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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Bingo prizes (new only, please).
Adult coloring books.
Large-print word search books.
Small picture frames.
Shampoo and bath powder.
Pads of paper and pens.