Winters on the Pine Ridge Reservation are harsh. Weather is extreme – severe winds are common and temperatures are bitter cold, frequently below zero. Many Reservation homes lack adequate insulation. Even more homes lack central heating. Wood burning is the second most common form of heating a home, although wood supplies are often expensive or difficult to obtain.
These conditions are particularly challenging for senior citizens. The severe cold can compromise their health. Cutting, splitting and hauling wood to heat their homes is physically demanding and often beyond both their current abilities and their financial means. The Elder Wood Project seeks to assist those seniors in obtaining the wood needed to heat their homes.
In addition to providing comfort and safety for the elders, the Elder Wood Project provides employment for young men. Opportunities for employment are scarce for young people, and meaningful work can greatly enhance self-esteem and quality of life. The work also serves an important cultural function, in that it supports traditional values of service and honoring elders.
Arlin Whirlwindhorse, who has been leading young men in this effort in the Kyle area for the last ten years had this to say about the impact of the work:
“On the reservation we try to teach our culture to our children. Helping the young men get a feeling of what their part is in the society as modern day warriors will give them a sense of belonging and importance. This project helps them to show the respect, courage and knowledge of what it is like to care for the people. We have a lot of problems with different things like suicide, drug abuse, alcoholism, and domestic violence. Projects like the elder wood project teach our young men their roles and importance in society, then the rest will take care of itself.”
The Oglala Lakota are a determined, intelligent, and proud people who are working hard to over-come their reservation problems. Against all odds, with minimal resources, they are slowly working to re-claim their self-sufficiency, their culture, and their life.
For updates, please see our page about this project.