Young dancers on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Photo: Neeta Lind
Embracing Children on the Pine Ridge Reservation
By Jim Kent
Lakota Country Times Correspondent
lakotacountrytimes.com Pine Ridge Reservation, S.D. – There’s no sense creating a group to solve a problem if you’re not going to make the effort to seriously address the issue. At least that’s the mindset of longtime successful businesswoman Patty Pourier. “That’s one of the things that we said at our first meeting,” Pourier recalled. “Teddy Roosevelt’s motto was ‘Action! Action! Action!’ You know…there can be tons of meetings but if nothing ever happens…it’s pretty useless.” The “first meeting” Pourier referred to was the gathering of area Native Americans and non-Natives that took place in Rapid City last December in response to the November discovery of two severely malnourished and abused girls in the Potato Creek community on the Pine Ridge Reservation. By day’s end participants had formed the “Embracing Our Children’s Health” – or EOCH – group. Their focus is to empower, encourage, assist and support existing programs and organizations for children and families on Pine Ridge. In order to gain insight into formulating a strategy for success Pourier consulted with cultural anthropologist Dr. Albert Linderman regarding his work with Rapid City Collective Impact – a group created to address specific social problems in the South Dakota city on a long-term basis resulting in creating a healthier environment which to live. “So we’re carving out just a piece of that,” explains Pourier, “where we’re trying to simply focus on children and services on the Pine Ridge Reservation.” As a result “Embracing Our Children’s Health” is establishing Collective Action Forums to bring Pine Ridge children’s services together and determine how actions by one impact actions by another. “Safe Houses” for children are being created in each of the reservation’s 9 districts. And a “Caring For Relatives” program is in the works with volunteers acting as local resources in communities for parents, programs and health services. “Embracing Our Children’s Health” is also about to start intensive training for foster parents in conjunction with the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Child Protection Services. Patty Pourier admits that the Indian Child Welfare Act was created to protect Native children from being taken from the reservation and losing all identity with the culture. “Having said that,” Pourier continued, “it’s also important for people to know that you can be a foster parent to a Native child…as long as there is a community of Natives within the region or within the town or the area that you’re fostering that child.” Along that same mindset “Embracing Our Children’s Health” has a Lakota Spiritual Chairman to ensure that cultural traditions are a part of the group’s programs and each child’s development. That individual will also assist with the healing of historical trauma, which has been identified as a root to the symptoms in the breakdown of the family caused by alcohol and drug abuse, as well as the dysfunctional family structures created through generational entitlement.
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Pourier noted that EOCH’s primary focus is on children between the ages of birth and 5 years old. “Who can really get lost in the system,” Pourier observed, “because there is no system for them. Nobody’s looking out for them. When a child gets to kindergarten…if they miss kindergarten…somebody’s going to look into that. But the children that are zero to five…nobody’s accounting for them…nobody’s missing them…and they have no voice.” But now…they do. The bottom line, observed Pourier, is to make children feel comfortable with who they are, to be free of shame and to be proud that they’re Lakota. Individuals interested in donating to “Embracing Our Children’s Health” or a fund established to help the two girls abused at Potato Creek, and all those interested in becoming foster parents can contact the group at: facebook.com/embracingourchildrenshealth (Jim Kent is a freelance writer and radio producer who lives in Hot Springs. He is a contributing columnist to the Lakota Country Times and former editor of The New Lakota Times. He can be heard on South Dakota Public Radio, National Public Radio and National Native News Radio. Jim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org) Find the award-winning Lakota Country Times on the Internet, Facebook and Twitter and download the new Lakota Country Times app today.
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