By Laura McKillip Wood
In the 1800s, the Dakota people (Hunkpati Oyate) of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe lived primarily in Minnesota. In late 1862, when tensions between white settlers and Native Americans reached a peak, the Minnesota government issued orders to forcibly relocate the Dakota people to Fort Thompson, South Dakota, on what became the Crow Creek Sioux Reservation. The relocation was long and grueling, as was life in the new location. Many lost their lives on the way or in the first few years there. Still, in a spirit of hope, among the first structures built when they arrived was a large willow arbor that served as a Christian church.
The people persevered through those years and created a decent way of life; however in 1944 the federal government began building a series of dams along the Missouri river, flooding much of the reservation land and deeply impacting their economy, food, geographical landscape, and natural resources.
Annie Bishop works with Diamond Willow Ministries on the Crow Creek Sioux Reservation. When speaking of the impact of the dams she said, “The effects of these changes to the Dakota peoples’ way of life have been felt down through the generations. Even today the devastation can still be physically seen, and more so felt. Broken promises leave deep wounds.”
Annie points to a report by the Business Research Bureau of the University of South Dakota that declared the Crow Creek Sioux Reservation as one of the highest risk environments in the nation for children. According to that report, “currently, the children of the Crow Creek Reservation endure inordinately high rates of physical abuse, sexual abuse, alcohol-related neglect, teen pregnancy, child and adult alcohol and drug abuse, school absences and drop-out, and seven times the national rate of suicide and delinquency.”
Despite these huge challenges, the Hunkpati Oyate never fail to shine. “You learn a lot about people by the way they grieve,” Annie said. “Death is all too common here, but our community never fails to come together to support one another, to love, to cherish each other.”
Diamond Willow Ministries (DWM) began in October 2001 shortly after Rod and Valerie Vaughn moved to the Crow Creek Sioux Reservation. The ministry has grown since then and includes six full-time staff members supported by a board of directors. The vision of DWM is to bring the freedom and peace offered only in Jesus Christ to the Native American people and to ultimately bring that freedom and peace to surrounding communities and to the world beyond. The staff of DWM works to empower and develop healthy Christian youth, families, and leaders by meeting their spiritual, emotional, and physical needs using biblically sound methods.
Annie works mainly with children and teenage girls and finds it challenging to communicate how God is such a loving Father when many of them have lost their fathers due to separation, early death, imprisonment, or suicide. Yet despite this challenge, God is continually making himself known. Annie loves the reward of seeing children grow, pray, memorize Scripture, and be baptized. She is in awe of how God is developing amazing leaders from the children with whom she works. Two of the teens she works with are seniors preparing to go to college. “They thrive in leadership roles and have had the opportunity to work as mentors at our Tokata Youth Center in town. They know they want to give back to our community.”
Annie points to Dennis Onihan as another example of how God is working. An awesome, God-fearing man, Dennis has volunteered his time with DWM over the years, helping with everything from the building of their Christian center to meeting the emotional needs of people in the community. He recently joined the staff officially, taking the role of Facility Coordinator. As Annie said, “Dennis’s appointment on to the full-time staff is another step in developing and empowering Christian Dakota men and women to take leadership roles within Diamond Willow.”
If you are interested in learning more about Diamond Willow Ministries or the people of the Crow Creek Sioux Reservation, visit their website (www.d-w-m.org) or email them (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Laura McKillip Wood formerly taught missionary children in Ukraine and now works in the academic office of Nebraska Christian College. She and her husband, Andrew, have three children (lauramckillipwood.com).