Sew For Kids was formed to assist with the needs of Native American children on Pine Ridge Reservation, the second largest Indian reservation in the US. Pine Ridge is located in the SW corner of South Dakota between Shannon and Jackson counties, two of the poorest counties in the United States. The reservation covers about two million acres and is home to 30,000 Oglala Lakota Sioux Indians. Many Lakota people are returning to the reservation because they have a strong bond to their native lands, their family and their cultural roots.
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Helping Children on Pine Ridge
Why did we concentrate our efforts on helping the children of Pine Ridge? Because most of us have witnessed first hand the many serious obstacles children face on our visits to the reservation.
The children of Pine Ridge are marginalized and at risk. Many children live in poverty and face significant health and disability problems (such as fetal alcohol syndrome and an infant mortality rate that is 3 times higher than the rest of the US) and deal with a health care system that is unable to handle their medical needs. Many children( 50-60%) live in substandard and over crowded housing, many without electricity, running water, insulation, a sewage system or even kitchen appliances. Black mold is prevalent in many homes. Many children are raised in households where either a parent or other household member is involved in violence or drug or alcohol abuse. Some are homeless. Some children do not want to come home due to the overwhelming problems of the household. Many are malnourished from living on government subsidies that do not provide enough nutritious food.
Household income levels for many on the reservation are between $3000 and $6000 per year with unemployment greater than 80% as there is little infrastructure to support jobs. Many of the youth are involved in the youth criminal justice and child protection systems at early ages due to all the social and poverty issues that surround them. Reservation youth are three times more likely to commit suicide than other American youth. Many children are being raised by grandparents, as some parents lack parenting and education skills or suffer from apathy, depression and drug or alcohol abuse. Up to 70% of the youth do not complete high school due to the lack of a culturally appropriate curriculum, few classroom resources, high rate of teacher turnover, disabilities or medical issues they’ve had since childhood, a dysfunctional home life, and the realization that few opportunities exist for them on the reservation upon graduation.
We feel these children need access to resources that nurture and sustain a healthy mind, body and spirit and to people who care that they succeed in life. Programs on the reservation are trying to address these issues but they face many obstacles. We want to work together with our Lakota friends on the reservation who will advise us about their needs and the best way to help their youth. They are a proud people who have the same hopes and dreams for their children as we do for ours. We have great respect and admiration for the Lakota people and their culture.
The future for a child growing up on the reservation is uncertain unless changes are made. And while we cannot remedy all the ills that exist, together with our Native American friends we can start one child at a time providing things that may help their parents or caretakers fill their basic needs while taking away some of the worries children face every day thus allowing them to be children and to have the chance for a better life and brighter future.