Monday, February 18, 2008

The Cost of Poverty

"To be poor in America today, even more than in the past, is to be an outcast in your own country. And that, the neuroscientists tell us, is what poisons a child’s brain."

(Photo by Aaron Huey, Igloo Housing Neighborhood - Pine Ridge, SD)

Paul Krugman's column , Poverty is Poison, this morning made me cry, not tears for myself which I have shed far too many lately, but tears for my country, this world, for every child that goes to bed hungry, or sleeps on a friend of his/her parents' couch or floor, for every child who does not know when her/his mommy or daddy will come home or what kind of mood that parent will be in whenever he/she arrives home. My tears were for a country that allows children to experience this kind of stress on a regular enough basis that the toll it takes is not only mental, emotional, but also physical. It turns out that poverty is more than a shame and a disgrace, it turns out that poverty is also toxic. It turns out that poverty causes neurological damage to young minds, damage that follows that person through the rest of her/his life. It impacts that person's memory and mental development and the damage is permanent.

(Photo by Aaron Huey, Trailer Home, North Ridge, Pine Ridge Village)

Is it any wonder that children who grow up on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota (one of the poorest communities in the country) suffer throughout their lives from the wounds and scars of growing up poor, and have a difficult, if not impossible time, breaking the vicious cycle of poverty and hopelessness? Unemployment is rampant (rumored to be somewhere between 50 - 85%), alcohol and drug abuse is pervasive, domestic violence (often a result of the twin problems of poverty and hopelessness) runs high, and many Native youth turn to gangs as a means of surviving in such a harsh environment. There are those who in spite of all of these seemingly-impossible challenges remarkably strive to walk the Red Road and live the Lakota way. They keep the language alive and participate in age-old cultural activities like sweat lodges and the sun dance. It is amazing that people can survive in such desperate conditions, conditions that would shock many Americans. These conditions are largely the result of broken treaties, stolen land, and culture denied. The promises that the American government made to Natives have almost all been ignored as soon as it was convenient for the government to do so, and the problems persist to this day, whether in the form of congressional inaction on the much-needed Indian Health Services legislation or the still-unresolved Cobell Trust Fund Litigation. There is much that this nation owes the ancestors of the original inhabitants of this land. It is a debt that I fear will never be paid in full. And still the suffering, bigotry and oppression continues....

There are organizations that attempt to provide some relief to Native children and to give them hope that education and keeping pride in their heritage are both important elements to surviving and thriving in this world. A few of the organizations are Friends of Pine Ridge Reservation, Futures for Children, and Running Strong for American Indian Youth.

Here's a link to the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

Aaron Huey's Moving Photographs of Pine Ridge, South Dakota.

1 comment:

Velveeta Jones said...

I'm convinced that there are people that want to see all cultures - other than white European - destroyed. From the poverty of the ghettos to the debacle of Hurricane Katrina to this story! Makes me so angry!!