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  • Jerome is a storyteller. He came to the summer youth culture camp being held in honor of Nellie and Matt Two Bulls in the #4 community on Pine Ridge Reservation. He is telling the children stories about who they are as Lakota. After sending one of the older girls around with sage to smudge us all, he begins to speak, animated and half in English, half in Lakota. Most of the kids pay attention, a couple fall asleep, but he gets the most sit-up-and-take-notice when he starts to tell of the role of women in the tribal family. Evidently, there is no word for wife in direct translation. The concept is contained in the phrase "she who keeps my stuff." The teenaged girls respond with smiles. "To divorce your husband, all you have to do is put their stuff outside of the tipi and they must go," he says. Again they smile and exchange glances.

    Jerome is trying to instill in this young generation the value of family, of the tribe, of honoring and respecting the women and their roles. He sings ritual songs and tells them the stories of his own youth and of his being raised by his grandparents, a common situation. He has been invited to speak by Doreen and Rob who are hosting this camp to teach their combined 7 kids of their heritage and of a way of life that does not include alcohol or drugs. They, like many are desperate to teach the next generation about their sacred identity.

    At least half of these children are raising themselves as their parents go off the reservation to nearby Kansas (White Clay) to drink. The grandparents who are raising most of them have no support other than each other, and they live in extreme poverty. There is no industry and no work and mostly no hope. So they must rely on the kindness (and the guilt) of benefactors, mostly white. Their culture has been eroded mostly due to the hardship of living in a prisoner of war camp. Can anything that can be done for this young generation of Lakota? Can they be saved? We're trying from here on the outside, one foundation established, one fundraiser, one shipment of warm clothing, one donation of money to help someone pay an electric bill. They say it takes a tribe...

    And the statistics of reservation life stagger the imagination:
    80% of residents are unemployed (versus 10% of the rest of the country);
    49% of the residents live below the Federal poverty level (61% under the age of 18);
    Per capita income in Shannon County is $6,286;
    The Infant Mortality rate is 5 times higher than the national average;
    Native American amputation rates due to diabetes is 3 to 4 times higher than the national average;
    Death rate due to diabetes is 3 times higher than the national average; and
    Life Expectancy in 2007 was estimated to be 48 for males and 52 for females

    To hear the whole story, please listen to Aaron Huey's Ted Talk...
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