Hope on the Rez: A Day in the Life…

What’s an average day like in your household? If you are a mother, I would imagine that it goes something like this:

The alarm rings at early o’ clock, and you get up, take a quick shower and dress (if you can manage to do so before the kids come trying to steal your attention). Next, you have to wake the children, prepare breakfast, and pack lunches. Then it’s off to drop the kids at school. After a long day at school, there’s softball/soccer/ballet/whatever practice. Then you have to help the kids with their homework. You reach back into your mind in an attempt to find the complex math formulas that you forgot years ago then, when you come up empty, you search through the book frantically trying to understand, so you can then explain it to the expectant young face peering up at you. After the homework is done, a healthy dinner has to be fixed, then the kitchen cleaned up, and if you’re lucky, you’ll have a little time to relax before you go to bed.

Now, let’s look at this from your child’s perspective. Your children most likely have parents who are there to take care of them. If they don’t have extracurricular activities, they probably at least have other entertaining things, such as video and/or computer games, etc., with which to occupy their time. And even if it’s difficult for their parents, I’ll bet they at least try to help the kids with their homework whether it’s by explaining things to them themselves or by hiring a tutor. The kids probably also have a mom or dad who has at one point in time talked to them about what they want to be when they grow up. They ask them about their hopes and dreams, and if they are like the typical American, they probably tell them that they can be anything they choose to be.

But what if your situation were different? What if you didn’t grow up with the past that you remember? What if you grew up on a reservation, on the Cheyenne River reservation? What would the daily life of your children look like then? Well, if you were one of 78% of the people on the reservation, you would be living at or below the poverty level. That means that in the winters, the very very cold winters, you would most likely run out of money to pay your heating bill. In the hot summers, you may not have much air conditioning. You may not have dependable hot running water with which to bathe and wash your clothes. If you were creative, like one family I know of, you might put a space heater underneath your trailer to try to heat your water. However, if you did so, you would most likely encounter the same results that they did and have everything you own go up in flames.

Instead of each child having their own bedroom, your children would probably sleep together in the same room on the same mattress on the floor because you don’t have money for even one bedframe. They could wake each morning crowded together clutching at their blankets for warmth. If life for them were like that of many of the families on the reservation, their mom could still be sleeping off the alcohol or drug induced stupor that she was in the night before. Their dad may not be anywhere around. They may not even know who their dad is.

They might have to get themselves and their little brothers and sisters ready for school while stepping carefully over soft places in the floor that were caused by water damage. Hopefully, they would get breakfast at school because there most likely wouldn’t be anything at home.

Once they arrived at school, their problems could continue. There, they could face peer pressure to take drugs or drink alcohol. Some children as young as 10 years old try alcohol on the reservations. They could also have to contend with gangs.

Those who are determined, stay in school and attempt to complete their education; however, 50% will drop out, and they begin dropping out as early as 12 years old. Why should they stay? School is difficult, and if their parents are usually drunk or high, they won’t offer much assistance or motivation to continue. It doesn’t really matter anyway. If they stay on the reservation, like most of them do, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to get a job whether they graduate or not.

Once school is completed for the day, instead of having a parent come pick them up and take them to some extracurricular activity, many children on the reservation are on their own. Even some elementary-aged kids can be seen walking around town by themselves. And there is very little in the way of fun activities to occupy their time. If they are really studious, they will attempt to do their homework, but their parents may not be available or able to help them if they are around, and they may not be around since alcohol-related deaths on the reservation are 17 times the national average. If they’re lucky, the kids may have a grandmother that can help, but with the life expectancy on the reservation at 45 years old, that possibility gets slimmer as the children grow older.

Hopefully, they had a big lunch at school because many of them won’t have any food at home for dinner. What money does come in, can be spent on drugs or alcohol. And since the unemployment rate on the reservation is 87.5%, not much money is coming in.

If that’s all that happens to them on any given day, they are among the small number of lucky ones. Unfortunately, a very large percentage of children on the reservation are abused every day both violently and sexually. What hope can children have if they are raised like that? Do they think about their future and what they want to be when they grow up? Most of them are busy thinking about how they are going to make it through the day. And when it all gets to be too much, they can take the way out that so many others have taken. Suicide.

What if this were your life and these your children? But for the grace of God, there go I. Would you want the rest of the world to ignore you? Would you want everyone to pretend that you and your problems didn’t exist?

There is hope! On my first visit to the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in 2009, I met an incredible lady who, through God’s leadership, had moved there with her husband to found Windswept Academy.

Obviously, they can’t solve all of the problems on the reservation immediately, but they are making a huge difference in the lives of the children who attend the school. They are giving them hope, a good education, a campus free of drugs and alcohol, help with their schoolwork and, in cooperation with one of the local churches, activities to fill their time after school and on the weekends. They are giving them counseling when they have problems they need to discuss; they are teaching them about their history, language and culture, and, most importantly, they are teaching them about God. With good guidance, these children have a chance at a better future, and through them, real change can come to the reservation.

I’ve been back to visit a few times since 2009, and each time I go back, I feel even more strongly the need for this school. I’ve tried to help them raise funds in as many ways as I can. Since most of the people on the reservation are poor, and the school is a private, non-profit institution, what they need most is money to pay for the teachers, food for breakfast and lunches, and the overhead. Even though the teachers are mostly missionaries, they only make $15,000 a year, the school still needs to bring in many donations to cover the costs of operation. I make this appeal to you. If any of you could help, it would be greatly appreciated. Think of the children. What if yours lived here? Wouldn’t you want someone to help?

You can find more information about the school on Facebook (just look up Windswept Academy) or on their website: www.windsweptacademy.org.

My First Trip to the Rez


It all started four years ago when I was standing in my closet trying to clean out some of my old clothes. I had several things I could get rid of, but the question was what to do with them. The natural thing to do was have a yard sale, but, ugh, the time and effort that goes into one of those did NOT sound appealing. Another option was to donate them, and that’s the option I decided to pursue.

Now, where should I donate my clothes? Several stores in town would take them, but I wanted to do more with them. I don’t know where the idea originated, but it suddenly came to my mind to donate them to an Indian charity. Excited now, I headed straight for my computer to do research.

My excitement quickly died, however, as one charity after another just didn’t seem right for some reason. I finally shut my computer in frustration as I came across one very large charity’s website. Reading through their pages, I had found the one that listed what they wanted people to donate, and what do you think it said?!? They wanted people to donate money, so they could build another warehouse to hold their clothing and food donations! Really!?!

That decided it. If I wanted my clothes to get to the people who really needed them, I would just have to take them myself. After all, I had always wanted to visit an Indian Reservation. This was the perfect opportunity. I went back to my closet and looked through my stuff again. Even if I donated everything, it wouldn’t really be enough to warrant a trip out west. I needed more items. With that thought in mind, I called my mom. Over the next several weeks, I researched reservations, and we collected clothes. We put notices in the bulletins of our churches, we told our friends, and I even went on Florence freecycle.com and asked for clothing.

When the week of our departure arrived, mom’s and dad’s garage was full. It took a while to sort through it all, but we ended up with a U-Haul truck full of boxes of clothes and other items.



 And so, the trip began. I must say that driving that big truck was a new experience for me. Once I got the hang of trusting the side mirrors, though, it became a piece of cake.


The drive lasted two long days. We finally arrived at the reservation late Saturday night. I was so tired that even the sight of our hotel didn’t go too far in quashing the excitement I felt at being able to stop and rest for the night. However, it did dampen our spirits a little. In my defense, let me just say that there are only two hotels on the reservation. Both showed up via an online search, but neither had pictures, nor could I find any helpful reviews. There was no way for me to tell what they looked like. Therefore, the sight of the purple (instead of red) lights lining the bottom of the roof for the length of the hotel took us by surprise. They shone out in the darkness illuminating the row of rooms beneath as well as the group of tied dogs in a corner of the parking lot.
Our arrival in a U-Haul truck must have seemed unusual because many of the doors to other rooms that stood open revealed people milling around in the entranceways looking at us curiously while little children peeked out from behind their mothers’ legs.

We got checked in and entered our room to find that the door lock didn’t work, so being the creative person that she is, mom propped a chair up under the door handle. With our security established, I walked over to the double bed on the far side of the room and dropped my bag on it. A loud noise made me jump, and I looked to see the side of the bed lying on the floor with the foot folded under. No, my bag wasn’t that heavy. Upon closer examination, it appeared that the foot had just been propped up under the bed but wasn’t really attached to it.

After securing the window (which also didn’t lock), we climbed into the remaining double bed and settled down, to the chorus of barking dogs, for a well-earned exhausted sleep.

Sunday morning, as is my wont, I slept as late as I could. As a result, mom got in the bathroom first. When I finally forced my eyes to open and my legs to pull me out of the bed, I was met with horrible news. There was no hot water. Now, I like to think of myself as pretty low maintenance (well, ok, medium maintenance), but the thought of cold water running down my back was not appealing at all. It actually bordered on being a serious problem. But what are Americans if not resilient, so I made the best of it. A very fast bath in a few inches of water and a quick shampoo executed by leaning my head under the faucet did the job, and I was good to go.

Leaving the hotel, we headed to the First Baptist Church of Eagle Butte. They had agreed to help us with the clothing drive, and we were looking forward to morning services there. Since the town isn’t very big, we found the church without much difficultly. We had arrived a little early to attend the breakfast that they regularly served to the children on the reservation. The fellowship hall was full of little smiling faces, and the guests seemed to really enjoy both the food and the Sunday School lesson. The adult service was also good, and we enjoyed meeting the people who attended, native and non-native alike.

After services, our work began (again). We drove the truck around back and started unloading. The wonderful church members provided a lot of needed help and delicious food. With everyone working together, it didn’t take us long to unload everything; however, even though the clothing drive didn’t officially begin until an hour or so later, many people showed up before we got everything off the truck. As a result, many boxes didn’t make it inside. We gave up trying to take all of the clothes out and let people look through the boxes. Thankfully, we had sorted everything by size, so it wasn’t too difficult for people to find what would work for them.


We had a large turnout, and everyone seemed to have a good time. At the end of the day, we packed the clothes that had not been taken into two or three small boxes to drop off at an Indian charity in another town.

 I can honestly say that that afternoon was one of the most enjoyable that I had had in a long time. I meet many wonderful people there. One of which was Anne Konur, the founder of Windswept Academy. (If you continue to read my blog, you’ll hear much more about this school.) I made many friends, some of whom I have been able to see again on subsequent trips.
Our trip back to Florence was filled with interesting sights and fun times, but that night and day that we spent on the reservation will always live in my memory.