Two Worlds: Oglala Lakota College and White Clay, Nebraska

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We have had a series of successful meeting with faculty and administrators at Oglala Lakota College (OLC). We have met with Dr. Deig Sandoval and Jason Tinant at the OLC Center for Science and Technology. We also have met with Dr. Thomas Shortbull, the President of OLC, and the Director of the He Sapa OLC center in Rapid City, Shirley Lewis. Today we are meeting with the Director of the OLC Nursing Program in Pine Ridge, Joan Nelson.

OLC is a decentralized campus. The administrative headquarters are not in Rapid City, as you may expect, but outside off Kyle, SD. Kyle is on the Pine Ridge Reservation about an hour and change southeast of Rapid City. OLC has fourteen college centers throughout Pine Ridge Reservation, Cheyenne River Reservation, and Rapid City. It is not uncommon for students and faculty to travel more than 100 miles round trip to take or teach a course. When we met with Dr. Shortbull he explained that the philosophy of OLC was to bring the education and classes to the Lakota instead of requiring them travel to a larger town for the classes. Given the great distances between college centers however, there is still quite a bit of traveling involved, even though it takes place on the reservation. We have come away from our meetings with OLC representatives with hope and plans for the future.

We then went to the town of Pine Ridge. While Melanie attested to the fact that there has been growth in the area since she was last here, 15 years ago, to me it was run down, poorer than poor, and isolated. We stopped at a small coffee shop called Higher Grounds and bought a cup of coffee, and popped into the post office for some stamps. I have decided to spend my money, when possible, on the reservation. They need it here.

We then took a quick cruise down into White Clay, Nebraska. White Clay is just over the state line from the Pine Ridge Reservation; they have a population of about 11 people but sell upwards of 4 to 5 million cans of beer a year. Alcohol is banned on the Pine Ridge Reservation because of severe alcoholism and the problems which follow along with it. So instead, people head down to White Clay, from the reservation, to drink. There were maybe five buildings on each side of the street, all selling alcohol. All the buildings had people lying outside of them, or sitting on the sidewalk. People were squatting in abandoned houses, passed out alongside the street. The town, and the people selling the alcohol surely know they are ruining the lives of many on the reservation, yet it continues to happen. It was the most disturbing sight I have witnessed in a long time.

The reservation has tried to sue the town of White Clay to have them stop selling alcohol, but have not been able to get anywhere. Here is an excerpt from an article from the NY Times earlier this year: “Half the population over 40 on Pine Ridge has diabetes, and tuberculosis runs at eight times the national rate. As many as two-thirds of adults may be alcoholics, one-quarter of children are born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, and the life expectancy is somewhere around the high 40s — shorter than the average for sub-Saharan Africa. Less than 10 percent of children graduate from high school.” http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/10/opinion/kristof-povertys-poster-child.html

I will end on that today. Two worlds – one with educational promises and one with ruined lives.

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