meet her and wishing we had more time to chat one on one.

After leaving these two amazing women, we went to the home of another woman who strength is different.  She is not a community leader.  She is not even out of her home much.  She is not healthy yet she is raising two teenaged daughters.  She is raising them well in spite of poverty that almost crushed me when I entered her home.

I don’t say that lightly.  I have been in many poor homes before on the reservation.  But this home weighed on my heart and mind — perhaps even my soul — as none have before.  I don’t have pictures to share with you of this home because there was no way I was going to ask this woman if I could photograph her home to share with the world.  I was probably not meant to be a news photographer.

But I can try to paint it with my words.  As we drove up the dirt driveway, which was a hill, we had to avoid a large number of deep ruts that had been formed earlier in the week when the ground had been mud.  Straight ahead was a wooden building with a couple of small windows.  To our left was a single-stall garage sized building that was or had been used as a shop of some type.  A small trailer was behind the shop.

We were uncertain which building to go to when we saw someone peek out the window of the building in front of us (which I will refer to as the house).  Then a teenaged girl came out to greet us and lead us into the house.  Her mother, who was the person I had come to visit, was sitting in a rather worn recliner.

But before I introduce you to her, let me describe entering this house.  As we entered, there was the smell of animal urine — not extremely strong but definitely there.  The interior was dark.  The two small windows were partially covered by blankets to help with insulation and privacy.  We entered through the kitchen.  There was a refrigerator and cook stove.  The lack of cabinets meant that the non-perishables they had were stacked on the counter and other available spaces.  The kitchen table was a metal table that certainly was made prior to the 1950’s.  The kitchen and living room were actually one space, perhaps 10’x20′, separated only by the arrangement of furniture.  In the living room were the small recliner, an orange plastic chair and a television.  In the corner was a pile of several blankets and it made us wonder if this woman slept in the recliner.  Her daughter brought the single metal kitchen chair into the living area so we could all sit.

In the center of the space was a small wood stove.  My parents used wood to supplement their heat and this stove was probably only half the size of my parents.  The wood would have to be cut small to fit and the stove would need to be filled often.  I recalled that, the first time I had called this woman, she had told me they had a stove but no pipes to vent it.  I could see there were pipes now.  The stove was so old that I imagined it might have been in use since the 1800’s.

Off this main kitchen/living room, there was one bedroom, which had a door with a padlock on it.  It was the room her daughters shared and was padlocked when they were gone so none of their things would be stolen.  I cannot say how big the room was, but based on the size of the building, it was probably not much bigger than a queen sized mattress.  There was an indoor bathroom.

This woman was pleasant but had a difficult time talking because she was on oxygen full time.  She had been to the doctor’s just the day before for breathing issues.  She was due to have a lung scan soon.  She also had a difficult time moving around and I will have to assume that the two teenaged daughters must do much of the cooking and cleaning in that home.

We did not visit there long because it was such a physical strain on this woman to have company.  Personally, I’m not sure I could have stayed much longer because of my own reaction to the poverty that weighed down on me like a ton of bricks.

We left Oglala and drove to Pine Ridge to meet a woman who works with ONE Spirit for dinner at Subway.  Of course, there is only one road to get there and it is clogged with road construction.  You have to wait for a pilot car to follow through the construction and that wait can be 15 to 20 minutes if your timing is bad.

The meeting at Subway, however, was wonderful.  We spent much longer than expected there discussing rez life, various programs and individuals and much more.

After we ate, we returned to our room for a good night’s sleep.  It amazes me how tired you can get just driving around the reservation and talking to people.

 

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