The Van Wert County Courthouse

Friday, May. 20, 2022

Wassenberg project seeks winter clothing

DAVE MOSIER/independent editor

While area residents are pondering an extra trip to the gym to work off their Thanksgiving dinners and perusing store circulars for Black Friday and Cyber Monday Christmas deals, Native Americans on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota are wondering how they will keep warm this winter.

Wassenberg Art Center staff members (from the left) Joe Balyeat, Matt Temple, Hope Wallace and Megan Thomas are gathering warm coats, gloves, and hats to send to Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. (Wassenberg photo)
Wassenberg Art Center staff members (from the left) Joe Balyeat, Matt Temple, Hope Wallace and Megan Thomas are gathering warm coats, gloves, and hats to send to Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. (Wassenberg photo)

Wassenberg Art Center Executive Director Hope Wallace said a relationship she developed with Pine Ridge resident Marian Whitemouse, as well as a visit she made to the reservation with her grandson, provided the impetus for a campaign to provide winter clothing for Native Americans who live on the reservation.

Wallace met Whitemouse, a descendant of Lakota Sioux warriors Dewey Beard and John Moves Camp — both survivors of the Battle of the Little Big Horn whose portraits were painted by Van Wert native David Humphreys Miller — when the Pine Ridge resident attended a Wassenberg exhibition of Miller’s paintings.

Whitemouse then invited Wallace to visit the reservation, a trip the Wassenberg director made with her grandson. Wallace said the visit opened her eyes to the needs of reservation residents.

“It is really hard seeing the Third World living conditions that exist at the reservation,” Wallace said. “Pine Ridge residents endure unspeakable hardships, including high poverty rates, high disease and mortality rates, 80 percent unemployment, and widespread gang violence.”

The Wassenberg executive director noted that average lifespan for reservation residents is 48 for men and 52 for women, while diabetes and alcoholism rates are “through the roof.”

Wallace said the death of several Pine Ridge residents last winter, attributed to soaring propane costs and frigid temperatures, was the catalyst for Wassenberg’s “Warm Up the Ridge” campaign.

The art center and the Brent Stevens family, which provided Miller’s Native American portraits to Wassenberg, are currently seeking donations of new or clean winter clothing — coats, hats and earmuffs, scarves, gloves and mittens — to help reservation residents stay warm this year.

Whitemouse has agreed to head up efforts to distribute the clothing to needy reservation residents.

“We’re trying to keep it simple, so Marian won’t get overwhelmed,” Wallace said, adding that having someone at Pine Ridge distribute the clothing is crucial to the success of the project.

“Infrastructure for such projects can be challenging,” Wallace noted, adding that the isolated reservation has no organized system for distributing donations — in fact, it doesn’t even have a UPS route.

The Wassenberg director also said she hopes the local campaign can help ease Pine Ridge residents’ view of non-Native Americans as being wasicu – a Lakota word meaning “the one who takes the best meat”, referring to their perception of most non-Native Americans as selfish.

Local residents can bring in their new or clean winter clothing to Wassenberg from now until Friday, December 18, for distribution to needy Pine Ridge residents.

POSTED: 11/27/15 at 9:13 am. FILED UNDER: News