Five years ago someone sent a letter to Brad Bearsheart asking him for help and telling him of the freezing death of a Pine Ridge Reservation grandmother.
“After calling a charity in South Dakota we decided to take help straight to the source,” Bearsheart said, referring to he and his wife Gabriele. “We collected jackets and coats and other necessities and took our first trip to Pine Ridge Reservation and saw the poverty there.”
Bearsheart, a full-blooded Native American who was born on the Standing Rock reservation in South Dakota, didn’t grow up on a reservation.
“I didn’t know about the hardships,” he said. “When one of the grandmothers asked us if we were coming back, I looked at my wife and then we decided, yes.”
That first trip to the Pine Ridge Reservation in 2005 was the start of Project Lighthouse, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping Native American Peoples.
Since then, Bearsheart and helpers have taken 57 53-foot semitrailers filled with food, clothing and furniture to reservations in North and South Dakota.
“We take the donations directly to the People in their small reservation communities,” Bearsheart said.
Donated items are stored at the Springs Rescue Mission, 5 W. Las Vegas St. in Colorado Springs, which has been working with Project Lighthouse almost since the beginning.
“A Vitamin Cottage store in Denver lost its refrigeration unit,” Bearsheart said. “They had heard about us and donated 300 gallons of milk. We gave milk to everyone we could think of but we still had some left so we donated it the rescue mission. In return they donated a semi truck to us. The mission has been our backbone ever since.”
Project Lighthouse also works with local churches and other organizations.
“We tell people that the best way to help is to go directly to the People.” Bearsheart said. “It’s easy to help through us, but getting to know each other, learning to trust each other, is better for your heart.”
Coming up at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 10 in the Palmer Ridge High School auditorium is another way to help. The Concert for the Children, sponsored by the Palmer Lake Historical Society and the Tri-Lakes Chamber of Commerce, will feature the band Brings Plenty with Native American musician and actor Moses Brings Plenty.
According to the historical society’s vice president Al Walter, the benefit is part of the society's ongoing efforts to expose Palmer Divide residents to Native American culture, history and traditions. It is also a humanitarian effort to bring attention to and improve the lives of Native American children.
The band’s share of the concert proceeds will be donated to Project Lighthouse.
Moses Brings Plenty is from the Pine Ridge Reservation and had heard about the project, Bearsheart said, adding, “A lot of people thought he was part of our organization but we hadn’t met.”
Brings Plenty has acted in such movies as “Dances with Wolves,” “Thunderheart” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.” He also was a member of the Native American band Brulé before striking out with his own band.
The event will also feature native dancing by Bearsheart and his children.
“We’ve been learning the language, the dancing and the culture for the past five years,” he said. “Gabriele sews our costumes and does the beadwork.”
Another movie star connected with Project Lighthouse is Gil Birmingham, whom many will recognize as Billy Black in the “Twilight” movies.
“If Gil hadn’t been in Vancouver filming the next Twilight he would be here for the Christmas Pow-wow we’re having Dec. 11,” Bearsheart said. “There is no admission — we just want everyone to learn about our culture and enjoy the dancing — but a new toy for children ages 15 and under would be greatly appreciated.”
The pow-wow is usually at the Palmer Ridge High School but because of a scheduling conflict it will be at the Hillside Community Center, 925 S. Institute St. in Colorado Springs, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The pow-wow includes arts and crafts.
Gabriele Bearsheart is a full-blooded German who married Brad Bearsheart when the Army stationed him to her native country.
“She knew more about Native Americans than I did,” Bearsheart said. “I could tell you about Mount Rushmore and the treaties but she knew more about the culture and the hardships.”
When Bearsheart was stationed at Fort Carson, the couple decided to make Colorado their home. They and their five children have lived in the Monument area since 1982.
For information about Project Lighthouse, call Bearsheart at 719-694-9386.
“We get a lot of food and clothing but what the People need most is furniture — beds, appliances, etc.,” Bearsheart said.
Donations can be taken to the Springs Rescue Mission.