Indian Life Newspaper -

Native American community builds homeless camp for their own


Last updated 12/8/2020 at 10:03am

Camp Mniluzahan

Outside of Rapid City on Native lands, the Indigenous community has built a homeless camp for their own.

RAPID CITY, S.D.-If you're seeing tepees outside of Rapid City, S.D., you might assume it's yet another Black Hills attraction for the tourists. But you might assume wrongly. You might be catching a glimpse of Camp Mniluzahan.

Camp Mniluzahan is a homeless camp set up by Lakota members on 90 acres held in trust for the Cheyenne River, Rosebud and Oglala Sioux tribes. Once upon a time the land was home of the Rapid City Indian Boarding School.

Because it's on trust land, city authorities do not have jurisdiction to shut the camp down, but it's still close enough to the city to be accessible to the homeless people of the city, who catch shuttle rides with volunteer drivers.

Indian Country Today reported that the idea started when a couple of friends, Hermus Bettelyoun and Lloyd Big Crow Sr., met for coffee. On the spur of the moment, they decided to raid their cupboards and go feed homeless relatives who were living at the city's creek.

Soon they were feeding people weekly and almost daily, as well as keeping an eye on people's health and security.

"(Lloyd) helped me get my priorities straight and made me realize that my responsibility as a human was to help other people," Bettelyoun told reporter Stewart Huntington of Indian Country Today. Big Crow told Huntington, "It's a community effort. We want to help our people become who they can be and maybe get sober. Give them some love and a hug."

The community effort grew when the weather got cold. At first, with the help from NDN Collective, a nonprofit that helps build Indigenous power and self-determination, the group erected four teepees inside the city limits to shelter homeless Natives. However, the city removed the teepees, so the leaders set up camp on tribal grounds.

The camp currently includes eight teepees, smaller tents, a mess tent, and portable sanitation facilities. Up to 48 people are staying there every day as volunteers stack firewood, stoke the campfire, and work on making the camp bigger and better. Leaders deal with issues that come up, such as the FBI visiting to inquire about emergency services. Outsiders are not allowed onsite, and the location is kept a secret from the media and others as organizers see if the camp experiment works-the idea of Native Americans helping their own with their own resources.

And even though the camp just has one rule-respect for yourself, for others, for the ancestors and future generations-it appears to be successful. Those who stay at the camp are learning to take care of the camp themselves and are staying sober. They're relishing the lessons on how to put up a teepee or survive on the land, as their ancestors did. The camp is giving them more than a place to stay; it's giving them a life.


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