…it’s hard to remember you set out to drain the swamp.
In this case, the “swamp” created by one of the harshest winters on Pine Ridge (the Rez) has had the Lakota people and One Spirit personnel working overtime to try and help the increasingly desperate numbers of Lakota cope with food shortages (not helped by the government shutdown), the need for more firewood, and even basic things like clean drinking water and warm clothing.
I interrupt this letter to note that, as the second major blizzard battered Pine Ridge this past week, FEMA has still not acted on tribal requests for federal disaster assistance. Things on the Rez are so dire that even the Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Carmen Yulin Cruz, who is no stranger to poor interactions with the Feds, mentioned Pine Ridge as a further example (beyond Puerto Rico) of slow and inadequate support for people of color after disasters. This to be compared with the swift disaster declaration by the Trump administration after the flooding in Nebraska---but of course, that did not principally involve Native peoples. This lends further context and immediacy to this letter that details the many things One Spirit is accomplishing, and trying to expand, to help the Lakota in their urgent need. Still helping them to help themselves, they desperately need further support after this winter. If not us, who?
MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE SWAMP…
The initial and still central task we have set for ourselves at One Spirit is to try and provide healthy, nutritious food for as many people as donations will allow in our Monthly Food Program. However, initial successes have led to expanded demand, and we are trying to establish food bank centers across the Rez, beginning with Allen. As more members of the oyate have learned of our programs, the urgent need to increase our outreach has meant we are having to ask our loyal donors for possible extra donations, and to encourage them to reach out to acquaintances and co-workers to expand our donor base.
In the meantime, we have continued to try and expand the other facets of One Spirit to help the Lakota help themselves. At this time, amid the rush of blizzards and floods and the urgent delivery of food, fuel, and more through the hard work of our Lakota brothers and sisters, we would like to stop and take a moment to look at all of the other work One Spirit is doing on the Pine Ridge Rez.
BEYOND FOOD AID
The Okini List and Sponsorship programs provide needed clothing and other articles for families. There have been literally thousands of donations through these programs, as well as more personal contact between donors and recipients.
The Wood Stove Program, begun last year, tries to find safer wood-burning equipment and venting to reduce the incidence of fires, which destroy homes every winter. The Wood Program collects harvested and donated wood, cut and split by modestly-compensated Lakota employees, and distributes the fuel to the neediest households, some of which depend on wood heat as their sole source of warmth. Since many Lakota households have young, old, and in between sharing the same roof (which usually lacks enough insulation), these programs are as vital for health and well-being as the food programs are.
CHARGING LIKE A BUFFALO
The successful culmination of years of fundraising and construction led to the opening of the One Spirit Charging Buffalo Facility last year. Now in the last stages of USDA certification, this facility will enable the Lakota to process their own buffalo and game meats (as opposed to having to haul the meat off the Rez). The resulting products will be available to members of the oyate, and eventually for sale to the public, providing healthy protein and employment. Again: helping the Lakota help themselves---not merely handing out charity. The Facility is now solar powered as well, thanks to our partnering with Everybody Solar. By the way, the Allen Youth/Community Center has been solar powered since July of last year!
ORGANIC AND LOCAL
One Spirit began last year to partner with local organic gardeners for a twofold purpose. First, we have been able to purchase locally grown, healthy produce for inclusion in the Monthly Food Program and for our developing food bank plans. Second, we are lucky enough to have master instructors to pass on their wisdom to oyate members as they begin to expand their own gardens. Couple this with the generous support of some farmers near the Rez, and we are providing much healthier food to supplant junk food and empty calories in what qualifies as a food “desert.”
THE ALLEN MIRACLE
Of course, no listing of all of the wonderful programs that your donations are helping bring to the Pine Ridge Reservation would be complete without noting the incredible expansion and growth of the Allen Youth/Community Center. From humble beginnings to try and provide a safe place for the youth of Allen (often referred to as the poorest community in the United States), the Center has grown to become a true resource for all of the people of the Allen area, and is a pilot program that we intend on expanding to other towns on the Rez.
The ongoing growth of the Allen Youth/Community Center is why we added “Community” to its name. Jennifer Richards, the Program Director, is expanding Center programs that offer a safe place for children with mentoring and guidance on issues ranging from cultural interests to suicide prevention to healthy sports to drug avoidance to providing some of the healthiest food these kids will receive all week long, it is also becoming a place for adults to find warmth, nutrition, a sense of community, and support for traditional Lakota culture and arts. We have plans in place, under the wise guidance of Travis Thunder Bull, to offer archery, basketball, running and other sports activities for the youth. In addition, the already successful art programs, ranging from bead work to traditional costume making to pottery and clay sculpture training and more will continue to grow and increase in scope. We have had nationally-known artists and experts in already to conduct workshops, and more are on the horizon. We are also working to establish a food bank to help distribute needed aid to more families.
Again, thanks to Everybody Solar and their assistance, the Allen Youth/Community Center is a sustainable solar facility.
We have also been asked to explore ways for the Manderson area to begin the creation of their own youth center, and that is a truly exciting possibility.
ON SO MANY FRONTS
Thus, you can see that One Spirit is succeeding on many fronts in our goal to help the Oglala Lakota lead healthier, happier, and more productive lives. In a paradoxical fashion, our very success, thanks to all of you, has continued to raise requests from all over Pine Ridge. This means we are always in need of any additional donations of funds, in-kind items, volunteer work, or anything you can provide to keep the momentum going.
We have never lost sight of the food needs that were our initial focus, but wanted to take this opportunity to fill our loyal supporters in on the many other programs and possibilities we are undertaking at One Spirit. We are predominantly a team of unpaid volunteers: compare that with the salaries of executives at beltway charities. We also know that your support is based on the same feelings of love for our fellow American citizens, the Lakota, who have been poorly treated since their land was seized in the Nineteenth Century. Rather than embracing pity, we choose to embrace partnership with our Lakota brethren, helping them to help themselves within an umbrella of their traditional culture and beliefs.
Wopila Tanka to all of you for your support, understanding, and positive energy you send to the Lakota and One Spirit. Let us move forward to more success and friendship!