Voices: Desperation on Pine Ridge Reservation

"I am a 27 yr. old Oglala Lakota woman, originally from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. I was fortunate enough to have been adopted by a stable, Christian family who had my best interests at heart. Most children from Pine Ridge are not so blessed.

Pine Ridge is situated in the southwest corner of South Dakota, and is the eighth largest reservation in the United States. The unemployment rate is 85% and 97% of the population are living below the federal poverty level. The infant mortality rate is five times the United States national average, and has among the shortest life expectancies of any group in the western hemisphere.

Alcoholism, addiction, violence, and suicide predominate in this once tranquil place. Although my family educated me on the statistics, I was hardly prepared when in 1997-98, I went to live there. I was mortified by the alcoholism. These people...MY PEOPLE were committing a slow suicide by the huge amounts of alcohol they were consuming. This was no longer just another statistic to me; it became my reality, the place I woke up to every day. Many of these families are living without necessities like running water, electricity, sewer, heat -- even food, diapers, and formula. Despite these things -- they somehow always seem to find the money to drink, or to buy a can of hair spray to huff, or a can of paint to sniff.

My people are stealing from each other to drink, committing burglaries to drink, and begging for money from others to be able to buy just one can of beer. I have a brother who was also under foster care off of the reservation, and at 7 yrs. old the tribe came and took him back, so he was then forced to live on the reservation with his Indian family. When I chose to live there, I became very close with him. He told me that he wished that I would leave, because it would be better than to subject myself to the lifestyle on the reservation. He expressed deep seated regret that he was carelessly pulled from a financially, spiritually, and emotionally stable home and returned to the reservation. He did everything in his power to make me miserable when I lived there, so that I would just leave. He was robbed of the wonderful opportunities he could have had. Why - Racism. My nation would rather force the children to continue to live with instability, alcoholism, and violence, than to have them adopted by the 'whites.'

Being a sovereign nation, nothing can be done through state social services--and the government doesn't want anything to do with us, unless, of course, it is to make themselves look good. The tribe will cast an alcoholic into treatment, based on another alcoholic's word -- but they will not remove an obviously neglected child from their cockroach infested home. I firsthand, have witnessed my blood, my family, the future generation of children -- being abused physically, and emotionally. These children are not being given even a fighting chance of a beginning in life."

Get the Story:
Melanie McBee: Desperation in Pine Ridge (thepeoplesvoice.org 2/13)

Relevant Links:
Oglala Sioux Tribe - http://www.lakotamall.com/oglalasiouxtribe