The Reality of Poverty

I wasn’t on campus for Sunday mass, but covered masses in town this past weekend at St. James parish in downtown Chamberlain. I enjoy preaching to people from all ages and walks of life. While I’ve been faithful to the duties of school administration, there are times that I miss the more spiritual focus that I had as a parish priest and directing seminarians in formation. Leading the community in prayer was a nice way to reconnect.

The Associated Press ran an article about poverty among Native American tribal members in South Dakota. With 65,000 Native Americans in the state, 48% live in poverty.

And it’s not just confined to Indian Reservations.

In Rapid City, our state’s second most populous city, 50.9 % of Lakota people live below the poverty line.

It’s a long uphill climb to combat those kinds of numbers, but we hope the education we provide the Lakota children at St. Joseph’s helps give them a solid foundation to fulfill their potential and rise above poverty.

I traveled 360 miles to Eagle Butte and back for the Sacred Heart Center’s Board of Directors meeting. We approved budgets and personnel plans for the coming year. One potential project with a lot of promise is a joint effort with Habitat for Humanity.

The shelter for victims of domestic violence is often filled to capacity, and families who need to make major changes in their lives aren’t usually able to do so immediately. Transitions take time, and there is great need for transitional housing where a family can be safe and rebuild their shattered lives. The Sacred Heart Center is in discussions with Habitat to help create some housing for that purpose.

Lynette, the cook, treated us to fresh, warm fry bread and corn & bean soup for a traditional lunch – delicious! In her work with youth who have been victimized by violence, she noted that it is usually easier for them to forgive the ones who hurt them than it is to forgive themselves… Violence is a difficult cycle to break, but that is at the heart of the Center’s mission.

Lanae, the new outreach coordinator for Sacred Heart Center remembered singing in the children’s guitar choir when I first served in Eagle Butte as a young seminarian. I enjoyed the reunion with her as an adult now, and the chance to catch up on where she’s been. One of her first fun projects was to have the youth in the shelter make Valentine cards for the elders. They brightened the elders’ day by making the rounds delivering the handcrafted greetings.

In town, I ran into Catherine, another youngster I remembered from parish CCD classes. She is now a Registered Nurse in charge of opening the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe’s new nursing home. She gave me a tour of the facility, which includes both a chapel and circular room for Lakota ceremony.

Currently, the elderly who need assisted living or nursing care must move off the reservation – at least 90 miles to Pierre or Mobridge, the nearest communities large enough to offer these services. The state of South Dakota had a moratorium on nursing homes, and the tribe had to apply for a special exemption. The building went up several years ago, but it took longer to get funding set up for ongoing operations. When it opens in April, it will provide needed jobs in the community and allow families to have much easier access to their respected elders who want to be close to home.

Today was an office day, catching up on phone calls and e-mails. As in any institution, some days there are stressful issues with staff or students. I bumped into one of our staff going home after a trying day. I asked if it was hard to leave the tough stuff at work. She told me of her ritual to help make the transition: she gets in her car, brushes her arms off in a symbolic gesture, cranks the radio up loud with her favorite song and sings at the top of her lungs on the way down the driveway.

I smiled, seeing the wisdom in physically giving yourself a break from what, at times, can be a stressful and demanding job. Staff who pay attention to their own needs, and get breaks and proper rest and diversion, are the ones who stay happiest and healthiest in the long run.

Author: St. Joseph's Indian School

At St. Joseph's Indian School, our privately-funded programs for Lakota (Sioux) children in need have evolved over 89 years of family partnership, experience and education. Because of generous friends who share tax-deductible donations, Native American youth receive a safe, stable home life; individual counseling and guidance; carefully planned curriculum based on Lakota culture and individual student needs and tools to help build confidence, boost self-esteem and improve cultural awareness. All of this helps children to live a bright, productive, possibility-filled future.

2 thoughts on “The Reality of Poverty”

  1. Dear FR. Steve,
    There is Sooo much need in this world and so very much is concentrated in our Native Americans. Just last month I heard that Fr. Emmett Hoffmann who has served the Cheyenne elders so faithfully for years has gone to his reward. Pray the Lord gives us widom and means to keep helping our Indian brothers.My prayers are with each of them every day and you and your staff besides Catherine and all others who are working to make life better, safer for others.
    God bless and keep you all and our future Pontiff!

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