Established in 1889, Pine Ridge is the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre (1890) and the Wounded Knee Incident (1973). Home to the Oglala Lakota, one of the seven tribes of the Great Sioux Nation, Pine Ridge is the eighth largest reservation in the United States. Yet despite its size, only 74K acres are suitable for agriculture. With a per capita income of about $6K, the unemployment rate is at a staggering 90% (versus 10% for the rest of the country). The life expectancy for men is 48, roughly the same as Afghanistan and Somalia, and the infant mortality rate is five times the national average.
The United States policies toward the Oglala Lakota have always treated the natives of this land as the enemy within. Twenty Congressional Medals of Honor for Valor were handed out after the Wounded Knee Massacre, in which more than 300 prisoners of war were slaughtered. Considered the end of the Indian wars, the United States government had only just begun its occupation and systemic destruction of the surviving generations.
In 2005, photojournalist Aaron Huey began documenting Pine Ridge as part of a story about poverty in America. As he writes in the afterword to his monograph, Mitakuye Oyasin (Radius Books), “In the beginning, it was all just statistics…. Over time it became clear to me that these statistics came from a deep historical wound. And then my photographs of Pine Ridge became a story about a prisoner of war camp, a story about genocide, a story about stolen lands…. I have stumbled into something sacred on Pine Ridge. It took my eyes a long time to see that, but my heart knew it right away.”
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