Archive for the ‘Haiti’ Category

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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“Why Pine Ridge?” is a question I am frequently asked.  I have been pondering the answer to that question since Christmas time, especially, because it was posed to me by Dana, a woman from the Pine Ridge Reservation to whom I write while she is incarcerated in federal prison in Minnesota.

She replied to  my Christmas note.  She was looking forward to watching the “My Passion is Pine Ridge” video ( http://youtu.be/t8UYGSBl4yU?a ) that I had recently posted on YouTube.  She wrote that she looked forward to it “although [she] would like to know why?  Why such the passion?  So many people love where [she’s] from but all moving home did for [her] was get [her] in trouble.”

I have been musing and pondering over those questions for several months now.  I really owe her a response.  But for me to say that my love for the Lakota people who live on Pine Ridge Reservation is due to their culture, their strength and their needs sounds so cerebral.  My passion and crusade to inform the nation about the living conditions on the rez come from a different place than my head.

My passion stems from my heart and soul.  My heart feels a loving connection with each person I meet from the reservation – even the ones who try to “pull a bit of wool over my eyes.”  I understand a bit of human nature.  My soul feels torn apart when I see the beautiful, kind, gentle people – especially the elders and children, those sacred ones – living in conditions that many people in the country would not expect their animals to live in.

I feel it is a “sin” (in the generic sense of that word, not a particular religion’s interpretation) to a group of people in the United States to live in conditions that no one else would tolerate.  These are conditions that are like those in the Third World – in Haiti or Burundi.  Life expectancies on Pine Ridge are similar to those places as well.  It is wrong that, if Pine Ridge residents lived a hundred miles away, their live expectancies would increase by 30 years – just by being born and living a couple of hours away.  Those are the things that give me my passion and drive.  The unfairness.  The losses.  The hardships.  The national news media doesn’t tell you thinks like that – not ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN or FOX.  So I do it.

Those are some of the things that make me keep plugging away even on those days (or weeks) that I get discouraged.  I am so impressed by those on Pine Ridge Reservation who make it.  Or who work to give the elders and youth hope for the future.  My work allows me to help one at a time.  That is a good thing.  But the numbers who still need help are overwhelming.  I do it for all the strong Lakota women I have met who inspire me to never quit using my own talents and abilities until I have achieved my goal.  These are women who live in the direst of conditions yet they still laugh and give to others.  They are my inspirations.  I guess that is, in the end, why I am driven by such passion to promote the welfare of the people of Pine Ridge Reservation.

I read another letter addressed to Facebook friends and written by a young Lakota mother and musician.  I think she would be pleased that, even though she is a professional musician and that is her occupation, I introduced her as a mother first.  She is devoted to her family above all things except Tunaksila (God).  She was raised off rez and has come back to help her people.  She has a plan and goals, which you can read about in my prior post about the youth project for native music.  She has given me permission to share her letter with you here.

Its hard to be Lakota but its worth it. Sharing my thoughts.

by Davidica Littlespottedhorse on Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 6:54am

Its easy to say,”Fix it. Take a stand. Make some noise.” but its harder to actually do it. Im one of the strong people on the rez whos not afraid to stand against injustice or speak the truth, but I know why most of my people wont speak up.

When you live in a place where corruption is the norm, you dont have much faith in the power of justice. I still believe, I have faith and Im proud of my Lakota people for enduring the living conditions here on my rez. Because through it all we kept what was more important than material things. We have our culture, our spirituality, our history, and our knowledge of our ancestors. These are things that are lost to most tribes so I know how blessed we are.

Most people in the outside world dont understand the life we lead and get frustrated wondering why it is the way it is. Yes we are treated badly but the majority of us are busy surviving. We dont have the time to be ambitious we are too busy trying to get food on the table, keep warm, or keep our electricity on. I dont know of any other town that 90% of the population can live off of $3000 a year, yes a year. Any other town would be in total chaos. People would be stuggling, have no homes, and fighting for what little resources there are. Oh wait that is what we do, but we are not in TOTAL chaos for all that the media and everyone else plays up.

For all our struggles, still we are strong. We are compassionate. We are generous. We are welcoming. When a family member needs help we all help them. When we are hurting our families come together to pray with us. We are proud of our ancestors who kept us from being wiped out. Our youth is talented. Our elders teach us.

And, if you look past the negativity out in front, you’ll see the beauty in the ones who are quiet and strong. The ones who just live their lives being good to those around them. Like my grandpa who takes his guitar to sing at funerals and doesnt ask for money. Or my cousin down the street who fixes peoples cars for free. Or my aunt who runs a small business and still sponsors lil league teams. Or the boys at the basketball game who all came outside to help push some guy they didnt even know out of the snow. Or the teenage girls that would come over and ask to take my girls for a walk so I could mop my house. Or when my baby died, all my relatives that I didnt even know very well who helped me with everything from cooking to burying my daughter. Then a year later they all came together again to pray with me even though I hadnt seen most of them all year.

When bad things happen or times are hard its easy to complain and get mad, but the true Lakota way is to look forward and gather courage to make things better in a good way.

I was upset yesterday but I lit some sage, took a deep breath, and said a prayer. Then I remembered my moms words,”Its hard to be Lakota. You have to forgive when no one else will. You have help everyone, even your enemies. You have to pray for yourself to let go of anger. Once you do this you will learn from your experiences and then you can help your people.” I stand humbled and strengthened by my experience because now I have a new direction to help my people.

Pilamiya Tunaksila for direction.

So, why do I have such passion for Pine Ridge?  It is, of course, my sense of what is right and what is wrong.

But it is the women about whom I frequently write.  It is because of Dana, a talented women who succumbed to temptation in her desire to support her family.  It is because of Davidica, a talented women whose strength and spirituality has helped her resist the temptations of the reservation.  It is Michelle, who has endured more than any mother should have to endure with her daughters (rape, illness, death).  It is Emma who takes in foster children when she has ten children of her own to care for.  It is Nadine who single-parents her children and grandson, takes college courses, maintains her culture through her crafts and hopes to show other rez women that it is possible to succeed. There are too many others to single out each one.

How could I possibly not have this passion after the inspiration of so many!?

I hope you are inspired to spread the word about the poverty and hopelessness that too many have on Pine Ridge.  Just tell people you know, if that is what you are most comfortable doing.  Send them to the YouTube videos so they can see for themselves.

Pretty soon I won’t be a single match trying to shed light on these lives, but we will have a huge bonfire of caring and love to catch the country’s eyes.

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I have often urged people to consider sponsoring a child or elder on Pine Ridge Reservation.  I will continue to do that.

When I assign a sponsor to someone on the reservation, I urge them to start slowly and not be overwhelmed by their own feelings of generosity or by the need of the Pine Ridge residents.  There is a reason for that.

ONE Spirit has no rules written in stone regarding the amount that a sponsor should spend on the child, elder or family that is being sponsored.  However, there are guidelines and a strong suggestion.  The guidelines – 4 gifts a year minimum at obvious times like birthdays, holidays, the beginning of school – do not mean a sponsor needs to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars.  A pair of jeans and a couple of shirts or a pair of shoes is plenty.  As a sponsor gets to know a family, they may decide, based on their own budget, that they can do a bit more.  But it should always be within their own comfort zone in their own budget.

The basic point of sponsoring is to make sure a child or an elder has the NECESSITIES for daily life – clothing, food, hygiene products, diapers, cleaning products, toilet paper, books or small toys.  Most of us cannot resist sending something that would be considered more of a luxury as well – a larger toy, some make-up, sweets for the children.

The point of sponsoring in not to give a child everything they ask for or want.  All children need to learn the difference between what they NEED and what they WANT.

The children of Pine Ridge are no different from children everywhere in this country.  They see all the gadgets and goodies on TV.  They want an iPod or computer or flat screen TV or furniture or car.  They think they ought to be given these things.  They need clothes and toilet paper.  We, as sponsors, do them no true good if we give them the expensive toys that cannot be kept up and that may be easily stolen.

Sponsors need to use their judgment both with the guideline for gifts but also with strong suggestion to never send money to the family on the reservation.  I think that this suggestion is very sensible due to the rates of alcoholism and other problems that result in cash being ill-used.  It is so easily stolen, as well.  But when you become better acquainted with the family, you may, as a sponsor, decide that in one certain case sending cash is okay.  It should never be done without due deliberation.

I spoke with several sponsors this week that have had some experiences with these issues, which is why I am writing about it today.

But there is unfortunately two other issues that are not limited to Pine Ridge nor are they pretty.  Those issues are greed and ingratitude. Greed is everywhere.  In some respects, it is almost understandable in a place where poverty rivals the poverty of Haiti.  But it is not acceptable in Lakota culture.  Lakota culture honors generosity and humility, sharing and taking care of the less able (children, elders).  Greed is not a part of Lakota culture but it is part of human nature. Ingratitude is not part of Lakota culture either.  It is, sadly, a large part of American society.  Too many today feel they are entitled to the good things in life without work.  Therefore they don’t need to be grateful for those things.  They are “owed” them!  Children on Pine Ridge watch a lot of TV – there are few other forms of entertainment available – so they see the attitudes of American society in general.  If you’ve ever really thought about what you see on TV, whether comedy or drama, “reality” or not, you will have noticed that the values displayed are not the values many of us “of a certain age” were raised by.  But they are the values many of our kids are being raised by.  Sadly!

One of the sponsors I spoke with had encountered greed and ingratitude in the persona of a pre-teen girl.  This girl did not ask for NEEDS, she asked for wants.  She did not just ask for jeans – not even designer jeans.  She asked for a computer.  She asked for a iPod.  She asked for expensive running shoes.  She asked for a cell phone “to call her grandmother.”  (Her grandmother lives with the family.)  This sponsor has decided to terminate her sponsorship of this child and I am looking for a family who will be a better experience for her.

As the person who matches sponsors with families, I try so hard to try to avoid this type of experience.  But short of clairvoyance, there is no way for me to know the characters of either sponsors or recipients absolutely.  It comes to trust, which I wrote about not that long ago.  But it saddens me deeply when either sponsors or recipients have negative experiences.

I have been blessed with a wonderful family that we began by sponsoring but who have become our friends.  They have never asked for too much.  They have accepted any refusals due to our budget with grace.  They have been grateful for whatever we have been able to send.  I know many other sponsors who have had similar experiences.  I am grateful that the number of negative experiences I personally know of can be numbered on one hand.

But I think that it is important for sponsors to remember that the people on Pine Ridge are no better or worse than people anywhere else.  There are good and bad, generous and greedy, honest and dishonest, both on the reservation and in the people you meet every day.  The only difference is that the people on Pine Ridge are extremely poor – just about the poorest people in this nation.

So sponsoring is not all sweetness and light.  There are negatives and hard times as well as positives and joys.  Sponsors should not expect that the people on the reservation will be saintly any more than they would expect all their own neighbors or co-workers to be saintly.

My perspective on my own sponsoring:  I give what I can afford to give.  I do it because I want to improve the daily life of someone I have come to love.  I started it because I felt it was wrong for anyone to live in the conditions that exist on Pine Ridge Reservation.  I know I cannot “fix” everything for the ones I sponsor.  I cannot give them a life that is “just like” the life I lead.  But I can do small things to make the life they do live more pleasant, more healthy, less painful.

I guess for me, that is sweetness and light.

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I usually post about the Pine Ridge Reservation in SD because I have friends there.  But a neighboring reservation, the Cheyenne River Reservation, also in SD, has been enduring incredible hardship due to an ice storm and needs everyone’s help.

There is a fabulous video on You Tube showing the results of the ice storm.  6 inches of ice coat the power lines that have fallen!  2000 to 3000 utility poles are down!  The water system has failed!  There is no power, many have no heat in the frigid SD temperatures; there is no way to cook.  Sick persons and dialysis patients  have had to be evacuated to other places, away from family and friends. The Red Cross has diverted aid to Haiti and doesn’t have enough to assist here?!



It really burns my butt that the major news outlets have passed over this disaster because of the disaster in Haiti.  Heaven forbid that they try to cover two disasters!!!  But I suspect that, even if there had not been a disaster in Haiti, this would have been overlooked by the major news outlets.  They overlooked the disaster and state of emergency on the reservations in South Dakota after blizzards necessitated declaring a State of Emergency and the activation of the National Guard to clear snow drifts up to 8 feet high!

On the other hand, an ice storm in Maine or New Hampshire would have generated national news, awareness and assistance.  A blizzard with 8 foot snow drifts in New York or Minnesota would have grabbed the headlines.   So why don’t these emergencies on the reservations in South Dakota get any coverage at all???  After all, many of the people living on these reservations are as poor as those in Haiti!

It appears to me that too many people in this nation don’t realize that the poorest counties in the entire United States of America are those that include the South Dakota reservations!!!  Even those working in the news media, who shape opinions and who educate America more than our schools can, do not know that there are MANY people on South Dakota reservations who have no running water, cannot afford electricity or propane for heat, have children who go hungry or who become overweight from eating cheap, high fat, high sugar foods.  They must travel great distances to obtain medical care but have no cars or have cars that would have been considered “clunkers” in the recent government program  — and can’t afford gasoline to run them anyway!

When you add the conditions generated by an ice storm or blizzard, you have the potential for loss of life!

I hope you looked at the video.  I hope you read some of my other posts about rez life (see Lakota category).


I have certainly tried.

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