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Pine Ridge Indian Reservation
—  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 15,521
Time zone MST (UTC-7)
 - Summer (DST) MDT (UTC-6)

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

Most of the land comprising the reservation lies within Shannon County and Jackson County, two of the poorest counties in the U.S. In addition, there are extensive off-reservation trust lands, mostly in adjacent Bennett County, but also extending into adjacent Pine Ridge, Nebraska in Sheridan County, just south of the community of Pine Ridge, South Dakota, the reservation's administrative center and largest community. The 2000 census population of all these lands was 15,521. However, a study conducted by Colorado State University and accepted by the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated the resident population to be 28,787.[1]


Tribal Information

  • Reservation: Pine Ridge Reservation; Shannon and Jackson County
  • Tribal Headquarters: Pine Ridge, SD
  • Time Zone: Mountain
  • Traditional Language: Lakota
  • Enrolled members living on reservation: 38,000

Tribal Government

  • Charter: None; Constitution and Bylaws: Yes - IRA
  • Date Approved: January 15, 1936
  • Name of Governing Body: Oglala Sioux Tribal Council
  • Number of Council members: (18) eighteen council members
  • Dates of Constitutional amendments: December 24, 1969; December 3, 1985; July 11, 1997
  • Number of Executive Officers: (4) President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer

Tribal Elections

  • Primary election is held in October and the General in November.
  • President and Vice-President are elected at large by voters, term of office 2 years; Secretary and Treasurer are appointed by Tribal Council. Council members serve a term of two years.
  • Number of Election districts or communities: 9
  • Proportion of representatives: one representative for each 1,000 members

Tribal Council Meetings

As of 2010, there are 19 council representatives, meeting monthly.

Famous Leaders: Past and Present

  • Chief Red Cloud, (1822-1909) an Oglala chief, was a respected warrior and statesman. From 1866-1868, he successfully led the fight to close off the Bozeman Trail, which passed through prime buffalo hunting grounds. Once settled at Pine Ridge, Red Cloud worked to establish a Jesuit-run school for Indian children. He is buried on a hill overlooking the Red Cloud Indian School, which was named in his honor.
  • William Mervin Mills or "Billy" Mills (born June 30, 1938) victory in the 10,000 meter run at the 1964 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo shocked the world as one of the greatest upsets in sports history. It was possible only after overcoming numerous personal difficulties in his life. A 7/16 Oglala Sioux Native American, he grew up on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. As a child, he suffered the misfortune of the death of his mother, and at age 12 became an orphan with his father's passing. Even without the loss of his two parents, life on the reservation was difficult as he was often rejected for not being a full- blooded Native American. Haskell Institute, a boarding school for Native Americans in Lawrence, Kansas was the next stop. He developed a talent for distance running that eventually earned him an athletic scholarship to the University of Kansas, also in Lawrence. He distinguished himself as an All-American in cross country at KU and was part of a track team that won national titles. Life at KU was not all good. Mills was socially rejected for his ethnicity while at KU, and was even asked not to be in the team picture for the track team. At one point he contemplated suicide, but the dream of winning the gold medal in the 10,000 inspired him. Mills became a lieutenant in the Marine Corps and had not run for some time when he decided to resume training for the 1964 Olympic Trials. As a result of his hard work, he made the U.S. Olympic team in both the 10,000 meters and marathon. When the competitors lined up for the 10,000 meter finals at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Mills was not considered a contender. In fact he was never interviewed until after the race. One of the race favorites, Australia's Ron Clarke, had a personal best nearly one minute faster than that of Mills. Mohammed Gamoudi of Tunisia was also expected to contend. Clarke was up in front for much of the race, and Mills stayed close as other runners faded. When the bell signaled the final lap, Mills and Clarke were in the lead with Gammoudi closing in. A few seconds later, Clarke pushed Mills two lanes to the outside as Gammoudi cut in. Mills was able to regain his footing, but had lost some distance to Clarke and Gammoudi. With less than 100 yards to go, Mills made a final surge and passed both Clarke and Gammoudi to win the gold medal. To this day, Mills is the only American to win gold in the 10,000 meter run. Mills is now a spokesperson for Running Strong for American Youth and shares his experiences as a motivational speaker.
  • Richard A. "Dick" Wilson (April 29, 1934 - January 31, 1990) Oglala Lakota tribal chairman on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota from 1972-1976 and caused various controversies


Although Pine Ridge is the eighth largest reservation in the United States, it is also the poorest. Unemployment on the reservation hovers around 80%, and 49% live below the Federal poverty level.[2] Adolescent suicide is four times the national average. Many of the families have no electricity, telephone, running water, or sewer. Many families use wood stoves to heat their homes. The population on Pine Ridge has among the shortest life expectancies of any group in the Western Hemisphere: approximately 47 years for males and in the low 50s for females. The infant mortality rate is five times the United States national average. Reservation population was estimated at 15,000 in the 2000 census, but that number was raised to 28,787 by HUD, following a Colorado State University door-to-door study.[3]

Despite the lack of formal employment opportunities on Pine Ridge, there is considerable agricultural production taking place, yet only a small percentage of the tribe directly benefits from this. 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.[4]

The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation has some commercial businesses with private operators, but most employment is provided by institutions such as the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Oglala Lakota College, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and the Indian Health Service (IHS). The tribe operates the Prairie Wind Casino, a Parks and Recreation Department, guided hunting, cattle ranching and farming.[5] The Oglala Sioux Tribe also operates the White River Visitor Center near the Badlands National Park.[6] There is one radio station, KILI-FM in Porcupine, and the largest independent Lakota-owned and operated weekly print and online color newspaper, The Lakota Country Times.

In the past, the tribe attempted a moccasin factory, a meat-processing plant, and a fishhook-snelling operation, but the business ventures failed.[7] The Prairie Wind Casino is an exception to the rule for businesses on the reservation. The casino began in 1994 in three doublewide trailers. Its revenues have contributed to tribal economic development. The tribe completed construction of a new $20 million casino, hotel and restaurant in early 2007. The casino provides 250 jobs and most are held by tribal residents. In addition, its revenues help support education and welfare efforts.[8]


Late 1800s: Creation and massacre

U.S. School for Indians at Pine Ridge, S.D. 1891

Pine Ridge Reservation was originally part of the Great Sioux Reservation established by the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 and originally encompassed approximately 60 million acres (240,000 km²) of parts of South Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming. In 1876, the U.S. government violated the treaty of 1868 by opening up 7.7 million acres (31,000 km²) of the Black Hills to homesteaders and private interests. In 1889 the government divided the remaining area of Great Sioux Reservation into seven separate reservations for varied tribes:

On December 29, 1890 near Wounded Knee Creek, the United States 7th Cavalry killed more than 300 men, women and children. Chief Bigfoot and his followers were trying to get to Pine Ridge when intercepted by the cavalry. (see: Wounded Knee Massacre).

The 1970s: Protest and violence

Starting on February 27, 1973, the reservation was the site of the Wounded Knee Incident. It was a 71-day stand-off between entrenched American Indian Movement (AIM) activists and FBI agents and the National Guard. The AIM activists were led by Dennis Banks and Russell Means. During the firefight, two FBI agents were killed and a U.S. Marshal was paralyzed from wounds; two Oglala Lakotas were killed.

During the stand-off, Marlon Brando asked a Native American woman, Sacheen Littlefeather to speak at the Academy Awards on his behalf. He refused to accept an Oscar for his performance in The Godfather. Appearing in full Apache clothing, Sacheen Littlefeather said that, owing to the "poor treatment of Native Americans in the film industry", Mr. Brando would not accept the award. The event grabbed the attention of the US and the world media. Brando's support gave the movement a forum for its complaints, and it was considered a victory by its supporters and participants.

Following the peaceful conclusion of the 1973 stand-off, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation had subsequent conflicts and violence among its residents. The murder rate between March 1, 1973 and March 1, 1976 was 170 per 100,000. 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.[9] AIM representatives noted there were many unsolved murders of a number of opponents of the tribal government installed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.[10]

In 2000, the FBI released a report accounting for most of the deaths, which circumstances refuted the allegation.[11][12] AIM, in turn, offered a rebuttal to the FBI report.[13] One of the alleged murders during that period was that of a civil rights activist, Ray Robinson, who had disappeared. He had worked with Martin Luther King, Jesse Jackson and Andrew Young in the 1960s. His body has not been found.[14][15]

On June 26, 1975, the reservation was the site of an armed confrontation between AIM activists and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation in an event which became known as the Pine Ridge Shootout.[16] This resulted in the death of two FBI agents and one AIM activist. The hunt for the killer(s) of the two FBI agents led to the controversial acquittals of AIM members Robert Robideau and Dino Butler as well as the extradition, trial, and conviction of Leonard Peltier.[17] The perceived lack of substantive evidence in Peltier's trial is the subject of much controversy.

On February 24, 1976, Anna Mae Aquash, a Mi'kmaq activist and member of AIM was found shot to death by the side of State Road 73 in the far northeast corner of the Pine Ridge Reservation. The alleged motives for the murder was the mistaken belief that Ms. Aquash was a government informant but that she also knew Leonard Peltier killed the FBI agents in 1975. In 2004, one of Anna's captors was found guilty of murder. Another suspect was recently extradited to the U.S. to also stand trial for the murder. (see: Anna Mae Aquash)

2006: Conflict over abortion

On March 21, 2006, Oglala Sioux tribal president Cecilia Fire Thunder announced her intention to bring an abortion clinic to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. It could provide abortions in the event that the South Dakota abortion ban signed into law by South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds were to take effect.[18]

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 need of health of the mother). According to Indian Country Today, the ban also includes "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 tribal president Cecilia Fire Thunder for 20 days pending an impeachment hearing.[19]

A month after her suspension, on June 29, 2006, Fire Thunder was impeached from her duties as Tribal President. Six charges were made against Fire Thunder, the most topical being that she organized the aforementioned clinic outside of her authority as president. She was criticized for not consulting with the council about the project and to get their permission. Other charges were that Fire Thunder used the media, the U.S. Post Office, and the Oglala Sioux Tribe to solicit funds for the clinic.

Famous residents



  1. ^
  2. ^ "Pine Ridge CDP, South Dakota - DP-3. Profile of Selected Economic Characteristics: 2000" U.S. Census Bureau.
  3. ^ Pine Ridge Project Blog: 07/01/2005 - 08/01/2005.
  4. ^ USDA 2002 Census of Agriculture for Native American Reservations.
  5. ^ staff (1997). "Oglala Sioux Tribe Community Environmental Profile". Mni Sose Intertribal Water Rights Coalition, Inc.. Retrieved 2007-10-26. 
  6. ^ staff (current). "Badlands National Park Operating Hours & Seasons". U.S. Department of the Interior. Retrieved 2007-10-26. 
  7. ^ John J. Miller (2002-12-31). "Off the Rez: It's time to close the Indian reservations". National Review. Retrieved 2007-10-26. 
  8. ^ Dan Daly (2007-05-10). "New complex ups ante for Prairie Wind Casino". Rapid City Journal. Retrieved 2007-10-26. 
  9. ^ Barbara Perry (2002). "FROM ETHNOCIDE TO ETHNOVIOLENCE: LAYERS OF NATIVE AMERICAN VICTIMIZATION". Contemporary Justice Review. Retrieved 2007-10-29. 
  10. ^ Peter Matthiessen, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, Penguin, 1992. ISBN 9780140144567.
  11. ^ David Melmer (2000-07-19). "Unsolved deaths debunked by FBI Case by case examination puts some rumors to rest". Indian Country Today. Retrieved 2007-10-29. 
  12. ^ staff (2000-05). "Accounting For Native American Deaths, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota". Federal Bureau of Investigation Minneapolis Division. Retrieved 2007-10-29. 
  13. ^ staff (2000-07-11). "INDIAN DEATHS". Native News Online. Retrieved 2007-10-29. 
  14. ^ Carson Walker (2004-01-16). "Widow Says Civil Rights Activist Killed During Wounded Knee Takeover". Justice for Anna Mae and Ray. Retrieved 2007-10-27. 
  15. ^ Carson Walker (2004-01-16). "AIM case may help find man". Rapid City Journal. Retrieved 2007-10-27. 
  16. ^ "The Pine Ridge Shootout". Time Magazine.,9171,913222,00.html. Retrieved 2007-10-27. 
  17. ^ "The Leonard Peltier Trial". University of Missouri - Kansas City School of Law. Retrieved 2007-10-27. 
  18. ^ "Giago: Oglala Sioux President on State Abortion Law". Indianz.Com. 2006-03-21. Retrieved 2007-10-05. 
  19. ^ Melmer, David (2006-06-05). "Fire Thunder suspended and abortions banned on Pine Ridge". Indian Country Today. Retrieved 2007-10-05. 
  20. ^ staff (unknown). "SuAnne's Story". Su Anne Big Crow Boys and Girls Club. Retrieved 2007-10-26. 

Further reading

  • The Death of Raymond Yellow Thunder: And Other True Stories from the Nebraska–Pine Ridge Border Towns. ISBN 978-0-89672-634-5.
  • Ruling Pine Ridge: Oglala Lakota Politics from the IRA to Wounded Knee. ISBN 978-0-89672-601-7.

External links

Coordinates: 43°21′12″N 102°05′21″W / 43.35333°N 102.08917°W / 43.35333; -102.08917

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