After all these years of working to bring clean, fresh, safe running water to every family on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Running Strong for American Indian Youth® is on the verge of doing just that.
“We can now see the end of the trail!,” says Running Strong co-founder and Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills, who grew up on the reservation.
Billy recently commented that “Today I feel blessed – and relieved – to be able to tell you that only 52 homes on Pine Ridge currently need access to running water!”
And today, that number has actually dropped to 49 with three more homes connected to the main service water line which runs across the reservation in July.
John Long of the Wakpamni District needed a connection for his new home to the Oglala Sioux Rural Water Supply System main service line located nearly 1,100 feet from his home site for his household which includes another adult and an 8-year-old child.
Stephanie Provost of the White Clay District near the community of Oglala also needed a connection for her new home site and after contacting the Indian Health Service and private contractors she learned about Running Strong’s Mni Wiconi program through word-of-mouth for her household which includes three adults and an 11-year-old child.
And Peggy Sanchez of the Wounded Knee District on White Horse Creek whose home was under renovation is now “move-in ready” reported our Oglala contractor on the reservation, Sam O’Rourke of Badlands Enterprises.
Each of these households also received a 1,000-gallon septic system which enables them to use their indoor plumbing to wash dishes in their kitchen sinks, flush toilets and bathe and shower in their own bathrooms.
Running Strong has fought to bring safe, clean water to the reservation for decades, starting in the 1980s when we began delivering water by the truckload to fill the most urgent needs. Soon after that we started drilling hundreds of deep water wells to serve households, and even entire communities.
In 2012, we started our Mni Wiconi (Water is Life) program and to this day we have connected more than 300 houses to the OSRWSS main service line.
For generations, the Oglala Lakota people living on the reservation have struggled for access to clean, fresh water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, bathing and gardening.
“Living without ready access to clean, fresh water has been a nonstop crisis for these families,” says Billy. “It leaves them constantly struggling with life’s most basic tasks.”
Many of these 49 families have been waiting on the Indian Health Service list for years in the hopes of one day having running water at their home, relieving them of the burden of having to walk hundreds of yards to their nearest neighbor’s home to fetch water or drive several miles to the nearest community water collection site.
“These last 49 families only have us,” notes Billy. “No one else is coming to help.”