Trip to Pine Ridge provides insight

Zach Conrad

Zach Conrad

I just got back from a short trip to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. It was the first time I had the opportunity to spend time with the Lakota in a different setting: where they live.

There are approximately 25,000 to 30,000 Lakota living on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. They suffer greatly in the areas of employment, health care, housing, alcoholism, broken families and resources. The current jobless rate on the reservation is nearly 84 percent, forcing approximately 69 percent of the residents to live under the poverty line. The reservation has a median income of $2,600 annually.

I grew up in Kansas City, Miss., having friends and knowing people of many racial backgrounds. My parents always invited people over to the house, especially when a missionary from another country would come. I grew up not having any known prejudices.

However, I quickly learned after moving to pasty-white-Warroad, Minn. that I was a “Nigger Lover” because of my friends I had in Kansas City. That was different for me. However, this is where, if I am honest with myself, new prejudices began.

The people of that town were very negative towards Native Americans, although proud of the traditions. Warroad, after all, is named after the path that warring Sioux and Chippewa tribes used in route to battle. When the casino “moved into town,” people started thinking the town was going down the hole. I started hearing racial slurs, generalizations and worst of all, people within the church saying it.

How can this be? How can one’s skin color determine better-ness? Or worth? Or status?

I didn’t think I had any prejudices. However, I have been keenly aware in the last few months just how few people I intentionally get to know who are African American or Native American. I feel comfortable with people like me. But who are people like me? We are in a place of power handed down through some of our government’s worst offenses. Power stripped from other people.

I tend to believe I am not responsible for the way people of different race have been and are treated because I didn’t think I was prejudice. But I do have to admit that I didn’t listen.

A few months ago I attended a conference with a key part dealing with racial reconciliation. We saw a video of some real life statistics that show just how skewed our society is and that we truly have a long way to go in reconciling between brothers and sisters of race. It really started to work on me. You can view it for yourself at

Back to Pine Ridge. Talking with the three men I met, the realism of racism, homelessness, child abuse and neglect, alcoholism and hopelessness took hold of my heart. By no means have I been able to process everything, but I know it was good for me to be immersed into their culture, even if for a day. I have a better understanding of life on the reservation, and I have context and people to debrief what I learned. I am on the road to understanding my new brothers.

E-mail comments to Zach at [email protected].