As the eighth largest Indian Reservation in the United States, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation has a population of 28,787 and an overwhelming unemployment rate of 80 to 90 percent.
Located in Southwest South Dakota within Jackson and Shannon Counties, two of the poorest counties in the country, the Lakota Reservation has the lowest life expectancy in America and the second lowest in the Western Hemisphere, averaging 47 years for males and in the low 50s for females.
To help the people of Pine Ridge Reservation, CSU is hosting a campus-wide winter coat drive, accepting donations of new or gently used winter outwear that will be delivered to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation on Nov. 20.
With 49 percent of the population living under the federal poverty line, many people on the reservation have to go without electricity, lights and running water.
“To me, it is a third-world country in the middle of our backyard,” said Chris Bartholomew, office manager of Department of Journalism & Technical Communication and one of the main organizers of the Pine Ridge coat drive.
Faculty and staff in the departments of Journalism and Technical Communication and Ethnic Studies organize the annual coat drive.
In 2006, Julie Sullivan, an adjunct professor of ethnic studies, noticed that during the holidays, many Native American children living on the reservation asked for warm coats and socks on their wish lists instead of toys. Sullivan and her son began collecting used coats to take up to the reservation.
“It’s hard to believe there’s a place like that so close to us,” Bartholomew said. “Unfortunately, it’s a common thing to have no electricity, running water or no heat.”
Bartholomew said that the people of Pine Ridge Reservation are only allocated a certain allotment of propane. Once that supply is gone, it is gone for good.
“Some people don’t have propane, and it’s only November,” Bartholomew said.
On Nov. 8, Betsy Hill, an ethnic studies and Spanish major, helped drive the first load of coats and winter goods up to Pine Ridge Reservation with her mom, Bartholomew.
A total of 200 coats, 144 hats, 139 pairs of socks, 77 gloves/mittens, 27 pairs of snow pants, 21 pairs of boots and seven blankets and sleeping bags as well as other miscellaneous clothing items were delivered to the reservation.
“When you’re initially driving into Pine Ridge, you see more poverty in the country area,” Hill said. “There were trailers that we were questioning if people were living in them. Some boarded up with no windows. Entering the area is where you can see where people don’t have heat or actual plumbing.”
Sullivan said that last year more than 500 goods and used coats were delivered, and this year she hopes to meet or exceed that number.
“We just really feel that it’s important that we look beyond the stereotypes and things we don’t understand and realize that we’re helping people and children especially,” Bartholomew said.
Though as long as a person is cold and starving Bartholomew and Sullivan said they would help, both would rather help people help themselves.
“If we weren’t doing (the coat drive) then who’s to say someone else would be doing it,” Hill said. “People aren’t always aware of other people’s situations, and sometimes we don’t want to be aware of other people’s situations. People have to put their selves in that position, having no heat and not having a coat.”
The drive is asking for warm winter coats, hats, gloves, socks, snow pants, snow boots, sleeping bags and space heaters.
“These donations will go directly to school children (K-12), children in the Lakota youth program and Lakota elders,” Sullivan said.
Donation boxes are located in the Journalism Department in the Clark Building C-Wing, Rm. C226 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. as well as a box available on Tuesdays in the Morgan Library near the Cram-a-Latte coffee cart from 11 a.m. to noon.
“We’re trying to reach the poorest of the poor to try to make sure they are warm and have coats,” Bartholomew said, emphasizing how much participants appreciated the support and donations of the community.
“We couldn’t do all this without the generosity and kindness of everyone that has donated,” Bartholomew said.
Along with the winter coat drive, Bartholomew and Sullivan will be starting the Holiday gift-giving program, which allows people to adopt a Lakota child and buy them gifts for the holidays. Last year more than 700 kids received gifts.
Staff writer Justyna Tomtas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.