Archive for the ‘Heat’ 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 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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I’ve written about the cold on Pine Ridge Reservation before.  But I just saw a posting on Facebook by KILI Radio and I am really concerned about those who have no heat the next few nights.

This is what the posting said:

Get prepared relatives TONIGHT! Lows 17 below to 23 below zero. North winds 15 to 20 mph. Chance of snow 30 percent. Wind chill readings 42 below to 52 below zero.

This is DANGEROUS cold!!

I have written before about substandard housing with no insulation, holes in homes, no source of heat, no building codes.

I have written before about having met and purchased art from a man who later froze to death.

I am concerned that that kind of thing may happen in the next few days because there are so many I hear from with no heat – no propane, no wood.  There are others who have heat that is inadequate in this kind of cold – people who try to use electric space heaters to heat rooms and homes.  These are dangerous when overheated by overuse or when placed too close to clothing or bedding.

I am worried that I will hear about tragedies in the coming days.

I can only pray that people will donate to ONE Spirit to help with the emergency fuel program.

ONE Spirit ( http://nativeprogress.org ) accepts donations through PayPal.

In the meantime, I need to prepare for up to another 18 inches of snow here, 2000 miles away from the children and elders who will be shivering tonight on Pine Ridge Reservation.  At least I know I will have heat.


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This is the 10-day forecast for Pine Ridge, SD on the Pine Ridge Reservation thanks to Intellicast.com .
10 Day Forecast –  °F | °C
tue wed thu fri sat sun mon tue wed thu
P Cloudy
P Cloudy
P Cloudy
P Cloudy
P Cloudy
P Cloudy
Snow Showers
Snw Shwrs
P Cloudy
P Cloudy
M Cloudy
M Cloudy
P Cloudy
P Cloudy
P Cloudy
P Cloudy
P Cloudy
P Cloudy

Details for Tuesday, January 11
Partly cloudy. Very cold. Wind chills approaching -15F. High 6F. Winds NW at 15 to 25 mph.
Evening: Bitterly cold. A few clouds. Low around -10F. Winds light and variable.

Intellicast.com: The Authority in Expert Weather


Now I know you are wondering why in the world I gave you the weather forecast for Pine Ridge.  Most of you don’t live there.  I want to use it to illustrate a couple of points.

I have had quite a number of calls from folks on Pine Ridge in the past week wondering if we had funds available to help with propane (which is used to heat many homes on the reservation).  These calls are from mothers, grandmothers and aunts who have small children in the house.  They have NO HEAT or they are trying to heat uninsulated, drafty houses with a couple of electric space heaters.

I don’t know if you can imagine the kind of cold that comes to South Dakota at times like this.  It is the kind of cold that can cause people to freeze to death.  It is 6 degrees, perhaps, but with the wind that is a near constant factor in South Dakota, it feels like 12 degrees below zero.

Imagine that you are a child with very little warm clothing.  You are probably wearing several layers of whatever you do have.  When you go to bed, you may huddle up with siblings to share the body heat.  Your mother gives you as many blankets as she can find in the house, which may not be enough.  You may not have a bed and your mattress or pallet may be on the floor.  You feel the cold seep up from beneath you.  Your mom puts one of the electric heaters in your room but you still feel the cold air drafts from the old windows.  You go to sleep cold and you wake up cold.  You look forward to going to school where at least it will be a little bit warm.

Today, school is delayed a couple of hours because it is too cold to wait for the bus at the usual time.  At school you feel warmer for a while.  But the heating system at the school is old and it can’t keep up with the cold outside.  They decide they will send you home because they can’t keep you warm.  But you know you will be cold at home too.

You wonder about your friend.  When you got to school, you heard that his family’s trailer had burned up during the night.  You heard someone say that some blankets caught on fire because they were too close to a heater.  The fire department did not get there in time and the winds made the fire burn fast.  You hope your friend is safe and not hurt, but no one seems to know.  You wonder where they will stay now.  Finding a home on the rez is not easy.

When you get home, it is still cold.  You can’t wait for spring.  You try to watch TV but the cold is very distracting.  Your little sister curls up next to you and you try to keep her warm too.  You are sitting under the blankets as you watch but they don’t help very much.

You know the whole thing will be repeated until your mom can get some money to buy propane.  You don’t know when that will be but she seems very worried.

You don’t know, as a child, that your mom is not only worried about heat but also food.  There is no money for that, either, and she is worried that she will not be able to feed you in the next day or two.  She is trying to find help for heat and food.  She can’t pay the phone or electric bills if she is to save for heat and food.  They aren’t supposed to shut off the electricity in the winter but they do sometimes.

If you are sitting in your warm home reading this, I hope you still feel warm.  But if you have a warm heart, you may be feeling the chill of that child.  I hope you do feel it.  If you do, then perhaps you will follow your warm heart and do something to help the children of Pine Ridge Reservation, where 90% live under the federal poverty level.

Speaking you cold, how would you like to travel 400 miles in that kind of cold in a car with no heater?  You wouldn’t like it?  Me either.

If you are a regular reader, you may recall a post about a baby who needs to get to Omaha, NE for heart surgery and her grandmother’s car was broken down.  We got a donation, but not enough for car repairs.  Grandma found another car to borrow to get them to Omaha, but the heater in the car gave out.  So they had a choice – drive to Omaha in the car with no heater (not a good idea with an 8 month old baby who needs heart surgery) or reschedule the surgery (not always easy to get another date soon and waiting is not a very good option).  Would you want to have to make that choice?  Me either.

But that’s rez life.  Hard times, hard choices for those who have no job, inadequate income to cover the needs and have young ones or elders for whom to provide care.





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I got a weather report from the Rapid City Journal earlier and have been trying to figure out which cliché I wanted to use to describe the cold there.  But I couldn’t think of anything cold enough to be fitting, so I’ve decided to let you fill in the blank after you read the post.

These are the facts:  the temperature is zero degrees F, the wind is blowing at 32 mph with gusts to 38 mph and it is snowing lightly.  The “feels like” temperature is -27 degrees F.  That’s right – minus 27.

That’s very likely the temperature measured at the Rapid City Airport, as many places use the airport to measure official weather statistics.  But let’s travel an hour and a half south, to the Pine Ridge Reservation.  Now we’re on the prairie and in the badlands.  The wind has fewer obstructions and is really howling.

How cold does it feel here?  Let’s factor in a few other pieces of information.  Most housing on the reservation is of substandard construction.  There are many wood frame houses and trailer homes.  Most are not insulated.  In fact, many have holes and drafts.  Homes here are heated in several ways – propane furnaces, wood stoves and electric space heaters.  With the coldness of winter there, the propane does not last very long.  Those who heat with wood may run out, especially in bad weather.  There are those who have resorted to burning whatever will burn in the stove to stay warm – clothing, books, furniture.  Electric space heaters are extremely costly – not to purchase but to run.  They need to be on continuously.  The electric bills by the end of heating season often end up too high to be paid, so the electricity is shut off.  The electric company is not supposed to shut off the power in the winter, but it has happened. Trying to heat with wood or electric has also resulted in some catastrophic, wind-driven fires that destroy homes before the fire department can arrive.

I am not going to debate the causes of these circumstances here and I refuse to make this a political discussion as well.  It is, to me, a moral issue.  No one in this country should have to burn their clothing or books to stay warm.  No child should have to be under piles of blankets or clothing to stay warm while he or she tries to sleep.

I am going to make an exception to my rule, though.  It’s my blog and I can do that if I want to.  I will do it because of another article I read in the Rapid City Journal this morning.  The article by Mary Garrigan of the Journal staff was actually posted Thursday, Dec 10, 2010 and is entitled “Energy assistance payments vary.”

In a place like Pine Ridge, where unemployment is 80%-90% and 90 % live under the federal poverty level, you can be sure that energy assistance is a winter lifeline – literally.  People have frozen to death there, including one man I had personally met.

So what did the article have to say about energy assistance?  The first thing I found interesting is that there is a different amount available to people depending on whether they qualify for aid through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) of the State of South Dakota or must rely on the LIHEAP of their tribal government.

LIHEAP helps income-eligible families pay for heating and insulating their homes in winter and cooling them in summer.  It is a federally funded program which begins in October.  South Dakota’s allotment last year totaled more than $29.3 million; the amount of that set aside for Native American tribes in the state was $5.2 million based on a federal formula that uses 1990 Census data to determine the amounts.

Tribes have the option of administering their own LIHEAP programs and in South Dakota 7 of the 9 tribes have opted to do so.  There is an agreement between the state of South Dakota and the tribes that the federally calculated amounts (2.3% of the total) will be doubled (to 4.6%) because it is commonly agreed upon that the Census undercounted tribal residents.

So, we have the 7 tribes, including the Oglala Sioux Tribe of Pine Ridge Reservation, receiving 4.6% of the total funding.  In a state with such a significant Native American population, this seems insufficient – but that is just my non-scientific opinion.

What kind of amounts of money are we talking about, anyway?  Does it really matter?

The article tells of a resident of the nearby Cheyenne River Reservation.  He is enrolled with his tribe; his wife is not a tribal member.  Therefore their household is able to qualify for the state-run LIHEAP funds.  If both were tribal members, they would have to qualify for the tribal LIHEAP instead.  How much of a difference can it make?

This year, this couple expects to receive about $1661 in aid.  His cousins, brothers and other relatives will receive about $400 on the same reservation.  $1661 vs $400!  If you don’t belong to the tribe, you can get 300% more!

The amount available to residents on the Pine Ridge Reservation was expected to be $300 for the winter.  I don’t know why it is less.  I do know that is how much people have been receiving.  They have told me that when I’ve spoken to them.

The people I have spoken to have also told me that the money has already run out and that people have been turned away because of that! How can that be?

The Journal article notes that South Dakota’s LIHEAP awards vary according to primary heating source and geographic region.  The poorest families could expect approximately $427 per year for coal and wood, $1245 for natural gas, up to $1096 for electricity, up to $2082 for propane and $2333 for fuel oil.

I have no information on how these programs are administered.  I do not know where the money goes or why tribal members receive less.


I also know that, while the politicians (state, federal and tribal) are bickering about the responsibilities and trying to assess blame, I will be talking to people who are COLD and are asking for help to keep themselves and their children warm.

It really ticks me off!!

You can read the original article at http://rapidcityjournal.com/news/article_8056e9b4-13c2-11e0-b813-001cc4c002e0.html

In the meantime, don’t forget to fill in the blank – either as a comment here or in a Twitter reply to the link.

Colder than … ______________________

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My answer to that question is equivocal.  If I wasn’t doing the tasks I do, perhaps.  If I didn’t travel, maybe.  But the phone has become a safety net of sorts for me.  I want to have one available in case of emergencies.  I’m not personally someone who wants to chat with people all day, especially about things that I tend to view as trivial (fashion, recipes, celebrities).  But I do want to be able to call the fire department if the fire in the frying pan gets out of control when I burn dinner.

However, with the work I do, I am on the phone a lot – and most of it is not local.  I am often talking to people on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota as well as sponsors in every state you can imagine.  I even get to chat with co-workers in England and Norway!  So the phone is important.

But, I asked myself today, is it more important than heat or food?  You may think that an odd question, but I ran into an obstacle today that is directly related to the question.

I actually have been blessed to have several sponsors waiting to be matched at the same time.  In order to do that, I speak to the sponsor, then call several families on the rez to see which one I think will be a better match for the sponsor.  Today, I called several people to try to do just that.  Every call was met with one of these responses:

“We’re sorry but 605-555-5555 has been disconnected.  Please check the number and try your call again.”

“The number you have called is not a working number.  Please check the number and try your call again.”

“The (company name) customer is not available.  Please try your call later.”

I called the social service office in the area that I work in and left the names of people I need to reach.   Someone will get back to me with the new numbers – soon I hope.  I really need to get those sponsors connected.  I thought the families I tried to call would be excellent matches.  If I don’t get updated phone numbers, I may have to go back to the drawing board.

So why suddenly am I having so much trouble reaching people on the reservation?

Actually, it isn’t unusual to have phone numbers changed from time to time, when the bill can’t be paid.  But this was certainly a higher frequency than usual.  Why was that?

The answer actually occurred to me when I was speaking with my contact at the office on the reservation.  We were talking about the weather.  She said it was starting to get really cold on the rez and they had just that week opened their fuel assistance program.

And it hit me!!

Cold weather = increased use of propane and/or electricity for heat = more money spent on fuel costs


80% unemployment + government assistance = very little money.


Very little money – grocery bills – money for heat/electricity – phone bill = a deficit budget.

Now the government can exist on a deficit budget because they can print money.  (The drawbacks of that will be left for others to worry about.)  If you and I try to print money, however, the government gets downright cranky about it!  So, what are we to do?

We have to make decisions based on our priorities.

What is more important?

Food?  We may get food stamps but they expect us to feed each person on about $1 per meal.  Anyone with half a brain (government officials excluded) knows that’s impossible.  I might let myself go hungry (losing weight wouldn’t be a bad idea) but I refuse to let my children to hungry.  So I will spend what I need to for the food basics.

Electricity?  We might be able to do that in the summertime but not in the winter.  The bill gets too high, it’s true.  But what can be done about that?  It gets dark about 4:25 PM now and in 4:42 PM in mid-January.  How will the children do their homework in the dark?  There isn’t much for kids to do here in the winter.  How will I entertain them on the weekend without the DVD player?  How will I use the electric heaters we need to supplement the propane so we don’t run out.  If I don’t have propane, we’ll freeze.

Propane?  We’d probably let the electric go first!  Propane is heat.  Propane is also for cooking meals.  It’s cold enough in here, even with the heat on.  There’s no insulation in the walls and there are a lot of drafts.  No storm windows – unless you count the plastic over the window.  The mattresses are on the floor and it gets really cold down there.  We don’t have enough blankets for the kids and I refuse to let them freeze.

Phone?  It’s good to be able to talk to friends and share troubles.  But I guess I could live without that.  I might need to call the fire department.  Wait, why bother?  The house will burn down by the time they get here anyway!  Ambulance, maybe?  I could have one of the kids run to a neighbor for that.

Well, I guess that answers my question, doesn’t it?

If you live on Pine Ridge Reservation, the phone comes in at the bottom of the list.

So I guess while our kids all have their own cell phones and some folks have more than one, it is a country of inequality when it comes to phones.  Some people in this country don’t have phones because they think basic existence is more important than chatting about which celebrity is in rehab.

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Once upon a time there was a mother who lived in a poorly made, uninsulated, drafty house.  The small 4 room house was home to Mama, Grandma, Grandpa and 6 children.  It was winter in this very cold land.  The little house did not have any running water, so Mama would heat water in a pot on the stove so they could wash up.  But hair washing was difficult, especially for the teens who had beautiful long hair.  When the propane for the stove ran out, she would heat it on an electric hotplate.  When the electricity was shut off, they had to use the water cold and hope it hadn’t frozen overnight.  They didn’t have a toilet to use indoors, so they had to run out to the outhouse for that – which was unpleasant in the cold and could be difficult when blizzards left 10 foot snow drifts.

Mama tried to make everyone happy.  She bought $2 DVD’s to entertain the children, which worked until the electricity got cut off.  The electricity got cut off frequently because Mama was not able to pay the bill.  But it wasn’t just the entertainment that suffered.  Without electricity there was no way to run the electric space heater Mama had gotten to heat the poorly constructed little house after the propane ran out.  She hadn’t had money for propane either.

Mama had run out of food yesterday.  She had spent most of the day today calling around to try to find some person or organization who could give them some food.  She had no money to pay for it, this being the end of the month.  Her food ration stamps would not arrive for over a week.  Mama worked tirelessly today to find the food because she had been told the phone would be disconnected tomorrow for non-payment.  She knew she needed to find the food today.  She also knew she had to find someone who would bring it to the little house since the car they owned was not working – it needed a new water pump and . . . yes, that’s right.  There was no money to pay for the part or repair.

The food did arrive and the children rejoiced.  Grandma and Grandpa looked at each other with sad eyes, knowing this story would be repeated again tomorrow.

After feeding the family by candlelight, Mama put the children to bed.  She covered them with several layers of donated blankets, silently praying for those who had given them.  Tears slipped out from behind her eyelids and she quickly wiped them away.  She didn’t want the children to see her pain.  They had enough of their own.

There is no happy ending to this bedtime story, as there usually is in a child’s book.  Not yet, anyway.


My work is to try to change the story’s ending.  I will do it as long as I have breath.

I often speak with people on Pine Ridge Reservation in the course of my day.  I marvel at the strength they have to not only survive but also be happy in spite of the stories they tell me.  I think it is their cultural values that allow them to do that.  Unfortunately, the youngest generation have not all had the opportunity to grow up living the culture.

It is one thing to learn about the culture.  It is another to live it.  The youth today hear what their elders say, but they see what their parents do.  They see the drug and alcohol abuse.  They see the violence.  They see the lack of respect that many in their parents’ generation show.  So they are not living immersed in their culture even though they are surrounded by it.

The result:  loss of hope.  They see that they will not have jobs unless they abandon their family, leave home and live in a foreign world.  They see what has happened to the adults who have been living that way.  That is why so many young people on the rez are turning to suicide for escape from despair.  So many have turned to it that they are calling it an epidemic.  If it happened in Boston or Cleveland or Orlando or Plano or Boulder or Portland, it would make the news.  But when it happens in  Pine Ridge, SD  no one tells you.  It is more important for the national news media to tell you that a certain football player was fired.

That is one story I have heard from the young people.

Of course, I hear other stories too.

I heard a story about a single father this week.  I did not ask him how he came to be a single dad of such young children yet – his son is 3 and his daughter is 1.  I was more interested in how I could help him after the family was left homeless due to a fire that burned up their trailer home while he watched with the baby.  Gratefully, his son was staying with a relative that night.

Now dad and the two babies have nothing.  No clothing, no toys, no furniture, no bedding or blankets, nothing.  They must start from scratch.  We watch homes burn on the news and while we think it is sad, we know that the homeowner probably had insurance.  But on the reservation, insurance is an unaffordable expense.  There is not always enough money to pay the bills for propane (heat & cooking), electricity or food.  Even KILI radio, the voice of the great Lakota nation, did not have insurance when the snow caved in their roof last year.

There are people who have responded to this dad generously after they heard his story.  It’s the reason I tell the stories I hear.

I spoke to a woman who had a tragic story.  She was hit by a car and suffered a broken leg.  Her injuries caused her to be out of work for several months.  There was no insurance to compensate her for her lost wages.  She was supporting the family – herself, her spouse, an adult daughter and 7 grandchildren.

In the midst of that crisis, her spouse had an asthma attack.  They have no car so she called the ambulance.  However, due to road construction (government stimulus money) and few alternative routes, it took longer than expected for the ambulance to arrive.  Her spouse stopped breathing.  She administered CPR while they waited for the ambulance, but to no avail.  Her spouse died in her arms while they waited for the ambulance.

When I spoke to her this week, she had just returned to work.  But there were many past due bills.  In her grief, she was also living with no propane (so no heat) and no electricity.  Even having enough food for the family was difficult.  While I could not ease her grief, I was able to arrange for some of the bills to be taken care of.  The babies will not be cold for a while.  They will be able to cook the food they have.

The saddest thing for me is that these stories are not unusual.  They are typical.  I get so many calls for propane and electric that I cannot count them.  And usually I cannot help them because that is not the focus of the organization for which I work.

I keep writing these stories because most people in this country have no idea that there are people who live under these conditions in the USA.  People are so caught up in their own acquisitiveness that they don’t look past their own daily lives.  They can’t imagine living as the people on Pine Ridge Reservation, in the poorest county in the nation, must live their daily lives.  No running water.  No heat.  No way to cook their food, if they have food.

I recently created a slide show video about my observations on visits to Pine Ridge rez.  I put it up on YouTube.  You can reach it by the link on this page.  Or you can search YouTube for “My Passion is Pine Ridge.”  I will continue to share the stories I hear.  I will tell everyone I meet in one way or another.  I will do this because I know that people will not abide it once they know.

Winter is coming. I pray that this fairy tale doesn’t come true – though I know it likely will.

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