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America’s Native Prisoners of War

This is an article about the Lakota Tribe. As a white man living in New England, I was a bit hesitant to publish this post. It’s a bit arrogant for me to assume that I could ever truly understand the perspectives of Midwestern Native Americans.

That said, I feel passionate about this topic, and conflicted on the impact of colonization versus the role of personal responsibility, and felt it was important to explore these ideas. Please excuse any hubris on my part.

For the last five years, Aaron Huey has photographed the struggle of the Lakota on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

His impassioned talk and vivid imagery are a stark reminder that America was built not just with the blood and sweat of hard-working settlers, but on the bodies of this country’s native people.

Some Statistics about Pine Ridge

Prisoners are still born into prisoner of war camps, long after the guards are gone. These are the bones left after the best meat has been taken. - Aaron Huey
  • Unemployment hovers between 85% and 95%.
  • 38% of homes have no electricity. 60% are infested with black mold.
  • 90% of the population lives below the federal poverty line.
  • Tuberculosis is eight times higher than the national average.
  • The infant mortality rate is the highest on the continent, and three times higher than the national average.
  • The school drop-out rate is 70%, and teacher turnover is eight times the national average.
  • Life expectancy for men is 46 to 48 years.

Some Questions

There’s no question that our nation’s history with Native Americans has helped lead to their current situation. The indigenous people of Australia and the Inuit of the Arctic North deal with similar struggles born of a similar history.

That said, Native Americans were not always the teepee living, peace-pipe smoking stereotype that gets attributed to them. Tribes went to war with each other well before British colonists showed up. They fought and died and suffered.

I also understand that poverty is vicious cycle that’s insanely difficult to break. But people have done it. How much of the Lakota’s current plight is caused by the Lakota themselves?

How much of the Lakota’s history do we, the descendants of colonial Americans, own? After all, it’s a history that you and I were not part of. How much of this do the Lakota themselves own?

How do we help? Can we help? Better yet, can we help the Lakota help themselves?

Opportunities, Not Handouts

My buddy Ben Eubanks shared a great article by Dan Miller with me a few weeks ago titled, Opportunities, Not Handouts.

Several years ago Joanne and I were walking down the sidewalk to a restaurant in Atlanta, GA. A street vendor approached us with a newspaper “for sale.” I gave him $2.00 and we continued down the sidewalk. I laughed when in the next block we saw a dispensing box with the same paper – free for the taking. But I admired the salesman for creating a little business nonetheless. Now in Nashville there is a similar legitimate program. Homeless people are given 15 copies of The Contributor at no charge. They can sell those for $1.00 each and then return to buy more copies at $.25 each. They are trained how to sell these for $1.00 and agree to not be under the influence of drugs or alcohol while selling.

I would love to say that the solution is to restore the Lakota to their traditional way of living. But traditions change. Even without colonization, I believe the Lakota would not look the same today as they did 200 years ago.

Rather than looking back at the past with longing and envy, perhaps it’s time to look to the future with hope and vision.

Perhaps what the Lakota need are opportunities, and a few strong role models of their own to seize them.

What do you think?