Winter in South Dakota started early this year and has been exceptionally brutal with days and nights already breaking many records for below zero temperatures and reported wind chill factors defying comprehension at -72 degrees F.
On the Pine Ridge Oglala Sioux Reservation, this has set even the most solid of reservation organizations scrambling for heating fuel. Add to the problem a 33% increase in propane costs this year and it has become a very tenuous situation.
Sadly, like everywhere, it’s always the elders and sick who are the most at risk.
Robert Quiver, Jr., is the Elderly Coordinator for the Porcupine District, one of the largest Districts on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Quiver reports that the building used for their Elderly Meals Program is nearly out of propane. They are down to the last 10% of a 500 gallon tank. A full tank could probably get them through the rest of the winter but at $2.20 per gallon, they simply don't have $1,100.00 to fill it.
This may be disastrous news for the 70 to 90 elders who depend on the program for lunch each day, a meal which is delivered to them at home and which may be their only real meal of the day.
Increased gasoline prices for those deliveries made deep cuts into the program's budget. Coupled with rising propane costs, this threatens the program’s existence.
Quiver stated that if anyone wants to help keep the program going, they should call Crystal at the Lakota Plains Propane Company 1-605-867-5199 and tell her they want to donate towards propane for the Porcupine Elderly Meals Program using their credit or debit card. For anyone with questions, Robert Quiver can be reached at the Porcupine Elders Advisory Council office 1-605-867-2062
Another service organization in need is the Porcupine Clinic, the only independent, Indian community-controlled health clinic in the United States. It is not connected with the Federal Indian Health Services (IHS) program and is funded primarily by grants and donations. They, too, are feeling the pinch.
The Porcupine Clinic opened its doors in 1992 and serves the entire Reservation as well as the Porcupine District in which it is located. Patients are billed according to their ability to pay and many patients, many of whom are low-income Elders and children, receive free health care there.
Stella White Eyes, Administrative Assistant, reports that at least 120 patients per week are served at the Clinic through their Well Child Program, Podiatry Program, Diabetic Program, Midwife Classes, etc.
Additionally, their CHR Program tries to provide rides for patients to and from treatment at the IHS Hospital in the community of Pine Ridge 30 miles away (at a cost of $10 per person + 65 cents per mile). The Clinic also hopes to re-open its two-bed dialysis unit soon now that necessary repairs to the building have been completed.
But the Clinic needs help. Ms. White Eyes says they are not out of propane but they definitely could use help to make it through the winter due to the increase in propane costs. They have three tanks: a thousand gallon tank which services the main clinic building and two five hundred gallon tanks servicing the dialysis unit.
People wishing to donate propane for the Porcupine Clinic can contact Loretta Margrave at Westco (Western Cooperative) in Chadron, Nebraska at their toll-free number, 1-800-762-9906. Minimum delivery is 200 gallons but donations can be of any size.
Another propane assistance program on the Reservation was founded by Russell Mean, long-time AIM activist and Lakota leader. He is spearheading the Republic of Lakotah Emergency Propane Assistance for the Elderly. For this program, propane can also be purchased and donated directly through the Lakota Plains Propane Company by calling 1-605-867-5199. Questions can be answered by emailing info@RepublicOfLakotah.com
Meanwhile, Robert Eagle Elk, District Coordinator for the Oglala Sioux Tribe Heating and Energy Assistance Office as well as Coordinator for the District CAP Offices, spoke recently on NAMAPAHH internet blog radio about the effects of this severe winter and the multiple blizzards on Pine Ridge. He noted that not only were the elders suffering but also the many working poor who cannot afford heat either.
He said the tribal assistance program was very low on funds and would welcome donations. The Oglala Sioux Tribe website notes that donations may be sent to the OST Energy Assistance Program c/o OST Treasurer, Crystal Eagle Elk, P.O. Box 2070 – Pine Ridge, SD 57770
When asked by this reporter, Eagle Elk responded that he was not sure when the Federal LIHEAP low-income energy assistance fuel allotments would be released but believed it would be in January or February, 2009.
But historically, research has shown that LIHEAP allotments have only been a partial help and never enough to last long through the many months of winter in South Dakota.
Another program, non-tribal but serving the Pine Ridge Reservation, is Link Center Foundation's Emergency Winter Heating/Utility Assistance Program for the Elders, Disabled, and Seriously Ill.
This small, grassroots all-volunteer 501c3 non-profit organization from Colorado was able to assist 220 individual families in 2008 but still has over 200 qualified elders and disabled from the Reservation on a waiting list for assistance.
The organization has been trying to assist those who qualify with $150 in fuel one time. But sadly, donations have slowed down to a trickle even though additional support came in from other organizations such as NAMA (the Native American Music Association).
Meanwhile, winter is barely at the half-way mark. Bitter cold temperatures and snow still persist and are expected to continue well into March. Anyone wishing to donate to this program can visit the Link Center Foundation website and donate securely with a credit or bank card. www.linkcenterfoundation.org
There are also many other good non-tribal, non-profit organizations trying to help with heating assistance. But with the early onset of winter and the blizzards and extended frigid temperatures creating extreme need, funding is low or depleted at this point for most of them.
Additionally, the majority of these organizations operate solely from donations and are usually unable to obtain grants for their heating assistance programs, which are often referred to as “band-aid programs” by the grant funders. Yet, while it’s true these programs don’t provide permanent solutions, they do address a very real and on-going need.
That is the ultimate point. There simply are no permanent solutions at this time. Further, until such solutions arrive, it will be the programs such as these organizations provide which will continue to keep people alive and warm, one family at a time.
And, if propane arrives for the Porcupine Elderly Meals Program, at least some elders will eat as well.
Originally posted at Silvrdrach.homestead.com. Stephanie M. Schwartz is a member of Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) and President of Link Center Foundation. Contact the author at SilvrDrach@aol.com
© 2009 Stephanie M. Schwartz. This article may be reprinted, reproduced, and/or re-distributed unedited with proper attribution and sourcing for non-profit, educational, news, or archival purposes.