LSS: Native Americans, Gratitude and Thanksgiving

Focusing on gratitude sometimes prompts the questions, “How much do we need?” or “How much do our children need?”

For most of us, the answer to either question is probably, “Less than we have.”

As much bounty as so many of us are grateful for during this season of Thanksgiving, last week a friend’s daughter reminded me that there are those out there who would answer those questions differently.

Camille LaHaye, 22, is a 2008 graduate of Sacred Heart Academy in Grand Coteau and a 2012 graduate of LSU. Upon graduation from college, she joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.

“Jesuit Volunteers are called to the mission of serving the poor directly, working for structural change in the United States, and accompanying people in developing countries. Based in four core values—social justice, simple living, community, and spirituality…,” according to their website.

“Living simply in intentional communities of fellow JVs, they work in education, advocacy, direct service, and community service in 39 U.S. cities and in six other countries. They reside in the same environs as those they serve: people who are low-wage earners, homeless, unemployed, refugees, diagnosed with AIDS, elderly, street youth, former gang members, abused, mentally ill, developmentally disabled, and others who strive to find justice in their lives. Almost 300 schools, nonprofit agencies and grassroots organizations across the world count on JVs to provide essential services.”

Camille left for her post in Montana in August. Her responsibilities include helping to care for a group of Northern Cheyenne children in a group home. She’s barely been gone three months, but when I spoke to her Wednesday, in her voice and across the miles, I was able to hear a little girl growing up.

“Last night it was 12 degrees,” she told me. “It’s a different part of the country — a different culture. Being so far away from everything I am familiar with is hard, but luckily, I drink Community Coffee every day, and I have my Tony’s. I miss gumbo though. Mom sent me some roux.”

She’s planning to make jambalaya and a pecan pie for Thanksgiving, and she’s learning a lot.

“I’ve learned that Native Americans are very similar to Cajuns as far as their love of their culture and how important community is to them,” she said. “Even if they don’t have a lot, they still give.”

As is the way of her mother and her grandmother before her, Camille is planning to use the family gene for decorating to brighten the lives of the children she and her JV partner, Natalie Thomas, from San Diego, are working with.

At first, they noticed that giving blankets is a big part of the tribe’s tradition — as a sign of praying for someone or keeping someone in their thoughts. Natalie asked family and friends in California to help make quilts for each of the children in the group home. The quilts are set to arrive pre-Christmas.

Now, the pair is trying to fix up the kids’ rooms.

“When you live in a household of kids, everything is shared,” Camille said. “Plus, kids are messy. I want to help them set up a better system to be more organized and feel like their room is theirs — to be able to display the things they’ve made or are proud of. We want to make this not just a house where they’re living until they get a new place to live, but more like a real home.”

Toward that effort, Camille has asked family and friends to donate to the cause of fixing up these kids’ rooms.

If you’re so inclined, she asks that checks be made out to: St. Labre Youth and Family Services, in the memo line, please write: “Room project.” Mail checks to:
St. Labre Youth and Family Services, P.O. Box 458; Ashland, Montana 59003-0458.

May you enjoy the bounty of the season. Happy Thanksgiving.

(Jan Risher’s column, Long Story Short, appears Sundays. Email her at jan@janrisher.com.)

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