Robert Olson, C.P.A.
4606 Shore Acres Road
Monona, WI 53716
Robert Epps, Sr. and Mary Grimme Epps Co Founders/ Home Office
356 SD Hgwy 44 PO. Box #321
Wanblee, SD 57577
Jerome and Theresa High Horse
356 SD Hgwy 44 PO Box 321
Wanblee, SD 57577
©2013 Copyright. Families Working Together
PINE RIDGE — Hunger is a fact of life for those living on South Dakota’s seven Indian Reservations, where third-world conditions of extreme poverty found a home in America. Many issues contribute to this lingering problem on the reservations, but they all share the same root: severe economic depression.
Per capita income in Oglala Lakota County, comprised solely of Pine Ridge Reservation land, is $6,000-$8,000 per year. More than 60 percent of the reservation’s estimated 20,000-40,000 residents (the latest U.S. census results, taken 16 years ago, hold the population at 15,000; tribal officials report real numbers near 40,000) fall under the federal poverty line, and unemployment rates hover around 80 percent.
Lack of economic opportunity makes obtaining food, especially healthy food, difficult on the reservations. Full grocery stores (i.e. not convenience stores, stores that offer fresh produce and meats) are few and far between in reservation counties. There are only three full grocery stores within all 3,500-square miles of the Pine Ridge Reservation, which is roughly the size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined.
Thankfully, traditional Sioux values of brotherhood and helping those in need remain strong on the reservations, and those who find themselves with extra food share with those in need.
Jerome and Theresa High Horse are at the top of that list. The Wanblee couple is in charge of operations for the Wisconsin-based non-profit Families Working Together, which focuses on improving conditions on the Pine Ridge Reservation. This organization covers the expenses on shipments of food and other necessities from the Rapid City-based non-profit Native American Heritage Association (NAHA).
The couple hooked up with NAHA and Families Working Together shortly after moving back to Wanblee in 2010, upon Jerome’s retirement from his engineering job in Texas.
Hunger was a problem on the reservation when Theresa and Jerome were kids, but Jerome’s family supplemented their diet with wild game they’d hunt themselves on the vast rolling hills and sporadic pine stands on the reservation. He says much of his giving spirit comes from his father and grandfather, who would cut up and distribute meat from the animals they’d hunted to neighbors in need.
That sort of thing doesn’t happen often anymore. Dire economic conditions on the reservation keep many residents from obtaining hunting licenses, fishing licenses, or game tags, not to mention the necessary equipment for hunting and fishing. And all too few residents have successfully pulled off a garden to grow their own vegetables. This has led to near total reliance on the few — and expensive — grocery stores on and around Pine Ridge as well as the scant helpings of commodities supplied through the USDA. NAHA and other food donation programs like it are a godsend for those on the reservations.
Hildreth Milk, a short, feisty 67-year-old former social worker and Wanblee native who began volunteering with the High Horses, Families Working Together, and NAHA two-and-a-half years ago says she can’t imagine how bad things would be without the food donations from those non-profits.
“I think if it wasn’t for this, they wouldn’t make it,” she says of her friends and neighbors on the reservation. “If Jerome and Theresa didn’t do this, I don’t know how we’d survive. I know I wouldn’t.”
For information on how to help fight hunger on South Dakota’s reservations visithttps://www.familiesworkingtogether.org
For more information towards making donations, visit feedingsouthdakota.org or call 348-2689.
Families Working Together has an account with the
Feeding South Dakota organization and money
can be applied to this account per your request.
Information for this page was taken from articles written by Adam Hurlburt and published in
Black Hills Pioneer 3/15/16. For additional information please visit hhp//www.bhpioneer.com/local_news/article. (Hunger on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation) Part 5 of 8
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