We started Friday morning at the Running Strong Pine Ridge Reservation field office, run by Dave Lone Elk along with his father Ken Lone Elk. From the office in the district of Porcupine, Dave and Ken distribute in kind goods such as food boxes, winter coats, backpacks with school supplies, dental kits, Christmas toys, and more to members of the community.
Above: Contents of a dry food box we distribute in the summer, since the heat makes it hard to distribute frozen boxes then
Dave and Ken Lone Elk also run the winter Heat Match program from this office, which helps hundreds of Pine Ridge families have heat in the hardest part of the winter. South Dakota and surrounding areas get bitterly cold winters, yet not everyone on the reservation can afford heat along with other basic expenses such as food and medicine. Just a few winters ago a woman froze to death on the nearby Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, which demonstrates the vital need for heat. While the heat match cannot sustain people through the entire winter, Dave explained that Lakota people have long thought of January as the hardest time of year, and this is exactly when the heat match provides a hand up to people in need.
Oyate Teca Project
Next we visited the Oyate Teca Project in the neighboring district: Medicine Root/Kyle. The Oyate Teca Project is a youth center and garden program, that sells fresh produce at a weekly farmer's market in town. Rose Fraser is the Program Director of Oyate Teca; she has built Oyate Teca into a great community program and has recently become a member of the Running Strong staff. After partnering with Oyate Teca for a few years, we are glad to welcome her to the staff and excited to help the Oyate Teca Project grow for years to come!
At Oyate Teca, we got a tour of the project's garden, where we heard about the gardening methods their gardener Chet has been implementing. It was a hard year for gardening overall in South Dakota--an area where it is never easy to garden due to harsh weather, a short season and nutrient-poor soil. However, despite these challenges, the Oyate Teca garden is doing well!
After seeing the garden we came inside for a wonderful lunch full of garden-fresh foods, and heard more from Chet about the garden. He told us about recreating types of squash that Lakota people ate hundreds of years ago by natural cross-breeding of modern varieties--one that he is working on redeveloping now will be called the Medicine Root Green Squash. Beyond helping people on Pine Ridge return to traditional foods like certain types of squash, Chet is also focused on encouraging seed saving: if families with gardens save the seeds from their produce, they can regrow food the next season at no cost. In this way, Oyate Teca is addressing both health and cost concerns!
Chet also talked about how the Oyate Teca garden is focusing on growing the 5 staple foods that any community can grow for a good diet: Corn, Squash and Beans--the "three sisters" traditionally grown together by many Native people!--plus potatoes and eggs.
We ended Friday with a wacipi (powwow) at the nearby Little Wound School.
The tour group got to learn more about powwows, about the drum groups and the different types of dancing done at them. Powwows are not ceremonies--they are more like celebrations where culture is celebrated and kept vibrant, and everyone is welcome. A number of the 2016 Dreamstarters projects focus on this imporant cultural tradition: learn more about the significance of powwows here, here, and here.