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Oglala Sioux Tribe of the Pine Ridge Reservation Essay

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Updated: May 28th, 2021

The history of American Indians is associated with various challenges and tragedies as their existence in their territories was in constant danger when Europeans came. The Oglala Sioux tribe is no exception as these people still have to fight for their right to live their way. In the 18th century and the first part of the 20th century, the Sioux were constantly suppressed in many ways as their lands were taken away. The Sioux people were subjected to assimilation and acculturation that implied various bans to practice religion, develop their language and traditions (Birchfield). Only after the 1970s, American Indians’ rights started being addressed, but life on the reservation is still full of hardships and challenges. People have to live in poverty with no employment opportunities. This paper includes an analysis of the life of the modern Sioux tribe.

Major Facts

The Oglala Sioux Tribe is located in the south-western part of South Dakota and occupies approximately 3,500 square miles (Laughland and Silverstone). According to Laughland and Silverstone, the population of the tribe is 20,000 tribe members. People often live in small communities. The Sioux language pertains to the Siouan language family (Birchfield). This language is characterized by the abundance of meanings related to the earth and nature as these concepts have been central to the culture of these people. Number seven is the sacred one while other languages often have other sacred numbers. The Sioux language can also be found in Canada as some Native Americans use it across North America. The family is the core value of the Sioux.


The religious beliefs of the Sioux are quite similar to other Native American tribes. These people place the major value on nature and their land. The universe is regarded as a complex system where people are an integral part that has to follow the existing world order. The land is sacred to them (Birchfield). They also worship the sun as the resource of life.

The Sun Dance or the Offerings Lodge ceremonial that is typical of all Native American tribes is one of the seven primary ceremonials for the Sioux (Birchfield). Importantly, unlike other tribes, the Sioux discourage tourists from the attendance of their Sun Dance. Birchfield notes that the Sioux people’s Sun Dance has received a lot of attention due to a famous documentary. This ceremony includes dancing singing, playing drums, as well as praying, setting a sacred fire, and fasting before the dance.

The Sioux people also share certain Catholic values and have some churches. Europeans tried to convert Indigenous people to their faith, and many missionaries were very active. Nowadays, Catholic priests help Native Americans to address their emotional problems (Bosman). Many Sioux people have beliefs that are a mixture of Indian traditional and Catholic values. Praying and regular sermons are regarded as effective strategies to help people go through the most difficult periods of their lives especially when it comes to the loss of their close ones.


As for the government of this tribe, the National Sioux Council is the modern government of the Lakota Nation. Pine Ridge reservation has its delegates in the Council that has annual meetings. All the major issues are discussed during these meetings. All delegates have the right to initiate a discussion. The decisions are made based on “vote counting rather than consensus – a quintessential American Indian method of decision making” (Birchfield par. 27). The Pine Ridge reservation has an elected tribal council that consists of 18 people including the vice-chairperson, treasurer, secretary, and chairperson.

It is necessary to note that the council focuses on the rights of local people. For example, they take legal actions if they believe that their rights are violated. One of the illustrations is the recent lawsuit related to the sales of alcohol (Wirthman). The Sioux people try to make corporations producing and selling liquor more responsible. The members of the tribe trust their council and are very positive about this lawsuit, as well as other activities of their officials.


The economic aspect of tribal life is very complex and associated with numerous challenges. The area is mainly rural, which leads to a high level of unemployment. Laughland and Silverstone stress that almost 80% of people are unemployed. Although there are some industrial facilities, the Sioux often choose not to work there due to their religious beliefs. These people do not want to destroy their sacred land through the excavation of some natural resources (Laughland and Silverstone). Moreover, the construction of various plants leads to a significant opposition of the members of the tribe.

For example, the construction of a power plant on the territory of the Sioux tribe has been under consideration for 13 years (Tupper). Powertech developed a plan for the building of a power plant in 2005, but the Sioux council went to court claiming that the facility was planned to be constructed on the sacred land. The Sioux people stressed that this plant would violate their rights as land is their cultural resource. However, the court decided that the company could build the plant. The case is now in the Court of Appeals, but the members of the tribe fear that they will lose the case, and their sacred land will be damaged, and they will lose their cultural resources.

Social Issues and Current Challenges

As has been mentioned above, the level of unemployment is very high in the tribal lands. The per capita income in this area is only $9,150, and the living standards are very low (Goldberg). For example, some people live in one-room houses. Other dwellings are homes to several families. Local people understand that their life is very different from the lives of white people (Wirthman). The history of the lasting oppression and white people’s bias makes Native Americans feel hopeless and powerless.

People do not see any opportunities and start drinking alcohol although it is forbidden in the area. The Sioux have problems with heating their houses although some charities collaborate with heating companies to address this problem. People see their lives as a constant struggle that often makes them feel stressed out. Many Sioux people emphasize that living on the reservation is very hard, and they do not see the possibility of any improvements in the future.

People who live beneath the poverty line receive some money from the government. They can also receive some money from charities. Nevertheless, this is not sufficient. This poverty and the lack of opportunities are primary reasons for the growing rate of alcoholism (Goldberg). The availability of alcohol is another reason contributing to the increase in the number of people suffering from alcoholism. Laughland and Silverstone claim that local people go to Whiteclay (Nebraska) to buy liquor.

Activists and the Sioux officials try to solve the problem but have no instruments to prevent this trend. Whiteclay, which is home to only 14 residents, is the major supplier of liquor. While authorities try to develop a plan to reduce the alcohol rate, the problem aggravates. Social workers try to help people cope with their emotional distress, but many people stop fighting and choose the easier way (liquor). Bosman notes that the attitude of white people also harms the Sioux people, especially teenagers.

Alcoholism is associated with a significant crime rate including home violence. Children are often the most vulnerable group affected by the binge drinking of adults. The rate of suicides among the Sioux youth is alarmingly high (Bosman). Goldberg notes that although there is no direct evidence of the correlation between the wintertime and suicides, many young people take their lives during this season. Bosman notes that children and adolescents have to endure the physical or psychological abuse of their drunk parents.

Personal View

I believe that the major challenge the Sioux people face is the lack of educational and healthcare opportunities. They do not have sufficient support, which results in their suicidal ideas. Moreover, young people also abuse alcohol and drugs (Bosman). They are vulnerable to the development of addictions as their parents do not serve as proper models and do not support them in any way (Bosman). The lack of educational opportunities, as well as the negative influence of social media, contributes to the increase in the number of suicides among teenagers.

However, many people find the courage and inner strength to resist and find their way irrespective of all the challenges. They often find their salvation through art even though many people still choose to leave and plunge into the American mainstream population (Wirthman). Wirthman notes that some Sioux people are positive about the future of the reservation. For instance, there is a movement for education and sobriety among high-school students, which can become the basis for the revival of the area. It is also important that many young people are proud of their background and culture. They know their traditions, are happy to sing songs, and dance their traditional dances. Young people are willing to participate in various ceremonials. All these trends suggest that the Sioux people have a future and their culture will develop.


To conclude, the Sioux people living on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota have a tragic past and have to endure many challenges. Unemployment, poverty, and the lack of opportunities are major social issues to be addressed. These problems are associated with such health concerns as alcoholism, which is another serious social challenge. Young people are the most vulnerable population as they have limited opportunities and are often victims of domestic violence. The reservation has quite an effective government as its officials try to ensure that the rights of the members of the tribe are secured. The Sioux people also receive aid from the US government and various charities. However, a more comprehensive approach is necessary as the primary issues are still in place. At the same time, the reservation is also a place of hope since many people are committed to their culture and traditions. Young people take pride in being Sioux and are ready to maintain their traditions.

Works Cited

Birchfield, Don. Countries and Their Cultures, 2018, Web.

Bosman, Julie. The New York Times, 2015, Web.

Goldberg, Eleanor. Huffington Post. 2018, Web.

Laughland, Oliver, and Tom Silverstone. The Guardia. 2017, Web.

Tupper, Seth. “Proposed Uranium Mine Trips on Tribal Concerns.” Rapid City Journal. 2018, Web.

Wirthman, Lisa. Denver Post. 2016, Web.

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