At the risk of telling anyone what to do, especially when it comes to vacation spots, I encourage everyone and every family to consider a trip to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. I recently spent a week there with eighteen church folks, nearly half of whom were high schoolers.
We connected with a non-profit called Re-Member (www.re-member.org), good folks whose sole purpose for the past 16 years has been to “build relationships with the Lakota People.”
If you’ve ever wondered what a third-world country looks like, visiting Pine Ridge will give you an accurate picture. One of the first items of the opening day orientation included these sobering facts about life on the reservation:
Unemployment rate of 80-90%. Per capita income of $4,000. Eight times the United States rate of diabetes. Five times the United States rate of cervical cancer. Twice the rate of heart disease. Eight times the United States rate of Tuberculosis. Alcoholism rate estimated as high as 80%. 1 in 4 infants born with fetal alcohol syndrome or effects. Suicide rate more than twice the national rate. Teen suicide rate four times the national rate. Infant mortality is three times the national rate. Life expectancy on Pine Ridge is the lowest in the United States and the second lowest in the Western Hemisphere. Only Haiti has a lower rate.
You work hard building outhouses, attaching insulation beneath and around FEMA trailers, installing new roof shingles, and building bunk beds for kids who’ve never slept in a bed.
You’ll also learn the dark history of our country’s treatment of Native Americans that include breaking every treaty (more than 370) that we made with those whose land we took. Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee will fill in the details.
As is often the case with places and experiences that leave me weary and drained, I can’t wait to go back.