With the summer halfway over--the end of my undergrad internship is quickly approaching. Unlike most of the other SURE interns, I have been working off site in Pine Ridge, SD. Working off site has made my internship a different experience and I have been embracing it. I am a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST) and grew up in a town 45 miles from Pine Ridge. I have always been familiar with the town and the oyate (people); however, by working in town and attending community events, I have been learning so much.
Just to start with some information: according to Red Cloud Indian School, the Pine Ridge Reservation is home to around 16,000 residents and more than 2.8 million acres. This makes the reservation the second largest in the US. With such a large geographic area, there are often more people than resources. Furthermore, around 80% of the residents are unemployed and almost half live below the poverty line. Besides economic issues, there are health disparities. The infant death rate in OST is nearly five times the US average. Life expectancy is also the lowest in the US (similar rates with India, Sudan, and Iraq). Many diseases also impact the reservation at epidemic rates such as diabetes and heart disease, along with obesity. When looking at youth, in particular, 88% have used alcohol, 31% have "seriously considered" suicide, 15% attempted suicide in the last year, while nearly 90% have tried cigarettes or marijuana.
Before working in Pine Ridge, I knew the statistics but have gained a better understanding of the reality of these numbers. After attending multiple local health fairs, I gained knowledge about SO many resources available to the public that are aimed to lower these disparities (along with gaining a new water bottle, umbrella, chapstick, and t-shirt). The program I am working with this summer, CHAT, is directed toward teen girls to help prevent alcohol-exposed pregnancies by educating them about alcohol and contraceptive use. Another neat program is the Telehealth program. Telehealth has different sites set up across the reservation with webcams available for youth to utilize in order to receive different health services. One more program I became familiar with was the Methamphetamine & Suicide Prevention Initiative (MSPI). MSPI's goal is to prevent meth use and suicide. They hold different early intervention activities for youth to reduce substance use and suicidal behavior. Besides these programs, there are others aimed towards diabetes, childcare, and so on.
If you didn't catch who the programs are aimed at, they all focus on the youth of the community. The youth are the future and it is important to keep them healthy and to have resources available for them. It is extremely empowering knowing that programs like these exist on the reservation. They have such potential to change the future of the community and the lives involved. I am excited for future years to see how these programs impact the health disparities that exist on the reservation. Besides working on my research skills, attending video conferences, and everything else the SURE internship has to offer, I am able to learn and share these different resources available to help people on the Pine Ridge Reservation--which is making my intern experience so much more rewarding. So get out, attend community events, and learn!!
By: Josie Drobny | Black Hills State University | SURE Intern | Hanson Lab