Progress Pics

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Lakota Connection

I took my measurements yesterday and was all set to post my monthly progress report this morning -- except that DH was just too exhausted to do our monthly photo session. So I promise to post the update either this evening or tomorrow.

I've mentioned a connection to the Lakota people in South Dakota, and Patsy (& a few others) have asked me about that. So I am devoting today's post to something that really is my heart. To keep this from being the longest post ever written I will condense parts of the story leading up to the present.

My paternal grandma was Native American, yet because of my parent's divorce I did not grow up around that side of the family. When I got older I sought out native friends and mentors to better understand that part of myself. I ended up befriending a woman who married a Lakota man and when they needed to go out to the reservation to help with a sick relative, I went with them per their invitation.

What I saw and experienced there changed my life and continues to do so every day. I will start with the facts and finish with how I am involved and what I do to help.

The Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, home of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux), is a land of contradictions, a place as poor in resources as it is rich in culture and history.

The terrain is stunning enough to bring tears to ones eyes. The sunlit prairies with their grasses and wildflowers, the mesas, the hills and cliffs, the picturesque valleys dotted with red cedar-- all of these take your breath away. Yet as one travels the Pine Ridge Reservation and meets with people there, a heart-piercing truth is revealed -- the scenic beauty of South Dakota is home to the poorest people in America.

Most of the land on Pine Ridge is rocky and the soil of poor quality. Most of the terrain is not conducive to farming, ranching or industry.

39 percent of Pine Ridge homes have no electricity. Most of the homes are of poor quality and many lack insulation, indoor plumbing, or central heat.

The average Lakota family has an annual income of under $4,000

If, like most Americans, you have been completely unaware of this, please read on and prepare for greater shocks:

Lakota people have the lowest life expectancy of any group in the Western hemisphere outside of Haiti

Lakota people have 8 times rate of diabetes (compared to the rest of the USA)

Lakota women have 5 times the rate of cervical cancer

Lakota people have twice the rate of heart disease and 8 times the rate of TB

The rate of suicide among adults is twice the national average, while their TEEN suicide rate is four times the national average

The infant mortality rate among Lakota Indians is 4 times the national average

The Pine Ridge Reservation is the size of the state of Connecticut, and yet the only Library is at Oglala College in Kyle. The reservation has no banks, no department stores, no movie theaters, etc.

You cannot take the bus and get a job at Walmart. There is no bus. There is no Walmart.

According to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and the Indian Health Service, Native Americans have the highest prevalence of Type 2 diabetes in the world. Treating diabetes for only those Native Americans who are currently diagnosed with diabetes would amount to $1.46 billion per year, or 40% of the total budget for Native American health care.

Per capita funding for Native American healthcare is 60% less than all other Americans and 50% less than federal prisoners. In total, there is a $900 million backlog in unmet needs for American Indian health facilities.

It was shocking to find out that people in America live this way when each year, millions of dollars leave here to aid other countries.

In addition to being moved into action regarding how the elders and children live, I also fell in love with Lakota culture -- spirituality, art, music, ceremony and tradition. This is a much bigger part of my life than I can relate in this one post.

According to a report issued by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, one in five homes on reservations lack complete plumbing facilities and less than 50% are connected to the public sewer system. This has lead to the creation of numerous health and environmental hazards. Additionally, Over 30% of American Indian families live in overcrowded housing and 18 percent are severely overcrowded with 25-30 individuals sharing a single home. These rates are over six times the national average.

Approximately 40% of housing on reservations is inadequate according to the federal definition, compared to only 6% nationwide. American Indians have the highest rate of home loan denial of any race in the United States; nearly 25%.

Alcoholism and drug abuse are huge problems on the rez. We want to help but we don't want to enable self-destructive habits by throwing money around without understanding where it is going.

Also, charity relieves immediate suffering but it does not empower people and is not a long- term solution. In the short-term, the way that the children and elders suffer makes the charity necessary -- but along with that effort we have developed relationships with Lakota people who would seek a better way.

Imagine being a kid and every day when you come home from school, this is where you go.

This is the Evergreen Housing project in Porcupine.

Ok, so what am I doing to help?

First, I've spent years cultivating relationships with people on the rez who are clean and sober and who live a traditional lifestyle, as preserving the cultural and spiritual traditions is also important to me.

This is one such family and I go this visit them every summer and attend Sun Dance while I am out there. That's me in the back and this was taken this past July.

Next, I could not do this alone, so my Best Friend, Jeanne, has helped me on this path. She is not Lakota but is native and was raised in tradition. She is a light in my life, believe me-- but of course, that's yet another story.

Anyway, Jeanne is an artist and a teacher. We took her skills and resources and my long-term connections in the rez and started a program to help young people earn money through their arts and crafts.

Lakota schools are in the bottom percentile for government funding and school drop out rate is about 70%. In a nutshell, we provide kids with supplies and resources to create craft items, both traditional and not. Jeanne and I then sell these in an eBay store and also at local pow wows.

We like to say that our eBay gift store is the place where gifts give twice-- because when someone buys something, they are giving a Lakota youth the dignity of being self-supporting -- which is an incredible gift where they live; and then when you give the item as a gift, the recipient receives a one-of-a-kind item made with love and gratitude.

This is how we started, now we want to do other things as well. We like helping the babies and pregnant moms as the infant mortality rate is so high there and the needs endless. So we are in the process of forming a non-profit so that we can do more types of fund raising.

We need to have an attorney or an accountant look over our paperwork (which costs money) and get the $750 IRS filing fee together. In the meantime, we keep helping the kids with their crafts and remain in close contact with many families there. I spend a lot of time on the phone -- LOL.

I'm sure that some of my blogging friends may want to help out by doing some of their holiday shopping in our eBay store. This post is already so long that I am going to end it here for today.

Within a day or two, I'll post pics of the sorts of things that the kids make, along with a link to the eBay store and some other info about how people can help if they want to.

We do not make a personal profit off of this. The kids are required to "donate" 20% of their earnings to help others in their community. So if an elder is freezing or a baby is hungry, we try to address that, and the kid's money is part of what is helping. (Of course the kid's money is not enough but that is another story)

Not only do they help themselves, but they help others as well and relieve some of the suffering around them. This is empowering for the kids and I cannot describe how grateful I am to be a part of something like this.

An experience I had at the sun dance in July is part of why I have lost so much weight -- but again, that is a story for another day.

If you want to speak privately with me on any of this, you can email me at loriannlockeATyahooDOTcom

Thanks for reading! Be good to you today and let's all take a deep breath and be thankful for what we have!


  1. Wow, thanks for sharing this Lori-Ann. You are an excellent writer as I felt like I was right there with you seeing all the pain and suffering these people are experiencing. Your comment about giving millions to other countries when this environment is right there in their back yard hit home to me.

    These types of posts are the reason that I find you so inspiring and proud to call you my "blog" friend. Please stop by my place for another blog award that you so rightly deserve.

  2. I had no idea. That's so informative Loriann. I'm looking forward to seeing your Ebay links.

    Hope you have a fabulous, successful weekend... stop by my blog for your award. Sandra got here first but I gave it to you first lol!

  3. Thanks so much for this. To say the statistics are shocking is as understatement... I'm ashamed to say that all I know about the native people is what I have read in a book I bought at The Museum of the Rockies, the last time I was over...

    Will email you privately later...


  4. Thanks for sharing this. I have a blog-friend I'd written with for almost a decade now who is out there on Pine Ridge. She also sells on EBay (bead work). I'm Mohawk myself, but was adopted by a white family, so I feel (sadly) totally divorced from my culture. On the other hand, there are times I feel blessed that I didn't grow up with the poverty and violence on the rez. It's sad that the two (tradition and poverty) go hand in hand like that.

  5. Wow, I had no idea. I can tell this is really something you care about. I think it is great doing what you are doing.

  6. I had absolutely no idea. I just assumed that people who lived on reservations were like those in California. With lots of money from the casinos. Thank you for sharing. Very compelling post.


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