Serving the Oglala Lakota
By Rob Schroeder
May 15, 2017
Nine years ago, Heather A. Hathaway Miranda, PhD Policy Studies in Urban Education student, traveled to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota to volunteer as part of an experience akin to Habitat for Humanity. During the trip, she met several Lakota including Jerome and Theresa High Horse who had returned to the reservation during retirement and who run a food pantry out of their basement on the reservation. Jerome is a descendant of Chief High Horse of the Oglala Lakota.
After many return trips to the reservation and with the High Horse family for continued service work and ceremonial experiences such as sun dance, she was introduced by Jerome and Theresa to some volunteers from a church in Wisconsin. Years later she learned they formed a non-profit called Families Working Together dedicated to serving the community in South Dakota.
After those numerous visits back to the reservation, Hathaway Miranda was invited this year by the High Horses to take on a more formal role as the newest member of the board of directors of Families Working Together. She is the only Latina and PhD student on the board, as well as the youngest.
“I have some cultural competency and organizational, research, and educational experiences that are of value as a kind of bridge between Whites and what is going on at the reservation,” Hathaway Miranda said. “This isn’t missionary work; we want to help the children and their parents become self-reliant, put them in leadership, and restore hope where lost.”
Hathaway Miranda aims to assist the board with communications and fundraising functions as well as helping to map out a comprehensive strategic plan. The reservation needs capital inputs: building housing for volunteers, new houses and repairs on existing housing for residents and accessibility for the disabled, to name a few.
Reflective of her masters degree in child development, Hathaway Miranda also personally hopes to raise money to construct a playground reflective of the culture and values of the Oglala Lakota.
Like many reservations in the U.S., the adult population suffers from rampant unemployment, up to nearly 90 percent, and health issues including high rates of diabetes, alcoholism, and suicide. Those challenges directly affect children, who often go hungry and do not have adequate clothing for the South Dakota winters. Hathaway Miranda hopes that building projects and outreach efforts can begin to strengthen mindsets among the reservation’s younger populations.
“These kids are seeing adults who sometimes have lost aspirations [due to addictions], and I hope that my playground project is something that can push creativity and reinforce culture,” Hathaway Miranda said.
Following the success of the Standing Rock protests and social media movement, Hathaway Miranda hopes that marketing and fundraising efforts can better publicize the needs of the community, particularly in a way that connects with younger supporters.
“I think the residents like Jerome and Theresa want to communicate the message that people are welcome to come visit, to learn about the population,” Hathaway Miranda said. “Native Americans are still alive; they aren’t just in black and white photographs. They invite questions and curiosity.”