“I would like my life to be a statement of love and compassion — and where it isn’t, that’s where my work lies.” — Ram Dass
Ten years ago, in the summer before my freshman year of high school, I went with my church to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota to do home repairs and work with at-risk youth. We stayed and worked in what was then the poorest county in the United States of America, and it was a hugely educational and personally transformative experience.
Though the last ten years have seen me change my philosophy in several dramatic ways — from born-again Christian to rejectionist atheist to my current work as a Secular Humanist and interfaith activist — reservations in South Dakota continue to face similar challenges to those I encountered in my youth. Today, the poorest county in the U.S. has shifted a bit north: Ziebach County, home to Eagle Butte, South Dakota, hub of the Cheyenne River Reservation. Located approximately 200 miles northeast of Pine Ridge, Eagle Butte is geographically and economically isolated, enabling devastating poverty and social difficulties for its residents — particularly for its children.