Camp Mniluzahan continues to provide invaluable resources and aid to homeless population

RAPID CITY, S.D. — Despite claims that organizers of Camp Miluzahan have found themselves in over their heads, organizers and residents say that is not the case.

Recently, organizers ability to help individuals at Camp Mniluzahan has come into question. Fights and alcoholism were cited as the push from a wet to dry camp and outreach to Pennington County and the city, but organizers say that isn’t true.

“The meeting was not for us like, ‘oh, please help us, we are struggling’,” said Sunny Red Bear, the NDN Collective Director of Racial Equity. “Camp has been a challenge, it’s a first, it’s like the first time we’ve ever done something like this, but also that we’re up for the challenge. And that means addressing a lot of the underlying issues that our relatives are facing. In the end result, Care Campus actually was asking us about cultural competency training and then also other trainings that we could potentially provide for them.”

The Pennington County Sheriff’s Office has validated that claim, and says that while organizations may have differing approaches to protecting the vulnerable, they both have the same mission.

“In our last meeting, the cultural piece was discussed, as far as training,” said PCSO Chief Deputy Willie Whelchel. “We’re always looking for avenues and folks that can come in not only to work with our staff, but also to work with our clients.”

The camp’s focus is helping those in need by understanding and acknowledging deeply rooted traumas that have existed in the region for years, as well as creating a sense of belonging for those who so often are forgotten and ignored. Red Bear says that even when there are conflicts at the camp, staff work to de-escalate the situation by recognizing each individuals truths and humanity.

The camp has also implemented policies and processes that would give staff the tools needed to keep everyone safe. Volunteers also support and advocate for those in need, stressing the importance of giving a voice to affected communities.

“When somebody else speaks on behalf of people that don’t have a platform, and on behalf of indigenous people, that takes away our own voice,” said Red Bear. “And, it takes away our voice to tell our story the way that it’s actually happening. Especially when people speak on behalf of Camp Mniluzahan that have not, one, been to camp, or have volunteered at camp. That’s very dangerous, and it affects us.”

In spite of challenges and conflicts, the camp has avoided involving law enforcement and allows inebriated individuals into the camp, although alcohol is prohibited. Although conversations have not been extensive, the PCSO is grateful for the aid.

“It’s truly a community situation, a problem that needs to be dealt with,” said Whelchel. “The more people at the table that can help with that. It’s truly a win-win for the clients, for the folks that we’re trying to help. So the more resources we can get, the better it’s gonna be for everybody involved.”

Staff note that while no members of the City Council have visited or volunteered at the camp, they would be more than welcome.

“We continue to urge City Council members to come out and volunteer, come out and share in this experience to gain a better understanding of what happens here, so that they get the truth of what this camp does for our relatives as well,” said Organizer of Racial Equity, Caitlyn Shoulder. 

Camp representatives will be meeting with the representatives of the sheriff’s office and Care Campus in upcoming weeks.

Categories: Local News, South Dakota News