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Archive for the ‘Miracles’ Category

I received a call from a grandmother on Pine Ridge Rez the other day.  She was calling because she wanted to know if we could help her daughter, who had only days to pay her electric or it would be shut off.  There are 2 adults and 5 teens that live in the home.

I think Gramma was a bit embarrassed because they have always been able to manage before.  Her daughter had gone to the tribe to ask for assistance but was told there would be no money available for this until November.  I unfortunately had to tell her that ONE Spirit, the group I work with in their sponsorship program, did not include utilities in our program because of the vast amount of money it would take to do that.  We shared my vision of a wind farm on the plains there that the tribe could build.  The tribe could then supply free electricity to all residents and probably still have electricity left over to sell back to the electric company.  What a relief it would be to residents of Pine Ridge to have free electricity!  Paying over $200 per month when you have no source of income or live on Social Security is a huge burden.  It would be a blessing for the tribe to be able to accomplish this for their people as well, a place where they could begin to rebuild the hope and confidence of their people as well.

She told me about her health, which has improved since her back pain was finally properly diagnosed and treated.  She told me that her daughter, for whom she had requested the help, had been diagnosed with Graves disease in 1996.  That surprised me, because her daughter is full of drive and works harder than anyone I know to help others on the rez.

Gramma also told me about the windows on her trailer (which I have visited).  Apparently one of the severe thunderstorms this past summer blew out all the windows on the rear of her trailer.  The weather, including rain, now comes in her windows.  She said that she had managed to get a board across her bedroom window; however it doesn’t cover the whole window, so rain still comes in.  I asked if she had talked to the tribe about getting help to get them fixed.  She said that, since the trailer was not “tribal housing”, the tribe has no funds to help with things like that.  She noted that she had also contacted a non-profit group that is known for doing work like that all summer.  The group, Re-Member, hosts volunteer groups all summer.  Their last group was last week.  They would not be able to help until spring!  So Gramma will have to go without windows until next spring unless she “finds the money” to hire a private contractor to do the work.  I’m afraid it will be a cold winter.  Unless Santa decides his sleigh has the room and brings windows.

I told Gramma that although ONE Spirit did not have the resources to run a program for utilities, I would see what I could do among my contacts.  Gratefully, we were able to come through for this young woman.

The daughter called me crying when her mother told her I had found a way for it to be done.  It shouldn’t have surprised me, but I am still a bit surprised when strong people cry.  The tears, you know, were tears of joy and relief, not self-pity and woe.  That attitude is something that never surprises me about Lakota women — they never show self-pity and they are always trying to help a neighbor/daughter/sister/cousin instead of themselves.

Lakota women are so inspirational!

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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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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 thought yesterday I had a great new story about a Lakota woman who had some real dreams that were being hindered by life on the rez.  That was before today’s phone call from a sponsor who had distressing news from the elder she sponsors.  Now I had another story line.  What should I do?  Write 2 stories or try to combine them?

One the surface, it didn’t seem as though these stories had a lot in common.  But I never just stay on the surface, I guess.  The more I thought about the 2 women, the more I realized that both these women were being frustrated and stressed by the conditions on Pine Ridge.  In the words of the Law and Order narrator, “These are their stories . . .”

Story 1

Woman #1 is in her early 50’s.  She has been wheelchair bound about 15 years as a result of an auto accident – she was rear-ended by a drunk driver.  I have written about her before, describing the small, non-accessible apartment she lives in.

Yesterday, when I spoke to her, she told me about a house she yearns to have.  She wasn’t asking me for it.  She was just expressing a yearning for a home.  It already has a ramp entry and everything.  She has been making the rounds of the tribal offices involved, trying to find out what she needs to do to be eligible to the house.  She also told me the story of why it is so important to her to have that house – or one like it.  At the very least she needs something bigger than the apartment she is in.

She told me about her 2 cousins who are in their 30’s.  They are sisters who used to live with their parents.  They are also mentally challenged.

When they were young, they were in the “special education” classes at school.  They were mocked and called “retarded” by the other kids at the school.  Rez schools are small and they could not seem to avoid it.  They transferred to another school.  It was further away from their home in a different rez settlement, but they did not endure the same taunting and bullying there.  After their schooling was complete, they lived with their parents.  They helped with the daily chores and were capable of taking care of their own personal care.

Their mother died first and more recently, their father died as well.  The only family they had left were an older brother and sister.  The brother did not have much to do with the family.  The older sister was appointed guardian of the 2 handicapped girls.  She went to court to have them placed in a home with the stipulation that they must be kept together.  Then their sister moved away from the reservation.

The 2 handicapped sisters were placed in a kind of group home — in Hot Springs, SD (over 60 miles & one hour away), not on the reservation they had known all their lives.  They are the only Native American women at the home.  There is one Native American man who is much older than they are.  They are very unhappy to be so far from home and from anyone they know.

The woman I spoke to on the phone would like to have her cousins come live with her.  She is the only one who has visited them (a difficult trip for this paraplegic woman).  She has arranged with the court to have them visit with her for a couple of weekends, especially for the 4th of July fireworks.  The court has said it would give her custody if she had room for them to live.

And so we are back to the house this wheelchair bound, paraplegic woman desires so much.  It isn’t just that, as she said, “I’m 50 years old and want a place of my own.”  It is that she needs the extra room so that she can bring her 2 handicapped cousins back to the reservation, the only home they know, to live with her.  Officials have already told her it cannot be done while she is in the small apartment that barely accommodates her and her wheelchair.

She told me that she watches “that show with Ty Pennington” and thinks, “Hey Ty, I need your help.  Can you come to the rez and help me?”  She said she cries right along with the families that get the new homes because she knows how much it means to them.

She is a sweet, gentle woman with a lot of love to share.  I do not know how to find her a new home.  I usually deal with the smaller things, like toilet paper and school supplies.  So I will leave it to you, readers, if you know of any resources that can help this woman.

Story 2

Late in the afternoon I got a call from a sponsor.  She had just been speaking with one of the two elders she sponsored.  The elder was very upset because she was basically being evicted.

Apparently one of this elder’s teenaged daughters is acting out and getting into trouble.  The landlord, who is somehow related to the elder, “doesn’t want any trouble,” so he told the elder that she and her daughters had to leave.

I’ve written about this woman before as well, in fact quite recently after we visited her on our trip to the rez in June (the second story in “Two Amazing Lakota Women 6-24-11).  I had written about the crushing poverty I had found at her home.  Now she was to lose even that.  She had called the sponsor, crying, with nowhere to go.  She needed a home.

She told the sponsor that she would be forced to move to a shelter in Rapid City since she had no one on the rez who could take her in.  I thought of this woman whose health is so fragile, who depends on oxygen tanks for life, and I wondered how she would survive in a shelter.  What would her daughters do?  Would they take care of their mother or set out on their own and leave her alone in the world?

I do not have any way to get housing for people on the reservation.  There is a severe housing shortage.  The tribe needs thousands more homes if everyone who needs one were to have one.  I will make some calls to find out what is available to assist this woman.

My title with ONE Spirit is “Area Service Coordinator.”  But it means that I try to match people on the rez with the services that we, as an organization, supply — OKINI, food, wood, sponsors.  I am not intended to be a social worker for the two areas I serve.  I do sometimes feel like one.

Sometimes, all I feel is frustrated.

Frustrated that I am not aware of all the services and programs available to individuals on Pine Ridge Reservation.

Frustrated that the Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST) does not have the means to meet the needs of the Oyate (their people) and does not appear to manage what they do have well.

Frustrated that the OST does not have a better way to communicate with the people about resources that are available to them.

Frustrated that a culture which values family, which considers women and children sacred, doesn’t have ways to assist those very groups in their dire need.

As I always say, I don’t have the answers, just the questions.

Right now, I also have a lot of frustration that I would be happy to share.

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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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Well, be careful what you ask for.

I asked for more sponsors and what did I get – more sponsors, of course.  I have that kind of life – often getting what I ask for or need.  I don’t mean an excess of anything – I’m not rich by any means.  I figured out long ago that whatever the universe has in store for me, it is not getting rich by winning a lottery or some other prize.

But I get what I need – including material goods like a furnace (another story, another time).  I have never lacked food, heat or clothing.  I don’t have much desire for material things anyway, so it works out well.

But sponsors?  I asked for them because I had not had any in a few weeks and was getting concerned.  Now I have 2 – actually 3, but one is already placed and I just need to get the information together.

I can hear you from here . . . So what’s my problem?  I should be happy and grateful.  I should be excited that I can call some families on the rez and help them with their daily life.  Why I am whining about all this?  Just shut up and get to work!

I think my problem is depression.  Someone I am close to has be dealing with it for a couple of years now.  So, my dear amateur psychologists, can it be that depression is contagious?  Oh, I’ve have a few hours of depression here and there.  But never have I felt like this feels – as I wrote in my last post, it feels as if someone has snuffed out the pilot light on my passion for life.

The work will get done soon.  The sponsors and families will be called and connected.  I will do my job.  But it will be done on a superficial, intellectual level if I continue to feel like this.  I will have to force myself to do something that I was doing for the joy of it just a week or so ago.

It makes me angry because I don’t think this problem stems from my work and I don’t want that to suffer.  I know my writing has suffered because I have no passion for it at the moment either.

I am on too many medications already to add anymore.  I am way past menopausal.  I know intellectually the kinds of things to try in order to dispel this deep gloom (exercise, proper nutrition and sleep, sharing with someone) but they have not yet had any effect.  I still have that feeling of something sitting on my chest (no, not a heart attack).

So if you are someone who prays or sends white light or whatever, I will take all of that right now!  I think I need a small miracle so I can get back to the joy of life I used to feel.  Otherwise I’ll have to list my soapbox on Craig’s list . . . I wonder what category I would place it in.

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Most of you don’t know that when I was younger, one of my jobs was as a Childbirth Educator.  I taught childbirth education classes for almost 10 years and they were some of the happiest times of my life.  I interacted with hundreds of expecting and new parents.  I witnessed numerous births.  It was always with a sense of amazement that I realized that no 2 births are exactly the same, even for the same mother, even for the same parents.  It is an experience filled with awe and fraught with worry.  It is natural and so many births could happen just fine without any assistance or intervention.  Yet it is also an event in which a multitude of things can “go wrong” – small things, big things, things that endanger mother or child or both.  I learned there is no “right way” because there is no single path that every child uses to enter this life.

That is amazing to me!  It doesn’t amaze me that we are all different as individual human beings.  But it does amaze me that we all have different birth experiences.  I could explain the process and tell parents how the “typical” birth would occur.  But I could never tell them what would happen to them and their baby.

One might think that after talking to hundreds of parents and seeing so many births, I might be a bit unimpressed when I speak with new mothers today.  But that’s not true.  I am still impressed and inspired.

I spoke to a new mother just this morning.  No, I haven’t taught classes for many years now.  I had called Pine Ridge to let an expectant mother know that I had a sponsor for her 2 year old son.

When I called her home, a male answered.  This was unexpected since she is a single mother.  I asked for mom and was told she had gone to the hospital last night to have the baby.  Then I remembered.  Mom had told me when last we spoke that she was on better terms with her son’s dad and he was going to stay with the little boy while she was in the hospital.  I asked him to let her know I had called and that I would contact her about a sponsor when she got home.

I made another phone call, to the sponsor this time, after speaking to the man in Pine Ridge.  I got the answering machine and had to leave a message.  In the time it took to leave the message, I had a voicemail message myself – from Mom!

My goodness!  She was so anxious to be sure she got the sponsor that she called me from her hospital room.  I returned her call.  She told me her “birth” story.

Last night she had been cleaning and rearranging furniture to make room for the new baby.  She started to have contractions.  No big deal.  When they got to be 5 minutes apart, she drove herself to the hospital.  [Yes, all of you who have experienced labor, drove herself.  She downplayed it – “I don’t live that far away.” – be we all know that 5 minutes apart is when labor gets really tough!]  She got to the hospital about 12:30 AM and found out she was 7 cm dilated.  She said they gave her some medication “to take the edge off” but continued “all it did was make me dizzy.”  She delivered a perfect 7 lb 15 oz baby girl at 6:30 AM.

Just 6 hours after delivering the baby, she called me back.  She sounded like she could go back to cleaning the house, though she did admit to being tired.  But it was important enough to her to have a sponsor for her children that she wanted to call me.

Her effort to contact me said several things to me.  The first was something that I already knew – she is a mature, caring mother.  The second thing it said to me was that she was another example of the strong Lakota women I have come to know in the past 6 years.  She had told me in our prior conversation that she planned to go to work again shortly after she had the baby.  Her job – working as a “flagger” at road construction sites.  I know women are strong in general but Lakota women are awesome.

The third thing her call told me was the importance of sponsors in the lives of those who are trying to raise children in some of the hardest conditions in this nation.  So I hope you will go to the “What is a Sponsor?” page and see what a sponsor can be.  For this mother and her children, a sponsor will be someone to fill in the gaps.  For them, a sponsor will be hope for a better future.  I am so happy I was able to give her a sponsor today.

I’d like to think of it as a Happy Birth Day present for her daughter.

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