This Friday, March 11, two bands—Stella! and The Springtails—will be performing a benefit concert at The Peoples Church to support Re-Member, a non-profit group dedicated to supporting the Oglala Lakota nation living on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
Although the event benefits natives of South Dakota, the music is distinctively Michigan. Stella! is a trio of musicians from around the state, including Jo Serrapere, Laura Bates, and Lansing musician, Jen Sygit. Opening for Stella!, The Springtails are Andy and Juliana Wilson, a husband-and-wife, trumpet and ukulele duo from Michigan. All are affiliated with the Earthwork Music Collective, a Michigan music collective.
Re-Member, a secular, non-profit organization, was founded in the early 1990s by two friends from Michigan after they experienced the poverty and health crises facing the Oglala Lakota people of Pine Ridge. According to Andy Mayville, Facilities Director at People’s Church and Treasurer for Re-Member, Pine Ridge “is in the poorest county in the country, with unemployment rates of almost 90% and an average per capita income of $4,000.”
The community also experiences high rates of alcoholism and diabetes, and residents are underserved by healthcare. Residents of Pine Ridge have the shortest lifespan projections of any community in the Western Hemisphere, second only to Haiti; as a result, over 40% of the population is under the age of eighteen, many of these children orphaned. “When you get to Pine Ridge it can be very surprising to see such poverty,” said Mayville. “The land is beautiful, but the needs in the community are significant,” he added.
Lansing firefighter and East Lansing resident Rob Thompson has participated in several volunteer trips to the Pine Ridge community, both as a counselor for church youth groups and doing supply runs. One such delivery included a huge truck full of mattresses. Thompson and Mayville were able to “buy over 150 mattresses from MSU Surplus for pennies on the dollar, and deliver them to support the bunk bed program,” said Thompson.
Building and installing bunk beds for Oglala Lakota families is an ongoing project for Re-Member. Thompson remembers one trip in particular, when they delivered bunk beds to a family of eight to ten people living in a very small home. “We set up the bunk beds, and this twelve-year-old girl started crying.
We asked, ‘what’s wrong? Did we set it up in the wrong place? Do you see something wrong with it?’ That’s when we found out that, that night, would be the first night of her life she would sleep in a bed. She was twelve years old! We come home to our pillow top mattresses…it puts it in perspective. It’s very humbling.”
“Re-Member has been consistently serving and partnering with the community for so long, they’ve received commendations from tribal leaders,” said Mayville, and the concert will benefit efforts to build a permanent location on a private piece of property formerly owned by a white rancher. Up until this point, Re-Member leased buildings in the area.
This permanent space, called Feather II, will house volunteers, store supplies and tools, and provide construction facilities where bunk beds are built, and other projects are handled. “One of the big projects is skirting trailers. There can be large families—the Lakota culture is very inclusive in their view of family, and can include ‘my niece’s daughter’ and other relationships--so there can be many people living in one trailer. We put insulation under the trailer and skirting to keep out the cold.”
Other essential projects, according to Mayville, are building outhouses for the many homes without indoor plumping and building wheelchair ramps, since “there are many amputees because of the very high rates of diabetes and the lack of healthcare,” so there are a large number of wheelchair-users in the community.
Peoples Church has had a long history of supporting Re-Member, via fundraising and sending church members to volunteer with the group. The upcoming concert is a natural extension of the connections between Pine Ridge and East Lansing, and Stella! and The Springtails are performing, in part, to provide a local opportunity for the East Lansing community to continue their long support of the Oglala Lakota community. All proceeds will benefit the Re-Member organization.
Doors open at 7:30 p.m. at Peoples Church, 200 W. Grand River, in East Lansing. In lieu of buying tickets, the performers are asking for an offering to benefit Re-Member.