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ABC NEWS Has Come Through For Pine Ridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It has been a very quiet few days and I actually had begun to get a bit lazy.  I should know better.  It’s always quietest before all chaos occurs.

The day started unusually – I overslept.  But at that point I wasn’t worried because I didn’t have much to do.  Got up and fed the cat first – patience is NOT one of his virtues!  Turned on the computer to check my mail and the obituaries, then decided it was time for a later than usual shower.

In the middle of the shower, I heard the phone ring and someone left a message.  Little did I know it was the start of a much busier day than I expected when I awoke.

I got the message after I dressed.  It was my Lakota friends calling.  They needed me to call back.  So I did . . . and the line was busy.  Sigh.  I checked my ONE Spirit mail – nothing new.  I really should reply to the one email sitting there.  But I should try calling my friends again first.  Busy still.  I tried calling another friend – a local one – left a voice mail message.  Back to calling the rez.  Finally, a ringing phone!

I spoke to my friend’s husband.  He was very excited at having been to Bismark, ND to represent Oglala Lakota College, which he attends, as a member of the archery team at the Tribal Colleges National Conference (http://www.uttc.edu/news/story/040111_01.asp).  OLC placed third in archery.  There were many other competitions (results can be seen here: http://aihec.sittingbull.edu/AIHEC%202011%20Forms/AIHEC%202011%20Winners.pdf) and he was gone for 5 days.

Unfortunately he returned to find that he and his wife were again homeless.  They had been living in a trailer that belonged to my friend’s mother.  Sadly, on the rez, when you live in the home of a family member, you are at the mercy of his or her moods and whims.  The relationship between my friend and her mother has never been a smooth one.  This kind of thing had happened before.  So they borrowed a truck, packed their things and moved back to his mother’s house (which ironically is where they were living when we first met them).

Even more irony comes when you learn the reason that they were told to move out of the trailer.  My friend’s are some of the more responsible people who I have known on the reservation.  They try to spend their money carefully and pay their bills.  However, many of my friend’s relatives do not.  Since her husband is a full-time college student and she cannot find work, their income is very limited.  As they pay their bills, they watch my friend’s mother support others in the family who do not pay their bills.  So they decided for one month to do the same.

My friend’s mother started telling people immediately that they didn’t pay their bills and told them to leave the trailer she was renting to them – or she would call the police to remove them.  My friend, alone without her husband, was broken-hearted.  Her mother had done it to her again.  You can imagine the scene when her husband arrived back home.

They were calling me to get help with buying some propane for his mother, where they would now live for a while.  I checked my funds and called the gas company to get a delivery.  Then I made out a check to pay for the gas and got it ready to mail.  The company didn’t take credit cards over the phone.  But they will deliver the gas before the check arrives.

I had just finished that when I got a call from the woman (I’ll call her Jane but that is not her real name) I wrote about yesterday, the one with whom I was dreading to speak.  If you didn’t read yesterday’s post (shame on you), Jane had just delivered a baby 2 weeks ago and now was in the process of being evicted for not paying her rent.  You can see why that would not be a conversation to look forward to.

I explained to Jane that ONE Spirit did not pay for rent or utilities.  We talked for quite some time and I got a lot of new information.  She needs to pay $91 by the end of the month or she will be evicted.  $91 is her monthly rent for the one bedroom apartment she shares with her children.  She had been on the waiting list for tribal housing but when she got to the top, she was taken off because she owed back rent.  The total amount the rent is in arrears is $370.50.

I asked her about her resources.  She receives food stamps in the amount of about $400 per month, WIC for the children and TANF (tribal assistance for those with children which requires the parent to work for the tribe) in the amount of $300.  She recently bought a car with her tax refund money so she can return to work.  It was a good thing she did – she drove herself to the hospital when she delivered her baby 2 weeks ago.  She does not receive child support from the father of either child.

She has a 2 year old son and a 2 week old daughter.  Since she worked until her due date, she will be paid TANF for the month of April.  She says she can get paid for 2 months additional without working, but must then return to work or the tribe will discontinue the assistance.  She wants to go back to work as a flagger for road construction crews but would need to use the tribal day care if she did.  She is not sure she would make enough to cover the day care for 2 children and still have money left over to pay the bills.

As we talked, I had an idea for a source of assistance – someone I know that might be able to help.  I will be seeing that person tonight and see what I can do.  I made her no promises, except that I would continue to pray for a solution.

Later I called a new sponsor and discussed her interests and the sponsorship program.  I could feel that I was different today when I talked about sponsoring.  Maybe it was because I knew that there are some things even sponsors can’t fix or solve.  I called a mother on the rez to let her know I had a sponsor for her daughter.  I’ll get the paperwork out on that in the morning.

In the meantime, I put Jane on the OKINI list (the program for donors who do not want to develop a relationship with the person being helped) for personal care products like shampoo and toothpaste.  Perhaps getting a few things that aren’t covered by food stamps will allow her to shift some of her money to the rent portion of her budget.

I was going to write about the articles I saw today that spoke of cell phone vs landline use in South Dakota and the price of gas in the Rapid City area hitting $4/gallon.  Those are two things that impact the lives of people on the reservation – they have to travel so many miles just to get from one part of the rez to another and they are coming to depend on cell phones in spite of the fact that South Dakota overall uses landlines more than cell phones.  But those phone calls took my attention away from the “smaller” problems and turned it to the really big ones.

So the theme of my day turned into homelessness and potential homelessness.  It is one of the hardest things on the reservation for so many people who do not have homes of their own and must rely on relatives to give them a roof over their heads.  The official statistics of homelessness on the reservation do not reflect the true number of truly homeless people.  I think many of the other problems on the rez stem in good part from overcrowding in the homes of those who are lucky enough to have their own home (the other big source of the problems is the lack of available jobs).

This is one BIG problem that I cannot solve.  All I can do is try to help a couple of people stay afloat until someone else finds that solution.

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I’ve been writing a lot about the reservation in general and some of the people who I speak to in my “job” capacity.  But yesterday, when I spoke with my Lakota friend on Pine Ridge, it dawned on me that I haven’t updated their lives in a while.

I called my Lakota friend yesterday to get her oldest daughter’s phone number.  My friend had 4 teen/pre-teen daughters when we first met 6 years ago.  We had been assigned as sponsors for her youngest daughter, who was 10 years old at that time.  In 6 years, an awful lot has happened to this family.  They have moved at least 8 times; they have lived with my friend’s mother-in-law, mother, aunt and alone twice briefly.  Mind you, when I say “alone,” I mean my friend, her husband, various daughters and her 2 grandsons.  In fact the reason they struggled to live in “the little blue house on the hill” for as long as they did (I’ve previously written about that house) is that they wanted to be in a home where they only had their own “drama” to cope with, not the entire extended family’s drama.

What kind of “drama” are we talking about?  The only way to make it understandable is to take it person by person.  And in the interest of clarity, I will call the daughters A, B, C, D with A being the oldest and so on.

Daughter A:  was raised by her grandmother because my friend was only 16 years old when she was born; had a baby at 17; lived with her boyfriend and the baby at her grandmother’s; had a second baby at 20 years old; the boyfriend’s family accused her of having another man’s baby because the boy did not look like her boyfriend (the baby did look like Daughter A’s father, though); had her boyfriend get drunk and start beating her while she slept with their sons in the trailer; had her boyfriend arrested for domestic abuse; had her sons become ill from the living conditions they are in; allowed the boyfriend to move back in because their sons need a father; was given poor medical care for her son at the Indian Health Services clinic then investigated by child services for her child’s poor health (which was the result of the poor care); she and her sons are presently living with her mother in her grandmother’s old trailer because grandmother now has a new Habitat for Humanity home that she lives in with her son and his children.  More to come on that trailer.

Daughter B was 14 years old when we first met the family.  She was in school and trying to help her mother.  As she grew older, she fell into “the way of the rez” more.  She dropped out of high school.  When she turned 18, she moved to Salt Lake City to live with her father’s family for a while.  She would not listen when her mother tried to stop her or when her mother told her that her father’s family was not who she imagined them to be.  We should note that her father had died the year before.  While in Salt Lake City, her cousins encouraged her to shoplift for them.  When her rez boyfriend died, she returned to live with her mother.  She moved to a friend’s house, started drinking, got new boyfriend and moved in with him.  Those Salt Lake City lessons must have stayed with her, though.  The last time she visited my friend at the old trailer, she stole a box of feminine hygiene pads.  My friend had to sheepishly ask if I could send her another box since she now had none and no money to buy more.

Daughter C was 13 when we met the family.  She started running the wilder life about 2 years after that, before her sister.  Perhaps it was because she had been raped when she was younger.  But she stopped running wild when she began to have health issues.  She had dropped out of high school but was attending Virtual High School to try to get some education.  She was starting to get her life turned around.  She began having seizures and they never did find out the cause of the seizures.  When they were living in the little blue house on the hill, they had no running water in the house.  So she went to a friend’s house to have a bath.  She had a seizure while in the tub and died at the age of 16.

Daughter D, my “godchild,” the child we were originally assigned to sponsor, was 10 at the time we met the family.  She was a typical 10 year old, although she did get into trouble in school – for fighting and such – more than the average child her age.  Within a couple of years, she began to lie a lot.  She “blossomed” early, became sexually active, was raped, began to drink, became a chronic runaway, was in constant trouble and was removed from one school after another.  At 15, she became a ward of the state and was placed in a home several hours away from her family.  She was raped at that home by a staff member.  She is now in a facility in Salt Lake City – a 12 hour drive away from family in a good car – where she will stay until she is 18.  Her father’s family in Salt Lake City does not call or visit her.

My friend has not had an easy life either.  She was very much like her daughter’s when she was young.  She was sent to boarding school until she was 18.  Her mother took away her first child, Daughter A, when she was an infant.  She ran off to Salt Lake City, drank, married and had 3 daughters.  She got sober when she was pregnant.  He husband did not.  They divorced.  She had 3 daughters and no job, so she moved back to the rez.  She has never since lived in her own home, except for the little blue house on the hill.  She met her present husband and they have tried to improve their lives.  He attends college classes.  But without an income, it’s pretty difficult to pay rent and utilities and buy food and … you know how it goes.

So they are currently living in her mother’s old trailer, since her mom has a new house.  I have been in that trailer – 5 years ago.  The front stairs up to the door were rotted through on one side.  The most important problem was the floor just inside the door – literally.  It was a good thing my husband noticed it because if I had just stepped in as I normally would have, I have fallen through the floor.  There was a hole in the floor on the inside of the threshold that went right through to the outdoors.  What a risk with children – and my friend’s mother did have some of her younger grandchildren living with her at the time.

So what about now?  How is the old trailer holding up?  Mind you, it is still a roof over my friend’s head, but it is in my mind worse than the little blue house on the hill.  The floor is caving in.  There is worry that it will give way completely.  There are many more minor repair needs.  Another major danger is the Black Mold that is in that trailer.  We are visiting our friends in early June and I will see if I can get some photos of the trailer because, as they say, seeing is believing.

They also have water issues again.  The little blue house on the hill had no running water and they had to cart water in plastic milk jugs for almost a year until they got a water storage tank from the tribe.  The trailer had running water and a bathroom/shower.  Luxury!  The important word is HAD.  They were just recently informed that the water contains LEAD.  There are 2 little boys, aged 2 and 5, living there.  We all know how dangerous lead is for children!  So they cannot use the water any longer.  They are back to carting water in milk jugs!  They were also told that the trailer was condemned – but they haven’t moved because they have nowhere else to go.

But I think they’d better start looking — again!

 

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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 called a young woman on Pine Ridge Reservation today because she and her family had just moved from another part of the reservation to one of the areas I serve.  I needed to get a few pieces of additional information in order to add them to my list.

She was a pleasant 23 year old woman who had 4 sons, aged 8, 5, 2 and 1.  The family (the young woman, her 32 year old partner and the 4 children) had moved in with her mother and adult sister.  I discovered later that they had been asked to move out of the house they had been living in due to allegations that her partner had been dealing drugs.  I did not find this out from the young woman but from the person who does my job in the area in which they used to live.  Oh dear!  The pressure to support your family where job opportunities are very limited pushes you to do unfortunate things, I guess.  I made a note of the potential problem.  The family already has a sponsor, who knows of the problem, so I will not have the question of whether or not to assign a sponsor there.

I paused for a moment to think about the young lady’s mother, who has accepted this man in her home along with her daughter and grandsons.  Was it a difficult thing to do?

I asked about the living accommodations, as I normally do.  That’s when I started to be concerned.  The home is a double-wide trailer.  They used to heat with propane before the furnace gave out.  They did call to have someone repair it but the maintenance people never sent anyone.  The electricity only works in half of the trailer now, so they run extension cords to the other rooms and connect space heaters they have bought at yard sales to heat the trailer.

I know you do what you have to in order to survive, but all I can see is the fire hazard.  The frightening thing is that I am certain this is not the only home on the reservation with jury-rigged heat and electricity.  I have been told there are no building codes on the rez.  It’s one of the questions I hope to ask when I visit there in early June.

To finish up, I asked if they had transportation.  Her mom, who does have a job, has a car.  They have to drive her to work and pick her up if they need the car for errands, doctor appointments, etc..  So they are luckier than some, not as lucky as most of us.

It bothers me that there are so many homes on the reservation with poor heating or no heating.  It really bothers me that there are so many I’ve heard about that are fire risks.  I keep thinking that the tribe ought to be more concerned about the welfare of the people.  I know money is tight.  But if you can pay the Tribal Council members as well as they are paid, surely you can do maintenance to prevent fire losses – material and human!  I know, I’m on the outside but still . . .

As an aside, I read an article by John Stossel of FOX News a couple of days ago that really got me steamed.  He was calling Native Americans freeloaders.  I plan to reread it and write about it in the near future.  But for the time being I will tell you that I have lost any respect I ever had for this man and his work.  He did no homework on this at all.  I doubt he has ever been on the reservation or done more than superficial thinking on the topic.  He is just one more pompous, arrogant windbag to me now!

I’m brushing off my soapbox as I get ready to write that one!

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I can’t believe it!  The blogger was wrong.  I must be the only blogger to ever be wrong.  Right?

OK, enough histrionics!  But it is true.  Because when I wrote the prior post, I did not have complete information.  I did not realize that in addition to 5 adults, this family includes 10 biological children under age 18, 3 grandchildren and 5 foster children. I only had 2 foster children that I was aware of in the first post.

If you are as good at your math as I am, you will quickly see that

10 + 3 + 5 = 18.

So I admit my error.  But I think it makes this mother/grandmother even more amazing.

I actually spoke to her again last evening, when she wasn’t at a noisy basketball game, and got a bit more information.

She told me she has always felt “a passion for kids.”  That is why she had many children and continues to care for children.  She talked about children being sacred in her culture and about how many are not being properly cherished.

The foster children came along unexpectedly.  A cousin of her mother’s, a teenaged boy, had gotten in trouble and was kicked out of school.  He thought it would get him out of going to school, since his family wouldn’t let him quit.  But he got a surprise.  Instead of just being free, he was in juvenile detention.  They drove him from detention to school and back every day.  The only thing he was allowed out for was going to school.  A difficult lesson learned, the boy did a very smart thing.  He told the authorities that he would stay with this mother and her family.

Faced with the lack of foster homes on the reservation and with the authorities telling her that they were this boy’s last chance to stay on the reservation, they agreed to take him in.  He is doing well.

Soon afterward, they were approached to take in another young boy who had been in trouble in school.  They agreed, knowing that this placement meant they would have to attend school, in the classroom, with the young man every day for months.  He is doing well now, too.

A teenaged girl whom their daughter had met at a basketball game was the next addition.  The girl had been raised by her grandmother, who died recently.  She had no other family to take her in.  So she was taken in by this warm, loving family.

They have also taken in a 2 year old and a 6 year old who were abandoned by their mothers.  Unimaginable to this mom (and me) that a mother would just leave a child in an apartment and go away.

So now they are caring for 18 children.  Yes, the young adults and older children do help with the young ones.  But there has to be leadership, guidance, role models to create a successful family.  This woman and her husband obviously provide those things.

The dad is an auto mechanic.  He works part-time when he can get work.  Although there are many vehicles that need repair on the reservation, most people don’t have the money to pay someone else to do it.  There are not many auto service stations available, so there aren’t many jobs available in that line either.  (Jobs – one of the biggest needs on the reservation.)

Mom had been working as a corrections officer locally.  However, she is going to be laid off Jan 6, 2011 due to budget changes and department changes in the facility.  Gratefully, she will be able to collect unemployment benefits.  She receives a small stipend for the foster children.  She does get food stamps because they are low income.  (Yeah, and they have 23 folks in this home to feed!)

Speaking of the home, it is small.  It does have a basement, which they have converted to a dormitory-style bedroom for the kids.  They did add a shower to the basement but they currently have only 1 working bathroom!!  The reason I know it is a small house is that she told me they can’t have a washer and dryer because their septic system is only large enough for a family of 4.  They do laundry 3 times a week at a relative’s house.  They still have to have the septic system pumped every 2-4 months!! I doubt that’s free service.  (I don’t know about you, but mine, used by 2 people, goes about 2 years.)

The children are engaged in numerous activities, especially sports.  Many of them play on basketball teams, one played football and there is a cross-country runner.

College is a hope for some.  She has one daughter in college.  The costs are very difficult for this large family to manage.  But there should be a way for these kids to go to college if they desire it – it could only help the tribe.

There are also children with health issues.  One of her daughters was born with a cleft palate.  She has endured many surgeries, which required traveling to Chicago, Denver and other cities from the small town they live in on the reservation.  The 6 year old foster child has speech problems.  One of her teen sons is being tested for autism in the near future.

Throughout the conversation, however, the biggest impression I had was that this woman was full of joy, peace and love. I asked her how she was able to manage this household and she told me that her children “are content.”  She explained that they accept what they have with gratitude and do not hunger for things they was some children do.  They feel loved and their inner needs are met, so they are content – content with what they have, content to share what the have with each other and content that life will be okay.

That is an amazing thing for any child, but especially for those who live with so little, as the children on Pine Ridge Reservation do.

I told her she was amazing and inspirational to me.  She didn’t get flustered.  She wasn’t embarrassed.  She humbly and quietly said, “Thank you.”

I will find a way to improve the life of this family somehow!

Perhaps you will help me find a way.

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