Latest Stories: Buffalo Nation - Native Americans in Pine Ridge
Native Americans, or American Indians, had been oppressed for centuries. Their land had been invaded and their populations decimated. The major tribes that once flourished over all of North America were all but gone. They were pushed onto reservations, and forced to make treaties, which the U.S. government kept violating to their own ends. Their suffering still continues today, much of it beyond their control. I explored the lives of Native American people, focusing on the Pine Ridge reservation and nearby areas. It is often recognized as the poorest area in the United States. The majority of the population are "Lakota," also known as Sioux. Lakota people, as well as other Native American tribes, used to be called buffalo hunters. They had the physical appearance one would expect of a people who survived by hunting, with a life expectancy around 80 years. Now it is said their life expectancy is early 50 years old. Some reports indicate a lifespan even shorter than 50 years. Among the greatest health concern is diabetes. Recent reports indicate that almost 50% of adults on the Pine Ridge Reservation over the age of 40 have diabetes. That means the rate of diabetes on the Reservation is 800% higher than the U.S. national average. As a result, diabetic-related blindness, amputations, kidney failure, and heart attack are very common. In addition to diabetes, the tuberculosis rate on the Pine Ridge Reservation is also approximately 800% higher than the U.S. national average. The infant mortality rate is about 300% higher and the cancer rate is also extremely high - in the case of cervical cancer it is 500% higher than the U.S. national average. Many of these health problems come from unhealthy dietary habits that are beyond their control. In the Pine Ridge Reservation it is very difficult for residents to get fresh, nutritious food. The options are mainly processed, junk food or canned goods, creating high obesity rates. Water and aquifer contamination is also a big problem. Many wells and much of the water and land on the reservation are contaminated with pesticides and other poisons from farming, mining, open dumps, and commercial and governmental mining operations outside the reservation. Contamination includes materials coming from more than 1,000 abandoned uranium mines, dumping of radioactive waste and nuclear testing in the past in the region, according to advocates. They insist that those contaminated environments create add to greater rates of cancer and diabetes, although the government denies the hazardous nature. Poverty remains a critical issue. About 95% of the population lives below the federal poverty level. The unemployment rate is said to be more than 80%, with higher fluctuations during the winter months when conditions make travel difficult. It is made even more difficult to find employment by the fact that the nearest city (Rapid City) is 120 miles from the reservation, while the nearest large city (Denver) is 350 miles. It is very hard to find proper jobs in the reservation except serving in the U.S. military. In these situations, many young Native Americans and children have little hope for their future and depression is common. In fact, the high-school drop out rate is said to be more than 60 percent and the teenage suicide rate is roughly 150% higher than in other parts of the country. This vicious cycle repeats itself through the generations. Many youths, even pre-teens, become alcoholic and face more chances to join gang groups, as well as risking themselves to violence. Such grim circumstances are neglected by non-Native American communities, and often by the local tribal municipalities themselves.