On the Great Plains, hidden away on little traveled back roads, is American Prisoner of War Camp Number 334. This is also known as Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, home of the Lakota Sioux. They are the tribe that suffered the infamous Wounded Knee Massacre, in December of 1890, in which an estimated 350 Lakota were killed. Among the dead were over one hundred unarmed women and children. Since that day Wounded Knee, and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, have been a symbol of the wrongs inflicted on Native Americans by the descendants of Europeans. Pine Ridge is the quintessential example of the failures of the reservation system, with staggering statistics on everything from violent crime to education.
Sadly, Pine Ridge continues to be the setting for an ongoing massacre within the tribe. Gangs on the reservation are out of control, and the violence they live by grips even the smallest villages. Unemployment on the reservation fluctuates between 85-90%, the housing office is unable to afford to build new structures, and existing structures are falling apart. Many are homeless, and those with homes are packed into rotting buildings with up to five families. Thirty-nine percent of the homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation have no electricity. It is reported that at least 60% of the homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation are infested with black mold, which causes an often-fatal condition with infants, children, and the elderly. 90% of the population lives below federal poverty levels.
The tuberculosis rate on the Pine Ridge Reservation is approximately eight times higher than the U.S. national average. The infant mortality rate is the highest on this continent and is about 3 times higher than the U.S. national average. Cervical cancer is five times higher than the U.S. national average. The school drop out rate is over 70%. Teacher turnover is eight times that of the U.S. national average. Frequently, grandparents are raising their grandchildren because their own children have succumbed to alcoholism, domestic violence, and general apathy. Making life even more grim, fifty percent of the population over 40 suffers from diabetes and the life expectancy for men is a mere 48 years of age.
Photo & text by Aaron Huey.