"I did not know then, how much was ended. When I look back now, from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children, lying heaped and scattered, all along the crooked gulch. As plain as when I saw them with eyes still young, and I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud. It was buried in the blizzard. A people's dream died there, and it was a beautiful dream."-Black Elk, on the Battle of Wounded Knee
When you research the people who inhabit Ziebach County, themes repeat themselves. The people of the Cheyenne River are treated, at least in popular media, like a novelty item. The headlines tell the story of a journalist sent to cover what's been labeled by the Census takers as "America's poorest county." These writers tell cautionary tales of woe and destruction, and those stories are real. As a reporter from the Associated Press put it:
At a time when the weak economy is squeezing communities across the nation, recently released census figures show that nowhere are the numbers as bad as here - a county with 2,500 residents, most of them Cheyenne River Sioux Indians living on a reservation.These are people treated, at times, like a sociological experiment. Some county had to come in last, and the grand prize for the Sioux has been empty media coverage speckled with a dash of false hope. Some writers have been happy to simply chronicle the bitter tale of a community long abandoned by the American machine. Others, like Tom Zeller, have dared to step inside a world where modern-day poverty and the relentless cruelty of history collide:
Briggs, an articulate and passionate host, has been educating me about her tribe's role in an otherwise familiar narrative arc for all Native Americans, one of displacement, disenfranchisement and unabashed double-dealing. This has been particularly true for tribes of the desert and prairie West, where, over the last century or so, tribal culture has been deliberately undermined, land has been given and taken away, and geographic isolation has made gaining a meaningful foothold in the American economy particularly difficult.The raw sociological data - numbers, statistics, and a shrinking socioeconomic foothold - are provocative. It's the stories, though, that crystalize the soul-stopping poverty that afflicts this part of the world. The story can seldom be told without mentions of substance abuse, disease, and crumbling infrastructure. Education is just a dream for many of the young people who call Cheyenne River home, as their capacity for learning is often sapped by the vicious callousness of prolonged hunger. Nicholas Kristoff of the New York Times visited portions of Sioux land, and in doing so, he learned of a cycle where the toxic environment shapes the human experience:
Poverty in the United States, including in the reservations, is so entrenched because it is often part of a toxic brew of alcohol or drug dependencies, dysfunctional families and educational failures. It self-replicates generation after generation.The circumstances are such that the central inquiry of this writing seems self-evident: why should we help?
Okiciyap. We help.
To understand our call, our great commission, you must grasp the underreported tragedy of poverty, which comes not in what's not; rather, the heartbreak is found in the deprivation of what might be. When people are starved, they're isolated from more than just food. They're herded into a starvation of the creative soul, kept from the sort of self-affirming purpose that might push their community forward, and in doing so, advance our planet toward the unshrinkable goal of human progress.
Why should we help? It's a simple question with a complex answer, and an honest inquiry reveals something deeper about ourselves. We have a duty to help those in need because we share with them the bond that's only known by those forced to live out some version of the human experience. But why this cause? And why these people? Those answers must connect the past to the present, and they must track into the future. They must implicate notions of justice, equality, and the emotional maturity to acknowledge past wrongs. Perhaps most important, though, is what might be and the potential we might unleash within the Cheyenne River people.
I am what many Sioux would call Wasi'chu. It is a word that in some contexts means "non-Indian." Other times, Wasi'chu refers to "the one who takes the best part of the meat." White privilege is no burden at all, except in its ability to inflict life-changing awareness on those who would pay attention. Being Wasi'chu requires one to confront on a daily basis the reality that for people like me to have much, someone was forced to bear the crushing existence of very little.
Sometime around the Civil War, at the height of Manifest Destiny, the American government dealt swiftly with its Indian problem. For the Sioux, this meant forced isolation on a portion of land surrounding the Black Hills. Following a series of bloody wars, the United States signed treaties with the Sioux people, handing them the illusion of cultural security. Shortly after signing those pacts, America conceived strategies to ignore them. Brutal tactics like the "sell or starve" offensive used inhumane coercion to force the Sioux into dividing their land. Where reservations were once communally owned by the tribe, 1877 brought individual ownership of land by Indians. After the plots were distributed to those individuals, the excess land was passed into the hands of white ranchers.
It was a divide and conquer plan that dangled the carrot of the American dream in front of tribes that had no choice. By dividing the reservation, the American government was better able to steal the land later, and in the process, the Sioux lost more than a million acres of prime property in the Black Hills.
Just more than a decade later, in 1890, American troops surrounded a large group of Sioux at Wounded Knee, and those troops proceeded to slaughter men, women, and children. This battle was designed to kill more than just the Indian people. It was designed to murder the Sioux spirit.
After Wounded Knee, the Sioux living in those Hills were effectively treated as prisoners of war. At gun and cannon point, we stole more of their land and attempted to exterminate their culture. We broke treaties and dehumanized the inhabitants. Perhaps most importantly, we established a culture of isolation that's made it difficult for the people of the Cheyenne River to survive today.
Modern-day Sioux communities feel like something out of the Middle Ages. The Black Death in the Black Hills is some combination of diabetes, tuberculosis, cervical cancer, and alcoholism. Teacher turnover and school attrition make education a near-impossibility. Domestic violence mars the home life, and children live under this involuntary abuse. It's a depressing cycle that's led places like Cheyenne River to an emergency situation where close to 90-percent of the people find themselves unemployed during the winter months. Living over the poverty line would make one rich by comparison in these Hills.
As Wasi'chu, our call is to help. Rather than taking the best of the meat, it's our time to give. But that's not just because we want these people to eat. They're hungry for more than just food, and with the power of community-backed compassion, we can feed their souls with a helping of hope and empowerment.
Because there's another part of the Cheyenne River Sioux story that's not often told. Despite the longest odds, these people often rise up and surprise those who've counted them out. They display a sort of spirit and talent that should provide you with renewed hope of what these people might become.
During this fundraising effort, I've witnessed unmistakable talent on this side of the poverty line. Our incredible quilters have taken their art to the highest levels, crafting an expression of talent fitting for this cause. I've read the words of people like Meteor Blades, Dave in Northridge, and countless others who've used literary wizardry to tell the story of this story's importance. I've seen a creativity in organization and highly-skilled management from a team of individuals dedicated to something bigger than themselves.
And that talent's not just limited to the individuals contributing on this site. It's the sort of talent that's untapped among the Cheyenne River Sioux. The Sioux have protected and nourished their local buffalo, and in doing so, they've created some industry while preserving one of nature's most majestic creatures. They've teamed with thoughtful allies to protect the time-honored tradition of the High School Prom, giving their sons and daughters at least one night of distinction in a life that needs more. Those courageous efforts come at a time when teen suicide is rampant on the reservation, and their courage in preserving hope cannot be overlooked. Some within the community have even taken advantage of their opportunities to build a call center, where young Sioux men and women answer phones for a pittance that feels like a fortune.
Even the charitable organization that this effort will help is a show of Cheyenne River courage. Georgia Little Shield started the Okiciyap Food Pantry in an effort to nourish the people she loved the most, and though she's dead, her legacy lives on in the work we will support.
Black Elk said two things in the wake of Wounded Knee, but only one of them was true. The dream of the Sioux people was a beautiful dream. But it's not dead just yet. It's been buried alive, and together, we can play a role in restoring the very soul of a people with so much to offer the world.
If this diary has moved you, please consider placing a bid on the beautiful quilt, designed by the wonderfully talented people here at the DailyKos. Your donations will go directly to the Okiciyap Food Pantry, where together we will have the ability to feed hordes of hungry people.
Please contribute with igive or send a donation the old-fashioned way to:
Okiciyap (we help) Food Pantry
P.O. Box 172
Isabel, SD 57633
The auction is currently ongoing, with the high bid sitting at:
CURRENT HIGH BID $ 5230.00And the auction rules are as follows:
OKICIYAP QUILT AUCTION RULES 2013OKICIYAP'S NEW DONATION LINK
1) Auction begins on Wednesday, March 27th. Bids will first be accepted in the diary published that day by GreyHawk. The final day of the auction is Sunday, April 7, 2013, at approximately 7:00 p.m. CT. The last two+ hours of the auction will be held online from 5:00 p.m. central until 7 p.m. central in the DKQG diary. If no higher bids are posted by 7:10 p.m. the best bid before 7:00 p.m. central will be declared the winner.
1.1)The auction will end as soon as no higher bids are posted within 10 minutes of the highest bid received. Final bids will be decided by the time posted on the message. The decision of the judges on winning bid is final.
1.2)After the final bid is decided and the successful bidder notified, the donation to the pantry will be made, and once confirmed, BeadLady will send the quilt to the lucky winner! The pantry is a 501-c-3 non-profit organization, this donation will be tax deductable.
2) Bids will be accepted by making comments in diaries, as well as by kosmailing weck at any time to make arrangements for anonymous or absentee bidding.
2.1) If you wish to remain anonymous, you may set that up with weck in advance, and we will use a number when we post your bids in a diary. (example = Anon-02)
2.2) If you want to leave an absentee bid, you may do that with either weck. We will need to know the highest amount you are willing to bid and we will place those bids for you in 10 dollar increments as the bidding progresses throughout the auction. If the bidding goes higher than you first authorized, you may contact the same person again with a new top limit, or bid in the diaries. Absentee bids should be
placed with weck as far in advance as possible.
3) Bidding by groups, businesses or organizations is allowed, as long as only one contact name is used. Please let us know the details of your group, business or organization and who is the official spokesperson for the group or organization.
4) Bidding is in minimum increments of $10.00. You may bid in higher increments that can be divided evenly by $10.00.
4.1) Bids must be in U.S. funds.
5) weck and Pam from Calif will do their best to inform all bidders of the newest high bid. To receive this information in you Kosmail box, please ask weck to join Daily Kos Quilt Guild Auction Alliance group.
5.1) We will send groupmail to everyone (Each member will be made an editor for the duration of the auction) Reminder*A groupmail won't show up on your main page; you will have to check for messages manually.*
6) A PayPal link will be included for other donations to Okiciyap. While we cherish the thought that you may choose to donate to Okiciyap during the auction, there is no advantage in the auction to doing that. It is not necessary to donate through the PayPal to Okiciyap to participate in the auction. To use the paypal link, click on the link that goes to the Okiciyap Pantry's new website. http://okiciyap.weebly.com/....
6.1) There is also a new widget to replace ChipIn. It should be available sometime during the auction We will miss Chipin, but it has been retired.
7) The winning bidder can make payment arrangements that are not through PayPal with weck. We know that some folks don't use Paypal.
8) The winning bidder will have 48 hours to confirm their success. After 48 hours, the judges may, at their discretion, offer the second highest bidder the opportunity to redeem the quilt. The decision of the judges is final.