March 27, 2008

Nothing to do in South Dakota

A good explanation for why kids on poverty-stricken reservations use drugs and alcohol, commit crimes, and kill themselves.

JOIN US:  Native American Children Need YOU!In most of the country, adolescent suicide ranks as the eighth leading cause of death. On the reservations in SD, it is the LEADING cause of death. In a recent suicide intervention program on Rosebud the children were asked why they thought this might be. They answered that there was nothing to do.

There are no malls, no movie theatres, no shops or downtown areas for them to meet. Gas is expensive and travel from town to town may be a forty-five minute drive. There are dry dusty streets, long cold winters, virtually no sources of after school entertainment or even jobs. Alcoholism is rampant, as are all of the other expected social ills that accompany extreme poverty and hopelessness.

The rates of poverty on some of the reservations in South Dakota is at least 52.3%, and most believe it is closer to 70%. Unemployment on some of SD’s reservations is about 80%. The Native high school drop out rate in Rapid City, SD is about 60%. The average age of death for a Native American man in SD is about 50 years old. However, we did our own study and followed the obituaries in Pine Ridge and found that it was closer to 42 years old. Many in the obits, of course, were children.

Children need hope. They need to feel there is a future that will be exciting, stimulating, rewarding, and relevant to their culture. The lack of resources for children on the reservations are overwhelming. Changing Winds has begun to address this on several reservations, but is focusing right now on The Boys and Girls Clubs of Rosebud which has been given an old bowling alley that needs a complete refurbishing. We are looking for volunteers who will go out and lend their talents to rebuild, and also to teach skills that will enable the children to visualize a life that is relevant and sustaining.

Our programs have always been aimed at helping the children visualize a future where they can live a full life, free of the sting of racism. This future must be one that allows them to maintain their cultural identities. Reservation public schools completely ignore the Native perspective of history, making the children feel they are in the wrong school. They will learn about Columbus, but not Wounded Knee, even on their own land. One of our many goals is to bring classes onto the reservation that will enable students to become web artists, authors, broadcast journalists, and any other position that they can do to earn an income from the land they live on.
Comment:  Let's note that Indians didn't choose to be stuck in the poorest and most remote lands in the country. They used to range over a much wider area. There were more resources (e.g., buffalo) then and the Indians had access to them.

As for why Indians stay on the rez when they could theoretically leave, see Should Indians Cling to Reservations?

Sounds to me like the children of Pine Ridge need Native comic books to keep them busy. I'm talking about comics like DARKNESS CALLS and PEACE PARTY, not the stereotypical SCALPED.


dmarks said...

When the snow hits hard in November, the kids can huddle inside and read "Peace Party. However, as there are only a few issues, they would get restless within a couple of hours. And there's still a whole winter ahead of them.

Better publish a bunch more!

Christine Rose said...

Thanks Rob for printing the blog!
No matter what people may think about the causes of problems on reservations, children are the helpless victims. If you are interested in joining our efforts, please visit Warming Hearts on the Changing Winds website, at or call 203-256-9720. You can also email us at

dmarks said... seems to be down at this moment. I reloaded several times, and it came up dead. I hope this is temporary. In the mean time, there is a Google cache of their "Warming Hearts" sub-section: please click here.

Rob said...

The URL for Changing Winds works now.