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Monday, January 11, 2010

Pine Ridge: Unemployment 80%, Life Expectancy 50

The U.K. Guardian discusses the third-world conditions on South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation:

Conditions on the reservation are tough. More than 80% unemployment. A desperate shortage of housing – on average, more than 15 people live in each home and others get by in cars and trailers. More than one-third of homes lacking running water or electricity. An infant mortality rate at three times the US national average. And a dependency on alcohol and a diet so poor that half the population over the age of 40 is diabetic.

The Oglala Sioux's per capita income is around $7,000 (£4,400) a year, less than one-sixth of the national average and on a par with Bulgaria. The residents of Wounded Knee, scene of the notorious 1890 massacre of Sioux women and children and of the 1973 standoff with the FBI, are typically living on less than half of that. Young people have almost no hope of work unless they sign up to fight in Afghanistan. The few with jobs are almost all employed by the tribal authorities or the federal government. It is not uncommon to hear people quietly speak of the guilt they feel for having a job. Those who don't survive on pitifully small welfare cheques. It all adds up to a life expectancy on Pine Ridge of about only 50 years [Chris McGreal, "Obama's Indian Problem," The Guardian, 2010.01.11].

These conditions likely have something to do with the fact that over 100 people tried to commit suicide on Pine Ridge last year. That's a community of 45,000. Native Americans make up 8% of South Dakota's population. They make up 15% of our suicide deaths.

If you read about South Dakota in the British press, you'd think Native American issues would be a top priority in our political discourse, right?

Wrong. As of this morning, here's what our declared candidates for statewide office say about Native American issues on their campaign websites*:

If Lake or Brown or Davison County had 80% unemployment and life expectancy lower than Uganda and 170-some other countries, that's all we'd hear about from our candidates. But with the admirable exceptions of SHS and Munsterman, we're hearing a whole lot of nothing on an enormous political issue. We should abhor that vacuum and fill it with some serious conversation.

*Yes, this is just a quick online evaluation, not a thorough review of every public statement made by the candidates—I'll do that when I get a blogging raise. ;-)


  1. Why don't you run over to Rosebud Woodworking or Cabnets there in Madison and interveiw the owner. Ask him what it was like to run a business and try to employ people on the Rosebud rez.
    The native population is only 8% of our population and not all of them live on the rez. Those who choose to work often move to Sioux Falls. Thosewho stay on the rez. don't seem to respond well to the offer to work.

    T. Weis

  2. Steve Sibson1/11/2010 11:40 AM


    Again you jump in with Pat Powers by agreeing with his candidate for governor. Thanks for another softball to my theme that the Big Government/Big Business agenda is bipartisan.

    What you again fail to see is that the government is the problem. The Indians need to look to themselves as individuals to fix the problem. The first comment on this thread seems to support that premise.

    And you did not support a full reserve bank who wants to make investments in Indian country. Why always wait for Big Government and their Big Corporate cohorts?

  3. I am picking up that Cory is looking for more political and public outcry of these issues than direct government intervention (I can see the flames starting after saying this). Ideally, it isn't the issue that there is no government intervention for this, but that it is so off the radar for South Dakota politicians that is worth meriting a talking point, which is honestly disappointing.

    American Indian people are facing more than a century of institutional abuses, struggling with cultural differences and continued internal tribal rivalries that go as far back as the American expansion into the west that have racked up quite the psychological tole. Its more than packing up and moving on to a new place for work.
    Multi-generation spanning issues takes more than just moving of the rez and getting a real job.

    It will at least take a social intervention from those on reservations themselves and their respective neighbors, the people of South Dakota. Also, enhanced educational programs couldn't hurt either.

  4. Randy, your read my mind. (Actually, you probably just read the post for what it was, without an ideological axe to grind, unlike Tamera and Steve.)

    I don't know what the solution is. But if our political leaders won't lead a conversation about the problem, we'll never find a solution. That only two of the eleven candidates I checked had any mention of American Indians on their campaign websites surprised me. It shows a failure to lead among a majority of the people applying for the jobs of fixing such problems.

  5. Correction:
    "but that it is so off the radar for South Dakota politicians that isn't** worth meriting a talking point, which is honestly disappointing."


  6. I'm sure that all the politicians will be addressing Native American issues before the campaign is over. And I am equally sure that the Native Americans will vote hugely for Herseth and any Democrat candidate for governer. What continues to amaze me is that the Native Americans vote for the same political party that promises so much, but conditions, as you admit here, do not improve. What has been promised to get votes does not work. The gov't has been the problem with its attitude toward the reservations and has created a native American populace that thinks it is owed this and that and waits for the gov't to provide same. In reality, the native Americans need to regain their pride and self-esteem, which will lead to improved lives for them. And this leads back to personal responsibility, not more gov't programs or handouts or promises. I would personally like to see them embrace a different political candidate who just might actually imrpove their conditions.

  7. Randy, apparently you and I are the only ones who can look at this post without our partisan glasses on. Nonnie—Linda McIntyre—finds a way to blame the Dems. She fails to acknowledge that I noted Munsterman is the only gov. candidate addressing the issue online now. I also note that Governor Mickelson is the only recent politician to really go after American Indian issues.

    And it doesn't seem to matter which party is in power, whether it's Dems in Congress or the GOP controlling South Dakota forever: no one, from either party, has led us all to solutions. And far too few politicians are working to lead the conversation on that issue.

    Linda, you talk to your party leaders; I'll talk to mine. Let's give them all a kick in the pants.

  8. There was a time in our history when the Pine Ridge Reservation was the place that Natives from all over the US wanted to come. It was the most prosperous of all the Native lands.
    Try doing a search on Valentine McGillycuddy or go to the South Dakota Magazine's article from 2007 and read a bit of history.
    All the things that Agent McGillycuddy did to make Pine Ridge the place of choice are politically incorrect today--but they would work today if it weren't for the same corruption and victim mentality that even McGillycuddy had to fight way back when.
    Again it is only 8% of the population and all candidates know that it doesn't really matter how hard you work on the rez. They will vote for the same old same old anyway.
    T. Weis

  9. Ignoring the problems of the reservation so not make the issues go away.

    Not only should we demand our leaders to keep working on making life better on the reservations, we should all treat our Native American family, friends and neighbors with a little more respect.

  10. All nine of the reservations within the state are having the same problems. The responses to your post indicate the real source of those problems. The reservations are the residue of America's holocaust. They are concentration camps designed to keep the native people in a state of oppression and dependency and, therefore, powerlessness. The Indian Wars never ended.

    When I first came to South Dakota a project was underway, organized by the state AP bureau, to make an intensive study of the reservations. When the project came due for publication, the AP reported that journalists found no real story. At the time, one of the first computer bulletin boards, The Northwest Data Base, was in operation, under the auspices of professors in Grand Forks and Fargo. One of its features was a journalism review, which often reported on the inadequacies of the press in the region. It named the South Dakota AP bureau the worst in the nation, citing the failure of the project on reservations as a prime example of its failures. From L. Frank Baum's call for the extermination of the Sioux to the present, the South Dakota press has been a large part of the malign neglect on which the reservation system is built.

    Vine Deloria, Jr., had the most cogent and incisive proposals for dealing the problems on the reservations. The first is to acknowledge that the form of government we have imposed on the reservations is alien and oppressive to a people whose values were rooted in a kinship with all the natural universe. Deloria's solution was to realize that the best solution to horrible malaise that possesses the reservations is a matter of treaty rights, not civil rights. This implies a return to their own form of governance and the return of the lands that are theirs by treaty. That includes all of West River and some good portions of
    East River, such as the James River valley. Garfield reneged on a treaty agreement that involved the Aberdeen area and the major lakes in northeast South Dakota. Observing the treaty obligations is something no politician wants to touch, because it would invoke the kind of displacement of white people to which the Indians have been subjected.

    As many of the responses to your post show, most people perceive the problem through the perennial dementia that has become partisan politics. L. Frank Baum still speaks for the vast majority of South Dakotans from both parties. (I have something in the works which of which I will probably post a version.) The answers to the degradation of the reservations lies with Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, and Grey Goose.

  11. Very interesting, David! I hadn't heard about that rating of SD's AP as the worst in the country.

    Giving back the James River Valley—are you willing to move? That's one reason I miss Thad Wasson already: as Kevin Woster noted on SDPB yesterday, Wasson was a Republican willing to talk about giving land back to the tribes. Wasson would've gotten killed in the primary, but at least he would have been leading a more interesting conversation than anything Curd or Nelson will say.

  12. Meanwhile, Tamera Weis advocates completing the cultural genocide with assimilation. Valentine McGillicuddy was a fascinating character, seemingly a decent man... but assimilation was his policy.

  13. Yes, I am willing to move, especially from my work studio at Tacoma Park, from which Mother Nature evicted us and kept us out last year. I am squatting on land that no one but the Nakota people had the right to deed to me, and their signatures are not on the deed. I was involved in the end of the occupation of Germany. We gave those people back their land. It shows that we can do it, given the right poltical motives.

  14. Steve Sibson1/12/2010 11:21 AM

    “It will at least take a social intervention from those on reservations themselves and their respective neighbors, the people of South Dakota. Also, enhanced educational programs couldn't hurt either.”

    So Randy, who is going to pay for the social intervention and education? Keep in mind that you said this at the beginning:

    “I am picking up that Cory is looking for more political and public outcry of these issues than direct government intervention”

  15. Steve Sibson1/12/2010 11:30 AM


    Why are you not condemning Newquist for not being pragmatic like you do me?

    Is it because you are in favor of the Progressive Movement turning this entire country into a reservation designed to keep the people in a state of oppression and dependency and, therefore, powerlessness and this is just another way of doing it? Will it really work?

  16. @ Steve

    Fun leap in logic!
    I made vague suggestions of social intervention and education as a low balling idea to change the situations of reservation life...

    then you asked me how we pay for these things, questioning my seemingly apologetic comment to the nature of Cory's post.

    If I say anything in the form of governmental involvement or payment of my ideas, then I throw into doubt my comment of Cory's intentions. Or something like that, right?

    Really, trying to connect my personal suggestions and how they are handled in finances to Cory's blog intentions on hoping for more political dialogue on the issue of American Indian welfare in our state is a silly, illogical trap that doesn't hold ground. My reading into Cory's intentions have nothing to do with my suggestions. He even said he had no idea what to do.

    "I don't know what the solution is." - Cory

    So, why would I imply that he does if there was a connection to my suggestions and is intentions?

    Either way, here we go:
    Social intervention - this actually is more of a pie in the sky hope in working towards better understanding and cooperation between American Indians and non-natives. Its more ethereal concept that is a leg of education and open dialogue. Cost - $Unknown$

    Education - we are looking at something that, no matter what, has the government's involvement in due to the remaining boarding schools in the state and the legal obligations of the government to aid American Indian education laid out in treaties. I do know they are not the soul provider in this case. I personally have been part of putting together Native American focused class curriculum through the aid of non-government based educational grants. These grants are pivotal to developing American Indian focused classes.

    This issue is multi-faceted and will take more than the government itself or the individuals within the tribes. It will take the combination of government, non-profits, individuals and more to really raise the standard of living of many American Indians.

    Like I said before, my suggestions were low end ideas of change and they aren't the final answer.

  17. David, I suspected you'd be willing to move. I just wanted to get your consistency and integrity on the record.

    Randy, don't let the ideologues get you down. Good start on solutions—those "low end" ideas are probably an essential part of the solution... whatever that solution may be. The problem is so big it will need government action, but it will also need each one of us to do things differently in our daily lives, in our daily interactions with our neighbors. I still don't know what the solutions will be... but I'm reasonably sure walking up to some Indians and shouting the things Sibby shouts won't help.

    On education: I agree that government cannot be the sole provider... or the soul provider. That takes family, friends, neighbors, communities... and smart guys like you, Randy.

  18. Steve Sibson1/12/2010 8:04 PM

    "The problem is so big it will need government action"

    Cory think...government dependency caused the problem. And the reports today are now saying more government means more law enforcement. Then next we will see you take that increase in the incarceration rate and blame it on racist conservatives.

    Look for my post tomorrow morning that shows how Progressives are turning America into a primitive society. More truth that I will lead you to, but you will refuse to believe.


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