Honors Lecture Illuminates Harsh Conditions on American Reservations

Outreach for American Indian reservations is lacking and in need of caring individuals. Special guest Sara Bell prefaced Monday’s presentation, Pine Ridge Reservation: The Good, the Bad, the Beautiful with a traditional Lakota Sioux song about an individual asking for help. Numerous mission trips and years spent caring for those on reservations made her realize how important it is that she and others like her remain a force for good within Native communities.

Bell began her outreach work in the summer of 1984, traveling to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The group she went with knew little about the community and much less about their future host. Expectations were varied and knowing more about the community before arriving didn’t necessarily help prepare them for the work that lay ahead.

On arriving, her group saw and spoke with numerous “worn out youth” in an effort to connect with the community and understand their needs. There was a serious lack of food and basic resources to remain healthy and satiated. Support arrived in the form of love and compassion from Bell’s group and continues annually. Numerous homes are repaired and the supplies they provide the community with are only scratching the surface of multiple issues.

Opportunities are scarce for what we call a ‘normal’ life on the reservation. The lack of water and fertile soil make it so that the community must rely on outreach to sustain themselves. Alongside this dependency exists an average life expectancy of 46 years and a suicide rate 150% higher than the national average. Employment opportunities are over a hundred miles away, north in Rapid City. Is a community’s self-worth connected to the resources that sustain them? Yes. Empowering, aiding, and guiding the community away from angst and into productivity creates self worth. Basic resources can enrich those who have gone without them as well as prevent the loss of life, both indirectly and self-afflicted.

A five-year commitment to the community was necessary not only to provide aid, but also to build trust and earn respect among the general population.

“We don’t want your stuff…we want you,” stated Bell, referring to a community member commenting on raffle ticket giveaways, the first of few failed outreach ideas.

Bell’s group has continued planning mission trips to Pine Ridge due to the need of human resources. The community always urges them to return because within a whole year, it is this single span of time they look forward to the most. A single week of love and kindness, even if intentions are questioned and ridiculed, can strengthen relationships between outreach groups and the reservations served. Knowing they will eat heartily, sleep with a blanket, and connect with someone who truly cares for them is much more impactful than a full size refrigerator.

The Honors Lecture series will continue after Spring Break on March 16th with Honors College Advisor, Laura Clippard, and her presentation on Applying for Fellowships and Scholarships.

For coverage of other Honors Lectures and campus events, follow us at www.mtsusidelines.com, on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines and on Twitter at @Sidelines_News

To contact news editor Max Smith, email newseditor@mtsusidelines.com

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