Oglala Lakota People of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Oglala, SD
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is located about 2 hours SE from Rapid City, SD near the Nebraska border. It sits surrounded by the Badlands National Park and the Black Hills National Forest, home to Mt Rushmore. The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is about the size of the state of Connecticut, with estimated population of 28,000.
Amidst the breathtaking surroundings, conditions on the reservation are difficult.
The population on the reservation has the second shortest life expectancy of any group in the Western Hemisphere: 47 years for males and 52 years for females. Only Haiti has a shorter lifespan.
The infant mortality rate is five times the US average, and the adolescent suicide rate is four times the US average.
The state of education is severely lacking as well. The school drop-out rate is over 70%, and the teacher turnover rate is 800% that of the US national average.
80% of the residents are unemployed.
The per capita income in Shannon County (one of three counties on the reservation) is $6,286 per year. It’s the second lowest in the US.
Perhaps the greatest obstacle faced by the Lakota Tribe is Alcoholism. The sale and possession of alcohol is prohibited on the reservation, but to illustrate how ineffective the ban is a story has recently circulated in news media about the nearby town of Whiteclay, Nebraska.
The town is situated just south of the reservation and is the home to approx. 14 residents and 4 liquor stores. Those four stores sell more than 4.9 million cans of beer annually, or about 13,400 cans of beer per day, almost exclusively to the Lakota Indians.
Alcoholism is estimated to effect 8 in 10 families.
The Lakota people are perhaps best known for their famous chiefs Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse who fought General Custer in 1876. And 14 years later the Wounded Knee Massacre that left an estimated 150-300 Lakota Indians dead when a scuffle between the Army and the Lakota Indians got out of hand.
But, in the midst of all the devastation, and depressing statistics, there is hope. The Oglala ReCreation & Worship Center, an AG Home Missions church, has been working for the past 17 years to bring light into the darkness.
They run a large multipurpose facility that serves both as a church, an after-school program for the community kids, they offer youth nights, VBS, Bible studies, worship services, community events, evangelistic outreaches and more.
Their vision is to minister to the community in a holistic way, meeting both their spiritual and physical needs.
80-100 children daily attend their after-school program, and youth and adults are involved in their youth group, Bible studies, and Sunday services.
On our trip to the reservation we were involved in multiple areas of service – playing with the kids and youth of the reservation, leading a Vacation Bible School, and doing practical building renovation work on the mission.
We were also able to raise the funds to purchase a much needed mini-van for the mission team there, enabling them to transport children and elderly to the mission’s programs and services.