Life on the Rez: Third World Living

It was a hot Tuesday afternoon as I sat in the back of a van that was crammed with ten other students. The air was so thick that it was barely noticeable that the AC was on full blast. We bumped along on a road that would lead us to our destination—Pine Ridge Reservation.

Throughout our week long stay on the reservation, we were at a K-12 public school. There we spent time playing games or painting with several of the kids. We also spent one of the days doing some work for a local Native woman. She was so appreciative of the few hours we took painting her deck and trim around her house. While in South Dakota, there were certain parts of the trip that really pricked at my heart. I got a taste of how their lives are truly impacted by poor lifestyles. Employment, income, and life spans are one the low side of the spectrum, meanwhile diseases, suicide, and alcoholism rank high. Life on the reservation makes any Third World Country look like a high class society.

About the size of Connecticut, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation has come in second place for being the largest in the U.S. Nearly 40,000 people call this reservation home, and roughly 35 percent, or 14,000 people, are younger than age 18 (Schwartz, 2006, Demographic Info). Approximately 80-90 percent of the people are unemployed (Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, n.d., Pine Ridge Statistics). If these percentages are based on a population of about 40,000, this is between 32,000 and 36,000 people who have no job. Schwartz adds that these numbers often times will increase during winter time because weather doesn’t permit easy travels (Employment Information).

Schwartz (2006) writes that the Reservation provides little opportunities for employment, as there is little industry or technology. With few employment options on Pine Ridge, oftentimes workers must turn to major cities off the Reservation such as Rapid City. Rapid City is located about 120 miles away (Employment Information). Generally, travel time could take a minimum of two hours. Even if there was a big city that was closer, Lee (2014) notes that most families lack decent cars or any form of transportation (Glimmers of Hope on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, para. 2).

Housing Conditions
A three bedroom house isn’t that bad to live in, but could you imagine sharing that space with sixteen other people? How many people would squeeze onto one bed? I could never imagine sleeping in my twin sized bed with more than one other person. According to Schwartz (2006), a home meant for three or four is often crammed with 17 people on average; sometimes 30 people can be found in a home built for eight. This is because family members will never turn down other family members in a time of need (Housing Conditions and Homelessness).

Having a basic roof over my head is a blessing, and in the winter time I can crank the heat as high as I want without worrying about it shutting off. Growing up we had a woodstove in the house, and always had plenty of trees to cut for firewood. Schwartz (2006) writes that on the Pine Ridge Reservation many homes are heated with ovens because propane can be expensive and wood can be tricky to come by (Housing Conditions and Homelessness).

I was also fortunate enough to be able to flick on a light and flush my toilet without much worry. Around 39 percent of homes are without electricity, while 33 percent lack a basic water and sewage system. Quite often families turn to local rivers which could be contaminated (Schwartz, 2006, Housing Conditions and Homelessness). The Oglala Sioux Rural Water Supply has to deliver water to hundreds of homes, which is then stored outside in fifty-gallon barrels, during the winter months the containers are brought indoors (Situation of Youth on Pine Ridge, n.d., Housing). Schwartz adds that approximately 60 percent or more of the homes are infested with black mold. Sadly despite these horrid or potentially fatal conditions, there is no government program or insurance to assist families in need (Housing Conditions and Homelessness).

Health Care and Issues
One would think that this 2.7 million acre land would have many hospitals located throughout it, but sadly there is only one hospital which resides in the city of Pine Ridge. There are also two health centers; one is located in Kyle, the other in Wanblee. Imagine it taking an hour or more to run a lady in labor to a hospital. That’s like driving from Green Bay, WI to Oshkosh, WI.
pine ridge
In her article, Scwartz (2006) mentions that due to the distance to the medical facilities that many residents do not live with health care. She adds that these places are highly under-staffed and under-funded (Health Care). While in South Dakota, I was fortunate enough to be given a tour of the hospital. The lady who was giving a tour talked about how people may volunteer but not many people stayed because of how difficult it is. According to her, it is a fast paced and very stressful job, and that there is a low ratio of staff to a large amount of patients. She also mentioned that there is currently only one ambulance out of six that is running due to the shortage of paramedics.

Health conditions are more prevalent on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (n.d.) writes that cervical cancer is 5 times higher on the reservation. One out of every four infants is born with FAS, or Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (Pine Ridge Statistics). It is reported that in comparison to the national average, diabetes is 800 percent higher on the Reservation. Half of the adults over the age of 40 are diagnosed with diabetes. Men live to be about 48 while women have a life expectancy of 52. This is a huge 30 year difference compared to the life expectancy of a non-native (Schwartz, 2006, Life Expectancy and Health Conditions). Pine Ridge has the lowest life span in the U.S.; in the western hemisphere, it is the second lowest, Haiti is lower (Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, n.d., Pine Ridge Statistics). We as a nation are so set on saving our own heritage, yet we are content with letting other cultures wither away.

Growing up I never experienced the pain of a classmate committing suicide. While I was visiting South Dakota, I learned of the most recent one which happened just days before I arrived. It is reported that suicide is the second cause of death among American Indians; the rate is 1.5 times higher among adolescents (Situation of Youth on Pine Ridge, n.d., Health/Mental health). Landry (2015) explains that there have been 5 deaths from Christmas day to February 19 (para. 2). While I was on the reservation I learned of a group of five boys who attempted to take their life by consuming pills, thankfully none were successful. Authorities have reported that there were 162 suicides in 2014 (Stasiowski, 2015, para. 17).

Despite this overwhelming fog of depression, there have been recent outreaches towards young children. In a recent article from the Rapid City Journal, Stasiowski (2015) mentions that an education technician and coach, Nellie Long, and a few students volunteered in a 3-day effort of finding ways to help prevent suicide (Picture description). Landry (2015) writes factors that could tribute to suicidal thoughts are bullying, poverty, or even poor home lives (para. 6). She adds that there are organizations like Sweet Grass that are also reaching out towards adolescents (para. 8).

Substance Abuse
The number one addiction on the Reservation is alcohol (Situation of Youth, n.d., Addictions). Schwartz (2006) adds that eight out of ten families are affected by alcoholism. It doesn’t help that there is a city right across the border that sells the majority of liquor to the reservation. Whiteclay, Nebraska is a small town with a population of 14; standing along the road are five buildings, one says grocery store, and the other ones have “bar” somewhere in the name (Alcoholism). It is also noted by Situation of Youth that cigarettes, chewing tobacco, marijuana, and methamphetamine are very problematic among the reservation (Addictions).

The schools on the reservation are actually in the bottom 10 percent of school funding, according to the BIA or Bureau of Indian Affairs (Schwartz, 2006, Education Issues). In the article “Pine Ridge: A broken system failing American’s most forgotten children,” Lee mentions that this is due to the lack of local tax money. “There are virtually no private land owners on the reservations, so no taxpayers to tax” (2014, para. 8). This poor funding shows up in dropout and graduation rates. American Indians or Alaskan Natives had a dropout rate of 7 percent and about 67 percent of students are likely to graduate. These percentages are low in comparison to their white counterparts whom have a dropout and graduation percentage of two and eighty-six respectively (Lee, 2014, graph).

While staying on the Pine Ridge Reservation I learned many things, both good and bad. I heard many sad stories about the Massacre at Wounded Knee and personal stories about how alcohol or drugs have affected families. I also experienced the love that this community had for each other and for others as well. They were willing to share a part of themselves with us. Their culture is not “savagery” like many Americans are lead to believe. Their culture is their culture—beautiful. Trymaine lee writes, “The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation has become emblematic of rural poverty, neglect and the plight of struggling American Indians. But across the reservation, there are glimmers of hope and resistance against the monumental challenges the Lakota people face” (2014, para. 5). Despite issues that are derived from poverty they still hold on to the little threads of life.

Laundry, A. (2015, February 19). Spate of Youth Suicides Shake Pine Ridge Reservation.Retrieved April 6, 2015, from

Lee, T. (2014, June 2). Glimmers of hope on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Retrieved April 1, 2015, from

Lee, T. (2014, May 29). Pine Ridge: A broken system failing America’s most forgotten children.Retrieved March 31, 2015, from
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. (n.d.). Retrieved March 31, 2015, from

Schwartz, S. (2006, October 15). The Arrogance of Ignorance: Hidden away, out of sight and out of mind. Retrieved March 31, 2015, from from the People/the arrogance of ignorance.htm

Situation of Youth on Pine Ridge Reservation.(n.d.).Retrieved April 1, 2015, from

South Dakota Map and Map of South Dakota-MapPoint State Map Gallery-MP2K Magazine.(n.d.).Retrieved April 4, 2015, from Dakota-Map-92.html

Stasiowski, J. (2015, March 5). With energy and hope, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation attacks youth suicide epidemic. Retrieved March 31, 2015, from


Answering the Call

Imagine seeing a mother and her fifteen-year-old daughter at a local mall browsing and shopping for clothes. The mother had promised her daughter that today would be their day to shop. They both skimmed through racks of clothes while the daughter’s hip hop could be heard through her headphones within a seven foot radius. The daughter soon picked which clothes she liked, but her gratitude quickly snapped into attitude when the mother said no to a low v-neck shirt. “Everyone is wearing it” the daughter sassed—mom weakened; a few minutes passed and she gave in with the thought of what her parents couldn’t give her as a teen. This fifteen-year-old girl is a prime example of the generation of today. Modern teens now seem to dress more provocatively, have more inessential gadgets, and to have different values in comparison to a generation from the 50’s and 60’s.

The dress code of today’s youth seems to be entirely different than that of fifty years ago. Boys who once wore popular bell bottoms have changed to a more sloppy appearance of saggy pants. Their shirts are three sizes too big and they now wear Snapback hats to add “swag”—something apparently a girl is supposed to see attractive. If a guy isn’t strutting his stuff in this fashion sense, then he might be wearing a tight shirt and leg lovin’ skinny jeans; these jeans have an infatuation so strong to the human legs that they outline everything belonging to a guy, including the quarter in his back pocket.

Guys are not the only ones who have changed their sense of style. Young women of today seem to be the Bible’s version of the harlot. Fifty years ago women wearing pants was highly discouraged while a more modest dress was the standard. Today, a young woman’s bust is encouraged to be used to highlight a man’s attention, along with an enticing mini skirt, or a full body showing bikini.

Media is a prime example that has a great way to manipulate both young men and women into buying the latest fashion trend; after all women must be sexy for men and men must be hot for the ladies. The newest clothing trend or even latest gadget seems to be a must have in order to be part of the in-crowd. Christopher writes that marketers spend mega bucks targeting teens by candy coating their products to be an apple of the eye (2). Clothes are worn by fashion models, and commercials show happy people with the fanciest new phone. Christopher also adds that when a teen is hooked a wide range of money is being spent (2).

Children today are being raised differently than children in the 50’s. One thing contributing to that is both parents are working instead of just the father. Women, who were once simple house wives, are now putting on the boots and heading to the milk barn, figuratively so to speak. Both parents being gone at work results in little quality time being spent with children and can lead to a guilty feeling of not being there. To cope with the guilty feeling, parents oftentimes turn to buying their kids love with gifts, and things, and stuff.

Parents do not want to disappoint their children like their own parents disappointed them as a child. So parents who are more successful than their own parents tend to want more and have more than what they did growing up. Teens nowadays tend to value a video game more than a baseball and glove or a simple fooball. With things being handed to them easily, a value of a dollar is not earned.

Modern day teenagers have more electronics than necessary such as Ps3’s, PlayStation’s, Xbox’s, and IPod’s. More time is being spent inside playing a video game or listening to music than being spent outside playing a soccer game with friends. This leads to lower activity levels and a higher obesity rate. Kids become less outgoing, many social or community events are pushed aside, and family dinners become a rarity. Computers and phones have a way of hindering the way teens communicate in person. A text message and Facebook can be hard to comprehend without emotion and gestures or even be taken in a wrong manner.

These devices are also great at distracting one from homework or study time, which could easily affect school grades or the enthusiasm to even do well in school. Education is not highly valued, even though it is a gateway to success in the future. Without education, life is generally more lived on a paycheck from McDonald’s. With parents being lenient at home and teachers handing out A’s to all students, kids are growing up thinking the real world is a softhearted place. If this were the case, then education would be a pointless waste of time and no one would do it. Education should be taught as a something with meaning that will enrich one’s future. Grades should be worked for—not given.

A parent at home should not be permissive, but yet a parent should not push their son or daughter past the border lines. Mom and dad should encourage their teens to be successful in school, but yet understand their strengths and weaknesses. By doing this, a teen’s outlook on education is viewed as something important instead of a vain attempt, and will inspirit him or her to try his or hers best. Besides the parents, teachers, who are being paid to teach, should not be handing an A to an undeserving student. The only thing that student attains from that teacher is that life is easier when one doesn’t try. If a teen had enough push, he or she would get a “feel” for the real world; who knows who the next Bill Gates will be.

Compared to the teens who grew up in the 60’s, now teens have more designer brand clothes, more electronics than they need, and have a different viewpoint towards education. The real world does not specifically care whether the pants cost $120 or $15, or if one answers a call on a flip phone or an IPhone. The world just cares if one wears pants and whether he or she answers the call.

Falling Off the Horse and Standing Back Up

It was a hot and sticky summer evening as I sat atop my horse, Ginger. The smell of leather mixed with horse sweat lingered around my face like a fog. Ginger let out a few snorts of impatience and would do a little hop as if to tell me, “Can we run already?” I felt uneasy to let her loose; I felt uneasy to be in a place where I could easily fall and get hurt.

Suddenly, a twig snapped, and a deer could be seen as it ran off, most likely because it smelt the presence of a human. It felt like Ginger leaped twenty feet in the air, as she broke off into a panic. Her hind feet went up, and the next thing I knew I landed on the ground. She broke off into trot still bucking a little bit, and letting out long snorts. While I slowly came to my feet, she pranced back to me as if to now say, “What happened to you?” I learned two important things that day; I should always be prepared for the little surprises, and when I do fall down, I have to get up, swing back in the saddle, and ride on despite the number of times I will fall.

This experience while horseback riding is similar to my first year college experience. As I sat in my classes during the first week, my teachers all made one point clear—this is not high school. This was not that shocking to me, although I believe my high school could have done a better job of preparing me for the course load, and the level of difficulty I would be facing. I felt it a little strange to have “recommended” homework instead of required, which completely discouraged me from studying. When I didn’t do as well on any of my first exams, it was a realization that I needed to do better on my exams because my final grade was dependent on it.

Not only was I discouraged from studying due to lack of graded homework, I found that because my classes were surprisingly shorter, it made it tough to grip onto the words of the professor and what he or she was trying to teach us. In high school every day I had “block classes,” hour-and-a-half long classes, and here at the university my classes are an hour-and-twenty minutes or fifty-five minutes, and meet either two or three times a week per class. So not only did I have to learn how to study, but also how to understand the teacher’s words and apply them to my book.

In my first year of college, time management outside of class was a hard thing to train myself to do. Being used to the high school way where my classes were back to back, I had this new found freedom to do as I please for a good hour before my next class. About 33 percent of students are affected when it comes to learning how to time-crunch (Sterling Casil). I had to train myself to take advantage of the time I had between classes for studying, instead of scrolling through Facebook.

At the end of my first semester, I was majorly thrown off the horse for the second time in my life, metaphorically speaking of course. Looking at my final grades, I saw a big, fat D stamped behind Biology. Emotions hit me like a flood—disappointment, frustration, panic, and doubt. I couldn’t tell my mom that I didn’t do well in the one class she was really pushing me to take, and then there was the thought of “Oh no, will I graduate in the biology field?” Since I was a first-generation college student, I had about a 27 percent chance of graduating in four years (Concordia Portland Online). Despite these thoughts, I swung my leg back in the saddle, and I took biology for a second time. Little did I know, the second time I’d take biology would be my last.

As a first generation student, I had many challenges that were going to come against me; finances were, and still are, one of the biggest burdens. I had to go to school full time to be eligible for financial aid, yet I had to work part time to cover my bills. When being compared to second, third, and even fourth generation students, first generation students are twice as likely to be financially dependent (Concordia Portland Online). At one point, I felt like quitting because it is expensive to go to school to earn a simple piece of paper. On average, a student is in debt $23,000 at the end of his or her four-year program (Sterling Casil). My mom was my biggest fan, and she encouraged me to stay in school.

At the end of my second semester, I came to the realization that I had a bigger love for English than I originally thought. The Prospect of researching and writing papers didn’t scare me in the least, so I switched majors from Biology to English Literature. Switching majors is something that about 80 percent of college students will do at least once; and every student will change his or her course study a minimal of three times, on average (Ramos). I found myself to be happier in my new area of study.

That day when I fell off of my horse, Ginger, it was hard to have any desire to get back in the saddle. For one, I was scared she might buck me off again; and two, I knew it would be difficult to get on in the middle of the field (I usually had to stand on a stump to get my leg in the stirrup). After I did manage to swing back on top, I had a feeling that we would get back to the barn without any problems, but I still held onto the horn of the saddle just to be safe.
The experience of my first year of college was like that day I was riding Ginger. There were both good and bad aspects to it. As an incoming freshman, it was probably an “average” year, especially for a girl who was the first in her family to take on an education past high school. Despite the pressures of finances, studies, and not giving up, I’ve made it to my third year of college now, enduring everything that has come my way in the best manner I possibly could. Like the time when I rode Ginger and got thrown off, I stuck it out, and no matter how often I fell, I knew I had to get back up.


“First Generation College Students Graduation Rates.” Concordia Portland Online. Concordia     Online Publisher, 2 Nov. 2012. Web. 7 Mar. 2015. .

Ramos, Yuritzy. “College Students Tend to Change Majors When They Find the One They Really Love – Borderzine.” Borderzine. Borderzine, 14 Mar. 2013. Web. 8 Mar. 2015.      .

Sterling Casil, Amy. “What Percentage of College Students Fail Their First Semester?”Everyday   Life. Global Post. Web. 3 Mar. 2015. .