The “Spirit of Giving” drew Butte Tribe members Kimberly Marine and John Hall across the United States to South Dakota to deliver holiday gifts to the native people of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation. An invitation was extended by Jim “Standing Bear” Wheatley to make the 2,600-mile round-trip. Standing Bear has served as a board member for the Partners of Native Nations for the past 16 years. His nonprofit, emergency response work involves aiding organizations across the nation to help poverty-stricken indigenous people living on Native American reservations.
The Butte Tribe couple traveled to the Sisseton Reservation in a truck pulling a huge trailer loaded with clothes, shoes, coats, beanies and blankets to help the natives fight the freezing South Dakota winter temperatures. In addition to these physical needs, Christmas toys and 16 bikes were stuffed into every free inch of space that the trailer would provide. Inspiration for the trip came from years of serving others of all cultures. Marine took in a family from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 that is her adoptive family until this day.
Several years later, she joined her biological family in membership of the Butte Tribe of Bayou Bourbeaux. At that time, learning of her tribe’s oral history and historical events on Butte tribal land piqued her interest in her indigenous heritage. Marine, TeAta (Morning Bear) by her tribal family, is descended from the Chitimacha captive, Marie Theresa De La Grande Terre. Her mixed Native American heritage includes Chitimacha and Teja/Texas Mission Indians. This bloodline includes Indians Angelique (Hasani), Marie Jeanne of the Caddos, Matheo Perez (Coyote), Anne of the Caddos and more.
Marine’s research in Native American reservation life revealed shocking results.
Broken US treaties, negative comments, drug abuse, unemployment, high suicide rates, murder and poverty led to the list of atrocities laid on the indigenous people of America. Marine’s passion for people in need brought about a surprising revelation.
What about her Native American brothers and sisters? She had never reached out to them. At that moment, the decision was made to move forward toward meeting the needs of Native American people. Arrival at the reservation exposed the reality to all the research. Now the couple could see for themselves what reservation life was like.
She saw small shotgun homes with large families in each dwelling, no children playing outside, poverty everywhere. The landscape was a desolate place of dirt, no trees, no grass. The people seemed fearful and made very little eye contact. The natives were confused about the visitors to their community.
Like United States politics, their corrupt tribal council uses tribal funds for council political gain. Therefore, the news of the non-profit, emergency response giving was not broadcast until 24 hours before their arrival. Moccasin telegrams (door-to-door messaging) were sent out to the locals to prevent their shady tribal council from taking credit for the event to gain the favor of the people. Nothing could express the gratification the couple felt in being a part of giving to people who could not help themselves.
The 24-hour notice drew over 1,200 natives to the event. The people stood in awe when realizing that the items of basic needs before them were gifts. Drawings were held for the bicycles. Toys were distributed to all the children. Tears of thankfulness were abundant. One lady won a small bike for her 4-year-old autistic grandson and she thankfully admitted that she did not think she was going to be able to give him anything for Christmas. Another lady caring for five grandchildren won a bike.
The grandmother expressed her thanks after explaining that she was unable to afford any gifts for her children. Her story was so touching that Marine and Hall personally purchased additional gifts plus an additional bike for her family. When the gifts were delivered to the grandmother’s home, she began sobbing with gratitude. When interviewed, the couple agreed that the trip was long and stressful but very rewarding.
While there, they experienced the harshness of a winter blizzard.
It was heartbreaking to see how many people from this reservation were in need. Standing Bear informed them that there are reservations within the United States with even greater needs than this one. It was a reminder of just how blessed those who have to give are.
Of all cultures within the United States, Native Americans living on these isolated-forsaken reservations have nothing: no jobs, no vehicles, no money to buy food, gas, or basic survival needs and protection. They only exist by the grace of God.
To learn more about Butte Tribe of Bayou Bourbeaux and their people, go to BUTTETRIBE.ORG.