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Archive for the ‘Oglala Lakota College’ Category

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

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

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

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

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Call #1

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

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

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

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

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Call #2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Call #3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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I spoke with a young mother last night to try to assist her.  She had moved from Oklahoma to Pine Ridge, SD to help care for her mother after her mom had some surgery.  Her mom has other medical conditions in addition to the one that required surgery, had been life-flighted off the reservation previously and certainly needed the extra help.  Her mom, however, has gone back to work early because of the dire need for income.

I said this was a young mother who moved back to Pine Ridge.  She did not come alone.  She brought her 4 children with her.  Her children range in age from 11 to 18.

It has been a culture shock moving from the Cherokee Nation, where her children are enrolled members, to the Lakota Nation, to which she has transferred her enrollment when she moved back there.

In Oklahoma, she was enrolled in a college program majoring in Criminal Justice.  Back in Pine Ridge, she is enrolled at the Oglala Lakota College, which does not have that major.  So she will have to choose something else to complete her degree.

When she and the children moved back, they were given her grandfather’s trailer to live in.  However, because neither he nor other family had a job, the electricity was shut off for lack of payment.  They were not the only ones, of course, so candles and generators in the neighborhood were the norm.  But generators take fuel, too, so they are run intermittently, as hot water is needed – not solely for TV or lights.  Apparently while she was at her mother’s home, the children had candle lit so they could see.  A neighbor had turned on a generator and did have the TV on while the water was heating.  So her children we to the neighbor’s house to watch TV . . . forgetting the candle.  Unfortunately, unattended candles can be a fire hazard and this one was no exception.  The trailer caught fire and burned down, taking all their possessions as well.  Even worse, they had some historic documents and items in the trailer which have now been lost to both the family and the tribe.  She is so saddened by that loss.

I explained to this mom that the family had been referred to us and explained both the sponsorship and OKINI programs.  I told her I would put them on both, with an emphasis on the OKINI due to their urgent needs.  She began to cry.  She apologized for the tears and said that it has been very difficult to get help through the tribe.  It seems that the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing, that no one communicates with anyone else and that there is “no money left” in any program.

She said that would never occur with the Cherokee Nation.  They are organized and it is easy to navigate their systems.  They are honoring and trying to maintain their culture while at the same time fitting in with the current day.  Moving back to Pine Ridge, from one Indian nation to another, has been a Native American culture shock!

She and her four children went to the tribe for assistance with housing after the trailer burned.  They were told that they qualified for assistance but it would take some time.  This young woman, who is strong and articulate, was not about to let her children be homeless.  They have moved into her great-grandmother’s “old house” that was built sometime around the 1900’s.  It is a house, but it is small!  It contains a kitchen and one other room.  The only furniture they have is a full-sized bed.  Since there are 5 family members, the 2 older children are going at night to sleep on their grandmother’s couch.  They have no appliances, no table or chairs, no food storage (no food for that matter) and very little clothing.  They do have someone who is willing to build another room onto the place if they can materials from they tribe (they are not holding their breath on that).

After we talked about all the hardships she and her children have been enduring, she proceeded to tell me the story of her pre-teen nephew.  Her brother, who still lives in Oklahoma, is the boy’s biological dad.  However, when the mother was pregnant with the boy, she left the biological dad and moved to Pine Ridge to live with another man.  She listed that man as the father on the boy’s birth certificate.  After a short time, she left that man . . . and left the boy with his non-biological father as well.

Apparently this boy has been abused since he was quite small — physically, mentally, emotionally (being told his biological father was dead after he found out about him) and perhaps sexually.  The boy finally called the police to try to find safety.  After a court hearing, they placed him back with the abuser.  The young woman fears for her nephew’s life and wants to help the boy.  But again she is frustrated by the lack of organization and lack of urgency she finds in the Oglala Sioux Tribe.  I have connected her to my Lakota friend, who has had a lot of experience with the juvenile system on the rez, as you know if you read my accounts on this blog.  I will try to give her other connections as I can.

This young woman is passionate, articulate, intelligent and driven to make a difference for her people.  I hope and pray that she will find a way to do that.

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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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