South Dakota Top Blogs

News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Thursday, October 22, 2009

At least give the Black Hills land back

After I posted a a link to a  photography feature from The New York Times Tuesday, five other South Dakota blogs picked up the feature and linked it from their sites.   Some acknowledged our original posting; some did not.  That is a matter of who knows and understands the procedures for properly establishing attributions and the provenance of information in journalism and writing in general, and it is connected to what "use" blogs make of a powerful and significant piece of journalistic work. 

The photo-essay covers the conditions of poverty on the Pine Ridge Reservation.  The responses to it reveal a deeper source of the poverty that holds South Dakota in its grip.    The differences in the quality of comments posted on the feature at The New York Times site and on the South Dakota citations is indicative of the difference between people who try to grapple with the moral and intellectual issues in our Indian reservation system and people who can only recite uninformed cant--and in the process reveal those less-than-admirable traits of human mind and character,  racism, mindless hatred, dishonesty. 

The New York Times blog entitled "Lens" was initiated in May to provide photographers and other graphic media specialists a venue for their work.  As a former photographer-editor for newspapers, I found one of the hardest parts of the job was to select one or two photographs from  50 to 75 shots to illusrate a story.  The better the photography, the harder the job.  The photographers and editors often complained about how much good photography went to waste because we did not have the space to display some vital pictures that came from assignments.  The huge advantage of the  Internet is that galleries and extended photography sequences can be published and create presentations based upon what can be included, not what must be excluded.  Still photography has resumed its important place in graphic communication.

The New York Times feature, "Behind the Scenes:  Still Wounded," is  exceptionally  powerful, as attested to by it being referenced by six South Dakota bloggers.  But photographer  Aaron Huey is steadfastly careful to use his skills and art to portray what he finds and sees, and is as steadfastly careful in the interview portion of his photo-feature not to make any glib, superficial explanations of what causes the scenes that he captures.  That his photographs are chosen to move people is without question.  That they move many people to displays of cultural dementia is probably inevitable.  And they provide tacit evidence of what is the essential cause of the degradation in which some people live at Pine Ridge, Standing Rock, Cheyenne River, all of South Dakota's reservations.  

In looking at some of the comments,  one is confronted with the systemic malice and stupidity that is the foundation of the reservation system:

  • A good lesson as to why the federal government expanding it’s role in anything should scare the pants off of most Americans.
  • This is what happens when the Federal Government provides everything for a society. Free health care, subsidized housing, free food, energy assistance for winter heating, etc. Law enforcement is a whole other chapter and the mess that has been created, along with the tribal court system that is in shambles.
  • If this situation is to be improved, it needs to be changed. Do away with reservations and the gov't dependency it fosters. Bring the Native Americans into complete citizenship with the rest of the US; no more separate laws that hamper business growth, no more handouts that destroy self-esteem. They should be able to keep their culture, but that doesn't mean a sovereign nation within the US with Uncle Sam providing everything free. That never works, and is proven here.
The comments in The New York Times blog are, admittedly, moderated to be commensurate with the level of presentation established by the feature.  And the South Dakota comments probably represent fewer people than seems apparent.  Some bloggers who permit anonymous comments  (and ban certain IP addresses) write such anonymous comments to reinforce their own posts.  They are unaware that their thoughts and writing styles are as distinguishable as fingerprints, and readers of any literary sensibility at all can identify them.  

Cory Heidelberger of Madville Times moderates the comments on his blog and requires commenters to identify themselves. Comments on his blog often reflect some informed intelligence:
  • South Dakota needs a vibrant and strong Sioux Nation. We can achieve that by returning land to the Sioux that is held by the federal government.
  • After decimating their culture we are frustrated they haven't assimilated. Who would?
  • Even now the conversation tends to be how can we get them to change, be like us and have our values.
In addition to being heavily populated with reservations,  South Dakota has produced a prodigious amount of literature by and about American Indians.  When The New York TImes feature is viewed in that literate context, it projects a vision of hope by positing the cause of hopelessness.  An encouraging aspect of the comment about a "vibrant and strong Sioux Nation" is that it is made by a Republican candidate for the U.S. Congress,  Thad Wassom.  One commenter tells Thad that his comment eliminates him from any serious consideration as a candidate, but Thad has done something that has become rare in South Dakota politics.  He raises an idea that send candidates of both parties into fearful sweats.  He suggests that the treaties under which the Sioux were given reservations be carried out.  {He sounds like the Republican Party I once belonged to.)

If the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, the violation of which is the basis for the award of millions of dollars held by courts in compensation, were to be fully observed,   all of West River would be returned to the Sioux.  It is not merely a matter of territorial occupation; it is a matter of a profound cultural and spiritual identity with the land, an identity that is deeply rooted in the nature of the land.  This identity is taken up in this year's Book One, selected for study by the South Dakota Humanities Council:  Buffalo for the Broken Heart by Dan O'Brien.  The book chronicles the reasons and actions of O'Brien to convert from cattle ranching to bison ranching as an enterprise more consistent with the resources and natural features of the West River land.  

While blog commenters may rail about reservation subsidy and dependency on the government, they do not acknowledge that all of West River exists on that dependency because  agriculture and ranching is largely a failure.  It is a false myth, not an operative reality.  O'Brien summarizes the reality:

The mythic American character is made up of the virtues of fairness, self-reliance, toughness, and honesty....It's [the West River land of independence and self-reliance] also a place that does not exist and never has...

The truth is there has  never been much fairness out here.  The homestead acts were mostly ways to get serfs onto the fees of eastern and European industrialists.    When the land, the economy, and the climate revolted,  these people had to suffer or be supported by the government.  Self-reliance went out the window.  As for toughness,  the vast majority of homesteaders failed and either gave their land back to the government or sold out to a neighbor at pennies on the dollar.  There wasn't all that much honesty out here, either.  From  cheating the Indians out of their birthright and culture to pervasive homestead fraud in the form of filing for people who did not exist, pioneers proved to be just as human as the next man, maybe more so. 

As Thad Wassom suggests,  a first step in dealing with the reservation problems is to restore as much of the Sioux birthright as possible.  The reservations are part of the Great American Holocaust of slavery and genocide against the Indians.  They are concentration camps onto which the Indians were confined.  They were supposed to subsist on a kind of agriculture for which the land is totally unsuited.  (One of the reasons that Sitting Bull was considered dangerous is because he tried farming and found it an ecological absurdity and said so.)  The religion, the language, and culture of the Sioux was suppressed and banned.  They were lied to, betrayed, degraded, and killed at every opportunity.  And the stupid and illiterate wonder why they choose alcoholic destruction over the culture we  offer them.

The worst thing that could happen to the Sioux would be for them to accept the money awarded by the courts for the swindling and armed violation of their treaty rights.  The elders prefer that the federally-held portions of the Black Hills be returned to them.  Few politicians in South Dakota dare propose such a measure.  

The proposal first raised by the Bradley Bill would turn national forest and grazing lands held by the U.S. government back to Sioux control.  That could mean that some people occupying and using reservation lands might have to leave.  Heaven forbid that any honkeys experience the dislocations and deprivations forced on the Sioux.  Well, politics forbids it, any way.  

It is more politically expedient to let the genocide rage on.  And we can look at Aaron Huey's pictures, and cluck our tongues, and post stupid comments.

The land of the free and home of the brave, you know. 


travis said...

I didn't realize you were the first one to write it up - I read Corey's first and wrote about that - my apologies - I'll try to give props to you next time!

David Newquist said...


No big deal. The important thing is the exposure the gallery received--both in terms of art and social issues.

Unknown said...

Hello I want to congratulate to them by its site of the Web of the excellent looks like entertained and very good very to me it elaborated. I invite them to that they explore a little on my Web site. Costa Rica Cheap Land for Sale

Anonymous said...
Costa rica Fishing

Blog Archive

About Me

My photo
Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States