By: Jim Drevescraft, One Spirit Writer
In the southwestern corner of South Dakota, on a remnant of the lands once roamed by the Oglala Lakota, lies the Pine Ridge Reservation.
The two counties comprising the reservation are the poorest area in the United States. Poverty is endemic (per capita income is under $4000 annually) with 90% unemployment. Health issues abound, with high rates of diabetes and other diseases, short life spans, drug and alcohol abuse, and a sense of hopelessness. Yet the Lakota persist in trying to improve their lives while retaining their remarkable traditional culture.
One Spirit, founded in 2005 by Jeri Baker, works in a unique manner to” help the Lakota help themselves.” Rather than simply handing out aid, One Spirit has created programs that work to enable the Lakota to improve their health, to increase employment, and to offer a vital step up to help these remarkable Americans achieve the lives most of us take for granted.
Recognized and supported by the Lakota Tribal Council, One Spirit has created programs to create self-sufficiency and self-reliance among tribal members. Programs are operated by paid Lakota employees. From the Board of Directors to grant proposals to social media and written communications, all areas are operated by unpaid volunteers from all over the world.
Sound nutrition provides a platform for further growth. The Food Program provides healthy food options in an area described as a food desert. Over 6000 Lakota receive food boxes monthly, and during the pandemic, working with tribal groups, this has increased to more than 10000, along with cleaning and household supplies to 2000 families. One Spirit raised the funds and built the Charging Buffalo Facility, the only state certified meat processing plant on the reservation, soon to be fully USDA approved. Buffalo and game meats are processed and distributed by an all-Lakota team. Food support is also offered to soup kitchens, homeless programs, and youth drug avoidance programs all over Pine Ridge.
The One Spirit Allen Youth and Community Center offers a safe place for the youth of the poorest community in the country, along with healthy meals, cultural and artistic programs, community dinners and outreach.
We are also continuing to innovate by purchasing land near Kyle for an agricultural campus that will both grow food for distribution and also provide training for home gardeners. Our Okini program connects supporters with families who have specific needs, as well as collecting requested food and household items. The Firewood Program collects and distributes firewood to many households that rely on wood heat during the harsh winters, thus providing not only help but employment for the Lakota who operate the program.
All of this requires funding, and part of that is provided by grants from businesses and foundations. However, the backbone of One Spirit’s budget comes from thousands of individual donors worldwide. The need is great, and ever-increasing as One Spirit grows and helps more Lakota help themselves to achieve self-reliant lifestyles that are healthy and productive, in the context of their traditional culture.
If you would like to join this unique effort to help people who desperately need and deeply deserve the support of their fellow citizens, please visit www.onespiritlakota.org, sign up for our newsletter, or send donations to: One Spirit, PO Box 3209, Rapid City, SD 57709.
As the Lakota say in their own language, Pilamaya (thank you)!