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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Keeping traditions alive

 

One Great Hour of Sharing offering grows not just food but future leaders

August 30, 2021

Thirteen-year-old Trinity White Plume lives on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. (Contributed photo)

Trinity White Plume just turned 13.

Like the gardens she has newly learned to plant and tend, she has also grown in unexpected and extraordinary ways.

Where Trinity lives on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation — roughly the size of the state of Connecticut — there is but one grocery store. Moreover, the South Dakota county in which Pine Ridge is located, Oglala Lakota, has the lowest per capita income in the country and consistently ranks as the poorest or second poorest county in the nation.

During the current pandemic, what was already a food desert has become even more so, heightening both the challenge of food accessibility for Trinity and her family as well as the overall need for food sovereignty among the Lakota people living in Pine Ridge.

“Ever since the Standing Rock protests, we saw the need for really building our community’s strength, especially now,” said Kent Lebsock, development director for Owe Aku, Bring Back the Way.

Owe Aku is a grassroots nonprofit organization that champions putting its people in charge of their own food supply, nutrition, health, and well-being by reclaiming ancestral wisdom and teaching Lakota history and culture.

“We need to produce a generation of new leaders who are going to be able to stand up and continue this fight,” Lebsock said.

Owe Aku is helping to do just that for young Trinity and other future Lakota leaders.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) partners with Owe Aku through the Presbyterian Hunger Program (PHP), whose associate for National Hunger Concerns, Andrew Kang Bartlett, first encouraged the South Dakota-based nonprofit to apply for a grant through the One Great Hour of Sharing Offering three years ago.

“Just hearing what their context is, learning about how they are approaching their huge challenges around food, poverty, and preserving and restoring the traditions that their people have held dear for centuries and centuries, for us it’s a chance to really learn from their struggles and their approach to resolving the challenges they face,” said Kang Bartlett. “I think much of our advisory committee and certainly our staff think about our ability to support groups like Owe Aku as a small, symbolic step toward repairing centuries-old harm that settler culture — white culture — has inflicted on people. We see our grants as a kind of reparation toward hopefully reconciliation and healing on all sides.”

In researching the organization and corresponding with Owe Aku’s leadership, Kang Bartlett learned of the strong intersection between food and faith.

Lebsock explained that for the Lakota, there is a strong spiritual connection between the land and the people. “Although traditionally we’re not an agricultural people, we have evolved into wanting to preserve the land and preserve the people on the land by beginning our garden project,” he said. “Obviously, we thought the best way to do this is with the families, and especially young people.”

The garden project, which has several components, began with family garden plots where members were provided with plants and gardening instructions.

“The most important thing about the project has been the engagement of our young people,” said Lebsock. “We try, with the process of teaching about the gardens, to also teach about the culture, which includes medicinal and ceremonial plants that we have used for generations. All of this is done through Ama’s Freedom School (AFS), which was originally founded for young women ages 7–13, but because it was so popular, we had to open it up to boys.”

“Another important part of AFS is that we’re able to feed the community,” said Lebsock. “The money from Presbyterians has gone directly to that aspect of the work, buying the food and the preparation of food so that the students know that they have a good meal when they come to AFS, which is not always true on the Reservation. We really appreciate the Presbyterian Church’s support and its interest in our work.”

Emily Enders Odom, Mission Engagement & Support, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus: One Great Hour of Sharing

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Tim Stepp, Associate Director, Internal Audit, Administrative Services Group (A Corp)
Angie Stevens, Manager, Communication Specialist, Office of the General Assembly

Let us pray

Gracious God, you have faithfully walked with us thorugh all these years. As we look toward the challenges ahead, lead us in the ways that you would have us walk. Amen.