I was reminded again today that I haven’t written in a while. I can’t tell you why not. I don’t mean that it is private. I just don’t know why. Anyway, here we go again. Please – be patient and read to the end. It really does tie together and it is important.
Life has a way of weaving separate strands together to make a beautiful cloth. That’s what has been happening lately for me. I wrote about feeling homeless because my kitchen was being remodeled. It’s done now and beautiful. So beautiful that it makes me feel a tad guilty when I mention it on Facebook. Why?
A number of my friends on Facebook are folks who live on Pine Ridge Reservation. If you’ve read any of my prior posts (and if you haven’t, why haven’t you?), you know that conditions on Pine Ridge are very difficult. 90% of the people there live below the poverty level. I have been poor in my life but I have never faced that kind of poverty. And now, when I have accomplished something so wonderful, I almost don’t want anyone to know.
The fact of the matter is that, while I may have felt homeless, I wasn’t. I was staying in motels by choice to avoid the chaos of construction. I had a choice. And I had a home!
That was thread number one. Thread number two is my “brother.” He has begun to work at a shelter, counseling domestic abuse victims. He saw abuse as a child. He has a frame of reference and I am so proud of him for putting that knowledge to use in such an important way. It is such an important thing for a victim of domestic violence to have a place to go where there is no violence. Safety is so important – especially for the children!
You probably know that I “work” for an organization that tries to improve lives on Pine Ridge by providing sponsors, food, wood for heat, youth programs and whatever else we can manage. I match folks on the rez with sponsors. I get to talk to a lot of folks on the rez.
I’ve talked to plenty of women who have been abused — when they were children or by a man as an adult. They have all touched me deeply. But no story has touched me like the story I was told by a woman I am currently trying to help.
Thread number three started for me a couple of weeks ago when I got an email from our director. She had been on the rez recently and was approached by a woman who asked for our help. She gave me the woman’s telephone number and asked if I would call her. I did. This is her story.
I’m going to call the woman Jane – because I don’t think I have ever spoken to anyone on the rez whose name really was Jane. Jane had recently left Dick (if you remember Dick and Jane, you learned to read when I did and you are probably my age) . . . because Dick was beating her and the 4 children. You may think he is aptly named – I do. She did not want the children to grow up seeing that and she would not accept it for herself.
If you’re standing up and cheering Jane right now, that’s great. But wait. After I tell you the rest of this story, you’ll have to come up with something better than that.
Jane left Dick. Jane took the 4 children and not much else. No clothing, toys or bedding. She hoped to stay with a relative. But all of the relatives had full houses already. (I’ve written about the severe housing shortage on the reservation before.) The best they could do for her was to lend her a tent. So she is now living in a tent with her 4 children. They sleep on the ground. They eat bologna sandwiches. She has no refrigeration so she must walk into town frequently for the perishables. She is an insulin-dependent diabetic. She is keeping her insulin and perishable food in a styrofoam cooler. (Did I mention the temperatures have gone as low as 50 degrees and as high as almost 100 degrees? Did I mention the severe thunderstorms with hail and high winds?) Everything was in the name of the abuser, including the food stamp claim. Control is another form of abuse, don’t you think?
Jane has a cell phone but to charge it, she has to go to a tribal office and settle in with the children while she plugs in the phone. Oh wait, I see what I have forgotten to tell you – the ages of the children. The oldest just turned 5 years old. Then there is a 3 year old and a 2 year old. The youngest child is 4 months old. The youngest 2 children are still in diapers.
Jane had no stroller. So every walk for every task means taking along 1 child, 2 toddlers and an infant. As Jane told me, “We travel very slowly.” Jane told me she is trying to make it an adventure for the kids so they will not have bad memories of the experience as they get older. She is sure she did the right thing by leaving. Still … it is hard.
The wonderful people who support our organization have responded admirably to the needs of Jane and her children. A stroller and many other things are on the way. When I told her about the stroller, she was so grateful. She said, “I’ve never had a stroller before.” (Don’t forget – the stroller is for her fourth child.) Still, it will be hard. There is still no home.
That brings me to thread number four. Cangleska. That is the domestic violence shelter on Pine Ridge that I wrote about early on in the life of this blog. It was a fantastic place and the program there was a model for domestic abuse treatment and prevention across “Indian country.” They built a large, homey shelter. Many, including myself, contributed to its furnishings. (If you must know, I sent a crib and mattress.) There was treatment for the offenders as well as the victims. It had the potential to change people’s lives.
If you are wondering why I am writing about Cangleska using the past tense, it is because it no longer exists. The non-profit that ran the shelter was composed of folks who lived on the rez. They received many grants and other donations. As I’ve written before, when folks who have nothing have access to serious sums of money, the temptation to dip into the funds is always there. Your own family has needs, too. And greed is sadly an universal human flaw. The shelter was closed down following a forensic financial audit.
This weekend I discovered that there will be an auction of all the assets of Cangleska next week. Everything will go (even the crib I sent). The auctioneer’s website listed “highlites (sic)” including like new office equipment, computer equipment, digital phone system, office furniture, home furnishings, flat screen TV’s, kids’ playground equipment, new chain link fence, tipis, pick-up trucks, cars, minivans, trailers, building materials, construction tools and shop equipment. Everything will go. It breaks my heart.
There is now nowhere for victims of domestic abuse to seek shelter and safety on Pine Ridge Reservation. Nowhere in the 2 million acres that make up the reservation.
That is why Jane and her family are seeking shelter where they can – in a tent!
I don’t know what this cloth will look like when it is complete. I don’t think all the threads are in place yet. For many months I thought I was weaving a different pattern. Now, I’m not so sure. Perhaps it is all part of a larger design that I don’t recognize yet. I’ll keep you posted.