This week most of the country is observing Columbus Day. Some of the states now call it Native American or Indigenous People’s Day. In any case, it is a day which marks the historical landing of that lost Italian on the shores of America. It’s also a day filled with protests by Indian people across this country.
Before the arrival of Columbus and all who followed him, our people were self-sufficient. The land provided all. There was no such thing as poverty, for our people knew they had to depend on themselves and worked hard to ensure we had food, clothing and shelter all year round.
It is a fact that most of the immigrants which followed the trail blazed by Columbus came here to destroy us in the name of Manifest Destiny. We were not supposed to survive.
Many of our ancestors perished in the fight over land. Some tribes even went as far as to allow their blood line to die out. Our people who weren’t killed were cast out too foreign places far away from home. They were placed on the tracts of land we now call the Rez.
Then Indian children were forcibly removed from their homes to be placed in boarding schools, again in faraway places, with the intent of brainwashing them into assimilation. Later, our people were sent away on relocation programs, a modern attempt to help us become lost in what they call the melting pot. But we are still here.
Today, the most recent census report shows Todd County as number five in South Dakota for the lowest per capita income. Per capita income is listed at $7,714 for our Rosebud Rez. Buffalo County currently holds the top spot with $5,213, Shannon County is in second place with $6,286 and Ziebach County is number four with $7,463.
It’s no surprise that the counties most ravished by poverty listed in the 2010 census report for South Dakota all lay within the boundaries of Indian Reservations. Rosebud (Todd County), Cheyenne River (Ziebach County), Pine Ridge (Shannon County) and Crow Creek (Buffalo County) are our homes. Buffalo County’s per capita income breaks down to about $434 a month.
Now, compare a person living on the Rez who is gainfully employed full time and earns the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. The employed person will earn about $15,080 in gross income per year, which breaks down to approximately $1,257 per month. After all of the required federal, state and local deductions are taken out of the paycheck; the employee is hard pressed to support their family.
Many people living on the Rez know what it is like to live paycheck to paycheck. They are the working poor and even though they are employed, they still live without many of the modern day conveniences which are enjoyed by the majority of American people living in this country.
Anyway, these are some of the reasons why Indian Reservations in South Dakota are known for being among the top poorest places to live in this so called abundant country called the United States of America. And when it comes to unemployment rates, living conditions and lack of suitable housing, just to name a few, we are often invisible to those who do not live on the Rez.
Occasionally, we will gain national attention through network primetime shows when some random television personality decides to focus on poverty issues. Then there is a public outcry amongst many people. They call and ask how they can help us. It doesn’t last long.
Yet, we are wealthy in ways which cannot be measured. Tribal people have come through the last 520 years with a majority of our ceremonial ways of life intact. We still sing the songs our ancestors sang thousands of years ago. Many children attend ceremony to ensure our prayers will be carried on for the generations yet to come. These are the riches which have kept us alive since 1492. These are things which a high per capita income cannot buy.
Still, I believe the non-Indians will never be satisfied until they have it all. For the last several years we have witnessed an influx of foreigners who want to take over on our ceremonial way of life. They come here from the American cities and from other countries. Most of them show up in the summer to throw themselves into our sun dance ceremony.
Many are quickly overcome by their ego and become very arrogant, pointing out what they believe we are doing wrong in our own ceremonies. What? Some who cop this attitude are escorted to the gate leading out of the sun dance grounds and barred from returning. Problem solved, right? Sometimes this is when the real problem starts.
There are unqualified people right now who think they know how to run a sun dance. In several states to the east of us, there are people who were kicked out of ceremonies in Lakota Territory by our own spiritual leaders. Many of these ceremony rejects have started their own sun dances. They are prostituting our most sacred rites to satisfy their enormous egos.
Worse yet, they bad mouth our medicine people on a regular basis. How ridiculous is that? Most of them stole sacred Lakota teachings from our spiritual leaders who probably initially had compassion for them and allowed them to pray with us. But I believe these people have no idea of what a real ceremony is all about.
When Lakota ceremony is conducted by a genuine Lakota medicine person, born and raised on our homelands, it is real. Non-Lakota rejects don’t count. Just because they say they were on a Lakota Rez praying with us doesn’t make them genuine.
Stop the celebration of an Italian who got lost 520 years ago. And stop paying those fake chiefs for imitation ceremonies which hold no meaning. You are hurting the real Lakota people more than you realize.