Pine Ridge: American Prisoner of War Camp #334

Several months ago you donated thousands of dollars to help the Lakota on South Dakota reservations through an extremely harsh winter. You saved lives, thank you so much.

I want to tell you more about the significance of Pine Ridge reservation.

It is ground zero for American Indian issues. Below is a recent powerful presentation by renowned photographer Aaron Huey. After developing a close relationship with some families on Pine Ridge Mr. Huey obtained some astonishing images and they are featured in the video below. Mr. Huey also gives you an important historical time line of the Lakota and ends with a powerful conclusion.

I’m currently reading for review a new book on Wounded Knee that gives a time line of political events leading up to the massacre at Wounded Knee which is located on Pine Ridge. The time line is lengthy and complicated. Below is a concise time line that will help you easily understand these events.

Video below and transcript with several small photos for those on dial up:

From The New York Times LENS feature Behind the Scenes: Still Wounded

Aaron Huey arrived on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota at the start of a self-assigned photographic road trip to document poverty in America.

The poverty he found on the reservation stopped him cold.

“It was emotionally devastating,” Mr. Huey said. “I’d call my wife late at night crying.”

Overwhelmed by the poverty – and at the same time by scenes of people trying to maintain the Lakota way of life – Mr. Huey abandoned the rest of his nationwide project to focus on Pine Ridge. Five years later, he’s still photographing on the reservation, which includes the Wounded Knee massacre site.

Mr. Huey, 33, is a photographer for Smithsonian, National Geographic Adventure and National Geographic Traveler. He also freelances for The New Yorker and Geo. In 2007, he photographed in Afghanistan for The Times.

Regarding the video below:

Challenging us with stunning images, Aaron Huey relates the fight for survival on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Aaron began photographing on Pine Ridge Reservation as part of a story on poverty in America, but it has captured his passion for five years. A quintessential example of the failures of the reservation system, he and we cannot turn away from what we see at Pine Ridge.

PLEASE watch the video, it is powerful and tells the story of Pine Ridge so well.


We tried to run, but they shot us like we were buffalo.”

-Louise Weasel Bear, Survivor of the Wounded Knee Massacre

My name is Aaron Huey, I am a photographer.

I am here today to show you my photographs of the Lakota.

Pine Ridge Panel One

I’m sure most of you have heard of the Lakota, or at least of the larger group of seven tribes known as the Sioux.  

The Lakota were one of the many tribes that were moved off their land to prisoner of war camps now known as “reservations.”  

The Pine Ridge Reservation, the subject of today’s slideshow, is 75 miles south east of the Black Hills in South Dakota and is sometimes referred to as Prisoner of War Camp #334, it is where the Lakota now live.

If any of you have ever heard of AIM – the American Indian movement- or Leonard Peltier, or Russell Means, or the Wounded Knee takeover, you know that Pine Ridge is ground zero for native issues

I have been asked to talk about my relationship with the Lakota.  That is a very difficult thing for me because, if you haven’t noticed from my skin color,  I’m white.   And that will always be a huge barrier on a Native Reservation.  You will see a lot of people in my photographs today, I’ve become very close with them, they have welcomed me like family.   They called me uncle and brother and they welcomed me back many times over in my five years of visits.   But on Pine Ridge I will always be what is called Wasi’chu. Wasi’chu is a Lakota word that means “Non Indian” but another version of this word means “Takes the best part of the meat.”  And that is what I want to focus on today,  “The one who takes the best part of the meat.”   It means Greedy.

So take a look around this auditorium today.  We are at a private school in the American west.   Sitting in Red velvet chairs.  Pockets full of money.  It is obvious looking at our lives, that we did indeed take the best part of the meat.  

So lets look today at a set of photographs of a group of people who lost so we could gain.  And know when you see these people’s faces that these are not just images of the Lakota, they stand for all indigenous people.

On this piece of paper is the history the way I learned it from my Lakota friends and family.

The following is a timeline of treaties made, treaties broken, and massacres disguised as battles.

I will begin in 1824

What is now known as the Bureau of Indian Affairs was created within the WAR DEPARTMENT, setting an early tone of aggression in our dealings with Native Americans.


The first Treaty of Fort Laramie was made, clearly marking the boundaries of the Lakota land.  

According to the treaty, those lands are a sovereign nation.

If the boundaries of this treaty had held, and there is a legal basis that it should, then this   map is what the US would look like.

Ten years later The Homestead Act, signed by President Lincoln, unleashed a flood of white settlers upon Indian lands.


An uprising of Santee Sioux in Minnesota ends with the hanging of 38 Sioux men, >>the largest mass execution in US History.

The execution was ordered by president Lincoln 2 days after he signed the emancipation proclamation.


The beginning of the transcontinental railroad.  A new era.

We appropriated lands for trail and trains to shortcut through the heart of the Lakota Nation.

The treaties were out the window

In response 3 tribes lead by the Lakota Chief Red Cloud attacked and defeated the US Army many times over.    

I repeat – the Lakota defeated the US Army.


The second Fort Laramie Treaty clearly guarantees the sovereignty of the Great Sioux Nation and the Lakota ownership of the Sacred Black Hills.  

The govt also promises land and hunting rights in the surrounding states

We promised that the Powder River Country would henceforth be closed to all whites.  

The treaty seemed to be a complete victory for Red Cloud and the Sioux.  

In fact, this is the only war in American history in which the government negotiated peace by conceding everything demanded by the enemy.


The transcontinental railroad was completed; it began carrying, among other things, large numbers of hunters, who began wholesale killing of buffalo.

Eliminating the source of food, clothing, and shelter for the Sioux.


The Indian Appropriations Act makes all Indians wards of the federal government.

In addition The military issued orders forbidding western Indians from leaving reservations.

All western Indians at that point in time, were now Prisoners of War.

Also in 1871  we end the time of treaty making.  The problem with treaties is that they allow the tribes to exist as sovereign nations, and we cant have independent nations inside our own.   We had plans.


General George Custer announced the discovery of gold in Lakota territory, specifically the Black Hills.

the news of gold creates a massive influx of white settlers into the Lakota Nation.

Custer  recommends that congress find a way to end the treaties with the Lakota


The Lakota War began over the violation of the Fort Laramie Treaty.


On June 25th, on its way to attack a Lakota village, Custer’s 7th Cavalry was crushed at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.


The Great Lakota Warrior and chief named Crazy Horse surrendered at Fort Robinson. He was later killed while in custody.  

1877 is also the year we found a way to get around the Fort Laramie Treaty.

A new agreement was presented to Sioux chiefs and their leading men under a campaign known as “Sell or Starve”: no signature, no food for your tribe.

Only ten percent of the adult male population signed. The Fort Laramie Treaty called for 3/4 of the tribe to sign away land.   That clause was ignored.


The Dawes Act.  Communal ownership of reservation lands ends. Reservations are cut up into 160-acre sections  AND distributed to individual Indians with the surplus disposed of.

Tribes lost millions of acres. The American dream of individual land ownership was A very cleaver way to divide the reservation until nothing was left.   The move destroyed the reservations, making it easy to further subdivide and sell with each passing generation.  

Most of the “surplus” land, and many of the plots within Reservation boundaries, are now in the hands of white ranchers.  The fat of the land once again goes to Washichu.


A date I believe to be the most important in this slideshow.  This is the year of the wounded knee massacre.

On Dec 29, U.S. troops surrounded a Sioux encampment at Wounded Knee Creek and massacred Chief Big Foot and 300 prisoners of war, using a new rapid fire weapon that fired exploding shells called a  Hotchkiss gun.

For this so-called “battle,” twenty Congressional Medals of Honor for Valor were given to the 7th Calvary.

To this day, this is the most Medals of Honor ever awarded for a single battle.  More medals of honor were given for the indiscriminate slaughter of women and children than in any battle in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan.  

The Wounded Knee Massacre is considered the end of the Indian Wars.  

Whenever I visit the site of the mass grave I see it not just as a grave for the Lakota or the Sioux, I see it as a grave for all indigenous people of North America.

The Lakota holy man Black Elk said,  

“I did not know then how much was ended.  

When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young.

And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard.

A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream.”

With this event A new era in Native American history began.  Everything can be measured by Before Wounded Knee and After, because it was in this moment, with fingers on the triggers of the Hotchkiss guns overlooking that camp, that the US government openly declared its position on Native rights. They were tired of treaties.  They were tired of sacred hills and ghost dances and all other the other inconveniences of the Sioux.  So they brought out their cannons.

You want to be an Indian now, they said.    Finger on the trigger.


The U.S. Indian population reached its low point: less than 250,000, compared to an estimated 8 million in 1492.

Fast forward to


The longest running court case in U.S. history, the Sioux Nation v. the United States, was ruled upon by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The court determined that when the Sioux were resettled into reservations and 7 million acres of their land were opened up to prospectors and homesteaders, the terms of the second Fort Laramie Treaty had been violated.

The Court stated that the Black Hills were illegally taken, and that the initial offering price plus interest must be paid to the Sioux Nation.

As payment for the Black Hills, the court awarded $106 million to the Sioux Nation.

The Sioux refused the money with the rallying cry “THE BLACK HILLS ARE NOT FOR SALE”


Statistics about the native population today, more than a century after the massacre at Wounded Knee, reveal the legacy of colonization, forced migration, and treaty violations.

Unemployment on the Pine Ridge Reservation fluctuates between 85-90%, the housing office is unable to afford to build new structures, and existing structures are falling apart.  

Many are homeless, and those with homes are packed into rotting buildings with up to five families.  

Thirty-nine percent of the homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation have no electricity.  

At least 60% of the homes on the reservation are infested with black mold.

More than 80% of the population lives below the federal poverty line.

The tuberculosis rate on the Pine Ridge Reservation is approximately eight times higher than the U.S. national average.

The infant mortality rate is the highest on this continent and is about 3 times higher than the U.S. national average.  

Cervical cancer is five times higher than the U.S. national average.  

The school drop out rate is over 70%.  

Teacher turnover is eight times that of the U.S. national average.  

Frequently, grandparents are raising their grandchildren because parents, due alcoholism, domestic violence, and general apathy, cannot raise them.

50 percent of the population over 40 suffers from diabetes

The life expectancy for men is, between 46 and 48 years old, roughly the same as Afghanistan and Somalia.





A long time ago a series of events was set in motion by a people who look like me.  By WASI’CHU eager to take the land and the water and the gold in the Hills.

Those events lead to a domino effect that has yet to end.  

As removed as we, the dominant society, may feel from the responsibility of a massacre in 1890, or a series of broken treaties 150 years ago, I still have to ask you the question – how should we feel about the statistics of today?

What is the connection between these images of suffering and the history I just read to you?  

How much of this history do you need to own?  

Is any of this your responsibility today?

I have been told “there must be something we can do.”  

There must be a call to action.  

For so long I have been content to stand on the sidelines as a witness, JUST TAKING PHOTOS, because the “solutions” seemed to be buried too far in the past, needing nothing short of a time machine to access them.

The suffering of Indigenous peoples is not a simple issue to “fix.”  

It is not something everyone can get behind in the way they can get behind helping Haiti or ending AIDS or fighting a famine.  

The “fix” may be much more painful for the dominant society than say a $50 donation, or a church trip to paint some graffiti covered houses, or a suburban family donating a box of clothes they don’t want anymore.  

So where does that leave us?  Shrugging our shoulders in the dark?

The United States continues, on a daily basis to violate the terms of the 1851 and 1868 Fort Laramie Treaties with the Lakota.  

The call to action I offer today , My TED wish, is this:

Honor the treaties.   GIVE BACK THE BLACK HILLS

Its not your business what they do with them.

Mr. Huey gave this presentation at the University of Denver on May 13, 2010.

Aaron was also recently named to the short list for the Alexia Prize, as a finalist for the Center for Documentary Studies – Honickman First Book Prize for his work on Pine Ridge, and named to PDN’s top 30 emerging photographers in the world for 2007.  His images of the Pine Ridge Indian reservation were featured in Perpignan at the last Vis d’Or Photojournalism Festival.

Please send your comments and a link to this diary to the committee members below:



Main Committee Contact:

Committee on Indian Affairs

Allison Binney, Staff Director and Chief Counsel

United States Senate

838 Hart Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

Phone:  (202) 224-2251


Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Chair

Washington, D.C. Office:

322 Hart Senate Office Bldg

Washington, DC 20510

Phone (202) 224-2551

Fax (202) 224-1193

John Barasso (R-WY), Vice Chair

Washington, D.C. Office:

307 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

Main: 202-224-6441

Fax: 202-224-1724

Tollfree: 866-235-9553

Daniel Akaka (D-HI)

Washington, D.C. Office:

141 Hart Senate Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20510

Telephone: (202) 224-6361

Fax: (202) 224-2126

Maria Cantwell (D-WA)

Washington, D.C. Office:

511 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510


202-228-0514 – FAX

202-224-8273 – TDD

Toll-Free Number for State Offices:


Tom Coburn (R-OK)

Washington D.C. Office:

172 Russell Senate Office Bldg.

Washington, DC 20510

Main: 202-224-5754

Fax: 202-224-6008

Kent Conrad (D-ND)

Washington, D.C. Office:

530 Hart Senate Office Building

United States Senate

Washington, DC 20510-3403

Phone: (202) 224-2043

Fax: (202) 224-7776



Toll-free Phone: 1-800-223-4457

Mike Crapo (R-ID)

Washington, D.C. Office:

239 Dirksen Senate Building

Washington, DC 20510

Phone: (202) 224-6142

Fax: (202) 228-1375

Al Franken (D-MN)

Washington, D.C. Office:

320 Hart Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

(202) 224-5641

Daniel Inouye (D-HI)

Washington, D.C. Office:

722 Hart Building

Washington, D.C. 20510-1102

Phone: 202-224-3934

Fax: 202-224-6747

Mike Johanns (R-NE)

Washington, D.C. Office:

404 Russell Senate Office Building                      

Washington, DC 20510

Tel: (202) 224-4224

Fax: (202) 228-0436

Hours: 8:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. EST

Tim Johnson (D-SD)

Washington, D.C. Office:

136 Hart Senate Office Building,

Washington, DC 20510

Phone:  (202) 224-5842

Fax:  (202)228-5765

John McCain (R-AZ)

Washington, D.C. Office:

241 Russell Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

Main: (202) 224-2235

Fax: (202) 228-2862

Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)

Washington, D.C. Office:

709 Hart Senate Building

Washington, D.C. 20510

Main: 202-224-6665

Fax: 202-224-5301

Jon Tester (D-MT)

Washington, D.C. Office:

724 Hart Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510-2604

Phone: (202) 224-2644

Fax: (202) 224-8594

Tom Udall (D-NM)

Washington, D.C. Office:

110 Hart Senate Office Building

Washington DC, 20510

(202) 224-6621

For extra credit please read Land of Enchantment‘s diary:

Dakotas Snow Emergency: Charity and Beyond

Ojibwa’s diaries provide a lot of background also:

Indians 101: A Government Apology?

This diary is dedicated to my dear friend Winter Rabbit for his relentless work on bringing attention to Wounded Knee and other massacres.

The Wounded Knee Massacre: 119th Anniversary

Suicide State Of Emergency On Pine Ridge Reservation

Thank you Mr. Huey for contacting me with a link to your outstanding presentation. I hope many, many people see your TED Talk and contact the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

I wish I could join you on your next trip to Pine Ridge.

  Cross Posted at Daily Kos

 An ongoing series sponsored by the Native American Netroots team focusing on the current issues faced by American Indian Tribes and current solutions to those issues.


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