If I remember correctly, it was somewhere around 2006 that I decided not to take backpacks to the Rez that year. The kids seemed especially grabby and unappreciative in 2005 and I felt like maybe it had come to be an expectation for them and that maybe it would be better to not take backpacks for a year. We would resume the backpack project in 2007.
Then the time grew closer for our trip and I felt increasingly unsure that we were doing the right thing. A month before leaving I changed my mind about taking the backpacks and frantically went about doing whatever I could do to pull 150 backpacks and school supplies together quickly. It was crazy. We had not done any fundraising for it so somehow we had to come up with around $1,800.00 and fast. Not to mention all the shopping and packing that had to be done plus the regular trip preparations. Some weren't sure we could do it. Most thought I was crazy. But thanks to the board at our church who lent us the money until we could raise it, and thanks to some VERY generous people at Winton Rd. First Church of God, we did it.
The first day on the Rez we went to pick up kids at the village and bring them to the mission for lunch and games and VBS. That is a day I will never forget. One little boy was very familiar to us. He was the angriest 7 year-old I had ever encountered. The first year on the Rez he brought a knife and attempted to stab another child. The same day we had to disarm him again, this time he had a cigarette lighter he was trying to burn another kid with. When those attempts failed him, he picked up a large rock to throw at another child. In all the times I had been on the Rez I never once saw this boy when he didn't have a scowl on his face. I don't believe I had ever seen him smile. Privately I wondered what would become of him as he grew older.
When I would pick the kids up I would always let this little boy "drive" the van. Sitting on my lap and holding the steering wheel was one small way he could feel special for a few minutes and the deserted roads of the reservation were a good for that. Our first day on the Rez in 2006 I drove the van around the village picking up kids and then let this little guy take the wheel. As we rounded the corner and headed for the mission he saw the Ryder truck we drove out and for the first time that I had ever heard, expressed excitement saying, "Oh cool! The backpack truck is here".
I hate to think what it would have been like to tell that little boy that we had not brought the backpacks. I don't think I could have done it. I do know that I will never again go to the Rez without backpacks and school supplies.