I first heard about the situation in Pine Ridge reservation a few years ago while watching Diane Sawyer profiling the tragic issue of teen (and even more tragically pre-teen) suicide there. If you don't know the stats, they are mind boggling.
The Oglala Lakota Sioux Indian reservation in Pine Ridge, South Dakota is one of if not the poorest area in the entire United States. On the reservation it is reported that:
- Average annual per-capita income is estimated at just $4,000 annually.
- Unemployment is over 80% and it’s estimated that over half live below the poverty line.
- Teen (and even pre-teen) suicide is estimated to be four times the national rate.
- They have the second lowest life expectancy in the Western Hemisphere (second only to Haiti).
- Diabetes is eight times (and infant mortality three times) the U.S. rate.
- There is a massive housing crisis with multiple families often crammed into small mobile homes, many without running water or adequate sewage.
Upon seeing the piece by Diane Sawyer, I pledged then and there that if ever I was able to help the people on the reservation, I would. Finally, during the 4th of July holiday weekend of 2015, I visited Pine Ridge to produce an episode of Raw Travel entitled "Pine Ridge - Tribal Tourism" and my life has never been the same.
Nothing that specifically extraordinary happened to me on that trip. I simply met regular folks from the reservation who were kind and hospitable to me, a total stranger. But I was very impressed by their resiliency in the face of difficult circumstances. I was equally impressed by the large number of locals, transplants and volunteers working to help make the situation on Pine Ridge better, especially for Lakota Youth. I can think of no better way to inspire young people to believe in themselves than to allow them to explore the innate creativity present in all human beings.
I was made aware of the lack of creative outlets by youth on the reservation when I interviewed the local band "ScatterTheir Own" where Scotti & Julianna informed me that no music schools existed on the entire reservation. After interviewing the folks at Red Cloud School I thought a good way to help would be to assist their efforts to expand their after school clubs program.
I hope we can work with some talented musicians, filmmakers and other artists and entrepreneurs to visit the reservation and speak to the youth on a consistent basis. I’d also like to try to create a small film school. Who knows where, if anywhere this will lead but I do know that to do nothing, is in essence choosing to endorse the status quo, and that I cannot do. Whatever we can contribute, big or small it will help.
Even though this fundraising effort kicks off to coordinate with our Raw Travel - Pine Ridge / Tribal Tourism debut, it will be an ongoing effort and will continue as long as there is interest in helping Pine Ridge help themselves. For me this already is an ongoing cause I've pretty much resigned to be dedicated to until either things improve drastically or I die, whichever comes first.
There are several ways you can help. You can simply visit the reservation or donate via our crowdfunding effort or purchase the "Still Here.. Still Proud" T-shirts and/or forthcoming special edition Pine Ridge Extended Cut DVD. Or if you prefer, you can find a plethora of deserving organizations on the reservation to donate or volunteer like our pals at Red Cloud School or Re-Member.
With your help, they I'm confident things can and will get better. For more information on Raw Travel - Pine Ridge and to donate please go to www.crowdrise.com/rawtravel or for other ways you may choose to help then click the “How To Help” link at www.RawTravelPineRidge.com which will be updated as time goes on.