When Milo Yellow Hair, a Lakota indian, heard the term "indian country" being used for the hostile combat areas in Iraq, he rolled his eyes at the stereotype that's he's heard over the years. The indian country he's concerned with is the Cheyenne River reservation in South Dakota, one of the poorest areas in the country and the target of this years' "Running Strong For American Indian Youth," project.
"It's very important to re-educate people as to where the American Indians are today. Those stereotypes need to die," he said.
Yellow Hair was among a handful of people at the Running Strong facility on Telegraph Road, loading 15 tons of new toys in a truck bound for the native American community in South Dakota. The native American program has joined forces with the Christian Relief Services in the area, getting new toys and clothing for the impoverished area.
Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills is the national spokesperson for the project as well. Mills was the only American to win an Olympic gold medal in the 10,000 race at the 1964 Olympics. He exemplifies a native American that rose above the adversity thrust upon them when the country was settled. They still are in touch with their culture out on the reservations, Yellow Hair said.
"There's a real interest in their cultural history, there's a real need to hang on to their culture. It really defines them as who they are as a people. Billy Mills is a perfect example of that," Yellow Hair said.
Mills is also a Lakota indian, and in the Lakota culture, someone who has achieved success would have a giveaway to thank the support system of family and friends who helped him achieve his goal. Mill's work with Running Strong is his way of giving something back to American Indian people, according to Running Strong information.
Tom Cook, a Akwesasne Mohawk from New York, liked the perception new toys and new clothes give the people of Cheyenne River instead of used things.
"New things improve their perception. It reinforces the notion that life is made up of the little things," he said.
Cheyenne River is in a remote area of South Dakota dominated by wilderness. The nearest grocery store is 40 miles away and a big city, Rapid City, Iowa, is 110 miles away. Unemployment rate is 90 percent, according to Yellow Hair.
"It gets real cold. It's real beautiful to look at but you can't make a living. You get caught on the side of the road, you'll freeze to death," he said.
Fairfax resident Shana Inofuentes is a program associate at Running Strong. Inofuentes is a graduate of Woodson High School and then Columbia University in New York. Her father was part of the Aymara Indian people of South America so the mission at Running Strong was familiar to her.
"In Bolivia, it's a similar situation," she said.
Inofuentes went around the Fairfax-Burke area collecting toys and clothes for the drive.
"A large portion of those toys and gifts were brought in by individual people," she said.
Gene Krizek, president and CEO of Christian Relief Services Charities, pointed out that Cheyenne River isn't the only destination of their efforts. This year, they've shipped 464 tons of clothing and toys to destinations all over the country. The project started 18 years ago.
"This is the fifth year were sending it to Cheyenne River," Krizek said.