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If I Had the Billions of Buffett and Gates

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Notes from Indian Country
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji)
© 2014 Native Sun News

As a long-time journalist, author and dreamer, I dream, dreams that will never be fulfilled, but they are dreams that I know are not impossible, but they are tiny dreams on the big scale that is America.

For example, if I had the billions of dollars of a Warren Buffett or a Bill Gates there are so many things I would do. First of all I would try to improve the lives of the poorest people in America, the Oglala Lakota Oyate (People) on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation where I was born, raised and educated.

I think education would play a big part in my choices. I would grant at least $1 million each to the Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Reservation and to Sinte Glesak University on the Rosebud Reservation. These are two colleges born with the hopes of the Lakota People at heart; colleges intended to allow every member of those tribes the opportunity to get a college education right at home. Colleges steeped in the philosophy that knowledge is power.

The very first Boys and Girls Club ever constructed on an Indian reservation was built on the Pine Ridge Reservation. It took another dreamer, Chic Big Crow, to bring the dream to fruition. When her daughter, SuAnne, was killed in a traffic accident while on her way to receive an award for her skills as a basketball player for Pine Ridge High School, a school she took to a victory for the State Class A Basketball Championship, although overcome with grief, Chic set out to fulfill the dream of her daughter to build a "Happy Town" on the poorest county (U. S. Census 1980) in America.

Twenty-one years ago the SuAnne Big Crow Boys and Girls Club opened its doors. Chic got a lot of help from the headquarters of the Boys and Girls Club of America, but she has struggled mightily to keep the Club open since. Stricken with cancer two years ago, Chic has carried on a two-pronged fight, first to just survive and second to make sure the Club built in the name of her daughter does not die with her.

The costs to operate the Club are three-fold compared to Boys and Girls Clubs in the urban centers of America. First of all and foremost is the extreme poverty. The children of Pine Ridge have little or nothing they can contribute to the Club in the way of membership fees or for upkeep. There is little money to maintain the physical structure of the Club or to pay for the many programs so vital to the Club's survival. Children come to the Club hungry and oftentimes depressed. The suicide rate among the teenagers on Pine Ridge is two to three times higher than in the rest of America.

The Club tries so hard to address these issues, but it takes money and people skilled in suicide prevention to help solve the ongoing problems. The Club has the only swimming pool on this reservation of 35,000 people. I admit I get angry when I see the Buffets' and Gates' of this world spending millions to address problems in Africa, Asia and other countries and totally ignoring the invisible poverty on the Indian reservations of America. I get very angry when I see the United States government send billions of dollars to Egypt, Pakistan, or Israel when there is poverty on the Indian reservations that is palpable.

The Club had to close its doors for a few months because of the lack of funds and because Chic was getting treatment for her cancer. It is still struggling to survive and those who suffer are the children. A donation of $1 million would hardly scratch the surface.

I would donate at least $1 million each to the Indian high schools on Rosebud and Pine Ridge so they can better prepare the children for a higher education and so that they can also fulfill the obligations of near parenthood to these children of destitute parents.

I would donate several millions to a local bank so that it can make loans available to Indians seeking to start their own businesses, businesses that could provide jobs where the unemployment rate is as high as 89 percent.

When the Pine Ridge Reservation, Shannon County, was proclaimed the "poorest county in America" in 1981, the year I started my first newspaper on the reservation, for the first time I felt hope. I thought that surely the United States would see this as an opportunity to save their own people and initiate something I had been editorializing about for many years, a Marshall Plan, just as they did to save Europe and Asia after World War II, but nothing happened. No president or government official stepped forward to say, "Yes, let's do something for the American Indians that we have ignored for more than 100 years."

But then I always have to stop and tell myself that in the long run, it was this very same government that created the situations that brought the Indian reservations to the state of poverty they now find themselves enduring. The old saying, "If you think the government can solve all of our problems, ask an Indian" always bore a strong semblance of truth.

And so I will embrace my day dreams and wish that a Warren Buffett or a Bill Gates will look homeward and use their money and ingenuity to solve the problems in Indian Country that the United States government has failed to do. Until then I will dream on about what I would do if I had their millions.

(Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is the author of Children Left Behind and Notes from Indian Country, Volumes I and II. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1991 and can be reached at