Cindy Roan Eagle has a heart for advocacy.
A member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and a person served by Black Hills Works in Rapid City, Cindy says it is the future as much as her difficult past that motivates her to serve as a voice for people with disabilities.
“Each of us have challenges and some people don’t want to give us a chance,” she says. “Somebody’s got to stand up and say, ‘Hey, yes you can do this—that we can do this.’ Somebody’s got to stand up and say, ‘Hey, a little support can go a long way.’”
Advocate at heart
Cindy grew up on the Rosebud Reservation and bounced between her parents’ home and foster care before moving to the Abott House, a residential treatment facility in Mitchell, South Dakota, when she was 17.
Now 47, she says her childhood is a history of neglect, assault and abuse. When she was 18, she was given the choice of staying in Mitchell or moving to Sioux Falls or Rapid City. She chose Rapid City where she was connected with Black Hills Works and began a second chapter in her life. That second chapter included the support of Direct Support Professional Barb Larsen, who has been with Black Hills Works for 35 years.
Last year, there were 274 Native Americans in South Dakota receiving support from the direct support specialist.
Source: Department of Social Services Medicaid
“Barb supports me when I need it most, from making sure my bills are paid and that there’s food in my belly,” Cindy says. “She’s been the number one person in my life.”
Barb says Cindy has grown and matured in the time they have worked together, moving into an apartment with a roommate and becoming a stronger and stronger advocate for those around her. “I’m very proud of her,” she says. “She has accomplished so much. She has a strong voice. People look up to her.”
Cindy has served on the statewide South Dakota Advocates for Change board, People First advocacy group and the South Dakota Council on Developmental Disabilities. “She’s also a great advocate for other Native Americans. Through advocacy, she has also been able to progress as a person—a person with a voice,” Barb says.
Cindy says it’s important to be independent, and still have the support of the organization. “That makes me feel good,” she says. “There are a lot of things I wanted to do and now I’m fulfilling that.”
Stepping up so people can self-direct
When services for people with disabilities are unavailable in more rural communities or on one of the state’s reservations, Black Hills Works partners with individuals and their families to provide care and services, including cultural opportunities, housing, care and jobs within the community.
The Rapid City-based organization serves hundreds of families each year, with a mission to help people self-direct their lives. That means providing them with experiences and opportunities to help them determine their own goals and live out their dreams. The organization continues to draw families and clients to the Rapid City area who are looking for the care and connections Black Hills Works is able to offer. Everyone is welcome, Barb says. “Sometimes there just isn’t support day-to-day for people with disabilities in other communities,” Barb says, and that’s why Black Hills Works has become such a vital part of the region and state.
Cindy says it’s important to honor her Native American roots, and appreciates that Black Hills Works has encouraged and supported that desire. She continues to dance in local powwows and is vocal about her past, both the good and the bad. “When I dance, I have my beautiful white buckskin dress,” she says. “I do beadwork a lot and I’m currently doing a choker with new beadwork. I made my own belt bags, moccasins and breastplate.”
Cindy once took to the stage for a Flutter Productions play through Black Hills Works to talk about her life. She wore her tribal regalia. “I got to show people, ‘This is who I am, and you don’t need to be scared to tell your story,” she says.
Looking to the future
Cindy says her past will not deter her from a bright future—but that she will continue to need the support of direct support specialists like Barb. She continues to work toward earning her GED, a project that has been hard work but will help her meet one of her life goals. “I’m making something happen that some may not have thought could ever happen,” she says.
Cindy has worked at the Quality Inn for 17 years and hopes that earning her GED will help her pursue other employment opportunities.
And no matter the hurdles to get there, she knows she is surrounded by people now who have her back. That includes her roommate, who has become a close friend and encourager. “My roommate is my best friend and we’re more like sisters now,” she says.
Cindy says she knows she wouldn’t be where she is without people who believed in her when she first came to Rapid City decades ago. She’s focused on making the same happen for others. “It makes me happy to stand up for people with disabilities,” she says. “A lot of people out there are still treated like children. They don’t get to have rights. It’s sad. I feel very fortunate and very honored to have had this chance to live on my own, and receive the support and care and understanding and respect that I deserve, and all people deserve.”