How the life of George Painter intersects with George Eastman & a YMCA effort on South Dakota native reservation

By Dr. Jim Fuchs, Special to The Chronicle

What does George Painter, the Glens Falls native and retired director of Camp Chingachgook, have in common with Ohiyesa, a Native American born 166 years ago?

George Painter, left, is a Glens Falls native who was the long-time executive director of YMCA Camp Chingachgook in Pilot Knob.
Ohiyesa, born in 1858 on the Santee Dakota reservation, was initially named “Pitiful Last,” after his mother died giving birth to him, her 5th child.

In the Dakota tradition of naming to mark life passages, he was later named Ohiyesa (“Always Wins”).

He was raised by his grandmother in the Sioux tradition until the age of 15, when he was unexpectedly reunited with his father. His father, also a Santee Dakota, had converted to Christianity and insisted that his son be educated in European-American style schools.

When Ohiyesa accepted Christianity, he took the name Charles Eastman.

He later graduated from Dartmouth College in 1887, and from the Boston University Medical School in 1890.

As the sole physician, he cared for the Native Americans after the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre.

Born in 1858 on the Santee Dakota Reservation, Native American Ohiyesa later took the name Charles Eastman as a Christian and graduated from Dartmouth College and B.U. Medical School.
Notably, Eastman was one of the founders of the local Sioux YMCAs working on the reservations in South Dakota.

There are numerous other meaningful aspects of his life, but one such effort creates a trajectory that intersects with George Painter, who carries forward the tradition of community service in the Native American community.

George is leading a group of YMCA Alumni, in partnership with the YMCA of the Seven Council Fires, which has served the people of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe (Lakota Nation) in South Dakota for nearly a century and a half.

The group is building a village of four Tiny Homes on the YMCA site in Dupree, S.D., to help alleviate the severe housing insecurity on the reservation.

‘Tiny Homes’ under construction.
The project also includes building two branch centers (so-called “twigs,” small YMCA program centers created from recycled shipping containers) in remote communities on the nearly 5,000 square-mile reservation. In their 3rd year of construction work, by the end of September over 270 volunteers will have participated in 18 week-long “waves” of service.

If you have an interest in joining this group, or donating, please have a look at their website: https://wawokiye.org/. And if you have further interest in Charles Eastman, his short books documenting Native American life depict a culture he sadly saw fading rapidly. A good place to start is “Indian Boyhood.”

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