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Archive for the ‘Hope’ Category

In all the chaos and hurry of trying to get everything cleaned up on my desk and in my inbox, I was stopped in my tracks a couple of days ago.  I was reminded of why I do the “work” I do.

I received a call from a Jane Doe, woman on Pine Ridge Reservation.  Okay, that’s nothing new for me.  I talk to a lot of folks there.  Jane is a woman I have actually visited and with whom I have spoken quite a few times.  She is a pleasant, soft-spoken woman who is  a wheelchair bound paraplegic, the result of being rearended in an auto accident by a drunk driver.

You would think Jane would be worried about herself and the fact that she lives in a small, non-ADA compliant apartment.  But several months ago, she told me the story of her two nieces.

Both her nieces are adults.  Both of them are mentally handicapped.  The two women had lived with and been cared for by their parents until the parents passed away.  At that time, one of their adult siblings was given guardianship over the two women.  The guardian decided to put the two women into a home of some sort, many miles away from the reservation and from all that was familiar to them.  No one from their immediate family visited them and, in fact, the guardian moved away to the East Coast and left them alone.

Jane Doe was the only one who visited her nieces, in spite of the fact that her car was constantly breaking down.  The women cried when she left and called her crying when she was at home because they were so lonely.

Jane, though disabled herself, was so concerned about her nieces that she went to the tribal court and sought guardianship of the two women.  They have been allowed to come to visit her — sleeping on the floor of her living room on top of sleeping bags and quilts.

Jane recently received guardianship!  However, they cannot come to stay with her permanently until she has a place for them to sleep that is not the floor. 

The living room is the only place in the apartment that they can stay.  Truly, Jane and her nieces need a proper place to live — one where a wheelchair will fit through the doorways.  But that is not likely to occur any time soon.

Jane would like to have her nieces home by the holidays, she told me when she called to ask if I could help her find a pull-out sofa bed or bunk beds for her nieces.  It’s so hard to say no to someone as generous and kind-hearted as Jane.  But it isn’t what we usually do, since a sofa bed, the best option, can be quite expensive.  I, personally, would hate to ask 38 and 40 year old women to be climbing into bunk beds, however.

We have actually located a sofa bed for $1000 that can be delivered to their home.  I’m not sure if that included tax — probably not, right?  But we don’t have a spare $1000 at this time.

I’m hoping that there will be a donor (or donors) who thinks that these 2 mentally handicapped women deserve to live with their aunt, who is so loving and giving in spite of her own needs.

If you know anyone who would like to help, direct them to ONE Spirit at http://nativeprogress.org to make the donation.

I, personally, am going to keep Jane Doe in my mind as I prepare for the holidays of giving thanks and giving gifts.  She is willing to give of what little she has out of love for her family.  She is a true inspiration to me!

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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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Today was the last day of vacation, after a week of relaxing in Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding area.  Yellowstone is one of my favorite places in the entire country — and having been to all 50 states, I have seen some wonderful sights.  But Yellowstone is a place that is continuing creation in a way, since it sits atop a volcano and has incredible geothermal features.  It has an inexplicable energy that permeates the park.  So I was rather reluctant to leave.
Another reason for my reluctance to leave was the long drive ahead of us.  We had to travel back to Salt Lake City, UT.  Tomorrow we will fly from Salt Lake City back to the East Coast . . . and home.  We decided to take the “low roads” back instead of the highways we had traveled to get to Yellowstone last week.  We prefer being able to take breaks as well as having more interesting sights to see.  We began by exiting Yellowstone through the south gate, which led us into Teton National Park.  The mountains there are breathtaking.
However, after a long morning of driving (we left at 8 AM and it was now 12:30 PM) we arrived at Afton, Wyoming.  We had taken this route on our first trip to Yellowstone and I remembered the antler arch that stretches across the street (see photo above).  The town is quaint and historic.  You can read more about it on Wikipedia (search Afton, WY) or at the town’s own website http://aftonwyoming.net .
This story is not about the population (about 2000), the income levels, unemployment rates or any other demographic statistic.  It is also not about how scenic Afton is nor about the activities available.  It is not even about the fact that Afton, WY boasts an Olympic gold medalist (Rulon Gardner).
This story is about people behaving well, showing kindness and compassion and bringing a warm smile to me after a long ride.
We stopped at the Burger King located in Afton for one of our stretch breaks and decided to have a quick burger to hold us until we got to Salt Lake City for dinner.  While my husband ordered, I chose a table and sat down.  I chose the right table as things turned out.
There were 3 elderly ladies in front of my husband.  As they got their orders, they were assisted by one of the Burger King employees to get their food to the table they chose directly behind me.  As the party went past me, I noticed that the Burger King employee who helped them was a young woman with Down’s Syndrome.  When the ladies realized that they needed ketchup, she offered to get it for them and returned with 3 small cups of ketchup on a tray.   After the ketchup was delivered, one of the elderly women tipped her (no, I don’t know how much) and she was so pleased.  So was I.  I admire a place that respects handicapped individuals and I respect people who do the same, as the 3 elders did.  They did not patronize this young women.  They treated her with respect.
It was the next event that really solidified my respect for the people of Afton.  After assisting the 3 women, the young woman sat at a nearby table to do a task that many would find tedious.  She was stacking numerous, loose little paper cups used for ketchup into a bin.  She was taking great pains to be sure the stacks were straight and neat when she accidentally bumped a stack, scattering several dozen paper cups across the floor near her feet.
The young woman was momentarily flustered.  I watched in both pleasure and awe as 2 children, obviously siblings, looked at each other and then went to work.  The boy and girl, in the age range of perhaps 8-11, picked up all of the stray cups off the floor and returned them to the grateful young woman.  Then they simply went into the playroom to meet a parent and left.
Perhaps it seems a small thing to you.  Or perhaps you expect unattended children to act like the ones I described.  Personally, I don’t expect it in this day and age.  I have seen far too many children who pay no attention to anyone or anything except their own interests and desires.  So frankly, I thought this was a big thing.  I thought to myself, “Those parents have done a terrific job of raising their children!”
There may yet be hope for the future.  If parents in Afton, WY can do it right, perhaps more parents can start to figure out how to raise children who are kind, compassionate and respectful.  I looked for the children and parents after I finished eating but they had already departed.  I really wanted to tell the parents how proud they should be of their children.  Since I couldn’t find them, I’m using this post to say what I would have said.
You must be very proud to have children who show respect and caring without being told to.  They did what was helpful and kind.  It may have been a small task but it was done without a second thought.  They didn’t debate if they should help — they just did it.  It really brought me joy to see it and I want to thank you for raising such “good” children. 
If the other children in Afton are raised as well as the 2 I watched, then Afton must be a special place.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CELEBRATE!!

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

 

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I was talking to Davidica Little Spotted Horse a couple of days ago about the Independence Through Music project on Pine Ridge Reservation.  I’ve written about it a few times and won’t bore you with all the particulars this time.

The ITM project is progressing well.  The young people from the project are progressing well, too, from raw talent with little or no experience performing in front of others to knowledgeable musicians.  It will indeed be interesting to see the finished product when they eventually produce and promote their CD.

This week ITM was doing workshops on management, booking agents, and the like.  It’s one part of the project I like very much.  It’s fine to provide musicians with the opportunity to perform and to learn how to record.  But if they are not educated in the reality of being a recording artist, they will be open to being manipulated and used.  This project will help them avoid those pitfalls.  It will also train those who are interested in the recording industry but do not have the talent or interest in actually performing.  There is a need for producers, managers, agents, CD cover art designers and other related personnel.

I asked Davidica if there was anything in the way of equipment that was needed by the individuals in the project.  She told me about a laptop that was donated by an individual and a computer program that was donated by the folks at KILI radio.  She said that 2 of the guitar players were being hampered by the fact that they had to borrow guitars to practice and perform.  They could not afford their own.

So that’s where you come in.  If you have an electric guitar or know someone who has an electric guitar that is not being used and is sadly sitting in a closet communing with the dust bunnies, pass it along.  Give a young musician on Pine Ridge Reservation a chance to become a working musician and to make a living from what he or she loves.

You can arrange shipping by contacting Davidica at the contact page on her website:    http://davidica.com  You will be able to get a receipt for tax purposes if you need one.

Just think, you could be contributing to someone’s career

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

The message was from my Lakota friend and she said,

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

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

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

This is what I know:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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I finally got to speak with my “godchild” from Pine Ridge.  This is the daughter of my Lakota friend that we started out as sponsors for 6 years ago.  I’ve written about her and her problems many times before.  For once I have good news.

In case you are not up to speed on my blog posts from the past, my husband and I first met this girl when she was 10 years old.  She will be 16 in July 2011.  In the years between, she has had many problems – some that she caused herself and some that were caused by others.  She became a chronic runaway.  She began to drink alcohol.  She was raped.  She was beaten.  She was taken away from her mother because she was uncontrollable.  She was raped a second time; she  became pregnant but miscarried as a result of the rape — this while she was in state custody hours from her home on the reservation.  She was finally placed in a treatment facility in Utah because the state of South Dakota had no facility for her.  The Utah facility is a 12 hour drive from her home.

However, the facility in Utah was the first good program she entered.  They appear to have gotten through to her and ……{drumroll for the good news} ….. she is due to be released from custody at the end of the month.  I’m sure she will be on probation of some sort.  But she will be able to go home.

We spoke to her Sunday for the first time in months.  She sounded different.  Calmer.  More reasonable.  More sensible.

She wants to go home to her mother on the reservation.  She misses her family.  Yet she is also a bit afraid to go there.  She will have to find new friends and not be able to hang out with her old friends.  Too many temptations to relapse there!  She is also afraid of the family of the young man who raped her.  They have harassed her before, because she testified against him and he went to jail.  She is afraid that will happen again.

I think she will be able to make it this time if she gets adequate support.  She had a lot of anger before and it’s difficult for me to believe that it’s suddenly all gone.

So I’m sure you’ll forgive me if I am still concerned about her future.  It’s tough to be 2000 miles away.

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