Nina. . .

Struggling as a Native American Woman

Hi, my name is Nina. I’m 28 years old; I live in a little town called Rusty Creek, South Dakota. I have three kids, a cat and two dogs. My sister and I live with our mom so she can watch our kids while we work. My grandmother lives with us too

Being a waitress at a diner in a dump of a town like this one doesn’t leave any money for child care —- or much of anything else, for that matter. With what my sister and I bring home, free school lunches for all but one of the kids and a box of groceries from a church food pantry now and then, we still barely get by. I think the taxman said that last year I made about $9,500 and my sister made a little less. That’s not a lot to get food and clothes and put a roof over the heads of 4 adults and 5 kids. I wish things were different, but it is what it is.

We are Indians. I guess “Native American” is the correct term nowadays, but I just say I’m Indian because that’s my race. My sister and I were born on the reservation. Some jerk raped both of us when we were younger, but to prosecute the bugger, we’d have had to tell the Council exactly where and when the attack happened. We know who hurt us, but we can’t prove it. He was real smart about it. He blindfolded us, tied our hands and feet, and kept us in his van for what seemed like a really long time so we wouldn’t know what time it was, or where he took us.

Seems like the deck is always stacked against the women. Life on the rez isn’t easy, don’t get me wrong. But there, at least you have an identity and some degree of support.

My grandmother says that in the old days it wasn’t like that. The men and women of the tribe divided work duties, right down to going into battle together, and helped each other out.

It sure isn’t like that now! I have to admit, I’ve done some things, and so has my sister, that didn’t help us. I got mixed up with some yo-yo who was running a Meth lab, and I got strung out on the Meth. My sister started using OxyContin after she hurt her back at work, then she couldn’t get of it. So she was buying it from another dope man on the Rez. When they got caught, so did we, and my sister and I went to jail.

So thanks to those convictions, we can’t get welfare, medical help, or food stamps. It really makes me mad! I’m clean now and so is my sister; been clean and sober for more than 4 years each, but we still can’t get any help. All it does is hurt the kids; I don’t get it! Hell! Even murderers who get out of jail can get welfare, but the “war on drugs” keeps me from getting help I need for my kids!

You ask me if I’m angry? You bet I am! Grandmother says it is a “soul wound” passed down from one generation of the tribes to the next, so any new anger is magnified by what is built upon what has been already passed down. (Granny’s parents had to stand by while she and her brother were put on a train and taken by the white folks to a boarding school to learn how to be “white” and “civilized”. You can see a scar on Grandmother’s tongue where they pinned it to keep her from speaking here Indian language. Our mother wasn’t sent away, but she was put in foster care with a white family, and she wasn’t much better than their slave.} So “passed down rage”? I guess so! Now I have the anger I have the ”soul anger” that has been built up from all the older generations, and it just keeps adding up!

I have no skills or education so I can’t make a good living to support my family; and every day I have to deal with incredible oppression — poverty, racism, sexism, and the after effects of being abused. Sometimes even now I still think about the rape. I pray every day that I can just keep putting one foot in front of the other; keep trying to give my kids the best life I can; and stay sober even though all this crap is around me and waiting to fall into my life.

– Nina

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