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Archive for the ‘Suicide’ Category

ABC NEWS Has Come Through For Pine Ridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woe to those who trust the untrustworthy.

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

But we need MORE LAND.  MORE SPACE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I spoke with my Lakota friend today – the one we met when we began to sponsor her then 10 year old daughter.  Her daughter is now 15 and some months.  We have been friends for all these years now.

We are visiting the reservation in early June and hope to travel to Utah with our friends to visit the young lady who has been quite a challenge for her mother to raise.  If you are a regular reader, you know the many dramatic adventures she has put herself in.  She is now in a resident program in Utah that I believe has some hope of helping her with the issues she now has.  Traveling from the part of Pine Ridge Reservation in which her parents reside to the institute in Utah takes about 12 hours of driving.  That is not exactly convenient for folks on the rez who have unreliable vehicles and no gas money.  So we suggested the trip as out treat – stopping overnight so we can be refreshed for the return trip.  It ought to be an interesting drive.  One of the reasons I called my friend was to ask her to make sure that her daughter can have visitors once we arrive.  It would be very upsetting to arrive and be turned away.

I asked about other family members I have gotten to know many over the years.  My friend’s sister, with whom she has not had a smooth relationship, is now living with my friend and her husband.  My friend’s mother, who owns the trailer in which my friend now resides, is still a thorn in her side.  Her middle daughter, 19 years old, has moved out to live with her boyfriend (whom my friend dislikes).  She told her mother she was of age and could do whatever she wanted.  Her mother agreed, but said not in her house.  So daughter and boyfriend moved out.

My friend’s eldest daughter is the mother of 2 toddlers.  They live with her also.  So does the father of the children.  That young man had been kicked out at Christmas time after he came home drunk and started beating the children’s mom while she was asleep.  But he is back and behaving – so far.  That’s good for those children.

My friend’s other sister died last year.  Her children were mostly teens and young adults.  She also had grandchildren.  Apparently one of her children has abandoned her children, whom my friend has taken in.  The woman, my friend’s niece, was seeing a man who didn’t like children.  So she made a choice.  She took off with the guy and left her children behind.

According to my friend, the children had not been well taken care of before she left.  They are in need of serious dental work and other care.  I know she will see to it that they get what they need if she can.

Of all the drama, this is the event that has really bothered my friend the most.  I don’t mean to say the drama with her own children hasn’t been upsetting.  But she truly cannot understand a woman just abandoning her children to run off with a guy.  I had to agree with her on this.  There were certainly times, when I was the mother of young or teen-aged children, when I felt like just packing up and leaving.  Parenting is strenuous work!  But most of us ultimately put the needs of our children before our own needs.  This woman did not and it really has upset my friend.

I suspect this is not really uncommon in a population where many of the adults grew up without adequate parenting and thus have a need to be the center of someone’s world.  If you add in the alcohol problems many have, it becomes even more understandable.  It is far easier to do hurtful things when you have anesthetized yourself to the pain others will feel.

Still, I look at this from the perspective of the children who have been neglected and abandoned.  What issues will they have as they get older which will stem directly from this event?  Will they become promiscuous, looking for affection and love?  Will they have illness and poor health as a result of receiving poor health and dental care as children?  Will they become diabetic and/or obese because they’ve learned to drink soda pop instead of water and juice?  Will they take up smoking to calm frayed nerves – or do drugs to self medicate?  Perhaps they, too, will turn to alcohol as a form of recreation or self medication.  Will the suffer from PTSD as a result of the abandonment?  Will they grow up without hope, perhaps adding to the statistics of the reservation youth who have lost hope and attempted or succeeded in committing suicide?  I think my friends sees all these possibilities.  I think that is why it weighs on her so heavily.

But I think the hardest part facing my friend is when she has to find an answer for the questions the children will bring to her:

Where’s Mom?

Why did she leave me?

Did she love me?

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Once upon a time there was a mother who lived in a poorly made, uninsulated, drafty house.  The small 4 room house was home to Mama, Grandma, Grandpa and 6 children.  It was winter in this very cold land.  The little house did not have any running water, so Mama would heat water in a pot on the stove so they could wash up.  But hair washing was difficult, especially for the teens who had beautiful long hair.  When the propane for the stove ran out, she would heat it on an electric hotplate.  When the electricity was shut off, they had to use the water cold and hope it hadn’t frozen overnight.  They didn’t have a toilet to use indoors, so they had to run out to the outhouse for that – which was unpleasant in the cold and could be difficult when blizzards left 10 foot snow drifts.

Mama tried to make everyone happy.  She bought $2 DVD’s to entertain the children, which worked until the electricity got cut off.  The electricity got cut off frequently because Mama was not able to pay the bill.  But it wasn’t just the entertainment that suffered.  Without electricity there was no way to run the electric space heater Mama had gotten to heat the poorly constructed little house after the propane ran out.  She hadn’t had money for propane either.

Mama had run out of food yesterday.  She had spent most of the day today calling around to try to find some person or organization who could give them some food.  She had no money to pay for it, this being the end of the month.  Her food ration stamps would not arrive for over a week.  Mama worked tirelessly today to find the food because she had been told the phone would be disconnected tomorrow for non-payment.  She knew she needed to find the food today.  She also knew she had to find someone who would bring it to the little house since the car they owned was not working – it needed a new water pump and . . . yes, that’s right.  There was no money to pay for the part or repair.

The food did arrive and the children rejoiced.  Grandma and Grandpa looked at each other with sad eyes, knowing this story would be repeated again tomorrow.

After feeding the family by candlelight, Mama put the children to bed.  She covered them with several layers of donated blankets, silently praying for those who had given them.  Tears slipped out from behind her eyelids and she quickly wiped them away.  She didn’t want the children to see her pain.  They had enough of their own.

There is no happy ending to this bedtime story, as there usually is in a child’s book.  Not yet, anyway.

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

My work is to try to change the story’s ending.  I will do it as long as I have breath.

I often speak with people on Pine Ridge Reservation in the course of my day.  I marvel at the strength they have to not only survive but also be happy in spite of the stories they tell me.  I think it is their cultural values that allow them to do that.  Unfortunately, the youngest generation have not all had the opportunity to grow up living the culture.

It is one thing to learn about the culture.  It is another to live it.  The youth today hear what their elders say, but they see what their parents do.  They see the drug and alcohol abuse.  They see the violence.  They see the lack of respect that many in their parents’ generation show.  So they are not living immersed in their culture even though they are surrounded by it.

The result:  loss of hope.  They see that they will not have jobs unless they abandon their family, leave home and live in a foreign world.  They see what has happened to the adults who have been living that way.  That is why so many young people on the rez are turning to suicide for escape from despair.  So many have turned to it that they are calling it an epidemic.  If it happened in Boston or Cleveland or Orlando or Plano or Boulder or Portland, it would make the news.  But when it happens in  Pine Ridge, SD  no one tells you.  It is more important for the national news media to tell you that a certain football player was fired.

That is one story I have heard from the young people.

Of course, I hear other stories too.

I heard a story about a single father this week.  I did not ask him how he came to be a single dad of such young children yet – his son is 3 and his daughter is 1.  I was more interested in how I could help him after the family was left homeless due to a fire that burned up their trailer home while he watched with the baby.  Gratefully, his son was staying with a relative that night.

Now dad and the two babies have nothing.  No clothing, no toys, no furniture, no bedding or blankets, nothing.  They must start from scratch.  We watch homes burn on the news and while we think it is sad, we know that the homeowner probably had insurance.  But on the reservation, insurance is an unaffordable expense.  There is not always enough money to pay the bills for propane (heat & cooking), electricity or food.  Even KILI radio, the voice of the great Lakota nation, did not have insurance when the snow caved in their roof last year.

There are people who have responded to this dad generously after they heard his story.  It’s the reason I tell the stories I hear.

I spoke to a woman who had a tragic story.  She was hit by a car and suffered a broken leg.  Her injuries caused her to be out of work for several months.  There was no insurance to compensate her for her lost wages.  She was supporting the family – herself, her spouse, an adult daughter and 7 grandchildren.

In the midst of that crisis, her spouse had an asthma attack.  They have no car so she called the ambulance.  However, due to road construction (government stimulus money) and few alternative routes, it took longer than expected for the ambulance to arrive.  Her spouse stopped breathing.  She administered CPR while they waited for the ambulance, but to no avail.  Her spouse died in her arms while they waited for the ambulance.

When I spoke to her this week, she had just returned to work.  But there were many past due bills.  In her grief, she was also living with no propane (so no heat) and no electricity.  Even having enough food for the family was difficult.  While I could not ease her grief, I was able to arrange for some of the bills to be taken care of.  The babies will not be cold for a while.  They will be able to cook the food they have.

The saddest thing for me is that these stories are not unusual.  They are typical.  I get so many calls for propane and electric that I cannot count them.  And usually I cannot help them because that is not the focus of the organization for which I work.

I keep writing these stories because most people in this country have no idea that there are people who live under these conditions in the USA.  People are so caught up in their own acquisitiveness that they don’t look past their own daily lives.  They can’t imagine living as the people on Pine Ridge Reservation, in the poorest county in the nation, must live their daily lives.  No running water.  No heat.  No way to cook their food, if they have food.

I recently created a slide show video about my observations on visits to Pine Ridge rez.  I put it up on YouTube.  You can reach it by the link on this page.  Or you can search YouTube for “My Passion is Pine Ridge.”  I will continue to share the stories I hear.  I will tell everyone I meet in one way or another.  I will do this because I know that people will not abide it once they know.

Winter is coming. I pray that this fairy tale doesn’t come true – though I know it likely will.

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I have so much to do in the next 3 hours and so much to think about in general that I don’t know what to do first.  So instead of doing any of it, I’m writing.  Anyone else who writes will understand that.

This will be one of those hodge podge posts – a little bit of everything.  There has been much I’ve told myself I need to write about in the past week or so, but I’ve been too busy to write (I hate those words!).  So here is the condensed version.

Many of you know that I have Lakota friends on Pine Ridge Reservation.  A month or so ago, the 19 yr old daughter of my friends moved away – to Salt Lake City to live with extended family.  It has been difficult for my friend to have her daughter away.  Even her daughter has had mixed feelings about it.

Her daughter recently started using Facebook and is now my friend there.  It’s nice – I can see what’s going on in her life without being the nosy grandma.  I can also see when things go wrong.  Like this past week, when the young man she’d been dating for 5 years was killed in an auto accident back in Rapid City.  She didn’t hold back her grief from Facebook.  She has endured a 22 hour bus ride back to Rapid City so she can be on the reservation for his family and to honor him.  I know she will also get support from those around her.

I am embarrassed to say that, when I first heard that the young man had died, I hoped and prayed it had not been a suicide.  There is such an “epidemic” of suicide on the reservation that I should not have been surprised at such a thought.  Still . . .

I have helped by supplying money for gas to get to Rapid from the rez, to pick her up from the bus station.  I also offered to pay for a cake for the wake.

I have also been worrying about my brother.  You may recall he had been at a deep low in his life when a friend offered to provide the funding for a new business that he would run.  He had done this successfully before and was confident he could do it again.  So after many, many hours of preparation, the business opened on July 4, 2010 – appropriately, given that the name of the business is American Revolution Realty.  Everything was going well and expenses were significantly under the projected budget.

So why, after only 3 and a half months, would the financing partner decide to “pull the plug” on the business?  My brother said the partner said it was “too much stress.”  What?  Did the partner think starting up a business in these economic times was going to be a walk in the park?  Come on!  He’s a businessman; he should know better.

This has thrown my brother’s life into chaos once again.  Since he is 2000 miles away, there isn’t much for a sister to do but offer support by phone or internet . . . and pray.  I have been trying to do it all, especially the praying part.  I sure can’t see what God has in mind here!

I’ve also been working hard all week for the non-profit I work (or volunteer full-time) for.  The food delivery out on Pine Ridge Rez was last weekend and I have been calling as many of the recipients as I could reach to get feedback.  [Food delivery, feedback – I like that]  Anyway, it can be frustrating trying to call the rez, where some people shut off their phones to conserve battery life and others just can’t get much of a signal where they live.

I have a couple of new sponsors, for whom I give thanks.  Since my husband and I are going away for a night, to the witchy city of Salem, MA, I will have to work on Sunday when I get back to get things in a timely way.  As my co-worker Mavis, who lives “across the pond”, would tell me, “There is no rest for the wicked.”  She would say it in her cheeky way as she laughed.

I also completed a slide show video on Pine Ridge Reservation which I have posted on YouTube.  I have provided a link here so you can see it, too.  I think it came out okay for a first effort.

So, what should I do next?  Wash the dishes?  Finish packing?  Address the box of clothes I’m sending to the rez?  Keep writing?  I have to decide soon because the coffee in the cup is almost gone and that was my timer of choice – stop writing and move to the next thing when the coffee runs out.  But do I have time for a shower before my brother call?  I wonder what time he will call this morning.

Okay, okay . . . I’ll go do something if you promise to go check out my YouTube video.  At least that way one of us will be accomplishing something worthwhile.  Here’s the link:  http://www.youtube.com/user/bettyb22111896?feature=mhum

I vow here and now to write more often so that the things in my head that I want to write about don’t pile up or fade into foggy memory, crowded out by the next big issue.

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Dear Nick,

I learned about you entirely by accident.  Someone in my “community of friends” on Facebook posted one of your YouTube videos which I decided to take a look at.  I was, of course, mesmerized, as I’m sure most people who see them are.  But I was perhaps moved by a different spirit than the spirit of simple amazement at someone who has overcome fearsome obstacles.

I should at the start admit that I, too, have a disability.  I do not say this to compare myself to you, for my disability is invisible.  I have Fibromyalgia and have had it since I was 13 years old.  It didn’t even have a name back then – in fact many doctors thought it was imaginary, you know, “all in your head.”  I suppose they were right to a certain extent.  Since Fibromyalgia is primarily a pain problem and since pain is actually felt in the brain, it is all in our heads (to twist a familiar statement, no brain, no pain).  Unfortunately, there isn’t any good way to treat it and many people become very depressed, sad, angry and miserable to be with.  That was never me.  By the grace of God, I have always been a positive, happy, giving person.

That last line leads up to the reason for my letter.  In recent years I have found a passion in life that is greater than any passion that I have had in my 57 years on this planet.  I have discovered the Oglala Lakota people who live on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.  As you have found a calling in inspiring people to live their best lives in spite of any disability, real or perceived, I too have found a calling in working to improve the lives of the folks on Pine Ridge, especially the children.

I work extremely hard to do this in two ways.  One is tangible – I work for an all volunteer non-profit organization which matches sponsors with children and elders in need of support on Pine Ridge Rez.  But the other way I try to improve their lives is in advocacy.  I write   … and write … and write.  My primary goal in life is to enlighten people in this nation regarding the conditions of life on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Life on the reservation is more than difficult.  The waiting list for housing can be 10 years long.  Relatives care for each other, which means that, even if you are truly homeless, someone will take you in.  The result can be 10, 12, even 20 people living in a tiny 3 bedroom house (the rooms are not much bigger than a queen sized mattress). The houses are sub-standard construction and not insulated – in fact many are falling apart.  There are people who have no running water, use outhouses, have no heat in the South Dakota winters, no jobs (80% unemployed therefore) so no money to pay bills.

The reservation has about 50,000 people and 2 million acres.  There are big distances between settlements.  Most cars are over 10 years old and have suffered on the dirt and gravel roads.  No way to get to a good job perhaps 50 miles away.  I could go on and on.

But I figure by now you are sitting there wondering, “Where is the world is this woman going with this?  What has this got to do with me?”

So I’ll get to that point.  There is, in the past few years, an epidemic of suicide on Pine Ridge Reservation, especially among the youth.  At one time, at least one child was killing him/herself every week.  If that was the statistic anywhere else in this nation, the country would be aghast.  But the children on the reservation feel how forgotten they are.  They have lost hope.  They feel that no one knows what they deal with and no one cares.  So they see suicide as the only alternative.

I can see the lightbulb has turned on in your mind.  These children, more than any others I know of, need to hear your message.  I do not have the contacts to set this up.  I do not have the authority.

But I do have the moral authority to ask you to check into the despair and hopelessness these children face.

I don’t know if you charge for your appearances.  I don’t have the resources to pay for something like that.  I can say for a fact that the tribal budget does not have funds for it – they can’t even pay for housing for all their people.

But I do know that I have to ask for you to help these children and their families.  Because if I didn’t ask, I would not be fulfilling the calling that God has given me.

I have many other posts in the past years that tell about rez life.  They tell of the many challenges faced living on Pine Ridge Reservation.

These children NEED inspiration!  I respectfully ask that you look into their lives.  I promise you won’t be the same if you do.

Thank you for reading this lengthy letter.  I am adding a link to one of your YouTube videos so that anyone else who reads this can see the wonderful work that you do.

Bee

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v4uG2kSdd-4

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I got a phone call late last evening.  Late for me (9:30 PM), not as late for the caller in South Dakota (7:30 PM).  The risk of working 2000 miles away from where I live is an occasional late call.

The caller was a mom I had spoken with early in the summer.  I had no sponsors available at the time, but did put her on the OKINI (sharing) list to see if someone would send her what they had an urgent need for: personal hygiene items like soap, shampoo, toothpaste.  We included a request for the children for shoes and summer clothes.

This mom and her present husband were raising three children.  She has a 12 year old daughter, a 7 year old son and a 6 year old daughter.

I read the Rapid City Journal every day – the obituary page.  It helps me keep up with what is happening in my areas of the reservation.  In July, I read the obituary for this woman’s husband.  He was 31 years old at the time of his death.

I did not know the cause of his death.  I did know that they were struggling to “make it.”  How many of us, when asked what we need most urgently, would ask for soap and toothpaste.  They didn’t have a post office box in the area where they were living; they got their mail “General Delivery” at the post office.  They could not afford a post office box rental.

She told me the cause of her husband’s death inadvertently, one of the times she started to cry.  “How could he do that to himself?” Her husband committed suicide – one of far too many on the rez who see no hope for improvement and no way out.

She said the children were having a hard time and she had to place the 7 year old boy in counseling.  She told me they needed personal hygiene products again and the 6 year old needed shoes.

Then she told me something that I fervently wish she had not told me.  She told me that, after her husband’s death, his family blamed her for it.  It got so bad for her and the children that she has moved to Rapid City to get away from the harassment. Blame is a cruel game that serves no one’s best interests!!

No . . .  tell me I didn’t hear her say that.  Tell me she did not inform me she had moved to Rapid City.  I must have been imagining it.  But no, she’s giving me the address of the relative she temporarily staying with.  Damn, damn, damn!!

I got her new information.  I told her I would see what I could do.

But I KNEW I could do little if anything.  I just didn’t have the heart to rip the last bit of hope away from this grieving mother at that time of the night.  We said goodbye.

Then I stomped my feet on the plastic floor protector mat under my desk chair like a child having a tantrum.  I let out a string of expletives.  My husband looked at me as though I were nuts.  “What’s wrong with you?!”  Frustration!

So I told him the story, then said, “What’s wrong with this picture?”

He let out a slow sigh as he nodded slightly, “She’s in Rapid City.”

BINGO!! Give that man a prize!

The organization I work with provides sponsors and services only on Pine Ridge Reservation.  That’s it.  Move off the rez and we can’t help you anymore.

The reasons for this are, well, reasonable.  We are a small organization.  We do not have the resources to help those who move away.  We know they need help, too.  But covering the 2,000,000 (that’s right, 2 million) acres we already cover is a big job.  We just can’t do it anywhere else — at least right now.  We never have enough sponsors for all the children and elders on the reservation as it is.

I can tell you’re wondering what I’m going to do with this “little problem” that I now have.  I’ll tell you.

I will not assign a sponsor to this woman’s children while she is in Rapid City.

I will try to get the 6 year old a pair of shoes and find some personal hygiene products to send – probably out of my own money in one of the post office’s nifty flat rate boxes.

I will probably stay in contact with her to see how she is doing over the next few months.  She really needs emotional support.

I will watch to see if the moves back to the reservation.  Many, many who try to move off rez end up moving back.  My friends did that.  If she moves back, she’ll get the first sponsor available.

She had to move about 50 miles to grieve and raise her children in peace.

Moving can make all the difference!!

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