What will this winter bring to Pine Ridge?

Many of you have read and viewed the photographs posted from a 1922 Social Survey done on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation.  I’ve repeatedly stated my purpose of informing and educating others about the living conditions on the reservation in 1922.  A variety of images and texts have motivated comments about this ‘history.’  Well this ‘history’ is ongoing, it has not ended as a some of you have noted via the Cheyenne River Youth Project links and posts.  Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart-Jordan has written extensively about the ongoing consequences of historical events upon Lakota people. In “Return to the Sacred Path” she outlined her theory of intergenerational unresolved trauma and continuous grief within Lakota culture. She also created and implemented a culturally centered method to attempt to effectively address these ongoing issues. But the breadth and depth of the issues involved is vast and there are no quick fixes.  

Today I’d like to share the ‘scribblings’  of a friend currently living on Pine Ridge.  What follows is a small portion of shared current experiences from a caring individual with no agenda for any personal gain.

J’s  “Scribblings”:    

Accidents involving loose animals are very common on the rez.  “John” once totaled a car when he hit and killed a horse sending its blood and guts through the broken windshield all over him.  Do I make you feel that you would like to visit me???!!  Why am I so drawn to this place with all its problems?  All I know is that I am and that I will try my hardest to make a difference if and when I can.

Last week I discovered that a Lakota friend was about to have her electricity cut off.  She had just returned to work after months of recovering from an accident in which her leg was run over by a car and fractured badly.  There was no sick leave or unemployment benefit.  She has children at home and also takes care of several young grandchildren, two of whom require electric nebulizers to help them breathe.  I heard her on the phone trying and failing to get help.  Lacreek, the white-owned electricity company, is notorious for its unwillingness to work with people and the tribal groups she contacted said they had no resources to help her.  I already knew that her partner had died in her arms during an asthma attack a few weeks ago.  She had given him CPR, but when she called 911 the ambulance was responding to another emergency and did not make it to her house in time.  Eventually I got up the courage to ask her what was happening and she was willing to talk.  She told me that she owed money, but had had no income while recuperating in order  to pay that and other bills.  I spent the next day contacting non-profits and foundations and managed to get her power bill paid by two groups and a promise to fill her empty propane tank from another.  What is really sad is that I know she is only the tip of an iceberg and there are many others in dire need that have already been cut off.  And winter hasn’t even begun yet!

 Yesterday I found out that my friend’s  propane tank was still empty.  She had called the company (white-owned again) repeatedly and the customer service person insisted that there was no payment on record.  This was entirely untrue as money had been sent electronically.  After a lot of back and forth the president of the non-profit finally got someone on the phone who agreed that the money had been received and said that they would deliver the gas later in the day.  I will have to check today that it actually happened.  Apparently the charity has had this problem with the Lakota Plains Propane Company on several occasions.  What is wrong with everyone here?  There is no choice for utility providers and no-one at the existing ones seems to care at all.

My Lakota friend asked if the charities could also help also her relative.  It turns out that her relative has had no power for seven months.  The children are having to stay with their grandparents as the house is too cold.

Several people have asked me how they can help.  A number of charities purporting to support Native Americans are actually only self-serving and get very bad ratings on the independent watchdog service www.charitynavigator.com.  One of these is National Relief Charities.  It operates under several different entities, most notably American Indian Relief Council and American Indian Education Fund (I think the latter is its correct title).  This organization has fantastic sob-story marketing and sends out massive quantities of worthwhile sounding appeals, but more than 50% of its $20 million plus annual income is spent on fundraising, the executive staff salaries are very high, and only a tiny fraction actually makes it to fund their programs.  It is not right that they and other similar groups attract people who want to help relieve this crippling poverty and then misuse their donations.  The wasted money is desperately needed by those simply trying to survive in conditions that should be totally unacceptable in modern America .

 The two groups that helped my Lakota friend are ONE Spirit (www.nativeprogress.org) and Hearts of the Sacred Spirit (www.heartsofthesacredspirit.org).  Both are 501(c)(3) organizations and donations to them are tax-deductible.  Neither is large – in fact the latter is run by a husband and wife out of their home.  Both are all volunteer groups and no-one gets paid a salary.  Both work only on the Pine Ridge Reservation and have contacts here that inform them of the local needs.  Money goes directly to the needy without red tape or delays.

There is another organization that lists many Lakota-run groups and the reservation schools and runs donation drives for their specific needs.  (www.friendsofpineridgereservation.org.  It does an amazing job of providing school supplies, clothing, books, sewing supplies, etc., etc.

A big organization that is very active on this and other reservations is Running Strong for American Indian Youth, which has a top rating from BBB.  Their spokesman is Billy Mills, a Lakota man who won an Olympic gold medal in long distance running.  I saw him and met a number of the group’s officials at a community garden run by Roots and Shoots a couple of months ago.  They were visiting the reservation to check on the programs that they fund.

Life is uncertain from day to day.  I love the children that I work with and try to give them the attention that they crave.  People (especially teenagers) commit suicide at an alarming rate and desperately need jobs and hope.  Both are in very short supply.  Change must come from within, but those trying to improve the situation (and I have come across a number of them) need help and support (without religious or other outside agendas attached) so that they can implement the good ideas that they have.

Clicking on the photograph will take you to the Eagle Nest Center’s website for more information about Pine Ridge.

For another persepective consider viewing the work of Aaron Huey.

Aaron Huey is a photographer who has worked extensively on Pine Ridge. His work can be viewed at: http://www.aaronhuey.com/#/photo-galleries-1/pine-ridge/PR_web001


  1. Bo Stauffer said,

    June 15, 2013 at 2:24 am

    I recently heard about Hearts of the Sacred Spirit. when I saw it was operated from Newark Delaware I was a little suspicious. After reading your good report about them, I donated and plan to take a trip to Newark (I live in Lancaster PA which is not far from there). I used to donate to St. Joseph’s Indian School in Chamberlin, SD for years but when I called them on sending me Dreamcatchers made in China they continued to send them without an explanation or answer to my question why they couldn’t have natives make such an icon.

    • June 15, 2013 at 5:38 pm

      O yeah, I’ve hearf of such strange things. It’s weird because there are a lot of poor people on Pine Ridge who would like money for their dreamcatchers. One does wonder. Hello.

  2. November 30, 2010 at 1:50 am

    Astounding website, where did you come up with the specifics in this article? I am lucky that I came across it. i’m going to be checking out back again quickly to find out what other articles you may have.

    • November 30, 2010 at 8:40 pm

      Greetings Marvel Linnertz. Thanks for visiting/reading. Which pieces of information are you inquiring about?

  3. clegyrboia said,

    November 11, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    came across this the photographer is a brilliant speaker as well

    • November 11, 2010 at 7:28 pm

      Thank you for posting the link, Magda. Huey’s outline of historical events is very good. I really like his closing comments about giving back the Black Hills.

  4. artistatexit0 said,

    November 7, 2010 at 7:02 pm

    J’s story was very painful and made me think that this is America’s promise for the first Americans. I agree that Huey’s photographs are stunning. There is a formal beauty to them that frequently contradicts the subject matter and gives them that extra edge. I heard one of those political talking heads recently say that he believed much of America is one broken refrigerator away from bankruptcy and I can believe that. Of course, there are other ways of becoming bankrupt that have nothing to do with money and everything to do with how we treat our fellow human beings.

    • November 7, 2010 at 9:27 pm

      One of the reasons I posted the link to Aaron Huey’s work is because I know that he has been documenting life on PR for years with a concerned and compassionate heart. He’s not just a photojournalist who wanders onto the reservation for the ‘photo story’ shoot then departs shaking his head. I’m very glad you and everyone else has taken the time to see some of what his camera eye is capable of sharing.

      As for conditions on Pine Ridge and elsewhere–they’re longstanding and much the result of Government policy making for generations.
      Consider this, Dr. Charles Eastman was a trained Sioux physican at Pine Ridge in the winter of 1890. He was a good doctor by all accounts. But when he left the reservation to set up a private practice in a major city he could NOT make a living because white people would not go to an Indian doctor.
      Speaks volumes, doesn’t it?

  5. lynnwiles said,

    November 6, 2010 at 2:40 am

    So many people who live on the coasts have no idea of the poverty of the native people who live in isolated areas in the middle of this country. Thank you Eva for reminding those who know and educating those that don’t.

    • November 7, 2010 at 9:33 pm

      Lynn, you’re right, many people have no idea that there is such poverty right here in the US. I met a white man on Pine Ridge one winter who told me that he lived in Rapid City where he’d taken a job to get some relief from the madness of NYC. When his NYC friends visit him he brings them to the reservation to prove to them that there are third world living conditions right here in the states because they don’t believe what he tells them until they “see.” I was not too sure about his ‘field trip’ mentality–but it does illustrate our national ignorance of our own country.
      He and disagreed ‘strongly’ about the concept of ‘war’ in 1890 but that’s another issue.
      Thank you for your appreciation.

  6. clegyrboia said,

    November 5, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    This is a very powerful post and it made me realise how hard life is without welfare and having to depend on private welfare.
    The photo’s say more than a 1000 words.

    The first thing that came to my mind was give them solar panels give them windmills give them the resources to look after themselves. The idea of community gardens will help. Their life was once so different so proud and i can still see them being proud of what they are. I would like to get more information where i can buy their craft-work so the money i spend goes direct to them.
    Here in Europe there are many people interested in their culture and would buy their crafts but i am afraid it just goes to the white people and not to the Lakota or other tribes directly.

    THANKS for this

    • November 7, 2010 at 9:20 pm

      Clegyrboia, I have shared your request for information about crafts/arts with “J” and will post some information soon. You’re right that much money does not go directly to the artists unless you purchase directly.
      Your other comments are taken to heart. I ‘hear’ you.

  7. Meg said,

    November 5, 2010 at 1:38 am

    Aaron Huey’s work is wow! really wow! thank you so much for sharing this information. namaste.

    • November 7, 2010 at 9:35 pm

      Hi Meg. Huey cares about the people on Pine Ridge and I think that’s reflected in his photography. PR is not just another photo essay location for him. Thanks for reading and viewing.

  8. November 4, 2010 at 10:47 pm

    Wow thank you so much for posting the link to Aaron Huey’s work. I have always had a high regard for the power of great documentary photography to inform and transform. He is a master!

    • November 7, 2010 at 9:37 pm

      Kirstyfliesfree, lets hope that Huey’s work brings about some practical and useful transformation via its informative power.

  9. slpmartin said,

    November 4, 2010 at 8:54 pm

    Aaron’s photos are amazing in how they capture the legacy of continued governmental abuse and neglect…they have a haunting beauty.

    • November 7, 2010 at 9:39 pm

      Charles, yes, Huey’s photographs capture a great deal of tragic beauty. What modern stories they tell.

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