After 30 years working in human services, I retired and collaborated with a medicine man on the Mattaponi Reservation to establish a sponsorship program for the Lakota children on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
While on a visit to the Reservation, I learned for myself the extreme poverty conditions under which so many Lakota live. Families often crammed in small 3-bedroom homes with as many as 10-20 members. Grandparents that go hungry so they can feed the kids. Widespread diet-related health problems, i.e. more than half the population is affected by diabetes. Youths commit suicide at a rate 5 times higher than anywhere else. 75% of the teenagers drop out of high school and addictions affect almost all families. The unemployment rate hovers around 80%. But there is more to this culture than these abysmal statistics show. Their way of life, their beautiful traditions, and their profound knowledge hold wisdom that can benefit all of us.
Words I Choose To Live By
I am often asked why I founded this organization and why I continue this work. There is a simple answer to that question. I grew up in the coal mining area of the Appalachian Mountains where my mother had a saying she repeated often,
“If something needs to be done, then do it.”
My parents passed before I was 15 years old and I went to Berea College to continue my education. Berea gave me an education and a motto to guide my relations, “God has made of one blood all the people of the earth.” That motto and my mother’s wisdom were principles that have stayed with me all my life. Berea’s motto puts forth a belief that is often disrespected in our world. I thought about this motto often over the years after I graduated. When I have found situations where people were not treated as equal under our laws and social norms, or where injustice was being done, my mountain heritage and the Berea teachings made it absolutely necessary that I not sit idly by but take action.
Our Accomplishments Over The Years...
It has been my honor to work with the Lakota people since 2005.
Together, we have created a food distribution program, accessible through food pantries, which provides sustenance to the Lakota community. In a display of empowerment, we have engaged the Lakota in cutting and delivering wood to homes, ensuring warmth and cooking fuel for their families. Witnessing the need for positive outlets, we have successfully established a youth center and supported programs that offer alternatives to destructive behavior. A monumental milestone in our journey has been the construction of The Charging Buffalo House, the Reservation's inaugural meat processing facility. Simultaneously, our efforts to revive buffalo herds are underway, symbolizing the preservation of cultural heritage and ecological balance. Through our workforce development program, we have imparted invaluable work skills training, facilitated intercultural experiences, and generated employment opportunities within the Reservation.
The essence of our youth programs lies in emphasizing Lakota cultural traditions and values, fostering a strong sense of identity and pride. As we celebrate our latest accomplishment, the opening of the Okini Market, we have provided employment opportunities and made donated clothes and household supplies from individuals across the United States and Europe available to our people.
Looking ahead, our vision extends to the expansion of the Buffalo House, the installation of a professional basketball court at the Allen Youth Center, and the continued support of workforce development initiatives. By addressing the numbers associated with drug and alcohol abuse, as well as suicides, we aim to make a profound impact on the community's well-being. Our future aspirations encompass improved housing, widespread adoption of solar power, expanded youth and cultural programs, and a way of life that values the inherent worth of every individual.
One Spirit is the tangible manifestation of the compassion and dedication shared by thousands of individuals and foundations. Together, we hold firm in the belief that "God has made of one blood all the people of the earth." The contributions we receive are not acts of charity but rather investments that shape the world we inhabit today and the world our children and grandchildren will inherit.