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Retired Central Illinois truck drivers collect donations to bring to Native reservations in the Great Plains

The Three Feathers Outreach team unloads a haul of donated items on a Great Plains Reservation in May of 2023

A Central Illinois nonprofit team collects donations of a variety of items to bring to reservations in North and South Dakota.

Founder Brad Beard is a retired truck driver. During his time driving across the country, he noted the impoverished circumstances of Native American reservations in the Great Plains. To address these issues, he founded Three Feathers Outreach.

The Three Feathers team takes monthly hauls of donated food, household supplies, furniture, and more to reservations on Pine Ridge, Cheyenne River, and Standing Rock.

While they officially became a nonprofit in 2021, Beard has been taking donation hauls to North and South Dakota for over a decade out of his own pocket.

Renee Waller sits on the Three Feathers Outreach board as treasurer. Since joining the board last August, Waller has seen several hauls taken to reservations.

Waller said an important aspect of bringing supplies to these reservations is the relationships between residents and Three Feathers drivers. In addition to driving supplies to these locations, the Three Feathers team provides home repair to residents’ homes.

She said residents of reservations are often cut off from important resources.

“Most of the folks that we have come in contact with live in remote locations, like you can't just find them, they don't have a postal address to find them. So these families are cut off,” she said, “And a lot of times they don't have vehicles of their own or transportation. So they're kind of stuck out there.”

Waller said donations, volunteer work, and churches make the biggest contributions to the Three Feathers mission.

Waller also said while these trips began as missionary work, it has expanded to forming relationships with residents of the reservations that highlight their Native culture. She said they are trying to do better than how Christianity treated Native Americans in the past.

“They've gone through a lot of trauma,” she said, “And it was perpetuated through Christianity.”

Three Feathers Outreach relies on volunteers and donations to keep trucks fueled and to continue their mission. As Three Feathers searches for volunteers to continue making trips, Waller said founder Brad Beard wants to teach new drivers how to properly distribute the donated goods.

“You can't just drop stuff off, you actually have to wait for people to come and pick it up. And so it's a matter of getting to know people and respecting their culture and, and you're not just going to drop stuff off and leave. It's a very personal and culturally respectful way of doing things,” she said.

Three Feathers Outreach will be hosting their first Spring Gathering this coming May. Waller said they will be bringing some friends from the reservations to help with fundraising efforts and provide an educational opportunity.

“It's really just to bring awareness of Native Americans and they're our neighbors and they are here, and these are the things that they go through,” she said.

Spring Gathering 2024 will be hosted from May 4-5 at the UAW building on Springfield Rd in East Peoria.

Isabela Nieto is a student reporting intern at WCBU. Isabela is also a student at Bradley University in Peoria.