My heart has been heavy this week. I’ve been sad, irritated and short tempered. (To the chagrin of my family!). I am a very empathetic person, and the feelings of others often resonate very strongly within me. Many times, when tensions and energies are very strong, I struggle to understand, and contain my thoughts and feelings. That has certainly been the case this week. With all that happened last weekend and over this past week, my heart has been drawn back to my home state of South Dakota and the beautiful Lakota American Indians with which I lived in 1994 and 1995.
For those new to my blog, or if you aren’t aware of my story, In January of 1995, my first born son died when he was 8 days old, from complications due to several birth defects. Before and during that event in my life, my husband and I lived on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in south central South Dakota, where we worked as teachers.
The Lakota people are beautiful souls, strong willed, giving and kind. What follows is an article I posted on my other blog: My Walk in the Woods. I begrudgingly had to stop that blog due to lack of time. However, in that blog, I discuss spirituality and my journey to God, something just as dear to me as nutrition, if not more so.
I felt very strongly that the message of the Lakota people and the plight of the American Indians in general had to be heard, especially after what has transpired across our country over this past week. I try not to be political in this blog, because that’s not normally what this blog is about, however, this article is my response to what is going on in our country. I apologize ahead of time if this offends anyone. Trust me when I say that is not my intention. I felt a very…very…very strong urge in my heart and soul to post this article, and share their story, from my perspective. And I ALWAYS follow my heart.
Before I get to the main article, however, I wanted to share a TREMENDOUS video I found called WE SHALL REMAIN. I’m uncertain if it is of Lakota origin, but it does highlight the plight of ALL American Indians, as well as their strength, wisdom and giving nature.
Here it is:
Now, onto the main article:
My journey with the Lakota People does not appear to be over. Many times on my spiritual journey, I am drawn to certain aspects of spiritual beliefs and life. Right now, I’ve been drawn back to the Lakota people, a beautiful, spiritual and proud group. There’s much we can learn from these amazingly strong individuals. I feel, quite strongly, that I am to bring the plight of these beautiful people to everyone’s attention.
I feel as though their history and
current living conditions have been
pushed aside and forgotten by society.
I hope to correct that.
Thinking back on my time on the Rez, my spiritual journey began, not on the night of Alexander’s birth, but the moment I signed the contract to be a teacher on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, six months before.
ROSEBUD INDIAN RESERVATION:
The Rosebud Indian Reservation is approximately 1970 square miles and encompasses Todd County, and a bit beyond, in South Dakota. It’s also the home of the Sicangu Oyate Lakota Sioux American Indians. (The Rosebud Sioux Tribe) The reservation population is roughly 13,000 people and is considered the second poorest county in the USA.
The current unemployment rate
is approximately 80%, with
76% living below the poverty line,
29% are homeless and
59% live in substandard housing.
PINE RIDGE INDIAN RESERVATION
Another South Dakota Reservation of which you should be aware is Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Pine Ridge is home to the Oglala Lakota American Indians. Pine Ridge is located in an isolated and desolate corner of the state, on the Badlands, and to the south of the Black Hills. It is 3,458 square miles, larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined. The current population of Pine Ridge, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, is approximately 48,000 people.
As bad as Rosebud is, Pine Ridge is worse. By all accounts and standards, living conditions are near those found in the third world. The per capita income on Pine Ridge is approximately $4000/year. In fact, two of the top five towns in the country, with the lowest annual income are on Pine Ridge. The Poorest town in the USA is Allen, South Dakota, located on Pine Ridge, with an average annual income of just $1,539/year. Number four on that same list is Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on Pine Ridge, with an average annual income of $2,403/ year. (To give you a frame of reference, the nationwide annual income is $53,000/year) In fact, 12 of the top 100 poorest towns on the list are South Dakota Towns, all located on one of the State’s Indian Reservations. Of those 12 poorest towns, 9 are on either Pine Ridge or Rosebud.
A few other economic statistics:
High School drop out rate is 70%.
The unemployment rate on Pine Ridge is 90%
92% of the population lives below the poverty line.
39% of the homes have no electricity
Over 33% of the homes lack basic water and sewage systems.
59% of the Reservation homes are substandard
Suicide rates on Rosebud, Pine Ridge and other reservations on the Great Plains are 10 times higher than other parts of the country. The life expectancy on Rosebud and Pine Ridge are approximately 47 years for males and 52 for females. That’s approximately 30 years younger than the nationwide average, and 1 year younger than Haiti, which is 48 years old and similar to the life expectancy in Afghanistan and Somalia.
Here are some other health statistics:
Obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer are all 800% higher
Liver disease is 13 x higher
Infant Mortality 5x higher
The tuberculosis rate is approximately 800% higher
1 in 4 infants are born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and/or drug addiction
You may be asking why they stay. If the situation is this bad, why don’t they just leave. A Lakota woman was asked this question in a documentary I watched. She simply said “Well, it’s our home.” The Lakota people have lived on this land (and thousands of square miles more) for tens of thousands of years. This is their home.
So, now that you have a basic idea as to the living conditions on the Rez, I’ll get back to my story, and what I’ve learned from the Lakota people. We lived in an apartment, arranged by the school district, in the town of Mission, South Dakota. Although this town is on an Indian Reservation, it is mainly populated by white people, employees of the school district and BIA officials (Bureau of Indian Affairs).
From a teaching perspective, these people were a bit frustrating at times. That said, they were some of the kindest, most compassionate people I’ve ever met, who would, quite literally, give you the shirt off their back. As an example, we were invited into a home on the Rez shortly after our arrival. Not knowing any better, I complemented the hostess on a beaded necklace she was wearing. She proceeded to take it off and give it to me. Apparently it’s part of the custom with the Lakota people. I think I gave a bracelet of mine in return. To be honest, I don’t recall. I was just so surprised.
One of the first things we did when we moved to Rosebud is go to the annual Pow wow. I loved it immediately. The costumes were so colorful and beautiful. The sound of the drums and the bells on the costumes was almost hypnotic. Below is a short video showing an example of a Pow Wow.
The Grand Entry at the annual Rosebud Pow Wow:
What did I learn from these beautiful people?
- Material possessions are meaningless – Having the biggest car or the biggest house isn’t what makes you important or better than someone. Life isn’t about that. It isn’t about how much you own, it’s about how much of yourself you give to others. As Chief Red Cloud said: “I am poor and naked, but I am the chief of the nation. We do not want riches but we do want to train our children right. Riches would do us no good. We could not take them with us to the other world. We do not want riches. We want peace and love.”
- Respect Grandmother Earth– I don’t think I really understood what it meant to respect the earth until I lived on the Rez and learned some of the beliefs and culture of these beautiful souls. To the Lakota, you can’t own land. Land is part of Grandmother Earth. Grandmother takes care of us, feeds us, clothes us, shelters us. You can’t own her, but you must respect her, you must take care of her. Only take from the Grandmother Earth what you need.
- Don’t be judgmental– Everyone has weaknesses and strengths. Everyone is on their own path. We don’t know what they are going through or where they’ve been on their path. We must focus on our own path…Search for your own weakness, our own strengths.
- We are all related, we are all one– I think the first time I heard this concept was on the Rez. Everyone, every person, every animal, every plant, every insect, Grandmother Earth, EVERYTHING is united There is no separation between nature, the universe or our own spiritual being. WE…ARE…ALL…ONE!
- It’s okay to show weakness-Be proud to be strong – Live an enlightened life. Being okay with weakness and showing pride in strength, shows honesty of character, and unity with the spirits, the body, the mind and the soul.
Native American Wisdom: Lakota Instructions for Living
These beautiful souls have strength of character. Their grandparents and great-grandparents were taken from the land they loved and thrown into a bad situation. Though some of the language, beliefs and dances have been lost, that strength of character is a built in trait, it’s who they are.
If you found value in this article…if you feel like their story is important, I hope you’ll help me get the word out and help me tell their story by sharing this article.
FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: http://www.blackhillsbadlands.com/lakota-sioux-culture