Archive for the ‘Teen 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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Maybe the heat has gone to my head or perhaps my blood sugar is crazy because I overate at the new snack bar we visited for dinner, but I find myself thinking about trauma right now.  Weird, eh?

Actually, I’ve been thinking about it for a while now.  I suspect my last visit to Pine Ridge set it off.  I didn’t see anything that was more traumatic than I had seen on any other visit.  That wasn’t what started me thinking about this.

The question I’ve been mulling over is what is worse, a single traumatic event (for example, a tornado destroying your home or a severe auto accident) or a lifetime of small traumas (for example, being shuttled from relative to relative as a child because your parents are unable to care for you, having to go without heat, the continuous small traumas of being bullied)?

I have experienced the single traumatic event personally.  My father died very unexpectedly when I was 12 years old.  He was 36.  In those days (eons ago, if you ask my children) there was no grief counseling.  You got a week off from school to grieve, then it was back to the same routine like nothing had changed.  But it had and you would never be quite the same again.

I have not experienced the frequent, multi-trauma scenario, so I really have no perspective on that one — save for what I’ve seen happening on the rez, where teen suicide has been called epidemic.

This is not my usual kind of post, I guess.  I’m not on a soapbox today.  I’m not pontificating or trying to educate.

I’m just mulling.

I think mulling is good for us, just letting things kind of simmer in your mind.  I don’t think we have to have the answers all the time.  But I do think it is important to consider the difficult questions now and then.  It keeps us human.

So mull on that question.  If you have thoughts on it, feel free to share them.

I’m going to sit here and mull, too.

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I promised that I would keep you up to date on the AWARENESS WALK of Dan Ross, the Rockford, IL musician.  So here is the second installment.

Don’t forget that Dan is walking to raise awareness of the conditions on Pine Ridge Reservation and to raise funds for ONE Spirit to build a Safe House for youth on the reservation.  Raising funds mean Dan needs what? …..that’s right, SPONSORS!

You can pledge money per mile (2000 miles)  per town (70 towns), per state (6 states) – however you prefer.  Just remember that the money will go to build and furnish a home where young Lakota can go when they feel their own home is not safe for them.  I have written enough on the problems that these kids face (alcoholic family, domestic abuse, etc) that you can understand why they might need a safer place from time to time.

Donations can be made to ONE Spirit via PayPal or by sending check/money order to:  ONE Spirit, PO Box 3209, Rapid City, SD 57709.

If you are in the Cedar Rapids, IA area on Saturday, April 23rd, there is a fantastic fund raiser being help as Dan travels through that town.  Tickets are only $10 in advance or $12 at the door.  There is a link for more information ( http://heartforpineridge.webs.com/apps/webstore/products/show/2290972 ) but let me give you a bit of a preview – because I sure wish I was going to be there!

The main part of the program will be the appearance of Lawrence Swallow, a Lakota storyteller, singer and actor.  Dan Ross will also be part of the show with his music.

In March, Dan Ross spent a week on Pine Ridge Reservation to get to know some of the people he will be helping and to experience Lakota culture in a more personal way.

While he was there, Dan kept a journal, as he will continue to do when he begins his walk in about one week.  I found it very interesting and personal.  I will include it here so that you, too, may start to know Dan Ross and Pine Ridge.  I am also including a link here to an update that includes a set of maps so you can follow Dan along his anticipated route.  That link is http://mail.google.com/a/nativeprogress.org/?ui=2&ik=5bcc2b9c68&view=pt&search=inbox&th=12f44c39409152ad


Now I’m going to let Dan Ross do the “talking” – enjoy reading his journal of his first visit to Pine Ridge Reservation.

Recently Dan Ross visited Pine Ridge Reservation in preparation for his walk for Pine Ridge Youth in April. The following are some of the highlights of his journey.
Saturday March 12th, 2011
On the road leaving Rockford, IL by 8:00am. I decided to drive my walking route to the reservation instead of taking the interstate so I could see the places I plan to stay along the way. Driving on state highways amounted to less mileage, but it was still more time-consuming because of the stop signs, slower speed limits, and turns. However, these “cons” of taking this route were actually what made the drive more interesting, and kept me awake and alert.
Saw quite a few things worth noting: a bald eagle in flight, THOUSANDS (maybe 10,000) migrating geese in the air and on the ground in eastern SD, 2 separate herds of about 30 whitetail deer near the Missouri River, and I lost count of the Casey’s convenience stores.
Arrived in Kadoka, SD at the Dakota Inn Motel around 10:00pm, having gained an hour upon entering a different time zone (only to lose it the next day for Daylight Savings). The staff was nice, and the room cheap. I realized it was the first time I’d ever had my own hotel room all to myself. In fact, it was the first road trip I’d ever embarked on by myself. Slept well that night after so many hours on the road.
Sunday March 13th, 2011
Checked out of the motel by 10:00am, and made it out to the Badlands by 11:00am. I’ve visited the Badlands three times before, but always in the summer, so it was awesome to see them with snow. The feeling of isolation you get when you come to this place was magnified by the lack of tourists this time of year, which I enjoyed. Spent most of the day hiking on and off trails, making sure I didn’t get lost. Being the paleontology geek that I am, I was constantly on the lookout for fossils of ancient mammals, something for which the Badlands are quite well-known. My treasure hunting was successful too! I found a 10-12″ inch long lower jaw bone fossilized in a boulder near the “Saddle Pass” trail! After taking photos, I reported it to the Visitor Center and the rangers were excited to hear about it.
After hiking, I found a campsite in Cedar Pass and set up my tent with temperatures dropping into the 30s, with 20 degree temps forecasted for a low. Seeing as the lowest temperatures I’ll have to endure on the walk will most likely be in the 30s, staying warm this night would prove that I am well-enough prepared. So, I bundled up with five layers on my top half, three on my legs, a handkerchief around my head with another around my neck, and crawled into my 15-degree sleeping bag…
Monday March 14th, 2011

Though I did stay warm throughout the night, I didn’t sleep that well. Staying down in the sleeping bag gets stuffy, but when I let some fresh air in, it’s 20 degrees! I tried opening a small breathing hole, but after a while, my nose would begin to freeze – so it was a bit difficult. I awoke with the sun still below the horizon, packed up my tent (which was covered inside and out with frost), and slowly made my way out of the Badlands, making a few stops along the way.
Driving into Pine Ridge I didn’t really know what to expect. I felt like an intruder, or at the very least a foreigner. I spotted the sign for the Singing Horse Trading Post and slowed the car. The driveway was dirt and water had cut deep into some places, sculpting a sort of miniature Badlands landscape for my car to drive on. I made it past the worst part without scraping bottom, and parked in front of my home for the next five days. Rosie, the lady who runs the place, was outside. She greeted me with a big smile and welcomed me inside, making me feel less like an outsider.
In the afternoon I met John Dubray, a Lakota man who has been trying to get a youth center built in the Allen area on the eastern side of the reservation. He told me there are a couple youth centers in the towns of Pine Ridge and Kyle, but in outlying areas farther away the kids didn’t have much. John stressed to me the importance of receiving guidance in your childhood that would ultimately shape who you are and how you make decisions. As a result of the poverty, unemployment, and alcoholism, many of the kids lack this guidance and grow up in fear, never learning their own culture and the values of the Lakota people. The youth center in Allen would bring those kids opportunities in sports and the arts, and most importantly a safe place where they can learn and just have fun. Listening to John was eye-opening, and gave me much to think about after he left.
Tuesday March 15th, 2011
Slept well, as I was quite tired from my restless sleep in the Badlands the night before. Rosie’s three dogs are already my best friends, crawling all over me, competing for attention. I decided to go for a drive without any particular destination, and wound up in a place called Kiza Park. The road to the park became so muddy I had to pull over and walk some of the way. The park was also muddy because it had recently been flooded my snowmelt. The place seemed abandoned (partly because I was the only one there), but there was a basketball court, park kitchen, fire pit, outhouses, etc. As I was taking some pictures, a man in a truck drove by and yelled, “Is that you Bill?”, I replied, “No, I’m Dan…”. “Oh, you look like Bill from here”, he said. Not really sure what to say at this point, I walked over so we at least wouldn’t have to yell.
He asked me where I was from and I told him about my walk and why I was on the reservation. It turns out One Spirit had helped him build the park kitchen, and his whole extended family lived in the area near the park. The man invited me for a ride, so I accepted and off we went on the back roads. He told me how the Lakota people have large extended families and stay close usually, relying on each other in a small community. He stressed to me that although people from the outside might look at the trailers they lived in and feel sorry for them, they were actually quite happy, maybe happier than most. “We have a strong culture” he said, “Most Americans don’t have that, and that is why their lives are always about making money”. He laughed and went on to say that making money was a “nice hobby”, implying that it did not qualify as a culture. I would have to agree.
Wednesday March 16th, 2011
Today I met with an elder named Richard Broken Nose, who lived with his family in a house north of Pine Ridge. It was a little difficult to find the place, as there aren’t many landmarks to reference in the prairie, but I made it. I was first greeted by three happy puppies wagging their tails, then by the elderly man, who shook my hand and welcomed me inside. We began talking and he explained the problems the youth are having, focusing on the high drop-out rate and the fact that many of those who do graduate do so with very low grades. He said they don’t get the care they need as kids. I suppose it makes sense that when you receive little care from adults, you have less care to give for things like school. Talking to him reassured me once again that I’ve chosen a worthy cause to walk for.
In the afternoon, I met up with John DuBray again over at Porcupine Butte, where the local radio station called KILI Radio is located. He had reserved some radio time to talk about the youth on the reservation and how I’m going to help raise money with the walk. I was quite nervous before going on the air, still feeling like a foreigner, and hoping I didn’t make a fool of myself. We went on and John talked about trying to build the youth center in Allen to help the kids there, and then turned it over to me to introduce myself and tell everyone what I’ll be doing this year. After I got started, most of the nervousness went away and I ended up more or less satisfied with how things went.
That evening I had been invited to a sweat lodge, a traditional ceremony that would purify me before I leave on my journey. I was excited and a little apprehensive, not knowing exactly what I was in for. I drove to John Dubray’s house and from there he took me down the road to the sweat lodge. A large fire burned outside with rocks in the middle glowing so orange it was hard to tell them apart from the coals. After waiting for them to get good and hot , I entered the sweat lodge with at least ten others. The bright orange glowing stones were placed in the center, medicine was sprinkled on them, prayers were said, and then the water was poured. The steam was hotter than I had imagined, and the air difficult to breathe. I found myself holding my towel over my face, yet the others managed to sing loudly, seemingly unaffected by heat. Though it was difficult to endure by the fourth round of water and rocks, it was a very enriching experience. It was important to see it all the way through, as I will undoubtedly have to see my walk all the way through, no matter how difficult times get. During the ceremony, they had said prayers for me to give me strength for the journey. After that night especially, I began to feel much more comfortable being on the reservation. Any preconceived notions I may have had of Pine Ridge and the Lakota people had literally perspired right out of me.
Thursday March 17th, 2011
Yesterday I was thinking about meeting Merle Locke, a Lakota artist, but the day got so busy that we decided to meet today. I drove down by the town of Pine Ridge and he directed me over the phone to his house. He greeted me, welcomed me inside, and right away began talking about his art. Merle paints on century-old ledger paper, which was used by Indians on the reservations when they had nothing else to paint on. He was very good and the walls of his house were filled with his work. After getting acquainted, we drove to the Red Cloud Heritage Center and he gave me a tour of the art gallery there. I had a great time looking at all the paintings and beadwork, some of which was quite old. Having Merle there to explain the history and meaning behind the art was a special treat – it would not have been the same if I had just gone there by myself. He was a real easy-going guy, who I had no trouble relating to. He said he has always stuck to his own path in life rather than simply following the crowd, which reminded me of my own personal reasons for going on this walk.
Friday March 18th, 2011
Around 9:00am, Billy Jumping Eagle stopped by the Singing Horse, where I was staying. Billy is a school bus driver and had just finished his morning route. Off the job, he runs a “safe house” for kids. Basically it’s his and his wife’s own house which they open up to any kids who need a home away from home, be it temporary or permanent. Through One Spirit, they will be building a second house in addition to their own, so they can house even more kids.
Later on I went over to check out the safe house, which was quite close to where I was staying actually. When I arrived, there were some teenagers extracting an engine from a large van, and younger kids running around inside and outside the house. Billy invited me in and I distributed some of my mom’s homemade chocolate chip cookies to the kids, who enjoyed them immensely. It was a bustling and busy place, but eventually I found some time to tell everyone what I would be doing this year and all the kids seemed pretty interested. After answering their questions, some began joking around, telling each other they should go with me. The atmosphere was laid back and I didn’t feel like a stranger. After watching some “Wheel of Fortune” with Billy, I decided to head out. It was a good visit though – Billy and his wife Donna (who unfortunately I was unable to meet) do a great thing and it’s obvious they love kids and help them all a great deal.
Saturday March 19th, 2011
Today was my last here on the reservation, but I still managed to unexpectedly meet one more person – a man named Buck, who has been building a new trailer for Rosie at the Singing Horse so she can accommodate more guests. Buck (not Lakota, I think he was from Oklahoma) was down-to-earth and had a good sense of humor. He said he had been an alcoholic, but had been free of it for many years. He told me, “Alcohol doesn’t see colors”, referring to the fact that drugs don’t discriminate and anyone of any race can fall victim. Buck was excited to hear about what I was doing, and compared my walk to the sweat lodge – if I can see it through to the end I will be much stronger for it and it will renew me. I couldn’t agree more. Buck seemed to have a great deal of wisdom from his experiences. He told about how he used to hitchhike and walk long distances by himself, sleep under bridges, and live a hard life. He joined Rosie and me for a big breakfast (which Rosie made for us) and I enjoyed his company a great deal.
All in all, I got exactly what I wanted out of this experience, which is pretty simple really: to understand what I am walking for – not to tell everyone a bunch of statistics about the sub-standard conditions at Pine Ridge, which they could read in a book, but to tell them from my experiences here what kind of help the Lakota really want, especially for their youth. I look forward to walking through the reservation in June, and hopefully visiting many of these people again. Thanks Rosie for giving me such a nice place to stay for my visit, and John for inviting me to the inipi, and Alex, Richard and Linda, Merle, Billy and Donna, and Buck for helping me to better understand the Lakota people’s way of life.

More Updates will follow.

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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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“Why Pine Ridge?” is a question I am frequently asked.  I have been pondering the answer to that question since Christmas time, especially, because it was posed to me by Dana, a woman from the Pine Ridge Reservation to whom I write while she is incarcerated in federal prison in Minnesota.

She replied to  my Christmas note.  She was looking forward to watching the “My Passion is Pine Ridge” video ( http://youtu.be/t8UYGSBl4yU?a ) that I had recently posted on YouTube.  She wrote that she looked forward to it “although [she] would like to know why?  Why such the passion?  So many people love where [she’s] from but all moving home did for [her] was get [her] in trouble.”

I have been musing and pondering over those questions for several months now.  I really owe her a response.  But for me to say that my love for the Lakota people who live on Pine Ridge Reservation is due to their culture, their strength and their needs sounds so cerebral.  My passion and crusade to inform the nation about the living conditions on the rez come from a different place than my head.

My passion stems from my heart and soul.  My heart feels a loving connection with each person I meet from the reservation – even the ones who try to “pull a bit of wool over my eyes.”  I understand a bit of human nature.  My soul feels torn apart when I see the beautiful, kind, gentle people – especially the elders and children, those sacred ones – living in conditions that many people in the country would not expect their animals to live in.

I feel it is a “sin” (in the generic sense of that word, not a particular religion’s interpretation) to a group of people in the United States to live in conditions that no one else would tolerate.  These are conditions that are like those in the Third World – in Haiti or Burundi.  Life expectancies on Pine Ridge are similar to those places as well.  It is wrong that, if Pine Ridge residents lived a hundred miles away, their live expectancies would increase by 30 years – just by being born and living a couple of hours away.  Those are the things that give me my passion and drive.  The unfairness.  The losses.  The hardships.  The national news media doesn’t tell you thinks like that – not ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN or FOX.  So I do it.

Those are some of the things that make me keep plugging away even on those days (or weeks) that I get discouraged.  I am so impressed by those on Pine Ridge Reservation who make it.  Or who work to give the elders and youth hope for the future.  My work allows me to help one at a time.  That is a good thing.  But the numbers who still need help are overwhelming.  I do it for all the strong Lakota women I have met who inspire me to never quit using my own talents and abilities until I have achieved my goal.  These are women who live in the direst of conditions yet they still laugh and give to others.  They are my inspirations.  I guess that is, in the end, why I am driven by such passion to promote the welfare of the people of Pine Ridge Reservation.

I read another letter addressed to Facebook friends and written by a young Lakota mother and musician.  I think she would be pleased that, even though she is a professional musician and that is her occupation, I introduced her as a mother first.  She is devoted to her family above all things except Tunaksila (God).  She was raised off rez and has come back to help her people.  She has a plan and goals, which you can read about in my prior post about the youth project for native music.  She has given me permission to share her letter with you here.

Its hard to be Lakota but its worth it. Sharing my thoughts.

by Davidica Littlespottedhorse on Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 6:54am

Its easy to say,”Fix it. Take a stand. Make some noise.” but its harder to actually do it. Im one of the strong people on the rez whos not afraid to stand against injustice or speak the truth, but I know why most of my people wont speak up.

When you live in a place where corruption is the norm, you dont have much faith in the power of justice. I still believe, I have faith and Im proud of my Lakota people for enduring the living conditions here on my rez. Because through it all we kept what was more important than material things. We have our culture, our spirituality, our history, and our knowledge of our ancestors. These are things that are lost to most tribes so I know how blessed we are.

Most people in the outside world dont understand the life we lead and get frustrated wondering why it is the way it is. Yes we are treated badly but the majority of us are busy surviving. We dont have the time to be ambitious we are too busy trying to get food on the table, keep warm, or keep our electricity on. I dont know of any other town that 90% of the population can live off of $3000 a year, yes a year. Any other town would be in total chaos. People would be stuggling, have no homes, and fighting for what little resources there are. Oh wait that is what we do, but we are not in TOTAL chaos for all that the media and everyone else plays up.

For all our struggles, still we are strong. We are compassionate. We are generous. We are welcoming. When a family member needs help we all help them. When we are hurting our families come together to pray with us. We are proud of our ancestors who kept us from being wiped out. Our youth is talented. Our elders teach us.

And, if you look past the negativity out in front, you’ll see the beauty in the ones who are quiet and strong. The ones who just live their lives being good to those around them. Like my grandpa who takes his guitar to sing at funerals and doesnt ask for money. Or my cousin down the street who fixes peoples cars for free. Or my aunt who runs a small business and still sponsors lil league teams. Or the boys at the basketball game who all came outside to help push some guy they didnt even know out of the snow. Or the teenage girls that would come over and ask to take my girls for a walk so I could mop my house. Or when my baby died, all my relatives that I didnt even know very well who helped me with everything from cooking to burying my daughter. Then a year later they all came together again to pray with me even though I hadnt seen most of them all year.

When bad things happen or times are hard its easy to complain and get mad, but the true Lakota way is to look forward and gather courage to make things better in a good way.

I was upset yesterday but I lit some sage, took a deep breath, and said a prayer. Then I remembered my moms words,”Its hard to be Lakota. You have to forgive when no one else will. You have help everyone, even your enemies. You have to pray for yourself to let go of anger. Once you do this you will learn from your experiences and then you can help your people.” I stand humbled and strengthened by my experience because now I have a new direction to help my people.

Pilamiya Tunaksila for direction.

So, why do I have such passion for Pine Ridge?  It is, of course, my sense of what is right and what is wrong.

But it is the women about whom I frequently write.  It is because of Dana, a talented women who succumbed to temptation in her desire to support her family.  It is because of Davidica, a talented women whose strength and spirituality has helped her resist the temptations of the reservation.  It is Michelle, who has endured more than any mother should have to endure with her daughters (rape, illness, death).  It is Emma who takes in foster children when she has ten children of her own to care for.  It is Nadine who single-parents her children and grandson, takes college courses, maintains her culture through her crafts and hopes to show other rez women that it is possible to succeed. There are too many others to single out each one.

How could I possibly not have this passion after the inspiration of so many!?

I hope you are inspired to spread the word about the poverty and hopelessness that too many have on Pine Ridge.  Just tell people you know, if that is what you are most comfortable doing.  Send them to the YouTube videos so they can see for themselves.

Pretty soon I won’t be a single match trying to shed light on these lives, but we will have a huge bonfire of caring and love to catch the country’s eyes.

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This story does not come because of someone I’ve met personally.  But I recently read his story in a ONE Spirit newsletter and felt I wanted to share it with you.  I love this story because it shows the strength that the human spirit can have, it shows that anyone can inspire us to be better and it shows the value of native culture.


This story is about an 11 year old boy named Cody who was born of mixed heritage – African, European and First Nation Iroquois.  His mother and grandmother have raised him in his Native American tradition.

Cody could not sit or crawl at 1 year old.  He was carried by his mother or grandmother.

As he grew older, he would walk on his knees, holding the hands of his mother and grandmother.

At age 5, Cody was able to use a walker and could enter the dance circle without assistance.

Last year, Cody decided to put aside his walker.  He falls often, but always rises the assistance of a warrior Uncle who dances with him in the circle.  There is a saying, whose author escapes me at the moment, which says that failure is not when we fall in life but when we do not get up again.  I think Cody is a great success already at 11 years old because he seems to understand that concept.  He is already a warrior in his heart.

As evidence of his warrior spirit, Cody has been moved to give what he can for others.  He dances for those who cannot dance.

When he heard about the teen suicide, poverty and lack of heard in Pine Ridge, he realized that he was fortunate — he had food, warmth, love.  He was determined to help somehow.

Cody began to sell his poems for donations that would go to ONE Spirit.  I want to share one of those poems with you.  It’s beauty reflects a wisdom far beyond this young man’s 11 years.

by Cody

I am the sacred circle
I see the fire in the center
I hear drumming
I say, “I love Pow Wow’s,”
to my MeMe (grandmother)
I imagine myself in the men’s dance competition
I hope I can do the competition
I discovered I’m Iroquois
I fear I will get killed on my Reservation
by white people
I feel the Iroquois power
I am the Iroquois child
I am the Iroquois chief in the future
I heard my people say, “Be kind.”
I saw myself on the Reservation in my dreams
I feel the sacred circle is helping me to be kind
I lost my Great Uncle when I was very young
I taught my people how to be kind to other tribes in my dreams
I was not so kind in the past
I will be kind
I will be nice
I will be a better person

Thank-you for reading this poem. Hope you pass it on.
God bless you


A warrior is a warrior because of his heart, not his strength.

Cody is a warrior.

Are you?


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Today I received an email from the folks at ONE Spirit (http://nativeprogress.org) about a young musician who will be walking across the country – yes, I said walking – to raise awareness of the conditions on Pine Ridge Reservation and to raise funds for ONE Spirit’s work there.  You know how dear to my heart the Lakota people of Pine Ridge Reservation are.  So you shouldn’t be surprised that I have offered to provide information about this event and write periodic updates on Dan’s progress as part of my blog.

Dan Ross is a young Illinois-based musician who can be found on YouTube.com under the guise of “goofyguitarist.”  More information on the Dan and the walk can be found at ONE Spirit’s website:

Dan has a Facebook page going to garner support for the walk (from Rockford, IL to the Pacific Ocean in Florence, OR!).  The link is:  http://www.facebook.com/#!/home.php?sk=group_125643704165866&notif_t=group_activity

This is the description of the Facebook group that he gives:

“In 2011, Dan Ross (that’s me) will walk from his hometown of Rockford, IL all the way to the Pacific coast in Oregon. For 5-6 months I will walk every day, rain or shine until I reach the ocean. Why? Well…I watched Forrest Gump recently and…..err….I mean I like to walk, and…I like the the ocean too, so i figured ….uuum… I guess right now I don’t quite know why I’m doing it, however I do know that once I’ve done it I’ll surely know why I did it….. Anyway, I’ll also be bringing publicity to a non-profit organization called “One Spirit”. This organization brings aid to the impoverished Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The reservation contains in it, the poorest county in the United States. Living conditions on the reservation are unacceptable by most American standards, and the children growing up there have little opportunity. As I traverse the land on my epic trek, I plan to encourage people across the country to donate to One Spirit in an effort to help them raise enough money to build and maintain a youth center on the reservation, which will provide new opportunities for the children and teens on the reservation. TOWNS I WILL WALK THROUGH/BY: ILLINOIS- Freeport, Elizabeth, Galena, East Dubuque. IOWA- Dubuque, Colesburg, Edgewood, Strawberry Point, Oelwein, Readlyn, Waverly, Shell Rock, Allison, Dumont, Hampton, Clarion, Humboldt, Pocahontas, Storm Lake, Alta, Aurelia, Cherokee, Marcus, Remsen, Le Mars. SOUTH DAKOTA- Vermillion, Yankton, Tyndall, Wagner, Pickstown, Bonesteel, Gregory, Winner, Mission, Martin, Pine Ridge, Oelrichs, Hot Springs, Custer. WYOMING- Newcastle, Moorcroft, Gillette, Buffalo, Ten Sleep, Greybull, Cody, Yellowstone National Park, IDAHO- Tendoy, Challis, Clayton, Stanley, Lowman, Banks, Horseshoe Bend, Emmett. OREGON- Vale, Brogan, Unity, John Day, Mitchell, Prineville, Redmond, Sisters, Springfield, Eugene, Veneta, Walton, Florence, OCEAN!!!!!!!! “


I recently read the interview Dan gave investorideas.com and would like to share a couple of his responses with you.

Question: Can you tell us what motivated and inspired you to take on such a challenging endeavor?

Dan’s response: Honestly, I was watching “Forrest Gump” one night during the fall of 2010 when I was first struck with the idea to walk across 2/3 of the country. For those of you who are unfortunate enough not to have seen the movie (because it’s a good one!), the main character spontaneously decides to run across the entire country, and it is certainly an inspiring moment in the film. Before that night, I had already planned on moving out of my hometown in 2011, in an effort to broaden my horizons and gain a new clarity of mind so that I might discover what I’d like to pursue in life; I just wasn’t sure exactly where I would go or how I’d get there. So I would say that I was primed, ready, and waiting for a good idea to come along. All I needed was a spark of inspiration.  What motivates me to take on such a challenging endeavor is the fact that it IS a challenge. I enjoy pushing myself, if for no other reason than to test my own potential. Also, I believe traveling is one of the wisest things a person can do with their time and money – it allows you to learn things which cannot be taught. The possibilities of what I can learn from this journey are more than enough to motivate me to do it.

Question: You have chosen the youth of the Pine Ridge Reservation and the building of the Safe House and youth center as your non-profit to dedicate this to. A white youth from Illinois dedicating his walk to the native youth at Pine Ridge is an unexpected storyline; can you tell us how that came to be?

Dan’s response: Once I was certain that I would walk to the ocean in 2011, I began to think that maybe someone besides myself could benefit from this whole thing. After quite a bit of brainstorming, I was still unable to decide what cause I would walk for. Then, amidst the planning of my route, I noticed I would be walking right through the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, a place which I knew nothing about at the time. So I did a little research, and the information I found was startling and overwhelming unemployment estimated at 87%, life expectancy of about 50 years, 90% living below the federal poverty level, and teenage suicide rates 3 1/2 times the national average. I couldn’t believe that this place was located practically right in the middle of the United States. The fact that I was unaware of the situation at Pine Ridge makes me think that most others living in this country are unaware, as well. From this point on, I was sure that I had found a just cause.  After notifying One Spirit that I would like to help, we decided I should dedicate the walk primarily to the youth on the reservation. If you provide the younger generation with a safer childhood, and more opportunities to learn and grow, it becomes likely that they will want to take action to help the next generation in the same way. If all a child knows growing up is poverty, it’s easier to turn to drugs and/or gangs as a way out. I want to help show them something better.


Can you imagine doing what this young man is doing for people you don’t know?

Okay, if you’ve read any of my earlier blog entries, you’ll know I, personally, can’t imagine walking any farther than absolutely necessary, except on a treadmill – and that is an act of will.

I could get all spiritual on you (pun, get it?) and quote Christian scripture:  “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die.” Rom 5:7  All right, don’t moan, I can hear it from here.  I know Dan is not planning to die.  But you get my point.  This is a really big thing for a person to do for someone else.  It shows a generous heart.  I am impressed and inspired.  I hope everyone who reads my blog will support Dan in this walk – if only by sending him good wishes or checking out his music.

I think it will be very interesting to follow this trek and see what Dan learns about himself as he tries to educate the nation about Pine Ridge Reservation and ONE Spirit.

This is a copy of the information I received today about Dan’s initial plans for his walk.  If you are on his route and can support his effort in any of the ways noted, you should contact ONE Spirit directly (if you send offers to me, it will only delay things).

If you aren’t on the route, you can still support the effort by forwarding a link to this blog entry or the ONE Spirit website or Dan’s Facebook page to friends and acquaintances.  The more who know about this effort, the better.

As we gear up for Dan Ross’s walk from Rockford, IL to the Oregon Coast to raise awareness for the youth of Pine Ridge, we are again relying on the help of our generous One Spirit supporters.

We are planning out the Illinois, Iowa and South Dakota legs of the walk and need the help of local supporters to provide a place for Dan to stay, help arrange for media coverage, and facilitate awareness gatherings if at all possible.

Don’t be afraid to think outside the box on ideas for this. Any and all suggestions are welcome. Even if you have a contact or a lead that you would like to share with us so that we can follow-up, we are grateful for your help.

Below is a list of dates and times Dan will be passing through Illinois and South Dakota. If you are able to assist in any capacity with these stops, please contact One Spirit. If you know of a friend or relative in that area who might be interested, please forward on this email.

Chicago area volunteers are needed for publicity and awareness campaigns. If you know of a media outlet that will be able to spread the word, or if you are able to set up a benefit concert or donation drive, please contact One Spirit.

4/20/11 – Dubuque
4/24/11 – Oelwin (we have a grateful volunteer who is willing to cover this stop
4/26/11 – Wavery
4/28/11 – Hampton (we have another volunteer who is taking care of this stop)
5/11/11 – Humboldt
5/5/11 – Storm Lake (we have a volunteer taking care of this area)
5/8/11 – Le Mars

5/10/11 – Vermillion
5/12/11 – Yankton
5/16/11 – Wagner
5/21/11 – Winner
5/28/11 – Martin (We have accommodations arranged for this area)
6/7/11 – Hot Springs
6/9/11 – Custer

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