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Racial Justice

Freezing to Death: One Elder at a Time
by Monica Davis
Wednesday Jan 16th, 2008 7:35 PM
Cold weather threatens the elderly and very young, particularly in Native American reservations on the Great Plains. Houses often have no electric utilities, are poorly insulated and are often the scene of tragic deaths every winter because their residents can't afford wood fuel.

It’s cold on the prairie in the winter. Bone chilling, snot freezing, blistering cold. But, for those who have no heat, it’s killing cold.

Every year, people die in Indian Country—elders, too proud to ask for help, families too dysfunctional to get it together—somewhat like in Anytown, USA. There is a major difference on the rez, though, and that difference is poverty, the likes of which compares more with the Third World than any place we’d like to call the United States. But, that is the reality, the reality on many of the nation’s Native American reservations, places which are home to hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom, particularly infants and elders are in danger of freezing to death.

One group is trying to alleviate some of the suffering, and, perhaps save a life or two, by delivering wood stoves to the rez. But, there’s a major problem. They don’t have the money to rent a truck large enough to haul the stoves to the reservation.

There is a lot of need in Indian Country. Despite the perception of outsiders, most Native American tribes are neither oil rich, nor casino wealthy. Many are desperately poor and, this winter, many of them are in danger of freezing to death.

The Link Center is one of several not-for-profit organizations operating on the rez. The following is from their website:
November 10, 2007
Temperatures on the Reservations are now routinely at or well-below freezing at night. To date, we have received 165 applications for heating assistance from the Pine Ridge, Cheyenne River, and Rosebud Lakota Reservations. More applications are arriving every day and we expect to soon start receiving applications from the Crow Creek Lakota Reservation as well. Unfortunately, we have only been able to assist 28 of these families due to lack of funding. Please help the Elders. Please help those who are disabled. Please send your donations now!

Click here to view a map of the reservations and see the reality of winter in South Dakota for the residents of these reservations.

For many on the reservation, freezing to death because of the lack of heat in the home is a distinct possibility, particularly for many Lakota who live in reservations in South Dakota.
Weather is extreme on the Lakota Reservations of South Dakota. Severe winds are always a factor.

Winters bring bitter cold with temperatures averaging 9o (November through February) and often made worse with extreme wind-chill factors and record temperatures reaching -44o below 0oF (1996).

Over 60% of the homes are severely sub-standard, many without running water or electricity.

Tragically, Lakota have died from hypothermia due to inability to pay for heating. (Link Center web site)

The assistance organizations on the rez say the economy has taken a major toll in their fundraising. People who normally would give are themselves having trouble in this economy. And, like homeless shelters, food pantries and other assistance organizations around the nation, not for profit groups serving Native communities are reporting a drop in contributions.

It’s cold in many parts of the nation these days. For many on the reservation, cold is death, because they simply do not have the money to pay for wood, to buy coal or to pay the utility bill. Several organizations are trying to prevent these deaths, but, because of the extreme poverty on the rez, outside assistance is always needed.

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by M. Davis
Wednesday Jan 16th, 2008 9:51 PM
The not for profit corporation is Link Center Foundation, not Link Center
by Walker
( gwalker605 @msn.com ) Monday Feb 22nd, 2010 4:57 AM
USD and Vemillion School District recently did a fund for shoes drive and our family alone found 55 pairs of shoes to donate. The Cheyenne River Sioux people need more than just shoes they need about coats, hats and gloves.