Honoring Women: Laurette Pourier

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RAPID CITY, S.D. ñ Laurette Pourier has learned how to survive and flourish while faced with all the hardships that life can provide, and living in one of the poorest regions in the country.

Pourier grew up near Kyle on the Pine Ridge Reservation and didnít know much about the outside world while growing up.

ìA trip to Rapid City was an event,î she said. Rapid City is 90 miles from Kyle.

ìIn Rapid City my dad could not cash checks, and I saw the looks we got,î she said.

Pourier experienced what it was like to be an American Indian off the reservation and decided to do something about it later in life. She now leads SANI-T, or Society for the Advancement of Native Interests ñ Today. The organization is dedicated to ìhealing racism and turning the wounds of Native oppression into opportunities for growth.î

Pourier worked recently for the Northwest Area Foundation, which supplied grants for an eight-state region to work on and study poverty. That job ended, and she has turned back to SANI-T with poverty now added to the mission of that organization.

Pourier went to a country school and attended high school on the reservation in Interior. After high school, she married and bore five children, after which her husband abandoned her and the children. She was left with no education; and on the reservation, jobs were scarce and those that were available paid low wages.

She worked construction for a short time as a flagman and then moved up to driving heavy equipment; but when that job ended she was back to menial labor, waiting tables and cleaning motel rooms.

ìI got tired of working for three and four dollars an hour, so I went to Oglala Lakota College,î she said. Pourier holds a degree in Human Services and Counseling.

Pourier earned a 4.0 grade point average while attending college full-time, raising five children and working full-time.

She said mentors and teachers supported and pushed her, which at times made her mad. Her mother also told her never to give up. ìThey were very instrumental in my life; they believed in me and told me that I could do it. I could quit school, but they wouldnít hear of it and I was sick of working for peanuts,î she said.

It wasnít easy for Pourier. She worked late into the night and couldnít buy designer tennis shoes for her children, or even newer clothes. She and her children milked one cow and cut firewood to survive, ìand lived on commodities,î she said.

ìI admire all women who are single parents ñ they should all receive medals.

ìSometimes, when frustrated, I would grab some dirt and scream, ëI can do this.íî

She moved to Rapid City 13 years ago and worked as a Head Start director. ìI loved that job: I had contact with little kids, I love them,î she said.

Pourier also worked as a battered womenís shelter director, ìand in 2001 I had enough of the racism so I started SANI-T.î

With volunteers and staff, she works to mediate racial incidents between individuals and businesses or other venues with the intent of healing the racist attitude. The organization has an equal number of non-Indians as volunteers who pair up for mediations.

Why does Pourier do what she does, and what drives her? ìI want to heal racism and cause societal change; I want change in the hearts of non-Indian people.î

She works with people who have experienced racial abuse or harassment, and if there is a protest or boycott she wants to work toward a positive resolution, she said.

ìIf we donít confront racism, it will keep happening; we want it to be peaceful. I will ask people, ëDo you have a problem with me, with the color of my skin?í If they are still confrontational I ask for the manager, and then they get nice.î

Pourierís organization conducts cultural training for any organization, offered at a low rate. She said few businesses or organizations in the Rapid City area take up the offer.

ìI want people to understand and accept us as human beings. I want to be treated equally.î

Pourier has not slowed down since her early days as a mother and college student; she still puts in long hours and is available to help others.

As with many people who have achieved success, other people work behind the scene in support. Pourier was no exception. Mentors, teachers, friends and ñ especially ñ her mother were instrumental in guiding her.

ìMy mom was a person who would never give up; she was a survivor.î Her mother owned a well-known restaurant in Kyle called Belleís Diner.

Pourier works to change attitudes because, as she said, ìI hate to see the inequality and the treatment we get, especially since this is our land.î

Pourierís five children have followed their motherís path and have succeeded. One son is a teacher on Pine Ridge, another owns a propane gas company on the reservation and her other son owns a computer-related business in Rapid City. One daughter is a nurse and is finishing additional education in that field, and the other daughter is manager of a credit business.

If Pourier werenít working against racism and poverty she would be home painting, gardening, writing poetry and paying attention to her 13 grandchildren, she said.

RAPID CITY, S.D. ñ Laurette Pourier has learned how to survive and flourish while faced with all the hardships that life can provide, and living in one of the poorest regions in the country.Pourier grew up near Kyle on the Pine Ridge Reservation and didnít know much about the outside world while growing up. ìA trip to Rapid City was an event,î she said. Rapid City is 90 miles from Kyle.ìIn Rapid City my dad could not cash checks, and I saw the looks we got,î she said.Pourier experienced what it was like to be an American Indian off the reservation and decided to do something about it later in life. She now leads SANI-T, or Society for the Advancement of Native Interests ñ Today. The organization is dedicated to ìhealing racism and turning the wounds of Native oppression into opportunities for growth.îPourier worked recently for the Northwest Area Foundation, which supplied grants for an eight-state region to work on and study poverty. That job ended, and she has turned back to SANI-T with poverty now added to the mission of that organization. Pourier went to a country school and attended high school on the reservation in Interior. After high school, she married and bore five children, after which her husband abandoned her and the children. She was left with no education; and on the reservation, jobs were scarce and those that were available paid low wages. She worked construction for a short time as a flagman and then moved up to driving heavy equipment; but when that job ended she was back to menial labor, waiting tables and cleaning motel rooms. ìI got tired of working for three and four dollars an hour, so I went to Oglala Lakota College,î she said. Pourier holds a degree in Human Services and Counseling.Pourier earned a 4.0 grade point average while attending college full-time, raising five children and working full-time.She said mentors and teachers supported and pushed her, which at times made her mad. Her mother also told her never to give up. ìThey were very instrumental in my life; they believed in me and told me that I could do it. I could quit school, but they wouldnít hear of it and I was sick of working for peanuts,î she said.It wasnít easy for Pourier. She worked late into the night and couldnít buy designer tennis shoes for her children, or even newer clothes. She and her children milked one cow and cut firewood to survive, ìand lived on commodities,î she said.ìI admire all women who are single parents ñ they should all receive medals.ìSometimes, when frustrated, I would grab some dirt and scream, ëI can do this.íîShe moved to Rapid City 13 years ago and worked as a Head Start director. ìI loved that job: I had contact with little kids, I love them,î she said.Pourier also worked as a battered womenís shelter director, ìand in 2001 I had enough of the racism so I started SANI-T.îWith volunteers and staff, she works to mediate racial incidents between individuals and businesses or other venues with the intent of healing the racist attitude. The organization has an equal number of non-Indians as volunteers who pair up for mediations.Why does Pourier do what she does, and what drives her? ìI want to heal racism and cause societal change; I want change in the hearts of non-Indian people.îShe works with people who have experienced racial abuse or harassment, and if there is a protest or boycott she wants to work toward a positive resolution, she said.ìIf we donít confront racism, it will keep happening; we want it to be peaceful. I will ask people, ëDo you have a problem with me, with the color of my skin?í If they are still confrontational I ask for the manager, and then they get nice.îPourierís organization conducts cultural training for any organization, offered at a low rate. She said few businesses or organizations in the Rapid City area take up the offer. ìI want people to understand and accept us as human beings. I want to be treated equally.îPourier has not slowed down since her early days as a mother and college student; she still puts in long hours and is available to help others. As with many people who have achieved success, other people work behind the scene in support. Pourier was no exception. Mentors, teachers, friends and ñ especially ñ her mother were instrumental in guiding her.ìMy mom was a person who would never give up; she was a survivor.î Her mother owned a well-known restaurant in Kyle called Belleís Diner.Pourier works to change attitudes because, as she said, ìI hate to see the inequality and the treatment we get, especially since this is our land.îPourierís five children have followed their motherís path and have succeeded. One son is a teacher on Pine Ridge, another owns a propane gas company on the reservation and her other son owns a computer-related business in Rapid City. One daughter is a nurse and is finishing additional education in that field, and the other daughter is manager of a credit business.If Pourier werenít working against racism and poverty she would be home painting, gardening, writing poetry and paying attention to her 13 grandchildren, she said.