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To the Brow of the First Hill or My Trip to Pine Ridge

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PostPosted:     Post subject: To the Brow of the First Hill or My Trip to Pine Ridge Reply with quote

Horace Smith, December 20, 2004
Revised January 1, 2005

Carolyn has asked me to write of my trip to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation on the weekend of December 12-13 so here goes.

A Newborn Is Introduced to the Cosmos

Ho! You Sun, Moon, Stars,

All you that move in the heavens,

I bid you hear me!

Into your midst has come a new life.

Give your consent, I implore you!

Make its path smooth, that it may reach

The brow of the first hill!

Omaha Indian

After reading this article in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship magazine that I get each month, I decided to look into the situation at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Over the last few years I have met some wandering Indian men from the “rez” and have read of the standoff at Whiteclay Nebraska a few years ago when the Lakota Sioux from South Dakota tried to shut down the beer-selling in Whiteclay. (Whiteclay’s only reason for existence is to sell beer to Indians from SD.)

I found the web-pages for the Friends of Pine Ridge Reservation and the Yahoo! Message-board group and was immediately overwhelmed by the obvious needs of the people there. I will enclose some facts and some web-page addresses at the end of this letter.

So I went to the Thrift Store down the street who had a half-price sale on December 11 and loaded up on children’s (boy’s) clothes and a few odd toys. Carolyn also shopped there and elsewhere for girls clothes. Then at Costco I got some big bags of vegetables which are a great buy at Costco. Safeway had a hundred pounds of potatoes for ten bucks. And of course Costco had tomatoes for $1.40 a pound instead of 4 and 5 dollars near the reservation.

Very early on I was confused about making contacts with someone at Pine Ridge to handle the stuff because some of the web-pages suggested NOT visiting the Reservation. I called the people in the article, both ABOUT in Whiteclay and Pastor Leon Matthews in Pine Ridge. I also talked to the Denver Indian Center. All these people said Go! So I went. Leon Matthews said I would stay with his family and I did Sunday night. He is pastor of the Pine Ridge Gospel Fellowship Church which is now being supported by the Wesleyans and the American Baptist Convention. The church building, his house and a building being renovated as a coffee house are together on one block at the center of the town.

When I got there we took the van-load of goods 3 or 4 miles north to a conference center that he had taken over from the Seventh Day Adventists. Big place with a large conference building, a gym, a house for the director (Ken Martin from Mississippi), a new industrial arts building where they teach carpentry, electrical work and other employable skills. We left the goods there and they said they would call families in from the “rez” to pick them up. This was disappointing to me because I wanted to see the kid’s faces and be sure that “poor” kids were getting the clothing. Leon and Ken smiled at that. They assured me that I couldn’t find a kid there who wasn’t poor.

So we went to the Sunday night church service which consisted of fifteen teen-agers, about half white kids and half Indians watching Spiderman 2 projected on the wall of the building. I was impressed with the $2500 digital projector and Leon explained that Bill Clinton had come to Pine Ridge and among other things had built a Boys and Girls Club which was funded with more money than they could spend. He (Leon) had written a Grant request and been give $15000 from their money to spend on equipment. He also had a large high-powered computer at the house which he uses well.

Monday morning Leon gave me a tour of the Pine Ridge area and Whiteclay. I stood on the hill at Wounded Knee where the men, women, and children are buried in a common grave. The U.S. Army went off and left their frozen bodies piled in a ditch after shooting them to pieces with the Hotchkiss guns. Leon’s mother’s and father’s graves are at the entrance to the cemetery which is in front of the Episcopal church . My army doesn’t shoot Indians any more, we give them a government allotment each month so that people whose genes provide no natural immunity to alcoholism will never be a threat again.

I rode over the land that his relatives own, mostly leased to white ranchers, incredibly beautiful land. As we drove around the Indian radio station was on, first playing drum music and then there were two old guys just talking about local politics, the tribal council, and such things. I kept saying, “those guys have it right, they know what they’re talking about.” Soon we went up a steep hill that had a little studio and radio tower on it and went inside to talk to the manager, a white man who wanted to run a coffee-house type show from Leon’s church next month. After they finished talking and we were leaving the studio, here came two dried-up little men with pony tails and I was introduced to them. I was stunned to find out they were the two men I had been listening to earlier. They must be my age or older. I left them with my encouragement to stay on the air.

Whiteclay, Nebraska is America at its worst. The stores sell four million cans of beer a year to alcoholics from Pine Ridge, who sit against the buildings, pile into a “flop house”, or lie on the sidewalks. It was very cold. It gets to 40 below zero sometimes. A lot of them freeze to death I believe. There are no hot air grates like the homeless in Denver find to sleep on.

The people of ABOUT and 555 in Whiteclay have bought a huge old building which is being operated as a thrift shop and renovated for manufacturing, classrooms, and you-name-it. They are very sincere Christian types who work very hard against terrible odds to help the Native Americans. They had a Drug/Alcohol program going in a nice, multi-building facility south of Whiteclay but they couldn’t keep it going. They are trying to re-start it but I think they face staggering odds to get money at this time for alcoholism treatment. They use the Overcomers model of treatment which is a combination of AA’s 12 steps and Bible study. This seems to be in use on other reservations, like the Navaho in Arizona.

The 555 group partners with The Hands of Faith Ministries in an organization they call ABOUT (A Binding of Us Together), which seems to be about bringing all the churches and other helping groups together. The Hands of Faith Brochure didn’t scan well so I have extracted some data from it. Here it is.

The Hard Facts of Our Ministry Field

95% of all spouse and elderly abuse incidents are alcohol related.

Reservation unemployment averages 85% with 70% of those unemployed lacking the skills to get or maintain a job.

Arrests for drunkenness in 2000 were 11,606 on a reservation with population less than 30,000.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a factor in 47% of newborns & teen suicides are increasing...

All the demographic data about the reservation are depressing. Alcoholism at 70%, diabetes above 50 %, life expectancy for men is 48 years.

By noon on Monday I had been there 20 hours and couldn’t take anymore. I left and headed south. It took another stop at Cabela’s in Sidney, Nebraska, where I had loaded up on clothes for myself the day before to get my head back in the world of unlimited consumer goods. I had bought some safari pants, a safari shirt, plaid shirt with white-tail deer embroidery and new walking shoes so I could look like an Indian would look if he had a VISA card.

I am going to stick some more things in here. It may be too much, but the whole thing is too much.


-Good clean used clothing and shoes

-Personal items (tooth paste, tooth brush, comb, brush, hair accessories, shampoo, conditioner, bath soap)

-Bath towels and washcloths

-Bedding (sheets and blankets)

-Dish soap

-Laundry soap

-Used furniture( dressers, beds chair and table, couch)

-Toilet paper

-School supplies (notebooks, pens, pencils, erasers, colored pencils, markers, rulers, glue sticks, pencil sharpeners, folders, crayons)

-Cooking skillets and pans

-Non-perishable foods

-Craft items

-We collect toys, coloring books, stuffed animals and anything that is appropriate for children of K to 8th grade ages. We save these items and give them away each Christmas to the children in the schools.

-Help with propane (check or money order made out to Midwest Coop)

-Help with food ( Wal-Mart gift cards)

As you can see the needs are many, but when you live on such a fixed income and barely have enough money to make ends meet, there is none left for the other things in life. This is where our internet friends and we help out.

You probably can’t get the Yahoo! Group message board to come up unless you become a member of the board, which is easy. These people really pump the knitted goods into the reservation.

I have about a thousand pages of stuff from the Internet. The pictures I took of Leon and Belva beside their home didn’t show up for some reason. They were standing in front of a basement doorway entrance added to the house by a work crew from the First Baptist Church of Radford Virginia. Needless to say they were stunned to hear that I had been a member of that church for 25 years and that Carolyn and I were married there. I’ll get another picture when I go back.

I hope I can inspire somebody to help those people in any way.

Merry Christmas! And Happy New Year!

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