Tonight, I had the opportunity to learn more about the current situation with our brothers and sisters, the Lakota, who live on the Indian reservations in South Dakota, especially Pine Ridge. A local native, who hosts a radio show on WPFW, Jay Nightwolf, recently took a large trailer full of clothes over Christmas to the Sioux reservations of South Dakota and was horrified by what he saw.
In -45F weather, he stayed in the basement of one family. They did not have heat; they could not afford the $125 for the propane truck to come heat the home. In fact, many live on $100 a month. For food, they ate white flour with a little lard mixed in. They saw a woman who was 97 years old who had just walked 9 miles in the bitter cold just to get flour.
This was just one sad story, and I've put some facts at the bottom of this entry that were shared with me in order to pass them along to you. Many of them I knew already, but the experience shared by Nightwolf was astoundingly painful to witness. A group of Oglala elders plan on coming to Washington, DC in May in order to petition Congress. I fear they will be unsuccessful and that the cries of some of the poorest people on this continent will fall on deaf ears. I wish they could see the poverty in DC and see the allies in this city that could be made outside the halls of Congress.
It is painful to me that while some of us work to protect national parks like Yellowstone, my particular passion, we don't see that Yellowstone is a reservation much like Pine Ridge is a reservation. We have parceled off that which we chose not to civilize and set it aside. We parceled the Shoshone from the land they once lived and traveled through; we punished the Sioux by trying to make them farmers on some of the worst farmland in the country. We massacred them, sent their children to distant schools, and then gave them no means to make a living, while shutting down any spiritual or communal inspiration they had. Then, we allotted their land into individual parcels and took even more of it. Now, the Pine Ridge of today is so bad it looks as though it had been hit by Katrina.
Near Yellowstone, in Big Sky, a house for $155 million is being sold; that reservation is increasingly the land for the rich. In South Dakota, $100 a month won't even heat your home. How can we talk about the one without remembering the other?
Jay Nightwolf is going back to Pine Ridge in July with as many volunteers as he can muster. I wonder if I'll be able to join him. How can I in good faith hear his call for help and not do so? If you are interested, please contact him.
PINE RIDGE RESERVATION FACTS
Excerpted from "The Arrogance of Ignorance; Hidden Away, Out of Sight
and Out of Mind" By Stephanie M. Schwartz,
• Roughly the size of the State of Connecticut, Pine Ridge Reservation
is the second-largest U.S. Reservation
• Pine Ridge is home to approximately 40,000 persons, 35% under the age
• 58.7% of the grandparents on the Reservation are responsible for
raising their own grandchildren.
• 97% of the population lives below Federal poverty levels.
• Life expectancy on the Reservation is 48 years old for men and 52 for
women, the lowest in the U.S..
• The Pine Ridge infant mortality rate is the highest on this
continent, about 3 times the national average.
• Alcoholism, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and malnutrition are
pervasive, with the rate of diabetes on the Reservation is 8 times the
U.S. national average. The death rate from alcoholism is 3 times the US
• The tuberculosis rate on Pine Ridge is 8 times the national average.
• The cervical cancer rate is 5 times the U.S. national average.
• Many Reservation residents live without health care due to vast
travel distances, under-funded and under-staffed medical facilities,
and outdated or non-existent medical equipment.
• The Pine Ridge school drop-out rate is over 70%, and the teacher
turnover is 8 times the U.S. national average.
• An average of 17 people live in each family home (which may only have
two to three rooms) and at least 4,000 new homes are needed in order to
• 59% of Reservation homes are substandard, with over 33% lacking water
and sewage systems, electricity, and basic insulation or central
• Many residents must carry (often contaminated) water from the local
rivers daily for their personal needs.
• Most Reservation families live in rural and often isolated areas
where there are few paved roads and most of the rural homes are
inaccessible during times of rain or snow.
• Weather is extreme on the Reservation, with summer temperatures
reaching well over 110*F, and winters that can reach below -50*F. Each
winter, Reservation residents, especially elders, die from hypothermia.
• There is no public transportation available on the Reservation and
only a minority of Reservation residents own an operable automobile.
• Much of the water and land on the Reservation is contaminated with
pesticides and other poisons from farming, mining, open dumps, and
• 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 farming use in south of the Reservation. The Oglala Aquifer
is not renewable and recent years of drought have accelerated the