This Week in Native American News (1/19/18): fighting the cold, overcoming adoption, and honoring the whale

this week in native american news lutheran indian ministries

January 19, 2018

taking desperate measures to fight cold weather

The nonprofit One Spirit hires five local residents to cut wood and deliver it to people in need on the reservation. The employees earn $100 to $150 per delivery. Photo credit: JERI BAKER/ONE SPIRIT

The nonprofit One Spirit hires five local residents to cut wood and deliver it to people in need on the reservation. The employees earn $100 to $150 per delivery. Photo credit: JERI BAKER/ONE SPIRIT

As temperatures dropped below zero on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation earlier this month, one young girl felt she had had enough.

She was tired of feeling cold inside her home as temperatures plummeted, which they do often there. She had enough of watching her parents constantly struggle to scrounge up wood to heat the house.

The 12-year-old girl went to the bathroom and tried to kill herself.

“She was tired of waking up cold,” Jimmy Two Bulls, a Pine Ridge resident who’s helping out the girl’s family, told HuffPost. “Reservation life is a hard life to live. It’s a struggle.”

Suicides reached record highs in South Dakota last year. Oglala Lakota County, which is where the Pine Ridge reservation is located, was one of five counties in the state with the highest rates of suicide. People who have experience dealing with depression and suicide on the reservation say this is tied, in part, to the devastatingly difficult conditions residents face.

Pine Ridge, which is larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined, is in the third-poorest county in the United States. It’s home to the Oglala Lakota, a tribe that’s part of the Sioux people. Per capita income in the county is $9,150, and 80 percent of residents are unemployed.

The pervasive poverty forces residents to make impossible choices: whether to pay to heat a home or buy enough food to feed the family, for example.

Suicide is the most severe risk advocates worry about during the winter. But it’s not the only one. People living without heat are also susceptible to hypothermia, and older members of the community are particularly vulnerable because their health could already be compromised. Those who rely on space heaters run the danger of starting a house fire. Children who don’t have access to sufficient heat struggle to sleep at night and then aren’t able to concentrate in school, Alice Phelps, 47, principal of the Wounded Knee School District, told HuffPost.

“The children act up at school. But when we talk to them one-on-one, the bottom line is they didn’t sleep that night,” Phelps, who grew up on the reservation, said. “They’ll say: ‘I didn’t have a blanket. I gave it to my little sister. I was cold.’ It just breaks your heart.”

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families confront legacy of "adoption"

Reuben Black Boy and family, Piegan, ca. 1910. Photo by Edward Curtis.

Reuben Black Boy and family, Piegan, ca. 1910. Photo by Edward Curtis.

Conrad Eagle Feather, a Sicangu Lakota, was only three when he was taken from the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota and adopted by a non-Native farming family in the state of Nebraska. His three sisters were removed to separate families.

He recalls a childhood with little joy.

“They used us for farm labor,” he said, detailing a list of chores that began before dawn and continued until bedtime. He said he still bears the scars of physical abuse.

“For every sin I had committed according to the Bible, I got one strike with whatever they had in their hands at the time — a garden hose, a broom handle, a wire hanger,” he said. “And all the time, they used to tell me, ‘Who knows what would have happened to you if we hadn’t saved you?’”

For generations, the U.S. government turned to forced assimilation to solve what was generally called, “the Indian problem,” that is, how to govern Native Americans, lift them from “barbarism,” reduce their reliance on federal funding and guarantee their loyalty.

Beginning in the 1880s, children were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in out-of-state boarding schools, where they were forbidden to practice their cultures or speak their languages. Many suffered years of sexual, physical and emotional abuse. This era nearly destroyed the extended family system.

Eagle Feather returned to Rosebud 17 years ago. But the reunion was not what he expected. “Because I didn’t speak the language, because I didn’t know the culture, I was called ‘white’ by my own blood relatives,” he said.

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whales play an important role in native hawaiian culture

Two humpback whales.  Photo courtesy: NOAA lutheran indian ministries native news

The migration of whales to and around the Hawaiian Islands is a seasonal event that peaks in January and February, and has always been an occurrence familiar to Native Hawaiians. In the Kumulipo, the 2,000-line Hawaiian creation chant, palaoa (whales) are introduced in the 16th verse in the time of po(darkness) and help to usher in the time of ao (light), when man is made: “Hanau ka palaoa noho i kai” (Born is the whale living in the ocean).

The chant teaches that whales in Hawaiian culture are part of both darkness and light, divine and physical, and they were revered for this reason.

“The beaches upon which whales’ bodies often washed up were held especially sacred and were guarded by alii (chiefs) and kahuna (priests),” says Sam Ohu Gon, senior scientist and cultural advisor for the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii. The whale is believed to be a kinolau (animal form) of the Hawaiian ocean god Kanaloa.

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