Facts and personal observations of the Lakota People and Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
I have never quite understood people who travel oversees and put forth so much effort to help those in Under developed countries, when we have a place right here in the US that has Third World conditions. Technically, this place is not “in the United States.” It is an Indian Reservation, therefore a Sovereign Nation.
The place to which I am referring is Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. I first became aware of it several years ago when I began traveling back and forth from Omaha, Nebraska, to the Black Hills. When I heard the statistics, I was shocked. When I SAW the conditions, I was mortified. Here are just a few of the FYI’s about Pine Ridge Reservation;
- The Average life expectancy on the Reservation is 46
- Pine Ridge Teen suicide rate is 150 times higher than the National Average
- 65% of the residents of the Reservation live in sub-standard conditions such as no electricity, running water, and often, without heat
- Many of the elderly (some of whom still live in sod houses) die of Hypothermia each year
- Average income is $2600 to $3500
- Due to lack of sustainable jobs on the Reservation, unemployment is approximately 85-95%
- Infant Mortality rate is 300% above National Average
- There are NO commercial, industry or technology infrastructures on the Reservation to provide employment
- Diabetes is 800 times higher than the National Average
The above facts don’t even begin to scratch the surface concerning the conditions on the reservation. Having been there many times, and coming to know the Lakota People, I have also learned the answers to many of the Pessimistic questions we non-natives have.
Q: Why don’t people just move OFF the reservation if it is so bad there?
A: For some, it is a matter of not knowing any other way. Just as there are 4th and 5th Generation Welfare recipients in the US, there are people who only know living on the reservation and how to function there.
Q: Any other reasons?
A: Over 50 % of the people of Pine Ridge speak their Native Language, and English, and a good many elders speak only Lakota. Time honored and traditional crafts are still taught to the young on the reservation, such as bead work, and animal skull art. Also, the reservation is THEIR land…the only thing white settlers left them with to call their own.
Q: Many people on the reservation get food stamps, doesn’t that help?
A: Not really. Not everyone who is entitled to Food stamps actually receives them. You must remember also that the Lakota Culture is a sharing one. If one has, the entire family has. It is not uncommon at all for 15 family members to be living in an elder’s 1 or 2 bedroom house and sharing the meals. One elder I know has 16 people living with her. One of her daughters does have a car, and works in Rapid City. Another daughter receives food stamps for herself and her 3 children. Those are basically the only family resources.
I have come to learn so much about the Lakota people and the culture. While the land is terrible in most places for any agriculture development, the landscape is beautiful. A mixture of Ponderosa Pine dotted land along with breath-taking sand hills and craters create a dramatic landscape parody. The people are rich in culture and tradition. There is also a Pride among the people which is unmistakable. While it is a sad fact that many Original Americans are alcoholic, I think it is important to note that it is a scientific fact that their bodies do not process alcohol the in the same way a Caucasian does. It is also important to note that the reservation is a Dry land. No alcohol allowed. However, just across the Nebraska Border is White Clay, which only purpose it seems is selling alcohol to the Original Americans.
I think it is admirable to want to help people of any Nation. My confusion comes when people overlook the poor and hungry within their own borders to find their “Cause.” Celebrities especially will log literally thousands of air miles traveling to Africa and such to help the poor. Perhaps they should just visit our Nation’s heartland and cross just over the Nebraska Border to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.