Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Journey Through the Heart of Native American Indian Country

By Amanda Rives Argeñal, Policy Advisor for Christian Children's Fund

Today we traveled to the Pine Ridge Reservation, home to two Affiliates: Oyate Teca and Oyate Networking. Having never been on a reservation, it was quite an experience for me and many of the participants, who had traveled from as far away as Texas and Mississippi.

The communities CCF serves are very isolated and the living conditions are very poor. Youth and adults lack access to higher education and employment.

The landscape here is striking; the reservation borders the famous Badlands – named precisely because it is a land where no crops will grow, and animals cannot graze. Yet in Pine Ridge, we witnessed what can happen when an organization like CCF steps in to support the community and improve their situation. Oyate Teca and Oyate Networking run programs for youth which engage them in activities to build leadership skills and self-esteem, teach them real-life skills, and improves their academic performance.

After stopping by the Wounded Knee Massacre Site, where 300 men, women, and children of the Lakota Sioux were killed in 1890 by U.S. troops, we traveled to Kyle, the site of Oyate Networking Program. There we were treated to a mini-youth powwow by CCF enrolled children and the Hehaka drum group. The drumming was amazing, and the traditional regalia, most of it home-made, was absolutely striking.

Then we had a tour of the Oyate Networking site, a warm and inviting space equipped with plenty of books, learning materials, a dream corner, and lots of fun activities. Raquel Oliva, US Programs Director, described the programs provided there with help from Carmelita and Tanya, the two staff members. Conference participants also got a chance to speak with youth leaders and ask questions about life on the reservation.

On the long ride back to Keystone, participants discussed the great differences amongst the communities they serve – from Indian reservations, to Mississippi, to immigrant communities along the U.S.-Mexico border, and rural Virginia. The common thread, they found, is the resilience of children. In all corners of the United States, CCF is succeeding in helping children, youth, and their communities find durable solutions and improve their futures.

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