There are stories being told across the Pine Ridge Reservation these days about a modern and active Helper Society, like way back in the day. Tiny Decory of the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Sweet Grass Project tells her story:
“We had this youth camp at Piya Wiconi back on July 13, and we broke down. I run four vans and, oh, they’re all just getting beat up – they run constantly. The Guardians helped us out. It was not even 20 minutes, and they came from Kyle. There was two of them that showed up – and they were actually ready to tow me all the way back to Pine Ridge if need be.
“When asked, they said they could take a small donation that could be whatever we decided,” said DeCory. “You know, there are good people out there.”
Interviewed in a parking lot at Sharps Corner, Gerald Mesteth, the founder of The Guardians, makes it clear their work is voluntary and they charge no one for help. “Sometimes people try to make a donation and, depending on the circumstances, we might take it. But if it looks like they need the money more than us, we refuse it.” More often than not, refusing is the case, Mesteth said.
“My guys have a lot of cool stories from helping elders. Once, Laverne [Curry] helped an elderly lady with her van. It was broke-down and needed a water pump. We drug it back to his house in Kyle and changed it. It took about a day or so, but he got it going. She was pretty happy.”
Asked how and when the Guardians got started, Mesteth, who has worked for nine years at the nearby Little Wound Adult Detention Facility in Kyle, said: “We’ve been doing this for about a year-and-a-half now. Two years ago I was sitting in my car, broke down beside the road. No one would stop and try to help. I sat there for hours. I was really cold and my feet were freezing – my phone was dead. I got out and tried to flag cars down but they just kept going.”
Remembering that day, Mesteth slowly shook his head and said, “I thought: Someone needs to do something. A little while later I got this truck, and that’s what started it.” The young Oglala Lakota man said, “It was just me at first. I put my name out there – it started at swap shops and on bulletin boards and different places.
“I was raised by my grandpa, he used to be in law enforcement. He had a big heart, and I always watched him. It’s a good feeling when you help somebody, and I saw that feeling when he got it.”
Despite the geographical fact that all The Guardians live in communities that are fairly close to each other, their vow is they will go anywhere on the sprawling Pine Ridge reservation to lend a hand to whoever needs help. Considering the landmass of this current home of the Oglala Lakota Oyate is larger than the state of Connecticut, that’s a hefty promise.
The six regular members of The Guardians are: Gerald Mesteth, who lives five miles east of Sharp’s Corner; Derrick Thunder Hawk, who lives along Three Mile Creek: Jessie Thunder Hawk and Robert Lincoln, who live in Evergreen, a few miles north of Porcupine; Laverne Curry of Kyle, and Darrel Locke from Allen. Two other guys who regularly help out are Trevor Weston, Wounded Knee, and Jessie Kills Back, from near Evergreen.
The standard kit when they’re on the road is at least 10 gallons of gas, radiator fluid, water and, especially in the summer months, plenty of bottled water. “We’re on 24/7, but it’s summertime so we get about two calls a week,” said Mesteth. “We usually just cruise around until we come across cars where they need our help. There’s always somebody on duty.
“Quite often we help the police with traffic-control and such. Last spring, we pulled an ambulance that was stuck in the ditch out. We had to get a rancher from the other side of the road and he brought his tractor over. That ambulance was buried – it took three trucks and the tractor, said Mesteth.”
Though the Guardians only occasionally accept donations from those they help, they do have a GoFundMe site and appreciate anything people can spare. Mesteth admits helping can be expensive. “We pick up hitchhikers and take them where they want to go – if it’s on the Rez. That gets a little spendy.”
When asked if there was a group photo of them, the Guardians founder said: “We’ve tried to get a photo of us all together, but – between our jobs and different schedules – we haven’t been able to find a time that works for everybody, yet.” Though by now the Guardians have provided assistance to hundreds of their fellow Lakotas, Mesteth said, “Still, when we show up, some of them have never heard of us. We say, like: “We’re the Guardians” And they say: “Who?” He laughs.