Saturday, June 4, 2011

It's not denial. I'm just selective about the reality I accept.
Bill Watterson

I'm busy getting ready for our Mission trip and, while not a 'numbers' gal, found some statistics that make me weep.

AI (American Indian) communities face many health challenges including higher mortality rates from tuberculosis, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, accidents, diabetes, pneumonia, suicide, and homicide compared with other racial and ethnic groups .
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From 1999 to 2010, AI males in the 15 to 24 year old age group had the highest suicide rate (27.99 per 100,000) compared to white (17.54 per 100,000), black (12.80 per 100,000), and Asian/Pacific Islander (8.96 per 100,000) males of the same age.

When compared with other racial and ethnic groups, AI youth also have more serious problems with mental health disorders preceding suicide, such as anxiety, substance abuse, and depression.
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Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of unintentional injury for AI people ages 1 to 44.
Adult motor vehicle-related death rates for AI are more than twice that of whites and blacks.

Among AI 19 years and younger, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of injury-related death, followed by suicide, homicide, drowning, and fires.

Among ethnic groups in the United States, AI children experience the highest rates of injury mortality and morbidity.

AI have a relatively high prevalence of alcohol-impaired driving and the highest alcohol-related motor vehicle mortality rates among racial/ethnic populations.
Among crashes on reservations from 1982 to 2002, an estimated 65 percent were alcohol-related. Nationally, during this same time period, 47 percent of total crashes were alcohol-related.
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I thought of a parable as I read the statistics – and I think it came to me because it holds a truth I obviously needed to remember.

You've probably heard it before:

A group of people, while exploring a remote area, stumbled upon a forgotten tribe whose practice was to throw its ‘unwanted’ children over the side of a footbridge to the rocks and rapids of the river below.

Appalled, the outsiders immediately broke into small groups; one decided to do a ‘root cause analysis’ of the traditions leading to the practice; another started a feasibility project to design a soft sided dam downstream to catch the surviving children; a subgroup worked on details for funding the project; still another group vowed to join the tribe and ‘change the practice from within’.

While the groups were all meeting, one individual waded in and began pulling children out of the river, carrying them to the shore and safety.

When his friends noticed what he was doing, they began mocking him, saying “How can you possibly think you’re doing any good? You haven’t gathered enough information. You don’t know what the cause and effect of your approach will be.
The problem is huge.
You don’t really think you’re making a difference, do you?”

Looking down at the child in his arms, the man replied, “I made a difference to this one.”

Those of us who journey to the reservation, year after year, are not oblivious to the realities and obstacles that the people of the Lakota Nation face.

We know the laws of averages and probability - and they’re daunting.

But we go back because the law of Love tells a different story.

We go back because we don’t define ourselves by the numbers of walls we put up, nails we hammer, door knobs we install, trim we paint or trenches we dig.

We know that as long as we define ourselves only by these physical realities, we are doomed to see ourselves as failures.

As people of faith, we have been called instead to relationship; to love, to calling by name people who feel invisible and forgotten.

We have been given the privilege of knowing people on the reservation and allowing ourselves to be known and blessed by their presence in our lives, through working side by side, sharing meals, fellowship and conversations that go far beyond the superficial.

We will not change statistics…hardship, illness, pain and death will come for us all.
But when they do, we will know that we matter to each other; that we don’t stand alone; that our small lives and efforts have made a difference ‘to this one’...
...and to this one...and to this one…and to this one…
And, for today, that feels like the only reality that matters.

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