Celebrating the holidays with family on the reservation is a tradition that’s familiar to most Native Americans living in the Twin Cities. For Lorna Her Many Horses, known to most as Emmy, it’s an opportunity to give back to the children and elders of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.
It started as a personal summer cleaning project that quickly progressed into a relief mission for her home reservation. For the second-poorest reservation in the country with an unemployment rate as high as 85 percent, every day items like clothing can be a struggle for some to provide for children and elders, particularly in the more remote communities.
“Any time I have gone back, I’ve taken things that were mine that I didn’t want anymore to the the Spotted Tail Family Center. This summer, I had a lot of friends who were just getting rid of stuff. In August, I just put something on Facebook, asking if people had items to go to the children’s home. At first I thought, no one’s going to give me anything and I was going to be embarrassed. But the more people who saw it, the more people contacted me about donating, I was overwhelmed.”
Social media wasn’t Her Many Horse’s only means of receiving donations. “I was in the American Indian Center one day and a woman was taking her son’s stuff to Goodwill, but she said she wanted to take it somewhere where it was needed. I thought she was going to give me a grocery bag full of stuff, thinking that anything helps, but she had two or three giant trash bags of pre-teen boys’ clothing. And as things came in, I thought, there was a lot of stuff here.”
After that point, donations began pouring in from friends around the Twin Cities. “After first carload, people said ‘I have stuff I want to give you.’ From there, it became people bringing me carloads or truck beds full of stuff.”
At that point, Her Many Horses began deliveries to Rosebud. “I took a carload of stuff back with me. My trunk barely closed, I couldn’t see out the back window and passenger seat was filled. From there, I just kept getting stuff from people. Primarily it was just people I was Facebook friends with and as someone from home would come up here, they would take a carload of stuff back.”
Soon, she enlisted the help of her family and trying very hard to avoid traffic violations. “My mom came in October and she started packing stuff around my brother, surrounding him on all sides. There was there was just enough visibility that she could check her blind spot and passenger window.” Over the Thanksgiving holiday, Her Many Horse’s high school choir teacher, Pauline Lanz, made a delivery as well.
It culminated in a Christmas holiday run, 400 miles one-way, complete with a U-Haul trailer attached to a hitch on her 1998 Ford Taurus – a family heirloom that was passed down from her grandmother to her older brothers and to herself. Her adventure included a mismatched trailer that was so heavy, it lifted her car’s front axle off the ground by six inches.
Undaunted, she made the decision to carry out her goal of helping. “Rather than it being just one or two of those trips, I had to decide if I was going to stop taking donations or renting a trailer. I think that ultimately, after talking to various programs, there was still a very strong need.”
The need is what drives Her Many Horses to collect household and clothing items. “Because this is something I’m capable of doing, it’s something I felt was my responsibility to do. Being so far away from home, I feel like I’m not fulfilling some duty to where I’m from. I think the tribe and programs and people on the rez have given me a lot of opportunities and helped me out a lot, I owe them something.”
Logistics will always be a challenge for the Rosebud Sioux Tribal citizen, but she keeps to her convictions. “This is within my means, it takes a lot of time or gas money, it takes over my living but it’s something that I can do that helps, so how can I not do it?”
Her deliveries to the Spotted Tail Family Center and the Sicangu Oyate Tipi Homeless Shelter and the St. Francis and Parmelee Community Elderly Housing Complexes are based on the greatest needs for her reservation through her experience. “When I was growing up, we always took stuff to different places. My mom had friends who would mail us boxes of clothes. From what we could tell, Parmelee and St. Francis were some of the most-neglected communities. A lot of times, when organizations come to the reservation, Rosebud and Mission are the main communities that receive help as well as the communities close to those two. St. Francis and Parmelee haven’t seen much of those things, it’s still relatively close to Rosebud, from what we’ve observed. There are farther out communities, but it’s harder for us to get out there.”
Her Many Horses readily thanks her friends in the Twin Cities who’ve helped her in this cause. “My friend Adrienne Zimiga is from the Pine Ridge reservation and Mark Adotossaway is from a Canadian reserve, so they both know how great the need is for something like this. My friend Cortez January is also just a really great helper. Mark also helped figure out how to tow the trailer, getting the hitch on, doing what was safe for my car so everything could get back while also making sure that whoever was in the car was safe as the trailer was being towed.”
Her Many Horses also provides an channel for those who may not know where to start with donations. “I think another part of it is that a lot of people don’t know how to make an impact in different communities, so when I put this out there, people wanted to help because someone was saying, ‘this is a way you could help.’ I wasn’t asking for money, if they wanted to donate money, I used it to buy canned goods for the family center.”
For the Augsburg grad student, working on her master’s degree in special education and who plans on working with children, her cause is a very personal one. “I look for what people don’t need or want anymore; some may not know where those things can go, they want it to go somewhere it’s really needed. There are families that can’t afford cups for a kitchen or a coat for a child who is in not the best situation who no longer has a coat,” she said.
“And so when I put it out there to say you can donate these things, I’ll do all the work, I’ll take it to where it’s needed, people didn’t have to worry. They knew it was going to a place with very little other resources, it made people feel like they were doing something meaningful.”
In the case of children, Her Many Horses expanded on the harsh realities of life for some on her reservation. “There are some children who have no ability to go out an find those thing, they may come from abusive homes where they’re removed and they get to take nothing with them. They’ve lost everything, they don’t have any of their toys, clothes – they may get to take their shoes – they don’t have anything that may have been a part of their life.”
For the time being, she is still taking donations, but trying to slow down until she can reclaim her living room and deliver the donations on a regular basis. Her Many Horses can be contacted at lorna.hermanyhorses-at-gmail.com.