The discovery of two severely malnourished and abused girls on the Pine Ridge Reservation has resulted in concern, anger and action from the local community. Lakota tribal members living on Pine Ridge and in the surrounding area have come together with one goal in mind…ensuring that such a tragedy doesn’t happen again.
The 2 and 3-year old girls were found by police officers responding to a reported assault at a home in the reservation’s Potato Creek Housing units. The children were hidden under a pile of blankets on the floor and wearing only diapers.
Lakota tribal member Patty Pourier says her reaction to the subsequent news story was immediate.
“It just broke my heart,” Pourier recalls. “And I think it did a lot of other people too. I couldn’t get it off of my mind. And I decided enough is enough. I can make a difference. And…I’m not a social worker. I’m not an attorney. But I am an organizer. So I decided…you know what? I can try to organize a meeting to try to get a coalition of entities together so we can maybe streamline help for children.”
Among those in attendance is Donna Lamont…a supervisor for the Oglala Sioux Housing Authority on Pine Ridge. The home where the girls were found falls under the tribe’s jurisdiction. LaMont says one key to preventing such a tragedy is to reinstate a practice the Housing Authority used to have with the tribe’s Public Safety Department.
”Whatever they encountered out there we went along with them,” Lamont explains. “We kind of lost that for a while. I don’t know why…but we did.”
Lamont notes that as that partnership is being reestablished she hopes other agencies on the reservation that deal with child welfare will communicate with Oglala Sioux Housing and each other as well.
Oglala Sioux President-elect Scott Weston says child abuse is not just a tribal issue…but a state and national issue.
“This should be initiated at the local level,” Weston commented. “But it should be carried out by the national level. So that means we start here…but we got to Washington to start this process back to improve what needs to happen because currently…it doesn’t work.”
Weston adds that the key to multiple entities working towards protecting Lakota children is to ensure that their focus is on helping the children and not on their egos.
OST Housing Authority
Oglala Sioux Tribe Department of Public Safety http://www.ostdps.org/