“To focus on anything has been hard. I have been beading, fishing, mowing—even other people’s lawns, just to keep my mind off of everything [COVID-19],” shares Lower Brule community member and mother of three. “Thank goodness, I have work for some normalcy.”Normalcy? As we all know, life has been anything but normal. Many don’t have work to distract them from the pandemic. In fact, none of us expected the effects of COVID-19 to stick with us so long. Most of us have been doing everything we can to social distance, to help out those in need with groceries or a hand, and to “be there” as emotional support; however, now, more than ever, we can’t drop our guard. As we return to work, school, sports, all nations of people must be mindful of one another. Native nations in particular as their elders, the keepers of the wisdom, remain at high risk.
We, along with many volunteers, have been keeping elders in mind with our COVID-19 Response. Many elders in Native communities live in multi-generational homes with several children and grandchildren. Our goal is to alleviate some of the food insecurity plus provide valuable cleaning supplies, baby supplies, and PPE.
An update on the state of local reservations
South Dakota’s Native communities have gone to great lengths to protect community members from COVID-19. This hasn’t been easy. According to Peter Lengkeek, Hunkpati Oyate [Crow Creek] Tribal Chairman, his tribe has instituted a 10 pm – 7 am curfew, mandated masks for all people entering local businesses, and maintained that children ages 16 and under may NOT enter stores. With these measures in place, the Crow Creek Indian Reservation has effectively slowed the spread of COVID-19. “The community members are taking individual responsibility as well as communal responsibility,” he expressed with pride.
Kul Wicasa Oyate [Lower Brule], across the river from the Hunpati Oyate, likewise, has instituted a curfew for their community along with manned checkpoints—allowing only community members and essential workers to enter their reservation. Native Hope’s delivery of weekly food bundles, snacks for children, and cleaning supplies has been deemed essential work, and July 3, 2020, we marked our thirteenth week of deliveries to both reservations. We are not only happy to assist, but thankful for the blessing of each chairman to do so.
These communities have been fighting COVID and have lost relatives to the virus, which is devastating as both have small populations. In order to support the communities beyond the weekly deliveries, we also deliver groceries, cleaning supplies, baby supplies and hygiene items to quarantined families upon request. Traditional medicines: bear root, flat cedar, bitter root, and sage have been provided as well. These are used to make healing teas.
We continue to help week by week, but our funds are running low. So, we are thankful to the donors who continue to give and those who have partnered with us to provide support.
Partners increase our capacity
An outpouring of support from other organizations and supporters has allowed us to connect the communities with more resources. Helping Hands, PAZA—Tree of Life, and St. Joseph’s Indian School continue to send items for distribution. Because of these partnerships, we have delivered games, activity bags, books, clothing, puzzles, and more to the Boys and Girls Club of Lower Brule and to the Family Enrichment program of Crow Creek. These programs will, in turn, distribute the items via outreach programming like home visits.
Dawn Haggard of Ottawa, IL, has made nearly 700 masks specifically for Native Hope and South Dakota tribes. “I do this because of the love of our Native brothers and sisters, and I will keep doing it for as long as it takes,” Dawn texted. When the COVID-19 crisis started, she asked, “How many people live in the area?” We told her that between Crow Creek and Lower Brule, there are roughly 3,000 people. She laughed and said, “I better get busy!” Needless to say, her contribution, and others like her, has been tremendous. The masks have been distributed in numerous ways: in the food and cleaning bundles, to individual families, to IHS nurse outreach programs, and to area programs like the Boys and Girls Club of Lower Brule. Many thanks go to Dawn and other contributors (Toni Francis, and Jane & Shawna Fitzpatrick) for their countless hours at their machines—these women are truly warriors!
It is also important to mention those, who week after week, receive supplies from us and take them to their community members. Melissa and Chris Johnson, Toni and Herbert Goodlow, the Tamra and Kyle Merritt family, along with Fabian Ross, Janice Ross, and Peter Lengkeek. These individuals selflessly give their time to deliver bundles—up to 30 individual families each week. Without their assistance and goodwill, none of this would be possible. It is not easy to decide who receives a bag each week, but they know the grandmas with children and those who may not be working. “I give it to God,” says Toni. “A grandmother said that ever since I've been doing this [delivering food], it really helps her and her grandchildren, because she doesn’t get much help…” Wóphila Tȟáŋka (many thanks), friends, for your continued support of your communities—we appreciate your spirit of giving.
While we are not reaching normalcy, Native Hope continues to put our boots on the ground and work toward a new normal. Thank you for all you do as member of our circle. Without you, there would be no hope. You make everything we do possible—onward to July!
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