He made more than 40 trips from Nevada City, California to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota over the last 10 years. He would load up his van with donations of frozen turkeys, hams, sewing machines and clothes and drive the 1,250 miles to the reservation.
That man is Thomas Streicher, the founder and director of Divine Spark, Inc., a California nonprofit.
“He had all the seats taken out and he loaded it as much as he could with clothing, fabrics, furniture,” Regina Brave, a 72-year-old Oglala resident told the Rapid City Journal on March 25. Streicher once brought Brave a sewing machine she was in need of.
On his way back from one of those deliveries, Streicher, 58, got caught in a snowstorm on March 22 and lost control of his van on an icy road in Wyoming. He walked on while being transported to the hospital.
His son in law, Jonny Cournoyer told Indian Country Today Media Network that he was trying to get back in time for the Sunday food program his nonprofit runs.
“He died as he spent his life, in service to those in need, driven by a selfless passion to help others,” says Streicher’s obituary from his family. “He will be greatly missed by friends and family and the many lives that he touched and made better.”
Cournoyer, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, said his family on the Rosebud Reservation is grieving the loss as well. He said Streicher first became interested in helping the Pine Ridge Reservation after he was invited there to experience a traditional ceremony.
“While there he first witnessed the poverty that seems so overwhelming and apparent when first experiencing the reservation,” Cournoyer said. “It was after this initial visit he felt compelled to do whatever he could, which ten years later resulted in over 40 trips from Nevada City, California, which equals the distance three times around the planet, in his attempts to help the people however he could. He always felt he received far beyond what he gave from the Lakota.”
Streicher himself said it wasn’t only about helping people, it was about much more than that, in a 2011 article from The Union Newspaper.
“We do this to improve relations with the original people of this country. We want to heal the intergenerational trauma of genocide,” Steicher said. “We’re trying to improve, not only their financial situation, but also improve communication between our two cultures.”