Packaged With Care: The Report of our "Fill A Backpack" Drive

On a recent trip to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, I had the honor of distributing the backpacks, toys and school supplies that were donated to our recent “Fill A Backpack” drive. I want to extend a big “thank you” to all who contributed, shipped and/or cheered us on. Your collective efforts have touched the lives of hundreds of Oglala Lakota children.

Prior to my trip, a representative from the Crazy Horse School called to ask if we could do something to lift his student’s spirits. That phone call inspired both my “Siouxicide” essay (in our Facebook Notes Section and our blog), and LPRCEP’s First Annual “Fill a Backpack” drive. So, of course, the Crazy Horse School in Wanblee was one of our primary distribution destinations for the personal delivery of our care packages! Additional packages of supplies and books were shipped before our arrival to the Crazy Horse School, the Wanblee Day Care Center and the Wanblee Head Start facility, locations we have shipped to in the past and who we knew needed our help.

But, because the donations were so voluminous, there was more than enough to go around! We also delivered additional care packages to Wanblee Head Start, Rockyford School, Our Lady of Lords, Porcupine Headstart, Cohen Home and a home for war Veterans!

It was incredibly gratifying to deliver the packages to children and teens, and also to see the welcome reception from the teachers, who work so hard to keep the children in school. The generous response from our contributors demonstrated to the Lakota that people outside their community care enough to assemble care packages filled with items that were good enough to keep; in fact, about 30% of the donations were brand new. It was apparent to everyone, that a lot of care had gone into producing so many wonderful packages.

One final shipment was sent last week, to provide a community Easter Egg hunt in Wanblee, one of the more challenged areas of the Rez. We added 360 plastic Easter eggs to the shipment for the staff to “hide” and the children will select our gift items as prizes. This particular shipment included some “grand prizes” of lego sets, books, and backpacks stocked with toys, soccer balls and school supplies. Our friend Stephana Standing Bear at the Wanblee CAP will run the egg hunt.

The only disappointment was that time constraints and knee-deep muddy roads prevented us from delivering our packages to Jeda and Stryker (the two children displayed in many of our materials) and to Pat, who had requested a care package for her developmentally delayed adult daughter. Ted, from Re-Member, has agreed to deliver their care packages for us when the roads clear. As they say, “just another day on the Rez” – due to the extreme actions of Mother Nature you never know exactly what you will or will not be able to accomplish!

Special thanks go to the Scarsdale Inquirer, The Scarsdale Congregational Church, Scarsdale High School’s Reservation Aid Club and The Hitchcock Church, who together with Scarsdale and the surrounding community donated over 1200 pounds of aid for children. Thanks also to the countless people who forwarded emails, flyers and Facebook notices of the drive to book publishers and others who, in turn, assembled packages, donated books or sent money to help defray shipping costs. Most notably, someone reached out to Scholastic Books, which responded with a huge selection of books for children of all ages.

Then, there are our Facebook fans! Some shipped directly to preschools and a day care center, others directly to schools and others shipped to our destination so that we could deliver them. We had team members from all over the USA, as well as the UK and Ireland sending aid to Lakota children!

Finally, a huge thanks to Re-Member, our hosts for the week, who partnered with us by collecting the donations, storing them until our arrival and then shuttled us around to make deliveries. I urge any of you all who do not live on the Rez to consider devoting a week to work with Re-Member (link in our “Favorites” box). There, you live on the Rez, learn about the wonderful Lakota culture and meet tribal members. During the days you work hard improving the quality of life for Lakota residents and at night you sleep in triple bunk beds. At the end of the week you depart knowing that you improved the lives of many and even more charged to become part of the solution.

Although many of us cannot stand in the shoes of the Oglala Lakota, the incredibly strong survivors of a series of historical and continuing injustices, we can stand beside them and help them to build a better future; and, and we can provide them with aid. Stay tuned for our upcoming projects including a Reservation-wide Fall coat, boot and toy drive and an awareness petition.

Please continue to spread the word, consider suggesting our Page to your friends, and get ready to stand up and be counted as a supporter of the Oglala Lakota!

Peace…. 😀

Maggie Dunne
Founder, LPRCEP, Ltd.

Oglala Lakota “Siouxicide” Crisis; What Can One Person Do?

By Maggie Dunne

I am sad to report that in 2009 suicide officially became an epidemic on the Oglala Lakota Sioux Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. In December of 2009, Oglala Lakota Sioux President Theresa Two Bulls declared an “Oglala Sioux Tribal Suicide State of Emergency.” This action was taken at the close of a year that brought an unprecedented surge in the number of tribal suicides, and at the end of a month that saw four young tribal members voluntarily end their lives.

Last month, a newly appointed principal of a K-12 school told me about the frustration that he faces, in part, due to the recent surge in teen suicides. Currently, the school’s attendance averages only 25% of the student population. His under-funded school does not have enough textbooks to circulate to its students and morale is low among students and faculty. He reported that the wave of teen suicides has many children questioning the value of their lives and continuing in education. He asked for additional support for his students.

If the suicide crisis currently faced by the Oglala Lakota occurred in almost any other community in the United States, undoubtedly, it would be one of the nation’s top news stories.

Why are the children in crisis? Lakota children are losing hope because the economic and social obstacles to advancement that they face appear insurmountable. The poverty is spread out over a territory roughly the size of Connecticut, mass transportation is limited, access to clean water is limited, unemployment exceeds 60%, there is no sanitation system, no animal control, and most residents cannot afford internet access, computers, or cars. The Lakota lack essential resources and need aid in almost every aspect of life.

But these problems do not end at the edge of the Reservation. The Justice Department reports that one of every three Native American women will be raped in her lifetime. Amnesty International reports that non-Native men perpetrate 85% of the rapes. These appalling statistics reflect systemic problems on the Reservations and in the surrounding communities, where apparently, Native American women are viewed as easy prey.

As an advocate for change in Government policy with regard to indigenous communities and as the Founder of an entity that provides aid to children living on the Reservation, the Lakota Pine Ridge Children’s Enrichment Project, Ltd. (LPRCEP), I am repeatedly asked what one person can do to help the Lakota and similar populations struggling to survive in extreme poverty. First and foremost, my answer is that we can all help by spreading the word to those who are uneducated.

If you are wondering where to start, the answer is pretty much everywhere – most of our country has no idea that such extreme conditions exist within our nation’s borders, let alone the daily obstacles faced by the Lakota on Pine Ridge, where the average life expectancy reportedly is the lowest in the Western Hemisphere, aside from Haiti. History has shown that no significant government action will occur, however, unless there is awareness and pressure is brought upon our elected officials.

Although the Obama Administration has taken some action to support impoverished Native American communities (by increasing funding for law enforcement and some other programs), much more is needed. The Oglala Lakota Sioux on Pine Ridge face economic, social and infrastructural barriers that they cannot fix on their own. If people cannot get to work, and do not have water, heat, adequate health care, or shoes and coats suitable for the extreme weather conditions on the Reservation, then their basic needs of life are not met, and consequentially they are not able to cross over the poverty line. The effort to bring the residents of Pine Ridge and similar marginalized populations over the poverty line demands a huge investment of money, time and energy.

It is time for the United States government to step up and “bail out” the Oglala Lakota and similarly situated Native American communities in need of essential support, to enable them to become financially independent. The money invested today to build essential resources, will pale in comparison to the lives and money saved when the Lakota are able to fend for themselves. The Lakota are not losing their homes, yachts or Wall Street jobs; they are losing their lives.

The Lakota people say in a prayer, “Mitakuye Oyasin,” or, literally, “We Are All Related.” This part of our American family needs our help. Please do your part and spread the word to your friends, your neighbors and your elected officials.  By increasing awareness, you will be doing something meaningful to help.

Jetta Coat

 Two of our favorite residents of Pine Ridge. They hold onto hope for a better future.  We would like to keep it that way!

Fill A Backpack for a Lakota Child!

Please consider filling a Backpack for a Lakota child on the Pine Ridge Reservation.  If you are registered on Facebook, then you can access information relating to this drive on our Facebook Page, under our Events tab.  If you are not on Facebook, then you can contact us at and we will send you all the information that you need to help.

We were recently contacted by the Principal of a school, who told us that his students are suffering from low self-esteem due to the continuous snow and the unprecedented rise in teen suicides on the Reservation.  He said that children are questioning the value of an education and of continuing their lives.  Most weeks the school’s attendance rate is only 25%.   We have provided aid to his school in the past and he asked us to do something to lift the spirits of his students.  So, we launched our first annual Fill A Backpack drive.

We have teams shipping filled backpacks on March 6, 2010 from various cities throughout the country and from some foreign countries as well!  Backpacks will be stocked with crayons, markers, paper, calculators, new sneakers, non-battery operated gifts, popular children’s books and other items.

We will be on the Reservation from March 13 through March 18, 2010 with a team of Colgate University students and faculty on a service trip.  We will distribute the backpacks directly to Lakota children. 

Make the day of a Lakota child.  Let them know that someone outside of their community cares about them.  Please help us to help Lakota children maintain hope for a better future. Enlist the help of your friends and families to make this our most successful drive ever!

Attached is a link to an article about efforts that are being made to assist Lakota children who are suffering as the result of a year that brought an unprecedented number of the tribal suicides.  In December of 2009, President Two Bulls declared a tribal Suicide State of Emergency.

Our Founder Maggie Dunne Featured in Colgate University Alumni Publication

Attached is a link to an article about Lakota Children’s Enrichment’s founder, Maggie Dunne. The Colgate University publication, which is circulated to all Colgate University alumni, students, parents and friends of the school, discusses how Dunne came to form LCE, and her continuing pledge to help the Oglala  Lakota on Pine Ridge.

In January of 2010, Maggie Dunne launched Project PEACE (Pine ridgE Aid for ChildrEn) in conjunction with Colgate University’s Center for Outreach, Volunteerism and Education.  Project PEACE will work with LCE to promote awareness and to provide aid to Oglala Lakota children living in poverty on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Awareness Not Fear… Please? A commentary on a recent New York Times article on gang violence

by Maggie Dunne

Once upon a time there was a barren wasteland where everyone was wasted. The dilapidated homes were full of drunks and the children all dropped out of school, long before High School. Once the kids hit the streets, they roamed together in gangs and they killed each other, daily. Those who were not killed by rival gang members ultimately killed themselves. Everyone who grew up in the wasteland just waited for death to come knocking on the door.

Anyone want to visit this mystical place? Anyone want to give them support?

I didn’t think so.

That is how the New York Times depicts the Oglala Lakota Pine Ridge Reservation in a December 13, 2009 article on the emergence of Indian gangs. The article, by Eric Eckholm entitled “Gang Violence Grows on an Indian Reservation” focuses on Richard Wilson, “an unemployed school dropout who lives with assorted siblings and partners in his mother’s ramshackle house, without running water,” and who reportedly has a “scar on his nose and one over his eye.” The author describes Pine Ridge as a “stunning land of crumpled prairie, horse pastures turned tawny in the autumn and sunflower farms … marred by an astonishing number of roadside crosses and gang tags sprayed on houses, stores and abandoned buildings, giving rural Indian communities an inner-city look.” The author states that gang allegiances spring from “broken, alcohol-ravaged homes,” and offer members “an identity drawn from urban gangsta rap and self-protection.” The web version of the article includes video clips of gang members talking about their craft.

The problem with this article is that it fails to report on the cause for the emergence of the gangs and depicts the Reservation as a tsunami of violent crime. Life on the Pine Ridge Reservation is unlike life anywhere else in our great country. Life is tough, people are dying way too early and although many are working for change, it is happening too slowly. The gangs are a symptom of the poverty that consumes the entire Reservation, as are the alarming incidences of teen suicide.

By focusing on an unfortunate symptom without examining the cause the New York Times article serves to fuel those who harbor prejudices and who blame the Lakota for their terrible circumstances. It scares others away. The rising gangs are not responsible for the Reservation’s poverty. As long as people are trapped in desperation, there will be desperate actions. The living conditions found on Pine Ridge do not excuse gang life and cases of criminal conduct, but they do explain how the current situation has come about.

In my opinion, the NYT missed the opportunity to have a positive impact on the plight of the Lakota. They missed the chance to not only educate their readers about the perpetual instances of violence on the reservation but also to mobilize these readers to bring change to “the Rez” and highlight the fact that there is hope for the future. Pine Ridge is not a barren wasteland. It is land bound to a series of historical injustices, and the home to people with a rich culture that has survived against all odds. It is not that the Lakota do not want change, but without access to resources and tools that are necessary for societal advancement and security, maintaining stability takes priority, and certainly they cannot do it all themselves. While the NYT article mentions that a few entities are making efforts to reach the troubled youth, it does not explain why the population of troubled youth exists, and thus perpetuates stereotypes and ultimately does not do much to help the Lakota.

The NY Times might have missed this real reporting opportunity, but it is not too late for the future, just like it is not too late for the youth of Pine Ridge.

By mobilizing or encouraging people to eliminate the poverty on the Pine Ridge Reservation, the gang violence will cease… Now, that would be news!