The Rez: Part 1!

Sorry for not writing for a while. I am in South Dakota visiting the PineRidge Reservation. This particular reservation is the poorest in the United States. In fact, Allen, where we are staying is the poorest city in the United States. The wonderful people who live her are Lakota Indians, one of the seven tribes that were called Sioux. I am currently reading a bit about Sitting Bull who was one of the most famous chiefs in the history of the Lakota.

The situation is an ultimate example of poor management. To give you an example of this poor management I’ll share with you a conversation that I and a friend had with Mark St. Pierre who is the head of the Wounded Knee Community Development organization just outside of Manderson, South Dakota. Ed Breeden and I sat down with him not knowing what to expect.

Mark has written a book entitled, Madonna Swan: A Lakota Woman’s Story. He has been working with the Lakota for 40 years trying to develop economic opportunities for people on the Rez. Mark is four days younger than me but has an incredible amount of energy, even though the leadership situation here continues to fight against progressive change.

He, and several others, have developed a plan to provide the Lakota people with jobs, income, and economic opportunity. However, the bureaucracy United States government and PineRidge Tribal Leaders limit the ability of Mark of others like him to improve the life of the Lakota.

An example of this is the limited funds available for indigenous improvement, while there are thousands of indigenous people within the authority of the United States. In other words, The Lakota are just one people out of many who are competing for these limited funds.

Another example is the cutting of funds for public radio. I did not like this before, but I like it even less. I and my students had the opportunity yesterday to work at KILI radio, the voice of the Lakota. KILI is a voice of hope within a dreary world. Yet, because of the public radio funding cuts KILI may shut its doors. Melanie who runs KILI does an excellent job with several full time, underpaid, employees and many volunteers.

The problems here are immense. Unemployment is somewhere around 80%. Alcoholism, drug abuse, and rape are ubiquitous. Money that does come in, ends up moving out in Rapid City and Chadron, Nebraska because the people cannot buy underwear on the Rez.  In fact, I was told that the amount leaving the Rez is approximately $80 million dollars.

I asked Leon Mathews, a pastor in PineRidge in the coffee shop where I met him about the corruption in Tribal leadership, and he told me there was no more than in US government. I had to give him that one. But the fact is those that are in power have more opportunity than those that are not in power.

The Rez is a classic example of insanity. Doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. I am here with four students from Warner Pacific where I teach, and we are learning so much. We are going to help two small businesses get started. We will be helping Michael Patton and Shelly Bentley sell shirts, beads, and quilts. At least this is a start. But the fact of the matter is that US Indian policy has been horrible since the 1800’s.

One of the families that attends the church we are staying at asked us to come to their house and look at their roof. It was leaking around the chimney. We climbed up on the roof and was amazed at the horrible repair work that had been done previously. Ed, who I mentioned before, and Matice, one of the students that travelled here with me, had to pull out the old shingles and replace them with new ones. Pete who is Lakota and lives at the house was helping on the roof. But the horrible job done previously illustrates the prejudice and lack of work ethic so evident here on the Rez.

The business of running a nation should not neglect any of its citizens. The Lakota who live here are citizens of the United States. They are people who are hurting, and have been hurting for a long time. If we are truly going to be managers we need to come together and figure out how to deal with the economic and social issues here on the Rez. I think I am coming back next year too. We need to keep trying.

And that is my thought for the day!


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