Special Resource Report:
Regarding life, conditions, and hope on the Pine Ridge Oglala Lakota
(Sioux) Reservation of SD
The Arrogance of Ignorance;
Hidden Away, Out of Sight and Out of Mind
© October 15, 2006 Brighton, Colorado
This is an article of facts about the lives of modern-day American
Indians, a topic most mainstream American news organizations will not
discuss. It is not a plea for charity. It is not a promotion for
non-profit organizations. It is not aimed for pity. It is not even an
effort to detail cause and effect. It is, however, an effort to dispel
ignorance. a massive, pervasive, societal ignorance filled with
illusions and caricatures which, ultimately, serve only to corrupt the
intelligence and decent intent of the average mainstream citizen. Only
through knowledge and understanding can solutions be found. But facts
must be known first. Then, it is the reader's choice what to do with
Hidden away, out of sight but dotting the landscape of America, are
the little known or forgotten Reservations of the Indigenous People of
our land. Sadly, the average U.S. mainstream resident knows almost
nothing about the people of the Native American reservations other than
what romanticized or caricaturized versions they see on film or as the
print media stereotypes of oil or casino-rich Indians. Most assume that
whatever poverty exists on a reservation is most certainly comparable to
that which they might experience themselves. Further, they assume it is
curable by the same means they would use.
But that is the arrogance of ignorance.
Our dominant society is accustomed to being exposed to poverty. It's
nearly invisible because it is everywhere. We drive through our cities
with a blind eye, numb to the suffering on the streets, or we shake our
heads and turn away, assuming help is on the way. After all, it's known
that the government and the big charities are helping the needy in
nearly every corner of the world.
But the question begs: What about the sovereign nations on America's
own soil, within this country, a part and yet apart from mainstream
society? What about these Reservations that few people ever see?
Oddly enough, the case could be made that more Europeans and
Australians know and understand the cultures and conditions of our
Indigenous people better than Americans do.
Moreover, what the Europeans and Australians know is that there are a
number of very fortunate Native American Nations whose people are able
to earn a very good living due to casino income, natural resource
income, a good job market from nearby cities, or from some other
source. They also know, however, that a staggering number of residents
on Native American reservations live in abject, incomprehensible
conditions rivaling, or even surpassing, that of many Third World
This article chronicles just one Nation: the Oglala Lakota (Sioux)
Nation of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Yet the name and
only a few details could easily be changed to describe a host of others.
the Dineh (Navajo), Ute Mountain Ute, Tohono O'odham, Pima, Yaqui,
Apache, the Brule' Lakota (Sioux) .the list is long.
But this is not an article of hopelessness. Despite
nearly-insurmountable conditions, few resources, and against
unbelievable odds, Nation after Nation of Indigenous leaders and their
people are working hard to counteract decades of oppression and forced
destruction of their cultures, to bring their citizens back to a life of
self-respect and self-sufficiency in today's world.
In the meantime, these words will serve simply to dispel a few
illusions and make public part of that which is hidden away, out of
sight, out of mind, in the richest country in the world. It seeks to
dispel the arrogance of ignorance.
The Pine Ridge Oglala Lakota (Sioux) Indian Reservation sits in Bennett,
Jackson, and Shannon Counties and is located in the southwest corner of
South Dakota, fifty miles east of the Wyoming border.
The 11,000-square mile (approximately 2.7 million acres) Pine Ridge
Reservation is the second-largest Native American Reservation within the
United States. It is roughly the size of the State of Connecticut.
According to the Oglala Sioux tribal statistics, approximately 1.7
million acres of this land are owned by the Tribe or by tribal members.
The Reservation is divided into eight districts: Eagle Nest, Pass Creek,
Wakpamni, LaCreek, Pine Ridge, White Clay, Medicine Root, Porcupine, and
The topography of the Pine Ridge Reservation includes the barren Badlands,
rolling grassland hills, dryland prairie, and areas dotted with pine
The Pine Ridge Reservation is home to approximately 40,000 persons, 35% of
which are under the age of 18. The latest Federal Census shows the
median age to be 20.6 years. Approximately half the residents of the
Reservation are registered tribal members of the Oglala Lakota Sioux
According to the most recent Federal Census, 58.7% of the grandparents on the
Reservation are responsible for raising their own grandchildren.
The population is slowly but steadily rising, despite the severe conditions
on the Reservation, as more and more Oglala Lakota return home from
far-away cities to live within their societal values, be with their
families, and assist with the revitalization of their culture and their
reports vary but many point out that the median income on the Pine Ridge
Reservation is approximately $2,600 to $3,500 per year.
unemployment rate on Pine Ridge is said to be approximately 83-85% and
can be higher during the winter months when travel is difficult or often
to 2006 resources, about 97% of the population lives below Federal
is little industry, technology, or commercial infrastructure on the
Reservation to provide employment.
City, South Dakota is the nearest town of size (population approximately
57,700) for those who can travel to find work. It is located 120 miles
from the Reservation. The nearest large city to Pine Ridge is Denver,
Colorado located some 350 miles away.
Life Expectancy and Health Conditions
figures state that the life expectancy on the Reservation is 48 years
old for men and 52 for women. Other reports state that the average life
expectancy on the Reservation is 45 years old. These statistics are far
from the 77.5 years of age life expectancy average found in the United
States as a whole. According to current USDA Rural Development
documents, the Lakota have the lowest life expectancy of any group in
suicide rate on the Pine Ridge Reservation is 150% higher than the U.S.
national average for this age group.
infant mortality rate is the highest on this continent and is about 300%
higher than the U.S. national average.
than half the Reservation's adults battle addiction and disease.
Alcoholism, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and malnutrition are
rate of diabetes on the Reservation is reported to be 800% higher than
the U.S. national average.
reports indicate that almost 50% of the adults on the Reservation over
the age of 40 have diabetes.
a result of the high rate of diabetes on the Reservation,
diabetic-related blindness, amputations, and kidney failure are common.
tuberculosis rate on the Pine Ridge Reservation is approximately 800%
higher than the U.S. national average.
cancer is 500% higher than the U.S. national average.
is reported that at least 60% of the homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation
are infested with Black Mold, Stachybotrys. This infestation causes an
often-fatal condition with infants, children, elderly, those with
damaged immune systems, and those with lung and pulmonary conditions at
the highest risk. Exposure to this mold can cause hemorrhaging of the
lungs and brain as well as cancer.
Federal Commodity Food Program is active but supplies mostly
inappropriate foods (high in carbohydrate and/or sugar) for the largely
diabetic population of the Reservation.
small non-profit Food Co-op is in operation on the Reservation but is
available only for those with funds to participate.
Reservation residents live without health care due to vast travel
distances involved in accessing that care. Additional factors include
under-funded, under-staffed medical facilities and outdated or
non-existent medical equipment.
healthcare programs are rare.
most of the treaties between the U.S. Government and Indian Nations, the
U.S. government agreed to provide adequate medical care for Indians in
return for vast quantities of land. The Indian Health Services (IHS)
was set up to administer the health care for Indians under these
treaties and receives an appropriation each year to fund Indian health
care. Unfortunately, the appropriation is very small compared to the
need and there is little hope for increased funding from Congress. The
IHS is understaffed and ill-equipped and can't possibly address the
needs of Indian communities. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the
Pine Ridge Reservation.
drop-out rate is over 70%.
to a Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) report, the Pine Ridge Reservation
schools are in the bottom 10% of school funding by U.S. Department of
Education and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
turnover is 800% that of the U.S. national average
Conditions and Homelessness
small BIA/Tribal Housing Authority homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation
are overcrowded and scarce, resulting in many homeless families who
often use tents or cars for shelter. Many families live in old cabins
or dilapidated mobile homes and trailers.
to a 2003 report from South Dakota State University, the majority of the
current Tribal Housing Authority homes were built from 1970-1979. The
report brings to light that a great percentage of that original
construction by the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) was "shoddy and
substandard." The report also states that 26% of the housing units on
the Reservation are mobile homes, often purchased or obtained (through
donations) as used, low-value units with negative-value equity.
though there is a large homeless population on the Reservation, most
families never turn away a relative no matter how distant the blood
relation. Consequently, many homes often have large numbers of people
living in them.
a recent case study, the Tribal Council estimated a need for at least
4,000 new homes in order to combat the homeless situation.
is an estimated average of 17 people living in each family home (a home
which may only have two to three rooms). Some larger homes, built for 6
to 8 people, have up to 30 people living in them.
59% of the Reservation homes are substandard.
33% of the Reservation homes lack basic water and sewage systems as well
residents must carry (often contaminated) water from the local rivers
daily for their personal needs.
Reservation families are forced to sleep on dirt floors.
basic insulation or central heating in their homes, many residents on
the Pine Ridge Reservation use their ovens to heat their homes.
Reservation homes lack adequate insulation. Even more homes lack
Reservation residents are found dead from hypothermia (freezing).
is reported that at least 60% of the homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation
need to be burned to the ground and replaced with new housing due to
infestation of the potentially-fatal Black Mold, Stachybotrys. There is
no insurance or government program to assist families in replacing their
of the homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation have no electricity.
most common form of heating fuel is propane. Wood-burning is the second
most common form of heating a home although wood supplies are often
expensive or difficult to obtain.
Reservation homes lack basic furniture and appliances such as beds,
refrigerators, and stoves.
of Reservation families have no land-line telephone. The Tribe has
recently issued basic cell phones to the residents. However, these cell
phones (commonly called commodity phones) do not operate off the
Reservation at all and are often inoperable in the rural areas on the
Reservation or during storms or wind.
and internet connections are very rare.
and tribal heat assistance programs (such as LLEAP) are limited by their
funding. In the winter of 2005-2006, the average one-time only payment
to a family was said to be approximately $250-$300 to cover the entire
winter. For many, that amount did not even fill their propane heating
tanks one time.
Life on the Reservation
Reservation families live in rural and often isolated areas.
largest town on the Reservation is the village of Pine Ridge which has a
population of approximately 5,720 people and is the administrative
center for the Reservation.
are few improved (paved) roads on the Reservation and most of the rural
homes are inaccessible during times of rain or snow.
is extreme on the Reservation. Severe winds are always a factor.
Traditionally, summer temperatures reach well over 110*F and winters
bring bitter cold with temperatures that can reach -50*F below zero or
worse. Flooding, tornados, or wildfires are always a risk.
Pine Ridge Reservation still has no banks, discount stores, or movie
theaters. It has only one grocery store of any moderate size and it is
located in the village of Pine Ridge on the Reservation. A motel just
opened in 2006 near the Oglala Lakota College at Kyle, South Dakota.
There are said to be about 8 Bed and Breakfast or campsite locations
found across the Reservation but that number varies from time to time
since most are part of a private home.
of the banks and lending institutions nearest to the Reservation have
been targeted for investigation of fraudulent or predatory lending
practices, with the citizens of the Pine Ridge Reservation as their
are no public libraries except one at the Oglala Lakota College.
is one radio station on the Pine Ridge Reservation. KILI 90.1FM is
located near the town of Porcupine on the Reservation.
is no public transportation available on the Reservation.
a minority of Reservation residents own an operable automobile.
form of travel for all ages on the Reservation is walking or
is one very small airport on the Reservation servicing both the Pine
Ridge Reservation and Shannon County. It's longest, paved runway
extends 4,969 feet. There are no commercial flights available. The
majority of flights using the airport are Federal, State, or County
nearest commercial airport and/or commercial bus line is located in
Rapid City, South Dakota (approximately 120 miles away).
affects eight out of ten families on the Reservation.
death rate from alcohol-related problems on the Reservation is 300%
higher than the remaining US population.
Oglala Lakota Nation has prohibited the sale and possession of alcohol
on the Pine Ridge Reservation since the early 1970's. However, the town
of Whiteclay, Nebraska (which sits 400 yards off the Reservation border
in a contested "buffer" zone) has approximately 14 residents and four
liquor stores which sell over 4.1 million cans of beer each year
resulting in a $3million annual trade. Unlike other Nebraska
communities, Whiteclay exists only to sell liquor and make money. It has
no schools, no churches, no civic organizations, no parks, no benches,
no public bathrooms, no fire service and no law enforcement. Tribal
officials have repeatedly pleaded with the State of Nebraska to close
these liquor stores or enforce the State laws regulating liquor stores
but have been consistently refused.
Water and Aquifer Contamination
wells and much of the water and land on the Reservation is contaminated
with pesticides and other poisons from farming, mining, open dumps, and
commercial and governmental mining operations outside the Reservation.
A further source of contamination is buried ordnance and hazardous
materials from closed U.S. military bombing ranges on the Reservation.
studies show that the High Plains/Oglala Aquifer which begins underneath
the Pine Ridge Reservation is predicted to run dry in less than 30 years
due to commercial interest use and dryland farming in numerous states
south of the Reservation. This critical North American underground
water resource is not renewable at anything near the present consumption
rate. The recent years of drought have simply accelerated the problem.
studies show that much of the High Plains/Oglala Aquifer has been
contaminated with farming pesticides and commercial, factory, mining,
and industrial contaminants in the States of South Dakota, Wyoming,
Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.
Sovereignty and Tribal Government
Treaty, the Tribal nations are considered to have sovereign governmental
status. They have a special government to government relationship with
the United States. Interactions with the U.S. Government and the
Department of Interior (and its Bureau of Indian Affairs) are supposed
to be through Treaty negotiations and most Federal programs (such as
Indian Health Services) were purchased by the Tribal nations (usually
with land) and guaranteed by Treaty. This is specifically true for the
Oglala Lakota (Sioux) Nation of the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Oglala Lakota (Sioux) Tribal government operates under a constitution
consistent with the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 and approved by
the Tribal membership and Tribal Council of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux)
Tribe. The Tribe is governed by an elected body consisting of a 5 member
Executive Committee and an 18 member Tribal Council, all of whom serve a
two year term.
there are various efforts underway to implement innovative techniques
and solutions to Reservation problems. These projects include community
volunteer groups, alternative education programs, wind or water energy
initiatives, substance abuse programs, cultural and language programs,
employment opportunities, cottage industries, promotion of artists and
musicians, small co-op businesses, etc. However, funding for these
programs is highly limited.
are several very small projects now working to help with the housing
shortage. Some of these involve using donated mobile homes,
community-built sod housing, other community-built housing (such as
Habitat for Humanity), exploring possible use of unused FEMA mobile
homes, and other alternate solutions. Unfortunately, funding is highly
Tribal Council Housing Authority is working as hard as it can to build
new homes and repair existing structures but it is limited by the small,
limited amount of funding available.
are a few reputable small non-profit organizations attempting to
sincerely assist the people of the Pine Ridge Reservation in their
efforts to resolve and mitigate existing problems. However, funding for
these programs is currently highly limited.
is one small independent (non-IHS) clinic on the Reservation at the
community of Porcupine. It was founded and is controlled by the Lakota
community. It just recently obtained its first dialysis machine and
runs an aggressive program to combat diabetes. However, funding is very
limited and is obtained locally and through grants.
Oglala Lakota are a determined, intelligent, and proud People who are
working hard to over-come their Reservation problems. Against all odds,
with minimal resources, they are slowly working to re-claim their
self-sufficiency, their culture, and their life.
These statistics concerning the Pine Ridge Oglala Lakota (Sioux)
Reservation were compiled from recent Political, Educational,
Government, Non-Profit, and Tribal Publications. An earlier version was
published by the same author in 2002 entitled, "Hidden Away, in the Land
Contact the author if you wish a list of the resources and
publications used for this report.
Stephanie M. Schwartz walked on to the Spirit World in 2009.
This and other articles may be viewed on the internet at the website,
Ms. Schwartz lives in Firestone, Colorado. She is a member of the
Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) and is a volunteer for
Link Center Foundation, a Colorado Non-Profit Organization working to
assist the elders and disabled of the Lakota Reservations in South
This article may be reprinted and reproduced unedited with proper
attribution and sourcing
for non-profit, educational, news, or archival purposes.
Note: This article was originally published on October 06, 2007.
It was subsequently re-published by various media including:
and numerous internet forums, service organizations, universities,
newslists, and bulletin boards