Pine Ridge has been on my radar since about the year 2000. My partner at that time had connections with one of the chiefs there. In addition, a friend of ours took me and a couple other young women with her when she was participating in a four-day-long sun dance, one of the most sacred of all ceremonies to the Plains Indians. I felt very blessed to have been a witness to that sacred dance and to all that happened in preparation for it. The level of sacrifice that the dancers undergo in order to offer prayers for all the people is almost beyond imagining.
Fast forward to this year. I was very honored, earlier this year, to have been asked to be president of the board of Arrows 4 American Indians. This is a non-profit that works to educate about Native American culture and the issues which concern them today. We also support various Native American initiatives with our financial donations. One example is the Cheyenne River Youth Project, which is “dedicated to giving our Lakota youth and families access to the culturally relevant, enriching, and enduring opportunities….”
When I realized I would be going on this journey this year, I knew I would be going near Pine Ridge and discussed with Arrows what it was I could deliver to the people there. And that’s when we decided to initiate a drive for new shoes and socks. Those who have few financial resources are often in dire need of good shoes. Available money tends to go toward home, food, and heating and cooling. Everything else usually goes on a back burner.
Coinciding with my journey was the desire of another board member, Barbara Atkinson, to find out more about OLCERI, another fine initiative begun by a visionary from Pine Ridge Reservation. Barbara made plans to take a trip across the country and back on AMTRAK, but Pine Ridge is in an extremely rural area and AMTRAK had no stations nearby. Barbara asked if there was any way I could pick her up and bring her to Pine Ridge. Ultimately, we found a way to make that happen.
I am very grateful to Barbara for her initiative in contacting Bryan Deans, the founder, visionary, and administrator of OLCERI. It was a blessing to sit with him and hear about his ideas for affordable, off-grid, earth-friendly homes, each one of which could be built by a small team of dedicated people. Currently, the majority of the Lakota live in atrociously inadequate homes provided by our government, which are completely ill-suited to the temperature extremes of the South Dakota plains. Most have no working plumbing and/or are plagued with black mold. The need for functional and affordable homes is huge.
Currently, a small center in which the Lakota would be taught about this building process was under construction, and a similarly built greenhouse, root cellar, and dorm/kitchen had already been constructed. These buildings are humble and functional, based on the earthship model. They are passive solar buildings built with natural and upcycled resources–i.e., recycled tires packed with earth and then covered with concrete. It’s a wise choice for the desert climate they live in. Also, Bryan reports that they have access to “millions of tires.”
Food sovereignty is also another huge concern. Currently there is only one market on the reservation. Any larger grocery stores, with produce and other healthy options, are about an hour’s drive away. And a large percentage of people do not have working vehicles. That’s why OLCERI has also built a greenhouse and root cellar and is dedicated to having food distribution centers at various points on the reservation.
Mr. Deans’ vision is great. He said, “My goal is to make Pine Ridge the most sustainable community on the planet.”
Arrows would like to support him in this vision. To donate to Arrows, please click HERE.
(The Donate button elsewhere on this page is to support Cynthia on her pilgrimage.)