12 March 2012

Grim


An article in the December 2009 issue of Harper's Magazine offers a totally depressing view of a South Dakota reservation:
This is Pine Ridge Reservation today: somewhere between 13,000 and 40,000 Oglala Sioux spread across an area the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined. Unemployment is 89 percent, the few jobs in the tribal bureaucracy or the Prairie Winds Casino. More than half the population lives below the federal poverty line. The youth suicide rate is ten times the national average. One in three women is a victim of rape. Life expectancy is roughly equivalent to Somalia’s. Plagues of alcohol, drugs, domestic and gang violence. Pine Ridge is as profoundly damaged a place as exists in America...

RAMON TWIST
 Ponies grazing among wreckage in the long afternoon light, graffi ti-covered tribal housing tumbles down the hillside. The houses are falling apart, surrounded by burst garbage bags dug through by slinking dogs, dead cars on blocks, windows smashed. Most basements are rotting with black mold and mildew, and half the houses on the hill have had their electricity shut off. A small boy plays in the dirt, shirtless, his face almost catlike, the sign of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome...

 KIMBERLY LADEAUX
Custer was owned by the Oglala Sioux, they couldn’t beat us. That’s why we own what we still own. Until the day I die I’ll take pride in it. Look at what we have, it’s not much. No lights, barely surviving off food stamps. But we’re still here, we’re surviving. 
Kimberly sits in the candlelight and drinks a can of Camo Black Ice malt liquor, chasing each gulp with water and grimacing.
It’s only $2.50 a can. If we lived in cities we could buy a Budweiser or a Bud Light, something that won’t kill us off, but you know, we’re at the reservation, some of us don’t even have cars. Camo’s just the way you gotta take it, I guess. Gets you drunk faster...
 There are more biographies and photos at the link.

17 comments:

  1. Unfortunately, clicking on the link brings this message:

    Sorry — that full-sized image of the page is only available to Harper's Magazine subscribers. Subscribe today for as little as $16.97 per year!

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    1. I overlooked that because I'm a subscriber to the print edition. But you should be able to get back issues from your local library.

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  2. The alcohol situation is so bad on Pine Ridge that alcohol is banned completely: no possession, no purchase, no nothing. The NY Times the other day reported on the reservation suing a tiny town across the border in Nebraska, with a population of about 10, that sells 13,000 cans of beer and liquor a *day*, with the vast majority of that ending up in the reservation.


    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/06/us/next-to-tribe-with-alcohol-ban-a-hub-of-beer.html

    My apologies if you've already seen. I don't think you've posted this.

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    1. I hadn't seen that. Thank you, Heather.

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  3. The plight of the indians tells us everything we need to know about the results of social welfare programs.

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    1. It tells us more about the legacy of hundreds of years of brutality, racism, and colonialism inflicted on a people who have had their way of life and culture purposely and forcibly taken, denied and denigrated. Those that weren't killed off in the process were systematically stripped of their ancestral homeland, their religion, their language, their very pride as a people in order to break them down into the compliant, disengaged and broken individuals that Anonymous, ignorant hypocrites will point to as the consequence of "entitlement" programs.

      It happened here, parts of Africa, Australia (as another commenter points out)- wherever the above scenario is religiously and methodically carried out over a prolonged period of time. It's one diabolically effective system that often works well beyond expectation, and well into successive generations...

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  4. What prevents people surropunded by BURNABLE trash from BURNING it? Being poor is bad. Being sloppy filthy people is preventable. Show some respect and care for themselves and at least clean up a BIT. Matches are FREE at stores so they could at least burn some of their trash instead of just let it lay there and say boo hoo is me.

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    1. What prevents them from burning that trash is that yellow grass that would also burn. It's dry out there.

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    2. Burning trash only works if you're not surrounded by tens of thousands of acres of dry grass and cedar trees - and only if you have running water with which to put out any stray flames, which many of the reservation houses don't have.

      Think third world, and you're getting closer to many living situations on the reservations. It's not that simple.

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  5. The U.S. Government, its army, and European settlers did unforgivable things to Native Americans.

    But it's not 1875 anymore. Indians are free to move off the reservation and work to better their lives just like everyone else in America. Sure, it will be tough. But the Irish did it, Southern and Eastern Europeans did it, Asians did it. Even black slaves did it.

    Sitting around drinking malt liquor and waiting for someone else to take care of your problems isn't good enough. I wonder what Crazy Horse would have thought of Kimberly.

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    1. How does a family pack up and move with no money? Where do you go? Who are your references? How do you pay first/last/deposit on a place to live? How do you get lights and water turned on, with no water? How do you find a *job,* with no skills?

      When the Irish and others came over, the chances of building something from nothing were much, much higher. Today ... it's hard for an ordinary middle-class teenager to leave home, simply because the cost of living is so high. Poverty does not *allow* those so stricken to get out, because they lack the means to go.

      Many of these people don't even own a car, and Greyhound is 150 miles away, nor do they run for free ...

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  6. The situation is distressingly similar on far too many reserves in Canada as well. Substance abuse is endemic and prohibition doesn't help anything: When there's no booze or other drugs, people bent on getting #@%ed up because their life is so bleak will huff gasoline fumes.

    The problem is the underlying socioeconomic factors that drive people to such desperate acts in the first place. WHY are so many First Nations people in jails or on the streets? WHY are the dropout rates, suicide rates and teen pregnancy rates so high for First Nations?

    Despite the placatory words mouthed by oily politicians to this day, I believe that the former colonial powers have never truly found a way to fairly and effectively govern the peoples they conquered - because that's what it was - in the name of exploration and expansion. There's any number of reasons why, of course (far too many to go into here!), and it's a damned shame that those reasons seem to be roadblocks to resolving the situation.

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  7. You can burn or bury your trash bins, you can clean your house and your backyard, you can look for a job or move to a better place but ONLY WHEN you are not depressed and you've got some dignity to preserve. It seems these people see no future for themselves so why they should care?

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  8. Agreed with Anachronist.
    Finding a job these days is hard enough when you're qualified and substance abuse-free. With no qualifications or experience, massive depression, physical and mental health problems, substance abuse issues, no money and most likely several children depending on you, it must be nigh-on impossible. Not to mention the racial discrimination they're likely to encounter if they leave the reservation.

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  9. Read "The Broken Cord" by Michael Dorris for a heartrending description of a man raising an (adopted) boy with fetal alcohol syndrome. If the condition is anything near endemic, it may no longer be possible for people to better themselves. Burning your trash, saving your paycheck, getting educated, all may require more intellect than FAS patients have.

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  10. This seems so very familiar. I work with Indigenous Australians on a regular basis and have heard of and experienced very similar situations in the communities of North-Western Australia and beyond. The suicide, obesity, diabetes, domestic violence, alcoholism and mental health issues are terrifying, compounded all the more by racist and indifferent attitudes of many of the "white fellas" who see them as lazy and stupid.
    The dignity and pride for some of these people is non-existent, despite efforts from elders to pass on knowledge, heritage and cultural traditions to the next generation. The colonization of their tribal lands and the horrors it reaped upon these people are still alive and kicking; every indigenous tribal group has a "massacre story" which occurred in the not so distant past. Trusting White Australian society is pretty bloody hard when, is some instances, your grand-parents were witness to such events.
    That many traditional lands happen to contain rich lodes of iron ore or gold means that their country is legally destroyed for the sake of profit ("It keeps the Aussie economy strong mate!"). The sense of connection to their "country", albeit diluted because of the fragmentation and loss of oral histories one may argue, is nonetheless profound on a level that Europeans cannot and even refuse to understand. Approximately 40,000 years of ancestry, spiritual dependency and the very means of understanding ones place in the cosmos through the fabric of the land is very hard to shake off.
    Turning to the "Grog" is understandable in this context as it helps to anesthetize many still open wounds and obscures the obvious raping of their lands when self-worth and any sense of contribution to a greater cause is very short supply.

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  11. I am saddened by anyone who would say "it isn't 1875 anymore." I'm here to tell you, yes it is. If you have questions about why people on the Rez do not lift themselves up, you are simply displaying your (forgivable) ignorance. Please spend 5 years on the reservation volunteering and then get back to us.

    I am Native American, but had the benefit of growing up in a white town with a tax base, infrastructure, schools, and parents who kicked my ass if I did not get perfect grades. I am one of those people who you speak of, who "lifted themselves up." As you can see, no one does it on their own. Everyone has help. Those on the Pine Ridge reservation do not have any help. If you are so concerned about people helping themselves, help yourself by educating yourself, with the benefit of a government-funded internet, on your computer built by companies raking in millions in corporate welfare.

    Get it? No one does it on their own.

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