Thursday, July 3, 2008

Pine Ridge, South Dakota part 1

I arrived at the Pine Ridge reservation in Southwest South Dakota three days ago. I am here along with one other MIT student, Allison Brown, to work as interns for the Oglala Lakota tribe's environmental protection program. We have spent the last few days mostly just getting our bearings, learning about all the different tribal programs and about the organizational structure and realities of the reservation.

We are living with a host family outside of Wounded Knee (yes, the Wounded Knee of the Wounded Knee massacre). As with most houses around here it is a small, perfect rectangular shaped one-story "trailer house," perched on a ridge overlooking a huge expanse of rolling hills with pine trees. It is absolutely stunning [The first photo is of the view from the back deck]. And since there is running water, a real mattress, a stove, and a washing machine, I feel like I'm living the high life after Ecuador. Michael Herd Many Horses, who we are living with, is a walking library of tribal history and is fascinating to talk with. [Second Photo is of the badlands from the drive in]

The office is in Pine Ridge, the only real population center on the res. It has one big intersection, a gas station, a couple of restaurants, two high schools, an IHS hospital, and all of the tribal government offices. It looks like we will be working on a couple of different projects -- one to get the Oglala Lakota College lab state certified to process water quality samples (that way the tribal programs don't have to drive up to rapid city to drop off samples at a lab there and they'll be able to keep the money on the reservation). The other one is investigating the impact of septic system drainage fields on water quality. [Photo is of me in front of the Environmental Protection Program office].

Yesterday we got a tour of the water infrastructure facilities for the reservation. Right now they use a network of groundwater pumps, water towers, and distribution lines. Chlorine and fluoride are dosed automatically into the inflowing water, and they run all of the standard water quality checks for US drinking water systems. It was amazing for me to see all this after working in Ecuador -- this is how a real water system is supposed to work! There are also about 300 families that aren't hooked up to the distribution system and are waiting to be added once a new surface water line is brought in from the Missouri River. For now, they get a 65 gallon tank of water delivered once a week. Considering how many people often live in the small homes on the reservation (10 or 12 is not uncommon), it has got to be a real stretch to make 65 gallons last a week. [Photo of PVC pipes with gaskets that auto-seal together instead of requiring glue. I have never seen these in Ecuador but they are standard here -- the tribe's Department of Water Maintenance and Conservation says they won't touch the ones with glue fittings because they break down after 10-15 years. Bad news for Santa Ana]

Tomorrow will be my first 4th of July in the US for a long time. We have the day off work and it is going to be interesting to see how the festivities proceed around here.

Some of you have asked about my plans for applying to medical school in Cuba -- so far there is little to report. I am still planning on applying (the deadline is the end of September) and continue to investigate the pro's and con's of this route as I continue to apply to American medical schools as well.

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