Monthly Archives: September 2016

Our Children Need Lakota Kinship


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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.