Human Rights

Shocking New Statistics Highlight the Desperate Living Conditions of One of the Largest Native American Tribes (VIDEO)

New figures tell a sad tale for the Lakota Sioux.

Pine Ridge Reservation
Photo Credit: shutterstock

An older and altogether more buried skeleton than #Blacklivesmatter lurks in the United States’ closet: the plight of Native American people. For proof, look no further than a set of shocking statistics recently released by nonprofit True Sioux Hope Foundation, highlighting the living conditions of the Lakota Sioux Nation at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

Measuring some 11,000 square miles, Pine Ridge is the second largest reservation of its kind in the U.S. The Lakota Sioux make up just one group within a population of nearly 19,000 residents. The information revealed by these new statistics, however, epitomizes the hopelessness that Native American territories face across the country.

Like so many of the problems facing impoverished communities throughout the world, much of what plagues the Lakota Sioux nation comes down to a lack of infrastructure. Information from the foundation’s research reveals a 90 percent unemployment rate; understandable, given that Pine Ridge has “no industry, technology or commercial infrastructure” and just “one grocery store of moderate size ... tasked with providing for the entire community.”

This translates to 97 percent of the Lakota Sioux living far below the U.S. federal poverty line. As a result, many homes in this area house an average of 17 people with 33 percent of these buildings having no electricity, basic water or sewage systems. An estimated 60 percent of these homes are deemed health hazards as a result of potentially fatal black mold. Due to a lack of insurance or government programs, residents are forced to remain living in these often toxic environments.

Given such conditions, it should come as little surprise to learn of the dire health conditions facing the Lakota Sioux. Eight out of 10 families are affected by alcoholism, which contributes to a death rate 300 percent higher than that of the average U.S. population. Along with alcohol abuse, nearly 50 percent of adults over the age of 40 on the reservation suffer from diabetes. The infant mortality rate measures 300 percent higher than the national average. Of those who make it past early childhood, 70 percent drop out of high school. To put this all in bleak perspective, the teenage suicide rate is 150 percent higher than the U.S. national average.

Despite this barrage of depressing statistics, there are at least some glimmers of hope. The True Sioux Hope Foundation, which compiled these statistics, is just one of a number of organizations working to provide much needed assistance to the Lakota Sioux and other tribes at Pine Ridge.

Nationally, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently announced a federal housing aid program which is set to allocate more than $65 million to 22 tribes in the three states. Last year, the Department of Education contributed $218,000 to the Pine Ridge School. “These funds will help Pine Ridge School's continued efforts to restore the learning environment in the face of these great tragedies," said William Mendoza, director of the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education.

Twila True, founder and CEO of the True Sioux Hope Foundation, spoke about the development challenges facing the community in an interview with Exceptional Magazine. For True, one of the critical ways forward, and motivation for her foundation’s recent survey, is to spread awareness.

“The more I talk about it, the more other people talk about it,” said True, a member of the Oglala Sioux. “I think at a minimum, what we’re doing today is awareness and I find that any small awareness conversation breeds incredible opportunities.”

Another recent survey showed that the Lakota language is critically endangered, with a decline of almost 66 percent of people speaking their native tongue in the past decade. 

At an Indigenous New Media Symposium held at the New School in 2014, Chase Iron Eyes spoke as a member of the Lakota Sioux nation and founder of the website Last Real Indians. Like True, Chase had one overarching message, tweeted by First Peoples Worldwide, a nonprofit that funds local development projects in indigenous communities around the world:

"We have to start sharing humanity. We HAVE to figure it out. Dream big - make no small plans." @Lastrealndn #indnewmedia

— First Peoples (@FirstPeoples) February 22, 2014
 
The late Russell Means was a prominent member of the Lakota Sioux nation and a resident of Pine Ridge, known to many for his role as Chingachgook in the film The Last of the Mohicans. Shortly before he died in 2012, Means gave an extensive interview in which he offered his perspective on the state of his people. 
 
"The history of the American and the history of the Indian have now come full circle and are intertwined in the dictatorial policies of those that control the monetary system of America," he said. 
 
Watch an interview with Means below:

Robin Scher is a freelance writer from South Africa currently based in New York. He tweets infrequently @RobScherHimself.

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