Reviving a young girl’s dreamChick Big Crow fights to keep ‘Happytown’ afloat
By James Giago Davies
nativesunnews.today PINE RIDGE—Happytown formed as a dream in a young Lakota girl’s mind. It was not a dream SuAnne Big Crow wished to keep to herself, and she promised others that one day she would return from college, and help make that dream a reality. Happytown was a place diametric to the Pine Ridge village she called home. It was a place that had never been, but were her people ever to rediscover the people they had once been, Happytown would be the focal point of that rediscovery, and epitomize every value the Oglala once held dear. Happytown was as her mother, Chick Big Crow once described it: “…a place where everyone got along, supported each other, and were proud of each other’s accomplishments, but most important, a place that was drug, alcohol and racism free.” Seventeen years into what surely would have been a remarkable life, SuAnne made her journey to the spirit world, but her dream of Happytown remained behind in the hearts of the people she loved. She had made a larger-than-life impression in her brief life, and inspired, people rallied to start making Happytown a reality. It took a goal this lofty, this difficult to achieve, to even get the basics in place to start realizing it. Had people just had a normal reaction to a girl’s death, like so many other tragic Pine Ridge deaths, nothing would have come of anything. Chick acquired an abandoned factory, and with “$32 and SuAnne to guide us, we purchased cleaning supplies and postage stamps.” Support from fellow Oglala, like publisher Tim Giago and Tribal President John Steele, “spread word from Pine Ridge across the country…local community volunteers remodeled an old factory building into a bright, beautiful place where youth came to spend their free time taking part in educational and social activities.”
In December, 1992, the remodeled factory became “the first Boys and Girls Club to open on an Indian reservation.” For twenty years Chick developed the program she thought would achieve the most important goal before Happytown could ever become reality: “To provide a safe place where kids can grow in a healthy environment.” Chick said the Tribe is “afraid to prosper because the government money will go away. It’s easier to take the easy road and live in poverty instead of taking the hard road and getting out of poverty. It’s entitlement, they want everything for nothing, so they don’t think how does Chick pay the light bill, the propane, pay the staffing…we do wrong when we teach our kids we don’t need to do anything, the government owes you.” Instilling hard work and productive cooperation in a tribe long bereft of hope, a tribe grown powerless in the face of poverty and addiction and violence, no longer horrified by the suffering of children, can’t ever get off the ground by trying to change the behavior of battle-scarred adults. In our children, Chick sees the determined, principled educated adult capable of turning the fate of Lakota people around. “We don’t just give (a child) a pair of shoes,” Chick said. “We have a contest.” The shoes are a reward for effort in the contest, regardless of how the child fairs. She wants to erase from the child’s mind the social conditioning that “you have to be poor to get anything.” In 2012, Chick developed Stage 4 cancer. As a result, the program lost its Boys and Girls Club charting, and with that, most of their founding. In 1999, President Clinton had visited the reservation, and as he was getting ready to board his helicopter, Chick said he turned to the HUD and Agriculture secretaries and tasked them with building something for the children of Pine Ridge. The result was a $6.1 million facility east of Pine Ridge. The problem now is, having lost the money to fund it, the building is greatly underused. Chick has opened the Happytown Restaurant on site, where she promises “the best hamburgers in Pine Ridge.” She has two staff, and has worked without salary as executive Director of the SuAnne Big Crow Center since 2012. She needs donations, she needs volunteers, she needs the people of Pine Ridge to pitch in and work hard to reestablish this building as a place where children are nurtured, and inspired to build a better Lakota life through dint of Lakota effort, not government hand-outs.