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Victor Swallow: The days when the BIA ran everything at Pine Ridge

Filed Under: Opinion
More on: bia, native sun news, oglala sioux, south dakota, victor swallow

The Bureau of Indian Affairs maintains an agency office in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Photo: Jimmy Emerson

In the days when the government ran everything on the reservation
By Victor D. Swallow
Native Sun News Today Columnist

I have been retired for 15 years and had lots of time to reflect on my life. I know of my parents and grandparents from 1870 to the present time. I have done my own research of reading books of the history of Lakota people and their dealings with the U.S. Government.

I have been reasoning things out and forming opinions from my gathered information and knowledge and here is a story that shows a little about the effect of what the government did to us Lakota. In the late 1930s, I suppose in hopes to try to assimilate us Lakota the Government helped with building an irrigation system to help water their gardens, building of a local school, adding a turkey farm, and loaned 10 men including my dad who lived on Red Shirt Table a replacement plan of cattle.

This plan was for each of the 10 individuals to start with cattle and in later years they were to give back the Government that same amount. During the summer they harvested their produce and picked wild berries and canned it for the winter. They dug wild turnip and peeled them and braided them to dry to cook in soup for the winter. They butchered a cows and dried the meat. My father trapped coyotes and rabbits to and sold their fur. Their cellars were full of canned goods, garden produce and dried meat that was used to get us through the winter.

During the fall they had a Fair with a Bureau of Indian Affairs employee judging the produce and the canned goods and giving out ribbons. One year they shipped their calves to Sioux City my father said they topped the market and were doing pretty good. The B.I.A. regulated their herds in 1949. We had a terrible blizzard that lasted for days. The Cattlemen’s Association lost many of their cattle. I don’t know the year all the loans the families took out with the Government got paid back. I don’t remember if it was before or after the 1949 Blizzard. What I do know is that my dad trailed his cattle to Blacktail south of the casino.

Why he did that, he never said, he had about 40 head and he trucked them back, I don’t know when. The B.I.A. turned the management of cattle to the individuals and by 1954 the others sold their cattle. My father sold his cattle in 1961 a year after my brother and I went in the service. All ten of these men were born from 1891 to 1919 and were the first generation to go to school in large numbers at least to the sixth grade. They all talked good English and did business in Rapid City but in the end went back to the traditional way it was before they had cattle.

Looking back after several decades of time to witness and ponder why this happened is all predictable. The Government that controls every aspects of your life like where you live, the food you received down to the cattle that was given was all regulated. These were all aspects foreign to them and they learned how to adjust and try to adapt to this new way of providing for their families. Once the regulation was lifted and the responsibility was given to each family to do as they pleased. They chose to sell all their cattle and ended up back where they started.

Read the rest of the story on the Native Sun News Today website: In the days when the government ran everything on the reservation

(Victor D. Swallow was born in 1939, Oglala Lakota, U. S. Navy Veteran, 50 year member of Bricklayers Union, Optimistic realist and fair. Victor can be reached at his daughter’s email address at

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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