Extreme Poverty in Western America: Pine Ridge Reservation.


This article, while drawing many ties, does not focus itself on the trail of tears or genocide of the Native American. If you are interested in this topic, start here.

Update 7/24/2013
Added Red Cloud Indian School.

A brief introduction

If you asked the next ten people you saw where they could find the most severe poverty in the United States, there is a good chance they would give very similar answers. When we think of poverty, homelessness, and unemployment, we often think of inner city landscapes such as Chicago, New York, etc. However it may surprise you to know that the three poorest counties in the entire nation sit side by side in South Western South Dakota – they make up the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

"In The Shadow of Wounded Knee" By Aaron Huey

“In The Shadow of Wounded Knee” By Aaron Huey

Larger than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation consists of 3,468 square miles. Home to the Massacre at Wounded Knee and the AIM (American Indian Movement) standoff and killings in the early 1970s, the reservation has seen more than its fair share of tragedy.

Its people are the Lakota, indigenous residents of the Great Plains – part of the larger Sioux tribes.

The Lakota were forcefully moved to Indian reservations by the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, and they remain there to this day – a situation that now resembles Apartheid South Africa – a human rights atrocity and a disgrace to the “home of the free”.

For a more complete history and contemporary assessment of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, watch the video below.

The facts

Recent Census information and research reveals a world cut off from and ignored by modern America. With staggering statistics rivaling some of the poorest nation’s on earth, the Pine Ridge Reservation will blow your mind.

  • Unemployment rate of 80-90%
  • Per capita income of $4,000
  • 8 Times the United States rate of diabetes
  • 5 Times the United States rate of cervical cancer
  • Twice the rate of heart disease
  • 8 Times the United States rate of Tuberculosis
  • Alcoholism rate estimated as high as 80%
  • 1 in 4 infants born with fetal alcohol syndrome or effects
  • Suicide rate more than twice the national rate
  • Teen suicide rate 4 times the national rate
  • Infant mortality is three times the national rate
  • Life expectancy on Pine Ridge is the lowest in the United States and the 2nd lowest in the Western Hemisphere. Only Haiti has a lower rate.

It is hard to decide what is more shocking: the desolate conditions of the reservation, or the fact that these conditions are almost completely unknown to the American people.

Who is helping…

By now you are hopefully asking yourself what you can do. As always, the most important thing is to talk to others about it. We have the power to create social movements, in fact we are at the heart of all social movements. But beyond that, let us discuss those individuals and organizations that are doing good on the Reservation.

Henry Red Cloud

Henry Red Cloud is the direct 5th generation descendent of Chief Red Cloud, one of the last Lakota war chiefs and one of the most famous Native Americans in history. Henry was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, home of the Oglala Lakota Nation, where living conditions are extremely difficult.

For more than a decade, Henry has devoted himself to developing his expertise with renewable energy applications that are environmentally sound, economically beneficial, and culturally appropriate. Today, Henry is a twenty-first century Lakota Warrior, bringing green technology and employment to Native American communities. He reminds tribes that they can live sustainably and shows them that by embracing clean, renewable energy applications there is a way to get back to a traditional relationship with Mother Earth. As Henry says, “This is a new way to honor the old ways.”

Watch an interview with Henry Red Cloud on Democracy Now – here.

The Lakota Funds

Lakota Funds has touched the lives of thousands of Lakota people on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. According to a study published by Small Business Economics, Lakota Funds succeeded in raising real per capita income of Shannon county residents consistently and significantly throughout the 1987–2006 study period.

Lakota Funds has disbursed over 880 loans, totaling over $6.7 million, resulting in the creation of 1,386 jobs and nearly 473 businesses on or near the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. We have provided training and services to over 1,600 artists and over 4,300 aspiring entrepreneurs. The Pine Ridge Reservation now has more local goods and services available for community residents than ever before

The Red Cloud Indian School

Employing some of the best teachers in the country and utilizing the latest technology, the Red Cloud Indian School (named after Chief Red Cloud) is doing its part to create better and brighter futures for children on the reservation.

The school has a K through 12 comprehensive Lakota language curriculum, the first of its kind and have sent its students to many prestigious colleges such as Stanford and Harvard, just to name a few. (Thanks to fellow blogger Christopher Ives for the idea to include them.)


Here at Positive Activism, one of our main goals is to connect compassionate individuals to those in need. You can make a huge difference in the lives of the Lakota. Click on the link above for ways to help.

It cannot be said enough – talk about the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation with anyone that will listen. Your voice and your actions are at the heart of all social movements. Share this post, tell your friends and family about it, and volunteer your time, effort, or money to those people in need.

If you find yourself thirsting for more information, a place to rant, or something to do, contact Positive Activism.

13 Comments on “Extreme Poverty in Western America: Pine Ridge Reservation.

  1. Also – Check out Red Cloud Indian School & KILI Radio!
    Both organizations/companies are committed to supporting the community through education and awareness.

    Red Cloud has implemented the first K-12 Comprehensive Lakota Language Curriculum EVER and has more Gates Millennium Scholars than any school of it’s size in the the country! (59 to date). They send students to Stanford, Harvard, Dartmouth and others – Many of which return to the reservation to support their community! http://www.RedCloudSchool.org

    KILI Radio (www.kiliradio.org) are both funded by donation – consider supporting them!

    • A group known as Friends of Pine Ridge Reservation over the last 8 years has been busy supporting tje schools on Pine Ridge with books reading and text, support LOWO in many ways, nursing students at OLC, plus many books for the children for the build your own library progams and lets not forget the elders. Plus when Cangleska was there support to the battered women and children, A group that has much love.

      • If you click on the “You” link under the who is helping section, it takes you right to the Friends of Pine Ridge Reservation site. We love the work they do and didn’t forget about them. — The Author

    • I have been to both Kili and Red Cloud and know firsthand the work that they do. Expect and EDIT section adding those two to the list of people who are doing good on the res.

      — The Author.

    • Hello Kim,

      Well from Sweden physical volunteering is out :) But there are still many different things that you can do. Share this post on facebook and with family and friends. By talking about the issue (even as far away as Sweden) you are helping to create the conditions necessary for change.

      You can also visit http://www.friendsofpineridgereservation.org/difference/ for a long list of ways to help!

      Cheers – Ryan

    • Consider donations to KILI Radio or Red Cloud Indian School — But, most importantly is to educate yourself FIRST. Many people read one quick article and feel a desire or even obligation to help, but I’d ask you to educate yourself on the history, and the current events so that when you speak to others you are telling a full story.

      Specifically, I challenge everyone to try to seek out the positive and there is already plenty of information about the negative.


  2. It would be great if you could put a plug in for Lakota Immersion Childcare / Iyápi Glukínipi (www.lakotalearners.com). Located on the Pine Ridge Rez (7 miles west of Pine Ridge village), we are the only full-immersion Lakota language childcare program in existence. And funding is a perpetual challenge. Support in the local community is strong, but there is not a lot of capital here for local donations, or even at the tribal level. Anyway, contributions can be made at http://www.lakotalearners.com/Donate.html. Many thanks – wophila yelo!

  3. I believe this web site has some real excellent information for everyone. “Je veux que les paysans mettent la poule au pot tous les dimanches.” by King Henry IV of France.

  4. I genuinely enjoy studying on this web site , it has got excellent posts . “Violence commands both literature and life, and violence is always crude and distorted.” by Ellen Glasgow.

  5. http://www.kolafoundation.org/

    We are a non profit organization based out of the University of Illinois and we work to enhance educational opportunities for students on the reservation. We are trying to raise money bring students to our university for academic summer programs. If you are interested in learning more please visit our website!!!!

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