Thursday, April 30, 2009

Another letter . . .

We would like to share with you some of the stories we hear regularly from families. This family has been living in the basement of a house that is occupied by other family members. They have slept in cars when the basement smell became overwhelming because of sewage backup and in the summertime have camped out. In spite of the poverty, they have managed to keep up the morale of their children and they look for ways to give them a better today and tomorrow.

Here is Trina's letter:

If there is any way to get some help with my kids then I welcome it. I have tried so hard to keep my kids, KIDS. There is so much influences out there and I see young ones succumbing to them. I try so hard to give them opportunities that will be beneficial, feed them healthy food, show them how to be Lakota relatives, and use every chance to be a positive role model, in this environment which is geared to be oppressive.

Yesterday we went to my mothers in Wounded Knee and I made bread. I instructed my daughter on how the ingredients interact and what does what to make the bread taste so good. I made a lot and was anticipating some good bread for today but it went quick while we were there. I also made some cinnamon rolls. The little ones there were quite happy and content to eat some tasty hot bread and it made me appreciate the small things.

The snow from last week was just melting and it made a mess. When we got home last night the water run off filled the sewer up again and it came into the basement where the family sleeps). The smell was horrible and it burned my nose. We spent two hours trying to alleviate the situation. Dave went outside and manually drained the sewer, and I was downstairs sweeping it to the drain hole. It was pointless because the sewer filled up quickly again.

Winter showed up again. another blizzard blew in, and school was cancelled. Our food is low again.

I've seen firsthand the many ways a child can be influenced wrongly. My Daniel was born with a heart murmur. I prayed so hard for so long and it went away. I've never underestimated the power of prayer. First born sons are doted on in my family, Daniel was always favored and gently guided into doing the right thing as is tradition for young males in our culture. I've never had any opportunities to spoil him but I do try to provide for him. He doesn't have a mean bone in his body, and wouldn't hurt anyone intentionally.

He takes care of his possessions but isn't materialistic in any way, isn't influenced by clothing trends, and is very understanding when I can't buy the latest movie or game. He's very protective of his sisters. He will sit by himself and pretend beans or q-tips are army men. He will wrestle with puppies that he rescued from the landfill. Always looking for leftovers and table scraps to feed them

The amenities urban youth take for granted aren't available here; no swimming pool, bowling alley, movie theatres, or shopping malls. That is why we make do with what little we have. We tell stories about the stars, the legends of old, and laugh at old memories.

Daniel is currently in the Gifted and Talented Program at his school. He participated in the Gear UP Program since 2006. Its a summer program. He is consistently on the honor roll every quarter and goes on the incentive trips. We have many honor roll pins for him. He won Best of the Best in the reservation wide science fair when he was in the sixth grade. It was better than grand prize and I got to go with him to receive his award.

For the past two years he has volunteered to dress up as Dr. Seuss and read to the kindergarten class. He won a leadership award at the Shannon County Awards Banquet when he was in the sixth grade. He will go again this May for Academic Achievement. He and another were selected to be Student Council Representatives. He was also chosen to speak in front of state and tribal representatives at the grand opening of his new school. His teachers are always commenting on what a joy he is to have in their class.

He shows leadership qualities and somehow manages to calm his classmates down. I just couldn't ask for a better son. He chose his own lakota name which is Wanbli Oyakpa translated into golden eagle. Daniel truly is a golden eagle and will fly high.



Friday, April 17, 2009

Horses help change a young life

Back in January we shared a letter we received from Mona Brave about her 13 year old nephew, to whom she is mom, and how the Big Foot Ride helped to change the path of his life.

Since that time, her nephew has completed a treatment program dealing with his symptoms resulting from fetal alcohol syndrome and Post Traumatic Stress caused by an experience described by Mona below. Recently he was honored for his fortitude and bravery during the ride and for his accomplishments in completing the treatment program. Below is Mona's speech presented at the time of his honoring and photos of Mona and her nephew and the star quilt he received for his accomplishments.

Cyrus with Mom Mona and Grandmother Annabelle Between Lodges

We would especially like to express our appreciation to Mona for sharing these family stories.


I am the mother of six beautiful children: one biological son, Derek (26), one adopted son JD (16); and three nephews, Cyrus (13); Dylan (11); Yamni (8); and one niece, Shannae (10). I currently reside in Oglala with my tiwahe. I am employed as the OST Benefits Coordinator.

My brother raised his four children for several years as a single parent. He may have an alcohol problem but he made sure his children's education came first and always ensured they were in school everyday. For a single parent he tried his best and for that I commend him for all his efforts to care for and love his children. In May 2004, the children's mother came into their lives and kidnapped them from school. She knowingly took them when she was homeless and did not have a safe home for them. She took them to Sioux Falls to a homeless shelter where they were eventually placed in a foster home after the police officers noticed that they were in a park all day without adult supervision. They stayed in a foster home while my mother and I tried to get them back. It was frustrating at times, as it seemed we ran into a lot of red tape but we learned that that goes with the territory. I commend my mother for her diligence in not giving up.

We obtained a court order to get the children back. It took four months to complete the process but had it not been for the staff of ONTRAC it may have taken longer. I appreciate their help and their commitment in seeing that the children are home with us. I am my brother's sister and in true Lakota tradition I am their mother and I can truly say that I am proud to be their mother. I have raised them for the past three years.

I believe it was my destiny to have the children a part of our lives and to be the mother to them. It is my responsibility to see that the children have a safe and loving home where neither drugs nor alcohol are any longer a part of their lives. This is the first time in their lives they had a stable home where they don't have to worry about anything and where they can feel safe and know that there is someone there for them at all time.

It hasn't been an easy journey. We have made a lot of adjustments in our life. It has been a struggle getting them the help they so desperately needed. I have learned and continue to learn on a daily basis a great deal about dealing with children with post traumatic stress disorder; about fetal alcohol syndrome and about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. I went through a period of anger with their parents as I blamed them for these symptoms and I myself have received counseling. I blamed their mother for two of them having fetal alcohol syndrome and knowing that they have to live with this for the rest of their lives. I have since learned to deal with this anger and to pray for their mother and father. I know in my heart that the children will be with me for a lifetime and I am going to see them through the successes in their lives.

We, as a family, participate in the Wakanyeja Pawiciyapi program where all the healing is geared towards the traditional ways of our people so in addition to healing we are also learning our Lakota traditions. We participate in the sweats and ceremonies and the many activities they provide. I am thankful to the personnel within that program and the efforts that they put forth in helping us heal together. It has had a profound effect on us as we have begun the healing process and we still have a long way to go, as it is an everyday endeavor.

Yes, as a mother, I can proudly say our family has re-claimed our children. It is truly amazing being a parent to six children and it makes me proud to say "Yes" these are my children. I am proud of their accomplishments and for always trying their best in all that they do. I love them all so much and my dream and prayers are for them to lead successful and productive lives and I will be with them every step of the way.

There are numerous people I want to thank for helping me whether it is emotional support or physical support and they are:

My mother - thanks for always being there for me and for encouraging me never to give up when times get hard.
My father - who loves having the children at his home.
Troy Briggs - my friend who always bluntly tells me how it is and lifts me up when I am having a bad day.
Ramona White Plume - who always encourages me and my family.
Rick Two Dogs - for the many prayers and help he has offered our family.
Jeri Baker - who always supports our family's endeavors and is always so encouraging.
JD Brave - my teenager, who is so understanding and who never hesitates to help me.
Joyce Whiting - who is my counselor and always has the right words.
Carol Binnington - for being so supportive.
Nicole Jette - for helping our whole family and being so supportive.
Derek Yellow Cloud - for helping to watch the kids.
Filmore He Crow - for being patient and understanding of me and the children.
Juanita Scherich - for her tireless work in seeing that children, including mine, are home with families.
Valarie Janis - for her endless hours of working with children.

Mitakuye Oyasin