Aug 30, 2013 - Hear The Voices of The Wakanyeja by: Dana Lone Hill
After the popular vote to legalize alcohol on the Pine Ridge Reservation on August 13, 2013, three brothers were upset at the narrow margin. The boys were Floyd age 17, Jake age 16, and Edward age 12.
“They were shocked and really angry that our tribe would vote yes. They were even angry at us, their father and I. Asking how we could let this happen. They were mad that our district members voted no, but that our district representatives voted yes.” Oglala resident and the boys mother Ronnie Brings Plenty said.
So after talking with her husband Patrick Starr, they sat their sons down and planned for a way to get their voices heard. “He told them they will have a walk, even if it is just him and the two boys. So that is how the idea for the walk happened. We were not sure if it would make a difference but we wanted our sons know they had voices, they deserved to be heard.”
So Patrick and Ronnie along with Jake Little, and their sons picked a date, time, and place. They called it the “Hear The Voices of Our Wakanyeja Walk/Rally” They decided they would walk from their community of Oglala to the village of Pine Ridge on Monday, August 26, 2013. The walk would start at 9:00 am and continue to the four way of the village and end in front of the tribal building where the tribal council was. The council was scheduled to vote on the alcohol referendum the next day at the tribal council meeting.
The children and adults who all showed up for the walk, showed up on bikes, horseback, a drum group sat on the back of a truck to sing in support of them to honor them during their walk. The KOTA news station showed up and interviewed Oglala district representative who declared she would change her yes vote to a no vote. And they walked the whole 15 miles in triple digit sweltering heat. Many people pulled up with water and fruit to support them. They took a break for lunch in the community of Calico and continued on.
They stopped at Red Cloud School where the middle school students there joined the walk. A bus from Red Cloud followed and provided breaks for anyone who needed. According to Ronnie, hardly any of the kids took breaks and they all stayed hydrated the whole way.
They arrived in Pine Ridge at around 3:00pm and had their rally in front of the tribal building. OST President, Bryan Brewer came out and stood listening as the youth took turns speaking at the microphone why they did not want alcohol on their reservation. After they were done, President Brewer thanked them, told them he heard them, and was very proud of them. The President, Vice President Tom Poor Bear shook hands with the youth.
These are the voices no one heard on the day of the vote. Sure some people said they consulted with their children and their children wanted a yes vote. Many people believe that the revenue will go back to the youth to pay for preventative and sober activities, but one has to wonder where the Salazar money went, was any of it invested in long term programs or goals for the children? There is a state of the art Boys and Girls Club that sits empty right outside the village of Pine Ridge because the insurance needs to be paid. It was closed December of 2012 and reopened in May of 2013, only to close again in July of 2013.
As of now, the referendum was not voted on because it is currently in litigation. Will the revenue of alcohol be used for activities and sustainability for the youth? Will the social problems and statistics get better or worsen? On a reservation with a population of approximately 40,000 persons, 35% of which are under the age of 18 and 100% are affected by alcohol already, will anyone listen to the voices of the youth who withstood the heat and walked 15 miles to be heard?
Did anyone hear them say no to alcohol?
Youth from Pine Ridge marching against alcohol
photo courtesy Deborah Tobacco
“Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.” -Sitting Bull