In 2016 and 2017, Rev. Kyle Carnes and a group of volunteers made annual trips to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota to spend nearly a week working on carpentry projects building skirting for trailers, decks, bunk beds, and outhouses, and immersing themselves in learning about the Oglala Lakota Nation and its culture and history. They worked hard, learned much, did without many of the luxuries we have grown accustomed to, slowed down the pace of life tremendously, and came alongside their Oglala Lakota neighbors to more fully appreciate their rich heritage. And all came away from South Dakota deeply changed by this experience.
The Pine Ridge Reservation spans over 2.8 million acres of land and is the second-largest Native American Indian Reservation in the United States, yet it contains one of the poorest counties in our nation. Volunteers who travel here to work withe the Re-Member organization ... doing such things as building bunk beds for children and wheelchair ramps for elders; repairing roofing, siding, and trailer skirting on homes; installing outhouses; getting and delivering firewood; and more ... are shocked to find the living conditions here are harsh, third-world living conditions ... right here in the middle of the United States.
"On the Rez," as they call it, extended families and friends often live together in one home and overcrowding is abundant. There is a shortage of beds and mattresses, resulting in many children sharing beds or sleeping on the floor. Many homes do not have functional bathrooms, running water, or kitchens.
In large part due to these conditions and the despair such living conditions can create, the population in this county has the second lowest life expectancy in the entire Western hemisphere and frighteningly high rates of diabetes, alcoholism, and suicide.
The Re-Member organization has spent nearly two decades building a relationship of trust with the Oglala Lakota Nation. Working with this organization isn't about just "helping someone else who needs help." Rather, it is about becoming a true neighbor to the residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation. It is about tearing down proverbial walls and building relationship. We invite you to come along with us next time as we go along to be a part of that journey.
Plans are already under way to gather another group of volunteers from Saint Stephens to work on the Pine Ridge Reservation in June 2018. Cost is anticipated to be $546 per person. Some volunteers are committed to going every year! Contact the church office or Rev. Carnes if you would like to join us!