The Pine Ridge Reservation of the Lakota Nation

In the past, my mom and I would team up with Angel and Cindy and adopt a family for the holiday season. We would go through one of the local rescue missions and request a semi-large family that we knew other people would have trouble covering. After all, with four different families participating in the “adoption” process, we could afford a family of 5-7 people.

We adopted a family every year, enjoying the shopping for Christmas gifts and picking out the various snacks that come along with the holiday meal. I really struggle with the notion of a kid not receiving a single gift over the holidays, so it was important to me than we continue to help in whatever way we could. I mean, none of us are rolling in cash, but surely we could afford to skip our Starbucks for a month and buy a family some gifts, right?

Unfortunately (and this is tough to admit), we all became very disillusioned with the process. For us, the final straw was when we pooled our money to purchase this insanely expensive gift that the child had requested (upwards of $150). We were excited to drop off the present but quickly realized that the child’s uncle had already purchased him the same toy. We saw it sitting under the tree and immediately felt deflated. Not only was our gift less exciting, but we truly began to question how much need this family was experiencing if one child could receive $300 in gifts.

Before I continue, let me explain: I am in no way diminishing the purpose of adopt-a-family programs in the United States. Again, I strongly believe that every child should receive a gift on the holidays (as you’ll see in a few seconds!) I am, however, clarifying that the organization through which we found our families may not have enacted the best screening processes. Because of this, we chose to donate our time and money to a different organization.

And this is where Friends of the Lakota Nation come in!


I first heard about this non-profit from my old high school dance coach, Joie. She and her husband, Scott, had been up to South Dakota and witnessed firsthand how rough the situation was for the people of the Lakota Nation. In particular, they learned of the Native Americans from the Pine Ridge Reservation.


For those of you well-versed in American history, it’s likely that you’ve already heard of Pine Ridge since it has an infamous reputation. For those of you that haven’t, let me share some stats with you that will help clarify how dire their need is:

  • The people on Pine Ridge have the shortest life expectancy of any group in the Western Hemisphere. The infant mortality rate is five times that of the US average
  • The people on the reservation have the highest rates of poverty, unemployment and disease of any ethnic group in the US
  • Homelessness is at 30% and unemployment is at 80-90%
  • The average number of people per home is 15
  • A third of the homes do not have electricity or running water
  • There is an enormous problem with alcoholism which in turn, has led to a massive increase in the number of babies born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

In short, Pine Ridge could seriously use some help!


Joie and Scott began the non-profit in 2011 when they realized that hundreds of kids on the reservation would go without a single gift over the holidays. Since both of them have the hugest hearts ever, they decided that they couldn’t let that happen! They got the word out and managed to collect hundreds of toy donations in time for the holiday. However, that wasn’t the end of their gesture. The Norby family then drove the toys up to Pine Ridge, dressed Scott up in a Santa suit and delivered the gifts in person!



This year will mark the third time they’ve gathered toys for the kiddos of Pine Ridge, and I would really love to help spread the word. They’ve created a list on Amazon that details the remaining gifts that the children have requested. There were dozens of books added by Joie (she is a high school teacher!), but it looks like those were already purchased. However, the remaining gifts are nothing astronomical, which is part of the appeal; all these kiddos want is a doll to play with or a football to throw around!


Will and I will be doing a little shopping tonight to do our part in helping these kids enjoy a merry holiday season. If you have the financial means, please take a look at the remaining wish list items and help out if you can. All gifts are sent directly from Amazon to the Norby’s home in Colorado, where the family will be spending the next 11 days wrapping them up themselves before driving them north to the reservation.

‘Tis the season, my friends!



  • Reply Beth at

    I had a similar experience with Adopt-A-Family in high school. I always tried to keep in mind that low financial literacy often accompanies poverty leading people to buy gaming systems and other big toys they can’t afford. (I vividly remember delivering the presents, tree, and Christmas dinner fixings to a dingy apartment in a shady area of town with mattresses on the floor and a 50″ LCD TV, two gaming systems, and lots of movies and games. I have never really figured out how to feel about this… Basically just uncomfortable.)

    Love hearing about this program! I love spreading Christnas cheer!

    • Reply heather at

      Yeah, we never quite figured it out either. Instead, we just chose a non-profit that we felt comfortable with!

  • Reply Marissa @ Barefoot Colorado at

    What a lovely cause. Seriously. I’m trying to decide if I want to donate a baby doll or the game headbandz… I wish I could give them everything!!

    • Reply heather at

      Oh, thank you so much for donating!! I can’t wait til Will gets home– I suspect some footballs and basketballs are headed their way 🙂

  • Reply Kari at

    Done! Thanks for letting me know about this charity!!

  • Reply Heidi @BananaBuzzbomb at

    I had already looked at the list when you posted on FB but never got around to purchasing anything. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Reply heather at

      You’re sweet, Heidi– thank you!

  • Reply Miz at



    • Reply heather at

      Thanks Carla!

  • Reply Alyssa at

    Seriously not trying to be a jerk, just curious, what were the other reasons you felt the program wasn’t the best way to go? I get that you were just using one clear example for the blog (and an extremely frustrating one at that), but I am participating in a similar program so I want to know more. I teach in a very low income school, but as you said, some of my kids have expensive items from other family members, but just because an uncle or grandmother or father gets them a generous gift, they are still struggling day to day, wearing the same clothes over and over, can’t afford field trips (which are never more than $5), and can still really benefit from programs to help them out. The new program also sounds like a great opportunity to help!

    • Reply heather at

      I’ll shoot you an email! I actually had a whole long description of multiple things typed out, but then I felt like a grinch so I deleted them and just left the single example. I didn’t want to be all negative 🙂

    • Reply heather at

      PS Asking a question isn’t being a jerk!

  • Reply Trina Williams at

    I am truly inspired to know that there is awareness happening about our plight. I am from Wounded Knee and I know many families that would benefit from your kindness. Families that consist of grandmothers raising their grandchildren. Single mothers and single fathers. Christmas and winter is generally a harsh time on my reservation and you can bring a smile to a child’s face, maybe their only smile. Thank you from the bottom of my heart from Wounded Knee SD. Please if you so wish I can provide a list of names because I don’t believe Joie and Scott ever made it here.

    • Reply Scott Norby at

      Hi Trina,
      We will be at Brother Rene Hall in Oglala on 12-21. At 12 PM, I believe. We have received names of 270 children, their ages and likes. Feel free to email me names, ages and likes. Please keep in mind that we never know how many gifts we will get or how many children will show up. That’s always very frightening as it would be horrible to have children show up with high hopes and get nothing. So it’s important that everyone spread the word to get people to order gifts from our Amazon Wish List site. Happy to help in any way we can. If you have a few names please get then to me as soon as possible since we are running out of time for the gifts to be delivered by 12-19. You can reach me at

      Thank you,


  • Reply Lisa Carlson at

    Thanks for the info. I went to Amazon and purchased a gift. It was really easy! Hopefully, these gifts will cheer the hearts of the kids!

  • Reply Natalie @ Free Range Human at

    Thank you for giving us the opportunity to help, Heather. It’s so easy to get caught up in our own traditions and busy schedules this time of year, and we often forget the people whose holiday experience is not as jolly. Every little bit helps!

  • Reply Leonora Winston at

    My mother was from the Pine Ridge reservation. Her sisters, my aunts, and their families still reside there. Yes, those facts you stated are correct. What they do have that is priceless, is love. Everyone helps each other out. The donations are greatly appreciated and welcomed, I’m sure. So from my family to yours this holiday season, if you are able to donate, please do so. It’s a joy to go and visit my family there and now I have a reason to visit more often because my mother was buried there. *tears* at St Johns.

  • Reply Kate at

    I purchased a gift from the Amazon list. Thanks for sharing this! 🙂

  • Reply Kelly @ Cupcake Kelly's at

    There are so many ways to spread love during the Holiday season, thank you for sharing this!

  • Reply Kari Ricigliano at

    My church’s youth group did a mission trip to the Pine Ridge Reservation last year. My mom was one of the adults on the trip and from the things she said, it really sounds like that’s a deserving cause!

  • Reply Tara at

    Please, folks, tho I understand it is hard not to judge when you see gaming systems and tvs but they are living in poverty, those items could have been donated by others by well meaning folks just like us. I too, have seen first-hand by participating in my departments’ Santa Cops program by delivering toys to needy families. Sometimes people WERE well off and then their job got cut, the breadwinner left, who knows. Please try hard not to judge… you just never know!

    • Reply heather at

      I definitely agree, Tara. I worked in a low-income school district for a bit, so I completely understand your point! Without going into too many (torrid) details, I was just happy to find a non-profit that I felt comfortable supporting 🙂

  • Reply Christy @My Dirt Road Anthem at

    What a great way to help make a better Christmas for them. I can really feel like I am helping with something like this thanks for sharing. Such sad statistics!

  • Reply Joie Norby at

    Thank you so much for the shout out, Heather. We and the kids of Oglala will be very happy to receive a gift, however small. We recognize that there are many ways to help and wish we could provide more assistance throughout the year. We partner with Love, Light and Melody ( and others to help us. It is the work and generosity of others that helps keep the tradition going, and we hope to continue to provide that joy, if only for one moment in a day. I have been floored by the generosity of others as each box arrives on our doorstep. Our website is: We are, simply put, friends helping friends. Thank you for helping us, friends.

  • Reply Scott Norby at


    Thanks so much for the kind message, your support and spreading the word. Every single little gift is significant and will bring joy to a child. Most of us don’t have a lot of money so spreading the word is essential. A large number of people doing a little makes a powerful impact. Thank you all for your help.

    Scott Norby

  • Reply Renee at

    Our church’s youth group has gone to Pine Ridge for the past 2 years {with plans of an annual trip hereafter}. Some the statistics they shared are just heartbreaking and I seriously cried as they did their presentation. I think it is so cool that you are doing this!

  • Reply Virginia @LiveLoveDIY at

    This is simply amazing. I stopped by tonight after sharing your ornament wreath and was delighted to read this post. Joie never ceases to amaze me. Thanks for sharing. I’ll be sending something their way. <3

    • Reply Joie Norby at

      Thanks, Virginia. I would build the gifts myself, too, but yeah…not enough time in the day. Baha! Love you both.

  • Reply Katie @k8tlevy at

    I LOVE the idea of making an Amazon wishlist for something like this! It makes it SO easy for people like me to help out from a distance. I just picked something out and it feels great to know I contributed 🙂 Thanks for sharing, Heather!

    • Reply heather at

      Aww, thanks Katie!!

  • Reply I Became A Girl - Just a Colorado Gal at

    […] ← The Pine Ridge Reservation of the Lakota Nation […]

  • Reply Christine at

    Done. From my daughter and I to Joie and Scott and the kiddos at Pine Ridge. Thank you for spreading the love, Heather.

  • Reply Kathryn Roman at

    There is also a utility company on the Pine Ridge Reservation that has an account set up so that people can donate money for propane fuel for the winter months.
    I will inquire as to whether it is alright to provide this information or Scott and Heather – you might consider asking about it as well. So many families spend a cold, bitter winter their because they can’t afford the fuel. Electricity is another issue as well.
    Just a suggestion because this is so critical in the winter for the Elders and the babies.
    Thanks for listening,

  • Reply Kayla at

    You have such a good heart. 🙂

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