Pauline Lefthand, One of the 'Forgotten People' In Box Spring - New Year Opinion: Tim Giago
By Kathy Helms
WINDOW ROCK – When Pauline Lefthand met Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. at a Dec. 5 meeting of the Forgotten People in Box Spring, she told him her dream is to have a home with running water on the reservation near her parents. Now, she wonders if she will live long enough to see it.
Lefthand, 40, grew up in Box Spring, drinking from local water sources from the time she was born until she went away to school at age 9. When she came home on break, she continued to drink the water. Now she and other residents have learned it is contaminated with uranium and arsenic. Lefthand doesn't know whether it has contributed to her health problems.
During a meeting Monday at Leupp Chapter, Marsha Monestersky of Forgotten People rolled Lefthand's wheelchair to the front of the room, where she pleaded with members of Shirley's staff for help and told them what she had been through since she last saw the president.
Lefthand suffered kidney failure in 2004 and had to have dialysis three times a week, 3-1/3 hours each day.
“There were times when I just wanted to take my life, because it was so hard. But yet as the years went by, I got used to it. In 2007 my adopted daughter gave me her kidney. From there, I thought that things were going to turn around for me. But things just got worse,” she said.
She suffers from hypertension, diabetes, migraines, seizures, rheumatoid arthritis, and neuropathy of the feet. She started losing feeling in different parts of her body. “It got to the point where I could hardly walk. I was afraid to walk,” she said.
Last month, on Dec. 11 – less than a week after meeting Shirley – she went to see her doctor, hoping for some good news.
“I was really excited for the holidays. I had just barely gotten a grand-baby and I was really, really happy. The doctor said we have to rush you; we have to get you on the helicopter to Flagstaff – your kidney's failing, your liver's failing. You've got something growing on your pancreas – it looks like a tumor or maybe a cyst.” In addition, fluid was gathering around her heart.
“That really put me down. I asked my doctor, 'Can I make it to Christmas? Can I just stay with my family through Christmas and the holidays and then I will go in?' He said, 'No, if you do that, you will only last about two days, so I suggest you get going right now.'
“So I did. I cried myself to sleep that night, wondering what else is going to happen to me. I wondered how much can I take. I have done all of the above – I have gone to church, I have been raised by good people, I have done everything that people told me to do. I had a good job, I have a beautiful family, I still have my mom and my dad. Why is it so hard for me like this?”
She ended up falling out of bed while in the hospital and broke her hip. Once again, she was rushed to surgery. “You never know what's going to happen. Just when things start looking up, something else happens,” she said. “The one dream that I have is being close to my mom and my dad.”
Chief of Staff Patrick Sandoval told Lefthand that she has not been forgotten. “Both Social Services and Division of Health will take a look at what we have to do to try to accommodate certain things with regard to the attentions that you need.”
At the same time, they also have to look at the global picture – the community. “And you fit into it, Pauline. Your request to the president has not fallen on deaf ears, and we will do as much as we can,” Sandoval said.
Herman Shorty, executive director of the Office of Environmental Health and chair of the Commission on Emergency Management, said the commission approved a declaration of emergency on Sept. 4 by a vote of 5-0. However, four months later, it is still in the hands of the Office of Legislative Counsel. At issue are the words “natural cause,” he said.
If the contamination is naturally occurring, it puts a different twist on things, Shorty said, such as whether it is an actual “emergency.” However, if there is sufficient evidence, another option would be to declare a public health emergency.
Najam Tariq of Navajo Division of Water Resources, told the group, “All aquifers in the area are contaminated.”
Jim Store of Leupp, who works with the president's office, said there is no doubt Box Spring has a problem. “The water has something in it and people are suffering from it. They need help. The condition of Box Spring needs to be resolved.”
Health Services Administrator Madan Poudel, Ph.D., from the Navajo Division of Health, was selected team leader to help put together the proof necessary to get a declaration of emergency.
“Once you declare the emergency, that will allow a lot of the agencies – federal and state – to contribute. The main, important thing is to declare the emergency,” he said.
Forgotten People collected nearly 100 health assessments in the Box Spring/Black Falls/Grand Falls area, complete with GPS data, at the request of Emergency Management's Jimson Joe, however, Sandoval said, “If it's not data that's been certified by a particular agency, then they deem it non-reimbursable and we end up incurring all of the cost (for the emergency).” One task of the work group will be make sure the data is acceptable.
Sandoval said that either his staff or the president's staff will meet Tuesday with the “team” to begin addressing the declaration. Members include Poudel, Store, Cora Maxx-Phillips of Social Services, Johnny Johnson of Emergency Management, Tariq, Tom Platero of the Navajo Department of Transportation, and Shorty.
Tim Giago: Addressing Misconceptions About Indians
It is always something special to start a new column in a new year. Many of us just assume that the New Year will be better than the old year. It is that hope eternal that has sustained mankind since the beginning of time.
It is probably that feeling of tossing out the old and bringing in the new that stimulates our mood in this transition. We resolve to change things in our lives that will make us healthier, better persons and optimists. If we are smokers, we vow to quit. If we are more than social drinkers, we vow to stop. But above all, we vow to change the things that held us back and diminished our capabilities.
I try to make it a point every New Year to explode some of the myths and misconceptions that Native Americans have had to live with since that first ship landed on the shores of the Western Hemisphere.
First off, not all Native Americans live on reservations with gaming casinos spouting an endless stream of money. Many reservations out in the west are isolated from the mainstream and their casinos are barely surviving. Their main challenge is to supply the jobs that are so vital and yet so scarce and still keep their doors open.
Native Americans do not get a monthly check from the government unless it is a welfare check, social security check or a retirement check. And it is wrong for so many Americans to think that Indians do not pay taxes. Every paycheck issued to a Native American has all of the usual taxes taken from it. Every time they pull into a gas station, grocery store or department store, they pay a sales tax. If they purchase these items off of the reservation the taxes they pay goes to the community that serves them. Not one penny comes back to the reservation.
There is no free ride for Indians seeking a higher education. Like all Americans, Natives struggle to get the few scholarships available to them. The best kept secret in America are the more than 30 Indian colleges scattered throughout the reservations providing an opportunity for the residents to get a higher degree while still living with their families.
Colleges like Sinte Gleska University on the Rosebud Reservation and Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Reservation continue to provide educational opportunities for so many that would not have earned a degree without them. A new generation of teachers, nurses, accountants and entrepreneurs are marching through the arches of these Native American owned and controlled colleges.
And finally, the money the federal government provides to the different Indian nations for education, hospitals, homes, law enforcement, court houses, and government is not charity. It is payment for the millions acres of taken by the United States, land written into treaties between sovereign nations. Every time a non-Native walks out of the door of their home, goes to a shopping mall, or just sits on the banks of a shining lake, they must never forget that they are on the land that once belonged to an Indian nation, land that was sometimes purchased, but mostly was taken by force, stolen by phony treaties, or taken by other illegal means. When they see the industries booming that made America great, never forget that a people sacrificed their all in order to make it happen.
Native Americans gave up millions of acres of land so that America could become great and they were given certain guarantees through their treaties with America to have the few and oftentimes meager benefits in exchange. When America provides the funds to make it possible for Native Americans to secure and manage the benefits provided by the treaties, it is not a charity, it is an obligation.
So when I read comments by white people demeaning Native Americans based on ignorance, an ignorance that will not go away but continues to grow, I am appalled and angered. America has never learned to appreciate or understand the Native people or the Native Nations that contributed so much to its success.
So, at the beginning of this new decade I hope all Americans make an effort to understand that every nation is judged by how it treats its indigenous people. Native Americans survived the cultural and physical holocaust for more than 500 years and now it is time for America to stand up and honor the treaties it signed with them in order to gain the foothold that made this country one of the best and the greatest.
Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is the publisher of Native Sun News. He was the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association, the 1985 recipient of the H. L. Mencken Award, and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1991. Giago was inducted into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2008.
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