Many things we take for granted back at home in New York City are simply unavailable or slow to get around here. If you’ve tried to call us on our Alltel cell phone, you probably got cut off at some point. Alltel is the only cell phone carrier who has invested in putting towers on the Cheyenne River and Pine Ridge reservations. We are grateful for the signal this has provided our phones, but it is still patchy. Your best bet for a strong signal is a hilltop, taking a road on the perimeter of the reservation or getting close to a cell phone tower, which aren’t always near towns. We spoke with a native woman today who took her Alltel phone to New York City, only to discover it didn’t work on the east coast because Alltel doesn’t have roaming agreements with carriers there. Our provider, AT&T does provide roaming service around the country, but has no compatible towers in this area – we must be in the 1% of the country they can’t guarantee service.
BIA Road to Cherry Creek
Internet is another story. Getting a fast connection requires the installation of a costly satellite dish. There are no cable lines laid so DSL and wireless are not options. There are no “internet cafes” on the entire 4,266.987 sq mi of the Cheyenne River Reservation, which is comparable to the size of Connecticut. If you want access to the internet, you can visit the Dupree YMCA in the center of the reservation. We also heard that there are two computers at the sole small public library on the reservation, but we have yet to confirm they have internet.
Senior Center with roof repair after tornado Dupree
Yesterday in Dupree we saw first hand some of the destruction caused by 23 tornados, which simultaneously hit the town on June 16th, 2010. Though much debris has been cleaned up, evidence of the damage is clear on the houses and farm structures. Many of the houses are missing parts of their roofs, replaced by plywood, and a lot of windows are boarded up. Given that it has been extremely rainy for the past few months, it is clear that these patches are not sufficient. A woman, who works at the YMCA, ironically confirmed this during a rainstorm yesterday. She was concerned about her house, which had been damaged by the tornadoes, and had unfinished repairs by the Housing Authority maintenance crew. She described long waits for service, and mentioned soft parts of the roof and ceiling in several areas of her family’s home. She was not expecting any follow up service, despite the fact that she feels the job is not finished, and was worried about the effects of yesterday’s rain on the house. We are told that the Housing Authority receives money in lump sums. They spread it as thin as they can, to help out as many people as possible, until they run out of money. Then they wait for more. This explains why so many of the windows in Dupree are boarded up. When the next sum of money comes in, hopefully the Housing Authority will install new windows. There is no telling when that will occur.
Greetings from the Cheyenne River Reservation! We arrived here Friday after an exciting four day road trip from New York. The home we are staying at is located somewhere between the towns of Bridger and Takini, on the southwest corner of the reservation. It is a gravel road and 2 dirt roads off Route 74. Getting here involves 4-wheel drive or some skilled driving, preferably both. Our hosts, Ben and Mayumi Elk Eagle are incredibly warm and welcoming friends. Ben has a big spirit that takes up a room. He listens with incredible patience, asks all the right questions and tells stories with humor, honesty and great warmth. You can tell he’s a leader and we were excited to learn that he is running for tribal council next fall. His wife, Mayumi, was born in Japan and fell in love with Ben and the reservation 10 years ago. She has a joyful laugh, is always eager to engage in conversation and is now welcomed and at home in the Lakota community. She has gone so far as to learn Lakota, the native language of the the tribe, and takes classes in everything from social sciences to geology at the tribal college. The Lakota language was almost completely wiped out in the 1950’s in an attempt to “civilize” the population, but today Ben and Mayumi speak it with each other and with friends. There has been a recent push on several nearby reservations to bring back the language, and it is currently being taught in many schools.
The weather has been intense, with unusual amounts of rain and storms. Many creeks that have been dry for years are suddenly wet again. This would seem to be a good thing after years of droughts, but two major problems with all this moisture are grasshoppers and water contamination. The grasshoppers run the show around here, as evidenced by the front grille of our car and the demolished vegetable garden next to the house. They eat most crops making it difficult to grow food in this area without use of strong pesticides. Water contamination is another issue. When it is not raining, it is HOT around here. Kids naturally flock to water, but turbidity in the water had been making children very sick. We met a woman in the Bridger community nearby who explained that her kids had to get a strong dose of antibiotics because they swam in the creek. She also mentioned that her tap water is undrinkable because of the turbidity.
We have been having really exciting conversations with people about our research, as well as leaning information about many potential projects that are on the horizon, including organic farming, new methods of building, wind power, and tribal banking. Everyone we have met has shared with us a great deal of information about their homes and lives, and we feel incredibly encouraged about the project.
Bridger, United Church of Christ
Thank you to all the people who have talked with us about our project, and to the contacts we have made in South Dakota! We are leaving NYC in less than a week, and are very excited. We have been preparing for the road trip, and expect to be on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota by July 31. We look forward to meeting new people, pow-wow season, seeing old friends and taking a weekend trip to Sturgis 2010.
Something we stumbled upon, while planning for our communications and this blog:
if our project was about I-90, we'd totally call you