The BIA, a POW Camp, and other facts learned…

A few facts I have learned recently….

(1) The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) was created as a part of the War Department…the War Department. Therefore, it is not much of a stretch to think that it must have been created to be aggressive and to suppress the Native Americans.

(2) The Pine Ridge Reservation is was (is still?) classified as a POW Camp. After all, the Native Americans are governed by the BIA, a War Department branch.

(3) After the formation of the reservations, the Native Americans had to ask permission to leave the reservation. They needed a “pass”. While they do not need a pass today, they might as well still have it imposed. The abject poverty of the area traps the Lakota on the reservation. It is over 100 miles to Rapid City, SD. Over 60 miles to a town in Nebraska, the location of the closest Wal-Mart.

(4) Not only is it poor, but the cost of food and items needed to live are through the roof. My reference food, a small container of Gerber’s Beef Baby Food is about 99 cents in Westminster, MD. On the reservation it is $1.33. The median income for a family is $4200/year.


A painting from a buffalo robe

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Words of the Elders and the Tragedy of the Commons

Each morning we start out with Wisdom of the Elders. After breakfast we gathered in the Great Hall and listened to the morning wisdom. The phrase that resonated with me was: “The strongest weapon of any warrior is love.”. This is a phrase that reaches across the boundaries of every religion. The Lakota people also think of their warriors as Great Defenders.

As I listened to the Wisdom this morning, I was also struck by a thought about the Native American concept of “ownership” as related to the Environmental Situation often referred to as the Tragedy of the Commons (ToC). The ToC refers to a common resource that becomes overused as individuals try to increase their wealth or better their position without respect for the others depending on the resource. The common example is the overgrazing of a “common pasture”, and as a common resource becomes overused, everyone in the community suffers. We see it happening today with tester resources, fisheries, overgrazing, mineral and petroleum resources, etc.

I think the ToC is a uniquely European concept. I have not come across anything relating to the mis-use of resources in Native American cultures. In fact, they lived sustainably; the Lakota were hunters and gathers, the were nomadic. I wonder if other nomadic cultures also avoided the ToC. It was only after the Europeans came and started to kill the buffalo and force the Native Americans onto reservations did they begin to suffer so greatly. In fact, if you read about the early treaties signed by the government officials and the Lakota at the time, the government made them wards of the state. They were going to be responsible for feeding, caring, and more or less raising the Lakota peoples. Well, we see how well that has worked out…haven’t we. The reservation where the Lakota have been forced to live on Pine Ridge is one of the poorest places in the United States. The life expectancy for a male Lakota born on the reservation is 47 years old….47. I could go on, but I think the life expectancy sums it up.

The only other place in the Western Hemisphere with a lower life expectancy is Haiti.


Living in the Shadow of Wounded Knee


The memorial for the massacre at Wounded Knee

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Crazy Horse to Pine Ridge

This morning we set out early from Rapid City to Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse. Just a short stop by Mount Rushmore, to take in the Giant Heads and a longer more detailed stop at Crazy Horse.

The complex at Crazy Horse is wonderful, there is a cultural center and museum along with a workshop that details how the Crazy Horse monument is being built. Additionally, local Native American artists were on hand selling their wares. I bought a beautiful beaded keychain from Ernest Libby, an artist from the Pine Ridge reservation. Ernest and his brother-in-law also teach Native Dancing. The center at the Crazy Horse monument is well worth a visit and highly recommended. The center is privately funded, so please visit. Every donation helps!

Afterwards we headed down the road into the heat of the Grassland and on into Pine Ridge. We arrived at the Re-member project in the afternoon and found our lodging. So far we have been here for only a few hours and have met quite a number of cool and interesting people who are all here for the week.

I am afraid that blogging might be a bit difficult this week. We have a pretty rigid schedule with the Re-member Project, but I am going to try to get at least three blogs done during the week.


Mount Rushmore


Crazy Horse

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Two Worlds: Oglala Lakota College and White Clay, Nebraska


We have had a series of successful meeting with faculty and administrators at Oglala Lakota College (OLC). We have met with Dr. Deig Sandoval and Jason Tinant at the OLC Center for Science and Technology. We also have met with Dr. Thomas Shortbull, the President of OLC, and the Director of the He Sapa OLC center in Rapid City, Shirley Lewis. Today we are meeting with the Director of the OLC Nursing Program in Pine Ridge, Joan Nelson.

OLC is a decentralized campus. The administrative headquarters are not in Rapid City, as you may expect, but outside off Kyle, SD. Kyle is on the Pine Ridge Reservation about an hour and change southeast of Rapid City. OLC has fourteen college centers throughout Pine Ridge Reservation, Cheyenne River Reservation, and Rapid City. It is not uncommon for students and faculty to travel more than 100 miles round trip to take or teach a course. When we met with Dr. Shortbull he explained that the philosophy of OLC was to bring the education and classes to the Lakota instead of requiring them travel to a larger town for the classes. Given the great distances between college centers however, there is still quite a bit of traveling involved, even though it takes place on the reservation. We have come away from our meetings with OLC representatives with hope and plans for the future.

We then went to the town of Pine Ridge. While Melanie attested to the fact that there has been growth in the area since she was last here, 15 years ago, to me it was run down, poorer than poor, and isolated. We stopped at a small coffee shop called Higher Grounds and bought a cup of coffee, and popped into the post office for some stamps. I have decided to spend my money, when possible, on the reservation. They need it here.

We then took a quick cruise down into White Clay, Nebraska. White Clay is just over the state line from the Pine Ridge Reservation; they have a population of about 11 people but sell upwards of 4 to 5 million cans of beer a year. Alcohol is banned on the Pine Ridge Reservation because of severe alcoholism and the problems which follow along with it. So instead, people head down to White Clay, from the reservation, to drink. There were maybe five buildings on each side of the street, all selling alcohol. All the buildings had people lying outside of them, or sitting on the sidewalk. People were squatting in abandoned houses, passed out alongside the street. The town, and the people selling the alcohol surely know they are ruining the lives of many on the reservation, yet it continues to happen. It was the most disturbing sight I have witnessed in a long time.

The reservation has tried to sue the town of White Clay to have them stop selling alcohol, but have not been able to get anywhere. Here is an excerpt from an article from the NY Times earlier this year: “Half the population over 40 on Pine Ridge has diabetes, and tuberculosis runs at eight times the national rate. As many as two-thirds of adults may be alcoholics, one-quarter of children are born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, and the life expectancy is somewhere around the high 40s — shorter than the average for sub-Saharan Africa. Less than 10 percent of children graduate from high school.”

I will end on that today. Two worlds – one with educational promises and one with ruined lives.

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Into Pine Ridge

On June 26, 2012 we left the Black Hills, through Deadwood, Sturgis, and Rapid City and entered the rolling landscape of the South Dakota prairie and grassland. As we passed through Deadwood, I was reminded of what we learned in Lead, SD about gambling in the state. Each town/city has legislation over whether or not to allow gambling. In Deadwood (as well as parts of Rapid City) gambling appears almost unregulated, even small gas stations have slot machines. Deadwood is full of casinos and gaming parlors. Deadwood is also a major tourist attraction; they recreate a “shoot-out” each evening in the summer for the tourists along Main Street. We really didn’t spend too much time in Deadwood, this type of tourist excursion is not on our agenda.

As we passed through to the grasslands outside Rapid City and the Black Hills grew smaller behind, the sense of isolation begin to grow. Nothing stretched off to the sides of the highway but open spaces. Some of the space was bring used for cattle grazing or farming. We passed through small towns; when I say small, I really mean small. Four houses, a farm, horses, cattle, maybe some tractors, and a truck or two. Prairie dogs lined the highway watching us go by. There was very little traffic, I think we maybe passed six cars in about 45 minutes and this was on a state highway.

Right before we entered the Pine Ridge Reservation we clipped the edges of the Badlands. Well, to be honest, we took a wrong turn. Luckily we only went about 8 miles before we realized our mistake. I had never been to the Badlands before, but just that first glimpse was enough to make me want to spend some serious time exploring the area – as a geologist.

As we entered Pine Ridge, the emptiness seemed to increase. The low density of houses became even less. The landscape rolled on, undulating in the distance. We reached Sharp’s Corner, a small grouping of houses along BIA HWY 27. There was a crowded store, the parking lot full of pickup trucks. We saw a grouping of about 15 tepees in the distance with a sign that said “No Tourists”. It reminded us that it was Tree Day, the day that families pick the Cottonwood tree for the Sundance Ceremony.

We reached Oglala Lakota College Administrative Offices, just southwest of Kyle, SD. Across the street is the Lakota Prairie Resort, where we will be staying for three nights; there is also an office for the Pine Ridge Chamber of Commerce. There is nothing else.

Since I have finally discovered how to add the photos to my blog via the Word Press app for my iPad, here are some photos from the last two days.


I know it is fuzzy, but I took this photo out of the plane window over Texas. Each square is a platform for oil/gas drilling.


This is a photo of the worlds’s most productive gold mine, the Homestake mine in Lead, SD.


One of the oldest trout hatcheries in the west, the D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery in Spearfish, SD.




The three photos above are of Scenic, SD. A more or less abandoned (ghost town) town at the intersection of State Highway 44 and BIA HWY 27. I loved all the cattle skulls.



The two photos above are of the surrounding area. The Cheyenne River is a major river that flows through the grassland.


It was dusk as we were driving from Rapid City back to Kyle. The pronghorns were out all along the road in the Badlands.

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The Black Hills

We have spent the last two days in the Black Hills. The Black Hills received their name from the dense covering of evergreens. It is an amazing landscape change from the rolling hills of the grassland to the sharply rising mountains of the Black Hills. We have been staying in the town of Lead, SD. Lead is the site of the worlds’s most productive gold mine, the Homestake Mine. It was a fitting place to start our trip given the tension between the United States Government and the Lakota peoples over ownership of the Back Hills.

We toured the Homestake Gold Mine. The mine is an impressive open up of a half mile, and a surface depth of about 1200 feet. However, it goes underground to a depth of 8000 feet! The mine closed in 2002, due to the falling cost of gold and the expense required for underground mining. The mine was given to the state of South Dakota as a tourism site. As we watched the informational video at the beginning of the tour there was not mention of the Lakota. I found that very interesting, considering the first gold prospectors were breaking the treaty set with the Lakota by entering the Back Hills to search for gold. The tour was focused on the gold and the settlers that founded the town or Lead with no mention of the Lakota for the entire time.

I had read in “The Lakota and the Black Hills” that only very recently have the Lakota people’s been mentioned in tours of Mount Rushmore. Considering they were some of the original inhabitants of the regions, it is about time.
The photo below is Kate Hudson (McDaniel Student), Carolyn Rittenhouse (Cheyenne River Lakota), and Lauren Zafrir (McDaniel Student) at our meeting with Carolyn prior to leaving for South Dakota.


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Flight to South Dakota

The flight from BWI to Rapid City Regional Airport took us through Houston, yes it was planned.  There are a limited number of options when flying into Rapid City, SD.

However, the flight from Houston to Rapid City passed over some of the most geologically diverse landscape I have witnessed in a long time.  There is nothing like seeing geology from the air.  We flew over the Sand Hills, buttes, canyons, and meandering rivers.  The most interesting, perhaps disturbing, landscape we flew over were acres and acres of drilling platforms.  In some cases, there was drilling for hydraulic fracturing, as evidenced from the large waster water ponds near the sites.  In other cases, it was likely oil.  In every case, it scared the landscape below.  I was able to take a couple of snapshots out the window of the plane.  In some cases, the drilling platforms stretched as far as the eye could see.

Another feature that stood out was the severity of drought in the mid-west.  Rivers were low or dry, only river beds were showing in many cases.  Lakes and ponds had receding shorelines.  There was little green.

There are fights for water going on in the mid-western states between ranchers, farmers, and hydraulic fracturing companies.  Everyone needs water.


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Preparations for Leaving

In one week, we will be in Lead, SD.  If you are unfamiliar with Lead (pronounced “leed” not “lead”), it is a small town in the Black Hills, near the Wyoming state line.  Lead was founded in 1867, after the discovery of gold and is the location of the Homestake Gold Mine.  While the mine was the most productive gold mine in the United States, it closed in 2002.  I have been reading “The Lakotas and the Black Hills: The Struggle for Sacred Ground” by Jeffrey Ostler as background information about the controversies concerning the “ownership” of the Black Hills.  The book details the fights, on the battlefields and the court rooms, that the Lakota have waged to try to recover their homeland.   Today, the Black Hills land case is still an ongoing issue.

This week is all about preparation: organizing our calendars, meetings with administration at McDaniel College, a meeting with Carolyn Rittenhouse, a colleague from Millersville University.  Carolyn is originally from the Cheyenne River Reservation, one of our stops in South Dakota.  Additionally, we have the challenge of packing for three weeks.  Besides our personal items, we are taking donations for the Cheyenne River Youth Center and soil testing equipment for use in Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River.

The first week we are in South Dakota, Melanie and I will be meeting with representatives of the Oglala Lakota College (OLC), including the President, Dr. Thomas Shortbull.  We are also planning to meet with representatives of the nursing program and the Oglala Lakota Center for Science and Technology.   We also plan to stop by Red Cloud Indian School and St. Joseph’s Indian School.  On June 29, 2012 Lauren Zafrir and Kate Hudson, two McDaniel Students, fly out to meet us in Rapid City and we will head to the RE-MEMBER project on the Pine Ridge Reservation for a week.  Following our week on Pine Ridge, we head out to the Cheyenne River Reservation to spend some time with the Cheyenne River Youth Project.

It will be a busy three weeks, but I have no doubt that our time will be spent learning and connecting with the people we meet in South Dakota.

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