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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 Dakotamarker. Pine Ridge was established in the southwest corner of South Dakota on the Nebraska border and consists of 8,984.306 km² (3,468.86 sq mi) of land area, the eighth-largest reservation in the United States, larger than Delawaremarker and Rhode Islandmarker combined.

Most of the land comprising the reservation lies within Shannon Countymarker and Jackson Countymarker, two of the poorest counties in the U.S. In addition, there are extensive off-reservation trust lands, mostly in adjacent Bennett Countymarker, but also extending into adjacent Pine Ridge, Nebraskamarker in Sheridan Countymarker, just south of the community of Pine Ridge, South Dakotamarker, 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 Universitymarker and accepted by the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Developmentmarker estimate the resident population to be 28,787.

The reservation was the setting for Adrian Louis' novel "Skins" as well as the 2002 Chris Eyre adaptation of the same name; the 2000 book, On the Rez, by Ian Frazier; and the 2008 film Rez Bomb, directed by Steven Lewis Simpson.

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

  • Quorum number: 2/3 members
  • There are four meetings in each year in January, April, July, and October.

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. The track and field world was in shock. 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.


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. 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.

Despite the lack of formal employment opportunities on Pine Ridge, there is a great deal of 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, yet less than one-third of that income went to members of the tribe.

The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation has some commercial businesses with private operators, but most employment is provided by the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Oglala Lakota College, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Indian Health Service. The tribe operates the Prairie Wind Casino, a Parks and Recreation Department, guided hunting, cattle ranching and farming. The Oglala Sioux Tribe also operates the White River Visitor Center near the Badlands National Park. There is one radio station, KILI-FM in Porcupinemarker, 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 all of these business ventures failed. The Prairie Wind Casino is an exception to the rule for businesses on the reservation. The casino began in 1994 in 3 doublewide trailers, but a new $20 million casino, hotel and restaurant was unveiled in early 2007. The casino provides 250 jobs and most are to tribal residents.


Late 1800s: Creation and massacre

School for Indians at Pine Ridge, S.D.
Pine Ridge Reservation was originally part of the Great Sioux Reservation established in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 and originally encompassed approximately 60 million acres (240,000 km²) of parts of South Dakotamarker, Nebraskamarker and Wyomingmarker. In 1876, the U.S. government violated the treaty of 1868 by opening up 7.7 million acres (31,000 km²) of the Black Hillsmarker to homesteaders and private interests. In 1889 the remaining area of Great Sioux Reservation was divided into seven separate reservations: Cheyenne River Agency, Crow Creek Agency, Lower Brule Agency, Rosebud Agency, Sisseton Agency, Yankton Agencymarker and Pine Ridge Agency.

On December 29, 1890 at Wounded Knee, over 300 men, women and children were killed by the United States 7th Cavalry. Chielf Bigfoot and his followers were trying to get to Pine Ridge when intercepted by the calvary. (see: Wounded Knee massacre).

The 1970s: Protest and violence

Starting on February 27, 1973, the reservation was the site of the Wounded Knee Incident, a 71-day stand-off between entrenched American Indian Movement (AIM) activists and FBImarker 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 and two Oglala Lakotas were killed.

Following the peaceful conclusion of the 1973 stand-off, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation experienced several years of violent incidents. 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. It was originally noted by AIM representatives that there were many unsolved murders of a number of opponents of the tribal government installed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, In 2000, this theory was debunked when the FBI released a report accounting for most of the deaths. AIM, in turn, offered its own rebuttal to the FBI report. One of the murders during that period involved a civil rights activist, Ray Robinson, who worked with Martin Luther King, Jesse Jackson and Andrew Young in the 1960s. His body has not been found.

On June 26, 1975, the reservation was the site of an armed confrontation between AIM activists and the US Federal Bureau of Investigationmarker in an event which became known as the Pine Ridge Shootout. 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. 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, which would provide abortions in the event that the South Dakota abortion ban signed into law by South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds were to take effect.

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, 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.

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 and that she didn't consult with the council about the project and 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



  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. Peter Matthiessen, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, Penguin, 1992. ISBN 9780140144567.

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

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