Dorothy, South Dakota
I’m a descendent of Crazy Horse, and I live in a trailer on our ancestral land in Wounded Knee. Life here in the winter is very hard. Our water pump freezes, so we have to haul water from a half-mile away. Cold air comes through the broken windows, and it’s hard to heat the trailer. Because we can’t afford snow tires to drive over the five-foot snowdrifts, I have to take the little money I have and pay someone $20 to drive me to the only grocery store on the reservation, 45 minutes away.
Many people here struggle like I do. There are lots of gangs, violence and alcoholism and almost no jobs here. The moccasin factory closed down. So did the fishhook factory. My husband used to be able to take care of us, but not anymore.
We are raising 7 grandchildren: 5 from my daughter, who died at 30 of cardiac arrest, and 2 from a daughter-in-law, who just left her kids with us one night and never came back. Because I have the grandkids, I get welfare and food stamps. Otherwise, I couldn’t feed my family. Buying food comes first. Then I pay for electricity, so we can cook with the microwave and hot plate and run the space heaters to warm the trailer.
Food is so expensive on the reservation, and our food stamps only last about two weeks. When they run out, I go out and sell beadwork really cheap, just so I can continue to feed my family. But there aren’t many tourists in winter, so we eat lots of crackers (we call them Indian potato chips) because they are filling and we won’t be hungry.
Life on the reservation changed a lot since the buffalo are all but gone. So many people on the reservation have replaced buffalo meat with processed foods, and diabetes has become a big problem. I don’t want to have my limbs cut off, so I try to eat healthy. During the growing season, I plant a vegetable garden with things I can store for the winter. I’m learning a lot every year about how to take care of my garden. The only thing I really have a problem with is that I can’t stop the grasshoppers from eating everything. This year they didn’t eat my squash, so we are eating a whole lot of squash soup.
It upsets me that so many people on the reservation use their food stamps to buy junk food instead of healthy food. I think that everyone on the reservation should have a small garden to feed themselves and eat healthy. I also think the government should bring the buffalo back. When our people ate buffalo every day, we were strong.