We seem to be living in an era fraught with many emergencies.
Some are more serious than others, some are more real than others and, depending on one’s point of view, pose potential catastrophes. From political upheaval and polarization to international affairs to climate issues that may render everything else moot, and on and on: if you are not concerned, you are not paying attention.
On the Pine Ridge Reservation in the heart of a brutal winter, with some food aid cut off owing to governmental issues, shortages of fuel for heat, massive unemployment and hopelessness, drug and alcohol problems, the emergencies closest to home are real, dangerous, and immediate.
One Spirit provides wholesome food for over 6000 Lakota monthly through the generous support of our regular donors, but we seem to always be somewhat short of being able to meet demand. This is especially true when food stamp distribution is disrupted because the federal government was shut down for a month (to allegedly address another “emergency”). Demand was significantly higher, and we were forced to dip into emergency funds to purchase and deliver more food aid around the Rez.
Steve Hernandez of One Spirit found himself making extra deliveries in the Allen Youth/Community Center school bus (after getting a battery charge and repairing flat tires) on icy and snowpacked roads to meet the extra demand we encountered around the town of Porcupine.
March does not promise to be any easier in our urgent needs to meet the nutrition requirements of as many members of the oyate as possible. We are also stocking food at the Allen Center, so immediate needs can be addressed in addition to our regular monthly food program. All of this vital aid is not inexpensive, and any extra donations that our supporters can provide will be put to good use at once.
But the news is not all grim, and not everything is an emergency. We are working on crisis and emergency prevention through our programs.
The Allen Youth/Community Center and its many programs to serve the people of the Allen area (and across the Rez), including safe house and mentoring activities, artistic and cultural programs, community food programs and dinners, and community beautification work is quickly becoming the vital focus of the Allen area. Despite the poverty and unemployment issues Allen suffers from, the residents still maintain pride in their heritage and a desire to make everyone’s life safer, healthier, and happier. Program Director Jennifer Richards works tirelessly to ensure the success of the diverse offerings of the Center, and we are doing all we can to support her work. Since we created and opened the Youth/Community Center, it has grown by leaps and bounds, and is a bright spot amid the “emergency culture” we seem to be experiencing.
Recently, a private Foundation, which has provided generous support in the past, has again stepped up to fund a scholarship award for a deserving Allen student. This will enable someone to receive education and training that can be brought back to continue serving the Lakota. One Spirit offers our deep gratitude for this gift.
With that in mind, and because the very success of the Allen Center is stretching our budget to the limit, we have decided to create a new branch of One Spirit, akin to the Okini List and other specialized programs. For those who are interested, an extra donation earmarked for the Allen Center will make you official members (helpers: wowasi in Lakota) of the newly-formed Friends of the Allen Youth/Community Center. Since the Center serves the very poorest community in the nation, with under $4000 per capita income annually, this is an opportunity to help quell a real, immediate “emergency” that will enable the Lakota of Allen to employ the Center to help lift themselves nutritionally, educationally, and culturally.
It is our hope that additional centers will eventually become possible in other towns on the Rez, but Allen seems like the best place to start, since the need is the so pressing.
Emergencies, large and small, real or imaginary, seem to dominate the news today. The new Friends of Allen Community group can take solace in knowing that a very immediate and urgently needed solution to the Center’s continued success is real, humane, and deeply appreciated.
Friends of the Allen Community can help by supporting a chosen program or in general. One group is supporting the Girls Defense program. Other programs include the vitally needed hot meals that are served several times a week to the kids and community members; the music and arts programs; the planned lock-ins that provide a place for youth away from drugs and alcohol; the cultural programs that include drum making, cradle boards, sewing star quilts and regalia; outdoor sports; gardening.
The goal of the Allen members is to make the programs self-sufficient as well as the center a hub of community activity. This is planned as a model to be replicated in other communities on the Rez.
Are you a member of a group or know a group that would like to support the Lakota people of Allen as they make their way out of the designation of “The Poorest Place in the United States.”