Monthly Archives: July 2016

The Death of a Child Alters Your World



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


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.






The Stink of Lateral Oppression


It’s up to us to teach our children how damaging lateral oppression can be to our people. Photo by Vi Waln. 

By Vi Waln

I’m considering writing a short story or a novel. It would be a work of fiction, of course. I’m thinking I might focus on historical fiction, with some contemporary scenarios thrown in to make it a good read.

So, I would like to get some feedback on the ideas that are demanding attention in my writer’s brain. I want to present one for you this week to think about. Of course, this scenario is fictitious.

I want my short story or book to be a best-seller! We all want to leave something of substance to be remembered by. This short story or book would be my lasting contribution to society.

One intent I have is to help people think critically about how lateral oppression affects the choices we make in life. Personal choices often affect other tribal citizens. After all, we’re all related, aren’t we?

There are many novels that include a disclaimer at the beginning of the book. Such as, the following account is in no way intended to resemble any organization, place or thing existing in real life. Furthermore, any likeness to an actual person, either living or deceased, is purely coincidental.

The scenario that keeps playing in my mind goes something like this:

It’s a win for all when a tribal program or tribally chartered organization hires an excellent, ethical tribal citizen to come work for them. A smart, honest employee who works hard is always an asset. This person never misses a day of work. They are not the type to call in sick on the day after payday.

Every single task this conscientious employee is assigned is completed with pride. This employee contributes many good ideas, which are implemented as improvements to the tribal program or tribally chartered entity. The employee exemplifies excellence in the work place.

The tribal program or tribally chartered entity has many other employees. Some are good and others are not so good. One substandard employee, who is sort of related to the director and suffers greatly from a mental illness we call the disease of the mind, decides to put their lateral oppression skills to work.

This employee, with questionable work habits, begins to cause trouble for the top-notch employee. Trouble is stirred because that person works so damn hard they make everyone else look bad or lazy or something! And just because they have a college degree they think they are better than the rest of the workers! It’s not fair to the rest of the staff that the person has a good work ethic. Geez, they are on time every single day!

The mentally ill worker finds ways to manipulate the system so the boss or president will see how the excellent employee just isn’t working out anymore. Use your own imagination to fill in ways the boss or president is manipulated. That is, anyone with even a touch of lateral oppression thinking skills will be able to come up with enough lies to destroy the character of the hard worker.

Several weeks go by. One day the hard-working employee reports for duty and is shocked to find a termination letter in their mailbox or pinned to the company bulletin board. He/she requests to meet with the boss or president. Unfortunately, the top dog is on travel for a week. The now unemployed tribal worker spends the rest of their day wondering how they are going to put food on the table for their 3 children.

Meanwhile, the employee with the diseased mind is thinking about how to create new details on yet another hard worker. It’s not enough that a good tribal worker is pushed out of the organization with the stink of lateral oppression all over them; the mentally ill tribal citizen has to go after someone else.

And that’s the scenario commanding my attention this week. I’m not sure if I should format this scene into a short story or a book. A book would have to contain several scenarios. Unfortunately, the history of some tribal programs or tribally chartered organizations has many examples that could be drawn from.

It’s too bad that most of the instances we know about are not fiction. Lateral oppression is reality for many tribal citizens. Consequently, the people in charge of a tribal program or a tribally chartered entity are often the ones who have mastered the behaviors characteristic of lateral oppression. Their bad example often rubs off on the staff. Sadly, there’s no fiction in that.



On second thought, a positive topic to build a short story on would be more fun. If I were a Lakota child, I would want to read about good things my people have made history with. Besides, I’m afraid that outlining lateral oppression tactics in written form will encourage young people to perpetuate the cycle instead of breaking it.

It makes sense that the unborn generations of Lakota children would be better off if they had good things to read about. It would be so awesome if our great-grandchildren could go through their entire lives without a clue on how to spread the stink of lateral oppression all over their own relatives.

Tribal Program Serving Infants and Toddlers Regroups After Devastating Fire



This is all that was left of the Lakota Tiwahe Center after the June 21, 2016 fire.                  Photo by Vi Waln.

By Vi Waln

ROSEBUD – Staff of the Lakota Tiwahe Center (LTC) are working hard to resume services after a fire completely destroyed the building which housed not only their program offices, but also contained the records of Sicangu children served by the program.

The LTC program staff are temporarily located in the basement of the Education Building, west of the RST Alcohol Program. Staff are now making home visits to parents in order to continue serving infants and toddlers. If you haven’t received a visit from your LTC Case Manager, please call 605-747-2833 to speak with an Early Intervention Specialist.

The Lakota Tiwahe Center is funded through an Infants and Toddlers grant from the US Department of Education. Services to local clients, aged birth through 5 years old, were first established in 1990 by the University of South Dakota, Center for Developmental Disabilities. In the early years of the program, screening was provided to infants and toddlers at the Rosebud Hospital.

The Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s Education Department eventually took over the administration of the Infants and Toddlers grant. The Lakota Tiwahe Center was created to provide early intervention assistance to infants and toddlers in need, in order for them to make the transition to school without any interruption of services. There are 6 staff members who serve the children of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. They include 4 Early Intervention Specialists, an Administrative Assistant and a Family Services Driver.

The main goal of the Lakota Tiwahe Center is to screen every newborn tribal infant at 1 month old. These screenings determine which infants are in need of early intervention services. A child can be screened at any age up to 5 years old. When the screening results indicate a need for services, program staff work to ensure the infant receives the appropriate assistance throughout their first 5 years of life. This is done to provide the child with a smooth transition of continued services upon entering Kindergarten.

“The Lakota Tiwahe Center provides early intervention services to assist infants and toddlers in order for them to have a smooth transition into the local school systems,” stated Cindy Young, Director of the RST Education Department. “We want children to begin school without any interruption of the services they are eligible to receive.”

In the late 1990’s, the program purchased a modular building from the Sicangu Wicoti Awayankapi in order to improve services provided to local children. The building was placed east of the Rosebud Hospital. Unfortunately, on the evening of June 21, 2016, the building went up in flames. Investigators have unofficially ruled the blaze as accidental.


A crew from the Solid Waste Program of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe cleaned up the burn site after officials completed their investigation of the cause of the fire. Photo by Vi Waln.

The Education Department is already making plans to rebuild. A request by the program for a business site was recently approved by the Rosebud Community. The site is located near the intersection of BIA 1 and BIA 9 (Soldier Creek road).

Plans to relocate the Wakanyeja Tiokihe Oti (Lakota Immersion Project) from St. Francis to Rosebud was the initial reason for the site request. A new site was sought because the building in St. Francis isn’t a viable option for the project anymore. However, since the infants and toddler services were displaced by the fire, plans for the site could possibly be expanded to provide space for a new Lakota Tiwahe Center.

It is estimated that approximately 2600 children on the Rosebud Reservation have been screened since the inception of the program. Services are currently being provided to about 100 tribal infants and toddlers residing within the original boundaries of the Rosebud Indian Reservation. Clients in need of services are referred to the Todd County, Winner or White River pre-school programs. Transportation services to specialty clinics are provided by the LTC staff.

Program staff are determined to continue providing quality services to area infants and toddlers. The loss of the building was personal for the staff, as they have established relationships with many families in the area. Lakota Tiwahe Center employees include Bernice Whiting (Manager/Lead Early Intervention Specialist), Debb LeRoy (Administrative Assistant), Early Intervention Specialists Robin Clairmont, Stephanie Gunhammer and Jolene Arcoren. Deloris Kills In Water serves as the Family Services Driver.


What used to be the site of the Lakota Tiwahe Center is now an empty lot. Photo by Vi Waln.

Local programs have generously donated office equipment to replace some of what was lost in the fire. The LTC staff sends their thanks to the RST WIC program, the Todd County and White River Pre-schools and the South Dakota Birth to Three Program. The Lakota Tiwahe Center and the Education Department appreciates your patience during this time of rebuilding.

Again, LTC program staff are now making home visits to families currently served by the program. If you haven’t received a visit from your Case Manager, please call 605-747-2833 and leave a message with the receptionist.



Many aren’t Living in a Manner Honoring our Ancestral Chiefs


Local bootleggers often buy gallons of cheap vodka and then pour the drink into smaller recycled bottles to make a profit. Courtesy photo.


By Vi Waln

Methamphetamine use on our homelands is raging out of control. More and more of our young people are becoming hooked on this evil substance. Many of us pray every single day for them to find a way out of their addiction.

We also continue to pray for our relatives lost in alcohol. Heavy drinking is still a big problem in our communities. The cheap malt liquor and vodka sold by unscrupulous bootleggers exacerbates the widespread alcohol abuse.

I bet you know who sells vodka in your area. Most people living in your community know where the bootleggers live. Even little children know which houses the vodka comes from. Asking people in any community where to score a drink will point you in a half dozen directions.

When bootleggers sell alcoholic beverages to residents in their community, they are part of the problem. Many of our people have died because of their alcohol addiction. Bootleggers in our communities have blood on their hands in these deaths, as they were the ones who supplied the alcohol. People who know the difference between right and wrong would not bootleg vodka to their relatives.

I’ve heard some people say that a heavy drinker is going to get alcohol any way they can. This justification has also been voiced by numerous supporters of tribally owned liquor stores. Our people continue to die alcohol-related deaths. Any individual or entity selling alcohol, either legally or illegally, contributes to these deaths.

The first week of the month is generally the busiest time for bootleggers. But some bootleggers manage to stay busy all month, even when people have no money. A concerned citizen contacted me last week about one particular bootlegger conducting illegal business around the clock in Parmelee.

Now, there is more than one person selling alcohol in Parmelee, but I was about a certain bootlegger who allegedly trades alcohol for those Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards. These cards are issued for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other social service programs. My contact also said the bootlegger has a whole stack of these cards and refuses to give them back to the owners. Instead, the bootlegger allegedly provides the cardholders with more alcohol.

It’s fraud to use another person’s EBT card. I’ve already given the name of this bootlegger to the police. I would advise those people who don’t have possession of their EBT card to report it stolen. If you are not the person who was issued the card, it’s against the law for you to use it in grocery stores.

My contact also informed me that the bootlegger regularly transports several of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients to the Protective Payee Program, which operates out of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe Community Services building. I recommend that the staff working in the program take notice of who is giving clients rides in to get their money. If something isn’t right, the program is responsible for reporting financial abuse.

My contact also said there’s a lot of bullying taking place surrounding alcohol, EBT cards and cash payments from SSI. Apparently, the alleged bootlegger tries to recruit other people to assault those who owe money. The reward for assaulting others is reportedly a half gallon of vodka.

Bootlegging is against the law. Those people who sell alcohol illegally are a disgrace to us all. Our ancestors didn’t go to war for us so we could bootleg cheap booze to our relatives.

Bootleggers make their living selling death. They would do well to get a real job. People say there are no jobs here but I see several being advertised at the tribal office. Or maybe it’s more fun to trade watered down vodka for the peoples’ food. Consequently, many children go hungry every month because of this.

I’ve seen Karma work in ways many wouldn’t expect. God and Tunkasila knows who the bootleggers are. Our universe always works to make sure we get back what we put out. I pray for the day when Karma catches up to the bootleggers to give them back all the hardship they’ve had a hand in inflicting on the families living in our communities.

Don’t be afraid to report the bootleggers and drug dealers in your community to the police. We are tired of illegal substances being used in our homelands. I hear a lot of talk about banishing drug dealers. Maybe it’s time we talk about banishing the bootleggers too.

A large portion of Parmelee’s population are fluent Lakota speakers. Also, there is an annual sun dance held every July in the community where many go to pray and for healing. The majority of people living in the Parmelee area are descended from famous Itancan. Yet, many are not living in a way that honors our ancestral Chiefs.

This problem isn’t only in Parmelee. Our homelands have many active bootleggers. Our children deserve better. Lakota bootleggers should turn their lives around and stop selling death to their relatives.