Across the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, organizations like Running Strong are a beacon of hope, battling generational poverty and increasing access to healthcare, education, and healthy food options. Native American communities across America face persistent challenges due to historical and systemic factors, making the support that Running Strong provides crucial for positive change.
As we look back on 2023, we see many reasons for hope thanks to the support of everyone who contributes to the mission of Running Strong for American Indian Youth. As we share stories of impact and progress, we hope you’ll continue standing with us as we fight to reduce Pine Ridge Reservation poverty and its effects.
A Little Historical Context: The Impact of Poverty on Pine Ridge
The plight of Native American reservations, including Pine Ridge, is deeply rooted in historical injustices, land dispossession, and the erosion of traditional ways of life. Reservation poverty rates on reservations are nearly double the national average, emphasizing the ongoing struggles faced by these communities.
On Pine Ridge Reservation specifically, the situation is particularly stark, with poverty rates consistently among the highest in the nation. Residents often grapple with inadequate housing, high unemployment, and limited economic opportunities. The educational system faces significant challenges, impacting the youth’s access to quality education and hindering their prospects. Healthcare disparities persist, with limited access to medical facilities and services.
These factors contribute to a complex and challenging environment, perpetuating a cycle that is difficult to break without targeted and sustained support. The dedicated efforts of organizations like Running Strong aim to address these specific challenges, working towards a more hopeful and sustainable future for the residents of Pine Ridge Reservation.
Addressing Urgent Needs: Mni Wiconi Water Line Connection Program
It might be surprising to hear that access to clean water is not readily available everywhere in America. On Pine Ridge Reservation, poverty is exacerbated in places where this access is scarce.
Running Strong’s Mni Wiconi water line connection program is a lifeline, aiming to provide running water by connecting homes to the Oglala Sioux Rural Water Supply System. This program not only gives families access to clean water, but improves sanitation by also providing septic systems, enabling those with indoor plumbing to wash dishes in their kitchen sink, take baths and showers indoors in their own bathrooms, and flush toilets. This initiative supports our mission of meeting basic needs and improving the overall well-being of residents on Pine Ridge.
Sustaining Communities: Mobile Food Market and Farmers Market
Throughout the year, the Oyate Ta Kola Ku Community Center (Friend of All Nations), named in recognition of Running Strong co-founder the late Gene Krizek, has operated a farmers market providing fresh, local produce and promoting healthy eating habits.
Recognizing the vastness of Pine Ridge and the difficulty residents face in reaching essential services, Running Strong continued operating our mobile food market. This initiative travels to remote areas on the reservation, ensuring access to healthy, locally-grown produce.
Education and More at the Oyate Ta Kola Ku Community Center
The Oyate Ta Kola Ku Community Center also provides public wi-fi and computers so that students can have easier access to online learning resources and the Pine Ridge community can connect with the digital world. An indoor gym, a multipurpose room, and classrooms provide space for physical activity, social gatherings, cultural enrichment, and skill development through classes in arts, music, culture, and sewing.
Building community and supporting educational advancements are critical to reducing Pine Ridge reservation poverty and instilling pride in indigenous traditions and culture.
Bringing Joy to Pine Ridge Reservation
Your generous contributions made another significant impact in 2023 – ensuring that thousands of children, parents, and elders experienced the joy of the holiday season. The Oyate Ta Kola Ku Community Center became a hub of festivities, delivering hundreds of toys to children and hosting the distribution of hams and food boxes just before Christmas. These events brought warmth, hope, and cheer to countless families, embodying the spirit of community.
Dreamstarter™ and Dreamstarter™ Teacher Grants
In honor of Running Strong’s founder, Billy Mills, and his example of courage and leadership, Running Strong established the Dreamstarter® Academy Grant program. This initiative supports Native American youth who dream of making a difference in their community by providing financial assistance, mentorship, networking opportunities, and communications training.
In 2023, the Dreamstarter™ and Dreamstarter™ Teacher grant recipients played a pivotal role. With a focus on environmental justice, health, cultural representation, and academic improvements, projects bettered communities, schools, and classrooms throughout Indian Country, showcasing the transformative power of education and community-driven initiatives.
Warming Up Winter on Pine Ridge
As we enter a new year, Running Strong has already resumed its annual Heat Match program. With a 1:4 matching fund grant, this program aims to provide propane for heating to families in need. Your contributions can make a lasting impact, and ensure that more Pine Ridge families stay warm throughout the South Dakota winter. In 2023, 1,905 families, including 4,112 children, benefited from this program; this year, the goal is to serve even more.
Looking Ahead With Hope for 2024
In the face of persistent challenges, your support is a catalyst that breaks down the causes of Pine Ridge Reservation poverty. Your donations to Running Strong enable the continuation of vital programs that uplift communities, address urgent needs, and foster a brighter future.
Every contribution spurs new progress in food security, health, education, and more. As we look ahead to 2024, let’s stand together in solidarity, providing hope, resilience, and the promise of a better tomorrow for Native American communities.
Please, continue with Running Strong on this transformative journey. Together, we can bring the promise of a better tomorrow to the residents of Pine Ridge.