Vi Waln: Don't believe everything in the media about reservation

Apparently, some people are under the impression that all Indians who live on the reservation regularly abuse the many assistance programs available to those who meet income guidelines. Recently, I was asked to read and formulate a response to a letter to the editor which appeared in the Christmas Eve edition of a daily South Dakota newspaper published east of the Missouri River.

I can usually get an idea of a person’s character by what they say or write. The letter I read was written by a very bitter sounding woman whose father apparently worked on an Indian reservation at some point in her life. She witnessed all of us selling our commodities and other benefits in order to get drunk. Now we all know that alcohol is a big problem on our reservations. But I disagree with the statement that we all sell our commodities so we can buy booze.

The letter was written in response to the recent series of articles which focused on the lives of young people growing up on Indian Reservations. I did read the first piece written in the series but didn’t care to read the rest of the articles. I was right in thinking it would be another series focused mostly on the negative aspects of our lives on the reservation with a feeble attempt to balance out the series with a story of one or two successful Lakota young people.

Judge me for being wrong in doing so but I often do not read most stories printed in other newspapers about Indians, especially if the story is written by a writer who doesn’t know my people the way I do. You must realize that not everything you read in the newspapers is true.

I won’t buy certain newspapers anymore. I am weary of the often inaccurate sensationalism penned by some writers who profess to be journalists; I don’t waste my money to read their lies. I refuse to pay good money to read untruths. I also cannot control your judgment of my free will to choose not to read all those crazy stories written to sell a newspaper.

Some newspapers want their stories to be read by a larger audience so they offer online versions of their editions for everyone on the planet to read. Thus, people from all over the world can read all kinds of inaccurate stories online anytime of the day or night. So, of course lots of people can read about all the terrible things that take place on the reservations in terms of alcohol, drugs, gangs, crime, and so on. And of course once again our beloved reservations are portrayed as places of the darkest doom imaginable by writers who basically don’t have a clue. They do not live on the reservation.

And that is why I make a choice to not read certain stories published in newspapers. I live on the Rosebud Reservation. I see many things that happen here on a daily basis. There are many problems our people are faced with every single day of their lives. Many people will not come to the reservations because of awful things they read in the newspapers.

Still, I feel my home is one of the safest places in the world to live. Does it seem strange to you that I think an Indian Reservation is a safe place to live? If so, then you might be like one of those bitter sounding writers who do not live on the reservation and therefore do not have a clue.

Not all of us living on the reservation are unemployed and languishing at home with a bottle of booze. Many of us are actually gainfully employed. We pay our own bills on time with the money we earn from a real job. And many of us have learned how to prepare delicious meals with the commodities we receive from our tribal warehouses each month.

Not all of our children drop out of school. There are a number of young people who work very hard to earn high grade point averages in preparation for study at a college or university. Many organizations have been established to serve the young people living on reservations and they are staffed by educated, sober adults who have the best interest of our children at heart.

Not all of us are subjecting our families to an ocean of alcohol in our homes. Many Lakota people are sober and pray every day, sometimes several times a day. Prayers are offered for many things, including other human beings who we don’t even know personally. Many of the ceremonial people living right here on my Indian Reservation offered prayers after the weekend shooting in Arizona which killed several people, including a child.

Every month of every year our ceremonial people pray with the phases of the moon so our lives on Mother Earth can continue. Several times a week our people will pray for the world in the inikaga. Those of you who attend the inikaga on a regular basis know there is no judgment in the prayers offered in these lodges. Also, the lowanpi, yuwipi and Native American Church ceremonies are conducted regularly to pray for health and help, not only for individual families, but also for all who live and grow upon Mother Earth.

The earth changes are here. Just look at the deaths of many wamakaskan recently. We must prepare ourselves for even bigger changes. Consciously embrace a good thought and let go of the disease of the mind. Love your children and pray for all of the living beings on the planet, including those who write sharp words judging all Indian people as unemployed gangsters or drunks. Continue the work you do to provide for your family and Wakan Tanka will continue to bless you in many ways. Our people have suffered much since 1492. We are still here. We cannot take anything personal now. Mitakuye Oyasin.

Vi Waln is Sicangu Lakota and an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Her columns were awarded first place in the South Dakota Newspaper Association 2010 contest. She is Editor of the Lakota Country Times and can be reached through email at

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