Having taken an early retirement as a college dean three years ago, I joined Americorp as a VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) working with college students involved in community service projects. During the last seven years I have worked with hawkwing, inc. a Native American organization which serves the Lakota people on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota. In 2005 I helped bring about the first college student service learning project to the reservation to co-produce a film of the Lakota elders, many of whom are direct descendants of the survivors of the Massacre at Wounded Knee, including the famous Chief Spotted Elk.
Indian reservations in the northern plains and southwest house the poorest of the poor in the United States. Most people live in overcrowded dilapidated housing with unemployment at 90% because of geographic isolation as well as a lack of a natural resources or contamination of those resources. Cancer and diabetes is the highest in the country here and young people do not have access to the basic necessities of life and basic education. I’ ve worked since 2005 to help bring services to the native peoples on the reservations because, as the Lakota say: “Mitakuye Oasin – we are all related”.