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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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Our last visit to Pine Ridge Reservation was very different from our previous visits.  One of the things we did this time was to spend a bit more time learning about the contemporary activities on the rez.  History is important but what’s happening today helps me to understand the youth needs better.

So with some trepidation, we decided to attend the Independence Through Music (ITM) free concert that was being held one of the days we were there.  I say with some trepidation because I have written about the ITM project before and knew that many of the musicians were hip hop or rap musicians.  No offense to anyone whose musical tastes run in those directions, but mine do not.  I can enjoy almost anything else, being the eclectic gal that I am, but rap generally would send me heading for the door.

In addition to being eclectic, however, I am also open-minded and like to learn about new people and things.  So we went.  I have a feeling that my husband, who shares my hip hop/rap feelings, was there only because I wanted to be.  I’m grateful, because he handled the video taping which allowed me to concentrate on listening, watching and, yes, enjoying the concert.

We arrived at Billy Mills Hall in Pine Ridge, the concert venue, a bit early.  I had a fairly good idea of what to expect, my husband did not.  What we found was basically a large gymnasium with bleachers that push back when not in use.  If you’re old enough, you may have had that kind of gym for your high school.  Obviously, the acoustics were going to leave a lot to be desired.

We watched the sound check, which included some of the artists we would see later.  Interesting.  There is a link to the sound check video clip below.  This is the memory of the concert, followed by some observations.

******

There was one more thing that struck me about the concert in general — and it had nothing to do with the musicians.  Picture this:

You are sitting on the bottom step of the bleachers in a large, open gymnasium.  People are getting their hands marked with a number as they enter — not for a count, but so they will be eligible for door prizes at intervals during the concert.  Your back is already telling you that your fibromyalgia is not going to be happy with the seating arrangements.  You ignore your back, knowing you may pay for that tomorrow.

The lighting leaves a little to be desired.  There are no spotlights or stage lights, of course; there are just the single bulb lights suspended from the gym ceiling.  Just the lights in front, where the performers are, are lit although at first the sunlight is also streaming through the high gym windows.

People trickle in.  You are surprised that there are not more people, since the concert is free.  But of course, communication on the rez is not great so it’s possible that many don’t even know about the concert.

You notice that while some people sit and watch the concert from one spot, others seem to need to wander about.  Some go in and out the doors – the smokers, of course.  Children run about freely, a bit distracting for you but they are not ill-mannered or wild.  You think how wonderfully accepting the community is of normal child behavior and how much love they demonstrate to their children.  Even the performers accept it easily, including the guy who performs half his act holding his son who is sleepy and wants his dad.

You notice a young man who is very obviously disabled and by his physical appearance, you would guess he has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.  He wanders across the gym, mingles with the musicians and dances when the mood strikes him.  Then surprisingly he is introduced as a community member who would like to perform.  He goes to the microphone, stands there clearly struggling to recall the song and to have the courage to sing it.  He cannot.  Suddenly, the audience breaks into loud applause and he beams.  He leaves the microphone and resumes his previous activities.  But it isn’t the young man who has impressed you — it is the community.  The support and love they showed this disabled young man spoke volumes about the kind of people they were.  Amazing!

The concert was supposed to run 6 – 10 pm.  It is now 9 pm.  You want to stay for the last hour, but you can see your husband has run out of enthusiasm.  More than that, which might be overlooked, your back has finally begun to issue you an ultimatum — move and do something else soon or you will pay a BIG price.  You know your back doesn’t kid about those things, so you look at your husband and give him a slight nod.  He packs up the camcorder and you both head out to the car.  You have almost an hour’s drive through the road construction to go the distance to your hotel at the casino.  Suddenly you are very tired and hope you can stay awake until you get to the room.

******

The show started more or less on time.  It was interesting to watch these aspiring musicians perform.  Some had performed locally before.  For others, this was the first time they were performing in front of a live audience.  It showed, to be sure, but it also a bit endearing to watch these young men who were performing for the first time confront their fears and insecurities.  I say young men, because there is only one young woman in the program so far.  That’s just a result of who showed interest, not where the talent lies.

I was struck by the fact that most of the hip hop/rap artists performed music which told a great deal about rez life from the perspective of young people.  So it was very interesting.  It gave another point of view to an already complex topic.  It was not all negative.  Many of the lyrics displayed their pride in their heritage and their anger at being judged.

There are links below to all of the performances.  If you notice that there is a clip missing (#10), that clip is of Davidica.  Since she is a professional and has recorded the song that she sang, I agreed not to publish it at this time.

I wanted to make note of the young lady who performed, Tiana Spotted Thunder.  I had noticed her videos on YouTube before my rez visit and before I knew she was a participant in ITM.  In person, even battling a cold, she sounds just as beautiful as she looks.  But she is shy and it unfortunately comes off as not believing in her own talent.  I hope she can overcome that because her talent is real and her voice will have power when her confidence can shine through it.

My bottom line on the concert?  I loved it!!!

And I learned something, which is always good.

I learned that, just as you shouldn’t judge people by any arbitrary factor (and I usually don’t), you shouldn’t judge art or music by arbitrary factors as well.  I typically don’t like the kind of music I heard that night.  But I did enjoy it at the concert.  Why?  It wasn’t exactly the same.  Perhaps it was the roughness, the unpolished, unpackaged manner in which it was performed.  I don’t know for sure.  But I am glad I was open-minded enough to try it.

******

Concert Sound Check                                 http://youtu.be/OLSRBKVXK3Q

Independence Through Music #1            http://youtu.be/J1q0rI01bfI

Independence Through Music #2            http://youtu.be/RQ0pWiG6qPE

Independence Through Music #3            http://youtu.be/HgyyXxQaT-w

Independence Through Music #4            http://youtu.be/lbEktnOGyvI

Independence Through Music #5            http://youtu.be/eqdRqCd9TDI

Independence Through Music #6            http://youtu.be/NFitcxqa3Fw

Independence Through Music #7            http://youtu.be/GlJ9fPdSJNY

Independence Through Music #8            http://youtu.be/Ins1pL2fkLY

Independence Through Music #9            http://youtu.be/OPxVGZTggso

Independence Through Music #11          http://youtu.be/etgyr74Gewk

 

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One of the best things we got to see on this visit to the reservation was the return of the Crazy Horse Ride participants on Thursday, June 9.  In the center of the Pine Ridge settlement, people started lining the streets, staking out prime viewing spots early.  The riders would come up Rte 407 from White Clay, NE and turn left onto BIA Road 32 at the center of Pine Ridge, ending at the Powwow Grounds.

The riders return to Pine Ridge, SD

Since we were going to the concert at Billy Mills Hall shortly after the riders passed, we found a parking space at the hall, right along the riders’ route.  It was quite convenient, since it was also directly across from Big Bat’s, the convenience store/snack bar/gas station that is today’s version of a trading post.  There are rest rooms, too, always a plus!

The riders approached in the distance from the top of a hill with an escort of police cruisers with their lights turned on.  It was a beautifully clear, sunny day.  The colors of the massed flags and flashing lights were truly a sight to behold!  We recorded the event and you can actually view it for yourself by using the link at the end of this post.

So what was the big deal, anyway?  Was this just a parade?  Why did all these folks ride horses from Ft Robinson, NE to Pine Ridge, SD on an extremely long, 4 day trail ride?

The annual Crazy Horse Ride, now in its 14th year, is a 4-day trail ride held the second week in June to honor all veterans and the war leader, Crazy Horse.  This year the ride ran from Jun 6 to Jun 9.  Approximately 200 riders participate each year according to organizer Charles “Bamm” Brewer.  Although the group is primarily made up of Oglala Lakota riders, all are welcome.  Many young Lakota take part in the event, which gives them an opportunity to learn and understand their culture and heritage in a more concrete way.  It is a pilgrimage of sorts and has a definite spiritual aspect.

A father carries his disabled son during the 2011 Crazy Horse Ride

This year’s ride had special meaning for the riders.  On the first morning of the ride, the governor of Nebraska and other dignitaries gathered with the riders to dedicate the section of US 20 from Ft Robinson to Hay Springs as “Crazy Horse Memorial Highway.”

The ride forms in Ft Robinson, NE each year since that is the location of the death of Crazy Horse on September 5, 1877 as he was being taken into custody by government troops.  Day 1 of the ride proceeds from Ft Robinson to Chadron, NE where the riders camp for the night.  On Day 2, the riders proceed from Chadron to camp in the Beaver Valley.  This is a particularly meaningful stop, since this area was the land of Crazy Horse and tradition holds that his parents brought him here to be buried after his death.  Day 3 is a rest day in that special place, with many activities planned for the riders.  On Day 4 the riders complete their journey, traveling from Beaver Valley into Pine Ridge for the All Veterans Gathering and Powwow at the Pine Ridge Powwow Grounds.

The 2011 ride included Spiritual Leader Wilmer Mesteth, Crazy Horse Ride Elder Mel Lone Hill and the drum  group Creekside.  A riderless Spirit Horse for Crazy Horse was included and can be seen in the video and photos.

A riderless Spirit Horse for Crazy Horse was included in the 2011 Crazy Horse Ride.

 

 

 

Here is the link to the video:  http://youtu.be/Pody6Yn9-mk

 

 

 

I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

 

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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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“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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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.

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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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