Essays: A Beautiful Dream - Pine Ridge, South Dakota
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“I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people's dream died there. It was a beautiful dream . . . the nation's hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead."
- Black Elk
Like many Indian reservations scattered throughout the United States, Pine Ridge is a place that is forgotten by many people living in South Dakota and it is virtually unheard of by mainstream American society. Located just east of the Wyoming border in Southwestern South Dakota, the Pine Ridge reservation is hidden behind Mount Rushmore, the Needles Highway, Devil’s Tower, and the infamous town of Wall. Alcoholism, poverty, and violence have been part of everyday life for the people who live on and around the Pine Ridge Reservation. Almost every time American citizens opens a newspaper or magazine they are exposed to some sort of poverty, mostly in third world areas in Africa, the Middle East or Asia. People feel a certain responsibility to help or at least acknowledge the fact that these things are real.
But what about the “third world country” that is located in the middle of the richest country in the world? According to the Wall Street Journal, the life expectancy of people living on Pine Ridge Reservation is the shortest in the Western Hemisphere, outside of Haiti. Because of the history of historical oppression suffered at the hands of the US government, Pine Ridge is one of the most troubled places in the United States. The unemployment rate of Pine Ridge hovers around 80%, and the prospect of finding a job is even slimmer, because Rapid City, the nearest city of any consequence, lies 110 miles away. In addition, gang violence is at an all time high among the youth on the reservation creating a dangerous environment for teens to grow up in.
Despite the oppression suffered by these people throughout history, the culture and respect running through the Lakota way of life is unmatched. People throughout the reservation show amazing resiliency and respect for their culture and what lies ahead for them in the future.