Lakota Elders: A Precious Resource

Methamphetamine has changed our lives in Indian Country. Even if we’ve never taken a hit of the drug, most of us know at least one person whose life has been devastated by meth.

For example, Sicangu Wicoti Awayankape (SWA) is the entity which oversees subsidized housing on my reservation. A lease must be agreed to and signed by the person who is head of household upon moving in; there are a lot of rules the tenants have to follow to keep the house.

With the influx of meth use on our reservation, a large number of families on Rosebud have been evicted from their SWA housing units. Many heads of household were evicted in tribal court for the high levels of methamphetamines present in their home, resulting in the entire family becoming homeless.

A lot of those homes were leased for years by elders. As Lakota people, we’ve always taken care of our relatives. Our grandparents are the type of people who will take in their children or grandchildren when they have no where else to go. In the majority of the evictions on Rosebud, the head of household had no idea meth was being used in the home.

Bewildered grandparents found themselves homeless due to methamphetamines. It isn’t fair to them, but it’s a written law in the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) policy that tenants can be evicted for illegal drug use. If you think about it, behavior resulting in a Lakota elder being evicted from their home is elder abuse. Many of those elders are still homeless.

Other elders are still living in HUD homes in Indian Country. Many of them live in fear of the adult relatives residing with them. Lakota grandparents are the type of compassionate humans who can’t bear to see their adult children suffer. So, against their better judgement, they do what they can to provide for their adult children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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Lakota elders and children participate in the annual Rosebud parade. Photo by Vi Waln.

Also, lots of our contemporary Lakota adults misunderstand the role of grandparents in child-rearing. For instance, many Lakota children have been deserted by their parents and we see many of our abandoned children living with grandparents or even great-grandparents. Other less fortunate Lakota children, who were taken into custody by social workers, are now living with non-Indian foster families off the reservation – largely because they had no grandparents to take them.

The myriad of effects going back to the trauma our people have suffered over the last five centuries has contributed to our people turning to drugs or alcohol to numb their pain. It’s a fact that meth use has crippled the ability of many Lakota people to care for their small children and teenagers.

It’s a given that Lakota grandparents will step in to fill the needs created by absent or incapable parents. So, there is no such thing as retirement for many Lakota grandparents who are financially supporting their Takoja. The contribution of our Uncis and Lalas to our contemporary Lakota society is priceless.

Parents who’ve lost custody of their children would do well to start paying one or more monthly bills for their elder relatives who are providing financial support for those same wakanyeja. Grandparents who are financially supporting school aged students need extra help to care for those children. Electricity and other bills must be paid every month. Winter is coming, buy Unci some groceries or fill up her propane tank. If Lala has a wood stove, pay for all his wood.

September is National Grandparents Month. Grandparents Day is on Sunday, September 8, 2019. Those of you fortunate enough to have living grandparents, please buy them dinner or pay their electricity bill.

Lakota elders are a precious resource.

Vi Waln (Lakota) is an award-winning Journalist. She can be reached through email vi@lakotatimes.com

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