Kadoka, South Dakota
July 23, 2011
Practicing steer roping, Kadoka, South Dakota. Traditional Western life still lives strong throughout the region surrounding the Badlands.
Story Summary: The Badlands of South Dakota are surrounded by one of the most economically depressed regions in the United States. While economic and social strife are commonplace in the Badlands, this is also a section of the country rich with culture and traditional life. Much of the Badlands are part of the Pine Ridge Reservation, home of the Oglala Lakota, a tribe once led by the legendary war chief Crazy Horse. Pine Ridge is also where some 300 men, women, and children were slaughtered by the U.S. 7th Calvary at the Massacre of Wounded Knee in 1890, the tragic end to the Indian Wars.
Conditions on the Pine Ridge Reservation are equal to the most impoverished nations in the world. Over 90 percent of Pine Ridge residents live below the federal poverty line, and the unemployment rate hovers between 85 and 90 percent. Life expectancy is 48 years for men and 52 for woman. Though faced with staggering poverty, many Lakotas work to preserve traditional culture and maintain their community.
Lakotas are not the only people who struggle economically in the region today. Small towns across the Badlands have suffered greatly as an economic shift in America has bankrupted and depopulated many rural communities. Broken-down ranches litter the landscape, while leather-faced cowboys seemingly as old as the soil itself pass in sun-faded pickups. Many ranchers in South Dakota are descendants of the land-hungry settlers who pressured the U.S. government to take Lakota territory and confine the Sioux to reservations. Now both Indians and whites are living in isolation in the Badlands, forgotten communities left to survive if they can.