Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Three Faces of Compassion

According to Stephen Gilligan, compassion has three energies or faces:
Tenderness in the face of pain;
Fierceness in the face of injustice;
Mischievousness in the face of resistance.

I especially like the addition of the third face because it makes me smile, but also because it's clear that creativity is needed to fully live compassionately.

(Thanks to Tracey Dawson for the idea in her ordination paper!)

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Evidence of Hope on the Reservation

Today we leave ready to experience whatever may come to pass this week. Given all the statistics we learned before leaving last year, I think many were surprised by the number of speakers and presenters who spoke in hopeful ways about Pine Ridge.

The question is frequently asked, even if only to oneself, why do people stay in a place of such despair. The answer is often, this is where I feel like I belong. That they support and care for one another in ways not found in the isolation of cities. If racism were not so prevalent still, perhaps this might be different. But it is in fact the place where the unique qualities of their cultural upbringing bring strength. The Lakota language is being reclaimed and taught at the Tribal College.

When we get back, I'll share more of what we learn - specifically about the evidence of hope.

Friday, June 4, 2010

More on Pine Ridge

Pine Ridge is roughly the physical size of Connecticut, but has no public transportation. The predominant form of travel is hitchhiking or walking. There is one understaffed hospital, consisting mostly of medical students spending one year paying off school debt. Folks rarely see the same doctor twice. There are a couple of village clinics around the reservation staffed by nurses, but they can see only six patients once a week. If you are 7th in line, come back next week. With the rate of diabetes (amputation is not uncommon), heart disease, infant mortality, and the numerous other health problems, this lack of access is deadly - contributing to the fact that the average man on Pine Ridge lives to 57 (some estimates are as low as 45 for men), the lowest rate in the U.S. and worse than any place in the Western Hemisphere except Haiti. All this despite treaties that "guarantee" that our government provide health and education in exchange for land, etc. Federal commodity programs provide some food assistance, but is high in carbohydrates and sugar - not good for a diabetic population.

One of the youth said that the thing that most impacted him last year was the fact that "no treaty between the US and the various Indian nations has ever been honored." Sobering.

Pine Ridge is so isolated that while other nations have profited from casinos, there is simply too little traffic to benefit. There are no banks so a commercial infrastructure needed for business becomes complicated. We were told that the banking system consists of a car that comes from Rapid City (120 miles) twice a week and parks in the gas station lot. Consequently, other than jobs with schools, government, or the tribe, unemployment is estimated at 80-90%. The median income on Pine Ridge is approximately $3,000. Depression, suicide, alcoholism and a general hopelessness, especially among teens, are ever present. Statistics are so bleak that they can become numbing.

However, on the other hand, resilience and resistance are high. Reclaiming their language and culture, after being stripped away in boarding schools up until the 1960s, has contributed to a reality of hope sometimes not appreciated from the outside. That will be the subject of my next post.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Sunday, June 6

If you are interested in worshipping with us on Sunday, June 6, we will be "out of the building" engaged in worshipful service instead of having our regular 10 am service. You are welcome to come and participate with us as we go to serve meals at two motels on Colfax Avenue. Just come to the church at 10:15 am. Then join us for our regular service on June 13. On that day, participants from our Pine Ridge Indian Reservation work trip will share reflections.

Why Use the Term Third World?

From 1980 to 2000, the counties that make up Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota comprised the poorest of our nation's 3,143 counties. The 2000 census found them the third poorest, not because things got better on Pine Ridge, but because things got worse on two other South Dakota Indian Reservations.

The poverty on Pine Ridge can be described in no other terms than "third world." It is common to find homes terribly overcrowded, as those with homes take in whoever needs a roof over their heads. Homelessness would be far worse if it weren't for extended families living in small houses - up to 30 people in homes built for 6. Many homes are without running water, electricity, and without sewer. Part of what Re-Member has been providing are outhouses and bunk beds.

While the 2000 census reported a population of 15,521, a study by Colorado State University and accepted by H.U.D. estimated the population at 28,000. Tribal Government records show 38,000 enrolled members living on Pine Ridge Reservation.

Pine Ridge Statistics as of 2007

  • Unemployment rate of 80-90%
  • Per capita income of $4,000
  • 8 Times the United States rate of diabetes
  • 5 Times the United States rate of cervical cancer
  • Twice the rate of heart disease
  • 8 Times the United States rate of Tuberculosis
  • Alcoholism rate estimated as high as 80%
  • 1 in 4 infants born with fetal alcohol syndrome or effects
  • Suicide rate more than twice the national rate
  • Teen suicide rate 4 times the national rate
  • Infant mortality is three times the national rate
  • Life expectancy on Pine Ridge is the lowest in the United States and the 2nd lowest in the Western Hemisphere. Only Haiti has a lower rate.
Information provided by Re-Member

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Getting Ready for Pine Ridge

A group of 7 youth and 9 adults from the church will leave early Saturday morning for a six hour drive to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota - a "Third World Country" by poverty and living standards. There we will participate in the work projects, cultural presentations, family interaction, and other programs of the group Re-Member - formed more than 10 years ago to work with the Lakota people on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Volunteers come from across the country for a week long immersion. This is my third trip - first with my youth group from inner city Cleveland.

Re-Member is specifically a "non-evangelical mission," founded by folks from United Church of Christ congregations, particularly in Michigan. For the many church groups who come every year, it is an expression of their Christian faith. But the purpose is not to convert the residents on Pine Ridge. Missionaries bring their agenda. You might say we bring an agenda too, but it is one of listening and working with - not giving to. That is an important reminder. Though we are there to do some very hard work - especially housing repairs - we are not there to do anything we haven't been invited to do because we've listened carefully. And thus, over the years, relationships have been built and trust between members of the Lakota nation and Re-Member is very strong.

In my next post, I'll give some of the statistics that account for the term Third World Country.