As the westward expansion of the United States, euphemistically called "Manifest Destiny," progressed toward the Pacific while the Nineteenth Century wore on, what has been characterized as a slow motion genocide of Native American peoples wreaked havoc on the traditional culture and way of life of the original occupants of the North American continent.
Gradually the survivors were herded onto reservations, often in less desirable areas, where the Great White Fathers, in our beneficence, promised to provide for the now downtrodden and demoralized tribal members. A once proud, fiercely independent lifestyle that was far more engaged with nature and sharing the earth was gradually deemphasized, changed to emulate white culture, and was to be forgotten.
In such a milieu, how can anyone wonder that a culture of dependency developed that led to poverty, addiction, and hopelessness?
Fast forward to the present, when despite a large-scale lack of awareness about the plight of our fellow American citizens who happen to be Native Americans, a number of charitable organizations have begun to extend various types of aid to the residents of reservations all over the country. One Spirit is one of these charities, and there are other concerned groups trying to help the Oglala Lakota. The question is how, and to what end.
One Spirit, as conceived of by Jeri Baker, from the outset was intended to be different than some groups that focus on doing things for the Lakota. It is our aim to use our donations and programs as a way of involving the Lakota themselves in working toward their own advancement and cultural pride. Toward that end, we employ Lakota tribal members themselves on the Pine Ridge Reservation to operate the programs we offer, not limited to the operation of the Allen Youth Center, the Charging Buffalo Facility, the running program, the wood program and of course, our core mission of distributing nutritious food to over 5,000 members of the oyate every month.
The Oglala Lakota are a proud people with a great heritage of standing for their four main values of generosity, courage, respect, and wisdom. As with any cohesive social group, there are those who have begun to lose the battle to overcome the privations of poverty, unemployment, substance abuse, and rough living conditions.
But there are many Lakota who have refused to buckle under the weight of the challenging conditions that reservation life remains afflicted with, even after rather benign neglect from the government, and people, that put them there. They are fighting to stand tall and make life better for all Lakota, and to ensure their unique and complex culture does not sink into history, but remains vibrant and passes on to new generations.
One important aspect of this struggle is to try and avoid simply accepting conventional charity. Rather, these Lakota heroes want to be involved in bringing the fruits of charitable endeavors to their fellows. That is, of course, exactly what One Spirit tries to do by using our donations to involve and employ tribal members themselves to execute the programs we are able to fund. This is a vital difference in how we do things.
Toward that end, we employ Lakota tribal members to handle food and firewood distribution. The Allen Youth Center is operated by Lakota, and undertakes jobs to improve the community and show young people the right path to pride and independence. The Charging Buffalo Facility, open after four years of fundraising and hard construction work by tribal members, is providing employment and income for the Lakota, who own and operate it.
The list goes on, but the crux of our projects, in a manner a bit different than some charities, is helping the Lakota help themselves---not doing things for them. We believe that is more empowering and reduces the possibility of dependency. Thanks to you, our generous supporters, One Spirit is able to blaze a new trail in how a charity employs its donations to try and foster an equal partnership with our friends among the Oglala Lakota.