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Life on Pine Ridge Reservation is very complicated.  I am thrilled that ABC News has followed through on their plans to spotlight life on Pine Ridge for the Lakota people.  But the 20/20 program they will air tonight (Friday, October 14, 2011) will only scratch the surface.

Yes, you will see the deplorable living conditions that most endure.  You will see the ideas and programs that are trying to bring hope to the people.  But there are stories that you won’t hear.

You won’t hear these stories because of “political correctness” and the fear of offending those in positions of authority on Pine Ridge.  I usually avoid those stories as well, because I have friends who live on Pine Ridge and I want them to be safe.

But after the 3 phone calls I have received from my Lakota friends this past 10 days, I’m stepping out of my gentle persona and allowing my passion and “righteous anger” to vent.  The volume may get a bit loud, so step back a bit if that will bother you and read from a distance.

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Call #1

When the phone rang 2 weeks ago, I was still recovering from organizing and conducting an event at my church which included a silent auction of Lakota arts & crafts, a video presentation about my Lakota friends’ housing search over 6 years and a “feed” that included buffalo stew.  It had been a huge undertaking the prior weekend and I was, quite honestly, feeling the energy drain.

My friend’s eldest daughter had moved to Rapid City to find work and build a home for her 2 little boys.  They are all my takojas (grandchildren), at least in my heart.  Her partner, the boys dad, was living with them.  Her daughter found work at a fast food restaurant, got an apartment and tried to make a home.  Her partner did not find employment.  He did find the time and money to drink with his friends, even when he was supposed to be caring for the boys.  He had the “energy” to beat her in front of his sons.  This latest call was because he’d slept with another woman.  All of this may sound like your garden-variety domestic drama — but not to my friend.

My friend and her husband got sober years ago.  No AA or other 12-step group; just a strong desire to put her children first.  They do not want the takojas, the boys, to live in those conditions.  So my friend was going to Rapid City to pick up her takojas.  She was going to bring them home to live with them while her daughter figured out what she wanted in her life.

Why did they call me in all this?  Gas money.  The most mundane things can complicate these domestic issues even more.  The first complication is they no longer have a car.  So in order to make the 2 hour trip to Rapid City, they have to borrow a relatives car.  Then they must fill the tank with gas so they have enough gas to get that “rez ride” to Rapid and back.  With no source of income and limited funds, gas money is a frequent request in times of emergency or stress.  I called the local gas station and authorized gas for my friends.

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Call #2

It was no more than a week later that I spoke with my Lakota friend again.  She was not feeling well, having severe pain in her abdomen and chest that was strong enough to cause her knees to buckle.  I told her she needed to be seen by a doctor.  She said she had been seen at the nearby clinic and the only thing they had found was that she had a significantly elevated platelet level in her blood tests.

I am fairly well versed in medical knowledge but I did not have much information about elevated platelet levels and if pain was a result or a cause of that finding.  So I did what any slightly tech-savvy nerd would do – I researched it on the internet.  I found that pain is not typically found when you have elevated platelet levels.  I discovered that there are many causes of elevated platelets, ranging from “benign – no obvious cause” to cancer with many options in between.  I could find nothing that made any sense based on the symptoms my friend had related.

She called a day later, in so much pain that I could hear it in her voice.  Since I was 2000 miles away, I could not say “Show me exactly where it hurts” or do any kind of touching to clarify what I was hearing from her.  But she sounded so frightened, she is newly diagnosed as diabetic, she has a family history of heart disease and the pain was lasting far longer than seemed okay to ignore.  So I made the suggestion that I would make to any friend:  go to the emergency room and have a doctor look at you.

I was aware that the nearest hospital was at least 45 minutes away, if she went to Pine Ridge Hospital.  There is a hospital in Martin, SD that she could go to if she wanted a bit longer drive and of course, there was Rapid City Regional, 2 hours away.  She decided to go to Pine Ridge Hospital, since the clinic was planning to have her check in there the following day for additional tests.

Pine Ridge Hospital is an Indian Health Services (IHS) facility.  The residents of the reservation have a standing joke about IHS:  “I sat in the emergency room for 6 hours and all I got was 2 Tylenol.”  It is a commentary on the quality of care received from IHS.

There were 2 physicians who examined my friend, one male and one female.  They did an x-ray of her abdomen which showed nothing.  [I cannot fathom how an x-ray of soft tissue with no contrast administered could be expected to show anything of significance.]  They did an EKG, which they said was find.  So the male doctor started to discuss what might be going on when the female doctor made a comment aloud, to no one in particular, that my friend’s problems were all in her head and she needed a psychiatrist.

My friend stopped the male doctor in mid-sentence to ask if the female doctor had spoken about her.  The male doctor was uncomfortable enough that my friend realized it was true.  She asked both doctors to leave so she could get dressed and she prepared to leave the hospital without treatment.

That was when she overheard a number of hospital staff, doctors, nurses, etc, making comments about “drunken Indians”.  They were laughing and mocking.  My friend and her husband, who were stone cold sober, were shocked.  They were even more shocked when one of the staffers made a comment to the effect that, if all the drunken Indians were shot, it would make their nights a whole lot easier and saner.

I know the anger that rose in me when my friend told me about those comments and the mocking.  I could barely speak, which was fine since I could not think of what to say that might possibly be appropriate in this situation.  I was embarrassed that those in the medical community would say such things.  I knew my anger, resentment and embarrassment couldn’t begin to approach what my friend and her husband felt.  She did file complaints through the proper channels.  But you and I both know that will not take away the sting of being mocked by those charged with your care.  It was so totally unprofessional.  Sadly, it was not particularly unusual.

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Call #3

The most recent call occurred 2 days ago.  Before I detail the call for you, I want to tell you about my Lakota friend’s husband.  Understanding this man is germane to understanding the event.  It is also important to understand a bit about rez life, so I will also go into that a bit in case you don’t know very much about it.

As I said at the beginning of this post, life on the rez is very complicated.  That statement might actually be an understatement.  There is the poverty the underpins almost everyone’s life, since 90% of the residents live at or below the poverty level.  There are divisions that tear at the fabric of the culture:  pure-blood vs mixed-blood, traditional vs contemporary, activist vs passivist, etc.  There are times when the true Lakota culture, its values and traditions, are ignored or perverted.  Elders, women and children are considered sacred yet domestic violence is rampant.  Based on the traditional clannishness of historical Lakota life, who your family is can be more important that who you are or what idea you may have.  Nepotism and corruption abound.  The tribal council has actually tolerated disrespect among its members. People who are elected do not have to meet any age or educational requirements.  Politics play a bigger part in who gets a job than does who is the best qualified.

My friend’s husband is a big man but he is not the kind of man who uses his size to intimidate.  He is quiet and funny.  He is very smart and currently working on his college degree in business.  He would like to see honesty and respect return to the tribe and the interactions of the people who live on Pine Ridge.  He is a man of integrity who married my friend when she was a single mother raising 4 teen-aged daughters.  That takes courage in any culture!

All of that information is what made the phone call I received from my friend 2 days ago even more unthinkable.  She called to tell me that her husband was going to be arrested and she could find no one on the rez who could loan them $125 for bail money!

If it had not been for the panic in her voice, I’d have thought it was a joke.  I have always told her that, if the girls got into trouble, there was no money available for bail money.  Just not going to happen.  But the panic was there.

Here is the story that I pieced together:  They had submitted, to the proper person, a voucher for gas to go to a health appointment for her daughter.  Somehow, it had disappeared (mistakenly thrown out, intentionally “misplaced”, who knew?); they resubmitted it.  The check was supposed to be ready that day but wasn’t.  My friend’s husband called the office and the clerk told him she had seen the check in the official’s office.  So my friend’s husband called the official and, as he stated, “in a voice of authority” told the official that he would come down to the office “to straighten things out.”  The official decided that was a threat and called the police to arrest my friend’s husband for threatening a tribal official.

This had been on the phone.  My friend’s husband did not assault anyone nor did he go into the office and create a scene.  [I must say it is probably a good thing I don’t live on the rez; I’m not sure I could keep my temper in the face of all the “crap” that goes on.  I’d probably be a “regular” with the jailer under that criteria.]  If she could not bail him out, he would be suspended from college and lose his scholarship money.  It would destroy everything he has worked so hard to achieve thus far.

I was really torn because I had always said there would be no bail money.  But this man has worked hard.  He makes really good grades.  He is honest and straightforward.  I have always respected him.  I wired the bail money.  They plan to wire it back to me when they receive his educational stipend for the semester in another week.  I plan to let them send the money back to me.

After all, there is no gift of bail money, even if there is a loan of it.

And life on Pine Ridge Reservation is complicated, even for those of us who don’t live there.

 

 

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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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One of the tasks I had on our recent trip to the Pine Ridge Reservation was to buy some Lakota art and crafts.  I realize that doesn’t sound like a difficult task and you might even question calling it a task at all.

But since I was not buying these things for myself, I did see it as a task.  It was an assignment of sorts.

Before we left for South Dakota, the parish to which I belong took a collection and raised a hefty sum of money for outreach to the reservation.  The idea for a project which I feel has potential began to blossom.

We decided to use the money to improve the economy on the rez in a very small but concrete way.  We would buy art or crafts directly from the artists with the money we raised.  This would give the individuals from whom we purchased the art some income, which is very difficult to find on the rez, where the unemployment rate ranges between 80% to 90%.  The income would both provide for their needs as well as reward their initiative and creativity. The purchased items would come home with us and be resold in some way.  (I personally am thinking we should invite other parishes, have a silent auction while we do a presentation about life on the rez and Lakota culture and thus raise awareness as well as funds.)  The money raised will be used to repeat the process and perhaps become an annual event, providing a market for Lakota art in central Massachusetts.  It’s exciting to think about the possibilities!

However, buying the items was interesting to say the least.  I had to be quite aware of the need to purchase a variety of kinds of items (for example, not all earrings) as well as things that would appeal to tastes other than my own.  That can be a challenge.

Finding items was easy.  Many Lakota work year round doing crafts and beadwork items so that, when summer and the tourist season come along, they have an inventory ready to offer.  Items may be offered in a shop, on the street or by word of mouth.  Here are some of the places I found my art.

The Heritage Center at Red Cloud school.  The Heritage Center houses a large collection of historical artifacts.  At the time we visited, they were also hosting an art exhibition.  There were so many beautiful pieces done by Native artists!  We eventually bought a small piece directly from one of the artists with whom I was acquainted.  The Heritage Center also has a gift shop that features art made by craftsmen on the reservation to help raise funds for the school.  These items are of very high quality but we did manage to afford a few, including hand-painted Christmas ornaments and a wooden, painted horse.

Our second opportunity for purchasing art came in a visit to a couple to whom I had given a sponsor a couple of years ago.  He does pen and ink drawings.  She does beadwork – jewelery, leather items.  These are good work and not too expensive.

Our third opportunity to purchase came at Big Bat’s.  I don’t know what that name brings to your mind, but it has come to mean a kind of modern-day trading post to me.  Big Bat’s has a convenience store, snack bar, rest rooms, and gas pumps.  It is a kind of meeting place and rest area.  You can stop as a tourist and find what you need.  You can stop as a resident and grab lunch before returning to work.

If you are a resident trying to sell art or crafts, Big Bat’s offers you a wide variety of potential buyers.  These are the people who are trying to sell their art to feed themselves or their family, perhaps.  They may be selling art to feed their addiction.  There is no way to know, of course.  But if the art is worth what they are asking, the money is still going into the local economy.  I’ll try to describe some of the folks we bought from here.

The first man was on the sidewalk in front of Big Bat’s.  Both his legs had been amputated at the knees and he was in a wheelchair.  If I had to guess, I would say he was probably diabetic.  He was very assertive though never rude.  He had charcoal drawings which he wanted $30 for.  They were pretty good.  We got one.  We visited Big Bat’s a few more times over the course of our stay and each time he approached us.  When I reminded him that I had already purchased a picture, he would laugh and banter with us.

I think our “wheelchair man” was also a lookout for other artists who would come down to Big Bat’s.  I saw him pointing us out to another “salesman” who then came over to us.

The man he sent to us was a blind man who had a teenaged young man as his companion.  They introduced themselves to us and asked if we would be interested in purchasing anything.  I said I would look at it.  I also looked at the man as he handled the items.  He was indeed blind (another condition frequently seen as a complication of diabetes).  I asked how he made certain items if he could not see.  He explained that his aunt made some of the jewelry and he sold it in exchange for a place to live.  The items they had were very nice and we purchased several items.

My final purchase at Big Bat’s occurred as a result of an encounter in the ladies rest room — I kid you not!  I was washing my hands at the sink when an elderly Lakota woman came out of a stall and came over to the sink as well.  She looked me over as she washed her hands then asked if I would be interested in seeing the jewelry she had made.  I said okay, clearly understanding that she wanted to sell me what she had.  But she indicated we should go out of the rest room first.  Then she reached into her pocket and took out two pair of earrings and two suede, beaded friendship bracelets and held them out in her hand.  I bought them all at very reasonable prices.

I said that was my final purchase at Big Bat’s but that is not technically true.  However, this last purchase was pre-arranged, not due to a chance encounter.  I had contacted the artist whose work had been exhibited in the show at the Heritage Center to see if he had anything to sell.  Did I hit the jackpot!

I will give you his name, though I typically don’t give names in this blog, because his work is so beautiful and detailed and because as an artist, his name deserves to be known.  Joel Pulliam was one of the award winners at that exhibition.  He agreed to meet me at Big Bat’s and brought some of his paintings with him.  I purchased two for the church and one for myself.  It was “ledger art” done on antique ledger paper from a book dated 1885.

It’s one thing to tell you about the art and the buying experience.  But I’d like to share it with you as well.  So I’m attaching pictures I’ve taken of some of the items.  Before the pictures, you’ll find a few links to websites for places I’ve mentioned.

Heritage Center:  http://www.redcloudschool.org/museum/index.htm

Big Bat’s:  http://www.bigbats.biz/

 

         

     

     

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One of the best things for us to eat is fresh fruit.  Yet it is one of the hardest things to come by on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

You and I know that fresh produce is costly enough.  But on the reservation, where it needs to be trucked over large distances, the cost is higher.  There are no chain markets and the smaller stores can’t buy in the quantities needed to reduce the price.  So most reservation children don’t get a lot of fresh fruit.

ONE Spirit has a food program which, through sponsors and direct purchases by rezidents, supplies some families with fresh produce and meat on a monthly basis.  This is helpful.

But imagine an orchard growing right on the reservation.  Not only would there be fruit, there would be jobs available, skills to be learned.  What a brilliant idea!

Village Earth affiliate, Sustainable Homestead Designs, based on the Pine Ridge Reservation has entered a contest to win an orchard from Dreyer’s Fruit Bars brand and the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation. In order to win, they need the most votes for their project.

All you have to do is go to the site via the link I’m providing and vote.  It’s just a few clicks.  You can vote once a day until May 31, when the first round of the program ends.  If you’re really a caring and concerned person, you’ll also pass this link to your friends and ask them to vote too.

As I write this, the project, which is listed as located in Manderson, SD, is in third place.  They are about 200 votes shy of second place and about 1800 votes short of first.  I know my readers can help propel them to the top.

Help Win an Orchard for Pine Ridgehttp://t.co/MTIdpzT

I voted today — won’t you?

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It has been a very quiet few days and I actually had begun to get a bit lazy.  I should know better.  It’s always quietest before all chaos occurs.

The day started unusually – I overslept.  But at that point I wasn’t worried because I didn’t have much to do.  Got up and fed the cat first – patience is NOT one of his virtues!  Turned on the computer to check my mail and the obituaries, then decided it was time for a later than usual shower.

In the middle of the shower, I heard the phone ring and someone left a message.  Little did I know it was the start of a much busier day than I expected when I awoke.

I got the message after I dressed.  It was my Lakota friends calling.  They needed me to call back.  So I did . . . and the line was busy.  Sigh.  I checked my ONE Spirit mail – nothing new.  I really should reply to the one email sitting there.  But I should try calling my friends again first.  Busy still.  I tried calling another friend – a local one – left a voice mail message.  Back to calling the rez.  Finally, a ringing phone!

I spoke to my friend’s husband.  He was very excited at having been to Bismark, ND to represent Oglala Lakota College, which he attends, as a member of the archery team at the Tribal Colleges National Conference (http://www.uttc.edu/news/story/040111_01.asp).  OLC placed third in archery.  There were many other competitions (results can be seen here: http://aihec.sittingbull.edu/AIHEC%202011%20Forms/AIHEC%202011%20Winners.pdf) and he was gone for 5 days.

Unfortunately he returned to find that he and his wife were again homeless.  They had been living in a trailer that belonged to my friend’s mother.  Sadly, on the rez, when you live in the home of a family member, you are at the mercy of his or her moods and whims.  The relationship between my friend and her mother has never been a smooth one.  This kind of thing had happened before.  So they borrowed a truck, packed their things and moved back to his mother’s house (which ironically is where they were living when we first met them).

Even more irony comes when you learn the reason that they were told to move out of the trailer.  My friend’s are some of the more responsible people who I have known on the reservation.  They try to spend their money carefully and pay their bills.  However, many of my friend’s relatives do not.  Since her husband is a full-time college student and she cannot find work, their income is very limited.  As they pay their bills, they watch my friend’s mother support others in the family who do not pay their bills.  So they decided for one month to do the same.

My friend’s mother started telling people immediately that they didn’t pay their bills and told them to leave the trailer she was renting to them – or she would call the police to remove them.  My friend, alone without her husband, was broken-hearted.  Her mother had done it to her again.  You can imagine the scene when her husband arrived back home.

They were calling me to get help with buying some propane for his mother, where they would now live for a while.  I checked my funds and called the gas company to get a delivery.  Then I made out a check to pay for the gas and got it ready to mail.  The company didn’t take credit cards over the phone.  But they will deliver the gas before the check arrives.

I had just finished that when I got a call from the woman (I’ll call her Jane but that is not her real name) I wrote about yesterday, the one with whom I was dreading to speak.  If you didn’t read yesterday’s post (shame on you), Jane had just delivered a baby 2 weeks ago and now was in the process of being evicted for not paying her rent.  You can see why that would not be a conversation to look forward to.

I explained to Jane that ONE Spirit did not pay for rent or utilities.  We talked for quite some time and I got a lot of new information.  She needs to pay $91 by the end of the month or she will be evicted.  $91 is her monthly rent for the one bedroom apartment she shares with her children.  She had been on the waiting list for tribal housing but when she got to the top, she was taken off because she owed back rent.  The total amount the rent is in arrears is $370.50.

I asked her about her resources.  She receives food stamps in the amount of about $400 per month, WIC for the children and TANF (tribal assistance for those with children which requires the parent to work for the tribe) in the amount of $300.  She recently bought a car with her tax refund money so she can return to work.  It was a good thing she did – she drove herself to the hospital when she delivered her baby 2 weeks ago.  She does not receive child support from the father of either child.

She has a 2 year old son and a 2 week old daughter.  Since she worked until her due date, she will be paid TANF for the month of April.  She says she can get paid for 2 months additional without working, but must then return to work or the tribe will discontinue the assistance.  She wants to go back to work as a flagger for road construction crews but would need to use the tribal day care if she did.  She is not sure she would make enough to cover the day care for 2 children and still have money left over to pay the bills.

As we talked, I had an idea for a source of assistance – someone I know that might be able to help.  I will be seeing that person tonight and see what I can do.  I made her no promises, except that I would continue to pray for a solution.

Later I called a new sponsor and discussed her interests and the sponsorship program.  I could feel that I was different today when I talked about sponsoring.  Maybe it was because I knew that there are some things even sponsors can’t fix or solve.  I called a mother on the rez to let her know I had a sponsor for her daughter.  I’ll get the paperwork out on that in the morning.

In the meantime, I put Jane on the OKINI list (the program for donors who do not want to develop a relationship with the person being helped) for personal care products like shampoo and toothpaste.  Perhaps getting a few things that aren’t covered by food stamps will allow her to shift some of her money to the rent portion of her budget.

I was going to write about the articles I saw today that spoke of cell phone vs landline use in South Dakota and the price of gas in the Rapid City area hitting $4/gallon.  Those are two things that impact the lives of people on the reservation – they have to travel so many miles just to get from one part of the rez to another and they are coming to depend on cell phones in spite of the fact that South Dakota overall uses landlines more than cell phones.  But those phone calls took my attention away from the “smaller” problems and turned it to the really big ones.

So the theme of my day turned into homelessness and potential homelessness.  It is one of the hardest things on the reservation for so many people who do not have homes of their own and must rely on relatives to give them a roof over their heads.  The official statistics of homelessness on the reservation do not reflect the true number of truly homeless people.  I think many of the other problems on the rez stem in good part from overcrowding in the homes of those who are lucky enough to have their own home (the other big source of the problems is the lack of available jobs).

This is one BIG problem that I cannot solve.  All I can do is try to help a couple of people stay afloat until someone else finds that solution.

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I may make some enemies saying this, however in my humble but educated opinion John Stossel, “reporter and consumer crusader extraordinaire” has gone over to the dark side.  That is a wordy and pretentious way to say I think he’s full of BS.  I believe Stossel is more interested in self-promotion than a deep analysis of the truth at this point in his career.

There was a day, I must admit, when I admired John Stossel.  I thought his consumer reporting was helpful.  But in those days I was not taking the time to check the veracity of his statements.  Had I read FAIR reports earlier in my life, perhaps I would have known that his “facts” were not always really truthful facts.  You can check FAIR concerns yourself at http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=1887 .

I will also tell you that, had I attempted to write this last night, when I first read his blog post of March 25, 2011 entitles Freeloading Doesn’t Help the Freeloaders, it would have turned into an angry diatribe.  I would have attacked Mr Stossel personally which would not have been worthwhile.  However, I will say I was really steamed!

I refuse to give a link to take more people to his blog post.  I will tell you he posted it on that date at 4:57 in Entrepreneurs, Fox News Appearances, Free Market, Freeloaders and Government. I will analyze it for you, though.  So don’t give him more views unless you plan to add to his already large quantity of negative comments.  I don’t claim to be an expert, like Stossel does, but I do think I am fairly well-informed.

Stossel’s opening statement was “No group has been more ‘helped’ by the American government than American Indians.  Yet no group in America does worse.”

Right here I have to split a few hairs with Mr Stossel.  “No group has been ‘helped’ more …than … Indians.”  Mr Stossel, please tell us the definition of the word “help” that you used.  In my dictionary, help means “to give what is necessary to accomplish a task”, “to save or rescue”, “to make easier/less difficult” and “to relieve in pain, sickness or distress.”

Let us consider how the American government has “helped” the Indians of this country.

American Indians are the original inhabitants of this continent.  They had flourishing cultures, strong family structures, languages of their own and their own forms of government and justice.  In those cultures, the poor were taken care of by sharing – no one went hungry when others ate.  A chief wasn’t the most popular person in the group but the person chosen as having proved him or herself as most wise.  Chiefs didn’t seek the office; it was usually thrust upon him/her.  It wasn’t even a real office, as such.

There was variety among the cultures.  Some were more centralized, where game was plentiful or perhaps the soil was good enough to grow crops.  Other tribes were nomadic – without a permanent home although they did have “permanent” territories.  They followed the migration of animals that were their own life blood.  Indians used every single part of the buffalo, for example, not just the meat or hide.

Although there were certainly disagreements and conflicts between families (clans) and amongst tribes, most were also generous and hospitable.

Enter the Europeans.  Yes, those who are the ancestors of most of you readers, definitely me and assuredly Mr Stossel.  Those Europeans step on the soil of this continent and “claim it.”  CLAIM IT!  Oh yes, there are already people living on this land.  But there don’t seem to be that many of them.  We think there is room for all.  We will claim some of this land as our own.  Yes, we will OWN it.  What?  You, the original inhabitants don’t believe you can own land?  Well, we do and we have stronger weapons, so it will be our way.  Besides, we don’t need that much land.

The success of those first European interlopers would not have been a problem for the Indians if their group did not grow.  But grow it did!  They had huge families and they interested more Europeans in moving to this land of promise.  Then they needed MORE ROOM.  MORE LAND.  Oh, so sorry, we’re going to take more land from you.  Sure, we’ll give you a few trinkets and shells for it.  Trust us.

Woe to those who trust the untrustworthy.

The first Indians to encounter the Europeans had smaller tribes and were more settled (which is NOT to say they were permanently settled in towns, etc).  As happens everywhere, some fell into interracial love affairs.  So begins assimilation.  Others were truly converted to the European life style.  Many were either forcibly “converted” or died trying to preserve their own way of life.

But we need MORE LAND.  MORE SPACE.

So the push westward was begun.  Indians who were already displaced from the east were pushed further away from their homelands if they did not assimilate.

The government began to make treaties with the tribes.   In exchange for the land you are “giving” us we PROMISE to take care of you, make sure you have enough to eat, good places to live.  We PROMISE to punish any bad person who hurts, steals from or otherwise harms a member of your tribe.  We PROMISE no one will bother you on the land we are giving you.

People today like to think that these treaties are quaint documents in which the government meant well but which don’t have much meaning in this day and age.  WRONG!  Treaties are legal documents between sovereign nations. Would we think of saying, “Sure, we have treaties limiting nuclear arms with Russia, but that’s for them, not us.  We can do what we want to.”  That wouldn’t fly, would it?  Treaties are binding on all signing parties.  That includes the US government.

So our government agreed to give the Indians certain things and do certain things for them.  Did the government follow through on everything it PROMISED?  NOT EVEN CLOSE!

Treaties were broken by the government.  There was more land taken (stolen).  There were cultures destroyed and languages lost.  Sacred places were defiled.  And did I mention more land was taken?  Reservations began to shrink as precious minerals were found and mines begun.  Cattle and other grazing herds competed with the native animals that formed the Indian diet.  The government condoned the wholesale slaughter of buffalo to get them out of the way for the railroad to cross the country and to free up grazing land for stock.  The government condoned genocide, too.

The remaining Indians were left on reservations with fairly useless land.  They had no access to food, especially the food they were all accustomed to.  There were no jobs on the reservations.  The children were taken from their families to be “civilized and educated.”  These are the Indians whom Stossel calls FREELOADERS. These are the ones surviving on the benefits the US government promised to them in “exchange” for all their land and their culture.

Let’s go back to the dictionary.  Freeloader is defined as “slang: a person who habitually depends on the charity of others for food, shelter, etc”.  And freeload the verb is defined as “to take advantage of others for free food, entertainment, etc”.

Okay, based on what we’ve discussed, it is obvious that Indians are freeloaders, right?  The are taking advantage of those who stole their land and culture by expecting to be given the things that treaties have promised.  I’m sure they are entertained by the broken promises, hungry children, substandard living conditions and prejudice they have.  It must be an advantage to experience hopelessness and despair to such a degree that there is an epidemic of youth suicide on reservations.

Mr Stossel blithely notes, “They have short life spans.” That is the understatement of a lifetime! The life expectancy for a male on Pine Ridge Reservation is 48 years and for women it is 52 years!  Those are life expectancies comparable to Burundi, not anywhere in the USA.  Do you really think, Mr Stossel, that these “freeloaders” are getting a benefit here?  Do you think they greedily and lazily think that losing 30 years of expected life is a good deal?

Do I disagree with Mr Stossel’s premise that people who are given everything prosper less than those who must work to get ahead?  Not entirely.  I look at the youth of this nation, a group who have come to believe they are entitled to things, education, jobs because their parents gave them everything they asked for.  Talk about a group of freeloaders (in general; there are certainly exceptions).

However, do I believe that American Indians are freeloaders, as Stossel claims?  ABSOLUTELY NOT!

I wonder if Mr Stossel has ever spent any time visiting a reservation or talking to those who live there.  I doubt it.  I have done both.  I have seen with my own eyes what passes for housing on the reservations of South Dakota.  I have seen how hard it is to succeed even with an education – that it often means leaving home, family, culture and friends.

So, Mr Stossel (I’m sure you read your own press and hope you have been able to read to the end), I urge you to read any of my blog entries in the Lakota category.  Watch the videos I’ve made from photos I’ve taken on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

My Passion is Pine Ridge  http://youtu.be/t8UYGSBl4yU?a

Third World Conditions in the USA  http://youtu.be/-gHXmlUpVvs

Look carefully at the pictures of my friend’s house, Mr Stossel.  Tell me if you really believe that someone would live in those conditions willingly in order to take advantage of charity or “government handouts.”  If you really believe that, you don’t deserve the BA in Psychology that you got at Princeton University.  You obviously didn’t learn enough to merit it.

Yes, there are prosperous American Indian individuals and tribes who don’t need the benefits they are entitled to from the US government.  But there are many, many more who, for whatever reasons, absolutely need them and would not be able to survive without them.  You should know better than to compare apples to oranges, Mr Stossel!

American Indians, especially in the Dakotas, endure prejudice and bias akin to that experienced by African-Americans in the deep South in the days before the Civil Rights movement.  Where is the American media when that occurs?  Absent.  It is abominable that you add to this with the commentary you wrote equating all American Indians with freeloaders.  Shame on you!

Mr Stossel, you should not write about what you don’t know, even if you have a wonderful staff to feed you statistics.

And you owe American Indians an apology at the very least.

g a person who habitually depends on the charity of others for food, shelter, etc
slang a person who habitually depends on the charity of others for food, shelter, etc
slang a person who habitually depends on the charity of others for food, shelter, etc

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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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