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Archive for the ‘Honesty’ Category

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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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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Yes, we kicked off our visit to the rez with a road trip.  After all, we wouldn’t be doing much driving on the rez, right?  Not!

For the uninitiated, the rez is Pine Ridge Reservation in the southwestern corner of South Dakota.  As they say in real estate, it all comes down to location and that is true in this story because the rez is located near nothing.  That’s right, really, nothing is close to the rez . . .  and of course, nothing on the rez is close to anything else on the rez either.  With 2 million acres to spread out, I wouldn’t necessarily want close neighbors myself.

Our trip actually began in Hartford, CT the morning of Friday, June 3 when we boarded an early, non-stop (yes, a miracle) flight from Hartford to Denver, CO.  I continue to be pleasantly surprised by Southwest Airlines.  They do need more newer planes, as we discovered on our return flight, but this plane was new, clean and comfy.

We arrived in Denver much earlier than you’d expect — oh that’s right, there was that thing with the time changes.  Gaining 2 hours in your day can be helpful.  After gathering the baggage, we went to choose a rental car.  My husband, the rental car genius, had reserved an SUV that was going to cost us the exorbitant price of $20 and change per day.  You are not seeing a typo – we had a 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee for that price.  Genius, right?

The drive to the reservation was going to take us about 7 hours, so it was good that we had gained those 2 hours crossing the country.  It was a pleasant drive for the most part.

On one of our stretch breaks, we happened to be passing Carhenge.  I did not misspell Stonehenge.  Carhenge is a quirky, arty adaptation of the “henge” idea.  Located right along County Road 59 in Alliance, NE (http://www.carhenge.com/), there is no charge to view the art – there is, however, a shop for snacks and souvenirs, aptly named the “Pit Stop.”  It was a good place for a break.

We entered the Pine Ridge Reservation from the south, which necessitated passing through White Clay, NE (of which I have written before), that bastion of sobriety and icon to American greed.  That last is sarcasm for those not familiar with White Clay, NE.

It took nearly an hour to reach our motel, the Lakota Prairie Lodge Resort in Kyle.  This is in the northeastern part of the reservation.  We checked in and settled in, then called our Lakota friends to let them know we had arrived.  They are now living in Allen and invited us over.  We drove to Allen (about half an hour) where we had a wonderful reunion.  They are the kind of friends you can pick right up with, even if you haven’t seen them in a year.  We finally left about 10 pm, realizing that our bodies thought it was midnight.  Since we had to pick them up in the morning to start driving to Salt Lake City, some sleep might be a good idea.

Of course, we had gotten one surprise when we arrived that evening.  Our original plan had been to take my friend and her husband to visit her daughter who is currently in a treatment facility near Salt Lake City.  She had not seen her daughter since Christmas.  Salt Lake City is a long way from home for a young Lakota woman.  We love my “goddaughter” and know how much she misses her family.  She has been through so much in her years, much of which I have written about and won’t repeat here.  Suffice to say here that her anger has real roots.

We knew our Lakota friends did not have a working car and could not afford to pay someone to borrow a car to drive there or pay for the gas.  So we had thought it would be something we could give them, what with the almost free rental car that, by the way, had unlimited mileage.  It would be like the honeymoon they never had, room and board paid for as well.  So we had thought.

Our surprise was that, in addition to our friends, we would be taking her 20 year old daughter and another daughter’s 5 year old son.  We had 3 adults and a 5 year old in the back seat.  Talk about tight quarters – especially since my friend’s husband is over 6 feet tall and wears 3X shirts.  Enough said?  I was particularly concerned over the lack of seat belt use and sort-of held my breath on this whole trip.  So grateful my husband is a careful and wary driver.

We stayed at Hampton Inns on this part of the journey.  Good prices and good accommodations.  They 5 year old particularly enjoyed the pool every evening – a rare treat for a rez kid.  Our first stop was Casper, WY.  Some might dare to drive the 12 hours in one long ride, but this gal, having fibromyalgia, knows her limits.  6 hours sitting in one place in a car or twisting around to converse with the folks in the back seat is plenty for this body.

We arrived at South Jordan, UT on Sunday, June 5, in time for a visit with my “goddaughter.”  It was a tearful reunion for mother and daughter.  I stood back and observed, not wanting to insert myself into what was an intimate and private moment.  I looked at my “goddaughter” – she’d grown since I’d seen her last.  She will be 16 years old in July and is starting to look like a young woman.  She looked healthy and beautiful.  Some of the stories she told were less than pretty, though.  When you are living in a center for troubled youth, many things can occur – fights, bullying, etc – that the staff cannot always control.  But she is working hard to learn what she needs to and hopes to be home soon.  I pray she succeeds.

Monday morning, June 6, we returned to the center for a final visit.  Then midday, we had to leave to return to the rez.  Although the initial reunion had been tearful, the leave-taking was stoic.  Not easy, to be sure!  But strong in a way I have seen many Lakota people endure difficulty.

We stayed in Rawlins, WY on the way back to the rez, then completed the trip back to Allen, SD  on Tuesday, June 7.  The return trip always seems to pass by faster, regardless of where we travel.  That certainly was the case here.

After we dropped our friends off in Allen, we still had about an hour to drive to get back to the hotel we would stay in for the remainder of our vacation.  Allen, as I said, is in the northeastern part of the rez and our hotel at the Prairie Wind Casino and Resort is just west of Oglala, in the southwestern corner of the rez.  If you could drive directly from one to the other, it would be a diagonal – the hypotenuse of the triangle, which we former math teachers know is the shortest distance.  But there is no road that does that.  As they say in Maine, “You can’t get they-ah from he-ah.”  At least not directly.

We finally checked in to the hotel.  People who want to travel to the rez often ask me about accommodations.  Choices are minimal.  There are a couple of bed and breakfasts – which I have not tried yet.  There is the motel in Kyle and the hotel at the Casino.  I have written about the motel in Kyle before.  This was our first stay at the Casino.

The decor and bed were excellent.  The bathroom was . . . well, amusing.  The plumbing in the shower had been installed upside down and backwards somehow.  Typically, to turn on the shower, the lever arm is attached at the top of the regulator and is lifted to turn on the water.  In this shower, it was attached at the bottom of the regulator, was already in the lifted position and had to be pushed in to turn on the water.  It was a bit like learning a foreign language.  Amusing.  The water is very soft and it takes quite a while to feel that you’ve rinsed off the soap or shampoo properly.  Of course, that is only in part due to the soft water.  It is also due to the very low water pressure from the showerhead.  Between the soft water and low pressure, I’m sure it took me 3 times longer to shower than it usually does – which sort of defeats the purpose of water conservation, don’t you think?

It was a good night’s sleep that night, however.  After I stopped feeling like I was still rolling down the road in the car.  Strange feeling to be stopped after so many miles on the road.

Denver to Kyle                 371 miles

Kyle to Salt Lake City       717 miles

SLC to Kyle                      717 miles

Kyle to Casino                  79 miles

TOTAL for 5 Days          1884 miles   (approximately)

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I would guess that some of you are wondering what kind of high I’m talking about. So let me assure you right now that this high is NOT from smoking anything. In fact, in the “goody-goody” world I have inhabited for over 58 years that is one experience I have never had. Some tell me that is my loss; others tell me I should be proud of that. The fact is that it was never an issue – it was never something that interested me much.

It’s probably a good thing I never smoked weed or anything else. Otherwise I might be having an even more difficult time today.

I guess I’m probably feeling high because I’ve let myself get so unconditioned aerobically in the past year. It’s been one thing after another – or perhaps I should be honest and say one excuse after another – that has kept me off the treadmill all this time.

We got back to the Denver area after a week in South Dakota just last night. I know from previous experience that it takes my body several days to adjust to high altitudes so it doesn’t totally surprise me that I am feeling it. But the degree does surprise me.

Yesterday afternoon, when we arrived at our hotel, I had to lie down for a while after walking in from the car.

Today ws returned the rental car at the airport. We took the luggage out and I rolled the 2 small bags to the shuttle bus. By the time we reached the bus stop (a VERY short walk) I was so short of breath, I probably sounded like a dog after a long run in 90 degree heat.

By the time the bus reached the terminal, I thought I was okay. It was a delusion! I got off the bus and walked the 20 steps to curbside check-in. I was winded again! By the time I walked through the labyrinth of taped lanes to reach the TSA agent who was checking boarding passes and ID’s, my chest was aching and I was light-headed.

I must have looked a bit off because he asked if I was okay. I told him briefly about my challenge with altitude. He asked if I needed a wheelchair.

Dilemma! Do I admit my shortcoming and swallow my rather miniscule pride? Do I allow someone to push me through the airport to the gate? Or do I tough it out and drag through the airport, gasping with every step and worrying my husband?

I have dealt with fibromyalgia for 45 years. I have learned when to push myself and when to wave the white flag. I surrendered and here I sit at my gate. My attentive husband got me something to eat and I’ve been writing this on my phone – a serious challenge itself.

I love the mountains! We are returning to Yellowstone National Park in September.

I guess that means I’m getting on the treadmill Monday!

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Well, I certainly didn’t get the number of comments on my post that Stossel did on his Fox Business Blog post.  But I got a couple that were interesting and I’d like to share them with you – as well as my thoughts on them.

First of all, I think that perhaps the original commenter, Mr Hack, should perhaps follow his own advice.  He said I should have watched Stossel’s whole show before I commented on it.  If I had been commenting on the show, that would indeed have been wise.  But since I was commenting on Stossel’s blog post, the advice should have told me to read it first — which of course, I did!  Perhaps Mr Hack should have followed his own advice and read my post completely and accurately.

Here is Mr Hack’s first comment:

How can you take Stossel out of context like that. If you really watched the show, you wouldn’t need a definition for the term ‘helped.’ It’s obvious what he means; there is no need to go into the history of how Americans and Christians screwed them over; we all know that. He’s talking about the here and now and how Gov assistance has destroyed these people while American Indians who did not take Gov assistance thrived and are doing great! They are doing great because THEY DID NOT TAKE GOV. ASSISTANCE! Had they relied on the Gov, they’d be in the same boat! There are tons of charities, churches, etc… that do a better job for the impoverished than the Gov has ever done or could ever do. There is NO LEGITIMATE REBUTTAL to Stossel’s information. He was censored by ABC hence why making you liked him back then. He couldn’t tell all of the truth; now that he can, you hate him. I spit at your bullshit comments. I’m not a libertarian, but it doesn’t take a genius to know it’s the best and most ethical system there is. Progressivism is tantamount to being drug dealers; give ‘em enough to survive, they’ll vote for you and they won’t pull themselves up with their own boot straps. I worked in environment where I saw how hundreds of people abused the social programs; phony law suits, etc.. #’s not captured by statistics because they have to be discovered to be reported as statistics.

My response to Mr Hack:

I did not take Mr Stossel out of context.  I took him at his word – or words – the ones he wrote in his blog, just as I am doing here.  So anything he defined in his show or anywhere else is irrelevant.  His word has to be what it is in the blog.

I disagree that there is no need to go into “the history of how Americans and Christians screwed them over.”  In spite of Mr Hack’s assertions, everyone does not know that.  Furthermore, history is important here because the treaties that were signed by duly elected officials of the United States of America are part of that history.  Those treaties are legally binding and should not be ignored because they are inconvenient.

Mr Hack, please do your homework.  What the Native Americans receive from the government are not “handouts,” but the fulfillment of treaty obligations.  Furthermore, if you read my post, you would see that I explained the difference between a small NC tribe that “refused” those “handouts” and the bulk of the Indians of the western region.  The tribe you reference is not necessarily doing well because they “refused” the government benefits.  You have some individuals of that tribe who are doing well because they have been assimilated into Western culture.  You have a land developer.  Certainly, if you were “in environment” as you stated, you know the difference between land in North Carolina and land in southwestern South Dakota.  Try to develop the SD land – oh wait, the government did that . . . with a bombing range and uranium mines.

You stated there is no “legitimate rebuttal” to Stossel’s information.  I believe there is no legitimacy to his statements. If you read my post, you would already know why.  I hate repeating myself!  You state I liked Stossel at ABC because he was censored there.  No, Mr Hack.  I liked Stossel because I agreed with some of his consumer protection/awareness pieces.  I judge a person’s work on what I see, not what I have no knowledge of.

You spoke of libertarianism and progressivism.  I could care less about any “ism” you would like to discuss.  I am not a political person.  I am interested in caring for people.  I care that everyone has enough to eat, heat when it is freezing and adequate clothing.

Your last comment was about seeing people abuse the system.  I have no doubt that occurs.  You were in environment.  I processed auto insurance injury claims.  You want fraud, you’ve got it there.  Yet I don’t claim that everyone who makes any injury claim is a fraud or faker.  We all, even Mr Stossel and you and me, deserve to be judged on the fruits of our labors and at our words.

So, for the record, Mr Hack, I do not “hate” Stossel now nor have I ever.  As for your statement, “I spit at your bullshit comments.”, I find it in poor taste and would never stoop to such a low in responding.

Here is Mr Hack’s second comment:

sorry for typo’s… John Stossel Keep Up The Great Work.. If it weren’t for people like you and even the tea party (which I am not a member), then Obama and the dems would have carte blanch to spend us into oblivion. What good is a social program when there’s no economy left to support it. Loving the stuff coming from John & Rand Paul… Loving the info. from [link removed], Heritage foundation (except more waste needs to be done away with in the military).

My response to Mr Hack:

Contrary to what you may believe, I am not for spending without attention to waste control.  I believe legislation should only be for what it is meant to be — no little “pet projects” put into bills that have nothing to do with them.  I believe that, if we as a nation taught responsibility and self-control to our children, we would have fewer problems and we would not have to legislate common sense.  However, I also believe that we must fulfill our legal obligations, whether we like them or not.

There was one other comment that was not from Mr Hack but in response to his comments.  It said:

Not wanting to drag politics into this but equating him [Stossel] to the tea party is hardly a way to endear him to …. oh, most of the country!

My reply:

Thank you for not wanting to drag politics in because I really try to steer clear of politics as much as I can.  My wish is to focus on human needs when I write about Pine Ridge Reservation.  However, I did chuckle at your point.  If not “most of the country,” certainly most of the people I personally know.

 

So where does that leave us?

It leaves me thinking John Stossel would be better off writing (or broadcasting, for that matter) about facts rather than using inflammatory name calling to get readers/viewers.

 

 

 

 

 

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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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