Friday, March 22, is the United Nations’ World Water Day. The inspiration for this international day focuses on the importance of freshwater and awareness of those among us who live without access to safe water.
Billy Mills and Gene Krizek understood from the start the importance of freshwater for all Americans when they founded Running Strong for American Indian Youth in 1986.
On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Navajo Nation, and more reservations there are thousands of residents who do not have running water in their homes. In order to overcome their water scarcity these families and individuals walk or drive to fetch water to haul back home, sometimes trekking up to 10 miles in all seasons.
But in the past few years, thanks to our supporters, hundreds of children, parents, elders and disabled residents on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and Navajo Nation reservation now have access to the water they need to shower and bathe, flush toilets, and wash dishes.
On the Pine Ridge and Navajo Nation reservations there are pipelines of treated water, in some instances even running across an individual’s own property.
So why are so many still fetching and hauling water?
In rural locations, it can cost a minimum of $5,000 for a family to tap into the main water service line, which may be financially out of reach.
Our Mni Wiconi (Water is Life) program on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation connects residents to the Oglala Sioux Rural Water Supply free of charge. Running Strong field staff work tirelessly around the year to plan, route, trench, and plumb as many homes as possible given the weather conditions and amount of applications.
While we are proud of what we have been able to accomplish in the past, we are always focused on looking ahead to see what more needs to be done.
“Just think, Running Strong has always found a way to assist these complex issues for our Lakota families,” said Ken Lone Elk, long-time water coordinator for Running Strong’s field office. “As long as we have funding in our budget, we will always be the sole provider for these unique situations that are an easy repair but due to regulations families and elders run into these issues.”
And we also know that with spring coming, the ground on the Pine Ridge reservation will soon be thawed enough to allow for digging and trenching of water lines once again.