Archive for the ‘Politics’ 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.


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.


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.


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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Well, I certainly didn’t get the number of comments on my post that Stossel did on his Fox Business Blog post.  But I got a couple that were interesting and I’d like to share them with you – as well as my thoughts on them.

First of all, I think that perhaps the original commenter, Mr Hack, should perhaps follow his own advice.  He said I should have watched Stossel’s whole show before I commented on it.  If I had been commenting on the show, that would indeed have been wise.  But since I was commenting on Stossel’s blog post, the advice should have told me to read it first — which of course, I did!  Perhaps Mr Hack should have followed his own advice and read my post completely and accurately.

Here is Mr Hack’s first comment:

How can you take Stossel out of context like that. If you really watched the show, you wouldn’t need a definition for the term ‘helped.’ It’s obvious what he means; there is no need to go into the history of how Americans and Christians screwed them over; we all know that. He’s talking about the here and now and how Gov assistance has destroyed these people while American Indians who did not take Gov assistance thrived and are doing great! They are doing great because THEY DID NOT TAKE GOV. ASSISTANCE! Had they relied on the Gov, they’d be in the same boat! There are tons of charities, churches, etc… that do a better job for the impoverished than the Gov has ever done or could ever do. There is NO LEGITIMATE REBUTTAL to Stossel’s information. He was censored by ABC hence why making you liked him back then. He couldn’t tell all of the truth; now that he can, you hate him. I spit at your bullshit comments. I’m not a libertarian, but it doesn’t take a genius to know it’s the best and most ethical system there is. Progressivism is tantamount to being drug dealers; give ‘em enough to survive, they’ll vote for you and they won’t pull themselves up with their own boot straps. I worked in environment where I saw how hundreds of people abused the social programs; phony law suits, etc.. #’s not captured by statistics because they have to be discovered to be reported as statistics.

My response to Mr Hack:

I did not take Mr Stossel out of context.  I took him at his word – or words – the ones he wrote in his blog, just as I am doing here.  So anything he defined in his show or anywhere else is irrelevant.  His word has to be what it is in the blog.

I disagree that there is no need to go into “the history of how Americans and Christians screwed them over.”  In spite of Mr Hack’s assertions, everyone does not know that.  Furthermore, history is important here because the treaties that were signed by duly elected officials of the United States of America are part of that history.  Those treaties are legally binding and should not be ignored because they are inconvenient.

Mr Hack, please do your homework.  What the Native Americans receive from the government are not “handouts,” but the fulfillment of treaty obligations.  Furthermore, if you read my post, you would see that I explained the difference between a small NC tribe that “refused” those “handouts” and the bulk of the Indians of the western region.  The tribe you reference is not necessarily doing well because they “refused” the government benefits.  You have some individuals of that tribe who are doing well because they have been assimilated into Western culture.  You have a land developer.  Certainly, if you were “in environment” as you stated, you know the difference between land in North Carolina and land in southwestern South Dakota.  Try to develop the SD land – oh wait, the government did that . . . with a bombing range and uranium mines.

You stated there is no “legitimate rebuttal” to Stossel’s information.  I believe there is no legitimacy to his statements. If you read my post, you would already know why.  I hate repeating myself!  You state I liked Stossel at ABC because he was censored there.  No, Mr Hack.  I liked Stossel because I agreed with some of his consumer protection/awareness pieces.  I judge a person’s work on what I see, not what I have no knowledge of.

You spoke of libertarianism and progressivism.  I could care less about any “ism” you would like to discuss.  I am not a political person.  I am interested in caring for people.  I care that everyone has enough to eat, heat when it is freezing and adequate clothing.

Your last comment was about seeing people abuse the system.  I have no doubt that occurs.  You were in environment.  I processed auto insurance injury claims.  You want fraud, you’ve got it there.  Yet I don’t claim that everyone who makes any injury claim is a fraud or faker.  We all, even Mr Stossel and you and me, deserve to be judged on the fruits of our labors and at our words.

So, for the record, Mr Hack, I do not “hate” Stossel now nor have I ever.  As for your statement, “I spit at your bullshit comments.”, I find it in poor taste and would never stoop to such a low in responding.

Here is Mr Hack’s second comment:

sorry for typo’s… John Stossel Keep Up The Great Work.. If it weren’t for people like you and even the tea party (which I am not a member), then Obama and the dems would have carte blanch to spend us into oblivion. What good is a social program when there’s no economy left to support it. Loving the stuff coming from John & Rand Paul… Loving the info. from [link removed], Heritage foundation (except more waste needs to be done away with in the military).

My response to Mr Hack:

Contrary to what you may believe, I am not for spending without attention to waste control.  I believe legislation should only be for what it is meant to be — no little “pet projects” put into bills that have nothing to do with them.  I believe that, if we as a nation taught responsibility and self-control to our children, we would have fewer problems and we would not have to legislate common sense.  However, I also believe that we must fulfill our legal obligations, whether we like them or not.

There was one other comment that was not from Mr Hack but in response to his comments.  It said:

Not wanting to drag politics into this but equating him [Stossel] to the tea party is hardly a way to endear him to …. oh, most of the country!

My reply:

Thank you for not wanting to drag politics in because I really try to steer clear of politics as much as I can.  My wish is to focus on human needs when I write about Pine Ridge Reservation.  However, I did chuckle at your point.  If not “most of the country,” certainly most of the people I personally know.


So where does that leave us?

It leaves me thinking John Stossel would be better off writing (or broadcasting, for that matter) about facts rather than using inflammatory name calling to get readers/viewers.






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I love a lot of music.  Music feeds my soul.  It has helped me through the hard times and it has helped me rejoice.  It has soothed my meditations and absorbed my anger like a sponge.

I’m not called eclecticwoman for nothing.  My musical tastes vary significantly, as my YouTube channel will attest.  But there is quite a bit of Native Music.

Now I am going to guess that you really don’t understand what I mean by that.  I’d bet that many are thinking of Pow Wow songs, chants, drums and flutes.  You wouldn’t be 100% wrong if you thought that, but you wouldn’t be 100% correct either.  Contemporary Native musicians produce all types of music — rock, country, blues, soul, Gospel, Christian, rap, hip hop, etc, etc …

Contemporary Native artists should not be placed in one box because, just as we are all individuals, so are they.

I “met” a young woman who is a rock artist this past week via internet and phone.  She is also a resident of Oglala, SD on the Pine Ridge Reservation.  She performs professionally and has been on a tour with 3 other female Native artists who perform different genres of music.  It is the “Women of the Four Winds” tour – they have a website on MySpace (http://www.myspace.com/womenofthefourwinds).

The young woman I met is named Davidica.  She is a traditional Lakota, a mother raising 5 children and a woman driven by the need and desire to give back to her community and her people.  In conjunction with friends in the recording industry, a major project is being planned to introduce talented youth on the Pine Ridge Reservation to the recording industry.

The project is called Teca Oyate Oic’ihi Owicakeyapi in Lakota.  The meaning in English:  Helping Youth Help Themselves.  I will, in the interest of space, refer to it simply as “the project.”  But it is a project grounded in Lakota traditions and culture.  It is a project centered on empowering Lakota youth.

I want to share the details of the project with you.  These musicians and their friends have some brilliant ideas.  They are going to need support — financial and otherwise — from the rest of us.  ONE Spirit, the organization I work with as a sponsorship coordinator, will be one of their supporters.  I hope you will be, too.  This is an exciting project!!

Mission Statement

“We are committed to empowering our Native Youth by sharing our knowledge of the music business and by providing them with resources to promote their talents (with the help of our Native brothers and sisters from Canada) so the Native Youth can in turn give back to their communities.  Our combined efforts will help to bring Natives together from all corners of Turtle Island to show that Wolakota has no borders.”

How do they intend to fulfill that mission?

There will be a reservation wide talent search on the Pine Ridge Reservation.  Following the auditions, 30 artists who have no prior solo demo CD’s will be selected to participate in one of 3 weeklong workshops.  The workshops, for both selected artists and any other residents of the reservation who wish to attend, will be led by Native mentors from all aspects of the music business, including songwriting, stage presence, marketing, promotions and the importance of staying true to the traditional teachings to stand strong against the negative aspects of the music business.  Each young artist will record one original song for a 2-disc compilation CD which will be promoted using the professional musicians radio and media contacts.  In addition, each young artist will record a raw demo for personal use courtesy of KILI radio.  That demo will be sent to a professional producer to work on.  The young artist will receive a Promo Packet via Discmakers which will include 1000 CD’s of their song, cover art, download cards, posters, a concert banner, contacts for copyrighting  and contacts with outlets such a Itunes.  At the end of each weeklong workshop, a musicians showcase concert will be produced in conjunction with KILI radio, which will air the concert live.  To promote the project and to enable the planners to carry this program to other reservations in the future, a film crew will be on site to document the week and film the live performances.  That is an ambitious project.

How on earth will they accomplish all that?

Good question folks!  They will do it in stages and with great organization.  They have incredible energy and enthusiasm for the project, which they consider part of their spiritual responsibility.

First, the talent search:

From March 1 to March 31, 2011, organizers will travel to the youth for auditions.  The will travel to the young artists because, as you may know from reading my entries, distances between places on the rez are huge and many people do not have reliable transportation.  They do not want the lack of transportation to prevent a young person from reaching out to achieve a dream. They will also use the schools and reservation organizations to meet with young artists.

I should probably note here that the definition of youth being used by the organizers may be different from the one you have in mind.  I know that was true for me.  They will be allowing anyone 30 years old or younger to enter the talent search.  They do this because in traditional Lakota culture, one is considered a youth until he or she is 30 years old.  (After reflection, I think maybe the Lakota had it right all along — most 18 year olds, while legally considered adults, are not ready to live life on their own.)

They will be looking for additional talent as well among the youth.  Each of the 30 young artists chosen will be teamed up with 3 other youths.  The other members of the team will be learning a) how to run a website for the musician, b) aspects of music management and c) how to market and promote a musician.  The reason for a team of 4 is that 4 is considered a sacred number.

When the search is over:

30 young musicians will be chosen from among all those who have auditioned to move into the workshop and production portions of the project.

Each young person will go to KILI radio, where a portable recording studio will have been set up, to record their raw demo.  They will participate in the workshops for one week, being fed and housed while there.  It is my understanding that the college center in Porcupine has offered space and that the Diabetes program has offered some assistance with the food and cooking.

At the end of the workshop phase, a concert will be held to showcase all the talent.  That concert will be broadcast live over KILI radio, the Voice of the Lakota Nation.

Finally, production and promotion:

Following the workshops and concerts, each young artist will have a produced version of their original song and the materials to begin distributing their music and promoting themselves as artists.  They will have a team to continue to work with right on the reservation. 

The compilation CD’s, featuring a song from each of the 30 artists, will be marketed by the project organizers. 


Expenses first:

  • Gas money – Having traveled 950 miles on the reservation in 5 days, I can attest to the distances between settlements and other places.  In addition to the significant cost of gas for team members in the search phase, there will be the cost to transport the musicians to the recording studio and workshop.  The estimate for the month of March was originally $1440, but I think that will be low since gas prices have been rising with the  unrest in the Middle East.  With the additional cost of transport to recording and workshop, I would think $2000 would be helpful.
  • Recording expenses – The cost for each musician to record 2 songs at KILI radio will be $50 per artist.  That is a total of $1500.
  • Working Band Bundle (promo packet via Discmakers) – This is a major expense at $1500 per artist.  However, that $1500 is an investment in the future of a young Native musician and his team.  The total here is $45,000.
  • Food – Food for workshop attendees and professionals will be needed and this is a difficult amount to estimate.  The final total of participants will not be known for some time.

Based on both known costs and estimates, it would appear that this project will need about $50,000 to cover the expenses.

Donations: One Spirit has agreed to help the organizers raise the funds they need for this project.  In direct emailings and via their website, they will promote the project.  Donations, clearly marked as given to the Teca Oyate Oic’ihi Owicakeyapi project can be sent to ONE Spirit via PayPal or by USPS at:  ONE Spirit, PO Box 3209, Rapid City, SD 57709.  ONE Spirit is a 501(c)(3) organization.  More information can be found on their website:  http://nativeprogress.org .


There will be a two-pronged dispersion of the profits made on the compilation CD.  50% of the proceeds will go to the artists who participated in the project.  It will be theirs to use as they wish.

The remaining 50% will be used to construct a Youth Shelter in each district.  The organizers envision these shelters as a 24 hour open door home for youth to access any time.  They will provide basic necessities such as food, sleeping quarters, activities, mentoring, tutors and teachings from traditional culture.

The organizers hope that the success they pray for and believe in on Pine Ridge will enable them to repeat the project on the Keeseekoowenin Reservation in Manitoba, Canada.  That is a long-range goal.

I am extremely excited about the Teca Oyate Oic’ihi Owicakeyapi project.  I hope you will consider supporting the project in some way.

  • Send a donation
  • Send a media contact
  • Tell everyone you interact with
  • Send a donation – oh wait, I said that already …

This project brings Native youth together to work as a team.  It teaches them how to do something with their talent.  It gives pride and hope to young people who have been showing clearly that their hope for their future is fading.  It is organized, run by and filled with role models, Native adults who have “made it” without selling out to stereotypes of Native musicians.

I will be honest with you, as I always am.

I have not been this excited about a project on Pine Ridge Reservation since I have been involved with the people there.

There are SO many reasons that I hope and pray for the success of this program, but the biggest   . . .   HOPE.

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I got to thinking in the past few days – I know, a dangerous thing for me to do – about how so many of the things I’ve been writing about recently are more like marathon events than sprints.

A marathon is a 26 mile 385 yard (42.195 km) race.  The best runners can do it in a little over 2 hours; average runners may take 4 to 5 hours.  I would probably take 2 – months, that is.  Unless I had a coronary event before that.

Sprints are short, quick races – 60 m (indoors), 100 m, 200 m, never more than 500 m.  The elite runners for the 100 m, for example, can complete the race in about 10 seconds – a brief flash in the pan.  I, on the other hand, would be left in their dust, gaping at the speed while unmoved myself.

In my life, there have been many more marathon events than sprints.  Not actual races, of course, but life events that play out over a longer time rather than events that are done in that flash.

As I noted, marathon events seem to be really predominating lately.

The first would be the commitment I have made to follow and write about Dan Ross, the young musician who is walking from Illinois to the Pacific Ocean in Oregon.  That will be a marathon times 100 – yes, he’s actually going to be walking approximately 2600 miles in his journey.  That journey is sure to bring self-discovery in addition to his goals of drawing attention to the conditions on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and raising funds for the non-profit ONE Spirit who work to improve the lives of those who live on the reservation.

Another marathon will be the clean-up following the flooding on Pine Ridge Reservation.  I know, some will read this today and wonder “What flooding?”  If they did not see my original posting or many Tweets, they surely will not have seen it in the national news media.  That’s because the national news media hardly ever notices what happens in the middle of this country.  When the problem is in the poorest county in the country, it is not going to attract national media attention unless it involves violence.

The marathon that will result from the flooding is not just the drying up of creeks and homes.  It is the rebuilding of lives by people who have very few resources with which to do it.  There will be no insurance to cover the damages.  Homes will be patched as best they can be.  Waterlogged contents which, in insured suburban homes would have been collected and disposed of, will be dried out to see if they can still be used.  There is no money to replace them.  That is not a good thing in a place where many homes already have problems with black mold.  Wet furniture, clothing and bedding will be terrific breeders of mold as the weather improves.  There may be pollutants and toxins in the water that flooded the homes.  They will remain when the water evaporates.  Some things will simply be gone with the water.  It will take a long, long time for most to recover.  Talk about a marathon!

Relationships are marathons, if they last.  Whether it is the relationship of spouse, lover, friend, sibling – they all take work and they don’t survive without a commitment to being an active participant in the life of the other persons.  Gratefully I have a good number of these marathons going already and some new relationships that I hope will develop into marathons.  There is nothing wrong with a sprint, of course.  The acquaintance who is a joy for a time, then moves out of your life has merit.  But it is the marathon relationships which, while certainly entailing work, bring the greatest joy and benefit.

I have been running a health marathon for over 45 years, coping with fibromyalgia.  While some have claimed their fibromyalgia was cured, I do not personally believe that to be true.  I believe they did not truly have fibromyalgia in the first place.  Otherwise, more of us would be taking advantage of that cure.  Instead, most with fibromyalgia run the same marathon that I am running – to make the best life they can with the fewest number of flare-ups.  It is challenging, but so are most marathons.

My final marathon is my personal crusade to bring awareness of the living conditions on the Pine Ridge Reservation to a nation that is uninformed and poorly educated.  The people in this country have come to depend on a small number of commercial news outlets to tell them what is happening in their world, their nation and their lives.  If it isn’t on television, they don’t know about it.

Mind you, I am not passing judgment here.  I was no different at one time.  But I do have a couple of assets – a healthy curiosity and desire for life-long learning.  When I learned about the reservation by first sponsoring a child there, then doing research and finally traveling there, I vowed that I would not let the beautiful, proud, generous Lakota people go unnoticed any longer.  As I have taught myself about technology and social media, I have moved further and further along the path of this marathon.  I am no expert at either the technology or social media outlets.

But I am passionate about this journey.  I believe that, if the people of this nation knew about the conditions and loss of hope that have become the norm in these sovereign first nation communities, they would do something.  They would demand change!  I believe this because I have seen it happen with other disasters, both here and abroad.  Americans do not care who is in need; they respond from their hearts and wallets.

It should be an embarrassment to this nation that we allow Third World conditions to exist in the center of our nation.  I am committed to the marathon that will bring this to light and help bring about change.  It can be exhausting as any marathon is.  But it is, for me, the most important marathon in my life.


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I got a weather report from the Rapid City Journal earlier and have been trying to figure out which cliché I wanted to use to describe the cold there.  But I couldn’t think of anything cold enough to be fitting, so I’ve decided to let you fill in the blank after you read the post.

These are the facts:  the temperature is zero degrees F, the wind is blowing at 32 mph with gusts to 38 mph and it is snowing lightly.  The “feels like” temperature is -27 degrees F.  That’s right – minus 27.

That’s very likely the temperature measured at the Rapid City Airport, as many places use the airport to measure official weather statistics.  But let’s travel an hour and a half south, to the Pine Ridge Reservation.  Now we’re on the prairie and in the badlands.  The wind has fewer obstructions and is really howling.

How cold does it feel here?  Let’s factor in a few other pieces of information.  Most housing on the reservation is of substandard construction.  There are many wood frame houses and trailer homes.  Most are not insulated.  In fact, many have holes and drafts.  Homes here are heated in several ways – propane furnaces, wood stoves and electric space heaters.  With the coldness of winter there, the propane does not last very long.  Those who heat with wood may run out, especially in bad weather.  There are those who have resorted to burning whatever will burn in the stove to stay warm – clothing, books, furniture.  Electric space heaters are extremely costly – not to purchase but to run.  They need to be on continuously.  The electric bills by the end of heating season often end up too high to be paid, so the electricity is shut off.  The electric company is not supposed to shut off the power in the winter, but it has happened. Trying to heat with wood or electric has also resulted in some catastrophic, wind-driven fires that destroy homes before the fire department can arrive.

I am not going to debate the causes of these circumstances here and I refuse to make this a political discussion as well.  It is, to me, a moral issue.  No one in this country should have to burn their clothing or books to stay warm.  No child should have to be under piles of blankets or clothing to stay warm while he or she tries to sleep.

I am going to make an exception to my rule, though.  It’s my blog and I can do that if I want to.  I will do it because of another article I read in the Rapid City Journal this morning.  The article by Mary Garrigan of the Journal staff was actually posted Thursday, Dec 10, 2010 and is entitled “Energy assistance payments vary.”

In a place like Pine Ridge, where unemployment is 80%-90% and 90 % live under the federal poverty level, you can be sure that energy assistance is a winter lifeline – literally.  People have frozen to death there, including one man I had personally met.

So what did the article have to say about energy assistance?  The first thing I found interesting is that there is a different amount available to people depending on whether they qualify for aid through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) of the State of South Dakota or must rely on the LIHEAP of their tribal government.

LIHEAP helps income-eligible families pay for heating and insulating their homes in winter and cooling them in summer.  It is a federally funded program which begins in October.  South Dakota’s allotment last year totaled more than $29.3 million; the amount of that set aside for Native American tribes in the state was $5.2 million based on a federal formula that uses 1990 Census data to determine the amounts.

Tribes have the option of administering their own LIHEAP programs and in South Dakota 7 of the 9 tribes have opted to do so.  There is an agreement between the state of South Dakota and the tribes that the federally calculated amounts (2.3% of the total) will be doubled (to 4.6%) because it is commonly agreed upon that the Census undercounted tribal residents.

So, we have the 7 tribes, including the Oglala Sioux Tribe of Pine Ridge Reservation, receiving 4.6% of the total funding.  In a state with such a significant Native American population, this seems insufficient – but that is just my non-scientific opinion.

What kind of amounts of money are we talking about, anyway?  Does it really matter?

The article tells of a resident of the nearby Cheyenne River Reservation.  He is enrolled with his tribe; his wife is not a tribal member.  Therefore their household is able to qualify for the state-run LIHEAP funds.  If both were tribal members, they would have to qualify for the tribal LIHEAP instead.  How much of a difference can it make?

This year, this couple expects to receive about $1661 in aid.  His cousins, brothers and other relatives will receive about $400 on the same reservation.  $1661 vs $400!  If you don’t belong to the tribe, you can get 300% more!

The amount available to residents on the Pine Ridge Reservation was expected to be $300 for the winter.  I don’t know why it is less.  I do know that is how much people have been receiving.  They have told me that when I’ve spoken to them.

The people I have spoken to have also told me that the money has already run out and that people have been turned away because of that! How can that be?

The Journal article notes that South Dakota’s LIHEAP awards vary according to primary heating source and geographic region.  The poorest families could expect approximately $427 per year for coal and wood, $1245 for natural gas, up to $1096 for electricity, up to $2082 for propane and $2333 for fuel oil.

I have no information on how these programs are administered.  I do not know where the money goes or why tribal members receive less.


I also know that, while the politicians (state, federal and tribal) are bickering about the responsibilities and trying to assess blame, I will be talking to people who are COLD and are asking for help to keep themselves and their children warm.

It really ticks me off!!

You can read the original article at http://rapidcityjournal.com/news/article_8056e9b4-13c2-11e0-b813-001cc4c002e0.html

In the meantime, don’t forget to fill in the blank – either as a comment here or in a Twitter reply to the link.

Colder than … ______________________

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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 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:


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


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Warning: I am up on my soapbox today, so you’d better read something else if you’re looking for peace and serenity.

Excuses!  That’s all we hear today.  It’s always somebody else’s fault.  Or you can blame the computer – even though the least of us know, in this age of technology, that it’s the human behind the computer that is usually the culprit.

Why is it that no one (okay, almost no one – I don’t want to be accused of blanket generalities) can accept responsibility for their mistakes?!  Our nation of strong, responsible men and women has, over the past generation, become a nation of soft, weak, irresponsible people.  It is a damned shame!

I have had this complaint for quite a few years, watching as everyone from politicians to athletes to customer service reps to friends fail to take responsibility for their actions.  Someone else made me do it.  It was an act of God.  I couldn’t bear to hurt someone’s feelings.  I thought I was doing the right thing.

Excuses!  Why can’t people say, “Yes.  It was my fault.  I made a mistake.  I added wrong and that’s why the figures in the report were inaccurate. ”  Or, “Yes.  It was my fault.  I misinterpreted the data.  There were no weapons of mass destruction.  We went to war due to my mistake.”  Or, “Yes.  I dropped the ball.  It was no one else’s fault we lost the game.  I wasn’t concentrating on the game and I missed the catch.”

Excuses are related to another of my big complaints:  the inability of people to be honest.  Truth and honesty are the dual supports of responsibility.  If you can’t tell the truth, it’s unlikely you will be responsible.  That is doubly true if you can’t be honest with yourself.  Making excuses is often the result of lying to yourself first.  Then you lie to everyone else.

Taking responsibility and telling the truth — or not doing so — recently came to my attention yet again in my work.  My “work,” for those who haven’t followed  my blog, is volunteer work.  I am an Area Services Coordinator for a totally volunteer (that’s right – no one in the entire group draws a paycheck for their work) non-profit organization which matches sponsors to residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.  It’s a really fancy title but the job is far less glamorous.  I call residents to learn about them and their needs.  I call sponsors to get to know them.  I try to match the sponsor with a family that will relate to them well, since direct contact between the two and developing a relationship between the two is the way this organization operates.

I take the responsibility seriously because the residents have such great needs.  I want to give them the best opportunity of developing a good relationship with their sponsor.  I expect both parties in the arrangement to live up to their obligations.

Recently, a sponsor I had placed with a family of five (mom and four teen boys) had a financial set-back and needed to stop the sponsorship arrangement.  That is perfectly understandable.  We ask one thing of sponsors in this position.  We ask them to notify us.  Very simple, very easy.  The sponsor in question did just that.  She emailed me to let me know of the problem.  I responded, thanking her for letting me know.  I told her I understood and asked her if she had informed the mom in the family.  I indicated that if she had not, I would do it for her.

So why am I upset?  She also notified my supervisor of the situation.  Was I upset by that?  Nope!  She told my supervisor that she had spoken with the mom and informed her of the situation.  My supervisor forwarded that information to me.  Am I upset yet?  No.

I called the mom to see how things were going and to let her know I would keep looking for a new sponsor for her.  She was, sadly, at a wake when she took the call.  Death and it’s rituals are too common an occurrence on the rez.  I told her that I knew her sponsor had already told her and I just wanted to reassure her that I would keep looking for a replacement.

By her reaction, I knew she had not known the sponsor could not continue.  And yet, she would not break down.  I heard the pain and strength in her voice.  She asked about the reasons and could understand, in spite of the loss to her family.  It was very painful for me to unwittingly be the one to pull the rug out of this woman’s life.  I have not yet found a sponsor willing to take on a family of teens.

Was I upset because I had to be the bearer of bad tidings?  No.  I was upset because the sponsor LIED to us.  She did not take responsibility for her actions.  She took the easy way out.  She told us by email but did not tell the person she had accepted the responsibility to help.

I do not know how or when or where this trend began.  I am not a pundit or scholar.  I am just a simple human being who is sick to death of people making excuses.

So if you are dealing with me, remember the ground rules:

Tell the truth.

Take responsibility for your actions.

In return, I will promise to do the same and to respect our differences.  I will not judge you for any mistakes.  I will work with you to make things better.

However, remember that if you choose to break those two simple rules, I will call you out on it – perhaps publicly.  Whatever my response, be assured, it won’t be pretty!!

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