Here is a problem along the edges of the digital divide that most people are unaware of the perspective from Native American Tribes.
Given the fact that many Native American tribes have some land and some have casinos, people think that they live in the lap of luxury. There are a few tribes who have learned to create a business model to change the future of their children. But we have an interesting set of problems that the President has to address. For those not familiar with the cultures, here is a virtual tour if
The Four Directions project works to use technology as a catalyst for change in the schools. Recently students, teachers, community members and Four Directions personnel worked together to create a demonstration project with the National Museum of the American Indian.
Source: The 4Directions community of learners consists of 19 Bureau of Indian Affairs schools partnered with 11 private and public universities and organizations. Through technology, the community has been able to transcend geographic barriers and collaborate across the nation. Teachers and students use the Internet and World Wide Web to communicate and collaborate with 4D partners and other schools. 4Directions schools use technology to share in the diversity of various cultures and to ensure that the voices of Native people are heard in the emerging information age.
I have spent time with Karen Buller, and earlier with Misty Brave, who are proponents of better education for Native American students. Karen was working with the FCC. Here is the website she created when there was funding. Most of the funding for the digital divide evaporated during the Bush administration as the nation was told that there is no, was no digital divide. Now that we can talk about it again, there is a digital divide, a technology divide, a cultural divide, an information divide and a fluency of use of new media divide.
Misty Brave is from the Pine Ridge Reservation and she and I had a debate when I first met her. We were Christa McAuliffe educators for diversity, from the NEA, NFIE.I was talking about the poverty in urban cities. She opened my eyes to the situation on the Pine Ridge Reservation and to the cultures of Native Americans in general. I have never lived 40 miles from a grocery store without a car. I have never lived where the chapter houses, as in Navajo lands are where people communicate emergencies from.
*( Cell phones have changed that a little, broadband is not available everywhere either.
Karen Buller Elliott and I worked together, but she was the funder and the person with the ideas. We tried to work from Santa Fe, and I often rode shotgun with her to learn, to experience and to see the disconnect between the Native American schools .. I learned the systems of communication and the difficulty in some places, … She shared programs did outreach and training, and projects she worked for several years together until the funding declined.
This is her website http://www.niti.org/
and some developed curriculum.
Four Directions Project and Work with Native Americans
Dr. Resta is a friend and heserved as director of the Four Directions project (1995 –2001) at the University of Texas at Austin. Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, this national project involved 19 rural Indian schools across the country and explored the use of new telecommunications and multimedia technologies to enhance the quality of education in schools in remote areas. The project received the 1997 Award for Outstanding and Innovative Use of Technology from Government Executive Magazine and the Government Executive Leadership Institute. He served as Chair of The Smithsonian Institution Off-Site Technology Committee. As senior consultant, he developed the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of the American Indian Off-Site Technology Planning Document for the extension of the museum’s collections, archives, and information resources to Indian communities and the general public through technology. He is also currently working with the Navajo Nation in projects to use telecommunications to enhance educational and economic development on the reservation.
Four Directions:An Indigenous Model of Education
The Learning Technology (LTC) has been a leader in exploring the ways that technology can enhance learning opportunities for students in rural isolated projects. Schools in Native American communities, like schools everywhere, are incorporating technology into the curriculum as fast as budgets allow. Will this technology, which brings the world into the classroom and opens the classroom to the world, be the final means of acculturalization for Native American students, or will it provide a way to preserve, enrich and tell others of their unique heritage?
The Learning Technology Center explored the ways technology can be used in Native American schools can use technology to develop culturally responsive curriculum in the Four Directions Project. From 1995 to 2001, through a grant funded by a U.S. Department of Education, the Learning Technology Center with other partners helped 19 Native American schools in ten states overcome their remoteness and preserve their cultural traditions by providing training in the use of computer and telecommunications technology and its integration throughout school curricula. Other partners in the Four Directions project included the University of New Mexico, the University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University, the Heard Museum and the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.
Dr. Paul E. Resta helped the schools plan and create collaborative learning environments. Schools were equipped with Teachnet, collaborative communications software which provides email, conferencing and bulletin board capabilities.
Graduate level courses in curriculum design were provided for Four Directions teachers via the World Wide Web and Teachnet. Approximately 120 teachers took these classes, many of them multiple times.
Native students were trained in digital photography, virtual reality imaging and other multimedia techniques in order to create cultural “virtual museums.” The first virtual museum project created a Virtual Tour of the National Museum of the American Indian, as seen through the eyes of Native American children. The project was one of fifty finalists in the Global Junior Challenge, an Internet media contest hosted by the city of Rome, Italy. Four Directions has promoted school-museum partnerships for virtual museum projects, and by May 2001, ten Four Directions schools will have engaged in virtual museum projects with nine museums and two university archeology departments.
Dr. Loriene Roy helped the schools develop oral history projects for the schools and brought library expertise to the team. She began a family reading project, “If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything,” with Four Directions schools which has received its own with funding from the American Library Association and the Tocker Foundation. She has used TeachNet to conduct live chats between students in the Four Directions schools on reading and story-telling. The “scary story” chats at Halloween have garnered lively participation from students of all ages.
An Electronic Mentoring database was established that paired volunteer Native American mentors with specific schools or students and facilitated their communication.
The LTC team participated in two Access Native American Net Days. In April 1998, 28 schools of the Navajo Reservation in Arizona, the Pueblos of New Mexico, the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Reservation in Mississippi were connected to the Internet and provided with new computers. Team members were on hand to provide technical support at Red Water School on the Choctaw Reservation in Mississippi and at Jemez Pueblo, New Mexico. The second Native American Net Day, in September 1999, celebrated the wiring of the remaining Four Directions schools and many more Bureau of Indian Affairs schools.
The Four Directions partners worked hard to provide technology and curriculum training for the teacher participants at the annual Summer Institutes conducted at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas. But during the last year of the project, three Four Directions schools conducted their own summer institutes, and the Pueblo of Laguna won an Intel grant to create a technology training center for American Indian schools. These changes mark the success of Four Directions in the dissemination of the Indigenous Model of Education. Another mark of success for the project is a database of culturally responsive lessons on the Four Directions web site. These lessons were devised by the Four Directions teachers at the Summer Institutes and on-site workshops.
The LTC will continue its work with Indian schools and other schools in rural isolated areas to continue to explore the ways technology can help bridge the digital divide.
Four Directions Project
The newest program.. If I can Read, I can Do Anything
If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything is teaming up with readergirlz, GuysLitWire, and YALSA for Operation Teen Book Drop 2010. They will help coordinate the delivery of thousands of new books to teens on reservation schools on April 15, 2010.
The goal is to encourage native children and community members to read for pleasure
To Provide Indian communities with opportunities to engage in and communicate about reading
To Promote Library use at tribal schools
To Help Improve Tribal school library collections
To Support…Tribal school librarians!
Internet to the Hogan
There is another program that I have a little knowledge about, which is the Internet to the Hogan Program. Supercomputer experts from UC San Diego will help end the “digital divide” for many in the Navajo Nation in the Southwest.
Navajos in the American Southwest, many of whom have never had access to a personal telephone, will soon make a significant leap into the Internet Age, thanks in part to resources and expertise provided by the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) at UC San Diego.
The Navajos, who refer to themselves as the “Dine” (dee-nay), celebrated “An Internet to the Hogan and Dine Grid Event” at Navajo Technical College in Crownpoint, New Mexico. Highlights of the event include their official acceptance of a “Little Fe” mini-supercomputer from the TeraGrid – the world’s largest supercomputing network – and a demonstration of advanced radio technology.
This is the article that made me think about sharing with you some initiatives.Many more initiatives and projects need funding to reach the children.
The US president has pledged to improve the lives of Native Americans. But he
faces huge challenges, such as those on Pine Ridge Indian reservation where
unemployment is more than 80%, the average wage is ?4,400 ? and life expectancy
Monday January 11 2010
Indian country begins where the serene prairie of Custer county gives way to the
formidable rock spires marking out South Dakota’s rugged Badlands. The road runs
straight until the indistinguishable, clapboard American homesteads fade from
view and the path climbs into a landscape sharpened by an eternity of wind and
water. At this time of year, the temperature slides to tens of degrees below
freezing and a relentless gale sets the snow dancing on the road, a whirligig of
white blotting out the black of the asphalt.
The first marker that this may be a part of the United States but is also apart
from it, virtually invisible to most Americans, comes as the road descends on to
the plains of the Pine Ridge Indian reservation. Here, an abandoned,
half-wrecked mobile home, daubed with the name of a Sioux rebel who led the last
armed showdown between the tribe and US authorities nearly four decades ago,
stands as a monument to defiance and despair.
The signal from South Dakota’s Christian radio fades as an agitated caller
elaborates on her belief that God created global warming as a taste of the fires
of hell awaiting humanity. After a time the reservation’s own station struggles
The tribe’s president, Theresa Two Bulls, is on air lamenting the death of a
schoolboy, Joshua Kills Enemy, who hanged himself the day before. His funeral
will be the second of the week, coming days after a 14-year-old girl took her
own life in the same way. They are not the first.
Two Bulls wonders how it can be that the Oglala Sioux tribe’s children are
killing themselves. “We must hug our children, we must tell them we love them. A
lot of these youth do not get a hug a day. They are never told that they’re
loved. We need to start being parents and grandparents to them,” she says.
Two days later, Two Bulls declares a “suicide state of emergency” in response to
the deaths of the children and a spate of attempts by others to kill themselves,
such as Delia Big Boy, who was 15 when she put a rope around her neck and came
close to taking her own life. “It had a lot to do with my parents and alcohol
abuse and what they say to you. The things they say make you think they don’t
love you,” says the high school student, who is now 17. “I hear the same thing
from my friends. There’s a sense of hopelessness on the reservation. There’s
just not a sense of belonging. There’s not a sense of a future. There’s
alcoholism. The parents drink. A lot of the children drink.”
In declaring the state of emergency, Two Bulls says that the deaths of the
children are a symptom of a wider crisis that has taken hold of generations of
Oglala Sioux, and this is certainly true. More than 100 people, mostly adults,
tried or succeeded in taking their own lives on Pine Ridge reservation last
“This is about how defeated our people feel. There’s hopelessness out there,”
Two Bulls tells me later. “People across the United States don’t realise we
could be identified as the third world. Our living conditions, what we have to
live with, what we have to make do with. People think we are living high off the
hog on welfare and casinos. I’ve asked them ? US congressional people, US
secretaries of these departments who deal with us ? come out to our reservation,
see firsthand how we live, why we live that way. Find out why our children are
killing themselves. Learn who we are.”
Pine Ridge is among the US’s largest Indian reservations ? much smaller than the
vast plains of the midwest that the Sioux once roamed but still bigger than
England’s largest county ? and also among its poorest. No one is sure how many
people live on its 2.2m acres, but the tribe estimates about 45,000.
Conditions on the reservation are tough. More than 80% unemployment. A desperate
shortage of housing ? on average, more than 15 people live in each home and
others get by in cars and trailers. More than one-third of homes lacking running
water or electricity. An infant mortality rate at three times the US national
average. And a dependency on alcohol and a diet so poor that half the population
over the age of 40 is diabetic.
The Oglala Sioux’s per capita income is around $7,000 (?4,400) a year, less than
one-sixth of the national average and on a par with Bulgaria. The residents of
Wounded Knee, scene of the notorious 1890 massacre of Sioux women and children
and of the 1973 standoff with the FBI, are typically living on less than half of
that. Young people have almost no hope of work unless they sign up to fight in
Afghanistan. The few with jobs are almost all employed by the tribal authorities
or the federal government. It is not uncommon to hear people quietly speak of
the guilt they feel for having a job. Those who don’t survive on pitifully small
welfare cheques. It all adds up to a life expectancy on Pine Ridge of about only
The myth of prosperity
This is not how most Americans see the reservations. The Great Sioux Nation and
the region it once ranged across are fixed in the popular imagination by the
legends of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, of Custer’s last stand at the Battle of
Little Bighorn, and Wounded Knee. It’s a history the Oglala Sioux constantly
assert to remind themselves of past greatness and what they believe they are
But the modern perception among many Americans is also of tribes growing rich on
casinos and Native Americans living well from treaties that require the US
government to provide subsidised housing, free healthcare and regular welfare
Close to a million people live on the US’s 310 Native American reservations
(exact figures are hard to pin down because the census is considered widely
inaccurate on many of them). Some tribes have done well from a boom in casinos
on the reservations, such as the Seminoles in Florida who made enough money from
high-stakes bingo to pay close to $1bn to buy the Hard Rock Cafe and hotel
empire. Other tribes have made a more modest but comfortable income from
gambling, but the key for almost all of them was to be close enough to major
cities to keep the slot machines busy and the card tables full. Others pull in
an income from tourism and minerals. Affirmative action programmes have opened
university doors and jobs in the cities to the Navajo, Cherokee and other
tribes. But the leaders of many of the country’s 564 recognised tribes speak of
communities in crisis and they are pressing President Obama to make good on
promises to turn their lives around.
Obama faces a challenge meeting that commitment, in the midst of a deep economic
crisis. But he has responded by appointing Native Americans to some key
positions, assigning billions of dollars of additional spending to health,
education and policing and, recently, by calling the first of what he promises
will be an annual White House summit with Indian tribal leaders. At it he
acknowledged that the reservations face a struggle born of a history of broken
treaties, neglect and discrimination.
“Few have been more marginalised and ignored by Washington for as long as Native
Americans, our first Americans. You were told your lands, your religion, your
cultures, your languages were not yours to keep,” he said. “I know what it means
to feel ignored and forgotten, and what it means to struggle.”
The Sioux’s treaties with the US government in the second half of the 19th
century were similar to those of other tribes in that they were frequently
broken as an expanding America sought more land for railways, mining and
farming, and battered Native Americans into ceding ever more territory in return
for promises of financial support. Defeated and dispossessed, the Sioux signed
treaties that committed Washington to providing housing, education and health
But the tribe’s leaders today view the treaties as a trap ? promising much but
providing just enough to create a culture of dependency and despair. “The
government wanted us to feel defeated and we played right in to their hands,”
says Two Bulls. “We were taught to feel defeated. Look how they brought welfare
and our people lived on welfare and some of our people don’t even know how to
work. They’re used to just staying at home all day, watching TV and drinking and
taking drugs. That’s the state the government wanted us to be in and we’re in
Poverty and overcrowding
It is a state Adelle Brown Bull has spent her life resisting, not always with
success. The 69-year-old great-grandmother is still in the same tribal-owned
house she raised her eight children in, and some of them never moved out. Today
the two-bedroomed home is stuffed with grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
She sits at her kitchen table, the green wall behind her dotted with photographs
of the generations of babies. Some of the pictures are so old they are in black
Among those living with Brown Bull are a daughter and her three children who are
all in their 20s. Two of the granddaughters have several children of their own,
one of them a baby. There’s another grandchild, nine-year-old Michael, who Brown
Bull is raising after his mother in effect abandoned him when he was 10 months
old. The numbers fluctuate but there is anywhere between eight and 15 people
sleeping in the house at any one time.
None of the occupants has a job. Brown Bull gets a pension of $538 (?337) a
month, plus $323 (?202) for caring for Michael. The other mothers in the house
get welfare cheques of a few hundred dollars a month. “We just manage,” Brown
Bull says, laughing.
The house shows its age and the wear and tear of so many residents. The tribal
housing authority has just replaced the window frames because they were letting
so much wind in. But it is almost impossible to heat the house, a common problem
on the reservation where residents typically nail plastic over the outside of
their windows in the winter as insulation.
Brown Bull’s house was built in the wake of President John F Kennedy’s pledge to
include Native American reservations in the US public housing programme. That
led to a boom in construction through the 60s and 70s, when many of Pine Ridge’s
homes were put up. But in the 80s, Ronald Reagan shifted public housing policy
dramatically away from new construction.
These days, Pine Ridge relies on a $10m-a-year housing grant from Congress that
is only enough to pay for the most basic maintenance ? such as combating the
poisonous black mould that infects many of the houses ? and the construction of
about 40 new homes each year. Which is far from enough.
“When you get two or three families living in a house, it affects the whole way
of life here ? education, health,” says Paul Iron Cloud, a former Pine Ridge
president and now head of its housing authority. “Our people have a tendency to
take people in, maybe their relatives who don’t have no place to go. So they all
share that house.”
Last year, the federal government offered to fulfil part of its treaty
obligations by selling the tribe old houses from an airforce base, no longer
considered fit for service personnel, at a dollar each. The Pine Ridge
authorities agreed but when the houses arrived they were charged $25,000 for the
removal costs of each one ? and then discovered the buildings were badly
battered, with walls torn off and windows smashed in. The houses sit in a yard
to this day, giving the impression of having been torn up by their roots.
Two Bulls regards overcrowded, bad housing as an important part of the
explanation for the loss of self-worth. Brown Bull sees it in her own family.
Among the baby pictures on the wall are photographs of two grandchildren serving
in the military. “That one’s signed on for a few more years,” says Brown Bull,
pointing to a young woman in a smart army uniform. “She’s in Afghanistan now.
She says she might as well stay in the military because there’s nothing for her
here. No job. The only place she can live is with me. I have another grandson in
the army in Afghanistan. He says the same thing.”
Most of this goes unnoticed in the rest of America. “Some of them still think we
live in teepees,” says Alison Yellow Hair, a former shipyard worker wrapped up
in a thick coat inside her freezing caravan. “Since we own the land they think
we’re rich and we shouldn’t have to be working. We should be living high off the
hog. I got a lot of that down there at the shipyards. You’re Indian, aren’t you?
Yeah. Don’t you get a cheque every week? Jeez, if I got a cheque every week I
wouldn’t be down here busting my ass for a pay cheque or trying to keep up with
my health insurance payments.”
Now she is back in Pine Ridge, Yellow Hair and her husband, Walter, do get a
cheque from the tribe’s general assistance fund ? $117 (?73) between them each
week. They live in a small caravan cocooned behind a pile of cardboard boxes and
plastic trunks stuffed with clothes and furniture that cannot fit in to the
cramped home, plastic sheeting protecting it all against the snow. Inside, there
is little more than a few cooking utensils, a tiny heater that stays off most of
the time and a large pile of blankets and duvets that they wrap themselves in to
keep warm after the sun goes down and the temperature sinks to -35C (-30F) with
the wind chill. There’s no running water and no electricity. “The heater runs on
kerosene,” says Walter. “Two gallons costs $25. We can use that in two days if
we leave it on.”
Walter used to work as a janitor until the tribal authorities laid off staff
five years ago. He hasn’t found a job since. Alison built ships in Oregon. “I
did 10 years in the shipyards before I came home and I’ve been home about 10
years. Haven’t really been able to get a steady job since I moved back. Can’t
make my money like I used to. Got hurt on the job while I was at the shipyards.
I was leaning back on a catwalk because a boilermaker went off to get some more
welding rods and the safety guy that was supposed to take care of us stepped on
me and pinned my arm. His weight was 250lb and he pushed my arm down on that
metal catwalk and it messed up my arm and shoulder ever since.”
There are jobs to be had but they are mostly working for the tribe in one form
or another. One of the largest employers is the tribal-owned Prairie Wind Casino
alongside the road between Pine Ridge town and the huge tourist draw of Mount
Rushmore. The casino was built in an attempt to replicate the small fortunes
made by other tribes but it is a sad affair, too isolated to make real money. On
a cold winter night there is no one at the card tables and most of those playing
the slots come from the reservation.
The curse of alcohol
The streets of Pine Ridge, the town that carries the same name as the
reservation, are dead at night. Aside from a Pizza Hut and a recently opened
Subway sandwich bar, there is not much open as dusk falls.
What street life there is occurs in Whiteclay, a few steps across the
reservation’s border with neighbouring Nebraska. Whiteclay has a couple of dozen
registered residents but no school, church or community centre. There’s only one
street, the main road due south. And there is only one type of business along
the 50 metres that makes up the town: alcohol.
A bar and three liquor stores, all rotting, dilapidated buildings, sell more
than 4m cans and bottles of cheap beer and rough, powerful malt liquor each
year. Almost all of it is to people from Pine Ridge, where alcohol has long been
A woman stands almost motionless a few steps from the door to State Line Liquor,
rocking back and forth as if straining to make that last lunge toward the store.
She is badly underdressed for the biting cold and snow, yet seemingly
impervious. Her face is bloated, her eyes unfocused. A few metres away two men
have passed out in the street. Other Sioux step past to load their pick-up
trucks with Hurricane, a powerful malt liquor glorified in gangsta rap songs
that alcohol-dependence groups in major American cities have tried to curb
because of the social devastation it has caused among minority communities.
Heading back across the state border, a large round sign greets arrivals:
“Alcohol is not allowed on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.” Possession is an
arrestable office, as is intoxication. But the Pine Ridge police captain, Ron
Duke, concedes the law has done little to deter the problem. “At one point we
thought about putting up a border there, making people stop at that border to
check ’em. But we have all these outlying roads and trails that people use and
we’d probably be defeating our own purpose. We don’t want to be like the Mexican
border where we have to put a fence up all around,” he says.
Duke is bitter at what he sees as the cynicism of the store owners. “See how
rundown that place is? But the people who own those bars are millionaires. We
made them millionaires, the people here. Yet they treat us that way,” he says.
“I’ve been in law enforcement for 25 years. People I used to take to jail, their
kids and now their grandkids, I’m dealing with them. I’d say a majority of the
problems we’re having right now, 90% of it is because of alcohol. We don’t
really have an economy where people have the opportunity to get a job. People
have to live off a welfare grant or whatever’s available for them. That really
makes it tough on our people. Then they turn to alcohol, they turn to violence.”
Brown Bull sees the effects in her street. “Every other house is a bootlegger.
You can watch them and see who goes to where. One day I was opening my curtain
in the bedroom and I heard some boys laughing. There was three boys, 10 to 12
years old, standing right next door. They had a big old bottle going around. I
thought, my goodness, these little boys shouldn’t be drinking. They shouldn’t be
selling to these boys. I didn’t like that at all. If you go down the road, in
the back between the houses, there’s so much broken bottles back there,” she
In theory, possession of alcohol is severely punished. The law allows prison
sentences of six months to a year for keeping or selling beer. But it’s more
common for those arrested to be held overnight and fined $25 court costs ? a
fraction of the money they make from selling beer.
That might be about to change. Like much of the rest of America, the Oglala
Sioux have decided that the way to deal with crime is to spend scarce resources
on bigger prisons. The reservation authorities have built a new 280-cell jail to
replace the old prison that crammed up to 200 inmates in to 25 cells. It’s
likely that many of the young will end up there. Rampant alcoholism has created
a raft of problems, but none more serious than the alienation of the tribe’s
young people. Hundreds have retreated in to gangs modelled on the black and
Latino ones of Los Angeles and Chicago, with names such as the Nomads and Indian
Mafia. The gangs are part of a surge in violent crime.
“Parents and grandparents are afraid of their own kids,” says Duke. “They’re
taking their money for drugs and alcohol. Parents can’t control their own
children. They attack their own relatives for money.”
Others, of course, find release by taking their own lives. Delia Big Boy only
survived because she was discovered in time. “They found me and I got sent to
the hospital,” she says, her voice breaking. “When I did that, my Auntie, she
came and talked to me and she invited me in to her home. I’ve been living with
her since. That changed a lot.” These days Big Boy counsels other young people
as part of the Sweetgrass network which encourages children in despair to call
or send text messages. “I get calls all the time from friends and others.
Usually it’s because of the way their parents treat them. They don’t feel loved.
Our parents are not always good parents on this reservation,” she says. “I tell
them to focus on their big dreams about college and the military. I want to go
to university to study chemistry.”
Rash of suicides
The 14 year-old girl, Mariah Montileaux, who was buried ? in her traditional
dance dress ? just days before 16-year-old Joshua Kills Enemy, had made no
secret of her plans to kill herself. “The mother knew this girl was attempting
to commit suicide,” says Duke. “Everybody knew yet nobody knew what to do with
her, how to help her. Whether or not anybody could have helped her, that’s what
she wanted to do. She made it known: I’m going to kill myself.”
After Kills Enemy’s death, the Pine Ridge high school principal, Robert Cook,
surveyed students and concluded that one in five of the 370 pupils were at risk.
Nine were immediately taken to the Indian Health Service because of what Cook
described as “impending suicide”.
Duke’s men are frequently the ones to cut the victims down. “The hardest ones
are the kids. The deaths are disturbing but so are the funerals,” he says. “At
the funerals you see the glamorised attention they get. They’ve got their names
written all over the windows in honour of this kid because he took his life.
Kids see that. Kids want attention. This is how they’re going to get attention.
I’ve heard them say: when I go, I hope that’s how they honour me.”
In fact, Native Americans teenagers are more likely to kill themselves than any
other minority group. Some statistics show the rate at three times the national
average. But those figures shield the fact that self-harm is most likely to
occur on poorer reservations, such as Pine Ridge and neighbouring Rosebud; here
rates are far higher.
The tribal government is attempting to entice businesses to the reservation,
including a wind farm. One local entrepreneur is building an increasingly
successful business shipping buffalo and cranberry health bars around the
country. But Two Bulls and other Oglala Sioux leaders know that it will take the
kind of money that only the federal government can provide to begin to turn the
situation around: their hopes are pinned on Obama, who has told them: “You will
not be forgotten as long as I’m in this White House.”
Two Bulls believes him. “It’s just like we’re being held down and my message
every time I go to Washington DC is we are a government, a nation, right in your
backyard, and you should be treating us like that but you’re not,” she says.
“But this administration is different. They’re listening. I got the sense of
understanding from these people.”
Iron Cloud, the former reservation president, says he too believes Obama but
intends to ensure he doesn’t forget his promise. “What I feel is kinda like a
light at the end of the tunnel where the Obama administration is looking at some
new beginnings for the minorities and the poor people to have some jobs and give
more money to education. Just taking care of our people in a better way than
they have been.
“Obama understands, but then there’s Congress. If we can get enough of our
tribal leaders ? and I’m talking 500 tribes coming together and flooding the
halls of Congress ? and just say to them that it’s time to take a good look at
Indian tribes. We were the first Americans ? and I know it’d have an impact.”
Chris McGreal is the Guardian’s Washington correspondent.