South Dakota: In-Depth Look At The Oglala Lakota People Of The Pine Ridge Reservation

The August issue of National Geographic magazine features an in-depth look at the Oglala Lakota people of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, whose struggle to nurture their tribal customs, language and beliefs is profiled in this rare and intimate portrait. “In The Shadow Of Wounded Knee External link” by Alexandra Fuller reveals the reality of life on the Pine Ridge reservation, showing both the problems that the Lakota face and the fact that the Lakota are holding on to their traditions and values.
ngm august 2012 US cvr-2The August Cover of National Geographic. Credit: National Geographic
In National Geographic’s "In The Shadow of Wounded Knee External link," Alex White Plume speaks in the present, as if the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee is happening now. “The whole Sioux Nation was wounded at that last terrible massacre, and we’ve been suffering ever since. It’s true we have our own ways of healing ourselves from the genocidal wound, but there is just so much historical trauma, so much pain, so much death,” White Plume said, and he would know. While there is no genocide against the Lakota occurring today, the onslaught on Lakota culture in South Dakota is in full swing. According to Lakota People’s Law Project External link (LPLP) the removal of Lakota children by the Department of Social Services has become an epidemic since 2000. The Indian Child Welfare Act External link (ICWA) requires that Lakota foster children stay with their extended families and tribes whenever possible, but a 2005 federal audit shows that South Dakota is among the worst violators of ICWA, with 95% of Native children being placed in non-Native care. Despite these and other pressures, the Lakota people remain strong. As Olowan Thunder Hawk Martinez states in the article: “Write this: When the lights go out for good, my people will still be here. We have our ancient ways. We will remain.”

Along with the powerful story by Fuller, photographer Aaron Huey, whose effort to photograph poverty in America led him to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 2005, spent the intervening 7 years documenting the Lakota people and their struggle. His photographs of life on the reservation are featured in the article.

Below are a few images from the August edition of National Geographic magazine. More of Aaron Huey's photographs can be found here External link.
pineridge MM8064 001Riders take a break during a day of activities to mark the 1876 defeat of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer. ©Aaron Hueypineridge MM8064 003Three-year-old C. J. Shot bathes among dishes. The Oglala concept of tiospaye—the unity of the extended family—means that homes are often overcrowded, especially with the severe housing shortage on the reservation. In 2008, when this photograph was made, 22 people lived in the three-bedroom house. “These houses aren't who we are,” says Oglala activist Alex White Plume. ©Aaron Hueypineridge MM8064 007A passenger barely has room for the journey home as a car is loaded with used clothing donated by a Colorado-based Native American charity. Contrary to popular myth, Native Americans do not automatically receive a monthly federal check and are not exempt from taxes. The Oglala Lakota and other Sioux tribes have refused a monetary settlement for the U.S.'s illegal seizure of the Black Hills, their spiritual home. ©Aaron Hueypineridge MM8064 014After intense communication with the spirits, participants emerge from a steaming inipi, or purification (sweat) lodge. This ceremony was held by Rick Two Dogs, a medicine man descended from American Horse. ©Aaron Huey
Pine Ridge is also the subject of a unique community storytelling initiative with National Geographic magazine partnering with so that the people of Pine Ridge can author their own story- more on the project is here External link.

Along with the story and photographs, there are audio clips from the reservation External link.

Finally, if any Oglala Lakota would like to contribute a story to the Pine Ridge Community Storytelling Project, please click here External link.

Tags: South Dakota  Lakota  Oglala  heritage  

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