Target: Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior
Goal: Help the Lakota Sioux in South Dakota, where they experience some of the worst living conditions in the Western Hemisphere.
Where do you think you’d have to go to find the lowest life expectancy in the Western Hemisphere? Haiti? Try the United States. Women of the Lakota Sioux living on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota can expect to live 52 years; men typically live 48. These simple numbers bear witness to the story of a people living in some of the most desperate circumstances on the continent.
These appalling living conditions manifest themselves everywhere at Pine Ridge. Many are homeless; those lucky to have homes more often than not live in structures that are infested with black mold and lack plumbing and electricity. Unemployment and high school dropout rates are off the charts compared to U.S. national averages. Lakota Sioux residents of Pine Ridge also experience epidemic levels of tuberculosis, obesity, heart disease, and diabetes and rampant alcoholism, gang culture, and poverty.
These conditions did not arise by themselves. The history of relations between the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Lakota Sioux is littered with broken treaties and violated human rights. The U.S. government has displayed a persistent pattern of inhumane, even genocidal treatment of the Lakota Sioux and other indigenous groups. We need look no further than the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890, which was perpetrated at Pine Ridge, to discover the reality of this history and the connection between that history and the Lakota’s suffering today.
Make no mistake: these people have lost so that we–members of the dominant American society–could gain. This is hard to understand. Our natural response to a difficult reality such as this is to withdraw ourselves from the story, to rationalize it away. Yes, the most monstrous of the atrocities occurred many decades ago. Yes, to a person, there are many degrees of separation between us and the Lakota Sioux on Pine Ridge. But as taxpayers to and beneficiaries of the U.S. government, we must share responsibility. We must take ownership of this history, this reality, as we took ownership of the land that the Lakota Sioux used to call home. The treaties are still being violated. Typical Americans daily enjoy the benefits of a current distribution of land and resources that is connected to the present-day suffering of the Lakota Sioux in a very real and concrete way. Urge the Bureau of Indian Affairs to honor the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty and return land to the Lakota Sioux, or, failing that, to return the spoils of that land to the Lakota to help alleviate their suffering, suffering that is truly disgraceful when viewed next to the standard of living enjoyed by the average American today.
Dear Bureau of Indian Affairs,
The Lakota Sioux living on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota experience some of the worst living conditions in the Western Hemisphere today. These deplorable conditions are a direct and real result of the historical oppression and present mistreatment of the Lakota Sioux by the U.S. government, and, by extension, the American people.
We need not look to the atrocities of the past–the forced migrations, violated treaties, and massacres–to establish the connection between the suffering of the residents of Pine Ridge and the prosperity enjoyed by members of the dominant American society. The terms of Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 continue to be violated every day. Americans enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world today. This prosperity is due in part to the products of land that ought to belong to the Lakota Sioux. Meanwhile, very little of that prosperity is returned to those from whom it was originally taken: the entire Department of the Interior, of which your Bureau is just a subdivision, received less than one half of one percent of the entire federal budget in 2013. Furthermore, less than one percent of all private philanthropic donations made by Americans go to Native American issues.
The current state of affairs upholds this injustice. Rectify this situation by honoring the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 and giving back to the Lakota Sioux the land that is rightfully theirs. At the very least, ameliorate the unconscionable living standards endured by the Lakota Sioux by demanding a larger budget from Congress and using that budget to give the Lakota Sioux a fair shake in a country for which their homeland, their culture, and their way of life have been sacrificed.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Aaron Huey via Popphoto