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Connecting with the poor

On Nov. 18, Tomas Streicher will leave Nevada City in his battered van – full of frozen turkeys, hams, sewing machines and bicycles – to travel 1,300 miles to one of the largest and poorest Indian reservations in the country.

Streicher is the founder of Divine Spirit, a nonprofit organization dedicated to servicing the needs of poor and needy people around the globe. The group believes in raising consciousness through gift giving and relies heavily on community donations for its projects.

This Thanksgiving, Streicher will return to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota with donated food, clothing and other goods as part of his eight year on-going commitment to the reservation.



Listening to stories

The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is the eighth-largest reservation in the United States, larger than Delaware and Rhode Island, with a population of about 45,000 Lakota Sioux.




Unemployment on the reservation hovers around 85 percent, and 97 percent live below the federal poverty level. Many families have no electricity, telephone service, running water or sewer. It’s not uncommon for families of 12 to live in rundown mobile homes.

“It’s time to hear their stories,” Streicher said. Streicher has a master’s degree in transpersonal psychology and locally holds healing circles and provides dinners for the homeless. He says his interest in spirituality has been lifelong.

Donations needed

Some of the provisions needed for the Thanksgiving feast include: Enough frozen turkeys and hams for 200 people, warm winter clothing for severe winters and sewing machines for sewing Lakota Star quilts. Monetary donations are also welcome. Streicher said gas for the trip will cost $500.

“Every trip, I barely squeak by,” Streicher said.

The Lakota Sioux don’t accept donations from just anyone, said Streicher. “They want a connection, too,” said Streicher. He said if community members want to participate beyond donations through his trips there they can write letters and cards.

“They can start making a connection with these people,” Streicher said.

Streicher was first invited to the reservation after attending Native American spirituality workshops with a medicine man named Basil Braveheart eight years ago. Since that time, Streicher has returned four times a year, once a season, to gain a deeper understanding of a people with spiritual resilience in the face of poverty and a history of genocide.

A tough job

The population on Pine Ridge has among the shortest life expectancy rates of any group in the Western Hemisphere – approximately 47 years for males and in the low 50s for females. The infant mortality rate is five times the United States national average. Adolescent suicide is four times the national average.

“This was the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life,” Streicher said. Gaining acceptance from the Sioux hasn’t come easy and he says he has a long way to go. He says what he hopes people in Nevada County will gain from his trip is an awareness of a wider, global community that is struggling with deep-seeded pain.

“There’s a big need. There’s a lot of pain in the world. Maybe that’s my purpose – to help reduce that pain,” Streicher said.

To make donations, call Streicher at 265-2620.

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To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail laurab@theunion.com or call 477-4230.


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