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Archive for the ‘Life expectancy’ Category

ABC NEWS Has Come Through For Pine Ridge

Over a year ago, I was contacted by a researcher/producer for ABC News.  She had found one of my blog entries (in which I was chastising ABC for not paying attention to the disasters in the west, especially on the reservations).  She told me they were working on a Diane Sawyer prime time special in her “A Hidden America” series.  The prior one had been on life in Appalachia.  This time they were planning to profile Pine Ridge Reservation.

Those of you who have been reading my blog will know that there is not much that fires up my hopefully righteous passion more than talking about life on Pine Ridge Reservation.  So talk we did, for almost an hour.  And we emailed – resources that they might find helpful.

I had heard that Diane Sawyer was out on the rez this past summer when I was there (no, we didn’t happen to cross paths traveling the approximately 2 million acres on the rez.  But I did here that she went up to KILI Radio one of the days I was there.  Try to keep that quiet when you’re talking to DJ’s.

I am giving you a link to the promo for the show.  Please, if you have ever enjoyed or been moved by anything I have written, I implore you to watch the 20/20 program on Friday at 10 PM.  See with your own eyes the good and the bad of Pine Ridge.  You may not find it possible but this place does exist.  I have been there and I suspect they will not tell you the worst story nor show you the poorest homes.  But it will still be worse than you expect.  After all, the living conditions on Pine Ridge rival those in Haiti and the life expectancy on Pine Ridge rivals that of Burundi.

I work for an organization that works to support self-sufficiency – not an easy thing to have on Pine Ridge.  Many of us work to keep the dam from breaking by trying to improve the life of one person at a time.  The big picture can be truly overwhelming.

If you can’t watch the show when it airs, record it or have a friend record it for you.

I will be honest.  I prayed for someone with greater reach than mine to focus attention on the needs of Pine Ridge.  I did not know (or care) who it would be.  I am grateful to ABC News because I know that if more people see the conditions, they will be moved to respond.  I believe in the American people and I know in my heart that things can improve.  I do not have the answers but I know it can be done.

Thank YOU for helping them to raise awareness.  You can do that by sharing this blog post with everyone you know.

Oh yes, here’s the link to the promo:  http://abcnews.go.com/2020/video/hidden-america-children-plains-14708439#.TpOhj9LOE2E.facebook

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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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“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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Yes, it’s dramatic, I know.  But death is a dramatic thing in the scheme of life.  The end.

So how long do you expect to live?  I realize “when you die” is effected by many events and even things you have no control over, like genetics and accidents.  My own father defied the law of averages – on the short end, unfortunately – and died at the age of 36.  I already have 20 years more than that.  So, I wonder, am I on schedule?  Will I be average?  Or maybe fate will give me extra years.

What in the world is average these days?  It has surely increased from the days when my grandparents ate a high fat diet and smoked, living into their 60’s and no further.

I decided to check on average life expectancy so I could make my plans for my future and also because I know that my friends on Pine Ridge Reservation may not have the same time available.  I tell you what I mean in a minute, be patient.

According to the United Nations World Population Prospects report for 2005–2010, which I found on the Wikipedia link for life expectancy (which I’ll post at the end of my “sermon”), if I am average (unlikely), I should live to be about 81 years old (80.8 if you are into technicalities).  Glad I’m a woman!  If I were a male, I’d be 75.6 years old on average.

As I looked at the chart, some things stood out.  The United States, with all its wealth and wonders, is number 38 out of 194 on this list.  Who was number one?  Japan, followed rather closely by Hong Kong.  So perhaps I should move to the far east – I could get an extra 5 years, right?  Or maybe the damage is already done after 58 years in the USA.  Besides, it’s a much different culture and I’d miss my friends.  What looks good that closer?

Canada!  Canada is in a 4-way tie for eighth place (with Israel, Macau, and France).  It’s not far away and I love hockey!  Canadians are great fun and apparently I could get about 2 more years just by moving several hundred miles.  Okay!

My friends on the Pine Ridge Reservation – I told you I’d get back to them – may not be around as long as I am.  Or at least as long as I have the chance to be!  Why not?  They live in the USA, too, don’t they?  They should have the same life expectancy as me, right?  WRONG!!

Life expectancy on Pine Ridge Reservation, which is in the poorest county in the USA, is dramatically and significantly lower than the rest of the nation.

The average life expectancy on Pine Ridge for men is 48 years and for women it is 52 years. (No wonder you are considered an elder at 50 on the rez!)

I have seen this borne out in the past 5 years, as I have read the obituaries in the Rapid City Journal every day.  Just this morning, there were two infants that were listed there.  Infant mortality on Pine Ridge is many times the national average.  So is the suicide rate.  There are many socio-economic reasons for this low life expectancy.  But I can’t solve them.  I probably couldn’t even list them all.

My point in writing this is not to debate the causes.

My point in writing this post is to say that IT IS WRONG!!

It is utterly, completely wrong that certain people, because they are born in a small, nearly forgotten part of the United States of America, have a life expectancy that is ALMOST 30 YEARS LOWER than it would be if they were born a couple hundred miles away.

The 2-3 years I might gain if I were Canadian are insignificant to me.

The 30 years my friends would have gained if they were born elsewhere are very significant!!

If my father had an extra 30 years, he’d have known his grandchildren and they would have known him.

Have you lost someone?  Would you have wanted them to have 30 more years?

The low life expectancy on Pine Ridge Reservation hurts people.  Elders who end up caring for grandchildren whose parent or parents have died; children who lose a parent, sibling or friend; single parents who have lost a spouse and are left to raise children alone; young parents who lose a baby at birth or shortly after – all of these are hurt by the shortened life expectancy — or at least by the conditions that lead to it.

Why should people living in one small part of South Dakota die, on average, so much younger than the rest of us in the United States?

And perhaps more importantly, why do we continue to allow it?

Why is it that no one in authority is declaring an emergency?  Why aren’t the national news media outlets in an uproar?  Apparently no one thinks it’s wrong to have American citizens living the same length of time as citizens of Burundi (177), South Africa (178), Somalia (181) and Nigeria (182, which is 30% below the world average).

What could be the reason for the similar life spans in Pine Ridge, SD, USA and Burundi, tucked between Rwanda and Tanzania? Here are blurbs from Wikipedia’s information on each place.

Burundi

Burundi is one of the world’s poorest countries, owing in part to its landlocked geography, poor legal system, lack of access to education, and the proliferation of HIV/AIDS. Approximately 80% of Burundi’s population lives in poverty. Famines and food shortages have occurred throughout Burundi, most notably in the 20th century, and according to the World Food Programme, 56.8% of children under age five suffer from chronic malnutrition. One scientific study of 178 nations rated Burundi’s population as having the lowest satisfaction with life in the world. As a result of poverty, Burundi is dependent on foreign aid.

Pine Ridge

Although Pine Ridge is the eighth largest reservation in the United States, it is also the poorest. Unemployment on the reservation hovers between 80% and 85%, and 49% live below the Federal poverty level. Adolescent suicide is four times the national average. Many of the families have no electricity, telephone, running water, or sewerage system. Many families use wood stoves to heat their homes. The population on Pine Ridge has among the shortest life expectancies of any group in the Western Hemisphere: approximately 48 years for males and 52 years for females. The infant mortality rate is five times the United States national average.

I’ll let you decide about the similarities.  I’ve visited Pine Ridge Reservation.  I’ve seen the living conditions.  I have my opinion already.

If you’re reading this and you are on Pine Ridge Rez, don’t lose heart.  Look for ways to improve your odds of living a long life.

If you’re reading this and live somewhere other than the reservation, thank your lucky stars for the gift you have in your life.

After you have given thanks, DO SOMETHING to change this terrible discrepancy that mocks us as Americans!!  Tell someone else, share what you know, call all the government officials you can, give to charities that benefit those on Pine Ridge.

****************

(stepping down from my soap box — for now)

Link to the UN life expectancy report:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_life_expectancy

Link to my YouTube video about living conditions on Pine Ridge:

http://www.youtube.com/user/bettyb22111896?feature=mhum

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