Lending a Hand Up to Those on the Reservation

Photos and Story by Scott Smith

            In May of this year, I had the pleasure of being invited to go on a trip to a Native American reservation in South Dakota. The reason was to meet up with people from an organization called Mission of Love, out of Youngstown, Ohio. I first went to Ravenna to load the last of the donated items that were being transported to the site out there where all of the volunteers were to build a Hospice for terminally ill people on the reservation. It was to be run by the people for the people, and to include a full staff and administration. All the volunteers were some kind of construction gurus. I have done dry wall amongst other tasks. This time, though, I ran lights. Boxes and wire with an electrical engineer that came along with the group I rode out with. They had volunteers who cooked and mended and dealt with anxiety and frustration. As far as accommodations, we slept in tents we brought and there was also a tee pee if we wanted to use it. We stayed on the site. We ate in this hall that belonged to a church. We also showered there and made friends, new and old.

            We laughed, we cried, and we swapped stories from near and far. We shared photos, and we took new ones, with permission. The people of the reservation are still not over what has been done to them over the years and in the present, and may not trust a lot of the people who show up out there trying to be a do gooder. So you ask out of respect for them and the elders if it would be all right to take a picture with them. People are still disappearing out there and they know that the government is behind it and the BIA is in on it too! Why is it necessary to make people vanish? Just to prove they can? It usually happens because someone is going along with the American Indian Movement and trying to keep their heritage alive without government supervision. From what I see they are just regular people, trying to live their lives and looking for a better way for them and their children, just like anyone else. So why all the hardship for them? Why do people who have a terminal disease have to die on the land because of poverty? They don’t, thanks to a lady named Kathy Price and Mission of Love, along with every volunteer who puts a nail in a board or puts a smile on a child’s face. This is why the hospice is being erected and also why the Mission has built and will continue to build homes for those in need of one. People here in the city of Cleveland think that they have been done wrong. In some ways I must agree. Some of the homeless have gotten the shaft from a lot of people and organizations.

            Either way, there is a percentage that just doesn’t care what happens to them, and they do what they have to do to get by. It is the same on the Reservation. For example, a house was built last year for a guy and his family and of this year he still has no running water, no electricity and really no home. All that was given to him and because of the life he lives, or lived, he has taken no interest in this great project. Some one there would probably kill for that opportunity. So, I was told that this was the first hospice ever erected on a reservation in the U.S. or Canada and they were making a documentary on it, I believe.

             It’s just amazing what people can do when they get together and put love and caring into something and put prejudice aside, even though there are still one or two people who make Native jokes and smart remarks or just racist remarks about them but they were doing this job on this big project for the same people they were cutting down. I ask myself why? Is it for self-gratification? Are they hoping to get recognized in some way, shape, or form that may benefit them, or is it that they just have nothing better to do with their lives other than cut down others to make themselves feel superior?

            While I was there we had a giveaway and a lot of people came, even from as far as 30 miles away, just to get clothes, household items, food, and many other things we had sent from Ohio. We were invited to the high school for breakfast and lunch. The school was directly across from the church and the hospice site. I believe that the school has some sort of meal program that includes your family. A number of families were there enjoying lunch.

            We saw that there was a big dedication for a girl who was getting an award for a track record in the state or maybe even better. The one person who stands out though is a girl by the name of Sue Ann Big Crow. She won numerous awards for sports, especially basketball. They say that the only person to come close to her accomplishment in high school basketball is LeBron James. Because of this, the people of Pine Ridge hold Sue Ann Big Crow close to their hearts. She was killed in a car accident in 1996. They built a Boys and Girls Club after her for kids to stay out of trouble, and we visited it. It is a great place, and Sue Ann Big Crow’s mom is the Head Administrator. She is a beautiful spirit, and thanks to her, her daughter’s spirit lives on.

            The Reservation is beautiful and then again it can be very depressing. People in need, pets in need, everyone in need. I myself have nothing but I tried to give what I could. I felt like the richest man in the world being there from Cleveland, Ohio. I plan to go back as soon as it is financially possible for me to do so. I want to give another helping hand to the founding natives of this great land, even though sometimes I look around and wonder, what’s so great about all this, the noise, the pollution, the crime, the death. Why does it have to be like this? I guess it’s just the cycle of life; the way the Creator wanted it to be.

Copyright of the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio September 2003 in Issue 62.