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Lakota Moms and Babies Need Help: Support Lower Infant Mortality Through Healthy Start Program

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In a place already beleaguered by heartbreaking problems, it is among the worst. On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, the infant mortality rate is 300 percent higher than the national average. That is believed to be the highest such rate in the United States.

But there is at least one ray of hope: The Lakota Healthy Start Program, which aims to drastically reduce infant mortality by providing emotional care, nutrition, education and Lakota values to young at-risk moms and their babies.

To provide the best possible service, Healthy Start is now looking for a new home. The effort is being headed by Kitty Farmer, executive director of the Lakota Healthy Start Building Campaign. Farmer started the campaign on with the goal of raising $25,650 by January 26 to fund the new site.

Farmer learned of Lakota Healthy Start while producing the documentary What’s in the Heart – Can’t be Taken, which features the stories of Indians fighting for health equality. “The statistics on Indian health are heartbreaking—American people have no idea the unimaginable and preventable suffering our American Indian neighbors are enduring,” Farmer said. “It’s as if we’re talking about a third-world country.”

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Lakota Healthy Start is a resilient program that addresses some of these issues. But it has faced numerous vexing challenges. In December 2011, the program lost its first office due to high levels of asbestos. Then it was placed in a mold-infested trailer with holes. When that situation proved unacceptable, the program moved into the storage room behind a video store. Recently, the Indian Health Service deemed the room unfit due to the threat of the Hanta Virus.

It was against this backdrop that Farmer began making her plea. “We’re crowd-sourcing to raise money for a new, sustainable, ‘off-the-grid’ building that will be located on five beautiful acres and last for a very long time,” she wrote in an email solicitation.

Help has already come from the Dahlin Group, an architectural firm with offices throughout California and China, which has agreed to work with Henry Red Cloud, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe and founder of Lakota Solar Enterprises (LSE), to develop to the new building to house Lakota Healthy Start. LSE is a Native-owned renewable-energy company created in 2006 by Red Cloud with nonprofit partner Trees, Water & People. It is dedicated to reducing pollution and fostering a sustainable lifestyle using modern-day technology and traditional Lakota values.

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