Emily Schiffer

Ranching on the Reservation
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Nationality: USA
Biography: Emily Schiffer is a photographer and mixed media artist interested in the intersection between art, community engagement, and social change. She is a Co-founder and Creative Director of We, Women ,  the largest social impact photography... read on
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Ranching on the Reservation
Copyright emily schiffer 2021
Date of Work 03/12/17 - 04/11/17
Updated 06/23/17
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The Enlarged Homestead Act of 1909 encouraged a large westward migration of white farmers West of the Missouri, where they resettled on federally issued 320-acre homesteads amidst the plains of the region.  Destinations included the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota, thus leading to the integration of white settlers and colonial farming practices into life on the reservation.  Cattle ranching remains an important industry in South Dakota over 100 years after the act was signed into law.  Today, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe owns about half of the reservation land-- it leases 900,000 acres to ranchers, and an additional 400,000 acres are owned by individual Native Americans. The remaining 1.3 million acres are deeded to non-Natives under the Homestead Act. 

Today, not all ranchers are white, and not all white people on the reservation are ranchers. As US agriculture continues to shift toward factory farms, the viability of family farms is diminishing. Unlike their better known and wealthier counterparts in Texas, South Dakota ranches are small, family owned operations, which generate only modest income. The rolling hills and arid soil of the Cheyenne River Reservation don’t lend themselves to industrialized agriculture. Ranching families are faced with the dilemma of continuing in an industry they can’t keep up with, or leaving the only way of life they’ve known. Many young people from farming families leave the reservation to pursue more lucrative work. Those who remain are steadfast in their dedication, often taking on full time employment in town to carry them through the unpredictability of farming profits. This project follows three ranching families to explore the history of ranching on the Cheyenne River Reservation.

This project was funded by a grant from the Economic Hardship Reporting Project. It is a collaborative project, shot by myself, Dawnee LeBeau, and Sylvia Picotte (Lakota photographers from a ranching family, who live on the Cheyenne River Reservation). 


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