So I'm going to ask again:
Have you ever been truly cold?
I don't mean a little chilly; I don't mean shivering occasionally. I mean the kind of cold that sinks bone-deep, that simultaneously numbs and burns hands and feet, that defeats your ability even to think because all the while there's an ever-growing pounding in your head: 'Cold, cold, cold, cold, COLD."
I have. And it's like hunger; it becomes all-encompassing.
It is also deadly.
It's good thing that both body and mind forget. Otherwise, we'd never make it from one year to the next; humanity would have died out before its second winter. I've had occasion to be this cold in recent years, and at the time, it felt like the worst I'd ever experienced.
It wasn't, of course.
That distinction belongs to my childhood, far enough removed that I don't remember the literal physical pain of it.
What I do remember is the old drafty farmhouse with an old temperamental oil heater in the kitchen. I remember the blizzards and ice storms, my father outside with the teakettle, gloves off to be able to maneuver while he poured hot water over freezing pipes. It would be so cold that the water would be barely warm by the time he got it outside, and he'd come back inside with fingers unable to move, only to go right back out into the howling wind to do it again. I remember the heavy blankets - stacks of them, piled up on each bed. When you're three, it seems like a fort, and therefore, an adventure - especially by candlelight. When you're a teenager, not so much. I remember the blankets tacked up over the windows, and the woven throw rugs shoved into every windowsill and threshold to keep the cold at bay. Despite my father's efforts at reinsulating every single summer, we still wound up with broken pipes in the winter. I remember the nights by candlelight, with my mother's old heirloom hurricane lamp. And even as a write this, I can still smell the stench of oil and kerosene, a smell (and a headache) that will never leave me.
I also remember one year's massive ice storm. My parents had just bought an old house (actually, a rundown Victorian hotel) in a tiny hamlet ten miles away, heaven only knows why. When the ice storm hit, they were trying to maintain both properties. My father stayed at the farm; we girls were in town with Mom. Both places were without power, heat, and running water for an extended period.
And, of course, it wasn't just the house. It was surviving the cold and winds and blowing snow and sleet to shovel several feet of snow out of the drive, to use the tractor to help plow the dirt road to get to work. It was shoveling - with a shovel, not a tractor - the narrow path leading down to the barn, feeding and watering the horses, mucking out the stalls, and making sure neither they nor the dogs and cats froze to death.
It was doing all of this while making do with minimal and frankly non-nutritious food and hand-me-down clothes and coats and snowsuits and snow boots.
It was hiding from my father's rages when, yet again, the pipes burst and we didn't have money to fix them. It was watching my mother sitting at the kitchen table, her head in her hands, fighting back tears while she tried to figure out how - whether - we could eat and keep the power on at the same time.
I loved where we lived. I loved the snow and ice. I loved the power and spirit of the seasons and the land and the weather. But make no mistake: Even as a very young child, I understood that it was a hard, often brutal life that took great effort and perhaps even greater will to survive.
Maybe it's why I'm still bullheadedly here.
But it's 2012. This is one the richest societies in human history. And today, in this country, no one should have to live in fear of freezing to death for simple lack of heat.
Yet at Rosebud, that's perhaps the rule, not the exception. You can read about what day-to-day living conditions there are really like in my diary here. The weather conditions are similar to those of my childhood - and worse, now complicated by climate change and decades of environmental contamination. And make no mistake: For the elders and families at Rosebud, winter is already here. Today, they're experiencing 34-mph winds, which makes the temperature (as I write this, in the 40s) feel 10-12 degrees lower. Rain is expected tonight, which means freezing rain. Snow is likely as early as Sunday. And these are the mild winter weather conditions.
But you don't need to take my word for how important this is. In this community, we're fortunate to have as a member cacamp. That's Carter Camp, one of the founders of the American Indian Movement, and one of the leaders at Wounded Knee '73. Carter is a warrior in the old sense of the term, and one of our heroes, and he spent much of his life living in South Dakota. He knows first-hand what conditions there are like, and how desperately our help is needed. He's testified to that reality many times. Over the jump, read his most recent comment:
IF YOU'RE JUST READING ABOUT THE PROPANE PROJECT FOR THE FIRST TIME:This summer I picked up two heaters for my kids on Pine Ridge from Sherry. We talked a bit about this direct way of helping our people and how much better it is for us. That's true mainly because Sherry is a part of the community and can concentrate on those families who slip through the cracks and can't get help from other sources.Carter Camp being interviewed
for the 2009 PBS special,
"We Shall Remain."
Government programs necessarily make people meet certain criteria and place people on their lists accordingly. This is good and really the only way a big program can work but there are some families who just don't fit the criteria but are still in dire need. Sherry (and in past years myself but I've moved) knows these families and how dire their circumstances might be.
I know Sherry and her Mom and I can fully vouch for how hard she attempts to help the very neediest first. They live in the community they serve. These two women, mainly Sherry now that her Mom is getting older, are very hardworking small business people. South Dakota winters are brutal and handling propane is a cold job in any weather but I've seen Sherry out on the coldest nights wrestling those hoses and getting heat to families who would freeze otherwise or have to seek shelter elsewhere.
I'm writing this mainly to let all of you who donate know that by doing it this way instead of through the Tribe or a traditional charity you are giving directly to the very neediest of the needy. Nothing goes to overhead or administration. It all goes to delivering propane to the people. Sherry and her business make nothing extra even though she would deserve some for the extra work it puts on them, things like answering phones and keeping track of the money takes time and effort but they only charge us their regular rates. It's her way of taking care of her people and showing her love for her Lakota Nation.
So thanks you my friends of this community. Your generosity is amazing to me each year and every year I speak to those you have helped and all of them tell me things about how the assistance arrived at just the right time to save them in so many ways. There is no way for us to thank each of you personally and your names won't be inscribed on any walls. But please know it is appreciated by my people, by parents who were worried sick about how to keep their kids warm until they saw Sherry's propane truck pull up into their yards and their prayers were answered... by you.
In Lakota I say; Pilamaye-tonka. Mitakuye-Oyasin.. Thank you.. for all of my relations.
If you're new to our Propane Project please read Monday's diary by Meteor Blades which gives a summary of the history and need for our unique project. Aji has also written a piece with many more photos. If you want more detail, there are few links at the bottom of this diary to explain why we've put this project together.Here is how you can help buy propane: The fastest way to help is to pick up the phone and call with your credit-card information. A family will get propane delivered either the same day or the next day.
Please share this diary with your family and friends.
This is a project to donate money directly to a propane company on one of the nine reservations in South Dakota. The company knows who is about to run out of fuel. Families receive full tanks the day you call or the next day. There is a constant need on the reservations, especially during the winter. This project is unique in that we are not going through a charity which delays the aid and has overhead. Your money helps someone in quick time.
FOR ROSEBUD RESERVATION:
NOTE: St. Francis Energy is closed today, Thanksgiving Day. The will reopen at 11 AM tomorrow, Friday, November 23. Please call then to make your donation.Of course, all the propane in the world won't do you any good without a heater. Many families don't even have working heaters - or ones that work safely. Every year, there are house fires as a result of malfunctioning heaters that people can't afford to repair. So if you're flush or you have a few friends who can put your dollars together, a heater would be really welcome this Thanksgiving season.
Telephone St. Francis Energy Co. at:Sherry Cornelius on the job
11 AM-6 PM MST EVERY DAY (Except Thanksgiving and Christmas)
Ask for Sherry or her mom Patsy, but others can help you also. Normally a minimum order is $150, but they have an account to accumulate small donations until they get enough for a full delivery. Credit cards welcome, and they are the only Indian-owned fuel company on the Rosebud, which is next to Pine Ridge and in the same economically depressed condition. If you'd like to mail a check, make it payable to:
St. Francis Energy Co.
Attn: Sherry or Patsy
St. Francis Energy Co./Valandra's II
P.O. Box 140
St. Francis, South Dakota 57572
PLEASE NOTE: NOT A 501c3, PLEASE CONSULT YOUR TAX PREPARER.
You can order a heater and the necessary accessories from Northern Tool HERE and have it shipped to:INTERNATIONAL DONORS:
St. Francis Energy Co.
102 N. Main Street
Saint Francis, SD 57572
Here's what you'll be sending:
• Mr. Heater Big Buddy™ Indoor/Outdoor Propane Heater—18,000 BTU, Model# MH18B
You also need to include these accessories:
• Mr. Heater AC Power Adapter for Big Buddy Heaters—6 Volt, Model# F276127
• Mr. Heater 12-Ft. Hose with Regulator for Item# 173635
• Mr. Heater Fuel Filter for Buddy™ Heaters, Model# F273699
Order Total of $235.85 (includes shipping)
If you live out of the country, please use our PayPal link at Native American Netroots. The donation button is in the middle right of the page. This process takes about two weeks for the funds to hit the reservations, so telephoning the propane companies directly is definitely the fastest way to help.
For more information and background, check out navajo's diaries:
• Here we go again: Blizzard hits Dakotas (Every year they get slammed)
• Band-Aid for the Lakotas: But a Directly Applied One (Why we by-pass the charities)
Rosebud reservation is right next to Pine Ridge and experiences the same issues.
For additional detailed background, including links to diaries that cover the shameful behavior of the South Dakota state government in the aftermath of the massive ice storm in November, 2009, go to my recent diary here.
And if you can, please consider giving thanks for your own warmth and comfort this year by giving a little to those who will otherwise have neither.