Through this wonderful organization that I am involved with, called One Spirit, I was able to access a list of families on the Pine Ridge Reservation and see exactly what they needed. It's called The Okini List. Okini. Lakota for sharing. You know in times of crisis certain organizations will say in general what it is they need at the moment...and this is a good thing...vague sometimes...but gets the job done. The Okini list is different and it immediately impacted me. This is a list of people with names and descriptions of situations and pretty specific needs. Delbert, an elder, needs fishing poles so he can give young boys something to do and keep them out of trouble. A grandmother with 8 children under the roof of her 2 bedroom trailer that doesn't have electricity is asking for cleaning supplies, toiletries and books for the kids. Oh and shoes...there is always a need for shoes. I scanned the list and could determine by the items in it that these were folks who lived and asked for just the very basics.
Then I came upon an entry that stopped me in my tracks. Charlie Yellow Bird was asking for help. He only has one child...just him and his nine year old daughter. Liberty. It was an unusual entry as it was the only one where a father was raising a child. But more than that...in the comment section it said this: THEY HAVE NOTHING. In capital letters and all. They have nothing. Compared to what! To an entire community who has nothing? How desperate must their situation be?
I thought about her all the time. What did a nine year old girl like? After all I had never had one....I had been one...I think. I started looking at little girl stuff when I was at yard sales. Then three days after I sent the boxes I got an e-mail from the reservation coordinator, Mavis. Charlie had temporary access to a cell phone (they pass them around) and could I call him? Wow...this I hadn't expected. I called right away.
Charlie Yellow Bird was so sweet and so appreciative. He said Liberty said it was just like Christmas...Charlie said it wasn't exactly, because they have very little at Christmas. Liberty, he said, insisted on opening all the boxes herself. I asked him if she was too big for the teddy bear I sent. He laughed and said she was carrying it right then. When I asked him what else he might need, I opened up the door for him to ask for a DVD player or a boom-box....but Charlie Yellow Bird asked for Pinesol. Charlie Yellow Bird who takes odd jobs repairing cars on The Rez (even though he doesn't own a wrench set) told me he just wants to take care of his little girl. I told him I would help him do that. And when I told him that it felt like God made their name leap off the Okini List. He said very excitedly..."God! God did that? Liberty loves Jesus! Can you get her some Bible story books? I can read to her." (Uh-yeah Charlie I think I can do that.) I asked him how he had managed up 'til now. He said his neighbors helped out. They shared. He explained that even though they have very little...they share. He assured me the good fortune he found in seven boxes would find homes other than his.
Then I had the precious opportunity to talk to Liberty. Soft spoken, shy, giggled when I said something funny. I told her I was going to come visit her in the next month or two. I asked her what were some of the things she liked. And the little girl who lives smack dab in the middle of the poorest place in America, a place where almost 40% of the residents don't have electricity, where trash is piled up because pick up is sporadic, where teen suicide is an epidemic and apathy is a disease....said she likes to play princess. That's because she is one.
So at the end of the conversation with Charlie, I asked him to give Liberty a hug for me.
"Bird! Bird!" He called to her to tell her he was to give her a hug.
Bird. Liberty's daddy calls her Bird...and if I have anything to say about it she will have wings.
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