Sunday, December 20, 2009

Response from another ONE Spirit friend who's been to Pine Ridge

For those who have never been to the reservation and actually seen the way many people have to live, it is hard to imagine that conditions like this exist in 21st century America - but they do. Last year I was asked to take pictures of an isolated, dilapidated, one room home with no electricity or running water, while the owner was in hospital suffering from an infection. I cannot post the photographs at this time, but taking them was a very difficult thing for me to do. It was the most desolate living space that I had ever seen - although very likely not the worst in the area.

In 2007 a man froze to death in his house a couple of miles from where I was staying. There was no reporting of this incident and an elderly Lakota told me: "So many people around here die untimely deaths that no one pays any attention any more."

Betty is right that none of us will be able to bring a permanent solution to the overall situation, but we can help provide food and warmth and the knowledge that somebody cares. The youth programs we support are also very important. The young people hold the future in their hands and they must have something to hope for if this epidemic of suicide is to end. Without hope it is very difficult to have life. We are making a difference, both now and for the future.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Thoughts from a ONE Spirit Area Services Coordinator

Hello One Spirit friends. I have not posted since I took over the position of Area Service Coordinator for Oglala and Pine Ridge this past summer. As you might imagine, it has been a busy time, getting to know both the residents of those areas on my lists and the many wonderful people who sponsor them.

The time also included a trip by my husband and me to the reservation, in October. We have been there several times before, but usually to visit friends. We certainly did that again, but we also used this visit to meet some of the families I had spoken to over the several months before the trip.

In 5 days, we put 950 miles on the rental car while driving from place to place on the reservation! For those of you who have not been there, our high mileage was caused by the great distances separating the settled areas. For example, the distance from our room at the Lakota Prairie Ranch Resort in Kyle to Pine Ridge was about 35 miles.

During our time on the reservation, we saw many things that were very difficult to see. While our philosophical discussions on this board are interesting, my focus is on the immediate needs of those in jeopardy, especially the children and elders. I don't believe that I, or anyone else from the outside, will be able to solve the "whys" and "hows" of permanent improvement on Pine Ridge Reservation. But together we can keep the children warm and fed until those with more resources step in to more permanently solve the problems.

We all know there is deep, grinding poverty on the reservation and, if we are in this group and on this board, we care very much about that. But I would have to say that this visit hit me harder than have my prior visits. Perhaps that is because we saw a wider variety of homes and people this time. We learned there are varying degrees of poverty. Some houses and trailers were small and spare, but well kept. We visited the apartment of a woman who is confined to a wheelchair and I wondered how she could possibly maneuver the chair in that space, it was so small. We visited a trailer that I thought would blow over in the next good gust of wind (and there is plenty of wind in South Dakota). We brought food with us on our visits. We were given small gifts in return. We were treated warmly and welcomed wherever we went.
I had hoped to take photos of the places I went and people I met. But I could not – not because anyone objected, but because my heart would not allow me to expose the pain and poverty of the people to the world. It seemed intrusive and felt like an invasion of their privacy. However, our friends allowed us to take photos of the house they are living in – (rented for about $500 per month). I had prior photos of what it looked like when they moved in. It has improved – slightly. This is their story . . .

They had a family of 5 (2 adults, 3 teen girls) living with one of the grandmothers in a small house with at least 7 others persons. They wanted/needed a place of their own. However, on Pine Ridge, you can be on the housing list for 10 years and still not get a place of your own. There is a dire shortage of adequate housing. So when a cousin lost the tenants in a house he had, he offered it to them at the price noted above. The little blue house has 2 bedrooms, a bathroom and a larger room that includes both "living room" and "kitchen."

In the smaller bedroom, there is a queen-sized mattress on the floor (because there is no room for a bed in the room). With the mattress pushed up into one corner of the room, there is only about 6-8 inches of space between the two open sides and the opposites walls--- barely room to walk around the mattress, let alone place any other furniture. No closet. In the larger bedroom, there is the queen-sized bed with perhaps a couple of feet of space free. In that space there are boxes filled with the family's clothing and belongings. Windows are covered with blankets – less for decoration than to keep out the cold. The bathroom door has been boarded up and sealed with duct tape to prevent drafts. It isn't needed, since there is no running water in the house at all. No indoor toilet, just the outhouse. The kitchen has a couple of cupboards and a sink that again has no running water. For almost a year, until they finally obtained a water storage tank from the tribe, they had to cart all the water for their use from a family member's home in empty milk jugs. There was no stove or refrigerator for a year, until we managed to find them a second hand fridge. The electricity in the home is most certainly not up to code and fuses blow if too many things are plugged in at once.

The back door of the house is boarded up with plywood because the door was falling apart. So they have only one entrance/exit. We were able to replace the front door, which was also falling apart, on our recent visit. Their only heat source consists of 2 small electric space heaters, including one of the ones One Spirit was supplying last winter. There had been a wood stove in the house when they moved in, but it was so damaged by the prior tenants that it was unusable and had to be removed.

What moves me most is that these were not the worst conditions we encountered! I hear stories all the time about how people are trying to live and to raise their children.

The president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe recently declared a State of Emergency on the Pine Ridge Reservation because of the "overwhelming numbers of suicides and suicide attempts." In the 11 months between Oct 2008 and Aug 2009, the tribal Public Safety Dept responded to 96 suicide attempts or completions. In November 2009 alone, EMS responded to 17 suicide-related calls. That's more than one every other day! Many are teens, who see no hope living in these conditions.
As I said before, none of us can solve all these problems. But we can help supply the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter to those who are in need of those things. Everywhere we went, people thanked us for helping and told us how important even the seemingly little things, like soap, shampoo, toilet paper, shoes and cleaning supplies are.

I will try to post more often in 2010 (my New Year's resolution). I hope that the things I share will help you realize how important your small gifts and your caring are to those who receive them.

Betty B.