Youth Programs Preserving Lakota Culture

Dec 19, 2012

A service organization in Rapid City is working to make a difference in the lives of young people on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge reservation. Since its founding in 2005, ONE Spirit has branched out into several different programs aiding the Lakota people. In today’s Dakota Digest, SDPB’s Jilanne Doom focuses on an aspect of ONE Spirit dedicated to preserving their culture through creating youth programs on the reservation.

‘Helping the Lakota people help themselves,’ is the motto of ONE Spirit.  It's a volunteer organization that works to support the needs of the Lakota people. ONE Spirit is comprised of several programs including food and wood distribution and according to the founder and director of ONE Spirit the youth program is at the top of its priority list.

“At one point, I was absolutely very, very frightened that, in looking at the statistics and what was happening on the reservation that the Lakota youth were in danger of extinction. And certainly the youth is the future of the culture,” Baker says.

Jeri Baker has witnessed the destruction of the Lakota culture through suicide and drug and alcohol abuse. She says with help from volunteers both on and off the reservation the goal is to aid the Lakota people who struggle to secure basic needs.  Baker says the most pressing need is support for the youth and their living conditions.

“I sat with a group of young people and listened to a young person describe what it was like to be hungry and to go to sleep to forget about the hunger pains in your stomach. Or to choose between your siblings, which one you would give your food to because everybody was hungry,” Baker says.

Baker says ONE Spirit’s food program feeds nearly two-thousand people on the reservation each month. But stresses this is just one step toward improving the lives of the Lakota youth.

John Dubray is on the board of directors and is the head of ONE Spirit’s youth program. After struggling to raise the money to open a youth center on the reservation four years ago, he joined ONE Spirit. He believes the development of a child’s values begins at a young age, and this kind of center provides a positive environment for them.

“You know, an outside entity can have a positive or negative impact on a child. You only have like an average of about eight, nine years, ten maybe, to really instill something good in that child; love, true love, religion, respect, honor, dignity,” Dubray says.

But at the same time, Dubray acknowledges the struggles this generation faces and hopes the Lakota people can begin to combat the damage that has been done.

“You know, we have drugs and we have alcohol and we have a lot of behavior like that. Some of these older young people, they’re lost, that generation is pretty damaged. So we have to start to rebuild our nation, rebuild our communities, rebuild our homes. We have to start somewhere,” Dubray says.

And Dubray thinks these centers are that start. He says they will open up new doors to children, like giving them the courage to go to college and do things to better themselves. But most of all, he wants children to be proud they were born Oglala Lakota.

Recently, ONE Spirit sent a team of five Lakota runners to participate in the New York City Marathon to raise money for a youth center in Allen, South Dakota. But because of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the marathon was cancelled and the runners were stranded in New York City with a different opportunity. Instead of sitting in their hotel rooms, the team’s coach Dale Pine says the runners decided to reach out to residents and help in any way they could, such as delivering food and clearing out debris.

“Did something positive for the community, trying to give back you know. We were going over there to raise money for our community and try to build a youth center in Allen but it turned out it wasn’t that way to be. So we decided to help out other people just like we were going to try to get help for ourselves,” Pine says.

Pine, the head cross country coach at Pine Ridge High School is also working on teaming up with ONE Spirit to initiate a running program on the reservation. He says the marathon runners and their story will hopefully encourage young people to live an active lifestyle.

ONE Spirit’s goal to improve the lives of Lakota youth is anything but one-dimensional. From providing food to raising money for youth programs, Director Jeri Baker says the organization strives in many ways to steer young people toward the positive side of life.

“But most important, really, really important, also is a belief that dreams can come true, a belief that things can happen for them that are good, that life is indeed worth living,” Baker says.

Baker says with a dedicated team of volunteers and a list of new ideas growing every day, ONE Spirit’s work continues to restore the Lakota’s rich culture by restoring the future of their youth.

For South Dakota Public Broadcasting, I’m Jilanne Doom.