When Running Strong for American Indian Youth® was founded and incorporated in the late 1980s, among our very first priorities was working to provide water to families living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation; first by the truckload, later by digging hundreds of deep-water wells, and presently through our Mni Wiconi (Water is Life) water line connection program.
Today, more than 30 years later we are on the verge of completing the monumental task of providing running water to every household on the reservation.
And, in fact, for the coming fiscal year Running Strong is on track to finish the job we embarked upon three decades ago, according to Running Strong Executive Director Sydney Mills Farhang.
Sydney reported recently that applications and requests for a water connection to the Oglala Sioux Rural Water Supply System main service water line which crosses through the reservation “have slowed dramatically.”
And that’s a good thing!
Ken Lone Elk, our water program coordinator at our field office on Pine Ridge, Tipi Waste Un Zanipi (Wellness Through a Good Home), estimates that we have connected most of the unconnected homes on Pine Ridge to water.
“Connecting the remaining 52 homes will be the focus of FY23,” says Sydney. “These homes have been on the water connection list for some time due to the ineligibility of the homes for a water connection.
“Our goal is to do the home repairs required to make each home eligible for a water connection and septic installation, and then provide the water and septic install.”
Our Mni Wiconi water line connection program began as a pilot program in 2015.
Then-board president, the late Gene Krizek, co-founder of Running Strong, announced at the September board of directors meeting that:
“On a topic near and dear to my heart, Running Strong has started a pilot program to connect homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation with a water line” with a commitment to start with five homes “to run a water line to their homes so they will finally have running water inside their home.
“This truly is a ‘legacy project,’” Gene stated to the board members, “taking up where we left off when we began delivering fresh water by trucking it from wells…to individual families in remote areas of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation; then drilling deeper water wells and finally installing windmills to pump the water.”
Gene noted that with the clean water projects completed year after year in those early days “we gained the confidence of the leaders and the people of the Oglala Lakota people and we established a record of meaningful achievement which allowed us to embark on many other worthwhile programs to benefit American Indian families.
“Now we are tapping into the main water line from the Missouri River!”
At that time, in 2015, for some residents who lived as close as 100 feet from the service line, the water simply passes them by as the costs to run a line to their home and tap into the main line is out of reach.
By April 2016, the first five water hookups were completed, noting our field coordinator Dave Lone Elk how the first group of beneficiaries’ lives have been transformed.
“They are all currently drinking water and forever grateful for our help.”
This coming year, clean water projects account for a projected 22 percent of our cash grant program funding total, far exceeding projected expenditures for other Running Strong cash grant programs.
But the best news of all, says Sydney:
“When these 52 homes are complete, we feel confident that we have connected every Pine Ridge family to clean running water.”