Top 10 Things I will Tell Others About the Reservation

By: Emerson Loria

10.How crowded the kids houses are- the Cheyenne River reservation certainly has no shortage of people, but it does have a shortage of houses. One of the citizens told us how they don’t have nearly enough of houses built, and because of this many families are forced to cram into one house, making things difficult. Many of the kids that came to us arrived with multiple of their siblings and cousins as well because they all lived in one house.

9. The lack of people to look up to- originally we weren’t sure how hard it would be to get the kids to trust us and open up to us, and actually tell us about their lives. The little kids almost immediately enjoyed playing with us and gladly answered any question we had, whether it was what’s your favorite color or what’s your family situation like.  The teens were a bit harder to crack, but were still much easier than I expected, after an hour or so of basketball many of the teens were willing to talk to you.  After a few days I realized how attached the kids had become to us and our love for them; the little ones cried when they heard we were leaving soon, and the teens really tried to get us on their basketball team to take advantage of our time there.  After hearing about the kid’s life situation I realized that they don’t really have many people to look up to, because some of the moms are abusive, and many of the dads don’t seem to be around for these kids.  So when we come around playing with them and talking to them they quickly look up to you.  I can only hope that with the short time we were there, that we inspired them in some way shape or form.

8. The low high school graduation rate- it was very shocking to hear how many teens are planning to dropout, and how common it has been for so long. Many of the students just struggle too much to feel the need to graduate, while others have lots of problems at home that high school has no importance to them. It’s sad and should be a priority to change, but change for the students starts at home, not the school itself.

7. The drug issue- I really didn’t expect drugs to be really common on a reservation but I was sadly mistaken. Drugs are used by approximately 61% of all tenth graders on a Native American reservation, compared to about 30% everywhere else in America.  And as I started to talk to the teens, the amount of kids who are already struggling with drugs is truly depressing.  In fact, the basketball games I attended were specifically set up to keep the teens busy with something other than drugs, in hopes to bring that down.

6. The poverty- poverty on the reservation is extremely common and it isn’t helped by the over 80% unemployment rate on the reservation. This is also why many families are forced into one house, not only are there not enough houses but the people also don’t have enough money.  Jobs are scarce and still don’t pay very well, so the financial struggle within the reservation is almost with everyone.

5. The food desert- when we arrived on the reservation we saw only a couple places to actually eat at and were surprised by how much open space there was. I later did some research on the lack of places to eat in the Cheyenne River reservation and found that the reservation had been declared a food desert. And rightfully so, food is hard to come by, so much so that one of our jobs on the reservation was to weed the garden they had so they could grow food for next year.

4. How similar the kids appeared to us- just today my family facetimed me to ask about my time on the reservation, and one of the first questions that my sister asked me was did the kids were different clothes. I myself am at fault because I honestly wasn’t sure if they wore the same clothes as us. But by looks they don’t have any noticeable differences, they were the same clothes, the talk like us, and many love basketball, I think many can relate to that.  Even though many don’t know what the people are like on a reservation or what goes on, the people here are truly no different from you and me.

3. The pipeline problem- before my time on the reservation I had never heard of any pipeline Indian reservation thing in my life. But one of the first things we learned once we arrived was the issue on the government trying to force oil pipes into the reservation without their permission. This has been an ongoing fight for quite awhile now and I would have probably never known about it if it wasn’t for this amazing program.  So the pipeline issue will definitely be something I’ll make sure to inform my friends and family as I talk to everyone.

2. How isolated they are- people not knowing about what they wear, how impoverished they are, and the pipeline issue, are all perfect examples of how isolated they are from the rest of the country. Which is really strange, because they haven’t done anything wrong or even want this isolation, but for some reason we all believe that the reservation is their land and they don’t want to be bothered. Which isn’t true at all, they’re just stuck in this awful situation and removed from the rest of our American society.

1. The people- The very first thing and very most important thing I’ll be sure to tell everyone is how wonderful and kind everyone was while we were there. No matter who I ran into people were kind and accepting of us visiting their hometown, I really didn’t encounter anyone who gave me an issue. So if you’re going to take anything away from my experience on the Cheyenne River reservation it’s that these people are extremely kind.

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