Students visit Pine Ridge to see new angle of life

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Amber Armstrong And Adrianne Hemerka

Editor’s Note: Amber Armstrong and Adrianne Hemerka are junior broadcast journalism majors. They wrote this essay for their rural sociology class.

A bonfire lights up the night as men, women and children with embroidered buckskin clothing with fringe dance around the fire, singing chants and songs of old as a drum rhythmically keeps the steady beat. Tourists travel from across the globe to witness this symbolic event. This type of event, a powwow, is just one way Lakota Native Americans unite to form religious and unified social interaction. Just like every powwow is different among the separate nations throughout the world, every Native American nation is unique in their own way.

The Pine Ridge Reservation, located in southwestern South Dakota, is mainly made up of the Lakota and Dakota nations. The population in this reservation is about 15,500 residents.

The mean earnings of residents on the reservation was $28, 731 and they were granted, on average, $3,000 in governmental assistance for the year 1999. That is $1,500 less governmental assistance than the Big Cypress reservation received that year.

Census data shows that almost 70 percent of students enrolled in school on the Pine Ridge reservation graduated, compared to 100 percent on the other reservation. Pamela Giago, acting superintendent of Pine Ridge Reservation, said children going to school on the reservation have a huge disadvantage when compared to those going elsewhere.

She said the standards on the reservation are not as high as they should be, and that the schools tend to fall below standards set by the government. She thinks this may trace back in history to when Native Americans and white people had a language barrier, which made it hard for the Native Americans to excel in school.

One disadvantage of living on the reservation is the lack of jobs, Giago said.

“There are no jobs here, causing several to fall into the welfare area. There is a lack of economy and economic development, ” Giago said.

Although there may be a few disadvantages to living on the reservation, she said the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. She said she believes that living on the reservation encourages a family-based community where residents can relate to each other. She said cultural activities play a big part in keeping the community feeling connected.

Giago said people from the reservation are discriminated against when they travel.

“People don’t look down on us just because we are Native American, but because they have misconceptions of us … getting handouts … people resent Native Americans for that,” she said.

Giago said she often does experiments by going to the local mall and will start a conversation with someone sitting on the same bench. If she speaks distinctively and uses big words, people will treat her differently than if she uses small words and appears less intelligent, which is a major stereotype of Native Americans, she said.

A majority of Native Americans living on the Pine Ridge reservation hold jobs in management, professional, and related occupations according to the 1999 Census.

Giago said the reason so many of the population are living on welfare is because of the lack of jobs in the area.

Poverty levels are high in Pine Ridge, which may be casually related to the lack of jobs in the area. In 1999, statistics from Census show that over half the population was below the poverty level. With female-only households, that number skyrockets to over 60 percent.

Native Americans’ economic and social outcomes are not so much about them being Native American, it’s more about the historical context of the land they inhabit. Their spiritual and social interactions throughout history have conformed to modern society to become who they are and what they stand for today.

#1.885593:420671032.jpg:indians.jpg:This photo was taken at a veteranĀ“s center on a trip to Pine Ridge Reservation by students in the Advanced Reporting class. :Denise Watt