Our Children Need Lakota Kinship

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Sicangu Lakota children engage in an archery activity during a 2016 summer event.

By Vi Waln

Lakota social systems have always revolved around strong kinship ties. Yet, the ongoing colonization of our people has undermined our sense of relationship to one another. Still, despite all we have faced as Indigenous people, the basic virtue of caring for one’s extended family is still alive in contemporary Lakota society.

September is Kinship Appreciation and Awareness Month in South Dakota. This is a time to recognize the people who care for members of their extended family or others. It’s a time to let our grandfathers, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, as well as other members of our Tiospaye, know how much we appreciate their willingness to open their homes to children who need care.

There continues to be a great demand for suitable homes to care for Lakota children. Our reservation communities especially need sober, stable families to open their homes to children who desperately need a place to live. There are many Lakota grandparents who have stepped up to this challenge and are now caring for their own Takoja, as well as other children in need. We appreciate their efforts.

Kinship has always been an essential aspect of Lakota Society. Many Lakota people are aware of the history of our people’s willingness to care for the less fortunate tribal citizens, especially children, elders and others who may need extra help due to a disability. Prior to the coming of the wasicu, there was no such thing as orphans in Lakota society.

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Sicangu Lakota youth participate in the 2016 Youth Wacipi Grand Entry.

Unfortunately, the strength of our Lakota kinship systems has deteriorated over the past 524 years. Today, many Lakota children are taken from their parents by the Department of Social Services and placed in long term foster care, usually in a non-Indian home. Unfortunately, when our children are placed with or adopted by non-Indian families, they are more likely to grow up without a sense of Lakota identity.

Still, even though our children might be placed in off-reservation homes with non-Indian people, they tend to find their way back to their blood relatives when they reach adulthood. Many Lakota people pray for these children who are lost in the system to return home. But it’s very difficult when these relatives who grew up off the reservation try to reestablish ties with their birth families.

For instance, we are well aware of the lateral oppression and violence which is so prevalent in most of our reservation communities. For one reason or another, many of our people work very hard at viciously tearing others apart on the reservation. The crab-in-a-bucket mentality is something everyone living on the reservation has experienced at some point in their life.

Consequently, this dysfunctional behavior makes it difficult for the people who were raised in non-Indian homes to ever experience the sense of kinship that those of us who live on the reservation take for granted. It isn’t easy for them to return to their families on the reservation.  They often aren’t emotionally or mentally prepared to cope with the dysfunctional behavior exhibited by their own relatives.

For instance, relatives who grew up in non-Indian homes off the reservation are often called derogatory names by their own family members. They are often ridiculed or belittled because they were raised by white people. This is conduct unbecoming to Lakota people. This oppressive behavior directed at our own relatives doesn’t demonstrate the Lakota value of kinship.

So, even though many of us pray for these lost children to return to their Tiospaye, it often doesn’t work out for them. We have to remember that they were not exposed to the lateral oppression that those of us living on the reservation are accustomed to suffering on a daily basis. As a result, many of these relatives who were lost in the social services system as children, cannot cope with the treatment they face upon returning to the reservation. Many of them leave again to never return. They would rather stay away to avoid being mistreated by their blood relatives.

We have many Lakota grandparents who are raising their grandchildren, and in some cases, their great-grandchildren. These are the families holding our value of Lakota kinship intact. Also, many of our elders are surviving on a fixed income. They may face many hardships in providing for the basic needs of their grandchildren. It’s not fair to our elders when they must step in to raise their abandoned grandchildren. Yet, we rarely hear them complain because they truly understand the importance of Lakota kinship.

Our Lakota grandparents work hard to find ways to provide food, shelter and clothing for their grandchildren. Grandparents who do not hesitate to take their grandchildren into their homes are being good ancestors. They are determined to help their grandchildren grow up knowing their own Lakota culture. Those children who are fortunate enough to have the support of their extended families are blessed. Even though they may have a hard time, they are still able to have a childhood which allows them to grow up with family.

Many grandparents sacrifice an early retirement in order to provide for their grandchildren. It’s not easy to raise children on the reservation today. Alcohol, drugs, violence, peer pressure and bullying are realities we all live with. Still, many grandparents and other relatives don’t give a second thought to opening their home to extended family members in need.

Wopila to the Lakota people who continue to embrace our kinship values. You are the people ensuring Lakota culture stays alive. Wopila for your generous efforts to keep our sense of family alive for the unborn generations.

Those Pills Can Take Your Breath Away

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Courtesy Photo

By Vi Waln

The number of people who abuse prescription narcotics is staggering. We all know someone who struggles with an addiction to opioids. These are the people who are constantly searching for prescription pills, such as hydrocodone, morphine or oxycodone.

September 19-23, 2016 is Heroin and Opioid Awareness Week. The US Department of Justice, along with the US Attorney’s Office, will sponsor activities across the country to raise awareness of the dangers associated with opioid addiction. They will host free screenings of the 1-hour movie “Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict” this week. On Tuesday, September 20 the movie will be shown at the Kresge Recital Hall at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, SD beginning at 6:30pm.

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On Wednesday, September 21 another free screening will be held at 6pm in the Elks Theatre located in down town Rapid City, SD. A panel discussion will follow each screening. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), State’s Attorneys, Psychologists, Counselors and Emergency Medical Services personnel will discuss the effects of opiate drug abuse with movie goers.

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Along with opiate overdoses, some of which have resulted in death, in South Dakota there have been at least 2 deaths attributed to heroin overdoses this year. The number of people who overdose and die from opiates will continue to rise as long as they do not seek treatment. Alcohol has been the scourge of the Lakota people since its introduction to us. Yet, today the number of our people addicted to opiates will soon match, or even surpass, those addicted to alcohol.

On the streets of our reservation communities, the widely sought prescription pills are referred to by the slang terms “hydros” or “oxys.” Heroin and opium are illegal drugs which are in the same drug class as these prescription pills. Many people don’t intend to become addicted to pills, but the dependence upon a prescription drug can happen fast. For example, people can become addicted when they are prescribed hydrocodone or oxycodone to manage post-surgery pain.

Consequently, it is estimated that at least 78 people die every day from an opioid overdose. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that “at least half of all US opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid. In 2014, more than 14,000 people died from overdoses involving prescription opioids.”

Data compiled by the CDC also shows that people aged 25-54 years had the highest overdose rates. American Indians or Alaskan Natives have some of the highest overdose rates in this country. In addition, nearly 2 million people in the US either abused or were dependent on prescription opioids in 2014.

Obviously, this data proves how dangerous opiates are. Consequently, there have already been several deaths on the Rosebud Reservation unofficially attributed to an opiate overdose by local people. When someone dies from an unintended opiate overdose, the cause of death could be listed as suicide. Death by suicide is one of the highest statistics we have in Indian Country.

“To understand the appeal of opioids it is necessary to understand the effects. At low to moderate doses the ‘High’ from opioids is not intoxication or impairing (as with alcohol). It does not feel like alcohol or marijuana, or hallucinogens. It instead provides feelings of intense joy and comfort, more so than can be obtained naturally. It is similar to feelings of great accomplishment, or achievement of a lifetime goal, rather than an impairment. At higher doses, breathing is slowed, eventually to the point of death. This respiratory depression is the cause of overdose deaths.” From The National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment

If you are taking opiates for pain, please know there are other ways to manage chronic pain. It takes strength and courage to overcome any addiction. Our children deserve to grow up in homes with adults who are sober and have clear minds. Remember, children will mimic everything you do, including the abuse of alcohol and drugs.

Please find a way to get off the pills. You could literally lose your breath by taking those drugs. When you unintentionally take too many hydros or oxys and stop breathing, you’ll likely be just another number driving up the suicide statistics in Indian Country.

Cigarette Butts are Not Biodegradable

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The cigarette butt you throw on the ground stays there until it is picked up. Photo by Vi Waln

By Vi Waln

During the annual celebration at Rosebud, there were lots of complaints about trash. People didn’t like seeing litter all over the fairgrounds. Overflowing trash bins were an eyesore.

However, there were many fair goers who didn’t give a second thought when tossing their trash on the ground. For instance, candy wrappers were left all along the parade route. Later that afternoon, the wacipi grounds were strewn with used paper napkins, Styrofoam containers and plastic cups.

Even though there seemed to be trash everywhere during the 4-day annual celebration at Rosebud, we have to send Kudos out to our tribal Solid Waste crew. They kept on top of all your trash by disposing of it all in a timely manner. We can also thank the many children who camped with their family during the fair for their hard work in keeping the grounds clean. These young people were recruited by Rosebud’s Solid Waste program each morning to pick up trash. Each bag filled with fairgrounds trash was traded to Solid Waste for a strip of carnival tickets.

People who drove by the fairgrounds on Monday morning noticed much of the trash was gone, thanks to the efforts of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s Solid Waste program. In the past, there have been times when no effort was made to pick up the post-Rosebud Fair trash. It was all left on the ground to blow away.

So we didn’t see any rubbish caught on the fence at the softball field this week. Many of us appreciate those hard-working children who kept the fairgrounds picked up every morning during the fair. Also, the Solid Waste crews and the day laborers did an excellent job of clearing the fairgrounds of all that unsightly litter tossed aside by fair goers.

We hear many people complain regularly about all the trash in the ditches as they drive down the road. Yet, some of these same people will toss out trash from their vehicle without a thought as to where their garbage winds up. The blame always seems to fall on the Solid Waste program – it’s all their fault when trash winds up in ditches, in our yards, in our streets and stuck to barbed wire fences.

When everyone decides to take personal responsibility for disposing of their trash properly, the litter we tend to see everywhere might not be such a huge problem. Some people will take their bags of household trash and throw them in the ditches. This trash eventually winds up strewn along highways. One windy day can scatter that same litter for miles.

Sometimes families will clean up their yards and along their roads in an effort to keep their land free of trash. Yet, other people will drive along those same roads and throw their aluminum cans, empty food wrappers, glass containers and plastic bottles out into the ditches. Some people feel like it is a losing battle to keep their yards and land clear of debris.

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Photo courtesy of Northern Illinois University

Another major litter problem is cigarette butts. People have attempted to clean up all the trash on the fairgrounds. Yet, when you take a closer look, the cigarette butts are still there because most smokers really don’t give a thought about leaving their waste behind. Consequently, the cigarette butts you threw on the ground while you were at the at the Rosebud fairgrounds will still be there next year.

Cigarette filters are a form of plastic and are not biodegradable. Cigarette butts can be found in all the places where people smoke. On the reservation, we see people smoking cigarettes everywhere. Unfortunately, most cigarette smokers have zero regard for their designated area, or any area for that matter. That is, a smoker will simply toss a cigarette butt on the ground, step on it and then walk away. It’s gross to see cigarette butts laying all over the place.

We can all help to keep our homelands free of trash by disposing of it in dumpsters. Smokers can help keep our reservation free of cigarette butts by disposing of their filters in an appropriate container instead of all over the ground. Children who watch adults throw trash on the ground and walk away from it will do the same thing. Please respect our land by keeping it clean.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Human Love: A Formidable Weapon

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HLN’s Morning Express with Robin Meade reported that people gathered near the Missouri River were “armed with weapons and pipe bombs.” Photo from Facebook.

By Vi Waln

I never wanted to be a journalist. The word “journalist” always conjured images of those paparazzi types with huge cameras chasing people or sneaking around to get photos. Journalists were always in the way or in close proximity to someone’s face. It didn’t seem like a very attractive way to share information.

There are unethical reporters taking information and running in the wrong direction with it. Many won’t bother to do any fact checking on the reports they get. Instead, they rush to their computer to create an often embellished account of what happened to share with the world. Consequently, dramatic reports of events will boost newspaper sales and draw readers to websites, even when the accounts are not true.

This is what happened last week when Kyle Kirchmeier, who serves as North Dakota’s Morton County Sheriff, was depicted in a video stating people were “preparing to throw pipe bombs at our line.” He was referring to the now thousands of human beings gathered to peacefully stand against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). He called the gathering “an unlawful protest.”

In addition, according to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department Facebook page, the officers’ “top priority in monitoring activity involving the protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline is to keep everyone safe, including those involved in any demonstrations. While officers have not seen weapons present in any of the protests, we have received information and heard mentions of the use of weapons. We treat these reports as viable threats and will take them seriously in order to ensure the safety of all individuals.

The key words here are “officers have not seen weapons present in any of the protests.” Yet, the Morton County Sheriff made a conscious choice to pass along hearsay to national media outlets. This isn’t the way to “keep everyone safe.” Rumors like this are dangerous.

National media outlets quickly picked up the comment about pipe bombs and distributed the information worldwide. Still, they had no reason not to believe Sheriff Kirchmeier because, after all, he is a law enforcement officer. Obviously, news reports are not always accurate; spreading misinformation, like the embellished report from the Morton County Sheriff, is very risky.

Many people believe everything they read or see in mainstream media. That is, it was on the news so it must be true! For example, HLN’s popular Morning Express with Robin Meade show reported that protestors were “armed with weapons and pipe bombs,” This national television report was watched by millions of viewers, thanks to the skewed information put out there by Sheriff Kirchmeier.

The distortion of media reports last week is similar to the frenzied accounts about Indigenous people during the 19th century. Army officials and media outlets in the 1800s were quick to spread false information about our ancestors. This was especially true during the time of the Ghost Dance, which was a gathering of prayer. Sadly, these unfounded reports resulted in the killing of our ancestors. Tribal leaders, elders, women and children were mercilessly murdered, and often mutilated, by military forces.

Consequently, human emotion is based in either love or fear. What we saw in the news last week was fear-based. It’s a fact that many non-Indians still fear the world’s Indigenous people. They cannot comprehend our spirituality or the level we pray at (remember the Ghost Dance?) and it provokes their innermost fears. As a result of this fear, many angry or disparaging comments have been posted on social media and internet news outlets about the human beings gathered along the Missouri River.

When a person feels fear, they will often react with anger. Many people will deny being afraid; they would rather admit to anger. So, underlying all these reports of violence is a great fear of the peaceful group gathered to protect our Mni Wiconi.

When dealing with people who are afraid, we have to respond with love and prayer, instead of more fear and anger. When people remain calm in the face of adversary, it confuses an angry opponent. Many don’t know how to stay calm, especially when they haven’t dealt with their own inner fears of what the “wild Indians” are capable of. They expect people to react with the same emotion they do. It totally baffles them when others won’t give in to anger.

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Water defenders demonstrated at the North Dakota capitol last week. Photo from Facebook.

In reality, the human beings gathered in support of our Mni Wiconi are only “armed” with love, prayer and song. Many are praying with their Cannunpa. The sage, cedar and sweet grass are being used to enhance the prayers for our Water of Life. The big drum is an instrument to spread our love for Water of Life throughout the universe with prayer songs.

Those of us who can’t travel to the camp really appreciate all the reports from the people there! Millions of social media users continue to watch and share the daily events reported from the growing camps near Standing Rock. Your relatives at home look forward to all the social media status updates, photos and video from the front lines. Keep sharing!

Be strong relatives, continue to walk your inner peace. Resist anger. Do not take on the fear of the wasicu. Contrary to the reports of violent acts against our people in the 19th century, which often took weeks or months to reach people in faraway places, today the whole world is watching. Law enforcement, government officials and DAPL know they are being watched by human beings all over Mother Earth.

Human love is a formidable weapon. Water has memory and will remember our powerful prayers. The human beings gathered to protect our Mni Wiconi flowing in the Missouri River are examples of what being a good ancestor looks like. Our most powerful weapons we can use to protect our Mni Wiconi are love, prayer and song. Wopila Tanka!

 

Oil Pipelines Are An Act of Terrorism

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Photo courtesy of Unicornriot.Ninja. Used with permission

By Vi Waln

Kudos to Standing Rock Chairman Dave Archambault II for being a leader willing to sacrifice his personal freedom to protect our Mni Wiconi (Water of Life). He was arrested by police last week when he joined other activists gathered to protect the Missouri River from the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Several other Standing Rock Lakota people were also arrested, including Dr. Sara Jumping Eagle and Tribal Council Representative Dana Yellow Fat. These brave Lakota leaders stood strong in protection of our Mni Wiconi. Wopila Tanka!

Human beings who are disconnected from life giving elements are like an empty shell. That is, they are unable to comprehend why other human beings are adamant in defending Mother Earth. The ignorance of these people prevents them from understanding the importance of our Mni Wiconi. Their ignorance is dangerous.

All human beings are Children of Mother Earth. We are all dependent upon nature’s elements to survive. Our survival is threatened when our life giving elements are the target for exploitation by big profit-making corporations.

When a lost Italian happened upon the east coast in 1492, our world was forever changed. The rush of immigrants to “America” was the beginning of an ongoing rape of Mother Earth. The immigrants who arrived by boat over 500 years ago were determined to possess the land, as well as all the elements meant to sustain Mother Earth and humanity.

As they made their way west, a major intent was to stake a claim on land. It was extremely rude the way they just showed up to push us all aside so they could try to possess the land. There was absolutely no concern for our ancestors who lived upon this Turtle Island since the beginning of time.

When an element with the potential to bring in cash is “discovered,” the immigrants inevitably set out to exploit it. For instance, our ancestors watched as the Black Hills Gold Rush of 1874 caused the desecration of the sacred HeSapa by immigrants looking to get rich. Today, gold, timber and other minerals are still being robbed from HeSapa by the immigrant’s descendants.

It’s always been about money for these immigrants. Money is their God. Today, the rush is for oil. Big corporations, who have no concept of Mitakuye Oyasin, want to extract all the oil from Mother Earth to sell for a profit.

The construction of oil pipelines, such as the Keystone XL and the Dakota Access Pipeline, provide temporary jobs for roughnecks. Consequently, the Lakota-Dakota-Nakota and other Indigenous activists of Mother Earth are continually being accused of trying to take jobs away when they stand up to defend the Water of Life. Profit seeking corporations, along with the roughnecks they employ, have no concept of how crucial water is to humanity. Their actions prove they will always choose money over life.

Indigenous activists aren’t trying to take anyone’s livelihood away. Grassroots activists standing on the front lines understand how crucial water is to our survival. All of us want to guarantee that our unborn generations have an abundance of good, clean water to drink. Many of us pray for the water every single day of our lives. The people standing on the front lines opposing oil pipeline construction are there for all of humanity’s unborn generations.

Many Lakota-Dakota-Nakota people, as well as other Indigenous activists, are being told to go back to the reservation. Those who want us to stay confined within the reservation boundaries are obviously not aware of the Treaty law our people still recognize. We are Children of Mother Earth. Many of us have never recognized the imaginary land boundaries created by the wasicu. We are all responsible to protect the health and well-being of Mother Earth.

Today, some of us depend on the underground aquifers for our water. Also, when the Mni Wiconi Rural Water System was established several years ago, it provided clean drinking water via the Missouri River to many people living on South Dakota reservations. Our entire water system is now being threatened by oil pipelines.

The Dakota Access Pipeline is a plan to build an oil transfer system under the Missouri River near Cannonball, North Dakota. We’ve all seen the reports of oil pipelines bursting, leaking or exploding. An oil pipeline under the Missouri River threatens all the human beings who depend on the river for their water. Animals and plant life also use the river as their water source.

Oil pipelines are an act of terrorism. Still, the quest for a cash profit apparently outweighs the risk of contaminated water for those who are blindly obsessed with fattening their bank accounts. As Children of the Earth, it is our duty to speak out and stand up for our elements, especially our Mni Wiconi.

Contrary to popular opinion amongst many non-Indians, activists and other Indigenous people are not trying to take anything back, we only want our descendants to have equal access to the necessities of life. Water is a necessity. Water is Life.

Once our water systems are all contaminated in the rush for cash, the game is over. Life will be done. We, along with Mother Earth, will die without water.

Please support the activists who are working to protect the Missouri River near Standing Rock. They are there to guarantee a future for our descendants. They are the epitome of being a good ancestor. There are many ways to support this effort to protect the water, including prayer.

In the on-going global war against terrorism, government officials display great ignorance as they overlook Mni Wiconi as our major source of life. Our water must be protected. Again, this human ignorance will be the death of our planet. The continued terrorist attacks by big oil corporations who want to build their dangerous pipelines over, under and through our water sources must stop.

Pray for your water every single day. Without water, there is no life.

The Death of a Child Alters Your World

 

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An angel in the Book of Life wrote down my baby’s birth.
And whispered as she closed the book, “Too beautiful for earth.”
~Author unknown

By Vi Waln

This past week many Tiospaye suffered a great loss when 4 young women and a baby boy died in a car crash on the Rosebud. More lives were forever changed when a 13-year-old girl was shot and killed on the Pine Ridge. These were our Wakanyeja. We are all affected.

All week, I’ve felt the overwhelming sadness of the Lakota Oyate. These tragedies have affected young people. This past week has left moms, dads, brothers, sisters, grandparents, children, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, extended families, best friends, team mates, class mates, coaches, teachers and others hurting really bad. To lose a loved one unexpectedly is life changing. When a family loses a child, it alters their entire world.

I witnessed many Lakota people express their feelings about these deaths through social media. The outpouring of love and sympathy for the grieving relatives was amazing. The empathy and generosity Lakota people are known for was demonstrated this week as many came together in prayer to support those who are suffering.

A candlelight vigil to remember those who passed on, as well as the 2 people recovering in hospitals, was held at the Todd County Football Field in Mission. This event brought people from all faiths together to pray and comfort one another. Local schools offered access to counselors for our young people who needed support.

I noticed people being a bit nicer to one another. Even though the temperatures hovered close to the 3-digit mark, the people I encountered in public were more kind and understanding than they have ever been. This was amazing.

Lakota people sometimes talk about how a blood relative can take away all the bad from our lives when they pass away. For a long time, I didn’t understand what this meant. When someone died, I would look for the bad to go away from that family but it didn’t seem to happen very often.

When my Takoja died unexpectedly from an illness, it was the saddest time of my family’s life. It changed us. Those first few days after her passing were marked with emotional shock. We cried. We didn’t sleep. We wondered how we would go on. It was the hardest thing we ever went through.

Still, that experience also helped me understand how a relative could take the bad with them. Emotionally, nothing seemed to matter anymore when my Takoja died. That is, I didn’t want to have any hard feelings. I didn’t want to be mad at anyone. I wanted people to be happy and be good to each other. Takoja’s death showed me how precious life really is.

So, in addition to the suffocating sadness I felt this past week, I also felt a willingness from people to let go of hard feelings, to let go of grudges that have perhaps been carried on for generations. This gives me hope. We want our children to live happy. And the only way we can truly be happy is to let all the bad go.

As sad as the departure of Katie, Jenna, Jordyn, Kayden and Baby Bryer is, they also bought together the people in Rosebud like no one else ever has. I believe they feel our great sadness. And as hard as it is right now, they want the Lakota people to be happy, not sad.

They are in a spiritual place where they have the ability to take all our bad away. It’s up to us to let the bad go with them. They are in a beautiful place where deep sadness can be instantly transformed into a higher emotion. They will prepare a place for us to be with them when it’s our time to leave this world.

We can honor these 4 young ladies, as well as the precious baby boy, by allowing their passing to help us let go of the debilitating emotions that often cripple our communities. We’ve all made an effort to be more kind to one another this past week. A reservation-wide transformation like this doesn’t have to end after 4 days.

Please continue praying for the Tiospaye affected by these recent deaths, along with all parents who have lost a child. Let’s honor the memory of our children who have passed on by being good to each other. Nothing is going to change unless we begin living the changes ourselves.

Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain. ~Joseph Campbell

Walking Club Promotes Healthy Habits

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The Pine Ridge Walking Club attracted 234 youth and 141 adults during the first 2 days of operation. People of all ages walk 30 minutes a day several times a week on the path to a healthier lifestyle. Courtesy photo.

 

By Vi Waln

PINE RIDGE – The Oglala Sioux Tribe Health Education Program has attracted a large group of adults and youth who are walking their way to health.

The Pine Ridge Walking Club saw 375 participants of all ages sign up during the first two days of the program. The club is operating on a limited budget but will provide incentives as funding allows. The project is focused on getting community members together to help them become more mentally and physically healthy by walking.

Youth carnival tickets and adult powwow bracelets for the Oglala Nation Fair will be purchased with the program funding to be provided as incentives. These incentives will be distributed to a limited number of participants who were among the first to register earlier this month. Both the adult and the youth participants must walk for 30 minutes several times a week throughout the month of July in order to qualify for an incentive.

“This is an amazing opportunity for our youth and adult tribal citizens to get active and learn how to live a healthier, active lifestyle,” stated January Tobacco, who is coordinating the summer project. She thought an incentive would encourage more people to participate.

Tobacco, a 2013 graduate of Red Cloud Indian School, is a student at Stanford University in Stanford, California. She is home on the Pine Ridge Reservation volunteering as a summer intern through the Donald Kennedy Program at Stanford University HAAS Center. She also completed Wellness Coach training through NativeFit. She is also certified in CPR and First Aid.

According to the Stanford website, students develop and implement innovative service projects through the Donald Kennedy Summer Fellowship in collaboration with communities to address identified needs. The volunteer fellowship provides for student living and other limited expenses to support the completion of student projects during the summer.

It is an opportunity for undergraduate students to design and implement summer service projects, like the walking club in Pine Ridge, resulting in tangible deliverables used to sustain service to a community. Fellows may work in any field of interest to alleviate some of society’s most pressing concerns.

“It is so amazing to see how many fathers are bringing their little ones and motivating them to finish the full 30 minutes, or to see how single mothers come walk together and help each other out,” Tobacco said. “There are so many people coming out to walk.”

To find out more about the Pine Ridge Walking Club, you can call the OST Health Education Fitness Center at (605) 867-2067.