Vi Waln: Indian children deserve better lives on the reservation

I attended the Department of Justice Attorney General’s Advisory Committee, Native American Issues Subcommittee meeting in Rapid City, South Dakota, last week. This meeting was with Attorney General Eric Holder along with the District of South Dakota’s US Attorney Brendan Johnson and several other US Attorneys from across the country. These federal officials spent an entire day in the Black Hills listening to tribal leaders, domestic violence advocates and tribal law enforcement officials.

The group also heard from several people who are real life victims of crime in Indian country. A teenage girl bravely told the gathering that she was a survivor of sexual assault. A young man described the anger he felt as a child growing up in a home where his mother held endless drinking parties. A mother and father described the painful frustration they experienced in watching their daughter survive an abusive marriage only to die at a very young age from the effects of prolonged alcohol use.

A Dakota man also gave an account of how his childhood experience affected his choices and attitudes as an adult. This man spent many years drinking, drugging and abusing his female companion. His emotional descriptions of how he figured out ways to manipulate his family and the system were very powerful. He eventually summoned enough inner strength to recognize that even though he had completed and understood the concepts presented in some men’s re-education classes, he was still manipulative and controlling.

His speech gave me hope. This man is proof that our Indian men can heal when they stop denying the truth of how their inner thoughts are totally opposite of what they present to their companion or when faced with court proceedings for domestic violence. The presentation offered by this man was very moving. This one Dakota man admitted and faced his hypocrisy. If he can change, anyone can change.

Many of us find it is difficult to look back upon our childhood years because we remember that time of our life as an era filled with pain. We would rather forget the years we spent as children, especially if we grew up in an alcoholic home.

The stark reality of life on numerous reservations is that many of our children are regularly caught in the middle of their parents’ drunken parties, most of which escalate into violent fights. Many of our children are also painfully aware of not having any of the basic necessities which their friends have. They watch their parents spend all the money on booze.

Many parents are too busy drinking, drugging and acting out their violent tendencies in public places to bother fulfilling the physical and spiritual needs of their children. Many do not help their children understand the concept of a higher power. There are numerous instances right here on Rosebud where children aged 10 years old and younger are left at home alone for several days to care for their younger siblings while the parents are off drinking.

Listening to the people talk last week made me realize how much our children are actually affected by what they witness in terms of drinking and violence on the rez. We have our own children watching their mother or father regularly assault one another in their own home. Other Lakota children are victims of assaults by close family members on a regular basis. At some point they come to believe it’s normal to live all of this dysfunction.

Our children should not have to live in fear inside their own homes. I always hear how sacred our children are but listening to the remarks last week made me think that for many of our people the slogan “our children are sacred” is just talk. No one is willing to make it real by walking the talk. Many are all about do as I say, not as I do. And then we wonder why we have so much drinking and violence.

I listened to law enforcement officials speak on what they experienced on a recent foot patrol in a reservation community. They spoke of arriving at a house where several adults were drinking. In the midst of this party was a little girl. Upon arriving at another house party they found several small children playing in the gutter outside the home.

Alcohol is a major focus on the rez. Our lives revolve around booze. Many have consciously forsaken the blood our ancestors sacrificed. They died so we could carry on our Lakota way of life. They didn’t die so we could languish miserably on our own homelands with our bootleg jugs of vodka in hand. Instead of carrying on our beautiful Lakota culture, full and rich with the ceremony of living a healthy life, many have eagerly succumbed to the deadly reservation pseudo-culture of alcohol which continuously brings our children pain.

Pte San Win brought us a beautiful cannunpa. The wasicu brought us alcohol. I would rather present myself to the universe with my cannunpa instead of a bootleg jug of cheap vodka. I alone am responsible for my spirit when I walk into the next world. I have to help my children and grandchildren understand that life in this human body is only temporary. Our spirit is eternal.

I want to meet Pte San Win in genuine happiness knowing that I worked hard to follow her instructions while I was on earth. I do not want to one day come to on the other side not remembering how I died because I was too full of cheap vodka to realize what was happening around me. Our children deserve better than what we are now providing them. Our children deserve life. We are the only ones who can provide that for them.

What will Indian Country be like in seven generations? It’s time we took immediate responsibility for the unborn Lakota generations. Sober up. It is the only honorable way to remember what our ancestors sacrificed for us.

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 vi@lakotacountrytimes.com.

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