I'll tell you. I thought I understood about poverty, but the poverty at Wounded Knee goes WAY past the lack of healthy food, past the government-enforced living in housing infested with toxic black mold, past the abysmal life-expectancies, past the desperation of alcoholism, past the prison-camp atmosphere, to a DEEP WOUND in the heartland of our country.
I have my own stories of the physical impact of my two weeks there last summer, but the following report from Lakota Home Project Leader Christinia Eala, herself born on the Rosebud Reservation, tells the bigger story in first person. Yet, she keeps on against all odds.
Please help her continue her project with year-end giving or a recurring donation. She's working on behalf of us all, at the zero point of healing our country and our world.
Christinia Eala's report:
The Wicosani Community Project, a project to bring environmentally sound housing to women and grandmothers who are single heads of households is located in the village of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The build for the year 2012 was fraught with obstacles and barriers from the beginning of the summer.
The first thing we had to deal with was an outbreak of the hanta virus, a virus spread by deer mice found in open fields around the reservation and carried through the droppings of the mice and carried by small dust storms. All precautions were taken to ensure that all domestic and international volunteers were well aware of the potential for contracting the virus. Work gloves and bleach water were kept on hand and all surfaces were wiped down frequently on a hour-by-hour basis.
The summer also held a record-breaking heat wave, with weeks of temperatures of over 100 degrees. And yet, our volunteers were hard at work throughout. We started our work day by 6:30-7 a.m. and took a three-hour break around 2 p.m. We were back at it by 5 p.m. and worked until the sun went down, eating dinner after dark and ending the day around a campfire roasting marshmallows. Twice, we had “movie night” with the family we worked with. They would move their small television outside with a DVD player and we watched “Dances with Wolves.” It took two nights to see it just because of the sheer exhaustion of the volunteers. It was very pleasant watching movies in the cool darkness under the trees.
All was not so pleasant, however. Alcoholism and all of the attendant problems that accompany that condition were almost a constant presence this year. Why? I am not sure of the reason, but this created a lot of new emotions for me: fear, anxiety, pain, anger, hurt, lack of trust. I spent too much time extinguishing the small fires of drama, so that other critical things pertaining to the build itself were set aside.
The build site was not the only area where negative energy abounded. A wall of anger, hatred, and community fear-mongering built around the site for our agency’s permanent base camp, so it became necessary to find a new location for the Tiyospaye site. One potential site being tentatively considered is in the Porcupine community about five miles from the original site. Negotiations are moving cautiously forward.
After being home for six weeks, I find that I am still processing every occurrence while on the Reservation. Generally, when I return from a summer build, I go into isolation mode for a while in order to regain my balance…but this summer took me to a very deep, dark place, a place that I had put to the back of my mind and stepped around for many years. This year, I visited that place again and find that I am still trying to crawl out.
I finally made a breakthrough just today. What I learned is this: Everything that occurred this summer helped me to recall and retrace the Journey that I have been on in this life. I have traveled parallel roads with my sisters on the Reservation. I was born on the Rosebud Reservation to a Lakota mother and Filipino father. My parents divorced while I was barely out of toddlerhood. Sexual, physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental abuse began shortly after the divorce. As I grew and developed, there was no one to give me a sense of who I was as a young girl or as an Indigenous person. My self-esteem and self-worth were almost nonexistent. This naturally affected my young adulthood and beyond. I began my healing journey at the age of 25 years.
My life mirrored the life my mother lived, created by growing up in a governmental/Catholic boarding school. I married and divorced and subsequently lived far below the poverty level after giving birth to my children and raising them as a single mom. I drank too much and was not really a fit mother. I struggled and fought my demons every day with the help and guidance of many and, as healing from this type of childhood trauma is a lifetime deal, I continue to so. They say healing is like peeling an onion. There is always another layer to deal with.
These memories of trauma came crashing to the forefront of thought as I worked at the site. What I experienced is good folks with bad behavior that I had been shielded from during prior years of our work. I felt as though I had been living in a bubble those three years. Now however, I understand that no matter how difficult the situation becomes during future builds, I must continue to “walk my talk,” to show strength that is forged only by walking through the fires of life. I will continue to offer honesty about the destructive behavior as I see it, tempered with a continued offering of strength, hope, patience, and love. It is through the Grace of Spirit that I am surrounded by so many wonderful Teachers.
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