The negative impact of well-intentioned aid.
Inspired by The Reductive Seduction of Other People’s Problems, by Courtney Martin.
I was born on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
According to many, it is the poorest location in the United States.
It is an impoverished, sovereign, “Third-world”, smack dab in the center of the United States.
My mom took me to Colorado as a young boy. She had realized that if I grew up on the reservation_ challenges would be extreme and opportunities would be reduced.
My limited exposure to the reservation was through my Father’s family ranch, centrally located on the reservation.
I believed to know my home and to know my culture.
Throughout my life, my personal identity was defined by my birthplace.
Unexpectedly, after developing a passion for “slow” and local food in college. I was excited about my perceived opportunity to establish my own ideal of a sustainable, self-sufficient, carbon-neutral situation back on the ranch.
I was optimistic that I would receive a grand reception.
I was hopeful to have a positive influence on my home.
I was certain that there would be various communities of peers who would be interested in “Traditional” and “Ecological” living.
Landowners — Ranchers and Farmers perceived my objectives as a backward delusion. Some even perceived my desire to practice different forms of agriculture as a threat to their operations. My notions were an implied insult.
The landless — Reservation residents without lucrative farms or ranches viewed me with great suspicion: They assumed me to be a teacher. Part of the stream of Teach For America teachers that flow through the reservation. They were too familiar with kindly pale teachers who begin with optimism and grand plans only to flee within a couple of years.
Social Organizations — NGO and Governmental. These people viewed me as a threat. The believed that they were in a zero-sum competition with other interests. They think that anyone with “high-minded” aspirations are another competitor for grants and funding. (Not to mention, the pervasive grant-farming, extortion, and corruption. This resource mismanagement put everyone on guard. Most entities suspected each other of embezzlement, which created a culture of suspicion and mistrust which seemed to only further empower the few true thieves).
The environment I found was one of conflict, abuse, and mistrust.
There was no place for an optimistic “outsider”.
My birthplace didn’t matter. The contents of my mind and heart were unmoving.
There had simply been too many privileged, white, optimists, with good intentions who looked and sounded like me. They had proved unreliable and (sometimes) downright dangerous.
At best, I was viewed as deluded and temporary. At worst, I was viewed as dangerous and stupid.
What is it they say about “you can never go home”?
If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But, if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together. ~Lilla Watson
If you would like to know more about this misadventure, let me know. I write about sovereignty issues, sentencing reform, education reform, and agriculture.