Four years ago, Elaine Glynn decided to empty a closet full of old clothing to make room for coats. Little did she realize, that simple closet clearing project would ultimately become a full-time, full-scale, daily mission and life habit. In search of a place that would put her clothing to good use, Elaine called several organizations. One of those was the Walking Shield American Indian Society, a national non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life and creating positive futures for American Indians throughout the country. So off the boxes of clothing went. Bill Glynn, proud of his wife's endeavors, told everyone at work, and in no time, other items for donation began piling up. Elaine began making shipments on a regular basis. Impressed with Walking Shield's accomplishments, Elaine and Bill founded a Pikes Peak chapter in 1997. While they agree that this wasn't exactly how they planned to spend their retirement, both say they wouldn't trade it for the world.
Which reservations do you work with? We've worked with five different reservations in North and South Dakota. But primarily the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations in South Dakota. We also do work in Colorado. But Pine Ridge happens to be the poorest spot in the United States.
How big is that reservation? A pretty good size. About 2 million acres, with about 50,000 people all together. The size of a county, I guess. Yet there is really very little on those acres.
Which tribes live there? The Lakota tribes, although we call them Sioux.
What are some of the most needed items? Beds. Good clean beds. Furniture. Personal hygiene items (soap, shampoo, laundry detergent), diapers, fabrics, sewing machines, backpacks, school supplies. Not so much clothing, but things like coats, mittens, warm clothing. High-protein foods.
Is the Native American family very different from other American families? Family is very important and their elderly are highly valued. They are the keepers of history, so they're very important. For instance, when we take up a truck with food on it, the food goes first to the elderly, then to families with children. They always take care of their elderly first. Culturally, historically, the Indians have a very close-knit family.
There is a common belief that the government takes care of the Indians and the reservations. What is the current state of the reservations? A full 50 percent of the houses that we have seen (on Pine Ridge) should be bulldozed. Many do not have running water or refrigerators. The death rate from TB is 2000 times than what it is out here because there are just poor living conditions. There is 574 times the rate of diabetes. There's a 75 percent unemployment rate. In this last round of welfare reform, a lot of people were taken off of welfare, the idea being you have to go to work. But where? No concessions for the fact that it's a reservation, and there are no jobs. Now some reservations, because of the casinos, are able to generate revenue. But Pine Ridge has a hard time.
How often to you send loads up to the reservations? Anywhere from two to five times a month. We did 50 trips last year. And full trucks. I can pack them so you won't get a stick of gum in there.
How large is your operation? We not terribly large yet. But we are moving to a new warehouse, so we're growing. And nationally, Walking Shield does a massive thing with very few people. There is something like 85 or 88 reservations. Some are very difficult to get on. But they try to reach as many of those as possible.