Delphine Red Shirt: Children remain vital to our survival as nation

The following is the opinion of Delphine Red Shirt. All content © Native Sun News.

Delphine Red Shirt
Delphine Red Shirt

Re-educating our takoja vital to our survival
By Delphine Red Shirt

In the early part of contact with whites our very young Lakota children were taken and put into boarding schools to brainwash them.

They were systematically subjected to daily psychological and physical stress to make them adapt to a new language and culture where, it was hoped, they would assimilate and forget their own Lakota language and culture.

Carlisle Indian School was one of the first to practice brain washing techniques and the cemetery near the school attests to the inability of some of the children to survive. Some did survive and did so well that they wrote books about their experiences like Dakota author Zintkala Sa.

Children are resilient, especially our Lakota children, like my takoja, the grandchild of one of my relatives. In the last year, this small child, a wakanyeja witnessed things that no child should. She’s undergone losses that only a child in a war, on foreign soil, far from our homelands, may have witnessed in the present time. This past year, this six year old lost the only stability she has known since birth, and like a refugee she is displaced. From what I hear and know, there are many like her on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

These wakanyeja are like small refugees in need of a safe place of refuge. The upheaval they face is created by parents, or other family members who engage in addictive behaviors with alcohol or drugs. We all know that addicts are selfish people; they seek only the next “high.”

This week, the news flew across the web, to reach me that this takoja, a six year old, was found by a kind neighbor after some adult somewhere failed her again. I may have been one of those adults because months ago I gave up on the agency on the reservation that is supposed to protect children like her.

At first, I took the route most adults who care, take. The one where you hire a tribal advocate. These advocates know the tribal court system and you can hire them for a fee. There is a list of them at the courthouse or some have good reputations and you hire them sight unseen.

Somewhere, along the way, after I paid the tribal advocate, I stopped hearing about her plight. Then her own family insisted that I was in the wrong for asking about her well-being. After all, they were there and they could provide the words even if they could not provide a safe refuge.

I dropped the ball, especially after the long cell phone call with one of the people, a man who was in charge of the case from the child protection agency. He made me feel like I was intruding on the case. That they were in charge and they had placed her with “family.”

I stepped away, after another conversation with my family member who lived out of state who was trying to help as well. This was her uncle so I thought, he can help his tojan.

But, after this week, I realized that we may have all dropped the ball because she was found crying, alone, and a kind stranger, a young woman took her in, made a bed on her couch and provided refuge for one night.

I picked up the ball again. This week I found out that the child protection agency, LOWO, on the reservation is under scrutiny. It clearly was not in control of this specific situation. When I tried to call their office, a recording told me the caller that the office as closed between “February 17th and the 24th.” That was months ago, why haven’t they updated their recording? Who is in charge?

When I did get through, I was referred to a juvenile prosecutor to step up the process because normally, to alert the child protection agency, it was a long process of intake and screening. I didn’t want to drop the ball again, so I made the call. No one has called me back, twenty-four hours later. A lot can happen in the life of a child who is not in a safe place in that time period. The weekend looms ominously for that takoja and others like her in a place where alcohol and drugs are a way of life.

All this brings me, us as a people, back to the realities our wakanyeja face on our reservations. In order to begin to solve these problems that the smallest of our oyate face, we must learn from the enemy.

The “Carlisle’s” they established, we can establish in our communities, where we can reeducate our children in our Lakota ways. We, as communities need to establish home-based schools where we can teach our language and our culture while providing refuge for wakanyeja from prekindergarten to twelfth grade.

In order to be effective, they cannot be affiliated with a system that does not represent the people’s needs; from all indications, the current governance system is weak, placing enormous power in the hands of a few. Telling us that maybe we need to disband a centralized system that is foreign to our oyate and return to a more traditional decentralized, band to band system that represents our needs, community by community. In the case of our wakanyeja that is what is needed; our communities need to be involved at the local level and not through an agency in Pine Ridge.

We cannot forget our most helpless and most innocent. We must not tolerate that which endangers our children. We must consider what is at stake in a community where a child, at the age of six, openly seeks refuge within the community because of alcohol or drugs. What is at stake is our future as a nation.

(Delphine Red Shirt can be reached at redshirtphd@gmail.com)

Copyright permission Native Sun News

Join the Conversation