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South Dakota: Pine Ridge Reservation – Wounded Knee

Since coming to live in the United States I have enjoyed discovering more about the history and culture of the Country. As with any country  the United States has had bright and dark moments. During our road trip through South Dakota I decided to explore one of the darker episodes, with a visit the site of Wounded Knee, which is found in the Oglala Sioux reservation, and is the site of the last battle between the US military and the Sioux.

Many view this as a massacre, for at the end of hostilities 146 men, women and children of the Lakota Sioux lay dead. Prior to visiting I read the book “Bury my heart at Wounded Knee” which details the often tragic outcomes of major conflicts between the Indian Tribes and US government during the period 1860 to 1890.

Like many of the first nations reservations the first we we encountered on entering the as we entered the Oglala Sioux reservation was a casino. As we trekked deeper into the reservation towards the town of Pine Ridge the signs of abject poverty are all too apparent. Sadly, too few people in the country are not aware of the state of these tribal lands and the suffering of the people who live there. It is a National embarrassment that gets far too little attention – shame on us!

The housing is made up of ramshackle modular homes, and the filth is almost indescribable – with garbage and wrecked cars everywhere. It appears that the community has lost all sense of civic pride and there is a projection of hopelessness all around. We were deeply moved by what we saw around us. It was hugely depressing and we’re the lucky ones as we could walk away.

We pulled into a gas station and as I was filling up Karen got talking to two young girls with babies in strollers. When Karen returned to the car she explained that they had asked for money and she had given them some. We normally don’t give money to street people, preferring to give them food instead (our concern is that the money we give will be spent on alcohol or drugs). There is little hope for these people, the land is not good for farming and the employment prospects are poor in the area. It was very sad but we think it is important for our children to see the realities of life and that not everyone is as well off as we are.

Leaving Pine Ridge behind us we set off to find Wounded Knee, which proved to be not as easy as we had expected. After a lot of searching, we found a rather scabby sign beside the road across from a tatty looking building which passed as a visitor centre come gift store. Unfortunately it was closed.

We contemplated the powerful words on the historical marker, but we were saddened by the fact that we have seen some beautiful visitors’ centers across the country in National Parks and yet at this important location to the Sioux Nation nothing was here apart from this simple, worn-looking placard. That said the simplicity of the monument did make a powerful statement and left us with memories that I am sure will stay with us for a long time.

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