Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation
Wazí Aháŋhaŋ Oyáŋke
Pine Ridge Agency
—  Reservation  —
Badlands in the northern portion of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

Location of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota
Country United States
State South Dakota
Counties Shannon, Jackson, Bennett, also Sheridan County, Nebraska
Established 1889
 – Governing Body Tribal Council of the Oglala Sioux Tribe
 – Tribal President
 – Total 3,468.86 sq mi (8,984.306 km2)
Population (2000)
 – Total 28,700
Time zone MST (UTC-7)
 – Summer (DST) MDT (UTC-6)

The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (Wazí Aháŋhaŋ Oyáŋke in Lakota, also called Pine Ridge Agency) is an Oglala Sioux Native American reservation located in the U.S. state of South Dakota. Originally included within the territory of the Great Sioux Reservation, Pine Ridge was established in 1889 in the southwest corner of South Dakota on the Nebraska border. Today it consists of 3,468.86 sq mi (8,984.306 km²) of land area and is the eighth-largest reservation in the United States, larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined.

The reservation encompasses the entirety of Shannon County, the southern half of Jackson County and the northwest portion of Bennett County. Of the 3,143 counties in the United States, these are among the poorest. Only 84,000 acres (340 km2) of land are suitable for agriculture. Extensive off-reservation trust lands are held mostly scattered throughout Bennett County (all of Bennett County was part of Pine Ridge until May 1910,[1][2] and also extend into adjacent Pine Ridge, Nebraska in Sheridan County, just south of the community of Pine Ridge, South Dakota, the administrative center and largest community within the reservation. The 2000 census population of the reservation was 15,521; but a study conducted by Colorado State University and accepted by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development has estimated the resident population to reach 28,787.[3]

Pine Ridge is the site of several events that marked tragic milestones in the history between the Sioux of the area and the United States (US) government and its citizens. Stronghold Table - a mesa in what is today the Oglala-administered portion of Badlands National Park - was the location of the last of the Ghost Dances. The US authorities' attempt to repress this movement eventually led to the Wounded Knee Massacre on December 29, 1890. A mixed band of Miniconjou Lakota and Hunkpapa Sioux, led by Chief Spotted Elk, sought sanctuary at Pine Ridge after fleeing the Standing Rock Agency, where Sitting Bull had been killed during efforts to arrest him. The families were intercepted by a heavily armed detachment of the Seventh Cavalry, which attacked them, killing many women and children as well as warriors. This was the last large engagement between US forces and Native Americans and marked the end of the western frontier.

Changes accumulated in the last quarter of the 20th century; in 1971 the Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST) started Oglala Lakota College, independently operated by the tribe, which offers 4-year degrees. In 1973 decades of discontent at the Pine Ridge Reservation resulted in a grassroots protest, which escalated into the Wounded Knee Incident. Members of the Oglala Lakota, the American Indian Movement, and supporters occupied the town in defiance of federal and state law enforcement in a protest that turned into an armed standoff lasting 71 days. This event inspired American Indians across the country and gradually led to changes at the reservation, with a revival of some cultural traditions. In 1981 the Lakota Tim Giago started the Lakota Times at Pine Ridge, the first independent Native American newspaper in the nation, which he published until selling it in 1998.

At the southern end of the Badlands, the reservation is part of the mixed grass prairie, an ecological transition zone between the short-grass and tall-grass prairies; all are part of the Great Plains. A great variety of plant and animal life flourishes on and adjacent to the reservation, including the endangered black-footed ferret. The area is also important in the field of paleontology; it contains deposits of Pierre Shale formed on the seafloor of the Western Interior Seaway, evidence of the marine K-T boundary, and one of the largest deposits of fossils of extinct mammals from the Oligocene epoch.



Nineteenth century

Great Sioux Reservation

Red Cloud Agency

Map showing the Great Sioux Reservation, subsequent loss of land to the federal government, and current holdings of the various Sioux reservations

I know of no other instance in history where a great nation has so shamefully violated its oath. Our country must forever bear the disgrace and suffer the retribution of its wrongdoing. Our children’s children will tell the sad story in hushed tones, and wonder how their fathers dared so to trample on justice and trifle with God.

Henry Benjamin Whipple, chairman of Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), on the taking of the Black Hills; statements made in official BIA report, 1876

As stipulated in the Fort Laramie Treaty (1868), the US government built Indian agencies for the various Lakota and other Plains tribes. These were forerunners to the modern Indian reservations. The Red Cloud Agency was established for the Oglala Lakota in 1871 on the North Platte River in Wyoming Territory. The location was one mile (1.6 km) west of the present town of Henry, Nebraska. The location of the Red Cloud Agency was moved to two other locations before being settled at the present Pine Ridge location. Pine Ridge Reservation was originally part of the Great Sioux Reservation established by the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868; it encompassed approximately 60 million contiguous acres (240,000 km²) of western South Dakota (all of what is now called West River), northern Nebraska and eastern Wyoming.

Loss of the Black Hills

In 1874 George Armstrong Custer led the US Army Black Hills Expedition, which set out on July 2 from Fort Abraham Lincoln in the Dakota Territory, with orders to travel to the previously uncharted Black Hills of South Dakota. Its mission was to look for suitable locations for a fort, find a route to the southwest, and to investigate the potential for gold mining. His discovery of gold was made public and miners began migrating there illegally.

"Custer's florid descriptions of the mineral and timber resources of the Black Hills, and the land's suitability for grazing and cultivation... received wide circulation, and had the effect of creating an intense popular demand for the 'opening' of the Hills for settlement."[4] Initially the U.S. military tried to turn away trespassing miners and settlers. Eventually President Grant, the Secretary of the Interior, and the Secretary of War, "decided that the military should make no further resistance to the occupation of the Black Hills by miners."[5] These orders were to be enforced "quietly," and the President's decision was to remain "confidential."[5]

A 1911 ad offering former reservation land for sale. Most of the land sold the previous year (1910) was Sioux land.

As more settlers and gold miners invaded the Black Hills, the Government determined it had to acquire the land from the Sioux, and appointed a commission to negotiate the purchase.[6] The negotiations failed, as the Sioux resisted giving up what they considered sacred land. The US resorted to military force. They declared the Sioux Indians "hostile" for failing to obey an order to return from an off-reservation hunting expedition by a specific date, but in the dead of winter, overland travel was impossible.[7]

The consequent military expedition to remove the Sioux from the Black Hills included an attack on a major encampment of several bands on the Little Bighorn River. Led by General Custer, the attack ended in the overwhelming victory of chiefs Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse over the 7th Cavalry Regiment, a conflict often called Custer's Last Stand.[8][9]

In 1876 the US Congress decided to open up the Black Hills to development and break up the Great Sioux Reservation. In 1877, it passed an act to make 7.7 million acres (31,000 km²) of the Black Hills available for sale to homesteaders and private interests. In 1889 Congress divided the remaining area of Great Sioux Reservation into five separate reservations and defined the boundaries of each in its Act of March 2, 1889, 25 Stat. 888.

Wounded Knee Massacre

Survivors of Wounded Knee Massacre, 1891 (Title: What's left of Big Foot's band). John C. Grabill

The Wounded Knee Massacre occurred on December 29, 1890,[10] near Wounded Knee Creek (Lakota: Cankpe Opi Wakpala). On the day before, a detachment of the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment commanded by Major Samuel M. Whitside intercepted Spotted Elk's (Big Foot) band of Miniconjou Lakota and 38 Hunkpapa Lakota near Porcupine Butte and escorted them 5 miles (8.0 km) westward to Wounded Knee Creek where they made camp. The rest of the 7th Cavalry Regiment, led by Colonel James Forsyth, surrounded the encampment supported by four Hotchkiss guns.[11]

On the morning of December 29, the troops went into the camp to disarm the Lakota. One version of events claims that during the process, a deaf tribesman named Black Coyote was reluctant to give up his rifle, saying he had paid a lot for it.[12] A scuffle over Black Coyote's rifle escalated and a shot was fired, which resulted in the 7th Cavalry opening firing indiscriminately from all sides, killing men, women, and children, as well as some of their fellow troopers. Those few Lakota warriors who still had weapons began shooting back at the troopers, who quickly suppressed the Lakota fire. The surviving Lakota fled, but U.S. cavalrymen pursued and killed many who were unarmed.

In the end, US forces killed at least 150 men, women, and children of the Lakota Sioux and wounded 51 (four men, and 47 women and children, some of whom died later); some estimates placed the number of dead at 300. Twenty-five troopers also died, and thirty-nine were wounded (six of the wounded would also die).[13] Many Army victims were believed to have died by friendly fire, as the shooting took place at close range in chaotic conditions.[14]

The site has been designated a National Historic Landmark and is administered by the National Park Service.[10]

Twentieth century

The White Clay Extension

Tavern in Whiteclay, Nebraska (1940)

In 1882 President Chester A. Arthur issued an executive order establishing the White Clay Extension, a fifty-square-mile buffer zone in northern Nebraska south of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, to prevent the illegal sale of alcohol to the Oglala Lakota inhabitants of Pine Ridge.

In 1889, and again in 1890, the U.S. Congress enacted legislation incorporating this buffer zone, known as the White Clay Extension, within the boundaries of the reservation. The buffer zone was to remain a part of the reservation indefinitely until such time as the original protective function was no longer necessary.

In 1904 President Theodore Roosevelt by executive order placed 49 square miles (130 km2) of the 50 square miles (130 km2) of the White Clay Extension into the public domain. The town of Whiteclay, Nebraska, in Sheridan County, Nebraska, just over the border from the reservation, was established in the former "Extension" zone. Today the town has 14 residents and four liquor stores, which sell an estimated 4.5 million 12-ounce cans of beer annually (12,500 cans per day) to residents of the reservation (where the sale and possession of alcohol is illegal), fueling a high rate of alcoholism. The town of Whiteclay exists only to sell alcohol and beer to the Oglala.[15]

Taking of Bennett County

No land changes were made within Pine Ridge until the US Congress passed the Pine Ridge Act of May 27, 1910 (§ 1, 36 Stat. 440), by which most of the southeastern portion of Pine Ridge located within Bennett County was sold off and came under the jurisdiction of the state of South Dakota.

"... (T)he Secretary of the Interior be, and he is hereby authorized and directed, as hereinafter provided, to sell and dispose of all that portion of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, in the State of South Dakota, lying and being in Bennett County and described as follows...." (Act of May 27, 1910, § 1 (36 Stat. 440).
"Provided that any Indian to whom allotments have been made on the tract to be ceded may, in case they elect to do so before said lands are offered for sale, relinquish same and select allotments in lieu thereof on the diminished reservation."


The South Dakota Legislature determined the boundaries of Bennett County in 1909, while the land area was still part of the reservation.[17]

Indian Reorganization Act

During the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's, administration tried to make some changes to benefit American Indians. In response to complaints about corruption and injustices in the BIA management of reservations, Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, permitting tribal nations to reorganize with self-government. It encouraged a model of elected representative governments and elected tribal chairmen or presidents, with written constitutions, further eroding the traditional clan system.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe developed a tribal government along such lines, with a chairman to be elected for a two-year term. The BIA still had the ability to oversee some tribal operations, including the police, who were often assigned from other Indian tribes rather than representing local people. Many traditionals among the Oglala Lakota never supported the new style of government; tribal elders were still respected, and there were multiple lines of authority and influence among different groups on the reservation. Political factions also formed between those who were mixed-bloods and those who were full-bloods.[18] The people continued to be under pressure: through the early part of the century, many children were sent away to Indian boarding schools, where they were usually required to speak English, prohibited from speaking Lakota, and were pressured to assimilate to European-American ways and religions. Many institutions also had abuse of children.[19]

Taking of Badlands Bombing Range

Dewey Beard one of the models for the Indian Head Nickel had his home of 35 years taken when he was 84 years-old
A controlled detonation of unexploded ordnance blows a crater into the earth at the Air Force Retained Area of the Badlands Bombing Range (Oct. 3, 2011)

During World War II, in 1942 the Department of War annexed 341,725 acres (1,382.91 km2) of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for use by the United States Army Air Force as an aerial gunnery and bombing range. It condemned privately held land owned by tribal members and leased communally held tribal land.

Among the 125 families forced to give up their land was that of Pat Cuny. He was an Oglala soldier with the 83rd Infantry Division, who landed in Normandy at Omaha Beach two weeks after the Normandy invasion in 1944 after his transport was torpedoed in the English Channel, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, helped liberate the Langenstein concentration camp,[20] and fought to the final conquest of Nazi Germany.[21]

Another family forced to give up their land was that of Dewey Beard, a Miniconjou Sioux survivor of the Wounded Knee Massacre. One of the models for the Indian Head nickel, he was 84 years old at the time of the taking and still supported himself by raising horses on his 908-acre (3.67 km2) allotment received in 1907. The compensation provided by the government was nominal and paid out in small installments insufficient to make a down payment on other property; Dewey Beard and others like him became homeless. He testified before Congressional hearings in 1955 when the Sioux sought to address their grievances over the land taking.[22]

The US military used the Badland Bombing Range (BBR), the largest portion of which is located in Shannon County, as a live-fire range for 30 years. Most recently, the Air National Guard used it as a training range. Since 1960 the US returned portions of the range to the Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST) in a piecemeal fashion. In 1968 Congress enacted Public Law 90-468, authorizing the return of 202,357 acres (818.91 km2) to the OST, but also setting aside 136,882 acres (553.94 km2) of former tribal lands to establish Badlands National Monument, to be managed by the National Park Service. The U.S. Air Force maintained 2,486 acres (10.06 km2) of land on Bouquet Table within the boundaries of the reservation.[23]The land has recently been cleared of the last unexploded munitions by contractors from the 28th Civil Engineer Squadron and Native American Engineering in a joint effort between the Air Force and the Ogala Sioux Tribe for eventual return to the reservation.[24]

"For fifty years I have been kicked around. Today there is a hard winter coming. I do not know whether I am to keep warm, or whether to live, and the chance is I might starve to death~Dewey Beard's 1955 testimony before Congress at age 97 on the taking of his land for inclusion in the Badlands Bombing Range

Wounded Knee Incident

Oglala Lakota resented decades of perceived discrimination and injustice both on and off the reservation. Some reservation residents turned to the activist American Indian Movement for help, especially in seeking justice in the murder of 20-year-old Wesley Bad Heart Bull in a border town. Their protest at the county courthouse fell into violence when they were met with riot police. The protesters did millions of dollars in damages.[25]

Longstanding divisions on the reservation resulted from deep-seated political, ethnic and cultural differences. Many residents did not support the tribal government. Most recently, many residents were upset about what they described as the autocratic and repressive actions by the current tribal president Dick Wilson, elected in 1972. He was criticized for favoring family and friends with jobs and benefits, not consulting with the tribal council, and creating a private militia, Guardians of the Oglala Nation (GOONs), to suppress political opponents.

After an attempt to impeach Wilson failed, his opponents had a grassroots uprising, with women elders such as Ellen Moves Camp, founder of OSCRO, calling for action.[19] About 200 AIM and Oglala Lakota activists occupied the hamlet of Wounded Knee on February 27, 1973. They demanded the removal of Wilson, restoration of treaty negotiations with the US government, and correction of US failures to enforce treaty rights. Visits by the US senators from South Dakota, FBI agents and United States Department of Justice (DOJ) representatives, were attended by widespread media coverage, but the Richard Nixon administration was preoccupied internally with Watergate.[19]

As the events evolved, the activists at Wounded Knee inspired Indians across the US. They had a 71-day armed stand-off with US law enforcement. AIM leaders at the site were Russell Means, Dennis Banks and Carter Camp; traditional spiritual leaders of the Lakota, such as Frank Fools Crow, were also prominent. Fools Crow led Oglala Lakota spiritual ceremonies and practice in their ways for participants.[19] Joseph H. Trimbach of the FBI and Steve Frizell of DOJ led the government.[19] During the gunfire, a U.S. Marshal was seriously wounded and paralyzed. The Cherokee Frank Clearwater, from North Carolina, and Buddy Lamont, a local Oglala Lakota, both died from gunfire in April. After Lamont's death, the Oglala Lakota elders called an end to the occupation.[19] Some Lakota have alleged that Ray Robinson, a civil rights activist, was killed during the Wounded Knee takeover, as he disappeared then.[26][27]

The stand-off ended, but Wilson remained in office. (The US government said it could not remove an elected tribal official as the Oglala Sioux Tribe had sovereignty.[19] Open conflict between factions caused numerous deaths. The murder rate between March 1, 1973, and March 1, 1976, was 170 per 100,000; it was the highest in the country. Detroit had a rate of 20.2 per 100,000 in 1974 and at the time was considered "the murder capital of the US." The national average was 9.7 per 100,000.[28] More than 60 opponents of the tribal government died violent deaths in the three years following the Wounded Knee Incident, a time many residents called the "Reign of Terror". Among those killed was Pedro Bissonette, executive director of the civil rights organization OSCRO.[29] Residents accused officials of failing to try to solve the deaths.[30]

In 2000, the FBI released a report that accounted for most of the deaths, and disputed the claims of unsolved murders.[31][32] AIM representatives criticized the FBI report.[33]

Pine Ridge shootout

In this period of increased violence, on June 26, 1975, the reservation was the site of an armed confrontation between AIM activists and the FBI in what became known as the Pine Ridge Shootout.[34] Two FBI agents, Jack R. Coler and Ronald A. Williams, and the AIM activist Jim Stuntz were killed. The US prosecution of suspects in the execution-style deaths of the FBI agents led to trials: AIM members Robert Robideau and Dino Butler were acquitted. Leonard Peltier was extradited from Canada, tried separately because of the delay, and convicted in 1977.[35] He was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences and has not been granted parole. Some of his supporters argue there was a lack of substantive evidence against him. The conviction and sentence have been controversial, but they have been upheld in repeated appeals.

Murder of Anna Mae Aquash

On February 24, 1976, the body of Anna Mae Aquash, a Mi'kmaq activist and the most prominent woman in AIM, was found in the far northeast corner of the Pine Ridge Reservation. Missing since December 1975, she had been shot execution-style in the back of the head. At the time, people alleged that she was believed to have been a government informant, but the FBI has denied that. In 1974 AIM had discovered that Douglas Durham, then head of security, was found to be an FBI informant. He was expelled from AIM at a press conference in early 1975. Fears were high within the organization. It was more than a quarter of a century before any suspects were indicted and tried for Aquash's murder, although three federal grand juries were called to hear testimony: in 1976, 1982 and 1994.

Twenty-first century (2000 to present)

In 2002, journalist Paul DeMain, editor of the independent News from Indian Country, wrote an editorial, saying that a respected group of people had told him that Leonard Peltier had bragged to several AIM members in 1975, including Aquash, that he killed FBI agent Ron Coleman. They believed Aquash had been killed by AIM leaders worried that she might be an FBI informant. In 2003 after continued investigation, DeMain withdrew his support for clemency for Peltier. Witnesses have testified at trials in 2004 and 2010 about AIM abuses during and after the 1970s.

In 2003, a federal grand jury indicted Arlo Looking Cloud, an Oglala Lakota, and John Graham, Native American, for the murder of Aquash. Witnesses, including Kamook Nichols, the former common-law wife of AIM leader Dennis Banks, testified in court to Peltier's having bragged about his murders of the FBI agents. Looking Cloud was convicted in 2004. With the publicity about potential AIM involvement in the murder of Aquash, Cheryl Robinson, widow of Ray Robinson, who disappeared during the Wounded Knee Incident, renewed her plea for investigation into her husband's death.[36]

Graham was extradited from Canada and indicted by the state of South Dakota in 2009, together with Tracy Rios, for the kidnapping, rape and murder of Aquash. In a plea bargain, Rios pled guilty as an accessory to kidnapping. Graham was convicted of felony murder by a South Dakota court in 2010.[37] Both Looking Cloud and Graham are serving life sentences. Authorities continue to investigate the case as they believe only a top AIM leader could have ordered Aquash's execution.


Pat Cuny, World War II, combat veteran, 83rd Infantry Division

In 2005 in an interview, Cecilia Fire Thunder, the first woman president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, noted the following: "68 percent of the college graduates on the reservation are women. Seventy percent of the jobs are held by women. Over 90 percent of the jobs in our schools are held by women."[38]

  • As of 2011, population estimates of the reservation range from 28,000 to 40,000. Numerous enrolled members of the tribe live off the reservation.[39]
  • 80% of residents are unemployed (versus 10% of the rest of the country);
  • 49% of the residents live below the Federal poverty level (61% under the age of 18);
  • Per capita income in Shannon County is $6,286;
  • The Infant Mortality rate is 5 times higher than the national average;
  • Native American amputation rates due to diabetes is 3 to 4 times higher than the national average;
  • Death rate due to diabetes is 3 times higher than the national average; and
  • Life Expectancy in 2007 was estimated to be 71.1 for males and 78.5 for females[40]

Notable leaders and residents

Chief Bone Necklace (1899-Heyn Photo)
U.S.M.C. pilot Ed McGaa (Eagle Man), and his co-pilot unfurl American flag on their F-4B Phantom fighter jet
Chief Red Cloud: The Red Cloud Agency was originally established in Nebraska in 1873


  • Chief Red Cloud (1822–1909), an Oglala Sioux chief, a respected warrior and statesman. From 1866 to 1868, he succeeded in closing the Bozeman Trail, which passed through prime bison hunting grounds. At Pine Ridge, Red Cloud worked to establish a Jesuit school for Native American children.
  • Chief Spotted Elk: called Big Foot by the U.S. soldiers. His band of Miniconjou Sioux were massacred at Wounded Knee in 1891.[45]
  • Touch the Clouds: Oglala chief
  • JoAnn Tall, environmental activist at Pine Ridge, honored in 1993 for her opposition to uranium mining on the reservation
  • Theresa Two Bulls, first American Indian woman elected to the South Dakota legislature; state senator (2004–2008) and president of Oglala Sioux Tribe (2008–2010)[46]
  • Richard Wilson (April 29, 1934 - January 31, 1990), tribal chairman from 1972–1976 during the Wounded Knee Incident; accused of suppressing political opposition with violence
  • John Yellow Bird Steele, elected president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe six times from 1992-2010.
  • Young Man Afraid Of His Horses: (Tȟašúŋke Kȟokípȟapi) (1830–1900). His name means "They fear his horse" or "His horse is feared," meaning the warrior was so renowned that the sight of his horse inspired fear.
  • Charles Trimble, member of Oglala Lakota Nation and former Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians. (1972-1978)

Tribal government

Oglala girl in front of a tipi, c. 1891

The reservation is ruled by the eighteen-member Oglala Sioux Tribal Council, who are elected officials rather than traditional clan life leaders, in accordance with the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. The Executive Officers of the Council are the President (also called Chairman), Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer. Primary elections are held in October and the General election in November.

The President and Vice-President are elected at large by voters to a term of office of 2 years; the Secretary and Treasurer are appointed by the Tribal Council. Council members serve a term of two years. There are nine Election districts on the reservation. One representative is elected for each 1,000 tribe members

A Constitution was approved on January 15, 1936 with amendments approved in December 24, 1969; December 3, 1985; July 11, 1997.


While many residents have continued to struggle with the tribal government, BIA and other federal representatives, some have become more politically active in other ways. In 2002, the Pine Ridge Reservation was part of a statewide voter registration campaign organized by the Democratic Party. That year, Oglala Lakota candidates won offices in Bennett County; since the 1990s, Native Americans (mostly Sioux) have become a majority of the county's population. Charles Cummings was elected as county sheriff, Gerald 'Jed' Bettelyoun to one of the positions as county commissioner, and Sandy Flye became the first Native American elected to a seat on the county school board. Statewide turnout by Native Americans helped elect the Democratic candidate Tim Johnson to the US Senate by a narrow margin.[47]

In 2004 Cecilia Fire Thunder became the first woman elected president of the OST, defeating the incumbent and Russell Means.[48] She is a nurse and community activist for women's and health issues, as well as working to revive the Lakota language. In 2005 she led negotiations with Nebraska to strengthen law enforcement in Whiteclay, Nebraska by deputizing Oglala tribal police to patrol in the nearby town. The town sells massive quantities of alcohol to the Sioux. The "historic agreement" was signed by Fire Thunder, Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman and State Attorney General Jon Bruning.[49]

On March 21, 2006, Fire Thunder announced her plan to bring a Planned Parenthood clinic to the reservation. It was to provide better services to Oglala women, as the state legislature had recently passed a stringent abortion law.[48] On May 31, 2006, the Oglala Sioux tribal council unanimously voted to ban all abortions on the reservation, regardless of the circumstances (i.e. no provision in case of rape, incest, or health of the mother). According to Indian Country Today, the ban applies to "the use of any drug that would prevent a pregnancy or abort a fetus the day after any sexual activity." The council also voted to suspend Cecilia Fire Thunder for 20 days pending an impeachment hearing.[50] The tribal council voted to impeach Fire Thunder on June 29, 2006. It said that her founding the clinic was outside her authority as president; she was criticized for failing to consult the council to gain their agreement. Her two-year term would have expired in October 2006.

In November 2006, state voters reviewed the law passed by the legislature, and they overwhelmingly defeated the state's ban on abortions without exceptions, 55.57 percent to 44.43 percent. A ban with exceptions was proposed in 2008, and state voters "rejected that measure by an equally wide margin of 55.21 percent to 44.79 percent."[51]

The US Congress supported the tribal law enforcement initiative of Fire Thunder, earmarking $200,000 over two years to pay for the increased cost of OST police patrols in Whiteclay under the agreement negotiated by Fire Thunder and Nebraska officials. By May 2007, no money had been spent. Her impeachment, and political conflict within the tribe, appeared to prevent its implementing the agreement. The tribe stood to lose the earmarked money by October 2007.[49]

In November 2008, Theresa Two Bulls, a Democratic state senator for South Dakota since 2004, became the second woman elected president of the OST. She succeeded John Yellow Bird Steele and defeated Russell Means.[52] When the reservation had a rash of suicides among young people in late 2009, she declared a state of emergency and organized a call-in to President Barack Obama's White House. She organized services during a blizzard to assist residents in outlying areas on the reservation.[53] John Yellow Bird Steele was re-elected in 2010.


Federal, State, and Tribal Law

The Oglala Sioux Tribe maintains legal jurisdiction over all crimes committed on the reservation by tribal members, non-reservation Indians, and those willing to relinquish authority to the tribal courts. Felony crimes and others which have been specifically assumed by the federal government, as defined by various acts of the US Congress, are outside their jurisdiction and are prosecuted by the BIA and FBI. Since the ruling in favor of Indian sovereignty in law enforcement by the US Supreme Court in Ex parte Crow Dog (1883), federal legislation and subsequent Supreme Court decisions have reduced Native American sovereignty in this area.[54]

Public Law 280 enacted by Congress in 1953 and substantially amended in 1968 allows for states to assume jurisdiction on Indian reservations if approved by referendum by the affected reservations. In South Dakota Public Law 280 is applied only to state highways running through reservations.[55]

Landmark cases affecting tribal criminal law

  • Ex parte Crow Dog:109 U.S. 556 (1883): On August, 5 1881, Crow Dog, a Brulé Lakota subchief, shot and killed the Oglala principal chief Chief Spotted Tail, on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. A grand jury was convened and he was tried and convicted in Dakota Territorial court in Deadwood, South Dakota, and sentenced to death. In 1883 his lawyers petitioned for writs of habeas corpus and certiorari; his case was argued in November 1883 before the U.S. Supreme Court. In a unanimous decision, the court ruled that, according to the provisions of the Treaty of Fort Laramie, the Dakota Territorial court had no jurisdiction over the Rosebud reservation; it overturned Crow Dog's conviction.[56][57] In response to this ruling, Congress passed the Major Crimes Act18 US.C. § 1 153 in 1884.
  • Major Crimes Act18 US.C. § 1 153: Congress gave federal authorities concurrent jurisdiction over seven major crimes committed on a reservation, regardless of whether one of the parties was Indian. This legislation reduced the criminal jurisdiction previously held by tribal courts.[58][59]
  • United States v. Quiver, 241 U.S. 602 (1916): Congress left to the Indian Tribal Courts jurisdiction over all crimes not taken by the Federal government. U.S. Department of the Interior, Federal Indian Law (pp 319–20, (1958).
  • Iron Crow v. Oglala Sioux Tribe, 231 F. 2d 89 (1956): Indian Tribal Courts have inherent jurisdiction over all matters not taken over by the Federal government.[60]
  • Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, 435 U.S. 191 (1978): Indian Tribes do not have inherent criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians absent Congressional authority.
  • United States v. Wheeler, 435 U.S. 313 (1978): Indian Tribes have inherent powers to punish offenses against Tribal laws when committed by Tribal members.
Law enforcement

In traditional Sioux society, law enforcement was performed by members of the warrior societies, such as the Kit Foxes, Badgers and Crow Owners, known as the akicitas. They maintained order in camp and during communal buffalo hunts. Each band would appoint one society as the official akicita group for the year.[61] This custom prevailed for a short time after the Sioux were forced onto the reservations. In 1878 Congress authorized the formation of an Indian police force to provide law enforcement in Indian territory and upon reservations. They were superseded by police assigned and managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The BIA police force is composed of members of various Native American tribes from throughout the United States and personnel often do not belong to the nations they oversee.

Since the late 1970s, the Oglala Sioux Tribe has received Federal funding to maintain its own reservation police, supplemented by BIA personnel. The FBI has jurisdiction for any felony crimes committed upon the reservation. After the reservation police respond to the initial call, a BIA police person initiates the investigation and notifies the FBI.[62]

The OST is developing a new Tribal Justice Center, to include the tribal courts and a restorative justice courtroom. The latter concept relates to traditional Lakota ideas about restoring the victim and offender to balance within the community. In practice, it is intended to bring together the affected parties in facilitated communication, together with members of the community; to settle on a form of reparation or compensation by the offender that is satisfactory to the victim, which may include money, public apology, and/or community service work; and to bring the offender quickly back within the community with its support for the future. As the process is being used at Kahnawake, a Mohawk reserve in Canada, the First Nation community works to intervene and settle issues before arrest.[63]

Social issues and economy

Pine Ridge Indian Health Service Hospital

Pine Ridge is the eighth-largest reservation in the United States and it is the poorest. The population of Pine Ridge suffer health conditions commonly found in Third World countries, including high mortality rates, depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, malnutrition and diabetes, among others. Reservation access to health care is limited compared to urban areas, and it is not sufficient. Unemployment on the reservation hovers between 80% and 85%, and 49% of the population live below the federal poverty level.[64] Many of the families have no electricity, telephone, running water, or sewage systems; and many use wood stoves to heat their homes, depleting limited wood resources.

Health and healthcare

The population on Pine Ridge has among the shortest life expectancies of any group in the Western Hemisphere: approximately 47 years for males and 52 years for females. The infant mortality rate is five times the United States national average, and the adolescent suicide rate is four times the United States national average. Members of the reservation suffer from a disproportionately high rate of poverty and alcoholism.[39]

The Pine Ridge Comprehensive Health Facility is the on-reservation hospital ran by the Indian Health Service. The 110,00 sq.ft. inpatient hospital also has an outpatient clinic, dental clinic, and a surgery suite. The emergency room is staffed by two physicians as well as two physician assistants and a hospitalist in triage. The "Sick Kids" clinic is also based at the facility with pediatricians on staff.

In June 2011, the OST broke ground on a long-planned 60-bed nursing home facility, to be completed within two years. It was developed in cooperation with the federal government and the states of Nebraska and South Dakota.


Because of problems with alcohol, the Oglala Sioux Tribe has prohibited the sale and possession of alcohol on the Pine Ridge Reservation since the creation of the reservation, with the exception of a period the 1970s when on-reservation sales were briefly tried. The town of Whiteclay, Nebraska (just over the South Dakota-Nebraska border in the disputed White Clay Extension) has approximately 14 residents and four liquor stores, which sell over 4.5 million 12-ounce cans of beer annually (12,500 cans per day), almost exclusively to the Oglala Lakota living on the reservation. This contributes to widespread alcoholism on the reservation, which is estimated to affect eight out of ten families. Many children are born suffering from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, which causes them lifelong problems.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is the term used to describe a spectrum of anatomical structural anomalies, and behavioral, neurocognitive disabilities that result when a developing fetus is exposed to alcohol in the womb. The most severe manifestation within this spectrum is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).[65] Because of the high rate of alcoholism on the reservation, one in four children born there are diagnosed with either FASD or FAS.[66]


The state of education on the reservation is severely lacking in multiple areas. The school drop-out rate is over 70%, and the teacher turnover rate is 800% that of the U.S. national average.

In 1971 the tribe founded the Oglala Lakota College, one of the earliest tribal colleges in the nation, and part of Native American institution building of the last 40 years. First started as a two-year community college, it has expanded to offer 4-year baccalaureate degrees, as well as a master's in Lakota leadership. It is operated by tribal people, with a tribal board. In 2011, it had an enrollment of 1,400.[67] Since 1994, tribal colleges have been classified as land-grant colleges by the US Congress.

Among its courses has been "Aboriginal Restorative Justice", taught by Harley and Sue Eagle (Saulteaux and Dakota), program coordinators of the Oglala Lakota Nation Mennonite Central Committee Voluntary Service Unit. Since the early 2000s, they have been called upon at the reservation to use restorative justice in many situations, as did previous coordinators.[68] The OST's commitment to using this process is reflected in its planning for a restorative justice courtroom in the new tribal justice center.


Kevin Pourier, contemporary Oglala artist, maintains a studio in the Medicine Root District of Pine Ridge

As of 2011 the reservation has little economic development or industry. No banks or discount stores are located on the reservation.[39] Despite the lack of formal employment opportunities on Pine Ridge, considerable agricultural production is taking place on the reservation, yet only a small percentage of the tribe directly benefit from this, as land is leased to agricultural producers. According to the USDA, in 2002 there was nearly $33 million in receipts from agricultural production on Pine Ridge. Less than one-third of that income went to members of the tribe.[69]

Most employment on the reservation is provided by community institutions, such as Oglala Lakota College, a tribal college, and other schools; the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA); and the US Indian Health Service (IHS). In June 2011, the tribe broke ground for a 60-bed nursing home facility, developed in collaboration with state officials from South Dakota and Nebraska. Its costs are to be covered by the federal government.[70] The tribe is working on a justice center and has advertised an art competition for works for its spaces, to include the tribal courts and a restorative justice courtroom.

Various enterprises are owned by the Oglala Sioux tribe. These include the Prairie Wind Casino, a Parks and Recreation Department, guided hunting, and cattle ranching and farming.[71] The Oglala Sioux Tribe also operates the White River Visitor Center near the Badlands National Park.[72] There is one radio station, KILI-FM in Porcupine.

In 1973 at the time of the Wounded Knee Incident, not one Native American worked for a South Dakota newspaper. In 1981 the Lakota journalist Tim Giago founded and published the independent Lakota Times on the reservation. (Most such newspapers have been owned by tribes.)[73] He renamed it Indian Country Today in 1992, as he was providing more national coverage of Native American news. In 1998 he sold the paper to the Oneida Nation; it was then the largest independent Native American paper in the country. He founded the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) and has worked to recruit Native American students into journalism through its foundation, as well as to establish Indian studies in journalism schools.[74]

Connie Smith started the Lakota Country Times, a weekly newspaper which she owns. It is the official legal newspaper for the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations. It also publishes material online. In 2009 it won first place for general excellence of its website from NAJA, and in 2010 won three prizes, including two for best articles.[75]

Industrial hemp

Industrial hemp is used to make Hempcrete a material used for concrete block for building

After doing research and noting the worldwide market for hemp, in July 1998, the Tribal Council approved 'industrial hemp agriculture' for the reservation. With demand high for the crop, three Lakota farmers, Tom Cook, his wife Afraid of Bear and American Horse grandson of Chief American Horse formed the Slim Butte Land-Use Association.[76] To emphasize the issue of Sioux sovereignty in land use, they publicly announced the first planting of industrial hemp seeds on April 29, 2000, on the 132nd anniversary of the signing of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, which established the reservation. The Association believed production of industrial hemp-based concrete could help solve the severe shortage of suitable dwellings on the reservation, as it is a sustainable construction material, and work for the unemployed. Hemp can also be processed to yield oil for cooking and other products.[77]

Congress in 1968 prohibited the cultivation of cannabis-related crops, including hemp, as part of anti-drug legislation, although hemp does not have psychoactive properties. Industrial hemp is legal in Canada.[78] The law in the US is enforced by the Drug Enforcement Administration. In August 2000 and July 2001, federal DEA agents destroyed industrial hemp crops on the Pine Ridge reservation.[78] After the raid destroyed his crops, the farmer Alex White Plume[78] appealed a DEA court order that prohibited his growing the crop, but the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court ruling in United States v. White Plume,(8th Cir. 2006), that the Lakota had to comply with DEA registration process and get a permit to cultivate hemp.[79]

The North Dakota legislature has authorized hemp growing statewide and issued the nation's first two state licenses to grow hemp. The licensed farmers may face DEA legal problems if they do not acquire DEA permits. As the DEA had not yet acted on their requests, in June 2007 the men filed a lawsuit seeking federal court permission to grow the crop without being subject to federal criminal charges.[79]

Private enterprise at Pine Ridge

Members of the tribe have developed varieties of private enterprise, from arts to modern technologies. Numerous artists maintain private studios and use diverse media in both traditional Lakota artforms, such as parfleche and beadwork, and contemporary styles.

Oglala are becoming involved in modern technologies in start-up companies, such as Lakota Solar Enterprises (LSE), started on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 2006 by Henry Red Cloud (a fifth-generation descendent of Chief Red Cloud) with help from the non-profit Trees, Water and People.

Tourism at Pine Ridge

Chief Little Wound with his wife and son. (1899 Heyn Photo)
  • History:
    • Wounded Knee Massacre and burial site. The events at Wounded Knee represents a significant event in Native American and United States history; it was the last significant clash between Native Americans and U.S. troops and was considered to be the closing of the Western Frontier. The trail that Spotted Elk and his band took on the reservation is marked with signs, including the spot where they surrendered to U.S. troops and were escorted to a site by Wounded Knee Creek.
    • Stronghold Table: a remote mesa in what is now the Stronghold (South) Unit of Badlands National Park, which is administered by the tribe. Site of the last Ghost Dances prior to the Wounded Knee Massacre.
    • Red Cloud Cemetery: location of the grave of Chief Red Cloud, as well as Bloody Knife (1840–1876), Chief of the Indian Scouts of the 7th Cavalry under General George Armstrong Custer. Bloody Knife was killed at the Battle of the Little Bighorn while assigned to Major Marcus Reno's detachment.
  • Cultural tourism:
    • Oglala Lakota Nation Pow Wow, an annual Pow wow featuring dancers from various parts of the U.S.
    • Badlands Ranch Resort: Started as private enterprise, it was purchased in July 2009 by the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Located at the base of Badlands National Park, the resort features an RV park, cabins and rooms in the main lodge.

The Oglala Sioux Park & Recreation Authority offers eco-tours and hunting trips on the reservation as well as engaging in wildlife conservation work.

    • Geology: The Badlands (Makhóšiča)- formed by erosion, represent over 65 million years of the earth,s geological history starting from the late Creatceous when the entire middle of the United States was covered by the Western Interior Seaway. The Pine Ridge area contain one of the largest deposits of mammal fossils from the Oligocene epoch.
    • Paleontology: One of the most complete fossil accumulations in North America is found within the badlands. The rocks and fossils preserve evidence of ancient ecosystems and give scientists clues about how early mammal species lived.
    • Flora: Pine Ridge is located in the Great Plains region, which encompasses the nation's largest grassland ecosystem. the northern portion of the reservation and Badlands National Park contain one of the largest expanses of mixed grass prairie in the United States.
  • Casino: Prairie Wind Casino which began operation in 1994 in three doublewide trailers, was upgraded with the completion of a $20 million casino, a 78-room hotel and a full-service restaurant in early 2007. The casino provides 250 jobs, most held by tribal residents, with revenues helping support education and social welfare efforts.[82]
A type of mesa found in the Badlands National Park and along the northern border of the reservation


Climate data for Weather Station: Porcupine 11 N, ~17.0 miles Elevation: 2820 feet (-353 ft from town of Pine Ridge)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °F (°C) 33.0
Average low °F (°C) 6.9
Precipitation inches (mm) .40
Source: NOAA[83]

Geography and topography

The White River and multiple tributaries cut across the reservation

The reservation, located in southwest South Dakota, takes 3,400 square miles (8,800 km2) of space. The nearest urban center, Rapid City, South Dakota, is 120 miles (190 km) from the center of the reservation.[39]
The topography is generally rolling mixed grass prairie, interspersed in various location, especially to the north, into typical badlands topography. The higher elevations of the prairie are covered by wind blown sands that form dunes, blowouts, and thin sheets. The southern part of the reservation is crossed by Pine Ridge, which is probably a fault scarp, and which supports the growth of scattered pine and cedar trees. Well-developed sandhills are the dominant features along the southern boundary of the reser­vation, which extend into the sandhills region of Nebraska.[84] Only 84,000 acres (340 km2) of the more than 2 million acres (8,100 km2) of the reservation are considered land suitable for agricultural uses, and the climate, soil and water conditions are challenging. Many farmers among the Lakota can do little more than gain a subsistence living from the land.[78]

The White River flows through the reservation. It was named for the water's white-gray color, a result of eroded sand, clay, and volcanic ash carried by the river.[85] Draining a basin of about 10,200 square miles (26,000 km2), the stream flows through a region of sparsely populated hills, plateaus, and badlands.[86] It flows west to east through the reservation.


Deposition of sediments in the Badlands began 69 million years ago when an ancient sea, the Western Interior Seaway, stretched across what is now the Great Plains. After the sea retreated, successive land environments, including rivers and flood plains, continued to deposit sediments. Although the major period of deposition ended 28 million years ago, significant erosion of the Badlands did not begin until half a million years ago.

Flora and fauna

A herd of bison (tȟatȟáŋka) grazing on the mixed grass prairie, c. 1948. The Oglala today maintain a herd on the reservation.

The mixed grass prairie contains both ankle-high and waist-high grasses, and fills a transitional zone between the moister tall-grass prairie to the east and the more arid short-grass prairie to the west.

Biologists have identified more than 400 different plant species growing in Badlands National Park. Each plant species is adapted to survive the conditions prevalent in the mixed-grass prairie ecosystem. The climate here is one of extremes: hot, cold, dry, windy and stormy with blizzards, floods, droughts, and fires. Grasses dominate the landscape.[87] The short-grass and tall-grass prairies intergrade just east of an irregular line that runs from northern Texas through Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska, northwestward into west-central North Dakota and South Dakota. The perimeter is not well defined because of the array of short-stature, intermediate, and tall-grass species that make up an ecotone between the short-grass and tall-grass prairies (Bragg and Steuter 1996). In general, the mixed-grass prairie is characterized by the warm-season grasses of the short-grass prairie to the west and the cool- and warm-season grasses, which grow much taller, to the east. Because of this ecotonal mixing, the number of plant species found in mixed-grass prairies exceeds that in other prairie types.[88]

The mixed grass prairie is home to a variety of animals of many different. In Badlands National Park, scientists have recorded the presence of 37 mammal species, 9 reptile species, 6 amphibian species, 206 bird species, and 69 butterfly species.[89] The rare swift fox and endangered black footed ferret are among two of the various mammal species found in the Badlands region, both species feed on the Black-tailed prairie dog


Major roads through Jackson and Shannon Counties

Interstate 90: passes east to west through Jackson County and Pennington County just north of the reservation with multiple exits in both counties

US 18.svg

:United States Route 18 is an east–west U.S. highway which passes through the reservation. The western terminus is in Orin, Wyoming at an interchange with Interstate 25. Its eastern terminus of US 18 is in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin.[90] However, US 18 runs concurrent with other U.S. routes from its western terminus to Mule Creek Junction, Wyoming. US 18 is one of the original United States highways of 1926.

SD 44.svg

:South Dakota Highway 44, also known as the "Rimrock Highway" or "Rimrock Drive" connects Rapid City, South Dakota with U.S. Highway 385 at Pactola Junction, just north of Pactola Lake. One of the most scenic drives in the Black Hills, SD 44 follows Rapid Creek, a blue-ribbon trout fishery, much of the way, and also follows much of the alignment of the old Rapid City, Black Hills and Western Railroad, also known as the Crouch Line. SD 44 passes through the Jackson County portion of the reservation

SD 73.svg

:South Dakota Highway 73 (not shown on FDOT map) is a state route that runs north to south through the Jackson County portion of the reservation. It begins at the Nebraska border north of Merriman, Nebraska, as a continuation of Nebraska Highway 61. It runs to the North Dakota border, where it continues as North Dakota Highway 49. It is 250 miles (402 kilometers) in length.



Pine Ridge Airport, owned by the Oglala Sioux Tribe is located two miles (3 km) east of the town of Pine Ridge. The unattended airport has four asphalt runways; runways 12&30 are 5000 x 60 ft. (1524 x 18 m), runways 6&24 (currently closed) are 3003 x 50 ft. (915 x 15 m). The airport is in poor repair and is used prdominately for government flights.[91] The nearest commercial airport to Pine Ridge is Chadron Municipal Airport (CDR / KCDR) in Chadron, Nebraska approximately 30 miles (48 km) south. The nearest major airport is Rapid City Regional Airport, in Rapid City, South Dakota approximately 80 miles (130 km) NE. The closest international airport is Denver International Airport in Denver, Colorado approximately 240 miles (390 km) SE.

Public transportation
On January 30, 2009, the Oglala Sioux Tribe of Pine Ridge held the grand opening of their public transportation system, a bus service with multiple vehicles to cover the entire reservation.[92]


Bison (tȟatȟáŋka) on the mixed grass prairie in the Badlands, c. 2009

Image Gallery

See also


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Further reading

External links

Portal icon Indigenous peoples of North America portal
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Coordinates: 43°21′12″N 102°05′21″W / 43.35333°N 102.08917°W / 43.35333; -102.08917

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