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The Spirit of the Lakota

Release date: 
July 6, 1999
Release Number: 

A series of violent tornadoes struck the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota June 4 and 5, 1999 killing one person and injuring 40 others. The reservation is home to the Oglala Sioux Indian Tribe.

More than 600 families were affected by the tornadoes. Many lost their homes and were initially living in tents and dormitory-style housing. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) brought in travel trailers to serve as temporary housing for some of the displaced until mobile homes or other long-term temporary housing accommodations are available.

With unemployment rates between 73% and 80%, the Pine Ridge Reservation is one of the poorest areas in the United States. The average family income is approximately $3,700 per year. Life on the reservation is hard. The life expectancy for men is 48 years, for women it is 52 years. The reservation has the highest infant mortality rate in the United States.

Despite the formidable challenges facing Pine Ridge residents, the pride and honor of the Lakota is evident throughout the reservation, and may be more visible today to the outsider than at almost any other time.

We invite you to spend some time with the attached images and stories; to ponder the indomitable spirit reflected in the eyes of the tribal elders, to contemplate the promise of the young. We hope you will take a few moments to appreciate the personal sacrifices made by those leading the relief efforts. Each image reflects a unique and enduring element of the Spirit of the Lakota.

Photo of Leatrice Chick Big Crow, Marcus and Billy Palmier.

Leatrice Chick Big Crow, Marcus and Billy Palmier

The first thing Leatrice Chick Big Crow thought when she saw the chaos and destruction left in the wake of the tornado was, "I have to find a way to help." Then, along with her grandson, she started gathering blankets to give to some of the people whose homes were destroyed.

As a teacher and a mentor at the Boys and Girls Club on the reservation, Chick Big Crow tries to instill in the kids an ethic of helping others. Marcus (left or right) and Billy Palmier were two of the kids from the club who teamed up with Chick Big Crow to help that night. They opened up the club and prepared food for the people working outside. They worked on into the night, closing up sometime after 3 a.m. "They worked hard and no one complained," she said. "The kids were so excited to be a part of it. I told them this is what we mean when we say we help our own people."

Photo of Chief Red Cloud.

Chief Red Cloud

Chief Oliver Red Cloud is a fourth generation descendant of Chief Red Cloud (1822-1909) a respected, traditional leader. Red Cloud was chief until well into his older years and through one of the most difficult periods in his tribe's history. In the 1850s, Red Cloud gained great respect in the Lakota nation by virtue of his leadership in territorial wars against the Pawnees, Crows, Utes and Shoshones. Chief Oliver Red Cloud carries on his family's proud tradition by focusing his efforts on maintaining the traditional ways of his people and fighting to improve the standard of living on the reservation. He is particularly concerned with the plight of the elderly and handicapped.

"We need to help the Lakota people, especially the handicapped. They need shelter when tornadoes come. They are pe...

Last Updated: 
July 16, 2012 - 18:46
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