The Pine Ridge Reservation is the remnant of the once vast home of the Oglala Lakota people. Located near the southwest corner of South Dakota, Pine Ridge is about the size of the state of Rhode Island and is the 2nd largest reservation in the United States.
Pine Ridge stands out among Indian Reservations because of its symbolic importance to all Native Americans. This stems from the consequences of two incidents that took place on the reservation at Wounded Knee. In 1890, the U.S. Army massacred over 300 unarmed Indian men, women, and children. In 1973 a 71-day stand-off between Indians, the FBI, Federal Marshals, and the military became known as Wounded Knee II. The effects of these two events are still evident in the lives of the people on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Many challenges impact the people of Pine Ridge today – isolation, political instability, extreme poverty, substandard housing, diabetes, 80% unemployment, devastating alcoholism, broken homes, shattered families, lack of adequate health care, and the unavailability of basic life needs. However, the people of Pine Ridge are resilient, proud of their heritage, and hopeful of the possibilities that their future may bring.
A Tour of Pine Ridge
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation
The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is located in the southwest corner of South Dakota near the Black Hills and the Badlands. It is the second largest reservation in the U.S. according to the 2010 census, and home to the Lakota of the Oglala Sioux.
Currently, five out of seven of the poorest counties in the U.S. are located in South Dakota. All five counties are on Indian reservations. Pine Ridge is home to Oglala Lakota County which is listed as the second poorest county. Unemployment is around 80 percent. Housing conditions are poor and often crowded. Many people live without running water or suffer in the winter when they run out of propane to heat their homes.
The people of Pine Ridge face many challenges including poverty, alcoholism, abuse and often the lack of basic life necessities.
There is a high number of alcohol related traffic accidents; many resulting in death.
The suicide rate is higher than the national average.
Many people go hungry every month when they run out of food.
The stillborn rate is higher than the national average and some women receive no prenatal care.
Average annual income is less than $ 7,000.
North Entrance Near the Badlands
The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation covers approximately 3,469 sq. miles. Temperatures can range from extreme cold in the winter to very hot summers.
Big Bat’s Gas Station - Pine Ridge Village
Pine Ridge Village is the largest community on the reservation. It is the center for the tribal government and many local businesses such as Big Bat’s which also has a walk-up food counter.
A popular place no matter what your mode of transportation. You’ll notice the horses are not saddled. The Lakota are horse people and many learn to ride bare-back at an early age.
Sioux Nation Shopping Center
Sioux Nation Shopping Center is the largest grocery store on the reservation. The building also houses an Ace Hardware store. Unfortunately, the prices tend to run higher than stores off the reservation and makes it hard for people to stretch their money. The store is run by an outside company, but the tribe is currently making plans to take over management of the store.
Another popular eatery in Pine Ridge. You don’t see a sign like that at your local Pizza Hut!
Sioux Nation Parking Lot
Often around the first of the month when checks come in, vendors and families set up sales booths in the parking lot. Vendors have now been moved to other locations because of the congestion this caused in the parking lot.
Indian Health Service (IHS) Hospital
New hospital built about six or seven years ago. Enrolled members receive free medical care. Extreme cases are flown to Rapid City or sometimes Denver.
Billy Mills Hall
Billy Mills Hall is named for Olympian Billy Mills from Pine Ridge who won the 10K in Tokyo in 1964. The building is also home to the post office, a few offices and a small hall that is often used for concerts or funerals.
Oglala Sioux Transit
Many people lack adequate transportation. The tribe started a bus system that people can ride for $ 2.00. The bus route covers a lot of area and many don’t want to wait or don’t have the fare. Consequently you still see many people walking.
Indian Health Service Mobile Clinic
This mobile clinic travels around the reservation to the communities outside of Pine Ridge. It parks for several hours and is attended by nurses. It was designed primarily to target children in an effort to keep them from having to go to the emergency room.
SueAnne Big Crow Boys and Girls Club
Named after SuAnne Big Crow -- a star basketball player who died in a car accident. This dream started out in a small facility called Happy Town and later became a boys and girls club. The Happy Town restaurant is located in the left entrance and still serves up great food.
This mobile bank travels from community to community to assist people with their banking needs. Currently there are no banks on the reservation, although a credit union recently opened in Kyle. Many people still use the mobile unit if they don’t have transportation to get to Kyle.
There are many schools throughout the reservation. Most communities have a K-8 school, but the only high schools are in Pine Ridge at the Pine Ridge High School, Red Cloud Indian School north of Pine Ridge, Little Wound in Kyle, or Crazy Horse in Wanblee.
The drop out rate is high…around 50 percent. Schools try hard to keep the kids in school, but attendance is often a problem. All schools on the reservation have a federal government food program where all the children receive a free breakfast and lunch. This is often an incentive when food is scarce at home. In the summer there is a lunch program for children 18 and under.
Pine Ridge has a high rate of Gates scholarship recipients. But going off to college is often a difficult transition for many who spent most of their lives on the reservation.
The following slides show only a few of the schools.
Pine Ridge High School
Pine Ridge High School has a fence around it as do some other schools to discourage break-ins and vandalism. The campus also houses the lower grades and has dorm facilities. These are for students who live too far to commute or for students who are homeless or whose families have been designated as an extreme hardship case.
Red Shirt Table School
Blue Feather worked with this school for several years generally providing gifts at Christmas. Another organization picked them up also, so we redirected our efforts to another school.
Library at Red Shirt Table School
Blue Feather donated many, many books to help build this library.
Red Cloud Indian School
Red Cloud has a high reputation for learning. They have strict entry requirements, but only charge $ 100 tuition per year. The school does a lot of fund raising across the country to cover expenses. The Heritage Museum has some great Indian artifacts.
Wounded Knee District School
WKDS is located in the community of Manderson. We have worked with this school for 12 years providing school supplies and a gift bag for every child in the school at Christmas.
Oglala Lakota College
Located just outside of Kyle the college offers many degree programs including a very strong nursing program. Since many lack transportation to get to Kyle, there are satellite centers in several other communities.
Inadequate housing continues to be a problem on the reservation.
Many people live without running water or electricity.
When people run out of propane, they have no heat, hot water and cannot use their gas stove to prepare food.
There is a shortage of housing and it is not unusual for 12 to 20 people to live in one single family home. Many have to sleep on the floor.
Funds are often lacking to do major home repairs.
Many homes have holes in the walls, floors worn down to the bare wood, leaky roofs, broken plumbing, doors that don’t shut properly, boards covering holes in the floor, broken windows, poor insulation, mold, old and exposed wiring, and need caulking to fill cracks.
OST Housing and the OST Partnership for Housing struggle daily to stretch what funds they have to make home repairs or find adequate housing for families. They recently made a trip to Washington, DC with a typical home to bring attention to the housing problems in Pine Ridge.
Small Single Family House
A family with 10 children we worked with lived in this house. Everyone slept on the floor on old mattresses and they had very little. A new door was finally put on as the old door would not close unless a blanket was stuffed in the crack. The inside of this house is in terrible condition.
It is not unusual to see abandoned trailers or houses.
Often an abandoned trailer is hit by scavengers who take anything they can use or sell. They often are hoping to find copper pipes.
A trailer that was being hauled, tipped and landed on its roof. As you can see, scavengers have been there.
Another Old Trailer
Unfortunately there isn’t anyone to clean up old trailers. They often become home to snakes or rodents and are an unsafe place for children to play.
We worked for about 5 years with a family with 3 children who lived in this cabin. The relative who lived there disappeared. They finally moved out because other family members wanted the cabin and were harassing them. It had no running water.
The family then moved into this trailer. There was actually another family fighting to get this trailer. At least it had running water.
The family left the trailer after a fire.
The family then bought this little house for $ 600. You can only imagine what you get for that price. The inside was in dire need of repair. They fixed the sink so it could be used, but the water had to drain into a large bucket that they had to take outside and dump. At one time 9 people lived in the house.
Another House Fire
This is the little pink house after a fire. Luckily no one was home. The family moved around several times after that.
Trailer Floor Repair
We worked on this trailer putting in a new subfloor and tile for a grandmother who was raising 6 grandchildren. We partnered with a Quaker group and hired local workers. This trailer was an old FEMA trailer and had large holes in the floor covered with boards. They had no running water. Notice on the left the large water tank. The tribe provides these and comes once or twice a week to fill them.
This house was being built using old pallets. After the pallets are in place, a filler made of mud and straw is packed in between the slats of the pallets.
This is the pallet house after completion.
Building a House
The OST Partnership for Housing works with qualified families to help them get a home. At one time they built homes like this one. Blue Feather helped build these homes. On the roof is my son and some of his college friends. The people receiving the homes were required to work on the homes also, much like Habitat for Humanity.
Manderson is a small community on the reservation.
Blue Feather has worked in Manderson from the beginning and continues to be our main focus.
Blue Feather provides a bag of fun items at Christmas for every child in the Wounded Knee District School in Manderson.
We continue to work with several families in Manderson. One family for almost 12 years. The family unit has changed over the years and there have been many tragic events in the life of this family, but we occasionally still work with one of the family members who lives near Manderson.
Manderson is the location of our community meals – one of our favorite projects. When we have a meal, we try to schedule it toward the end of the month when people start running out of food.
Main housing area in Manderson.
During one of our meals, a man I know came up to us and said, “I was so glad to see you out here. I was hungry, but didn’t have any money to buy food.” That’s what makes it all worthwhile.
Blue Feather brings dog food to help feed homeless dogs. We also bring dog and cat food for individual families.
This picture was taken coming into Manderson. It is not unusual to see horses, cows, deer, dogs, cats, turkeys, or people on the roads.
Alcoholism and Whiteclay
There are many alcohol related accidents on the reservation, many resulting in death.
Bootlegging occurs on the reservation.
Whiteclay, Nebraska lies within walking distance of Pine Ridge and has been referred to as "The skid row of the western plains".
Over the years 3 liquor stores have sold an estimated 3-5 million cans of beer per year, mostly to Lakota customers.
The liquor stores were forced to close their doors at the end of April 2017 when the state of Nebraska refused to renew their liquor licenses.
People are hopeful that there will be a transformation of Whiteclay. There are currently a couple of grocery stores, eating places and an arts and crafts studio and store.
Cross by the Side of the Road
Many of these types of crosses and flower displays can be seen along the road that mark the spot of a tragic accident.
Luckily the driver of this car was able to walk away with only scratches.
There are 2 animal rescue groups on the reservation: LightShine Canine and the Oglala Pet Project (OPP). They are both wonderful organizations who have rescued throusands of animals and also sponsor spay/neuter clinics. This little kitty was rescued when it was found hiding in a truck engine. She was turned over to OPP.
Arts and Crafts
One of the vendors who make and sell their arts and crafts. This is my friend Valery who does great beadwork and quillwork. Blue Feather regularly buys arts and crafts for resale. If interested, please contact me.
About Blue Feather
Blue Feather is a community-based 501(c)3 non-profit that works on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
Blue Feather is 100% volunteer. All monetary donations go directly to help the people of Pine Ridge.
Each year we provide a gift bag at Christmas for every student in two schools. We also provide gift bags for seniors.
At Thanksgiving we have delivered food boxes to approximately 15 families.
Several times a year we do a community meal in Manderson.
We collect and deliver school supplies. In past years we gave school supplies to two schools. We decided to drop one school this year as they were getting supplies from another source. We also distribute supplies to some individual families.
Our newest project is helping to provide bingo prizes for the Oglala Lakota Nursing Home.
About Blue Feather
We are currently assisting several families with necessities such as food, household cleaners, personal care products, and paper products.
In the fall we deliver boxes and boxes of blankets and coats.
We have assisted in home building and repair.
Blue Feather provides food for homeless dogs and has been involved in the rescue and care of homeless animals.
We have also been involved in numerous miscellaneous projects.
Household items such as laundry detergent, dish detergent and cleaning supplies.
Shampoo, toothpaste, soap, combs, bandaids.
Toilet paper, kleenex, paper towels.
School supplies (please contact me for specific items needed).
Socks and underwear (new only please).
Baby shampoo, lotion, powder, diapers, wipes, vaseline.
Dishes, silverware, pots and pans (in good condition).
Toys, puzzles (in good condition).
Travel size shampoo, hand lotion and soap (for senior bags).
Blue Feather Alliance
Blue Feather Alliance
8700 W. Colfax Ave. Unit E
Lakewood, CO 80215
Susan Duhn, Executive Director